living in Mexico

Holiday Cooking Challenges

One of the biggest cooking challenges when you live in a foreign country is finding the right ingredients to make the things you did before. Normally it’s not that important to me. Since I moved to Mexico, I do very little cooking. Most of the time, it’s cheaper to eat out – especially for dinner.

When I do cook, however, I often need to be creative in my selection of ingredients. In Mexico they don’t use many ingredients we use north of the border. Likewise, there are many ingredients here that are quite interesting that we never see up north. Very often, I need to find a reasonable substitute.

There’s a supermarket up the street called Super Lake that carries almost anything you are familiar with in the U.S. and Canada. If you insist on using the American brands, you’ll pay a premium.

When it comes to holidays, everyone has their favorite foods. For Thanksgiving and Christmas here, turkeys abound, and spiral hams are popular. There are sweet potatoes and cranberries, string beans, peas, corn, brussel sprouts, packaged stuffing for the turkey, and even pumpkin for pies.

Potatoes, however, are problematic. Most of the year, the only potatoes you can get here make poor mashed potatoes. The first time I made them they turned out like wallpaper paste, and were impossible to clean up afterwards if you let them dry (and even if you didn’t). During this season, we can be thankful that there are a few stores that carry russet potatoes which make a much better version of mashed potatoes.

This year I was invited to a pot-luck Christmas dinner. I decided to bring a modern family favorite. When growing up, mashed yellow turnips were a part of Thanksgiving dinner. My ex and I found a new way to use turnips in the 1993 Thanksgiving issue of Bon Appetit magazine. We discovered a recipe for a root vegetable casserole that combined mashed potatoes, turnips, and parsnip that was a hit – even with people who didn’t like turnips (see the featured picture at the top). It’s been part of Thanksgiving dinner ever since.

Mexican White Turnip called Nabo

Mexican White Turnip called Nabo

I had three challenges in finding the ingredients to make it here. First, I needed to find russet potatoes. Second, there are no yellow turnips here. But at least there is a mild white turnip, called Nabo. Third, there are no parsnips here.

For substitutes, I wanted to get the orange color of the yellow turnips and the spiciness of parsnips. So, I pureed cooked carrots and added ground allspice.

The original recipe ingredients are directly below, and my Mexican version follows. The cooking instructions are basically the same with differences noted.

Root Vegetable Casserole

Original Version

Mexican Version

7 cups canned low-salt chicken broth

3 lbs. russet potato (1.5” pieces)

1.5 lbs. rutabaga (1/2” pieces)

1.25 lbs. parsnip (1.5” pieces)

8 garlic cloves

1 bayleaf

1 tsp. thyme

3 large onion thinly sliced

¾ cup (1.5 sticks) butter at room temperature

Salt and pepper

7 cups canned low-salt chicken broth

1.5 Kilo russet potato (1.5” pieces)

.75 Kilo. Nabo (1/2” pieces)

2 large carrots (diced)

8 garlic cloves

1 bayleaf

1 tsp. thyme

¼ tsp. ground allspice

3 large onion thinly sliced

170 grams butter at room temperature

Salt and pepper

Directions:

Butter 13”x9”x2” glass baking dish

In Mexican version only, put 1.5 cups of chicken broth in a small pot with the carrots. Bring pot to boil, reduce to simmer until carrots are tender. Transfer carrots to a blender and puree. Add remaining broth to large pot below

In a large pot put first 7 ingredients

Bring pot to boil, reduce to simmer until veggies are tender (approx. 30 minutes)

Transfer veggies and pureed carrots to a bowl

Add 1 stick (approx. 100 grams) of butter to bowl

Beat until mashed but not chunky (a Kitchenaid mixer with large paddle works well)

Season mixture with salt and pepper

Melt remaining butter in a large skillet on medium heat.

Saute onions until lightly browned. Reduce heat to medium low and continue for 15 minutes

Season onions with salt and pepper.

Spoon root vegetable mixture into the prepared baking dish and smooth.

Distribute onions evenly over the vegetables

Reheat casserole for 20 minutes before serving

Buen provecho!

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Party in the Streets

Wow! Last night there was a party in Ajijic. It’s a party that happens once a year celebrating the town’s patron saint, San Andres. Raul, a waiter in a restaurant, asked me if I was going. I wasn’t planning on it, but on his suggestion, I wandered on up to the plaza to check it out.

plaza-1-2

ferris-wheel-2

The plaza was alive, teaming with people. Vendors, I had never seen before set up shop around the plaza. Almost every kind of Mexican snack food was available hot dogs hamburgers, tacos, tamales, peanuts, garbanzos, cut up fruits and cooked vegetable, cookies, cakes, ice cream, beer, soda, tequila.

