Category Archives: Inspired

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The Aftermath

Um

A group of heavy black howler monkeys clustered on the roof of the opera house. Their growling and grunting had suddenly stopped, and an eerie silence seeped into the air. In the plaza below, a lone human stood among the bursting saplings and greenery, its exuberant jungle energy straining against paving stones and inexorably buckling concrete and asphalt.

The facade of the once-great cultural monument inaugurated to great fanfare in 1897 with money from wealthy rubber barons in what was then to be the most important urban center in the region, and for many decades afterward, the gateway to the Brazilian Amazon, was now a scene reminiscent of one of the darker chapters of Edgar H. Sullivan’s literary masterpiece The Lost Civilizations. Bright green vines snaked wildly across tiled floors and reached up to strangle pillars and columns, filling in arches. Here and there, the stained glass had broken where a branch had poked through a window and at night, fruit bats swarmed out into the cool, moist air, to hunt for insects in the abandoned mass of glass and concrete that was once Manaus.

Back in the plaza, the man – the human the apes had noticed, was a man – stood marveling at the steaming mass of plants that were obviously thriving thanks to a lengthy absence of human feet. Of the famous Abertura dos Portos monument placed in the middle of this space, only the outstretched arm of a bronze woman holding a torch – upon which now perched an indifferent black vulture – could be seen through the tangle of green. The undulating, epilepsy-inducing black and white tile plaza floor was buried under decomposing leaves and marching ants. The scene was peaceful yet somehow menacing at the same time.

The man wiped his forehead and, swinging the machete, began to hack his way towards what used to be the grand staircase leading up to the entrance of the grand building.

He had always wanted to go to the theater and this seemed a good a time as any, he thought with a smile.

Dois

The machete rang as it hit rock. Or was it concrete? Hard to tell. He was at the stairs now and what his machete had struck was the railing. Behind it, he could make out a pink-colored stone wall, now barely visible under a fuzzy green layer of moss.

The howlers began growling, their grunts and groans turning into one long roar that echoed off the San Sebastian church and the other buildings around the theater. The man, continuing his struggle up the stairs and swinging his machete back and forth, was not at all put off by their vocal expression of territorial indignation. He, just as the monkeys had seen men before, had been around howlers before, back in the day, in the jungle, but never had he been part of one of those organ-harvesting expeditions so popular in the decades following the pandemic.

As he forced his way upwards with some difficulty, the monkeys overhead again fell silent and focused their attention on this unwelcome intruder. They had seen men before of course, in the jungle; heard the boom of their weapons and had seen their companions drop out of the trees like ripe fruit, lying motionless on the jungle floor. Those men would sometimes cut them then, the fresh red blood pooling on the jungle floor as they removed some still-warm vital organ and placed it in a rectangular box with a lid, a white cross painted on its side.

At that time, extracting organs from certain apes was western medicine’s last gasp in its attempt to find a potential cure for the latest virus attack upon humanity. In Brazil – the last country on earth that had any great amount of the ape’s natural habitat thanks to an ambitious conservation program implemented in 2021 by the Instituto Jair Bolsonaro de Pesquisas Médicas – organ harvesting became a frenzy, and from the southern forests of Rio Grande do Sul to the northern jungles of Pará and Amazonas, government medical brigades spread out in all directions to collect the freshest possible organs to bring back to their labs. Brasilia assured the world that a cure was imminent and the world waited; watching, expectant, and increasingly desperate.

And so, Brazil – through it’s unwitting and quickly shrinking ape population – had been humanity’s last hope.

Tragically, in spite of the unwilling sacrifices forced upon thousands of howlers, capuchins and even marmosets; no viable cure was obtained and the world of humans – the much-celebrated species homo sapiens – began to crumble.

On the Road, Again

UPDATE: Please also read the tragic update, below, written just one day after publishing this.

We are all getting back into the swing of things with a sigh of relief at being “let out” and also a bit of apprehension as this virus is nowhere near controlled just yet. (at the time of this writing Mexico has not reached anything resembling a plateau or flattening of the curve) But, we can now order alcohol again (home delivery only) and move about more freely. More stores are open, not just grocery and OXXO either. Roadblocks are fewer and far between and so, traffic is on the upswing as well.

In much of the peninsula outside the main urban areas, there has been little to no traffic with access to many a small town restricted. Now, with these impediments removed, vehicles are once again returning to the highways of the Yucatan. This will lead to the inevitable death of many birds and other creatures who have quickly become accustomed to the lack of human activity and have ventured out from their forest homes to inspect the open and asphalted areas that are perfect for picking off insects and other small natural food items.

All manner of animals have been spotted around the peninsula, from crocodiles and deer to even a jaguar at an empty Bahia Principe hotel, near Akumal. And maybe it’s just me, but there seem to be so many more birds around than before.

Just this week, on a drive back from the village of Telchaquillo, I came across a flash of bright orange on the highway and pulled over to have a look. It was a yuya, which is a kind of local oriole, very beautiful with the typical orange, yellow and black plumage that was lying, motionless, next to another bird that had obviously been hammered by a vehicle at high speed and then run over by another.

At that moment a truck whizzed by and the unflattened bird blew from one lane to the other like an empty bag of Doritos. And its legs moved!

