Saturday, December 03, 2016

odds and ends

I usually save photographs I like to lead my essays.

Not today. I have no commentary. But I took several photographs in early November on my trip to the highlands that have not fit into any of my essays. But they tell tales of their own.

If you would, let me be so bold as to share them with you. Partly as a tribute to the late Jack Brock.

Friday, December 02, 2016

she was a mexi-can

Last New Year's Eve, I took my white tie outfit out of the closet for a one-night stand at dinner in Papa Gallo's.

White tie is not the best choice for the tropics. But it was a celebration. And our winters can always benefit from a bit of dress-up.

Everything was just as it should be. Trousers. Tails. Plain-front shirt. Tie.

Well, almost as it should be. Somehow, my waistcoat (or "weskit" as my snobbier British friends would have it) had adopted a far too diverse look. Half was formally white. The other half was an odd yellowish-brown. About the shade that book pages take on as they age.

I had no idea what had happened. The waistcoat had been hanging in the closet since my last outing. And there was no local shop to pop into for a replacement. It had been made by my tailor in Mexico City.

So, I sucked up the expected ribbing at dinner. But no one seemed to notice. Low lighting and alcohol-blurred vision (and a bit of Canadian reticence) kept anyone from pointing out my calico appearance.

I tossed the waistcoat on my day bed with every intention of getting to Mexico City to have a new one made. But that just did not happen. Primarily, because of Barco.

Earlier in the week, I picked up some dry cleaning in Manzanillo. Because I am an optimist with overtones of realism, I took the waistcoat with me -- fully expecting I would still have to buy a new one before I flew off to Australia in February.

When I showed it to the woman I deal with at the cleaners, she examined it skeptically. I babbled on in Spanish that I had concluded it could not be cleaned and I needed a new one.

After examining the attached tailor tag, she started writing a receipt for me. And off it went into the back room.

When I retrieved it yesterday, she brought it out with a big smile. It was just as white as the day I put it on for my first fitting. She had worked a miracle.

One lesson I keep learning here in Mexico is that when something needs doing, there is always a worker who is positive she or he can do what needs to be done. And, most times, the result is exactly what needed to happen.

And what was the cost for avoiding a flight to Mexico City and shelling out the cost of a new white piqué waistcoat? $40 (Mx). About $1.94 (US).

Just another reason why I love living here. Even formal disasters can be remedied for pocket change.

Thursday, December 01, 2016

shades of gray

It is a gray morning.

Well, it was when I started writing this essay. The clouds that made the previous night's sunset memorable were still hanging around. But, since they had no rain to offer, they moved on.

But it was still a gray morning on my courtyard table.

On Tuesday, I made a quick trip to Manzanillo to get my tooth implant re-tightened. It has had a tendency to come loose.

While I was there, I stopped at Walmart and Sam's Club. I have known for months that my family was coming to stay with me. And, there I was four days before their arrival, and none of the bedrooms had yet been outfitted with the things that make a bedroom a bedroom. Sheets. Mattress pads. Pillows. Towels. Bath mats.

I have forgotten just how expensive it is to outfit a house. That load cost me just under $11,000 (Mx). The only saving grace is, with the current exchange rate, my cost was only about $535 (US) -- give or take a dollar or two. The downside of the exchange rate is that several pieces made their way down from The States -- and were selling at a premium in pesos.

I do not yet have everything I need for them. The usual accessories are missing. Soap dishes. Toothbrush holders. Water containers and glasses for the required bottled water. And, of course, flowers.

I will make a trip to Manzanillo today or tomorrow to fill out my requirements for their Saturday arrival. It feels good to finally start moving on turning this house into a home. My initial thought was that gray would be a great complement for the lines of the house. It turns out I was correct.

Now, on to the more difficult choices of finding furniture to complement the house's art collection.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

when is a citizen not a citizen?

Some odd things cross my desk. Some even cause me to start re-assessing my plans.

