Tuesday, May 23, 2017

the bell tolls for thee

This trip north is entering its last leg.

Early tomorrow morning, I will be boarding an airplane to Portland then a shuttle to Salem to attend Joshua Bell's concert with the Salem Symphonic Orchestra. Then, by late Saturday evening, I will be back home in Barra de Navidad.

My erstwhile traveling companions Roy and Nancy happened to be in Bend today. So, we arranged to have lunch together. The restaurant was only four miles away. That made it an easy walk from the house.

I was even healthy with my lunch choice (a small Greek salad with a cup of tomato-basil soup -- after my breakfast of hot and sour soup, and ginger beef.

 We caught up on what had been happening in our lives since the Australia cruise -- and started planning the details of our next jaunt. This time in Denmark. In October.

When we finished, they offered to drive me to their next destination to save me some steps home. I declined. I have been rather disciplined in getting in as many steps a day as I can.

That got me to thinking. I wonder how many miles I have walked since leaving Mexico earlier this month? Thanks to the memory on my telephone and my new Gear Fit, I have the answer. And here it is. Day by day. The date in May first. The miles second.

  6 - 16.68
  7 - 10.72
  8 - 18.72
  9 - 21.82
10 - 10.66
11 - 11.61
12 - 10.68
13 -   7.82
14 -   6.22
15 - 15.63
16 -   8.35
17 - 10.60
18 - 12.41
19 - 11.23
20 - 21.39
21 -   8.24
22 - 13.83
If I had started walking to Boise from Bend on the 6th (and walked no more than I have), I would almost be there now. And there are days, when I get into my walking groove, that I feel as of I could just walk all day.

And at a 4 MPH pace, that is about 70 hours of walking spread over seventeen days.

Why am I telling you this? I encountered another scientific study in The Oregonian this morning.

Electronic devices that record exercise routines are a great source of accurate information. Anecdotal information from people who exercise are always subject to data entanglement. That is a nice term that includes forgetfulness and lying. Electronic devices report what they experience.

Some exercisers publish their results in such place as Facebook. I don't. But I appear to be in the minority. Fit people like letting people know they are -- fit, that is.

You have run into them at dinner parties. They are the people who cannot stop talking about "My Numbers" and who keep sticking their fit bits in your face to prove their point as if it were the desiccated left toe of Saint Servatus.

Digging through the data, scientists have concluded that the fitness crowd can actually influence their friends and acquaintances to exercise more. They have even quantified the effect. For each kilometer run, a friend will run 0.3 kilometers more.

But not everyone has the same influence. It appears that the people who are most encouraged to exercise more are the ones that already exercise more than the person who encourages them. They are the people who dread the steps of even their friends creeping up on them.

If that is true, I have just written a note of encouragement to those of you who have run or walked over 300 miles over the past two weeks.

If you have not, and the study is correct, I have come off sounding like a self-righteous prig. It seems as if the confessions never end.

At least, I will be sitting still for a bit during the Joshua Bell concert.

Monday, May 22, 2017

live like a hobbit

Some things never change.

Take housing bubbles. When the last one popped a decade ago, Bend was one of the hardest hit communities in the country.

Foreclosures soared. People walked away from their dream homes. And the community stopped growing.

There is a housing development not too far from my brother's house that typified what happened ten years ago.

Bend was riding high in the real estate bubble of the early 2000s. Small bungalows that could not be sold in the 1990s started selling for Bentley and Rolls Royce prices.

And, as if often the case when irrational exuberance starts driving prices, people came up with imaginative ways to earn money that would normally be rejected as "you-need-to-take-your-meds" ideas.

In 2004 a developer thought of a doozy. He would build homes in the million dollar range with architecture based on Tolkien's Hobbit village, The Shire.

And that is what he called it. The Shire. The homes would evoke the romanticism of living in a hole in the ground while not having to live underground. It was the type of development that appeals to people who want something different, but who are not encumbered by an excess of taste.

The developer talked a local doctor into signing for a loan. And the building was off and running in 2005. Running is not even close to what happened. Only one house was built, and a second was under construction, when catastrophe hit. The houses did not sell like hot cakes. They did not even sell like elven bread

And then the housing bubble popped in Bend. The Shire was not the only development that Hindenburged. The entire Bend housing market collapsed -- with one of the highest foreclosure rates in the nation. The Shire suffered along with the rest, but it had the disadvantage of being just a bit too fantastic to survive.

There was an additional tragedy. The doctor, who put his good name on the line to obtain the development loan, died. One day, he disappeared. The next day his body was found in the Deschutes River.

As is true with most tragedies of this nature, the small town gossips played out a tapestry of possible death causes. Accidental drowning. Suicide. Foul play. Whatever the cause was, it did not make the story any less Sophoclean.

The story is now a decade old. But the underlying moral is again raising its head. Housing prices in Bend are astronomical. A tiny bungalow in my brother's neighborhood just sold for $300,000.

Bend is currently positioning itself for another housing bubble that will inevitably burst. There are lessons to be learned. But not remembered.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

scooping up the culture

Today starts the cultural portion of my Oregon tour.

One thing I truly miss in my area of Mexico is biting into a chewy bit of culture. I should add an immediate caveat. We do have some artists who produce challenging paintings near my home. Several of those hang on the walls of the house with no name. Paintings, mind you; not the artists.

But when it comes to string quartets, oratorios, operas, or orchestras, there are not so many. Of course, there are in Mexico City and Guadalajara. But I do not get there as often as I would like.

So, that leaves my travels to feed my cultural jonesing. And I try to take advantage of anything of interest that is offered while I travel. That is why opera in Sydney, orchestra in Barcelona, and string quartets in Venice are such a treat.

On this trip, I have found three days of cultural diversion, starting tonight with the Crown City String Quartet in Bend. Crown City is Pasedena-based, but the quartet play often in the Pacific Northwest, including for the series sponsored by High Desert Chamber Music. I saw them perform two years ago here (staging the day). Tonight's performance is the finale of the HDCM's 2016-17 season.

Pre-concert discussions of the pieces to be performed are now quite common. And they are a great idea.

Most people who attend these concerts have a vague idea of what the music might offer. But they often do not have the tools to analyze the music's depths. These mini-lectures help bridge the gap.

