Algiers to San Juan

freighterIN THAT TIME, and I imagine it’s the same now if the Mississippi River hasn’t been rerouted or New Orleans shipped off to better weather in Tennessee, you could stand at the ferry landing at the foot of Canal Street and see Algiers Point on the far riverbank.

It wasn’t the Algiers of Africa — though confusion was conceivable — it was the Algiers of southern Louisiana where I lived alone for a while in a shotgun house with a pressed-tin ceiling, and I had a black BSA motorcycle too.

The day dawned when I wearied of driving a Yellow Cab, and since I had a good bit of newspaper experience and an adventuring heart, I applied for work in the Caribbean — The San Juan Star in the capital of Puerto Rico. I was roundabouts the age of 30, one divorce behind, another waiting ahead like a poised axe.

I got the job, but I didn’t want to leave the BSA behind, so I headed to the shipping area of Sealand freighters and asked what had to be done to sail the bike to the balmy islands. Just drop it off here, I was told.

So the morning of the day I was to fly to San Juan in the afternoon, I drove the BSA to the shipping area and was told it had to be professionally boxed. Now you tell me — I said — there is no time. So they took it, as is.

Flash forward a few weeks. I took a taxi to the docks in San Juan and was pointed thataway where I found the BSA lying on its side atop a pallet. Putting a motorcycle on its side is no better than upending a Chevrolet. Yipes! I exclaimed, or perhaps it was something more nasty.

I jerked it upright and, to my amazement, it cranked almost immediately. I roared off to the beach house in Santurce where I rented a room from a sports writer and his dusky Dominican lover. A fine place to live, in part due to the large lime tree in the yard, which one likes when drinking Cuba libres. And I did.

* * * *

THE BIG TOE CONNECTION

Not far from the beach house was a housing project full of neither Swiss nor English but Puerto Ricans and so, I was told, there was a crime problem in the area. The BSA was not insured, so this was disturbing.

I purchased a roll of stout twine, and every night I parked the bike directly outside my bedroom window. Around the front wheel of the BSA I tied one end of the string. I ran it through the window and connected the other end to my big toe. This burglar alarm worked well because the BSA was never stolen.

Five months later, I left San Juan and returned to New Orleans. And I sold the BSA by putting an ad in The San Juan Star. It went quickly, and I never saw it again. It was a beautiful bike, and I miss it still.

* * * *

(Another post about the BSA and San Juan is here.)

(Another post about the shotgun house in Algiers and the pressed-tin ceiling is here.)

Phones and mail

WATCHING A MOVIE on Mexican Netflix recently, I noticed Sissy Spacek had a mountain of mail she had extracted from her mailbox. Lots looked like junk, including an announcement that she may have won $10 million.

letterIt made me think: How glad I am not to get that stuff anymore. No junk mail, no sales calls on the phone either. You know, just when you’re sitting down to supper, those annoying calls.

I remember.

Here is the mail I get in my post office box: A very occasional note from The Vanguard Group. Once a year, the Social Security Administration tells me what I’ll receive in the upcoming year. Once a month, my corporate pension administrator sends me a note telling me what I already know — that I received another monthly payment.

All payments come electronically to my Mexican bank.

We also contribute automatically from the bank account to a high school girl in Guadalajara via Children International. That bunch is fond of sending letters asking for more, more, more. It’s the only thing that appears in my mailbox that could  be called junk mail, but I put up with it because it’s a good — if naggy– outfit.

A couple of times a year, I get a box of vitamins from Puritan‘s Pride.

That’s about the full extent of my snail mail. I don’t check the PO box often. There’s no residential delivery by the postal system to our backstreet Hacienda. I installed a mail slot in the front gate before learning this.

We don’t have a land-line telephone, just two cells. One — mine — is what I believe is called a disposable phone above the Rio Bravo. It’s what criminals buy to communicate temporarily with each other or with their victims. I don’t throw mine away. I’ve had it for many years. I can call and text, but nothing more.

I have no “plan.” I buy time, via my bank online, when I need it. Ditto for my child bride’s cell. The last time we drove across the Rio Bravo — in 2008 — both phones stopped working.

phoneHer  cell is a tad fancier. It has a camera. But she is so low-tech that something more elaborate would be a waste of money. Mostly, she does text messages and the occasional call.

Her phone was a hand-me-down from a sister.

Sales pitches via our cells as as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. Land lines are available in Mexico, of course, and I hear that folks with them sometimes get unwanted calls, often scams or extortion attempts.

