Covid Tales

COvid

This morning at Banorte’s bank of ATMs, a tidy, well-dressed, bald, bare-faced customer works the machine, methodically wiping it down with a white disinfecting wipe, as if preparing it for surgery, inserting his card and extracting his money, and then wiping his fingers and the machine down afterward. There is another machine available, but I decide the one the bald man has wiped down is clean enough for me to use second-hand.

Paying attention to which digits I put into use, I note that only the tip of my left index finger touches the machine and its keypad, the same index finger and its adjoining thumb only put into use to pluck the card from my purse’s outer pocket, sliding it in and pulling it out, along with the cash. Perhaps as much as an eighth of a centimeter of my skin touched where others had gone before.

Stuffing my money and debit card back into my purse, I douse my hands with gel, making sure that I smear it all over the bottle for good measure as I walk back to my car. Maybe I was thinking that those viruses and spirochetes were in a mad race to my elbows.

But the story starts in my vestidor, before I took off for the bank, as I make up my face, opting for the good eye shadow, the good eyeliner, telling myself that it’s more necessary now than ever, that I don’t need to be stingy with makeup, because I can buy more when this is all over. Even if my face will be mostly covered and my eyes shaded by dark glasses, it’s important that I know what’s underneath. I draw the parallels with wearing the good underwear and slathering on the good body cream on an ordinary day. No one but me knows it’s there, and maybe that’s what makes it all the more important.

*****

Will we all become super-aware of germs when this is over? The polio years left its mark on many of us. When I was 15, a girl who would go on to become a homecoming queen picked up my drink, supposedly by mistake, and I could not touch it after she had. God only knows what had been in her mouth the weekend before, and I wasn’t taking any chances. She and her pack of wannabees made fun of my germaphobia, and I lost rank that day.

In time, we would get over the ickiness of germs as we passed around joints, took hits from the same bong, and swilled from the same Almaden bottle being passed around. And if a McDonald’s coffee stirrer wasn’t available, a rolled-up Ben Franklin touched more than a few nostrils.

Will the next generation do that?

*****

Masks do more than create a germ barrier, shutting out bad breath as well as emotions.  You can’t see another’s smile, their teeth, whether they’re baring their teeth, grimacing, or sticking their tongue out at you. What will happen to lipstick? And what about white teeth? Will masks be the death knell for porcelain veneers? Will orthodontists be put out of business? Will women stop bleaching their mustaches and plucking those pesky chin hairs? Will people stop trimming those nose hairs?

Earrings and masks don’t often work well together. And those nose rings and studs? Wasted efforts.

Will we start looking into others’ eyes more carefully for signs of life?

And when The Late Unpleasantness abates, will those of us who’ve come to resemble Botero people be back in style?

Or is it all a plot to get everyone into nijabs and burkas?

*****

Back to the bald man with the disinfecting wipes. Assuming, he wasn’t wiping the ATM down with coronavirus, he was showing concern for the next user. Maybe it was just a public version of wiping off stray sprinkles on a toilet seat or putting it down after using it, but it was a gesture that didn’t go unnoticed. And that took me back to thinking about how the masks aren’t about protecting the wearer, but showing respect for others.  And that’s what I tell myself when I put on my eye makeup.

 

 

 

Cultural Literacy

I wrote that blog post back in January, 2008, days after receiving my carta de naturalizacion, which had only been signed half a year before. I’d intended to write something acknowledging the anniversary, but then it just slipped past me. Maybe that’s a sign that being a Mexican by choice is just so much a part of who I am that I no longer need to remember the date.

I had just returned from Bogota, when I was awakened with a call from SRE, telling me “Your carta has arrived, but you’ll need to take the test.”
Bring it on.

Well, they hadn’t created the test yet.