At this point, this little bird was still blinking

I got out of my car and picked it up. It didn’t appear to have anything broken but was obviously in distress and just blinked in confusion. Probably it had also been hit by a car and had injuries that were not readily visible. As I looked at it and took a photo, it stretched weirdly from head to toe – like a cat does – and then remained motionless. The bird had just died in my hand.

I set it down in the underbrush on the side of the road and got back in my car.

If you are reading this and are driving, please be extra careful out there on the highways to as not to accidentally hit anything. Maybe even slow down a bit! It’ll be better for you, better for your gasoline bill and better for the environment.

UPDATE:

It’s strange – almost eerie – that just a day after publishing the above, I encounter this on the entrance road to the La Ceiba golf course. This beautiful animal was killed by someone in a too much of a hurry driving far too fast. Can we please be aware and SLOW DOWN? This is tragic.

The sign says “Exceso de Velocidad”

Primera Piedra

Note: this article was started in 2010! I found it lurking behind the mayonnaise in the back of the fridge and after a quick re-read, thought it worthy of sharing. Enjoy!

I witnessed today what was probably an historical event. It was what those of us who speak English would call a ‘groundbreaking’ ceremony, where officials and businessmen have a little event aka a photo op where someone with completely un-calloused hands grasps a shovel for probably the first time in their life and pretends to actually dig something while mugging for the cameras of the eager press. In the Yucatan, where digging is a physical impossibility in most cases due to the half an inch of topsoil covering a solid limestone rock layer that extends from the hills of Muna to the coast, the groundbreaking become the ‘primera piedra‘ ceremony.

In this particular case, we were witnessing the unveiling and blessing of the ‘cornerstone’ of yet another Centro Comercial (mall) this one to be built by a conglomeration of business interests, most of which are foreign to the foreigners who read this so I will stick to generalities. The fine folks who gave us the Gran Plaza mall have gotten together with the modest Carso group (owners of such fine commercial ventures as Sanborns, Sears, Dorians, Mixup and more (including TelCel and TelMex), the Ramirez clan who own the Cinepolis chain of cinemas, and Yucatan’s largest franchise owner/operator who owns/operates most of the franchises you see in southwestern Mexico such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (known locally as simply Ken-Toh-Key), Pizza Hut (not to be confused with the local Pizza Hot), Burger King (yes, there is a Burger Queen in Merida) and the Bisquets Bisquets de Obregon franchise from Mexico.

The new mall, to be built on the new avenue that takes you to Cholul, will be spectacular, according to all those present. But this article is not about the new mall; rather, it is about the groundbreaking ceremony itself.

Once your car was parked by the obligatory valet parking, you found yourself on a corner of the property designated to soon become treeless and filled with more concrete, the scene was set with billowing white tents, hundreds of exotic candles providing subdued lighting and lounge-style background music. ‘Lounge’ is the latest style to hit Merida and everyone wants to incorporate it into their festivities to make them so much more hip. Plants were everywhere, all rushed in at the last minute and to be removed soon after the last guests had left. All kinds of fine upstanding folks were there, from the proud and fan-waving (it was a hot night) parents of some of the investors, potential contractors (lighting, construction and other) engineers doing their best to schmooze with the investors and line up some work, slim tall edecanes (female models) holding ends of ribbons and standing behind the men at the presidium table like so many exotic flowers, along with local politicians and church officials.

It is important to break here and mention that when you are starting a business in Merida, or perhaps anywhere in Mexico, it is vital that you have a ceremony where a symbolic ribbon is cut by someone important and that someone from the Catholic hierarchy drops by to say a little spiel and splash some holy water around to´’bless’ the new business venture. You can be the biggest crook in town, but if you have enough cash, all this can be arranged without any difficulty whatsoever. Now the more important you perceive your new undertaking to be, the more exclusive the list of invites. In the case of this new mall, it was a Very Big Deal indeed, because the mayor did not send a representative as he usually might do; he came himself. The governor also showed up, in person. This speaks well for the investors of the mall; that these important people, who must have very busy schedules, would take the time to come to a private function such as this and utter a few mumbled words of encouragement and take advantage of the situation to remind those present that all this development was the result of excellent government at both the municipal and state level. Of course.

But your event is complete if you can persuade some higher-up from the Catholic church to perform the Water Ceremony; and who better than the arch-bishop of Yucatan himself? Well lo and behold, he showed up in his newly acquired wheelchair with plenty of help to push him around and a vial of the necessary holy water. The size of this particular project and the actual stone itself compared to the amount of ‘holy’ water in his little vial, reminded him of a case where he had gone to a car dealership to perform this ceremony and the owner had asked him, as he splashed his water around, if that was ALL the water he had brought. He had replied “Do you want me to bless your dealership or wash the cars?” A stand-up comedian! In a wheelchair. The irony.

I don’t know where this was to end when I wrote it in 2010, but it was a work in progress that I found while cleaning up bits and pieces, odds and ends, of my writings and thought it was worth sharing. 

Down The Rabbit Hole of a Conservative Facebook Group

I’ve heard Obama compared to Hitler quite a bit, heard some of his more inspiring speeches called deception, heard him being called anti-christian for taking down a Christmas tree (which ignores Romans 14), even called Islamic because of his outreach to middle eastern countries.

He was regularly accused of trying to separate people and destroy the nation.

