Saturday, February 26, 2022

shrapnel in my pocket

Everything turns out well in the end. 

Or, at least, it turns out.

That has proven to be true of the Bank of Mexico's announcement that the 20-peso note would be withdrawn and replaced by an expanded supply of 20-peso coins. That announcement was four years ago (bienvenidos, benito -- y adiós
). What has happened since?

Not much. The workhouse blue note featuring Benito Juarez face is still circulating, but very few 20-peso coins are. That has been my experience in our little backwater on the coast. I have received only one 20-peso coin in change.

This week I withdrew some pesos from my main bank. The bank seldom has any change. My wallet was filled with 500-peso notes that are not extremely easy to use at most businesses. The gas station. Hawaii (my preferred grocery store). A couple of high-end restaurants. Tour companies. That just about exhausts the list of places where a 500-peso note can be presented without feeling a bit ashamed that you are exhausting the resources of the business.

To avoid the awkwardness, I usually take my big bills to Banamex and change them into denominations that are a bit less-economically heretical. When my number finally popped up on the you-are-next screen, I asked the teller for a mix of notes. Twenties. Fifties. Hundreds. Two hundreds.

She started counting out the latter three in neat little piles. She then told me something I have been waiting to hear for four years. The bank did not have any 20-peso notes. Would I like coins, instead?

Because I like anything new, I took her up on her offer. Otherwise, I would not have had any 20s. The denomination is handy here -- even with Mexico's current inflation resulting in higher consumer price.

What I received is what you now see. I almost feel like a pirate having liberated Spanish doubloons from the Manila Galleon. Except the portrait is not of Carlos II, but a hero of the Mexican revolution -- Emiliano Zapata.

When I originally wrote about the note withdrawal, a Canadian acquaintance and an English friend shared their personal woes with the withdrawal of the 1- and 2-dollar notes, and the switch from paper to metal of the 1-pound note. Both bewailed the weight of the "shrapnel" in their pockets.

We Americans have had a couple of brief encounters with governments attempting to enforce a metal dollar on the public. The Eisenhower dollar in the early 70s. The Susan B. Anthony dollar in the late 70s. The Sacagawea and presidential dollars in the early 2000s.

None of them caught on with the public -- even when vending machines started dispensing them as change. They were either too large or too heavy. That is why Americans elected to stuff their wallets with one-dollar notes.

Of course, notes are becoming a vestige of the past almost everywhere in the world. Most commercial transactions are now conducted electronically. When I go north, I never use cash. I either use my credit card or the credit function on my FitBit. Before long, I will even forget which president (or other worthy) is on which note.

Even though credit card usage is far more common in the little villages where I have immigrated, most small business do not offer that option. This is a cash economy.

I suspect I will be memorizing the faces on the Mexican notes for some time. And Mexico will continue to do its part by printing a new series every five years or so. Or minting coins of ever-larger denominations.

As the old saying goes, it all spends the same.

Friday, February 25, 2022

the blind curing the blind

I am not a doctor -- though I have been known to play one in the courtroom.

That, of course was in a time long ago in Oregon. I now restrict my medical practice to me.

Writers have a tendency to ignore the aphorism omnes similitudines claudicante -- all analogies limp. But here comes one right now hobbling down the lane.

Our bodies are like cars. At least, mine is. As bodies age, we tend to think of them as eternally being what they were when they were new, and we are shocked -- shocked, I say -- when the suspension does not ease the bumps of life as it once did.

I am now in my eighth decade of life. And that means plenty of maintenance is required. Or needs to be ignored.

When I last was in Oregon, I received some bad, but hardly startling, news from an optometrist. My right eye was in the early stages of developing a cataract that would eventually need surgery -- and the blood vessels in my left eye were enflamed as the result of the elevated blood pressure I suffer whenever I visit the high desert.

Because it was more a precautionary warning than a matter of alarm, I tossed it onto the deferred maintenance list. After all, if I needed surgery, I could get some of the best care possible here in Mexico.

Until Sunday a week ago. While walking to church, I noticed what looked like a long strand of hair over the corner of my left eye. Even though I knew it was not an errant lock (I have not worn my hair that long in decades), I still brushed my hand to move it out of my range of sight. Not surprisingly, it was still there. And unless I had magically developed Mother Eyes, no hair on the front of my head was going to get in the way of my eyes.

A quick research on-line indicated the symptom could be the onset of macular degeneration or a detached retina. Both possibilities included the same warning: seek medical help immediately.

So, I did. On the next morning. But my doctor's waiting room was full, so I decided to use my time more productively by adding some more walking to my life.

And that is where everything stayed until Tuesday this week when I had dinner with my pastor and his wife (Al and Sue) at Papa Gallo's. I had noticed that whatever was wrong with my left eye was more apparent whenever I was in direct sunlight.

The conversation turned to matters medical, and I told them about my latest concern. When telling tales, I tend to use my hands for emphasis. Recreating my futile swipe to free what I thought was a non-existent tress, I felt something odd. A long hair. Not from the top of my head, but from the left corner of my eyebrow.

I did not have one of those exotic eye diseases that would require medical intervention. It was not even a strand of hair from my receding hairline. It was merely another one of those afflictions that seem to come to old men -- Andy Rooney eyebrows.

I have noticed that during the past year or two that my eyebrows have become the croplands for what can only be described as mutant eyebrow hairs. My eyebrows were the only bit of hair on my head that did not need any maintenance. They were always as orderly and uniform as the Queen's Life Guard.

Now, there are always several on the playing field that take off in any direction. The only thing they have in common is their horse-hair consistency and their absurd length. If my hairline recedes any further, I have the option of using my eyebrows as a comb-over.

When I discovered the genesis of my faulty left eye, I simply plucked out the offending hair. Al and Sue joined me in laughing at the absurdity of it all. I am just glad that I left the waiting room on Monday.

I was going to write that it would have been embarrassing if my doctor told me I was concerned about something that was just another Old Man problem. But I tend not to get embarrassed about anything these days. Another Old Man problem.

I suppose there are better roles for me on the stage of life than playing a doctor. Being an Andy Rooney impersonator may suit me far better.     

Thursday, February 24, 2022

feliz día de la bandera

 Today is the day Mexico celebrates its flag. El día de la bandera.

 Flags have significance for every nation. They are the standards of national myth.

Take a look at that flag. Really look at it. What can you tell about the nation it represents?

Obviously, a monarchy. The crown is a dead give-away.

And the national creed is not subtle. Right in your face. Religion. Union. Independence.  All in a romance language.

