Saturday, May 21, 2022

my lizard in hand

I say I live alone in Mexico.

I don't. There is always some new sentient creature seeking shelter at the inn.

When I returned home earlier this week my month-long sojourn, I discovered a new roommate living in my kitchen. Rather, living on the screen door in the kitchen.

The screens must hold some fascination for lizards because all sorts of varieties like to roost there. Iguanas. Mexican spiny-tailed lizards (often misidentified as black iguanas). Alligator lizards. Geckos.

Maybe they like the bit of breeze that manages to find its way into my patio. Though, I doubt that. As cold-blooded reptiles, they would normally be drawn by sunlight. But not in the house. They set their screens in the shade.

My theory is the lizards hang out on the screens for the same reason the geckos gather around the patio lights at night. It is a great place to hunt. Like a watering hole in the Serengeti. Kitchens tend to draw flies who also rest on the screen doors. Dinner on the wing.

That, of course, is all speculation. I am not privy to the wiles of the mini-Jurassic Park that surrounds me. Nor do I have any idea what type of lizard it is. Do you?

In silhouette, it could easily be confused with an iguana -- with those Sigourney Weaver-snatching claws. But as soon as it fell to the floor with the same sound a package of chitlins makes when it accidentally tumble to the kitchen floor, its iguana disguise was dropped.

With those brown spines, it almost looks like a cousin to a horned toad. Well, a horned toad that has spent a couple of months on a keto diet.

Matters became a bit more complicated when I caught sight of the other side of the lizard while he was once again pretending to be invisible on the screen door. He looks as if his mama could have been a lazuli bunting.

For the past week, the lizard and I have been living a peaceful coexistence. I have left the screen door open to let him escape to the brave new world outside of the kitchen. He is having none of it. Like a squatter evading his lease obligations, he hunkers down in what he now sees as his new home.

Dora is aware he is in the kitchen. But twice, while she has been cleaning the sills above the door, he has surprised her. This morning she nearly fell off of her ladder when she ran her hand over him.

So, in the kitchen he will stay. Probably until he shrivels up from a dearth of flies. I left out some lettuce and meat. He showed no interest. But I did manage to attract a long line of ants. He showed less gourmet interest in the ants than he did in the lettuce.

Now, I just need to remember to turn on the light in the night to avoid my toes turning him into lizard marmalade.

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

shooting the moon

The event had more titles than María del Rosario Cayetana Fitz-James Stuart y Silva.

"Super." "Flower." "Blood." And the Duchess of Alba equivalent -- "Super Moon."

It was all part of the hype that greeted Sunday night/Monday morning's total lunar eclipse. I use "hype" advisedly because I was every bit as gaga as everyone else who sat up lawn chairs to watch one of nature's most mysterious performances.

Being an amateur astronomer, I try not to miss any of these events. Comets. Planet alignments. Exploding novas. Though I am far more likely to see a 1979 Chevy aflame before I get to see a star perform a full Monty.

I knew exactly how to take full advantage of this lunar eclipse. I pulled my writing table and chair to the west side of the upper terrace. That would give me full range of fire from the moment the moon came over the horizon. My good camera and its telescope lenses were next. I set up the camera for a night shoot, and dug out my best pair of binoculars. Then I connected my laptop to the internet. I was fully-prepared to document every second of the evening.

About two months ago, I was listening to National Public Radio (what a leftist friend calls "Nazi People's Radio") on my ear buds while walking just outside Barra. The newsreader had just been exercising her particular brand of bias and bigotry when the tone of the broadcast made a sharp turn into something interesting.

She started interviewing a woman whose thesis was that, even though she was an advocate of technology, some recent inventions have isolated us from the natural world. Radio, for instance. Rather than being outside enjoying the daily sounds of life, we prefer to have a stranger read the newspaper to us. It was a good point.

Then the newsreader slathered on her own irony. She suggested that listeners turn off their radios or remove their earbuds (in my case) and indulge in the surrounding sounds. I did.

I cannot say what I heard was better than Bach, but it was better than NPR. Traffic noise. The shuffle of my shoes against the pavement. Birds. Children screaming and laughing. Music throbbing from the fitness center. It was life. The life I chose for myself as an immigrant to Mexico.

I thought of that little experiment as I reached for my camera on Sunday night just as the shadow of the moon started crossing the southwest corner of the moon. My intention had been to shoot each stage of the eclipse. Until I heard a little voice ask: "Why?"

I did not have an answer. The purpose of my tiny scientific station was not to memorialize the moment in photographs but to enjoy it as it was happening. And so I did. I sat and watched as the Earth's shadow slowly engulfed the moon turning it into the type of red that has fed the apocalyptic imagination of people the world over for millennia. 

For almost an hour, what had started as a full moon lighting my patio had turned into a shadowy presence. Until the shadow moved on and the moon revealed its true self bit by bit. Earning each of the titles it would bear Monday morning in newspaper stories. 

Super Flower Blood Moon of May 2022. And that could very well be the name of the substitute Sean Penn sends to next year's Academy Awards.

You may already have concluded that I did not pick up my camera during the evening. I was too busy being one with the night. Well, not really. I did use my binoculars -- a lot. And I knew that one of you would be doing a good job at the heavy lifting of astronomy photography.

And I was correct. I can always count on Vern Gazvoda to bring his camera to the party. He did.

With his permission, I share one of his shots. It is a great way to see what we all saw here on the Pacifc coast of Mexico.

Of course, seeing it in person was even better. Now, I will save my camera for my trip to South Africa.

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

sign here

I empathize with people who compose signs. Whatever they do, some fellow who thinks he is the next Quintin Crisp will come along to ferret out a bit of wit from the quotidian.

Today, that fellow is me.

Here is a sample from my meanderings of the last two months.