Actual post from the on the Facebook group page “Bridge the Divide”

On the invitation of a friend, I joined the Facebook group called Bridge the Divide – a place for civil political/cultural discourse. Sounds good right? There’s a red and blue graphic at the top of the page and supposedly it’s all about coming together and discussing today’s political (not much in the way of cultural) climate.

What a shit show.

I quickly came to the realization that it was neither bridging any divides nor was it civil, although many fie people on there certainly acted civil in what I perceived to be a smug, condescending way. Also, to me, the site seemed more about pushing the Trump/Fox agenda whose messages were repeated over and over, in various forms. Silly, troll-like questions would be asked with tongue-in-cheek innocence and then everybody would comment with agreeing and validation statements – basically a circle-jerk of “discussion” Any dissenting voices would be quickly quashed again in that condescending/indignant/amused way Kelly Conway and her ilk answer questions they find bothersome.

Note also that in many cases, answers are longer than they need to be and appear rational at first glance. Not the average, short angry and visceral responses you might expect in a conservative/right-wing Facebook group. The language seems thought out, and only occasional grammar errors give us a clue that English might not be a first language in some cases.

In any case, I thought it might be helpful for you, dear reader, to point out some of the questions and tactics so should you desire to get your boots dirty in the manure yard of conservative troll thought. Let me know if you find this helpful or, if you are already stomping through the shit, recognize any of these:

The condescending and innocently inquisitive retort. Don’t criticize the conservatives.

In answer to a comment regarding Mitch MacConnell and Ted Cruz and what awful, self-serving politicians they are (by one of the few liberals on the site) came this reply:

Colin, that’s an interesting take on Cruz and McConnell. Can I ask where you’ve founded those beliefs? I’ve read a lot from Cruz, followed him for a long time, and it’s really hard for me to see where you can say he’s an awful person. Do you actually know him? Do you know his story?

Let’s dissect.

Notice the feigned “interesting take” opening statement. Slightly condescending; the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head. There there. Then the English grammar problem at “where you’ve founded those beliefs” indicating a writer for whom English is not a first language. Then comes the justification (I’ve read/followed him) followed by the challenge question, again feigning interest in dialogue.

It would be easy to think that this really was a dialogue if you were reading it for the first time except this exact pattern is repeated over and over on any comments that challenge the conservative Trump/Fox talking point. The long-ish answer tries to come off as a real, reasonable and educated person but the grammar error sets off my troll alert.

On the EPA. So tired of all those liberal government programs.

You aren’t alone, Amy. The parties seem to want so much to stick us all in a neat little box – for us or against us. They don’t trust the people to understand nuances in an issue. A little common sense would build some bridges, I think. The good stuff seems always to get corrupted by too much bureaucracy. Give an inch, lose a mile. For example: EPA was great for clean air & water in the 70’s. Now it’s a tyrant that tells people they can’t build a home on property they bought 40 years ago to retire on. The backlash is obstinacy.

Here, the author is tired of the political parties but somehow just manages to lean a little to the right and mention that the EPA is no longer a viable entity – too many rules – framed in the context of a case involving some individual. No mention of clean water or mining companies polluting said resource.

The dig against abortion and the right to choose.

I’m pro-choice, but calling it a “medical procedure” is disingenuous. Medicine is healing. A pregnant woman is not sick. I can totally empathize with calling it murder and considering it immoral to demand money for such a thing. It should at most be funded by state taxes, certainly not federal.

Again, the seemingly innocent opener of “I’m pro-choice” The author is a male of course, opining on a subject he will never be completely familiar with. He then segues smoothly into empathizing with “calling it murder” and “considering it immoral” Here the author is also disengaging himself from potential criticism should someone come back at him with those terms. He can claim he never said that HE was calling it murder. Also, a lengthy response in a somewhat stilted fashion denotes possible Engish as a second language.

On finding a political home. Stop labeling us as right-wing or conservatives.

I feel the majority of Americans these days could be classified as moderate. It’s not a bad thing. We just want a good life for our families and a chance to offer a future for our kids. We are willing to work hard to get it.

We’re simple folk, moderates gosh darn it. Our aspirations are simple too. good life for our families and … yeah. The little extra at the end is a subtle reminder (message alert) that we are not like those people expecting a handout from the government, and you know who we mean.

The converted democrat/liberal

As a former performing artist I love all aspects of the arts.
I have been so disheartened at the way my liberal artist friends are behaving. I never wanted to vote for Trump. I didn’t the first time. But I certainly will this time because of how insane and hateful the left have become.

I now feel like I can’t have any artist friends. I was actually hoping there was some group of conservative artists I could join.
I’m for better gun control and affordable healthcare insurance. I call myself Independent because I refuse to work for one party.

I feel our country has lost most of its moral value and common sense

This is a classic and is extremely common in all threads and retorts/stroking. The author purports to once having been a liberal person (insert embarrassed smile here), in this case she’s an artist! – who has become disillusioned with the Democratic party. She is looking for conservative artist groups but it appears she has not been lucky in that regard. Hmm. BUT she is a bit “edgy” in that she wants affordable health insurance – a safe and non-threatening position – and better gun control. Hooray for me. Message? Vote for Trump in 2020. “The left have” along with the overly lengthy explanation once again seems to indicate the presence of a foreign troll – to me at least.

The Pot Stirrer. Questions designed to provoke and bring out the best in the strokers.

Here a meme shows Trump’s face and the text says: I hope you had fun investigating me. Now it’s my turn.

