WE PASSED 15 years of matrimony last month and had planned on spending a few days on the Pacific sands to mark the happy event, but it never happened.
My dental work intervened, not just the visits to the dentist but the cost too, which took a good chunk out of the checkbook. Sure, we could still go to the beach, but the moment has passed, plus it’s hot as hell there right now.
We decided to just “celebrate” with a nice meal at a Cuban restaurant in the state capital. The restaurant offers a “Cuban banquet,” and we ordered that … for two.
That was last weekend. The banquet is quite good. The only beef I have with it is they plop everything on your table at the same time. It should come in stages, especially the warm dessert.
We’ve also eaten Cuban food in Cuba, of course, and it was good, but I wouldn’t recommend visiting Cuba. It’s depressing.
Lying in bed this morning before dawn, I was thinking about the United States where I was born and where I have not set foot in eight years. I likely will never set foot there again.
Years of separation, living in a very different society, affects your mind, your viewpoint, your perspective and so on. I’m sure that a visit now would be jarring.
The Germanic efficiency, the rules, the regulations, the cops who actually pay attention to your speed, the need to watch your mouth, be “sensitive.” Indeed, the entire humorless, asexual, multicultural mess that exists up there.
Don’t think I’d care for any of it.
I would enjoy a New Orleans snow cone and beignets on the banks of the Mississippi. But I would reel at prices that would seem stunning due to the exchange rate of the last few years and my no longer having access to dollars.
But mostly it would be a thump to my psyche.
Most Americans who live down here appear to flee back over the border on a regular basis, avoiding that thump.
I WAS A newspaperman for about 30 years before I retired at age 55 in late 1999. I never called myself a journalist, and I’ve never taken even one journalism course.
I’ve also been a taxi driver, a loan shark and a repo man.
But it was newspapering that I was best at.
There’s a link in the right-side column that takes you to Newspaper Days, a description of my decades in that world. It was a profession I fell into, just one more path in a life that’s been almost entirely haphazard.
Take a look if you have some spare moments. It’s a quick tour through exotic places like San Juan and New Orleans, and even haircuts in the Virgin Islands.
You’ll also encounter mangy dogs, suicides, alcoholism, unionism, motorcycles, political correctness, feminist zealotry, homosexuality, paste pots and old typewriters.
WE MAY HAVE iPods and iPads and iTunes and even flaming Samsungs today, but we do not have trains. Freight trains are nice, but passenger trains are lovely.
One advantage of being vintage is that you had trains in your life, and now you have trains in your mind.
A railroad track passes directly behind the house across our street. Freights thunder by day and night. My favorite is the 5:45 a.m. Who needs an alarm clock?
Most passenger trains are gone, and we’re left with the occasional line that transports tourists. Alas.
As a child I boarded trains at the huge station in Jacksonville, Florida, and rode 200-plus miles northwest to Sylvester, Georgia, where I stepped down onto dirt.
Grandparents picked me up in an old Ford, and we drove to the farm on rutted, red-clay roads.
One evening in 1962 a staff sergeant deposited me at the station in San Antonio, Texas, handing me a ticket and ordering me aboard.
The Air Force paid for a solo sleeper to Rantoul, Illinois. I woke the next morning and watched a forest of white-barked birch trees passing. I’d never seen birches.
Also courtesy of the Air Force, a few months later, I railed from Rantoul to the San Joaquin Valley of California, via Chicago. All the way across much of America.
From New Orleans I would ride the elegant Southern Railway to Atlanta to visit my parents. “Southern Railway Serves the South.” It surely did. But not anymore.
Traveling solo with two bottles of tequila, I rode in a sleeper from Mexico City to Ciudad Juárez. I stood outside on the bucking platform between cars and watched the desert mountains in the distance, which was romantic.
With the woman who’s now my second ex-wife, I took a train from the English Channel to Paris, and a few days later an overnight sleeper to Barcelona.
The following year found me on a train alone from Edinburgh to Inverness and a few days later, with a new traveling companion in the form of a lovely American anthropologist, aboard a train from Inverness to the craggy coast of Scotland.
From there we ferried to the Isle of Skye.
I stood outside, six days later, as my traveling companion, leaned out the train window (just like in the movies) as it pulled from the station in Chester, England, taking her to Wales. My ride, an hour later, went to London.
I never saw her again.
Again with my second ex-wife, I took a train from Los Mochis, Mexico, to Chihuahua with an overnight at the Copper Canyon. After a following night in a Chihuahua hotel, we took a jammed, third-class train to Ciudad Juárez.
That was in the 1980s, and it was my last train ride.
My most beloved bar of all — El Batey — was in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Recently I did an internet search, wondering if El Batey still existed, and it surely does.
It’s now the oldest bar in Old San Juan, and it has its own Facebook page. But what business doesn’t?
El Batey has changed a lot over the years, but outside more than inside where the only alternations seem to be more wall graffiti. Here is a current exterior shot, just below, and a photo from when I drank there, farther below.
Note the street surface in the photo to the left. It’s blue stone that Spaniards brought to the New World as ballast in sailing ships.
