Thursday, July 29, 2021

understanding place

"To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi."

So said William Faulkner.

I do not know about the Mississippi part of that sentiment. But I think I know exactly what the Sage of Yoknapatawpha County meant when he wrote it.

While I was finishing up my daily walk on the house's upper terrace this evening, I started wondering how Faulkner would understand the village I call home. I do not know about Faulkner's reference to Mississippi because I have not spent a night there. Unlike the secessionist arc of states from Texas to Florida where I have spent quite a bit of time, my visits to Mississippi (just like prosperity) have simply been passing through to someplace else.

That is too bad because Mississippi, if Faulkner is to believed, is one of the regions where People of Place live. They seem to draw their very essence from the soil as much as any grand crus from its terroir.

I have been sticking close to home for the past two days. On my trip north, I developed a rather nasty allergic reaction to something that masqueraded as a summer cold. I did not think much about it until I returned to Mexico and received an email from two friends here. They too had been fighting what they assumed to be persistent colds. When the coughing did not let up, they went to a local lab and tested positive for The Virus.

They suggested that our group should get tested just in case we had been infected. I put it off until yesterday.

The vines in my patio tend to get out of control while I am gone. So, Wednesday, while Dora was here to watch me fall off off the ladder, I started pruning. I had almost completed the third of four planters, and was at the top of the ladder. Without warning, my head felt as if it had gone into orbit in advance of the billionaire astronauts. Everything was in a multi-G-force spin.

Fortunately, I made my way down the ladder, put away my tools, and put myself to bed where I slept away 5 hours of the afternoon and 10 hours of the night. (I usually get no more than 5 hours total each night.)

Because I was still weak this morning, I trundled off to a local lab to get my too-long-neglected covid test. My procrastination did not cost me (or the people I had been in contact with) anything. The test was negative for covid. And, oddly, my cough was gone. By the afternoon, I had my strength back. What has not gone away is some immediate bowel issues. Thus, my walking was restricted to the upper terrace.

While I was up there, Barra de Navidad experienced one of those sunsets that I doubt are seen Jackson. Maybe in Biloxi. But it was not the sunset that caught my immediate attention.
One thing this area shares with Mississippi is heat and humidity. At 9:33 in the evening here, it is 84 degrees with 82% humidity. In Jackson, it is 82 degrees and 88% humidity. We are almost kissin' cousins.

In this heat at this time of night, sounds carry. For the past two nights, I thought the vector control trucks were on their assassin rounds to bring the Aedes aegypti mosquitoes under control. We have had a surge of dengue here -- along with a wave of Delta variant infections. 

But I was wrong. There were no spray trucks killing off the insect population. When I listened carefully, I knew exactly what the sound was. The song of cicadas. Or, as my Colombian cousin Patty more-poetically describes them -- exploding crickets (blowing up jiminy cricket).

Every year about this time, they emerge from the soil, sluff off their larval carcasses, and fly off to sing their Reddy Kilowatt songs to attract mates for the next reproduction cycle.

I could almost imagine a modern-day Dilsey Gibson returning home from his law office and sitting down under a Spanish moss-bearded oak in his back yard to watch the last streaks of purple disappear below the horizon while he listened to cicadas imparting their buzzing wisdom accumulated over thousands of years to be imparted from one of God's creatures to another in a place where people had lived for generations and relied on the other strengths that God gives those who love his creation and the creatures in it.*

It made me happy tonight.

* -- My homage to Faulkner. Mrs. Richardson did leave her mark on me.    

Tuesday, July 27, 2021

killing me softly

Yesterday may have been an "if-it-isn't-one-thing-it's-another" day (gandhi smiles). But today was its first cousin once removed: a "one-thing-leads-to another" day.

Some time ago (the earth's crust was cooling at the time, if my memory serves me well), I decided I was going to grab ahold of my health with both hands and a sturdy shillelagh. My diet, though high in aesthetic appeal, was a nutritionist's nightmare. I was sorely overweight. And I had several medical conditions that needed tending to.

