Friday, August 15, 2014

In It To Win It

After the hiatus for a rare visit from Sis and Bro, I returned to work this evening on a long range and improbable goal of winning the 100m dash—age 95 and over—at the 2042 Senior Games. 

Merrell Men's Ascend Glove Minimal Running Shoe. Sweet!
Two days ago the crucial order arrived from Amazon—a great deal on Merrell running shoes in dove grey and slate, neon lemon and lime. Vibram. They were waiting on the front porch when we returned from Portland. At first I wasn’t sure I would keep them—the arch felt too high—but I did. 

This calm but overcast afternoon, I wore them on my Power Walk and they fit like a glove. They also subtly changed my gait. I stick my butt out a bit more and push harder with my thighs. 

Power Walk leaves our apartment and heads south on 3rd Avenue, up a steady rise past the many seniors’ condos, and big trees in City Park, to turn left at Pine, which climbs steeply east six long blocks to the ridge. 

It’s a vertiginous view down Pine, past solidly sedate and middle class blocks to the marsh and Puget Sound. At 5PM I looked back and saw either a huge yacht or small cruise ship unusually close to shore, heading north.

I paralleled its course down along the ridge on 9th, then west to Main, turning right on 7th a block south of the grandstand, and finally—let’s call it fifty minutes; that will be my baseline—jogged, ran, sprinted and dashed around the quarter mile track. Matt, my trusty trainer, says I can decrease the time of my Power Walk by no more than five percent each day, as I increase the distance I run. 

Onward.

Monday, April 7, 2014

The Church of Nature Gives...and It Takes Away

Holding the sun
What a glorious morning! The rising sun is peekabooing through fluffy clouds and there are promises of afternoon temps in the high sixties. This fine weather is especially welcome after last month’s record rainfall that led to a calamitous mudslide nearby, killing so many, and devastating a small community.

This brooding thought lingers for a few minutes until I come back to the itch that’s been teasing me lately: this time next week my wife and I will be on a plane returning home from a long weekend in Tulsa--my hometown--where a week from today our fiftieth high school reunion will be history. It's much easier to imagine it in the past tense, rather than what it will actually be. 

I’ve never gone to a reunion before. It’s been 25 years since I was last in Tulsa. Many of my classmates, especially those who stayed in Oklahoma, have kept in touch with a circle of friends, but me--not so much. It’s not the yearning for reestablishing connections that’s brought me back, although in a few instances that is the case; it’s more the symbolism of the occasion. 

Our high school graduation marked entry into an adulthood that’s led us in myriad directions. From that common point, over the past half century we have each forged lives that are unimaginably varied. We've  gone through a marriage or two or more, raised our kids, established an identity that’s rooted in where we came from but is mostly our own invention. Now we’re entering retirement, no longer bound to our wage-earning lives, and looking forward to God knows what. 

This seems a propitious time to not only mark a long passage, but to think about what’s next. For some reason, for me, entering this new stage means going back to the place where my parents raised me, to gather among former classmates who have opted to make the same journey. On this trip, I’m blessed to have my sparkly-eyed wife for company. 

We got our inexpensive tickets online through Cheap-O Air. We'll leave for Tulsa way early Friday morning, and don’t have assigned seats yet on Monday's leg home from Dallas. I’m hoping for a free upgrade, but prepared for the two of us to have scattered seats in the rear. 

Unbidden, in my mind’s eye, an image of those airplane “seats” morphs into a newsreel shot of sodden muddy cushions, splintered timbers sticking out of the sludge, and much worse--that deadly slide again. At least the friendly weather will make it easier for recovery crews, and hopefully cast a bit of warmth and light on the affected families’ futures.

For me, today is a good day for a walk down to the beach, and up to the ridge overlooking the Sound. The water will be calm, the sun glittering off its surface, and I'll be thankful for the moment just to be, and let the future take care of itself.


And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses—

something not known to anyone at all
But wild in our breast for centuries.
--Anna Akhmatnova

Monday, March 24, 2014

Church of Nature

Bugling Spring's arrival

The Church of Nature had just thrown open its doors, and the sidewalk was thronged last Sunday morning with fellow worshippers. I was gob-smacked by this stand of buttery daffodils showing off at the corner across the street from our post office.

Then I crossed the street to discover, in one of the flower beds there, a cluster of hand-sized rocks curving around the historic plaque, inspired no doubt by the dry streambeds of a classic Japanese garden. Fittingly, nearby is a recently planted laceleaf maple with its finely etched leaves just beginning to unfurl--a long-range promise for a vibrant Fall. Newly installed azaleas anchor the other two corners.

All in all, a big upgrade at 2nd and Main. Thanks go, I’m sure, to Debra and her inspired, committed colleagues at Edmonds Parks who create and maintain our city's beautiful flower gardens. Good on y'all!

