Saturday, December 09, 2017

does this navel ever move?

Talk about introspective.

I hint that I am going to stop blogging. Then I write two essays about my family.

At least, today, I am pulling our attention back to Mexico. Sorta.

I am currently sitting at the Manzanillo International Airport. That would usually mean I am waiting for a plane to whisk me either to Los Angeles or Mexico City.

But, not today. Today we are welcoming a guest to Mexpatriate -- and the house with no name.

He is not new to you. You met him last January. Robin Olson -- one of my best friends from my Air Force days. That is him on the right. Back in the days when we were young enough to look good in minimal clothing.

The other fellow (on the left) is another Air Force friend. Dennis Dooley. You met him almost three years ago when he came down from Wisconsin to regale all of us with his Irish wit and charisma.

For the next week, Robin and I will catch up on Air Force war stories, world politics, and whatever else two old friends manage to tote across the thresholds of their respective memories.

One of the joys of guests is that I get to see my part of Mexico through new eyes. What has become a daily humdrum to me is a fascinating and exotic world to our exotic northern visitors. And that is a boon to writers. The scales fall from our jaded eyes.

In theory, that means I will be writing about Mexico once again.

But, not right now. Here he comes. 


Friday, December 08, 2017

an anniversary to remember


I mentioned yesterday (duck, ma) that my brother's birthday was the day before my parents' anniversary.

That, of course, means today is the seventy-first anniversary of my parents' marriage. My mother has survived my father by twenty-one years. But their anniversary is still their anniversary.

I have previously mounted my moral high horse soap box (to mix my clichés) to decry the current trend of turning someone else's celebration into a love feast for the speaker. You have seen the greeting cards: "Thanks, Mom, for everything you did for me. I wouldn't be me without your attention to me and everything I did because I am me through you." Somehow parents become mere channels to validate our own solipsistic existentialism.

And that is almost exactly what I am about to do. I suspect the re-run of that photograph at the top has already telegraphed my vice.

Several readers commented yesterday on my relationship with my brother -- including my mother. I responded that Darrel and I could not now be such good friends without the excellent parenting we received.

We were not a wealthy family. At least, not in material goods. But our parents never failed to provide us with the raw goods that helped us to develop our individual lives.

Our Encyclopedia Americana was a perfect example. Dad and Mom purchased it for the family when I was in the fifth grade. For me, it was the key to a magic garden. Thumbing through its pages, I traveled to Ancient Greece, learned about the gross national product of the disintegrating British Empire, and peeked in on the wonders of the United States Congress. I trace my insatiable curiosity back to that giant shelf of books.

And there was music. My parents had an older record player that played 45 and 75 RPM vinyl disks. Most of the records were big band hits or Christmas tunes with a few popular songs like "May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You" and Kate Smith's "God Bless America."

Mom approved my request to update our collection with a membership in the Columbia Record Club. We certainly added variety. Jan and Dean. The Beach Boys. But, I was most taken with the classical music recordings. Especially, Handel's Messiah. I had never heard anything that magnificent.

I would sit straight through the full oratorio. For a boy just entering his teens, the two and a half hour recording had to be good to keep my attention. And it was. To this day, it is still one of my favorite Baroque works.

Various threads in our lives come together in odd ways. I had just recently listened to Messiah on YouTube. Then came my brother's birthday and today's anniversary.

For some reason, I listened to Messiah this morning. And with the opening notes of one of its better-known movements ("Unto Us a Child is Born"), the pieces of this week's jigsaw puzzle fell into place. "For unto us a child is born/Unto us a son is given."

The second line of that couplet filled me with joy. And in the next few months, I will undoubtedly tell you why.

But, not today. Today is a day for my mother -- and father.

Happy anniversary to two of the most honorable people I have ever known.   


Thursday, December 07, 2017

duck, ma


7 December is a memorable day.

For some, it is a terrible day. The day that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. A day that will live in infamy -- as FDR would have it.

For me, it is my sainted brother's birthday. My father would tell anyone in earshot that my brother was born the day before his wedding to my mother. Of course, he would omit the fact that the wedding was in 1946 and Darrel was born in 1950. My mother found the joke gauche.

Darrel is now my best friend. It was not always so. At least, not in the beginning.

For almost two years, I had life's stage to myself. All of the wonders of being an only child were mine. Then, one day, my mother came home carrying a bundled baby boy.

So, I reacted as any well-bred child would do. I picked up a toy truck and hurled it at the enemy. It missed Darrel and smashed into my mother's glasses. My peremptory attack failed. Darrel stayed.

And I am glad he did. When we both entered grade school, I came to his aid in the playground after classes one afternoon. A bully had gotten the better of him, and I sallied forth in true quixotic style. I would like to say the moment was altruistic, but it was summed up by comment to the bully: "No one beats up my brother but me." (Yup. I talked like that back in the third grade.)

There are plenty of tales about my younger brother. Even some where I am not the central figure. But there will be an appropriate time for those. On some occasion where he cannot defend himself.

I called him a couple of hours ago to wish him a perfect birthday. He is still in Bend, and will be celebrating over a plate of prime rib with our mother this evening. I wish I could be there.

But he will soon be here. In just over a month. With Christy (his wife) and my mother. We may even see a guest appearance by my niece Kaitlyn.

Until then, brother, enjoy your dwindling 60s. They go past rapidly. I know.


Wednesday, December 06, 2017

who's your mama?


Speaking of  essays that have been sitting incomplete in my inbox -- .

Last summer I saw a newspaper headlining a controversy in Guadalajara. About a statue. Of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The article offered up a double scoop of Mexican history.

Like most big cities, Guadalajara wants to be known for its artistic elan -- especially, its public art. In that spirit, the city paid 5.2 million pesos (about $275,000 (US)) for a statue entitled "Syncretism," and then installed it in the median of a major street.

That seems a bargain for a 30 foot statue. But the price itself is not an issue. Well, not entirely. It is the subject matter.

There is a bromide here in Mexico that the only two persons who cannot be insulted are the president and Our Lady of Guadalupe. If it was ever true of the president, it certainly is not today. Insulting any Mexican president is a national sport. And some of my friends have medaled in the event.

But, insulting Our Lady of Guadalupe is worse than insulting your own mother. She is the patron saint of Mexico. And she wears that honor with pride. For those of you who do not know much about Our Lady, here is a Classics Illustrated version of her story.

In 1531, an Aztec Indian named Juan Diego (not to be confused with Zorro) saw an apparition on the hill where the Spanish had destroyed an Aztec temple dedicated to a goddess known as Our Revered Mother -- Tonantzin or Coatlicue. The woman in the apparition claimed to be the Virgin Mary and requested a church to be built in her honor.

