Wednesday, March 29, 2017

i call him trigger

I have a new mount.

New to me, that is. A bicycle -- only slightly used.

While I was in New Zealand, I took two bicycle tours -- one in the countryside, the other in the wilds of urban Wellington. On one of the trips, I texted my sister-in-law that I was having such a good time, we should buy bicycles for the three of us.

The thought was not original with me. Darrel and Christy started looking at bicycles when they came down in December. Darrel's attention was fixed on big tire bikes -- so he could ride on the beach.

Christy informed me I was a little late with my suggestion: they had already bought bicycles in my absence. My former landlady, Christine, is a biking fan. She and our mutual friend Anne are a common sight in these parts on their bikes.

She had directed Darrel and Christy to a used appliance store on the main highway. Two brothers import bicycles bought at auction in The States. The quality is far better than most of the bicycles on offer at either Walmart or La Comer.

When I returned home last week, I knew where I needed to go. After riding Darrel's bicycle around the courtyard, I decided it was a good fit.

So, yesterday, Darrel and I headed over to the appliance store. The brothers were a little low on selection. But that was understandable. The capital investment is large.

After trying out a few, I opted for one with disc brakes on a snazzy gold and black frame. I almost felt as if I should be slipping on my newspaper bag to deliver the morning Oregonian.

This morning, Darrel and I gave my new equipment a test spin. We decided to take Nueva España out to the main highway. Just past my house, it turns into a rather rough dirt road. Just perfect for testing the capabilities of a mountain bike.

If the road had been just dirt and rock, it would have been a perfect trail ride. But, in the hopes of evening out some of the potholes, a road crew had spread mounds of sand on the road. Bicycles and sand are not a natural mix.

But, the obstacle gave me an opportunity to hone my riding skills. Something I did not need to do on the paved roads and streets of New Zealand. My turning ability in sand is still a bit rusty.

Here is my confession. I have been reluctant to buy a bicycle because a very skilled bicyclist from Oregon was killed on our highway just before I moved down. Eight years of driving here has not made me re-think my position that bicycling here is a risky business. That feeling was exacerbated with Jack Brock's death.

My trip to New Zealand reminded me I was verging on hypocrisy. I moved to Mexico for challenges -- to get up each morning and not know how I am going to get through the day. Bicycling on our local roads certainly falls in that category.

Between walking and bicycling, I should have enough exercising options to avoid boredom. And that is going to be a problem when Darrel and Christy head back to Bend next week.

Until then, the three of us will be bike marauders. Evildoers beware!

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

my hat is in the ring

Well, not mine. But, the sombreros of several charros* are.

Apparently, there is no greater honor a fellow charro can show to praise his comrade's outstanding performance than to throw his hat into the arena. The equivalent of a rodeo standing ovation.

Tonight was rodeo night in San Patricio. Not one of your Las Vegas extravaganzas, mind you. This is a working cowboy rodeo. With just a soupçon of electric cowboy thrown in for flavor.

Darrel, Christy, and I are rodeo people. Of course, we are. They are from Bend, and rodeo was one of the year's cultural events at the Coos County fair when Darrel and I were growing up.

But this was a rodeo of a far different variety than we were accustomed to. Here, local ranches round up some of their best hands (and, I suspect, a few ringers) for a practical display of ranching skills. 

It is not a competition. It is an exhibition. And, to euthanize the elephant in the room, the horses and bulls are not treated as if they lived in a Regina sitting room.

They are working animals being run through their paces. Some of those paces include being roped and thrown to the ground at a full run.

There were the usual human vs. animal contests. A Brahma-mix bull (or bullock, really) doing its best to toss its rider. A young bronco that did not not so much buck as do his impression of the pony express. A series of horses ridden down by mounted charros, giving a ground-based cowboy the opportunity to bring down a horse at full gallop with nothing but his lariat and dug-in stance. (His performance earned the hats in the ring.) That was all topped off by two troupes of young women performing intricate dressage.

And then there were the human exhibitionists -- mainly performing rope tricks. Of course, the pint-sized kids got the most applause. Even though they looked a lot like a hold over act from Monday night's midget show. (Yup. Midgets. They are quite popular here as objects of entertainment.)

But the performer who had the area in his hand was a Vicente Fernandez impersonator. Fernandez is a Mexican institution. And all institutions lend themselves to ridicule.

