Wednesday, August 26, 2015

best-laid plans

Yesterday Cat asked: "Okay Steve, this is one of those issues that does not require a long, four hour compilation essay, but I have been wondering how that blister on your foot is doing?"

I just saw her comment today.  And that is the theme of this short essay.

When I left the daily-posting ring, I had two projects in mind: to get regular exercise and to get serious about learning Spanish.  My friend Leo was the impetus for the exercise program.  During one of our conversations he said, "Life is divided into five year segments.  And the next five years will be the best years of the rest of your life."

I am not certain I agree with the predicate, but the sentiment embedded in the second sentence appealed to my hedonistic nature.  So, I joined him on his 4-mile morning walks on the last two days he was here.  And I really enjoyed myself: walking was my primary mode of transportation when I first arrived in Mexico.

If  you read the comments on my last essay, you know I developed a very nasty blister on the ball of my left foot during one of those walks.  The cause?  Probably improperly tied laces.  But we will leave the tale of the blistered foot for a moment.

Monday night I went to bed feeling quite normal.  In the early morning, I started shivering with one of the worst sets of chills I had ever experienced.  And my mind was stuck on one of those thought loops that keep me from sleep.  I kept thinking: "I am parking a car in Canada where there are two spaces; in Mexico there would be three" over and over.

That was tied to a very bad headache.  None of that worried me too much until I started having sharp chest pains.  As far as I knew, I was having a heart attack.

I called a taxi and went to a local clinic.  I woke up on Tuesday morning with all of my joints hurting.

After a blood test, my temporary doctor (my treating physician is in Canada until winter) diagnosed either dengue fever, typhus, or
chinkunguya.  He would not know until I return after another blood test at the end of the week. 

Whatever it was, I had no strength; walking was difficult.  I could not eat.  I could not even drink water.  All he could offer was a bushel of drugs -- and sleep.

When I woke up this morning, I felt amazingly well.  No headache.  No chills.  No pain in my joints.

Well, that is not quite true.  When I flexed my left ankle, there was a stabbing pain.  The foot was swollen and red.  The discoloration went half-way up my calf.

To answer Cat's question, the source of trouble was the blister on the bottom of my left foot.  I have kept it clean and anointed with an antibiotic ointment.  But that was not good enough.

I am now back home after an antibiotic injection (with two more daily shots on the way) and more tablets.  (I had Air Force friends who went through less treatment for their social meanderings.)

So, that's the long answer to the question of what has become of my blister.  And as for my Spanish lessons, the answer is the same.  I have been off of my reading schedule since Saturday.

When I have something more positive to report, I will be back.  Until then, I am going to get some rest.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

toying with the story

OK.  I know I am going to be accused of playing with my food, but I need to explain a few things about yesterday's announcement that Mexpatriate was closing down.

The tone was a bit ambiguous.  It needed to be that way.  But, in doing that, I unintentionally created worries where none need be.

I do not have a life-threatening disease.  Re-reading the announcement, I can see how I may have created that impression.  I actually feel quite good.

But that answer begs the question, doesn't it?  At least, it avoids the real question: an explanation why I am doing what I am doing.

The answer is quite simple.  I regularly spend four hours each day working on my essays.  It is a lot of time I could use for other purposes.  And I have two in mind.

First, I need to start getting serious about Spanish.  Almost everyone who visits me is appalled at how little Spanish I speak.  Leo being the most recent.  They are correct.  I have been getting by by getting by.

I will need to speak Spanish fluently to attain Mexican citizenship.  And to do that, I am going to start dedicating time each day for academic studies, and then applying it on my regular walks through town.

"Regular walks through town" sums up my second project.  When I moved to Mexico, I cooked healthy meals for myself -- and I walked everywhere.  When I moved to Barra de Navidad, I started eating only in restaurants after driving there.  I have paid the price for that.

I have joined Leo on his 4-mile morning walks.  Barra de Navidad has a spiffy walkway just perfect for that task.  My idea is to walk to the fitness club (just off of the walkway), ride the exercise bike there, and then walk back to the house.  Daily.  That should eat up almost all of the time I once devoted to writing my essays.

There was another factor.  But it is personal, and there is nothing to be gained by discussing its details.  Just trust me.

I have truly appreciated your comments.  And it has caused me to re-assess whether going cold turkey is the answer.  I know several bloggers who publish on an irregular basis -- or on a limited schedule. 

Here is what I would like to try.  I am going to keep accumulating writing material.  From time to time, I will publish an essay.  Maybe it will be on a regular schedule.  Maybe sporadically.

But watch this space.  A slimmer Steve and a slimmer Mexpatriate may work out just right.

Friday, August 21, 2015


Everything has a season.

