Saturday, January 31, 2009

Bridge Over the River Cuale

The river divides Old Town Puerto Vallarta from the newer downtown and hotel zones to the north.

Rod O.D.'s in Puerto Vallarta

Calm down. No, not margaritas or drugs.

But there's only so much vacation you can stand. I've had it with 70-something-year-old ladies with platinum blond pony tails, leather tans, and pink hot pants. I've had it with everyone smoking. I've had it with fat, old Canadian and Mexican men wearing Speedos. They give a whole new meaning to "hang-over." That and hairy backs. Cover 'em up, boys.

I've had it with street touts standing in front of every restaurant and shop hustling, "Hi amigos, good cheap tequila...Come in take a look quick..." I reply, "no, gracias. I'm Quaker." That shuts 'em up right away. I'm sick of finding sand in shoes and pants and other places it should never be.

I've O.D.'ed on tourists passed out on the beach and on stuff that's three times more expensive than it ought to be. It's cynically referred to as the "gringo tax." Enough with the lines down the block in front of the most popular restaurants (if I wanted to do that, I'd have stayed in Chicago).

Guess it's time to move on. And that's just what I'll do tomorrow morning. Off to Guadalajara. It's up in the mountains, so it will be a lot cooler. Also, Guadalajara is NOT a tourist town (thank goodness), but a real, honest-to-gosh Mexican city. Number 3 in size, I believe. It's a university town with a historic town square. I'm excited and ready to be on the road. PV is a wonderful place to visit. A good vacation town, but...

The Colors of Puerto Vallarta

As in most of Mexico, colors are wild things here. The building fronts splashed with pink and turquoise and lemon yellow. Nature cooperates with fuschia bougainvillia and blood-red hybiscus. The eye dances from one bright hue to another, finding no quiet place to rest.

But, also beautiful is the lack of color. This shot was taken on the beach right at sunset on as a cloud cover rolled in. All silvers and blue-grays, a splash of white at the horizon.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Wonderful Retire to Mexico Story on ABC News

Check out this link above to a segment that aired on ABC World News on Jan. 27,
"Retire in Style South of the Border." That's exactly what I plan to do! Looks like this is becoming increasingly popular.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

$18 Hotel Room

This is a view from the balcony of my cheap hotel room in Puerto Vallarta.
I'm really splurging. In Mazatlan, I spent $11/night. Here, $18. Hey big spender!

Here's My New Office

Sand Sculptures

A New Take on Fishing

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Puerto Vallarta vs. Mazatlan

So what's the difference?

Well, they are both Mexican towns on the Pacific coast.

Mazatlan is a colonial town with significant historic architecture in their Centro Historico. The new part of Mazatlan, the "Zona Dorada" is touristy, but the town is a working port with a major fishing fleet, as well. It has a much more diverse economy.

Puerto Vallarta is primarily a resort town. Tons more restaurants and bars in Puerto Vallarta, and a much more active nightlife.

Mazatlan is cheaper. And older.
Mazatlan is relatively flat, with desert-like flora.
Puerto Vallarta, being further south is tropical--much greener. The geography is more interesting, as the city backs up to high, lush green mountains. The contrast of the sea and the mountains is very pretty.

The beaches are different:
In Mazatlan, there is a major automotive roadway that hugs the beach, Avenida Claussen (yep, German immigrant). In order to get to the beach, at most points, you have to cross a very busy street. The malecon sidewalk is on the other (beach side). You take your life in your hands dashing across, dodging macho Mexican drivers.
In Puerto Vallarta, the beach is right there. In Old Town Vallarta, where I'm staying, the perpendicular streets dead-end at the beach. The beach, therefore is much more active.

Mazatlan has a much more active cultural life. Supposedly, the city offers about 200 performances throughout the year. Many take place in the city's historic jewel, the Angela Peralta Theatre.
Puerto Vallarta's culture is more often a tequila shots contest at the local cantina.

Cruise ships stop in both cities.
Mazatlan's population is around 350,000
Puerto Vallarta's population is around 177,000.

