30 April 2009

The "Spires of Form"

In 1836 Ralph Waldo Emerson, the great American philosopher, essayist, and poet, wrote an essay called "Nature" which was prefaced by this little poem:

A subtle chain of countless rings
The next unto the farthest brings;
The eye reads omens where it goes,
And speaks all languages the rose;
And, striving to be man, the worm
Mounts through all the spires of form.

I was reminded of this poem when my friend Joe Pastry sent me this link to an article about the H1N1 flu in the L.A. Times:


It appears that this virus is not quite as bad as was originally feared and lacks a component of the 1918 flu that killed so many people worldwide. There is still a danger, however, that because it came at the tail end of the flu season it will evolve and re-emerge in October in an invigorated state as it "mounts through all the spires of form". Here in Irapuato we have been blessed that it has not reared its ugly head but the people and the local government are taking many precautions. I hope and pray that this plague passes quickly and I pray that God spares all of my friends out there in "Bloggerlandia" and sends this hateful virus back down to Hell with the Devil where they both belong.

28 April 2009

The Enquiry Squad

I think that in order to confound the Devil it has been ordained by God that out of every evil there must come a little good. In the case of the ugly virus that has darkened our horizon of late there has emerged an awareness of something that has strengthened my faith. However, that part comes later. For now I must set the prologue.

In the year 1936 Robert Frost wrote a poem about "ants" and he titled the poem "Departmental". Perhaps you know it. It is one of my favorite poems and I memorized it at an early age. The poem begins with the story of an ant who finds himself on a tablecloth confronted by a dormant moth of many times his size. He shows not the least surprise. His business isn't with such. He gives it scarcely a touch, and is off on his duty run. The poem continues:

"Yet if he encountered one
Of the hives enquiry squads
Whose work it is to find out God
And the nature of time and space,
He would put him on to the case."

Well, I tend to fancy myself as part of an "enquiry squad" and my lifelong quest has been to find out God and the nature of time and space. Other people are happy to be part of the "futbol squad" or the "cooking squad" or the "nightclub squad" ect., but the humble enquiry squad suits me just fine.

Many years ago someone asked me why I believe in God. At the time the only real answer that I had was because I had been "born" a Catholic and I believed what my parents and the nuns and priests taught me. It was an honest answer and I must confess (no pun intended) that at the time it was the only answer that I had. This was shortly after Vatican II and many Catholics didn't know that we were sometimes allowed to think for ourselves. By and by doubt entered the picture, and the shadow of agnosticism began to descend upon me. A few years later, when I was about twenty four years old, I moved to Arizona and lived near a big desert. I found the desert to be a very beautiful and interesting place and I enjoyed taking long hikes into the desert to observe the flora and fauna. I ventured further and further into the desert and began sleeping out under the stars and there is where I had my epiphany.

One night, as I lay under the canopy of a million stars listening to the coyotes and pondering the nature of the Universe, I took note of the various cactus plants that surrounded my campsite. I could barely make them out in the starlight...there were saguaro, ocotillo, nopal (prickly pear), barrel, and, of course, cholla. They looked like grotesque limbs straining upward to reach Heaven from their grave in the barren rocky soil. Some actually grew out of cracks in the rocks and managed to survive the hot days and cold nights with very little water or nutrients of any kind. "What made them do it?" I wondered. "Why not just give up?". There must be some spirit, some "Holy Spirit" that gives impetus to all life. The desert had revealed to me my first clue in "finding out God".

My second clue came when I observed that there were so many "bad" things happening in the World, beginning with the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of the Kennedy brothers and Martin Luther King, the race riots in Chicago and Los Angeles, the Civil Rights struggle, the Watergate scandal, the Iranian hostage crisis and so on and so forth, etcetera. Some of these things were obvious struggles between peoples of different political and economic persuasions but there were also atrocities being committed that made no sense at all. Yes, the Theory of Evolution intimates that everything comes down to us on an evolutionary "survival of the fittest" river of blood but only a finite amount of blood is required in the game of evolutionary draw, play, discard. There is no need for excesses and atrocities like random beheadings, gang rape, or hideous torture in order for the species to evolve (or as some might say, "to be perfected"). This made me understand that there simply must be a God to counterbalance the visible and prevalent force of evil in the world or "The Dark Side" as it were. That was my second clue.

This brings me to the present flu pandemic crisis. Most contagious diseases are delivered in one of two forms. One form is bacteria, the other is virus. A bacteria (or bacterium) is alive. It is a single celled organism and is a completely self-contained and self-reproducing unit. When the time is right, a bacterium will split its DNA and RNA genetic material in two. Separate cell walls will build up around these two new bacteria, and this process will continue until thousands or millions of bacteria have formed. This is how strains of bacteria survive in almost every environment on Earth, including non-living surfaces like rocks. Ninety-nine percent of all known bacteria are considered beneficial to humans, or at least harmless.

A virus, on the other hand, is dead. It cannot reproduce without a living host. A virus may lie dormant for thousands of years before finally coming into contact with a suitable host. Once inside a living cell, a virus replaces the cell's original DNA or RNA commands with its own robotic genetic instructions. Those instructions are usually to make as many copies of the virus as possible. Once the individual cell has outlived its usefulness, it explodes and sends out thousands of copies of the original virus to other unsuspecting cells. Most viruses serve no beneficial purpose. Their sole mission in life is to create more viruses in order to assure survival of the strain and cause chaos in the natural world. The deadly effect that a virus has on its host is evil and ruthless. Viruses are one hundred times smaller than bacterium and cannot be filtered out like bacterium can. They are the work of an evil spirit who gives them impetus and instructions. What better way to pit country against country and people against people than to create a virus in their midst. This virus that has come upon us is just another tool of the Devil who could not himself exist if there was no God. So there it is...another clue to strengthen my faith and bolster my effort to "find out God".

Oh Lord, deliver us from the evil H1N1 Virus. Amen!

26 April 2009

An observation on differences in culture...

For some time I have been trying to put my finger on the exact words to describe the differences between the Mexican culture and the American culture and I think I've got it. The culture in the United States is "quantitative" and the Mexican culture is "qualitative". Americans tend to measure everything precisely, especially time. Our schedules are exact, our laws are exact, our plans are well ordered, and we demand that results meet our expectations. In Mexico, however, time is relative to the occasion and how one feels about it. If a man does not come to work because he has a terrible "crudo" (hangover) he is usually excused with a shrug of the shoulders and the understanding that the bout of excessive drinking was probably unavoidable. Perhaps the man's favorite dog died or a friend who he hadn't seen for a long time came to visit, or his wife left him and went to live with her mother. Planning here is mostly a rule of thumb. If some one tells you, "Ahorita vengo", or "I'll be back in a moment", they might or they might not. It is just their way of being polite and keeping their options open. Much of the time expectations here are never met so expectations are usually low while hope is always high. It is a real paradox for a "Gringo" but even if I never understand it completely I am learning how to deal with it..."más o menos" (more or less).