“Create one, because I’ll be in your office tomorrow at noon.”
“You’ll have to know the Himno Nacional.”
So I spent the night studying and memorizing all of the stanzas of the Himno Nacional, but I was damned if I’d sing it. (I knew that I wouldn’t have to.) Admittedly, it got a little edgy, wondering if they’d spring something on me like what the real name of Guadalupe Victoria was. I kept telling myself that they really didn’t want me to give them a dissertation on the differences between the Estrada Doctrine and the Castaneda Doctrine, reminding myself that after all I was a lawyer and had even passed a bar exam. And the test should probably be designed so even Guatemalans could pass it.
I enter the office and surrender my FM-2. The delegado stamps my receipt for it, which is a signal that I’m going to pass. She ushers me to a table in her office to take the test. Nothing I’d studied was on the test, but I could pass it. I do have to say that most people could not. Not even a lot of natural-born Mexicans. It wasn’t easy. But I’m determined. I blank on naming the state where Chichen Itza is located, first writing Quintana Roo, and know that’s not right. Yucatan. I do not want to tell her that she’s mispelled Chichen Itza, but as she’s looking over my shoulder, I ask “It’s in Yucatan, right?” She says it is.
I write out all ten stanzas of the Himno Nacional. Her jaw drops. “You know that?”
Yeah, bring it on.
“You really do know your Mexican writers, don’t you?” she says, amazed that I could name more than the requested three.
“Would you like to know Benito Juarez’ mother’s apellido?  By the way, the test is supposed to be administered orally, so as not to discriminate against those who cannot read and write,” I tell her, just in case she wants to know for future reference. I like to be helpful in that kind of way, but only after I’ve got what I want.

Red Shoes are Better than Bacon

Last week I asked several Mexican friends a few basic questions about this country, just to test their cultural literacy.

I started out with asking them to name a few Mexican writers. The first insisted that Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a Mexican writer. Doesn’t Colombia ring a bell? The second came up with Octavio Paz and Carlos Fuentes, claiming that he couldn’t think of any more off the bat. The third admitted that she could not name a single one. Haven’t these folks heard of Juana Inés de la Cruz, Carlos Pellicer, Denise Dresser, Juan Ruiz de Alarcon, Ramon Lopez Velarde, Manuel Othon, Manuel Gutierrez Najera, Elena Poniatowska, Anita Brenner, Carlos Monsivàis, Homero Aridjis, Juan Rulfo, Guadalupe Loaeza, Laura Esquivel, Margo Glantz, Sara Sefchovich and and Guadalupe Marín, just for starters? Do they ever read the newspaper

One out of the three could not name the jefe de gobierno of…

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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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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.

Dreaming of Sugar Plum Fairies from Spain

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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.

Why Lawyers Lack Humor

Back in another lifetime, Red Shoes are Better than Bacon published and then lost interest in a blog called Stuff Lawyers Like. In that era, now the now prolific and popular blogger Steve Cotton, who had not yet become a Mexpatriate, whiled away his days as one of the top lawyers in a captive insurance company. We called upon his talents as a guest blogger, and today we share with you again his wit.

Humor. Lawyers don’t get it. And they never had it.

We all know the split. The determinists who believe that there is something in some of us that drives us to be lawyers. The behaviorists who believe that law school squeezes us into what we are.

But what we are is a profession without a funny bone. Watch a group of people whenever the senior partner starts: “You see. There were these three guys who went into a bar. A ….” By that point the flinch factor has the full group looking like Clinton supporters in Illinois.

We cannot tell jokes. And it is ironic. Here we are, the advocates for the oppressed, and we are less successful at telling a joke than the average 8-year old boy.

I can hear the loyal opposition now: “Hold on there, son. I make people laugh every day.”  And I will bet you do.

But I will also bet that what has your audience smiling is not humor. It is probably wit.

What God or law school (and academics easily confuse the two) gave most of us is the uncanny ability to 1) make an incisive observation, 2) reduce it to a comic phrase, and 3) deliver it with impeccable timing.

The result is seldom a belly laugh. Usually, a knowing chuckle or wry smirk.

Wit. And we are experts at it. Like Potter Stewart, we know it when we see it.

Oscar Wilde complimented James Whistler on a quip: “I wish I’d said that.” Whistler fired back: “You will, Oscar, you will.”

Frasier: Niles, you’re a good brother and a credit to the psychiatric profession.
Niles: You’re a good brother, too.