So, Juan Diego did as he was told and went to see the archbishop, who did not believe him. The apparition appeared three more times to Juan Diego.

The fourth time, the apparition told him to gather flowers from the hill. To find blooming flowers in December was rare. But the flowers he gathered were even more rare. They were Castilian roses -- not native to Mexico.

He gathered the flowers in his cloak and rushed to the archbishop. When Juan Diego opened his cloak, the archbishop was amazed to find his favorite flowers -- Castilian roses. But he was even more amazed when the roses fell from the cloak revealing mirabile dictu an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

The archbishop built the church which was later dedicated as a basilica. And Guadalupe was well on her way to becoming the very essence of the Mexican spirit.

It is that spirit that got wrapped around the axle of True Catholic Believers in Guadalajara. The controversial statue depicts Our Lady emerging from an image of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin or Coatlicue.

And if there is any doubt that the artist intended to convey the idea that the Coatlicue myth gave rise to the Guadalupe myth, he underscored the point with the sculpture's title. 
"Syncretism." A theological term meaning "the importation of an object of reverence in one belief system into another." 

The artist's point is not original. For centuries, people have pointed out the similarities between the two women. The Aztecs worshipped a mother goddess at the same site where the apparitions appeared. Catholics worship a revered mother who described herself as "the mother of the very true deity."

A newspaper supporting the protesters breathlessly (and somewhat inaccurately) reported: "The erection of the nine-meter-tall image has provoked massive public protests in the thousands, by Catholics who denounce it for confusing the country’s most important Christian symbol with the very religion of human sacrifice that it helped to defeat 500 years ago."

Historians tell us that the Aztecs continued to worship Coatlicue at the site of her ruined temple. Because of the similarities, it was easy for the church to substitute the similar attributes from Coatlicue to Guadalupe.

It would not be the only example of the Catholic church substituting saints for local gods in the finest tradition of hostile corporate takeovers. The most obvious example is Christmas. If the gospels are accurate, Jesus's birth was unlikely to be in December. The presence of all those shepherds is a start.

The Romans celebrated a huge festival (Saturnalia) to honor the lengthening of the days in December -- on 25 December. A lot of the pagan traditions for the day were adopted, and the whole shebang was re-christened "Christmas."

Some holidays the church just appropriated without any attempt to hide the pilfering. "Easter" still bears the name of the pagan English goddess for which it was named. Very similar to all of those Norse gods who clutter the names of the week in northern Europe and the Roman gods who perform the same service for Latin-language calendars.

But I could rattle on and on, and it will not change the fact that Mexicans will defend the honor of Our Lady of Guadalupe as a matter of faith. And they have done that in Guadalajara.

Tens of thousands protesters have shown up to vent their religious spleens. At the statue. At the fact their tax money was used to insult their dearest beliefs. At the archbishop who was too weak to do anything about the travesty.

I would say they were up in arms. But that phrase has a very particular meaning in this context.

Following the Revolution, Plutarco Elias Calles became president. One of the goals of the Revolution was to finish the job of taming the Catholic church that was begun by Benito Juarez's Reform War.

Calles took that mission to an extreme by enacting anti-clerical laws that not only stole the church's property, but treated the clergy as if they were not citizens of the republic.

The more religious areas of Mexico rose in open revolt during the three years of the Cristero war. Jalisco and Guadalajara were in the forefront of defending the church against the central government -- a government that eventually repealed the more offensives portions of the anti-clerical laws. The city government may be getting off lucky with this current perceived insult.

But all of that is for big city folk. Here, in our little fishing villages by the sea, we are in the middle of celebrating the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe on 12 December. Like most religious festivals, one day cannot contain the zeal.

Since the beginning of the month, celebrants have been firing off cohetes -- those sky rockets that could easily substitute for the cannons in the Overture of 1812 without any of Tchaikovsky's even more annoying music. Starting at 5 or so in the morning.

And then there is the daily evening religious procession. Rather simple. "Indian" dancers. A float. More cohetes. And a bushel of deep-hearted devotion.

The historian in me defends the sculptor in Guadalajara. But my faith fully understands that deep devotion.


Monday, December 04, 2017

where are you tossing that towel?

"Boy have I been lazy with this blog"

That was Scott Parks's last entry on Sparks Mexico. On 26 October. He never got around to following up on that bit of self-criticism (dying alone).

But it is a sentiment I understand. I think all of us internet writers have ridden that horse. I know I have. Frequently.

Internet writers are a navel-gazing lot. And often for altruistic reasons. We like to keep our readers amused. But, in the process, we can be as introspective as any aging jock or fighter pilot re-living our great moments.

That is why we often fall into writing topics concerning the top hits of the year on our blogs (and, yes, one is coming), or where our readers are located, or how people find our blogs. I know because I have written about all three. More than once.

Writing about our own sites is almost Seinfeldian. What Larry David would call "about nothing" -- that is unless he was doing something to young women that he shouldn't have. And did.

Sometimes, though, being self-referential is exactly the correct tone. Such as, when announcing the writer is packing it all in.

My blogger friend Barbara (better known to most of you as Babs) did just that last month (nothing left to say). That is exactly how she felt. After writing her blog about Mexico (especially her beloved San Miguel Allende) for eleven years, she felt that she had nothing left to add to the conversation.

That was too bad. Hers was one of the blogs that helped me to decide to move to Mexico. She almost even wooed me into the spider web of San Miguel. When she announced she was shutting down her writing, it was as if part of me had been lost.

I knew how she felt. Two years ago, I shut down the presses of Mexpartiate.

Fortunately, Barbara thought better of her decision (i am glad i am a woman!), and has now returned to speed her roadster down the internet highway. I did the same thing.

But, for the brief period she was offline, I considered doing the same thing. Not because I had nothing more to say. I have a notebook of potential essays beside my computer. For some reason, though, I have lost the will to write. Or, maybe it was the time to write.

It first struck me while I was at sea in October. I had been rather good at publishing an essay almost every day. At sea, that urge was burned out of my by languid days. And it has continued since my return.

That is partially due to my involvement in several projects around the community -- all of my choosing. But I find that my day ends before I can sit down and write.

This essay is an example. I started it on 11 November when I read Barbara's retirement notice. And here we are, almost a month later, and I am just polishing it off. Considering her change of mind, I am glad I waited.

OK, Steve. Do you have a point to make?

Maybe. I wanted to at least answer the people who have emailed me to ask if something is wrong. They wondred why my output had dwindled. Now, you know. Probably.

In true Seinfeld style, I guess that is about it. I will churn out essays now and then, and try to get back into some sort of regular routine.

There are plenty of tales to be told about this part of Mexico. And I will enjoy living them. I may even write about a few.

