Six Feet of Summer Socializing

Three arms’ length, two and a half baseball bats, two golf clubs, two shopping carts, two end-to-end Doberman Pinschers, the width of a Honda Accord, or half a parking space. That’s six feet, give or take a few inches. And that’s the current standard of social distancing, which still means something even if businesses have started to open again and protestors march in the streets.

It’s the 2020 version of the gym teacher, armed with a ruler, separating couples who were dancing too close at the junior high school dance. What we called cooties back in the fifties are back today as COVID-19.

Ball games, barbecues, picnics, outdoor concerts under the stars, libations around the fire pit. Those were yester summer’s fun, but COVID-19 changed the rhythm, setting, and style of socializing, creating New Rules, new normal, and new ways of entertaining ourselves in the company of others.

And now that the Boston Marathon, postponed to September 14, has been cancelled, what are you going to do? We all know how hard you had been training for that while you sheltered in place.

You can play board games and Animal Crossing: New Horizons only so long. You’ve become sick and tired of decorating focaccia and making sourdough. Even fermenting vegetables has become old. How can you get out of the house, socialize with other sentient beings, and remain in an acceptable risk zone? Surely, there has to be some way to have fun, socialize, and still maintain acceptable social distance. National Public Radio’s Morning Edition, in “From Camping To Dining Out: Here’s How Experts Rate The Risks Of 14 Summer Activities” gives some useful guidance. You can still have fun while maintaining that safe, healthy, and social distance.

Manhattan Beach, California, lawyer Brian H. Cole, whose beach forbids setting up chairs, limiting activity only to “active” pursuits like swimming, surfing, and walking, has been having “driveway dinners,” both at home and at friends’ homes. Two or three couples gather, sitting at appropriate distances apart, and enjoy take-out from a nearby restaurant. Even friends with health challenges have been willing to engage in these driveway dinners, since everyone gathers in fresh air without getting too close.

A Seattle lawyer participates in Zoom cocktail parties with other lawyers, Zoom wine tastings, and even split a bottle of wine with a long-time, trusted friend, physically separated by at least eight feet on the deck of his house, overlooking a lake. For a real change of scenery, he ventures forth to his office, distancing himself from the sole other occupant, his secretary. And then there’s always Costco.

Practicing out of a high-rise condo in the Philadelphia city center for a dozen years, Miriam Jacobson’s not socializing in person at all, having no plans to do so for a long time, but that doesn’t mean she’s living the life of a hermit. The plays, movies, restaurants, and meetings which were part of her pre-COVID-19 life are no longer on her agenda, nor are the doctors’ appointments which had been part of her social life.  But she’s neither idle nor lonely, using Zoom as her lifeline, participating in tai chi, yoga, pranayama, and Qi Gong breath classes, attending bar association meetings in different locations in her living room and dining area, participating in a group that is trying to bridge the cultural difference between Jewish and Muslim women, and enjoying dinner with friends. She says her list of Netflix and Hulu offerings is probably longer than her life expectancy. Hot weather, crowds of unmasked people on narrow sidewalks, and protests have kept her from taking outdoor walks for now.

Jacobson senses that in some of the Zoom meetings, people are more willing to share intimately, adding that some the discussions have taken on more open and authentic dimensions, perhaps because the focus is upon the participant’s faces instead of the backs of their heads that we would see at in-person classroom settings.

So, what has this writer been doing? Life is not terribly dissimilar from pre-COVID-19 days, because there’s plenty around the house and yard to keep me occupied and entertained. I participate in competitive cooking with friends in North and South America, I garden and read, and I snidely complain to others about the indecency of the unmasked masses. I venture out to Costco, the beauty shop, and to my favorite steakhouse, which I’ll keep on doing.

This is the age of consent and establishing boundaries. Close friends have always had social codes of conduct. Some are just common sense, like not wearing white shoes after Labor Day or serving shrimp cocktails with salad forks at a Passover seder. Whether it’s a hike with friends, a dinner party, or coffee and dessert, establish ground rules for all participants. Just as there once were tacit agreements about smoking, over-drinking, using recreational drugs, and discussing taboo topics, the New Rules require an understanding of everyone’s tolerance level of masking, washing, disinfecting, sharing, and sane distancing. And those agreements can easily extend to a ban on bringing uninvited guests. What might’ve passed for faux pas or just bad manners last year are matters of life and death for many today.