Dorothy Parker reviewing Katharine Hepburn on Broadway: “She runs the gamut of emotions from A to B.”

Oh, yes. There is that aspect, too. Wit usually has a target that leaves the field at least bloodied — if not eviscerated.

The distinction between wit and humor is hardly original with me. One of my favorite writers, John Simon, pointed out in Paradigms Lost that humor and wit are nearly the exact opposites of one another. Humor is “basically good natured and often directed toward oneself.”  On the other hand, wit is “aggressive, often destructive (though one hopes, in a good cause), and almost always directed at others.”  Simon, of course, is a master of wit.

If you want to see the distinction in its full French glory, rent the film Ridicule. It is worth every sub-title.

So, here is my suggestion. Leave the jokes to the ex-accountants. We can go our merry way keeping alive the tradition of the Lady Astors and the Algonquin Round Table.

After all, at least one of the three guys who went into the bar is going to need a good lawyer some day.

Today’s guest blogger is Steve Cotton, who is Assistant Counsel for Legal Services at SAIF Corporation, a workers’ compensation carrier, in Salem, Oregon. He has written articles and CLE treatises on workers’ compensation and criminal law, and he is a regular speaker at CLEs and other training sessions, where his wit is welcome, and his humor is barred. He also publishes Same Life — New Location.

A NEO-LUDDITE’S RAMPAGE

What passes for as Black Friday north of the Rio Bravo started out as just another Viernes here. The end of the month is nigh, and that means a deadline to meet. I would diligently crank out two columns today, but not before a goodly amount of coffee and reading every news source on the Internet.

Estadounidense Black Fridays scare me, having left the Old Country before they came to resemble looting sprees that follow natural disasters. Just watching people attack one another over tablets and giant screen televisions threw me into a rare mode of questioning values.

Several years back, I developed a plan which included removing two items of clothing and other new acquisitions from my closets for each new acquisition. That didn’t work for computers.

CFE came by and politely announced I’d have no electricity for the rest of the afternoon. What was I supposed to do, sit around and read print copies of The New Yorker by sunlight? I decided to honor Black Friday by deaccessioning a few superannuated computers. Four of them, to be exact. Death knells for the Dells.

One already reposed in the living room, the case opened and the hard drive waiting to be pulled. There would be three more upstairs waiting evisceration.

P1010990We went to work, but not before fondly remembering floppy drives, Zip drives, and tape drives. And recalling that the total cost of them exceeded the price of my first new car and a year’s tuition at law school back during the Nixon Administration. One was first put into use just after the unveiling of Windows 95. The latest, XP. The poor, the desperate, and even the deserving and perverted would no more want these computers than they’d want my used underwear.

P1010996While we’re otherwise hygienic when it comes to computing, we never get around to wiping hard drives. Instead the whole unit simply gets shoved into a closet. We’ll find a way to destroy those hard drives later.

We’re not getting rid of everything. We’re holding on to those HP LaserJet printers, because we just love them and know they’ll be valuable collectors’ items in due time. And they even got us some good press one time:

Finally, attorney turned blogger and journalist Jennifer Rose sent us a photo of her HP LaserJet III. She got it in 1991 and they’ve been inseparable since. Rose tells us that the LaserJet III cost “almost as much as [her] first new car” and that she grew especially fond of the special language she needed to learn to operate the control panel. While her LaserJet III doesn’t serve as her primary office printer anymore, Rose reports that it “never jams” and “keeps on ticking like a basic Timex watch.”

Giving Gracias

For my Estadounidense friends who’re kindly sending their Thanksgiving wishes, asking how we celebrate the holiday in Mexico, let me fill you in. We don’t. I’ll do the same thing on this Thanksgiving Day that I did the day before, and the year before that: nothing remarkable.

It’s just another Thursday in late November around these parts, the midpoint between Dia de la Revolucion on November 20 and Dia de  Guadalupe on December 12. The newer an expat’s residency in this country, the more likely he or she is to celebrate. Gain distance from the Old Country and some tenure here, and it’s not a big deal. Sure, off in expat havens like Lake Chapala and San Miguel de Allende, the restaurants get into a large Thanksgiving Day dinner scene, but not where I live.