It would be understandable if you thought you were looking at an early version of a flag from the Kingdom of Italy. But it's not.

It is the personal banner of the first ruler of the newly-independent Mexico: Emperor Agustín de Iturbide. The year was 1821.

And like the advocates of most authoritarian forms of government, Iturbide made the mistake of thinking the state was the nation. Something we see playing out in the mind of Vladamir Putin this morning.

But Iturbide's banner was never the official flag of Mexico. That honor goes to this beauty:

That flag looks far more familiar to us.  With a few design changes, it is the same flag we see in front of every government building in Mexico.  And it is replete with additional myths. Including that crown on the eagle.

The colors are a good place to start.  Many of the leaders of the Mexican independence movement admired the French revolution.  Choosing a tricolor design was easy.  Just substitute Mexican green for French blue, and you have the basic flag. The French, of course, tried to return the favor in 1864. Not by removing the green, but by installing a European emporer.

Being romantics, the heroes of Independence ascribed qualities to the colors.  Green for independence.  White for religion -- Roman Catholic, of course.  (The anti-clericalism of the Mexican elite did not attain dominance until the reforma thirty years later).  And red for the union between Mexico's people.

The coat of arms in the center embodies the mysticism of Mexican myth.  The story goes, sometime in the early 1300s, the Mexica people (one of the component parts of what would one day be the Aztec Empire) were on the move searching for a permanent home.  They believed their god, Huitzilopochtli, would provide a homesteading sign: an eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus while eating a snake.

Mexico has eagles, snakes, and cactus galore.  So, the housing options seemed open-ended.  But, Huitzilopochtli must have had a good sense of humor.

Instead of an eagle showing up in the rolling hills of central Mexico, the designated eagle landed on a cactus on a small, swampy island in the middle of a lake.  An island that would be the root of a vast empire -- until the Spanish showed up and decided the spot would be a far better site for the capital city of their new colonial empire.

Thus was born the eagle myth.  Along with a national coat of arms and matching flag decoration.

The first eagle wore a crown.  Just like the emperor.  But the crown and Iturbide were not to last for long.  Both were sent packing in 1823. At least the eagle wasn't shot by a firing squad -- as was the emperor. In 1824.

The crownless republican eagle ruled until the French decided Mexico needed an Austrian prince to be the next emperor of Mexico.  The Aztec eagle turned into a Roman finial, accompanied by imperial eagles sprinkled on the tricolor in a style only a Napoleon could love.

The only retained Mexican influence was the tricolor itself.

There were other reasons, but no self-respecting Mexican was going to allow his country to be represented by what looked like a tea towel purchased at a shop outside Neuschwanstein Castle.  Out it went in 1867 along with Maximilian's bullet-riddled body. European emperors have not had a long shelf-life in Mexico.

The crownless-eagle returned for another 26 years, until the eagle got tired of facing to the right.  For 23 years, he switched profiles and faced to the left. Staring in the same direction can get boring.

When the revolution toppled the dictator Porfirio Diaz in 1911, Mexico decided it needed a new flag to represent its revolutionary fervor.  Instead of the eagle's head being in profile, the whole bird would be in profile with a more natural look.  Heroic.  Audubon as socialist realism.

That was 1916.  With a slight change in 1934, it was the national flag until 1968.  The flag I knew when I made my first trip to Mexico.

And then the Olympic games came to Mexico in 1968.  Mexico spiffed and buffed,  making Mexico City shine.  (With the exception of some students who bothered to get in the way of a government born of revolution, who knew how to disgracefully tend to protests -- promises kept, part i.)

Mexico got a lot of new buildings for the games.  But it also got a new flag -- the flag we see today.

All of the myths and symbols have been retained since independence -- even though the colors have new meanings: green for hope; white for union; red for the blood of heroes. After all, this is a flag that represents the principles of the Revolution, but that has its roots in a misty past where Spaniards had not yet invaded the land.

Like most nations, Mexico thinks very highly of its symbols.  The flag is the embodiment of the nation.  Every morning at schools across Mexico, children parade it, salute it, and pledge their sacred honor to it.

Even this post could be subject to Mexican law because images of the flag are protected.

Anyone who broadcasts an image of the flag is required to have a permit.  Some of us remember the dust-up caused when MTV Mexico canceled an episode of South Park because the program featured a Mexican flag -- and the government had not issued a permit.

You will not see protesters burning Mexican flags in Mexico -- and getting away with it.  I suspect that Austrian-inspired table cloth could be burned.  But I am not even certain about that.

To postmodern eyes, a lot of that seems odd.  But, Mexicans love their flag because they love their country.

So, today we will wish the flag, and the nation for which it stands, a Happy Flag Day. May the eagle remain uncrowned.

Monday, February 21, 2022

me talk pretty one day

Last month I met a northern tourist perusing a menu in Spanish in front of one of Barra de Navidad’s small eateries. He said he was too old to learn anything beyond menu Spanish, but he was rather proud about what he had learned over the years.

“It took me some time, but someone finally clarified the difference between ‘cerdo’ and ‘puerco’ for me. ‘Cerdo’ is ‘beef’ and ‘puerco’ is ‘bacon.’"

I laughed thinking it was the opening gambit of an ironic raconteur. It wasn’t. Someone had undoubtedly pulled a linguistic practical joke on him. And it had stuck. Several of my acquaintances have peppered my Spanish vocabulary with suggestions that would not be appropriate for the Mexican equivalent of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

I suspect the malapropisms were inflicted on him, but, in learning a new language, we often inflict them on ourselves.

A couple years ago, a reader asked me to meet him for coffee at Rooster's in San Patricio Melaque. When the waiter asked him what he would like to drink, he responded: "Una bruja sin leche." The waiter asked him to repeat his order. He did. He obviously wanted something with milk, but we were certain he did not want a "bruja."

I asked him what he wanted. He seemed amazed we did not understand. "Una bruja. A coffee."

Then the centavo dropped. I knew he periodically patronized a pleasant coffee shop in Barra de Navidad cleverly-named "La Bruja." One of those Spanglish puns that cause us to chuckle. "Bruja" means "witch," but in English it sounds like another word for "coffee" -- "brew." 

I am hardly blameless when it comes to speaking Spanish. After all, I am the guy who asked our local postal clerk if the box rental was for a full year ("año"
), but inadvertently used the far more humorous "ano."

When I back myself into a linguistic corner (and I do that far too often), I extricate myself by opting for the present tense of a verb and then tossing in "en el pasado" (in the past) to create the past tense or "en el futuro" for the future. The preterit can fend for itself.

It was not supposed to be like this.

