Tuesday, July 25, 2017

somewhere over the aorta


Remember how you felt when were a child at Christmas?

You had spent weeks hunting for the perfect present for your brother. And now you had to spend tortuous days waiting for the moment on Christmas Eve when he would open a gaudily-wrapped package -- and beam with pleasure.


OK. That is how it is suppose to happen. Even though, nine out of ten times that scenario ends with the recipient thinking: "Why did you think I would like something like this?" But I always hope for the better ending.

I have been waiting to share a photograph with you for almost two weeks now. But I could not conjure up an appropriate essay to accompany it. Being stuck in bed for almost two weeks is not conducive to generating creativity. Positive creativity, that is. You cannot imagine the number of political pieces I drafted and destroyed. And we are all better for me relieving you of the burden of even seeing them.

The Thursday before my infection set in, I was sitting with my friends Gary and Joyce at their restaurant (Papa Gallo's) on the San Patricio beach. It was one of our pleasant summer evenings. The temperature was high. The humidity was blissfully low. And the tourists were flocking the beach during the first week of summer vacation.

Every photographer knows the best lighting is the hour after the sun rises and the hour before it sets. The angle of the sunlight turns everything golden.

Because the sun was highlighting the colors on the beach, I pulled out my telephone to grab a few shots. And then it happened.

The rains arrived. "Rain" is not the correct word. When it rains here, the streets fill as if Venetian gondolas were to be a primary means of transportation.

This was more of a sprinkle. A mist. Nothing bothersome enough to the beach revelers to chase them from the water or sand.

But there was enough water in the air to refract the light. That is what a scientist would say. People with a poetic streak call it a rainbow. A Claudine Longet rainbow. The type of beauty that is almost ethereal. But it did not make me smile.

And that smile is why the photograph leads today's essay. I have good news. Of sorts.

Yesterday I saw my doctor. The visible portion of my infection is gone. But, yesterday my foot was still swollen enough to pass for a balloon.

I asked the doctor if I could fly to Oregon this Saturday. He told me I could do as I chose.

That is one thing I like about Mexican doctors. They treat their patients as if they were adults perfectly capable of making their own life decisions. Unlike their bossy northern brethren.

He did suggest I see a vein specialist. He thought I might have some sort of obstruction in my capillaries that is causing my foot to swell. But he had no suggestions on a name. Because I will need a specific test result to take with me, he ordered the test and I donated blood this morning. I should have the results tomorrow afternoon.

Here is my dilemma. I would prefer to see a doctor here. After all, I live here, and I will be getting my treatment here. But I do not have a suggested name. And I have only three days left in Mexico before I fly.

I will then be in Oregon. I thought of seeing a specialist there. But the northern health system is far more complicated than it is here. Tri-care (my military medical insurance) requires my primary physician to make all specialist referrals. I don't have a primary care physician. And I am outside the open enrollment period. I have the same issues with Medicare.

I believe someone suggested the name of a circulatory system specialist in the Manzanillo-Colima-Guadalajara area when I had my first bout of cellulitis. If anyone has any suggestions on a specialist in these parts, please let me know. A telephone number would be appreciated.

So, there is your gift. A photograph that makes me smile -- and I hope it does the same for you. As for the rest of this stuff, life will sort it out.

Eventually.


Monday, July 24, 2017

hilary blows


Some stories come my way gift-wrapped.

That National Hurricane Center map is a perfect example. Take a look at the hurricane symbol off the west coast of Mexico.

Yup there is a hurricane named Hilary. OK. It is spelled with the usual spelling of one "l." But the story possibilities are legion.

And an acquaintance of mine in Barra de Navidad is already running with a list of them amongst her friends. My favorite was referring to her as the Tanya Harding of politics. Left Democrats have as little use for the defeated candidate as did -- well, a minority of voters.

But I am not going to join the cheap shot express. I was one of those voters who found nothing redeeming in the two major party candidates. And I have better things to do than rehash the past.

I can don my coat of noble rhetoric for one simple reason: Hilary is a non-story. In this case, I mean the hurricane. Even though she appears to be right in our neighborhood, Hilary, like most hurricanes in the eastern Pacific, is heading off toward Hawaii.

So, I will let her go in peace. As I will the Hillary with two "l"s.

Tomorrow I should have a health update on my leg.


Friday, July 21, 2017

my tool is spanish



If you miss the fights on Gillette's Cavalcade of Sports, don't fret. Just tune into our local message board -- Tom Zap. There is always a fight brewin'.

A week ago, an acquaintance led off a new thread with "English spoken and understood, that's the key to success for any young Mexican ... if there were ever 2 life skills courses to be taken in school in Mexico, grade 1 and up, the mandatory courses should include both English and economics/money management."

Now, I don't think he meant to start a fight. He was just expressing an opinion that English opens additional job opportunities for young Mexicans. And a number of message board posters agreed.

That is, until one poster picked up what he thought was a gauntlet. "Let me say it once again. Those of you who live here, and don't speak Spanish, are absolutely clueless about the Mexican culture. The culture is, in fact, what Mexicans think! If you can't talk to them, how can you possibly know what they think? ... This is a culture that is so polite, so kind, so creative -- but you'll never know this, because you don't live here. You live in a tropical suburb of Montreal or Vancouver."

The tone went down hill from there. Who says that Americans are the only people who have trouble talking to one another civilly?

I do agree with part of what the second poster had to say. It is important to speak Spanish in Mexico. Otherwise, you miss a lot of what is happening around you.