More and more I can't help but compare the cultural differences between Mexico and the United States even though some things are similar in content if not format. For example, not long ago I was at a large convention center for an industry exposition and I observed something very typical of the profound difference between the two cultures. The Americans had arrived very early and had set up their booths and were waiting for a crowd of people. The Mexicans, on the other hand, didn't show up until mid-morning after a leisurely breakfast. Outside of the main exhibit hall at the convention center there was a fast food establishment that was offering things like hot dogs, hamburgers, and french fries. There were tables and chairs out on the main concourse like there would be on the concourse of any modern metropolitan shopping center, train station, or airport. At noon, many of the American exhibitors took turns to come out to grab a quick hamburger and fries so they could get back to their sales booths. All of the tables and chairs were occupied by Americans gobbling down their food in a big hurry while the Mexicans just stood around in small groups chatting amiably and watching the Americans with mild amusement. By about 1:pm most of the Americans were back at their stations manning their sales exhibits like wooden indians but by about 2:pm the Mexicans, including the Mexican exhibitors, had all but disappeared. Most of them had drifted off in groups to one of about three favorite restaurants for a nice long leisurely lunch where they could talk and visit one another from table to table. Now that I have learned the ropes and have paid my dues I am usually invited to go along with the Mexicans and I thoroughly enjoy myself. I would never be caught eating a hamburger at noon with the crazy Gringos. About 4:pm when the Americans are just about ready to declare a disaster, pack it in, and go home, the Mexicans start returning to the exhibit hall relaxed and smiling and ready to take it all in. It drives the Gringos nuts.

When sales people or industry officials come to visit us for a meeting the first time, very often they will send a proposed "agenda" beforehand. My companions at work think that these agendas are hilarious. Here is a recent typical agenda:


Introductions/Pre- Meeting Discussion 8:00 a.m.
Facility Tour 8:30 a.m.
Begin Meeting 9:00 a.m.
Lunch 12:00 noon
Resume Meeting 1:00 p.m.
Complete Day’s Activities/Summation 4:30 p.m.


Resume Meeting 8:00 a.m.
Lunch 12:00 noon
Complete Meeting/Post-Meeting Discussion 1:00 p.m.
Terminate Meeting Activities 4:30 p.m.

Usually what happens is that the meeting really doesn't get started until about ten o'clock because most of our management personnel are still in their "calzoncillos" (underwear) at 8:am and sitting out on their backyard patio drinking hot chocolate and watching the hummingbirds. We tell the secretary beforehand to apologize profusely for us and feed the visitors donuts until we arrive (after we have had a nice leisurely breakfast). Then when the meeting finally begins, the visitors rush through the preliminaries to make up for lost time in keeping up with the agenda and by noon you can hear the stomachs of the American visitors starting to grumble. When they mention "breaking for lunch" we just say "Ahorita" (in a little bit) and keep on going (because we just ate breakfast). About 2:pm we finally break for lunch (because now we are hungry too) and we take them to a nice comfortable restaurant with fantastic food for a leisurely two hour lunch. By the time we get back to work it is almost their quitting time and they are yawning. That is when the meeting resumes in earnest and when we start to drive home the deal. We finally break about 7:pm and take them to supper. The supper is twice as good as the lunch and we make sure that they have a wonderful time. We stay out late. The next morning they are not so eager to start the meeting so early and on day two they are content follow the Mexican style agenda. By the time the meeting ends and it is time for them to go to the airport or hotel all of the expectations of the meeting have been met and everyone is happy. If they can stay another day we take them sight seeing and make sure that they load up with plenty of souvenirs. After all, we must all do our part to help keep Mexico "green". Everybody who comes to visit us leaves with the sense that the people here really know how to live. We do...and we intend to keep it that way!

23 April 2009

"EL JUEGO" (HWAY-goh), "The Game"

The following little story has been floating around the Internet in Spanish for ages and copied many many times. I don't even know who the original author is. It is a very cute story though and I thought it would be nice to translate it into plain English for those with only beginner skills and also as a practice lesson for those who are a little more fluent in Spanish. In any case I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do. Keep in mind that some of it is not a literal translation because a direct word for word translation doesn't always sound very good.

Cuentan que una vez se reunieron en un lugar de la tierra todos los sentimientos y cualidades de los hombres.
They say that once upon a time on the Earth there was a get together of all of the feelings and qualities of mankind.

Cuando El ABURRIMIENTO había bostezado por tercera vez, LA LOCURA, como siempre tan loca, les propuso: "¡Vamos a jugar a los escondidos!".
When BOREDOM had yawned for the third time, CRAZINESS, crazy like always, proposed to the others, “Let's play a game of hide and seek!”.

LA INTRIGA levantó la ceja intrigada y LA CURIOSIDAD, sin poder contenerse pregunto: "¿A los escondidos? ¿Y cómo es eso?".
INTRIGUE raised an intrigued eyebrow and CURIOSITY, without being able to contain herself asked, “Hide and seek? What is that?".

“Es un juego”, explicó LA LOCURA, “en que yo me tapo la cara y comienzo a contar desde uno hasta un millón mientras ustedes se esconden y cuando yo haya terminado de contar, al primero de ustedes que encuentre ocupará mi lugar para continuar el juego".
“It is a game”, explained CRAZINESS, “Where I cover my face and begin to count to one million while you guys hide yourselves and when I have finished counting the first one of you that is found will take my place to continue the game”.

EL ENTUSIASMO bailó secundado por LA EUFORIA, LA ALEGRÍA dio tantos saltos que terminó por convencer a LA DUDA, e incluso a LA APATÍA, a la que nunca le interesaba nada.
ENTHUSIASM danced and was backed up by EUPHORIA, and JOY did so many leaps that she ended up convincing DOUBT and also APATHY who was never interested in anything.

Pero no todos quisieron participar, LA VERDAD prefirió no esconderse. "¿Para que?, si al final siempre la hallaban"; y LA SOBERBIA opinó que era un juego muy tonto (en el fondo lo que le molestaba era que la idea no hubiese sido de ella) y LA COBARDÍA prefirió no arriesgarse...
But not everyone wished to participate. TRUTH preferred not to hide. “What for if in the end they always find you?”; and PRIDE was of the opinion that it was a very foolish game (in truth she was upset that the idea hadn't been hers) and COWARDICE preferred not to take a risk.

"Uno, dos, tres"...comenzó a contar LA LOCURA. La primera en esconderse fue LA PEREZA, que como siempre se dejó caer tras la primera piedra del camino, LA FE subió al cielo y LA ENVIDIA se escondió tras la sombra del TRIUNFO, que con su propio esfuerzo había logrado subir a la copa del árbol más alto.
"One, two, three", began counting CRAZINESS. The first one to hide was IDLENESS who like always dropped down behing the first rock in the road. FAITH rose up to heaven and ENVY hid under the shadow of TRIUMPH who by his own effort had managed to climb to the crown of the tallest tree.

LA GENEROSIDAD casi no alcanzaba a esconderse, cada sitio que hallaba le parecía maravilloso para alguno de sus amigos: ¿que si un lago cristalino? ¡ideal para LA BELLEZA!; ¿que si la hendija de un árbol? ¡perfecto para LA TIMIDEZ! ; ¿que si el vuelo de la mariposa? ¡lo mejor para LA VOLUPTUOSIDAD! ; ¿que si una ráfaga de viento? !magnífico para LA LIBERTAD!. Así termino por ocultarse en un rayito de sol.
GENEROSITY almost couldn't find a place to hide. Each place she was finding seemed marvellous for one of her friends. What if there was a crystaline lake? Ideal for BEAUTY! What about a cleft in a tree? Perfect for TIMIDNESS! What about the flight of a butterfly? The best thing for VOLUPTUOSITY! What about a puff of wind? Magnificent for LIBERTY. In the end she hid herself in a ray of sunshine.

EL EGOÍSMO en cambio encontró un sitio muy bueno desde el principio, ventilado, cómodo...pero solo para él.
SELFISHNESS on the other hand found a very good site right away, airy, comfortable...but just for him.

LA MENTIRA se escondió en el fondo de los océanos (mentira, en realidad se escondió detrás del arco iris) y LA PASIÓN y EL DESEO en el centro de los volcanes.
The LIE hid herself in the depths of the oceans (that's a lie, in reality she hid behind the rainbow), and PASION and DESIRE hid in the center of volcanoes.