I once had a dream.

The first thi
ng I did when I decided to retire to Mexico (before I read any of the books on why Mexico was the perfect retirement home or chose an area to live or calculated all of the money I was going to save), I bought as many language programs and books I could find.

Here is the dream part.

  • I was going to read Don Quixote in the original and then discuss with my Mexican neighbors whether Cervantes wrote a sardonic satire about knightly valor or if the novel was nothing more than the romantic wisp we have made of it.
  • Or I would have long discussions in the street about the theological strengths and weaknesses of trinitarianism, dualism, and the inevitable elements of gnosticism.
  • Or just be satisfied to banter about the subtleties of Mexican politics with the people who have the power to choose their leaders. 

If you have been following Mexpatriate over the past fifteen years, you know the spirit was willing, but the outcome has been well -- wanting.

I have now attended Spanish lessons with five different teachers. I studied. I participated in class. I did my homework. I invested a good deal of my sarcastic academic soul. I have a Duolingo learning streak of almost 2000 days. And the result?

After all that, I know Maria lives in a pretty apartment, that she is learning Spanish in Guatemala, and, if I caught the words correctly, she lost her green fountain pen in the baked duck. Just don't ask me for directions to the bathroom.

I am fine with situations where the parameters are controlled and I can pre-script my lines. Steve in a restaurant. Steve at the grocery store. Steve discussing his pet with his friends. That sort of thing. 

Caught unawares, my Spanish is not just bad, it is dreadful. The best I can say is that I plow through it with the finesse of three-year old using scissors on his mother's fur coat.

I stole the title of this essay from David Sedaris. In "Me Talk Pretty One Day," he humorously recounts his tortured attempts to learn French at a language school in Paris. His teacher was one of those martinets who believed students could not learn unless they were first humiliated.

After one of her more demeaning sessions, the students gathered to discuss how they cried themselves to sleep at night because of the teacher. But, one student, placing hope before personal experience, declared:

That is common for me also, but be more strong, you. Much work, and someday you talk pretty. People stop hate you soon. Maybe tomorrow, okay?

Anyone who has ever tried to learn a new language and then use it with fellow neophytes can appreciate that paragraph.

Can I say there is any hope "me talk pretty one day" in Spanish? With any certainty?

Of course not. I will continue my daily studies and I will inflict my dreadful Spanish on my very patient and indulgent neighbors. Will we discuss Cervantes, the finer points of theology, or the subtext of the AMLO administration? Definitely not.

At least, I can now claim I am far enough in my studies to tell my bruja from my ano.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

scorpion season?

Last week a northern visitor posted a photograph of a scorpion on one of our local Facebook pages and asked if it was poisonous.
Because there is always one in every crowd, a self-appointed grammarian pointed out that scorpions are not poisonous; they are venomous. He then answered the question.

A couple of the comments included an interesting phrase. At least, it was interesting to me because I had never considered it. The phrase? "It is scorpion season."

Scorpion season. I didn't know there was one. I had always imagined scorpion visits to be merely transactional -- like being visited by the plague or politicians selling life insurance policies.

One of the useful things about writing periodic essays is that the archives can be an understudy diary. I write about enough daily occurrences that I should be able to determine if certain phenomena happen in discernible patterns. Such as, is there a scorpion season.

Using the search function (up there in the left corner of the page), I discovered a baker's dozen of essays dealing with my past scorpion encounters: December 2009, April 2010, March 2011, July 2011, June 2012, January 2016, April 2017, May 2018, June 2018, August 2018, December 2019, October 2020, and August 2021.

I draw two conclusions from those dates. One, scorpions can show up any time of year (though summer seems to be the season with the most sightings). Two, I write about scorpions far too often.

I can now add February to that list. As I came out of my bedroom onto the patio this morning, I almost stepped on this beauty.

He would have been easy to miss because he was one of the tiniest scorpions I have seen. A mere lad setting forth in the world. But he was fully armed with his venomous tail to kill prey or to defend himself against the Brobdingnagian giants his mother warned him about.

Rather than kill him, I scooped him up and took him across the street to the lot where the chickens hand out. Chickens consider scorpions to be delicacies. In effect, I entered the scorpion in the Gallinaceous Hunger Games. I am not certain I did him a favor.

Under normal circumstances, my initial encounter with the scorpion could have gone bad for both of us. I usually walk across that stretch of patio barefoot. But it was also a reminder that when I clean out the planters with my bare hands, his siblings could be hiding amongst the detritus. 

Worrying about scorpions here is a bit like obsessing about yellow jackets in Oregon. They are just there as part of the natural background.

Will the encounter help remind me to wear sandals when trotting across the patio or to wear gloves while picking up fallen leaves and flowers? I would like to say yes. But I will not lie to you. It won't. I will always do what is convenient for me at the moment.

Just as my encounters with scorpions are transactional, the manner in which I deal with such dangers are merely part of life's static.

Life is too short to worry about the things that go bump (or sting) in the night.

Saturday, February 19, 2022

the tax man cometh -- and, boy, is he old

When I moved to Mexico, I knew several things in my life would need to change -- or. at least, be more flexible.

One thing that would not change would be filing my annual income tax return.

Since the early 1990s, I have used Quicken (to track my income and expenses) and its cousin TurboTax (to file my income taxes). Over the past thirty years, both software programs have changed -- mostly for the better. Every December, I would purchase a new TurboTax disc at Costco in December. Because the nearest Costco to San Patricio Melaque was a four-hour drive away, I was not certain how I would file my taxes from Mexico.

TurboTax solved the problem for me. Just before I moved to Mexico, the company started offering its tax preparation services online. I was no longer tied to buying a new disc each year. Instead, I paid for the service each year when I filed my return.

My tax situation has not been very complex since I retired. It could have been very different.

I had initially planned to review contracts on a part-time basis for my former employer, but the fiscal and legal details of the plan turned out to be more difficult than anticipated. That made my taxes far easier to calculate without dealing with the problems of income earned outside of the United States and the impact that could have on my tax liabilities to the Mexican government.

Since 2009, my income tax form usually constitutes twenty-some pages with some rather arcane tables and schedules. TurboTax proved to be a very good advisor. So, there was no question that I would use its services again this tax year -- even though my particular taxable events were greatly reduced.

I received my last income document yesterday afternoon, and started the most important tax task -- pulling together all of my paperwork into two stacks. Five documents in the income pile. Eleven in the potential deductions pile.

Because I had filed with TurboTax last year, all of my personal information was pre-loaded. The program imported my income information from the original sites. It then walked me through the steps to determine if I should use a standardized deduction. Even though I paid property taxes, registered my car, and made some charitable contributions, TurboTax recommended that I take the standard deduction. So, I did.