Sign of the Times

A couple of times now on this trip I've almost broken my neck as I twisted around to see a passing poster through the windows of a bus--

This particular poster has sprouted all over Mexico at bus stops, highway roadsides, and on buildings. The campaign is financed and promoted by the Mexican Green Party, and--surprisingly for the Greeens--is propagandizing for a new law here, re-establishing the death penalty in cases of kidnapping and murder. These crimes have been all over the news here and in the U.S. due to the tidal wave of narcotrafficing violence in many parts of Mexico. The proximate cause is that President Calderon decided to crack down on the drug lords. He really had no choice, given the level of outrage in the country. Being thus squeezed, the drug lords decided to fight back. And, given the tightened opportunities for moving drugs north into the U.S., they are fighting each other for territorial rights. Think Al Capone in the 1930's.

The death penalty is quite controversial and has advocates on both sides of the issue.
Legislators in favor are accused of playing to the voters in front of an upcoming election. In a BBC interview, a Green Party spokeswoman said, "The (Mexican) state has been overcome by organized crime. Before such an extreme crisis, extreme solutions are required." She continued, "It is worth more to save one life of an innocent than that of a kidnapper who has killed and will continue to kill."

The Mexican Congress has just approved a series of forums and debates on the topic, even though the Mexican constitution officially banned the death penalty in 2005. The BBC story goes on to note that more than 1,000 people were kidnapped in 2008, but--since many families pay the ransom and don't report the crime to the police--the real statistic may be more like 5,000...more than in Iraq or Colombia.

It seems like popular opinion has swung in favor of changing the law. A threshold may have been crossed last year in June, when Francisco Marti, the 14-year-old son of a prominent Mexico City businessman was kidnapped and murdered. The entire country was outraged at the callous brutality.

In a comparative sense, in the U.S., many states have outlawed the death penalty and more are moving in that direction. But here in Mexico, after having the death penalty for decades, the Constitution was changed to prohibit it....and now, it seems, it may be reinstated.

Nations enact laws based on the demands of their societies at a point in time. And those change over time: Consider Roe vs. Wade, Brown vs. Kansas Board of Education, or the U.S. use of the prison camp at Guantanamo.

I can understand the "contra" position taken by religious communities such as the Quakers or Unitarians or Catholics, based on their belief systems. Life, indeed, is sacred. But it's also easy to understand the pro-death penalty position of the Green Party. When people are at the end of their rope, they sometimes decide to make a loop and a knot at the end of it.
My own belief is that most (NOT all) people are fundamentally good. While I am sympathetic, I am not naive. It makes me sad to have arrived at the hard conclusion, the sad truth, that evil exists in the world. And it is the obligation of government to protect the rest of us from those unredeemable people who would do us harm.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Down With Box Springs!; Reading Facial Expressions

First, the mattresses:
This is such a good idea, I don't know why it hasn't migrated to the States--
In a number of the hotels I've stayed in, the bed is built right into the floor. It is a tiled concrete platform that comes right out of the floor, up to--duh--bed height. Then on the flat concrete surface the hotel mgt. puts a relatively cushy mattress. Saves on buying box springs, you only need the mattress. And in my mind, the best part: never any dust bunnies under the bed! Too cool for words!

Second, facial expressions:
I realized this morning that most facial expressions are cross-cultural. That is, pretty much the same wherever you go. A sunny smile will get you the same right back at 'ya anywhere in Mexico. When people are sad or depressed here, same as at home, the brow furrows and the edges of the mouth turn down.

Today, I recognized a new expression, albeit very subtle: consternation.
When I speak Spanish, I speak it with an American accent. And, while I am fluent, I still make some grammatical and syntax mistakes (probably always will, not being a native speaker). So I noticed a lady clerk at the pharmacy slightly grimace as I asked her a question. She completely understood what I was asking, but it just wasn't filtering through her brain's computer as "sounds like what I always hear." Perhaps she had to apply a bit of interpretation to understand my accent or mistakes.

The facial expression was like what we do when we hear fingernails on a chalkboard. Kind of a non-verbal, "ouch!" And I wondered if we don't do the same thing at home when we have an encounter with a non-English speaker. "What?" "What are you saying?" "I don't understand. Don't you speak English?" Same sort of thing.

It's made me a little more sensitive to my own interpersonal reactions as reflected in facial expression. As an old ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher, I've pretty much heard English phrases chopped up in every way, in every accent possible. I've learned it's better to try a bit harder to understand. That old saying about "walk a mile in the other guy's moccasins" rings true to me today.