Relax, and remain flexible. You may have set out enough supplies of hand sanitizer, tissues, disposable facemasks, spray cleaners, disinfectants, and trash receptacles to outfit a MASH unit, but no matter how careful everyone tries to be, sooner or later someone’s going to break the New Rules. Consider it today’s equivalent of spilled wine or a broken glass, break out the Clorox wipes, and move on. A breached bacterial barrier isn’t worth stressing over. Your hospitality zone would never be mistaken for an operating theater anyway.

Everyone’s risk aversion level is different. Try to understand their needs and concerns, accommodating them without compromising your own health standards. If someone insists upon wearing nitrile gloves and a plastic face shield, topped off with a foam pool noodle, at an in-person dinner party, don’t comment. After all, it’s not as if they were wearing black socks with sandals or eating with the wrong fork. If others require you to wear a full-on plastic face shield, play along in good faith. It’s only for an hour or so, and it can’t look any sillier than you were at that Halloween party back in 1999.

And if you can’t commune with other humans, you can still get close to nature. Go out for a hike, plant a garden, landscape the yard. Breathe in some fresh air, and let the sun restore that Vitamin D. Walk your dog, go horseback riding, maybe even take in a botanical garden or zoo.

Ten years ago, MOOCs (massive open online courses) were all the rage, fell into disuse, but COVID-19 has put Coursera, Udacity, and edX back in style again. Take a course with a few friends, just to make it a meaningful and safe social activity. The Johns Hopkins’ course, “COVID-19 Contact Tracing,” offered through Coursera might not lead to new career opportunities, but it will make you conversant about a new topic.

Sheltering in place, self-isolation, and quarantining don’t have to mean social exile. Keep in touch with friends – and even strangers – by phone, on social media, by e-mail, and even by old-fashioned snail mail. Staying socially connected is essential to remaining sane in interesting times.

Previously published in Voice of Experience: June 2020, American Bar Association Senior Lawyers Division

 

 

At Home in Michoacán

Michoacán – the soul of Mexico

 

The state of Michoacán is an uncommon place. From the sugar cane fields of Los Reyes, the avocados, coffee, and macadamia nuts of Uruapan, the melon fields of Apatzingán, the rice fields of Lombardia and Nueva Italia, the pears of Ucareo, the pescado blanco of Patzcuaro, to the ruggedly pristine Pacific coast, the endless pine-crested peaks of Mil Cumbres, the mines and butterflies of Angangueo and the former mining town of Tlalpujahua.

 

Michoacán is as varied a state as you’ll find anywhere in Mexico. Michoacán is craft-central for all kinds of handicrafts and ground zero for Noche de Muertos. The guitars of Paracho, the lace of Aranza, the deshilado of San Felipe de los Herreros, the masks of Tocuaro, the devils of Ocumicho, and the pottery of Capula… And don’t miss the Meseta Purépecha, the archeological wonders of Tingambato, Tzintzuntzan and Ihuatzio or the copper workers of Santa Clara de Cobre. Morelia, the most Spanish of all Mexican cities, warrants a book all its own.

 

This is the state which produced one of Mexico’s most revered leaders – Lázaro Cárdenas. This is the state which has sent off the second-highest number of its own to work across foreign borders. This is the state in which the oldest university in the American continent was founded back in 1540.

 

Michoacán is craft and industry. Michoacán is history and leadership. Michoacán is a kaleidoscope of natural beauty. Michoacán is art and music, and Michoacán is education. Michoacán is the guardian of tradition, and the face of tomorrow. This is the state whose pride knows no bounds, and this is the state everyone loves.

 

I wrote that a dozen years ago, dashing it off in a few minutes one evening.  Felipe Calderon, Morelia’s own, had yet to become president.  Narcos were around even then, but they weren’t the center of our universe. Maestras and normalistas overtook the streets, but they were a much quieter bunch back in the day. There was no cuota to the Pacific shores. Altozano was barely a twinkle in its fathers’ eyes.  And still, Michoacán remains the best damn state in the Republic. Every time since, when my plane lands at MLM, when I cross over the Michoacán state line, I know I’m home.

Walking up my street, I realize that I’ve walked that adoquin over four decades of my life.

Some 26 years ago, I sat on a rock in my newly-acquired yard, feeling as lost as Dorothy in Oz. And now I wouldn’t live anyplace else.

Name That Green – Round II

And now on to Round II of Name That Green. We’ve been growing this one, nonstop, since November, but only in the past month has it really come into abundance. A hardy plant, it blends nicely with arugula and basil. This should be an easy one for well-bred and chichi to quickly identify.

 

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Name That Green

We had never heard of this plant when we bought the seeds at a local store. But at $15 MXN a packet, we could easily take some risks. That’s what gardening is about, isn’t it?