I didn’t come from a background of Thanksgiving tradition. My mother refused to do anything reeking of “traditional,” and if there was any tradition in my childhood, it was to do something different each year. One year, she thought killing and dressing the very chickens that would grace the table later that day would be not only fun but instructive, just in case we would need to kill poultry sometime to survive. It memorable all right: she thought my stepfather was having a heart attack, only to find that he was praying for the fowl before their demise. Those home-butchered Southern California suburban chickens may not have tasted very good, but they left a lasting impression and left us with a valuable life skill. We invited sailors from the naval base into our home another year, and a few were amazed that anyone would get out the good silver for strangers. I spent one Thanksgiving working my shift at the hospital as a Candy Striper, thinking it was very cool not only to escape a celebration but also to get double Candy Striper points for working on a holiday. Those memories remain more cherished than the thought of a roasted turkey.

There are two kinds of people: those who are hosts and those who are guests. My tradition was to be a guest. That way, I manage to observe a lot of other people’s traditions, more than few times returning home, thanking my lucky stars that I’m not part of  that family tradition. All right, most of the traditions are heartfelt and well-meaning, but experiencing some of them once was enough.

It’s not that I scoff at tradition, celebration and giving. Last night, I slaved away in the kitchen for at least twenty minutes.

The Mexican-gringo blogorama is filled with talented cooks:

Tancho at Rancho Canyon Cookbook

Don Cuevas at My Mexican Kitchen

Leslie Limon at La Cocina de Leslie 

Billie Mercer at Reservations for One

Nancy Dardarian at Countdown to Mexico

I’m not one of them. I read recipes as literature, plotless novellas. Good intentions usually end up with making reservations. A plan to make something as straightforward as spaghetti can easily detour to hummus and then culminate in calling for take-out. There is a reason why friends avoid my kitchen unless they’re willing to bring their own food.

Attention span and manual dexterity are not my strong suits. I lack the patience to bake.  My kitchen is more like a mad scientist’s laboratory. Creating chemical reactions, doing experiments, acquiring gadgets, playing with toys, and watching stuff whirl around in the Cuisinart is much more entertaining. (And yes, I lust for a Kitchen Aid mixer, not to use, but just to place on the counter as a trophy. You can get me one for Christmas.)

It’s not as if I don’t understand the theory behind making food. I just have a hard time getting it all together. Distractions like sitting down to peruse a good book, planting some more lettuce, or updating my Facebook just get in the way.

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So I embark upon my holiday culinary preparations. This year it’s Asian-ish beef jerky. You were hoping for something Thanksgiving-ish? I’ll have you know that Asian-ish beef jerky is someone’s tradition, somewhere on the planet.

And here’s how:

Start out by asking your butcher (you do have one, right?) to slice up paper-thin 1.25 kilos of milanesa cara. (rump roast if you’re in the U.S.)

Pick lemon grass from the garden, whittling it down. Whack it with the kitchen hammer or meat flattener-outer. Toss it in the marinade, which consists of, more or less:

Salsa Valentina

Vietnamese fish sauce

Soy sauce

Brown sugar, molasses or honey

Or you could just dump in 1/3 of a bottle Sriracha, which some might call the Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup of Thailand, and a like quantity of soy sauce, and call it a day. We slug; we do not measure.

Mix the lemon grass-enriched marinade with the meat in a non-reactive container. (“Non-reactive container sounds so scientific, but it really makes no difference, since it’s not going to bask there long enough to make a difference.) Properly pre-sanitized hands are fine for this operation.

Arrange the meat carefully on the racks in your dehydrator. You do have one, don’t you? If you don’t, a gas grill works just fine, a gas oven not so much.

Dehydrate at medium-high for as long as it takes to dry and slightly crisp up the meat, maybe two and a half hours, checking on it periodically to flip each slice over and maintain quality control.

Remove the crisped chips of meat and stash in Ziploc bags in the freezer. You’re done. 1.25 kilos of raw beef will yield about 475 grams of jerky.