Read the Teeshirts

Throughout my travels in Mexico, it finally dawned on me that I've seen Mexican folks wearing teeshirts almost exclusively with American--not Mexican--phrases, brands, and logos. It finally struck me, "what's up with that?" It's as though walking around Phoenix or Chicago or St. Louis, we see Americans wearing Spanish-language teeshirts. (We don't.) First of all, no one could understand what it says.

One teeshirt I saw this morning was "Hope College Baseball Team." Well, I happen to know Hope College. I've been there. It is a Dutch Reformed college in Holland, Michigan. Little school, little town. But there it was, walking around (in of all places, Tepic, Mexico). How do these American walking billboards get here?

The answer: they're hand-carried back from the U.S. A staggering percentage of the Mexicans I've talked to have themselves, or a member of their family, lived in the U.S. It's called "going up North" (El Norte). And, boy is it even common! The cab driver who took me to the bus station this morning said he had a legal tourist card, but had used it to work in Los Angeles, North Carolina, San Antonio, and a couple of other places. I met one guy last fall who wanted to know where I was from.
"No, no...what part of Arizona?"
"Well, what part of Phoenix...Scottsdale, Mesa, what?"
"Downtown Phoenix."
"What street?"

This guy had lived right in Phoenix for a dozen years. And now he's back in Veracruz. All this puts a very human face on undocumented immigration to the U.S. These were all working Mexicans--cab drivers, laundry workers, hotel clerks, etc.

Teeshirt Theory #2:
Maybe there is a kind of cachet in wearing "English-speaking" apparel. Maybe it's sexier or a sign of higher class status. Sure, in the U.S. we bask in the reflected cool of owning a Swiss watch, a German car, or a French purse. European good, right?
But how many Americans have you seen walking around your city wearing teeshirts that advertise "this teeshirt is from Mexico"? No, I didn't think so. It's kind of a reverse classism...European imports cool; Mexican, not so much.

Isn't it amazing what you can read--and read into--a teeshirt?

Bus Trip from Tepic to Puerto Vallarta

Well, this was a vastly superior bus trip. I refused to go on the Elite line, and instead chose T.A.P. bus line. It was really fancy and clean. Even the passengers were a cut above. The guy across from me spent exactly half the 3-hour journey reading the Bible, and half sleeping.

Can't ask for tamer than that.

On the Road Again

Thursday, my internal travel alarm clock went off; and I said to myself, "Self, time to leave Mazatlan." I get itchy feet, you know. A hankering to move on down the road. After a week and a half in Mazatlan, that's exactly what I did. Took the bus up to Tepic, the capital of Nayarit state (see tourist review below).

It was a 4-hour bus ride going up into the mountains, leaving the shores of the Pacific. The scenery, as it slid by the bus windows, got greener and greener--well ordered rows of fruit orchards and sugar cane fields. One of the biggest sugar mills in Mexico is on the road going into Tepic, belching out pillows of white smoke with waiting trucks backed up before the crusher, loaded to overflowing with stalks of cane.

The bus ride was--well--colorful. Normally I like first-class bus travel in Mexico quite a lot. The laziness of doing nothing and have a beautiful scenic panorama constantly unfolding before your eyes. The bus line, named "Elite" gave a whole new meaning to that word. Elite has gone low-rent! If that was "elite," then I'm Warren Buffet. The disappointment started with a 40-minute tardy departure. The bus driver had gone out to lunch, and we wouldn't leave Tepic until he decided to finish his midday repast. What's the hurry? A bus schedule? What's that?

First class service is determined by the existence of a toilet onboard. Second gotta hold it. So this one HAD a toilet, but the most foul sewer you can imagine. No toilet seat, just a hole. Think outhouse in the heat of August. And don't forget the sticky floors as you go up and down the bus aisle.

The bus was a continuation of service that started in Tijuana, so I can cut them a little slack. But it was sorely in need of a good cleaning crew. My co-passengers were picaresque, as well. The 20-something guy across from me had long purple hair (no, not natural), streaked with orange. A kind of improvised dreadlocks which hadn't been washed since....oh, I'm guessing, last spring. But he was totally comfortable. He kicked the seat back to the full-recline position and fell fast asleep, his teeshirt riding up to display his ample belly. ALERT: Whale season in Mexico!

His buddy in the next seat up disrobed. He pulled down his old laundry sack from the overhead rack, took out a handful of wrinkled shirts, and did the "sniff test" on the armpits of each. Selecting the least noxious, he proceeded to take of his current shirt and switch it for shirt #2. But it could have been worse: try to imagine if he was doing a downstairs renovation instead of upstairs. On the other hand, don't try to imagine that.

