Dangers in the Night

This evening, while talking on the phone with a friend from Chicago, I decided to wander out beyond the terrace to pick up what appeared to be one of the Nearly Perfect Doberman’s stuffed toys, somewhat perplexed by stains on the driveway. As I bent down to pick it up, I quickly discovered that what reposed there was no toy. It was a opossum, better known in these parts as a tlacuache, the ugliest creature on earth. This one was the size of small pig. And I let out a blood-curdling scream, yelling in Spanish at Goodman to run for safety.

¡Cuidate! ¡Rapido!

We ran for the house, locking the door behind us. And then I contemplate getting a shovel and throwing the opossum out onto the street. That is, until I remembered that creature was not likely dead  — and the nearest available implement was down in the workshop. The odds were in the opossum’s favor, and stains in the drive were likely blood.

I then set myself to writing a large note to tape on the door for the gardener’s arrival in the morning, instructing him to buy a can of cat food and immediately embark upon construction of a trap. Tomorrow night’s opossum, if I have my way, will be trapped in a steel barrel. But the opossum likely won’t be killed on these premises, because he’ll find his way to the dinner table of someone in the ‘hood who still believes that its corpus, including the blood, makes for fine dining. Or has some life-enhancing properties. And I’ll set out pots of burning copal near the perimeter of the house to ward off the opossum’s friends and family tomorrow night.

I’ve learned which battles I can fight. You can’t get anywhere trying to fight off a opossum with windshield wipers liked I attempted the summer before last. I’ve been overruled too many times when I pleaded for the menace’s death. When I called the zoo, asking for a referral to help me kill off this beast, I was warned that I’d be breaking some law if I attempted and encouraged to bring the live monster to live out the rest of his days at the zoo. Fat chance I’m going to do that.

People who live in the U.S. are always asking about the dangers of living in Mexico. The press is full of stories like those nasty beheadings off in Uruapan, kidnappings, and marauding bandits. I’m not afraid of those little things. The media never addresses really scary stuff like tlacauches.


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Catering to Foreigners

Last week, the New York Times ran an article about rich Mexicans who lead parallel lives in Houston, San Antonio and Texas and those who serve them in El Otro Lado.

High-end real estate developments bore features – high walls, car patrols and locked gates – which replicated the back-home needs and wants of Mexicans who could afford to maintain houses in both countries.

Here in Mexico, real estate developments catering to the Estadounidense and Canadian market do the same, boasting of American-style kitchens, open yards, great rooms, unbarred picture windows, just to make them feel at home. But there’s usually one extra touch, which always leaves me chuckling: Hacienda style. The hacienda of yore could be a ranch, a farm, plantation, or a factory, and the style of the dwelling occupied by the patrón ran from rustic to Neoclassical and beyond. But the same group of folks who now cringe at the real estate term “master bedroom” clamor for that touch of hacienda style. It’s as bad a term as “Mexican colonial modern.” Whatever that is.

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Name It and Claim It

Southern California’s got its Saddleback Church of Rick Warren fame, but Morelia has its own version in Vida Abundante, with its own TV and radio programs, podcasts, cells of the faithful in just about every hue, flavor and style, and a full-featured website giving top billing to its pastors, Andrés and Kelly Spyker. A Neo-Pentecostal Charismatic Christian church, this congregation of more than three thousand souls isn’t exactly the new kid on the block, having been around for several generations. In addition to the mothership on the eastern edge of town, this church has established branches on the western and southern quarters of the city.

For years, LaVoz de Michoacán published a schedule of the daily masses at the area Catholic churches, along with the obligatory column by the Catholic hierarchy. And that was pretty much as far as religious news went in these parts. Recently, the religion page has seen articles by Juan Spyker Anderson, Vida Abundante’s pastor (and father of Andrés), and some guy from the local Casa Tibet. Now the Buddhists may not have much political clout, or even seek it, in these parts, but the evangelist Christians are a growing force. 

