Tuesday, August 19, 2014

it's not your father's b&r

I do not like ice cream.

Well, that is not quite true.  I am not fond of ice cream.  With the exception of one flavor:  Baskin-Robbins Cherries Jubilee is as good as life gets.

I have been eating the Bing cherry-bejeweled ice cream since the late 1960s when it was called Burgundy Cherry.  I suspect that focus groups were then unaware of the classy moniker "Burgundy," at least when associated with things French. 

Back then Burgundy was a jug wine made by Ernest and Julio.  Thus, the switch to the festive Cherries Jubilee.  A name to invoke linen napkins, silver eating utensils, and high octane flames.

Whatever B&R called it, I was hooked.  Whenever I returned to Oregon from my travels abroad, I would always grab a double scoop.  When I settled in Salem, I simply bought a 3-gallon container now and then to have my habit close at hand in my basement freezer.

I knew I had become a junkie when the young man at the ice cream store pulled out my purchase and asked: "Would you like a spoon with that?"

Or, at the same store, when my brother, while driving through Salem, walked through the door and was greeted by the clerk with: "Two scoops Cherries Jubilee.  Flat-bottom cone.  Right?"  There was no way I could deny making regular stops.

When I left for Mexico six years ago, I knew ice cream would be a thing of the past.  Some people love the ice cream down here.  Not me.  It is far too sweet.  And there is no Cherries Jubilee.

Or, so I thought.  Last winter two acquaintances from San Miguel de Allende were staying in Villa Obregon during January.  They told me one thing we have here, that they do not have in the highlands, is a Thrifty ice cream store.  I had seen the sign before, but I thought it was a hardware store.

I went inside with them thinking I would sit out this round of snacks.  Then I saw it.  The name was different (simply Black Cherry), but it looked like Cherries Jubilee.  Better yet, it almost tasted like Cherries Jubilee.

A bit sweeter.  Less creamy.  But it was all there.  Cherry-flavored ice cream chock full of Bing cherry chunks.

Black Cherry is now my occasional treat.  No 3-gallon containers to take home.  After all, my tiny freezer compartment would not be up to that task.

But once a month or so, I wandered in to talk with my pusher.  Fortunately, my visits are not frequent enough that he knows my order.  When that happens, I may need to switch to a different treat.  Or, at least, to the Thrifty store in Barra.

After all, a guy has a reputation to uphold.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Yesterday I wandered through town looking for something to add a bit of spice to Mexpatriate.  But nothing seemed to quite suit my camera.

Until I stopped across from one of our local grocery markets.  We have had a small bit of rain over the past two days.  That means lower humidity.  But it also means standing water in the street.

Usually, that is a nuisance.  I wear leather sandals.  Wading through ankle-deep water is not a good match for my footwear.

But costs often creates benefits.  As I stood looking at the obstacle between the store and me, I noticed something odd about the water.  It was not an obstacle, at all.  It was a mirror image of my little village.

So, out came the camera.  Right next to me, an older Mexican couple were sitting on the sidewalk in front of their house.  When I angled my camera toward the ground, her face took on the type of confused look I get anytime someone tries to explain the difference between sine and cosine.

I showed her the result and made the bold pronouncement: "It's beautiful."  I may as well have added tangent to my list.  She scrunched up her face and said: "Nothing beautiful here."

Her husband took a long look at the screen on my camera, and agreed with me.  "Very beautiful," he said.  Maybe a bit too kindly.

Which only goes to show that even though there may be objective factors for beauty, we can find its Platonic truth in some of the most unlikely places.  My love of Donatello's Mary Magdalene, for example.

I am not certain what spurred me in that exchange to think of The Princess Bride.  But that was my movie fare for the night on Netflix.  I had hoped to watch the only Robin Williams's movie that I thoroughly enjoy -- One Hour Photo.  But it was not in the inventory.

Instead, I spent the evening eating home-made chocolate pudding and re-acquainting myself with the Princess Buttercup, Westley, and Inigo Montoya.  Without doubt, it must be the most quotable movie in Christendom.  When Roy and I presented our periodic legal updates to our fellow employees, we would regularly pepper our performances with lines from the movie.