With a quick review, my payment of a filing fee, and the punch of a button, my federal tax return was filed. And it took no more than 41 minutes from start to finish.

It was not until I printed out my return that I noticed that TurboTax had chosen a new Internal Review Service form for my filing -- a Form 1040-SR. Euphemistically entitled "U.S. Tax Return for Seniors." It is a four-page form that replaces the old 1040-EZ (simple form) with a twist. The font size is large enough to allow it to be read on the opposite side of a football field. And my eyes appreciate the gesture.

I will confess, though, that I was a bit startled to see the "for Seniors" title. My aunt once told me: "You realize you're old when the grocery clerk asks you if you want the senior discount."

That has not yet happened to me. But I think I had the same reaction when TurboTax automatically opted for the "Senior" form.

Now that my tax situation is simple enough for this new form, I did a little digging. If my tax situation remains unchanged, I wondered if it might now be just as simple to use the online IRS form to file, instead of TurboTax?

The IRS adds enough warnings to its site to scare away anyone who has doubts about using the online service.

  • The form cannot be used after 22 October of the filing year.
  • The site does not provide guidance about which form to use.
  • The site does not provide assistance with individual tax situations.
  • It does not provide an error-checking service.
  • The form will perform only basic calculations.
  • It can only be used for federal filings for the current tax year.
  • No state tax returns are available.
  • No changes can be made once the return has been submitted.       
None of that is a big concern to me. Now that I have been dumped into the geezer camp, I can use the simplest of forms. Of course, if I choose the IRS option, all I will save is the pittance I pay to TurboTax to get the services I cannot get from the IRS.*

What a brave new world the IRS has provided to us -- to ease the pain of watching our hard-earned dollars (for me, it is the largest item in my budget) being transformed into governmental services and related cronyism.

It makes me wonder why I even included "tax-filing" on my lists of potential problems when I moved here. It certainly has not proven to be an issue.

* -- For taxpayers with an annual income less than $73,000, the IRS provides another service (IRS Free File Partners) that offers more tax preparation assistance -- as well as state tax filing. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

is food bought on a road trip -- road kill?

There was a day (back in the misty days of 2009) when I would drive to Manzanillo each week.

To pick up the mail at Mailboxes, Etc and to shop for food items I could not find in San Patricio Melaque.

No more. I can now get everything I need and almost everything I want in town simply by driving over to Hawaii. 

There is another reason I do not drive to Manzanillo much any more. I dislike the drive. If I am flying solo (which I usually am), I just want to get there and back home as quickly as I can. I spend more time driving than I do in the stores.

I now go to The Little Apple for only two reasons: 1) when I have dry cleaning and 2) to stop at the recently-renovated La Comer to find some sort of exotic food to ramp up my dinners.

Yesterday, I did both. After I picked up my holiday dry cleaning that I had dropped off three weeks ago, I stopped at La Comer where I have developed a shopping strategy. Produce to pasta to tea to frozen meat to cheese display. In and out. 15minutes max.

It was a good day. I scored with an English cucumber, some Sencha and Genmai Cha, a package each of bucatini and orzo (both from Rummo), and a wedge of imported Enmental. But the greatest score of all was amongst the frozen meat. It is featured at the top. 

Un conejo. A rabbit.

Packaged as it is, folded over on itself, it was not easy to identify. I learned to appreciate good rabbit and hare when I lived in England in the mid-1970s. The meat and game market in Oxford offered almost anything that hopped, flew, grunted, or rooted. It was easier to see what you were buying because the mammals and birds were still wearing their natural coverings.

Well, some were. Many of the rabbits were skinned and splayed in display cases. Looking a bit like a Peterbald. (I will kindly forego photographs of the market for those of you of a squeamish nature. For the same reason, I will skip a photograph of a living Peterbald.)

Now, that the rabbit is tucked away in the freezer, I need to come up with an appropriate use for its sacrifice. I will undoubtedly start by roasting it. A wire hanger over an open fire would add a rustic flare, but I suspect I will stick with the oven.

And then, what? Right now, I am leaning toward a rabbit risotto. But that will have to wait until I return from my trip to Yucatan wit my cousins Dan and Patty.

To tide me over, I bought a dozen take-out pieces of one of my guilty pleasures in Manzanillo. Monkey's chicken. The piquante version. In this case, it was the muy piquante version. And well-appreciated. If your chicken does not make your nose run, it died in vain. This one was put to a glorious purpose. 

Omar will stop by the house tonight on his weekend visit to Barra de Navidad. He is now at university (with in-person classes) in Autlan. He had best hurry, though, because I have cut a wide swath through yesterday's purchase.

Even though I dislike the drive, this particular trip proved to be quite successful.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

exile of the banshees

On most Mexican nights in my patio, the creatures of the dark reign.

Banshees. Golems. Or their Latino counterparts -- chupacabras.

Not only are they things that go bump in the night, they are things that hide in the dark -- because they are dark.

And on most nights, the darkness cloaks them. Either there is no moonlight or only the wisp of its reflected light. As compensation, those are the same nights where every planet and star puts on a full display.

But, once a month (or twice if we have a moon that sees us standing alone), all of that changes. The banshees and golems and chupacabras exit stage left to give the spotlight to the queen of the night -- the full moon.

Actually, the full moon brings her own spotlight. Last night was one of those nights. I was in bed reading when I glanced up and wondered why Omar had left the lights on in the patio. That is, I wondered that until I realized he had left for university a week ago.

It was not the patio lights. It was a full moon -- bathing the patio in that unmistakable silver light. The same light Peggy Lee used when singing "Is That All There Is?" If I had been reading a printed book, I could have read it with the help of the moon.

I gained an appreciation for the power of the moon's light in September 2001. My golden retriever, Professor Jiggs, and I were camping on the east slope of Steens Mountain. I cannot remember what astronomic phenomenon was taking place in the sky that night. Probably another of the many periodic meteor showers -- or another disappointing comet. But I knew that I would have only an hour between sunset and the rise of the moon to enjoy it.

When the sun went down, I was amazed at how bright the stars seemed. With all of its light pollution, the Willamette Valley, where I lived at the time, afforded only a faint copy of that sky. I reveled in it while I could because I knew the light from the moon would alter the view. But I did not know how much.

An hour after sunset, the moon rose over the horizon. It was as if someone had turned the lights on in a dark room. In the dark, I had not noticed the expanse of the salts-flat Alvord Desert to the southeast. I did now. Its white surface reflected the moon's surface as if it were a large lake of ice. I can still picture it.