Accompanying this meme is the “new” member’s question, seriously:

Can someone tell me what trump is referring to? Haven’t been following US politics much in the last week.

You’re in a political group on Facebook. This to me indicates that you are
a) interested in politics; b) an idiot or c) a troll just posting this ridiculous question to stir the pot. Gee whiz people, whatever could Trump be talking about here?

The variety / no politics question.

Top 3 favorite movies. Go.

This one is usually posted by a “senior member” never a new member. It’s something innocuous and usually irrelevant, designed to infuse the feed with something that will make it appear there is a community, and people are happily sharing their thoughts and ideas on a broad variety of subjects. This is before the next onslaught of Trump/Fox messaging.

The subject is food, movies or books. Watch for it, you will find it.

The “lying media” and “oh you’re exaggerating” message.

One apparently liberal poster (or maybe it was a plant to get all that messaging out there from the group members for others to see) mentioned that Trump has logged more golfing days in three years than Obama in eight and the not-so-civil members turned into frenzied hyenas on a bloody wildebeest corpse.

Here are some of the many choice defenses presented by some of the intellectually-challenged members:

For me, it is more important who did what for the state. Obama in 8 years has not done as much as Trump in 3. For me, the most important thing is what Trump is doing in cases of human trafficking and pedophilia.

Are you deducting the days that the media claimed he was golfing and he actually wasn’t? As with that b.s. list of 18,000 supposed lies that he’s told, what’s your source that he has played golf 239 times?

Oh yeah, this was posted in good faith…

So if President Trump spends an hour on the golf course, that is considered “ALL DAY”. Has there ever been a president who has been lied about as much as this one? No, there hasn’t.

Hahahaha! I can’t even with this post. Trump works tirelessly night and day, has twice the energy and stamina of men half his age. You think I give two hoots over how much he plays golf, even IF these numbers are true? The man develops and owns golf courses. Good grief.

And on and on it goes. The original poster goes on to say that it was Trump, not she who mentioned it in the first place but that detail falls on deaf ears here in the echo chamber of “civil discourse”

We all know the media lies. Are they 100% truthful about the number of golf outings he’s been on, probably not. They should post his itineraries and not made up ones. Then we know the truth.

It’s why he golfs and with who. My dad made tons of business deals on the golf course – sometimes it’s easier to chat while swinging a club rather than across a table in a boardroom. Obama seemed to golf more for fun and fitness, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it takes up a lot of time if it’s just for fun.

Any of these comments, taken by themselves, might come across as completely normal. But seeing the same style, content and messages over and over again, you begin to see the pattern.

I hope this has been helpful and you will enjoy your time in the pork farm waste water pond. It stinks in there, but you will get a nice feel for the messages social media trolls are hammering home to the gullible.

April 10, 2020. Random Thoughts on Life at the Moment

Random ideas, this is the idea of going out for some Frijol con Puerco.

I thought I would jot down some random ideas and thoughts on staying at home for a prolonged period of time with this social distancing thing during the coronavirus pandemic in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

Sugar and Carbs. I seem to have a craving for sugar and carbohydrates – is that a thing when you are stuck at home or in a crisis situation? Did the kids trapped in that flooded cave yearn for cookies? Did the people held hostage on that airliner back in the day in Entebbe, besides wanting to get the hell off the plane, also want cake? I don’t know. It seems I can’t get enough sweets. Even my once-beloved Doritos don’t do the trick. I baked Ghirardelli instant brownies the other day (no THC, thank you) and practically finished them myself. I ate all the cookies from Maru’s baking cookies video, myself. Which could mean that maybe it’s not a thing if no one else around the house has this craving? Although that package of Mars chocolates (Milky Way, Snickers, M&M’s) is becoming very depleted and it’s not me…

There are the mood swings. One day or even one minute I am feeling like yeah, we will get through this and there is hope, and the next I am in a depressive funk that can only be described as worrisome. Snapping at loved ones is also not good – a sign of cabin fever, which is a real thing, as all Canadians who have been in a winter cabin know and as even New York state governor Mario Cuomo has pointed out repeatedly in his popular press conferences.

The news also ranges from hopeful (a new drug, a vaccine coming soon, the curve is flattening in Spain) to deadly depressing (the economy will restart soon – back to normal!, record deaths in NYC, anything AMLO, Trump or Bolsonaro related). I am trying to limit my intake of news to a brief morning check at CNN, AlJazeers, CBC and BBC followed again by an evening look to see if anything has changed.

And there is walking for exercise that I never did before and which has become a daily habit, in part because if I don’t, I will lose my mind and also to work off some of the calories I am consuming (see sugar and carbs, above). I am blessed in that I don’t live in a condo or apartment and have some green around me where I can walk, alone or accompanied, and get out from between the four or more walls of my place of refuge. I now pay special attention to cyclists and runners since a recent study shows that they leave behind a trail of whatever bacteria and virii they are carrying and they can contaminate others who follow too closely. Their social distancing needs to be a lot farther than the regular brand.

Speaking of walking, the number and variety of birds that are out in the mornings and in general is truly amazing. We have, in our area, pigeons and doves of course, as well as the ubiquitous and human-friendly black grackle, our version of the crow. Then there are the red-headed woodpeckers, the scandalous gangs of green parakeets who inhabit the tops of trees between burst of flight, the large brown chachalacas and their turkey-like gobbling/screaming and a few more whose names I do not know.

