Wednesday, April 20, 2016

A small eulogy for a great mutt

Gladys, our oldest dog who had a crooked tail, soulful eyes and a great heart but no visible link to any particular breed, died last night of respiratory failure at the vet's office, as unexpectedly as she had entered our lives about nine years ago.

Maybe just a mutt to you, but a queen to Stew and me.

We don't know what triggered her death, except she had become lethargic and stopped eating during her last two or three days. The vet suggested it might have been a toxic reaction to phenothrin, the active ingredient in an anti-flea shampoo we'd used, though the other dogs were not affected. Following reports of toxic reactions, phenothrin was banned in the U.S. for use on cats but not on dogs.

Whatever. We brought Gladys home this morning, put her on a wheelbarrow and took her to a grave that had been already dug by Félix and his brother Esteban, who had come to help. Under a cloudless sky, an improvised, single-file funeral procession consisting of Stew, me and our four remaining dogs, wended its way through the weeds, to what has become a pet cemetery in one corner of our ranch. 

We stood as Gladys, wrapped in an old bed sheet, was gradually covered with soil. Stew, who doesn't have as big a problem crying as I do, knelt by the gravesite and sobbed for several minutes.
Gladys parachuted into our lives when we lived in a condo development in town. We found her walking aimlessly in a pouring rain, the remains of a piece of rope around her neck, and limping as if she had been injured. While vehemently protesting we would not adopt her, I nevertheless built Gladys a dog house behind our building, out of a large plastic storage bin with a blanket inside, and set out food for her every morning.

Naturally she kept coming back for more food and soon started walking, cautiously at first, alongside our other dog Lucy to a nearby park. The two dogs became fast friends and started playing and chasing each other in the park.

Gladys's funeral procession. 
After I don't know how many weeks of this routine, suddenly Gladys sat as if inviting Stew to pick her up. "I wanna go home with you guys!" And so she did.

The vet said Gladys had been either hit by a car or abused, hence her injuries, including a permanently crooked, droopy tail and slightly off-center gait. We've always suspected she had been mistreated or abused because, with the exception of Stew and me, Gladys didn't trust people. Truth be told, for the first couple of years she was quite the dyspeptic bitch.

We've always suspected her previous owner must have been a Mexican woman who hit her with a broom: Every time our maid Rocío picked up a broom to start cleaning, Gladys started cowering and growling threateningly. She kept up that routine right up to the end. She definitely didn't like Mexican women with brooms or mops.

Eventually though, Gladys grew up to be the tamest, friendliest and most attentive dog in our crew of five.  She went to the beach with us a couple of times; riding in the car, even just for two hundred feet up the driveway, was her biggest thrill. She would sit ramrod straight on the back seat, peering out the windows as if she owned the place.
Graveside ceremonies. 

When we took her to the vet two days ago, Gladys at first didn't get up from her cushion. Then Stew shouted the magic words: "Hey, Gladys, want to go in the truck?" Her eyes opened and she slowly stumbled out to the garage and sat by the truck waiting for help to get up on the back seat.

That was her last ride until we brought her home this morning.

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Trying to survive in Planet Fear

A few days ago the latest Consumer Reports arrived along with the AARP Bulletin, the latter something we've never subscribed to but seem destined to receive until we die.

CR's cover featured a half-plastered doctor—a model I hope—with a two-day beard, a crumpled white smock and a jumbo martini in one hand, along with the headline "What You Don't Know About Your Doctor Could Hurt You." Inside, the article covers botched surgeries, substance abuse, sexual misconduct and other horrors that might prompt you to avoid doctors and hospitals unless you happen to fall unconscious while walking by an emergency room. The issue had other stories to my mind more relevant to consumers, such as the latest on electric cars and the best washing machines, but the editors instead picked fear as their lead.

Compared to the AARP Bulletin though, CR is a gusher of optimism. The latest Bulletin warns us about dangers in the home, scam alerts, a nursing home murder, ways to prepare for a disaster, deadly viruses, dangerous products (accompanied by an illustration of an exploding kitchen blender), and gangs targeting older Americans.