Comprehensive Tourist Review of Tepic, Nayarit state

Don't bother.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

Take me out to the Beach.

Yesterday, I took a 5 p.m. break from doing nothing all day. Someone's gotta do it right? It's a tough life.

And I walked the 3 blocks down to the waterfront and beach. You cross a major 4-lane divided street to get to the "malecon" (Spanish word for beachfront walkway or sidewalk).
In Mazatlan, the malecon extends for several miles along the waterfront, and is a popular venue for rollerbladers, joggers, couples necking, or old farts like myself just wandering aimlessly. I plopped myself down on a cement cylinder separating the sidewalk from the sandy beach. And I watched a pick-up-game of softball. Except it wasn't softball. I'm used to the Chicago variety, 16-inch. This was played with a much smaller ball. Smaller even than a regular baseball. It was young kids and teenagers, playing barefoot. And apart from the ball not rolling very far in the sand, it's pretty much like baseball back home. Ground balls are tough, though. One of the teams even had 3 GIRLS on their side. The girls played best. And foul balls? Those are the ones that go in the ocean. Really.

They Wouldn't Know Efficiency if It Bit Them In....

yeah, you know the rest.

Here's my experience in buying a needle and thread yesterday. I tore a hole in a garment, I thought I'd just do a quick mending job on it. Easy, right? Normally, I have one of those traveler's kits in my luggage, but for some reason, this time I forgot.

So out I went searching for a little repair kit. Out of luck. Stores here have limited selections. And each store only has a limited, specialized merchandise. For example, you have to go to a Papeleria to buy paper. No Walgreen's. Not at the local grocery store, either.

Brilliant idea....there is a fabric store downtown (actually several). Women still sew their own and their family's clothes here, so it's a big market. Surely, Rod can find a simple needle and thread in a fabric store, logical, no?

It works like this: You have to go to the notions counter. Everything is behind a counter, just like in the U.S. in 1910. Very Model T. You wait for a sales girl. You explain to her you only want one small spool of black thread. She goes to a cabinet to select it for you. Then you need a needle. She goes to a different cabinet, and grabs a packet of 12 needles. Only need one, but that's the way they are sold here, and you gotta take the whole enchilada (so to speak). I stuck out my hand to take my 2 purchases from the girl. But WAIT! Not so fast. You can't have them. She, instead, gives you a itemized slip of paper. You then take the slip of paper to the cashier and wait in line to pay. The cashier then gives you a receipt. You then go wait in another line to pick up your items. Yesterday, there were 15 people (yep, I counted) in line in front of me. And you wait.

I got to the head of the line, and showed my PAID receipt. But, alas! The damned purchases hadn't made it over to the pick-up window. So she had to go over to the original counter to get my little needle and thread. She brings it pack to her window, bags it, and gives it over to me.

Now, doesn't that strike you as a major pain in the TRASERA?
Full-employment lives in Mexico. Ah hem...if anyone is listening in Mexico....wouldn't it be a bunch easier to let the customer get what he wants himelf, then pay for it (preferably at a self-service check out)? Silly me.

The World is Flat

OK, I stole the title for this post from Thomas Friedman's seminal book of the same name. It's been out for a couple of years or so, but I've just started to read the copy given to me by my brother-in-law for Christmas. Friedman is a Pulitzer Prize winning reporter on the New York Times. He's one of the best writing today on international relations. His book will be a classic in college classes for generations, I'm guessing.

His premise is simple: that our world is becoming increasingly interconnected. Toys at Walmart made in China. Calling your credit card company's customer service department, and being helped by an agent in India. The architectural drawings for the most recent classroom building at my old college campus, done by an architect in Argentina...who never left home.

This instantaneous connectedness really hit me yesterday as I watched President Obama's Inauguration ceremonies LIVE on CNN (in English). We were at a gringo-owned restaurant called "Canuck's" (means "canadian") here in Mazatlan. Projected onto a big 5-foot projection screen. And LIVE. We saw the blink of every eye on the podium in real time, just like folks who were there in Washington, D.C. Amazing to me.
And the headline today in the little local Mazatlan paper yelled out in big type:
"OBAMA OFFERS NEW ERA." Likely most places in our tiny little world covered the inauguration. It's hard to remain provincial any more.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

From the Window

I shot I took this afternoon from the window at the end of the second floor balcony of our hotel

Mexican Still Life with Blue Pot

Here's a photo I took today of a plant sitting out on the balcony of my hotel.

