Monday, November 29, 2021

flocking together

Every cliché will come to life.

If you just wait long enough.

I have led horses to water, but I have never tried to persuade them to drink. And perhaps it is because I never get to bed early that I have ended up low on the healthy, wealthy, and wise toteboard. Even though I do rise early, I have yet to catch that proverbial worm.

One of the other bird 
clichés has turned out to be untrue. At least, for a moment.

This morning I was reading beside the pool. If you have stopped by these pages in the past, you already know there is a large communication tower near my house that is home to a flock of black vultures. They wait for the sun to rise just long enough to start warming them, and then they drop off of the tower and swoop off on their daily commute to look for that 
cliché worm -- or road kill -- or to kill a calf.

Unlike their turkey vulture cousins, black vultures will kill the young of large animals. I see them occasionally eyeing the local cats and dogs.

The larger part of the flock waits for the sun to start creating thermals before they take off as a group. They will then use the uplift of the radiated heat to soar in lazy circles higher and higher with only minimal wing movement until they climb so high, their details cannot be seen. They are the envy of all humans who have the imagination to fly.

This morning, the gliding club's circular climbs almost mesmerized me. It was like one of those moments in a grade B movie from the 1940s where the hypnotist with nothing good on his mind sits the 
ingénue in front of one of those hypnotic swirls while a theremin plays in the background reminding us life is not always a bed of roses. Another cliché. And a rather thorny one to my mind.

And then something pushed me out of my avian trance. The attraction of the vulture Charybdis was broken when a flight of six wood storks flew across the sky on the oblique passing just under the vultures. With their graceful lankiness they looked like Tolkien elves ignoring the blocky dwarf vultures.  I went back to my reading. When I glanced up I saw one of the strangest sights I have seen in the bird world.

I am an amateur birder. My birding has taught me that the old adage of birds flocking together is true. That is, until it isn't. And this morning, the exception proved to be far more interesting than the rule.

The vultures had risen high enough that I could only make out their shapes. But amongst them was an odd shape. Another bird soaring with them. Lanky and elvin. While five of his comrades had flown on, one of the wood storks had joined the vultures in their thermal amusement. I watched this odd match until the whole group moved out of view of the patio.

Why would that happen? Why would one bird break off from his own group to spend time with another species of bird? One quite unrelated to him. The episode had the feel of a remake of Jonathan Livingston Seagull.

Maybe it was the wrong question. The true question is why that does not happen more often.

And here is the moral of this morning tale. You did, of course, know that was where this was all leading.

Over the years, I have sat in groups of people who indulged in what seems to be a human universal pursuit -- comparing one group with another. You know the drill. Someone will mention how certain work colleagues always sit together. And another person will inevitably jump the logic track with: "Well, you know them. They always stick together and don't mingle with the rest of us."

The "them" in that sentence is always some group that the speaker did not particularly like. Gypsies. Jews. Mexicans. Italians. Asians. Californians. Well, maybe not the latter. The irony is that the complainers are usually all of the same race, age group, and education -- sitting as a group away from the other groups. 

Unfortunately, the same thing happens here in Mexico. Too many Canadians bring their own civil war to our beaches. The English-speakers complain the French-speakers are 
cliquish. The French-speakers say the same about the English-speakers. And a similar divide between Americans and Canadians has raised its ugly head.

The irony is that most of my Mexican friends think the same about the northerners who visit or live here. That we hang out in groups and seldom form anything other than transactional relationships with Mexicans. A northern woman once told me that her maid was her best friend. When I asked if she invited her cleaning lady to her parties, she smiled broadly and responded: "Oh, yes. Who else would serve the food and drinks?"

Let's be real here. People tend to gravitate toward people with similar backgrounds and interests. I certainly do. But, now and then, it helps to lift my soul to create relationships that are beyond my comfort level. Like having a conversation about popular music.

If only to get past hanging out only with the rest of the wood storks and spend a bit of the day soaring with the vultures.  

Saturday, November 27, 2021

have you finished the hat?

The news came last night as news of this type always does. On my telephone.

Stephen Sondheim had died.

The man whose intricate lyrics and challenging music had breathed life back into the American Broadway Musical was dead.

And, like one of his characters, I read the headline, reacted with an ambiguous "mmm," and returned to my reading. If there is one lesson I learned from Sondheim's work, it is that emotions are simply another type of thought -- and all thoughts require discipline.

I have told you the tale of my misbegotten career as a Broadway musical hobbyist (being dan). I do not care for music unless it can withstand serious analysis. Most Broadway music cannot. It is as predictable as its cousin "popular music." It is that word (predictable) that dooms popular music (and a lot of other art forms) from being very interesting.

I had a bet with a friend that if he hummed me the first four bars of any popular tune I had never heard, I could guess the next four bars. I got five out of six. Not because I am some kind of music wizard, it is merely that scribblers of popular tunes write in predictable forms. That is what makes the music popular. The listener knows what to anticipate. They know what they like, and they like what they know.

Great composers -- great artists -- do not settle for predictability. They strive to make their work an individual statement that is inevitable, but not predictable. In Sondheim's words: 'If a composer's work is not inevitable, it will seem contrived and self-important." And Sondheim's work never fell into that trap. (Well, that is, if you ignore "Pretty Little Picture" from A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.)

What drew me to Sondheim's music and lyrics was the sense of the inevitable. The music was so intricate that it lent itself to serious analysis. For years, I subscribed to The Sondheim Review. Despite the name, it was not a fanzine. Most of the articles would have felt at home in an academic journal.

But his works were meant to be shared with others, not merely to be analyzed. That is why he wrote for the theater. He wanted to see and hear people reacting to what he wrote.

In the Air Force, my friend George Keys, who is now a hot-shot lawyer in DC, and I would pore over the lyrics of A Little Night Music to ferret out the Bergman references. I joined my friends Ken and Patti Latsch at performances of Assassins, Pacific Overtures, and Follies after which we would stay up until the wee hours discussing what we had learned about ourselves and others. They were particularly fond of "It Takes Two" from Into the Woods during their quest for a child.

The point of all that is that Sondheim's works did what what an artist's works should do. It taught the world -- or, at least, the four of us -- something new. Do you know that feeling when you are trying to describe something and someone else comes up with just the correct word? That is what it is like listening to Sondheim pieces. We nod our heads in recognition when we recognize that relationships are "Every Day a Little Death."

In "Finishing the Hat," Sondheim put his philosophy about relationships and creating art in the mouth of the painter George Seurat. He then developed those words in his two books that describe his process of writing lyrics: Finishing the Hat and Look, I Made a Hat.