Excuse me while I fix myself a one-liter martini like the one the doctor on the CR cover had on his left hand.

Along with resentments, fear has to be the oldest and most insidious of emotions. At a talk before the local Unitarian fellowship, Rev. Tom Rosiello pointed out that "Do not be afraid!" is among the most common injunctions in the Bible. One blogger actually counted the number of times it comes up and claimed it's close to three hundred and sixty-five times, enough for a daily innoculation against fear. Indeed, throughout history most religions have dealt with the puzzle of fear by suggesting we just put our fate in the hands of Someone Upstairs.

Russell T. Gourdine' painting "Life: Fear". He explains:
"I chose to paint fear... because fear is something that
 everyone experiences in life. This painting shows a woman
who is fearful of her past." Whoa!
  
During the current presidential primary season, fear of everything and everyone—immigrants, transgender people lurking in bathroom stalls, Mexicans, blacks, Muslims, terrorists, economic insecurity and criminals, to name just a few—seems to have replaced rational discourse, making it look as if the clowns have hijacked the circus parade.

Yet raw fear, much like resentments, accomplishes little. The two sour daily life by distorting it, by focusing our attention on what has happened and what might happen—both of them scenarios largely out of our control and often irrational—and away from what is actually occurring in front of us.

Fear can't be just wished away. It's in our spines and a healthy dose of it is essential for survival. Rational fear could be called prudence, common sense, caution, and it can save us from getting run down when we cross the street or sticking a wet finger in an electrical socket. Stew and I make a round of the house and make sure all the doors and windows are locked before checking out for the night.

Resentments, or looking back, are intrinsically human too. You inescapably look back in your life's experiences, yesterday or years ago, to help you understand and guide your behavior today. If you're lucky such examination will add a measure of balance or even happiness to your life. I think that is what psychotherapy is supposed to do, though if Woody Allen is any indication progress is often imperceptible.

In some cases—most notably my own, though regrettably I realized it relatively late in life—retrospection frequently sours into resentments and becomes seriously destructive, because, just as with irrational fears, grudges and resentments distort your perspective of the now. Would that someone could invent a machine to edit the past, one that could expunge the nasty episodes and people from one's previous existence.

The next best solution might be to emulate the pope and periodically issue a "plenary indulgence" that absolves all the assholes in our lives so we can move on and deal with what's in front of us today. Probably that's not exactly how the pope would describe it, nor do rank-and-filers like me have the pope's supposedly divine touch of global absolution. But I find it a surprisingly refreshing exercise, like taking a shower and putting on clean clothes, even if there are a few die-hard assholes I can't seem to get on my indulgence list.

But if resentments tend to be a private matter, nowadays fear is universal. After a dinner party the other day friends talked about their travel plans. Istanbul? But is it safe? The Netherlands? Isn't that in Europe, pretty close to Brussels and Paris, where Islamic terrorists roam? Egypt? Are you crazy? The whole place is packed with crazy Muslims! Living in Mexico? Aren't you afraid of the narco-bandidos? Or for that matter, the U.S., where some mass shooting takes places almost daily, in the streets, a military base(!), a movie house or a black church?

As the conversation meandered through all these minefields of risks and fears I realized that if we let them govern our lives—not to mention our travel plans—life could at best become only marginally safer but also limited and limiting, borderline intolerable.

The gun-owning mania in the U.S. is fueled by fear, a veritable mass hysteria. Millions of Americans own guns, sleep by them or carry them, concealed or ostentatiously, whether going to the car wash or the grocery store. Many of them interviewed on TV say they want "protection" and that guns provide a feeling of "empowerment," even though letting fear and envisioning anyone you meet on the street as a potential threat is an oxymoronic take on personal empowerment.

How to deal with fears and resentments, to determine which are rational and productive—as opposed to Looneyville and self-destructive—is a question to which I've found no definitive answer. The closest I've come is to try living in the present and to constantly challenge my own perspectives and decisions. To give up on travel for fear of meeting people different from us seems illogical—isn't that why we travel?—though cancelling that long-postponed archeological tour of Damascus until further notice probably is a good move. But wholesale surrender to fear is the ultimate defeat of reason.