During the rest of the morning’s pilgrimage, similar new rock arrangements were spotted on the way to the roundabout's flower corners, well sited next to crossed bamboo stakes placed to protect the garden's edge. 

Sweet-scented Daphne blossoms
Around the fountain there was also the sweet scent of previously unnoticed Daphne odoras--three of them, if memory serves. This was one of the rare occasions when I recognized the Daphne’s blossom before I registered its fragrance; my nose has been too occupied with allergens lately to smell much of anything. Even so, as I leaned close to the tiny creamy fuchsia blooms, my olfactory senses rejoiced. 

The Daphne is a tetchy plant; give it well-drained soil and just the right amount of water in filtered sun, and it might--just might--reward you with a few good years of its sweet, early Spring scent.


Hallelujah! 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Way Late Life Hack

Don't start at this end, instead...
No intention to defame--they’re long gone anyway--but that well-intentioned couple who brought me up failed to clue me in to the best way of peeling a banana. The upshot is that I’ve been flaunting my pig ignorance at tropical gatherings over the past sixty-five years.

Nunh-unh
After carefully studying internet images of cartoon banana peels, I've also concluded that our popular culture has been abetting this mistake. I offer instructions in this post as a public service. 

Begin here.
You do not begin peeling at the end where the fruit connects to the stalk. You could--sure--but unless you use, and thus dirty, a potentially dangerous knife, you will nearly always risk smushed-up pulp.

Or--before peeling you could bite, instead of slice, the same spot on that perky-looking fruit, but then you have the bitter taste and unpleasant texture of the skin.

Pinch, and peel with natural flair!
Now I know a better way; thanks to recently received wisdom from my knowledgeable spouse, I start at the butt end. Pinch the nipple, peel those cunning flaps back with ease, and look at how securely they gather at the stalk. Top off your accomplishment by tossing that flaccid peel away with a flair and grace that confirms you're finally right with nature!

Call me, “Just Enlightened.”

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Nehi Orange and Pheremonal Funk


Our fiftieth high school reunion is in Tulsa next month, and that’s got me to thinking about an inspiring teacher I had by the name of John Haynes. He taught Social Studies at Wright Junior High and moved on to Edison to teach Freshman English. 

Mr. Haynes was a young guy then, but even with those odd glasses, his bullet-headed buzz cut and sarcastic lips gave him a not-to-be-fucked-with demeanor. I don’t remember much book learning from American History, but stories he told about living depressed, in a New York City walkup, are still around the edges of my mind. 

That such inchoate feelings could be shared and even named, that such a concrete bin of grime and glamor actually exists, and that teachers might have the same tics and appetites as me--these were all revelations that pretty much exploded my pubescent world view.

Mr. Haynes’ class rated high in student involvement. We aped his demonstrations of how to drink Nehi Orange and eat ‘Bama pies like the people he’d met in Georgia. As we eagerly--even if a bit mockingly--acted out its distinctive behaviors, we were learning empathy for an unfamiliar culture.  Mr. Haynes became an exemplar for my own teaching style.

We had other good English teachers at Edison, too, like Ruth Wells. I was a precocious brat and Mrs. Wells indulged me, but she must have done it with good authority, because I still have, and appreciate, some of the perversely obscure work I did for her.

That was the class where a comely blonde sat sweetly in the desk right behind my own, making scholarly concentration impossible. Though never spoken, the feeling I had for her surely oozed from my follicles, joining the rest of the room’s pheromonal funk. 

Even through the wiggling horniness, and my obsessive contemplation of the mysterious reappearing red mark high on our female classmates’ achingly alluring calves, Mrs. Wells persevered. She gave us encouragement to fly with our words, or at least to try. When I study her yearbook picture now, with these 67-year-old eyes--no disrespect intended--but I see serious GILF material. Click on the pic and check out the sensuous mouth, and smoldering gaze behind those cat's-eye glasses. Call the class to attention, Mrs. Wells!

Mrs. Martha Cole appears to be in her late thirties when we were at Edison; she passed on four years ago. I remember meeting with other students at her house--a first for me to go to the home of a teacher! We were working together on a school literary magazine--something right up my pretentious alley. She kept me focused and involved though--a warm, good person and teacher.

I think it must have been Mrs. Cole who encouraged me and Lee Hoevel (AKA Diogenes Brown) to write a play--a political satire--and perform it, if memory serves, in the lunchroom. That kind of tomfoolery kept me engaged for many years in the then-distant future.

If you Google “John Haynes Tulsa,” you’ll find a link to an autobiography you can download from Scribd. His people moved to Oklahoma when it was still Indian Territory and, like my own dad, his father was an elementary school principal for many years in Tulsa. Further search suggests he might still live, or at least own a home, on South Trenton Avenue. 