With a mixture of comedy, a few props, and a passable voice, he was a perfect half-time show. (I suspect he would say "headliner.") The audience chuckled and roared, and sang along with their Fernandez favorites.

You may get the impression it was a long show. It was. We left after about three and a half hours of entertainment. The show was still in full motion when we drove past more than an hour later.

I am not certain I will ever adjust to the Mexican notion that if 5 minutes of something is good, an hour will be 12 times as much fun. Sometimes, it is. Other times, it is just 5 minutes pummeled bloodily into a full hour.

That was true tonight. But, by soldiering through, I saw things I never would have seen had I headed home an hour into the performance.

My hat is in the ring to the charros.

* -- Mexican cowboys

Monday, March 27, 2017

every night is not a touchdown

Sunsets are one of the most alluring attractions of the beach. Well, beaches with a western view.

Some of my local frends and acquaintances take far more advantage of this luxury than I do. Even though sunsets occur every evening, I am usually doing something else -- and miss the opportunity to notch up another green flash sighting.

And, if the potential beauty were not enough, as my Canadians friends remind me: "It's absolutely free."

That "potential" was not a surplus adjective. Not every sunset is outstanding. The best require the confluence of several circumstances. Cloud placement. Cloud structure. Temperature. Humidity. A great sunset is as hard to concoct as a fair tax system -- but, fortunately, far more common.

After entertaining a series of guests over the past four months, Darrel, Christy, and I looked forward to spending a simple evening together. And what could be simpler -- and more rewarding -- than a leisurely walk to the beach to watch the sun end its day.

The sky was not promising. There was a ribbon of clouds that peeked just over the horizon. That meant there was no possibility of seeing the wily green flash. The shift in the light spectrum would be as shielded as Lily Langtry behind a Chinese screen.

And, because there were no clouds high in the sky, we would not be treated to the effect of cherry blossoms floating across the sky. There was even little hope of the small band of clouds on the horizon lighting up. And it didn't.

But, without a peacock to admire, we started paying attention to the people who had been drawn to the diminished sands of Barra de Navidad's beach. There were the usual skim boarders.

Last night, they were joined by a younger brother who could not have been much more than five. His idea of learning the fine art of skimming was to stand posed on his sand-stranded board, and wait for the surf come to him.

There were the usual northerners. Some expatriates. Others tourists. Trying to stuff in one more sunset before giving in to the goose instinct to fly north.

The most surprising group were fifteen to twenty young Mexicans. Guys and gals. They had staked out their space on the beach with two cases of beer. But, before the first bottles were cracked open, out came the inevitable ball. It took me a few moments to realize it was a football. Not a soccer ball. An American football. And most of them were quite proficient at tossing it.

There had to be a story there. But my journalistic instincts were deterred by the simple act of feeding off of their enthusiasm. There is something about young people at play that energizes the soul.

Last night was not a sunset night. At least, not a memorable sunset night. But it was a night to be remembered for its imparted joy.

I need to get to the beach more often. It may not cost anything, but it certainly pays high dividends.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

facing the notes

Nezahualcoyotl can take five.

It is time to celebrate the centennial of the Mexican Constitution of 2012. And the 100 peso note does not require the image of the poet-philosopher warrior that has graced its face since 1996.

Since my return from The Antipodes, I have only needed the services of an ATM twice. I knew that the Bank of Mexico was issuing its 100 peso note to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the Mexican Constitution, but I had not yet seen one.

Last week, my six thousand peso bounty included only two 100 peso notes. Both featured the noble features of Nezahualcoyotl. But, I hit pay dirt this morning. The two 100 peso notes were the new variety. There they were in all of their stiff paper glory. Spiffy as a new Buick.

Commemorative notes are not new in Mexico. Those of us who were here in 2009 remember the two banknotes printed to celebrate the bicentennial of independence with a rather fierce Miguel Hidalgo on the front of the 200 peso note, and, to celebrate the centennial of the Revolution, the locomotive that was instrumental in transporting insurgent troop to their ultimate victory, on the front of the 100 peso note. Occasionally, one shows up in my wallet.