Only yesterday, candidates in the local gubernatorial and mayoral races attended the inauguration of a new building at Vida Abundante. For politicians in Mexico, the campaign trail has added another whistlestop.


El Callejon de los Milagros

The Mexican film which won more awards than any other was actually transplanted from Cairo to Mexico City. El Callejon de los Milagros, also released as Midaq Alley and Miracle Alley, involves a tangled web of love (is there any other kind?) among a cantina owner, a Tarot reader, the ugly spinster, a prostitute, and an emigrant to the U.S., where no one wins. 


Looking Presidential

Looks go a long way in politics, and the U.S. is just like Mexico in that regard. While Vincente Fox cut a striking image, because he “looked like a president,” Felipe Calderon acts like a president. And, quite frankly, he was the best-looking of the lot during the 2006 Mexican presidential campaign. A president needs to be good-looking, but not too handsome.

Looking at the other early contenders in the game, Santiago Creel had the right appearance, carrying himself with a certain presidential bearing. Would-be independent candidate Jorge Casteñada had that come-hither look that just made you want to sit down and knock back a few with him, but he was just too intellectual to be saddled with the business of running a country. Andres Manuel López Obrador, often referred to as having that Dennis the Menace look, had that touch of the common man, but he just didn’t have the bearing which portraits on every office of importance demand. Roberto Madrazo was clearly the best-groomed, but he was just too well-manicured, never a hair out of place. Calderon’s stylists found the Goldilocks point, and it served him well.

The appearance of the the First Lady, or if we’re going to be politically correct, the First Partner or First Significant Other, is equally important. The Mexican First Lady, Margarita Zavala, looks and acts the part.

And that brings us to all of the folks in the running for the U.S. Presidency. The most handsome couple, standing head and shoulders above the rest, are the Romneys. Sure, Fred Thompson’s wife is attractive, but she’s just too much so, too much a trophy wife, and none of that can offset Fred’s chiseled visage. Rudy Guiliani may have solved crime in New York City, but he still looks like the kid whose life’s ambition was to be a hall monitor or an S.S. guard, and his third wife carries just too much baggage, the least of which seems to be deciding what name she’s asking others to call herself this week. The Clintons? Don’t make me go there. Obama’s ears just get in the way of everything else, so much that the everyday, casual appearance of his wife goes unnoticed. Barbara Richardson has got what it takes to be First Lady, and the Richardson’s child-free life make them all the more appealing. The U.S. government could save a lot of money not having to assign Secret Service to the Presidential Progeny.

The Best Looking Award from Staring at Strangers goes to the Romneys and the Richardsons.

Barbara and Laura Bush were their spouses’ best selling points. Both knew how to conduct themselves as First Ladies. And that makes up for a lot. Well, that’s why I voted for Bush I and Bush II.

There’s No Place Like Home, Particularly if Home is Morelia

Yesterday afternoon I drove nonstop back home from a jaunt to San Miguel de Allende. The minute I crossed over the Guanajuato state line into Michoacán, the change was discernable. The air is just a little fresher, the countryside just a little greener, everything just a little more normal. Michoacán even smells better.

The moment of hope begins at the edge of Celaya, where the green signage first points the way to Morelia, around the intersection of Manuel Clouthier and Juan José Torres Landa. A feeling comes over me that these names are important to me, even if they may not be recognized by the folks living off in Gotham. I’m southward bound, to the city that sired the sitting president, to the state that spawned the Cardenas dynasty, to mi tierra. The causeway over Lago de Cuitzeo means that the municipio of Morelia isn’t far off, and an ear-to-ear grin comes over my face, once I cross its northern border, where the people will begin to drive right. Now, there are those living in not-too-far-off Patzcuaro who think that we Morelianos drive like bats out of hell, but our driving patterns strike me as just right, even if a goodly lot of us are either country folk hitting the big city bright lights or learned our driving manners from Chilangos.

The same rush of traffic begins at the other edge of the city, where the road leads in from Patzcuaro. Nothing ever feels quite so good as the blast of light from the city.