Trying not to reveal our ignorance, we casually mentioned its name around those we thought might be more clued in. They weren’t. Of course, that left us smug, a feeling we love to embrace. After all, we were the first of our kind around these parts to grow kale, which is so last year.

 

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Are you au courant enough to recognize what this is?

 

 

Are Turks Safe in Mexico?

A Turkish lawyer wrote me on Facebook:

I want to ask your opinion regarding my friend’s daughter (a high school kid) from Turkey who has been chosen to participate in a Rotary Youth Exchange Program whereas she will stay with a family in a different country for 6 weeks this summer as part of the program. Evidently, they have a few countries to choose from. One of these countries is Mexico. The daughter is interested in Mexico because she had Spanish courses in High School along with English. However, Mom has certain reservations as to whether she should send her to Mexico or not due to the safety concerns. As someone who knows Mexico better than anyone I know, your input would be greatly appreciated. Maybe I should ask the question as follows: Would you send your daughter to Mexico for a program as this one for 6 weeks to stay with a family??

My response (with apologies for hasty drafting):

Without hesitation, I would feel safe sending a high school student to Mexico for a program like the Rotary exchange.

The people who participate in Rotary in Mexico are upper middle or upper class, very conservative, and business-oriented. These people and the Rotary organization did not take any chances in years past, and they’re not going to take any chances in today’s environment.

An American kid would very likely find Mexican society to be very restrictive in comparison to contemporary US society. I can’t make the comparison to Turkish society. Mexican society is very conservative compared to European society.

Drug use is still looked down upon in Mexico; it’s a lower class thing here. The worst that your friend’s daughter might do in the country is to drink — and over-drinking is considered bad form.

The narco-violence is exaggerated. The media has blown it entirely out of proportion. I am not denying that it exists, but you have to make a concerted effort to find it – by going to the wrong part of town, hanging out with the wrong kind of people, trying to buy drugs, not immediately leaving a situation that looks suspicious. The targets of narco-violence are other gang members and p0oliticans.

Nearly all of the dangers you read about which affect tourists take place in resort areas like Cancun, where tourists are drinking too much, taking chances that they would never dream of taking back home, and are ready targets.

Your friend’s daughter’s host family is going to take every precaution to ensure her safety – just as they do their own. Mexicans are much more safety-conscious than Americans – we Mexicans double-lock our doors, don’t let strangers into the house, have bars on the windows (which is more of an architectural feature), and our homes are marked by high walls. The girl will probably not be permitted to go out by herself, and she will be escorted at all times by her hosts or a group of friends.

Mexico has a lot of poor people, and their presence is not easy to escape. It is probably like Turkey in that regard. It is an extremely class-conscious country. The mere existence of poor people can be frightening to those who are not accustomed to this.

Mexicans are a lot like Turks (I may be generalizing, but I’m always drawing parallels between Mexico and the Turkey I knew). We are a gregarious, open, helpful people, insisting that others eat all the time!

Because Mexico is really suffering right now from bad press, the government, hospitality industry, and the kind of people who participate in exchanges like the Rotary program are knocking themselves out to make sure that visitors remain safe and have an enjoyable experience. In my opinion, Mexico is definitely a lot safer than Istanbul!

 

Mexican Wins Chile

Rick Steeves calls him the “The Rick Steeves of South America.” I think he’s better than Rick Steeves, any day of the week.

Few travel writers know the Southern Cone better than Wayne Bernhardson, wrote the Moon Handbooks to Buenos Aires, Chile, Argentina and Patagonia. Before I entered this evening’s contest at Southern Cone Travel, I’d been debating about where to go on my next South American trip. I told myself that if I won, the decision would be easy. And because I know my mountains when I see them, I won the current edition of Moon Handbooks Chile.

 

 

Will El Hermano Mayor de Leon be Watching You?

Writing in Fast Company, Austin Carr made more than a few scratch their heads in wonder this evening:

Biometrics R&D firm Global Rainmakers Inc. (GRI) announced today that it is rolling out its iris scanning technology to create what it calls "the most secure city in the world." In a partnership with Leon — one of the largest cities in Mexico, with a population of more than a million — GRI will fill the city with eye-scanners.