But, it is now time for a new celebration. The Revolution may have started in 1910, but it did not get its governing document until 1917. (There are some historians who claim the Revolution did not come to an end until 1930 when the government came to terms with the Cristeros. I tend to agree with them.)

The constitution reflected what was to be Mexico's greatest political and social watershed (the Revolution) until the introduction of political democracy in the 1990s. Various Mexican factions (primarily the Liberals and the Conservatives) had been fighting since Independence -- often in open warfare -- to define what the Mexican nation would be. The Revolution answered that question. The Constitution of 1917 memorialized it.

The convention that drafted the constitution was remarkably bourgeois (made up primarily of middle class members of the Mexican Liberal Party) considering some of the radical assertions in the document. President Carranza (that is him with the Father Christmas beard on the front of the new note) was not a radical. He was soon to be assassinated by another faction of the Revolution. But he approved the constitution knowing the parts of which he disapproved could be rewritten or ignored. (Some provisions of the constitution still have no legislation to support their implementation.)

The Revolution was initially fought on the premise that elections should be fair and that no president should be reelected. The latter was immediately added to the constitution to prevent another Porfirio Diaz becoming dictator for life. As for fair elections, that would wait for another 80 years.

But the constitution changed far more.

  • The Liberals started the process of stripping the Catholic church of its property and political power in the 1850s. The 1917 Constitution made the split permanent.
  • The constitution gave positive liberties (as opposed to the American concept of negative liberties protecting the people from the government) such as, the rights to education, health, and housing, and freedom from discrimination.
  • Foreigners are prohibited from participating in the political process and from owning real property in the restricted zones -- a provision based on the perceived extent of foreign influence in the government of Porfirio Diaz.
  • Citizens are guaranteed the right to own firearms within their homes.
  • Some commentators note that the constitution contains the essence of socialism. "The property of all land and water within national territory is originally owned by the Nation." It is not a radical statement. It is quite conservative in its concept; a Spanish monarchist would say no less. The provision was cribbed from Spanish law.
  • The rights of workers to an 8-hour day, the right to strike, the right to a day of rest, and the right to indemnification for improper termination are all part of the constitution -- though supporting legislation has not been enacted to enforce all of those rights.
There are, of course, many more provisions. But they each attempt to uniformly answer the question who is a Mexican and what is her relationship with her nation and government.

It is, of course, appropriate for Venustiano Carranza and Luis Manuel Rojas to share top billing on the front of the note. The former was the president of Mexico in 1917, and the latter was the president of the congress that approved the constitution.

And, on the reverse, are the members of the congress who drafted the constitution -- caught in their Roman salute swearing allegiance to what they had just approved. Considering some unpleasant incidents in the 1930s and 1940s, that salute is a bit creepy.

Like most such commemorations, we will soon forget about the special banknote and what it stood for. But Mexicans will continue to operate their political affairs under its provisions. It is Mexico's longest-lasting constitution.

But there is a presidential election next year. And several of the current provisions will be at issue. Who knows? Maybe we will have a Constitution of 2019.

And a completely new set of bank notes in 2119.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

columbus, meet edison

Sometimes, a little knowledge can be an embarrassing thing.

Darrel and I started working our way through our handyman chore list this week (the joys of home ownership) -- with some help.

Antonio and Lupe (the pool guys) repaired the float in my pool's overflow tank on Monday. That remedied the well pump's refusal to shut off.

Darrel and I fashioned a new handle for the tank's cover using bicycle lock cable, two clamps, and a fashionably yellow piece of hose.

I already told you how I resolved the Netflix problem. Apparently, whenever we have a power surge, the voltage regulator does something that keeps Netflix from loading movies. (I know that does not sound logical, but there you are.) Unplugging everything from the regulator, then unplugging the regulator from the wall, and waiting for about 30 seconds re-sets whatever needs to be re-set.

We still have not bought a piece of glass to replace the cracked shelf. We have been too busy amusing ourselves with relenting games of Mexican train. But I can find glass at quite a few shops. It is just a matter of doing it.

That left us with one open item -- the power failure in the bodega and the pool bathroom. It turns out the problem was more wide-spread. The stair lights to the terrace and the sconces on the terrace wall would not light.

We also thought there was an additional power outage. Three of the copper star lights would not illumine. I took a gamble that the bulbs were burnt out. They were. So, another task was completed.