I often write that I want my music to be challenging -- just as I want paintings or sculpture or opera to be challenging. Once the listener understands the sonata form, there are potential signposts to understand the composer's statement and restatement of themes.

It also helps if the program is populated with pieces that are almost entry-level (but still extremely good). That is what the Crown City String Quartet is offering tonight:
  • Schubert "Quartettsatz"
  • Mozart String Quartet in B Flat Major K.589
  • Schumann String Quartet No. 3 in A Minor 
On Sunday afternoon, Darrel, Mom and I will attend the season's last performance of the Central Oregon Symphony -- an orchestra that used to bill itself as "the largest symphony in Bend." An appellation that has all the weight of  being "world-famous in Poland."

Tomorrow's guest is Linda Wang, who I saw perform in Bend on one of my earlier visits. I look forward to seeing her perform again. The performance will also be noteworthy because the second piece on the program, Cascades, was commissioned by the orchestra to celebrate its 50th anniversary.

And here is the full program:

  • Brahms Violin Concerto
  • Barnes Cascades
  • Marquez Danzon No.2
The first and third pieces are not very challenging, but I look forward to hearing the premier of the commissioned piece. Anything new is always worth a listen.

And, of course, even though it is not very demanding music, the Marquez is one of my favorite pop concert pieces (sex on the floor). I suspect it will be a fun afternoon.

Then there is the concert that kept me in Oregon this long. On Wednesday night Joshua Bell will be the guest performer with the Salem Symphony.

The Salem Symphony is a recent creation -- reminiscent of the days when every town had its own band. Or boys' band, as Professor Harold Hill would have it.

I have long-admired Joshua Bell's work. Including his off-stage antics. It is not every day a performer of his quality shows up in the town where I once lived.

The program for Wednesday is:

  • Saint Saens Bacchanale
  • Tchaikovsky Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture
  • Bruch Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor
  • Sarasate Ziguenerweisen
Bell will perform with the orchestra on the last two pieces. Both are well-designed to showcase his show biz style, but not his subtle virtuosity.

Having said all that, I am looking forward to each of the three performances. The Bell has all the elements of being a memorable night. But I may be surprised at what the other two performances offer, as well.

I do know, though, that when I return to Barra de Navidad, I am going to miss having all of these options available.

Guadalajara and Mexico City may get to see a lot more of me.

Friday, May 19, 2017

packing it all up

Friday was shopping day. And shop I did.

"Shop" may be the wrong word. I associate that verb with aimless wandering through stores occasionally fondling the random piece of merchandise and slouching away looking as if the holy grail had just evaded my grasp.

I like to call what I do hunting. I know where the elk were last seen. I swoop in, and, if they are not there, I move on.

By that definition, Thursday was a mixed bag. I stopped at four stores (REI, Eddie Bauer, Columbia Sportswear, and The Foot Zone) knowing what I wanted in each.  Some had it. Some didn't.

What I ended up with was a pile of shirts, shorts, socks, and shoes. And a new Eagle Creek duffel bag to cart them home to Mexico.

When I first moved south eight years ago, I would drag a shopping cart of stuff back to Mexico. Mostly foodstuffs. The type of thing I craved, but could not buy in my little village on the beach.

Food is no longer on my list -- with the exception of hard-to-find spices and herbs. My tastes have not changed that much: the availability has. Almost anything I need can be found at Hawaii -- a grocery store in San Patricio.

However, the clothes I prefer are not readily available near my house. So, about every two years I purchase a new pile of duds that make me like like a colorful version of Steve Irwin. Lots of cotton angling shirts and shorts.

Today's purchases should hold me until I head north again in September for my 50th high school reunion. I am looking forward to that. But I will need something other than khakis for the evening.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

science is my bag

In his Annie Hall opening monologue, Woody Allen imagines how he will age. The balding virile type as opposed to the distinguished gray. He then fires off one of my favorite movie lines.

"Unless I'm one o' those guys with saliva dribbling out of his mouth who wanders into a cafeteria with a shopping bag screaming about socialism."

That is the guy I have felt like these past couple of weeks. I just noticed a number of my essays have a patina of grumpiness about them. Andy Rooney without the charm.

I am about to do it again.

Earlier this week, I ran across a headline: "Stomach acid drugs can cause serious gut infections." I have a special interest in such stories. I use omeprazole, one of the most-prescribed acid inhibitors, to keep food from ending up like Mama Cass dying with a grilled chicken stuck in my throat.

So, anytime I see the word "cause" associated with omepraziole and some disastrous outcome, I pay attention. I did the same thing two years ago when the newspapers were ablaze with warnings like "Heartburn drugs linked to heart attacks."

The heart attack warning turned out to be uneducated journalists auditioning for the role of the shepherd boy in "Waiting for Lobo." Most of newspaper scribblers stated that the use of acid inhibitors increased the chance of heart attacks by 16%. Scientists would call that statistically significant. Normal people would call it frightening.

That story disappeared when doctors pointed out the studies found no such thing. The risk factor was almost infinitesimal. Even if the data was correct (and there is some doubt a bout that), 99.98 percent of people who take the inhibitors are not a risk of having a heart attack.

The latest scare turns out to be far less frightening than the headlines would have us believe. It is true that, after reviewing medical records (there was no blind study), it appeared that there was some form of causal relationship between the use of the heartburn medications and a recurrent gut infection of a rather nasty kind. 22.1 percent of the users, to quote the study, were gut busters.

That number was about enough to make me run the risk of choking to death rather than suffering bouts of diarrhea. That is, until I read further. It turns out that 17.3 percent of non-users also suffer from these pesky infections. That rather puts paid to the "causation" fear.

Now, that may look like the use of the drugs increases the risk of infections by 5%. But that would not be true, either.

And, maybe because of the scandal of fake news generated in the 2015 article, journalists simply noted the two figures and said nothing more. Of course, they should have. They could have asked the study authors what it all meant.

They didn't. They had met their mission of scaring the infection out of their readers. And, the nutrition nazis, who considered science to merely be another tool to scare people, will interpret the study to keep the burn alive.

Whenever people ask me why I am always skeptical of what journalists have to say about issues scientific, I will pick up these two headlines as a bludgeon. I keep hoping the truth will out.

But that is not the nature of journalism.

As for me, I am going to get myself a drool cup and a shopping bag. I already spend a lot of time screaming about socialism.    