EL OLVIDO... se me olvidó donde se escondió... pero eso no es lo importante.
FORGETFULNESS...I forget where he hid himself...but that isn't important.

Cuando LA LOCURA contaba 999.999, EL AMOR aún no había encontrado sitio para esconderse, pues todo se encontraba ocupado... hasta que divisó un rosal y enternecido decidió esconderse entre sus flores.
When CRAZINESS counted 999,999, LOVE still had not found a place to hide because all of the places he looked were already taken...until he spotted a rose bush and moved (emotionally) by that he decided to hide among the flowers.

"Un millón", contó LA LOCURA y comenzó a buscar. La primera en aparecer fue LA PEREZA sola a tres pasos de una piedra.
"One million", counted CRAZINESS and began to search. The first to appear was IDLENESS only three steps from a rock.

Después se escucho LA FE discutiendo con Dios en el cielo sobre Zoología y a LA PASIÓN y EL DESEO los sintió en el vibrar de los volcanes.
Afterwards FAITH was hear arguing with God in heaven about Zoology and PASSION and DESIRE were felt in the vibration of the volcanoes.

En un descuido encontró a LA ENVIDIA y, claro, pudo deducir donde estaba EL TRIUNFO.
ENVY was discovered by mistake and then one could easily guess where TRIUMPH was.

EL EGOÍSMO no tuvo ni que buscarlo. El solito salió disparado de su escondite, que había resultado ser un nido de avispas. De tanto caminar sintió sed y al acercarse al lago descubrió a LA BELLEZA.
SELFISHNESS didn't even have to be seached for. The loner shot out of his hiding place because there was a wasps nest there. After running so much he felt thirsty and getting close to the lake he discoverd BEAUTY.

Con LA DUDA resulto más fácil todavía, pues la encontró sentada sobre una cerca sin decidir aun de que lado esconderse.
With DOUBT it was even easier yet because she was discovered sitting on a fence without being able to decide on which side to hide herself.

Así fue encontrando a todos, EL TALENTO entre la hierba fresca, a LA ANGUSTIA en una oscura cueva, a LA MENTIRA detrás del arco iris...(mentira, si ella estaba en el fondo del océano) y hasta EL OLVIDO... que ya se le había olvidado que estaba jugando a los escondidos, pero solo EL AMOR no aparecía por ningún sitio.
And in a similar fashion all were found, TALENT in the fresh grass, ANXIETYin a dark cave, the LIE behind the rainbow...(this is a lie, yes she was at the bottom of the ocean) and to FORGETFULNESS...who had already forgotten that he was playing hide and seek, but LOVE didn't appear anywhere.

LA LOCURA busco detrás de cada árbol, bajo cada arroyuelo del planeta, en la cima de las montañas y cuando estaba por darse por vencido divisó un rosal y las rosas... Tomó una horquilla y comenzó a mover las ramas, cuando de pronto un doloroso grito se escucho. Las espinas habían herido en los ojos AL AMOR!!!!!
CRAZINESS looked behind every tree, under every small rivulet on the planet, on top of the mountains until when just about ready to give up spied a rose bush and roses. She took a forked stick and began moving the branches when suddenly a painful cry was heard. The thorns had had wounded the eyes of LOVE!!!!

LA LOCURA no sabia que hacer para disculparse, lloro, rogó, imploro, pidió perdón y hasta prometió ser su lazarillo. Desde entonces; desde que por primera vez se jugaron a los escondidos en la tierra EL AMOR ES CIEGO Y LA LOCURA SIEMPRE LO ACOMPAÑA.
CRAZINESS did not know how to make up for it and so ever since then from the first time that hide and seek was played on the Earth LOVE IS BLIND AND IS ALWAYS ACCOMPANIED BY CRAZINESS.

Some notes:

Sometimes we wonder why in Spanish everything has a gender. In this case all of the human feelings are either a "he or a "she". In English we can't do that. I find it interesting and a bit humorous that "EL AMOR", love, is a male and "LA LOCURA", craziness, is a female.

¿que si la hendija de un árbol?
What about a cleft in a tree?
You might not find "hendija" in your regular Spanish/English dictionary. "Hendija" is a variuation of the word "rendija" which means "chink, crack, rift, or split". I used the word "cleft" because I like it.

El solito salió disparado de su escondite
The loner shot out of his hiding place
"Solito" is another word you might not find. It is a variation of the word "solo" and means "the lone person". I used the word "loner" beacause that is what an "egoist" generally is.

EL TALENTO entre la hierba fresca
TALENT in the fresh grass
I translated "entre la hierba fresca" as "in the fresh grass" but "heierba fresca" can also mean fresh herbs. The culinary herbs such as basil (albahaca), dill, (eneldo), rosemary (romero), and thyme (tomillo) are often referred to collectively as "hierba fresca".

Oh, and I almost forgot...what about CAFECITO?

21 April 2009

My Nemesis

I was going to call this post “My Enemy” but after thinking about it “My Nemesis” seemed like better choice. The word “nemesis” means “unconquerable opponent or rival” and in Greek mythology Nemesis was the goddess of divine retribution. This fits very well with what I think about the anonymous, cheap, light-weight, portable, waterproof, stackable, washable, polypropylene plastic patio chair with which the entire world has been inundated. These chairs go by the name of “monobloc” and are are stamped out on an enormous press from a two kilogram piece of 3/16” thick polypropylene plastic in one fell swoop about every 60 seconds. They cost only about three dollars each to manufacture and they have become one of the world's most universally accessible, mass-manufactured object. You can find them in every country in the world. Trash dumps and land fills are overflowing with them and millions more are on their way. Why don´t I like them? Because one size does not fit all and I am a fairly big person. Okay, okay, so I will be honest with you. I am fat. It pains me to squeeze my fat rump into a monobloc chair, not to mention the insecurity I feel about the chair collapsing or the sweaty feeling I get in my butt crack from sitting on the hard shiny plastic. Why, oh why, do we put up with this stuff?

The whole thing began with the GM Corvette Stingray. In 1953 they began making the Corvette out of the newfangled fiberglass and they made the fiberglass panels by hand by using fiberglass “cloth” impregnated with a plastic resin and placed over a mold. They only made about three hundred cars the first year and for that the hand layup process wasn't so bad. When they needed to increase production, however, they started looking for an alternative. They found a company in Ohio that was making bread trays for delivery trucks out of fiberglass using matched metal dies into which a chopped fiberglass and resin combination was forced under pressure and they turned to that process for their car bodies. A company named A.O. Smith was the fabricator of Corvette fiberglass bodies under contract to GM from 1953 until 1966. When the contract ended A.O. Smith had this enormous press for making the fiberglass corvette bodies and to keep this press running they turned to other products. One of these products was fiberglass trough hatch covers for use on the new one hundred ton capacity jumbo covered hopper cars that the railroads had begun using to haul grain out of America's heartland. One thing led to another and as the pressure fed matched metal die process improved and newer materials were developed other people began to see a big future in “plastics”. If you remember the movie “The Graduate”, Dustin Hoffman's character (Ben Braddock) was given the tip by an old timer to get into plastics. Do you remember THAT Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft)? How about YOU Elaine (Katharine Ross)?