Though I initially dismissed Donald Trump's agenda as lunatic—a sort of stream-of-consciousness, spur-of-the-moment babbling—I've gradually come to appreciate the succor his pitch offers to frustrated white voters whose fortunes continue to continue to decline as the U.S. economy becomes more polarized, and dreams of upward mobility for themselves and their children turn into a mirage. These folks are angry and ready to blame anything and anyone, from free-trade treaties to Mexican rapists and Trump is their man.

But even when you agree that their gripes are legitimate, their solutions are not. Resentments, xenophobia and other types of bigotry, plus fear, do not add up to a constructive economic policy. What is scariest of all—and I think that's a legitimate fear—is that given the gotcha politics that paralizes Congress today there may be no plausible solutions for the foreseeable future to what ails the country and the economy.

That's really scary.

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Thursday, April 7, 2016

Gardening with Félix and Mother Nature

It's a ritual among gardeners, really more like a booby trap of frustration, to amble around the yard long before the planting season arrives and fantasize about exotic combinations of flowers and plants swaying in the breeze, such visions reinforced by the arrival of seed catalogs in January and February, and glossy gardening books that descend from our shelves for an annual cameo. One can imagine too the aromas of lavenders, sages and santolinas even though they are barely emerging from their winter torpor, let alone blooming.

Reason and past experience try to dampen such reveries, but to no avail.

No, you can't grow such plants in your area, a voice barks in the back of my head. It's too cold; too hot; too dry; the soil too lousy. And don't forget those small but ravenous nasties—mice, birds, rabbits, and particularly the motley battalions of insects, whose names I'll never remember in English much less Spanish, ready to assault any and all plants, preferably those I value most.

Most crucially, you need to wait a month, maybe two, after the initial springtime planting urges stir in your gut. In gardening, as in most endeavors, impatience is not your friend. I don't know how many times our gardener Félix has told me that, but I pay no attention because I'm college-educated and obviously much smarter than he is.

This year we had additional problems. We had a few mild overnight freezes serious enough to burn several cacti right down to the nub and in a few cases knock them dead.

Is there hope for our Euphorbia lactea?
We planted a Euphorbia lactea, a gaunt, candelabra-like fellow about a one and a half meters high, also called the ghost cactus because it's all white. We paid good money for it, about fifty dollars, and placed him in a prominent place befitting what I thought would become a "specimen plant," a conversation piece.

After the first freeze though, its branches rapidly turned brown. We rushed to cover it with sheets and plastic bags to protect it from the wind and overnight cold snaps, but by then all its branches had begun to die down, ultimately leaving a bare, frightened stalk.

There's hope yet. The remaining trunk, about two inches wide, is still green and solid, two good signs according to Félix, though it'll be months before new growth emerges. I hope he's right.

I'd thought cacti could withstand just about anything I said to Félix. I'd seen pictures of their relatives standing stoically in the snow and searing heat of deserts in Arizona and New Mexico.

But apparently some succulents don't like the cold. Félix smiled, shook his head at my epiphany, and pointed toward a nearby patch of Tequila agaves most of their leaves brown and limp. Some might recover, he said, and for the rest, it's adiós.

Then came couple of wispy snowfalls and a far more serious hailstorm that shredded and perforated the bright new foliage of trees and knocked the blossoms off one peach tree. A big alder by the terrace looked like it'd been caught in the middle of a gun battle.

Unable to connect the dots, I ran to the plant store with a sample tree branch to ask what sort of biblical plague had come down on our yard. When we showed up with a bottle of ant killer, Félix smiled and shook his head again: It was just the result of the hailstorm.

There were also fierce afternoon winds, kicking up rivers of dust. One storm shook the five slender cypresses in the the front yard in every direction as if they were doing some sort of spastic rhumba. Félix dutifully tied the young trees to the wall.