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

saving the galaxy

I am going to save you from a Trump diatribe.

This morning's Oregonian blared "Trump revealed secrets." That caught my attention.

The disclosure of classified information has long been my political bête noire -- even though I was a bit baffled that anyone would criticize the president for revealing classified information. That is well within the executive's authority.

What bothered me was in the text of the story. That the disclosure may have jeopardized our ally's trust that we will not share information they have provided. And we now all know the source of the classified information was one of our truest allies -- Israel.

My long-
held aversion to disclosing classified information stems from rather specific events where friends, acquaintances, and contacts are now dead as a result of the work of such traitors as Philip Agee.

But, I decided enough commentators and amateurs are donning ashes and wallowing in ashes. If there is one aspect of being up north that has really disappointed me, it is the constant conversation about President Trump. I have yet to have a conversation with anyone up here that has not been either hagiographic hero worship or fears that the seventh seal of the Apocalypse has been opened.

So, I am not going to write about The Donald -- because he bores me. And I would appreciate not getting into a discussion in the comments section. We can talk about something else.

And that is exactly what Ken, Kimmy, Matthew, and I did today. To avoid mining the depths of the Trump bucket, we headed off to Cabela's, who touts itself as "The World's Foremost Outfitter." Outfitter of sporting equipment, that is.

I have taken a liking to wearing angling shirts. And most of mine are suffering from the wear and tear of Mexican life. So, hunting I went. And ended up empty handed as sportsmen often do.

The best I could bag was some cinnamon salt water taffy. It is true that taffy is not on my current food list. But I like it, and a few pieces will not damn me to nutrition Hell -- unless you listen too closely to the anti-sugar hysterics.

No trip to Cabela's would be complete, though, without visiting its second floor of firearms. There are banks of rifles for hunting the wily game whose taxidermic remains dot the store.

But my favorite room is the vintage gun room. Especially, the hand guns. It is fun to point out the various guns James Bond has used in the novels and the never-ending films.

Then we were off to a movie. Not a James Bond piece.

Ken, Kimmy, and Matthew did not have an opportunity to see Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume Two last night. Kimmy and Matthew had already seen it three or four times. I saw it in Bend with my family. Ken was the only one of our group who had not seen it.

I had the choice of staying home alone or joining them. Since I had traveled up here to enjoy their company, I decided to steel myself and watch it again.

For whatever reason, I found it a bit more enjoyable the second time. I must have been in the wrong mood when I saw it the first time.

I really enjoyed the first three Star Wars movies. The characters in Guardians come close to connecting on a personal level. And the story line has a lot of similarities -- even though this one lacked a lot of back story.

But it is a movie based on comic books. What can I expect?

In execution, it is a lot more like the second series of Star War movies. Special effects and star battles quickly maneuver the characters into secondary roles. Violence and noise become the stars.

These short visits are a bit frustrating. I enjoy the company of my friends. But Ken will be taking me to the Seattle airport in the morning on his way to battle his way through traffic to conduct a hearing in downtown Seattle. Even though my flight is in the early afternoon, I will probably be in Bend before he gets back home.

And, out of the blue, there is another reason I am glad to live in my part of Mexico. Traffic is not a problem.

But, before I start extolling the virtues of Mexico, I still have a week and a half to enjoy the pleasures of Oregon. And more pithy observations await.

Monday, May 15, 2017

if it's monday this must be olympia

Steve is on the road again.

This time in Washington. The state, not the political puzzle land. Olympia, if you are keeping track.

Yesterday I decided it was time to check in with my friend Ken. I have been here only once (I think) since Patti died (the circle tightens) in 2015. Their home is not the same without her. But Ken and their daughter Kimmy are.

And it was a propitious time for a visit. Kimmy's boyfriend Matthew proposed to her less than a month ago. They are trousseau deep in planning a wedding in Anaheim May of next year.

The four of us had a brief opportunity this evening to sit down and talk about what is happening in all of our lives. They then adjourned to the questionable entertainment of Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume Two. I had already seen it with my family in Bend last week. Once was enough.

I am here only until Wednesday. We will undoubtedly do what we always do on my visits -- make mock of words and politicians, try to beat each others' puns, and visit one of the largest gun stores in the Pacific Northwest.

And that car at the top? Ken picked me up in one of the cars you can see in the photograph. It was either the Bentley Continental GT (with a list of price just above $200,000 (US)) or the red Kia Sportage.

I will let you guess.   

galaxy s8 plus to the rescue

I have named it Phoenix.

Due to three untimely tumbles, the screen on my Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge took on the look of a map of the Mississippi delta. When my friend Anne delivered it to me, she insisted that I buy a case for the telephone. I didn't. The lines were too edgy to hide in a plastic case.

I paid the price for my folly. Cracked touch screens soon stop operating. It was just a matter of time.

But time was on my side. I had already planned to head north when Samsung announced the release of the international version of the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus. After reading the specifications, I ordered one from Amazon -- to be delivered at my brother's house on the Friday before I arrived.

I showed up, but the telephone was not there; Amazon's tracking system said it would arrive on Monday. It didn't. It didn't arrive on Tuesday or Wednesday.

The sub-contractor filling the order is in Seattle. I tried calling. No answer. Then I got worried.

Amazon includes a rating system for its suppliers while the product is in transit. The 5-star ratings were reassuring -- until the current week. Then, all the ratings turned into 1-stars with complaints of payments made and no telephones delivered.

Rather than re-live the week of emails filled with retailer shoddy excuses and unfulfilled promises, I will cut to the chase. My telephone finally arrived on Saturday.

It was worth the wait -- if not the aggravation. Some of you have probably read the rave reviews of this deightful piece of engineering. A greatly-increased screen size without making the overall unit appreciably larger. The speediest processor on the market. Beautifully crafted. A camera with great resolution. And, best of all, an increased battery life.

As with all new devices, I have to sign in anew on each application. There is always a tope in the road. I keep a list of passwords, but somehow the passwords for several applications never made it to the archives. But the complication gave me the opportunity to update my list with new codes.

The price was a bit more than what I would have liked, but these smartphones long ago stopped being just a telephone. They are essentially computers in your front pocket. Bar bets no longer need an independent referee when Google is around. I don't even worry about remembering that "Doc" is the seventh dwarf we always forget.