People began experimenting with extruded plastic matched metal die chairs in the late sixties. The designers fell in love with them because the plastic looked so modern and artsy fartsy. After about a decade of improvements in both materials and designs the moduloc chair began to take over the world. They are manufactured in every part of the globe in places like Russia, Taiwan, Australia, Mexico,the United States, Italy, France, Germany, Turkey, Israel and China. Companies such as Corona beer and Coca Cola began using the chair as a give away to their wholesale customers as promotional items to ensure customer loyalty. So many times I have walked into a small restaurant in Mexico and the only places to sit were on moduloc chairs with the Coca Cola logo. I could never enjoy a meal while squirming around on one of those things and I avoid them like a passion. They are the scourge of the Earth. I'll never forget the day that I flew back to Chicago to visit my parents when I walked out onto their patio and spotted a stack of shiny white moduloc chairs. My Dad said to me, “Hey look at the chairs that I just bought. You can stack them up and you won't believe how cheap they were”. “Oh, no” I thought, “The aliens have come and taken over my Mom and Dad”.

16 April 2009

The Grim Reefer

The refrigerator that we had in the old parish house in García was ample but ancient. There was no light inside and the kitchen was pretty dark so I generally had no idea what the refrigerator contained past the first few inches of the interior. The refrigerator didn't sit level so when you went to open the door you had to hang onto it or it would go crashing into the wall. The kitchen was lit by a forty watt bulb hanging from the ceiling by a couple of fuzzy wires, the same as in my room. The bulbs looked like Thomas Edison originals. Whenever the motor in the refrigerator came on the kitchen light would go dim. I think I know why. The refrigerator was plugged into an old extension cord that draped over a cupboard and then wound around a hook in the wall about ten or eleven times and then eventually made its way over to a kitchen counter where the extension plugged into a socket mounted on the wall. The refrigerator made frightful noises when it was running and I knew that it was just a matter of time when it would go “poof”. I didn't worry too much about it though because nobody else seemed to. I figured that if it broke down they would just call in the greatest refrigerator repairman in all of García and he would go down to the ancient used refrigerator parts store which more than likely is located in somebody's house in a box under their bed and get whatever parts he needed to fix it.

Then one day the unthinkable happened. The refrigerator went “kaput”. The greatest repairman of ancient refrigerators in all of García came and gave it last rights. Not even a well placed modified coat hanger could get it working again. This posed a new problem. Padre Humberto located another refrigerator but the cost was four thousand pesos and the parish till contained only about ten percent of that amount. However, Padre Humberto is a very resourceful priest. In a stroke of genius he formed a refrigerator committee and installed me as chairman. He prayed that God would give me the wisdom and the insight to find the money for the refrigerator. My first instinct was to rob a bank but alas, García had no bank and if it did have one it probably wouldn't have enough money to rob. Not wanting to go hungry for lack of cold leftovers I took the job seriously and buttonholed every merchant, politician and passer by until the amount was raised. In the end I had to kick in quite a bit myself to put us over the top but finally the deal was made. We would have a new refrigerator. Besides, they promised me that the new refrigerator would have a light inside so that when you open the door you would be able to see what you are about to eat and you will be given a chance to turn back before it is too late.

In the evening of the same day that the refrigerator gave up the ghost I heard somebody banging around in the kitchen and whomever it was seemed to be humming to himself. I stuck my head in to see what was going on and discovered that it was Padre Humberto. He told me to come and help him make a fiesta. I asked him what the occasion was and he said, “The passing of the old refrigerator”. Apparently whatever meat had been kept in the old freezer section had already thawed and it couldn't wait for the new reefer. So, he took a bunch of avocados and chopped up some tomatoes, onions, and garlic along with some peppers and other “stuff” and mixed it together for the guacamole. Then he wrapped some potatoes in aluminum foil, handed me the meat, and off we went. Before we left the kitchen he yanked one of the old shelving grills out of the old refrigerator and he said “We won't be needing that anymore”. I didn't have a clue as to exactly what he was up to. He called to one of the sacristans and said “Go over to the Franciscan convent and tell the nuns to come to our fiesta”. Then we went out to the walled courtyard behind the parish house. He said, “Now we must cook the meat”. I said, “But Padre...how? We have nothing to cook it on”. He said”No problem” and he went around the corner to where some men had been working on the school and came back with a wheel barrow. He threw a few chunks of concrete into the wheelbarrow and started a fire on top of the concrete chunks with some wood and then threw on some charcoal. He put the old refrigerator grill on top and “presto change-o” we had a barbecue grill. Then he sent one of the boys to the corner store for some soft drinks and chips and soon the meat was cooking and the guests started to arrive.

It wasn't a big party, just the nuns and priests and I, the sacristan, and a few altar boys but it was very pleasant. The night was warm and the sky was full of stars. You could smell the bugambilia and the other flowers on a very gentle breeze. It was the perfect evening for a party. Padre Humberto hooked up a portable CD player (boom box type) and we had music. It turned out that these people were big Karen Carpenter fans. They didn't understand the words but they just loved her voice. So there we sat in very rural Mexico under a million stars, happily chatting away the time and listening to Karen Carpenter singing “Rainy Days And Mondays Always Get Me Down”. Oh, and speaking of “getting me down”, the high point of the evening was when the plastic Coca-Cola chair that I was sitting on collapsed under me and I did a double back flip. One of the nuns was the Mother Superior from the Provincial House in Bogotá, Columbia who was visiting. She looked like some kind of sour puss when she arrived...you know, kind of stiff, like a “lieutenant colonel” of the nuns. However, after the chair incident I started telling “Bob” stories and by the time the evening was over she was laughing and tapping her feet to the music and I knew that she had a good time. I also knew that the other nuns were very grateful about that too.

When the party was over and we were leaving, Sister Lucy (the head nun from Bogotá) came over and asked me to come to Columbia. She said that she had directed Sister Liliana to provide me with all of the necessary information about traveling to their country and directions on how to find their convent. I told her that I appreciated he invitation but that I didn't think that a trip to Columbia was possible. “Oh yes”, she said, “Of course it is possible and I know that you will come”. I take it that it was more of an order than an invitation. I'm sorry Sister Lucy, unless God grants me a double lifetime I don't think I am going to make it to Columbia. Oh, yes, and one more thing. Padre Humberto's makeshift barbecue grill worked just fine but eventually the wheelbarrow became very hot and the heat blew the tire on the wheelbarrow. The men came looking for their wheelbarrow the next morning and they were not very happy. Quick thinking Padre Humberto formed a committee on the spot to rectify the situation and once again gave me the dubious honor of chairing the committee and guess who ended up footing the bill for the new wheelbarrow tire. Oh what a feeling...

13 April 2009

A Mystery Solved.

Since about the beginning of the sixteenth century and perhaps long before then church bells of one kind or another have been used for communication. We tend to think of the ringing of big bronze bells as a church function but bells have served civic and military functions as well. In the United States a meeting house bell in Philadelphia proclaimed liberty throughout the land and to all the inhabitants thereof and in Mexico the fight for independence from Spain began on Sept. 16, 1810, in the small town of Dolores with the ringing of church bells. Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a Catholic priest, rang the bells to summon people to begin the struggle with the “Grito de Dolores”, or "Cry of Dolores". Anyone who has ever glanced aloft at the church towers in Mexico has no doubt noticed the size and variety of bells and wondered why so many and what they were all used for. Of course the primary use of bells was to announce the hour of church services but the bells were also used to communicate the time, what feast day it was, the nature of the mass, whether a sermon would be preached and many other details. In fact the person who rang the bells had an important job and it took quite a bit of training to get it right. As time went by some of the functions of the bells fell by the wayside due to the high cost of maintenance and lower cost and increased availability of modern clocks and watches and various other forms of communication but nevertheless we still listened for the bells. When I was a kid growing up in Logan Square in Chicago we always had to be home by eight in the evening when the bells at St. Joseph's Home for the Aged rang for Vespers, the evening prayer.

