Wednesday, January 7, 2015

A brief, horrible tale

Bicycling back from lunch today our gardener Félix, who has an unnatural sense of hearing, picked up some noise coming from a plastic bag quivering by the side of the road.

He stopped and inside the bag found seven puppies, a day or two old, with the eyes closed and one with its umbilical cord still attached. Three of the puppies were dead. Apparently someone didn't want any more dogs and decided that tossing the entire litter from a car window was the most expedient solution to the problem.

It was Félix too who found Felisa, the fifth addition to our gang of mutts, almost on the same spot as these puppies, similarly abandoned by someone. Though she was only the size of a large rat, Felisa was big enough to survive and turn into something slightly bigger and just as yappy as a Chihuahua.

Calls to our neighbor Arno, who runs a spay-and-neuter organization called Amigos de Animales; my friend Lynn who runs the Sociedad Protectora de Animales; and our young vet Ricardo Merrill, yielded the same answer—euthanasia. Short of finding a willing surrogate mother there was no other hope of survival for puppies that young.

Even if you factor in the lessened sensitivity to animal life in rural areas, such as where we live, and where animals are constantly born, raised and killed as part of the natural cycle of farming, tossing seven puppies in a bag, as if they were garbage, is a cruelty hard to fathom.

We know that it rattled Félix, who was born and raised barely a mile from here but who was visibly shaken by the sight of the surviving puppies whining and squirming around, worm-like, on a towel Stew fetched from the garage. Félix walked around, his baseball cap tilted back, muttering, "I don't know why someone would do something like that."

So barely three hours after Félix found them, he and Stew went off to Dr. Merrill to have the surviving puppies killed, or as they say, "put to sleep." Félix will bury the litter in our ever more populated pet cemetery.

As far as horror stories go, this was a brief but particularly horrible one.

###





Saturday, January 3, 2015

When Brad almost came to San Miguel 2

[A reposting of a previous blog that may have been jumbled during uploading]

There he was, Brad Pitt, in the lobby of our one local cinema, if only on a huge poster for “Fury” his latest movie which premiered in the U.S. almost three months ago.

On the poster Brad seemed to be brooding about war and peace or some similarly weighty topic, with his arms resting on the cannon of a Sherman tank, his face and army fatigues covered with grease and dirt, his haircut eerily reminiscent of Kim Jong-un’s, the North Korean doofus dictator who looks like a meatball in uniform. Moronic haircut and all, Brad looked pretty buff for 51.

Brooding Brad
More auspicious yet was the banner across the bottom of the poster: ¡Próximamente! or Soon!

The prospect of seeing Brad and his movie, which had received quite favorable reviews in the U.S., raised our blood pressure a point or two. You see, for all its colonial enchantment San Miguel is not a main stop on the international cinema circuit. Often it feels as if we live in French Lick, Ind., pop. 1,801.

Indeed, “Fury” hasn’t come to San Miguel yet. Meryl Streep’s new flick, “Into the Woods” as well as the acclaimed biography of Stephen Hawking, “The Theory of Everything,” and “The Imitation Machine,” about the guy who helped break the Enigma Code during World War II, may not make it here any time soon if ever.

Our hopes for a Brad sighting were dashed again at a street market in Mexico City a few weeks ago when we saw a DVD of “Fury” on sale along with dozens of other recent releases for the today-only bootleg price of three for $10 pesos, or about 25 cents apiece. You’re right, it was a stupid purchase. That price doesn't cover even the cost of a blank disk.

Neither “Fury” nor another movie played at all, and the third movie was not the one on the jacket. And the damned vendor assured me his DVDs were “guaranteed.”

The Brad Pitt chase is a good introduction to the movie market in Mexico, controlled by a few giant chains like Cinepolis and Cinemex—but with a huge bootleg market on the side, despite all the warnings at the beginning of every DVD about how the FBI and Interpol will send you to Guantanamo if you dare show or sell unauthorized duplicates of any film.

