What Color is Your Underwear?

Red Shoes are Better than Bacon

During Christmas week the lingerie store windows all over Buenos Aires were decked out in pink underwear. Pink underwear bodes good luck in the coming year in this part of the world.

In Mexico, we wait until New Year’s to change our Fruit of the Loom, and then we have to go through that ordeal of making decisions. Red for passion, yellow for money, or white for health. And then you’re supposed to wear it inside out or keep it on for 24 hours, or something like that.

But then you could always wash the red with the white, which eventually always seems to happen even to the most fastidious laundry-sorters, giving yourself a head start on next Christmas.

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Boku for Christmas

Babs has her Christmas list, and Felipe has his Christmas wish list. Ben Stein has his perfect Christmas gift. Calypso has his unique gift idea. I got mine this morning.

Gallinaza-como-fertilizante

Barrels of shit.  Gallinaza. Mierda. Chicken crap.

A neighbor who raises fighting cocks and borrows (and returns) my ladders always delivers, just in time for Christmas, barrels of his poultry’s best. And we make it last the entire year, carefully doling it among the gardens.  It’s the best fertilizer.

In years gone by, I’ve received some great and memorable gifts. Some that were both, some that were memorable for not being great, and I’m sure some that were great but unremembered. A first class plane ticket, pukka and not the non-revenue kind from miles. Plane tickets that weren’t first class. A complete set of Cuisinart professional cookware.  A Burberry coat. French luggage. Gucci loafers. Books.  Amazon.com gift certificates. A juice extractor. Cashmere sweaters. Anything tied up with great packaging from Gump’s. A Perfex pepper mill. A Dooney & Burke purse. A Ralph Lauren flannel nightgown. Gelt. An oil painting.  A NordicTrack treadmill. Satin sheets. Etch A Sketch. A gold ring. Perfume. Two toy pistols in a double holster. A ballet tutu. A black doll I picked out at a fancy doll shop somewhere in Italy. License plates for my car. Ugly clothing I wouldn’t be caught dead in. A dreadful yellow nightgown. The traditional socks and soap. The iPad I bought myself last year.

But somehow nothing compares to the gift my neighbor gives me each year. It’s the right thing for the girl who has everything.

Have you ever noticed that their stuff is shit and your shit is stuff? – George Carlin.

(Boku is Turkish for shit.)

San Miguel de Allende v. Patzcuaro

Chiles en nogada and tacos, that’s the difference between San Miguel de Allende and Patzcuaro as expat venues. Both have their strong points, and both have their shortcomings. Neither is Nirvana, although those who live there might claim otherwise.

San Miguel de Allende offers up more expat amenities like mail forwarding services, English-speaking Mexicans, gourmet stores with everything from Hamburger Helper to white balsamic vinegar on the shelves, AA in more flavors that you could ever begin to count, classes and support groups, charities and opportunities to perform good deeds, an Anglican church, Kabbalah study groups, rival animal rescue efforts, art walks, opportunities for the fey and chichi, a zillion good restaurants and a few bad ones, serious crime and scandal among the expats, the American consular agency, English-language libraries and bookstores, the Rosewood, Café Rama, the Longhorn Smokehouse, Via Organica, poseurs and pukka, organized tours and events, Zimbabwean drum concerts, summer camp for adults, Unitarians, an English-language town newspaper, Catholic mass in English, social x-rays, no less than 87 different kinds of cheese offered in a single storefront, beauty shops run by guys with French-ish names, imported wares from Europe and Morocco and Bali, ladies who lunch and men who golf, affluent hippies, and Chilangos on holiday. Nary a week goes by without one more glowing write-up touting the town as the world’s favorite Christmas venue, retirement spot, and safe place for women to visit. There’s an A-list, a B-list, a C-list, and those who aren’t on anyone’s list, sometimes by choice, often not. Gringos may not be as easily remembered, since they do all tend to resemble one another when there’s a critical mass.