But the underlying assertion that language is culture is simply not true. Language is a tool of any nation's culture. But it is the means to communicate. Learning Spanish may be a step toward learning how our Mexican neighbors think.  But it will be just a step. The fact that I own a hammer does not make me a carpenter.

I thought of that exchange this week while wrestling with my bed rest. Searching through Youtube (what else is a young man going to do lying flat on his back?) for something to distract me, I ran across a little gem I had been searching for during the past twenty years -- the opening score to Clear and Present Danger. And there it was in all of its Hornerish glory.

Film scores have long been one of my favorite types of music. I started collecting movie albums in the 1960s. When I gave away my collection to Goodwill, I had over 1000 scores.

And, like everyone else with a taste for music, my preferences would change. Alex North. Elmer Bernstein. Jerry Goldsmith. John Williams.

But I finally landed on James Horner as my favorite. Starting with his quirky score for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. However, it was his work in Glory that sealed my respect for him.

In the middle of the film, there is a musical montage that honors the glory of the black soldiers marching off to the Civil War that fades into the muggy heat of the South where most of them would meet their fate. The score captures the counterpoint perfectly.

Looking through my DVD collection, I decide to sponsor my own James Horner film festival. I have only a small part of his work, but I decided I would watch each of the eleven movies I own -- listening particularly to how the score helps create the mood the director wanted to convey.


  • Star Trek II  The Wrath of Khan -- the best of the Star Trek movies. Horner's score is a masterwork of war scenes and melancholy.
  • Star Trek III: The Search for Spock -- nothing could save this dog's dinner of a movie. Horner's music is, at best, sentimental.
  • The Name of the Rose -- each piece of the score helps to underline the ongoing murder mystery in a medieval Italian monastery.
  • Glory -- one of my favorite Horner scores, relying heavily upon black choral pieces.
  • Patriot Games -- Horner extensively incorporated Celtic instruments and chords to propel this tale of IRA terrorism.
  • Clear and Present Danger -- a rather silly movie that turns Iran-Contra into a comic book villain piece, but Horner's score pulls the pieces together with an interesting mix of traditional Colombian instruments, and the movie eventually passes for a political moral tragedy. Tom Clancy hated the final print.
  • Braveheart -- more traditional instruments. This time Scottish. Brave. And with Heart.
  • Titanic -- yes, I forced myself to watch it again. Maybe because the score is far better than the story itself. More ethnic sounds. Celtic.
  • The Perfect Storm -- not a perfect movie. A good score.
  • Avatar -- all of the Marxist nonsense Cameron could not fit into Titanic, he stuffed into this green fantasy piece that is visually interesting. And Horner makes it a pleasure for the ears. It is almost as if he had become a part of Pandora. 

Horner's scores helped me through this movie marathon. And it was interesting to analyze how his style changed over the years, how he used his early work as motifs for later scores, and how he used the works of other composers to enrich his own distinctive style. It is almost impossible to listen to eight bars of a Horner score and not know the composer.

But there will  be no more. He died two years ago in California when he augured the airplane he was piloting into the ground.

While watching Clear and Present Danger, I realized the logical flaw in the argument that to know a language is to know a culture. An individual could have learned the intricacies of English, but that would still not help to understand the cultural layers of American politics in the Iran-Contra affair. Or to understand the racial tensions in Glory. Or to even begin to unpick Cameron's social Marxism in Titanic and how the British and Americans simply see the world differently.

That is not to say I do not believe that those of us who live or spend a good portion of our year in Mexico should not learn Spanish. We should.

I can testify from my own experience that even the most halting grasp of the language has introduced me to the first layer of my neighbors' world. And I am content with that. I suspect the subtext will always be a mystery to me.

But that is one reason I live here.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

on the mexican road


"They say -- I read this in this fantastically depressing book -- that when you jump from a building it's rarely the impact that actually kills you. 

"There's a photograph 
in the book called The Leaper. It's old, but it's beautiful. 
"From above the corpse of a woman 
who'd just leapt to her death. There's blood around her head, like a halo ... and her leg's buckled underneath, her arm's snapped like a twig ... but her face is so serene ... so at peace.

And I think it's because when she died ... she could feel the wind against her face."

When you're stuck in bed, there are a lot of things you cannot do. Jumping off of buildings is one.

But there are things you can do. Like watching movies.

And that is what I did yesterday. I put my Netflix subscription to use.

Now, there are a lot of movies on Netflix. Some are bad. Some are terrible. Some are so dreadful I am ashamed to admit I even bothered to read the synopsis. Well, as H.L. Menken did not say: "No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public."  Of course, he never saw "My Mother the Car."

After sifting through a ton of Cracker Jack, I actually found a couple of diamond rings. Or maybe they were zircon. But worth watching.

One was Stranger Than Fiction -- a quirky comedy about an author known for killing off the main characters in her novels. But, in the novel she is currently writing, her main character can hear her narration as she types. The quotation at the top of this essay is her musing about various methods of snuffing her boy.

"She could feel the wind against her face." The line is supposed to make us feel a bit uneasy about the author (marvelously played by one of my favorite actresses: Emma Thompson). But it had the opposite effect on me. I knew exactly what she meant.

When Beth and I would skydive the most memorable part of the experience was the rush of air past my face as I plummeted toward the earth. There is nothing like the high probability of death to make life that much more enjoyable.

I talked my mother into joining us by telling her that the feel was like riding a motorcycle. Cranked up by a couple thousand degrees.

And just what does all of this have to do with that photograph?

My friend Julio has a new motorcycle. That is not it. But he often waxes eloquent about the freedom of feeling the wind in his face.