Bathrooms provide a wealth of writing material. Take the photograph ar the top. The sign is from a bathroom on the Explorer of the Seas (where I now am -- somewhere in the southern Caribbean.) Looking at the sign, I was tempted to stand around and wait. It looked like an exciting place.

I attribute that odd behavior to too many Buster Keaton films during my misspent youth.

But it was nowhere as interesting as the list of instructions on the mirror in the men's bathroom at the Georgetown, Grand Cayman cruise terminal. In very official bright red. 

And it just got better. I can only imagine that people who wash their feet in face basins may be a bit confused about how to use this odd toilet -- though they know it must be flushed.

Someone may have had a similar idea when they editorialized this pedestrian sign in the Yucatán village of Chichimila.

I will let the rest of you take this Rorschach test. I call it "Dolly Parton meets Me Too."

She apparently has a companion figure who works on the ferry at Playa del Carmen.

Directional signs are almost always a good source for mixed messages -- as is that sentence. This one in Puerto Vallarta puts the following information on equal footing: showing me the way home, diverting me to Old Town, or helping me find a realtor I had no idea I needed. The Eurasian collared dove appears to be equally confused.

The best signs are where the poster has done all the heavy lifting for me. Some fellow in 
Mérida has posted that he will glady offer a free service to anyone parking in front of his garage -- tire punctures.

This sign did not strike me as being a wit mine as it was surprising. I guess if cryptocurrencies exist, ATMs for the medium will be needed, as well. The juxtaposition of the jewelry store with Bitcoin made it that more fascinating to me. I always imagine that bitcoiners are also gold bugs.

When we were in Valladolid, the three of us drove past this house several times. I finally asked Dan to stop. There has to be an interesting story to go along with the wall. I did not inquire within, so I am free to take it from there.

This one I have saved for last because I see it on every trip to Prineville. It is so old and worn that it is hard to read, but it is displayed on the ice cream case of the Tastee Treet. Like everyone else, I tap the glass and watch the ice cream scurry about. And I always laugh.

I hope you do, as well.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

what's love got to do with it?

Prince Charles is Tina Turner. Or, at least he has done a credible impersonation.

In 1981, when The Prince of Wales and The Soon-to-be-and-then-not-to-be Princess of Wales consented to an interview about their engagement, the interviewer asked if they were in love. The Jug-eared (and apparently, ham-fisted) Wonder answered: "Whatever 'in love' means." Indeed. He may as well have asked the interviewer: What's love got to do with it?

British playwright Alan Bennett may have hit a dramatic home run in The Madness of King George when he gave Charles Fox a sentiment I share: "If a bunch of ramshackle colonists can tell him [the king] to go, why can't we?"

But, even this card-carrying republican can appreciate the princely sentiment. "Whatever 'in love' means."

A couple of weeks ago, our local pastor spoke to us about that elusive word -- love. How all other Christian virtues are based on that one word.

I found the sermon challenging. Not because the concept was new to me and not because I disagreed with anything my pastor said. Theologically, I agreed with every word.

The challenge for me is that that the meaning of the word is as elusive to me as it apparently is to the hapless prince and the lion-maned singer. We are three souls in search of meaning.

Sure, I have spent the last seven decades reading and hearing about love. Poems. Novels. Philosophical treatises. Movies. Some of the world's greatest literature centers on the concept. Where would Jane Austen and Fyodor Dostoevsky have been if they did not have love to bounce along with?

A few days after the sermon, I had dinner with my pastor, Al, and his wife, Sue. While we were discussing Sunday's sermon, I confessed a deep dark secret. Or, at least, one I do not talk about readily.

And, as Kurt Vonnegut might write, here is that deep dark secret. I cannot remember telling anyone that I loved them. Nor can can I remember anyone telling me they loved me. That I could believe.

We batted the topic back and forth -- readily conceding that, as in most discussions, we simply might be using words without an agreed-upon defintion. I am superlative-adverse. That may be part of the problem.

Here is the real dillema for me. To paraphrase my favorite Supreme Court justice, Potter Stewart: Perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly [defining it]. But I know it when I see it. And I am daily surrounded by acts of love.

In his sermon, Al pointed us to Paul's utilitarian definition in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient and kind, not jealous, not boastful,
not proud, rude or selfish, not easily angered, and it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not gloat over other people’s sins, but takes its delight in the truth.
Love always bears up, always trusts, always hopes, always endures.
Love never ends.  
"Love keeps no records of wrongs." That phrase seemed to sum up for me the very essence of "love." Reading it was an epiphany. At least, I felt I was learning to hold on the edges of love like Pauline dangling from a cliff. 

Or so I thought. 

As I was drafting this essay on an airplane over a month ago on my way to the Yucatán peninsula, I turned in my notebook to what I thought was the next blank page. Instead, of a blank page, I discovered the words you see in the photograph at the top of this essay.

The sight was physically wrenching. Startling. A stranger cared enough to say they loved me.

At first, I had no idea who would be so kind. I simply reveled in the thought. A meaningful thought.

As I sat there looking at my notebook, the mystery solved itself. I had left my notebook sitting on the table when I went to tend to billing matters at the restaurant. My pastor's wife was the source of the gift.

A true note of Christian love in action.

In the opening monolog of Torch Song Trilogy, Harvey Fierstein, as Arnold Beckoff, gives us his pithy insights on love.
And not once has someone said, "Arnold, I love you."

-- That I could believe.

And I ask myself, "Do you really care?"

You know, the only honest answer I can give myself is "yes."

I care.

I care a great deal.

-- But not enough.
For those of us who have struggled with the nature of love, we fully understand those conflicting phrases. "Yes. We care."

"But not enough."

As a result of Sue's gesture, I am not so certain that I can say that any more.