The noise was deafening. Amusement rides blocked Calle Colon, and loud speakers boomed carnival music. Bands played on a big stage and on every corner, as well as in the restaurants –  mariachis, bandas, and even folk musicians. After I left, I know there would be firecrackers in the church courtyard. No Mexican fiesta would be complete without them!

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Moms and dads held their children’s hands, carried babies, and pushed strollers. Lovers also held hands and danced to the music. The restaurants and food stands were full, and hundred just sat and walked around socializing.

When I first arrived in Ajijic two years ago, I lived within walking distance of the plaza. I attended my first San Andres and wrote about it here. Although I couldn’t capture the sound, which is half the experience of being there, I took a few photos to share.

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Counting Nickels, Dimes, and Library Fines

Rules.

Every organization has them. No bureaucrat ever lost their job for obeying the rules…no matter how absurd or stupid. Rules exist so bureaucrats and other petty functionaries never have to make a decision that could cost them their job.

Most bureaucrats don’t need to think. Everything they need to do their job is buried somewhere in a law or regulation.

So what happens to your average bureaucrat when you ask them to…GASP…think?

In most circumstances, it’s not very pretty.

Think about the U.S. and what a mess it’s in. The largest growing segment of the U.S. economy for the last 8+ years has been government. That means the U.S. has been hiring more bureaucrats than at any time in its history. In that same time, it’s promulgated 10s of thousands of new arcane regulations.

In addition, for the last 40+ years, the country has invested trillions of dollars in its education system to teach people “critical thinking” skills. More and more, these graduates with supposed “critical thinking” skills are winding up employed as bureaucrats where thinking is not required. Does anyone see a problem here?

But I digress too much.

Several absurd events happened in the past several weeks that have pointed out the silliness of some rules and not thinking through whether the consequences of them achieve the desired result. This absurdity didn’t happen at the hands of a government or corporate bureaucracy. Rather, by the rules and actions of a small local organization here at Lakeside that many hold near and dear to their hearts – The Lake Chapala Society (LCS).

Don’t get me wrong here. I’m a card-carrying member (which you must carry to participate in some of its programs). In fact, LCS membership is so guarded that, to get a membership directory, you need to be cross-referenced in two computer systems which don’t talk to each other (in 2016!), and sign over a portion of the inheritance you planned to give to your children.

That said, in jest of course, I gladly pay my dues and member discounted fees to participate in LCS activities.

So what brought me to the point of trashing a fine organization that makes a positive contribution to the community, and helps Mexicans and expats alike?

Bureaucracy!

Today I went to LCS to purchase a ticket for an event at the member-discounted price of 100 pesos (about $US5.00). That seemed like an easy enough thing to do.

After filling out the requisite and redundant paperwork, I handed the lovely woman, in her eighties, behind the desk, 100 pesos for my ticket, and my “never-leave-home-without-it” LCS membership card. She took my card, and accessed the computer screen in front of her to see if I was “legal.”

“You owe us money,” she said blankly, never taking her eyes off the screen.

“What’s it for, and how much is it?” I asked her.

Calling to a man at another computer on the other side of the room, and obviously on another computer system, she asked, “Can you find out how much this man owes?”

“He owes 4 pesos for overdue books,” came the retort.

Looking up at me she said, “You’ll have to pay that fine before I can give you a ticket.”

I smiled in incredulity and asked, “Can I pay you?”

“Oh no,” she said, “you need to pay at the library.”

I was still smiling and took in the absurdity of the situation. She was only a good little bureaucrat and doing her job. She wasn’t trained to tell me to make sure I pay my fine the next time I take out a book. Even the library in my old home town didn’t start enforcing fines until you owed $US5.00.

After visiting the library where they salivated over my 4 pesos, I returned to get my ticket, spirits intact and smiling all the way.

So, take this in: I want to give LCS 100 pesos and they won’t take it until I pay a 4 peso fine. Did it ever occur to the powers-that-be at LCS that I could have just as well said F-U and walked out with 104 pesos still in my pocket and not theirs.

I’m an LCS member, and I needed to jump through hoops to get a 50 peso discount. It took 10 minutes, and the people behind me were probably getting annoyed. I needed to fill out a paper form, have my name cross-referenced in two databases, walk to the adjoining building to pay a fine, and get back on line to be cross-referenced again.