Forty years ago, I was a rider myself. Roaring along on the highway on a motorcycle was even more American than driving a hot rod. I often credit that motorcycle for making me a libertarian.

That bicycle parked in front of Papa Gallo's last night made me smile. This guy probably could not afford a motorcycle. He could not even afford one of those kits to turn a bicycle into an engine-powered hybrid.

So, he did the next best thing. He bought some attachments that made it look as if his bicycle was tricked out with the latest in small engines -- with chrome exhausts and a sporty gas tank. For style, it is a winner.

Much of life is imagination. We are surrounded by mirages. I suspect the rider daily feels the same wind speed I felt in free fall. At least, in his mind.

"And we must remember that all these things...
... the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties...
... which we assume only accessorize our days...
... are, in fact, here for a much larger and nobler cause:
They are here to save our lives.
I know the idea seems strange.
But I also know that it just so happens to be true."

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

comfort in bed


I used to dream about spending the day in bed.

And not sleeping. Just spending the day reading, watching movies, reading a good book or two, writing. That sort of thing. Maybe dozing off now and then.

And, of course, eating.

But, like most things we claim to want, there is little joy in the getting.

To fight back this recent cellulitis invasion, my doctor has imposed a Maginot line of mandatory bed rest -- with the accompanying threat that if I do not acquiesce, he will plop me in a Manzanillo hospital. (He won't. He would lose the steady stream of my pesos when he could no longer sell me drugs from his pharmacy.)

So, here (and I do mean "here" because I have set up my Mexpatriate communication center on my bed) I am. Laid out on sheets like Imhotep awaiting wrapping and entombment. And I have been rather good at staying put. With the exception of my frequent bathroom trips, courtesy of the often-disturbing medication side effects inserted in the pill carton, and forays to the kitchen to keep myself from starving.

I am not starving, And that is a problem.

When I started my walking regimen, I also cut out some foods and reduced the portions of others. Snack foods were out. Carbohydrates were controlled. I even experimented with salads. Whenever I got hungry, I would go for a walk.

But the bed-ridden cannot rely on exercise to defeat food urges. So, I have been surrendering to my greatest vice. Enjoying food.

There is a relatively new bakery/delicatessen about three blocks from my house. La Tanda by name. Run by an affable Canadian couple -- Chris and Irwin.  They sell what one would expect -- banana bred, rye loaves, white dinner rolls, pretzels, muffins, sour dough bread, cinnamon rolls. Five days a week (they are closed on Tuesday and Wednesday), I receive an email in the morning telling me what will be available that day.

They also serve breakfast and lunch. I particularly like their roast beef sandwiches. But I may have a new favorite.

On Sunday, Irwin wrote he would be making shepherd's pie the next day, and anyone interested could place an order by noon. Now, you need to know that shepherd's pie is one of my favorite comfort foods. I still remember the pub just outside of Oxford where I had my first bite. I never knew meat, potatoes, and vegetables could taste like that.

Now, whenever given the opportunity, I order it. Thanks to the guidance of Hillary, my erstwhile tutor of things English, I also know that there is a big difference between shepherd's pie and cottage pie. Shepherd's pie is made with lamb; cottage pie is made with beef. And I like both varieties.

On my drive to the doctor on Monday morning, I picked up my order. When I returned home, I dug in.

Usually, shepherd's pie is best accompanied by another quintessential British treat -- HP sauce. There is really nothing like it in the United States. The closest I can come is to compare it to a slightly sweeter and tarter version of A1 sauce. The British I know put it on almost everything. But my larder was devoid of HP.

It is just as well. Irwin's was one of the best shepherd's pie (actually cottage; it was made with beef) I have ever eaten. Every element had retained its own particular flavor and texture (mashed potatoes; ground beef; carrots, peas, and corn), but also blended perfectly. I almost felt as if I were back at Hopcroft Holt.

And, yes. I know if I keep eating like this, my last two years of walking and cutting back on what I eat will have been for naught. But, a healing man needs to send love to his injured parts.

Shepherd's pie may or may not do that. But it is certainly good in bed.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

iguana go home


Some plot lines simply will not go away.

If Mexpatriate is a mini-series (more soap opera than situation comedy), there is a recurring dramatic device that pops up its head occasionally in our little program.  You know the type of thing I mean. Who will it be charged with murder this season -- the saintly Anna or the aloof Bates?

Mexpatriate's recurring plot line may not be filled with that measure of "human emotion and probability" (as Sullivan required of Gilbert in Topsy Turvy), but it is a fact of life in my little home town.

And my "story of more woe?" Iguanas, of course. And the running debate whether black iguanas are actually iguanas. Or if the term applies only to the green iguana.

Less than a month ago, I told you I had changed my position 
(dining out on false news). A couple of years ago, I had a conversation with a friend who told me only the green iguana was an iguana. The black iguana was a completely different genus. And I found articles supporting that position.

When I decided to share that article with you, I could no longer find it. So, I took John Maynard Keynes's apocryphal advice: "When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do, sir?" I switched back to my former position. Both are iguanas.

A week after I wrote the essay, I brought the topic up with a Mexican to whom I had just been introduced. His academic specialty is crocodiles, but he is well-versed in lizard lore. I asked him whether the black iguana is an iguana.

His immediate answer warmed my lawyerly heart. "It depends what you mean by iguana."

He explained that for scientific classification the
black iguana is Ctenosaura similis; the green iguana is Iguana iguana. Both are in the subfamily Iguania. But so are chameleons and anoles (what we thought were chameleons when we were kids -- the lizards you could buy at the county fair and pin to shirt with a thread leash).