So, I did what my obsessive self is prone to do. I threw myself into a diet and exercise program that would have made Torquemada's day.

I religiously walked 15 miles (or more) each day. I stripped out as many carbohydrates from my plate as I could. (That was a bit difficult because the low-lying fruit had already been picked. I do not care for most fruit and I am not a user of alcohol.)

Nancy Dardarian over at Countdown to Mexico convinced me to try intermittent fasting. I ate only two meals a day at 2 and 6 in the afternoon. The result was that within 6 months I had carved off 50 to 60 pounds from my Falstaffian body. 

And then one day, for no apparent reason, I stopped the whole process. Just stopped. And I am not certain why. No more walking -- and, worse smashed potatoes and bread returned to my plate. And no more daily blood tests -- for over two years now.

I have some theories. The first is that my Mexican neighbors started talking to me in hushed tones asking if I had cancer. When they did not suspect cancer, my friends were kind enough to point out that I looked horrible. The most common comment was that I looked 20 years older. And I felt it. Losing the weight left me fatigued. I did not particularly like the look of the guy I had become.

But that was all vanity. I think I just got tired of sounding like one of those people you dread will sit next to you at a dinner party whose depth of conversation is solely Their Health Numbers. You know those moments: when you wish that Western Civilization held seppuku in higher regard. Perhaps that is why butter knives are so dull.

That is why I was a bit shocked when I suggested (to myself) it was once again time to put some discipline back into my diet and exercise. As of Sunday, intermittent fasting has reappeared and walking is back on the schedule -- with a personal restriction of no more than 10 miles each day. I am trying a bit of moderation.

Because of the summer heat here in the afternoon, I decided to take most of my steps on the upper terrace. It is a perfect walking track. One circuit of the square (what I call "circling the square" just to raise the eyebrows of mathematicians) is 1/20th of a mile. You can do the easy arithmetic from there.

Well, it was not so perfect on my first circuit. Two fronds of  a Queen Anne palm hit my head as I walked under them. There must have been an arachnid convention in session on one of the fronds because I was showered with multiple spiders and scorpions. (The land crabs must have been caucusing elsewhere.)

When palm fronds sprout from the palm's trunk, they are a perky lot. But age and gravity, as we now know from Gillian Anderson, will affect both homo sapiens and palm fronds. The fronds needed to be trimmed -- or I was going to be forced to play George of the Jungle on each lap.

I put my walk on hold and went downstairs to the bodega where I retrieved two limb loppers. In less than two minutes the Ho Chi Me trail was back in operation.

Then, I saw some loose pieces on the palm trunk and used the pole-topped lopper to pull them off. Then another. Then another. Two minutes stretched close to two hours.

On Sunday I was eating a tuna salad sandwich in the swimming pool and dropped a tiny piece of fish on the pool apron. Because this is the tropics, a line of ants appeared almost immediately, and carried the tuna across the patio and up the same tree I was lopping. I suspect it was the equivalent of a human (with the help of some friends) carrying a grand piano from Portland to Seattle. I was impressed.

But, while clearing off the base portions of the dead fronds, I discovered where the ants were homesteading. In my cleanup process, I broke open their nests. They frantically rushed around trying to save as many eggs as possible, including up my arms and legs.

Within minutes they were organized enough to carry off their young to better homes. I suspect we humans could learn some lessons from them.

All of the dead fronds are now collected in seven large garbage bags for tomorrow's garbage pickup (despite the creative suggestion of a Mexican friend who suggested I should just pull them out into the middle of our dirt road in front of the house, and set them on fire). I will need to give the garbage men a sizeable tip. They usually refuse to pick up yard debris due to the limited space in the truck.

My walking track is cleared and the patio is tidied up -- and I am now eating in my four-hour envelope.