My annual seeding offensive got off to a very bumpy start too. We ordered about a hundred dollars worth of seeds from two vendors in the U.S., brought down here under some subterfuge because Mexico doesn't allow plants or seeds to come into the country.

The new class of seedlings, waiting for action. 
I did some research and settled on several varieties of tomatoes and vegetables but, of more interest to me, I also ordered several flower seeds I thought should grow here but had never found at the local nurseries. Nothing exotic: Russian Sage, Achillea, Bee Balm, Kniphofia, Gomphrena and others that were supposed to relish dry, sunny climates.

I installed fluorescent lights with a timer on a shelf in the garage, just as we used to have in Chicago, and waited. And waited. Félix was mystified.

Most of the seeds failed to germinate. Too cold in the garage? Wrong planting medium (an equal mix of vermiculite, compost and black dirt)? Too much water? Too little? The few that came up we put outside in a greenhouse-like contraption consisting of PVC hoops and translucent plastic sheeting.

Then one afternoon a merciless wind blew off the plastic cover and that night we had a combination freezing temperatures and hail that pretty much wiped out the entire colony of pre-pubescent plantlets.

But gardening, goddamn it, is not for quitters, I exhorted Félix, and so we started a new batch of seedlings and things are looking up, sort of.

We should have five varieties of tomatoes, plus plenty of leaf vegetables. We coaxed our first batch of spinach out of the ground this year. Asparagus stalks are coming up, not a bumper crop but enough to make a couple of omelets, and we have two batches of garlic and one of shallots.

As for flowers to fill our beds, we've been visiting local nurseries whose absurdly low prices, compared to the U.S., partly make up for the lack of variety.

Back from the dead. 
And despite the uncooperative spring, everything seems to be waking up in the yard on its own, even some prickly pear cacti—a species with smooth rather than thorny paddles—that Félix had found by the side of the road. The mother plant had been literally run over but, undaunted, Félix planted the gnarled, battered remnants. I rolled my eyes.

Two weeks ago he brought me over to proudly show me scores of little green paddles popping up on the old tattered plant—proof, according to Félix, that one should think twice, thrice or four times before discarding any plants. In fact he has saved countless truenos (Japanese privets) and pepper trees, or pirules, that now thrive in various corners of the yard.

I stammered that yeah, but, on the other hand, so what?, you can't save everything Félix, you need to think about this or that.

Then I shut up: I realized that when it comes to plants, there's no point in arguing with Mother Nature or Félix, no matter what my books say or what I think I know.

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Thursday, March 24, 2016

Looking-glass economics

A few days ago the New York Times told the sad story of the closing of a Carrier air conditioner manufacturing plant in Indianapolis and the transfer of those 1,400 jobs to Monterrey, Mexico. The workers' fury over losing their jobs faithfully echoed the debate lines of both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders whose wildly divergent politics appear to converge over worries that the bipartisan fascination with international free-trade agreements is fueling the migration of manufacturing jobs overseas and shafting American workers.

In this movement of labor, Mexico would seem to be at the winning end with its
competitive advantage being cheap labor, as is the case with most Third World countries.

Make that really cheap labor—in addition to loose environmental and safety rules and the absence of labor unions to erode profits. The manufacturing jobs eliminated in Indianapolis pay around $22 dollars an hour while the jobs relocated to Mexico will pay $19 dollars a day.
Cool profits and taco wages

Even allowing for considerably lower living costs—tortillas and beans are indeed cheaper than USDA hamburger—$19 dollars an hour or $95 dollars a week is still a very low wage, barely enough to sustain a family of four in Mexico or promise the workers' children a chance at a middle-class future. Most American expats in San Miguel pay their household help more than that, though foreign employers would reply that, hey, McWages are better than no wages at all.

