Wednesday, August 31, 2022

a winner -- hands down

The question is not a new one.

People new to the area are often flummoxed at some Mexican custom or other. Noise for example. This question showed up on our local community Facebook page yesterday.

"Does anyone know why cannons are going off in Barra?"*

Of course, there are no cannons. The last cannons fired here involved pirates in the late 1500s. (The pirates won in a double-header.) What they are are the usual cohetes (the skyrockets that carry an M-80 wham). And the answer is always the same. A religious feast day is being celebrated.

This week's celebration is very special for Barra de Navidad because it celebrates divine intervention that saved the village from destruction. I am certain most of you know the story, but it is one that deserves re-telling.

The year was 1971. The night of 31 August-1 September to be exact.

A hurricane by the name of Lily was headed straight for Barra de Navidad. It was obvious the storm would demolish a good portion of the town if it maintained its projected path.

And Lily did maintain her path. She came ashore near Barra de Navidad with winds of up to 85 miles an hour.

With disaster on their doorstep, the residents of Barra did what came natural to people of faith, and for people who have suddenly discovered a faith they did not know they possessed. They congregated in the church -- and prayed. As the winds battered the walls, they sought deliverance from the storm. The sailors on Jonah's ship could not have prayed more fervently.

And then it happened. A miracle. A standard crucifix of Jesus on the cross stood above the altar. For no apparent reason, each of Christ's arms fell to his sides. And the storm abated.

It was like something out of the gospels. Mark 4:39 to be exact. "He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."

Ever since then, the congregants celebrate Jesus of the Cyclone (el Cristo del Ciclón) this time of year -- as a day of deliverance and remembrance.

As Ben Franklin once said in recounting a story about a fly reviving in a fifty-year old cask of Madeira, "Now, I do not know how scientific that tale is ... ." But it is an article of faith in these parts.

The story goes that the parishioners wanted to repair Jesus' miraculous shrug, but the priest informed them that God had caused the arms to drop and only God could restore them. The crucifix still stands in the church in its hands-down splendor.

This evening, the week's daily procession formed up on the main road into town. The guest of honor was carried ceremoniously to the church for evening mass.

A side note. After sparing Barra de Navidad, Hurricane Lily rumbled north like Attila the Hun to lay waste to Puerto Vallarta in the worst hurricane it had suffered in 20 years. Favors apparently have a limited jurisdiction.

So, that is why the non-cannons are sounding. To celebrate a miracle.

I talked to talk with Sara, a local realtor, who helps organize these affairs. She told me that Saturday will be a very special day -- involving the remnants of the cross that once stood in the shipyard that built the ships that left Barra e Navidad for The Philippines in 1564. As you might imagine, their is quite a tradition that has barnacled that small piece of wood.

Unfortunately, I will be flying north to Oregon on Saturday for my monthly check-in.

For those of you who are in town, I have been promised that this year's celebration will be something special.

Disfruta la fiesta. And look out for flying cannon balls.

* -- A friend from Alberta who lives here part-time refers to these questions as Canadrama -- closely related to their cousins Mexidrama and Ameridrama.

Monday, August 29, 2022

little orphan annie eyes

It had been some time since I played video poker on the Banamex ATM.

I usually get my pesos during work hours from the Intercam teller. But I recently found myself short of pesos on a Saturday night. The only option was to saunter down the street to Banamex and try my luck with one of its ATMs.

Too often, my card will not work or the machine does not have cash or it will charge my account and leave me as noteless as when I started my transaction.

I started with the machine on the left. It would not read my card. The next machine read my card, but was out of cash. Fortunately, the third machine turned out to be the Goldilocks option. It was just right.

Then it was my turn to be reduced to a cultural stereotype. I took a look at the notes the ATM had disgorged -- and my eyes rolled back so far there was nothing left but Little Orphan Annie whites.

You can see why for yourself.

Like most ATMs in the area, the Banamex machines regularly disgorge wads off 500-peso notes. There is nothing wrong with the notes -- other than the practical consideration. Merchants here have historically not been able to handle purchases with 500-peso notes. They do not keep that much change on hand. Often, it feels as if a wad off 500-peso notes is like having no money at all.

But what I received was even more daunting. 4000 pesos of my withdrawal were in an even more problematic denomination. 1000-peso notes.

This version of the 1000-peso note was issued in November 2020. I did not see the first one locally until almost a full year later, and I thought they would be as rare as ivory-billed woodpecker sightings in Manhattan.

I was wrong. They are now common issue from the Banamex ATM. I have no idea if the other ATMs in town are trying to save space by filling the bin with portraits of President Madero.

The appearance of the notes are a harbinger of another not-so-welcome phenomenon sweeping the country. Inflation.

For the past year, the cost-of-living has risen precipitously -- just as it has in other countries. At least, we in Mexico are not suffering as badly as the Turks or the Lebanese or the poor Venezuelans with their current 1198% rate. Compared with them, Mexico's official inflation rate of 8.15% is almost anemic.

But official rates do not always tell the real story. Food is a prime example. I have seen lists recently from local stores with incomes totting up 20% to 40% increases. Grocers verify those ranges. As do restaurant owners who have been forced to increase the price of their menu items. I seldom leave a local grocery store without leaving a full 1000-peso (or two) behind.

My neighbors tell me tales of despair of trying to stretch pay to cover increasing food costs. Because just like everywhere else, pay is not keeping up with the price increases.

I was talking with Antonio, the guy who keeps the sparkle in my pool, about the cost of food. As part of the conversation, he told me the chemicals that he supplies as part of his cleaning contract with me have shot higher than a cohete. Until he mentioned it, I had not even thought about how supply chain problems and cost increases had cut into his profit -- not to mention the cost of gasoline for his car.

The same goes for Dora, the magician who helps me clean my house. Both of them are feeling the pinch of local economics.

Wages here are a bit difficult for me. I come from a culture where workers will ask for a raise when they need one or feel that they deserve one. That is not the Mexican culture. Neither Dora nor Antonio have ever asked me to increase their wages. Over the years, I usually increase their rate of pay around the New Year. 

I decided not to wait. I cannot control inflation (and the Mexican government does not appear to have a comprehensive plan to do so nationally), but I do control the purse strings of the microeconomy of The House With No Name.

So, I have increased the wages of Dora and Antonio in an attempt to help them meet current cost-of-living challenges.

Sometimes, every little bit helps.

And it gives me somewhere wortwhile to spend those 1000-peso notes.