¡Gobble tov!

Iron Dreams

ironrite_santa

Planchy Tex perfumes the air. You know that it’s just minutes before neatly-pressed clothing will hang in your closet, neatly folded sheets in the linen cabinet. Life is good.

Mexico’s second-favorite activity, right after dyeing your hair, is ironing. All decent people wear ironed clothing. None of that no-iron, toss-in-the-dryer stuff for us. It’s just not done. Those without regular help can hire a lady to come in just to iron. Or they can schlep their wrinkled goods to an ironing shop. The truly dedicated do it themselves. And now you could take ironing to an even higher level by treating yourself or someone you truly care about with a vintage Ironrite Model 85 mangle.

The Ironrite’s just right for ironing linens, sheets, jeans, shirts, dresses, and even lingerie. If it can be washed, it can be ironed. This unit is like having a professional dry cleaner’s iron right in your own home.

First uncrated in St. Joseph, Missouri, this Ironrite Model 85 mangle moved to its original owner’s weekend house, and then to the owner’s granddaughter’s own home, and finally to the Free and Sovereign State of Michoacán de Ocampo. What was a real luxury in the 1940s and the decade following can be yours.

Here’s the nitty-gritty.

  • 1.5hp Emerson motor
  • Type S
  • RPM 1725
  • 115 volt, 2.2 amp
  • Measurements
  • Open 49″ long x 38″ wide x 40″ high
  • Roller measures 24 1/2″ long
  • Closed 30″ long x 20″ wide x 35 ½” high
  • New pad cover. New cord.
  • Instructions included.
  • Probably contains more steel than your average new car.
  • It was purchased before 1950, making it older than I am.
  • Ironrite has to be hip, since it’s got its own Facebook page.

Why not brighten up your life with this one? This could be the perfect Christmas gift for your most-loved one. Act now, and avoid the Valentine’s Day (or Mother’s Day) rush. Write jjrose@jjrose.com for more details.  It’s a treasure looking for a home.

Never Again

Crime victims harbor a sense of shame, as if they did something wrong. And that’s not right. Talk to others about your experiences.

Learn to say “Never again.” I did. 

And here’s how it all happened.

More than half a lifetime ago and far away, back in a supposedly wholesome small town in Iowa, I was a victim of a home invasion and assorted acts which resulted in Class B felony charges against the perpetrator. It’s not worth going into great detail here today about what happened, but somewhere past the fear of thinking I was going to die, which is probably a logical consequence of hearing “Bitch, you’re going to die” more than a few times while someone twice your size is shoving you across the room before slamming and pinning you on the floor, and then wondering what a mess your blood’s going to make on the carpet, I clicked into gear, telling assailant that he had a way out. We could keep this between ourselves, no police called, no charges pressed, the decision was his. I kept repeating “The decision is yours” over and over again. He froze and stared at me incredulously, released his hands from my neck and then picked himself up and walked out the door. I scrambled to lock the door and called the sheriff’s office.

They picked up the criminal less than a half hour later a few miles down the county black top.

My family doctor had me meet him at his home across the street from the hospital, where he patched me up in his kitchen.

The next day, the local newspaper called to tell me that they were going to politely leave my name off the front page story. I told the reporter that my name was going to appear in that story, because I didn’t do anything wrong.  News travels too fast in a small town anyway, and there was no reason to leave matters to conjecture.

Two days later, court service day rolled around, the morning allotted to motions, short hearings, criminal arraignments, pleas and sentencings at the county courthouse. Black and blue handprints stained my neck, bruises making a bracelet around my wrist, and my hands were still shaking.  One cocky bastard of a lawyer asked me if I’d refused to put out. I picked up his stack of files and threw them across the room.  A few minutes later, I’m standing at the bench with another criminal client, a beastly and gross thug, the kind you wouldn’t want to face in a dark alley even in broad daylight, the kind of guy other inmates wouldn’t like to come across in a prison yard, who would find himself sentenced to another round of life on the installment plan.  What he told me while we waited for the judge was something that stunned me:  “I heard about what happened to you, and I’m real sorry.” Of course, he’d heard, he’d been in the same county jail as the assailant.