Such goodies as:

  • "Hello!  My name is Inigo Montoya!  You killed my father!  Prepare to die!"
  • "You keep using that word.  I do not think it means what you think it means." 
  • "I just work for Vizzini to pay the bills.  There’s not a lot of money in revenge."
  • "Life is pain, Highness.  Anyone who says differently is selling something."
  • "When I was your age, television was called books."
With everything that has happened this past week, it was fun to watch a film as clever as this.  I had almost forgotten that I have an acquaintance here who is a dead ringer for Carol Kane's character.   When the credits roll, it always leaves me with a sense of joy.

In fact, let me share them with you.  Try to remember, and smile.
"As you wish."


Sunday, August 17, 2014

a stalk on the wild side

Living in the tropics is like being an extra in a road show of Little Shop of Horrors.  There are nascent Audreys at every corner.

When I was out playing Sherlock Holmes in the compost pile the other day, I stepped back with my camera to get get a shot of my volunteer corn stalk, and nearly was toppled by the spike in this photograph.  I thought the garden had been invaded by a gargantuan asparagus stalk.

The spike was not there a day or two ago.  And now it is almost as tall as I am.  Mind you, that is a bit like saying it is world-famous in Poland.*  I do not hit the towering scale in height.  Even though I am taller than most of my neighbors.

Unless I am mistaken, the plant is an aloe.  It has some cousins on the other side of the garden that put up giant candelabra of flowers that are visited nightly before the spike and the plant pass on to the great plant composter in sky.  For these plants, the act of reproduction is a climax without a second act -- just like being a male praying mantis.

I hope that I am going to get to see another tropical flower show before I head across the Atlantic to see the old country.  With two weeks left here, there are undoubtedly plenty of goings-on to share.

I guess we will find out when each day gets here.

* -- Why do I always think of Rula Lenska whenever I use that line?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

what you dig is what you eat

Welcome aboard the serendipity express.

Yesterday, I had a post in draft stage, but I bumped it in favor of my black dog of summer piece.  As luck would have it, my blogger pal Al beat me to the punch.  In a way.

Al and Stew live just outside of San Miguel de Allende in one of the most beautiful spreads I have seen in Mexico.  You met them two years ago in peace center.

On Thursday, Al posted an essay about the abundant produce they are harvesting from their garden.  Locavores, eat your heart out.  "Lemon cucumbers, a couple of types of squash, five or six kinds of tomatoes, including three heirloom varieties, along with various types of beets, radishes, carrots and a seemingly endless cavalcade of different lettuces plus Swiss chard and kale." 

It is enough to turn a guy to thoughts of vegetarianism.  Well, with a bit of chicken thrown in here and there.  Here on the beach, chicken is considered a vegetable.  Just like bacon.

By the way, if the term "locavore" is new to you, you are undoubtedly not one of America's elite foodies.  A locavore is a person who will only eat food grown within 100 miles of the dining table.  The type of person who would vote socialist, as long as it did not adversely impact their 401K plan.

When my niece worked in a foo-foo produce shop in Bend, Oregon, a local woman brought a hand of bananas to her at the checkout counter and asked if the bananas were locally grown.  You do not need to know much more about locavores than that.

I suppose I am one, though.  At least when it comes to fruits and vegetables.  Almost all of the vegetarian fare we eat here in Melaque is grown on our narrow flood plain between the ocean and he mountains.  Easily within 100 miles of my casa.  And that has its benefits and costs.  We get great-tasting vegetables -- with the notable exception of tomatoes.

The tomato dilemma has prodded me to find a solution.  The most obvious is to grow my own.  And that would be great if it were not for the deadly tobacco blight that tends to turn most tomato plants into a back goo overnight.  Or the army of leaf-cutter ants that have an almost pregnant-obsession with potted plants.  Or the fact that I am away from my place for longer periods of time than any farmer in good conscience could ever be.

So, I have no vegetable garden.

I do have a compost pile, though.  Well, it is a vegetable and fruit dumping ground.  I seldom tend it as a compost pile should be tended.  Not regularly, at least.

A recent trip to the compost pile convinced me that it may be time to take a stab at emulating Al and Stew.  The first thing I noticed was a vine of some sort.  Squash, I assumed.  Whatever it was, the next day it was gone.  The victim of my nemesis the ants.

The most unusual volunteer was a stalk of corn.  Not a Kansas stalk, mind you.  It looked more like a Rhode Island size.  But there it was.  Unplanted.  Untended.  And with an ear forming.