And, yes, I did buy a case. It showed up on the day the telephone was supposed to arrive. Maybe I can keep this new screen from being modified by Mexican tile.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

madonna and child

Today we celebrate our mothers.

Editorial writers across the country will conjure up abstract notions about the women in our lives. Hallmark will sell its ditties that are almost as universal -- to be accompanied a rainbow of candy, balloons, and flowers. As if we were celebrating some distant earth goddess rather than the one at hand.

Most mothers' days, I would be doing the same thing. But this day is different. I am not going to rely on some long-distance florist to wish my mother a happy mothers' day. I will do it in person.

Usually, I am either in Mexico (where mothers' day is always celebrated on 10 May) or on the road. This year, I am still on the road, but on the road where my mother lives.

One day is simply too confining to celebrate her. Before we left for Portland on Friday, I gave her a bouquet from a local florist. And, of course, there was the greatest gift of all: meeting Charlotte. (The photograph is courtesy of Sara, her mother.) Yesterday, I updated Mom's Kindle to a side-lit Paperwhite. And today? Darrel and I will spend time with her. Time is always one of the most precious gifts we can give anyone.

Rather than weave a tapestry of words for all she has done, I will leave it at this. The love you can see in my mother's eyes as she held Charlotte reflects the love she has shown to Darrel and me all of our lives. During the hubbub of modern American life, it is easy to forget that. Mainly, because what we have always had is easy to take  for granted.

As silly as I find most holidays, this is one that really matters. It gives us an opportunity to pause and consider the blessings we have in our lives that are the direct result of our mother's sacrifice. Darrel and I are very fortunate that Marilyn Munro Cotton gave us birth, provided us with maternal love, and taught us to be the independent souls we have become.

But what she has done for us is not why we are celebrating. That would be far too narcissistic -- even for me. We celebrate her for her strength, her faith, and her presence. For her virtues.

That is why the image of the Madonna and child is so powerful. From a faith perspective, the image has always been a bit jarring to me. The child, who should be the religious focus, always plays second oboe to his mother.

And maybe that is the way it should be. Stripped of its religious significance, every Madonna and child is always about the mother. Our mother.

Sara caught the essence of that relationship in her photograph of Mom and Charlotte. All of these words pale in comparison.

So, I will leave it at that.

Happy mothers' day, Mom. We love you.

Friday, May 12, 2017

charlotte joins mexpatriate

Meet Charlotte Rose Cotton. The most recent addition to the cast of Mexpatriate.

At least, she is the most recent addition to the family Cotton. And that is about the same thing.

Charlotte, named for her paternal grandfather Charles and her maternal grandmother Rose, was born on 5 December 2016. I would have noted the date last December, but I had not yet had an opportunity to meet her. I did today.

Darrel, Christy, Mom, and I drove over to Portland this afternoon to meet her for the first time. Charlotte is the son of my nephew Ryan (Darrel's son) and Sara (my favorite corporate litigator). According to the two of them, she is a practically perfect baby.

Of course, all parents say that (and they are unquestionably seconded by doting uncles). But, she is. She sleeps through the night, is seldom fussy, and has a smile and eyes for every person who catches her intense gaze.

The seven of us (plus my nine-year old nephew Colin and his inseparable friend Lety) trundled over to a pizza place in their neighborhood. 

Usually, it is very difficult for a group that size to hold serious conversations. But we did.

We reminisced about our childhoods, our relatives, our trips, our plans for the future. And laughed. We laughed a lot. Just the way family gatherings should be.

I invited Ryan and Sara to bring Colin and Charlotte south to the house with no name -- in the winter. Summers are just a bit too rough to fully enjoy Barra de Navidad.

And, when they do, Charlotte's next appearance in Mexpatriate will show off her obvious star power. That is my objective prediction -- with no prejudice whatsoever.

Welcome aboard this train of life, Charlotte. You will go far.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

shootout at the kaitlyn corral

Some American constitutional rights are remote or abstract.

Take the third amendment. My liberty bell rings just knowing that the government cannot quarter soldiers in my house. Take that George III -- and all of your ilk.

On the other extreme, some rights are with us daily. The first and second amendments are perfect examples.

Even though, the first is under a lot of stress these days from people like Howard Dean who thinks it does not apply to speech he finds offensive. He is one of those people who love saying: "I support the first amendment, but -- ." That translates to "I don't support the first amendment.

But today was not a day to dwell on the erosion of free speech. We were exercising our rights under the second amendment.

My niece Kaitlyn announced this morning we were going shooting. I had visions of mounting the head of Bambi's father over the mantle.

Her suggestion was a bit more prosaic. We were going target shooting with her 9mm Walther CCP -- a very well-crafted handgun.

She regularly shoots at a shooting range near her home in Seattle. But she needs to choose her times carefully. Apparently, even in the People's Republic of Washington, recreational shooting is the rage. Just like fitness centers, shooting ranges fill up after work.

It turns out I was as wrong about our destination in Bend as I was about our potential antlered targets. This is central Oregon. We didn't need no stinkin' yuppie shooting range. The outdoors is our shooting gallery.

We drove out past the controlled burn area into a Forest Service copse of ponderosa. A couple of stumps made perfect backers for targets -- as well as holding our Annie Oakley bottles.

The family that prays together may stay together. But the family that shoots together pays close attention to who has the weapon in hand.

By turns, we all stood our ground and reduced paper targets to shreds. All of us had a pretty good eye for taking down stationary targets. And that is all we were doing. Just having fun.

Some of my Canadian friends cannot understand the American fascination with guns. That passion is based in the national character, not because of the second amendment. The second amendment exists because guns are a part of our nature. 

Mainly, because it is just fun to shoot them. Had we not been driven back to the SUV because of a downpour, we would probably still be out there emptying magazines into innocent trees.

At a more idealistic time, the editorial masthead of The Oregonian contained one of Voltaire's more famous statements: "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." In today's political environment, I doubt many college campuses would conside
r that to be anything other than an act of aggression by old white men against the world's victim class.

But, after today's shot through the woods, I would say something similar about the liberty ensconced in the second amendment. Maybe we could all have more civil discourse while sharing a pistol in the ponderosa.

It is just a thought. 