Yesterday, I received an email from my blogger pal Felipe over at
the unseen moon. He wanted to know if I had seen the latest post on surviving yucatan: "New Rules for Naturalized Mexican Citizens with US Passport Renewals."

I hadn't. But I have now.

Even though the author of 
surviving yucatan writes from a Merida-centric perspective, his posts are always insightful. And, because this particular post deals with an issue facing all naturalized Mexican citizens who renew their US passports, I thought I would pass along what he has to say.

Whenever I mention that I am considering becoming a Mexican citizen, the first question I am asked is: "Why do you want to give up your American citizenship?" Well, I don't.

At one time, it was very difficult for American citizens to retain more than one citizenship. That all changed with a Supreme Court case in 1967. It is now possible to collect citizenships as if they were Hummel figures -- or Humvees.

So, I thought that issue was long dead. But it appears to have raised its head in the guise of passport renewals.

The new American passport renewal forms contain an affirmation that begins: "I have not, since acquiring United States citizenship/nationality, been naturalized as a citizen of a foreign state; taken an oath or made an affirmation or other formal declaration of allegiance to a foreign state ... ." Of course, Mexican naturalized citizens have done just that: acquired citizenship in a foreign state AND sworn an oath to that state."

I will let you read on
surviving yucatan all about the almost Kafkaesque lengths the consular service goes through doing the Potomac two-step to avoid applying the affirmation. Why the form itself does not deal with the issue of dual citizenship is beyond me. But, then, why do The States have one of the most complicated personal and corporate tax systems in the world?

What the form does not do is place a naturalized Mexican citizen's American citizenship in jeopardy. The law is quite clear that if an American citizen wishes to renounce her citizenship, she can do it only through a very specific procedure that requires a positive renunciation. The problem with the form is not that it subtly causes citizenship problems, but that its affirmation is at odd with the fact of naturalization.

This little bit of news just underlines my cooling ardor for seeking Mexican citizenship. If you have not noticed, my passion for the idea has been reduced to a bit of ash and embers.

I wanted citizenship for two reasons. First, to vote, If I am going to live here, I would like a civic voice in the country I call my home.

Second, if I sell the house, I would like to take advantage of the personal residence exemption from capital gains tax. My understanding is that the government is currently limiting it to Mexican citizens only. (Of course, that could change at any time almost without notice.)

That is not really a consideration, though, because I have no plans of selling the house. When I die, it will be my brother's to deal with.

For the moment, I am keeping my powder dry. I do not need to renew my passport for another two years. Maybe then I will pull out the billows to re-light the citizenship fire.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

moving to mexico -- choosing a place to alight

Late last week at dinner, a woman, who I had just met, asked me: "Why did you choose to live here?"

It is not the first time the question has been put to me. But, for a moment, I felt the same vacant look cross my face that Teddy Kennedy had when Roger Mudd asked him in 1980 why ne wanted to be president. (You could hear an echo of "Hail to the Chief" fading in the background.)

Like Teddy, I had no satisfactory answer. I tried getting away with a glib "it was an accident," but she was having none of that.

The long answer, as you might suspect, is far more complex. When I moved south in 2009, I had no idea where I wanted to end up. Well, that is not quite true. I had an entire list of places that interested me, but I had not yet chosen a finalist.

My idea was to start my search in Melaque. I would live there for 6 months, then move on to the next site on my list, and live there for 6 months. When I had lived in each of my candidates, I would choose a winner.

Obviously, my search took an entirely different direction. Part of the reason was the always-sage advice of Jennifer Rose. She bluntly told me if I stayed no longer than 6 months in any location, no one would invest the time it would take to know me. She was correct.

I also realized something I should have figured out long before I moved down. If I stayed for only 6 months in any location, I would spend most of my time trying to figure where I was going to live for the next 6 months. At best, my plan was Sisyphean.

But I did have a shopping list of suggestions to help me in choosing my potential permanent home. If you have wandered these parts regularly, you will recognize the list.