So says The Preacher.  And it is true of most things -- even blogs.

I started writing this compilation of essays in December 2007 after a brief visit to La Manzanilla in an effort to develop plans for retirement in Mexico.  I wrote about those plans and my move south with my faithful companion Professor Jiggs.  And you know most of the rest of the story.

The blog has gone through name and format changes.  And it will now go through another major change.

Our lives change.  And I have certain events in my life recently that have convinced it is time to shut down Mexpatriate to allow me to pursue other endeavors.

It has been a fun ride.  For all of you lovely readers out there in the dark who have been reading my work, I thank you.  For those who have ventured to write comments, I thank you for the conversations.

But everything must end.  And this is where it does.


pooling my lights

Any good story should have suspense and conflict.

However, modern television and movies seem to have ripped both elements from their story-telling.  So, shall I.

As you can see by the photograph, both lights in the pool are now operating.  That is the first time I have seen the pool fully lit.  As I was cropping the photograph, it occurred to me why it looks vaguely familiar. 

Te lit-up pool has characteristics similar to those memorial fountains found in medium-sized Western cities.  If I turned on the water feature, all of the elements would be there.

I should have lit up the full house -- on both floors -- to give you an idea how creative the architect was in her use of light in combination with the lines of the house.  Night-time here can be a visual feast.  But that can wait for a future essay.

I wanted to be here when the pool guys showed up yesterday.  When we left on sme errands, I left the repaired lights sitting on the edge of the pool.

Watching the re-installation would have been fun.  But knowing how electrical connections are often accomplished here, I may be just as glad to have missed it.

Instead, Leo volunteered to be the guinea pig in entering the water first.  He survived.  As did our friendship.

Now, I can share my pool with guests -- a lit pool that will be certain to attract every mosquito in the barrio.  But it will certainly be pretty.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

with crocodile you get egg roll

My guests always enjoy breakfast at Banana's in Barra de Navidad.

The food is interesting.  But the view of the bay is stunning.  Especially, on a clear day like yesterday. 

Perhaps too stunning.  I got so caught up in looking at the ocean and conversing with Leo that I forgot to shoot what had us so interested.  The photograph at the top of this essay is not Barra de Navidad.  It is La Manzanilla.

When we visited on La Manzanilla on Monday, I proudly showed Leo the main attraction of the village -- its collection of large crocodiles.  The ejido created an enclosure several years ago to keep the crocodiles from wandering the streets. 

It also built a pathway half way around the mangrove swamp -- and, just recently, a new walkway was completed to close the circuit.  We didn't have time to walk the entire loop on Monday, but we did yesterday.

If you are looking for crocodiles, there is no need to pay the 25 peso entry fee.  You can see the crocodiles congregate around the entry point waiting to be fed -- as if they were Costco shoppers crowding around the free sample demonstrators.

But if you would like to see the complexity of a mangrove swamp, the walk is a good introduction.  Red and white mangroves.  Crabs.  Small fish.  Plenty of birds.  Termite nests.  And, my favorite: two suspension bridges that are just flimsy enough to make you believe that it is possible to star in an Indiana Jones catastrophe.

Having spent the day pretending we were once again 8-years old (that would be difficult because I did not know Leo when he was 8), we headed over to one of my favorite classy dining places: Magnolia's.  In La Manzanilla. 

I have told you about Alex's restaurant several times.  Her summer menu offers three choices (a meat, chicken, or fish) for that week only.  Next week, it is always something new.

I primarily like her food because she cajoles the diner into new experiences in learning to appreciate her layers of flavors.  Not to mention the fact that Alex, Leia, and Will always put on a class social act.  They make me feel as if I am coming home for dinner.

Yesterday was no exception.  I had medallions of pork in a curry blueberry sauce.  See what I mean?  The combination is not instinctive, but it was perfection.  True cooking skills are required to pull it off.

On the way home, Leo and I stopped at the shop to see if the lights were ready to be re-installed in the pool.  They were -- and are.  The repair cost was a bit more than I expected.  We will see later today how the re-fitting turned out.

The best thing about the day was that Leo enjoyed every moment of it.  Breakfast in Barra de Navid.  Viewing the bay from the viewpoint above Melaque.  Hunting for crocodile.  Eating an incredibly good dinner.  Even picking up the repaired lights.  As you can see, neither of us are hard to entertain.

I am going to miss him when he leaves on Saturday.  We have shared some mundane activities, but all of them have had an exotic twist.

But, as is true with all good friends, it is not the circumstances that make the day.  It is the relationship.

At least, that is what I once read in a fortune cookie.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

trouble in the cement pond

My lights have gone out.

The swimming pool at my house has two underwater lights.  When I moved in, only one was operating.  No matter which switch I tripped, I brought only darkness into the world.  With its one-light effect, my pool looked a bit like the Hathaway shirt man.