Jong-un to Brad: Didn't we meet
at the hairstylist? 

Large movie distributors’ tastes in movies naturally control which ones are shown in Mexico, and judging by their selections the chains must have a pretty low regard for the IQ of the average moviegoer. Anything more intellectually riveting than “The Penguins of Madagascar” might take months to get San Miguel if at all.  

But more baffling is where all the bootleg movies come from. We have an established distributor in San Miguel, the widely revered Juan the Ripper, who for $40 pesos will sell you DVDs of just about any flick or TV show making the rounds in the U.S. Reportedly he also sells some gay videos that he calls "happy movies."

Judging by the crawlers that appear periodically at the bottom of the  screen, some of Juan's originals were DVDs sent to reviewers for Golden Globe or Oscar nominations. Helpful movie lovers sometimes also give Juan legitimate (or not) DVDs that he copies in exchange for four free DVDs of other films.

The rest of the bootleg DVD cornucopia at Juan’s or on the streets of every town in Mexico must come directly from Back of the Truck Entertainment or Over the Transom Productions.

More ominously I’ve read that drug cartels may control the bootleg video industry though it’s hard to imagine they would want any more money to launder. I’m not going to ask around about the narco’s business strategy; those guys are very touchy about their privacy. 

Unfortunately, Juan’s duplication apparatus is not up to snuff yet and while the video comes out perfectly the audio is often garbled. And seldom are there subtitles to help you figure out, say, what’s for supper at Downton Abbey, where the characters speak in a mixture of upper- and lower-class British, depending on whether they sleep upstairs or downstairs.

The bootleg DVD for “Babel” (2006), also starring Brad Pitt, must have presented the biggest language challenge of all time. The characters spoke English, Japanese, Berber Arabic and Spanish. In fact one of the characters was a deaf-mute Japanese girl who communicated in sign language or by pointing at her privates. So if you bought the bootleg version with Spanish subtitles or none at all your head probably exploded halfway through the show.  
  
Where the rest of the millions of bootleg copies of American movies comes from is indeed a mystery in broad daylight. The movies are for sale practically everywhere, along with bootleg CDs, for as little as ten pesos each. From our experience, the majority of street DVDs play pretty well and occasionally have English subtitles.

The Mexican government clearly is not very interested in enforcing national or international copyright laws or busting the manufacturers and distributors of bootleg videos that are as common on any Mexican street as tacos al pastor or ears of corn with mayonnaise.
   
Many Americans here bypass all these problems by downloading or streaming films through the internet, an option not available here at Rancho Santa Clara where we rely on a very leisurely wireless internet connection. Downloading “Gone With the Wind” would take us a week before we even got to the burning of Atlanta.

Instead we send away for DVDs from Amazon—legal and with clear sound and subtitles—or get some from Liverpool, the local department store. It comes out to between five and ten dollars each. That's about as much as going to the movie house, buying popcorn and soda, and a McDonald’s sundae afterward, and it beats watching grainy Claudette Colbert retrospectives on the Turner Movie Classics cable channel. 

In case you’re wondering about Brad’s whereabouts, I checked the Cinemex website for San Miguel yesterday afternoon and it claims that “Fury” is in fact arriving—you guessed it—¡próximamente!

I don't believe it. Brand and his movie already have taken me for a ride twice, and I'm not falling for his hype one more time. 


###

Postscript: While Googling around I found some references that Brad Pitt (along with Julia Roberts and the late James Gandolfini no less, may have actually visited San Miguel in 2001 during the filming of "The Mexican", or that at least some street shots were filmed here. If true, we're not as anonymous as French Lick, after all. So there. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

High Noon by the Trash Dump

It’s been said that politics is not a spectator sport but a rough-and-tumble affair. Mexican politics, at least as practiced in our little town of San Miguel, seems to combine both elements—silly stunts and fun spectacles.  