I don’t see the need for land lines these days. Seems old-fashioned, a waste of money.

We do have Skype. It’s a very convenient service even though the website is a disaster that was designed by a team of nitwits. No matter. The interface works well enough. I like Skype, which I use almost exclusively to call Vanguard. I also used it to call my bank in California, but they canceled my account in July, so …

Skype costs about $50 a year. Sometimes we call Mexico City.

I wonder if Americans still get junk snail mail and annoying sales pitches by phone when they’re trying to eat.

… if they still are told they may have already won $10 million.

Frogs, roosters, milk cans

morningI’VE WIPED the ceramic frog, the rooster too. And I’ve dusted the metal milk can, the one with the skeleton musicians playing round and round.

Now I’m sitting on a wicker rocker, watching the sunshine, hearing the wind chimes and guitar (Alacrán by Reflejo de Luna) from the player in the living room. The window’s open.

The grass needs a cut, which it will get mañana. Not by me, the neighbor. The ancient (from 1883 or so) clock on the inside wall just chimed 10 a.m. (I stop it every night so it won’t keep us awake.)

There is a vine with red flowers climbing yon wall (Did I say yon?) and it’s making friends with its aloe vera neighbor on one side, ignoring the bougainvillea on the other side. Nature discriminates (and so should you).

I have wiped the patio table and its four chairs, and I raised the umbrella (you can see it up top) just in case the urge to sit out there comes over me later today.

I also yanked some weeds and cleaned the Honda’s back window of grime. So here I sit on the rocker, hearing birds. I really need to water these potted plants in front of me. That’s for later.

Oh yeah, I cut a rose bud for the dining room table. It lends a romantic air.

Bernal to San Miguel

BernalWE DON’T GET out much, but sometimes we do. Mostly, when we leave the Hacienda, we either go to the beach at Zihuatanejo or to Mexico City. It’s hard to imagine two more contrasting spots.

Years ago, before discovering Zihuatanejo, or rather before the autopista to the beach was completed, we headed to San Miguel de Allende when we wanted to get away from home. But we wearied of touristy, Gringo-overrun San Miguel, and then the autopista to Zihuatanejo was opened.

The drive time to either became almost identical, and the route to the beach was far prettier. There are too many tourists at both locations, but sometimes you just have to endure.

Last Sunday, we decided on something different, a place called Bernal, which is northeast of Querétaro by about 45 minutes. Bernal’s claim to fame is a very big rock that sticks out of the ground. It is the world’s third highest rock sticking out of the ground after Gibraltar and Sugarloaf Mountain in Brazil.

Since rocks fascinate New Age people, Bernal is popular with the woo-woo set especially during changes of the seasons. Few things captivate New Age people more than the intersection of a season change with a big rock. The big rock in Bernal is called Peña de Bernal.

Woo-woo people also are very fond of feathers.

It’s only about 3.5 hours from the Hacienda by autopista, which is the only way you should cover long distances in Mexico unless you want to spend days jolting over speed bumps and sitting at red lights behind burros. The autopista will cost you, however, but it’s cash well spent.

We had no hotel reservation, so we strolled about until we found the Hotel Quinta Arantza, which we liked very much. We were on the third floor with a king bed and a glass wall that provided a direct view of the big rock. The small hotel includes a full breakfast, which is why it is sometimes listed as a B&B.

We arrived Sunday afternoon, and Bernal’s small downtown was packed with tourists. After eating pasta at a restaurant named El Meson de la Roca, we walked about a bit and then bought a tour that took us a ways up the big rock. The evening found us gobbling gorditas downtown. And then ice cream on the street.

We watched “The Picture of Dorian Gray” on the hotel telly and sacked out.

Opening the drapes at dawn, the big rock’s top was shrouded in fog, which is what the spirit world does to big rocks in the early morning. We dined at the hotel’s restaurant, packed up the Honda and departed. But we weren’t ready to go home. Let’s go to San Miguel, I said. She concurred.

San Miguel is about two hours from Bernal on the northwest side of the city of Querétaro. We arrived about 12:30, and I headed to Starbucks right off the plaza for an espresso, and she headed to shops, which is what women prefer to do 99 percent of the time given the opportunity.

I sat beside a Starbucks window and watched the people walk by. There were a few Mexicans but mostly lots of Gringos in Bermuda shorts, sandals and cameras, plus other Gringos, the artsy ones, dressed up like buffoons. It’s always a hoot to see a San Miguel sidewalk procession of white people.