So, I switched sides again. The black iguana is not an iguana. Scientifically.

I didn't bother writing about my new-found knowledge to avoid sounding too much like a mugwump politician. Until yesterday.

Even though I am supposed to be on constant bed rest, I wandered over to the kitchen to get a glass of water. When I walked by the overflow for my swimming pool, I saw a flash of green dart from one side to the other. At first, I thought it was one of those just-mentioned anoles.

It wasn't. It was a very young "iguana" -- probably out of the egg no more than a few days. I had found a reptile shell in the patio a couple of days earlier.

But it was trapped. The water return is no more than knee-deep. To me. For the lizard, it was as impregnable as that border wall The Donald imagines in his dreams.

I had to try three different options to rescue the little bugger. It, of course, thought I was about to eat it. Once lifted, it was out of the dustpan and into the drive. I haven't seen it since.

While acting as a fireman, I had an opportunity to get a rather detailed look at what it was. I jumped to what I thought was an obvious conclusion. It was a baby green iguana. After all it was green. 

It turns out I was wrong again. A little research let me know I had been confused by color prejudice. The young of both the green and black iguanas are green. The black iguanas turn black and gray as they age.

The easiest distinction is the markings on the tail. The fact that I have only found adult black iguanas in the courtyard should have been another clue.


So, there you have it. My fact-based conversion to a new position.

But you did get a cute photograph out of it. 


Sunday, July 16, 2017

san miguel de allende -- not getting the best


Someone should take away my computer when I am sent to bed for convalescence. I tend to get very cranky between the sheets.

Anyone who has skulked about these parts for very long knows one of my pet peeves is the popular culture obsession with creating a list of the best of everything. And there really is a list for everything. Or it seems that way.

Best motion picture. Best restaurants in states that begin and end with vowels. Best fascist dictator. If there is a category, the glitterati has a best award in the wings. The next more insipid than the last.

It may be a personal failing, but I am irrationally drawn to articles announcing the next best thing -- as obsessively as a dog is drawn to a fresh pile of horse manure.

So, you can imagine my joy when I opened my email today to discover that Travel and Leisure magazine has announced this year's best city in the world. And the winner is --  wait for it -- San Miguel de Allende.

For those of you who just checked today's date to be certain it is neither Day of the Innocents or 1 April, I am not making this up. Nor is Travel and Leisure. They are being serious. Or as serious as a magazine can be that has two nouns in its title that are the antithesis of being serious.

Yup. That colonial burg tucked in the Mexican highlands eight hours from my house has beat out Florence, Rome, and Barcelona for being just the darn best city that anyone has ever imagined.

Paris, Berlin, and London were nowhere to be seen. The title is awarded based on surveys of the magazine's readership. But, after reading the article, I am not certain the author has ever been anywhere near the place.

In its announcement of the award ("San Miguel is the Best City in the world -- Here's Proof"), we learn some fascinating facts that I bet would even shock San Miguel's full time residents.

  • San Miguel is known for its "creative South American food." I am certain there are South American restaurants in San Miguel, but I do not recall any. But, by "South American food," the editors mean "mole, gorditas, tacos, and tequila." Please recall this is a magazine that exists because of geography. Mexico is not in South America. Its membership in the North American Free Trade Agreement might be a hint as to which continent it is part of.
  • "San Miguel is one of the most authentic, creative, and cost effective destinations we've visited." Creative? I will grant that. But "authentic?" Perhaps in the same way that Blackpool is authentically English or Williamsburg is authentically American. And "cost effective?" Maybe if you are accustomed to living in Manhattan or Tokyo. OK. That is an exaggeration. How about Oslo?
  • The author also seems to think "El Jardin" is some sort of quaint nickname for the Central Plaza -- when, of course, that is simply the Spanish term for "garden," and that is what Mexicans call their squares in most towns I have visited.
  • "San Miguel de Allende is known for its brightly-colored architecture." Maybe "brightly colored" if we are comparing it to Edmonton or Calgary. But most visitors to the rest of Mexico know San Miguel is relatively subdued in its color scheme -- and that it is enforced by code in the central area. Which some people confusingly call "El Centro."
  • The Church of the Immaculate Conception is Catholic.
  • My favorite, though, is the bold assertion that General Ignacio Maria Allende Unzaga was "a hero of the Mexican Revolution." That is like calling George Washington a noted Civil War general. Allende, as you all know, was the military leader of Mexico's War of Independence.
About that point, I had nothing in my spleen to vent. The rest of the article is just as vacuous.

Based on all that, being called the best city by Travel and Leisure is the equivalent of being told by your idiot cousin Harold that you are the smartest person he has ever met.

I am happy for San Miguel de Allende. I like the place. I like the people I know there. It is my cultural oasis.

But it deserves better than this slapdash award.

All things considered, I would prefer receiving its "Best Fascist Dictator" award. It couldn't screw that up any more than it did this piece.


On the other hand, just writing this has made my leg feel better.


Friday, July 14, 2017

popping pills

Yesterday, I drafted a list of stories I want to share with you about some of the pleasures and problems of living in Mexico.

But that list did not survive its first contact with time.

Last night, at dinner, my left foot swelled to the point I could have made a creditable audition as the eponymous character in The Elephant Man. That is usually the first sign my dreaded cellulitis is in the wings ready to take a bow.

And, I was correct. In the middle of the night, the too-familiar symptoms took turns making jmy night far from restful. Chills. Sweats. Deliriums. Joint aches. Headache. Cough. Fever. High blood pressure. And a very red and swollen leg.