Yup, Scott. I understand. Like you "I have been lazy with this blog."


Saturday, December 02, 2017

dying alone


Scott Parks is dead.

To some of you the name may not mean anything. You may have known him better as Sparks, the author of Melaque on the Costalegre and Sparks Mexico. For a brief period, he started his own message board when he had a spat with the community board. But, he soon abandoned it.

Like most people around here, I first met Scott through his online writings. In the late 2000s,  I started looking for places in Mexico to retire. Scott's blog proved to be a great source of information. Some of his pieces were helpful; some less so. But, he gave me enough information to let me know the questions I should be asking.

For better or worse, I ended up in this area of Mexico in 2009. At that time, Scott lived right around the corner from me.

He had moved down from Seattle. I had moved from Oregon. Ad that geographical connection was enough for us to strike up a casual acquaintance.

Even though we had frequent lunches and conversations, "casual acquaintances" is what we remained. We were close enough that he would borrow money from me (when he lost his wallet) or accept rides to Manzanillo. Neither one of us had personalities that formed quick friendships.

And we quickly learned each other's boundaries. His van brandished a Kerry-Edwards sticker five years after the pair had lost their run for the White House. But it was symbolic of one of his strongest personality traits -- persistence. Detractors would call it stubbornness. I call it "being human."

I also discovered, once again, that judging a man by his bumper is a fool's mission. Kerry and Edwards were noticeably to Scott's right. But, they were Not Bush.

In the last election, he was just as consistent. He did not care for Hillary Clinton. But, she was Someone Other Than Trump.

My politics frustrated him. He loved starting sentences with "Of course, you believe" painting me as Attila's Chuck Colson. Half of the time he was wrong.

But, when it moved to Mexico, he was a true believer in this country. Anyone who read his blog knew he had strong opinions about northern visitors -- especially those who were deaf to Mexican culture.

He loved the country. He loved the people.

Like most of us, Scott was searching for a place where he would belong. And he wanted to belong with Mexicans. That desire ending up costing him a good deal of money in an unconditional act of trust that was unrequited.

Instead of turning his loss into hate, he moved on. Literally. He left the pleasures of the beach in Villa Obregon and moved inland to a much poorer village where he seemed to find purpose amongst his Mexican neighbors. Essentially transforming himself into a Mexican grandfather offering care and love to a local family -- including transporting a disabled child to and from school each day.

I last saw Scott two days before he died. His van was parked outside an abarrotes in San Patricio. I saw him walking out of the grocery stiff-legged with his arms held out in front of him as if he were having trouble with his balance.

I almost stopped to see if he needed help. I didn't. To this day, I do not know if what I saw was a prelude to his death.

We can all learn lessons from the lives around us. But Scott's death has grabbed my attention.

Scott was single and lived alone. As do I.

If I understand the story correctly, he had been dead a couple of days before his body was found in his bed. A neighbor contacted his sister in The States to tell her of the death.

By some odd coincidence, our local message board had just hosted a thread on the importance of creating a personal plan for emergencies and death that someone could initiate if the need be. I am currently putting one together. When I gather enough information, I will share some ideas. I hope you will add more.

And, Scott, I am going to miss our thrusts and parries. Thanks for the pieces of good information you passed my way. Maybe we will pass one another again elsewhere.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

getting the name right

Why do northerners have so much trouble with Mexican surnames?

Last year a reporter for The New York Times, wrote a story about some small dispute between President Trump and Mexico's president -- Enrique Peña Nieto.  The story relied on anonymous sources within the Mexican administration.

But the unnamed sources wers not what caught my attention. The reporter repeatedly referred to Mexico's president as "President Nieto."

I completely discounted the article. There is no President Nieto. The head of Mexico's executive branch is President Peña. If the reporter could not get that simple fact correct, I had serious doubts about the rest of his story.

That reminded me of a similar mistake I encountered when I was practicing criminal defense law in the 1980s. The Oregon City police officers were doing a land office business in issuing misdemeanor "Giving a False Name to a Police Officer" citations. The common link in almost every case was the ethnic background of the defendants. They were Hispanic.


My first case was with a young man who was a citizen of Mexico (and a legal immigrant). For the sake of our story, we will call him Juan Antonio Martinez Sanchez.

When the police officer asked for his "last name," Juan had responded: "Martinez." The officer then looked at the driver's license, and charged him with giving a false name. As far as the officer was concerned, Juan's last name was "Sanchez."

Now, we all know why the mistake took place. Most nations with a Spanish tradition have a different naming custom than do other European countries. Spanish children get two surnames: the first from their father (the apellido paterno or paternal surname) and the second from their mother (the apellido materno or maternal surname).

For some reason, the local police thought Hispanics were trying to pull something funny on them. And it would be excusable as a bit of cultural ignorance if the police had not taken a couple of years to stop issuing the citations.

I have several theories why the police were that recalcitrant. But, whatever the motivation, it drove a wedge between the legal immigrant population and the police -- and the relations were not great, by any measure.

Both of those stories popped to mind last week when I wrote my essays about my missing front tooth. A friend left a comment on Facebook: "
I noticed that you used Dr. Pimienta, the Mexican way, rather than Woo."

It is an interesting question. My dentist comes from a medical family. There are at least three (if not more) Drs. Pimienta Woo who practice in our community.
I refer to him as Dr. Pimienta because that is the Mexican tradition. People are known by their father's name, not their mother's name.

My dentist's name is Eduardo Antonio Pimienta Woo. "Eduardo Antonio" are what we northerners would call his first and middle name. "Pimienta" is his father's surname. "Woo" is his mother's surname.

For some reason, and I have several speculative theories that I am not going to explore in print, each of the doctors is known locally amongst the expatriate and tourist community (and some of the locals) as "Dr. Woo." Maybe it has stuck because it sounds rather exotic.

And the Drs. Woo do not seem to mind. After all, if it is easier for people to say or remember, it is a good business hook.

Unlike the reporter for The New York Times and the Oregon City police officers, I will stick with the more traditional "Dr. Pimienta." Even though that name has its own embedded humor when translated to English.


Sunday, November 26, 2017

the rest of the story


I am in love with Mexican medicine.

And, because it is love, not all of my affections are rational. But this one is.

I forgot to tell you about the best part of my dental visit to Dr. Pimienta on Friday (moving to mexico -- fixing the teeth). After he had cemented my old tooth into my Cumberland Gap, I asked him if I should avoid eating anything hard with that tooth.

After all, I am a son of the north. I am accustomed to hearing the usual medical recitation of "dont's" that any Pentecostal would admire. Don't eat anything hard. Nothing hot. Nothing cold. Nothing chewy. Avoid wearing blue with brown. Never withdraw funds early from an IRA.