Nowadays most of the old bells in the church towers are silent except for the one bell that still calls people to church. You can usually identify it by a thick old rope running from the bell and down the side of the building with which someone rings the bell. In the Village of García, in Nuevo León where I first came to live, either the sacristan or one of the altar boys would ring the big bell before mass. There was a mass at ten-thirty on Sunday mornings and then in the late afternoon there was another mass at six. At one half hour before each mass the bell would ring once, and then there would be a pause. After the pause the bell would ring continuously about twenty times and after another pause it would again be rung once. At about fifteen minutes before the start of the mass the bell would ring again. This time it would ring twice, and then a pause, and then around twenty more times before pausing a moment followed by two rings. When the mass began the bell rang again only this time it rang three times, and then a pause, etc. Being a bit compulsive I began counting the number of rings between pauses Sometimes there were only seventeen or eighteen and sometimes there were as many as twenty-three. I began trying to figure out the significance of the numbers (I get this from my mother).

Since I lived right next door to the bell it was pretty hard for me to ignore it and I began to record the number of times in sequence that it was rung. I was trying to discover some kind of pattern or code. It became an obsession and it started to drive me crazy. By the time that I had learned enough Spanish for basic verbal communication I herded the sacristans and the altar boys together and asked them to tell me all about the code of the bells. I tried to explain myself in various ways in my limited Spanish but the only reaction I got was blank stares. Finally one of them said, “Señor Bob, the bells are to call the people to church for mass”. “Yes”, I said, “Of course, but what is the significance of the number of times you ring the bell in between the pauses?”. There were more blank stares. Finally one of them said, “We don't know. Nobody ever asked us that before. We just pull the rope until it seems like enough or until our arms get tired”. I said, “I think that you should pull the rope the same amount each time”. The young man replied, “Why Señor Bob,? You are the first person who ever counted”. I would like to end this story by saying “And from that day forward in the Village of García the bells were always rung exactly the same way”. Yeah, right! What a letdown. About the only conclusion that I could draw from this exercise was that the number of times the bell is rung is directly proportional to the size and strength (and boredom) of the bell ringer. This myth is busted!

12 April 2009

A shocking tale.

I tell a lot of stories about my first experiences in Mexico, especially in the little town of García in Nuevo León where I first came to live. Other than a small “farmacia” (pharmacy) and an “abarrotes” (small grocery store) there wasn't much of anything else in the way of shopping when I lived there. To get anything else one had to go about thirty kilometers. The old parish house that I lived in was built from rubble stone and adobe in 1804 and so there was always something to challenge my ingenuity if something broke and I needed to fix it. I remember one time the light switch in the bathroom broke, the one that turned on the overhead light. I could turn on the light in the hall and see well enough to use the toilet but that didn't help much when I was shaving. I tried shaving with a flashlight but a razor works better (just kidding). Anyway, it is very hard to shave in the light of a flashlight in front of a mirror. The light does all kinds of weird things. Learning to live contentedly in Mexico is learning the art of “making do” so I decided to handle the problem the Mexican way which is to deny that there is a problem in the first place when in fact there is only an inconvenience.

The first thing that I did was to carefully remove the light switch and throw it away. I said "carefully" because I couldn't find a fuse box and didn't even know if there was a fuse box. After the switch is removed you just have to be careful not to hold onto the two bare ends of the wires at the same time. Then, one at a time you bend little hooks on the ends of them and spread them out a little bit. When you want the light to come on you just bend them toward each other and hook the ends together and the slight tension in the bent wires will keep them hooked. Mexican people do this all the time in a pinch. The real tricky part is when you come into a dark room you have to gingerly feel around for the hole in the wall where there would normally be a switch plate and then you grab a wire by the insulation with each hand and “bump” them together to make the light flash. In the light of the flash you look really fast to see what you have to do to in order to hook the wires together. In the very beginning it is a bit nerve wracking but after awhile you get used to it. Just be careful when you go to shut off the light after taking a shower and everything is still damp or else you might be singing a new song called “Mexico, you light up my life”. Don't ask me how I know either.

11 April 2009

Slap happy!

Lately I have been reminiscing about the year that I spent in García, Nuevo León when I first came to Mexico. Since I am already on a roll I think I will just keep going until I get it out of my system. I miss that time and place very much. Yes, I have been back to visit but it just isn't the same. My friends at the parish house, Pardre Humberto and Padre Joel, have moved on to other assignments, my good friend Pépe Fernández, the fantastic guitar player is dead, and so are a lot of my other older friends. Some of the cute little girls of the village are already barefoot and pregnant and the cute little boys who grew up to make them that way are jerks. In certain matters life is really not that different in Mexico than it is anywhere else. One thing that I do not miss, however, are the zancudos (sahn-KOO-dohs) which is what people here call mosquitoes.

I think that García is the home of the worlds loudest mosquitoes and they are also the tiniest. To make up for their small size they like to fly into your ear and buzz around like an automobile theft alarm going off in your head. When you try to slap them you end up slapping yourself silly. One night when I really needed to get some sleep, I ran into the “Snoopy” of the mosquito world and he must have thought that I was the Red Baron. The little bugger was totally annoying and I was in a really bad mood. I would slap at him and slap at him and one of us was definitely driving the other one nuts. I tossed and I turned and I even put my pillow over my head but somehow he would find a way to burrow down and drill. Then I got desperate. I jumped out of bed determined to hunt that mosquito down but I couldn't find him anywhere so I climbed back in bed. No sooner had I turned off the light and gotten comfy under the covers and he would return again...zzzzzzzz right in my ear...slap, slap...zzzzzzzzzz...slap, slap...zzzzzz...over and over with no relief.

The buzzing and slapping went on and on and I was getting dizzier and madder with every slap. I jumped out of bed two or three times very fast and turned on the light but he was too smart for that and he would always disappear before I could see him. Finally after just about slapping myself into unconsciousness I quickly jumped up with my my flashlight and there he was and I swiped at him and get this...I caught him in my fist! Right then I decided to teach that little bastard a lesson so instead of immediately crushing him like a bug I brought my fist up to my lips and opened it just enough so that he could hear me and I shouted:


10 April 2009

¡Feliz Pascua!

Today is a day of reflection and renewal for Christian people all over the world for today Our Lord has risen again in our minds and in our hearts. There is also a prayer that binds all Christians together whether they are Roman Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Baptist, Quaker, Methodist, Congregationalist, Fundamentalist, Presbyterian, or one of the many other Christian sects that I would mention here if I could only remember them all. It is the prayer that Jesus taught to his disciples that we call the “Lord's Prayer” or the “Our Father”. There are a couple of things that I would like to remind you about this prayer in these uncertain and troubled times when so many people are worried about money and about their future.

When I first came to Mexico I went to live with Padre Humberto and Padre Joel in a big parish house in a little town in the state of Nuevo León. I didn't speak much Spanish and they spoke no English at all. The first thing that they made me understand is that they were not going to learn English just for me so I needed to learn Spanish in a hurry. Padre Humberto accelerated the process right off the bat by telling me that I had to learn to recite the “Padre Nuestro” (The Our Father) in Spanish before I could eat. After that he threw in a new prayer at regular intervals to keep me going. As I was memorizing the Our Father in Spanish I had a chance to focus in on the individual words. Many people have a habit of reciting the Our Father by starting out strong with a loud “Our Father who art in heaven” and then they start downhill with a muffled mumble, mumble, mumble, mumble and then finish it off with a loud AMEN! When you study the prayer word for word there are certain things that pop out at you.