Houston-based lawyer Ignacio Pinto-Leon, who is admitted to practice in Mexico as well as New York, smells an urban legend in the making:

  • Leon is a municipality in the state of Guanajuato. I would think the city does not have a budget for the price tag of the technology. The state executive maybe; the federal government for sure. But not a city.
  • City jails house only drunks and prostitutes for up to 36 hours for each infraction.
  • The state and federal government run the real jails. So, the first take of irises on inmates would give a very poor—but probably cheerful—sample.
  • Put  fancy little cameras in public places in Mexico, and most likely they would get stolen quickly. I’m not bashing my countrymen; just guessing. 
  • So, it would flag the "bad guys." Well, the bad guys in Mexico are really bad guys. They have really big guns—we don’t sell guns in Mexico except through the Mexican Secretary of Defense, but have a neighbor nearby who sells everything from grenades and whatnots at good prices. And sometimes the bad guys attack in groups of forty or more. 
  • Kidnappers would routinely include ripping the eyeballs to avoid detection.
  • Is the government going to share the information with stores in the case of shoplifters? Really? Entrepreneurs distrust the government; why would they open their computers to them?
  • The only two sources with information are: the company’s webpage, and a press release published in an online newspaper. The press release is also by the same company and a local partner.
  • No AP, REUTERS, NOTIMEX or any other agency note. Nada.

Having said that, Pinto-Leon commented:

Mexico is Mexico. Few things would surprise me regarding my beloved country. We say that compared to Mexico, Kafka was a costumbrist (Mexico is essentially Kafkian by nature). I don’t know if they have the technology to try it on such a wide population. My guess is that the note is inaccurate. It would be interesting to read more about it. Constitutionally speaking, there could be some freedom of transit and freedom of privacy issues too. 

 

Gone with the Wind in Mexico

Ever since C.M. Mayo’s The Last Prince of the Mexican Empire came into my hands a year ago last May, via Baltimore of all places, my reading life hasn’t been the same. Entire evenings would be spent hanging out at the Maximilian von Mexiko page, reading through the bibliography, following the links, and even plunging into more research. And now, Mayo’s dedicated a new blog, Maximilian-Carlota, for researchers of the tumultuous period of Mexico known as the Second Empire.

The Empress of the Farewells proved to be an exhaustive history of her life, but it still left me with questions to ponder. What was the real extent of Carlota’s madness – bad chemicals, circumstance, poisoning, or a matter of everyone being mean to her? Really now, wouldn’t you be just a little bit crazy if you went through all that she did? Did Maximilian and Carlota each produce out-of-wedlock progeny?

Going back in the other direction, Agustin de Iturbide, whose son begat the last prince, came from Morelia. Why can’t I find a fascinating biography of him? And why doesn’t Morelia celebrate him, whom I consider the real hero of independence, the problem-solver, as much as it does our other hometown hero, Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon?

 

Better Than a Thousand Words

DSCN0453How would you like to be named “Distinguished Tourist of the Year,” win an all-expense paid trip to Mexico for your family and pocket $25,000MN?

You could have all that and more if you’re the lucky winner of the Vive Mexico en una Foto contest. Get out your camera or cell phone and go here.

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Books, Sports and Life – A Blog Worth Reading

I’ve known Elio Martinez, a partner in the South Florida law firm Concepcion, Sexton & Martinez, for at least two decades through bar association activities. Beyond his life as a lawyer, I considered him one of the most reliable sources around when it came to books and restaurants – and particularly the latter. He bears responsibility for introducing me to my all-time favorites, Versailles on Calle Ocho in Miami and to El Palacio de la Papa Frita, serious-food restaurants where the tables are lined up with precision, the waitstaff stooped, elderly men who would’ve been old long before either of us were born, and the air filled with political intrigue over at the corner tables.

Not until he unveiled his new blog, Books, Sports and Life, did I know about Elio’s past as a sports statistician and historian. It’s amazing what a blog can reveal.

 

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The Presidential Semaphore

 

ARTICULO 34.-LA BANDA PRESIDENCIAL CONSTITUYE UNA FORMA DE PRESENTACION DE LA BANDERA NACIONAL Y ES EMBLEMA DEL PODER EJECUTIVO FEDERAL, POR LO QUE SOLO PODRA SER PORTADA POR EL PRESIDENTE DE LA REPUBLICA, Y TENDRA LOS COLORES DE LA BANDERA NACIONAL EN FRANJAS IGUAL ANCHURA COLOCADAS LONGITUDINALMENTE, CORRESPONDIENDO EL COLOR DE VERDE A LA FRANJA SUPERIOR. LLEVARA EL ESCUDO NACIONAL SOBRE LOS TRES COLORES, BORDADO EN HILO DORADO, A LA ALTURA DEL PECHO DEL PORTADOR, Y LOS EXTREMOS DE LA BANDA REMATARAN CON UN FLECO DORADO.