This will be attack number five. The first was the worst when I had to be hospitalized. I managed to get ahead of the ensuing outbreaks. Just barely.

Having learned my lesson, I went to the doctor this morning and returned with five boxes of medication. Mostly antibiotics.

And, unlike my other forays into cellulitisland, I am going to stay in bed through the weekend. On Monday I will talk with the doctor in person.

Until then, I am drinking water, popping pills, and resting in bed with my crimson leg elevated.

Sometime next week, I will be back with you. 

Thursday, July 13, 2017

stealing the truth


Hearing his friend (and wit rival) James Whistler conjure up a particularly good bon mot, Oscar Wilde said: "I wish I had said that."

Whistler responded: "You will, Oscar. You will."

Plagiarism is one of those vices at which we turn up our collective noses. And there is good reason for that reaction. Khaled Hosseini, in The Kite Runner, put it perfectly: "When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth." 


It was that sin that got Joe Biden booted out of the 1988 presidential race when he pocketed a speech by the Bristish Labor leader, Neil Kinnock, and then passed off the prose as his own. He even invented a family coal miner history -- confusing his roots with both those of Kinnock and Loretta Lynn.

Well, the speech got him booted -- and a similar act of plagiarism in law school -- and an exaggeration of his academic record -- and the lifting of more speech material from other politicians. (All of that seems like far more innocent times when we consider last year's presidential race pitting two candidates who wouldn't have known Truth if they had been introduced to it at a campaign fundraiser.)

I have had great fun with Biden's 1988 gaffes over the years. But it appears I may owe an apology to Goofy Uncle Joe. Today's draft essay turned out to be almost an exact duplicate of one I wrote four years ago.

On Monday I was in Manzanillo for a dental appointment. Because I had arrived a half hour early, I cecided to get some steps in for the day by walking the back streets of the Santiago neighborhood.

About 10 minutes into the walk, I glanced up a hill and saw what you see at the top of this post. It looked like a Disney set for a production of Hansel and Gretel in Mexico -- directed by John Waters.
That last sentence sounded familiar. It should have. I wrote the exact same words on 27 June 2013 after arriving early at my dentist in Manzanillo, going for a walk in the Santiago neighborhood, and spotting the same house on the same hill (the witch who ate my brain).

So, I read through my former essay -- and deleted the draft I had hoped to publish today. The older version was far better written. Whistler and Wilde would have been pleased with it. Certainly, the photograph was better.

And the draft for today? It could have been written by some dreary bureaucrat in the Kremlin -- using some of Joe Biden's pilfered email as source material.

There is a warning here. Gilbert and Sullivan were repeatedly criticized for stealing their material -- from themselves. And each iteration of an oft-sung tune became less interesting. I should have been duly warned by their experience.

Rather than serve up warmed-over old material, and making a hash of it, I will refer you back to the original essay. And we will just forget that for one dreary moment I almost passed off mutton dressed as lamb.

But, because I am riding my moral steed today, let me give you the full Hosseini quotation.
Now, no matter what the mullah teaches, there is only one sin, only one.  And that is theft.  Every other sin is a variation of theft...  When you kill a man, you steal a life.  You steal his wife's right to a husband, rob his children of a father.  When you tell a lie, you steal someone's right to the truth.  When you cheat, you steal the right to fairness...  There is no act more wretched than stealing, Amir.
Indeed, there is no more wretched sin than stealing. And we do not need to point to politicians to prove the point. For me, the lesson is right at my desk.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

getting carded


Meet Louise Lambiotte.

That is not her in the photograph.

No. I am wrong. It is her in the photograph. If an artist's work is who she is, then that is Louise.

And she is an artist -- the creator of exquisite greeting cards. Several years ago, "scrapbook" greeting cards became the rage. Some are quite clever. Others, as in all art, miss the mark.

Louise's cards are practically perfect in every way. And the proof is in the praise I receive from the people who receive them.

In many ways, I am an old-fashioned guy. Relationships matter a lot to me. Over the years, I have acquired friends and acquaintances on at least four continents. School chums. Air Force buddies. Fellow survivors of working for the same employer.

But friends are like gardens. They need tending. One of my methods to weed out relationship breaches is to keep in touch with birthday and anniversary cards. Signed, of course, with my fountain pen.

There are two challenges here in Mexico in my desire to keep in touch. The first is the mail system.

I am a regular user of the Mexican postal service. When I moved here eight years ago, letters going north or coming south took about 10 days to two weeks to arrive. A couple of years ago, mail headed south started taking far longer. I regularly receive late Christmas and birthday cards.

But there was a simple solution. At the first of each month, I check my list for two months out and send my cards off to Asia, Europe, South America, and North America with plenty of time to spare.

The second problem is a bit more problematic. Finding greeting cards in our little village is difficult. I used to resolve that problem by either bringing cards back with me when returning from one of my jaunts -- or I would order them through Amazon Mexico.

You may recall I found a local solution to my bare card box last year (moving to mexico -- staying in touch). Well, it was time once again to visit Louise to purchase more of her artistry.

And purchase I did. Birthday cards. Anniversary cards. Tools to hone the essence of friendship.

If you live anywhere near here and you need to purchase greeting cards, I suggest getting in touch with Louise. And, if you think you do not need any cards, take a look at her work. You will change your mind. Your friends will thank you.

I have just finished writing notes in my cards for September. They will be in the mail this afternoon.  So, Roy, David, Judy, Beth, Hillary, and Kimmie, you have something to look forward to.