The first thing that came to mind is the phrase “Give us this day our daily bread”. I took note that He didn't say “Give us this day our weekly bread”, or “Give us this day our monthly supply” or even “Give us this day our sack of wheat”. He simply told us to ask for today's bread and have faith that tomorrow is a different day entirely. In Matthew 6:34 He reminded us: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. The same people who got through many hard times including wars and recessions, unemployment, taxes, sickness, injury, hurricanes, floods, and tornadoes are constantly worried about what is going to happen next. Well, we got this far haven't we? If we got this far then what the heck, we are probably going farther and the going will be easier if we are all singing the same tune.

The second thing that came to mind is the phrase “And forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us”. I am sure that most of us take this to mean that we are asking God to forgive our sins in proportion to the forgiveness that we have shown to others. I don't know about you but this is my real weak spot. Anyway, it was interesting to me that the original texts used the words “debt” and “debtors” instead of “trespasses” and “trespass”. Here it is in the Latin version:

Et dīmittē nōbīs dēbita nostra, sīcut et nōs dīmittimus dēbitōribus nostrīs.
And forgive (literally "drop") our debts, as we forgive (literally "drop") our debtors.

This is something to think about in these days of bailouts, bankruptcies, foreclosures, and layoffs et cetera. God is telling us to let bygones be bygones or as we say in Spanish “Borrar y cuenta nueva” (erase and start counting over).

On Easter Sunday over two billion Christians will recite the Our Father in one language or another. Some will mumble it and some will concentrate on the words and pray sincerely. There is another large group of “Christians” who have either forgotten the prayer or haven't recited it since they were little kids. I have written it out below in both Spanish and English. Perhaps you would like to recite it with me or perhaps those of you who live here in Mexico would like to learn it in Spanish. Whatever the case may God bless you and I hope that you have a Happy Easter.

Padre nuestro, que estás en el cielo,
Our Father, who art in heaven,

Santificado sea tu Nombre.
Hallowed be thy Name.

Venga a nosotros tu reino.
Thy kingdom come.

Hágase tu voluntad,
Thy will be done,

On earth as it is in heaven.
En la tierra como en el cielo.

Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día;
Give us this day our daily bread;

Perdona nuestras ofensas,
And forgive us our trespasses,

Como también nosotros perdonamos a los que nos ofenden;
As we forgive those who trespass against us;

No nos dejes caer en la tentación,
And lead us not into temptation,

Y líbranos del mal. Amen
But deliver us from evil. Amen

[Porque Tuyo es el Reino, el Poder y la Gloria por siempre, Señor. Amén.]
[For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen.]


El Sábado Santo

Yesterday I wrote about my Good Friday experiences in García, Nuevo León. Today I thought it would be nice to add what happened on Holy Saturday as well. When I met Padre Humberto for breakfast on Holy Saturday morning he really looked tired from the activities of the day before and I was moving kind of slow myself. I mentioned something about how tired he must be and he said, “Don't worry about me. Tonight we are going to wake up Jesus. Be at the municipal baseball diamond at the edge of town at 9:pm and bring a bell and a candle. You are really going to like this.” I wasn't sure that I completely understood what he was talking about and so after he left I asked our cook, Inocenzia (ee-noh.SEN-seeah), about it an she told me that everyone gets together late in the evening and at midnight they welcome the Resurrection. I guess they figure that Jesus is an early riser. If you will recall from the Bible, the women came to His tomb very early on Easter morning and He was already up and gone. Anyway, according to “Ino” (EE-noh), it is always a very moving event and she told me not to miss it. She asked me how I was going to get there because it was supposed to be quite far from where we were at the parish house. I told her that I wasn't sure that I was going because I was tired and it would end so late at night and I wouldn't want to be out driving around in the wee hours in my old truck. She said “No problem, I'll drive. I'll be here at 8:30 with my husband Martín (mahr-TEEN) and my daughter Juli (HOO-lee) and we can all go in your truck. I'll do the driving and you can just sit back and relax”. “Okay” I said, but little did I know what I was in for.

The three of them showed up at the appointed time and Martín and Juli climbed into the back of the truck. Ino got behind the wheel and I got to ride “shotgun” because it it my truck. She started the engine, floored the accelerator, popped the clutch, and we were off like we were shot out of a cannon. If it wasn't for the stake sides and the high tailgate on the truck bed Juli and Martín would have been left behind lying in the street. We went careening through the streets with Martín and Juli hanging on for dear life and ducking overhanging branches just in time. My heart was in my throat and I tried to yell but nothing came out. Martín kept shouting “Ino, Ino, where are you going?” and Ino shouted back, “I can't talk now! I am very busy!”. Finally I managed to say, “Ino, do you remember where we are supposed to go?” and she said “No, where?”. I said “Go to the “béisbol” field”. She then yelled out the window to Martín, “Hey Martín, which way to the béisbol field?”. He shouted back “a la izquierda” (to the left) and Ino made an immediate ninety degree turn without slowing down and just about rolled us over into a ditch. I could hardly take anymore so I just turned my head away but I still couldn't avoid the sight of pedestrians scrambling out of our way. I began to recite the “Our Father” in Spanish and Ino said, Whatza matter, you no like my driving?”. I said, “I'll tell you later Ino when you aren't so busy”. Thank God that we finally arrived at the béisbol field intact and after we came to a lurching halt that almost pitched eighteen year old Juli over the roof of the cab and onto the hood. Ino shut off the engine and looked me right in the eye and said, “Well?”. I said, “You did a very nice job, Ino. As a matter of fact I think you drive well enough to drive a taxi in Monterrey or maybe even a bus”. She beamed at me with pride and yells up to Martín who wasn't looking too well, “You hear that Martín? Señor Bob said I did very good!”.

The ceremonies at the baseball diamond began as the stars became visible in the evening sky and everything was nice. The blessing of the new fire and the holy water was very similar to what I remember from my days as an altar boy at Our Lady of Grace Parish back in Chicago. The only difference was that here we had “Matlechines” (indigenous dancers) and we welcomed the Resurrection by ringing bells and singing and shouting. The only hitch was that the sacristan and one of the monaguillos (altar boys) decided that it would be “cool” if they released some pigeons while all of this was going on. They had spent a couple days trapping pigeons of the roof of the parish house and when everyone started shouting and ringing bells to summon Jesus from the tomb they released the birds in a grand gesture of peace and harmony. The problem was that pigeons don't fly at night so the pigeons took off running around in circles and in the dim light they looked like rats. This caused a number of ladies to jump up on their chairs and scream. If Jesus was watching all of this from Heaven perhaps He saw us and took note that the people of García sure are a lively bunch. Well, I can attest to that. They sure are!

09 April 2009

El Viernes Santo

I once had the opportunity to participate in Good Friday religious services in a small town in Mexico that lasted all day from the early morning until late at night. It was at the same time exhilarating and exhausting. This was during the time shortly after I arrived in Mexico when lived with two Catholic priests in the Parish of San Juan Bautista, in the Village of García (near Monterrey), in the state of Nuevo León. I took notes at the time and some photos and I thought it would be nice to share them with you.

About 7:45 on Friday morning of Semana Santa (Holy Week) I met up with Padre Humberto (oom-BEHR-toh) and Padre Joel (ho-EHL) and we put the cross in the back of the parish pickup truck and another man named José Luis, whom they called “Huicho” (WEE-choh), hooked up loud speakers to the roof of the cab. Padre Humberto and I jumped into the back of the truck (actually we helped each other up) and we were off. Padre Joel was driving, Huicho was riding “shotgun”, and Padre Humberto and I were hanging on for dear life. We somehow arrived at the Capilla de Guadalupe in the outskirts of town where my friends the Franciscan nuns from Columbia teach religion. Hermanas Lilliana, Margarita, and Luz Elena were waiting for us and there was already quite a crowd gathered and everyone was carrying a cross of some kind. Most of the crosses were small, crudely made things that could be held in one hand but some of them were fairly large wooden crosses and get this....they were carried by young women!