The defendant would ultimately plead guilty and do time. And he would go on, during his first week in a halfway house years later to commit the same Class B felony once again. I looked up the court file and wrote to the victim, just to tell her she wasn’t alone.

It took me a long time to really recover from the ordeal. But what took me more aback was the reaction of others. They didn’t want to hear about what happened. It’s too scary, they’d say. So, I didn’t really say much—until now.

And that’s part of the reason that I feel far safer in the wilds of Michoacán than I ever did in southwest Iowa.

¡Mami, mami, ayúdame!

¡Mami, mami, ayúdame! Soy tu hija. The caller was crying. Noticing the area code was in the D.F., I hung up. Five minutes later, she called again, and noticing it’s the same number and hearing voices in the background, I’m prepared to take her call. Lowering my voice, I ask

Policia preventiva, en qué puedo servirle?

She hung up on me. The nerve!

It’s scamming time again in our old country. Even though crime knows no season, El Buen Fin, aguinaldos and charitable spirit make for easy pickings.

Two gringos walking around Morelia’s Paseo Altozano met up with a young man racing toward them, agitated and waving his jacket, imploring them with “Do you speak English?” His English sounded perfect to them. They stopped to hear his tale about coming from Puebla, picking up a taxi at the bus station, and being robbed of all he had by the taxi driver. He was supposed to meet a friend at the mall, but somehow had missed the connection. Could they help him out? He pulled $15 in Estadounidense currency out of his pocket, which they exchanged for Mexican pesos, wondering what was going on. And then they caught on that something just might’ve been amiss. They told him to go on his way, suggesting he might find help at Walmart. They were lucky.

A local who’d lived her entire life in my neighborhood was a victim just last Thursday, right in the middle of the day. She encountered the man on the otherwise sleepy residential street, claiming to be a curandero from Uruapan, offering up his services in reading palms, predicting the future, and performing limpias to chase away the evil spirits which harbor in everyone’s house from time to time. She waved him away, telling him she didn’t have any money. He followed her around the block to her house, and as she entered, he forced his way in, telling her not to scream and calling her names. He wouldn’t leave until she’d forked over some of her stashed-away cash. That’s only money, and it’s nothing compared to the psychological crisis he’s inflicted upon her. Location: one block from my house. Native Mexicana.

Then there’s the pigeon drop, which happened only last year to a foreigner living in Patzcuaro. An indigenous woman, looking all sweet and innocent, approaches the woman, saying she can’t read and showing a letter from her employer. She is supposed to locate a person in Patzcuaro to pick up her lottery winnings, which the employer will lay claim to. A confederate  steps in, claiming to be a psychologist, answering in the affirmative when the foreigner asks if he works at a local school, and the scam is in place.  You know where this is headed: all three head to the lottery office, the foreigner puts up the requested property to assure all of her honest and good intentions, and the victim’s left high and dry.

Another phone call, this time to a foreigner living in the next town over. It’s his nephew Jason, who he hasn’t heard from in ages, calling from jail, begging for discretion and assistance.  Never mind that the foreigner supplied the nephew’s name for the caller. And down the road to Guadalajara the man called uncle drives, but not before he’s put together a fair amount of cash to help out his new-found nephew.

A plumber shows up.  “Your husband didn’t tell you that he’d called me?” he says. “I’m here to fix the hot water heater. Gaining access to the house, he’s shown the way to the hot water heater, and left to ply his trade – which was sifting through the homeowner’s belongings.  Two blocks down the street from me. Native Mexicana.

“We’re la senora’s cousins from Salamanca,” the well-dressed duo who’d alighted from a late-model car told the housekeeper who answered the door while her patrona was in Centro. Shuffling them off to the den to wait while she made them tea, she called her patrona, who reported that she had no cousins.  The housekeeper kept the couple waiting for the police to arrive.  Four blocks from my house. Native Mexicana.