I have no idea how it got there.  I certainly did not put out seed.  And the only corn that has gone in the pile was of the cob variety.  Boiled corn does not babies make.

As far as I am concerned, it was a mystical sign that it is time for Mexpatriate to put down roots.  Buy a dog.  Plant a garden.  And fight the leaf cutter ants on a daily basis -- rather than on my infrequent visits.

Chicomecoatl, the Aztec goddess of fertility and corn, just might smile on my efforts.  Though, I am not certain I would like the Orozco version hanging around my garden.

Friday, August 15, 2014

roof with a view

I am up on the roof today.

When there are no renters in the upper unit of my place, I come up here now and then to enjoy the view.  Now that the flamboyant tree has been put to the axe and the ficus has been sheared, we can actually see water from up here.

But I did not come up here for the view.  I needed a place to sit and organize my thoughts.  The garden would usually work, but the breeze on these hot, humid days is better on the third floor.

And, somehow, I feel a bit lifted up from our little burg.  I love living in small towns.  But with every benefit there comes a cost.  And in small towns, smallness is almost free on the open market.

There is no need to bore you with the details, but every decade or so, the black dog comes for a visit.  And this was the day.

Actually, it has been building for a couple of days.  I can always feel the symptoms.  Sleep is elusive.  I stay in bed until noon.  Meeting people slips from a pleasure to a chore.

I have been mulling over some thoughts for an essay on the deaths of Lauren Bacall and Robin Williams.  In a way, I will miss her more.  She was one of those screen presences whose work will survive -- even when her role was nothing more than supportive.  Seeing her twice on Broadway in terrible vehicles was still a treat.

But she is one of those celebrities who I had thought died years ago.  Fame is fleeting.

Robin Williams is in an entirely different category.  Whenever a celebrated person commits suicide, people are baffled.  One of the most common responses is: "How could he do that?  He had everything."  Of course, most people who say that have been sucked into the cult that wealth and success buy happiness.  And we know that is not true. 

I was still in law school when I first saw Robin Williams on television.  I believe it was the summer of 1978.  My classmates Bill and Doug were watching late night television.  One of the summer midnight specials.  This one was from San Francisco where a young new comedian was about to take America by storm.

The three of us knew we were seeing something new.  For some reason his impression of Superman on speed struck us as hilarious.  I still remember what I said: "This guy is nuts."  Over the years, I discovered I was correct, but in darker ways than I had thought. Williams was one of those celebrities who almost wore "tragic ending" on his forehead.

Watching him on stage was like watching a mental patient who was barely managing to keep his fingertips wrapped around the throat of reality.  No tight-rope walker made audiences hold their breaths hoping that the unexpected would not happen.

It usually didn't.  Usually, he left an audience behind still wondering if they had actually experienced what they thought they had.  It may be why some of his best acting roles cast him either as a therapist or as a mad man.

I recently lost a talented friend to the vagaries of alcohol and depression. All of us around him could only stand helpless while he took one tragic step after another. It was like watching someone standing on a frozen lake while the ice broke up around them.

My blogger pal Shannon Casey just posted a very touching essay on the topic of depression: The Thin Line.  She recounts a series of famous people who have been toppled by depression.  One of her commenters added that some gentle people who suffer depression may commit suicide because "they are too gentle for this world."

Both of them are correct.  But there are other people who suffer depression, and their condition drives them to face their demons with violence.  We have seen a series of bouts worked out throughout the world where someone suffering from mental illness decides to commit suicide by killing others and letting the police kill him.

All of that has very little to do with me and my reverie on the roof, however.  Even though some of my family members have used knives and baseball bats to work out their own mental problems.

But I am not one.  For starters this mood is not clinical depression.  I am simply indulging in the type of childish revenge musings that pull small towns apart.  And rather than continue the cycle, I have decided to stay up here until the mood passes.  Staying away from company is always a good idea when my mind treads these corridors.

Well, to be honest, it already passed a couple of hours ago.  To celebrate, I walked over to La Oficina to enjoy some of Juliana's spinach pasta.  It was good to be in the company of people again.

At least, for now.  This may be the sign I was waiting for that it is time to move on to something new.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

signs of the time

Well, this is something you are most likely not going to see in Canada or The States. 

Not the sign to the left.  That is a product of the American Old South.  I am talking about the advertisement below -- an advertisement that would cause the claxon of propriety to sound a warning.