The light in my patio was not quite that dramatic. But almost. The patio was no longer the devil's playground in the dark. Instead, it could have been the setting for Spenser's Faerie Queene. Or, perhaps, Iolantha.

I have a full calendar of travels stretching from the end of this month into 2023. But, I suspect, I will not find many sights as alluring as the monthly light parade in my patio.

Travel may broaden one's mind, but home make one appreciate what life offers everyone.   

Monday, February 14, 2022

love and friendship in the rubble

Feliz el día del amor y la amistad

Valentine's Day is one of those holidays that has seeped into almost all of the world's cultures. And why not? Who is going to interfere with celebrating the ones we love?*

Mexico goes one step further (as you can see in my greeting to you) by celebrating not only those we love romantically but those we have chosen to call our friends.

Last week I ran across an essay by William A. Virchis that sums up the importance of the day in Mexico. Let me share it with you.

In Mexico, we celebrate Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 similarly to the United States, but we celebrate the day as a day of friendship, not necessarily of romantic love. It’s a day of deeper love for deeper friendships. Besides true love has to start with true friendship. My greatest valentines have been incredible women and men, including my incredible family, starting with M.C., mi cariño, my best friend, who has always been by my side in all the ups and downs life brings. Valentines, it’s a day to remember the trident of love: to protect, to provide and to profess.

I like that because it has the ring of truth about it. "True love has to start with true friendship."

But true friendship is an end itself. And I do not mean that list of "friends" that clutters your Facebook dashboard. Somewhere along our paths through life, we have managed to confuse acquaintances, pepole who constitute a very important element in our lives, with our friends.

I have never counted more than four people as friends at any point in my life. And there is a good reason for that. The qualifications for friendship are high. 

A friend is someone with whom you can share the heights of joys and then confess the darkest secrets of your life that you might not even share with a spouse. They are the girl in third-grade who gave you her twinkie because you did not have dessert. Or your chum in sixth grade who sat with you while you cried for fear that the other boys would see you.

She is the person who stood up for you when everyone else deserted you, and then lovingly told you why they had -- not to change who you are, but to offer comfort and personal growth. And, though you did not want to hear what she said, you listened because her voice was filled with love and grace.

He is guy you can call at any time on the telephone and start chatting where you left off. No matter what you tell him, he accepts you for who you are and does not try to mold you into being his creation.

And true friends are there no matter how desperately bad your situation is and how nasty you are in return to an offered hand. They see us at our worst -- and they remain our friends in spite of it. Or maybe because of it.

If you are baffled by the photograph above, I can understand why. Why on earth would Mexpatriate feature a stack of Legos on St. Valentine's Day?

Well, they are not Legos. They are plastic containers built into a concrete out building.

The moment I took the shot, I wanted to call my friend Ed Gilliam (the death of a friend) to have one of our long conversations about art. Were the crates-in-the-wall art? Had I created art by taking the photograph? Had I created a different piece of art by cropping the photograph? It was the type of conversation that would keep us talking for hours while Roxane rolled her eyes at our pretentiousness.

But, I cannot call him. He is dead. I now have the conversation on my own.

A fellow who attends our church, Robert Lyons, had a brilliant idea for today. In the spirit of Mexican Friendship Day, he invited single people he knew, who he cheerily referred to as "Valentine orphans," to gather this afternoon at his home for sandwiches and games.

I was honored to be asked. But gatherings of this nature do not appeal to me. Yesterday, I thanked him, but told him I would not be there.

So, where does that leave us on this day of love and friendship?

For me, it means that I have decided to attend Robert's party.

I have often railed on Facebook that people are far too prone to advertise their personal grievances with the full community rather than talking directly with the person who has aggrieved. I understand why. It is far more difficult to have those conversations in person. It is easier to set them up for public acrimony in the digital equivalent of Puritan stocks in the town square. Talking with them personally actually has the possibility of resolving hurt on both sides. Perhaps healing (or creating) a relationship.

But to do that, we need respect for one another, and respect is born out of relationships.

If I do not see you at the party or at a celebratory dinner tonight, let me once again wish you Feliz el día del amor y la amistad

And like those plastic crates, we may find the art of friendship in our lives.  

* -- Of course, there are always spoilsports like Iran and Pakistan who equate the day with being another example of Western decadence -- even though a large portion of their populations celebrate the day in secret. Love will out.

Saturday, February 12, 2022

raindrops keep falling on my stead

We have all experienced the sensation.

A small sound wakens you in the early morning, but it is so out of context that, for at least an instant, you are transported to another place and time. It happened to me this morning.
I have no idea what time it was. It was definitely after midnight and before the morning arrival of the sun. So, maybe 3. Or so.

It was a familiar sound. A rhythmic patter on the lamina that tops the chimney of my shower. The clever and much-loved grackles often use the surface to crack open nuts. But it was too early for them. And the rhythm was different. 

It could only be one thing. Rain. What was out of context is that we are currently in our dry season.

The rain in Barra falls mainly on the summer -- and fall. But, because it is weather and simply scoffs at our silly desire to tame nature with orderly boxes, it can rain here whenever the conditions permit.

But rarely in February. And taking that into account, the rain put on a perfunctory performance. The weather equivalent Highlights from Hamlet -- or The Best of Benny Hill.  It came in three short wavelets -- barely leaving a trace of itself when the clouds, proud of their playlet, blew off to surprise inhabitants in another part of coastal Mexico.

In the summer, we look forward to every rainstorm (except those that are far too generous with their watery gifts). The rain beats down both the heat and humidity. Temporarily. But some respite is good enough to break the monotony.

Today's unexpected sprinkles (and even that may be too generous of a description) reminded me of last August when my brother, sister-in-law, and I helped move my mother out of her house. As always happens in these tasks, the layers of nostalgia were as complex and varied as a fossil bed.

I found a photograph of me on the beach in Greece (where I was living at the time) enjoying a local lunch with some Greek acquaintances and two university friends who had come to stay a month at my house. I had no memory of the lunch. And I certainly had no memory of that bathing suit.

But as soon as I put the photograph back in the pile, the memory of that long-lost day was gone just as swiftly as our brief rain this morning. Refreshing while it was there. Forgotten as soon as it passed.

Maybe that is why some people hang on to the scraps that memorialize moments gone by. All of those motherly flash-cube-lit holiday dinners with family members looking as if they were just one step away from a mug shot. Or the second grade poem that adorned the family refrigerator for decades and was proof positive that the author had not inherited his grandmother's skill of poetry.