A couple of postings ago I mentioned the battle over the billboard by the town trash dump, a mano-a-mano epic battle between the PAN, the National Action Party, a pro-business GOP-like operation, and the PRI, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which despite its name is about as revolutionary as corn flakes.

For five or six consecutive weeks the two parties fought over control of the billboard strategically located by the entrance to town if you’re coming from Mexico City. One week, the billboard would advertise the wonders of Guanajuato state government, controlled by the PAN, only to be painted over a few days later by PRI operatives, to declare San Miguel a PRI kind of town.

Et tu, Mauricio?
The back and forth went on until Christmas Day when, right when the PAN operatives were halfway through reclaiming the billboard, a bulldozer showed up and reduced it to scrap. I don’t know the political affiliation of the operator but—hmm—I suspect he or she was sent there by someone in the PRI-controlled City Hall, located only a half mile down the road, and the headquarters of our PRI mayor Mauricio Trejo. 

So now we have the out-of-control garbage dump by the entrance of town crowned with the twisted remains of a half-painted PAN billboard.

Elsewhere, San Miguel has become one giant PRI signboard, proclaiming the accomplishments of the PRI at the national and local level, and giving the party credit for everything short of the rotation of the earth.

If only the bulldozer dispatched by the PRI to demolish the PAN billboard had taken a little longer to even out the hills of trash or cover them with black dirt. That almost would have made this silly squabble almost worth it.  
### 

When Brad almost came to San Miguel

There he was, Brad Pitt, in the lobby of our one local cinema, if only on a huge poster for “Fury” his latest movie which premiered in the U.S. almost three months ago.

On the poster Brad seemed to be brooding about war and peace or some similarly weighty topic, with his arms resting on the cannon of a Sherman tank, his face and army fatigues covered with grease and dirt, his haircut eerily reminiscent of Kim Jong-un’s, the North Korean doofus dictator who looks like a meatball in uniform. Moronic haircut and all, Brad looked pretty buff for 51.

Brooding Brad
More auspicious yet was the banner across the bottom of the poster: ¡Próximamente! or Soon!

The prospect of seeing Brad and his movie, which had received quite favorable reviews in the U.S., raised our blood pressure a point or two. You see, for all its colonial enchantment San Miguel is not a main stop on the international cinema circuit. Often it feels as if we live in French Lick, Ind., pop. 1,801.

Indeed, “Fury” hasn’t come to San Miguel yet. Meryl Streep’s new flick, “Into the Woods” as well as the acclaimed biography of Stephen Hawking, “The Theory of Everything,” and “The Imitation Machine,” about the guy who helped break the Enigma Code during World War II, may not make it here any time soon if ever.

Our hopes for a Brad sighting were dashed again at a street market in Mexico City a few weeks ago when we saw a DVD of “Fury” on sale along with dozens of other recent releases for the today-only bootleg price of three for $10 pesos, or about 25 cents apiece. You’re right, it was a stupid purchase. That price doesn't cover even the cost of a blank disk.

Neither “Fury” nor another movie played at all, and the third movie was not the one on the jacket. And the damned vendor assured me his DVDs were “guaranteed.”

The Brad Pitt chase is a good introduction to the movie market in Mexico, controlled by a few giant chains like Cinepolis and Cinemex—but with a huge bootleg market on the side, despite all the warnings at the beginning of every DVD about how the FBI and Interpol will send you to Guantanamo if you dare show or sell unauthorized duplicates of any film.

Jong-un to Brad: Didn't we meet
at the hairstylist? 

Large movie distributors’ tastes in movies naturally control which ones are shown in Mexico, and judging by their selections the chains must have a pretty low regard for the IQ of the average moviegoer. Anything more intellectually riveting than “The Penguins of Madagascar” might take months to get San Miguel if at all.  

But more baffling is where all the bootleg movies come from. We have an established distributor in San Miguel, the widely revered Juan the Ripper, who for $40 pesos will sell you DVDs of just about any flick or TV show making the rounds in the U.S. Reportedly he also sells some gay videos that he calls "happy movies."