You have all heard the drill. A person dons a white coat and starts believing he is my mother.

So, I was nonplussed when Dr. Pimienta started the list. Nothing hard. Chew only on the left side.

He then broke out in a smile. "Do you really want a list of things you cannot do? Why not just enjoy life? If it falls out, we can put it back in."

And there it is in a nutshell. The cultural difference between Up North and Mexico.

I am not certain when it happened, but some time between the 1950s (when life seemed to be a parade of wonders) and the 1990s, northern culture decided to set up housekeeping on Neurotic Lane -- where no fear or slight goes unnoticed. If you have ever sat next to the formerly fat woman at a dinner party who now wears a size 1, exercises every other half hour, and can recite her "numbers" faster than the names of her children, you know exactly what I mean.

Northerners have created their own "don't" society. Peanuts. Filet mignon. Pâté de foie gras. Veal. President Grant. What were once the center of a good life are now signs of barbarity.

Not here. If you want veal, you can have your fill until you run out of pesos. If you want music, crank it up full. If you are concerned about your weight, order another taco and forget about it. No one is going to chide you.

Mexico has its drawbacks. But medical care and a practical view of life are not amongst them.

And I love it. Just make certain the "numbers"-citing dinner party guest stays on the north side of the Rio Bravo.

   

Saturday, November 25, 2017

moving to mexico -- fixing the teeth


Yeah. I know what you are asking.

How can this guy be so antiquated that he does not know how to take a selfie? He's looking at the bottom of his telephone, not at the lens. And the angle -- it makes him look a decade older.

Really? You aren't curious about that?

The tooth? Oh, yeah, the tooth. That is why I took my first selfie. I guess you could tell it was my first time.

Back to the tooth. That is not a special effect. My tooth is like Tara -- gone with the wind. Or, in this particular case, gone with a pretzel. A Snyder's sourdough pretzel to be exact.

I was sitting in the pool reading The Economist and eating pretzels when I felt something foreign in my mouth. There must be something primordial in our tongues -- or, at least my tongue -- that can immediately identify foreign objects. I knew what it was before my fingers grabbed it. A tooth.

A quick tonguing of my remaining teeth quickly found the gap. Right up front. One of my caps had been -- well, I guess, decapitated.

It was late Friday afternoon. I could not get to Manzanillo in time before my dentist left for the day. So, I went local.

I have seen Dr. Eduardo Pimienta Woo twice before. Once for a cleaning. The other for a Pyrrhic battle against infection in a molar. And I managed to catch him just as he was opening his office. He told me to return at 6:30. I did.

Here is what happened. When the cap was put on that tooth twenty or thirty years ago, my dentist needed to install a post to stabilize the installation. To give some support for the cap.

It was the post that failed. Snapped right in two.

Snapping in two meant there was still a portion of the post embedded in my jaw bone. That meant drilling. Without anaesthetic. Dr. Pimienta handed me a paper towel -- "Just in case you cry."

As it turned out, there was no pain. The partial post came out. Dr. Pimienta then constructed a fix using my rather expensive cap, and I was on my way.

These stories always include information about the actual cost incurred. And this one will, as well. For about an hour in the chair, he charged me $600 (Mx). About $32 (US). The cost of a dinner.

To go from the photograph at the top of the essay, to this for $32 is money well spent.


OK. My selfie-taking ability did not improve yesterday. But my smile certainly did. Without much trauma to my wallet.


Friday, November 24, 2017

a piece of my tongue


I knew something was amiss.

The tall northerner was standing at the check stand in one of our small groceries in Barra de Navidad. The look on his face was not one of ease.

I had followed a former Mexican neighbor into the store. He once ran a small refreshment stand just around the corner from my house, but he had closed that operation months ago. I was interested in discovering what he had been doing.

So, we chatted. He in his halting English. Me in my sporadic Spanish. But it worked. I now know why he closed and where he is living in town.

As I was leaving I saw the guy at the checkout stand. As far as I know, we had never met. That did not stop him from asking me for help.

This was his first visit to our part of Mexico, and he was concerned because he did not know how much money the owner wanted. I asked the owner who then showed the amount on the calculator that had been in full sight during the exchange.

The first-time tourist then told me something I found quite surprising. “My friends told me that everyone speaks English here.”

”Well, you have been misinformed. Some people here do speak English, but not very many.”

I told this story to a Canadian friend who runs a service-oriented business locally. In my re-telling of the tale, I opined that I was surprised that the tourist was not able to speak enough Spanish to buy a bag of oranges.

My friend disagreed. “If a country invites foreigners to their country, the country should see to it that they can communicate with their guests. Guests should be made to feel comfortable.”

I disagreed. But for a very specific reason -- the underlying assumption of the statement. I do not travel to find comfort. I travel to learn. And if the learning makes me uncomfortable, all the better. After all, I did not move to Mexico to be comfortable.

And, in that, I am a first-class hypocrite.

My Spanish has improved markedly since I moved down here. But it is a circumstantial improvement. I will stumble through Spanish as long as there are no northerners in ear-shot. I do not know why that condition is so controlling. But I have some theories.

I do know, though, that my Spanish has hit a plateau. Last week I decided to start another class. For intermediate speakers. And with only one other class member. It sounded like a perfect mix.

So, I showed up last Thursday ready to learn. My fellow class member was going to be late. That would give the teacher and me an opportunity to evaluate where I was.

She had written ten sentences in English on butcher paper. I do not remember what the sentence was, but it was one of those intermediate speaker sentences in the preterite.

She asked me to translate it into Spanish. The full answer flashed into my head. And disappeared just as fast. Not only could I not translate the sentence, I was uncertain what the English word “onion” meant.

The day did not improve. For an hour and a half I proved that Casey at Bat could be more than just one bad swing.

So, I called the mission. No more classes. Not for now. Not until I can figure out why I freeze up in class. Or in the presence of northerners when speaking Spanish.

Instead, I will take what I know and try try to learn from my Mexican neighbors and friends through conversation. And to improve my vocabulary using DuoLingo.

At least I can buy my own huevos.


Thursday, November 23, 2017

giving thanks freely


For Americans, today is Thanksgiving Day.

Of course, for all of us each day should be a day we give thanks for the wonders we enjoy in life.

While reading the newspaper yesterday, I ran across a prayer that captured my feelings about Thanksgiving. Or, more accurately, about thanksgiving. The act of giving thanks.

Like many of these pithy pieces, the prayer is attributed to several sources -- many of them mercenarily plagiaristic. The most credible tale is that it is from the pen of Abigail Van Buren's mother.