Calling itself the “Not San Miguel,” Patzcuaro is a more DIY lifestyle. Sure, there are opportunities to perform community service and good deeds, a small English-language library, a monthly gringo cocktail party, a spay-neuter clinic, informal hiking groups, close circles of friends, a New Age and Buddhist store selling incense and amulets, Ivo’s bakery, a café the expats refer to as “The Office,” acrylic and cotton tablecloths, a Costco salvage store, piano concerts, imported wares from China, and Chilangos on holiday. Any write-up in the travel section will focus more upon local culture and artesania than the expats. Those expats looking for religion, classes, and AA had better be prepared to speak some Spanish. There’s really no A-list. It’s the kind of place where anyone wearing fancy socks is putting on airs. Scandal and innuendo can spread faster than an autumn wildfire fueled by Santa Ana winds, but serious crime among the expats is rare. Resident expats stick out more (which means that their good deeds, and bad, are also more likely to be remembered) in Patzcuaro.

If San Miguel de Allende is Berkeley-Sedona-Naples-Palm Springs, then Patzcuaro is the Hill Country. For me, both are The Hamptons, my getaways.

In Gangs of San Miguel, Rich Lander prepared canonical lists of what San Miguel’s expats wore – from the clown suits to the classic. A man could wear a tutu and flowered leggings in that town, and no one would give him a second look – unless, of course, he happened to be wearing Bass Weejuns. Patzcuaro’s fashion is the anti-fashion. Its gringos wear whatever they happen to have on. They’re comfortable with that. Tilley Endurables and L.L. Bean, well-worn, are about as fancy as it gets in that town.

San Miguel de Allende has its eponymous sandal, its denizens shod in something fashionable which can still navigate cobblestone streets. Patzcuaro is just old-shoe. San Miguel de Allende sports more year-round tans and veneered teeth than Patzcuaro, where the look is more Midwestern than manicured.

San Miguelenses have to drive to Celaya, an overgrown farm town, or Queretaro to satisfy their Costco, Home Depot, and Walmart jones. Patzcuarenses have to drive 36 miles to the state capital of Morelia to fill their shopping needs at Costco, Sam’s, Superama, seek advanced medical care, and eat a restaurant that doesn’t end a meal with chongos, flan, peaches in syrup or arroz con leche.

In San Miguel de Allende, finding someone to navigate ordinary shoals of life is a walk in the park. There are facilitators who’ll get fumbling foreigners their immigration status, driver’s license, and even old-age discount cards. A service will venture out to the wilds of Celaya’s Costco, shop and deliver. Patzcuaro’s expats are on their own, and they are ingenious about creating satisfactory solutions and workarounds which more than make up for the lack of services.

Foreigners in San Miguel de Allende are an activist lot, ready to organize, boycott, picket, and march at the drop of a hat, whether the cause du jour is Starbucks, disenfranchised Albanian dwarves, the Republican Party, or global warming. All Patzcuaro’s expats have to worry about are OXXO, Farmacia Guadalajara, and global warming.

Compliment a San Miguel expat on a duo of nattily-groomed, well-trained standard poodles, and the first thing you’ll hear is that the dogs were rescued. Say the same to some foreigner with street dog on a leash in Patzcuaro, and you’ll just get a nod.

Politically, the denizens of each venue cloak themselves in chadors of liberalism, heaping praise upon themselves for being politically correct and ever so aware. Conservatives, country club Republicans and libertarians lurk in both venues, but they’re a quiet sort, keeping to themselves for the most part. One time as I finished eating with four San Miguel expats at a restaurant in Buenos Aires, I decided to come out of the closet, disclosing to them that I voted for George Bush. You would’ve thought I’d told them I was Winnie Ruth Judd. They were incredulous, insisting that all expats were intelligent people, and ergo, liberal to the core. I thought they were really rather rude. The expats of Patzcuaro don’t pay much attention to political affiliations, and if they do, they’re generally polite about it.

San Miguel boasts more mansions and deluxe living situations than Patzcuaro, and, in general, housing is more expensive than in Patzcuaro. However, there are ways to spend a lot of money and a whole lot less money in both towns.