And I look forward to knowing that I can share part of my life with good friends.

With best wishes, I am, as always,

S.


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

even a bowl of cherries has pits


It is cherry season in the Pacific Northwest.

I know that because it is cherry-buying season in Mexico.

Yesterday I drove to Manzanillo to have my teeth cleaned. Ever since I returned from Oregon early last month, I have intended to drive south to what passes for a big city in this part of Mexico.

When I first moved here, I would drive to Manzanillo once a week to pick up my mail at Mailboxes Etc.  That was before I discovered the Mexican mail system provided service just as good for a fraction of the price. Now, I go to Manzanillo every other month or so -- when I have some need to make the frustrating drive.

As I just told you, the impetus for this trip was to sit in a chair while my dentist found every sensitive spot in my mouth. I am not a very good patient. But, for $500 (Mx) (less than $28 (US)), I walked out of her office with a mouth as shiny as the grill on a 1953 Mercury.

I have a shopping routine when I am in town -- starting with La Comer (formerly known as Comercial Mexicana). It is one of those big box stores where you can buy a refrigerator, as well as the containers and food to fill it.

I would say that La Comer is a Mexican Walmart, but there is a real Mexican Walmart -- called Walmart. It is in the next block, and is usually my second stop in Manzanillo.

I can purchase almost everything I need in our local village stores. But, I stop at La Comer and Walmart for specialty items -- most often, imported foods. You know, like cherries.

This year, I did not find cherries in either store. But they were at my usual third stop -- Sam's Club.

Sam's Club almost always has some fruit or vegetable offering that I cannot find anywhere else. And cherries, my favorite fruit, will be hard to beat for the rest of the year.

They were a little rough-looking. That is understandable. They came all the way from Selah, Washington -- the hometown of my friend Rod Peters.

To survive their 3,000 mile journey, cherries need to be refrigerated. And refrigeration has a deleterious effect on fruit. A high percentage of the moisture is sucked right through the skin leaving it looking like one of those Texas matrons at a political fundraiser.

At my age, I am far more interested in substance. Surface beauty is almost always a distraction. So, I bought a 2 pound box.  I know you are going to ask. For $167.77 (Mx); a little over $9 (US).

I would gladly have paid more. Cherries are not only good in themselves. They harbor memories that are released with the first  bite.

As I drove back to Barra de Navidad, munching on my treasures, I was transported to the 1970s. Driving my 1967 red Oldsmobile Cutlass convertible through the Cascades with a five pound bag of freshly-picked cherries from Hood River in the passenger seat. They cost me $1 a pound. With the sun on my face and the wind streaming through my hair, I drove for hours spitting cherry pits along the highway. Stevie Cherry Pit, you might call me.

Now I live in Mexico -- and the opportunity to eat cherries while driving are reduced. To a degree. But, thanks to NAFTA, I can still have my Selah cherries and eat them, too.

And what could be better than that?


Thursday, July 06, 2017

moving to mexico -- road hazards


Driving in Mexico is a joy. Especially for those of us who are adrenaline junkies.

To enjoy the experience, all you need to do is to be flexible enough to learn new road customs. Not necessarily, new laws. Customs and laws are seldom the same thing. In fact, most customs tend to contradict law.

Here is a perfect example. Up north, we are trained to stop at stop signs. Full stops. Custom and law coincide.

There are a handful of stop signs in the little village by the sea where I live. But no one stops at them unless there is traffic. Drivers clear to the left and the right, and then barrel right through. Stopping is an invitation for the car following to end up in your trunk.

Then, there is the multiple choice test we all face every day. The car in front of you has his left turn signal on. What is he telling you?


1) I am turning left.
2) The way ahead is clear; it is safe to pass me.
3) I spent several years living in Miami Beach. We Floridians drive around with our left flashers on. Always. It is the custom.
4) I used my turn signal to pass a car 10 kilometers ago, and I cannot hear the clicking because my radio is playing -- loud. Real loud.
5) I am actually driving with my four-way flashers on; but only my left light works.


But, my absolute favorite is the designation of a road hazard. Your car breaks down on a curvy, narrow road? Put several huge rocks in the road right at the curve.

Someone has stolen the metal manhole cover in the street in front of your house? Don't bother with a warning sign. Stick several dried palm fronds in the hole as an international warning sign that to drive over them is to invite a visit to Manuel's axle shop.

I saw a variation on that warning this week. While on my afternoon walk, Bob, a neighbor, warned me to be careful as I rounded the corner. There was a danger I could be garroted.

I chuckled. I shouldn't have.

Sure enough, a utility line of some sort was hanging just at my throat level. But the neighbors had already responded to the emergency by placing a full trash bag and the ubiquitous dried palm frond in the street, as well as tying a bull-friendly red cloth on the line.

I have no idea what pulled the line down. A lot of big boats on trailers get moved down that street. I suspect one of them snagged the line and pulled it down. But that is just my factless speculation.

However it got there, it was a great hazard for cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, and otherwise-preoccupied power walkers. In the next couple of days, I watched several potential victims veer out of trouble's way just in time -- thanks to the informal warnings.

The neighbors called the electric company. A driver was dispatched the next day only to discover it was not a power line. That left the possibility of it being a telephone or cable line. When I walked through in the dark last night, I could not see if the line was still down.

It is easy for those of us who grew up in the north to expect these hazards to be roped off with police tape or road barricades. But I am quickly coming around to the Mexican way of warnings.

