Thursday, July 24, 2014

look for small pleasures

There are other pleasures in life than traveling to London or having dinner at Enotecha Pinchiorri.  As pleasant as Trafalgar Square and Florence are.

Sometimes, those memorable moments are right where we are.  More accurately, they are always right where we are.  We just need to see them.  Or “perceive with seeing” as Old Sherlock would say.

I am currently indulging in one of Mexico’s traditions,  Waiting.  In this case, waiting for the Telmex repair man, who, I hope, will use his wizardly skills to restore telephone service to the house.  I can then drive to Manzanillo on Friday to pick up a new modem.  As my brother would say: everything has a sequence.

So, here I sit with no communication to the outside world.  No house telephone.  No internet.  Even my mobile telephone is not helping.  I apparently used up all of my purchased minutes by messaging them away yesterday.  (Yes.  I did solve my SIM card issue.  And, once I get over the embarrassment, I will tell you about it.  Probably, subtly.) 

Other than not knowing when I am going to get this piece posted, it feels rather good to be circumstantially incarcerated.  Instead of rushing off to eat at my favorite breakfast restaurant this morning, I slept in and started my day with some left over pasta.  Claiming time as one’s own is a great luxury of retirement -- something I should do more often.

Last night, a pocket rainstorm swept over the mountains -- dropping just enough rain to cool the night to let me I sleep well for the first time since I left Bend.  A good night’s sleep always improves my outlook on the day.

And that is why I am sharing this photograph.  The subject is nothing special.  Just a mop left hanging on the clothes line by Dora.  But its simplicity, tied with the rather baroque shadows of the courtyard plants, struck me as just the type of experience I so easily ignore.

Today, I didn’t.  I hope it adds a little something to your day.

In its own way, it is more memorable than the Palace of Westminster.

Note:  The Telmex guy just left.  And, wonder of wonders, he also replaced my modem.  I am now running one day ahead of schedule.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

another one drops

Today I was going to introduce you to my new cellular telephone -- the HTC One M8.  Recommended by my well-informed and talented niece, Kaitlyn.

Instead, you get another shot of my kitchen counter.  The one that is starting to look like a morgue slab.  For the electronic deceased.

Let me start at the beginning.  As you know, I left my Samsung telephone in the back seat of a taxi in Barcelona.  (That would make a good opening sentence for a novel.  But not right now.)  After spending a month in Europe without a telephone, the first thing I did when I returned to Mexico was to contact Kaitlyn.  She always knows what constitutes cutting edge in technology.

Easy, she said.  There is only one choice.  The recently-released HTC One M8.  (Yeah.  Yeah.  I know I already gave you its full moniker.  But I like typing it out.  It sounds like the name of a spiffy handgun.)

There was only one problem.  It is not yet available in Mexico.  But that is why Amazon exists.  I ordered it, and was going to have a friend mule it down, until I decided to head north on my own.

And there it was at my brother’s house when I arrived -- all charged up and ready to go.  A quick trip to T-Mobile for a nano chip to replace the old SIM card I use in The States, and I was ready to go.  For my three weeks in Washington and Oregon, it proved to be a boon companion.  A veritable laptop in my pocket.

Of course, the moment I landed in Mexico, I had no telephone service.  Well, I did, but it was on roam, and my mama didn’t raise no economic fool.  I turned it off until I could get a Telcel nano chip.

That was supposed to be yesterday.  I walked into the local Telcel shop.  The clerk pulled out a nano chip, and I opened my telephone and ejected the tray containing -- nothing.

There should have been a T-mobile chip in the tray.  We looked around to see if I had dropped it.  The slot is so small we couldn’t see if anything was in it.  But, when I turned on the telephone, it still registered “roam.”  That means the chip is stuck inside.  And no matter of tapping would set it free.

Rather than start probing the slot, I decided I would drive to Manzanillo today to a mobile telephone repair shop – or the large Telcel store.  Certainly, I cannot be the only guy who has had a card stick in his slot.  (It reminds of my first grade experience of getting a glass bead stuck in my nose.  Don’t ask.)

I was going to combine the trip with a stop at the Telmex office to pick up a modem and file a service request for my dead telephone line.  But The Best Landlady in the World is already tackling that for me.

The list of Steve’s electronic goods that work as advertised is getting shorter.  But there are still a few candidates that could bite the Melaque dust.  For the moment, Mexico has provided me with enough challenges.

But here is some pleasant news from Mexico.  The moment the airplane touched down at the Manzanillo airport, my blood pressure dropped to levels I have not seen since – well, ever.  As far as I know.    It was 103/65 last night.  Even with all of these little bumps in the road, I am as calm as my mother.