Good health, Mr. Haynes! What a trip it would be to see you again.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

CASE NO. 12-X-XX588-X, Part 4

As Artist smiled goodbye, the rest of us were in a bit of a tizzy. It was four o'clock;  it was Friday--Valentines Eve, fer crissake. Make love, not verdicts! No one, though, wanted to come back to this decision after the three day weekend. But it was either/or, so over Cellphone’s fluttery disclaimers, she was scrummed into leadership with seemly reluctance.

Forbidden to speak about the substance of the trial until this moment, I was shocked that not everyone shared my opinion: even with prior conditions and inconsistencies, Plaintiff’s lower back had clearly been damaged or “lit up” by the accident. She deserved some major compensation. I imagined her using the award for therapeutic guidance, materials and treatment, down--and way down--the line. 

Pretty clear...on the the third or fourth reading
So, it was a surprise to hear Cellphone jump in with her nurse-ly opinion that Plaintiff’s problems were clearly either pre-existing or degenerative. "And besides that, she didn't follow doctors' orders!"

In the confusion of pent-up emotion that followed I was taken aback to hear Banker, Dog Trainer, Stiff, and Chaplain--especially Chaplain--give Cellphone their support.

Plaintiff's posse was back on its heels until Seldom Talked, introducing herself as I-am-also-a-nurse, pushed back with contradictory clinical insight. Fireplug, speaking from a yogic-body awareness perspective likewise supported Plaintiff’s claim. I offered my own dimly illuminating tale of lumbar woe, and Curly Blonde plus Shy Woman skirted a little behind Plaintiff as well, enough so that everyone pretty much agreed that at least the low back pain was a result of the crash.

Clear as mud...Short shrift was given to clarifying many pages of
instructions
But, could we agree on a sum for the non-economic damages of this pain before six o'clock? What should that figure be? After several false starts we each threw out a number in the thousands: a cluster of 50s, a scattering up to 100, with a leap to two of us at 150. 

Since it only took ten to agree, we eliminated the outliers and our initial “average” turned out to be 74K. Not long after this revelation, Mario the Bailiff checked in to ask if we’d be able to reach our verdict tonight. Yes, we confidently replied. What followed, though, was a period of venting to which, with hindsight, I wish I’d given more respect. But I was looking forward to lobster dinner and a romantic evening, so pushed us to get back to a mathematical task that had become disconnected from the gritty of the case.

Could ten of us could agree on 75? No, too low. Ninety was too high. At this point, in an aside to me, Seldom Talked said her first thought had been 200K. One more poll, though, gave us our sum. At 5:10PM we twelve jurors filed back into the courtroom. Cellphone handed our verdict to the clerk. Because we felt it was too low, Fireplug and I were the only ones not joining in the opinion, which was “Damages for the plaintiff in the sum of $85,000.”

It was quick and it was dirty, and this glib recounting offers little more than lip service to justice. The heart of the case will always lie in the body and mind of Marilee, our Plaintiff. I wonder how, after this long, expensive, disappointing, and ultimately sad chapter, she can continue the story of her recovery.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

CASE NO. 12-X-XX588-X, Part 3


I'm middle background, the rest are male impersonators.
Our thirteenth juror was a sweet, doll-like woman. She was always well-dressed in a nice figure, with a skirt over leggings tucked into low boots that had a bit of flash. Well-cut platinum hair. Before deliberations could begin, though, she--as alternate--had to leave. I was sorry to see her go. 

During jury selection she'd mentioned she was an Artist. I’d asked about her work, and enjoyed our conversation. Always occupying the jury room chair to my right, she’d been a quiet, friendly presence all week, and would only return if one of us was unable to continue.

Another juror I’d chatted up was the Dog Trainer from Arizona. We’d shared, and shared again, our affection for border collies and the Grand Canyon. The Chaplain and I discussed elder care and good places to go for lunch. With the Renegade--the only other man in the group--I’d exchanged knowing nods and nonsensical small talk.

Renegade dressed down, like a biker but more raggedy. Born in Viet Nam, he grew up in Texas, and was now an unemployed Boeing engineer. He had a scruffier beard than my own and bad teeth. Renegade liked to joke around, but his English was so iffy you couldn't be sure you were catching his drift.

By odd coincidence one of the jurors was this same court’s regular Reporter. Her butchness was well turned-out, but her demeanor was initially so forbidding, I was put off. After a couple of days, though, she warmed up, and during our deliberations would become the soul of good-natured calmness. On the very end of the table, lanky Banker’s droll humor and easy-to-listen-to laugh were another plus.  

Good Times
One expensively coiffed woman spoke e-x-t-r-e-m-e-l-y clearly on her Cellphone during each of our jury room respites. In the midst of arranging care for her elderly father, she dutifully kept us apprised as the situation evolved. I occasionally retreated to the tiny men’s room to escape her self-assured loquacity.