It goes like this:

O, heavenly Father: We thank thee for food and remember the hungry.
We thank thee for health and remember the sick.
We thank thee for friends and remember the friendless.
We thank thee for freedom and remember the enslaved.
May these remembrances stir us to service,
that thy gifts to us may be used for others. Amen.
The liturgical parallel construction helps lend an air of authority to the piece. Food: the hungry. Health: the sick. Friends: the friendless. Freedom: the enslaved. Along with that peppering of Quakerish thees. In form, it is a great prayer.

But that is not its compelling power to me. The prayer is actually a call to individual action.

In his book Prayer, Phillip Yancey pointed out that if you sincerely care enough about something that you pray to God for help, you had best be prepared God's response to you may be: "What are you going to do about it?" After all, prayers are communication with God. And softened hearts should be prepared to share all of the resources God has given us.

A core tenet of the Christian faith is that we do not own the material goods God has allowed us. We are merely the stewards of that bounty. It is our responsibility to see that the resources are used to better the lot of our fellow travelers.

To do that, we need to be aware where our food, friends, family, and freedom come from. That is why the usual blessing on Thanksgiving centers around those items we treasure most.

But being thankful for what we have also reminds us that there are others who lack those same blessings. Acknowledging that fact is merely a first step, though.

For me, the core of the prayer is in the last line: "May these remembrances stir us to service, that they gifts to us may be used for others." That call to stewardship is what true thanksgiving is all about.

The businessman who invests his capital to create jobs for others. The neighbor who helps a young boy learn to play the piano. The church that delivers food bags to the poor.

And certainly the individuals who spend the time to get to truly know people around them -- building relationships that almost always provide far more value than any material goods. Especially, to the friendless.

As for me, I am going to join a group of tourists and expatriates at a Thanksgiving dinner this evening. I find it a bit ironic that on a day when we should be being thankful in our community, we gather together like British bureaucrats in the Raj.

But it is only a dinner. A mere hour out of the day. And, even there, we can be thankful for what we have and what we will share.

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you.

May the coming year offer each day as an opportunity to share God's gifts with those around you. 


Monday, November 20, 2017

i love a parade


I really do.

For me, nothing captures the spirit of a small town as well as how people choose to celebrate important dates. And parades are perfect cultural mirrors.

I have now been in the local area long enough to witness a bushel of parades. Independence Day. The Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The feast of San Antonio de Padua. The Feast of San Patricio.

Today was Mexican Revolution day. Depending on which historian you prefer to believe, the revolution lasted either ten years or nineteen years. But everyone agrees, it all started on 20 November 1910. And, there is a story associated with that date.


President Porfirio Diaz had served almost thirty years as president of Mexico by the time the 1910 elections rolled around. Even though he came to power as an opponent of allowing Benito Juarez to be re-elected president, he soon became convinced that no one could rule Mexico as well as he could.

Under his presidency, the economy boomed, agriculture became far more efficient, and there was peace after almost seventy years of Mexicans fighting one another following Mexico's independence from Spain. But Porfirio Diaz was also a very nasty piece of work. There was no political liberty. New leaders were frozen out of the system.

A northerner, Francisco Madero, decided in 1910 enough was enough. He would run against Porfirio Diaz for the presidency. Madero was no revolutionary. He was a true Liberal in the Mexican sense of that term, and the scion of a very wealthy family.



In his campaign through the country, he preached the gospel of liberty and the evil of re-election. Porfirio Diaz's re-election in particular. But also the danger of re-election to any political office in Mexico. He would have been a fan of Cyril Northcote Parkinson -- had he lived that long.
Instead of letting Madero's campaign run its course, Porfirio Diaz jailed Madero. While in prison, Porfirio Diaz was re-elected in a rigged process.


Madero's father exercised his influence to get permission for his son to ride daily outside the prison walls -- accompanied by four guards on horseback. In an early precedent for El Chapo, the guards just let Madero ride off.

Like all good revolutionaries, he fled his country to organize what would be the Mexican Revolution from his refuge in San Antonio, Texas. He had a plan -- the Plan de San Luis.

That plan called for all Mexicans en masse to rise up against The Dictator at 6:00 PM on 20 November 1910. (Madero was a bit obsessive about such matters.) Fully expecting he would be met by hundreds of armed men on the Mexican side of the border, Madero crossed over the Rio Bravo with ten men and 100 rifles at the appointed time.

And there he found only another 10 men. Twenty men do not a revolution make. He returned to Texas hoping for a reset.




Eventually, the Revolution gained strength. Six months later Porfirio Diaz was no longer president, having fled to exile in Spain -- dying in Paris in 1915 during another great war.


So, that is what my neighbors were celebrating today. Not the belated start of the revolution, but the overthrow of the dictator and all he stood for. It was the "all he stood for" part of the revolution that would lead to the death of a million Mexicans during the subsequent years of warfare when various Revolutionary leaders would die at the hands of other Revolutionary leaders.

Even though the vendors who sell Revolution paraphernalia never showed up in our town, this was one of the most lively parades I have ever witnessed here. And I am not certain why.

All of the usual elements were there.

Enough cute children to peg a diabetic's glucose meter.





Lots of pretty girls and handsome boys from the local schools looking as if they could be rooting for their favorite high school football team in Texas. And you know which type of football that would be. Not the one with the round ball.





While the girls cheered them on, the boys would create some of the most improbable human pyramids.




Sometimes, walking the whole route is not the best option when a pickup is available.



  
And, of course, there have to be women with their traditional Jalisco butterfly dresses. This group has just drenched the audience with beer.



There was also an historical anomaly in the parade. I will let you guess.  Here's a hint. The parade honored the Mexican revolution. 
But it is rather obvious. (Even though the three Mexican friends I asked did not see it.)

 
What was different this year may have been me. I positioned myself away from the crowd to get the most unobstructed shots possible. Most of the groups just marched past me. But then one school's team stopped marching and clustered together yelling: "Foto. Foto."


Then another.




Then another.




And another.



There were more. But you get my point. And each time we went through this exercise, I had an opportunity to chat in my tortuous Spanish and the participants practiced their English.

One other factor was at play. Because of Barco, and my recent quest to practice my Spanish in the immersion program of my neighborhood, I knew several of the parade participants.

And that made all the difference. It almost made me feel as if I was in a place where I belong.

On that, I agree with myself.




Sunday, November 19, 2017

meet the meat


One of the regular dinners served up by bloggers in Mexico is the recurring theme of the availability of merchandise that was once impossible to find south of Laredo.

I lived in Laredo in the early 1970s when I first ventured across the Rio Bravo. Those were the days when automobile clubs advised drivers to carry plenty of spare parts. That now sounds quaint since Mexico is one of the world's major manufacturer of parts automotive.

