Monday, November 30, 2009

Doggie Drama Ends

At least for now. The downstairs neighbor has returned with a whirlwind of hugs and kisses for the dog. And more important--with a cleaning of the urine and poop off the service patio underneath my bedroom window. The dog has calmed down. Evidently it's been fed.

She went over and talked to the landlord and then came up to apologize. I thanked her for that. She offered to pay for my hotel last night. The landlord told her she had to have the dog gone by tomorrow at 6, but she said that was impossible. The dog still needs to go...or her with the dog. It's fine when she's in the house, but it screams when she's gone. Obviously, she won't be able to spend 24/7 with the critter. We know what it does when it's left alone, and that's not going to change. I'm not going to either. I'm old; I like my sleep (uninterrupted).

Once More, With Feeling

And last night, Sunday, we had the FOURTH night of the Wailing Schnauzer. At 10 p.m., I left and checked into a hotel.

A number of my readers have, naturally, expressed concern about the animal. Obviously, it's lonely and suffering from separation anxiety. Dogs are pack animals and shouldn't be left alone. I've had several dogs over the years, and I was always concerned to leave the animal alone more than the 8 hours I was at work. If I went away on a trip, the dog checked into the doggie hotel at the vet's.

I should say that this owner downstairs HAS made 5-minute quick visits the last two days. So that means she's feeding and watering it. I can hear her come in downstairs, "How has my baby been? Have you been a good doggie?" In my mind, it NOT your 'baby' if you go away and leave your dog alone for 4 days. That's not how you show love.

But here we get to cultural attitudes. Americans treat their animals differently than Mexicans do. I went over this morning and had a long talk with the landlord (who lives next door). He has left a big note on her front door since Friday. Even with her quick visits, she has ignored his note.

Friends at the American library here have recommended that I try to rescue the dog...with ideas like dropping a rope down the light well and trying to lasso it and drag it up. Bad idea. First of all, my windows all have iron bars at the window. Second, not too comfy for Yo-Yo. this point, we wait and hope the landlord can do something. The dog isn't without water or food (I think). Just alone. And that's not good for man nor beast.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Shaggy Dog Story

We're now on day number 3 with no downstairs neighbor in sight. Tonight, Sunday, will be the fourth night that she's been away, leaving the dog all alone on the patio. I consider it cruel and unusual punishment---both for the dogs and the neighbors who have to listen to the animal's piteous howls and cries. Especially all night long.

Mexicans have a completely different relationship with their animals. In the U.S., they're babied like favored members of the family. Here--in what would bring the Animal Cruelty Police knocking at your door back home--you leave them unattended for days.

On my walks over to the library each morning, I've noticed another raggedy dog tied up with a rope around his neck lying on the sidewalk, boney and dejected. It's sad.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Taking the Bad with the Good

Between now and my last post, in which I was near eupohoric, I had last night.

They say, "into each life a little rain must fall." If that's true, it was a bloody hurricane last night. Not in the meteorological sense, but the the schnauzer sense. My downstairs neighbor has one. She was gone all night, the dog wasn't. It has separation anxiety and went NUTS, scratching on something metallic, rattling the door, and howling. A piercing, ear-splitting screech that approximates the sound of a female human voice. So imagine hearing that wail at 1 a.m., and 2 a.m., and 3 a.m., and 4 get the idea. Around 4 I was thinking a little rat poison would be nice. Not for the dog. For the absent owner.

Let me explain the architecture of our building--there are 4 apartments, 2 on each side. I'm up on the second floor with a large light well that opens down onto Cruela DeVillle's first floor enclosed patio. There are tile floors and cement walls all around. So sound bounces around, echos a bit, and is amplified. It was like having the dog screaming in my right ear.

I've got some bad history with schnauzers. The woman I lived with in Phoenix (my oldest and best friend) had THREE of the critters, who barked at passing garbage trucks, visitors, passing boats on the lake, falling leaves, air.... When people came to the front door, they jumped all over them and set up a high-pitched, high-decibel cacophany. That's why I affectionately refer to schnauzers as "little devil dogs from hell." And, now, that's what I've got downstairs. Wherever you go, you take yourself with you.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Mil Gracias

"A thousand thanks." That's pretty much the way I like to wake up every morning, with that on my mind. There's nothing like living in the middle of one of the poorest states of a developing country to help one realize how fortunate he is. It puts the good fortune of early retirement in sharp focus. Thanksgiving becomes a tangible act.