It was almost as bad a going to the Registry of Motor Vehicles!

If I were a non member, I could have walked in, paid 150 pesos, gotten a ticket, and walked out – no questions asked. It’s a good thing I wasn’t renewing my membership at the same time. I could have spent the whole day there.

But Mexico has co-opted me to be patient with all kinds of bullshit. I just don’t expect this kind of BS from an organization that’s run, for the most part, by North Americans, and many of whom are well-aware of the changes in technology that have taken place in the last few decades.

Directories and library fines, however, aren’t the only things at LCS that keep me shaking my head. It seems that every week they devise some new silliness to confound members and stick it to non-members.

I recently went to a singles function at LCS. In their wisdom, they decided to charge non-members 20 pesos to attend. I suppose the idea was to demonstrate the benefits of having a membership: you get in free!

However, once you got in, drinks were 2-for-1. So, for 20 pesos, you could get a free drink that costed 30-50 pesos depending on your preference. Now 20 pesos (about $US1.25) isn’t going to break anyone. But it’s not going to give anyone an incentive to join the organization either.

I suggested that instead of charging an entrance fee, they only allow members to get the 2-for-1 special. I know a lot of non-members who might be enticed to join with the promise of a free drink at every LCS event.

Then there’s the silliness of the Open Games group that meets on Monday afternoon from 1-4. It’s closed to non-LCS members from 1-2. What secret things happen between 1 and 2? I know many people that participate in that group, and I’m sure that no one is checking IDs at the door. So why exclude anyone?

Then there are computer classes that require Internet access. I took one to learn how to use my new Android tablet (BTW only open to LCS members). LCS’s computer systems and Internet capabilities are so antiquated that everyone in the class couldn’t get Internet access, including the teacher, who happens to be on the Board of Directors, at one point.

This brings me to the point that the computer system there never seems to improve, causing frustration to staff and users, and inconvenience to members. LCS’s systems don’t talk with each other. I have a feeling one speaks English and the other speaks Spanish. So that simple transactions take multiple entries into multiple systems. I can’t imagine the errors that are occurring every day, especially with a volunteer workforce.

When you go to some restaurants or Walmart, you get a detailed receipt after you’ve paid… from a cash register. Not at LCS. There, in the second decade of the 21st century, most transactions are done on paper. There are separate cash boxes for everything: newspapers, membership, library fines, tickets, etc.

I’m sure the members of the board of directors have heard of cash registers. Just think how easy it would make everything to put all the cash in a $US50 cash register and, just like Walmart, itemize each transaction when entered. Then staff could run a report at the end of the day that tells them how much was sold in each category. Maybe they could spring for a slightly more expensive system that actually interfaces with their accounting system.

Ah, but, you can see the problem with that: the computer systems don’t talk with each other; how are they going to talk with a cash register? Especially when it’s probably built in Korea and speaks Korean!

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Getting Attention Mexican-Style

…Or how I spent my Sunday afternoon.

So we’re cruising along somewhere about an hour north of Puerto Vallarta at 65 mph. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon. The traffic was moving along nicely. We were returning from a wonderful three days respite living at the beach in PV, and the conversation in the car was lively.

All of a sudden I was jamming on the breaks. A long line of cars and buses is stopped ahead. We started asking ourselves the obvious questions. What could the problem be: was there an accident, a broken down car; how long was the back-up

Little did we know that five miles up the road, a small Mexican town was protesting the disappearance of one of its own a week earlier. More succinctly, they were protesting the lack of response from local officials and police. How does one get attention of the police? They blocked the main highway that carries traffic to and from Puerto Vallarta.

Apparently, this is how small towns and indigenous people get attention when the police and politicians ignore them. I have a friend who has spent a bit of time in Chiapas, which is a state in southern Mexico where the indigenous peoples were in open revolt against the Mexican government. She says things have recently gotten dicey there because promises made haven’t been filled. Randomly blocking major highways is a favorite attention-getting tactic.

These blockages are different from the publicized gang roadblocks and shakedowns in several Mexican states. Gang shakedowns are one of the reasons why the U.S. State Department warns against travel in several areas of Mexico, and travel at night, in general.

According to an article on a local website, the “manifestacion” we came across started at 9 am, and we stumbled upon it around 2 pm. Apparently the demonstrations attracted the Federales, state police, and the local constabulary.

We dutifully waited our car with the air conditioning running for a half hour. Cars started turning around. As each car turned around, we inched up a little more.