Judging by the crawlers that appear periodically at the bottom of the  screen, some of Juan's originals were DVDs sent to reviewers for Golden Globe or Oscar nominations. Helpful movie lovers sometimes also give Juan legitimate (or not) DVDs that he copies in exchange for four free DVDs of other films.

The rest of the bootleg DVD cornucopia at Juan’s or on the streets of every town in Mexico must come directly from Back of the Truck Entertainment or Over the Transom Productions.

More ominously I’ve read that drug cartels may control the bootleg video industry though it’s hard to imagine they would want any more money to launder. I’m not going to ask around about the narco’s business strategy; those guys are very touchy about their privacy. 

Unfortunately, Juan’s duplication apparatus is not up to snuff yet and while the video comes out perfectly the audio is often garbled. And seldom are there subtitles to help you figure out, say, what’s for supper at Downton Abbey, where the characters speak in a mixture of upper- and lower-class British, depending on whether they sleep upstairs or downstairs.

The bootleg DVD for “Babel” (2006), also starring Brad Pitt, must have presented the biggest language challenge of all time. The characters spoke English, Japanese, Berber Arabic and Spanish. In fact one of the characters was a deaf-mute Japanese girl who communicated in sign language or by pointing at her privates. So if you bought the bootleg version with Spanish subtitles or none at all your head probably exploded halfway through the show.  
  
Where the rest of the millions of bootleg copies of American movies comes from is indeed a mystery in broad daylight. The movies are for sale practically everywhere, along with bootleg CDs, for as little as ten pesos each. From our experience, the majority of street DVDs play pretty well and occasionally have English subtitles.

The Mexican government clearly is not very interested in enforcing national or international copyright laws or busting the manufacturers and distributors of bootleg videos that are as common on any Mexican street as tacos al pastor or ears of corn with mayonnaise.
   
Many Americans here bypass all these problems by downloading or streaming films through the internet, an option not available here at Rancho Santa Clara where we rely on a very leisurely wireless internet connection. Downloading “Gone With the Wind” would take us a week before we even got to the burning of Atlanta.

Instead we send away for DVDs from Amazon—legal and with clear sound and subtitles—or get some from Liverpool, the local department store. It comes out to between five and ten dollars each. That's about as much as going to the movie house, buying popcorn and soda, and a McDonald’s sundae afterward, and it beats watching grainy Claudette Colbert retrospectives on the Turner Movie Classics cable channel. 

In case you’re wondering about Brad’s whereabouts, I checked the Cinemex website for San Miguel yesterday afternoon and it claims that “Fury” is in fact arriving—you guessed it—¡próximamente!

I don’t believe it. Brad and his movie already have taken me for a ride twice, and I’m not falling for his hype one more time.

###

  


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Cracking the door open on Cuba

The announcement that after nearly 54 years the United States is re-establishing full diplomatic relations with Cuba has been cheered by most countries around the world, particularly in Latin America.

That’s no surprise. On October 28, 188 members of the U.N. General Assembly voted in favor of a non-binding resolution urging an end to the American economic embargo against Cuba. Only two nations voted against the resolution—the U.S. and Israel. The micro-nations of Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia abstained. That was the twenty-third time a majority of General Assembly members has called for an end to the embargo.

Cobbler in Havana waiting for customers.
It’s no surprise either that most Republicans and Fox News, the agitprop branch of the GOP, were practically apoplectic regarding Obama’s historic change in policy. In the hyper-partisan atmosphere in the U.S. today Obama would be roundly condemned by Fox News and the GOP even if he discovered a cure for cancer or the key to nuclear fusion.

Most vociferous were Cuban-American politicians, particularly Florida U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, who is 43 years old. I don’t know if Rubio has done the arithmetic but the U.S. broke relations with Cuba about eleven years before he was born. Maybe it’s time for him to rethink his position.