Sondheim's music is not about Mexico, but all of his music is. In the sense that the themes he has written about, the characters who populate his works are not cultural prisoners of Broadway, His work is as universal as that of Tolstoy, Dickinson, or Tamayo. We know them because we recognize ourselves in their struggles.

And, for that, we thank you, Stephen Sondheim. You made us a bit better because you have let us see what we can be by showing us who we are.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

feliz día de acción de gracias

Today is Thanksgiving in the United States.

I am not in the United States, but a pale imitation of the day has taken root in the foreign community here on the Costalegre. And I will be participating by attending a dinner served at Papa Gallo's on the beach in San Patricio.

Let me make a rather shocking confession first. I do not care for turkey. I never have. I know that some people consider The Big Bird to be the very apex of holiday cuisine. Not me. It is not that I dislike turkey; I simply find it to be rather boring. Like mashed potatoes.

But this day would not be Thanksgiving without slabs of turkey being slapped onto the china that gets an outing twice a year -- only to be hidden away until November and December arrive.

What makes turkey interesting to me is not its place on holiday plates, but its relationship with my new homeland. Mexico's relationship with turkeys is a circular one. 

A lot of our modern foods were first developed by the pre-Columbian tribes in Mexico. They were the first to develop the big three -- corn, tomatoes, and long chilies. Turkeys were also one of their accomplishments.

When the Spanish tribe arrived, they stole and took home a lot of silver and gold. But they also took boatloads of what they deemed to be exotic foods to Europe. It took time for corn and tomatoes to catch on, but turkeys were an immediate hit -- probably because the Europeans were already familiar with eating game birds.

From the early 1500s, the Spanish king decreed that a minimum number of turkeys would be required for import in each ship that sailed from Mexico to the Old World, and with the help of the imperial Portuguese, turkeys, chilies, and tomatoes soon became common on each of the world's continents.

Mexican tribes had been domesticating and eating the two species of wild turkeys indigenous to Mexico since at least 800 BC. Most consumed what is commonly known as the North American wild turkey. But the Maya domesticated the far more colorful ocellated turkey found only in the areas that were once part of their city-state "empire:" the Yucatán Peninsula, Belize, and Guatemala.

Both the Aztec and the Maya prized turkeys, not only for their meat, but for their feathers. When the Spanish saw toms in full strut, they named the turkey for the only other bird that had a similar look: the peacock. Pavo is still the most common word used for the bird -- even though it is not uncommon to hear Mexicans refer to the birds as guajolote, the Spanish transliteration of the Nahuatl word used by the Aztec.

Those imported turkeys quickly made their way to England where they became common enough that a flock of them were thrown into the hold of the Mayflower in 1620 on its voyage to Massachusetts -- only 100 years after the first turkey set shank in Spain. Not only had the pilgrims ended up in a land where they had not intended to land, they also had not planned well on their choice of fowl provisions. 

In comparison with the flocks of hefty wild turkeys that were there for the shooting, the European breed was a rather weedy lot. But the domesticated turkeys were retained just in case things went south. And, as we know from the history of the colony, south things went. Quickly.

Some of the turkeys the Pilgrims brought from England were the forbearers of the domesticated turkeys that eventually became common as celebratory birds on American holiday tables in the 19th century.

The descendants of those domesticated turkeys that made the round-trip to and from Europe can also be seen in some Mexican farm yards. But they are not a common sight on Mexican dinner tables. That has always seemed to be odd to me because a large portion of the sandwich meat sold here is turkey ham.

Mexican friends have offered me several theories -- the most compelling being that turkeys are too expensive for most families. That is consistent with the other theory that Mexicans are not accustomed to eating large portions of poultry meat.

I have no idea if either of those theories are true. But I do know that the turkey I will eat tonight has a bit of DNA that once moved from Mexico to Europe and back to Mexico. Could there be a better symbol of successful globalism?

Well, for me, there would be. How about a plate of Thanksgiving prime beef or lamb? I suspect that is what my brother's family will be eating today.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

death on the terrace

It is not always necessary to leave the house to encounter natural wonders (happy trails to me).

My blogger pal Jennifer Rose says whenever I post an essay about bugs or flowers, she knows I am getting bored. Whether or not that is true, I do like my nature encounters. And one of the best spots to get up close and personal with the bug set is on my upper terrace at night.

I no longer head out to the streets on my nightly miles-long walks. Whenever I feel tempted to do that, my chin, ribs, and scarred knees remind me that avoiding tripping hazards in the dark is next to impossible for me.

Instead, I flip on the lights on the terrace. And I walk.

But I am never alone. I live in the tropics. Those lights attract every seasonal and nonseasonal flying insects in the vicinity. If I had kept that insect collection I started when I was in high school, I could easily fill it out with new candidates. Some nights I almost need an eye shield to navigate the cloud of flying bugs. It is not smoke getting in my eyes (as The Platters would have it), but gnats clogging my nose.

Last night I was in mid-walk, commiserating with my insect pals, when I heard the distinct whine of the vector control truck making its way down my street. There are two distinct national reactions to the sprayer. Some people run inside and close their doors and windows against the sprayed insecticide. Others fling open their doors and windows while their children play in the streets.

I tend to be in the latter group (except for the children part) as a matter of practicality. I have no windows in my house to close and the sliding glass doors that open onto my patio are permanently open. And, as I told you, I was in mid-walk last night when the angel of death passed by. If I do not stop to chat while walking, I am not going to break stride for some insecticide.

I do not know what the chemical is that is frequently sprayed here to combat the Aedes aegypti mosquito. That pesky mosquito that is most famous for spreading yellow fever in other parts of the world. Here, it principally spreads the viruses for zika, dengue, and chikungunya -- all of them quite nasty diseases. And periodically all are prevalent here.

Does it work? I am not certain. The 
Aedes aegypti clan does not visit my terrace often while I am walking. At least, I do not see them. They primarily bother me in the patio. But I do know the insecticide, whatever it is, is quite effective against a lot of my visitors.

The cloud barely settles in before the flyers start tumbling to the floor. Moths. Butterflies. True bugs. Oddly, the cockroaches and beetles do not seem to be affected.

One death last night struck me as a true loss. I do not see a lot of mantises here. I know they are around because I occasionally see one in the landscaping or flying past the lights of the terrace at night, looking like troopers for Galaxyquest's 
Roth'h'ar Sarris. They almost never land.

The one at the top of the essay did. To her cost. The struggle was short. No more than a minute. What had once been an animated killing machine quickly transformed into ant food.

And that is exactly what happened. In the morning, a trove of tiny ants had pulled her carcass to the drain where they had set up their home.

The carcass would not fit through the grate, so they methodically carved her up as efficiently as Kiowa dressing a bison. Within minutes, the last vestige of the mantis had disappeared. It was as if she had never been there.