Mexico is a good teacher.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

death walks the line

Death comes quickly on the beach.  Especially for electronics.

Early yesterday morning, we experienced one of our denture-rattling thunderstorms.  Around 5 AM.  I know the time because I had just slipped onto my bed and drifted off when I woke to bright flashes and almost–immediate booms.

When the lightning and the thunder are that close together, so is the risk of damage to my electronic buddies. 

Because I had not yet set up my usual computer table array, my laptop, Kindle, and new telephone were plugged directly into the electrical outlets in my bedroom – without their usual prophylactic surge protectors.  They were easy to yank out of the wall.

I headed into the living room.  My modem and telephone were connected through a high-quality voltage regulator and surge protector.  I spent the extra money on that piece because I knew that I could not always be present when thunderstorms struck.  They could wait.

Instead, I went into the kitchen and unplugged the microwave.  While I looked out the back door at the sound and light show, I considered unplugging the telephone-modem connection.  Just then, a bolt of lightning struck somewhere nearby.  It felt as if the house had been hit.  My friend, Ed the Artist, said the same thing about what I suspect was he same strike.

The clicking in the corner of the living room was loud enough that I knew something had happened.  Apparently, three somethings.  The modem was dead.  The surge protector was dead.  And, with a little investigation, it appeared the telephone line to my house was dead – even though some nearby neighbors still have telephone service.

Like everything in life, there is a sequence.  I need to call Telmex and report a dead modem before I can pick up a new one in Manzanillo.  That is problematic.  In the past, the company has required me to call from the telephone line associated with the internet connection.  The line that is dead as a toe-nail.

I will also need to buy a new surge protector.  Probably once again from Office Depot in Manzanillo.  That is fine because I need to drive down there to purchase a nano SIM card (or, Slim card, as we say in Mexico) for my new HTC.  It has had no connection since I flew out of Los Angeles on Saturday.

Of course, none of this matters until I can figure out how to get telephone service restored to the house.  I suspect the problem may be in the house’s wiring.  And that is a topic I will need to discuss with my ever-efficient landlady.

When people ask me why I moved to Mexico, I tell them the primary reason was because I had become too comfortable living in Salem.  I wanted to wake up somewhere each morning and not know how I was going to get through the day.

Sunday morning Mexico delivered in spades.  Just another adventure in what is turning out to be a very good life.

Monday, July 21, 2014

dr. lópez obrador has a cure for you

I thought the circus had come to town.

A stage had been erected on the village plaza.  Chairs were set out in tidy rows.  Loud, distorted music filled  the air.

It wasn't a circus.  But I was close.  A presidential candidate had come to town.  Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  The two-time loser in his attempt to be president of Mexico.  Affectionately known by his own acronym -- AMLO.

I do not buy his particular brand of snake oil.  But many Mexicans do.  After his razor thin loss in 2006, he had himself inaugurated as Legitimate President in a populist ceremony in Mexico City's giant public square -- though the election results said otherwise. 

Some people still consider him as their wronged and moral leader.  And a few of them showed up in San Patricio on a very hot Sunday afternoon.  For people to brave the 97 degree heat (with a matching pair of humidity trousers) for a political speech means the person is either an avid fan -- or a blogger in need of a story.

But AMLO was not in San Patricio to reminisce with the troops of his pretender presidency.  He was here to seek support for his role as the William Jennings Bryan of Mexico -- a third shot at the elusive presidency.

That analogy runs deeper than it first seems.  Like Bryan, AMLO is on a moral crusade.  I know that most Mexican politicians rail against corruption in their speeches.  For AMLO, the term "corruption" peppers every other paragraph.  And most of his disdain is aimed at the current occupant of the presidency.

He is more competent than fiery in his speeches.  But the acid in his voice whenever he mentions President Peña Nieto is not the least bit subtle.  He appears to have no respect for the man's reform platform.

In fact, he argues that Peña Nieto is one of the most corrupt politicians Mexico has experienced because he is trading away Mexico's patrimony to foreign interests.  If you do not have your Mexican political code book open, that means the president is allowing the United States to control Mexico's oil.  For people enamored with the Mexican Revolution, them's fightin' words.

A case can be made against Mexico modernizing its deep-sea oil capabilities, but AMLO is not interested in that type of debate.  There is a bloody shirt to be waved, and he is in the ring flying it as a banner above his early entry into the 2018 presidential election.  Reactionary socialism is a sight to be witnessed.