When I visit San Miguel de Allende, expats ask me when I’m going to move there, as if there were no other place to live in the entire republic. No one ever asks me that in Patzcuaro. No one even tries to sell me a house in Patzcuaro, for that matter.

Both towns are about the same distance from international airports. Both are served by deluxe bus lines.  Only 243 kilometers separate San Miguel de Allende and Patzcuaro. And yet both could not be farther apart.

There’s no end to literature that San Miguel’s expats have propounded about the town. Tony Cohan’s On Mexican Time: A New Life in San Miguel is just one of the many. Patzcuaro’s expats read and write, but they somehow just don’t have the need to broadcast that they’ve been sprinkled with magic fairy dust. One delightful exception was the now-dead Charles Patterson’s Miscellaneous: An Artist’sNotebook, which took on the lake’s foreign community the same way Truman Capote did in Answered Prayers.

Am I biased? Sure, I am. I have the best of all worlds, because I get to live in Morelia. And that’s a story for another day.

Eyes Open Even Wider

Remember back in kindergarten when you were taught basic rules of safety? Don’t take candy from strangers, and don’t get in a car with that nice man.

Sometimes I wonder if expats checked those rules at the border.

Don’t take food from strangers. That free sample at Costco is one thing, particularly if you’re among those of us who’re known to cruise the aisles for lunch. And so are those slices of pineapple and jicama offered by vendors at intersections. The stranger offering you a sip of something on the bus is another matter. Just don’t do it, not for thirst and not to be polite.

Forget answering your door after dark, if you’re not expecting visitors. Friends who drop by unexpectedly can call you on their cellphones, right from the street.  Domino’s is not going to deliver a pizza unless you ordered one thirty minutes ago, and the Jehovah’s Witnesses almost never come around after dark. The city is not sending a fumigator around at 7 p.m.  And the kid who wants to look for that ball that fell into your yard can just wait until you’re good and ready to toss it over the wall.

Don’t invite strangers in, not even for a minute. Sure, it sounds easy and hospitable to let that guy with a clipboard step in to your patio while you retrieve something from the house. Just don’t do it. Are you listening? There’s nothing rude about shutting the gate securely, making that person wait in the street. That’s how it’s done in Mexico. And that’s how polite people do it. You’re not going to be hurting anyone’s feelings. Get used to it.

Don’t leave garage door open.  Not even for a minute. And the same goes for your house or apartment.  Throw that deadbolt when you enter. What may have been perfectly safe back in Oklahoma isn’t the same here.

When you’re in your car, keep the doors locked at all times. Put your purse on the floor, not on the passenger seat, particularly when the windows may be open.  Don’t leave mail with your address within plain view. At an intersection, if someone taps on your window, don’t respond.

Take taxis. It doesn’t matter if you’re only 2 blocks from your destination. If the street is empty, or if something just doesn’t look right, spring for the cab. Cab fare is always cheaper than loss. You’re not lame for doing this.

How many times have you seen someone dawdle and fumble while looking inside a purse or wallet for their money on the street? They’re opening a window of opportunity for greedy mitts to reach in and help themselves.

Strangers’ stories are interesting. Read them at your leisure, but don’t waste your time and create a window of opportunity by listening to the saga of woe du jour from someone on the street who wants to tell you how she’s pregnant by her husband who took off for Tijuana a year and a half ago and now needs a prescription for birth control. Slings can fool you. What these people need is far beyond your pay grade in the first place. Do them a favor, and tell them to go to DIF, the Red Cross, or even the local church.

And those ladies going door to door, collecting for the church posada? Unless you personally know them, don’t give. Ask them for the name of the contact person at the parish church, and tell them that you’ll make your donation there.

“Did you hear about your neighbor who was in an awful car accident and died?”  The man at your gate points over to the house down the street, and you ask if it was Sara. Yes, he tells you, it was Sara, since you just provided her name to him. He goes on to explain how her family needs money for her funeral, so you dig into your purse. The problem is that Sara wasn’t in a car accident, she didn’t die, and her family doesn’t need money to bury her. You just gave that nice young man money some spending money.