We linked up shortly after and headed to a restaurant named Hecho en Mexico, where we’ve eaten numerous times on previous visits. It’s just up the street from the famous Instituto Allende, where foreigners go to try and learn Spanish and other artsy endeavors. I doubt anyone actually learns Spanish, which ain’t that easy.

In keeping with San Miguel’s hippie-dippy spirit, we both ordered vegetarian hamburgers. I got a side of onion rings, and my child bride decided on sweet tater casserole to accompany. My granny’s sweet tater casserole in the old days was far better, but the onion rings were quite tasty, especially with globs of ketchup.

We enjoyed a priceless San Miguel moment while eating our veggie burgers. The moment was provided by another customer, clearly a San Miguel inhabitant, a man who entered sporting a polo shirt with collar upturned jauntily beneath a blue blazer with sleeves pushed up. His hair was tossed carefreely, but the crown jewel of his attire were the pants, chinos with globs of art paint dabbed all over the place. I am an artist! he proclaimed.

After lunch, we drove the remaining three hours to the Hacienda. On alighting from the Honda, we noticed that, due to the spiritual natures of Bernal and San Miguel, we both were walking about two inches above the floor, but by the next morning everything was back to normal. We were grounded. And home again.

* * * *

Note 1: I did not take the photo. I forgot my camera. The shot comes from a series which you may see here.

Note 2: A fun website that pokes fun at the silliness of San Miguel can be found here.

Note 3: A more detailed and more traditional blog post about Bernal can be found here.

Note 4: Bernal is one of the Mexican towns I consider one-shot wonders, which is to say they are worthy of a visit, but not a return. Others in this category are Real de Catorce, Valle de Bravo, Tlalpujahua and Tequisquiapan.

Seven decades down

family

Then

AT 4:23 AM, 70 years ago today, a scrawny, unhealthy baby was born at the Emily Winship Woodruff Maternity Center at Crawford W. Long Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia.

T’was I.

It was three months after V-E Day, 24 days after President Truman dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, and 21 days after famous firefighter Smokey the Bear appeared on the scene.

My mother was weary because I was a long time coming down the birth canal. Was my father there? I don’t know. He might have been in a bar.

I had an affliction. An intestinal valve did not work right, and I could not digest food properly. The prognosis was grim. I hung on, skinny and wan, for a couple of months until an experimental drug was first tried on me — and it worked. I’ve been digesting well ever since.

It’s strange to be this old because I feel good. I have no major health issues, and I’ve never had any. Knock on wood.  My last hospitalization, for nothing serious, was over 50 years ago when I was 19. I’ve never broken even one bone. The only obvious signs of this passage of time is that my hair is white, and my energy level is not what it was 30 years ago. You do feel that.

Alexander the Great, Lord Byron, Adolf Hitler, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway, Nathan Bedford Forrest, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and Jesus Christ all lived fewer years. There is some debate about the last one.

There is one quite noticeable aspect to being 70: You know it’s the end game. Oh, it might come 20 years down the road, like it did for my mother, or just five years more, like it did for my father. It could come tomorrow, and nobody would be surprised. No one would say: So young. What a shame.  Young has vanished.

This age brings a sweet calm but also a sadness, una tristeza. Many things won’t be repeated: barreling 100 miles an hour on a motorcycle down a California freeway in the middle of a cold night; bicycling the perimeter of Puerto Rico, a long-ago, unfulfilled dream; having the sole motor of an Aeronca Champ conk out at 800 feet, forcing a spiraling, white-knuckle descent to a New Orleans runway …

… speedily bolting a crib together alone at night after my wife heads to the hospital earlier than expected; having my daughter call me Daddy; visiting a Cuban dictatorship with a Mexican; visiting a Haitian dictatorship with a Frenchman; a first view of England from the seat of a DC-10; seeing notes of music dance with DNA helices over a Florida lake while listening to frog songs sung far, far away; moving to Mexico alone with two suitcases …

… getting married yet again.

Best to enjoy the calm, an uncommon sensation decades ago.

I never amounted to much, as we Southerners say, but that goes for most people. Most of us simply breathe and live. With luck, we do minor damage and some good. The most the majority of us can hope for is that we made some small difference, sometimes in the life of only one other person.


“If I can stop just one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain.”


