Wednesday, October 27, 2021

sundowner sin-drome

This is the last week you will see one of these in Barra de Navidad.

At least, it is the last one you will see if you show up at 7:30 in the evening next week to enjoy the free nightly light show. If you show up at 7:30 next Sunday, you will experience a beautiful black sky, but not a sunset.

You all know why. It is that time of year again when we switch from daylight saving time to standard time. And this time we get the hour we invested last Spring in the Daylight Saving and Loan Association. Without interest.

I am not going to mount my mango crate and do my impression of a Hyde Corner orator. We all have our opinion about the utility of this clock-moving exercise, but I will refrain from sharing mine. Though the word "futility" almost snuck into that sentence.

This is simply a two-prong public service announcement from Mexpatriate.

The first prong is to once again warn those of us who are here in Mexico, that The Change comes this Sunday -- 31 October. Halloween, for those of you who follow The Old Religion.

Canada and The States do not switch back until the next Sunday -- 7 November. So, for one week, the usual time zone differences will be off an hour for a week. The same problem arises in Spring with the leap ahead -- but that difference lasts two weeks.

The second prong derives from the first. Because there of this periodic chronological anomaly between Mexico and its two northern neighbors, customary international airline arrival times and departures will alter by one hour. My advice (and I learned this one the hard way) is to rely on your ticket, not on your memory -- even if you fly in and out of Manzanillo monthly. Especially, if you fly in and out of Manzanillo monthly. 

The only people who are going to be inconvenienced by the shift back to standard time here on the Costalegre are people who preferred to eat their dinner while watching the sun drown. Hoping for a glimpse of the proverbial green flash.

Of course, they still can. They will just need to join the Denny's Early Bird Special crowd.

I will have mine with the chicken-fried steak special.

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

tripping the breaker

One of life's greatest gifts is the interruption of routines.

When it looked as if Hurricane Rick might be paying Barra de Navidad a visit, I stowed the plastic table and chair on the upper terrace. For me,  that was a big step. I usually leave the set in place. So far, none of our storms have plucked either of them from my tenuous grasp.

Otherwise, I joined the rest of the village in going about our daily chores. None of my Mexican friends were the least bit surprised when the hurricane made landfall two states over in Michoacán.

Having dodged the prospect of being without power and internet for a bit, I spent Sunday as I have spent most Sundays here. I walked from Barra to San Patricio for church. Stopped and chatted with acquaintances. Read. Wrote.

I was just topping up my evening walk when a Prussian formation of dark clouds moved in and graciously shared some of the moisture they had accumulated over the Pacific. Even though not part of the hurricane, they were the type of weather camp followers that major storm systems drag along with them.

And rain it did. Not like the tropical storm rains we receive. But it was sufficient.

Then it happened. The power failed. It was almost like boarding a time machine and waking up in the middle of the seventh century. Everything electronic was dead. Those powered by batteries were at the end of their day and needed charging.

So, I did something I have not done in years. I reverted to my farmer family DNA and went to bed -- simply because the sun had gone down.

When I woke up, it was still dark outside. Well, it was also dark inside because the power had not been restored.

On a normal day at that time, I would be downloading my newspaper and the daily news summary from The Economist. But I did not have enough power left on my telephone to do that. I wanted to keep some battery power in place in case I needed the telephone for some unknown emergency. I guess, though, that is why they are called emergencies.

A quick reconnoiter of the neighborhood revealed that the village had power. The only outage was in my neighborhood, and only about a block was affected there. 

Thee way homes are hooked to the grid in my neighborhood baffles me. The house across the street does not have power. The house west of mine does. The apartment building next to me has only one unit without power; the rest are fine.

I lived in Villa Obregón for six years. When the power failed in the neighborhood, half of the neighborhood lost power; the other half did not. Odder, half of my unit would have power; the other half would not. I never did figure out why that was. I am certain there is a story there somewhere.

Because this morning's outage had stripped me of my citizenship in the twenty-first century, I decided to enjoy my non-electronic freedom. I was Prometheus unbound. On my little walk, I could have been Samuel Pepys strolling the streets of London in search of tidbits for his diary.

When I got back to the house, I did something I have been telling myself I needed to do for years. The house has two balconies that look out on the street. Because they are gated and locked, I have spent very little time on them.

Today, I unlocked the gates, brewed up a pot of green tea, dragged the chair and table out of their hurricane hiding place, and set up Mexpatriate on the cusp between my house sanctuary and the wilds of the village. 

I am not a very good relaxer. I like to have projects. To be doing something. Thus the long list of things I set each day for myself. The newspaper. My magazines. Researching. Writing. Cooking. My Spanish lesson. Tidying up the patio. Walking.

I enjoy all of them. But I know why they are on my "get it done or you are going to feel a failure" list. I just need to keep moving.

The electricity failure, having broken what would be my usual routine (a routine that relies heavily upon charged batteries), has given me an opportunity for one brief magical moment to reach out in my day -- and just rest. To prop my feet up on the edge of the balcony, sip my tea, and do -- nothing. Not even really think.

And, just as soon as I get this missive off to you, that is exactly what I am going to do.

By the way, the electricity was restored about an hour ago. But I am going to ignore it for the moment. I was patient waiting for its return. I can be just as patient waiting to use it. Mexico continues to add more virtues to quiver.   

Monday, October 25, 2021

have ticket; won't travel

A frequent reader sent me a message several months ago that something I had written really disappointed her.

I informed her that filing a complaint in that category required getting into a long line of parents, teachers, and ex-girlfriends that stretches over the horizon. Today I may join the queue.

When the new year started, my dance card was almost filled for September and October. In late September, I was to fly north to Vancouver for a trans-Pacific cruise to Tokyo. My flight home from Tokyo (the Emirates flight that played a big part in my recent round-the world escapade -- adding it all up) would get me back to Barra de Navidad just in time to fly to Rome to catch a cruise to Miami with my friends Roy and Nancy.

As you already know, the Tokyo cruise was cancelled when Canada closed its ports to cruise ships (even those that were doing their best to depart Canada). Then, Tokyo closed its ports. The cruise line automatically refunded my payment.

That left the Rome cruise. But not for long. Italy closed its ports, as well. The cruise line returned my deposit.

Last night I was chatting with Julio at Papa Gallo's when my telephone sent me a reminder that I had an AeroMexico flight to Mexico City this morning. I laughed because I knew that was not true. My memory is fading, but it is not getting that bad. Or so I thought.