“But he was such friendly guy, helping my carry groceries in and even the garrafón.”  Of course, the fellow had every reason in the world to be friendly: to establish trust, gain access to your house, and to establish that you were a team.  That charmer just put you into his debt.

Would you let a stranger hold your billfold for a few minutes? Don’t let others use your cell phone. The obvious is that they could easily walk away with it, which not only means that you could lose the cell phone, but more importantly, your directory of phone numbers and potentially your cell phone time.

Watch your friends. Friends who are saps can taint you by association. You’re hanging out with Herman, who is known for telling beggars “I don’t have any money, my wife has all the money.” And then he points to you, and you’re not even his girlfriend. The ladron will assume that you’re just as dumb as Herman and approach you.  Friends don’t make other friends victims.

“Oh, but these people have so little, and I have so much.” Keep that up, and the tables will be turned real soon.

“I wouldn’t want these people to think I’m prejudiced.” Not to worry, they’ll just think you’re dumb.

“Oh, I can’t be absolutely sure he stole it. I’d hate to accuse an innocent man” How many times have you heard that before?  “I’d really hate for him to think that I don’t trust him.”

Act like prey, and you’ll be treated like prey.  Even if you don’t know the terrain, act like you do.

And we’ll have even more in the next installment.

Catalog Fantasies

There’s no question that, after getting magazines in the mail, my favorite activity is shopping. Mail order catalogs combine the best of all worlds.

I got my start on the Sears and Spiegel catalogs; carefully marking up everything I wanted Santa to bring me. And when my mother would tell me there would be a budget for Santa’s offerings, I’d invest even more hours, totaling up prices for my wish list.

I left the Old Country before everything, absolutely everything, was online. Amazon was about as good as it got back in those days. Merchants would send paper catalogs in the mail, and sometimes the day’s harvest would be a foot high. Neiman Marcus.  Horchow.  Sakowitz.  Orvis.  L.L. Bean.  Williams Sonoma.  Chef’s Catalog.  Sur Le Table. Patagonia. Edward R. Hamilton. Jessica’s Biscuit.  Smithsonian.  The museum store catalogs. J. Peterman (I still have the inaugural issue). Bloomingdale’s.  Bonwit Teller. Banana Republic. Zabar’s. Smith & Hawken.  Honeybee.  Chadwicks of Boston.  Sky Mall. Vermont Country Store. Eddie Bauer. Lands’ End. I. Magnin.  Archie McPhee. Design Toscano. Garnet Hill. Gump’s. Ferragamo. Jack Rogers.  Famolare. And that’s not counting the seed catalogs, which are a story for another day.

I never met a catalog I didn’t like – except for those from someplace in Pennsylvania that bought up addresses and sold polyester bed sheets with a thread count of less than 360. Those hit the wastebasket right at the post office.

After dinner, I’d pour over them, sometimes pretend-ordering stuff. By the time fax machines rolled around, ordering was even easier than ringing up that 800 number.  A friendly voice at L.L. Bean was ready to talk, any time of the day or night. One time I called Famolare to place an order and got to talk to Joe Famolare himself.  The gargoyle over my gate came from a catalog.

Before moving to Mexico, right along with sending out change of address cards for everything else, I made sure that catalog merchants got notice of my change of address. I wanted the catalogs to follow me. Some did, and some didn’t. Now the catalogs have dwindled down to just a few, mostly because I’ve gone to the websites and re-upped.

Ordering online just isn’t the same, unless you’re talking about books and electronics. But for everything else, I want to savor the enchanting copy, dog-ear, mark up, and tear out the page, appreciate the paper quality and even file it away. It was the perfect shopping experience, combining the thrill of the hunt with finding the best prices from the comfort of home.