But he is doing it with an ever-decreasing power base.  In 2006, he had a broad center-left coalition.  Much of it came apart by the time of his 2012 run when he ran as a left-wing candidate.  But even the main partner of that campaign, his own PRD, tired of his increasingly obsessive need for control.

So, he took his football and left the PRD, setting up his a new political party -- the National Regeneration Movement (MORENA).  That is why he was in our little village.  Trying to stir up the political blood of my neighbors.

The handful of people who showed up in the heat were duly stirred.  To me, he seemed like a cross between Ross Perot and Ralph Nader.  A man who was once popular, but who increasingly talks more and more only to himself.  Like Bryan.

At least, I got a story out of it.  And a bit of sun. 

Sunday, July 20, 2014

cheesed off

First, it was wine.  Now, it’s cheese.

With wine, it was the French.  With cheese, it is the full force of the European Union.  (And that is more annoying, than frightening.)

The French started the fight.  They were offended that California was churning out vats of bubbly and calling it champagne.  In Europe, champagne designates a sparkling wine produced under certain conditions.  And only within the confines of a province that existed when Louis XVI still had a head attached to his shoulders.

Of course, the champagne from California wasn’t champagne.  And anyone who tasted it knew that.

But the French were not satisfied.  Rather than give in, the Californians and the French came to an entente.  The label now reads “California champagne.”

Having toasted victory with a glass of Moet and Chandon, the Europeans have put Americans on notice that the other item on the chardonnay and brie circuit is next.  Cheese.  Well, cheese that is associated with either a European region or nation.  Starting with feta and parmesan.

The Europeans may be rather late to the party on parmesan.  Almost all Americans grew up (and still grow up) believing the dandruff in the green Kraft tube is parmesan.  What glamor once attached to the name is long gone.  It would be like the French getting upset about Americans using the term "French fries".  (And we have already had our donnybrook over that term.)

The Americans have good taste on their side in the dispute over parmesan.  “Parmigiano Reggiano” -- the real stuff -- is a protected trademark.  If the product cannot prove its true Italian provenance, the name does not go on.  For the Europeans to get all ticked off over the use of "parmesan" is like the Cotton Council suing me for infringing on its trademark.

I suspect this dispute will get resolved in a manner similar to the champagne dispute.  “American parmesan” has a nice ring to it.

But the Europeans better keep their hands off of that abomination known as spaghetti bolognese in America.  Anyone who has ever tried denying a child his “children’s spaghetti” knows that the Italians would not have a chance.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

she's still here

She wasn't one of those performers who slipped off into the world of decreasing fame after her career ended in her 40s.

That was not Elaine Stritch's style.  She burst onto the Broadway stage in her early 20s and kept right on going almost up to her death on Thursday.

People who want to read her biography can head on over to Wikipedia.  You will find a lot of facts there.  I want to indulge in some personal reminiscences. 

Obituary writers often say that a performer's work lives on long after they are dead.  That may be true for painters and film actors.  But it is not true for the theater.  And that is where Elaine Stritch shone.

I saw her on stage twice.  The first time was in New York in 1971.  The show was Company.  Everything about the production was new to me.  I knew nothing of Stephen Sondheim, and I was taken off-guard by a musical that may (or may not) take place entirely in the leading character's head.

The show was filled with multi-faceted characters and music that challenged the audience to delve into its layers.  But, the most memorable moment in the show that evening was Elaine Stritch's "The Ladies Who Lunch."  A song that became her standard.

The character she played, Joanne, seemed to slip right into Elaine Stritch's skin.  For good reason.  The character was charismatic, gin-soaked, and world-weary.  She had seen it all.  And so had Elaine Stritch. 

There was something primordial in her style.  She shared the same magic as Bea Arthur, Ethel Merman, Maureen Stapleton, and Collen Dewhurst.  And she was the last to go.

The second time I saw her was in London.  She had moved there in 1972, setting up camp in the Savoy Hotel.  This time it was not a musical.  It was Neil Simon's The Gingerbread Lady

The play is something of a shambles.  But Elaine Stritch breathed her life into the character of Evy, the cabaret singer whose life was turning into a mess because of her alcoholism.  She artfully allowed us into the pain of her life.  I can still remember that husky voice of hers doing its best to guide us through the shadows of death. 

And, in the case of The Gingerbread Lady, much of it was her life.  She was one of the champions who managed to get her alcoholism under control.

From 1974 to 1976, I would see her now and then in a restaurant or walking along one of London's streets.  Even in her daily life, she was the same woman she played on stage.

When I was cleaning out the Salem house, I found the Playbills for the performances I had seen.  And I reminisced. 