For us turning around was not really a good option. There really was no alternative route. We would have had to travel an hour back to the turn-off for the carraterra libre (free road). Once word spread (I don’t/can’t listen to local traffic reports), that road would be no piece of cake either. In another 70+/- kms, we would be cruising on 4-lane toll road. We’d take our chances.

My friend was getting a little antsy, so she decided to take a walk in search of an answer to the question going through everyone’s mind: “What’s going on?”

She disappeared down the hill, walking along the line of busses and cars that snaked around the curve ahead. Fifteen minutes later she arrived back with at least three rumors of why the back-up existed – one of which was the real reason. Who was kidnapped, however, wasn’t exactly clear. Some people reported it was the village’s mayor. Other rumors circulated that there were narcos in the village and the police were disarming the villagers, or having a shoot-out. We saw some firepower pass us in the other lane, but it was unclear whether they were good guys or bad guys.

Now this may sound a little scary, but truthfully it was a pain in the ass. It wasn’t how I expected to spend Sunday afternoon, watching men and children pee on the side of the road (I don’t know what the women did), families pick mangoes from roadside trees, and twenty-somethings break out 6-packs of beer and have a picnic. Thank God the bugs were taking a siesta.

Finally, about two hours after becoming entrapped, the line started to move – steadily. As the police waved us by the lane they cleared among the demonstrators, you can see what we saw in this article’s pictures.

As we drove by, my friend took a few photos. “Stop,” she pleaded. “I want to get some more pictures.”

“Are you kidding,” I answered. I could just imagine what the police would think of a car with U.S. plates stopping, and a gringa jumping out and snapping pictures.

The rest of trip was uneventful until we got onto the Guadalajara – Chapala highway. We were almost home, encountered a major downpour. Once again, traffic ground to halt. About one kilometer before the airport, a tree was knocked down on top of a hapless VW, blocking two lanes. 9 hours after leaving PV we arrive back in Ajijic, a trip that should have taken no more than 51/2-6 hours.

Postscript: It was a good that we didn’t turn around and take the free road from PV. When the toll road ends it merges with the free road just before Guadalajara. The free road was backed up as far as we could see.

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Small Town – Small Minds: Epilogue

OMG! Everybody’s talking about my article.

About a month ago, a local magazine called Ojo del Lago, published one of my blog posts, “Small Town – Small Minds –Being Single at Lakeside” in its April issue (page 18). Since then, the reaction I’ve received is worth sharing.

I first read the post at a meeting of the Ajijic Writers Group. As I read it, I could hear chuckles and an occasional laugh. When I finished, the group clapped and numerous people gave me a thumbs. One person commented that I had “nailed” it…It being the state of senior dating in our small community. That wasn’t the only time I was told that I had “nailed” it. A married member of the group told me that the rumor situation is no different for married couples.

The editor of the magazine and one of the founders of the Writers Group, Alex Grattan, asked me if he could publish it. I agreed, but had some reservations. The post was personal, and I knew it would hit a nerve with Ojo’s audience. It did. As I learned later, I had described a common feeling among many of the singles at Lakeside.

A few days before the print version was published the online version  of the magazine went live. On April 3, I posted the story to my blog. Simultaneously, and unbeknownst to me, someone linked to another of my blog posts, “25 Reasons Not to Retire to Lake Chapala,” on the Facebook page of a group called Focus on Mexico. That group promotes moving to the Lake Chapala area, and runs informative “discovery” group tours.

It seems as though, the Facebook post got shared quite a bit, giving more exposure to this blog and the “Small Towns” blog post.” In fact that Facebook post resulted in the most views this blog has received in one day – 486 viewers and 692 page views! Over a four-day period, this blog had more than 1200 page views. A big THANK YOU goes out to whoever posted the link on Facebook.

The article has caused a bit of a stir in this sleepy town. It was viewed almost 900 times on Ojo’s website. It’s been the subject of many conversations in the plaza. Someone came up to me and said, “You had to have big cajones to write that.” I replied that it didn’t take any cajones to write the post, but I knew I was taking a chance in letting it be published in Ojo. This is a small town, after all.

I’ve had strangers walk up to me on the street and ask, “Are you the guy who wrote that article on being single?” Not sure whether I should put up my guard, the reaction was invariably something like: “You nailed it!”

Here’s a few of the comments I’ve received:

“Thank you for writing the article.”

“Someone needed to say that.”

“I’ve felt that it was me you were describing.”