I opened my calendar. Not only was I flying to Mexico City on Monday morning, I had a reservation at the airport Hilton that night before I boarded a midnight British Airlines flight to Heathrow and on to Rome the next day.

At first, I thought I had just forgotten to remove the reservations from my calendar. They were the flights to start the Rome cruise. A quick check on the internet proved me wrong. I was still booked for the three flights and the airport hotel stay.

When I figured out what I had done, I still had an hour and a half before the first flight left for Mexico City. My first instinct was to grab a carry-on bag, toss some clothes in it, call a taxi, and head off for an undetermined amount of time in Italy. Florence, of course. And maybe Sicily.

There was a day when I did not restrict myself to the corset of planning my travels. I just went. And they were the most memorable of my trips.

I actually had my passport in hand and the carry-on resting on my bed when the adult, who usually spends his time napping in the decision-making room of my brain, grabbed the controls from the 8-year old who is usually in charge. He reminded me I have commitments for the next two Sundays. I cannot just wander off like some unfaithful husband just because the sirens of travel are singing my name.

Cancelling the hotel and British Airlines reservations were easy. I did it online. AeroMexico was another story.

There is a long version and a short version. Here is the short version.

I cannot get a refund for my first class ticket to Mexico City because 1) I did not call three hours before the flight; 2) even if I had, the ticket itself was non-refundable, but 3) if I wait until the plane lands in Mexico City, I can then call and get a refund.

I felt sorry for the young man on the telephone. He was obviously a trainee who had to put me on hold after I shared each piece of information with him. He was so flustered that he did not bother to listen to what he was telling me. I was going to point out that I had never heard of a non-refundable first class ticket and that the other two suggestions were inconsistent, but I did not want to add to his already-confusing day.

Maybe I will call this afternoon to check on the refund. If I recall correctly (and that is a condition precedent that recent events have provided plenty of doubt as to its veracity) the amount of money involved may not be worth spending more time on.

When traveling, there are several considerations that do not show up on my radar. One of them is the refundability of a ticket. I notice that nonrefundable purchases are far more common now -- both on airlines and hotels. In my years of travel, I do not think I have ever cancelled a trip. Providers have been the culprits when it comes to cancellations.

I put nonrefundable tickets in the same category as travel and health insurance. They are options for which I personally see no need. Please note the "personally" in that sentence.

This experience with AeroMexico may change that. Or, at least, it may make me think about whether I should buy non-refundable tickets.

Either way, I am certain I will add some more people in that "you disappoint me" line. 

I suggest bringing a chair. It is a long wait.     

Saturday, October 23, 2021

the naming of things


The name sounded like it was from one of those stilted conversations between Mulder and Scully on The X-Files.

"So, you think that it is just a coincidence -- that he was in Iran, then in Kazakhstan, and now he shows up in the Gulf of Tehuantepec. I tell you, Scully, Seventeen-E is up to something. And it is not just those black United Nations helicopters."

I have always found the names of baby cyclones to be almost clinical. For almost two weeks, "Disturbance 1" has been loitering around the edge of the Gulf of Tehuantepec like some unruly teenager threatening to do something bad if people do not pay attention to him.

We have been paying attention. And he has done something. We just do not yet know how bad it is. Friday morning, the disturbance turned into a tropical depression. Seventeen-E by name.

But that name was to be a brief one. By Friday afternoon, the depression had turned into a tropical storm. Tropical Storm Rick, to use his official name. And, if all goes as predicted by the National Hurricane Center (the agency that usually gets these things correct, Rick will be upgraded to hurricane status on Saturday evening.

Most of the cyclone wannabes that form south of Mexico head off on a northwesterly route, and they die at sea. Or they head toward the tip of Baja Sur as if it were a cyclone magnet.

Rick seems to have filed a different flight plan. He is heading a bit west, but primarily north. A path that could potentially take the hurricane right over the top of this piece of Pacific Mexico. The NHC predicts the first winds will be noticeable in our area between 8 AM and 8 PM on Sunday.

But the NHC adds a caveat to all of these predictions. "There is larger-than-normal uncertainty in the track forecast of Rick, and the arrival time of hazardous conditions within the watch area could change significantly with future forecasts."

That uncertainty is reflected in the projected cone of the hurricane. Even though the hurricane is predicted to pass almost right over this area late Monday, neither a hurricane or tropical storm watch has yet been declared for our coastline. That certainly is subject to -- in the words of the NHC's own warning --  "change significantly."

If Rick takes the middle course of the predicted cone, we may be spared some of the worst of the winds. When Nora passed by, we were to her right. Not a good place to be when a hurricane comes visiting.

We could actually experience only the left side of Rick. But no one can be certain how strong the winds will be once the hurricane passes over land. The predicted cone shows a rather quick degrade to tropical storm status.

One thing does seem to be certain. This wild child born late in the season has an unpredictable personality.

One of my favorite Mel Brooks songs is "Hope for the Best, Expect the Worst."

I am hoping for the best. After our surprising experience with Nora, I may even put away the patio tables and chairs.

Friday, October 22, 2021

inking up the rice

I could not tell you what I like best about Mexico. 

But somewhere near the top of the list would be the food.

And I do not mean Mexican cuisine. I find it to be rather pedestrian.* What I enjoy is the availability of food here in Mexico.

I know there are some well-known cooks of Mexican food, like Diana Kennedy, who bemoan the demise of the fresh vegetables she knew when she moved to the country. I have made some of the same observation about my disappointment in local tomatoes.

But just in the baker's dozen of years that I have lived on the Costalegre, the variety of Mexico's food offerings have greatly improved. Stores here now offer almost as much selections as I can find at the Fred Meyer close to my brother's house in Oregon. Maybe more.

Let's take last night's dinner. By the photograph you undoubtedly know what I cooked up. Squid and octopus risotto cooked in squid ink.

It is not long ago that creating the dish from local products would not have been possible. All of that has changed. In large part, thanks to Alex at Hawaii. 

Eighteen months ago, I found a jar of squid ink in Alex's refrigeration case. Right above his large selection of cheeses.

Even though I am not a fish fan, I do like seafood. And the sight of the ink jar made me wish that I could buy a fresh cuttlefish -- the traditional Italian ink-dish. But unless one had taken an odd turn, I was not going to find one fresh here.

During the height of The Virus onslaught, our harbor was closed to fishing. That meant no fresh squid or octopus -- the next-best alternative. Instead, I made an ink-based risotto using canned clams. Not terrible, but not very good, either (inky dinky risotto).

That changed last night. Risottos are best when the ingredients are simple and complement one another.