“It’s part of a long record of coddling dictators and tyrants that this administration has established,” Rubio fumed on Fox News. Former Florida governor Jeb Bush joined in the fulminations and so did other Cuban-American politicos mostly from Florida. Only a handful of Republicans supported Obama or held their fire.

What is certain is that the embargo has not done anything to nudge the Cuban government toward democracy or an open-market economy. Old age has inflicted more damage on the Castro dictatorship than American policy.

What the embargo has definitely done is make the life of the average Cuban infinitely more miserable while feeding the state-of-siege mentality in the island that ironically helps to prop up the government.

So why does the diplomatic war and the economic embargo against Cuba live on—like a sort of Flat Earth Society—against all logic, sense of proportion or evidence that it does anything to achieve its stated goals? 

Indeed, to understand the frame of mind that keeps the embargo alive you would have had to talk to my dad, or failing that—he died seven years ago a month short of his ninety-fourth birthday—to his wife who is in her eighties and inherited the job of keeping the anti-Castro fury going full-blast within my family, like a never-dormant volcano. When I spoke to her yesterday afternoon, she lamented that even the Pope had “turned liberal” by spurring the U.S.-Cuba negotiations.


Young woman watching a dancing class at
at the ballroom of the former presidential
palace in Havana. 
My dad was an autodidact, someone with not even a high school degree but a sharp mind and a voracious appetite for reading about practically any topic, from history to the sciences.

He was gentle and soft-spoken to the point of reticence, except when either one of the two Cs came up in conversation—“Cuba” or “Castro.”

He would then go into a Mr. Hyde-like transformation, as his face would redden and he tossed aside logic and facts and compared Castro to Hitler, Stalin, Attila the Hun or worse, and Cuba as a bottomless gulag sunlight never reached.

I learned to nod and listen. There was no point in arguing.

I had learned to understand that his tirades came from a well of sadness, bitterness and anger that dwelt deep inside a man whose life and bearings in the world had been suddenly destroyed by a political debacle beyond his control.

Unlike the personal fairy tales you often hear from Cuban exiles in Miami, neither my dad nor his family were wealthy. No vast holdings of any kind are coming my way when the regime changes in Cuba. Instead the Laniers were a clan of absent-minded professors and eggheads who probably couldn’t balance their checkbooks much less pile up any significant amount of money.

Standing at the threshold of middle age, though, my dad and mom were relatively comfortable in a lower-middle class niche that included a small printing and stationery shop, a very modest house that I visited during my two trips to the island, and a baby-blue 1954 Chevy sedan. My dad caressed and took care of that car as if it had to last another fifty years. It’s probably still putt-putting somewhere in the island but it’s no longer his.

New owners: The retired couple who now
 live in my former house in Cuba.
Then in 1965 that precarious existence was upended when my parents left for Spain and then the U.S., where I'd arrived three years earlier. He and I ended up washing dishes side by side at a restaurant in Long Island, N.Y.

My parents had divorced by then and he and his new wife set out to forge a life and an identity literally out of nothing. He eventually went to work as a printer, his trade in Cuba, for not much more than minimum wage and to retire on Social Security in Miami. His wife worked at a dry cleaners.

To my dad, Castro destroyed everything. Among the older generation in Miami you’ll hear my dad’s lament repeated hundreds of thousands of times, probably embellished, but tinged with the same rage and bitterness that won’t cede an inch to facts, reasoning or the passage of the years.

Moreover, South Florida radio and TV stations that have cursed the Castro regime daily for decades and turned Miami into an political echo chamber, impervious to contrary opinions or policies.

This group also mobilized politically around their common and implacable hatred of Castro, coalesced around the Republican Party and elected its single-issue bloc of local and congressional legislators. Recent presidential campaigns have involved obligatory visits by the candidates to some restaurant in Miami to assure everyone the anti-Castro hostilities will continue until he and his pals are gone.