Last week at dinner, Gary and I were discussing a recurring theme. Over the past decade, a series of what could only be called local characters have died. While alive, almost everyone knew who they were. Usually, by their message board handles: Dryhouse, Wichita. Sparks.

And now, they are like that poor benighted mantis. Pulled down by the vagaries of life. Even though ants did not dispose of their bodies, the memory of who they were has faded to the point that when we mention them to other people, it is as if they had never been amongst us.

That, of course, is the same theme my mother told me when we were discussing her health on a recent visit. "We are born. We live. We die." My Mom can out-philosophize Sartre. Of course, she has the advantage of still being alive.

At least, the death of the mantis has been remarked upon before she completely slips into oblivion.      

Monday, November 22, 2021

happy trails to me

Change is good. At least, 99.44% of the time.

Just like Ivory soap.

Due to two recent injury-inducing nighttime falls while walking the streets of Barra de Navidad, I have restricted my walking regime to the upper terrace in my house. It is a great walking track, but for all of its advantages, it means that I need to make 600 laps to fit in a daily 20-mile walk.

Some people may enjoy going around in circles. I don't -- even though there are certainly those who would argue otherwise concerning my opinions about music. On Saturday morning, I decided the circle needed to be squared. I would head off to an area of Barra I have not visited recently.

One of the early plans to develop Barra was to connect the two sides of the laguna with a causeway. It was never completed. But the portion that was is still there. It acts as a utility conduit to get water and electricity to the grand hotel on the other side of the water from Barra.

The peninsula has turned into a multi-use area -- when the gate is unlocked. Even though there was once a road wide enough for a car and a motorcycle to pass one another, years of restricting the road to pedestrians (and motorcycles) has reduced the road to a footpath. And that footpath is perfect for a peaceful walk.

When the pathway opens up, there are sweeping views of the laguna, the marina, and the big hotel. But its biggest attraction for me is its wildlife. There are always plenty of birds. And lizards. And, now and then, a commuting crocodile.

During October and November, the nature display shifts to feature wildflowers. Admittedly, they are nowhere near as showy as the fields of wildflowers in the highlands of Mexico. But, in their subtle way, they are just as interesting. And diverse.

In the past, readers have identified the names of the flowers. Unfortunately, I do not remember them. They have slipped away to visit the names of my grade school teachers. If you are so inclined, feel free to slap an appellation on each of these. Preferably, its scientific name.

Especially, this one. I always look forward to these orchid-like blooms coming on. They remind me of individual lupines.

I am not very fond of red flowers, but these tiny ones are little gems. Both in their intricate detail and color.

The brightest of the lot are the few yellow flowers that show up accessorizing the rest of the weeds. And weeds they are. That is the nature of wildflowers. Of course, someone will undoubtedly point out that one person's weed is another person's political hero.

For numbers, these purple flowers outnumber all of the others. At least, on the peninsula. They could easily serve as a groundcover. In fact, I think I have seen them used for that purpose. Along beaches. To root dunes in place.

I know that some gardeners do not share my fascination with wildflowers. They are more prone to find cultivated specimens (like the one below) far more to their taste. Those captured and pampered blooms strike me as being just a bit too prissy. Not that I dislike them. They simply are not as spontaneously attractive as their wild cousins.

For some reason A.E. Housman's poem came to mind while I was hiking the peninsula trail. You know the one. We all had to memorize it in grade school:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

By Housman's reckoning (and that of Psalm 90:10), I am operating on borrowed time -- now being almost three years past my pull date. Maybe that is why I take to heart the spirit of his writing.

No matter how much time I have to wander the woodlands, it is always good to know there are "things in bloom." And they are not on a circular track.


Saturday, November 20, 2021

correcting documents in mexico

My papers are still not in order. My vaccination papers, that is.

Last week, I told you I was shocked -- shocked -- that gambling was going on in here.

Wait. That is the wrong line for this play. Even though I can do a dead-on Claude Rains impression.

No, what shocked me last week was the discovery the vaccination documents that I had received certifying both of my doses was not adequate proof that the Shroud of Turin now covered me from the wiles of The Virus (are your papers in order?). At least, as far as the milk monitors at transportation hubs are concerned. I am going to need proof of vaccination to board a cruise out of Puerto Rico in January and to board an airplane to Argentina in February.

Even though the official regulations refer to confirmable and non-confirmable vaccination records (the difference being that a confirmable record contains one of those QR codes that make the folks crazy who have rather eccentric interpretations of the Book of Revelations), the good folks at airline ticket counters who have the additional duty of checking the ever-growing list of documents that allow travel will only accept the those with the QR code. With a bit of help from another full-time resident, I eventually was able to print off my official coded "Certificado de Vacunación Contra La Covid-19."

According to the websites, I was ready to travel. Then, I noticed a potential problem. The certificate includes the dates and type of vaccine for each of my two doses. But the dates are incorrect. Both of them. The effect is that it appears the two doses were administered with only a 15-day gap.

The travel websites put only one time restriction on the "fully vaccinated" requirement. Travel can commence no earlier than 14 days after the second dose. For me, that would be late April of this year -- or mid-May according to my official certificate. So, even with the incorrect dates, I should be able to travel on the certificate.

An acquaintance in Melaque is not so certain. He points out that the World Health Organization (WHO?) recommends an interval of 8 to 12 weeks between the AstraZeneca doses we have both received. His concern is that some overly-officious immigration officer will deny him entry to Canada because the dates on his certificate are similar to mine -- too close together.

Even though Canada is on my travel agenda (in September), I do not share his concern. That may be because I have not had to deal with Canadian officialdom during the Virus's various runs and re-runs.

When I posted my first essay on Facebook, Joey Merrifield (who I do not believe I have yet met) provided a very helpful link to the Mexican government's website that would allow me to request a correction of my certificate.*

Even though I am happy with my certificate, I used the site to submit a correction in the dates on my current record. The site is incredibly easy to use -- unlike the certificate request page. All of the required information that needs to be keyed in is on my certificate. The only thing I needed to add was a copy of my original vaccination record. When I submitted my request, the site chirpily responded that my request would be acted upon momentarily.

Well, moments have passed, a full week of them, and I have heard nothing more from the Great Administrators in The Cloud. No message. No email. No change on my certificate.

If I were a betting man, I would be placing all of my roulette chips on "00" because that is about the odds of obtaining a corrected certificate. That is, if my anecdotal sources are correct. I know or know of over a dozen people who have submitted their requests for a corrected certificate (the rumors are that over half of the official certificates contain incorrect information) long before I did. The number of  those who have received a corrected certificate is zero. Those who are still waiting number over a dozen. (Finally, that double-entry accounting course I took at university has had some life application.)