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And then there’s the catalog that’s a class unto itself: Hammacher Schlemmer. It doesn’t promise fashion or style, but it will make everything right in your life. More than just FAO Schwartz for adults, Hammacher Schlemmer is a mirror of what we are. Back in the day, I’ve ordered an electronic rodent repeller, a stepladder which I still use, a comfy wool blanket, and more gadgets than I can remember. Hammacher Schlemmer is all about “the best,” “the only,” the soft and comfortable, and stuff you not only can’t find anyplace else but didn’t even know existed.

Hammacher Schlemmer is back in my mailbox, in full print glory, reminding me of what today’s customers really, really want. It’s all about aches, pains, and iStuff.

In the iCrap category, you can find:

The iPhone Binoculars
The iPhone Slot Machine
The iPhone Photo Printer
The iPad Pen
The Bose iPhone Sound Dock
The Rolling Bedside iPad Stand
The iPad Charging Floor Stand
The Only Read and Write iPad Flash Drive

Hammacher Schlemmer has always promised relief for aching backs, necks, bottoms and feet, but this year, there seems to be a theme.  Plantar fasciitis must be a plague among its customers, because the Last Minute Gift 2013 catalog offers up:

Plantar Fasciitis Insoles

The Gentleman’s Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic Walking Shoes

The Plantar Fasciitis Relieving Foot Sleeves

The Gentleman’s Indoor-Outdoor Plantar Fasciitis Slippers

The Plantar Fasciitis Orthotic Sandal

The Lady’s Plantar Fasciitis Indoor/Outdoor Slippers

The Lady’s Plantar Fasciitis Athletic Shoes

But wait, there’s more. Those aching feet must’ve affected Hammacher Schlemmer’s customers’ minds as well, because there’s a full selection of the best from the Painter of Light Thomas Kinkade:

Thomas Kinkade Revolving Christmas Tree Topper
Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Crystal Snowman
The Night before Christmas Reciting Santa Designed by Painter of Light Thomas Kinkade
The Thomas Kinkade Animated Christmas Tree
The Thomas Kinkade Glistening Wreath
The Thomas Kinkade Illuminated Musical Sledding Snowman
The Thomas Kinkade Crystal Santa Claus
The Thomas Kinkade Crystal Music Box

I don’t need any more iThings, my feet don’t ache, and I really am not worthy of Thomas Kinkade’s finest, but there are some things you can buy me from Hammacher Schlemmer for this year’s Christmas:

The Exact Reproduction Wizard of Oz library, a bargain at $949.95

The Heated Zero Gravity Massage Chair, $3,000

The Authentic Morgan Three-Wheeler, $59,000

Or you could just save yourself time and money by sending me an Amazon.com gift card.

Eyes Wide Open

Your nephew is not at the bus station. Not in Guadalajara, and not in Dallas. And Bill Gates isn’t going to send you $100. Don’t volunteer information to callers.  If your troubled nephew’s really calling, he’ll tell you his name right off the bat.

Pay the extra $12 MXN for an unlisted phone number. Who looks up friends in the phone book anyway these days? Telmex charges practically nothing to change your old number.

Get rid of that bilingual or English-only recording on your phone’s answering machine. Everyone who would deign to still leave a voice message already knows the drill.

Particularly in San Miguel de Allende but also in other expat havens, gringos love to name their houses, often revealing their own names or their children’s. It’s quaint, and it’s cute, but it’s a really bad idea. Take your name off your house.  “Casa Newton” may sound perfectly fine on your house back on the Jersey Shore, but it’s not a good idea in Mexico – no matter how proud you may be of your abode.  You don’t need to broadcast “Gringo lives here.” Don’t waste that pretty tile plaque on strangers; put it in the inside where you can enjoy it.

You’re not the only soul on the block who speaks English, and you’re not Travelers Aid. Give up your Good Samaritan dreams – or spend them on someone deserving. Someone who runs up to you on the bike trail or parking lot or even approaches your home with that “Do you speak English?” is rarely looking for a conversation class. Let the pros do their work. Hand out their phone number – 066 – with reckless abandon. An operator’s always standing by to take a call from the troubled.