Don't get me wrong--sometimes I start out the day cranky and it goes downhill from there. But most days I feel very, very lucky. This Thanksgiving, I've been meditating on the gift of people. Having just returned from a trip to Phoenix and Chicago, I realize that although dear friends and family are distant, we are connected by bonds of the heart which transcend place. There is that unique joy in seeing a loved one you haven't seen for a long time. A hug,and then it's like you've never been away.

This morning I spent the morning volunteering at Estancia Infantil, the program for street kids. I've gotten to know most of the kids for over 6 months, and I've grown attached to them. This morning, I came dragging in and was mobbed with hugs and one little girl who jumped on my back. Ugh! I think I know what Santa Claus must feel like. Our project today was to teach the kids how to play chess. Good idea....and bad idea. The old ones did just fine (and a few already know how). But the younger ones (6-8 years)....that was like teaching trained monkeys. Actually, a monkey would do better. I saw a study that said kids who learn chess do better academically and learn thinking and strategy skills. So we'll continue trying. I'm learning, too: patience.

This afternoon, I joined the Australian lady I volunteer with and 2 other friends for a Thanksgiving dinner at a local restaurant downtown. It was quite the fancy thing with platters of all the traditional favorites served family style. Turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce, oh my! As I looked around the room, I realized that I knew probably 20 or so other expats at the gathering. I felt grateful for the connections with these interesting folks.

And tonight, I'm walking straight down Avenue Independencia to the Teatro Macedonia Alcala for a performance of the State Symphony Orchestra.

A day doesn't really get any better than this. I'll share some of my good fortune with a donation to the Casa Hogar this weekend. That's the shelter for kids of prostitutes.
Happy Thanksgiving, all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Today, the cable guy came. I'm thrilled.
Now I've got high-speed Internet and cable TV in the apartment. All the comforts of home. Not that I minded living in an empty apartment....reading books and magazines, sketching, studying Spanish.....with not even a radio to listen to. However it makes me realize how addicted I--or all of us--have become to modern technology.

Now I can watch The CBS Evening News live on The American Network. I can listen to the BBC World News on the Internet. I can watch old reruns of Seinfeld (with weird Spanish subtitles), HOUSE, and American movies. I can post to my blog. This is fun!

All for about $32/month. That's about a third of what I was paying in Phoenix for a TV/cable package from Cox. Of course, having the cable service meant I had to go out (late last night) and buy a TV. I went to 4 stores and wound up buying a TV at Chedraui's, a chain store that's a Super Wal-Mart knock-off. I spent $135 for a 21 inch screen....NOT flat screen. Back in the State, we can hardly find a unit that's NOT flat screen. My logic was this: a big clunky, boxy, heavy TV set is a TV set that's harder to rob. A burglar would have a hernia lugging this thing out of the house.

The cable guy came exactly on time as promised (that's an unusual big deal in Mexico). He spent almost 4 hours here pulling cable from the street, up on the roof, and opening outlets in the house. The same guy did all the "heavy lifting" as well as the computer/modem/password setup stuff. I tipped him for his hard work. That's always appreciated here, even though a cable company technician would be considered a solidly middle-class profession.

This morning, I joined the guys for our weekly breakfast. That was a welcome connection, too. And then I went for my weekly massage with Beto...low tech, hi touch. It was a day of getting connected.

Monday, November 23, 2009


Yesterday, I went to Mercado Merced, my local fresh market. Every Sunday the vegetable/fruit vendors come out and the selection is astounding. Gorgeous, fresh stuff. I stocked up with green beans, potatoes, avocados, green peppers, pears, bananas, etc. Eating healthily is easy here. And tomorrow I'm going to make a stew or a soup or something--throw it all in a pot.

And this morning....drum roll....I went FURNITURE SHOPPING!!!
I'm so excited about not sleeping on the floor. Small things make you happy down here. At the "intercambio" (language exchange Spanish/English) on Saturday, I ran into my old student, Manuel. He's a English language major at the local university and is always fun to practice language with. I asked him if he'd go with my to the Central de Abastos. So this morning at 10, we met in Llano Park. He told me he'd gone down to the Abastos on Sunday to look around, and there was nothing I'd be interested in. Instead, he suggested we take the bus out to the colonia where he lives--about 30 minutes west of town--where he knew of some cheap furniture stores.