However, not everyone was a cheerleader. One online commenter completely missed the point of the article, and made assumptions about my emotional fragility and sex life, and thought I was paranoid and should see a therapist. The article was an observation of behavior of many people here at Lakeside. It was meant to expose and poke fun at the busy-bodies here. I decided to write it after multiple instances of discovering I had been the subject of baseless rumors. There’s no paranoia involved. I don’t look over my shoulder and stay up wondering about who’s talking about me, and I clearly state that I don’t care what they say.

For the single people here, the article struck close to home. A lot of people have been “victims” of the whispering busy-bodies, and have felt their nosy eyes upon them – trying to judge. While I still claim, the rumor mills make it difficult for some insecure people to date, the overwhelming majority of people told me that they don’t care; that they just ignore the watching eyes.

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Gringo Gripes

My 6th grade teacher, Mr. Motz, had me pegged early. I was the kind of student teachers loved to hate.

“You’re a chronic complainer,” he complained, in frustration, as I posed a trying question.

That trait followed me throughout much of my life. It’s no wonder that one of my favorite non-fiction writers is Bill Bryson, some of whose witty observations I’ve interpreted as chronic complaining. So I feel that I’m eminently qualified to comment on those who “doth protest too much.”

However, since I’ve moved here, I’m learning to stop complaining – a recovering chronic complainer, so to speak. So it’s ironic that, in this blog post, I’m complaining about complainers.

I live in a beautiful place in Mexico with beautiful weather among beautiful people. Bright blue skies reflect off the largest lake in Mexico. Verdant hillsides and mountains rim its shores. Sunsets turn the skies into brilliant colors that make way for incredible star-filled nights. The cost of living here is a fraction of the cost in the U.S. and Canada. Many Gringos live a lifestyle they could only dream about up north.

So what’s the problem, folks?

It seems even this idyllic setting can’t deter the “nabobs of negativity,” to quote a former vice president. They are the chronic complainers for whom nothing will make them happy; the people for whom the glass is always half-empty.

I’ve discovered in my ripe old age that it’s fruitless to complain about things you can’t change, and that we need to sift through a lot of noise in our lives to understand what’s really important.

When people decide to move to Mexico, it might be prudent if they understand that Mexico is different than the U.S. and Canada, and Mexicans are culturally different from gringos. They should also understand that their expectations need to be adjusted. The concept of “mañana” is real in Mexico. And, not to be confused with the Castellano Spanish translation, in this part of Mexico, the word “ahorita” doesn’t mean “right now.” It means “whenever I get to it.”

Tradesman Troubles

Why Americans get upset when a Mexican tradesman shows up two hours late or maybe “manana” is beyond me. Have they forgotten about dealing with repairmen up north?

“Someone will be there between 8 am and noon,” is a common refrain one experiences from a customer service representative up north. Never mind that you need to be at work. Customer service is at the convenience of the provider, not the customer.

I have a friend who moved back up north, bought a house, needed to make some renovations, and had horrendous problems dealing with one of the largest home improvement chains:

  • workmen that didn’t show up;
  • substitution, without notifying the customer, for parts specified in the contract;
  • sloppy work that needed to be re-done;
  • estimates and work orders written without checking for required building code modifications.

These problems sound strikingly similar to the typical gringo complaints about repairs and construction down here.

And if the gringo is building a house, forget it! The complaints of delays are endless. The house was promised at the end of June, and the owners are still waiting to take possession…in December. Week after week the Jalisco concept of “ahorita’ becomes all too real as excuses from the contactor pile up and deposits made in good faith disappear.

Wait a minute!

After listening to my gringo friends complaining about their architects, contractors, and sub-contractors, I begin to realize why all those Mexicans head north to the U.S…

They’re learning how to become tradesmen and building contractors!

Enduring the Mexican Dining Experience

Then there are the restaurant complainers, unaccustomed to the leisurely Mexican dining experience…or unwilling to relax and get used to it. It’s not unusual to wait awhile before the waitress finishes texting her boyfriend, to not have water served without asking, to have everyone at the table served on a different day of the week, and when you’re served to not have silverware to eat it with, to wait hours to get your check, and hours to get the change.

For gringo grannies, the frustration can be overwhelming. Their 9 o’clock bedtime is rapidly approaching, and driving at night can be tricky.

Hey, I’m in Mexico, in a beautiful place with beautiful weather among beautiful people. Relax. Rest assured, at the end of the evening you’ll go home sated – better fed than some of the children a few doors down the street.