I sautéed strips of squid and octopus in olive oil with onion, garlic, tomatoes, and garlic. I then added an international touch from another seafood-loving country by turning the mixture into a sauce with a good sake. The secret ingredient was the squid ink.

While the sauce was reducing, I sautéed an onion in butter, and then toasted the arborio rice. (Yes. Hawaii has arborio rice -- plus other varieties.) Then I slowly added fish stock to the rice -- bit by bit -- until it started to soften. At that point, I added the squid and octopus sauce, and cooked it all until the liquid could be emulsified into the rice. (The emulsification process is why it is important to use a starchy rice for risotto.)

A squeeze of lemon juice and a bit of lemon zest, and the plate was ready for the table.

As you can see, the dish does not have the tell-tale black of a truly Venetian risotto. The reason is that I did not want to make the mistake I made last time with my clam sauce (cristina potter, call your office). So, I cut back on the ink.

It was probably a wise decision. I used enough ink to add that distinctive umami for which the dish is noted, without making it look like something out of the Batman survival-rations kit.     

It may not have been at the top of risottos prepared in Venice this year. But, it was, by far, the best risotto to come out of my kitchen in years.

There is a large bowl left over in the refrigerator.** If you happen to stop by.


* -- Of course, that generalization is based on the same error that makes inductive reasoning such thin ice. There is no such thing as Mexican cuisine, but there are lots of regional cuisines. I certainly have not sampled them all. But that is fodder for another essay.

** -- And, yes, I am aware that serving left-over risotto in Italy is still a capital offense. It should never be served other than immediately out of the pan in which it is cooked. But what are you going to do?

Thursday, October 21, 2021


Call me Albania.

Well, the Albania that struggled along under the ungloved steel fist of Enver Hoxha. When I last checked, he has been holding his breath for almost 37 years.

If I ever decided to indulge in the pretension of giving my humble home a name, it would need to be a name that celebrated the isolation of Hoxha's Albania. But, I hope without the accompanying  measure of international opprobrium.

Like many Mexican homes, my house is a sanctuary. A fortress. When the front door is closed, I am as cosseted as a sultan without his harem.

I have no door bell. I have no knocker on my door. And, because the music that wafts into my patio from across the street, I cannot hear anyone shouting for  entry -- even if I am in the patio. As I said. Cossetted. Or, as Henry Higgins would have it: "As restful as an undiscovered tomb."

There is one exception to the not-even-a-visa-will-get-you-into-my-country rule. Dora comes to the house twice a week to assist me in restoring order to the house. I will often leave the front door or the garage doors open to facilitate removing whatever needs removing to the street.

Open doors seem to be a magnet for the curious. Kids. Dogs. Goats. Adults. All have shown up unannounced in my patio -- just having a look around.

Last week, it was this rooster.

My neighbors raise poultry. Chickens. Ducks. Turkeys. It is like living several verses of Old McDonald. Usually, they stay fenced in. But, lately, several pullets have decided to exercise their egg-given rights to be limited free-range chickens. I have to be careful when I drive away that I do not complete the first step in creating chicken piccata.

But this was the first male of the species to visit inside the house. Some roosters bear their cocky name with aplomb. This guy did.

I wish I could wax poetic about his appearance. After all, he is a handsome bird. But, instead of searching for adjectives like "stylish" and "suave," I kept coming back to "tasty."

Even the most pedestrian of musicals (and Aspects of Love certainly qualifies for the category) contains at least one memorable line. For me, that line is sung by a father cherishing his daughter.

"Taking more from this life than I ought to take." I often think of that line when I consider the contentment that living in Mexico gives me. Even when I am considering eating one of my neighbors.

About 30 years ago, my then-girlfriend Linda and I were watching one of those treacly nature films that anthropomorphize animals. A group of children, each around eight years-old, were oohing and aahing over some cute rabbits when one of the boys picked up the largest rabbit by the scruff, weighed it in his hands, and pronounced: "Yup. A five-pound roaster."

From then on, whenever we saw something tasty still on paw or hoof, we would look at each other and say: "Yup. A five-pound roaster."

I tried to shoo my visitor the rooster back into the street. He just ignored me with one of those malevolent yelliw-eyed defiant stares that make people suspect chickens aren't.

So, I stared right back. Perhaps he could see in my eye that I was not intent on chasing him away, but was about to test where the two of us resided on the local food chain.

Instead of running at him, I started to stealthily stalk him. The look and the pace was enough to convince him that visiting hours were over. He, as my grandmother enjoyed saying, skedaddled.

This morning I looked for him amongst the poultry inmates. He was not there. My guess is that someone else is determining whether or not he is a "five-pound roaster."

Or rooster.

Saturday, October 16, 2021

saving jiminy

Learning how other people think is one of my favorite pastimes.

This week, while buying a broom at the hardware store, I stood in line with a northern woman who has been spending part of the last four winters in Melaque. Each time in a different bungalow. Each time with a different landlord.

Noticing the two cans of Raid in her hands, I asked her if she was having an ant party. Her response took me off guard. "No. Cockroaches. I found a cockroach in my house." I was taken off guard because if I do not see a cockroach at my house at least once a week, I suspect that Mother Nature has slipped into menopause.

Sometimes, I cannot help myself in conversations like this. Rather than leaving well-enough alone, I told her how I did not mind the cockroaches until they started biting my scalp in the middle of the night. They are now on the very limited "shoot on sight" list.

I should have left it there, but I had to add the scorpion and wasp stings, the nightly beetle invasions in my bedroom, and, of course, the swarms of Aedes aegypti
 (the local mosquito that brings the gifts of dengue, chikungunya, and Zika -- as well as yellow fever elsewhere). I overdid it. Her parting shot as she left the store was: "I am ordering my landlord to fumigate the place."

One of the ongoing discussions amongst northern tourists is the effect of the periodic spraying from the vector control trucks. The spray's primary target is the above-mentioned 
Aedes aegypti and its attendant diseases that take an ongoing personal and economic toll in these villages by the sea. There is an underlying angst of not knowing what is being sprayed, but the biggest concern is the death toll from the spray.

Whatever is being misted into the air kills almost all insects. Within hours of the truck passing, my patio is strewn with dead insects -- primarily butterflies and skippers. The place looks like a fairyland Somme.

Mind you, I am not a pacifist in mankind's battle with the insect and arachnid worlds. But I eschew genocide in favor of assassination.

Like the cockroach-loathing woman at the grocery, I am a Raid assassin. I keep cans in the kitchen and my bathroom to dispatch flies, mosquitoes, and cockroaches. The rest of the animal kingdom is safe from my deadly gaze. Well, with the exception of scorpions. But that is why God invented sandals.