I suspect I will remain in the unanswered crowd. But that is not going to stop me from setting off on my 2022 journeys. The prospect of traveling on what amounts to forged documents simply adds a bit of excitement to my upcoming trips.

Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote "Letter from Birmingham Jail." For some reason "Missive from Travel Holding Cell" does not quite have the same moral weight.


* -- For those of you who are interested in that site, it is:

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

mexican food prices are up

If you are already here in Mexico, you have most likely encountered the phenomenon -- either in restaurants or at the grocery. If you are not yet here, but intend to be, you probably have heard the chatter on Facebook.

And it is true. Food prices in Mexico have increased noticeably. On almost everything. The increases are not small. The government claims food prices have increased by only 4%. But government spokesmen are obviously not housewives.

Margaret Thatcher would often ask her cabinet ministers if they knew the prices of specific grocery items. She always did. Because she took pride in her connection with British housewives.

You may notice that I have avoided the use of the word "inflation." Politicians and journalists (as well as certain popular encyclopedias) lazily use the term to describe the increase in the cost of living -- food, being a very visible essential, is usually a common target.

Economists use the term differently. When the cost of food increases, it is a price increase, and it is often amalgamated with other costs to determine a "cost of living index."

"Inflation" is a different, but related, phenomenon. To a economist (or as I was taught in high school while the earth's crust was still cooling), inflation is the decline of purchasing power of a given currency over time. The cause of inflation is one of those topics that economists love to debate, but most agree that inflation (and its nasty twin deflation) are caused by an increase (or decrease respectively) in a nation's money supply.

Rising food prices are, thus, an effect of infection of inflation, not the cause. That is why politicians who talk about price contriols are essentially saying that boiling water can be described as cold if you use a broken thermometer.

No one will dispute, though, that buying a bag of groceries this year on the Costalegre will cost far more than it did last year. Certainly more than 4%. I talked with two grocers who have increased their prices up to 40% on some items -- especially those that are imported.

A perfect example is the chicken dinner in the photograph. One of my favorite meals in Mexico is grilled chicken -- with all of the trimmings imaginable.

When I moved here in 2009, the price of a full chicken meal could be had for 100 pesos. Over the years, the price has edged up as Mexico experienced moderate price increases.

I have a special order at my favorite chicken place. The woman who runs it sees me coming and starts bagging up my full (rather than cut-up) bird. And because I stop by often, on my last visit, I had my pesos in hand for the dinner -- along with a healthy tip.

For some reason, I asked her the price. I hope I did not look too shocked as I quickly dug in my pocket for another peso note simply to pay for the chicken. This week's price was 180 pesos. It is still a great deal, but the increase reflects the price increases I have seen at the butcher shops.

Some of the increases have been caused by the international supply-chain problems. But even locally-grown products are just as expensive. Because that is how the market system works. Prices are set by supply and demand. Unfortunately, once prices ratchet up, they seldom ratchet back down.

Now and then, I run into people who claim the prime reason they moved to Mexico was to save money. I do not quite understand the argument, but I have no reason to dishonor another person's reason for living here. After all, most people did move here in the hopes of encountering nearly-insurmountable problems each day. That is my narrative. 

Are the price increases onerous? To my neighbors they are. Stretching the budget was difficult for most of the Mexican families I know before this recent round of price increases. And there will be some tourists who will feel a similar budget crunch.

If you have come to Mexico to save money, I am willing to bet it will still be a relative bargain compared to your homeland. The current inflation rate and price increases in Canada and America are not comforting.

But Schadenfreude is not the most likeable character trait.

No matter how much it costs.

Monday, November 15, 2021

hercule poirot meets inspector lastrade

Last week, we talked about the pounds I have taken off with my revised diet and exercise regime. Or, at least, I was writing about it (exercising my rights). 

But I will not take off any more pounds if I backslide into the ways of sin as I did just after I wrote that essay.

While shopping at Hawaii, I saw a can of Pringles. I have never been fond of the snack. They taste as if someone had used powdered mashed potatoes to craft a marginally-interesting nibble.

It was the color, not the name, that caught my attention. Fluorescent pink. An odd marketing choice for Pringles.

Then, I saw why. The color was designed to complement the flavor -- prawn cocktail.

As some of you may recall, I have a taste-treat relationship with prawn-flavored snacks that verges on the dysfunctional. You need only ask my English friend Hillary Bagnall. Even though they are forbidden carbohydrates, I bought a can.

Tasting three of them was sufficient for me. They were an original taste, with that prawn-like tang that some mad scientist devised in a Moldavan laboratory from the scales of a Chernobyl-glow fish. 

While walking to the garbage can, I noticed the writing on the can "Perfect Flavour." It was not the misrepresentation that caught my attention; it was the British spelling with that extraneous "u."

I love a mystery. The can provided several clues. Had it been imported from Britain? Alex does sell a number of English-made food products. Or maybe Canada. That seemed far more likely.

But my deduction was far more Inspector Lestrade than Sherlock Holmes. Or, to be more accurate, Hercule Poirot. Because the answer was on the back of the can -- along with the Minister of Health's inevitable chiding that the product contained "excess calories."

The place of manufacture? Bélgica. Belgium. One of the last places I would have guessed -- if ever.

But there is a moral in that label. When I moved here, I would have been hard-pressed to find any imports from Britain on the Mexican coast. Now, I am breaking my fast with Pringles from Belgium.

I guess that is some kind of progress. 

Sunday, November 14, 2021

feliz día de la revolución

You may think that I, like Billy Pilgrim, have come unstuck in time.

That I am five days early with my revolutionary greeting. But I have the Mexican holiday calendar on my side.

Last night, I had had dinner at Papa Gallo's on the beach in San Patricio Melaque. (A fine bowl of lobster bisque if you must ask.) I knew some big event must be afoot in town.

Several of the side streets were packed with tour buses and the main street in front of the restaurant had nary a parking space. I had to park three blocks away from the restaurant. It has been a long time since I have seen that many cars in town for a weekend.

When I saw the beach, I knew where the occupants from all of those buses and cars had gone. The beach was not completely full, but there were more people than I had seen probably for the entire year.

The reason was clear. This is a Mexican three-day weekend.

Despite its reputation for "every day is a fiesta day," Mexico has only three three-day holidays: Constitution day on the first Monday in February, Benito Juarez's birthday on the third Monday in March, and Revolution day on the third Monday of November. Even though the day honoring the start of the Revolution is on 20 November, Mexicans will get Monday off to celebrate the most important event in the defining of Mexican culture.