  • university nearby
  • archaeological sites within driving distance
  • central location for other archaeological sites
  • warm, sunny days; cool nights
  • new acquaintances -- some with a love of food
  • the challenge of a new language
  • time to read; time to learn; time to rest
  • daily learning to survive
  • facing mountains of difficulties -- and being repeatedly crushed
  • long walks with Professor Jiggs before breakfast and after sunset
  • living outside of a car
  • offering help to others
  • graciously accepting help from others

Anyone who knows Barra de Navidad will tell you it is a very nice place to live. But -- it certainly does not score high on my shopping list. When I graded our local communities against my list, I gave the area a C or C- (making the grade) back in 2009. But I never did make it to the second stop on my list.

I am no longer certain what the second stop was. I suspect it was either Morelia or Pátzcuaro -- both of them in the state of Michoacán in the Mexican highlands. I even knew the housing development where I wanted to live in Pátzcuaro.

During my trip to Pátzcuaro's night of the dead earlier this month, I thought about my never-lamented dead plan while walking the streets of Morelia. It is a sizeable city -- with almost 600,000 residents.

And it has a lot of the cultural attributes I was looking for in a home. The university has a reputable school of music that sponsors a wide array of performances.

As for history, Morelia played a part in every event in Mexico's colonial and post-colonial history. The area is also home to some rather grand archaeological sites constructed by the Purépecha -- one of the few tribes that were never subjugated by the Aztecs.

Along with all of that history comes some of Mexico's best colonial architecture. All of it still being used in one form or another as a UNESCO-designated cultural site.

So, why didn't I move from the beach to the cultural heights of the Mexican highlands? The real answer is probably inertia. I do like being near the ocean.

But one reason came home to me on that last visit. Morelia sits in a geographic bowl. With its car and truck traffic, as well as its industrial base, the pollution in Morelia is often trapped in thermal inversions. Looking at the city from the surrounding mountains, it appears to be engulfed in a brown haze for parts of the year.

Having said that, its air pollution is rated as moderate. But it certainly is not as fresh as our ocean air. Or the air in Pátzcuaro.

Who knows? I may simply be justifying the fact that I did not investigate other living sites in Mexico.

As it turns out, I am quite content living in my house close to the sea -- where I can start my day with my morning walks and enjoy the pleasant weather that late fall has brought us.

And what could be better than being content?

Monday, November 28, 2016

humor is reason gone mad

"The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you've got it made."

That is what I call Marxist insight.

I miss Groucho. His quips could prick the pretensions of anyone.  And usually did.  If he were alive today, he would live in a target-rich environment.

A friend of mine recently forwarded a link to an article in The Guardian* with the neutral-sounding observation: "Here is an article that might give you some grist for your blog-mill."

He was correct. At first reading, I thought it was a satirical piece from The Onion. The tone was perfect, but the logic was a bit outrageous. A second reading brought me up short when I realized its author was quite serious.  Dead pan serious.

Mawuna Remarque Koutonin is identified as the editor of an Africa-based blog; that is where The Guardian lifted the piece.

He has a beef. He wants to know why people of color are called "immigrants," while white people are called "expatriates."

My reaction was: "Darned if I know. I am not certain that is even true. Or that it matters."

It matters, of course, because the voice of silent hurt constantly seeks new ways to feel pain.

Having written that sentence, I know that I am part of the problem, and that I should really feel bad -- very bad -- that someone else feels awful that I do not even see that silent hurt is welling across the planet because I "just don't get it." After all, look at the banner at the top of this page. I parade around daily with "expatriate" emblazoned across my smug, elite features.

If you have not yet figured it out, Mr.
Koutonin knows why people of color are apparently prohibited from using the term expatriate: "In the lexicon of human migration there are still hierarchical words, created with the purpose of putting white people above everyone else."

Yup. It is part of a world-wide racist white conspiracy designed to stamp non-white people with a label of inferiority.