Despite what I said about lifestyle changes yesterday, this is one that will need to be permanent.

Monday, July 26, 2021

gandhi smiles

Today was a "if-it-isn't-one-thing-it's-another" day.

I started the day in the pool by combining my morning exercise routine with my Spanish lesson. All was going swimmingly until Antonio the Indispensable Pool Guy showed up to clean the pool. He suggested that I continue my eccentric high-stepping routine and he would return tomorrow for another battle in the Summer Algae wars.

Because I had not seen him in close to a month as a result of my travels and odd-hour bedtimes when I am in residence, I invited him in and hopped out of the pool. If "hop" is the appropriate word for an overweight old man. It turned out to be good that I did.

I had barely pulled on some clothes when Antonio called to me from the pump room. One of the pipes to the pump had decided to rehearse its Old Faithful impression for the Great Pump Show. Without a quick fix, either the pump room would be flooded or the algae would have its way with the pool. Antonio was having nothing to do with either option.

So, off he went to one of our many local hardware stores and returned with various PVC pipes and joints. He obviously was re-engineering that entire section of plumbing.

With a lot of sawing, cramming, and gluing, I was the proud owner of a new and more-effective intake for the pool filter. And it looked far more aesthetic than its cracked predecessor.

While I was writing this, I realized I had partially fallen into the trap of home-owner lamentation. You know how it goes. "How the house has lost its luster/ How the fine house has changed." That sort of thing.

Since August I have been flying north to assist my mother with a new chapter in her life. Last week, Mom, Darrel, and I attended two memorial services: one for the husband of my father's cousin, the other for a friend I have known for almost 40 years (dancing in the beat of god's heart).

During times like this, people have a tendency to fall back on such hoary chestnuts as:"we need to appreciate each moment of our lives" or "we need to constantly focus on the relationships that surround us." The problem is that we never do. At least, for very long.

Even though those thoughts are larded with good intentions, they always crash on the reality of our self-created reefs of life. We want to do the right thing, but there be dragons here, and their wages are not paid in sentiment.

After Antonio's ministrations in the pump room, I returned to my exercise and Spanish in the pool. And it made me content.

There might be a lesson there. Rather than attempting to completely remake who we are after the death of loved ones, perhaps we could simply change our focus from the annoying broken pipe to the small grace notes that come our way every day. 

For you it may not be exercise and Spanish. Gandhi had a great suggestion that just might apply to our current situation. He advised discontented people to seek out people who held different views from theirs (religion, politics, how to properly fix sewer leaks on Melaque streets -- OK, he did not include that last one).

Then listen to what they have to say. Learn why they believe as they do. And then share with them in a similar manner. We all might learn something new.

You just may make Gandhi smile.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

i am a line man

Today I spent the morning honing my skills as a line man.

And not a Glen Campbell county-type of lineman. More like a queue master.

Tomorrow I will be boarding my regular monthly Alaska flight to Los Angeles and then on to Redmond. Before the clock turns Cinderella back into a victim of involuntary servitude, Mrs. Cotton's elder son will be wishing her a good night.

To fly tomorrow, I need a certificate, not more than three days old, that I am as free from Covid as an old guy can be. Without the certificate, I cannot even check in my bags (or body) at the Alaska counter.

There is a testing site at the airport, but I like to have all of my paperwork in hand when I arrive. There have been tales of people arriving at our airport only to discover the testing site is not open that day, leaving them to scurry back to town for a rapid test -- or rebooking a flight.

Early this morning, I drove over to my favorite lab in San Patricio. This must be about the fifth test I have have taken since the requirement went into effect. In the past, there were usually no more than two people waiting in line in front of me. That is why I was a bit surprised to see a sizeable line waiting for the lab's services.

Surprise should not have been my reaction. For the past week I have seen similar lines in front of our local medical offices. The delta variant of covid is making its way through our community. Some people (not me) predicted that this community's light covid infection rate might be an anomaly just awaiting the next wave. They may have been correct.