Mexico's current president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (or as he is commonly-known, AMLO) is not happy with the notion that those three very important days have been disassociated from the true day of their occurence.  In February of last year, he declared that the three-day weekends would be discontinued, and celebrations would return to their original days: "I know that it will create controversy, but those who don’t know where they come from don’t know where they’re going." 

Before he sent the required legislation to Congress, he wanted to consult with educators. Well, that did not happen because of The Virus outbreak. Mexico's attention was diverted from switching dates on the calendar to trying to avoid hospital beds being filled with dying patients. I have heard nothing further on the change.

That is why we are all celebrating Revolution Day on Monday instead of on Saturday. Usually there would be merchants on the streets selling Revolution Day paraphernalia: flags, Emiliano Zapata moustaches, Pancho Villa ponchos. Last year the usual street parades of children dressed up as Heroes of the Revolution Who Would Soon Be Assassinated did not happen. I am not certain if they will on this Saturday.

When it comes to patriotic holidays, I am something of a traditionalist. I like celebrating the birthdays of George Washington and Martin Luther King, Jr. on the days they were actually born. Not on some random third Monday. And, yes, you are correct, all that is from a guy whose family once celebrated Christmas in July with hot dogs and potato salad.

I am not certain that Revolution Day is the hill AMLO should choose to die on, however. Mexico has chosen to date the start of its Revolution on 20 November 1910. But the events of that day are not quite as propitious as the storming of the Bastille or the Potemkin mutiny.

When President Porfirio Diaz announced in 1910 that he would not seek re-election after being president for almost 30 years, reformers thought they there would be a peaceful transfer of power to Mexicans who wanted to improve their country's social system. Francisco Madero, the son of wealthy northern landowners, announced his intention to run for President.

Porfirio Diaz changed his mind and ran for another term against Madero, and stole the election. For good measure, Porfirio Diaz locked up Madero, who, like all good revolutionaries, escaped imprisonment and fled his country to organize what would be the Mexican Revolution from his refuge in San Antonio, Texas. He had a plan. The Plan de San Luis.

That plan called for all Mexicans to rise up against The Dictator en masse at 6:00 PM on 20 November 1910. (Madero was a bit obsessive about such matters.)

Fully expecting he would be met by hundreds of armed men on the Mexican side of the border, Madero crossed the Rio Bravo with ten men and 100 rifles at the appointed time.  To find only another 10 men on the other side. He returned to Texas hoping for a reset.

Eventually, the Revolution gained strength. Six months later Porfirio Diaz was no longer president, having fled to exile in Spain -- dying in Paris in 1915 during another great war.

Historians had to pick a date for the start, and 20 November 1910 seemed to be as good as any. The fact that it can now migrate to the third Monday of November does not strike me as being heretical. The date chosen seems to be inherently elastic.

But, that is the reason why so many people are in town -- celebrating the exploits of Francisco Madero, first president of The Revolution and his revolutionary cohorts.

And having three fun-filled days on the beach.

Saturday, November 13, 2021

are your papers in order?

The world of travel has opened, not with a T.S. Eliot whimper, but with a bang.

Some experts had predicted that travelers would dip their toe in the shallow end of the travel pool as the worst aspects of The Virus recede. Instead, travelers have come rumbling out of their isolation like bullies cannonballing into the deep end.

Europeans are flocking to America. Americans are flouncing off to Paris and Berlin. Canadians are emulating Ward Bond in caravaning across the American plains and mountains to their winter nesting grounds in Mexico.

Those same experts have now revised their estimates of travel predicting that American air travel over Thanksgiving will increase almost 80% over last year. More telling, air travel will even exceed pre-virus 2019 numbers.

But all of that travel comes with certain complications. Especially for the international traveler.

I started flying to Oregon monthly out of Manzanillo when the airport re-opened in July 2020. I quickly adjusted to the mask restrictions. The only new boarding requirements were the completion of a Mexican health certificate (that soon was available on my telephone) and a negative covid test taken within three days of the flight. After doing it once, the process became rote.

But everything changes. And so are those requirements. To a degree.

America has not yet required its citizens to be vaccinated before flying to The States. But the Covid test rules now have a vaccination incentive. Vaccinated passengers can take the test no more than 3 days before the flight. Unvaccinated passengers must take the test within one day of the flight.

That distinctinction is true for only Americans. All others flying to The States must have a negative test and they are (in the poetic words of the CDC) "required to be fully vaccinated with an approved COVID-19 vaccine and to provide proof of vaccination status prior to boarding an airplane to fly to the United States."

And there is the rub -- in two parts. First, determining what is an approved vaccine.

For those of us who received our vaccinations in Mexico, the vaccines used here were a mix of approved and non-approved vaccines. Rather than list them all, here is a link: Accepted Covid-19 Vaccines (look for Table 2).  

The second problem is what constitutes "proof of vaccination status." When I was vaccinated here in April, I received two pieces of paper containing my name, date of birth, my unique CURP number, and the dates of my two jabs along with the manufacturer's name. Last month, when the regulations were announced, I looked at the draft rule: Types of Proof of Covid-19 Vaccination (look for Table 1).

The rule allows two types of proof. The difference between the two is that one has a QR code; the other does not. My documents do not have a code, but they meet all the other requirements. I thought I was home free. After all, I had just flown around the world last month using my vaccination documents and had no problems. To be fair, the airline check-in staff showed little interest in them.

It appears that has changed. One of our immigrant residents from up northt tried to board an airplane to The States this last week with documents similar to mine and was refused boarding because Mexico provides a document with a QR code upon request.

That sent me over to the Secretary of Health's site to print off my certificate. I have flights to Canada, Argentina, and the Caribbean in the next few months where I will need it simply to board the aircraft.

I am not an automatic complainer, but the process to print off the form was one of the most excruciating and needless exercises in bureaucratic legerdemain that I have ever experienced. But a combination of the website, a couple of tricks on WhatsApp, and the guiding hand of one of the permanent resident's network saved the day. 

I will spare you the details. 

It may have taken a good portion of the day to be able to say I am now ready to fly to wherever the world will admit me. That is, until someone else with a milk monitor's sense of power requires another piece of paper.

But my letters of transit will be in order. Even if they are not signed by President de Gaulle. 

Friday, November 12, 2021

posting my dues

Today is one of my favorite worker holidays -- Mexican postal workers to be exact.

This is the day we recipients of everything mailed get to recognize the workers who bring us the wanted and unwanted, and send off our letters and packages to people who often may as well be living in another geological era.

The mail has long been my favorite government service. I suspect it started when I was about six. I had shipped off some box tops and a dime to receive some now-long-forgotten doodad. Whatever it was took three to four weeks to arrive in a large envelope addressed to "Master Steven Cotton" -- and thus was I introduced to the Emily Post of Post Toasties.