On the other hand, the woman next to me Seldom Talked while playing a game on her phone. A short red-faced woman--call her Fireplug--had once owned a yoga studio and, like me, used our breaks to stretch. Curly Blonde and the former dental hygienist with a Stiff walk sat together down at the other end of the table usually engaged in some casual slander of their husbands.  

Shy Woman rounded out our baker’s dozen. As soon as Artist left, someone asked if any of us had ever been on a jury before and Cellphone raised her hand. 

[To be continued.]

Monday, February 17, 2014

CASE NO. 12-X-XX588-X, Part 2

Jury room window, second floor, far right. Imagine the trees
have no leaves, sky is dark grey, rain whipped by wind.
After we saw and heard all the evidence and testimony, our jury was asked to determine how much Defendant owed Plaintiff for non-economic damages suffered as result of head, neck, and lower back injuries caused nearly five years ago by the accident.

Plaintiff was a small, prettier-than-plain woman, seemingly fit but with an unhappy face. We were introduced to her through testimony from:
    • her husband--an inarticulate man preyed upon by defendant’s counsel, 
    • her neighbor and friend--who really hadn’t seen too much of P lately,
    • her mother-in-law--who lamented the loss of P’s former dynamism.
Each agreed that Plaintiff was stoic about pain, had a bad memory and fear of needles. For years she and her husband had worked long hours to build a small-town roofing and recycling business. They had two teenage boys.

Defense made much of Plaintiff’s:
    • visit to a doctor three years before the accident for bad headaches.
    • surgery on a herniated disc six months before the crash.

Plaintiff’s English-chinned counsel countered that these should be seen as small “islands of pain” not connected to the “continent of pain” following the crash, as evidenced by:
    • six pain-free months after the sciatic surgery and before the crash,
    • numerous visits over the four and a half years since the crash to doctors, neurologists, physical and occupational therapists, and chiropractors seeking relief from often excruciating head, neck and/or lower back pain.

“If that is so,” responded Defendant’s lawyer, who looked like a well-dressed jockey, “how do you explain”:
    • a half dozen or so full-range-of-motion tests on her neck during the period since the crash,
    • several many-months-long gaps between treatments,
    • spotty adherence to exercise regimens and use of prescribed medication,
    • varying self-reports of pain, as low as 2 on a scale of 1-10,
    • and the fact that Plaintiff refused emergency room treatment at the time of the accident?

Pretty much.
There were no knockouts in the bout between expert neurologists, though Gravitas for the defense, seemed to have it on points over Earnestness out of Plaintiff’s corner. 

In closing argument, Plaintiff’s counsel helpfully suggested recompense of 80K for past, and 280K for future, pain, distress, inconvenience, quality of life lost, etc. The defense opined 5-30K should cover it. At the same time we were advised that the “law has not furnished us with any fixed standards by which to measure non-economic damages.”

We had a little less than two hours to come up with a verdict, or return after the long weekend for another day at court.

[To be continued.]


Sunday, February 16, 2014

CASE NO. 12-X-XX588-X, Part 1

The past couple of nights I’ve had 3AM mental wrestling matches about the trial that just concluded, feeling that I should have been a better advocate for a more fair resolution than the one our jury reached. It's a feeling I can dismiss in the cold light of day, but it's been stealing into my dreams, waking me up, and keeping me awake.

Nobody said we had to, but we each clipped this badge
over our breast/chest whenever we were in the courtroom.
The opposing sides rested, and we began deliberations two days ago, on Friday--Valentines Day in an unfortunate twist of fate--a little after 4PM. We were told that if we didn’t reach a decision by six we’d need to return next Tuesday. Even though it was the end of a long, trying week, once our discussion began there was a general sense of “let’s try to get it over with now, if we can.” 

The issue was how much money the plaintiff would receive for injuries that may have resulted, in whole or part, when her SUV was hit by defendant’s on-coming car as he was admittedly distracted, and it drifted across the center lane. The accident took place out where suburbs are becoming rural as both parties were performing errands for their children. Good conditions, neither speeding.

For four mind-numbing  days we heard this sad story told in excruciating and conflicting detail. We listened to the parsing and re-parsing of voluminous, inconclusive medical records. For elusive reasons, the two opposing expert witnesses, not surprisingly, disagreed. 

There were long moments during the trial when the only sound was the rustling of pages as one of the lawyers searched through his notes. Defense counsel made numerous objections and highlighted every report that might possibly--possibly!--cast doubt on any aspect of the plaintiff’s claims. Her counsel bloviated shamelessly, casting himself as a plain-spoken advocate for all of us regular folk, whom he vastly misunderstood.