In the Times article, the chief financial officer of Carrier said the decision to move the Indianapolis plant was "really tough" and not based on pressure from Wall Street, trade policy or "corporate greed." United Technologies, Carrier's parent company, faces pressure from investors to increase profit margins, the article said, and shipping jobs overseas is one ready way to do that.
All around us here in Mexico, industrial parks hosting foreign manufacturing firms in anonymous hangar-like, corrugated steel buildings are unexpectedly landing on the landscape like flying saucers. The economic spinoffs are equally visible, particularly in the nearby city of Querétaro: Shopping centers offering goodies from Crate & Barrel and Brooks Brothers, and a full menu of high-end new car dealers from Porsches to Range Rovers.

Though I have no specific economic databank on which to base my opinions—hey, it works for Trump—the visuals suggest a polarization of incomes in Mexico not unlike that already well established in the U.S. Carrier's tighter squeeze for profits benefits its American stockholders and other one-percenters but it doesn't help the company's soon-to-be former employees in Indianapolis.
In Mexico one could hope for the development of a class of upwardly mobile manufacturing workers, even as a result of foreign-owned plants. According to this paradigm, Mexican workers could gradually acquire skills and move up. Querétaro has established technical schools presumably to make that happen.

Except that what nurtured the creation and expansion of the middle class in the U.S. were high-paying jobs—those $25-dollar-and-up assembly line American jobs, with a full platter of benefits, that American manufactures are now trying to shed—in addition to strong labor unions and sympathetic government labor laws.

With its skimpy wages, bare-bones benefits, weak or non-existent unions and a government with a "we'll do whatever you want" attitude toward foreign investors, Mexican workers at the bottom may have long to wait for enough pesos to trickle down so they can switch from tacos to hamburger.

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Tale of a rare medical coincidence

About three weeks ago, our close friend Fred damaged the meniscus, an obscure but apparently essential cartilage-type thingie on his knee. A week after, our even closer friend Felisa suffered a similar accident on her left knee. Both of them had to undergo surgical interventions to relieve the pain and prevent permanent damage.

What are the chances of such medical coincidence?

Fred hurt his knee while playing tennis, when he pivoted on one foot in a heroic attempt to return a volley from the other player. He may have been channeling Martina Navratilova for all we know. We do know, however, that Felisa didn't injure herself playing tennis.

You see, Fred is about six feet tall and a biped (one leg immobilized now by a groin-to-ankle cast), while our dog Felisa is a quadruped (only three feet functioning at the moment) that stands barely eighteen inches off the floor. Despite her current disability, Felisa continues to furiously wag her tail in a circular motion, propeller-like, as if to help her move forward. No reports received, or solicited, about Fred's tail.

Fred was flown to a hospital in San Antonio, where he underwent surgery to patch up the damage. Felisa rode on the back seat of our car to Ciudad Mascota ("Pet City"), located in the city of Celaya about ninety minutes away, where a vet specializes in orthopedic interventions on "small species."

After some rest, Fred flew back to San Miguel and so did Felisa, though she again traveled by car and this time marked the occasion by peeing all over her cushion. Fred didn't have any airborne accidents, though his husband Ron did report that the flight attendants tossed him the complimentary bags of peanuts from farther away than usual, just in case.

Felisa with her Elizabethan collar and the scar
from her surgery on her knee. 
For both Fred and Felisa, rest is key to recovery. In Felisa's case the doctor prescribed an "Elizabethan collar," a plastic device to partially immobilize her head and prevent her from licking the injured knee. Ron borrowed an Elizabethan collar from a local theater company but Fred wouldn't wear it even around the house. Besides, both concluded, at his age Fred couldn't bend down far enough to lick his knee anyway.

People-style Elizabethan collar.
The vet also recommended that we accompany Felisa outside to pee, to keep her from running around too much and possibly causing further injury.

Ron, the ever-faithful companion—one who takes the part of his marriage vows about "in sickness and in health" very seriously—at first did the same with Fred until the plants in their backyard started turning brown. Even their beautiful mesquite tree seem to be distressed. So Ron quickly put an end to that routine and told Fred to get his forty-pound cast, and the rest of him, back to the indoor facilities no matter how clumsy it might be.