On Sunday Mass and Sushi Bars

It's a land of contrasts.

Today, in my perambulations, wandering around Mazatlan, I passed no fewer than FOUR sushi bars. You wouldn't expect to encounter a Japanese restaurant in middle-sized town Mexico. On the other hand, if you look west from the beach and squint REALLY HARD, the next land mass you'll see is--indeed--Japan.

Sushi probably started as a tourist-oriented thing. Those hordes of teeshirted, short-shorted, and flip-flopped cruise ship passengers spewing forth from the 4 cruises that dock each week and fill Mazatlan's tourist places. But the patrons that I saw in these sushi joints (in all different parts of the city) were largely Mexican. A new culinary craze in these parts, I suppose. And, of course, there is an abundant supply of the main ingredient, raw fish, just a few hundred yards from the sandy beaches.

A great deal of that raw fish shows up in the public market building every day. The market defines the Mexican experience. Sure, there are completely modern supermarkets in the bigger Mexican towns. Places akin to a Super Walmart back home. Yesterday, we did some window shopping at the Mega store and at Sam's Club. Both enormous, stocking grocery and department store merchandise. Clean, well stocked, modern.

But the old city market is different. It's old, for one thing. And dirty. The smells reach you before you enter. But it's where most of the locals do their shopping. Every kind of seafood you can image is splayed out on ice, and fishmongers will prepare it for you with or without the head. Butchers specialize in either poultry (where I saw chicken feet for the first time) or beef, pork, and goat. Strange entrails conjure up a witch's cauldron. A complete, skinned cow head stares back. And pig's feet with 6 inches or so of leg. How do people cook these weird bits? And what do them make from them? Mystery meat, I'm sure. Or soup. You can disguise anything in soup.

Today, being Sunday, I stumbled upon a novelty (for me). A priest holding mass at one o'clock, smack in the middle of the busy market operations. Customers jostling around, that cow's head watching on, the fully-garbed priest in a green and white cassock, holding the Host up high, and a dozen or so faithful watching on. But it's a full-service kind of idea....if the folks have to support their families by working in their market stall 7 days a week, then why not bring the church to them? Sort of a mountain-to-Mohammed idea. But it makes sense, doesn't it?

Podcast Virgin

I'd never done it before.

Podcasts, that is. I've know about them for a couple of years, but never had any interest in listening to one. At my old college, PVCC, the student leadership council created a podcast and we put it up on the college web site. It was one of the most-read things on the site. I just never had the need to download and listen to one. Figured they were mostly music for much younger ears. And I didn't like the idea of wandering around Phoenix with earbuds in my ears, zoned out, listening to my little iPod noise, and not the environment around me.

But then came Mexico. Through the magic of the Internet, I can go to the National Public Radio (NPR) site or to iTunes, and find free podcasts of my favorite talk-radio shows. Stuff like the Dianne Reehm Show or Fresh Air with Terry Gross or All Things Considered. Not every archived show is podcasted, but enough are so that I can select a few of my favorites. Sitting here in an Internet cafe in Mexico, on my little laptop, I can download them onto this computer. It takes about 5-6 minutes to download a 40-minute show. And then I have it. In the morning after breakfast, I just fire up my computer and listen to a full-length radio show on a topic I'm interested in....from the comfort of my hotel room. Today, I listened to Dianne Reehm interview a psychologist and author who wrote a biography of Charlie Chaplin. Delightful! And since there is no TV in this hotel room, it's a bit of American culture on the go.

Last night, I got my culture "live." The city put on an event called "Gala de Habanera de la Bella Lola." It was a fundraiser benefiting the local Mexican Naval Academy. Many of the cadets can't afford the tuition (it used to be free, but these days it's not), and this is one way they create scholarships. All the hoi poloi of Mazatlan turned out. And me in my jeans. Didn't pack "fancy." Lots of naval officers in dress blues and cadets in white uniforms. The evening of music featured a local student small symphony and a local chorus plus the naval academy chorus. Really nice! And the soloist for the evening was an older gentleman who is somewhat of a local celebrity. As a young man, he was a naval intern here and he sneaked out of the academy one night to enter a song contest. He won, and the rest--as they say--was history. He does have an incredible voice. They performed 11 songs, all related to the sea. The last was the song for which the evening was named, "La Bella Lola" (the beautiful Lola). It is almost a city anthem for Mazatlan, something everyone learns from childhood. La Bella Lola (Beautiful Lola) is, for many, the Hymn of the Sailor. The lyrics describe the beauty of a woman and the surrounding sea.