Crossing the border in the 1970s was like entering the foreign country that Mexico was. Decades of protectionist legislation on both sides of the border made finding familiar brands in Mexico almost impossible.

Major changes came in the form of NAFTA in the 1990s. Lists of protective tariffs on both sides of the border were eliminated in transitional stages. When I returned to Mexico in 2007, it was a far different place than my introduction through the winshield of my 1967 red Olds Cutlass Supreme convertible.

Megastores in Manzanillo carried food and clothing that I could have purchased in my hometown of Salem. And, when I moved in 2009, the changes kept rolling in.

Back in the 1970s, I had to find a suitable substitute or learn how to do without. Usually, the latter. By the 2000s, substitutes were readily available.

And now? Thanks to one of our very clever entrepreneurs (Alex Corona, the owner of Super Hawaii), I can buy almost any food I can imagine. Alex trucks supplies from Costco to his store in San Patricio. And he has additional suppliers who can pull rabbits out of their top hats.

Wheat Thins! His suppliers can get Wheat Thins for him.

All of that comes at a price premium, of course. Specialty goods in small quantities are expensive. And a strong US dollar against the peso makes those luxuries even more expensive.

For me, the indulgences are worth the price.

When I was in Puerto Vallarta earlier in the month, I stopped at Costco. One meat I have missed in Mexico is ham. Thick ham. For soups or sandwiches or breakfast meals.

With all of the good pork in Mexico, I am surprised that no one seems to prepare hams -- other than as lunch meat. I have tried smoked pork chops, but the consistency of the meat is just not correct.

At one time, Costco sold ham steaks -- two steaks to a package. For whatever reason, the company stopped selling them a couple of years ago.

That is why I thought I was in hog heaven when I discovered a new product. Ham ends packaged in just the right size for a single guy.

I test drove the package I bought this morning. I prepared an egg and vegetable dish -- onion, garlic, red and yellow bell peppers, serrano and habanero peppers, cherry tomatoes. Ham seemed to be a perfect complement. And it was. The ham was tender and perfectly salted.

What is even better is that Alex saw the same hams and has stocked them at Hawaii. It appears ham is back on the list of ingredients for my meals.

And the availability of food should continue just as long as Donald Trump does not foul up NAFTA. Of course, Mexican voters could throw a spanner into the free trade works by electing the Trump-like populist who now leads the presidential polls in Mexico.

Ham may be the least of my worries then.


Saturday, November 18, 2017

the dog that didn't bark


Someone has stolen the Mexican Revolution.

Yeah, I know. Every Mexican politician makes the same complaint. But, that is not what is missing around here.

Revolution day is on Monday. 20 November. It is 117 years since forces rose in northern Mexico to overthrow the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz. In a mere three days (by local reckoning), our little village will be celebrating the event that defined how Mexicans think about themselves, their country, and the strangers who live outside their borders.

In the past, stands and carts filled with Mexican flags, fake moustaches, and very loud fireworks would have spontaneously sprouted throughout town. The market is certainly there. The village is filled with tourists who have been disgorged from convoys of first class tour buses to enjoy the three-day weekend.

But not a stand is to be found. I had noticed the dearth of revolutionary merchandise on my walks and drives during the past two days. Just in case I missed something, I drove around the village and found empty space where stands are usually erected.

While I was scouting, I ran into my friend Jorge, one of my best sources of local news. He was just as surprised as I was that the stands are missing. Maybe tomorrow, he said.

That is a possibility. I have served on several projects with my Mexican neighbors. My northern neuroses kick in during the planning stage that nothing seems to happen until the last minute. But when it does happen, everything falls into place. It is a great patience tool for me.

So, maybe tomorrow there will be plenty of places to bedeck oneself as a Pancho Villa wannabe or a Emiliano Zapata doppelganger. And I always know where I can buy fireworks that will make the Battle of the Somme seem like an ambassador's tea.

Even if there is no patriotic paraphernalia to purchase, I know the local schools are ready for the parade in Barra de Navidad on Monday. On my Thursday walk, I saw one school taking a break from classes to rehearse their marching. As a Mexican teacher friend told me, marching always outranks arithmetic.

I missed the local Independence day parade when I was up north indulging in my 50th high school reunion. Covering the Revolution day parade for you will help me make my cute kids quota for the year.

At least, that will not go missing.


Tuesday, November 14, 2017

having lived a life of good


There are two types of people who grease the wheels that drive communities.

One publicly pulls all the levels of power and sounds the whistle of accomplishments. You read about them in the newspaper, on their facebook pages, in social service agendas, on church calendars. And, yes, on their blogs.

Then there is the other type. They work quietly getting done what needs to be done. With absolutely no attention called to themselves.

Ronald Reagan used to say: "There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit."

Lee Yoast was that type of guy. I first met Lee just over three years ago when I was drafting an essay on the continuing drama of water and sewer responsibilities in a large portion of Barra de Navidad. It turned out to be a far more complex issue than I had thought.

Lee sent me an email and volunteered to give me a full briefing at his home. And "full briefing" was exactly the word for it.

He had schematics of the entire sewer and water systems in our little community. Where the pumps were located, which pumps were working, and which sewer lines were blocked. All color coded.

Because of his detailed knowledge, I was not the least bit surprised when he told me he had been a custom home builder in Portland, Oregon. The blueprints were a dead giveaway.

But, he did not stop there. For him, a problem defined was merely the first step to a solution. We started going through the possible ways to repair the system. He had been working with the public service employees responsible for the maintenance of the sewer and water. That gave him a lot of insight that I had not heard from other people I had interviewed on the topic.

He firmly believed that the best way to improve the infrastructure was to do what he would have done up north -- get to know the people with the political power to resolve the issue, and then work with them on the solution.

I was impressed. Here was a guy, who could have easily sat back in retirement and let other people deal with an almost intractable issue. Instead, he was willing to offer his expertise in a culturally-sensitive way.

All through our conversation, I thought I had seen him before. But he told me we had not met.

Two days later, it hit me. Lee was the guy who maintained the median strips leading into our town. I had seen him on his riding lawnmower tidying up our common home. Lee and his wife Christine had also erected a sign at the entrance of our village to welcome visitors.

When I approached him about writing an essay about his volunteer work, he emphatically said no. He was not doing the work for praise. He was doing it because it needed to be done.

Last Friday, I returned home and noticed that several flower arrangements were set in front of the welcome sign. It had the look of a memorial, rather than a beautification project.




It was a memorial. For Lee. On Thursday, he was riding his motorcycle north on the main highway when he suffered a fatal crash.