In the courtroom we were the audience, expected to behave, of course, with decorum. Stifle sneezes and yawns. Don’t talk, even whisper, barely move. Morning and afternoon breaks, and many waiting minutes before, and a little after, were spent crowded in the narrow jury room. There wasn't much opportunity to cut loose there, either.

Forbidden to talk about the drama that most obviously united us, we shared hobbies and vocations, mild family dramas, told how tall our kids are, any topic--really--for good natured small talk that ignored an immense elephant in the room. We were a pretty congenial bunch. Ten women and two men. Mario the Bailiff was our lifeline to the court, and we took his irony for comic relief.


[To be continued.]

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Peyote Desert

Yarn fixed on resin applied to foot-square board
Showing off our recently hung print from a local artist made me think of the art we have acquired in Mexico. My favorite works are by Huichol Indian artists from mountainous areas of Jalisco and Nayarit. Their art has a profoundly religious base. 

Huichol return annually to central Mexico to collect peyote for their ceremonies. This yarn "painting" by Cecilio Canillo Bonilla likely represents that mountainous desert region of origin--peyote cactus in foreground. Above and in the background are two shaman’s healing wands, each hung with a pair of eagle feathers. Corn silk rises in the center, just below the sun, centered in what--incongruously--appears to be a night sky.

There is a holy trinity in the Huichol faith. Corn is sustenance, and represents “meaningful work or activity in the present”*. Peyote is revered as “a means of release or escape into a world beyond time and space”*The trio is complete with Deer, not only Lord of the Animals, but the one who brought farming to the people. Deer is shown in the middle of the gourd bowl, below. 

Nowadays, most Huichol art in Yelapa is sold at Cafe Bahia. The artist/vendor humps down every couple of weeks or so from his mountain village by bus to Puerto Vallarta, and then water taxi to Yelapa. He is a small golden-brown man, immaculately--strikingly--dressed in white cotton, camisa and pantalones both beautifully and amply embroidered. What is most notable, though, is a broad-brimmed hat adorned with hanging feathers, more embroidery, a woven beadwork band, red fabric puffballs. 
A sleeping deer with peyote buttons

To show this amazing finery, a few weeks ago I took a picture of the artist, Alesandro, from whom I had purchased this beaded calabasa bowl. Still in Yelapa, while editing on iPhoto, I noticed he was not looking into the lens. I thought of the allegedly primitive people who are said to believe that a camera will steal your soul. Back at my desk in the States, I can no longer find his three images. Now they're some pixel specks lost in an almost infinite digital abyss. 

Stay strong, Huichol man!

Friday, February 7, 2014

Two Farmers

Shapes of differently colored or patterned pieces of
paper are printed and appear to be assembled like a
collage into a seamless whole
To soften our recent landing seventy degrees of coldness away from Mexico, we are pleased to have just hung a multicolored linoleum block print by local artist Mimi Williams. This is an expensive--for our budget--acquisition, but it gives a lot of joy. 

We saw Mimi's fall show at the local library, and every visit were drawn to its two dozen prints. As it came time for the show to end, we agreed to Christmas gift ourselves the one we liked best. Deciding was difficult. We chose this one, entitled “Two Farmers Hit the High Notes.” 

This is what I like and how I feel about the work: First, I see the harmony of shapes, lines and colors. When someone says, "Farmer," I think of a man, but these are both women. Their hands are either raised in praise, or sunk into bringing music from that rock of a piano. A long line of canning jars connects earth to industry. A windmill--its powering vanes are like sunrays. There is a constancy of hillside cows, and a periwinkle streak opens to the heavens. Outdoor spaciousness abounds.

For us, the piece has a wholesome, uplifting, expansive quality. My ears can almost imagine the farmers' high notes carrying over the Palouse hills of eastern Washington. 

Thank you, Mimi, for this fine work of art!

Friday, January 31, 2014

Adios a Paraíso

Gracie, ready to roll
10 AM. Three hours ago I told Ronco, “This moment, fishing with you in the panga, is a memory for me like a treasure; in my city, in the next  week, I think of this moment--the sun, the bay, the fish, and you--my boss.” He laughed, with pleasure, I think. Who wouldn’t?

Two days left and it's already like we're not completely here. Our idyl has become metered--more choices than time. Rather than brood on this scarcity, I'll take my favorite dog for a run over stumps and stones along the path to the point and up to entrada privada of a boutique resort. 

Turkey vulture practicing his moon walk
12 PM. Nothing like popping endorphins in paradise. Add to that an avocado salad and you’ve got something with legs. I'll haul Corona empties up to Tencia’s for the bottle deposit, last shop and village ramble. But no hurry, stop downstairs for a chat with Solana, see if she needs anything from the store.

Pterodactyl-esque Frigate Birds
3 PM. On the balcony, watching the easy pace of Nelson’s work on Siete Trucha project, and adopting the lazy manner of a turkey vulture when my wife harkens to the tweeting call of a black hawk. We trace its location above our near ridge, among aforementioned vultures and similarly sized frigate birds, all wheeling black angles distinct against a baby blue sky.