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

take a hike

We discover a lot about ourselves when we travel. Even when it is merely aspects we forgot we had.

For me, it is hiking.

You already know I am a bit obsessed with walking for exercise. In the past month, I have been pacing between ten and twenty miles each day. I like it.

But exercise walking is not hiking. When I exercise, I block out everything around me -- and just walk. It is an end in itself.

Not so with hiking. A good hike should cover a respectable piece of trail. But the experience of the hike -- and its surroundings -- is everything.

It had been a long time since I took a hike. Maybe sixteen years ago with the peripatetic Professor Jiggs. That is, until I took hikes in New Zealand (hiking with queen charlotte) and Colombia (coming to jesus) -- and I had a great time reviving a slumbering pastime. Great enough that I had one of those heart-to-heart talks with myself about why I no longer hike.

We have some hiking opportunities around Barra. But not many.

That is why I jumped at the opportunity to take a hike with the family when Christy mentioned it this morning. Bend is one of the world's recreation capitals.

What was once a mill town nestled on the banks of the Deschutes river has traded in its chain saws for marketing fun to tourists who come to ski, hike, snowboard, rock climb, and kayak -- and to be engorged with the output of the town's microbreweries.

When the logging industry collapsed, Bend made bread out of poverty. The sawmill was turned into an upscale shopping center along with a chain of of trails and parks hugging the river. 

What had been a utilitarian stream for transporting and storing logs became a first rate attraction for residents and tourists. Why drive to Disneyland when nature can provide thousands of happier places on earth?

The trail system is the crown jewel in Bend's reinvention of itself. 65 miles in all. And a lot of those miles are in the city itself.

We (Darrel; Christy; my niece Kaitlyn; her friends Lisa and Noah; and I) decided to tackle the four miles that run along the banks of the river in south Bend. If it had been an exercise walk, it would have been a warm up. But it wasn't an exercise walk; it was a hike. A time to be one with nature.

And, just like New Zealand, the hike had everything a successful hike needs. White water. Ponderosa. Lodgepole. Chaparral. And plenty of birdsong.

Tolstoy may have thought all happy families are all alike and that unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Had he thought that about hikes, he would have been wrong. Because every hike is happy in its own way.

As was ours. I have always found running water to be good for the soul. The sound helped me keep my pace to hiking speed instead of power walking.

One of the sure signs that spring has arrived in central Oregon is the return of the tree swallows. They were out in force -- skimming over the surface of the river in their iridescent blue formal wear.

Swallows appear to take great joy in the fact that they can fly. And they are happy to show that talent to envious humans.

Darrel told me that the last time he was on the trail (and that was several years ago), it was possible to walk the full loop without encountering another person. That was not true today.

We must have seen close to fifty other people on a Tuesday afternoon. Mothers with babies in exercise strollers. Dog walkers. Fellow hikers. Fishermen. Runners. Joggers. Kayakers. All of us putting the trail to its intended purpose.

I started to ask myself why I had moved from Oregon. I felt almost renewed by our two hour stroll along the river. I could do this every day.

Of course, even if I lived in Bend, I would not hike every day. That is how we humans are. We tend to covet what we cannot have and ignore the treasures we possess.

I had lived in the Melaque area for eight years before I took an ATM tour with Ray (city slickers duding it up). And I did that only because Darrel and Christy were there.

But that is why I travel. There is something about being in new places that clears away the natural interta of our existences.

It is also why I am still up north. Finding those parts of who I am amongst the detritus of daily life.

Monday, May 08, 2017

fire in the hole

Christy hates smoke.

She comes by it honestly. Darrel and Christy lived on a small ranch on the outskirts of Bend for over thirty years. Even though they were within walking distance of town, their most dangerous adversary was fire. Forest fires.

On several of my visits, we would be running errands in Bend when Christy would look up and see smoke on the horizon in the general direction of their place. Whatever we were doing, we would head back to the house just in case we needed to defend the property from a flaming invasion.

The risk was real. Groves of ponderosa pine surrounded the house and outbuildings. Just over the ridge in back of their place was a pine forest. If a fire jumped the ridge, we would have either gone into fire-break mode -- or become fleeing refugees.

During Christy's visits to my area of Mexico, she was initially unnerved by the number of brush fires. Some in the wild. Others in town.

Darrel reassured her that brush fires around Barra tend to die out before they burn very far. She was not certain of that explanation. Especially when she saw the char marks on a number of concrete walls.

And she was right to be wary. A brush fire near the laguna in Villa Obregon recently got away and threatened some local businesses before our local fire brigade showed up with their water truck to bring it back under control.

When Gary and Joyce took me to the Manzanillo airport on Saturday, we watched a brush fire burn the full slope of two steep hills near the highway. I still do not know if that was an intentional burn.

Today, while I was out on a walk in Bend, I noticed a column of smoke rising just beyond the ridge of Darrel and Christy's former ranch. When I got back to the house, I told them about the fire, and off we headed in their SUV to chase a story.

It turned out it was a controlled burn by the Forest Service. To burn off anything combustible before the fire season begins -- and before an uncontrolled burn took advantage of the kindling.

There was a small army of firefighters controlling the burn where it backed up to homes. Even knowing there was a good deal of control on the fire, it was like watching a lion tamer work with big cats.

After all, fire is every bit as dangerous -- and as unpredictable -- as a wild animal. The control is an illusion. At any moment, the fire could have turned into the very thing the burners were attempting to avoid. Paul Ryan must feel the same way these days.

As for me, it was a good reminder how fragile the circumstances of our lives are. I do not live with the danger of fire in my part of Mexico. But I do have scorpions, earthquakes, hurricanes, and even one very live volcano.

But that is what makes getting out of bed each day worthwhile.

Sunday, May 07, 2017

it could have been worse

I could have been flying United. Or Delta.

Fortunately, I was flying my favorite carrier. Alaska. So, no heads were gashed on armrests and no children were threatened with jail.

But, you deserve an explanation here. And you are going to get it.

On Saturday afternoon, my friends Gary and Joyce dropped me off at the Manzanillo airport. Jorge, who was last a trainee when I encountered him for the first time in February, professionally checked me on my three flight segments: Manzanillo to Los Angeles, Los Angeles to Seattle, and Seattle to Redmond, where I would arrive just after midnight. A full day of flying.