This week it went totally blind.  The second light stopped working.

I have told you enough of my handyman skills to let you make your own judgment what my first action was. 

If you think I called the pool man, you are wrong.  First, I traced the wiring to see how difficult replacing the lights would be.

The answer is "very."  The light fixtures are hung in the pool on plastic stays.  The wire to the fixture passes through a hole drilled in the side of the pool and ends up at a transformer box that switches the lights on and off.  In my case, the box did nothing.

I remembered that the former owner told me the fixtures had to be taken above water where they could be opened and the bulb replaced.  She said: "Just call your pool man.  He will know what to do."

I did.  He didn't.

Lupe disconnected each unit by unfastening the wires near the circuit box.  But he had no idea how to open the fixture to change the bulb.  He suggested I take the entire apparatus to the pool store.  That seemed to be overkill, but off I went.

Usually, the store would have been closed for siesta, but the woman on the desk was working on a separate business -- constructing piñatas.  She telephoned the owner to return to the store to talk with me.

He had never opened a fixture like mine.  But he gamely removed screws here and there -- and we finally got to the bulb -- only to discover the bulb was in perfect working order. 

Curious, he ran a test on the installed lamp.  It worked.  But when removed the direct connection to the lamp and tried passing current through the wiring, the result was nothing.  Something was faulty in the wiring.  I suspect that is the fixture that has never lit up.

So, I left both fixtures with him to test and repair the wiring, and, if necessary, to order new lamps.  Like many things in my small village, inventory is limited.  But almost anything can appear magically the next day.

Later today, I will return to the pool shop in high hopes that all will be well.  Then, Lupe will return to my totally unlit pool to put the universe in proper balance.

The moral of this little tale is that a quick (and incorrect) diagnosis of any electrical problem may lead to bad decision-making.  I would never have taken the fixture to the pool store.  But, without what appeared to me to be a waste of time, I would not have new lights in my pool.

Yes.  Yes.  I know.  You are all starting a pool to determine the true date I will have operating lights.  But I have faith.  Or, at least, hope.

Mexico seldom lets me down.


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

my day with leo

"We chatted as if it had not been twenty years since we last got together."

I see similar lines in blogs when old friends, long separated, have reunions.  I suppose I could say the same of the last three days with Leo.  But our conversations bear the mark of someone leaving a room and returning immediately to take up the conversation in mid-sentence.

It is a great feeling.  Knowing someone that well, it is as if we had not been separated for hundreds of miles these past thirty-some years.  Of course, we had the occasional visit.  But Leo and Theresa were in Scottsdale; I was in Oregon.

So, what do two old friends do when one friend is visiting for the first real trip to Mexico (a week in Cancun does not count)?  It turns out we do what we would each be doing at our own homes.

Yesterday was an example.  I treated Leo to huevos rancheros at my favorite secret hideaway.  Because the salsa is made from serranos, it is not to everyone's (especially, gringos') taste. 

Leo loved them.  It also gave me an opportunity to show off my nominal Spanish by chatting up the proprietress.

Then it was off to pick up the laundry I forgot to retrieve on Saturday when we went out for dinner.  The large packet was almost too bulky for me to carry.  The cost of 144 pesos ($8.84) was not. 

Leo was impressed.  Not with my strength, but the reasonable cost of laundry (including sheets and towels) for a full week.

Even though I was not expecting a letter, magazine, or package, I took Leo to the post office to introduce him to Saul, the boss of our local post office.  Saul recognized Leo as the benefactor of the two float toys that were delivered across the post office desk.

No trip to town would be complete without showing a visitor the house on the beach I rented for the first eight months I lived in Mexico -- and the house on the laguna, where I had almost six years of crocodile adventures.  Leo prefers my current house.  So do I.

Because we had no provisions for breakfast, I took Leo to Hawaii (the grocery, not the islands) to meet Alex and his staff.  Alex is one of those Mexican entrepreneurs who has found his niche market -- selling merchandise to northern tourists and expatriates, while simultaneously developing a strong middle class Mexican trade.  Leo and I found everything we needed -- and more.

Then it was an afternoon of reading in the pool before we headed to Magnolia's for my traditional Monday night dinner.  And Alex (the chef; not the grocer Alex) outdid herself again -- with the type of meals diners cannot find without traveling hundreds of miles.  Leo was thoroughly impressed.

But the star attraction for everyone who visits me were the crocodiles of La Manzanilla.  Unfortunately, they are now confined behind fences to restrain them from trundling through the streets in search of a meal.  Even in jail, they can be intimidating.

All in all, it was a thoroughly relaxed, 100% tourist day.  It is always fun to show off my home town.