What was usually a five-minute wait was much longer. But I only had one more task to accomplish for the morning, so I waited patiently -- as if there was an option.

When my turn came, I was in and out in less than two minutes. An hour later, I had my transit papers signed by General DeGaulle (oh, wait, I think that is a different story arc). I am now ready to head over to the Manzanillo airport tomorrow afternoon.

Just a suggestion. If you are going to use local labs in the next few weeks, I suggest getting the test done early on the morning before you leave.

I was then off to pay my electric bill. Or, more accurately, leave a deposit for future months of service.

My household is based on the fiction that I live here permanently. And, disregarding my travels, I do. I have attempted to set up my recurring bills to be paid electronically and automatically. But that has never quite worked as planned. And it does not usually matter -- as long as I am here to make my payments.

CFE, our government-owned electricity agency, is another office that takes very little of my time. Today was different.

When I went to the main door of the office in Cihuatlán, a workman told me to go to the entrance off of the employee parking lot. The reason was obvious. Workmen had gutted the office area to remodel it.

So, I walked around the corner to encounter a line of about six people standing and sitting in the shade. After just under an hour, the line was reduced to me, That is when I took this shot.

As soon as I sat down, four more people arrived. Unusual for the CFE office, I was in the chair for another half-hour before I was admitted. My deposits took only three or four minutes and I was on my way.

My helpful hint for CFE was going to be that you should expect your CFE transaction will take longer than usual. And it would be a good hint. But a short-lived one. The contractor told me the work should be complete in another week. Operations will then be back to normal.

There you have it. Two hints to deal with lengthening lines due to changing circumstances.

Now, maybe someone can tell me what the new surprise at the airport processing will be tomorrow for me. There almost always is one.

Saturday, July 10, 2021

he's back

My swimming pool is my combination recreation-dining-reading room when summer settles into this part of the world.

For the past couple days, our temperatures here on the tropical Pacific coast of Mexico have taken a distinct leap forward in humidity. At the least the humidity has. The temperatures have sauntered around the upper 80s and lower 90s, as they will until the rainy season lets up in late October.

But it is the humidity that adds that extra bit of oomph to the pit-watering heat index that graces our summer weather. One day, the weather is practically perfect in every way. The next it feels as if that fat guy in the company sauna, who flouts the towel rule, has poured a gallon of water on the heater.

Thus, the aforementioned "past couple days" coupled with "my swimming pool."

This is the time of year when I spend the greater part of my day standing or walking around in my pool. This morning, I was catching up on the news in The Economist -- how the teacher unions in Colombia have endangered the education of the students they should be teaching -- when 
I felt something climbing up the inside of my right leg. 

That feeling is not unusual. My pool is often visited by a variety of insects. And most of them are no more interested in human beings than we are interested in them -- with the exception of insects who need us as an integral part of their sex lives.

The only insect visitors to my pool who violate that rule are some sort of small black water beetles with an annoying habit of biting. Me.

I suspect they are merely eating sloughing skin, but they often bite to the quick. I noticed yesterday that they are starting to show up along the water line of the pool again. I dispatch them as soon as I see them.

But it was not a beetle this time. It was a true bug. Or, more accurately, a rantara. We sometimes call them water stick insects because they look like their landlubber relatives.

There are certain insects found in God's Great Plan in the "Jokes" section. The most unfortunate is the tailless whip scorpion (locally known as a cancle), who looks ferocious, but is one of the area's most docile and beneficial insects (laughing at heaven's door).

My visitor in the pool fits in that same category.  Its rather startling appearance has earned it the name "water scorpion." It is easy to see why. Those arms, designed for grabbing, and that tail, looking like a stinger, could fool the unwary.

But it is not a scorpion. The arms really are used for grabbing -- just like a scorpion or praying mantis. However, the tail does not hide a stinger. It is far more utilitarian for a gill-less aquatic insect. It is a breathing siphon.