Like anything else, when driving on a Mexican road, you have to be far more aware of your surroundings. Unlike governments up north, no one here is going to do your thinking for you.

And I find that quite liberating.


Wednesday, July 05, 2017

did anyone see a blue ox wandering around?


My experiment is a success.

I think.

Just a month ago, I started a major landscaping project (the vineless trellis). Each of my four bedrooms has a vine-covered trellis to provide shade and privacy. Well, all four did. Now, only three are in full operation.

The vines have overgrown their welcome. I allowed them to grow too high on their trellises. When they do that, they tend to bunch up at the top looking like a cross between the hairdos of Al Sharpton and Donald Trump. They meet their purpose; they just are not very aesthetic.

Last month, I decided to try an experiment on one trellis. I cut it shorter than my haircut at Officer Training School -- knowing full well that this variety of flowering vine thrives on abuse. But I had no idea how quickly it would respond.

Respond it has. As you can see from the photograph. The growth is not yet thick enough to provide either shade or privacy. That is why I started with my brother's room: because they are not here. By the time they return, the growth should be thick enough to do what it was meant to do.

Now, I can start on the other three. Two of the bedrooms should not have guests this summer. Without the vines, the sun would heat up the rooms through those glass doors. But, I should be done before anyone arrives this winter.

My bedroom presents its own problems. It will be last. I may even wait until the winter to destroy the vines that help retain the cooling effect of my night air conditioning.

One thing I can always count on is the ability of plants to grow here. The tropics subject almost every plant to a petri dish of diseases. To survive, plants grow quickly.

And that may turn out to be my best ally in my Paul Bunyan parable.


Tuesday, July 04, 2017

pass the potato salad


I almost forgot today was the Fourth of July.

That should not be surprising. There is nothing in my little village to remind me of the day. Why should there be? The very concept of the Fourth of July is as foreign here as a good chili dog.

The only reason I know Canada Day has arrived is through the good graces of my Canadian friends who invite me to their annual soirée. But none of my American friends are so inclined.

There are American colonial outposts in Mexico -- San Miguel de Allende, Chapala, the embassy in Mexico City -- where there will be big celebrations today honoring America's 241st birthday. But not in my sleepy little village.

This is the time of year when smug journalists start lecturing us that we do not know what we should know about our independence from Britain. Facts that we actually already know.

Facts, such as, John Adams thought 2 July should be the day to celebrate because that is the day the Continental Congress approved a resolution for independence. 4 July was the day Congress approved the final revised Declaration of Independence.

But, we all learned that in school. It is not news. Unless, of course, that particular memory has gone on vacation in the darkest corners of the Congo.

At picnics across America, politicians of all stripes will stand in front of potato salad-munching citizens to declare we need to look to our roots with the founding fathers -- men who, though they disagreed, could argue ideas without being rude. And we will all nod our heads in hopeful agreement. As if we were amnesiacs.

Politics in America has never been a very civil process. We are partisan people who love to argue with one another. It started right at the beginning.

It is true that the members of the Continental Congress were sons of the Enlightenment. They had strong feelings for and against a war with Britain.

But that was merely inside Independence Hall. Here is another fact from school we may have pushed out of our minds.

The colonies were greatly divided on the issue of independence. Gallup was not then working the telephones, but historians estimate one-third of the colonists were for independence, one-third were against, and one-third were simply too busy harvesting crops to worry about the tyranny of George III.

That split persisted through the war. George III may have sent his navy and his German mercenaries to terrorize the colonists, but Americans fought Americans, as well. One of the largest fraternal battles was the Battle of King's Mountain in South Carolina, where all of the combatants were American -- presaging the Civil War 85 years later.

When the war formally ended in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris, the colonists who had remained loyal to the Hanoverian king had a hard choice to make. Throughout the war, they had been harassed by patriot committees. Now, there was no king to protect them. (The patriots, of course, would have been in a worse situation had they lost. Many of them would have decorated the limbs of the nearest tree.)

Some toughed it out and stayed in what they considered to be their homeland. Others left. About one in 40.

My family may have been part of that exodus. My grandmother's ancestors crossed the border from Vermont to Quebec and lived in Canada for almost a century before slipping back into Minnesota in the 1880s. That, of course, means I am more Canadian than most of my northern acquaintances.

I have no idea whether they were loyalists or patriots. But it does make for a good story.

And it may explain why every Fourth of July in Salem, I would unfurl the flag of the United Kingdom and display it in front of the house. Maybe DNA is destiny.

Or maybe I just like to stir the pot.

Either way, I hope all of my American friends have a great Fourth of July.

Me? I am heading out on my morning walk proudly wearing my "I am an enemy of the state" pin. After all, my American ideals were not packed away for my trip south.  


Monday, July 03, 2017

freddie mercury on wing


The queens are invading.

The possibilities with that sentence are endless. But this is merely another nature report from the patio of the house with no name.

Yesterday I was trimming the vines when a large insect buzzed past my head. I knew immediately what it was -- one of our nasty red wasps that pack a sting as strong as any scorpion. The color was right -- red. The size was right -- yuge, as any Queens resident would say.

But the shape wasn't quite right. If it was a wasp, it had been dining out far too often.

I am wary of the red wasps. They hang around the house often. And, even though I am not allergic to their sting, my brother is. So, I do my humanitarian best to ensure they either move on -- or die a Dow-inspired death.

When my visitor landed on the ground, I could tell it was not a wasp. It was an ant. In this case, a queen ant who had flown from the nest where she was born to start her own colony.