So it’s said.
It was recycled into cobblestones in what is now Old San Juan, which is San Juan’s version of New Orleans’ French Quarter.
You don’t encounter blue streets very often, and they take on a particularly lovely cast when slicked with raindrops.
When I moved to San Juan the first time in the early 1970s — I was there twice, once for five months and a second stint of 11 months — I had a black BSA motorcycle shipped down from New Orleans in the hold of a Sealand freighter.
A decade ago I wrote El Morro Sunrise about a late night in El Batey while the black BSA leaned on the cobblestones.
My two spells in San Juan were separated only by a year or so. When I returned for the final time I brought a record from New Orleans. It was one of Jimmy Buffett’s lesser-known ditties, titled Why Don’t We Get Drunk and Screw?
The owner put it on the jukebox.
El Batey was owned by Davey Jones. In the early years, while I was there, he had a business partner named Norman, a spectacularly delightful man.
My second ex-wife and I visited Puerto Rico in the early 1990s, about 20 years after I lived there, and the only time I’ve returned. We went to El Batey, and Jones told me that Norman had died. Far too young.
If memory serves, Davey was one of those mail-order ministers with the legal right to perform marriages.
I was smitten at the time with an Argentine floozy who’d overstayed her visa. I decided to marry her so she could stay in San Juan, and Davey agreed to perform the ceremony. But it never happened, thank God.
Which is why you shouldn’t drink, boys and girls.
During that 1990s visit, I checked the jukebox for my Jimmy Buffett record, but it was not there.
One of Davey’s daughters, Maria, told me on Facebook that he died last year. He was in his early 80s. R.I.P.
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Both fore and aft of my times in San Juan, I favored a bar on Decatur Street in the French Quarter of New Orleans, a city where I lived off and on — mostly on — for 18 years.
For a time after my first divorce, my ex-wife tended bar there, and it’s where she met her second husband, the guy who jumped bond on a marijuana charge and hightailed it to Canada with my ex-wife and my daughter.
The Mounties nabbed them three years later, and they were returned to New Orleans where everything eventually got straightened out, and both ex-wife, second husband and daughter are now upstanding citizens.
The Abbey is one of a handful of New Orleans bars that never close, a characteristic that suited me wonderfully.
On Sundays, back when I was a patron, the owner laid out a spectacular free spread of snacks that negated your having to buy your own main meal that day.
Between the two, I favored El Batey, but I’ve spent far more nights in The Abbey.
If you stumble out of The Abbey at dawn, lurch right a couple of blocks to Jackson Square, look left and you’ll see the levee that holds back the Mighty Mississippi.
You’ll spot freighters passing above the levee’s crest because the river is higher than the city.
It’s like watching ships sailing in the sky.
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(Note: El Batey is a plaza for community events, a word that comes from the Caribbean Taino people.)
VIDEOS ARE not my main thing, but I’ve done them, and maybe I’ll do more.
I have lots of videos from years past in a couple of internet corners. Links are elsewhere on this page.
Recently I discovered a video host that I like, and I opened a free account and inserted 10 very brief movies from those olden days that collectively provide an accurate flavor of life here on my Mexican mountaintop.
They are the wheat filtered from the chaff.
Small world: In the first video there is a blonde woman sitting at a café table. Her name is Robyn, and she was my bartender at a Decatur Street dive in New Orleans in the 1970s.
Her being here and my being here are totally coincidental. However, she’s only a part-timer on the mountaintop. I, on the other hand, am a permanent fixture.
ON THE BIG plaza yesterday, I had a nice café Americano negro with a vanilla muffin that I bought in a pastry shop near the San Juan Church and Hospital.
After the café Americano negro, I walked to the other side of the plaza to buy a little lemon ice. It’s just like they sell in New Orleans but at a lower price here, of course.
About 5:30 p.m. it was, and the plaza was full of happy-looking people. There was no gunfire, no grenades. The air was clear and cool, and the towering ash trees rustled.
The fountains made water sounds, and the pigeons crapped on the heads of long-dead heroes and priests who — being stone — just stood there and took it.
I drove the Honda home. As I walked through the Hacienda’s downstairs hallway toward the closet to slip on my PJs, I noticed the mask that was bathed in light from a large glass brick in the ceiling, which is the terraza floor above.
This is the mask of a viejito, an old man. There are dance troupes in our area who perform for tourists.
This doll would get me kicked out of modish households in the United States. The skull face is cut from metal.
We bought this boat on a pier in Zihuatanejo. It brings back memories of happy days in sunshine and blue seas with a beautiful woman who spoke to me in Spanish.
I AM TRIM and, to all appearances, quite healthy for an old fart.
I attribute this to years of steady, light exercise, salads and a child bride. Don’t discount the latter.
In 1980, I weighed 60 pounds more than I weigh today. Oddly, I was not so much fat as formidable.
It was in that distant year in New Orleans — where I often would eat French fry po’ boys — that I decided to get trim and svelte.