Finally, there is David Geffen

What was he thinking? Is he that isolated in his bubble that he didn’t think this was going to create just a tad of media backlash? There are nurses in garbage bags trying to help sick patients in hospitals in his country and this clown posts this on his Instagram account? Unbelievable.

 

 

April 9, 2020. Sanitary Mall Entrances and Police Checkpoints

Armed with my non-N95 mask, hand sanitizer and a half tank of gas, I ventured out of the house this morning to pay my TelCel bill (cell phone for those who don’t live in sunny Mexico) to face the empty streets, police checkpoints and 40-plus degree heat.

I know people are already thinking “can’t he pay this online?” “Why doesn’t he pay this online?” Look I needed to get out of the house and I am not going to be around people at all OK? Jeez. Plus online payments don’t work for me. I am challenged or cursed that way.

Into Las Americas, the fraccionamiento  I go, looking for Banco Azteca/Elektra a hybrid bank/department store where I have been informed that they can exchange a few USD that I have sitting around the house. The regular exchange places are closed, at least the ones that are in my neck of the woods. On the road into the 5,000 home neighborhood, built by a local housing construction company, there are police checkpoints, but on the lanes that lead out of the fraccionamiento, not going in. I assume they are checking for cars with more than one occupant in them so as to ask them what the hell they are doing out and about. I will find out later perhaps, on the way back out.

I find the bank, slip on my facemask/mouth covering thing – which is bright red and doesn’t match my pistachio colored Columbia shirt –  and say hello to the two cleaning women who are working on the windows of said bank/department store, neither of whom is wearing a mask.

The bank is on the second floor of the department store which is empty; all that merchandise from yellow commercial tricycles (a popular form of transportation here in the pueblos) to furniture to appliances and cell phones and no one buying anything. Salespeople are few and far between and are wearing masks. The other two clients in the store, are not.

I won’t mention that I felt a little out of breath at the top of the stairs? Is that a coronavirus-related symptom? I will say that I took a deep breath upon reaching the second floor and told myself to calm the hell down. 

One of the cashiers – behind glass, no masks on them – informs me that the exchange rate is now 21 something per dollar, up from 18 just two months ago, and I say fine and give her my bills. I notice that I am smiling politely but then also realize that much of our social interactions are centered around the eyes and the mouth and so the smile is unnoticed by the person behind the glass.

After what seemed like a lengthy process I get a sales slip to sign and take the pen warily that she hands me and sign. She gives me some pesos which I gingerly place in one special pocket of my shirt, the pocket where anything touched by other people goes.

It wasn’t really a lengthy process; I was the only person in the bank and had a chance to chat with the manager, one Arturo who is married to … not important, don’t bother, not interesting. He’s not wearing a mask either. 

Soon I’m back in the car and slathering hand sanitizer on myself before touching anything – my car is germ-free – and off I go to TelCel at the Gran Plaza mall. At the checkpoint out of Las Americas, I am waved through by a mask-wearing state policeman. As I approach Merida, another set of traffic cones turn 4 lanes into 1 and again, I am waved through. This confirms my theory about the ‘too many people in the car’ alert.

At the mall, there is only one entrance open to the public, same as the last time I went. Only this time there are no other people around, so I can go in, hooray.

But wait – not so fast.

First, I am asked where I am going. “A donde se dirige?” This means “where are you directing yourself?” and is ‘official speak’, the language of policemen and security guards of the mall and airport variety.

The options are HSBC, TelCel and CFE. CFE, you will recall from my previous story, is closed. Until April 30, I find out today. I tell the guard – masked, gloved – I am going to pay my phone bill and he tells me to proceed to the giant tubs of water and soap dispensers. I am issued a little water, a squirt of anti-bacterial soap and told to wash. I sing ‘En un dia feliz‘ two times and then rinse. I am given a paper towel. I almost feel I should leave a tip. Maybe if the guard hadn’t placed a gun against my head I just might have. A temperature gun thing.

The part about leaving a tip? Just made that up. And the singing? That was to myself, in my head, obviously. I am not going to break into song at the entrance to the mall.

Once inside, the payment took me 5 minutes if that and out I went. Someone was scrubbing the rubber mat that you walk across to get into and out of the mall – like a sanitary measure you would see at the entrance to a chicken processing plant or something.

A quick visit to the supermarket Soriana (formerly La Comercial Mexicana, now defunct) next door where I was again issued gel for my hands and another pistol pointed at my head to measure once again my body temperature. “You’re good!” he says.

“I’m good?” I ask.

“Yep.” And shows me my score: 36.8. “Todo bien, adelante

If I mention that the gel was the cheap kind that leaves your hands all sticky that might be considered complaining, so I will just keep that thought to myself.

Got my butter, some M&M’s (with peanuts) and for nostalgic and price reasons, and in honor of my heritage, a bottle of Canadian Club.

We all have NEEDS so don’t start with the criticism of my shopping list. Also, someone actually stole my shopping cart which I had parked by the egg display while I was checking out the canned tomato aisle so I had to go back and get those three things AGAIN.

It was a good day out and now I am back at home, under a creaking fan that is blowing excruciatingly dry and hot air at the top of my head as I write this.