Unloading river sand from
pack horses 
The frigate bird’s silhouette is scary--resembles a refugee from Jurassic Park. Another distinction: greatest wingspan to body-length ratio of any bird in the world. Nonpareil gliders, but lack the ability to gain altitude from takeoff, so imagine the consequences of that...Breaking news: A two foot skate is caught just off the pier; young boys gather to gingerly release the hook, engage in some experimental cruelty, poke and prod the fish back into surf.

6 PM. Balcony, now in the shade. News flash: two federales in navy blue uniforms, guns holstered and back-slung, stride over little bridge just below us. It’s been several weeks since we last saw them--the only organized law enforcement in our pueblo, must be their biweekly round. Nelson and helper have mixed concrete, fashioned rebar, moved rocks and dug base for Siete Trucha steps. Still working. Time to ready ourselves for taking Ana Rosa and Ronco out to Ray’s for dinner. 

Ray
9 PM. Balcony, after dinner, pangas below at their moorings, bobbing in the surf, night-lit by La Lampa. It's seldom, in my experience, that five more good-natured and fun-loving people have been gathered together, even if we don't all speak the same language. What a fine ending, with the clip-clopping of a late-working pack train adding a distinctive Yelapanese touch to our dinner. Thanks, Ray, for the bacon-wrapped shrimp and cheese-stuffed steak, and Ana Rosa loved your mango margarita.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reviewing Our Local Grocery Stores

"Peedy's" photo-enhanced
Closest tienda to our little place goes by the name of "Peedy’s", near as I can tell a gringo corruption of the owner’s nickname--Pirri (another  of Ronco’s brothers). It’s our 7-11. We go there early or late for beer, bagels, or the canned milk we put in coffee. 

"Peedy's" is too dark to see much that’s on the shelves, and produce bins are often slim pickins, except for fruit flies, but one thing you can count on is a smile from whomever is at the counter. "Peedy's" front stoop is also a local hangout for hombres wanting to kick back a cerveza or three, and BS. 

Next further out is "Teesha’s"--a gringo-ish devolution of Leticia. It’s the spiffiest and best stocked tienda in the pueblo, but also the least friendly. We don’t go there except for the vacuum-packed coffee, and on the rare occasions we want to feel like clumsy foreign buttinskys.

Tencia as La Suprema: she's such a cutup
Our favorite tienda is "Tensha’s"; it’s numero uno mainly because of the ebullient personality of Hortencia, its sort-of eponymous owner. She’s the hoot who, from the time I mistakenly asked for chamomile instead of butter, exuberantly, and educationally, recited, “Manzanilla, mantequilla. Manzanilla, mantequilla, etc,” every time I came in her store...maybe you'd have to be there to appreciate the whimsy, though.

Mexican pinball: without a flipper,
what's the point?
"Tensha’s" is an even more popular hang-out than "Peedy’s". I often see Silverio there playing the Mexican slot machine, and a pinball at the door (without flippers, alas) attracts all genders and ages. Hortencia holds court and pushes the homemade, and the all too frequently sampled-by-me, pies. Plus she's got the lowest price on El Jimador, and best selection of cacahuates in town.

Go Tencia!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Do You Eat Meat?

At this point, I'm cowering next to a concrete pillar, aware that the beast's
right rear hoof is braced for who-knows-what mayhem.
First I hear braying snorts and then see an arresting sight as I StepMaster up a narrow concrete path, so steep it’s corrugated to allow footholds. Not twenty feet ahead and above me a big black, angry steer blocks the way.

Cuidado!” one of the attendant cowboys shouts in warning.

Wannabe bull stiffens and snorts again, more loudly.

I brace myself against a post, eye rusted barbed wire curled below, and calculate chances of escaping injury by jumping down that way (”Is my tetanus shot still up to date?”) instead of standing my ground next to, but unfortunately not behind, the concrete shield. 

Odds not good--better to hope the downhill caballero keeps the rope taut enough to prevent the steer from lunging my direction. 

It’s tense for some minutes. The dogs get involved. We all escape injury.  

As I dart past--as much darting as one can do, going up three feet for every four horizontal--I meet a fellow coming down. He had been delayed by the bullish brouhaha as well.

¿Tu comes carne?--Do you eat meat?” he jokingly asks.

“Si, claro,” I reply.

Ahí está tu cena--There’s dinner.”

Ch-ch-ch-changes


Yelapa students see these values on the face of each low riser as they go up the steps to their school: Love, Respect, Honesty, Equality... Amor, Respeto, Honestidad, Igualidad...