Later in the day of my cockroach-snuffing conversation, I was in my bathroom and noticed movement on the floor. Odd, jerky movement. A cockroach, thought I, as I reached for the Raid can.

It turns out I was wrong. It was a cricket. The odd movement was caused by the amputation of his left front leg. Without it, he looked like a drunk performing road-side sobriety tests.

I put the Raid down. Crickets are not on my hit list. In fact, like the Chinese, I enjoy their presence. I have never caged one as a pet, but I find their night-time chirrs almost meditative.

Before I could pull out my camera and snap a portrait for you, he wobbled out-of-sight behind the toilet. But I swear he was wearing a top hat and spats, and carrying a furled umbrella. 

So, to paraphrase Barbara Fritchie, shoot, if you must, the old gray heads of cockroaches, flies, and mosquitoes, but spare Jiminy Cricket.*

He still has some people to chirr up in the night.

* And, yes, I am aware that an ode to the sanctity of cricket life in Mexico is beyond ironic. But, being eaten for dinner is a far greater destiny than being gassed like a Syrian Kurd.

Friday, October 15, 2021

"madge, where are my socks"

It was the first sound each morning in the household of uncle Noble.

Uncle Noble would be getting dressed, and when he got to the sock-donning portion of his morning ablution, he would bellow out to my aunt: "Madge, where are my socks?"

He knew where they were. In his sock drawer. But it was the signal for her to leave her breakfast preparations to open his sock drawer, and hand him his socks.

We all have our Noble moments. But, for most of us, unlike Uncle Noble, we simply cannot find what we want.

Let me give you a little example from the Mexpatriate manse.

I have been fortunate enough to get through most of my life without the need of prescription lenses to bring clarity to the world. But that is no longer true.

A couple of years ago, I noticed that the words on the printed page seemed to be getting slightly blurry. I initially chalked it up to shoddy publishing. Probably because all of us are reluctant to immediately admit the shell that carries our soul has a shelf life -- and deteriorates accordingly.

It was not every reading session. Sometimes, it would be fine. Other times, I could barely make out words. The solution with my Kindle was simple; I just cranked up the size of the font. But most of my news is not available on my Kindle. I read my magazines and newspapers on my telephone. And, there, I have a size limitation for font manipulation.

The solution was a simple one. I needed to buy some readers -- those inexpensive plastic lenses that perform as the workhorses of reading.

During my monthly comings and goings from Mexico to Oregon during the past fifteen months, I bought a series of readers. A set of three at Costco. Another at RiteAid. And yet another at BiMart, along with a nifty folding pair that the flight attendant on the Japan Airlines flight thought was clever and classy. She declared them "very Japanese." In truth they were very Chinese, as were the rest.

Have you ever noticed that if you have ten pens available to use that you soon have none? And, if you have just one pen (let's say a vintage 1931 Pelikan T111 Toledo you inherited from your father), you have one pen forever. There must be some unstated Newtonian Law of Motion that controls this odd form of osmosis.

Whatever the rule is, it applies to readers. Of the six pairs of readers I have bought in the last few months, I am now the proud owner of exactly one. The folding set so admired by the Japanese flight attendant.

What happened to the other five? I know what happened to two of them. Their Chinese provenance guaranteed that they would not be sturdy. They were inexpensive (about $20 or so) and they were not up to the wear I give to almost everything I own.

But that leaves three that are unaccounted for. Two of them disappeared in the last three days. 

I tend to take off my readers when I do not need their service and set them down in the same place -- on my nightstand. That is the ideal procedure. But, too often, I will wander away from my reading (say, to pick up leaves in the patio or start my walk), and I discover I am still wearing my readers.

Instead of walking back to my bedroom, and having no Aunt Madge to call, I will set them down on a table or the nearest flat surface. That method has served me well. Until this week. When I returned to retrieve the glasses from where I thought I had left them, they weren't there. Nor were they anywhere I had been.

Never mind, said I. They will eventually show up. If I do not find them, Dora or Antonio will. But my sanguinity was not rewarded. I am now down to that one pair.

Here is my theory. One of three things has happened.

1. Someone is coming into my house and stealing my readers, but leaving far more valuable items untouched.

2. I have been hiding the readers in a secret place to stop the thieving described in Possibility Number One.

3. I have put them someplace and I have just forgotten where they are.

Over the years, I have watched people age and slip into the first two categories. That process is the foundation of the script of The Father -- a movie we should discuss with one another soon. And that very well may be my future if DNA has any part in it.

But, right now, I am in the third category. A familiar one to those of us who are enjoying our latter years.

Losing glasses is minor. Constantly forgetting nouns in the middle of sentences is a little more disturbing -- if only because I know it is a dress rehearsal for moving on to more exotic accusations when I misplace things. 

The good thing about losing readers is that I do not need to fly north to replace them. I can buy them easily here in Mexico.

And maybe, just maybe, an Aunt Madge-equivalent, The Angel of Lenses, will show up with a box full of the readers I have lost over the years.

She was good at it.

Note --Let me share the first stanza of Billie Collins's delightful poem "Forgetfulness." I am starting to the live the art.

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.


Thursday, October 14, 2021

the ever-shrinking 20-peso note

Some things take their time in Mexico.

It has now been three years since the Bank of Mexico announced it was withdrawing the 20-peso note from circulation (bienvenidos, benito -- y adiós). The only people who greeted the news with what passed for cheer were those who have been mistakenly leaving 500-peso notes as tips believing it was a 20-peso note of similar color and bearing almost the same portrait of Benito Juarez.

The rest of Mexico had other concerns. The 20-peso note is one of the three notes merchants rely upon as workhorses. Its disappearance would create a fiscal hole in their tills.

Not to worry said The Bank. We have you covered. We are going to issue more 20-peso coins.

That growl you heard was from the people who would now be carrying around an increased load of coins. Instead of a fiscal hole in the till, there would be physical holes in the trousers of consumers.

The Bank was correct in telling us not to worry because since 2018 not much has happened to bring the prophecy to pass. But there have been some interesting small moves.

The 20-peso coin promised by The Bank is not a new innovation. 20-peso coins have been circulating since 1980. But they are rather rare finds.

Whenever I find one I keep it. In my thirteen years of living here, my 20-peso zoo consists of exactly three coins. I had two others, but I mistakenly spent them thinking they were 10-peso coins.

And why do people save them when they find them? For the same reason we collect anything else -- they are different.