April 7, 2020. On Social Unrest and Class Distinctions

“This crisis is a godsend”

This is what the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) proclaimed on April 2 at a ‘press conference’ a regular media event these days that is quickly becoming as criticized and mocked (and irrelevant) as those of his counterpart to the north. At least he has finally come around to the idea of social distancing as something people should be doing to avoid spreading the virus as the medical system is already straining under the weight of impending disaster.

When he said this the Spanish equivalent  “nos vino como anillo al dedo” he said it in the context of his much-touted 4T or fourth transformation. It will make it easier to create his new, corruption-free society, a happy, shiny new Mexico free of violence and crime. A utopic vision his fanatical supporters fervently share. Nevermind that many will die as a result of the virus, the important thing is that his vision is realized.

For those of you not familiar with what AMLO means by the 4T there is a brief explanation at the bottom of this article.

In any case, his unfortunate choice of words was the subject of much commentary from the press and those people who are truly concerned about the direction this country is going in. And it demonstrates the absolute sense of self-delusion this president is under that he feels he will be protected from a virus because he will not be corrupt, like past administrations.

One member of his party, the current governor of Puebla, stated categorically that the virus will affect only the well off. “The poor are immune,” he said. If this doesn’t smack of populism and appealing to the downtrodden masses, I don’t know what is.

At this moment there is not a single federal program (like in Canada, Germany and even El Salvador) to shore up businesses alongside individuals. His message to the business community has been ‘you rich capitalists: pay your workers but send them home to keep them safe’ Meetings between the president and leaders of the business community have not yielded anything. No tax relief, no help to meet payroll, no help of any kind.

According to an interview with hotel impresario Jose Chapur this week, Mexico is the only country in the world that is not supporting its business community at the federal level.

Here in the state of Yucatan, we have a much more proactive governor who thankfully has not followed the lead of our illustrious leader. Tax relief, benefits for small businesses, benefits for individuals.

This situation can only lead to one thing: more job losses resulting in more people without an income (there is no guaranteed income for Mexico’s 130 million people, the great majority of whom are wage earners or entrepreneurs.

All those people with nothing to do, no money and plenty of anger and fear, will, with the tacit consent and quiet encouragement of the national leadership, lead to social unrest. Remember the scene from Beauty and the Beast and the villagers heading to the castle with their pitchforks, screaming angrily? Something like that. All those poor exploited workers against those greedy capitalist impresarios.

In the past, we might have been comforted by the thought of our neighbor to the north – uncomfortable as it is – to exercise some pressure to stop Mexico from becoming another Venezuela as they surely wouldn’t want that in their “backyard” but that country is so confused, disorganized and ravaged by the virus that it is not able to exercise much influence on the global stage any longer.

What the country needs now is a serious set of solutions (look around señor presidente, there are plenty of examples around the world) to what may potentially be a huge problem. It can be avoided, but we need action and a clear plan now.

EXPLANATION OF THE 4T

López Obrador refers to his election as the Fourth Transformation of Mexico, preceded by the War for Independence from Spain (1810-1821), the Reform Period led by President Benito Juárez (1857-72, interrupted by two civil wars) and the Mexican Revolution (1910-1917). Mexicans, with their infallible capacity for reducing names to acronyms and deflating the grandiose, are referring to it as “the 4T”.

 

Sunday, April 5, 2020. On Chimeneas and Backyard Firepits

Not every day can be an update on the coronavirus, since we are stuck at home and the only thing that is updated is on CNN, BBC, CBC, and AlJazeera.

Should I mention Al Jazeera? Red flag for US immigration? Hola señor ICE. Stuck at home sounds negative. So much self-doubt. Oh, stop already.

Back in the carefree days before I became such a curmudgeon, I was in a high school production of My Fair Lady. One of my castmates who, for the purpose of this article I shall call “Susan”, and who brilliantly played Eliza to my Schwarzenegger-esque Dr. Dolittle back in the day, has asked why I light a fire in the mornings – what’s that all about since it is certainly not for keeping warm? A valid question and one I will try to explain.

Once upon a time some years ago, I was at a vivero, which is a nursery where plants are sold. The kind of place you go to when you want something to stick in the ground around your house, like arecas or flowers that will eventually dry up and die but what the hell they look nice for a while so you buy them.

Too pessimistic, the dead flowers?

Among the all the pretty plants arranged in orderly rows which always appeals to my Teutonic instincts, they had on display some clay pots and in tucked in amongst those, was a chimenea. A chimenea (chimney,  for the monolingual among us) is a clay pot with a hole in the front, and a chimney spout on the top. The idea is that you toss in wood or burnable things in the front, enjoy the fire, and the smoke comes out of the top. It’s for the outdoors, so mostly aesthetic but it can serve as a warming element in colder climates, I would imagine. Anyway, the thought of having one of these intrigued me so I bought it and took it home, which was fun as it took up the entire back seat of my car and sloshed back and forth at each traffic stop.

Jeez I hate it when I am uploading a photo of a chimenea and WordPress comes back with http error. I do not have the energy or desire to investigate further so I guess people will have to do a Google image search themselves. Or click here. It’s the one that is described as chimenea rustica.

Once set up, and some branches for firewood procured, I began to enjoy the ritual of preparing a fire in the mornings – when it is relatively cool here – and this was especially handy in 2002, when a hurricane – Wilma I believe – hit the Yucatan and there was a lot of material (fallen trees, branches, piles of dead bougainvillea) to be burned in that chimenea. So much in fact, that all the heat generated ended up cracking the clay and eventually, the pot succumbed under its own weight.