I was hooked like a crack addict. People, whether friends or strangers, would send me letters or cards or birthday gifts directly to my parents' postal box in Powers. It was like a portal to a new social dimension.

The post office lobby had a gumball machine that was managed by my grandfather. It was that type of small town. I would often make the rounds with him of all the machines owned by the Lions. It never occurred to me how a town of less than 1500 residents could justify all of that over-sweetened chicle. But it was time I could spend with him -- in the post office.

During my five years in the Air Force, the APO system was usually my sole lifeline to The Other World. And almost daily, there would be letters, magazines, or, best of all, banana bread from my grandmother. 

It has been just as true here on the Pacific coast of Mexico. I have had my current postal box for over a decade now. If you are an occasional or regular reader, you know how often I tout its virtues.

So, when 12 November rolls around, I am ready to swoop down on the post office to distribute peso-stuffed envelopes to the men who work there in thanks for their faithful service.

Our local Facebook page had a discussion this week about the inefficiency of the Mexican postal system -- accompanied with tales of woe about Christmas cards that take months to arrive. That has not been my experience. My letters north take about 10 days to 2 weeks to arrive. Letters heading south take just a bit longer. Of course, there have been some that have taken longer, but not many. 

As an example, I received a birthday card last week on 3 November, It was mailed from England on 18 October. I would call that good service.

When I first moved down, I received four magazines in my postal box. No more. They all arrive electronically on my Kindle or my telephone.

What I do receive are birthday and holiday cards. And I appreciate them all. There is still something of the Powers boy in me that gets a thrill out of mail arriving at the post office. Even without a gumball machine being present.

So, off to the Post Office I shall go this morning with four envelopes containing a gift for each worker. Two years ago, I discovered the post office often closes for this special holiday. That is only fair.

If that is the case, I will make my deliveries on Monday. Because neither rain, nor snow, nor sleet, nor hail shall keep me from my appointed rounds. Or something like that.

If you have not yet recognized your Mexican postal worker for his diligent service this year, I urge you to do so. After all, I still appreciate Christmas cards when they arrive late. I may even appreciate them more because I actually remember the ones that arrive out of cycle.

I like to think of it as restoring balance in the universe for all of those gifts the three pixie-rascals on the front of the Rice Krispies box sent to me over the years.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

honoring the eagles

Tomorrow is Veterans' Day (née Armistice Day, but renamed to honor all American veterans, and to wash Woodrow Wilson's fingerprints off of the War to End All Wars).

For Canadians, it is Remembrance Day -- a day for the former Dominion to honor those who died in the First World War and wars thereafter.

Melaque has a winter population of migrants, expatriates, and visitors sizable enough to honor days from the Old Country that have no significance in Mexico. Remembrance Day. Canada Day. Fourth of July. Two Thanksgiving Days.

So, some of us will meet, as we always do, on 11 November at 11 AM at Rooster's Restaurant to honor both The Dead and Those Who Served. A tontine without subscriptions.

The program is always the same. Gary, restaurateur extraordinaire of Rooster's, will  make a few opening remarks on why we are there. I will, as I have done for the past several years, read John McCrae's sentimental "In Flanders Fields" with its thrown torches held high.

We all will then sing (or attempt to sing) the Canadian, American, and Mexican national anthems. I always chuckle during the last one when I hear northerners sing about foreigners' soles profaning Mexican soil.

I wish we would not sing the anthems. It is a violation of Mexican law to sing another nation's anthem in Mexico without governmental permission. And given Mexico's problematic history with its two northern neighbors, public displays of nationalism can be easily misunderstood. But, my misgivings will give way to tradition.

The most appropriate anthem to sing is the Mexican -- in honor of the nation's multi-faceted involvement in the Second World War. 

During the First World War, Germany did its best to drag Mexico into the war on its side (an affair to remember). But Mexico maintained its foreign policy of neutral non-intervention. Mexico was far too busy trying to settle its own Revolution to worry about how the European imperial powers were going to carve up Europe.

The Second World War was a different story -- as the result of several serendipitous factors that coincided in the early 1940s. Mexico's relations with the United States and the other European allies were strained following Mexico's Revolution. They worsened when President Lázaro Cárdenas expropriated foreign oil holdings to create Pemex. Therefore, when Manuel Ávila Camacho, a close ally, was elected president in 1940, no one expected Mexico's foreign policy to change. But it did.

Initially, President Camacho wanted only to improve relations with the United States. President Roosevelt was open to the overtures and offered infrastructure aid to Mexico, as well as a reduction of the onerous debt Mexico had acquired through its years of internal turmoil. In turn, the United States purchased strategic resources from Mexico: copper, zinc, mercury, cadmium, graphite and lead. That assistance, along with other factors, tripled Mexico's annual income from 1940 to 1946.

And that is where matters may have remained had not German submarines pushed Mexico into the camp of the Allies. Immediately after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, Mexico severed diplomatic relations with Japan, Germany, and Italy. But Mexico withheld its hand from declaring war.

Six months later, Germany responded to that political generosity by sinking two Mexican oil tankers in the Gulf of Mexico. Germany refused to apologize. On 1 June 1942, Mexico declared war on all of the Axis powers.

President Camacho attempted to limit Mexican participation in the war to logistical support. Mexican citizens decided they were not going to be restricted to that role. At least 15,000 young Mexican men went north to enlist in the American armed forces. President Camacho eventually saw the wisdom in deeper involvement; it would provide Mexico with a strengthened diplomatic position following the war. And it did.

The Japanese gave President Camacho the cultural hook he needed to increase Mexican participation in the war. Mexico has strong connections with The Philippines. Between the mid-1600s and 1821, Mexico had been the hub in the Spanish Galleon trade between The Philippines and Spain, and the same Viceroy who ruled Mexico on the king's behalf, also ruled The Philippines. Some Mexicans had settled in The Philippines as part of the Spanish Empire, and Filipinos had settled in Mexico as part of the importation of the coconut plantation culture. (I understand there is still a Filipino community in Colima.)

When the Japanese invaded The Philippines, President Camacho could (and did) exhort Mexicans to help "liberate our brothers."

And so they did. Mexico organized an air squadron (Squadron 201, also known as the Aztec Eagles) and sent the squadron north to the United States for training in at Laredo in 1944. They were called the best and brightest Mexico had to offer the war effort. When I underwent my Air Force pilot training at Laredo almost 30 years later, the squadron was still honored on the walls of the headquarters and training facilities.