The advertisement is for an apartment in Morelia -- I believe.  It sounds quite attractive.  Even with the requirement for a six month lease.  The surprise comes in the third to last sentence. 
Fully furnished, remodeled two bedroom apartment in el centro, one block from the Mercado San Juan and close to downtown restaurants. Extra large living room, dining room, kitchen, one bath. Private entrance, completely secure. Main level features two patios and a separate storage room.  An upper level offers sweeping sun-rise views, a new built-in barbecue, bar area and patio big enough to hold a dance on. Cable TV and Internet provided.  Owner prefers male renters or mature women. A small, well-behaved pet is acceptable. Six months minimum lease required.

"Owner prefers male renters or mature women."  One can only imagine what the walls of that apartment have seen to result in that odd restriction.

I remember seeing similar advertisements when I was growing up in Oregon.  "Single gentlemen only."  "No children."  "No single ladies."

A long line of legislation has erased those restrictions from the classified advertisements -- well, at least, where classified advertisements still exist.  I suspect they have almost all migrated to the internet these days.

Of course, the sentiments survive.  If a landlord is reluctant to rent to young men, she can simply not rent to them -- always risking a visit from the fairness police.  And a subsequent fine.

Mexico simply skips the hypocrisy step.  If you own a piece of property and you don't want to deal with your own prejudices, you simply put them out in public to be read by all.  And, if someone gets offended, they just need to learn to deal with it.

It makes those of us from the north just a bit uneasy.  After all, "male renters preferred" does not create the same visceral reaction as "No coloreds."  And, even though there are huge historical differences between the two, they still strike northerners as -- well, wrong.

And if I find the advertisement offensive?  What can I do?  Here's an idea.  Mount your moral horse and don't bother responding to the advertisement.  Even if you are a preferred male or mature woman.

Who knows, after a few snubs, we northerners may conform Mexicans to our particular brand of hypocrisy. 

Who says cultures can't learn from one another?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

the seasons turn

The streets of Melaque look as if John Ford has stopped by to film the climax of a western.  The big shootout could happen any minute.

In the early afternoon on a Tuesday, our streets were almost devoid of human activity.  Even our homely town square was empty.

For the past six weeks Melaque has been awash with tourists.  Mexican students get a relatively short vacation during the summer, compared with students north of the Rio Bravo.  But their families use it wisely.  Often at the beach.

During my first four summers here, the tourists came mainly on buses from Guadalajara or the surrounding towns of Jalisco.  Two years ago, there was a noticeable change.  Middle class families started showing up in expensive SUVs -- the type of families who previously spent their vacations in Puerto Vallarta.  It has been proof positive that the middle class continues to grow in Mexico.

Last Saturday, I had lunch at a restaurant across the street from the only bank in town.  When I first sat down, all I could see was a field of cars and SUVs double-parked in the street.  I assumed most were using the ATM.

By the time I had finished my meal, the street was empty.  The bank parking lot was empty.  A better writer could have conjured up a tale of pestilence and plague.  Of course, the families were on their way home to get the kiddies back in class.

These six weeks of summer vacation are incredibly important to the economy of Melaque.  Even though the largest revenue source, by far, is agriculture, the Mexican tourists bring in the second highest amount -- during the summer, on weekends, and the ever-important Christmas and Easter vacations.

I will confess that my revenue numbers are anecdotal.  They have to be.  We have no Chamber of Congress and there are no readily-available statistics from the Mexican government.  But my business sources are all unanimous in their assessment of the importance of Mexican tourism to Melaque.

And they are just as unanimous that northern tourism comes up third in overall annual revenue.  There are plenty of businesses that cater almost solely to one trade or the other.  For instance, several of the restaurants I enjoy are open only during the winter season.

But that is changing.  I have a friend who has run a high-end hotel here for years.  In the past, she would close in the summer.  She now stays open through the year and has found the Mexican trade in the summer to be very lucrative.

The same goes for the restaurant I was sitting in at the beginning of this essay. In the past two years, it has become a regular summer haunt of middle class Mexican families.  It gives me an opportunity to practice my Spanish by eavesdropping on conversations.

And that is why I often have to ask followup questions when someone asks me about the "season" in Melaque.  The only thing that is constant is that the tourist year has it own life cycle -- just like the laguna.

In truth, I will miss the tourists who have just left.  I know the waiters will.