But hang on.  If Mr. Koutonin were to live here in the barrio with me, I would call him an expatriate. And I don't think I would be wrong to do so. I certainly call my neighbor from Ecuador an expatriate. Or, I would, if I called her anything except her given name.

Part of the problem, of course, is that a certain class of folks love describing people by their group identity. Hispanic. White. Left-handed Lithuanian women who use lemon in their tea. Somehow, we have forgotten that we are all individuals first.

His solution to this outrage? "
If you see those 'expats' in Africa, call them immigrants like everyone else. If that hurts their white superiority, they can jump in the air and stay there."

"Jump in the air and stay there." I like that. But he is no Groucho -- the masterful author of: "
I don’t care to belong to any club that will have me as a member."

Groucho would have a better explanation. Have you seen the people who revel in the term "expatriate?" They either look as if they are auditioning as extras in A Passage to India or have pretensions that they are Ernest, Scott, or Gertrude in Paris. Entire pockets of them live throughout Mexico.
Let them have the term. The rest of us can call ourselves immigrants or residents. Or maybe just Steve and Mawuna.

Of course, there are other choices, Mawuna.  Courtesy of Emma Lazarus: exiles, tired, poor, huddled masses, homeless, tempest-tost.

I am reserving "wretched refuse" for myself. 

* -- The Guardian is considered a quality newspaper amongst a certain wing of the political spectrum.  It is the kind of publication that calls Bill Clinton a "posh white bloke who is holding back the struggle for a fairer world."  I think they mean "more just" world; "fairer" world sounds too much like something else. 

Sunday, November 27, 2016

there's a (wrong) word for it

I am a word collector.

It all started in my high school Latin class. Mr. McCutcheon was a great teacher. Unlike all of our fellow students who were Frenching and Spanishing away in the halls, we were being taught some of the secrets of our own language. English may be Germanic in its form, but its vocabulary is fueled by Latin words that made their way to England in that little conquest of 1066. You may have heard of it.

During my Spanish lessons, I periodically thank Mr. McCutcheon for drilling roots and conjugations into my dense little head. It made English far more clear to me, and it has left enough residue to help me through my Spanish.

Several months ago, a woman in our class decided she was bored with the usual social greetings. She is one of those personalities for whom the word "ebullient" was retained in English. Witty. Charming. Ready with a smile.

She told our instructor that she was tired of the usual responses to the question of how she was doing. "I want to say I am terrific. Terrifico! Is that correct?"

Our teacher was taken aback. "You want to tell people that you are terrible? Why?"

"No. I want to stay I am terrific. Terrifico."

Cognates are one of the fun discoveries in every language. Words that sound similar in both tongues. They are like free words when learning to speak another language.

But, in every language, there are also false cognates. Words that sound similar, but that have different meanings. In some cases, such as "terrifico," they mean just the opposite.

"Terrifico" is a real Spanish word. And its meaning was exactly the same as "terrific" when it entered English around the 1300s -- “causing terror, terrifying; terrible, frightful; stirring, awe-inspiring; sublime.” That is not surprising, it is derived from the Latin root
terrere -- to fill with fear. Terror. Terrible. Terrific.

Somewhere in the 1700s, "terrific" took on a new meaning. "Of great size or intensity; excessive; very severe." You can still hear some English speakers (primarily rural folk) refer to a terrific storm. I may have even used the word in that sense myself.

In the late 1800s, "terrific" morphed into the form we use today: "an enthusiastic term of commendation: amazing, impressive; excellent, exceedingly good, splendid.”

No one knows why the term managed to turn itself 180 degrees around from its original meaning. After all, who knows, in just the past few recent years, how "iconic" went from being "a visual art executed according to a tradition or convention; characteristic of an icon" to being anything the speaker thinks is cool or awesome -- without regard to its visual quality.

And who says Mexpatriate is not a full service stop on the internet freeway?


OK. I could not avoid the temptation of dipping into the Monty Python grab bag. Here is one of my favorite Latin grammar bits.