Felisa has remained silently stoic during her recovery, though she really hasn't got much choice because she can't talk. According to Ron, Fred has been far more eloquent in his complaints, groans, moans and requests, the latter generally along the line of "gimme this" and "gimme that." At certain points, Ron even seemed a bit vexed, friends noticed.

But both patients are coming along fine. Fred is using a walker to help him navigate in his cast, and Felisa is hopping along three-legged, a bit like a rabbit, with a plastic cone on her head and oblivious to how ridiculous she looks.

In a few months Fred and Felisa should be completely healed, and this peculiar medical coincidence will be happily behind us. Get well, both of you.






Saturday, March 12, 2016

'tis the Season to Eat Crow

Not even a month after posting some snarky remarks about expats in San Miguel who complain about our “winters,” in addition to snickering about our friends marooned in subarctic hells like Chicago, New York or Boston, punishment has come down on my head from Lakshmi, Isis or whoever is the Goddess of Karmic Retribution.  

Following two days this week of near gale-force winds that threatened to knock down our cypresses and some younger trees, Thursday morning we woke up to subzero temperatures and a quarter inch of snow on the ground that for several hours turned the surrounding mountains into an alpine postcard. Adding to the eerily unseasonal ambiance when we got in our pickup the iPod slid into Andrea Bocelli singing “Adeste Fidelis.”

Honey, get the skis. Quick, before it all melts in two hours. 
Where are we and what time of the year is it?
Sensing we might get an overnight freeze, Felix had brought in the fifteen trays of seedlings that just last week seemed to be thriving under one of our makeshift cold frames. The formerly perky plantlets now sit dejectedly in the garage leaning in this and that direction, wondering what happened.

Two of our dogs, the biggest and the smallest, briefly frolicked in the light snow cover but then fled to the warmth of the heater in the living room.  Neither one of them is Iditarot material, I'm afraid. 

The sight of snow was a big event among the locals who stood around awestruck, many taking photos with their smartphones, including my dentist who showed up forty-minutes late for our appointment. That's not unusual; he seems to have his watch set to A.M.T., or Approximate Mexican Time. But yesterday he got even further behind in his schedule to show me a brief video of the snow he took on the way to work. 
Beside the snow and the cold, we also received a full inch of rain. In a desert-like climate like ours one never complains about rain but this downpour was unusual because our rainy season is not due for at least another three months. 

If this rash of strange weather occurred in the U.S., the media would be erupting with theories. Is the result of El Niño? La Niña? La Abuela? A meandering Polar Vortex that didn't know where to stop? 

Here life is simpler. The headline Thursday in one of the local papers was just "Brrrr" followed by snippets from here and there of people complaining about the cold. Let's just take a picture and move on.

Indeed, for the sake of my peace of mind, I'm gradually converting to laissez-faire Republican meteorology so I can be oblivious, to climate change worries no matter how weird the weather gets. It's a more tranquil way to live at least until the Atlantic Ocean backs up into Miami and Marco Rubio's cars float away to the Azores. But that's fifty years from now. By then he'll be dead and so will I and perhaps the 2016 presidential primaries will over too. 

Immediately though, I'm just embarrassed about my previous gloating about "winter" in San Miguel and Up North particularly since yesterday, while we were searching for our winter jackets here, New York's WQXR-FM merrily forecast afternoon temperatures in the low-seventies. 

Someone once defined bad karma as "ha-ha screw you!" and I think that's what happened here. It serves me right for being so insensitive to other people's winter complaints—real or imagined. 

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Saturday, February 20, 2016

The "winter" of our discontent

San Miguel, and particularly our mini-ranch, enjoys a nearly perfect climate. Warm summers, but nothing like the steam heat of Houston or Miami, and "winters" so mild that around here the word should be used in quotation marks, followed by a knowing chuckle, as in a private joke.

But still.  Instead of lighting thanksgiving candles to St. Alberto de Roker, patron of favorable weather, shortly after Christmas expats begin grousing about the oncoming cold weather and planning their migrations to the beach, usually on Mexico's Pacific Coast.