I have a good friend who brings a gringo attitude with him every time he goes out to eat. I get a distinct feeling that the servers see him coming and pray that he doesn’t sit at one of their tables. Is that the way we want our Mexican hosts to see us?

Yes, we can get frustrated, annoyed, pissed off, and even angry as we observe our hosts doing things in ways we wouldn’t (but often do) tolerate up north.

If you want a U.S. or Canadian dining experience, go back up north. Or just shut up, sit back and marvel that things work as well as they do. The children of the gardeners and maids who tend your houses for $US3.00 an hour would probably wait all day to get a meal similar to the one you’re complaining about.

I’ve always thought about what the Mexicans think about many of the gringo gripers who’ve invaded their community. The Mexican people here are amazingly patient, welcoming, and outwardly uncomplaining. I’m sure the servers, maids, gardeners, and tradesmen take home a million gripes about your interactions with them. And I’m sure that the stories told in the Mexican bars are priceless.

But you’ll never hear them.

So why not just…quitcherbitchin’.

Small Town – Small Minds: Being Single at Lakeside

Sometimes I feel like I’m back in high school.

I’m pretty much retired, and traded-in life in a large metropolitan area for life in an area of Mexico where thousands of retired expats have made their homes. It’s a small town. Rumors, the business of small towns, run rampant.

It’s a town where too many retired busy-bodies have too much time on their hands. They’ve exchanged the water cooler for long lunches where they can make small talk and conjure the latest “have-you-heard” stories.

Many of us here are single, and are often the subjects of nasty rumors and undeserved insinuations.

I like to go out in the evening and dance. I have lots of female friends, with whom I like to talk. Every once in a while, I even have a date where we go for dinner. So, people often see me with different women or at places where some of us single retirees hang-out.

It seems that being seen with different women is a cause for concern among the chatterers. Likewise, women who are seen with different men or go alone to places where single men hang out, are also the subject of rumor mongerers – male and female.

And when a couple is seen together more than two times, it’s often assumed that they’re – say it’s not so – sleeping together.

Maybe some of us scandalous singles are actually looking for a relationship whether it be companionship or sexual or both. Some of us might be considered serial daters.

Those of us who have been married before remember what it was like before we got married. We’re reminded how difficult it was to find the right person – how many dates we churned through before we settled down. So how, I might ask, are we to find a relationship if we don’t date?

In my short tenure in this small community, I’ve been the subject of rumors that I didn’t know were being passed around started by people I don’t know. Occasionally I meet someone who tells me, “I’ve heard about you. You date a lot of women,” to which I usually reply, “What do you know that I don’t?” And besides, what’s the big deal if I do?

I’ve heard rumors from female friends about other guys that aren’t true. Please tell me, for example, how a guy who hasn’t had a date for six months, and hasn’t slept with a woman for over a year can get a bad reputation?

As we all know, women also suffer from ugly rumors that small, idle, minds like to foster. In this town, the chatter usually takes the following forms:

  • She’s just looking for a guy with money
  • She’s sleeping with everyone in town
  • She likes young Mexican guys
  • She only hangs out with gay guys

Most people, including me, who become the subject of rumors just shrug them off. It does become annoying, however, when I meet someone new and interesting, and she immediately says “I’ve heard about you.” Or, after a first date, one of her friends, whom I’ve never met, has whispered in her ear about what a terrible person I am and she doesn’t want to go out again. Hmmm.

Now, I’ve talked with many single retirees here that have given up on dating and consequently sex. For them, there’s a store in town that caters to their sexual needs. Sex on-demand is available – no questions asked – as long as you have a supply of batteries or there’s no electrical outage. And many of the married among us have long ago retired to separate bedrooms. Maybe it’s just hormonal changes that come with getting older. Maybe it’s due to a lack of confidence because of erectile dysfunction or bodies that don’t look nice anymore when facing the mirror.

A psychologist friend who recently moved here remarked how sad it was that so many people looking for companionship and connection, at this time in their life, are afraid to act. We all want to be socially accepted. But the small-minded jerks, make it difficult for the insecure to be who they are and who they want to be.

Maybe the chatterers live their lives in bitter frustration. Maybe they’re just bored. And, maybe they’re just not nice people.

I guess if I want to meet a woman for coffee, have a glass of wine, or go out to dinner, the two of us will have to dodge the daggers. Maybe even ruin our reputations. And heaven forbid we should be seen together more than two times. They might accuse us of doing…what they did in the 1960s.