I missed my morning fire. Drinking my coffee on the back terrace watching the woodpeckers, the parakeets and the grackles was just not the same without those flames and the smell of wood smoke. A look around our yard yielded an unoccupied shallow clay pot (a base really, for a larger one) and I set it up on some stones in the place where the chimenea had once stood. This lasted for a while and then disintegrated as well. A conscientious search through several Merida viveros resulted in zero hits for a new chimenea. It was time to go to Ticul.

I guess now I am going to have to explain Ticul here, people are not going to understand the significance. This is going off on a tangent.

Ticul, a small town about 90 minutes from Merida, is famous for its shoes and its pottery. It is also the original home of Los Almendros, once Yucatan’s premiere Yucatecan food restaurant. There is good clay in the region and a dozen or more crafty-minded people make clay planting pots both large and small. They also make garden ornaments like clay pink flamingos and clay fluorescent green frogs (dubious tastes abound) which are sold in small locales along the street. The shoes, incidentally, are locally made and while they are not Jimmy Choo, they are cheap. And that is a good a reason as any to buy them, apparently. As for Los Almendros? They sat on their restaurant laurels for way too long and were overtaken by other, far better Yucatecan food options like Kinich, Teya, La Tradicion and even Chaya Maya and MUGY.

Why am I writing about restaurants? This is not the Casual Restaurant Critics column; he is always butting in and trying to get attention. 

Along with the manufacture en masse of planting pots and colorful kitschy clay creatures, there are a few high-minded individuals who dedicate their time and energy to the fabrication of Mayan archeological replicas, ranging from small pots and whistles to enormous Chaac (Mayan rain god aka Tlaloc in central Mexico) faces and detailed calendars. These are sold to hotels, boutiques, and serious collectors.

I am really rambling here, have to rein it in. Rain it in. Reign it in. No, rein is right. Right as rein. The mind wanders.

I ended up ordering a chimenea from one of the former (manufacturers of clay pots) paid my deposit and left. Some time later, more than a few months since I had forgotten about it, I went back and although I was sure they would have long ago sold my piece and kept the deposit, there it was. The owner remembered me, remembered the chimenea, even had a copy of the deposit receipt.  Again, a gigantic sculpted pot rolled back and forth on the back seat of my car, on the drive back to Merida.

Es cierto! Este viaje lo hice con Mus. Que mala memoria tengo. It was the day we went to Uxmal and ended up on a hilltop in Ticul, having some great Yucatecan food and enjoying an amazing view. 

Being of a rather delicate clay, this pot lasted less than a year before cracks appeared and it also fell upon itself one morning when I was stuffing in a particularly stubborn piece of firewood.

Getting to the end now, I can almost feel it.

Finally, I broke down and had some albañiles (bricklayers, construction workers) come and build me an actual fire pit with blocks and cement which I now enjoy on a daily basis. This is what you can see sometimes in photos posted on social media.

Lighting and enjoying the fire has become an inescapable pleasure of my morning, a moment to sit with my Better Half, enjoy our fresh coffee and watch the birds in the backyard.

 

 

April 3, 2020 – Yucatan, Mexico

While not the end-all-be-all of on-the-ground reporting from Merida, the capital city of Yucatan, it’s my experience and I plan to maintain some sanity by writing about it.

I feel presumptuous. I also wonder how many other paragraphs I can include with so many hyphenated phrases? Do all my thoughts start with I ?

April 3 seemed like a good a day as any to pay my electricity bill. In case you don’t know, electricity in all parts of this country is provided by the monopolous (invented term) Comisión Federal de Electricidad, an almost state-run enterprise much like Pemex. The CFE – as it affectionately referred to – is it’s own universe and it could care less about your financial situation or something as trivial as a virus. So, no concessions – so far – from this giant company in terms of postponing, reducing or condoning any payments. The payment is not due for another week or so, but given the increasing emphasis on staying the hell home, I thought I would get it out of the way, as I cannot imagine being stuck at home with no electricity which would also cut the modem, water and so on.

I sound socialist. Do I sound socialist? Elitist for wanting wifi and water?

I stopped at the sad Gran Plaza mall – sad with so few cars in the parking lot and only the Soriana grocery store open for business. The official decree issued by our governor (of Yucatan) and mayor (of Merida) is that non-essential businesses remain closed and that includes malls. Inside the malls, however, are often banks and other services and those are allowed to open and access to them is permitted.

Getting into the mall is through one entrance only. This entrance is guarded by security personnel in masks and gloves, who are separating people into the various lineups according to what they plan to do. Electricity, cellular, banks. Each service has its own lineup and you are allowed access as people leave so as not to accumulate crowds.

Mantenga su distancia, por favor!” It’s early, so he still says por favor; I suspect that nicety will be dropped as the 40-degree day progresses.

I learn from the questioning man in front of me, that the CFE in all its wisdom has closed its payment machine-only locale and one must therefore either pay it at a bank or some other location. I don’t have the printed version with me, so the bank is out. Confirming that the CFE is indeed closed “sí está cerrado Papi”  I head back to the car.