"On to the beach!," Gladys barked. 
Stew and I join in. Two weeks ago we loaded Gladys, our dowager and ever-plumper mutt in the car and drove seven hours to a modest beachfront bungalow Stew had found in Barra de Potosí, a spectacular and secluded beach near Zihuatanejo. Gladys seemed excited and for the first few hours sat up on the back seat intently inspecting the countryside as if she owned it.
Before leaving, though, and apparently under the influence of a case of Schadenfreude—a five-dollar word that means delighting in the misery of others—Stew set the weather app on our smart phone to report periodically on weather conditions in Chicago, our former home. Shame on you Stew for not channeling more charitable thoughts to our dear, dear friends [poor bastards] still living [stuck] in Chicago. 

Winters in Chicago. It's hard for me to forget the five-block trudge, from our house to the el stop, on sidewalks covered with snow and assorted urban detritus including frozen dog poop, to join other commuters at the station huddled under overhead heaters, glowing like chickens in a rotisserie and counting the nanoseconds until the goddamn train showed up.

And so to work and back. It's hard to imagine that, for the past two years, Bostonians and other Northeasterners have suffered through winters just as bad, if not worse, as Chicago's. Our condolences.
When arrived at Barra de Potosí, early in the evening, it was beautiful: coconut trees swayed gently to the tune of salty, ocean breezes. Our bungalow faced a small gazebo by the pool. Waves, some four or five feet high, constantly pounded the fine sand on the beach.

Next morning Gladys excitedly ran around on the beach—until the temperatures began to climb. By by noon they'd reached the mid-nineties and her enthusiasm had vanished. With her ears drooping and her tongue hanging out a couple of inches, she flashed Stew a pitiful look that said: "¡Mucho calor!"
"¡Hmm, mucho calor!," Gladys said, looking out from the porch.

Indeed, Stew was having his own problems with the heat and tiny "no see ums" that found his white Norwegian legs irresistible, and on which a red polka-dot pattern of bug bites developed. Gladys got bit on the tip of her nose too, and scratched it by rubbing it in the sand. For some reason, the bugs didn't bother me.
After that first afternoon, a pattern developed. Back from the beach, a quick lunch, perhaps fried shrimp at a beachfront palapa, followed by seclusion for two or three hours in the cabin's bedroom, cooled by a cantankerous air conditioner that sounded like a Cuisinart filled of nuts and bolts. Gladys often struck her four-legs-in-the-air pose for added drama.

About five o'clock, there would be a walk on the beach for the three of us, a dip in the pool followed by lounging on the porch where by now the temperatures had dipped to a pleasant seventy-five or eighty degrees, with a steady ocean breeze. After that, dinner.

"Not so bad after it cools off," Gladys noted. 
By that time a blazing sunset flickered through the fronds of the coconut trees and Barra de Potosí was a beautiful treat indeed but not a place where I would want to live year-round, particularly in summer when double whammies of high-nineties temperatures and matching humidity just about paralyze all living organisms.
During the drive home temperatures gradually dropped and when we arrived it was in the low seventies and breezy. Félix reported with some alarm—did a meteorite crash behind the garage?—that the night before it'd been so cold  that a thin sheet of ice had formed on the birdbath. Imagine. He was wearing double sweatshirts and a hoodie, and looked as if he might go home on a dogsled.

The landscape around the ranch did look "wintry," brown and withered like an old shoe. In San Miguel it stops raining for six months or more, beginning in November. Strong late afternoon winds stir up the dust, and occasional brush fires light up the night.

But by now—in mid-February—the huizache and jarrilla bushes, long before the rains start in July, are already exploding with tiny yellow flowers that in turn cue the bees to get buzzing. Buds have appeared on the magnolia tree too. Trays of flower and vegetable seedlings have been popping up in trays under fluorescent lights in the garage since January. Don Vicente, the farmer downhill from us, has started plowing his fields. Last year we had about thirty inches of rain that gave him bumper crops.

This is also the time of year when my guardian angel taps me on the shoulder and whispers, "Winter? You call this winter? What are you complaining about?"

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