Even if all of the detritus of our pasts should one day disappear (and for those of us who live long enough to have time rob of of our memories), there will be other grace notes of experience that pop up like this morning's rain. Not necessarily to remind us of our pasts (or someone else's past), but to give us one more chance to celebrate the day with something different in our lives.

Maybe that is why we sang of "showers of blessings" at church in my youth.

May we all have plenty more.

Friday, February 11, 2022

our daily bread -- and cucumber

This morning was a special day.

The young daughter of a Mexican acquaintance was graduating from kinder, and I had been asked to play the role of padrino -- a role I have played only once before.

When Enrique asked me to step into what is considered to be a great honor here in Mexico, I gladly accepted. But I also asked him what would be expected of me for this particular event. Because I was completely new to the custom the last time I acted in the role, I made plenty of mistakes because I simply did not understand the custom.

Enrique was initially evasive. That may be because I immediately fell into my northern culture mode and cut to the bottom-line question of what the fiesta would cost without first effusively thanking him for the honor.

After all, being asked is about relationship, and I was degrading it to a shoddy financial transaction. But I am lousy at being "effusive" at any time. He reluctantly settled on a figure.

He then told me the graduation ceremony would be this morning at 9 at the school just a bit west of my house. I knew the place well.

So, I hopped out of bed, dressed in white linen with a black shirt that made me look more like the attendee of a Truman Capote ball than the padrino of a child's kindergarten graduation, and headed off to the festivities. Where I waited at the gate for entrance. And waited. And waited.

I messaged Enrique. He apologized for failing to tell me the ceremony had been canceled due to the lingering fear of the omicron variant, but that the fiesta was still on.

And thus arose my dilemma, I had told Enrique I would attend the graduation, but that I really do not like attending parties. I suppose I thought by handing over the money to finance the party that I had fulfilled my obligation. But I know that I have not. To not attend would be an insult. After all, to be a padrino is an honor -- even though another Mexican acquaintance describes padrinos as "fairy godfathers" who wave wands and magic things happen.

So, I will do what must be done and I will do my best to enjoy myself -- or, at least, pretend that I am enjoying myself. After all, the extended family is not only my neighbors; it contains the owners of two restaurants that I once regularly patronized. I will find plenty of people upon whom I can inflict my painfully-inadequate Spanish.

I do have some vague ideas of what will be expected of me at the fiesta. I believe it is tomorrow at a place not yet determined.

Because I would not be spending my morning at a graduation ceremony and I was certainly dressed as if I were going to town, I went to town. At least, I went to centro Barra de Navidad.

Last night, I set some yogurt in the refrigerator to make yogurt cheese for tzatziki. My first stop was La Tanda bakery to buy some rustic bread for dipping in my sauce when it is finally combined.

I then did something I have not done for years. I sat down at the local coffee shop (La Bruja) with a cup of peppermint tea and watched life pass by on the street -- and, of course, eavesdropping on other people's conversations. I found myself thinking of Walter Kirn's authorly confession.

A writer is someone who tells you one thing so someday he can tell his readers another thing: what he was thinking but declined to say, or what he would have thought had he been wiser.  A writer turns his life into material, and if you’re in his life, he uses yours, too.

When I finished my tea, I wandered off to la tienda de abarrotes to buy a cucumber for the tzatziki, and to my favorite butcher (El Tunco) to buy thick-cut bacon for -- well, almost any dish imaginable.

I now sit at my computer in the patio of the house with no name, dressed like a cut-rate Steve Martin impersonator, waiting for word about my next appearance as El Padrino de la Fiesta.

The show must -- and will -- go on.   

Wednesday, February 09, 2022

enjoying time, rather than counting it

I have been a bit testy lately.

Even though Mexico keeps teaching me the value of the virtue of patience, it is one of those lessons that requires constant tutoring. And, if my experiences lately are an accurate sample of life in 2021, I am not alone on the Good Ship Pop-off-my-top.

A couple of weeks ago, I was dining with a friend at one of my regular restaurants noted for its friendly staff, stunning view, and good food. A combination that makes dining not merely pleasant, but something to look forward to.

A party of four northern tourists sat down at the table next to me. The waiter (let's call him Enrique) took their drink order. It was obvious that they had already been sampling a good deal of what Mexico offers in bottled form.

I returned to my reading while I waited for my food. It was a busy night and I know from eating in restaurants here that the experience is not based on time, it is based on relishing each moment. I had not even noticed that twenty minutes had passed since I ordered.

One of the women at the other table had noticed. When Enrique returned, he asked if they needed anything more, she yelled at him: "What I need is my fucking food."

It was like one of those moments in television costume dramas where all of the white-tied gentlemen at a dinner party stand to confront outrageous behavior. I was about half-way out of my chair, when Enrique deftly deflected the attack with a joke. It also helped that the other people at the table calmed her down.

When I paid my bill at the register, I complimented Enrique on his technique of de-escalating the situation. He responded: "It's OK. We all know white people can't hold their liquor." Ironic wit of that quality is a pleasure to behold.

I am not certain from whence this miasma of incivility springs. There are certainly plenty of theories, and I am suspicious of most of them because they inevitably involve the subtle whiff of bigotry that the poisoned atmosphere is caused by some group other than the one the speaker is a member of.  

When I travel north on my monthly trips, I can feel it almost everywhere I go. An underlying tension that often erupts into violence. I even feel it myself when boarding airplanes. A sense of anxious irritation while being cattle-herded onto the airplane.

During the past year over 5000 instances of unruly conduct on airplanes were reported to the Federal Aviation Administration. We have all read the newspaper stories of passengers punching, brutalizing, harassing, and threatening flight attendants who are doing their best to enforce rules not of their making. I know I have witnessed it. 

Now, I am not saying that the drunk woman with the sailor vocabulary in the restaurant was quite that egregious. For a good reason. Omnes metaphorae claudicante -- if my high school Latin serves me well.* All metaphors limp. However, for Enrique, there was no distinction. He stoically accepted the abuse as part of his job.

The restaurants here all do outstanding jobs in what they see as their mission. They want the people who come here to have a pleasant experience -- while the restaurants deal with some of their infrastructure limitations, such as kitchen size.

We northerners are far more constrained by numbers than are our Mexican neighbors. That is evident to me when I dine with mixed company. From the moment we sit down, a good portion of northerners will start looking around anxiously and will then start a litany of when the menus, the food, and the bill are going to arrive, while the Mexicans are simply enjoying the experience of sharing relationships.

As I said earlier, Mexico continually tutors me on the virtue of patience. It is a teacher that we could all listen to.