Those are two of the coins that I have collected. The Bank has used the coin as a great medium for commemorating Mexican celebrities or historical events. My favorite is the Octavio Paz coin -- primarily because I like his writing, not because of any artistic value in the coin itself.

But those are old coins -- as you can see by the 2000 and 2010 mint dates. Where are the much-anticipated volume of 20-peso coins that The Bank promised in its announcement three years ago?

So far, I have seen just one. And I did not find it. My friend Julio received it in change at the restaurant he manages.


It is quite a nice piece of work. This particular coin maintains the same commemorative role as previous 20-peso coins. This time, commemorating the foundation of Veracruz.

And here is the rest of that story. That coin was set aside because it was different. But it ended up back in circulation -- having been mistaken as a 10-peso coin.

So far, The Bank does not seem to be very anxious to withdraw the 20-peso note -- even though it announced last month that the withdrawal was still on track.

The announcement was slathered with irony because in the same announcement that the 20-peso would be withdrawn, it also announced the issuance of a new 20-peso note. The new note is merely a commemorative note, though, it is not meant to extend the life of the Juarez notes -- at least, not directly.

I am quite fond of this new commemorative note for a couple of reasons. First, on the reverse it features my favorite creature in Mexico -- the American crocodile.

But, more importantly, The Bank's description of the note contains what must have been an inadvertent assertion. The Bank claims: 

The new $20 note commemorates 200 years of the independence of Mexico from Spain. It depicts when the army of the three guaranties (Religion, Union and Independence), under the command of Agustin de Iturbide, entered Mexico City on September 27, 1821.

Independence in 1821? That has to be a mistake. Everyone knows that Mexico's independence is celebrated as having occurred in 1810.

"Everyone," that is, except you dear readers who are aware of the muted dispute amongst Mexicans whether Mexico should celebrate its independence when Miguel Hidalgo declared it in 1810 -- or whether the true date is when Mexico actually attained its independence in 1821 when that scoundrel Agustin de Iturbide had his Caesarean moment marching into Mexico City? (1810 or 1821?) Or why not both days, the option chosen by The Bank.

Usually when new notes are issued, it takes months for the first one to show up here on the coast. Not this time. Julio showed me one yesterday that he had received in change.

But that does not explain why The Bank has been so slow in its promise to withdraw the 20-peso note and replace it with a coin.

When I asked my favorite grocer how long it takes for these changeovers, he smiled and gave me a perfect answer: "As long as it takes."

My pockets will be thankful for any respite they receive.   

Wednesday, October 13, 2021

rain rain go away

Rain tends to bring out the bipolar in every group.

The classic example is the pastor who prays that it  will not rain for the church picnic and the farmer who prays for rain to spare his crops. Something similar is happening now here on the Mexican Pacific coast.

We have had two rainstorms lately -- none directly associated with Tropical Storm/Hurricane Pamela (blowing in the wind). The first was a heavy downpour last Saturday. Today we had another, but of entirely a different kind. One of those rains that the Irish like to call "soft." Where I come from, we call it Willamette Valley Drizzle. (The Irish are far more poetic.)

Whatever we call it, there are a lot of recently-arrived northern tourists who are not very happy that their multi-month stay on the Costalegre is starting out with the same weather they left behind in Vancouver. "Same weather" if you add in about 20 extra degrees and several more percentage points of humidity.

Our local Facebook pages are filled with wails that enough is enough. I understand the sentiment. But I am not fully in accord with it.

My Mexican neighbors have a different view of the summer rains. Often, the rain is the only thing that drives down the combined heat and temperature to guarantee a pleasant night's sleep. Usually, for just one night. Because the rain that falls soon evaporates into the air to once again bring the humidity up to level of a golden retriever's IQ.

Both kids and adults' can be seen frolicking in the street when the rains start to fall. It is an appreciated blessing.

Like them, I will take as many rainy days in the summer as we can get. It is still just barely warm enough that the rain days are also relief days.

That will soon change. In a few weeks, the rains will stop in main part until summer rolls around again. During that time the surrounding hills will steadily grow that odd shade of brownish-gray, s
omewhere between taupe and ecru, that sets in around April. 

Having said that, I am about to don my Quisling disguise and switch sides. After a summer of pulling out the squeegee and  broom to combat the puddles that accumulate on the upper terrace, I would just as soon have a few dry months to enjoy my walking track without having to dodge the accumulated water. 

Sure, it is a selfish reason. Especially after I have spent the summer praising the rain for its relief. But no one ever even insinuated that preferring dry to rain required me to use my moral agent principles. As Winston Churchill famously said: "It's just weather."

Sign me up for the I-would-prefer-it-to-be-dry party. For now. I will soon be praying for rain in another few months. Not like the farmer, but for the sake of all of us who live our summers here.

Because as the nursey rhyme goes, I may wish the rain away for now -- knowing fully well that it will come again some other day. 

Probably in mid-June.


Tuesday, October 12, 2021

life is what we do while we wait to die

I have not written much about The Virus.

There is a good reason (or maybe several good reasons) for that. The first is that I do not find it a very interesting topic.

An important topic? Yes. I suspect, though, that almost everything that can be said has been said. A long time ago. Most things I now read are just one group of people yelling at another group of people. Sharing a joint Thanksgiving dinner with the families of Sean Hannity and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would be just as rewarding.

But today is a different day. I have just been sharing comments with Gary Denness on his blog The Mexile. In September 2019, he came down with something viral that has left him on lifelong medication. But the doctors have not been able to tell him what he had -- though it sounds a good deal like the effects of The Virus. He concludes: "But we'll never know."

I told him that I understood his dilemma. When my India cruise was cancelled in February 2020, I flew through Seattle on my way home to Mexico. A couple days after I arrived, I came down with something. Mild cough. Terrible headache. Fatigue so bad I could not walk across my patio. And then both my taste and smell went on vacation to some small fishing village in Greece.

Back then we knew about The Virus, but not much. I simply self-medicated and avoided the staff for the two weeks it took me to recover. There were no tests for The Virus here at the time. I had convinced myself I had been hit with dengue. And if it was dengue, there was nothing I could do other than what I was doing already.

A few months later, an antigen test showed up in Melaque. By then I had my suspicions that The Virus had visited my house.

The test said otherwise. In October I took another test in Oregon. It was positive for past exposure, but not for current infection.

To this day I do not know for certain if I was an early battle casualty of The Virus. There is no way to know now -- just as Gary concludes about his bout. But it certainly did not keep either of us from stepping up for the jab.