In the few days since his death, I have discovered several other important projects Lee was involved in. All of them important to the community. All of them conducted with silent dignity. And all of them reflecting his love of Barra and the people who live here.

When we are forced to face some of the harder facts of life, we can intellectually accept the irreversibility of time, but the emotional side of our logic seeks answers that simply cannot be provided.

Why? What if? I wish I had. What does it all mean?

Plato tried to make sense of our otherwise-unexamined lives by counselling: "Embrace your losses as fair payment for the surplus of being alive."

That is how Lee lived his life. Nothing could be done about the past, but he could quietly take hold of today and do his best, in some small way, to make life better for his family and those around him. It is a lesson we could all tuck into our lives.

Those of us who got to know you, Lee, are the better for it. And there are plenty of people who live here who will never know what you have done to make theirs a better life. And, I know you would like it that way.

As for me, Lee, I am going to miss you. And think about you everytime I see that sign welcoming visitors to our little town. 


Sunday, November 12, 2017

krafting the memories


"How can you afford to retire to Mexico? When my husband and I were there last year, it cost us $400 a night."

She worked in the computer division of our company. The year was 2009. I had just told her that I had finally finalized my plans to move to Mexico.

I thought of her comment last week when I headed north to Puerto Vallarta to spend the day with a friend and his wife. They were staying at Sunset Plaza, one of Puerto Vallarta's all-inclusive resorts. I had stayed there almost exactly two years ago with a friend (killing me softly).


Even though it did not cost $400 a night, it was what my fellow employee had in mind when she thought about the cost of living in Mexico.

Of course, I live here for far less than $400 a day. That is because I live in my own private resort in Barra de Navidad, not in an all-inclusive resort in Puerto Vallarta.

Wayne Kraft and his wife Arlene were in Puerto Vallarta about this time last year. I wanted to drive up and see them, but I was in the throes of dealing with Barco's death. When they told me they were going to be in Puerto Vallarta just after I returned from Europe, I decided I was not going to miss an opportunity to see them.




Wayne is one of my lawyer friends from my private practice days when I was a criminal defense attorney. I first met him when he was a bailiff for one of my favorite circuit court judges. He then became a deputy district attorney, and we crossed swords occasionally.

Criminal law is a bit like warfare. And criminal lawyers -- both prosecutors and defense attorneys -- often build the same type of strong personal bonds that are found amongst combat soldiers. And between some clients and their attorneys.

Poor Arlene had to sit through a full day of lawyer war stories. Lawyers can put any fighter pilot to shame when it comes to relating a battle tale.

Meeting up with Wayne was a bit coincidental. When he was still a bailiff, he told me that my client, who was about to be sentenced, was a favorite of the judge. He was one of mine, as well. I did my best to help Brad find a better path in life. During my brief stay in Reno last week, I met with him and discovered that life was going well for him.

Wayne and Arlene are quite pleased with the Sunset Plaza and its all-inclusive services. So much so that they intend to return next year.

I started to write that all-inclusive resorts feel a bit odd to me. But, I do not know why. After all, they are not unlike cruise ships -- whose praises I sing. And reading my post from two years ago, I found that stay to be very recuperative.

I am not very fond of Puerto Vallarta. It topped my list of prospective retirement spots in Mexico -- only because I knew it best. I soon discovered that it had all of the problems of a big city without offering the cultural offsets that big cities should. And each trip there simply confirms that my decision was wise beyond its years.

But I will return to see Wayne and Arlene. In fact, I may decide to spend a short  vacation at the Sunset Plaza before then -- if I can find someone who wants to enjoy the pleasures of $400-a-night Mexico.
 

Saturday, November 11, 2017

a day to remember


On the eleventh day on the eleventh month at 11 AM (or so the legend goes) in 1918, an armistice was called bringing to a close the first act of the bloodiest war Europe had ever seen.

More than 18 million people lost their lives. But there was a greater casualty --  the promise that liberal progressivism offered Europe bled to death on the fields of Flanders. In its place, arose a Communist tide in Russia and a cynical socialism in western Europe that would soon do battle with an even more cynical Fascism in mere years from the signing of the armistice.

But all of that was to come. At the appointed hour on 11 November 1918, the guns fell silent. And, if there was not joy, there was relief from four long years of despair.

Initially, no one was interested in celebrating what had been one tragedy built on the next. But, the British, always willing to turn anything into a ceremony, were the first to honor the fallen dead. Starting in 1919.

The tradition spread through Europe and the Commonwealth nations. And even to The States where it fit in well with a growing sense of isolationism. A reminder that never again would American boys die on foreign soil.

Of course, American boys were soon to die in foreign countries. Lot of them. And still are. As are soldiers from all of the countries who honor Armistice Day. Or Remembrance Day. Or Veterans' Day.

This is the day that Americans honor veterans in general. (Memorial Day is for those who have fallen.)

But I am not in The States today. I am in Mexico.

Not surprisingly, Mexico does not celebrate on this day. It was not a party to World War One. It was still fighting its own revolution. But the Germans did their best to enlist Mexico in the war against the United States -- as a political diversion. Mexico did not take the bait.

However, the Canadians and Americans who are here in our part of Mexico joined today at 11 AM at Rooster's for a moment of silence, a reading of John McCrae's In Flanders Fields, and a singing of the national anthems of The United States, Canada and Mexico (even though, as I just mentioned, Mexico had no involvement in the war, and Mexican law prohibits the singing of foreign national anthems without the permission of the Secretary of Interior).

The program has become an annual tradition. And I always take part. Usually, as the poem reader. After all, I am a veteran.

It is the least we can do to remember the men and women who have sacrificed a portion of their lives (and often, their full lives) to the service of their country.

To all of you who have served, I say thank you. May your honorable acts be worthy of how we operate our civil society.


Monday, November 06, 2017

freezing alaska's tail


We apologize for the inconvenience. Our programming has been interrupted by inclement weather.

Or so Alaska Airlines would have us believe.

When we last talked, I was still in Reno waiting for my return flight to Manzanillo. Because I am trying to upgrade my frequent flyer status with Alaska, I had bocked a rather circuitous route -- Reno to Boise to Portland to Los Angeles, and then on to Manzanillo. That would give me just enough miles to earn MVP gold status.

I was originally scheduled to leave Reno around 3 in the afternoon. I then received a notice that the Boise flight was delayed just long enough to not allow me to catch the flight to Portland.

So I called the MVP concierge. I knew something was wrong because I was on hold for almost a full hour. But I was able to get on a flight directly to Portland with a departure time around 5 in the afternoon.

Roy took me to the airport. When I checked in, I discovered the flight had been decayed until 10. That time kept creeping later. The official word was that ice in Seattle earlier in the day had thrown off the entire Friday flight schedule.