I later – and thanks to the astuteness of my Better Half – find that I can pay the bill at an OXXO convenience store, as they are able to scan the bar code directly from the image of the bill on my cell phone. Who knew? Probably everyone in the universe except me. In the very busy OXXO store, an employee was in charge of reminding people to stay apart, at least one meter apart and look for the markers taped on the floor. Some people were wearing masks, most were not.

Writing this reminds me of the press conference yesterday or whenever where Trump says the CDC recommends wearing masks but that he is not going to but that that is what the CDC recommends. Tremendous success with the masks. 

The other items on the Things to Do Once You Are Out and About list were bread and gasoline.

So, the next stop: Pan y Kof.fee. Before leaving the house I had placed an order on Facebook and lo and behold it was ready to go when I showed up. In case you don’t know, this place has the most amazing bread; the baguettes are truly a beautiful thing to behold (and eat warm with butter) and so now our freezer is full of them, cut into thirds and wrapped tightly to keep them as fresh as the pandemic will allow.

As the credit card machine did its thing, I chatted with the young lady who was handing me the bread through the wrought iron protectores.

Está terrible” she said “lo que está pasando en Ecuador

I nodded and concurred that it was a terrible thing. I had just heard about their body disposal problem and the intensity of the virus there, especially in Guayaquil, from my friend Mus with whom I had chatted that morning via WhatsApp.

I hope Mus doesn’t mind that I mention him here.

Finally, gasoline at the Pemex station on the Merida-Progreso highway. As is the case all over the world, gasoline prices have dropped significantly. Good news for the tourism industry!! The bad news? No tourists.

Our messianic señor Presidente in his continued delusional state insists that the lower gasoline prices are thanks to him; he apparently believes that no one has access to news other than his and won’t notice that the world’s oil prices have dropped dramatically.


There was a lineup of cars. This particular gas station, part of the El Roble franchises (Abimerhi and La Gas are two other large and omnipresent gasolinera chains in the Yucatan)  have the best prices by at least a peso and sometimes as much as two pesos, which means folks are lining up to get their cars filled at these stations. Currently, the price is at 12.99 a liter, way down from almost twenty pesos back in January.

As a side note, it is worth noting that gasoline stations in Mexico are notorious for magically delivering less than the amount shown on the pump. It is amazing how much ingenuity is harnessed in this country for the purpose of beating the system, at any and all levels. More on the gasoline situation- en español of course – on the Por Esto website here.

Some readers might not understand how much that is, so I should probably explain to them. With the exchange rates, in January gasoline cost about four dollars a gallon. Now, again adjusting for the exchange rates it’s at about $2.50 a gallon

I waited for my turn and asked the female gas pump attendant (the concept of self-service goes against our I-pay-you-so-serve-me Latin American culture) how her day was going. She said she was hot, and the scorching wind blowing leaves and dust through the gas station made it feel like when you open a convection oven and get a blast of hot air. I can just imagine how she feels being out there all day moving between two lines of cars, pumping gas non-stop with the added risk of contagion from a potentially sick or infected client.

She also mentioned Ecuador. “Será que vamos a quedar como ellos?” she half-asked, half-wondered almost to herself.

I told her that probably not, we had things way more under control and would she like some hand sanitizer?

Tengo, gracias” she replied. I paid and tipped and headed back to the safe refuge of my home to cut and wrap and freeze my supply of baguettes, ciabattas and a couple of loaves of something hopefully delicious.

Should I have mentioned the ciabattas? 

 

 

Merida, Yucatan, April 2020 and the COVID-19 Pandemic

It is the era of the coronavirus and we have survived March and arrived at April 2020 – finally – but the end is nowhere in sight. It’s my personal feeling that we here in Mexico are just getting started.

While the USA struggles to keep up with the ever-increasing number of people infected with the virus, and Italy and Spain still lead in number of deaths, Mexico is – thankfully – way down the list today of affected countries. This is temporary I suspect, and we will see an uptick shortly as the cases reported grow exponentially.

The reaction here has been mostly denial, at least at the federal level, for most of March. It seems that finally the message is sinking in, however, and the social distancing and washing your hands campaign is starting to take hold. At the state level, governor Mauricio Vila has earned praise for his pro-active reactions and actions, and all the bitching and moaning about the license plate renewal fee (another subject, for another day and now on hold) has quieted down. The state of Yucatan is way ahead of the federal government (think AMLO and his magical amulets) in accepting this new reality.

Traffic in the city of Merida and on the highways is light, very light and it would be a pleasure to drive anywhere if it wasn’t because of a world-wide pandemic. And if you had somewhere to go. Most stores are officially closed as of yesterday April 1st, with the exception of anything medical, food and fuel related. Restaurants are to-go only and Uber, Rappi and others are making money delivering food to shut-ins. Pedestrians too, are fewer than ever and the city’s various neighborhoods present quite an eerie sight.

There have been concerns on television and other media that the companies are not providing adequate protection (PPE) to their drivers and it does seem a bit risky to be in such close and constant contact with all kinds of people all over the city of Merida. On Mexican TV, you hear of nurses, doctors and support staff already worried about shortages of personal protection equipment in the public hospitals and we are just getting started. Not a promising start.

I am crossing my fingers (what else can I do) that our stomachs and immune systems here are less sensitive than those of our neighbors to the north, and that the stifling heat of April and May will make that virus think twice about setting up shop here.

Stay tuned. And stay home. Stay healthy.