Through no fault of Alaska, the flight to Los Angeles was not the best flying experience I have ever had. And, in context, the slight inconveniences caused by fellow passengers was small potatoes.

I was not in the best of moods to face one of the worst parts of flying internationally through Los Angeles
-- the American immigration and customs process. In years past, it has taken me up to two hours to get from one flight to the next.

No more. Immigration has installed banks of kiosks that would make a Los Vegas casino owner proud. It is as simple as processing a boarding pass. Scan your passport. Answer a few questions about whether you are going to overthrow the American government or cause a plague. The machine then snaps an incredibly unflattering photograph, and prints a receipt.

After I collected my luggage, I rolled up to customs, handed over my receipt, and I was on my way.

Or, so I thought. I was the second person in line to board the Seattle flight. I gave the clerk my boarding pass. When she scanned it, her computer screen lit up as if North Korea had finally lit The Big One. She scanned it again. Same result.

She called for her trainer. Same result. A third representative showed up. I completely stalled the boarding process while the three conferred on what to do.

At this point, the trainer asked me to step aside while two of the trio started tapping away at the computer. This was the only point where Alaska's justifiably high reputation for customer service failed. I had no idea what was happening. It turns out neither did the Alaska employees.

Within minutes, one of them returned to tell me they were really confused. Someone had tampered with my reservation. My seat on the Seattle flight had been sold because the computer indicated I had not flown from Manzanillo. She assured me that even though the flight was full, she would find me a seat.

When she next returned, I knew she did not have good news. That was why I was confused when she told me I would be flying, but I would have to fly in one of the bulkhead seats -- staring for hours at a blank wall.

Then she dropped the other shoe. "Or you could spend the night in Los Angeles, and we can get you on a flight to Seattle and Redmond tomorrow morning." I knew then there was more to the story.

It turned out my flight from Seattle to Redmond had been cancelled due to "crew rest." In other words, there was no one to fly the plane. If I managed to get to Seattle that night, that would be the end of my flying for the day.

My choice then was to stay in Los Angeles or Seattle. Like any good citizen of the Pacific Northwest, I chose to fly -- even if it was in a bulkhead seat.

And this is where fortune shined on me. About 60 people failed to make their connections with the Seattle flight. That left the first class cabin only half full. Because I was patient, I ended up sitting wherever I wanted.

I give great credit to the Alaska employees who helped me. They kept me informed and made clear it was their computer entries that had almost kept me from flying out of Los Angeles. Alaska has even sent me a very kind email with a sizable chunk of remuneration for my trouble.

After my experience with AeroMexico, Alaska has just gone up several notches in my esteem. Both relatively and absolutely.

Best of all, I am now in Bend at Darrel and Christy's house. Tonight, our mother joined us for ham supper.

What better ending could there be to such a story?

if you don’t take visa, how about mastercard?

Some of my best essay ideas come from my readers. Such as, today’s topic.

A reader passed along a recent article (
Expats must safeguard visa status when leaving Mexicofrom the English-language Guadalajara Reporter. He thought it would interest me. It did. It combines two of my favorite topics -- visas and Mexican immigration procedures.

Rather than paraphrase the article, I will let it speak for itself. I could not possibly recreate the Kafkaesque eeriness of the original.

Foreign citizens who have jumped through all the bureaucratic hoops required to obtain residency visas in Mexico may run the risk of losing that legal status whenever they venture out for travel beyond the country's borders.

Officials from the Instituto Nacional de Migration (INM) issued a warning to that effect during a conference directed to a large crowd of expats on April 11 at the Lake Chapala Shrine Club.

All it takes is a seemingly minor clerical error committed when going through immigration stations at border crossings and international airports to end up getting automatically switched from Residente Temporal (RT) or Residente Permanente (RP) status to a visitor permit good for a maximum of 180 days.

According to INM's Chapala office chief Guillermina Cortés, at least a dozen lakeside area immigrants have lost their residency visas due to paperwork glitches when returning to Mexico from trips abroad. Essentially the problem stems from errors in processing the Forma Migratoria Multiple (FMM), a standard form that must be submitted individually by all foreigners entering and exiting Mexico.

For tourists traveling beyond the border zone, the two-part FMM serves as their official visitor permit. The larger top portion is stamped and collected by immigration officers upon entry to the country, with the lower segment handed back upon departure.

In contrast, as an RT or RP visa holder, any time you fly out of Mexico you will have to fill out an FMM and give it to the airline carrier to be attached to your boarding pass. The shorter lower segment of the form will be collected at the INM desk prior to entering the boarding area.

The trickier part is how the FMM is handled when reentering Mexico. Airline personnel usually hand out the forms on board the incoming flight. Residentes fill in the information boxes in the top portion of the form, including noting Mexico as country of residence (box #7), the number shown on the back of the INM green card (box #8), checking otro/other for purpose of trip (box #9).

Cortés also recommends adding the hand-written notation Residente Permanente or Residente Temporal across the top of the form and detaching the lower portion of form that is meant to be kept only by persons coming into the country as visitors.

Once off the plane, pay close attention as you go through the immigration filter. First of all show the official your INM resident green card and passport and verbally state "soy residente." Then hand over only the top portion of the FMM.

Cooperate if the official on duty insists that you fill out both segments of the form, but make sure that the gray areas designated for Uso Oficial are filled out properly before leaving the immigration desk. If there is a check mark in the section labeled Estancia Maxima 180 days you will be registered as a visitor in the INM data base, automatically losing your resident status. In that case, stand your ground to see that the mistake is corrected and the section below, titled "Unicamente Para Efectos Estadisticos," is checked off in the box labeled Tarjeta Permanente Temporal. Resident immigrants should follow the same procedures when leaving and entering the country by land or sea.

Guillermina Cortés also pointed out that RP and PT holders are not subject to paying any processing fees to airline companies or immigration checkpoints since they have already paid the requisite taxes for obtaining their visas.
I do not fly out of the Guadalajara airport. I assume that is the site of this very odd bureaucratic behavior.

But I do regularly fly out of the Manzanillo and Mexico City airports. The procedure there appears to preclude unwary expatriates with resident visas from being led astray into the ways of a tourist card.

This is what happens at the Manzanillo airport (where I am sitting right now). The first stop for resident card holders is the Mexican immigration office. The card and supporting passport are handed over to an immigration official who disappears behind closed doors -- with an air of mystery that would please Oz.