And here’s my favorite: the dead baby. A young lady rings at my gate, asking for money for her dead baby. I cut her off. A month passes, and the dead baby lady returns. I give her the same treatment. Month three comes around, and here she is again. You’d think she’d learn by now.  This time I answer the gate, and I ask her if she’s carrying around the same dead baby as before or if she has a baby die on her each month. I tell her that, whatever the case may be, she’s really got a problem which only DIF can help her with. Sputtering obscenities, she takes off running down the street.

We’ll take a look at some ways to spot scamsters,  snollygosters, and criminals and what steps you can take to keep them at bay in our next blog post, but until then, what scams have you seen put into action in Mexico or wherever you may be?

Sterling Silver Flask

Once upon a time, not beyond memory but still long ago to be antique, that gentlepeople carried their strong stuff in a flask. Maybe the hip pocket, maybe in a purse, perhaps even in the glove compartment. This sterling flask evokes that time gone by, and it could be yours. It would be indecent to discuss price, because that’s just not something that gentlepeople do. If you have to ask, then you can’t afford it. Make us an offer.

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The Mexile | Life in Mexico City and beyond…

I watch much less TV in Mexico than I did in the UK. There’s much less in the way of channel flicking here for me. Not least because P rarely lets go of the remote control. When I watch something, it’s usually something specific that I want to watch, and often something from the UK that I’ve downloaded.

via garydenness.co.uk

The Great English Fraud | The Mexile

American English and British English are similar enough for there to be no complications for a non native speaker to travel between the two countries. But they are different enough to spark the occasional debate, to cause a little confusion and even to bring about the odd heated argument. The differences are, however, more complex than might at first seem.

via garydenness.co.uk

Cara de Yanqui

When I had my trip back to the US in June the time I spent with other immigrants was the most interesting for me. We would compare notes.  Many of them were interested, "What was it like for an American to live in a foreign country?"  It seems no matter where you live, whatever your nationality, an immigrant is an immigrant.

via tangospam.typepad.com

Madam Mayo: September 15th in Mexico of 1865

This year marks both the centennial of Mexico's Revolution and the bicentennial of its Independence from Spain, the latter traditionally celebrated with "El Grito" (the shout) on the evening of September 15th, with a militrary parade and more celebrations to follow on the 16th. (Many Americans confuse Cinco de Mayo with Independence. In fact, Cinco de Mayo celebrates a temporary victory over the invading French Imperial Army at the city of the Puebla on May 5, 1862.)

via madammayo.blogspot.com

Strap on cash and duty of confidentiality BIS: lawyers, hand over your clients’s secrets. « The JurisMex Blog

As anticipated in my previous post, President Calderon introduced a bill to Congress aimed at reducing the financial power of organized crime in Mexico, but that also outlaws all cash purchases of real estate,and similar operations over a certain amount of money for a variety of items as cars, jewelry and other luxury items.

via jurismex.wordpress.com

David Lida » Blog Archive » The Chinese are coming

During the early twentieth century, the Chinese were one of the largest immigrant groups in Mexico, particularly in the North, where they had great success as merchants. Unfortunately, their accomplishment was followed by an anti-Chinese movement, which included racist legislation and even some incidents of riots, desecration of property, and jailing of Chinese for no reason. This monolithic timepiece, on Calle Bucareli in the Colonia Juarez in Mexico City, is known as “the Chinese clock.” It is a replica of one that was given as a gift to the Mexican people by the Emperor of China in 1910, to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the Mexican Revolution.  Anti-Chinese hooligans destroyed it in 1913. The replacement was set in its place in 1921.

via davidlida.com

same life — new location

Flags are the standards of national myth.Take a look at the flag pictured at the top of the post. What can we tell about the nation it represents?Obviously, a monarchy. The crown is a dead give-away.And the national creed is not subtle. Right in your face.  Religion.  Union.  Independence.  All in a romance language.It would be understandable if a reader thought he was looking at an early version of a flag from the Kingdom of Italy. But it's not. It is the personal banner of the first ruler of post-independence Mexico: Emporer Agustín de Iturbide.

via www.steveinmexico.blogspot.com