Sure enough, the place we went had some great pieces and even better prices. I ordered: an upholstered 6-foot sofa, and easy chair, a dining room table with 4 chairs, a wooden bed frame, a nightstand.......all for less than $600 U.S. They're staining it to my selection; and it'll be ready on Friday. Delivery is included. I can't wait!

Thursday, November 19, 2009


I did a double take yesterday waiting for the bus. A young lady was getting onto the bus in front of me. She had on a teeshirt with an inscription in English on the front. Over her left breast was a large circle. Inside the circle, it read, "Rub this on your butt." I bet she had no idea what it meant. Something like that would never be worn in the U.S. except by someone VERY drunk. Here, though, if it's in English, it has to be cool, right? I was shocked. And I don't shock easily.

I had another example of how small things make you happy in Mexico. For my new apartment, I needed an electrical extension cord to connect the microwave to the outlet a distance away (the microwave sits on top of the fridg). Originally, I bought a power strip, but the microwave pulls a lot of current and kept kicking off the power strip. So I thought I'd get a 3-prong grounded cord. Hah! Silly me. The first electrical store I went to said that these aren't even made in Mexico. The second said wanted to sell me a plug adapter (3-prong to 2-prong). "No, I want a grounded plug." The third store tried to sell me another power strip. The fourth store had the 3-prong cords, but only in 8 meters length. At that store I learned that I needed to be asking for a "uso rudo" type (heavy duty). And they're not called "cords" (cuerdas), but rather "extensiones electricas." I went to a total of EIGHT stores looking for a short, 3-pronged extension cord. I finally found one, a 4-meter cord, at at Tubos & Connexiones, which is another branch of the same store 2 blocks from my house. I was THRILLED. It's like finding a needle in a Mexican haystack.
The Trashman Cometh:

I was a bit worried about how to get rid of my regular trash. The city garbage truck comes to my nearest intersection around 11:30 a.m.-noon. You have to go stand out and wait or listen very carefully for the truck's bell.....and go running out like made, trash bags in hand. This isn't really the most convenient system. In other neighborhoods, you can simply leave your bagged trash on the street corner, and the garbage truck picks it up in the middle of the night. But in our neighborhood, no. I was bummed out. However, there is another way. In Mexico, there's always another way.
The city street sweeper guy comes down my block around 6:30 p.m. every evening. He knows to ring my apartment buzzer to announce his presence. I come down with my bagged trash. He's waiting in front. I give him a tip. He has a nice little "side business" going on top of his city job. He's happy. I'm happy.

Another positive experience: I went to set up a new account with the local cable company for Internet and cable TV serviced. I didn't know to take a form of ID with me (my passport). The customer service lady there said, "no problem, I'll come pick it up from you at your house tomorrow." And she did the next morning. On time, too.

My Suite of Furniture

That's it. All the furniture that I own now is one plastic chair and a mattress (on the floor). It feels kind of odd being THIS OLD and having these few possessions. But I've proven--to myself at least--that it's perfectly doable. Life simplification at its finest.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The First 24 Hours

My first act upon returning to my new apartment (see travel experience in previous post), was to unwrap my new mattress from its plastic cover, lay it on the floor, and put on the sheets. After a day flying, bed looked very fetching.

Then I changed clothes and headed down to the zocalo for my "re-entry" immersion session. Yep, it's still there and thronged with people enjoying a balmy Saturday night. On my way over, I fortuitously ran into a "calenda" celebrating some saint's day. Fifteen foot costumed characters led the parade, bobbing in every direction, with fireworks rockets set off every block or so, followed by musicians and a crowd following behind. I took it as a very happy "Welcome Home" sign.

Sunday morning, I reinstated a Oaxacan tradition of mine and headed two blocks south to buy homemade fresh tamales from the tamale lady who sets up shop at her ad hoc sidewalk stand every Saturday morning. At 8:30 a.m., there were already 15 people in line. That's because those of us in the know know she always sells out by 10 a.m.