The water scorpion does carry a type of venom, though, as do most hunting insects. To calm its prey, the water scorpion inserts its proboscis and pumps in a sedative. When the prey drifts off into twilight, the rantara dines.

The same proboscis acts as a defensive mechanism, as well. In fear, the water scorpion will poke humans with it, though the effect is not even close to a true scorpion sting. I have been nipped at least twice now. It is nothing more than a little pinch.

This is probably the sixth one that I have seen one in my pool over the past seven years, and I am not certain why they troll my waters. Their usual prey are tadpoles, small fish, and other aquatic insects. With the exception of the water beetles, who I slaughter on sight, my pool appears to be devoid of likely prey.

That may be why they do not stay long to enjoy my company. As soon as they discover the water-filled pool is a dry prey-hole, they crawl out on the edge of the pool, do an uncanny imitation of a praying mantis, and fly away like some strange alien in an 
M. Night Shyamalan film.

Of course, I may simply not be thinking like a water scorpion.  Maybe this guy had the same ambition as the spiders in one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons, and knew just where he could find a more resplendent meal.

Sunday, July 04, 2021

simona -- thanks for the memories


Happy Fourth of July.

For Americans, it is the time we celebrate winning our independence from a tyrannical, imperial oppressor (with a large dose of assistance from another equally-tyrannical, imperial oppressor). And between bites of mustard-laden hot dogs and majestic mountains of potato salad, some of us may actually reflect on the founding ideals of the Declaration of Independence and what we need to do to be more true to them.

For various reasons our area of Mexico did not host the usual gatherings of Canadians on 1 July and Americans on the Fourth. Instead, I spent this evening on a bittersweet voyage. I must have taken my celebratory advice from that old impresario George M. Cohan, who always played the sad scene against a happy background.

This evening was the last night Simona Hügli, the owner and creative genius of the eponymous Simona's Restaurant and Bar, would be offering up her dishes to her customers. I am very bad with time, but I have known Simona since she opened her restaurant on the beach before she moved to her current location.

One evening at the old location, she offered one of her new creations -- a pork lomo encrusted with coffee and cocoa (amongst other ingredients). I am not a coffee or chocolate fan, but the combination brought out the best in the pork loin. 

That began a long-running conversation between the two of us about seemingly-unusual food combinations that would enhance the underlying taste of each dish. And these were not merely foodie gabfests. She actually put that creativity into the meals she served to her customers.

There are two types of restaurants in these parts. The workhorses that strive to put out consistent meals from a seldom-changed menu. And the show horses that have a constantly-changing menu that challenges the taste buds of customers with new dishes based on cleverly-combined ingrdients.

Simona's was one of the show horses. My meal tonight was a grilled salmon served on a bed of mint couscous and accompanied by a mixed green salad. Her dishes have always been well-presented. Unfortunately, I started eating before I remembered I was there to take photographs.

The deck on her restaurant was rather empty when I arrived.

But it soon filled as well-wishers arrived for their last supper with Simona. By a twist of fate, I knew each of the evening's diners. It was almost like having a reunion of distant relatives. Unfortunately, the evening had the feel of a memorial service. Admittedly, a joyful memorial service, but reality was also a guest. The reason we were all there was to celebrate the memories we have shared with Simona. And to wish her business a final farewell.

There are very few showhorse restaurants in this part of Mexico. For that reason, the closure of Simona's will be a real loss because there are only one or two other options available in the same category.

Of course, that is us mourning our loss when we should be offering our best to Simona in her new challenges.

Thanks for the memories, Simona. Godspeed.  

Saturday, July 03, 2021

going to pot

One result of Hurricane Enrique has gone unremarked on our local message boards -- probably because we have become so accustomed to the problem.

The deterioration of our roads. Poholes to be specific.

Highway 200 is the sole north-south coastal road in this part of Mexico. Everyone relies on it. Businesses. Tourists. Local folk going to and fro in their daily lives. It is what a northern traffic engineer would call a survival arterial.