La amistad, el tesoro mas valioso”, or ”Friendship, the most valuable treasure” is inscribed along the base of the pedestal above which the school’s flagpole rises. This value is affirmed and reflected with the many “Hola, amigos” that greet me on village rambles.

Similarly inclusive values are promoted in the words of Benito Juarez that adorn the ledge at a scenic viewpoint above the playa-- ”Respecting the rights of all people leads to peace.” 

I’m sure these same values were reinforced 50 years ago when Ronco and Ana Rosa were attending school, but mostly by family and peers, for they each only had two years in the classroom--first and second grade. 

Not to get all sociological, but we’ve noticed perhaps a consequence of this minimal education among the older residents of the pueblo--verbal distinctions (the hoary “contrast and compare” of my former classroom) leading to strategies of classification are not much practiced. We see a whale on the horizon, point it out, ask “Qué tipo de ballena?”, and are met with a shrug and “Una ballena.”

A tree
The same goes when I ask about a type of tree, certain birds, or even less common fish. 

According to Ana Rosa, who has some feelings about this, higher education, according to her padre, was only for the boys in the family, and then only if they had the wherewithal to send the young man to Puerto Vallarta. Her father probably had the connections to arrange for schooling, and did for her male sibling, but with Ana Rosa was not so inclined.

At our dinner conversation she went on the reflect that the padres in those days a half century ago were generally hard and unsmiling, reflecting the difficulty of their life. That characterization, she and Ronco agreed, does not hold true today. Life is mucho más fácil with technological and sociological advancement, and an uneasy embrace of tourism.

Back in the day, though, if you wanted to schmooze with una amiga, you had to walk the up and down path, skipping over rocks. Today: cell phone. The consequence, of course, of this change in habit as well as diet, is that few are flaco (slender) as everyone was then, and that diabetes is now not at all uncommon. Same old sad song--you see it on Indian reservations back in the States.  Hell, you see it everywhere. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Coconut Palm Poem

El Sol has risen over the near ridge, 
Silhouetting coconut palms 
That each look like a
Lime-colored explosion or 
Stop-motion firework.
Look at it long enough, and
it all starts to shimmy-shake

Stiletto fronds
Swoon at the top 
Of an improbably
Long and slender trunk,
And shiver reflections
Of the morning sun,

Every single palm,
In all its three sixty glory,
Giving a personal shout out
To distinguish itself
From the crumpled quilt of 
Other, more subtle greenery,

And only then
Do you think of the nut. 

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Muy Primitivo and Not

“Night of the Iguana”, the movie, was released 50 years ago. It was filmed near Puerto Vallarta, and the brouhaha surrounding its production is popularly credited with PV’s rapid growth to international vacation destination. For many subsequent years, the movie’s director, John Huston, had a retreat just up the coast from our own little village. 

JH at home
Huston’s pad at Las Caletas, and Yelapa, are both located on Cabo Corrientes, a cape that sticks out into the Pacific Ocean like a big fat thumb. Most of this huge area is one of only a handful of comunidads indigenas in the country, each with legal status like United States Indian reservations. One big difference: unlike in the US, the indigenous people here were never occupied by European conquistadors. Cortes came and then backed off. 

That was 500 years ago. The upshot of this history is that the land here has always been held collectively. 

There is no private ownership of land by anyone, even its indigenous residents, though it is possible for families to occupy and claim land by using or cultivating it, and then by buying and selling it. Outsiders, however, may not buy or claim any land here at all.*

You can imagine the crimp that’s put on development.

As with any long-inhabitated and isolated area, everyone in the Cabo is connected by maybe only 2 or 3 degrees of Kevin Tocino, at most. There are a half dozen prominent families to whom almost all of the habitantes are connected by blood or marriage, or at least claim tenuous relation. With Ana Rosa and Ronco you have a marriage between two branches of the same well-established clan.

Our gracious hosts had us down to dinner last night, making an affectionate big deal over us eating the same pescado I’d caught just that morning. Ana Rosa marinaded the bonito in white wine vinegar and lime, then poached it with tomatoes, onions and peppers. Magnífico

Chillin' like a villain
She also told us stories about life here in the days when they were young and all the movie stars were just discovering sleepy little Puerto Vallarta. That’s when Ronco’s padre was making the day-long trip into PV by rowboat. The bouncing half-hour panga ride today may seem primitive by big city standards, but it’s a huge connectivity leap in fifty years.

Iggy Country
One thing that hasn’t changed since before Christ was a caballero is the primitive lizard that gave rise to Tennessee William’s play and John Huston’s movie. I’d never associated iguanas with their tree-dwelling habit, but there they were in all their scaly, weird-shit glory, this past sábado on my ramble al puente. One of the many friendly locals pointed them out to me and explained that their favorite árbol is the copiously--hazardously--thorned pochote tree. Look at those lizardy suckers--they’re BIG, make Godzilla look like some cheap knockoff! Muy primitivo.