Leave your home address off any cards you may have printed. You’re not in retail these days. Sure, that may mean giving up bragging rights to that genuinely awesome vacation rental on a swank street in a place like San Miguel de Allende, but it’s also an advertisement that you don’t need to make.

Whether you’re approaching your house on foot or by car, if there’s someone hanging around the door that doesn’t belong there, move on. Take a spin around the block rather than chance a potentially dicey situation.

At the grocery store, don’t leave your purse or parcels unattended in your cart, not even for a minute while you answer some stranger’s question. Keep your purse attached to your body, even if it means strapping it cross-chest Arab-style.

Don’t take Mi Casa es tu Casa so literally. There is a huge temptation to show off your house to new-found friends you just met on the plaza and to welcome friends of friends to parties and gatherings. Be careful. That friend may be as trustworthy as an Eagle Scout, but what about that friend of a friend?

Citizenship and fluency in whatever your native tongue might be are absolutely not harbingers of security. We tend all too often to place misguided trust in landsmen. Crooked Irish people hung around Ellis Island waiting to take advantage of good, honest newly-landed Irish, and the descendants of those scam artists are still in operation in Mexico. Yes, you read that right: more than a few criminals share citizenship with their victims.

Leaving town? Don’t leave your house unattended. Keep the lights on, a radio on, and have someone check up on things at random hours. Better yet, have someone stay in the house. If you can afford to leave town, you can afford to guard what you’ve left behind.

Estadounidenses seem to have a deep-seated need to be liked, to appear friendly, to engage, and perhaps even more so when they’re abroad. And so many of them feel so darn sorry for what they encounter in Mexico that they’ll go overboard, checking their common sense.  Observe how Mexicans of your station act, and take your cues from them. You don’t need to open the door to everyone who knocks, hearing out their tale, and you don’t need to explain anything. You’re under zero obligation to provide answers to anyone.

And that talkative cab driver, the guy you met for the first time when he opened the car door? He may only be bored, but that’s no reason for you to tell him your life story, including how and why you live in Mexico.  Really, would you share that much information with a random taxi driver in Chicago?  Talk about the weather, if you simply must talk.

Criminals don’t always look like thugs. Some of them even wear genuine Lacoste, not even pirated, because they can afford to, all the better to blend in. Some of them even look like you and me. Appearance is no guarantee of morality. Take a look at Bernie Madoff.

‘Tis better to be considered rude than robbed.  Why should you be concerned about offending someone who’s out to offend you?

Learn to look straight ahead, and learn to be deaf to those pleas. Pretend that you’re French or Spanish or Israeli or one of those nationalities not known for taking on Estadounidense attributes.

What you know, as in conocer, is not dangerous, but what you don’t know is.

Dreaming of Sugar Plum Fairies from Spain

1880-Turron-Alicante-300-gr (2)

The Guadalupe Reyes Marathon is just not the same without an abundant assortment of turrón imported from Spain.  Let me ‘splain. The Christmas season in Mexico officially begins with  Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe, the 12th of December, and finishes with Día de los Reyes Magos on January 6. Nothing will get accomplished during this time frame. Actually, the holiday starts even earlier, Costco revealing its Christmas treasures in August, followed by El Buen Fin, which is Mexico’s version of Black Friday and CyberMonday, preceding the country’s non-celebration of Estadounidense Thanksgiving. [Note to self: install a footnote plug-in.]

There are fewer fresh Christmas trees in Morelia this year than in years past. Costco only had a few, and Superama a grand total of five.  Walmart at Altozano was live tree-free. My Christmas tree comes in a box, an original silver Evergleam, grown in the forests of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, during the second term of the Eisenhower Administration. It’s so beautiful that we could leave it up all year round, topped off with a Doberman angel , handcrafted by nimble Orvis elves. Hand-blown glass ornaments came from Tlapujahua, by way of Rincones de  Michoacan.

