Sunday, December 21, 2008

And So This Is Christmas

Today is December 21st. Christmas is happening all around me, and I woke up a little sad because I have not put much energy into the holidays. I used to enjoy making cards, writing letters, making ornaments, putting up the tree and getting together with friends and family. Jim and I had a couple of rough Christmases, but as my girlfriend reminded me, other than those two years the holidays were always fun. I feel guilty that I don't make the effort to get together with my family, especially since my brother invites me every year.

But I am still getting accustomed to a new life in México. I have a family in Pablo and the cat commando. The thought of traveling to the US intimidates me. Having spent the past year trying to get accustomed to the culture here, I cannot just culture hop, not yet. I have trouble switching my brain from Spanish to English in a bilingual situation. I see it in my writing, my thoughts are more formal and my sentences structured oddly. I am also still a little lost since my life changed and try to avoid those family situations where they sit you down and ask, "So what ARE you doing?"

You are looking at my Christmas decorations. Pablo gave me a pipe cleaner tree. The cats tore it up, but I reconstructed it and put it on some pine needles I had left over from Guadalupe day flowers. This is the Christmas altar. We put up a tree and my Mom's nativity scene last year, and then decided to drive around southern Mexico and Guatemala for two weeks.

So this year I decided a token altar, with a Mayan god, St. Francis of Assissi and the pipe cleaner tree with a little scent of pine would be just perfect. Another consideration was the five kittens, and a big tree full of tempting hanging items is just a disaster waiting to happen. Jude is visiting and we are heading to Akumal for Christmas, back to our roots in México, where we met over 20 years ago.

Feliz Navidad. Merry Christmas. Mele Kelikimaka. Happy Holidays. Be safe. Appreciate one another.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Review of Blog, I asked for it.

Waitress, I need two more boat drinks

I'm a native Floridian and as such I love the beach. Not the ones you see on TV with condos and high rise hotels and flashing lights and fine dining. No. I like the ones that haven't been taken over by tourists, the ones tucked away and still obscure (though rarer and rarer), with weathered houses and sand on the floor and dive bars and sticker burrs and restaurants with plastic tablecloths and fried mullet.

I come from a long line of boat and beach people. We've had a place at one of those out-of-the-way redneck beaches since I was little, and my fondest memories of childhood are there, pulling the net and learning to waterski and building drip sand castles on the beach for hours and digging up sand dollars with my toes in the Gulf and paying toothless shrimpers to buy us beer when I was 13. My father and all my uncles spent summers as hands on boats, and one of them, the craziest of them, has spent most of his life on a boat, running from and just "running." He's down there now somewhere south, surfing and telling fish tales and going crazier every day.

So, inherently, I appreciate the inclination to go native, to go tropical. Which is why I was eager to review Lindi's Ideas, bland name and all. Because Lindi has done just that -- gone native -- and she's done it for a while now. And I admire that so very much. She's been all over, working on boats and scuba diving and teaching and, I imagine, having every kind of adventure. She's lost and found and has found herself in the Yucatan with a young Latin lover (I assume he's her lover; she doesn't quite say) and a house in Merida and a life of serenity and observation.

The template, like the name, leaves a lot to be desired. It's your standard blue blogger template. Blah. Flavorless. Soulless. Find something with flavor, something with a little kick. Linda, I know you don't know much about this whole blogging thing, but figure it out. Ask for help. Or go here.

There's no blogroll, or anything else for that matter, which does make it entirely uncluttered. But there's little in the design or in the "extras" to tell us who you are. And for some reason you contribute to your blog twice. How does that work?

The posts are loooong. Like this one, which I'm sure is interesting, but I can't be bothered because it goes on forever without paragraph breaks. Pick a topic and write about it. If the topic is expansive, narrow it down. Break it up. Especially if it's a "we went here and did this and here are the pictures" kind of post. Yawn. People won't care unless you make them care, and dragging on ad nauseum with no break isn't going to do it.

The writing is serene, almost formal. And it tends tends to plod. I wonder if it has to do with switching between English and Spanish (and Mayan!) in her day-to-day life. I have a friend who's lived in Korea for 10 years, and his English writing is now a bit... stilted. Without a voice.