Emily Dickinson wrote that, and I believe it. The flip side is that you do not break hearts. Twice divorced, I fear I have been remiss in that.

Now*

Now*

I committed one major error. I drank too much. It went on for 25 years, from age 26 to 51. I was never a raving drunk. I never spent a night in jail. I never lost a job. I was a low-level boozer, blotting things — mostly myself — out.

I quit one sunset evening in March of 1996. I was sitting alone in the outdoor patio of a taco restaurant in Houston, Texas. It was a conscious decision.

I remember marveling at my clear-headedness. It was easy, and life made a 180-degree flip overnight. Things have been great ever since.

So I was born twice. Once in 1944 and again in 1996, so I’m not really 70 years old. I am 18, and my child bride is not really my third wife but my first. I’m just getting started.


“Death should take me while I am in the mood.” – Nathaniel Hawthorne


* * * *

* Photo by Jennifer Rose.

Historically clueless

MY MAIN BEEFS, or rather some of them, with collectivists are that they are untutored in history and clueless about human nature. They are utopian and naive more often than not.

They dislike America, for instance. Incredibly, Barry and Michelle are on board with this. It is because they don’t know U.S. history very well due to being “educated” in the American university system, which for decades has been more political than educational, especially outside the hard sciences.

In the news, you rarely find stories dealing specifically with this issue — the collectivists’ ignorance of history — but this morning I came upon one, and I will share it with you. Another of the Moon’s public services.

Life changes

oldhammockSINCE DAY ONE, over 12 years ago, this hammock has hung right there on the upstairs terraza. I brought it from the porch of the two-story rental where we lived before building the Hacienda.

This hammock is actually second generation. Its papa rotted in time and was replaced by another, identical, that we purchased during a visit down to the coast. Good hammocks are not sold here on the mountaintop.

This one too is beginning to rot. It was always outside. We never brought it in, even in frigid winter. A couple of weeks ago, two young nephews were here visiting, and they played on the hammock in the typical fashion of 11-year-olds, which is to say maniacally. One string broke.

For many years, I was out there daily, swinging in the cool air under the red-tile roof, usually with a book, often with nothing but a peaceful heart. Those were good times. But I gradually tapered off. Dunno why. My child bride has never used the hammock much. She’s not much for kicking back.

I, on the other hand, am a first-class kicker-backer.

The perspective does not make one thing obvious. You step through that screen door, and you are almost against the hammock. It’s an obstacle, but when the hammock was used a lot, it was an obstacle I was willing to accept. Yesterday, I said to myself:  You will never use this hammock again, so get rid of it.

And I did. We folded it up and upended it into a corner out in the garden patio where the yard gear lives under another red-tile roof. My child bride does not want me to throw it away, even though it is well rotted, because she never wants to throw anything away. It’s a Mexican thing.

So I will wait some months, then toss it. Don’t tell her.

I went out this morning, and swept the upstairs terraza. It felt more open, more accessible, more friendly. I think even the magueys in the big pots are glad it’s gone. That terraza has always been a bit of a problem. Tough magueys are about the only plants that don’t die up there due to winter freezes.

In summer, it’s usually covered by a third with puddled rainwater. In springtime, the sun is brutal if you’re not under the relatively small percentage covered by the red-tile roof.

But we’ll be replacing the hammock with a couple of nice, soft chairs that are designed for outdoor life. We’ll get them from Costco in the capital city. It’s just a question of when we see something we like.

For years we also used the yard patio a lot, the one downstairs with the glass-topped table, web chairs and big, brown umbrella. However, that space too has dwindled almost to zero usage. Nowadays we use the downstairs terraza with its wicker rockers almost exclusively for kicking back.

Life changes. Dunno why.

Downside of diversity, Part II

AS PART OF The Unseen Moon’s occasional public service, and as a followup to yesterday’s post on the Downside of Diversity, here is an educational video by Chris Rock.

Yes, there is potty talk involved, and The Moon prefers to maintain its G rating at all times, but sometimes colorful speech is necessary to make a powerful point. If only Michael Brown had watched this video, and taken it to heart, perhaps he would not be lying dead on a cold marble slab today, or wherever he is.

We can easily connect Brown’s fatal encounter with the police to cultural differences. Brown’s culture was of the ghetto, a culture of constant, perceived victimization and, especially among the young, in-your-face defiance. The police officer’s culture of law, order and personal responsibility was another thing entirely.

This is dedicated to Swisher Sweets fans everywhere.