It didn't take long to get organized and the men put chairs in the back of the truck for the ladies of the choir who would lead the singing with a microphone and speakers and then Padre Humberto blessed the crosses and we began our march. Padre Humberto and Padre Joel led the procession, each carrying a large wooden cross, and then came the men dressed as the Twelve Apostles right behind. Then came the sound truck with the choir ladies and then came hundreds of parishioners all singing as they walked. I sang too for the first mile or so because Hermana Liliana had given me a “cheat sheet” with the words on it. However, after we were marching for about an hour I realized that this was going to be a long haul for me and I was very thankful that I wasn't carrying a cross. My camera felt like it weighed about fifty pounds by the time we finished. Along the way of the cross, which covered the entire town and environs of García, they enacted the stations of the cross – live! When it came to the part where Jesus is fastened to the cross and then dies and is taken down it was VERY realistic.

Needless to say by the time we finally got to the end and had put Jesus in His tomb my fanny was dragging. It was the second of April and already very hot in this desert-like region and it was also extremely dusty. It was all that I could do to put one foot in front of the other. I was pretty happy to crawl up into the back of the pickup truck again for the ride home and so was Padre Humberto. He was totally exhausted and his face was red as a beet. When we got back to the parish house I had to lay down for awhile and take a little nap. Even so, my legs felt like they were made of wood. After a short rest I got ready to go next door to the church for the reciting of the “Seven Phrases of Jesus” and the commemoration of His death at 3:pm. After that there was another short break prior to the evening services which began at 7:pm.

The church service that night was magnificent. The altar was hidden from view by a giant purple floor to ceiling curtain that was at least twenty feet high by twenty feet wide. In front of the curtain was a crucifix that was veiled in purple and at the foot of the cross were very life-like full size statues of the Blessed Virgin dressed in black (in real clothing) and St. John. During the service they uncovered the crucifix and there was a full size life-like figure of Jesus hanging on the cross with real hair, a real crown of thorns, movable limbs, and a real cloth covering His midsection. Then they got a ladder and took Him down from the cross, leaving a white sheet draped over the arms of the cross. They laid Jesus on a long table in front of the cross and partly covered him with a white cloth. There were big candles standing all around Him and the rest of the church interior was very dim.

The men dressed as the Twelve Apostles moved to stand around the body of Jesus and I realized that they were emulating a real wake. One by one people would come up and talk to Jesus and kiss Him and everyone was very solemn. It was the most touching ceremony that I have ever seen. Later in the evening there was a devotion to Mary and afterward everyone went up one by one and filed past Jesus for the last time and gave Mary a kiss. I did too and I kissed her hand and I SWEAR that it felt like real flesh even though I knew that it was a statue. That really shook me up but everyone else was so cool and calm that I soon felt cool and calm too and at peace with myself. I don't know what happened to me that night. I still don't know...but I will never forget it. Regardless of what did or didn't happen, however, I am not afraid to say that I am a true believer.

08 April 2009

Something fishy about this...

Here we are at Semana Santa again. I don't know how that can be for it was just Christmas the other day. The seasons are rolling around all too quickly as I get older. I wonder why that it. When I watch an hour glass (or a three minute egg timer glass) it also seems like the sand runs out much faster at the end. Oh, Lord, please tell me it ain't so. I really do look forward to the next life but the thing is that I am just so used to life here that I am reluctant to make the change abruptly. When I sat down at my computer today I happened to glance over at the wall and my eyes rested on a painting that I did some years ago on a Holy Thursday. Usually on Holy Thursday we make the rounds to seven churches as is the tradition here but that usually isn't until the late afternoon and early evening when the heat of the day has passed. I was living all alone at the time and I decided to spend the day trying out a style of painting that I had read about called “Gyotaku” (ghee-oh-TAH-koo).

Gyotaku is the Japanese art of fish painting. It is really more of taking impressions of a fish than it is actually painting a fish but you have to paint the fish with paint before you take the impression. Got that? The word “gyo” means “fish” in Japanese and “taku” means “rubbing” or “impression”. The earliest known Gyotaku prints were made in the 1860’s to preserve a true record of the size and species of fish caught by wealth Japanese sport fisherman so they could have bragging rights and win bets. It was kind of like the “polaroid” picture of its day. Before I took the impression of the fish, however, I had to have a fish so I set off to find a fish market with just the right fish. Finding the right fish took almost as much time as the rest of the project. Fish markets are very busy places on Holy Thursday and many, many people were out buying fish to have for their Holy Thursday evening meal. Like me, many of them were looking for a fish called a “huachinango” (wah-chee-NAHN-goh) which was also the favorite fish of Emperor Moctezuma. I went to six or seven markets before I spotted the fish I wanted at the fish counter of our local Soriana supermarket.

I stood in line hopping from one foot to another like someone needing to pee and praying that nobody would choose my fish before I got to the head of the line. I even asked my faithful guardian angel (Bubba) to put a “hold” on that fish for me. Everything went well until it was my turn and I blurted out “huachinango” and the man grabbed another fish and got ready to stick it with his long skinny knife. I told him “No not that one...the other one” and after dancing around like this through two or three fish he grabbed the right one and almost before I could stop him he got ready to remove the scales. “NO!”, I shouted, and everyone jumped back. Evidently they thought I was crazy. I told him to wrap it up just the way it was and he did so with a wild look in his eyes and I just kept quiet. After all, he was the one with the knife. I triumphantly paid for the fish, clasped it to my bosom, and home I went.

When I got the fish home I dabbed at it a bit trying to remove any slime and dry it off as much as I could. Then I put it on a piece of cardboard and propped up the fins with straight pins and put a toothpick in its mouth to hold the mouth open and I put the fish in the sun for a half an hour to stiffen it up a little. That worked just fine. Then I removed the pins and covered the fish with paint and pressed a sheet of paper to the fish and when I removed the paper there is was...a perfect image of the fish. It reminded me of the reward that Veronica received when wiping the face of Christ with her veil. The only problem was that the paint didn't stick to the fish's eye so there was nothing there but a blank area. I noticed that the fish's eye was about the same size as a Mexican Peso coin so I used a two peso coin to draw an outline and then a one peso coin inside that so that it formed both the pupil and the outer ring of the eye at the same time. Then I painted the eye to look as natural as I could. The effect was very pleasing.

Afterward, feeling very proud of myself I began feeling remorse for what I had done to the poor fish. I hated the thought that the fish had lived and died in vain. It still looked pretty good and it didn't smell bad so I decided to cook it and eat it. I filleted it and skinned it and dipped it in milk and then dredged it in flour and fried it with some potatoes and onions. It was the best fish I ever ate and afterward I had the feeling that the fish was inside my head looking out at his own picture. Ever since that day the fish has been a part of me in every respect and I am part fish. Believe it or not I even swim better now. I am one with the fish.


05 April 2009

Economic Cow Power

There are so many questions about the current world economic situation and how it deteriorated to the extent that it has that I don't think they will ever be answered adequately. Most of the explanations seem to involve smoke and mirrors of one kind or another that are not fully explainable. How can one wrap one's head around something like that? Let's see...we have bullish and bearish speculation, hedge funds, market derivatives, sub-prime lending, mortgage bundling, excessive executive compensation, outrageous incentive bonuses, tax shelters, insurance schemes, mergers, partnerships, acquisitions, initial public offerings, Ponzi schemes, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and Heaven only knows what else. So what happened to the economy? In short, one day somebody sneezed and the curtain fell and everyone realized that there was no value there, only empty promises, and people began to shout, “Where's the beef?”.