By the time their training was complete and they were shipped to The Philippines in April 1945, there was still a lot of war to be fought in the Pacific. The squadron (consisting of 300 volunteers: 30 pilots and 270 ground crew) did just that in their P-47D aircraft. Between May and August, they flew 90 missions including infantry ground support, and bombing raids on Formosa and Luzon to dislodge Japanese defenders. They were credited with putting 30,000 Japanese troops out of operation.

Upon their return to Mexico City on 18 November 1945, they were feted with a parade of honor. 

But, as is true with all tales of military heroes, not everyone returned for that parade. Of the 300 volunteers that left Mexico, 34 pilots and ground crew were casualties of the war.

For the 15,000 Mexicans who fought as part of the American armed forces and for the 300 volunteer members of the Aztec Eagles, we celebrate you this Veterans Day. Even though the day is not a holiday in Mexico, the service you provided helped the Allies win a war against the terror of totalitarianism.

We thank you, as we thank those who served. On this hallowed day.

Tuesday, November 09, 2021

exercising my rights

My writing pattern has become rather sporadic recently.

There are a lot of reasons for that. And, I may write about them in a future essay. But the primary reason has been a return to a more sane lifestyle.

Several years ago, I decided that I needed to pay more attention to how I was navigating through life. My long-time friend Leo Bauman visited me in 2015 and converted me to the benefits of weight loss. He had recently taken off quite a bit of weight through exercise and a better diet. 

His missionary work did not fall on unplowed ground. I had been considering dropping a few pounds. Not only because I feel better when I weigh less, but also to deal with two conditions that are easily controlled with both diet and exercise.

Leo starts each of his days with a four-mile walk and then an hour of exercises in the pool. That seemed to be an easy start for me -- at least, the walking. Barra de Navidad's flat topography and light traffic make it a pedestrian utopia. A round-trip on the andador from my house to Highway 200 is exactly four miles.

That lasted for about a week. Bit by bit my daily walk increased until I was covering 15 miles each day. Sometimes, 20.

My diet became almost as obsessive. I threw out all of the snacks in the house to reduce temptation and started eating foods recommended by all sorts of medical organizations -- even though I did not suffer from their pet diseases. Nancy Dardarian over at Countdown to Mexico also recommended that I try intermittent fasting.

I did. And the combination of the intermittent fasting, my restricted list of foods, and my compulsive walking had the exact effect I wanted. I lost over 50 pounds in the matter of three months. And they stayed off for years because I had managed to change what I ate and how I exercised.

Then, one day in December 2018, while cruising off of the Mexico coast, I abandoned the project. I have no idea why. I guess I simply did not care about the goals any more. Or maybe I was tired of people asking me in a whispered voice if I had cancer.

The result was predictable. I started eating what I should not. I stopped walking. The weight came back. My blood pressure spiked. My glucose tests could have passed for maple syrup.

There was no real epiphany that made me see the light. No Leo brandishing the Gospel According to Jason Fung. One morning earlier this year, I decided to return to the method I had customized for myself in 2015. And it has worked. Pounds are off; medical conditions are under control.

Because I have not been weighing myself, I am not certain of my weight loss. (On my last routine, I weighed myself daily.) But I feel better. And that is important. I have also purchased new belts because I ran out of notches on the old ones.

But the best evidence is in the photograph at the top of the essay. On my monthly trips north to Oregon over the past fifteen months, I have stopped at the Columbia Sportswear store in Bend to replenish my wardrobe -- which has taken on a marked outdoorsy look. 

I bought a stack of exercise shirts -- some black, some gray -- without paying much attention to the label. Yesterday I did notice. And chuckled. Perhaps, too smugly.

I had purchased nine or ten "Trim Fit" shirts -- what we used to call "Athletic Cut." I know the label because there was a day until the late 1980s when I wore nothing but. Then I edged into "Regular Cut." Before long I was filling the limits of "Corporate Cut." At some point, I started wondering why Haggar did not sell shirts.

It is nice to be back where I once was. The goal now is to stay there -- or to take off a few more pounds.

Mexico is the perfect location to be healthy.

Saturday, November 06, 2021

waking up in saigon

It does not happen often. But, when it does, it is a bit -- well, not disconcerting. Maybe just disorienting.

One of the joys of living in a tropical climate is taking a quick afternoon nap in the patio. It is even better when the pump is running the waterfall in the swimming pool.

But, there I go again, misdirecting the conversation. Today's theme is not about my old-guy habit of stolen siestas. It is waking up from them.

My Mexican neighbors (particularly, the women) enjoy sharing tales in the street in front of my house. The scene usually starts with one of them arriving by motorbike and beeping that distinctive high-pitch horn to announce her arrival. I refer to it as the trailer park door bell.

That blast is enough to start pulling me out of my slumber. By the time, I am half-awake, the conversations have begun. In that state between consciousness and the embrace of Morpheus, the in-street chatter sounds as if I have woken up in Saigon.

My Spanish is not particularly good, but I do have an ear for accents. Spanish speakers from Guadalajara, Havana, Colombia, and Madrid have a distinctive way of speaking. And I can usually spot the almost-songlike rhythm when my Mexican friends slip into street slang. But that is not what I hear when I wake up to the sound of neighborhood gossip.

Whether it is a local affectation or simply a patois reserved for women sharing Schadenfreude tales, I have no idea. Whatever it is, it is distinguished by an odd nasality that turns Spanish into a cousin of the Asian tonal tongues. That and the motorbike horn must be the time machine that transports me back to Saigon -- where I did not take afternoon siestas by my pool.

I am not the only person who seems to have analogy issues between Mexico and Asia. I think it was Walt Rostow, while he was an adviser to President Kennedy, who said: "To understand Latin Americans you need to realize that they are Asians." That sounds as bizarre to me today as it did when I first heard it.

But Walt (and, by extension, Mexpatriate) may not be that wrong. While on my morning walk earlier this week, I strode to the end of the jetty in Barra de Navidad and snapped the photograph at the top of this essay.

Who knows, maybe I do wake up in Saigon now and then.  

Tuesday, November 02, 2021

you can bank on it

Most areas of Mexico that have been colonised by northern immigrants and tourists have an electronic message board where questions, gripes, gossip, and discoveries can be shared in equal measure.

This area of Mexico is no exception. For years, the electronic message board TomZap was the place to go if you needed to know where the locksmith was located or if you wanted to ask one of those whimsical "where is the best hamburger served in Jaluco" questions.

TomZap is still on the internet. But its Spartan functionality has been replaced with the glitzier whatever-Mark-Zuckerberg-is-going-to-call-his-company today. I will go way out on the end of that lexical limb and call it Facebook.

There are several in our area. All designed to make visitors feel a little less anxious and a bit more at home.