I have no lingering symptoms of whatever exposure I had almost two years ago now. For that I am thankful. Unlike Gary, who has the advantage of being younger, I am old. And one of my medical conditions that accompanies age took an Al Capone baseball-bat swing at my head this morning. I survived, but today is one of those days to contemplate the mortality of mankind (mine, in particular) and just be glad that we can enjoy each day of life.

And that is what I intend to do. For me, yammering on about The Virus does not further the goal of stopping to enjoy the few days we are each given on this blessed planet. 

I am content with each day I have lived. I am content with this day I am living. And, if it is to be, I will be content with each day I have to live in the future. Especially, if there are not many of them. Because they are dwindling down to a precious few.

And I know no better place to appreciate them than these Mexican villages by the sea.

Monday, October 11, 2021

band of beetles

We have not played this game in some time.

Better than Family Feud. Almost as challenging as Jeopardy. It is Name the Critter from Steve's Patio.*

You have already met today's mystery guest. I met him this morning when I sat down in the patio recliner to read The Economist

Yesterday I had a brief conversation with a northern visitor who was buying a can of Raid at Hawaii. In six years of visiting Melaque, she had yet to encounter a cockroach.

That changed the day before. She was anxious to avoid a reprise. My stories about their nocturnal scalp-chewing habits did not help calm her concern. Because I cannot stop myself, I had to slip in a couple of scorpion stories.

While I was picking up the patio flowers and leaves that had fallen off of the vines during the night, the scorpion warning came to mind. Most of the leaves are dry and brown. Both Dora and I have picked up scorpions in the mistaken belief they were just leaves. Of course, the last time, I did that, I paid a ransom to the scorpion king (a hair of the dog).

That was my mindset as I sat down. Just as I was settling into place, I looked down. Something was on the outside edge of the recliner next to my left leg. All I could see was the tell-tale part of some creature.

This is the part where I should be telling you that my Canadian ancestry kicked in, and I carefully and safely stood off a distance to ascertain any possible danger. But I cannot write that -- because I did just the opposite.

The grade school boy who lives in my head and makes all of my decisions decided the best way to determine what was on the recliner was to poke and prod it, and to pick it up to get a closer look. And you know how that turned out in my previous scorpion tale.

As is the case in most of these encounters, the decision was the correct one. It was not a scorpion. But exactly what it was, I was  not certain.

So, I went back to high school and tried to remember the animal classification system we learned from Mr. Kilmer.

My memory served me well at the start. Just by looking at it, I knew its kingdom (animal), its phylum (anthropod), its class (insect -- because of those distinctive six legs) and its order (c
oleoptera; a beetle). Those long antennae gave away its family (cerambycidae -- a name I always have to look up).

Scientists, like pirates, are not very imaginative in their names. It is one of the many longhorn beetles. But which one, I cannot tell you.

My usual research tools failed me. One of the best is Google Images that can identify a photograph faster than a Communist Chinese Ideology Inspector. But not today. 

My search came up with a lot of options. The most-promising was this four-banded longhorn beetle.

But that beetle is a staff sergeant; mine is merely a PFC. I tried searching for one-band and two-band beetles, but the usual suspects did not provide a match. Even my insect identification book came up short.

So, I put the question to you. Do you have any idea what the name of this handsome fellow might be? (I can already hear two of you -- one in south England, the other in Mexico City -- ginning up a response. "A beetle name? Well, it has to be either John or Paul. No one remembers George or Ringo.")

For me, I am happy to just to call him a longhorn beetle that enjoyed a morning rest in my patio.

And why shouldn't he?

I am. 

* -- Jennifer is already sharpening her pen to point out that any reference to animals in Mexpatriate is a certain sign that I could not think of anything substantive to write about. Even with a tropical storm spinning out there in the Pacific. 

Sunday, October 10, 2021

blowing in the wind

I really enjoyed the few hours the world was free of Facebook last week.

The platform does have its uses. And I take advantage of them myself. What does annoy me though is the amount of false information that runs wild on its digital Serengeti.

Our local pages are currently fretting about a hurricane that is going to flatten the Costalegre. Someone even put together a graphic that looks as if if was drawn by something just the other side of a Sharpie.

And looking out across the bay tonight, it is possible to imagine a storm is on the way. And it is. The wind whistling through my neighboring antenna is evidence of that.

Here is what we know from the good folks at the National Hurricane Center.

For the past several days, a disturbance has been swirling around in the Pacific a few hundred miles south of Mexico. It had all the potential to develop into some form of cyclonic activity (a depression, a tropical storm, or a hurricane). Today it did just that jumping from disturbance to depression to tropical storm in quick succession.

Meet Tropical Storm Pamela. Nice name that. Pamela.

But the people in our area are not very likely to meet her up close and personal. Tuesday morning Pamela will morph into a hurricane. But she will be well off shore from us. At least, according to the most-recent computer model.

This is the point where someone will pipe up with an appropriate "but that is what you said about Nora, and look at the destruction she left behind just a month ago." And the observation would be an apt one. With the exception of a wizard family in Cihuatlán who knew all of the details about what Nora would do, the rest of us were shocked at how destructive such a small hurricane could be when it was still miles away from us in the ocean.

That is fair warning. NOAA (the National Hurricane Center's parent) has also produced maps of when the winds associated with Pamela should show up here. If I am reading the map correctly, we should feel the outer rim of Pamela's winds around tea time tomorrow.

And, if we get the outer rim of Pamela's winds, we almost certainly will also get some of the rain that the hurricane will be dragging along. That means we should expect at least some inconvenience from rain in the streets.

While I was out on my evening walk gathering information for this weather update, I was a bit surprised to see how busy the town is on a Sunday night. September had been a bit of a tourist bust for local businesses. Not so tonight. Maybe the tourists have come to see if Pamela is going to deliver a show or not.

The proof will be in the blowing. 

Saturday, October 09, 2021

mañana forever -- the ongoing internet debate

Speedy internet is becoming the gold standard of choosing a place to live.

One of the most frequent questions posed on our local Facebook pages from northerners thinking of relocating to Mexico runs something like this.

"Dear Abby:

"I operate an online business marketing exotic underwear. But I am tired of life in [Toronto/Chicago/London]. I want a more relaxed setting where I can live a calm life. All I need is a house on the beach with a pool, four bedrooms, and full staff for no more than $200 a month. But, most important, I  need reliable and fast internet.

"Is Barra de Navidad the spot of my dreams?"

OK. I made up the Abby part. But the rest sums up the spirit of the questions that have been showing up lately as northerns start deserting their respective countries of birth. "Reliable fast internet" seems to have replaced "tall, dark husband" as an aspirational benchmark.