Yesterday, President Felipe Calderon switched that around, flipping the presidential sash so that red instead of green would appear topmost. So, what’s behind that move? Is it simply to show the world that he’s still Boss of Mexico? Or is it another step toward the North American Union? All right, so what does this signal?

 

Women in the Mexican Wars for Independence and Revolution

2010 marks the bicentennial of the Mexican wars for independence and the centennial of the Mexican Revolution. We in Mexico believe in doing things efficiently. Drop in over at the Mexico 2010 website. You could easily spend a week there. And it’s presented in Spanish as well as English.

 

A Bitch in Need

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This bitch’s mother does nothing but practice law all day long so that she can feed three hungry poodles. She has no life except attending dog shows and participating in listserves. Her only human friends are imaginary. Please brighten her day by going here or here or here, and voting this dog A Dog’s Purpose Dog of the Week. And tell everyone you know to do the same.

And Now Let Us Speak of Elephants

Rick Bayless will be doing the cooking, but what else will be on the table during Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s trip to the White House? Tom Risen predicts what he’ll tell the U.S. Congress next week, but would it be unreasonable to expect him to call a spade a spade instead walking delicately around the elephant in the room?

What’s next in Mexico – U.S. relations?

And who’s really behind El Blog del Narco?

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If Mexico Treated Gringos Like the U.S.A. Treats Mexicans

So, if gringos had to pay an equivalent fee to reside in Mexico to what Mexicans pay in the United States, the schedule would look like this:

The fee for standing in line:                                $ 1,500 USD

Working residency permit:                                 $ 8,200 USD

Monthly income requirement for retirees:   $12,500 USD

Fees for normal residency card:                         $60,000 USD

Suggesting whiny gringos shut the fuck up:    PRICELESS!

Read on at The Mex Files.

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The Pope Made Me Do It

It’s no secret that the Catholic Church is responsible for pedophilia. But did you know that the  Church is also the reason why Mexicans are always late?

Writing in The Americano, Ricardo González explains why:

In traditional Catholic teaching in Latin America you do not go immediately from death to be with the Lord as taught in Protestant churches. There is a break in the timeline. There is actually kind of a “time-out” built into the Catholic religion between “life” and “death.” In religious vernacular it is called purgatory. Also, in real life in Latin America, the Catholic church is not typically an activity or project based institution as is the Protestant church here in the United States. It is not concerned with church growth. This does, in fact, affect our view of time. Priests are not charged with building large and dynamic ministries. They are charged with the oversight of the community in which they are placed. They are typically not evangelistic from an outreach standpoint. Pastors and missionaries, on the other hand, are very driven by the desire (need) to grow their ministries which naturally then puts them on a much more linear path. Frankly, if a missionary, for example, doesn’t product some results within whatever time period the supporting churches deem reasonable, he is probably going to be out of a job. The same is true with Pastors in the United States. If their churches don’t grow, they are in serious danger of losing their ministries. The need for growth within a certain period of time forces the churches to be very linear in the way they view and teach time management. This is not true in the Catholic church in Latin America and it is a real difference that impacts the cultures.

So, why is Jesus holding a shotgun?

 

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April 19 Times Three

Fifteen years ago, from the Hilton Istanbul I watched the news of the Oklahoma City bombing before going downstairs to a cocktail party organized by the English-speaking community. Everyone there hoped and prayed that it wasn’t the work of some crazed Arab. “We’ll have hell to pay if the Arabs are involved,” said one elderly Jewish man.

Only two years before, on the same day, the U.S. Government blew the smithereens out of a religious compound in Waco. I was in Mexico when that happened.

Two years to the day after the Oklahoma City bombing, I was repatriating my late mother’s Seville to the U.S., driving up Interstate 35 at an excessive rate of speed, only to be stopped by the very same Oklahoma State Trooper who nabbed Tim McVeigh. As he’s handing me a citation for not using a seat belt, I notice his name, and I ask him “Are you…?” as I look toward the freeway exit. Yes, he was. Yes, over there.

But there’s another chapter in this story, and that involves McVeigh’s accomplice, Terry Nichols. He would go on to be defended by Ponca City lawyer Brian Hermanson, who would shut down his solo practice and put his own life on hold to accept the challenge. Today Hermanson’s practice is back in full swing, and he’s running for District Attorney for Kay and Noble Counties.

The next time you think that what’s heard halfway around the world doesn’t affect small-town lawyers, think again.