I always enjoy watching people come here and immerse themselves in the joys of what this area offers. Most do that. Most of the time. But we are all subject to falling into the trap of looking for what we can criticize in our next Yelp review.

Resist the temptation. The cooks, wait staff, and owners of the restaurants here are offering you a pleasant morning, afternoon, and night out.

Take them up on the offer. I certainly am going to.   

* -- If my rusty Latin is incorrect, I am certain one of you classic scholars will correct it. 

Sunday, February 06, 2022

not independence day; not revolution day

The streets of the local villages are filled with revelers celebrating one of Mexico's most important events. Constitution Day.

OK. Most of them are simply enjoying a three-day holiday at the beach. But it is still a very important date.

And, due to the vagaries of the calendar, the actual date (5 February) is often not the date that the holiday is actually celebrated. This year, it is.

For all of its civic holidays and religious fiestas, Mexico has only seven federal statutory holidays (eight in a presidential election year). Constitution Day (Día de la Constitución) is one of the Lofty Seven.*

And even though it does not have the cachet of the big holidays like Independence Day and Revolution Day, it is a very important historical day. It is the day Mexicans celebrate the enactment of the Constitution of 1917.

Until 2006, It was celebrated on the anniversary of the day the Constitutional Convention approved the Constitution on 5 February 1917. Since 2006, the day is celebrated on the first Monday of February -- guaranteeing workers a paid holiday. And something the current president wants to change (strike three).

The Constitution of 1917 is the document that enshrined the political and social accomplishments of the Mexican Revolution, and was the first national constitution that stated the positive rights that the government must provide its citizens rather than negative rights protecting the citizens from the actions of the government.

As an example, Article 26 provides: "The State will encourage the development of democracy which will support economic growth." That is classified as a positive right.

In contrast, the First Amendment to the United States Constitution limits governmental action. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances." It is classified as a negative right.

The revolution itself was the most important event in Mexico's history. It finally answered the question what type of country Mexico was and what being a Mexican meant. The 1917 Constitution provides some of those answers.

As is true of all revolutions, there were winners and losers at the 1917 constitutional convention in Santiago de Querétaro. (The photograph at the top of this essay is of the delegates swearing their allegiance to the new constitution with that somewhat unnerving Roman salute. The same photograph also appears on the reverse side of the 100-peso note commemorating the centennial of the constitution.)

The big losers at the convention were 1) the Mexican Catholic Church that lost almost all of its power and property that had not yet been seized by the government during President Juarez's reforms, 2) the owners of large estates who saw the land taken for land reform -- or to enhance the wealth of revolutionary generals, and 3) the foreigners (British, Canadians, and Americans, primarily) who owned most of Mexico's mines and infrastructure, and were soon to be booted out of the country.

The Constitution discarded the earlier concept espoused by liberals like President Benito Juárez that government should take only a limited, passive role. The new national government now had an obligation to take the lead in promoting the social, economic, and cultural well-being of its citizens. 

The document was so admired by both the Weimar Republic and revolutionary Russia that both nations used the Mexican Constitution of 1917 as a model for their own. Of course, neither of those documents or governments turned out to be very successful.

These provisions may give you an idea what its framers intended for Mexico's future.

  • Restricted participation in political affairs to citizens of the Republic (no foreigners can participate in political affairs)
  • Provided that "National benefit" would be a limitation on private contracts and property
  • Established a system of free, mandatory, and secular education -- restricting another traditional role performed by the Catholic church
  • Set up the foundations for land reform through the ejido system
  • Declared all mineral resources in the subsoil belonged to the state -- a concept brought over from colonial days when the King owned everything below the surface
  • Provided for labor rights -- minimum wages, right to strike, and freedom to join a union
  • Placed ownership of all property in the hands of the state (another monarchist holdover), and restricted foreign ownership of property near borders or on the coast ("Private property is a privilege created by the nation")
  • Increased the restrictions on the Catholic church beyond those of Juarez's constitution -- including the seizure of church buildings
  • Empowered the government to expropriate property -- from the hacienda owners, and particularly property owned by foreigners
  • Prohibited the reelection of any official -- especially, the president
  • Guaranteed the right of persons to own firearms in their homes
  • Established social security, public health, and welfare systems 

The Constitution has been amended almost 150 times since it was enacted -- one of the most recent removed the prohibition of officials to seek reelection. The only elected official in Mexico who cannot seek reelection now is the president. That makes sense because the issue of presidential reelection was one of the primary triggering events of the revolution.

So, that is why there were so many tourists in town this weekend. Most were celebrating this major step in the development of the Mexican state just as Americans celebrate the Fourth of July or Canadians celebrate Canada Day -- by lugging the family to the beach for good food and a lot of sand.

And I suspect there may be some traditionalists who will do the same thing today -- on the anniversary of the day when the constitution of 1917 was actually approved. 

Feliz cumpleaños, señor Constitución.

* -- The others are New Year's Day, Benito Juárez's Birthday, Labor Day, Independence Day, Revolution Day, and Christmas Day.

Friday, February 04, 2022

plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose

Xi Jinping welcomes Vladimir Putin to the 2022 Winter Olympics.

That's all I have to say about that.

Thursday, February 03, 2022

skipping the rites

I am not a traditionalist when it comes to ceremony.

Whether it is religion, social gatherings, or patriotic displays, I like my rites stripped almost to the essentials. That may be due to my inner Quaker.

But one traditional rite has always fascinated me. Tea ceremonies. Whether Chinese or Japanese.

The warming of the cups and pot. Rinsing the pot. Allowing the tea to become one with the pot and the water. Each step has a practical purpose, but the practicality never impinges on the beauty of creating what is always the goal -- a perfect cup of tea for the guest.

The stainless steel pot that arrived at my house (through the good graces of Amazon and DHL) last week (let's get this tea party on the road) will never be mistaken for a clay Yixing pot, but you would be forgiven if you did. The cleaning instructions that were included in the package sound as if the pot, which looks as if it could be found on a Motel Six breakfast table, could be part of a Gongfu tea ceremony.

Just listen. And draw your own conclusion. These are the instructions for daily use. (I simply reprint what is on the sheet.)

  1. Fill half bottled warm water within the teapot mixed with 1/2 cup of white vinegar and wait 10 to 20 minute before cleaning.
  2. Using scouring pad clean the inner side of the teapot and make sure there is nothing is left inside.
  3. Empty the teapot and clean it with fresh water again.
  4. Wait until the teapot is thoroughly dry and then add some warm water. Boil the water and pour the water into the pot to remove any vinegar residue.
  5. Clean the surface of the teapot (using non-abrasive sponge with warm water and mild dishwashing soap)
  6. Dry the outside of your teapot with microfiber cloth.