The blog description uses the dreaded word "ramble," and it fits. There's no knowledge of where to end, of when enough is enough. I had a friend like this who couldn't for the life of her end a voicemail message. It's like she had no off switch. She didn't want to sit there rambling forever, awkwardly saying things like, "So, yeah, either call or whatever, you know? Um.... So. Did I say it's me? It is. And it's six o'clock. And we'll be here until whenever, so just, um... Yeah. Oh! Calamity says hi! And... um..." but she couldn't help herself. Hang up the phone already! Have a point! Even in your blog submission form, where you tell us about yourself, the form cut you off. I'm serious! You wrote so much the form said, nope, you're done, we're gonna stop you right there.

And when I say "have a point," I don't mean cat stuff. I like animals, too, mostly of the canine variety, but I don't know anyone who wants monthly updates on my furry friends. They wouldn't want updates if they were my actual children, either, so find something else. You're living in the dang-diddly Yucatan! There has got to be all sorts of junk to write about other than cats.

Linda, you are a fascinating, bold, and brave woman, who no doubt has reams of stories to tell... but you're not telling them. In your submission form you said, "I thought maybe I would sit my ass down to write every day instead of smokin too much dope and staring at teh computer..." Girl, do I ever know the feeling. Trust me, I'm all over that. You also say, "and although I know you will crucify me, fuck it, I am in the mood today. I must be a masochist because I have not shown my real self on that page, in fear of offending my family with my f..." (that's where the form said buh-bye). Awesome. You know there's a problem, you know you're muzzling yourself. And this is never a recipe for good blogging.

This is where it got interesting to me. The calm, peaceful, la-la-la of it all came crumbling down and we see some personality, some frustration, some life. Do more of this! Stop worrying if you offend people. This is the problem with non-anonymous blogs -- people get all wrapped up in what they're saying instead of just saying it. You have, I'm sure, lived one of the most interesting lives being blogged about, but we wouldn't know it because your posts are sanitized and travelogged and shuttered to hell and back. Take the ball gag out and give it back to Love Bites.

Also, in that bit up there from your submission form that I posted? There we get to see how you might talk, what you might sound like. It's more natural, less forced, less "I'm writing so I better write like I'm writing and take it seriously and inject it all with formality and all due decorum." Fuck that. Get real. Tell us the truth, tell us who you are, or don't bother.

Because I do absolutely find you fascinating, and because there's the potential for some great storytelling, I'm giving you

But if you don't step it up, if you don't start editing your writing so that it sounds like you and start telling us the good stuff and start revealing who you are and what you think and where you've been, well: you've been warned. Those flaming fingers singe something fierce.

P.S. Why not write the masterpiece on the blog instead of using the blog to escape from the masterpiece?

# Posted by Calamity.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Inspiration for the Holidays

Help for low self esteem. Inspiration. And unfortunately the truth. Be sure to hit the play button.

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'll Cut Off Your Balls!

When people have asked me how I would like to be reincarnated, if I had a choice, if there is reincarnation (I've always hated that question, by the way), my answers have usually been: #1. I'd like to come back a dolphin. A free range dolphin who lives in the open ocean, not as an unpaid, unwilling employee of a dolphin-molesting operation. I'd like to be the one of the dolphins that finds a sailboat in the middle of the ocean and rides its wake just for fun, for a while. And then decide to jump and spin. I'd want to find my own food. Relatively free of predators and the freedom to roam the world, this sounds like the ideal life to me. Or: #2. MY cat. A cat who would have not had a chance if not for suckers like me. I wouldn't mind being the cat of several of my cat loving friends; the point is, I don't want to come back an alley cat eating trash out of restaurant garbage cans and sleeping under cars. I would want my own human slave. Just like my cats have it.

A thought occurred to me today while I was poop scooping the two cat boxes as my feline owners looked on and occasionally supervised. There are some challenges involved with their little lives. I posted some of their learning experiences last month. However life continues to lead us all on a learning path. I can see some difficult times for the feline population around me.

One day I took photos of the cats sleeping away the afternoons as they regularly do. Those are the photos I posted here. That was when I was thinking how easy they have it. They poop. I scoop. They cry. I open a can of cat food or offer some fresher crunchies. (Or on occasion, saute up some delicious chicken innards.) They need affection, they plop themselves on my lap or laptop thus getting what they want exactly whenever they want it. Not a bad life.