My tree is an heirloom one, purchased by my grandmother during the one year she didn’t have the florist make up a Christmas tree in something like all-turquoise flocked pine with matching ornaments, and then have the florist haul everything away after New Year’s to prevent her descendants from inheriting Christmas ornaments. My grandparents were always the first in town to have whatever was the newest and latest, so they used that tree once and hid it in a storage closet until more than two decades would elapse. By then, I’d opened my law office, and she suggested it might look good in the waiting room, instructing me that it should be decorated in ornaments of a single color. So, the tree got put up a time or two in the office, and then it found itself shipped to Mexico to my mother, who was living here at the time, who declared it too ugly for words, shoving it back into the bodega, where it would remain for another decade or so. Each year, I would take it lovingly from the original box, the branches removed with care from the original paper sleeves, and erect it with the red and pink ornaments. Friends who drop by are rendered speechless by the sight of this tree, but I know that deep down, they’re just envious. This tree has seen more holidays than my grandmother ever intended, but I think it’s beautiful in that 1959 pink Cadillac with fins kind of way.

[Footnote time:  The Aluminum Specialty Company would become Mirro, maker of pressure cookers, which has since gone on to greener pastures.]

And my decorating skills stop there. Holiday décor’s not nearly as important as what’s on the shelves to fill our bellies during the holidays. In times gone past, you just knew the season really had arrived by the odor of sides of bacalao, making the uninitiated wonder what had died at the supermarket display table. Now, most of the genuine Norwegian salt cod is tidily and hygienically packaged.

Maybe you can live without bacalao. I love making bacalao a la vizcaína,  but friends approach it with the relish they reserve for okra, so it’s a private thing.

In a land where more than a few boys named Jesus are born every day of the week, we’re driven by sweets. After all, Coca-Cola is the national sponsor of all respectable public Christmas décor here.  When we’re not worshipping Coca-Cola in this country, we’re paying homage to our Spanish motherland. Everything that comes from Spain is just a notch above. It’s our England.

You can’t have Christmas without sweets, and that means turrón imported from Spain. Up until a year or so ago, easily 30 minutes could be spent just picking which boxes of  turrón would grace the season’s  sweets table – chestnut truffles, pistachio, fruit and nut, walnuts. The crunchy, the fudgy, the nougaty, and the crumbly. Andalucian pine nuts given the Jordan almond treatment. Almendras rellenas. Creamy almond and honey Jijona turrón.  El Lobo Alicante turrón. 1880 yema tostada turrón. Peladillas (almonds given the Jordan almond treatment). 1880 Alicante crunchy almond turrón. Dark chocolate almond turrón. Even though the traditional ingredients were honey, sugar, and egg white, the concept extended to all Spanish candies available at Christmas.

Living in the candy capital of Mexico isn’t enough. Ates, Checolines, coconut-stuffed limes, and Morelianas (cajeta sandwiched between communion wafers)  aren’t enough. There was a time when U.S.-branded candy bars – Milky Way, Almond Joy, and oreo-studded Hershey bars, were rare around these parts. We have to make do with Carlos V. We could always depend upon Christmas to bring out the best of Spanish turrón – and to fill the larder with the post-Guadalupe Reyes sales.

This year appears to be marked by a turrón shortage. Costco had a measly three-pack, Walmart had none, and Superama, known for carrying no less than nine kinds of flavored sesame seeds (including green bamboo-smoked) had a paltry end-of-the-aisle display of only a few choices. And if that wasn’t enough, the prices were double what they were last year. Some nerve! The most expensive box was going for $299 MXN ($23 USD).

Meanwhile, marrons glaces, imported from Italy, are going for $130 MXN (that’s $10 USD) for a 454-gram box, cheaper than ever. There are supplies of German and French sweets. And, more abundant than ever, Estadounidense Christmas candy. If that damned ribbon candy ever hits the shelves, I’m packing up and heading south.

No matter what changes, we’ll always have firecrackers and guns shot off into the night sky for the holidays. And that’s reason enough to be thankful for living in Mexico.