I have seen these rolling delays many times. Inevitably they roll along to the point where the airline has no air crew hours left. The flight is then cancelled.

That would be disastrous for me. If I did not get to Portland for the 5 AM flight, I would miss my connection in Los Angeles, forcing me to wait for another week. Or so I thought.

II was lucky this time. The flight did not leave until around 11. That put me in my bed in the Portland hotel after 1 AM. Just enough time to nap for two hours before I had to get to the airport for my 5 AM flight to Los Angeles.

I have long envied people who can sleep on airplanes. I am not one of those people. The cabin is inevitably too hot and I simply cannot sleep sitting up.

As a result, even though I have been in Barra de Navidad since Saturday afternoon, I have been playing Rip Van Winkle for the past three days. My naps have turned into full day affairs.

But I am rested up and ready to jump back into my life in Mexico. That is, as soon as I receive my last piece of luggage.

My duffel bag decided it needed a vacation from traveling. The good people at Alaska discovered it tagless in Los Angeles. Fortunately, this week our once-a-week summer flights will be extended to two. That means I will have my dirty laundry on Wednesday, rather than on Saturday.

It also means, I will be able to drive up to Puerto Vallarta on Thursday to see a friend I have not seen in years. I will leave it at that.

After all, I have had enough surprises on my last trip. I should save one for you. 


Friday, November 03, 2017

mashing wits


It's one of my favorite MASH jokes.

Season Five. While Colonel Potter is away, his horse gets sick. B.J. offers to call his father-in-law for help.

B.J.: Hey! My father-in-law has been in Oklahoma for 50 years.

Hawkeye: Once you're in a road company, it's very hard to get back to Broadway.

It is pure Larry Gelbart. But it is true. And I have family to prove it.

On Wednesday, I received a message from my putative daughter, Laura. You met them as guest stars in my little situation comedy I call life this past winter. She was touring The States and Mexico on a motorcycle with her husband, Josh, their son, Jeremiah, and their two dogs, Eddy and Culprit (moving to mexico -- driving the demons). By sheer coincidence, their travels had brought them an hour away from Reno.

She wanted to know if I was interested in lunch or dinner. Of course, I was. I would not miss an opportunity to see them again -- and to pull them on stage for another guest star turn.

We met for lunch yesterday afternoon. They had seen a little Peruvian restaurant on their drive into town. Just a short walk away. So, we did. Walk.

Then we sat. And ate. And talked. And laughed. Just as any good situation comedy family should. Probably more Simpsons than Donna Reed.

There is something about spending a leisurely meal with family. Especially, with Josh's sense of irony. Our thrusts and ripostes would have felt at home at the Algonquin Round Table. I know I did.

And then it was over. They mounted their motorcycle and headed off into the afternoon.

I suspect this will not be the last we see of our intrepid on-the-road band.

After all, once you're in a road company --- .


Wednesday, November 01, 2017

where the sky is bigger than the town


It certainly is not the Miami skyline. Not with all of that asphalt and the noticeable lack of water.

But Reno has a scenic attraction of its own. Like Katisha from The Mikado  whose left elbow people came miles to see.

I am accustomed to the look. Neither Bend nor Salem are good-looking towns. From the air, they appear almost unfinished. But it is their surroundings that people remember.

For Salem, it is the Willamette Valley and the surrounding mountains. For Bend, it is the in-your-face grandeur of the Cascades.

Reno is a bit different. Sure, there are the foothills of the Sierra Nevadas. But the local attraction is its horizon-defying desert and the nearby hidden (at least from Reno) treasure of Lake Tahoe.

Nevada is now my legal residence in The States. I guess it makes me a tax exile, but it is what passes for home these days. Without one, drivers' licenses are impossible to obtain, voting is difficult, and having an American credit card would be a chimera. That is why I traded the Western Meadowlark for the Mountain Bluebird.

And I will be trading the bluebird for the golden eagle on Friday afternoon when I start my trek south in a rather convoluted path. From Reno to Boise to Portland to Los Angeles to Manzanillo.

Where the skyline of Barra de Navidad will be a welcome sight.

Monday, October 30, 2017

on florida's shore


The morning sunlight hitting the skyline of Miami has always been one of my favorite sights.

That was going to be my opening line for today's essay, but it is patently untrue. I have never seen the morning sunlight on the Miami skyline. I have seen the skyline several times when boarding afternoon cruises. But never in the morning.


But it is quite a sight, isn't it? I guess most cities that nestle against vast bodies of water can make the same claim. Manhattan in the morning is a prime example.

What that sight meant for me, though, is that another cruise was over. Even though I have nearly a week of travel in front of me before I return home to Mexico.

Today I am in Orlando. It was simply a stop over for the night before I head on to Reno. I will spend a few days at my legal residence in Nevada, and then head to Boise to Portland to Los Angeles for my return trip.

I needed to take care of some banking this morning. I tied it in with my morning walk. And I am glad I did. Otherwise, I would not have seen this sign that reminded me of the last cruise tale I will tell you. At least, for this cruise.


Each morning I would walk my paces on deck 8 -- the promenade deck. In theory, between the hours of 7 AM and 4 PM, the deck is designated as a quiet zone. To give readers the space they would not have in other public areas.

But it was hardly a quiet zone. In each group of couches, there was at least one guy who mistook the readers as a potential audience at Hyde Park speakers corner. Usually, an American.

One guy in particular was a serial violator. But there were always plenty of international listeners in his amen corner. Most of the time, it was the standard left litany. Wealth is too concentrated. Trump is an idiot. Israel is a menace to world peace.

One day, though, he headed in an entirely different direction. He was listing cities that his European audience should visit. On each of my laps, he frommered his way through a new city.

I was almost done when he made it to Miami. "Miami. If you want to see Americans, there are none in Miami. Just Cubans and Jews."

I nearly stopped in mid-stride until I noticed the Europeans were nodding in agreement. That did not surprise me. Almost all of my leftist friends in Europe have a strong streak of anti-semitism. But, then, so do a lot of my conservative European friends. And sentiment for refugees has certainly declined on the continent.

Choosing when to mount one's moral dudgeon stallion is a necessary art on cruises. That is probably true with life in general. The fact that the Cubans and Jews that were being reviled were American citizens would not have mattered to that particular blowhard.

But facts do not seem to matter much in politics these days. And that is true for a lot of the world beyond the borders of The States. Just try having a rational discussion about Mexico's current president. It ain't going to happen.

Thus, I take comfort in looking at pretty skylines. Miami yesterday. Orlando today. Reno tomorrow.

And then my little village by the sea reflecting the sunset across the bay. Where I will be home. For at least a month or two.