Last week, Busmo and Mokito were playing brotherly rough outside. Mokito cried and ran into the house. There were a few drops of blood. I went to the scene of the fight and found a tooth. It looked like a bridge with two teeth, but he hasn't had dental work, so I guess it was just one of his baby teeth. It hurt though, I could tell, he put on his little sad face. He has this sad little old man face that tortures me. After a little while he forgot about the mouth pain and he was playing with Lorenza. I went outside to play with them. I forget I am a mammoth compared to them. When they tired of the game, Mokito left (or so I thought) and Lorenza stayed for some compulsory petting. I stood up and MMMEEEOOOW! Oops! I stepped on Mokito's hind leg. Nothing seemed broken. But that was over a week ago and he is still limping. (He is a good actor, so who really knows.) He has gotten better in the past couple of days because he 's started to play soccer with his Coke bottle cap again with Pablo.

A rough day for Mokito, I thought. Pablo and I went out for the day and we left the pool half empty. At the moment we returned from our adventure, in walked Mokito soaking wet, limping twice as much, having fallen YET AGAIN into the pool. He must have had to strugggle to get out with the water level so low. The humbling life of kittenhood.

Yesterday I returned from the grocery store around 1:30pm. I unpacked most of the bags and got distracted putting perishables away. Then the cats spied the new food and cried for some. In half an hour or so I remembered the cases of holiday beer I had in the back of the car. I brought them in and closed up the car.

At 9pm Pablo went out to start the car so we could go out, and Moka dashed from inside the vehicle, scared shitless. She had been locked in there all that time. Luckily it was a cold cloudy day and the car sits in shaded covered parking. She tried to dig her way out but was stuck in there. She is still a little freaked today. If it had been a typical Mérida day............well. I don't even want to go there.


The last cat issue is the "humane" thing we do: fixing our animals. When I moved in there were so many wild cats that seemed to live in this house I decided I would trap and fix them all. Cut off their balls, by God! I knew I would still have a problem with the territorial odor, but at least there would not be a dozen new kittens every month who might well end up starving to death or end up in my kitchen at feeding time. Perhaps the fighting would mellow some. Maybe Buster could have friends, being a neutered male, if I were to ever find him. These fixed boys are at the bottom of the totem pole of catdom. This area is a particularly rough area for cats. Inner city behavior, and lots of competition.

I trapped the cat we now call Cuate. The local humane society came with the trap, then picked him up, performed the surgery, gave him shots, and returned him. It cost me 350 pesos, or $35 US. I was ready to take on the commando. I trapped a second cat, the one we call Negro. When Hurricane Dean upset our daily routines, I had to let him go. Buster was found and my ball crunching crusade was called off.

So here's the point. Negro, Gemelo, Gris and Lorenzo...are the commandantes I am aware of that are NOT fixed. Therefore they are always fighting for top cat. Buster is bigger than the three of them so he manages to stay out of most fights. Plus, he is the food source. But Cuate has been getting his ass beat. Did I really do him a favor by cutting off his balls? Did I ruin his very existence? He is Buster's friend, and is invited for dinner often, but when I lean down to put food in the dish he ALWAYS hisses at me. I find his behavior completely understandable. I can practically hear the horrible things he calls me.

Fixing female cats seems to be okay. That is if it is okay with you to make the decision for another being whether they want to be mothers or not. But the bottom line with cats is that there are just too many and they multiply too often. So spaying really doesn't break my heart. I had my own self fixed, and it was the best thing I ever did. And I thought it was pretty big of me to let Moka have her litter and keep them all. And spay/neuter them all. It is fun to have a house full of perpetual kittens. But I was left wondering just how far we humans should go to mess with the natural flow of natural things. That's all. Just some cat thoughts. I am really trying to figure out how to write a children's book with all that I am learning from watching the cat behavior, but first I have to finish the other zillion projects on the list.
Sak Boox and Busmo.


¡Que rico!

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Spice Rack

The formerly brown stool is perfect for reaching the tall cupboards, and look how it coordinates with the fruit on the decorative wall tile!

This is the spice rack, painted and in place.

One Saturday a few weeks ago Mike came by and invited me to an open house at an antique furniture shop. They carry high ticket antiquities, showcase artists’ work, and carry some reasonably priced used furniture. They were providing botana…cheeses, imported salamis and prosciutto, olives, crackers, etc, and free wine.

Among the imported Peruvian planters, colonial furnishings, Guatemalan artwork, and local painters’ contributions, we located the less expensive section. I found a spice cabinet I liked. It was painted a drab mauve color but in good condition. It was less than $10 US. Next to it was a shoe shiner’s stool. It was less than $5.