When I owned a set of Riedel stemware, it did not receive treatment so cosseted.

Here is what happens, step-by-step, at the house with no name:

  1. I rinse the teapot inside and out with tap water.
  2. I then dry it with a terry dish towel (to avoid water spots from the mineral-laden tap water).

That is it. And I trust that my teapot will be as happy with the two-step cleaning as it would be with the odd 6-step suggestions.

There are plenty of hygiene hills upon which we can die. Sloshing around white vinegar in my teapot is not one of them.

Now, I have time to worry about whether to use the fruity-scented Fabuloso or the flowery type.

Wednesday, February 02, 2022

checking out checking-out

If you want social change, a pandemic may be the fastest way to get there.

The classic example is the Great Labor Shift that occurred following the Black Death in the 14th century. In the 1300s, the feudal system was in full swing in Europe. The economy was primarily agricultural with serfs who would be born on an estate, work there their full life, and would then die, often in the same house where they were born. Even though England was never a strictly-feudal country, its workers followed a similar pattern.

The Black Death changed all that. With a death rate of between thirty and sixty percent, the old feudal system collapsed. A worker's skills were then worth far more because labor was a scarce commodity. Freed from the restriction of serfdom, workers moved about in search of the employer who would pay the best wages. The hierarchical bee-hive cultural system began cracking.

We may be seeing something similar happening now. The death toll of the current pandemic is much lower than the bubonic plague (even though the estimated "excess deaths" of 20 million is not inconsequential). But the often-misguided governmental policies of shutting down economic systems may have severely and permanently crippled the labor market -- just as did the Black Death.

There are lots of theories why workers, during the past year, have not rejoined the labor force and why some workers are continuing to leave work. Available jobs still outstrip the number of people looking for work. And some types of jobs (especially in the customer service field) look as if they may never be filled.

That presents a problem for businesses. Customers still want to purchase what they want to purchase -- and businesses still stock the things the customers want to purchase. The weak link is finding employees who can link those two desires. If people are not available for those jobs, there are solutions.

Here is an example from my travels. Hudson News Stores are a staple of North American airports. You probably have patronized them. They are the type of stores that stock a wide range of travel needs and an even wider array of snacks that no one would eat except while away from the rationality of home.

One thing all Hudsons have in common is long lines of anxious flyers trying to grab that Godiva dark chocolate candy bar before the door on their flight to Boston closes. It is not an experience for the patience-challenged.

In response to the labor shortage, Hudson has now set up self-checkout stands, complete with a scanner and a credit card reader. The process takes no more talent than filling your car's tank with gasoline.

I love using the system. It takes less of my time than standing in line between two passengers about to suffer meltdown because of circumstances they cannot control. I can usually be in and out of a Hudson these days in a matter of seconds, giving me more time to get in my steps in the terminal.

There are people who do not like self-checkout. Some feel uncomfortable being cashiers and baggers. Others are concerned that self-checkout stands reduce employment. I am sensitive to that last argument.

But being sensitive to it does not change the economic realty that we are in another great labor shift. Some jobs will be permanently mechanized because there will not be sufficient workers to fill them.

That process began years ago. I now regularly encounter touch screens in fast food joints where nary a human can be found. The one that surprised me most was in Antigua, Guatemala -- hardly a country with a labor scarcity. The new system appears to be far more efficient.

I am not entirely pleased with that result because I learned invaluable skills about relating to people when I worked the register at McDonald's as a high school student. Young people will now need to learn those lessons elsewhere.

Even though self-service is spreading throughout the world, I am going to go out on a very sturdy limb here and predict that the Costalegre is not going to be high on anyone's list to replace waiters, cashiers, and clerks with touch-screen kiosks. We will have the same personal service that draws tourists from in-country and around the world. At least, before the hook shuffles me off to Buffalo.

Now, I need to get back over to Hudson to buy that bag of chili- and chocolate-covered pretzels mixed with mustard-encrusted gummy bears. After all, who will ever know that I bought them?    

Tuesday, February 01, 2022

when being safe is not good enough

I do not often sneak out of town. But I did on Sunday.

My monthly flights between Manzanillo and Oregon have not salved my travel itch. When I moved to Mexico, one reason I chose living here on the Pacific coast was ready access to an airport that would allow me to travel as much as I wanted. And I have wanted to do a lot.

I have yet to spend a full winter in Mexico since 2007. That has traditionally been my travel time. And, with a bit of luck, I thought I could slip in a cruise out of Puerto Rico last month and an Antarctica cruise out of Argentina later this month.

Well, it turns out I did not have a bit of luck. First, the cruise line notified me in early January that my Antarctica cruise would be cancelled. And, then, you know what happened to the Puerto Rico cruise (don't be so positive). The day I was boarding my flight to San Juan, my covid test came up positive.

I am not a quitter. With a bit of patience, my covid test eventually returned to negative, and I was ready to roll again. That is why I am now in Oregon for a week -- assisting my brother with Mom's finances.

That hardly meets my criteria as adventurous travel. Interesting. Utilitarian. But not envelope-pushing.

I had lined up a flight and hotel rooms for something that would be a bit more my style. Two weeks in Ukraine in mid-February.

But just as I was finalizing the details, my cousin Dan called to ask if I would like to join him and Patty for two weeks in Yucatan. Instead of facing down Putin, I will now face down a plate of cochinita pibil and trek through the ruins of several Mayan city-states. It will definitely be a better deal.

As they say on late-night television, but, wait, there's more. I had almost forgotten that I had scheduled a series of cruises with my friends the Millers.
  • 17-22 April: Los Angeles to Vancouver
  • 30 April-7 May: Miami to Miami with stops in Haiti, the Dominican Republic, Curacao, and Aruba
  • 16 September-2 October: Vancouver to Tokyo
  • 26 January 2023-13 February: Cape Town to Dubai with stops in East Africa and the Indian Ocean
  • 23 April-8 May: Miami to Rome with stops in Spain and France
If all goes well, and that can mean almost anything these days (like avoiding war, pestilence, and famine), I will also try to schedule a trip in the summer to San Miguel de Allende for the Chamber Music Festival. Or maybe I will just go to the highlands to see what I can discover. There is always something new to me to be found.

And, of course, there were be trips to be had around my home town of Barra de Navidad -- and an exotic trip or two with Dan and Charlie Patman.

What travels do you have lined up?