With all of the criticism that Mexico receives in the United States it is ironic to note that at present Mexico is solvent and is not in a recession. This is in contrast to the United States, Japan, and most of Europe. Perhaps here in Mexico there has been so much economic pain over the years that people have finally learned to look at things a little differently. Anyone who has lived in Mexico for a number of years, especially in a small town or community, realizes that people are not so quick to spend money on something unless they have examined it from all sides. When you get out in the sticks money just doesn't seem to matter as much as absolute value does. More often than not goods and services are traded to a large extent and at times no money at all changes hands for goods received or services rendered.

Because we are asking “Where's the beef?” let's examine a situation involving a cow. When a farmer needs to have his old truck motor rebuilt he takes an extra cow that he has down the road to the local mechanic and cuts a deal to get the truck fixed in return for the cow. The mechanic takes the cow down the road to the tailor and cuts a deal to have a new suit made for his son's wedding. The tailor takes the cow down the road to the roofer and cuts a deal to get his roof repaired and on down the road goes the cow doing good wherever it stops until it finally ends up at the “matadero” or “slaughterhouse”. Seems like a shame to kill the cow after all the good it has done but unless the cow dies the bills don't get paid. However, even after the cow dies it is divided up into various cuts of meat that are distributed to butcher shops and restaurants and the parts of the cow keep working until the people of the community are nourished by the cow and it becomes part of their physical well being. So where is the cow? It didn't just disappear. The cow is us. Now THAT is value!

04 April 2009

Does your chewing gum lose its flavor?

"Does the spearmint lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?
Would you use it on your collar when your button's not in sig
Put your hand beneath your seat and you will find it there all right...

Does the spearmint lose its flavor on the bedpost over night?"

(Billy Rose, Marty Bloom & Ernest Breuer, 1924)

The other day I came across a delightful new blog written in Spanish by a person who lives in the same city that I do and calls himself "Generación Googleinstein". He is an engineer and educator named Jesús Alberto Sánchez Valtierra and his blog is called "Irapuato" and you can reach it by clicking on this link:


He recently posted an item about a utility pole here in Irapuato on Ocampo street called "El Poste de los Deseos" or "The Wishing Post". There you can stick your chewing gum to the pole and say a magic word and (eventually) your wish will be granted. I have seen the pole many times (photo below) and I thought it looked quite strange. I asked my wife Gina about it and she hates it. She won't even look at it and averts her eyes when walking down that street. Now there is some hope, however, for people who think old chewing gum is ugly. After almost 150 years biodegradable chewing gum has been invented...AGAIN!

There is a tree that is native to the Yucatan area of Mexico called the "Sapodilla" (Sahp-oh-DEE-yah) tree or "Chicozapote" tree (Manilkara zapota) and besides a fruit that tastes like a combination of brown sugar and root beer, it also produces a latex looking sap called "chicle" (CHEEK-leh) that is used to make "goma de mascar" or "chewing gum". It was first invented by the Mayans in Mexico and then reinvented in the United States in New York in the late 1860's by none other than Antonio López de Santa Anna who you will remember as the main villain from the story of the Texas Alamo. Now it is being reinvented by the Mayans in a form of biodegradeable chewing gum called "Chicza Rainforest Gum". The gum is made by Consorcio Chiclero, which is a consortium of 56 co-operatives employing some 2,000 gum farmers. The workers (called "chicleros") extract the sap of the chicle tree, which is then used to make Chicza chewing gum. This new biodegradable chewing gum does not contain any petrochemicals which, as of this date, no other chewing gum can claim and Chicza Rainforest Gum does not stick to clothing or pavements because it is no longer sticky when dry. Once you spit it out, it will turn to dust in about six weeks and dissolve harmlessly in water or be absorbed into the soil. Not only that but it comes in three flavors, lime, mint, and spearmint. This is such a simple thing but the potential advantages are immense. Not only will this employ people in Southern Mexico but it will also focus on protecting the rain forest where the Sapodilla grows. The trees are not destroyed by the sap harvesting and are a renewable resource.

When people first started flying on commercial jet airplanes in the late 1950's and early 1960's they were encouraged to chew gum on airline flights to keep their ears from "popping". The airlines soon found out how difficult it was to remove discarded chewing gum from airplanes and airports and now it is almost impossible to buy chewing gum at an airport even though it is not illegal to chew gum on a plane. It also costs municipalities and property owners countless millions of dollars each year to clean chewing gum off of the streets and sidewalks (and from beneath desks and chairs). Okay, so if we chew the new gum, the only problem that we will still have to deal with in Irapuato is the question about whether or not your wish is still valid if your chewing gum falls off of the wishing post and disintegrates.

01 April 2009

American or Continental?

Now that Barack and Michelle Obama are at the London G-20 with Philipe Calderón and his wife Margarita and Stephen Harper and his wife Laureen there is no doubt a lot of interest by the people of North America about what is going on over there. I am particularly interested in what style of etiquette the Obamas, Calderónes, and Harpers are going to use when eating. Will they use the “American Style” or the Continental Style”?

We have satellite TV at our house and one of my favorite channels is the BBC and there are several shows involving food, restaurants, and cooking that I like to watch. I genuinely like the British people and enjoy learning more about their customs and traditions but I must say the way that they eat is positively barbaric. They use a style called the “Continental” style but the way they apply it is astonishingly aggressive. I call it the “Two Fisted Henry the VIII” style. The Continental style of using a knife and fork is also common in the United States among the upper crusty denizens of Boston and New York as well as in other far flung remnants of the old British Empire. According to this method, the fork is held continuously in the left hand and used for eating. When food must be cut, the fork is used to pin it down with the left hand while the right hand wields the knife and once the bite has been separated from the whole, it is conveyed directly to the mouth with the tines of the fork curving downward. I suppose that is a very efficient method but when the utensils are held in a ham-fisted manner and the elbows are flying up and down it looks quite awful and as though the diner is either extremely hungry or in a big hurry or both. When they bend their head forward at the same time it also looks like they are trying to stab themselves in the throat.

With the “American” style, both utensils are intended for use primarily with the right hand, which is the more capable hand for most people. This leads to some complicated maneuvering when foods, such as meat, require the use of knife and fork to obtain a bite of manageable size. When this is the case, the fork is held in the left hand, turned so that the tines point downward, the better to hold the meat in place while the right hand operates the knife. After a bite-sized piece has been cut, the diner sets the knife down on the plate and transfers the fork to the right hand, so that it can be used to carry the newly cut morsel to the mouth with the tines curving upward. The British disparagingly call this the "zig-zag" style. I don't care what they call it but to me it seems a lot more leisurely and graceful. There is no need to rush the meal, especially if one is a diplomat or a head of state (or a first lady). It will be interesting to see (if we can) what style the various heads of state use. After all, it might be a clue to their character. I took a little survey of my friends and relatives here in Irapuato and they all use the American style so I am fairly sure that Presidente Calderón will do the same. Being a Chicago boy myself I am fairly sure that Barack and Michelle will use the American style also. Prime Minister Harper is the one that I have absolutely no idea about. He could go either way, eh? In any case I am glad that the Mexican people favor the American style or “zig-zag” style or whatever you want to call it and I thank God that I have come to a cultured and civilized country.

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I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois, U.S.A. I have been living in Mexico since January 6th, 1999. I am continually studying to improve my knowledge of the Spanish language and Mexican history and culture. I am also a student of Mandarin Chinese.