He will soon reappear with a completed immigration form. The exit portion is always filled out. Often, the official is generous enough to complete the other half of the form for the return flight.

The airline check-in representative keeps the exit portion, and the flyer is ready to head through security.

The procedure in Mexico City is a bit different. The immigration form is completed by the card holder after passing through security. Immigration approves the exit portion of the form, which is then collected by the airline when boarding the aircraft.

In both examples, though, the card holder retains the other half of the form -- the form that is then presented to immigration, along with the resident card and passport, when returning to Mexico.

I am not certain why the officials at the Guadalajara airport would use a different procedure -- a procedure that appears to be a recipe for visa hell. I cannot imagine how a residential visa could be transformed into a visitors’ visa due to the failure of the card holder to present the correct form. 

But, it is there in the newspaper. It happened to 
"at least a dozen lakeside area immigrants." And that is what seems to have occasioned the “pour-water-on-the-burning-hair” meeting. 

I am just curious. Those of you with residential visas, have you had anything like this happen to you? Or been an eyewitness to it happening to someone else?

Of course, having written this while wearing my smug mask, I may discover just how easily it can happen when I return to Mexico in three weeks.

It is my nature to tempt fate -- with its fickle finger.

Thursday, May 04, 2017

what is the most powerful passport in the world?

I am a sucker for these non-stories.

You know how they go. Some question that has never even been in your zip code is flashed in front of you, and you are expected to react with the curiosity of a gross of dead cats.

"Twelve Things You Will Not Find In Queen Elizabeth's Handbag." "The Seven Hollywood Stars Who Have Slept With American Presidents." And today's offering: "The World's Most Powerful Passport."

And there is almost always a catch. The contents of the Queen's handbag have been conjured up by a clairvoyant in Hoboken. The stars are Barbra Streisand and her cronies who sleep with a photograph of Barack Obama under their pillows.

I thought the "most powerful passport" would have a similar failing. The ranking being calculated by owners of Albanian restaurants in Dublin. But I was wrong.

It is a legitimate ranking system with objective criteria. A group known as Passport Index keeps a running tally of passports according to their power. 

And how is that "power" calculated? With one simple criterion: how many countries can the passport holder visit without obtaining a visa?

Now, I can probably come up with a different ranking system, but this one is simple and fair. And there is no nonsense about the Queen refusing to handle any currency that displays her face.

I was heading to Colombia when I first saw the summary article in Travel and Leisure magazine. I thought I might write about it while traveling to and from the Land of Bolivar. It turned out I had plenty of other topics for essays.

And it is fortunate I waited. In just a few short weeks, the rankings of the 25 most powerful passports have changed. Some rather dramatically. But, I suspect that is the tenor of our times. Nations generally are tightening their border controls.

But, I have rambled on long enough. I am certain you want to know where your passport has been ranked on the power spectrum.

But, before I tell you, you need to know what I found to be a rather dispiriting fact. There is not a big difference between the 25 countries. They all fit into six categories -- and only 5 visas separate the #1 group from the #6 group.

With that, here they are; the 25 most powerful passports in the world are issued by the following countries.

1. Germany, Singapore

Germany held the title a few weeks ago with 177 visa-free countries. The total for both Germany and Singapore is now 159.

2. Sweden (158)

3. Denmark, Finland, France, Italy, Norway, South Korea, Spain, United Kingdom, United States (157)

4. Austria, Belgium, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland (156)

5. Canada, Ireland, Malaysia (155)

6. Australia, Greece, New Zealand (154)

Just in case you are interested, of the last four countries I visited, I needed a visa for one (Australia), but not for the other three (New Zealand, Mexico, and Colombia). Mexico ranks #23 on the list (along with the Bahamas and Vatican City). Colombia is #41 (in the same group as the Russian Federation, Montenegro, and the Marshall Islands).

And who is the Mediterranean Avenue of the passport power game? No big surprise here -- Afghanistan at #93. Afghans can visit only 24 countries visa-free.

So, there you have it. No Miss Congeniality, and a lot of crown-sharing amongst the winners.

Don't you ever wonder if Barbra Streisand keeps a photograph of the queen in her handbag?

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

flowering fantasy

When I was in Colombia, we saw flowers I have never seen before.

One of the most common was a group known as heliconia. We have our share of them here in Mexico. Not surprisingly. They are native to the American tropics. You can see them almost anywhere in the Americas where the climate is hot and steamy.

Heliconia range all the way from the classy-understated variety in my courtyard (at the top of the essay) to this rather garish chain letter eerily (and accurately) called crab claw.

The crab claw was on display at an animal preserve in Pereia, Colombia. And it was not out of place with the tropical birds that called it home. (We will learn a little bit more about the preserve when I get my thoughts and photographs organized.)

I did learn two things about heliconia. One I already knew. The other that was completely new to me.

I already knew heliconia are not birds of paradise -- the bird-like flowers familiar to residents of Florida and California. Even though the leaves and the flowers of both families are similar.

Birds of paradise belong to an entirely different family -- strelitzia. But, in general usage, I suspect it makes little difference. They look similar.

The leaves and the flowers on both heliconia led me astray in another way. I cannot remember who told me heliconia were related to bananas. It made sense to me, though. The leaves look like banana leaves, and the flowers have a striking resemblance to the flowers of the banana plant.

But, that is not true. Heliconia are not related to bananas. At least, that is what a botanist outside of Armenia told us. When I told her Wikipedia says they are related, she just laughed. Using the same laugh I use when people cite Wikipedia as their source.

Taking into account Wikipedia's rather sorry track record as a perpetrator of urban myths (such as, San Patricio being named after Irish deserters from the American Army during the Mexican-American War), I am going to believe the botanist.

Of course, "related" is a rather broad term. I am related to Dick Cheney and Barak Obama -- but not in any meaningful way. And most people would say the truncated nature simply makes them non-relatives.

So, there is one of the things I learned in Colombia. I have about five large essays I need to complete and share with you. The best I can say is: they are on the way -- simmering on the back burner like any good stew.

I may even share a flower or two. When I get around to serving them up.

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

i used to play the piano

Last night. over plates of yakisoba and other Japanese delicacies, Roxane, Ed, and I shared stories of piano lessons.