Then I treated myself to my usually Sunday brunch at my favorite breakfast place, Cafeteria Don Tito's. Since I'm a Sunday regular, my waitress, Maria, gave me a big kiss on seeing me and asked about the trip to the States. That's very Mexican and very nice. Afterwards, I wandered through the displays in the zocalo for the International Book Fair. Dozens of book sellers lined up under the tented walkway.

At 11, I went to the American Anglican Church just west of the zocalo for services and social hour. I ran into several friends there. After that, I walked back to the zocalo for the every-Sunday concert of the Oaxaca State Band under the shady laurel tree. Hundreds of folks, families and kids encircled the performers. I found a seat at one of the shoeshine guys' stands and had a shine while I took in the music. Life is good, and I tipped well.

Next, I came back to the apartment to unpack. Then over to the Sunday vegetable market at Mercado Merced. Since the fridg was empty, I needed to stock up. In front of the market is a seafood restaurant, La Red, and I had lunch there. Which gave me just enough time to go home and change for a 6 p.m. concert at Teatro Macedonio Alcala. It was a multi-media music ensemble from the U.S. called TuxedoMoon. Very big on amplification. Not very big on music. Incomprehensible rear-projection graphic on the screen behind. Somewhat like a bad music video turned up really LOUD.
So I left early, realizing I'm more Music of the Baroque than Music of the Multimedia.

And I wandered down to the zocalo for a snack. Mr. Potato Face is a popular wagon that parks behind the cathedral. They serve pototoes...what a surprise. Freshly cut and freshly fried potato chips. It makes a tasty--but greasy--supper.

And that was my very full first day back. It feels like home.

The Journey Back

When people ask, "How was your flight?" I'm always grateful to be able to answer, "uneventful." That's the way we like them. I flew Continental Airlines from Phoenix to Houston, then direct to Oaxaca. It's worth something not to have to change planes in Mexico City. I think about 80% of all flights into and out of this country (except those to resort destinations) go through Mexico City. It's one of my least-favorite airports. Clearing customs and immigration there is sort of like doing that at New York's JFK: it's a zoo.

I traveled on this trip with two pieces of excess baggage for a total of four 50-pound bags. There's something to be said for checking in that heavy load at Phoenix, waving bye-bye, and seeing it all next at my destination, Oaxaca. It all went smoothly. Everything got here on time, on schedule, with nothing broken. I cleared immigration, picked up my bags, and cleared customs at Oaxaca's tiny airport in a record 15 minutes! I'm into easy travel. This was easy.

The flight from Houston arrived on schedule at 8 p.m. and I was back at my apartment after a speedy cab ride at 8:50 p.m. A record. Good suitcase karma, I think.

After lots of research while I was in Phoenix, I discovered the cheapest way to get possessions down here is to bring them along as checked baggage. Continental charges $100 per 50-lb. bag. Compare that to the shipping cost through DHL, UPS, and the Mexican company Estafeta--all of whom charge about $260 for the same weight. So Continental's excess bag charge was a bargain. In fact, I'm impressed with Continental. From their Houston hub they have direct nonstop service to a number of Mexican cities that would normally require a connection through Mexico City. They fly to Aguascalientes, Villahermosa, Veracruz, Puebla, Queretaro, and others....all nonstop from Houston. Smart scheduling in my opinion.


It's been 30 years since I've been without a car. For most Americans, having a car is as second nature and unremarkable as having, say, a chin. Pretty much every one has one. Now, I don't.

During my 3 weeks back in the States, I sold my car. Since that was one of the objectives of the trip, I'm glad it worked out with minimal effort--a Craigslist posting before I returned and an Arizona Republic ad.

Years ago when I was living in Chicago, I made do for 10 years with the subway, the "El," buses, and the occasional taxi. Which brings me to life in Oaxaca. I walk everywhere. And the places I can't walk to--like the mall at the southern edge of the city--I take the bus. It's 30 cents for anywhere you want to go. I figure at that price, I can take about 670,293 bus rides for the cost of maintaining a car here.

It's funny--after three sedentary weeks back in the U.S., my skeletal system is complaining loudly about our sudden shift to the pedestrian life. But after a few weeks of regular exercise, a bit of massage and ibuprofen, all will feel "normal" once again. I hope.