But there was still that pesky outage in the two rooms. After checking all of the circuit breakers, we bought a circuit tester to determine if any of the breakers had failed. They had not.

We then called in the big guns. On Tuesday night, I had met a woman who works at Rooster's. She told me her husband, Efrain, was a handyman and could help us. Through my friend Oswaldo, we arranged for Efrian to show up at the house.

He did. As we walked him through the house explaining the problem, we became more confused. There was absolutely no power getting to the light switches in the bodgea. The pool pump is in that room, and it worked fine. As did the bulb that lights up the pump area.

I got down on my knees to throw that switch. When I looked around the corner I saw what you have seen at the top of this post -- another circuit box. Darrel and I had looked through the house for something similar (including in every closet and cabinet), and had found nothing.

But, there it was. Almost in plain sight.

Of course, one of the switches (the one on the far left) had been thrown. Probably in the same power surge that had tripped the television's voltage regulator.

Efrain and I thought it was funny that we had missed such an obvious solution. Darrel paid him some hush money for his time, and we all went on our merry way.

What I got out of the  episode was some additional knowledge about my house -- and a great story. That I now share with you.

Friday, March 24, 2017

dodging an agatha christie opening

I almost joined Jack Brock last night (remembering jack brock).

By poisoning myself. Accidentally, mind you.

Because of the quality of the water that comes out of my bathroom tap, I keep a couple of bottles filled with filtered water at hand. For brushing my teeth and taking pills. That sort of thing.

My doctor has prescribed some sort of natural medicine drops that I am supposed to take before each meal. I have no idea what it is supposed to do. I think I once knew, but that part of my brain has taken a permanent vacation. I simply call it "monkey piss." Whatever it is, it stains the cup I use to mix the drops with water.

Last night, I pulled out my pills, the drops, the toothpaste, and my toothbrush. I was ready for the full off-to-bed performance.

When I picked up the cup, I was surprised to find it filled with water. That was odd. I usually only fill it part way, and I had no memory of filling it at all. But, please recall, memory is not my forte these days.

So, I poured half back into the water bottle, added my drops to the water in the cup, tossed my pills in my mouth, and gulped down what I should have considered as a mystery solution. I had drunk almost all of it when my taste kicked in.

It was bleach. Or, at least, some bleach and water. Dora must have left it there to soak out the stains in the glass.

The solution must have not been very strong. I did not suffer the usual chlorine burns in my mouth or throat. But the solution was strong enough to immediately dry out my mouth.

Fortunately, a member of the medical community was at hand. Christy did a quick internet search. The next thing I knew, I was drinking a quart of milk.

The fact that I am writing this story lets you know I am still alive. But I burped chlorine gas for most of the night. I had become my own personal weapon of mass destruction.
There are probably all kinds of lessons to learn here. But the knowledge will most likely be useless. How often does something like this happen to one person? I am just glad the cup was not left on the bathroom counter in one of the guest rooms.

To celebrate my escape from the fields of Ypres, we are off to the beach at Chantli Mare (movie mogul migration). We need to introduce Lisa to this local gem.

remembering jack brock

It has been exactly one year.

On this day a year ago, Anne called me to tell me my friend Jack Brock had died on one of our highways while he was riding his bicycle (jack is dead).

We tend to react oddly when we hear such news. Mine was the common reaction. I could not believe it. Jack? The guy was too full of life to be dead.

But he was. Within three weeks, his friends put together a memorial get-together, and we all told the stories that made us appreciate Jack. Warts and all (putting jack to rest).

Last Monday, a group got together to once again remember him. I was unable to attend because of my travels. And that was too bad. There is barely a week that goes by that I do not run across one of Jack's outstanding photographs or one of his sardonic emails. Yesterday I opened a file to discover a Doonesbury cartoon he had sent me -- lampooning women.

Mexican highways are dotted with crosses and small shrines -- placed there by family and friends to remember someone killed near that spot. Our roads seem to require regular sacrifices to Huitzilopochtli. And there is one for Jack on the side of the bypass road where he died.

When people come into our lives, they change us. A part of them becomes a layer of who we are. In that way, Jack lives on.

But it is always appropriate to pause for a moment when we think of those who have had, as Anne Lamott would say, a major change in address.

That is what I am doing this morning. Thanks for the memories, Jack.