Here are the lyrics to the popular song:




And--to my surprise--all the women in the audience, as if on cue, pulled white handkerchiefs from their purses and waved them slowly in the air, as in a goodbye. Very emotional. Not a dry eye in the house.

Tonight, I went over to the baseball stadium to go to the semifinal game of the season with the local team, the Mazatlan Venados. In the States, when our sports teams have names of animals, they are MEAN animals: The Bears, the Wildcats, the Cougars, the Diamondbacks. But here in Mazatlan, the team is the "Venados"....translated "the deer." Somehow I can't imagine playing a team named for Bambi.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The News from Mexico

Newsflash: This Ain't Disneyland

The photo here is of an abandoned and decayed mansion. Probably a couple of hundred years old. There is something charming about the rot. Perfectly painted brightly hued buildings with pristine iron work are just fine, but the the place earns a certain gravitas, a kind of soberness and balance from the ghosts of habitations past.

Looking at the Mazatlan newspaper this morning a few interesting tidbits---

1. A new record has been set. This state of Sinaloa today has 16 bank robberies since Jan. 1, 2009. That's one a day. 14 in the capital, Culiacan, and 2 here in Mazatlan. I'll stick with using the ATM's I think.

2. Headline from the charming Mexican city of Guanajuato, where I spent a few days in November: "Prison for Those Who Kiss in the Street." Evidently the city fathers in their wisdom have passed a new ordinance that mandates jail for a couple kissing in the street. The constable was quoted, "in the case of those that just give a light kiss, there is no problem; however, there are some embraces that are Olympian." Those, he said, will incur a $120 U.S. dollar fine or arrest. Now, it's common to see Mexican couples on every park bench wrapped in hot 'n heavy embraces. "Get a room," you want to yell. Well, that's just the point. Families at home frown on hanky panky and the kids can't afford a motel. What's a couple to do? Imagine trying to get this law passed in the U.S.! Ouch!

3. A columnist named Guillermo Farber (Farber a Mexican name? Yep.) wrote today about "La Tercera Edad," (the third age, or as we would say, "the golden years").
With arthritis and all, I don't know what's so damned golden about them, anyway. I like "Third Age." Youth, then middle age, then Third Age. Makes sense to me.
Anyway, Faber writes: "The Third Age is when you still have desires, but you don't remember for what." Hmmm...been there. He continues: "The Third Age is when everything Mother Nature gave you, Father Time begins to take away."

4. Interesting data: Mazatlan is the 15th largest port in Mexico with 1,600,512 tons of cargo in 2008. Number one is Manzanillo. But Mazatlan is #4 in the unloading of automobiles shipped by sea. In 2008, the port received 46,840 vehicles. And I saw a forest of them parked next to the docks in enormous fenced in lots.

5. Yesterday, the peso/dollar exchange rate hit its highest point since last fall--right at 14 to one.

6. The Mexican restaurant industry is forecasting a 10% drop in business in 2009 due to the economic crisis.

7. Sexual discrimination in the Want Ads: here's an ad that ran today--looking for waitresses in an upscale local restaurant: "Wanted, female, 18-24 years old, excellent presentation (read: cute), send resume AND PHOTOGRAPH). Enough to give American human resources managers an acute case of the willies!


No, Pulmonia isn't some kind of rare Mexican flower. A pulomonia is a unique Mazatlan version of a taxi cab. They are like open-air golf carts and are powered by a Volkswagen Beetle engine (in the rear). Having a pleasant cross breeze as you scuttle down the road makes perfect sense when it's 90 degrees and 90% humidity.

Herman Melville

Herman Melville lived here, too. Much the 1800's.
These were guys who loved the exotic life

"On the Road" with Jack Kerouac

The iconic American writer of the 50's "Beat Generation," Jack Kerouac, visited here. This is the plaque from the Mazatlan Historical Society on the house where he stayed. Here's a translation (it's from his book, On the Road):
"The only people that interest me are crazy, people that are crazy for living, crazy for talking, crazy for saving themselves, with the desire for everything at the same time, people that never yawn nor talk of common places, but who burn with passion."