Monday, January 20, 2014

12th Man Report: Tropical Outpost

12th Man gathering Jungle Gods' support 
I had a date with the boys from Spokane to watch the Seahawks/49ers game last night at Gloria’s. After a desultory first half I knew I needed to do something to bring up the energy. I settled with the bar and told the boys I was headed upriver, over the puente to Luis's place--El Manguito. 

As I walked the dark path through the jungle I invoked its primitive, powerful gods to aid my team.

Each of us doing whatever was in our 12th Man hearts, together with Richard Sherman, we got 'er done. Go Hawks!

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Quinceañera at the Casino

Outside the Casino people are having fun
Isis Hanahy had her quinceañera last night and it was a big blowout. Hundreds of people crammed the Casino and more milled on the fringes, drinking, laughing, and running into old friends. Incoming pangas had been crowded all day, bringing guests from PV and beyond. All over the pueblo city-dressed Mexicans were asking for directions. Upriver, even past the puente (bridge), I ran into straggles of offlanders here for the event.

Sr. Garcia--a man who has what my wife calls, "some serious gravitas"--was behind the scenes inside the casino, his presence guaranteeing mucho pesos had been spent. The day before, I’d happened on a moto idling at his casa. Two lockers of carne were being delivered, announced by a chico, holding up by its horns the severed head of a brahma bull, dripping blood on Garcia’s tiled doorstep. 

Party decorations and fancy clothes inside the Casino
When I dropped by the Casino about 10 pm, the meat had yet to be served but cerveza was going by the case. Dozens of long and florally arranged tables occupied half the building; the remaining space was a dance floor. The quinceañera’s court was at a dais, lit by strands of strobing purple lights. Two wall-size screens cycled slides of Isis’s early life, moving quickly to the main event: moist-lip fashion shots shamelessly showcasing her fifteen-year-old pulchritude. 

Music throbbed throughout the pueblo most of the night, increasing in volume for the final round of dances just before first light. This morning there were still stumbling drunks around the muelle, either mumbling or talking too loud, waiting for hangovers to take hold. It'll be a slow day today in old Yelapa-ville.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Back to Quebec

The “sculpture” being admired by Viviana’s madre, a friendly lady I chatted up at the muelle, is actually a functional ornament built of plywood to display exactly 15 cakes for a young lady’s quinceañera. The big blowout celebrating Viviana’s fifteenth birthday was last month. 

The madre (I’ll call her Maria) particularly likes the style of this escultura; it reminds her of a tree, and her casa is set among several distinctive arboles.

Tambien, como un arbol de una familia,” I opined. She graciously agreed, with a smile.

Maria was also attracted to the name of the pastilleria (cakeshop) from which she ordered the pastils y escultura. We agreed it was unusual for being in Puerto Vallarta--”Quebec”.  Like in Canada.

The escultura is purposefully painted brown to allow colorful contrasting ornaments added to the taste of the quinceañera.  “The cakes were all beautiful, and very rich,” Maria reminisced. Now their rented holder is going back to Quebec, via panga.


Thanks to Susan Pasko, local celebrity chef at Cafe Bahia for providing information and sparking my interest in the subject of this post.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Silverio's Gate

Silverio, at his gate (that's a shy turkey vulture in the background, over Silverio's right hombro)
In a complicated scheme to forestall insensitive development, some of the local gringos bought the leasehold on Siete Trucha--Number 7, Trout Way--a beachfront shack across the courtyard from Casa de Ana Rosa. Of course one of the first things you need to do with a new property is secure it, and for that they required a good gate. 

Siete Trucha, with Silverio on the job
Cafe Bahia is right next to Siete Trucha, also owned by Ana Rosa, and for at least a dozen years has been operated by a local celebrity chef, NYC-born, French-trained Susan, one of the environmental defenders mentioned above. All gates at the cafe were made years ago by local craftsman, now emeritus, Silverio. He was called in for the Siete Trucha job as well.

I spoke with Silverio this morning, telling him first, in gringo lingo, “El puerto es muy amable a mis hijos,” which I thought might poetically express, “The gate is very pleasant to my eyes,” but I substituted hijos--sons--for ojos--eyes. Oh well, I’m sure it could have been much worse and at least I communicated friendly intentions. There were a lot more, similarly mangled no doubt, expressions of appreciation I shared, as he kindly assented to a photograph.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Full Moon Out Kitchen Window

La vida es muy buena.

The sea has been rowdy today with extreme tides.

Poor fishing this morning, but took home one nice little bonito filleted by Ronco.

Fixed it for dinner stuffed with garlic, fried in butter. Mmmm.

Good conversation.

Listening to Frank Sinatra singing "My Kind of Town".

Treated to this view cleaning up after cena.

Time to go join my sweetie in la cama.