It is too bad when those of us who saw her on stage are gone, her performances will also disappear.  At least, the memory of them.

But I have another memory.  I recently watched a recording of a concert celebrating Stephen Sondheim's 80 the birthday.  All of the big stars from the Sondheim shows were there to share their performances.  Bernadette Peters.  Mandy Patinkin.  Audra McDonald.  Chip Zien.  Joanna Gleason.

And, of course, Elaine Stritch.  Instead of singing "The Ladies Who Lunch" (that was left to Patti LuPone), she chose to sing the anthem from Follies: "I'm Still Here."  And just as she had done when I saw her live, she made the part her own.  Because the song is her life.

For those of you who never were privileged to see her live, you truly missed one of life's pleasures.

I tried to find a Youtube video to share with you.  All I could find was a rather embarrassing version sung at the Obama White House.  It is not the way I want to remember her.

Instead, I will live with the memories I have.  And that is where she shall live.

Note -- By the time a lot of you read this I will be on my way back to Melaque.  Our show will resume from there.


Friday, July 18, 2014

random friday

I could have called it chalk and cheese. 

I have two tales to relate that lack a common hook.  But I still wanted to share them with you.

You all know I love books.  I became a Kindle addict out of necessity in Mexico.  With a bit of ingenuity, it is possible to order hardbound books (real books, as a Morelia blogger calls them) for delivery.  I simply find it far easier in my travels to buy and store books in my portable Kindle library.

But I also love book stores.  I seek them out wherever I go when I am trekking the world. 

On this trip, I browsed through the shelves of books at the Bend and Portland Barnes and Noble stores.  It brought back many years of memories of opening books.  Reviewing graphs.  Feeling the texture of high-quality paper.

If I lived up north, I would most likely rely upon my Kindle for most of my reading.  But I would still buy the occasional hardbound book -- because some books simply are not available on Kindle.

I recently read an article in one of my magazines that book store owners have ganged together to lobby the government to fix the prices on books -- no electronic book could sell for less than the hardbound copy of the same book.

In effect, it would fix the prices of books in favor of a small minority of special interest readers at the expense of the electronic book-buying public.  Essentially, stealing money from the general public in favor of a diminishing minority.

At first I was shocked that any American would support an idea so contrary to the free market system.  It is the same logic that buggy whip makers used in their attempts to control the mass advent of the automobile.  Or that Blockbuster could have used to protect its investment in VHS tapes.

And then I saw the source of this little donnybrook.  It is not an American story -- it is a French story.  The home of a lot of well-cooked food and half-baked political ideas.  And it is a very good example of why the French political and economic system is in the shape it is.

There will always be a market for hardbound books -- whether online or in stores.  And people who are nostalgic about the village book store are certainly welcome to open one and to find an appropriate customer base.  Customers are far wiser at making choices than are government functionaries.

After all, Barnes and Noble seems to manage.  Where else could I find a Homer Simpson notebook for the bargain price of $25.


My brother is an incredibly talented cook.  As is his wife.

Wednesday night they invited Mom and me for dinner at their now-listed-for-sale home.  Some plain old-fashioned and tasty home-cooking.  Roasted and smoked chicken breasts with lemon.  Steamed fresh green beans with bacon.  Smashed new potatoes.

The potatoes have a real body to them.  Darrel leaves the red skins on during the smashing process.  In the process, he adds sour cream, butter, sometimes horseradish (not that night), and grated cheese.

If you have read Mexpatriate for long you will know that I have a great distaste for dinner guests attempting to modify a menu I have prepared.  You also know that I do not like cheese in my cooked food.  Calling rule number two into effect, of course, makes me a violator of rule number one.

Contradictory?  You bet.  But that is how the cheese crumbles.

My brother, being the saint that he is, left the cheese out of the potatoes.  Instead, he prepared a plate with freshly-grated parmesan on one side and cheddar on the other.  It was about as pro-choice as a dinner can be.

I dished up my cheeseless potatoes, some chicken, and a serving of beans.  While adding the beans to my plate, I noticed the parmesan cheese.  That triggered an exception to my no-cheese rule in food.  Parmesan on green beans is OK.

It was not until I sat down that I realized what I had done.  Instead of sprinkling the parmesan on my green beans, I had mixed it into my potatoes.  The very potatoes that my brother had left uncheesed at my request.  I may as well have blabbered on all night about my exercise regime and my "numbers."

A good laugh was had at my expense.  And you may now join in.

This may explain a lot about why I found it so easy to take the wrong medication for almost two months.