But that reflexive opposition to normalizing relations with Cuba is wearing thin. Old-timers like my dad are dying off and being supplanted by a younger, assimilated cadre of Cuban voters who are not so obsessed with the embargo and in fact wish for resumed relations so they can travel freely to the island.

Last time my husband Stew and I were in Miami I was struck by the ubiquitous advertisements in Spanish for traveling to Cuba, sending money to Cuba, buying cheap phone cards to call Cuba, sending parcels to Cuba, getting relatives in Cuba to visit Miami.

Cuba, Cuba, Cuba in an area where supposedly the majority of the population vows allegiance to a policy of isolating the island and choking the dastardly Communist regime in saecula saeculorum.

Front porch of a home in Havana. 
The many refugees that vehemently support the embargo in fact also flout it by sending hundreds of millions of dollars in cash and goods to the island yearly and lining up at the airport to catch the next flight to their homeland. Last year approximately 600,000 people from the U.S. visited Cuba, the vast majority Cuban-Americans.

A more compelling sign of a generational and political shift is that in 2012 Cuban Americans, albeit by a thin majority, voted for President Obama.

Polls by Florida International University also indicate an inexorable and overwhelming shift in Cuban American opinion in favor of renewed diplomatic relations most notably among younger generations.

Ultimately I agree with my late dad that the Cuba of his days is gone and has been supplanted by a repressive regime, a catatonic economy and a demoralized populace.

To visitors today Havana presents an almost apocalyptic vision of a once-beautiful ship that has been abandoned at sea to corrode almost beyond recognition by decades of neglect and the incessant pounding of the waves.

It’s just that my dad’s vision of our homeland, and that of others like him, is grounded in the past, choked with bitterness and despair. Mine looks toward the future, with uncertainty but also hope.

###








Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The decline and demise of everybody

One of the oddest books I’ve read recently, or maybe ever, is Roz Chast’s “Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?”

She’s a cartoonist for the New Yorker magazine and her book, illustrated with cartoons, handwritten text and a few photos, zigzags with hilarity and grimness through a reality no one wants to talk about: The inevitable decline, and most often messy and tragic end of one’s parents, and by direct extension, ourselves.

Chast is the one at the right of the couch. 

No wonder her parents wanted to talk about something more pleasant. Credit Chast’s humor and talent as a writer and cartoonist for her ability create a book such taboo topic.

At our church, the non-denominational Blessed Lady of Medicare, a few months ago someone handed out a questionnaire called “Five Wishes” that congregants were supposed to fill out to specify their last wishes for burial, the sort of memorial they want and other end-of-the-road details no one really wants to think about let alone put down in writing.
   
It’s a sensible exercise given the demographics of the congregation. Quite often the weekly church bulletin reads like a litany of people with “conditions” and those who’ve succumbed to the final “condition,” i.e. death. 

The questionnaire doesn’t seem daunting until you realize the prospective stiff in question is you.

Stew and I picked up a couple of copies. Stew didn’t want to deal with it at all. I took both of copies and dutifully buried them in my nightstand under a stack of magazines and books. Occassionally I would pull out the questionnaires, look at them, harrumph, and promptly re-bury them as if they were contaminated with kryptonite.

Both questionnaires eventually disappeared. I must have thrown them out. I just don’t have Chast’s sang-froid.

The early church service we attend is more like a discussion group but other than prayers for the ill or the dead-and-gone, the subject of death and dying—our own or that of our loved ones—rarely is up for extended discussion. And when it pops up it’s usually wrapped and Fedex-ed Upstairs quickly with a brief note about life everlasting or a comforting scriptural passage.

Of recently I’ve adopted what I describe as a Buddhist take on dying.  It's probably a glib denial under another name.

I try to concentrate on the moment and to be a reasonably decent person right now.

I’ve concluded that obsessing about one’s eventual departure, which is certain, and the circumstances, which are anything but, only extends the potential unpleasantness of it all from the future to the here and now.