Some questions seem to have the same cyclical existence as Covid. One of my favorites deals with recommendations on banking. Which bank has the best exchange rate. Which bank will open accounts for tourists. Which bank has English-speaking staff. Which bank offers toasters with each new account. (Hold it. That last one was an escapee from the 1950s.)

Immigrants and tourists alike are always filled with plenty of opinions usually accompanied with colorful anecdotes of their own experience or of someone-who-knew-someone-who-was-related-to-a-Rockefeller. Taking into account the limited number of banks in the area, I am always amused at the range of experiences. But we all lead different lives.

In the years I have read the bank recommendations, I have yet to see anyone recommend what should be named The Peoples' Bank of Mexico. Most northerners think of Oxxo as a convenience store. My neighbors think of it as a financial institution.

Whenever I stop by to buy a soda, I am inevitably the only person in line with merchandise. This morning I stopped by the Oxxo near my house for a post-walk bottle of water. (I am fond of the mineral water with a hint of a lime.) 

The young woman already at the counter wanted to transfer money to someone somewhere. The next man in line was older. He was picking up money from someone somewhere else -- perhaps from the young woman in front of him. The next two people bought telephone time.

The Oxxo clerk was extremely efficient. She processed the four financial transactions in less than six minutes. Putting that in context, I have stood in line for a similar number of transactions that took another clerk over ten minutes to complete.

I have an American immigrant friend who has lived here for close to fifteen years. He refuses to give his custom to either Oxxo or Kiosko. And his objection is not the same as a lot of foreigners, that the convenience stores take business from the small mom and pop abarrotes. What irritates him is that he has usually stopped to quickly buy one item, and then has to wait for all of the financial dealings. I reminded him that he was not in a Boise 7-11.

My advice to him was that I had long suffered from that same type of impatience -- especially when the young guy in front of me pulls out a list of about eight telephone numbers to buy time for his entire Guadalajara family on their vacation days in Barra. My trick is to think of Oxxo as a bank.

I just imagine that I am trying to buy a bottle of Coke at Banamex. Having learned patience at the bank, I can exercise the same virtue at Oxxo.

And, if I am really that concerned about time (and why is there ever any reason to be that concerned about time in Mexico), I suggested he do what I do. Stop at an abarrotes and make a quick purchase.

Of course, there is a logical pitfall there. I go to the local abarrotes to catch up on the neighborhood gossip. Few are the times when I buy and run.

So, all of you who want a new place to exercise your financial transactions, try using Oxxo or Kiosko. They far outnumber the local banks.   

Monday, November 01, 2021

why halloween and day of the dead share some of the same dna

Last evening, I thought I had fallen asleep in Oz and had awakened in Kansas.

The streets were filled with costumed children larded down with bags filled with sugar loot while mothers futilely attempted to steer their charges into something vaguely resembling safe behavior. It could have been a 31 October evening in the Midwest during the 1950s.

I am not one of those immigrants who goes all weak-kneed when I see another culture's tradition being absorbed into another culture. Probably because I grew up in the United States which is one big pottage of the world's cultures. Immigrants bring their culture with them. America absorbs it -- constantly changing and re-newing.

Mexico shares the "cultural sponge" trait. People bring other traditions here, and Mexicans pick what they like and make it their own.

The appearance of Halloween in Mexico is fraught with irony. The purists bemoan the appearance of jack-o-lanterns (just as they hated the absorption of Santa Claus and the Easter bunny), fearing that it will somehow hamper the great Indian tradition of Day of the Dead.

The only problem with that position is its premise. It is true that some pre-Columbian tribes in Mexico had an annual tradition of sitting and visiting with their dead. But it was regional, not throughout all of Mesoamerica. And not all the tribes celebrated on the same day.

Then, the Spanish showed up. The priests, who were an integral component of the conquest, decided to put an end to the pagan practice -- but in a very Roman Catholic way.

The church had already winked at the resurrection of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin as Our Lady of Guadalupe, so, the solution was simple and elegant. 

The Purépecha around Lake Pátzcuaro were one of the tribes that regularly practiced the annual dead veneration. Rather than attempt to outlaw the practice, the church squeezed the custom through the Catholic sausage grinder by conducting a hostile takeover requiring all the tribes to celebrate on a day of the church's choosing.

The date was easy. Because the tribes were honoring the dead, the church would slip it into another day honoring the dead -- All Saints' Day (1 November). And, to sweeten the deal, the church threw in All Souls' Day (2 November). 

Over time 1 November became Day of the Innocents to honor dead children. 2 November became Day of the Dead.

Not being content with that bit of cultural appropriation, the church also required that all altars honoring the spirits of the dead must contain at least one Catholic religious symbol. The rest could be made up of as many pagan pieces as the tribes cared to use. If a Purépecha warrior from 1520 were to wander into the cemetery at Tzurumutaro this year during the celebration, he would certainly recognize what was happening, even though the date and Christian iconography might confuse him.

It was not until the 1960s that the Mexican Minister of Education declared Day of the Dead would be an all-Mexico tradition, and that it would be taught in the schools to perpetuate its celebration. That is why school children, while I am writing, are building altars in the San Patricio square. And, as happens every year, there is one guy and two girls who are doing most of the work while their classmates socialize in the shade.

Like most top-down edicts in Mexico, this one set its deepest roots where the tradition was traditionally celebrated in pre-Columbian times. There are plenty of places in Mexico -- especially the north -- where any celebration of the day is so low key as to be almost invisible. Someone looking for a Coco experience in Monterrey would be sorely disappointed.

My advice to the people who are standing in the road of the hobgoblin of history and yelling "stop" is to step aside before you are run down. Day of the Dead has survived the nips and tucks of the Roman Catholic church. I would not be surprised if Mexicans incorporated trick-or-treat on 31 October and then rolled right into the multi-day Day of the Dead celebrations. Why waste a good time? When the school kids build their altars in the San Patricio square, they almost always manage to work in some sort of Halloween item.

And they are not wrong in doing that. Remember the pagan Celtic holiday of Samhain? For some of us, that is our ancestral heritage, and the Catholic church did to it what it did to the Day of the Dead. It turned the day into All Hallow's Eve (thus, Halloween) -- or, as we know it in this context: All Saint's Eve.

That is why Halloween and Day of the Dead are celebrated at the same time of the year. The Celtic and Mexican tribes both lost their tradition to the Catholic church -- and, each in their own way, has retained it.

And if that bothers some people, we may just have to stop calling our little village San Patricio. I am certain that the missionary to the Celtics, who adopted him as their patron saint, would appreciate the irony.

For those of you who are in Mexico, I hope you enjoy Day of the Dead. If you are not here, you can celebrate it wherever you are. It is obviously a very plastic event.