But there are some of us who are alive-and-kicking. And while we’re out having fun, the busy-bodies can go fuck themselves.

This isn’t high school anymore.

Delivering the Mail

It’s one of the wonders of the world that the mail gets delivered in Mexico. I’m always amazed when a letter, usually a bill, arrives in my buzon, mailbox. How it found its way is one of those logistical secrets that postmasters, the world over, must keep to themselves.

The problems involved with delivering the mail to the right address aren’t particular to Mexico. Vacationers to third world countries, and even places like Italy, frequently arrive home before their air-mailed postcards – even if the sender takes a slow boat from China.

Out of sequence house numbers complicate the delivery of mail

Out of sequence house numbers complicate the delivery of mail

There was a small problem for many expats in Mexico last fall when the Mexican government decided to sit on thousands of letters mailed from the U.S. containing checks, bills, important papers, and who knows what else. Was it a protest? Donald Trump hadn’t even declared his candidacy yet.

I’m regularly treated to letters mailed to a Chapala address 5 miles down the road. I think some clerk somewhere in the system, slipped it into my mailman’s parcel as a test, or maybe a joke, to see if he could deliver it to the correct address. Well, the guy on my route was having none of it. He knows that if he doesn’t recognize the recipient, he just stuffs it in the gringo’s mailbox.

The first time this happened, I circled the address and put it back into the mailbox so it was sticking out. This is what I’d do in the states so the letter carrier would see it and hopefully correct the situation.

The problem here is that there’s very little mail. Even when I lived in Ajijic, my landlady got very little mail, and most of it was addressed to the wrong address anyway. The only mail I get that’s addressed correctly is the Telmex bill. They know how to get paid.

So, when I stuffed the misaddressed envelope back into the box, it sat there for almost two weeks. I’m sure the mailman was confused because he never picked it up. Instead, some enterprising kid in the neighborhood ripped it up, and did what I guiltily couldn’t do – send it to the big dead letter trash heap in the sky.

The post office in Ajijic with mail delivery motorcycles parked outside

The post office in Ajijic with mail delivery motorcycles parked outside

The next time it happened, I decided to take the letter to the post office. I pointed out the mistake, hoping the clerk would be able to rectify the situation. He looked at me disbelievingly, shrugging his shoulders. I knew he was thinking, “What do you want me to do with it?” And, then he threw it in a box – obviously the dead letter trash heap.

Now, you may have noticed that I’ve been referring to the PC incorrect term “mailman.” I guess technically and appropriately they are “letter carriers.” But here in Mexico, all the ones I’ve seen are young men. They zip around town on motorcycles with little boxes on the back that look a lot like the delivery cycles from Domino’s Pizza or Pollo Feliz. They’d never work for the crusty old-timers who delivered the mail in my old home town. And they wouldn’t do well in the snow either. They would, however, save gas.

Considering the state of the street numbering system here, I do have to give the mailmen a lot of credit. It wasn’t designed with any rationality. You see one block on a street might be numbered 201-250 and the next block 18-42. Or even better, two houses next to each other with numbers sometimes hundreds of numbers apart. The photo above was the inspiration for this blog post. As I sat in the car waiting for a friend to pick up her dog at the groomer (#31 on the left), I noticed the neighbors on either side had numbers in the eighties.

When someone builds a house here or subdivides a property they must refer to a random number generator or maybe a pair of dice or maybe an astrological chart to get a house number.

This numbers game makes it a challenge when you’re invited to someone’s house for the first time. Before I had my car here, I remember walking up and down a street for a half hour looking for a house in Riberas. As I approached the end of a block, I would think I was getting close, only to find that the numbers changed dramatically on the next block.

All this confusion must provide amusement for the locals, and an occasional interesting surprise in the mailbox.

My 6 Favorite Posts and More

I’ve been writing this blog for a year. In the past year, I’ve posted 50 times. This post, my 51st, is taking a short break from my road trip series to share my favorites. I’ll re-commence my road trip on Tuesday.

First, I want to thank all the people who found my postings worthy enough to gain your “followship,” as well as all those who have left comments. I’m not the most timely responder, and will need to do a better job in the coming year. And, I appreciate any and everyone who has taken the time to stop by and read what I have to say.