I turn into the parking lot at Superama, and my parking lot attendant is there. Now, there are men who have their favorite waitress, the kind who calls patrons “Honey,” over at the local diner. I’ve got my favorite parking lot attendants, the ones who remember me and my car, inquiring if I happen to have missed a week’s trip to the store. My parking lot attendant sensed my weariness after the drive as I exited my dust-covered car, and asked where I’d been. I knew I was home again.


Paseo Morelia Finally Gets Some Recognition

One of the biggest shopping centers in Latin America is under construction in Morelia, leaving everyone in high suspense about what stores and fascinations it will harbor. When all phases are completed, it’s being billed as the largest of its kind in the entire country. Obviously, we’re excited about this new development reigning over the city in a part of town we refer to as the “La Nueva Morelia.” There will be no need for southsiders to venture down the hill for practically anything.

And now Paseo Morelia finally has its own Wikipedia entry.

Montaña Monarca is an ambitious project years in the making, and it will change the face of Morelia, transforming the once-sleepy burgs of Santa Maria de Guido and Jesus del Monte to planned communities and business and vacation destinations, complemented by schools and universities, recreational opportunities, medical facilities, and most important of all — a fantastic mall. Ray Young’s blog, The New Morelia, has some photos and graphics of Montaña Monarca.

What’s in store for the mall rats? On the preliminary list are: Sears, Liverpool, Walmart, Sam’s, Vips, Sanborn’s, a 16-plex Cinemex, Zara, Náutica, Lacoste, Dione, Maringo, Marsel, Dockers, Crabtree & Evelyn, Calzedonia, Sexy Jeans, Lob, Massimo Dutti, Swatch, Bizzarro, McDonald’s, Chilis, Applebee’s, Starbucks, Stanza, Flexi, Devlyn, Mixup, Martí Deportenis, Maskota, A+A, Celtics, and about 120 more. Please, will someone add Superama and Saks Fifth Avenue to this impressive roster of commercial tenants?


Let’s Kill Signature Bloat

In this month’s issue of Technology eReport, published by the American Bar Association GP|Solo Division, I address the annoying proliferation of meaningless signatures and disclaimers that lawyers seem compelled to attach to every e-mail they send.


F Stands for Fausto

Fausto 002 Morelia’s dotted right now with posters with a giant white F emblazoned against a red background, sort of a scarlet letter in reverse. The first time I spotted one of these from a distance, my immediate reaction was “F, for fucked.” Only a split second later did it hit me that these posters, great and bold examples of graphic design, were in support of Fausto Vallejo, one of the contenders in the November 11 race for Presidente Municipal of Morelia.

Gazing at the poster, I couldn’t help wondering “What were they thinking?” And I thought a little more. And gave it a second look. And a third.

Estadounidense culture pervades this country. Students aren’t graded on an A to F scale, but everyone knows what a headline claiming “So-and-so gets an F for foreign policy” means. Out of the seventeen movies playing right now at the local Cinepolis, only a single one was made in Mexico — El Búfalo de la Noche. But for two made in France and Norway, the remaining fourteen are made in the U.S. or Canada, which means that they’re either dubbed or subtitled. We clearly know what the F-word means.

F can stand for fuerza or franqueza, and it can carry a lot of other positive connotations.

Now, whether you like Fausto Vallejo or not, and I happen to like the guy, you have to admit that he and his team know their business. He’s got a doctorate in political science and comparative constitutional law from The Sorbonne, and he’s spent his lifetime in public service, having served at the side of former governor Genovevo Figueroa, serving as state president of PRI, and putting in a couple of terms as presidente municipal. He’s on a first-name basis with all of Morelia: simply say “Fausto,” and everyone knows you’re talking about Fausto Vallejo. No last name is needed.

Someone’s studied the impact of this poster, considering it from all angles. And whoever developed and approved it has balls. Or, as we say around these parts, huevos. Cojones. And that’s a good thing.