The problem with terms like "reliable" and "fast" is their subjective nature. It is like my mother asking me if she needs a coat to go out. I hardly ever do; she almost always does. And the reason for that variance is that "cool" means something different to each of us. I do not feel chilly until the temperature drops into the upper 30s.* She needs a thick coat in the 80s.

So, one would think adjectives like "reliable" and "fast" when applied to internet service on the Costalegre would suffer the same lack of specificity. But, they don't. For one simple reason. By almost anyone's reckoning, the internet here is neither reliable nor fast.

But before I wind up the Whinge Machine, let's offer our prayers of thanksgiving. I am happy that there is internet of any sort here.

It is not that long ago that people who live here did not have any internet. None. My first visit to this area was to an internet-free zone.

Those days are gone. I can now sit down in the morning and chat with you good folks who are hundreds or thousands of miles away. That is something close to a miracle. Just like the vaccine to fight The Virus.

Or, at least, I can do that sometimes. Since the end of August, internet connections from here with the rest of the world have been spotty -- at best.

Internet locally comes in two different packages.

The first is Telmex, Mexico's land-line telephone service. Telmex uses its land lines to deliver a signal to houses and businesses. With a modem, users can either hard-wire their computer to the internet or they can use wi-fi to distribute the signal wirelessly.

The other option relies on the cellular network. Several companies provide modems to users, who then have the same option: hard-wire or cellular. The only difference between Telmex and the other providers is how the signal is delivered to the modem.**

I have both -- Telmex and a cellular modem with Telcel. Telmex's service was so unreliable that I decided to pay for two services in the hope that at least one of them would keep me connected with the internet. And that worked for a couple of years. While Telmex's speed was tortoise slow at times (often 0.16 Mbps -- slower than 1990s dial-up services), my Telcel modem regularly provided speeds up to 20 Mbps. Not any more.

At the end of August, hurricane Nora blew through town doing what hurricanes do best -- blowing things down and knocking out utilities. Electricity and internet services were prime victims.

The electric company (Comisión Federal de Electricidad -- CFE) had trees cleared and power to houses within hours of Nora's eye wandering to gaze upon some other place. And, when power was restored, my Telcel modem came back to life -- with a much-weakened signal.

My Telmex modem survived, but the signal did not. Because I rely so heavily on my Telcel connection, I did not notice Telmex had not returned to the party until I checked on my Telmex-powered app for my solar panels. The connection was dead -- and had been since the end of August.

I do not sell exotic underwear. But I do rely on the internet to publish my essays, and Omar needs a fast signal for his Zoom connection for university courses. The slow-downed Telcel modem is not meeting our needs. (For some reason, my telephone reverts to my monthly data plan because the Telcel wi-fi connection is not to its taste. I have no idea why.)

Omar called Telmex to report the problem. Two days later (this past Thursday), a technician showed up late in the afternoon. He verified that my modem was working and said he would return the next day.

He did. On Friday, he borrowed a ladder and tested the connection to the house. It was fine. Just as he expected. He expected that because the problem is not just with my connection; it is the entire neighborhood. It had been out of service since the end of August. For everyone. He had no idea when it will be fixed because new lines need to be strung.

So, we sit here waiting for an internet service that will be restored m
añana. Of course, while my service is out, Telmex accepts (no, demands) my payment for its non-services.

That raises an interesting question. Why is CFE able to restore electrical service within hours after a hurricane while Telmex takes weeks?

My Canadian friend Bill believes CFE is more efficient because it is government-owned. Bill, a retired Army officer, is the only living person I know who still believes that the Soviet system was the gold standard for economic efficiency.

But Bill may not be entirely wrong. The answer is probably economic. Every second the power lines are down means that CFE is losing revenue. When Telmex's service is down, the revenue keeps rolling in. There is no economic punishment for inefficiency.

Now, it might be intellectually satisfying to sit down with Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman to ferret out the vagaries of a not-so-free economic system, but the conversation will not feed the baby. And baby needs a new pair of shoes. Or, at least, a working wi-fi signal.

The infraction is reported. My choice as a moral agent has been met. I now will practice my Mexico-acquired patience for the day when "reliable and fast" internet service comes knocking at my door.

I can then start marketing that exotic underwear I have heard so much about.    

* -- Non-American readers of Mexpatriate will simply have to translate for themselves. We speak Fahrenheit here. 

** -- Satellite coverage is available, as well -- at a high price and with slow service. That may change with the arrival of Elon Musk's Starlink. Or, as I like to call it in my more-Terminator moods: Skylink. 

Friday, October 08, 2021

out of step

I am a frustrated sailor.

I came to the sport late in life. At least, late compared to a number of my friends who spent their pre-school days on skis and in the cockpit.

My first hand-to-tiller experience was in Greece. The American detachment on the Greek air force base (Άραξος, for those of you, and you know who you are, of a detail-splitting mindset) where I was stationed had just acquired a small sloop. It was barely larger than a sailing dinghy. Colonel Galpini, our detachment commander, decided that I would be in charge of it because I was the only officer who had sat in a sailboat -- and my name was WASPish enough that he thought I must know how to sail. Genetically, I guess.

Fortunately, I discovered a security policeman who had grown up on the shores of Connecticut (Greenwich, if I remember correctly) and had sailed Long Island Sound most of his life. His "Cabot" surname certainly outranked mine on the WASP scale. If I were a WASP, he was a hornet.

We spent the year I was there sailing the Gulf of Patras. A perfect body of water for a beginner -- with the exception of the commercial ship traffic. Thanks to Sgt. Cabot, I learned the basic ropes.

During the two years I served in England, I would drive to the coast as often as I could to rent a boat. There was something about the solitude of sailing on my own that I came to crave. I also learned to my cost that English weather is far more unpredictable than sailing off of Patras. Those days fed my adrenalin addiction.

England was going to be my last assignment. I was headed to law school as soon as I hung up my dress blues.

My discharge date was set for July 1976. I was given the option of being discharged in England (giving me an opportunity to tour Europe before school began in late August) or I could fly to New Jersey and be discharged there.

Then, I happened to see a movie that almost changed my life. The Dove is the semi-factual story of Robin Graham -- then the youngest person to sail solo around the world. I went back to see it three times. Not because it is a good movie (it isn't; it is dreadful), but because it lit something in me. I knew what I wanted to do.

I checked with personnel to see if I could be discharged early in England. I could. I then started planning a trip that would take me across the Atlantic through the Panama Canal and up the Pacific coast to Oregon. Solo.