There’s are some great posts buried in the archives, and If you are newcomer and are enjoying “Retired ‘n’ Single Blog,” you might never discover some of my favorites from ‘way back when. Here are the six I had the most fun writing (in no particular order):

Of Spiders, Dogs, and other Pets
Everybody who reads this post has a good chuckle before they’re finished. It prompted my ex-wife to comment that she thought I was losing my mind. Epilogue: Fred was so overtaken by his fame and loss of anonymity that he just left town one day never to be seen again.

Cat Woman
The Cat Woman is still up to her old tricks. Since it gets dark earlier, you can’t see her. But you can hear the sprinkle of Kitty Kibble as it lands on the roof, and a bevy of feasting felines scrambles for their dinner.

Up or Down?: Ruminating on Toilet Seats
Either you love this one or you hate it. Regardless, and despite risking alienation of the fairer sex, I had a good time writing it.

How to Launder Money
All in good fun! You can’t help but thinking what some spy at the IRS thought when the agency’s Web crawlers found this tongue-in-cheek “how-to” post.

25 Reasons Not to Retire to Lake Chapala
There are so many reasons why Lake Chapala is a great place to live. This blog post looks at 25 of them from the viewpoint of the glass being half-full. Bah humbug!

How I Survived the “Blizzard of 2015”
I had a lot of fun poking fun at the “hardships” up north in Boston. And this January storm was just the beginning! Reality struck home when I returned north 6 weeks later and reported my findings in “Changes in Latitudes…”

The blog post with the most views is a recent one, “Road Trip 1: Am I Crazy.” It was the first post after a long hiatus. I didn’t realize there was such a pent-up demand. I might have to take more long breaks to get my readership up!

It seems like a lot of people like when I post about food. Mexico is a very interesting place to discover amazing foods. If you’re adventurous, there are all sorts of tempting discoveries hidden in the shops, markets, and little restaurants here. As someone who likes to “play” in the kitchen, I’ve also shared some of my experiments, including recipes. Here are some food posts you might like:

⇒  Dinner from the Dredges of the Refrigerator (recipe included)
⇒  When the World Gives you Mushrooms (recipe included)
⇒  Beer and Tomato Juice
⇒  Feet, Ears, Skin – Tostadas Revisited
⇒  Wednesday Lunch – Tacos at The Tianguis (still my favorite Wednesday lunch)
⇒  Tostadas: Taming the Mess

Please let me know which of my posts were your favorites?

Playing with Fire at a Paper Balloon Festival

One thing I’ve learned since being here is that Mexicans love a party. And if fire and fireworks are involved, it’s all the more fun. So, what better way is there to spend a Saturday afternoon than to watch Mexicans (and Gringos too) send incendiary devices high into the sky.

I wrote about Mexican pyrotechnics in a previous post.

Last Saturday was a “just for fun” paper balloon festival known simply as “Globos.” Teams and individuals, from teenagers to retirees, construct balloons of all shapes and sizes made from tissue paper.

As with regular hot air balloons, the paper ones require a heat source to fill them and lift them off the ground. I saw groups using everything from blow torches to kerosene pots to fill them.

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The next trick is to get and keep them aloft. That’s where the real challenge, fun, and danger comes in. The balloons I saw had a wire harness defining the opening at the bottom of the balloon with a place for the fuel. Once the balloon was filled, a rag, soaked in kerosene, was put in the harness, and a person with a cigarette lighter ignited it. When enough heat had accumulated inside, the balloon “might” then lift off.

You have to imagine a soccer field of people partying, and teams of balloonists wherever they could find the space to assemble their handiworks and launch them. Sometimes the balloons didn’t make it, rising 15-20 feet before they became engulfed in flames, dropping burning paper and flaming kerosene soaked rags into the scattering throngs below. Sometimes the balloons would reach several hundred feet before a gust of wind would knock them over and they’d catch on fire. The burning mass would fall…who knows where.

Balloons_12I sat watching this spectacle, sipping a beer, while young kids chased each other with cans of flammable spray foam.

I imagined this happening in my home town back in the states. They banned those spray cans because some enterprising teenagers figured out another use for them…and don’t mean sniffing them. In my town, the field would be roped off. People watching would be at least a quarter mile away, and the fire department would be there in full regalia…just in case. Oh yes, you’d have to be 18 or older to participate – maybe even 21

Come to think of it, my old home town might like a paper balloon festival. I would fit in with its Independence Day celebration. Someone convinced the Fire Chief that it’s a good idea to store several tons of explosives, called fireworks, in front of the high school – and set them off – with thousands of people watching. Maybe he can be convinced to let the townspeople launch kerosene filled balloons over the town.

After the fireworks celebration, of course.