Their tales were similar to others I have heard. Roxane's had the additional patina of nun villains.

My recollections were a bit different. I came to the piano as a third musical instrument. I had violin lessons in the fourth grade that did not go well, and saxophone lessons starting in the sixth grade that were marginally better.

I must have been in the eighth grade or a freshman in high school when I asked my mother for piano lessons. That is the way I remember it. But it is possible that a young pastor we knew needed the extra income, and inquired if I was interested.

Whichever version is true, Richard (I think that was his name) regularly came to our house to teach me. He was close enough in age to me that I thought he was cool. And he was a good teacher.

Early on, he told me every young pianist wants to learn how to play by ear -- and to play what is popular. He told me that was good. That was one way to learn. But I also needed to do the hard work of learning the basics of technique and music theory.

As an illustration, he asked me to play a church hymn from memory. I did. It was almost exclusively melody.

He then asked me to pull out a hymnal, and then showed me how the left hand could add texture to the music with chords creating harmony and counter-melody, as could the right hand by adding additional notes to complement the obligato. It was a perfect illustration for someone who had played two instruments that were generally stuck with one musical line.

In one lesson, he had given me incentive to learn more about music in order to reach my goal of playing what I wanted to play. At his recommendation, I enrolled in the Sherwood School of Music correspondence course.

The theory was a bit tedious. But, he kept my eye on the ultimate prize. My parents awarded my progress by selling our ancient upright piano in favor of a spiffy Yamaha spinet.

I eventually drifted away from the piano -- as I did from the violin and saxophone. But I retained my interest in music. Several of my electives in college were in the school of music.

Over the years, I accumulated about 2000 albums -- primarily classical music, but with a smattering of rock, folk, and musicals to give me enough cover to claim some type of eclecticism. That collection accompanied me to San Antonio, Denver, Merced, Kato Achaia, Oxford, Gladstone, Milwaukie, and Salem.

I cannot tell you why, but my interest in the albums waned. I suspect it had a lot to do with technological change. Even though analog quality was far superior to digital in the late 1980s, I started listening to CDs.

In Mexico, music has almost disappeared from my life. My album collection went to Goodwill -- along with the professional turntable I had packed around since I was stationed in Greece. My writing and reading has filled the part of my life that was previously dedicated to music.

But, that is changing. Even though there are few opportunities where I live to attend symphonic concerts or operas, I can get a shadow of the experience through Youtube -- or by building a new music collection. Because digital recordings have greatly improved, I can even do it with CDs. (Not so much with highly-compressed streamed music.)

On Saturday, I will head north for a brief visit. I need to take care of some legal matters that are best attended to in person.

But, while I am there, I intend to look around for some challenging recordings. Richard taught me about Aaron Copland's three categories of how we listen to music (from What to Listen for in Music):

  • the sensuous plane -- our emotional response to music where we let it wash over us (often while we are engaged in other pursuits; the way everyone experiences music at a visceral level, without much thought to what we are hearing)
  • the expressive plane -- where we try to determine what the composer's music means
  • the sheerly musical plane -- where we listen to the music as an abstract art form; or, in Copland's words: "the notes themselves and of their manipulation"
My visit to the Sydney Opera House has revived my interest in opera. When I was in high school, Verdi was the all the rage amongst the opera set. (That was before Elton John raped Aida.) In college, I moved on to Puccini and his "silver spaghetti." Sydney's production of La Boheme revived that interest.

A full set of Puccini operas would be a good start. With a smattering of Verdi and Wagner.

Who knows? The house with no name may even host the occasional night at the opera -- with or without the Marx brothers.

If you are in the neighborhood, stop by. There will be an aria about the place.

For those of you who think they do not like opera, take a look at this extravaganza of Puccini's Turandot, staged in the setting Puccini had imagined -- the Forbidden City.

Monday, May 01, 2017

walking to powers

The year must have been 1961 or so.

I was visiting my cousins in Myrtle Point. Me? I was in the sixth grade. Dan was in seventh; Marsha in eighth.

Our mothers went somewhere. My aunt Berneice put Marsha in charge of us unruly boys.

One of Marsha's duties was to prepare supper. She had just opened a tube of Pillsbury uncooked biscuits when I asked for one -- raw. To this day, I do not know why. As far as I know, I had never eaten a raw biscuit. And the idea sounds no more appetizing now.

Of course, she refused. There were only enough biscuits to go around for supper.

I did not take the refusal well. I announced I was leaving for Grandma's house in Powers -- about 20 miles away. And off I headed.

Southern Oregon's mountain roads are well-traveled and not well-designed for walkers. But I was a boy and I was on a great adventure. The miles seemed to speed past.

Somewhere between Broadbent and Gaylord (just over half the way to Powers), I started tiring. So, I did what any other adventurer would do. I stuck out my thumb.

The first car stopped. It was driven by a complete stranger.  A traveling salesman.

He was curious what I was doing out in the middle of nowhere on the narrow, winding road. When I told him my tale of righteous indignation, he started laughing so hard, I thought I would never get a ride.

"Hop in. We can't let a story like that not have a happy ending, can we?" And off we went down Highway 42 secondary to Powers. I felt as if my long-lost chauffeur had found me.

I do not recall if anyone came to pick me up that day at Grandma's. I do know I did not get into trouble. And, just to prove that life is usually not fair, Marsha did get in trouble -- for letting me go. As if she could have stopped me. She still reminds me about my recalcitrant side to this day.

I thought of Marsha -- and my Lawton Chiles impression -- yesterday while I was exercising with my walking routine. I had met my goal early in the morning by walking a total of 8 miles to and from church. In the evening, I decided to top off the day.

One thing I have learned about myself is that I am not a very good Greek philosopher. I do nothing in moderation.

When I noticed I was within striking distance of my daily record set last January, I stayed out for almost another hour to earn an award. Mind you, the award was from my telephone app. But an award it was.

On Sunday, I walked 34,550 steps for a total of almost 20 miles. That would almost get me to Grandma's house. And without Marsha setting me off on the path of walking obsession, I never could have done it on Sunday.

I think I apologized to Marsha for getting her into trouble (though, I suspect she will say I never did). But, without her, I would not have burned off those 2300 calories.

Thanks, cuz. The award is part yours.