Nice. I like crazy people, too. After all, I worked at the colleges for years.

Photos from Mazatlan

Thursday, January 15, 2009

What's New? Not Much

At the cheap hotel where I'm staying, there are a number of Americans and Canadians staying for long periods of time--a month or longer. One old guy staying just a few doors down is a mystery. He's retired and lives the rest of the year up in a small town in Idaho. He owns a storage locker business, from which he rakes in rents automatically each year. His wife died last year. And so now, he can be found simply sitting on the covered second-floor porch of the Hotel Lerma. Just sitting and smoking. At any time of day...morning, afternoon, evening. He doesn't read, apparently doesn't walk around town. Just sits.

Now there is a lesson there. Sitting isn't a natural skill for me. I have to work on it. I normally feel like I'm supposed to be doing something. And during my working life in Phoenix, I was. I was the king of multi-tasking, talking on the phone while doing emails. Running some laundry through the wash while gardening and polishing my shoes. But I don't think God designed our brains to do several things at once. Oh, we can...but at what price? Clearly something gets left out. Like the woman in Phoenix who crashed her car while driving and text-messaging on her cell phone. Well, duh.

Here in Mexico, you do less. Like an American expat woman in Oaxaca told me last year, one thing is enough for the day. Like, for example, standing in line to pay the gas bill. That's enough. Or going to the market for fresh vegetables. That's enough, too.

So when the champion sitter from Idaho asked me this morning, "What's on your agenda today?" I was nonplussed. Agenda? What agenda? I don't do agendas any more.
I had to think hard to come up with an answer. Yesterday, my one thing was to take a boat over to Stone Island, walk along the beach, and get an open-air massage from a nice Mexican lady who had a little impromptu curtained-off table. It was nice. And afterward, I came back to the hotel and took a nap. That was enough for a day. And today, I hiked up to the highest point in Mazatlan, the lighthouse on top of a small mountain in the harbor. There was some real exertion, and some real sweat.

When he asked what I had planned for the day I replied honestly, "not much."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Greetings & Farewells

He's baaaccckkkk....

Hello again. After an absence of 6 weeks, here I am again. Of course, that depends on what you mean by "here." Not to be too existential about it, but wherever you are at any one time is your "here." Wherever you go, there you are. You always take you with you. My "here" in December, though, reverted from this virtual space (a new alternate form of reality) to being with dear friends and family back in the States.

Think about how our sense of place has changed with the advent of the Internet. So many of us spend hours online on the computer every week. Hey, I'm talking to you. You're looking at a computer screen right now, aren't you? With email and social networking sites like MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, etc., we go online to have virtual interactions with our friends. For example, I follow about 5 or 6 Yahoo Groups--sort of virtual bulletin boards on specific topics like "Living in Mexico" or "Mazatlan Info." I'm comfortable with and have come to recognize the regular contributors to those groups. We frequently have email "conversations." These artifical "places" have transformed the social psychology of what "here" means. "Here" can mean our virtual space in the ether of computer digits, and it can mean "where I am right now."

That's the long way around of telling you where I am right now---Mazatlan, a port town on the Pacific coast in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. I've never been here before. It's fitting to greet the new year with a brand new place (for me) and a new retired life. New Years are for new things. The custom of making resolutions at the new year is a way of marking changes, leaving behind the old year and facing the new with hope and optimism. There is nothing so permanent as change. The new year is a punctuation dividing the past and future. But the two are connected. I like the quote from--of all people, Gracie Allen: "Never put a period where God intended a comma." Our stories continue on from chapter to chapter.

We represent the New Year with an illustration of a baby, wrapped in a 2009 banner. And the old year is drawn as Father Time, in a shroud carrying a scythe. For me, this figurative "changing of the guard" is literal. My dad died on Jan. 2. I'll be forever grateful that I got to say goodbye at Christmastime. The entire family was in the house spending time, by turn, with him. I was remarkable how natural it was. Life flowed around him, people chatted, watched a game on TV, napped, ate, laughed, held his hand. It underlined in my mind that death is part of life.

In Spanish, you can say "goodbye" in a number of ways: hasta luego (until later), adios (go with God), hasta la vista (until I see you again), que te vaya bien (I hope that your leaving is pleasant). I just can't bring myself to say goodbye to dad. The Spanish versions say it so much better.