American politicians are involved in a vigorous debate about infrastructure. What is it? Who should pay for it? Who has enough clout to pick off low-hanging fruit for the good of their constituents, if not for the nation's?

I live in a country that imposes the lowest rate of taxation of all 37 of the OECD countries. 16.5% of GDP. That compares with an OECD average of 33.8%. (If you are curious, the highest is Denmark at 46.3%. Canada is 33.5%. The United States is 24.5%.)

Mexico's current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), a populist leftist, believes that level of taxation is just about right for Mexico. He is trying to squeeze out more revenue by fighting corruption in what sounds like an almost-Reaganesque fight against "waste, fraud, and abuse."

For the time being, that leaves Mexican infrastructure where it is.

And where it is right now is exemplified by Highway 200. The portion of the highway that runs through our area is well-travelled by buses, trucks, and cars. The result of that traffic is always apparent.

As long as I have lived here, the road surface continually cracks -- as do all roads everywhere. Eventually, water works its way into the cracks and the roadbed subsides resulting in a pothole. Once breached the pothole will continue to grow.

The section of the highway that wends through Melaque underwent some minor cosmetic surgery in the early Spring. Potholes were filled with sand and then covered with asphalt patches. For about three months it was like driving on the autobahn to Bonn.

Then came the summer rains. The road held up well for the first rain. But the inches dropped by hurricane Enrique were just too much for the surface.

The highway did not flood. Or, at least, not in the way we think of floods with torrents of water tearing up things with gravity assisting its flow.

But the highway did flood in the sense that the rainwater had very few places to go. Vehicles driving through the water transferred enough energy that the seeping water combined with its churning tore away large hunks of the asphalt. The result is now a stretch of highway almost a mile long that looks as if it was set as a trap for Patton's 761st Tank Battalion. 

The road currently is unsightly. But, more important, it is a bit dangerous. To avoid disappearing into one of those next-stop-realignment holes, drivers have to learn to be expert slalom competitors.

The problem with that is that when drivers focus on the potholes, they are prone to not notice that their vehicle has strayed into the oncoming lane. I have seen several near-misses during the past couple days. I have been the cause of at least two.

So, what is to be done about it?

Not much. At least, until the state government can cough up enough funds to once again bandage the road with asphalt patches. Without a separate source of revenue (like tolls), waiting is what we do.

When you have a low income, you just make do with what you have.

Friday, July 02, 2021

no iguanas here

When the sun comes out, you never know what tp expect.

Yesterday I headed to the swimming pool to complete my Spanish lesson. There is nothing like immersing oneself in a new language.

I was just about to step in the pool when I noticed movement on the other side of the patio. Not just any movement. It was that distinctive rapid waddle of large lizards -- somewhere between an athletic roll and the gait of an overweight opera diva.

And I was correct. I knew it either had to be a green iguana or its very-distant cousin, a black spiny-tailed lizard, erroneously often called a black iguana.

Distinguishing adults is easy. Iguanas are green. Black spiny-tailed lizards are -- well, black. Or gray. Juveniles are more difficult to identify because the young of both are a brilliant green. (Rather than sparking the oh-so-popular "is it an iguana?" debate, I will refer you to switching parties. This discussion seems to arise every two years or so.)

My patio visitor was a young black spiny-tailed lizard. And he was not happy that I had invaded his patio. Spiny-tailed lizards are quite skittish. And understandably so. They are rather low on a food chain where humans are apex predators. Some people are quite fond of the purported health benefits of the lizard's blood.

He was safe from me on that account. I am not a culinary aficionado of most lizards. I was happy to let him be. All I wanted was a photograph.

Apparently, he is as paparazzi-shy as several royal celebrities, and took my approach as an omen that his destiny would end in a stew pot. So, off he ran to seek shelter under the toilet in my pool bathroom.