Almost everyone I talked with at the Totton moorings thought the idea was adventurous, exciting, and just plain daft. The list of problems was long.

Finding someone who would lease a boat to a person who had obviously gone mad. Sailing through the Caribbean on the shoulder of hurricane season. Paying the exorbitant Panama Canal fees -- if I could even get a reservation at such a late date. Trying to beat up the strong currents on the Pacific coast. The cost would eat up all of my savings for law school.

Even with all that I was ready to take the leap. Then, the Air Force fired a shot below my waterline. I would not be allowed to leave early. I needed to fly to New Jersey to be discharged.

That turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The date was the week of 4 July 1976. Even though I did not get to sail home, I did get to see the largest collection of tall ships assembled. It was a pale replacement, but a memorable one.

After law school, I considered buying a sailboat and living on it. I didn't. My sailing sorties were relegated to a week each summer in the San Juans and the Gulf Islands.

But I essentially did buy the equivalent of a sail boat. Eventually. Here in Barra de Navidad. My house.

I thought of my failed career as a buccaneer this morning. Martin and Victor have returned to help remedy the leaks that persistently show up on the upper terrace (keeping the house afloat). Just like a boat, leaks in houses need to be tended to early.

The two of them are busy at their task as I write. I have now become accustomed to the sound of the saw that grinds out the mortar. If I have it correctly, Victor called it a grillito (a little cricket) due to its racket. I truly appreciate Mexican ironic understatement.

But their work is keeping me from my walking routine today -- and probably tomorrow. Ever since I publicly fell in the dark (falling down sober), I have been walking on the upper terrace. My original daily goal was to limit my steps to 10,000 to 15,000. About 5 to 7.5 miles. That morphed upwards to an obsessive 30,000 steps. 

Once I get started, it is hard to stop.

Martin and Victor have put a stop to that. While they re-seal my tiles, the track is off limits for me. That means today and tomorrow. And longer if they encounter more cracks.

So, I will walk outside. In the daylight. In short bursts.

After all, my boat will soon be re-caulked and be ready to set sail.

Wednesday, October 06, 2021

feeding the kitty

Some people have called me a foodie.

They are simply being kind. I think the phrase they are looking for is "food fethishist."

Early on in Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes:

Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate on to the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food? And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?

The food/sex analogy has never worked very well for me.  But Lewis's description of the food fetishist sitting in that theater strikes home. It is me.

My intermittent fasting routine has put one of my food rules to the test. I try to never eat any dish that I have previously eaten. There are just too many new combinations to try. Favorite dishes are as gone with the wind as Tara. 

That means that I have to be creative with my six-hour daily eating window. It turns out that it has not been too difficult. If I take a few short-cuts.

Let me tell you about this week's food. When I returned from my Cantinflas-inspired journey last week, I returned to an almost-empty larder. Because I had not yet been to the store on Monday, I searched through the cans that are my stand-bys in a food pinch. You know the drill. These are the cans for when the Russians launch a nuclear attack. Or if the area is leveled in an earthquake and no one but zombies survive. Or if I am simply too lazy to go to the store and buy some proper food.

My first find was two cans of Spanish sardines. The good kind from Spain. (Whatever happened to the quality of Canadian sardines? If they are on the shelf here, I pass them up in favor of their Spanish cousins.)

Better yet, there were two cans of anchovies tucked in a corner. Anchovies are a cook's best friend. When sautéed, they add a nutty umami flavor to the rest of the dish.

Out came the food processor and some vegetables that would be sautéed and processed with the sardines and anchovies. My ultimate goal was to create a foundation pâté. By warming it with a selection of seeds, herbs, and vegetables, I could experience a week of different international sandwiches. An Indian-inspired burrito. A Moroccan taco. A Colombian stuffed pita.

It worked perfectly. But, today I wanted a break from the international Subway cavalcade.

I found some left-over casarecce pasta in the refrigerator. It either was garbage-bound or it would be the bread substitute for today's lunch. I chose the latter.

Sardines and casarecce are a Sicilian dream match. I spooned a large portion into hot olive oil along with tomatoes, capers, olives, lemon peel, garlic, and onion until it emulsified. The casarecce went into the pan along with some lemon juice and fresh basil.

Like most food-processed fish sauces, this one will not win any beauty contest. But it won my taste contest. I am rather suspicious of pretty food; it too often does not live up to its façade. What this dish missed in beauty, it made up for in taste.

When I typed "anchovy" a couple minutes ago, I could hear a sizeable minority of you say: "Ugh!" That is too bad because it is an incredibly versatile ingredient.

It reminded me of a food-production study I read in this week's edition of The Economist

The Food Puritans are limbering up their Scold Finger for anyone who is inclined to indulge in a steak now and then. Even though I do not care for large hunks of meat on my plate, I do eat ground beef. That makes me a meat target as much as the eponymous Morton of steakhouse fame.

Two recent reports have put beef on the international grill. In 2019, the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimated that the global food system was responsible for 21-37% of greenhouse gas emissions. This March researchers from the European Commission and the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Office released a study with a central estimate near the top of this range. It attributed 34% of greenhouse gas produced in 2015 to food.

And beef was top of the list. This graph shows the carbon dioxide impact of producing beef.

This chart takes a different approach. Another study, by Xiaoming Xu of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and eight co-authors, allocates this impact among 171 crops and 16 animal products. It finds that animal-based foods account for 57% of agricultural greenhouse gases versus 29% for food from plants. Beef and cow’s milk alone made up 34%. Combined with the earlier study’s results, this implies that cattle produce 12% of greenhouse gases.

It turns out that steak at Morton's has the carbon-dioxide impact of a coal plant. That is a slight exaggeration. But, unit for unit, it is true. At least, according to the study.

So, is beef production doomed? Probably not. Carbon-dioxide emissions is only one of several hundred considerations consumers use in choosing what they eat.

But there is a movement to move cattle indoors to lower the impact of their "emissions." Depends on Bossy are already in the experimental stage.

Of course, there are options. Vegetarians would Nancy Reagan the issue -- just say no.

Or there are other meats. Interestingly, horse meat is one of the lowest-impact meats listed on that first chart. Another study indicated that smaller mammals (including dog and cat) may become beef substitutes in certain parts of the world. (Not in my house.) And this is usually the point where scientists bring up the cultivation of insects as a meat substitute. (I would not mind that.)

So, if I am to exercise my food fetish with the ingredients I currently most enjoy, I better get creative. Either that or my next shoofly pie may be made out of flies and old loafers.