Being fat is not an issue of hunger. It’s about habits and emotions. Services like Weight Watchers can address your bad habits, but they do little with your emotions, which is why 99 percent of overweight people get fat again soon after ending a weight-loss program.*
Of the two — habits and emotions — it’s emotions that play the primary role. They form the habits, after all.
Here’s how I took and kept off 60 pounds, and you can do it too. Well, except for those sneaky emotions.
I quit eating crap, and you know what the crap is: cakes, pies, burgers, Snickers, deep-fried anything, etc. You don’t need to buy a book that spells it out. It’s common sense.
And I started exercising. Twenty minutes of brisk walking five days weekly does it. Thirty-five years later, I’m still at it.
Most folks start brutal exercise routines, weary of it within two weeks, and that’s the end of that. Don’t overreach.
In addition to walking, I do what my wife considers a laughable series of weight-lifting. That’s my weight machine in the photo. Three times a week, and it takes about 10 minutes.
I weigh what I weighed at age 21, half a century ago.
Before buying the weight apparatus, I visited a gym here three mornings a week, but the gym went out of business about five years back, so I purchased my setup at Liverpool in the capital city for the peso equivalent of about $600.
So there you have Felipe’s Foolproof Weight Loss System. Don’t eat crap, do light exercise five days a week (forever!) and marry a child bride, preferably Mexican.
You womenfolk can adjust that last element to your liking, but know that folks will gossip behind your back.
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*Don’t ever start a “diet” because they never work. The concept of a diet implies a beginning and — when you reach your “goal weight” — an end. When you end your diet, you start eating like you did before. And you get fat again. Never go on a diet. Instead, change your habits permanently.
(Today, we hand The Moon over to a guest columnist, one of the world’s most intelligent men, Thomas Sowell. Since Sowell is black, if you take issue with anything that follows, you are a racist and not fit for civilized company.)
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Random thoughts on the passing scene:
One of the problems with being a pessimist is that you can never celebrate when you are proven right.
If what you want from politicians are quick and easy answers, someone is sure to supply them, regardless of which party you follow. History can tell you where quick and easy answers lead. But, if you don’t want to bother reading history, you can just wait and relive its catastrophes.
What is “economic power”? What can Bill Gates stop you from doing?
I don’t understand how people who cannot predict the weather five days in advance can predict the climate decades from now.
One of history’s painful ironies is how often people on the brink of disaster have been preoccupied with trivialities. With a nuclear Iran with intercontinental missiles looming on the horizon, our intelligentsia are preoccupied with calling achievements “privilege” and playing other word games.
Of life’s many surprises, encountering an old flame, years later, is in a class by itself.
Some people seem to think that Donald Trump has great abilities because he is a billionaire. But being born rich and getter richer is not exactly a Horatio Alger miracle.
Of all the disheartening signs of the utter ignorance of so many American college students, nothing so completely disheartened me as seeing on television a black college student who did not know what the Civil War was about. Fifty years ago, it would have been virtually impossible to find a black adult, with even an elementary school education, who did not know what the Civil War was about.
Global warming, due to greenhouse gasses, is the latest in a long series of one-factor theories about a multi-factor world. Such theories have often enjoyed great popularity, despite how often they have turned out to be wrong.
One of the most richly rewarded skills in politics is the ability to make self-interest sound like idealism. Nowhere is this tactic more successful than in so-called “campaign finance reform” laws — spending restrictions that prevent challenger candidates from buying enough publicity to offset the free publicity that incumbents get from the media.
At one time, it seemed as if the free world had defeated the world of totalitarian dictatorships twice — first the Nazis and then the Communists. But, with the slow but steady expansion of government control over our lives and the spread of the idea that people who deny “climate change” (are) criminals, it seems as if totalitarianism may be winning, after all.
People who want to redistribute wealth often misunderstand the nature and causes of wealth. Tangible wealth can be confiscated, but you cannot confiscate the knowledge which produced that wealth. Countries that confiscated the wealth of some groups and expelled them, destitute, have often seen the economy collapse, while the expelled people became prosperous again elsewhere.
Some people think that Ted Cruz would not have as good a chance against Hillary Clinton as would Donald Trump. They say that Cruz does not have a sparkling style of speaking. But, after months of hearing childish insults from Trump, the public may be ready for some serious adult talk by someone with substance, who can cut right through Hillary’s shallow evasions.
To me, beautiful music is whatever music makes you glad to be a human being, whether it is “Musetta’s Waltz” from “La Boheme” or “Muskrat Ramble” from New Orleans. Much of what passes for music today makes me wish that, if there is such a thing as reincarnation, I can come back as a dolphin.
Republican leaders seem to be worried that Donald Trump will get the nomination and lose the election. Those of us who are not Republicans should worry that Trump will get the nomination and win the election. After all, the fate of the country is a lot more important than the fate of a political party — and in far greater danger.
As this country continues to degenerate, we hope that it never reaches the desperate stage where only a military coup can rescue it from catastrophes created by feckless politicians. But, if that day ever arrives, we can only hope that the military will do their duty and step in. It is one of the few institutions dedicated to something besides individual self-interest.