I thought that was the last time I would see him. Large fauna (especially of the reptile version) make cameo appearances in the patio and are never seen again. But not this guy.

While I was bent over picking up leaves and flowers from the vine in front of my bedroom door this morning, I heard some rustling in the landscaping. It sounded like a bird that had been startled, but could not get traction to take flight.

But it was not a bird.  It was Señor Ctenosaura similis. Apparently, he thought that living in the landscaping was a better hunting-ground for dinner than living under a toilet (though, I suspect the offering of cockroaches and spiders would be adequate there).

When he finally clumsily disentangled himself from the vines, he made one of those wild dashes based more on the Monty Python "run away" instinct than having any real escape plan. He paused at one point and then made a bee-line to the bodega door. Even with that bull-sized head, he was able to squeeze under the closed door -- a fact that I carefully noted when I compared the space under my bedroom door.

So, I may have a long-term visitor in the house. And that is fine with me. Even though the spiny-tailed lizards make terrible pets because of their disposition, they do eat lots of bothersome insects. Unfortunately, they are very fond of frogs, and I just had two return to my landscaping following the hurricane.

I will know if he has found a new home in the bodega when Dora shows up on Saturday to help clean the house.

Thursday, July 01, 2021

getting my goat

I think I first saw it in a social studies class my senior year in high school.

A goat rearing up against a flower tree. A rather prosaic subject, but artistically effective. No. More than effective. Almost mystically alluring. 

A anonymous Sumerian artist constructed it of wood, gold, silver, and lapis lazuli around 4600 years ago, and there it was on the page staring out and daring me not to admire it. I did. Admire it, that is.

The same ram showed up during my freshman year in college in H.W. Janson's History of Art (which resides on the top shelf of my library in the house with no name) and the first volume of my western civilization textbook (which was exiled to Goodwill when I sold the Salem house). I started to feel as if the goat was tracking me.

And then I saw the real thing.

When I was stationed in England in the mid-1970s, I would regularly drive to London to take in the sybaritic pleasures of what had once been an imperial capital, and in the 1970s was quickly sliding into being, in the words of a British politician of the era, "a second-rate city in a third-world country." But there was nothing second-rate about the National Museum -- probably because it was filled with loot from third-world countries that had once been great powers in their own time.

While I was strolling through the pile of Egyptian mummies, just waiting for their chance to star in a B-grade horror film, I wandered into the Mesopotamia Gallery. And there it was, encased in a glass case. My goat. Or one of a two pieces that have survived the ravages of time. The other is at the University of Pennsylvania.

My favorite sculpture is Donatello's Mary Magdalene -- the very essence of beauty in penance. But the goat (officially titled Ram in a Thicket) is a close second. The archeologist who disinterred the piece, Leonard Woolley, named it after the Abraham story where God provided a ram as a substitute saving the life of Isaac.

Of course, the goats have nothing to do with Abraham. They were found in a Sumerian tomb, and the best guess is that they supported some sort of altar between them.

So, yes, it may be true. My second favorite sculpture is in the pagan idol category. I will have to live with that seeming violation of the First Commandment.

The story of how the two goats, found crushed, were reconstructed is a fascinating tale in itself. But this essay is not really about the archeological arc of the goats. It is a thank you.

In this morning's messages, I received a note from fellow-blogger Gary Denness over at The Mexile. He told me he was sending a special gift. It arrived moments later. And I will share it with you. As Kurt Vonnegut would say: "And here it is."

Yup. He was in the British Museum filming my goat. The video was accompanied with a Gary-typical bit of British wit that "the museum seems quite adamant that it's their ram, not yours."

They, of course, are wrong. They may possess it, but the goat and I have a long-term relationship that no curator can break.

I have recently been itching to get on an airplane to visit a number of art pieces around the world. But, for now, I may have to be content with visits more local.

After all, what could be better than visiting the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. A certain skull calls to me.