And it was not just any ant queen. It was a leaf cutter ant queen. My nightmare had followed me from my days of living on the laguna in Villa Obregon. I was to find six other queens on the patio yesterday and today.

In my five years of living with the destruction of leaf cutter ants, I learned to admire them. If they had not destroyed so many of my garden plants, I could have stood in awe at their efficiency and tenacity. What I learned, instead, were a couple of lessons.

Leaf cutters, like all ants (and maybe all social insects) are not really individual creatures.  At least, not in the way we think of individuality. They are one large amorphous organism, with the queen at the center of the beast.

Think of the human circulatory system. The blood cells could not exist without the rest of the body. And that is how it is with ants. If you have ever seen leaf cutter ants trailing out from their nest to bring back freshly-cut foliage, the circulatory analogy comes to life. They are like blood cells traveling in a line bringing back life to the colony.

The second thing I learned is about that foliage. Leaf cutters are very picky at what they cut. And their choice appears to be seasonal with the needs of the nest. Some weeks, it would be my prized hyacinths. And then it would be the leaves on the flamboyant tree.

That may be due to the fact that the colony does not eat the cut foilage. Leaf cutters are farmers. The leaves form a base culture to raise a fungus that is fed to the young. If you want to see what the fungus looks like, I wrote about it several years ago in them.

The third lesson I learned is that once the leaf cutters move in, the best you can do is set up a futile defense line. They will always prevail.

I tried the usual poisons when the ants were brazen enough to tunnel into my yard. I would kill off an entryway only to have another open up the next night. I gave up on that approach when I learned leaf cutters can have colonies so complex that they cover a square mile.

And, even if I could stop up all the holes, leaf cutters are travelers. I once found a wide line of them streaming into my garden. I tracked it back to its origins -- in a neighbor's field almost 200 yards from my house.

There is very little in my current patio for leaf cutters to eat. I have never seen them eat the latex-filled leaves of my vines.

Even so, I did my best to send off all of the current invasion of queens to live with Marie Antoinette and Mary, Queen of Scots -- or wherever decapitated queens are warehoused.

If leaf cutters are going to attack my landscaping, it will have to be an outside job.


Saturday, July 01, 2017

canadians on rice



What am I thinking?

I spend the morning writing about construction on rock mounds when I should be focused on what is important. After all, it is Canada Day -- or as some traditionalists still call it: Dominion Day.

I do not need to tell you that I am about as Canadian as grits. But that does not matter in these parts. For some reason, Canadians are attracted to this little piece of Mexico. At times, I think I am living in Regina.

So, the Canadians have adopted me as their only partially-house-trained pet. And I am going to be joining a group of them this evening to celebrate Canada's 150th birthday.

To an American, it seems an odd day. When we think of national birthdays, we imagine George Washington giving a left hook to George III's nose.

But Canada does not have that type of break with its colonial masters. When national independence came, it was gradual. Something like a glacier near Banff.

On 1 July 1867, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick joined together as the Dominion of Canada within the British Empire. With dominion status came limited administrative and political power. As yet there was no Canadian constitution. It was tucked under Queen Victoria's throne, thank you very much. Canada would not get its own constitution until 1982.

That is the way Canadians seem to prefer life to be. When change comes, it is slow. But when it is done, it is complete.

I have already sampled the dinner that will be served tonight at Papa Gallo's. It plays off of the colors of the Canadian flag. Chicken with grilled red peppers and onion on a divided bed of red and white rice surrounded by two pools of sauce -- a white feta and a red cranberry.

That is my type of gradual change,

Happy Canada Day, y'all.


eating el cerrito



Nothing attracts attention like construction equipment.

Especially, big equipment. I suppose Freud would have something to say about that. And it would undoubtedly be wrong.

Federal Highway 200 is the major north-south highway in this part of Pacific Mexico. It stretches in the north from Tepic and runs all the way south to the Mexico-Guatemala border. The highway builders ran into lots of obstacles on the planned route -- including one in Melaque.

There is a large hill just north of town that helps create the largest lagoon of fresh water on Mexico's Pacific coast. But a rock spur along the edge of the lagoon prevented the highway from continuing on its projected staight path.

Rather than go over the top of the spur, the builders blasted their way through the rock leaving a small isolated hill. You can still see the construction marks on the walls of the small pass.

That little hill has always fascinated me. Probably because of the view from the top. It looks out over the lagoon and the bay to our local five-star hotel.

Most people would pay a pretty peso for a home with a view like that. Assuming they could put up with the insects that infest the area. Its current official use is as a tsunami evacuation site for the secondary school students.

About a year ago, a fellow blogger wrote that whoever owns an interest in the hill was willing to part with it -- the interest in the hill, that is. A price was not mentioned.

But something is now afoot. A couple of weeks ago, heavy equipment started pulling apart the rocks on top of the hill and hauling them off in dump trucks. It appears a flat site is being created, perhaps as a building site.



I walk by there frequently on my exercise outings. But I have not seen anyone who was in a position to be cross-examined by Mexpatriate.

It would be nice to know if there is a residence or a business that will top our mini-Monticello.

There is a reason this project fascinates me, and it is embedded in that Monticello reference. In high school, I was part of an American heritage group that visited the east coast. Monticello was my most memorable part of the trip. After all, it was where my libertarian hero Thomas Jefferson lived.

My family would often drive down the Willamette Valley to visit family in southern Oregon. The long valley is dotted with multiple hillocks that reminded me of Jefferson's Monticello. I often dreamed of buying one of those hills and building a house on its summit.

My dream was never realized. I now wonder if someone else is about to have theirs fulfilled.