I wanted to paint the items hunter green, like the kitchen doors. When I looked through the leftover paint on hand, there was no green. There was lots of salmon in various shades, so I decided I could start with that. After a few coats the drab cabinet came to life. I brought out my acrylic paints and painted a border of hunter green. It was sloppy so I painted some white splotches and dots along the edges. The center was inset so I painted that white. Pablo looked at it and said, “It needs some blue.” So I painted a blue stripe on the inset of the doors, finished it off with a little blue flowering using a fan brush, and voila! A new spice rack. I like it.

I painted the stool salmon and green. The colors in my kitchen are slate blue and white, with accents of hunter green. There are occasional decorative tiles with fruits that bring in the salmon, blue, and greens that were used throughout the room. I could have used the piece in its state of mauve, as the cherries on the tiles are a dull rose color. I like the new color scheme, however, it seems to brighten up the kitchen and tie it in to the dining room, which IS painted in salmon.

Mokito is pretty sure this was built for him so he could climb to new heights in the kitchen. If it is placed properly, it also makes it easier for him to dive head first into the trash. At any rate, he looks pretty cute sitting on it.

Thursday, December 11, 2008


Mike, Lin and Pablo enjoying a Friday afternoon cocktail and some botana at Los Barriles.

Most places have an entire band, but these two performers provided a pleasant ambiance. As you can see the duo did not draw in huge crowds.
When I lived in the Yucatán in the 80's, I used to come to Mérida for vacation. One of the unique features I remember from several visits to the city are the restaurants that serve up tons of botana. I would describe "botana" as samplings of lots of different dishes. In Hawaii we call them pupus.

There is Eladio's, which now boasts 9 locations. There is Los Henequenes, and I know of at least two of them. Last week we tried Los Barriles. These are mostly daytime restaurants. They are great places to have any kind of get together and often you see people celebrating something inside. The Yucatecans are fond of eating, drinking, music and dancing, and by mid afternoon most seats are occupied. They usually have two live bands that rotate so that there is no lull in the dancing music.

Once you are seated, your drink order is taken. In "the old days" the table would decide whether they wanted rum, tequila or brandy and a bottle would be set on the table with several cokes and mineral waters so each person could make his own cocktails. Today they have extensive bar options, including the fufu drinks so popular among tourists. Before your drinks arrive, several waiters bring plate after plate of botana. The standard fare is tortilla chips and salsa, guacamole, refried black beans, a local style potato salad made with onion, cilantro and lime juice. Also popular are kibis, the Lebanese fried finger hummus. At Los Barriles, they brought us papadzotes (rolled tacos of scrambled eggs and chaya, a local green), chicken in escabeche, tamalitos, tamales, rice with vegetables, empanadas, sopes, and chile verde. That was with the first drink. If you sit there drinking, they bring out more plates with new items. They want you to keep on drinking, but they like to see you nibble at the same time. The drinks are a little more expensive in these restaurants, but well worth the "free" meal you get.

This botana was brought to us at Viña del Mar in Progreso, where we went for mariscos after our trip to Xcambo last week. The orange is potato salad, the black refried beans, one salbute covered in red onions, and a snail ceviche. This was not conch, I think it was some kind of sea snail. It is very common to have a table full of snacks to accompany your main dish.

Of course I ordered the whole fried fish again. This is boquinete, or hogfish. Mouthwatering and delicioso! It was another beautiful day in paradise so I took a photo from our table looking out at the Gulf of Mexico.

The Outside Bathroom

This round building used to be the water cistern for the house. The former owners turned it into a bathroom. It was functional when I bought the house, but was full of old junk, had no windows, etc. We installed colored glass windows, painted the interior, put a SEAT on the toilet and put some plastic sea creatures around the walls. It is convenient to have a bathroom accessible to the swimming pool. More than that, this particular room is a conversation piece. Other Mérida homeowners have remarked "Wow! What a great idea for the old cistern. We have one and I didn't know what to do with it."
As in all of the outdoor patio decoration, color coordination was out of the question. Anything goes! The more colorful, the better!