It ruins the day, and done daily it ruins the life we have left.

Indeed, there have to be more pleasant things to talk about.
   
The genius of Chast’s book is how methodically and unflinchingly she took notes and drew cartoons about her parents’ last few years, from the beginning of the end, to the very end, including some indignities and dilemmas like her mother’s incontinence, her father’s dementia and the mounting bills for nursing homes, ambulances and the services of a saintly Jamaican nurse, among others.

I recommend Chast’s book. Despite the topic, it’s not all depressing. If anything, I found many parts of it inspirational, particularly her courage in writing the book.

I’d bring it up at church though I don’t think it would be received with much more than a polite groan.

May I also recommend a new HBO show called “Getting On.” It’s set in a geriatric ward of a hospital populated by folks with all sorts of physical and mental problems who are attended by medical and nursing staff with problems of their own.

Yes, it’s a comedy and it’s hilarious. Trust me.  


###

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Tuning in to Mexican politics

Just before leaving for lunch a few minutes ago, Félix received a phone call from his wife Isela who had some big news: A truck had dropped off a brand-new 23-inch flat-screen television set at their house, with no other explanation except it came courtesy of Mexico's photogenic president Enrique Peña Nieto.

This cornucopia apparently extended to all households in Sosnavar, Félix' town with a population of 800 or so, and other impoverished hamlets nearby such as La Biznaga, Corralejo, Doña Juana, Providencia and La Campana. A rough guesstimate would be that a couple of thousand TVs dropped out of the sky on the towns around the ranch.

And that's just the latest in a gusher of government services to swamp this part of the world in the last year. Fifteen kilometers of a highway going near our ranch were paved recently, though not very well, and the road now has striping and cat's eyes, reflective signage and other mid-twentieth century amenities to keep people from driving into the ditch at night.

An oversize billboard advises drivers it all came from to the Federal Government of Mexico.

In addition, the main street in Félix' town, going from the highway to the church, roughly about one kilometer, was paved with concrete a few months ago and received new sidewalks with curbs nattily painted yellow, and speed bumps.

Likewise, the main road to La Biznaga, a small town visible from our bedroom window, has been neatly asphalted over.

Mind you, neither one of these towns had ever seen one inch of paved streets during the one or two hundred years they've been on the map.

And then there were lights. Maybe hundreds of street lamps have been installed to make the dark countryside sparkle at night like a Christmas tree.

But a more telling sign of the political tug-of-war around here is a billboard, located by the garbage dump on the way to San Miguel, that has been painted and repainted at least three times during the past two weeks.

For many months the billboard had trumpeted the accomplishments of the state government of Guanajuato, whose governor belongs to the National Action Party or PAN, a right-wing, Republican-type apparatus. Coincidentally, the color scheme of the billboard was blue and white, the colors of the PAN's emblem.

Two weeks ago the same billboard was painted over to proclaim that San Miguel was a "municipio priísta" or a bastion of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Indeed, the current mayor of San Miguel, Mauricio Trejo, as well as the president of Mexico belong to the PRI, a leftish party that holds the largest number of seats among all the parties in the national legislature.

Appropriately, the color scheme on the billboard changed to white, red and green, the colors of both the Mexican flag and the PRI's logo.

Four days or so later the billboard was painted over by the state government and so we went back to white and blue.

Two days ago, the last time we drove by, a crew was painting over the PAN billboard once again, to restore the "municipio priísta" message. We'll see how long this dueling billboards battle goes on.

Félix, one of the most cynical political creatures I've ever met, one who professes not to trust any politician or policemen of any stripe or party, laughingly told Stew that everyone one in Sosnavar now is ready to vote for the PRI.

As well they should, I say.

Unlike a 1928 Republican flyer in the U.S. that only promised a "chicken for every pot," when the PRI in Mexico promises a 23-inch, flat-screen TV set in every home, they deliver—right to your front door.

###