The round item in the center is the (freezing cold) shower head. All around the circular walls are tropical fish that we found at ServiStar, a fun store full of imported junky nicnacs. (Or is that knickknacks??) I even found a HUMUHUMUNUKUNUKUAPUAA! Check it out:
This is the humuhumunukunukuapuaa, the state fish of Hawaii, if I lost you above. It is a triggerfish.
Ok, so it's tacky. I think it is also fun. Maybe I should put up plaques with the fish names and make it a museum. I'm not sure about that but I do think I should get more tacky plastic sea creatures and fill the walls.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mamey Zapote

The mamey or zapote tree in my backyard is flowering and growing fruit. The poor tree was abandoned for a few years when this house sat empty and the tree suffered vitamin deficiencies. Last year only three fruit appeared and although they looked ripe and fell off the tree, they were hard as rocks and inedible.

In this close up of the branches you can see the tiny flowers that grow on the limbs. From a distance they make the tree look like it some horrible disease. I was trying to display the delicate beauty of this hearty tree by capturing its flowers. After I read it is an evergreen tree, it occurred to me that it has been full of leaves since I moved in a year and a half ago. I wouldn't have thought about this being an "evergreen", as it does not resemble what we used the term for in the northern Ohio of my youth.

The fruit is weird. It has a brown skin that looks like a cantelope, and feels like sandpaper and peach fuzz. The fruit texture is creamy and sweet, and its flavor is variously described as a combination of pumpkin, sweet potato, candied yams, and maraschino cherries with the texture of avocado. It is eaten raw or made into ice cream and fruit bars. I have tasted mamey ice cream, and although the flavor was nice, it had a consistency I wasn't thrilled about. Maybe I can experiment a little when I have ripe mamey falling off the tree.

The tree makes a big mess with those huge leaves and tiny flowers. This is what we wake up to every day. However it is a majestic tree, and Buster stands before it in its defense. It is his route to the other side.

Friday, December 5, 2008

English Class

Roll call...The Lengthy Hello Song

Well, I volunteered again at the Women’s Club. We are teaching children in an afterschool program called “Let’s Speak English”. The kids range from 7 to 17 years old. I am not a trained language instructor, but I taught snorkeling and scuba diving to people of all ages. And I’ve tutored English in a few countries so I thought I would give it a go. We have lesson guides prepared by two certified teachers. It is a simple but fun program.

We drive up to Colonia Nueva Mulsay. It is on the southwest side of town, about fifteen minutes through traffic. The houses there are small and simple, the people are friendly, and their children are excited to learn. They all have backpacks or T-shirts with an American logo. The common feeling among most Yucatecans is their children need to learn English to get ahead in this world.

We roll in at 4pm for an hour and get the 26 kids organized. Everyone sings a hello song as we pass out name tags so we can get to know them. Then we split up into three age groups. I work with the newest attendees, the littlest kids, from 7 to 10 years old.

There are 8 kids in my group. So far we’ve worked on the alphabet, numbers, colors, parts of the body. The past two weeks I worked with Teacher Elise, and together we kept up the kids’ interest. The time goes fast. It is difficult to express to them what we want them to do when we speak nothing but English. The blank stares are distressing to me. Elise and I both speak Spanish and are able to explain what we are asking them to do, but I think the plans are more understandable to the two older groups who have been attending these classes for a couple of years. I can see them understanding the calendar and days and months etc. The 7 year olds were more interested in what color they should fill in the columns. It was a challenge.

Before we were half way through the concepts of the day, time was up and we were advised it was time to gather together in one group for the weekly book reading. I read aloud this week’s book, Ten in a Bed. I thought that was funny since these kids probably sleep in hammocks. Ten of what in a bed? I asked. Farm animals. Hmmm. We have few supplies but much imagination. Sometimes that is all it takes. That and the Hokey Pokey or the mind-gluing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.

Progress is limited. After two weeks I said to one of my students, “Hello, Vanessa. How are you today?”

Her response was simply, “My name is Vanessa,” as she shied away into the folds of her Mom’s dress.

Ok, so we still have a lot of work to do. It’s a start. Next week we are throwing a little Christmas party. It should be fun to watch the kids stare at us as though we are aliens while we sing English Christmas Carols.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Procession

Today is Thursday, December 4, 2008. Early this morning, just before 8am I heard the sound of drums from a marching band. I grabbed the camera and ran outside. It is, as posted previously, Virgin of Guadalupe season. San Sebastian church two blocks up the street reveres the Virgin as its patron saint. The parades are not extremely colorful, but they pass in front of my door, which makes them very exciting to me. They consist of all the students of at least one school and a lot of posters of the Virgin.
The funniest thing was the lady in the car with the giant loud speakers who announced that the primary and secondary kids were going to sing a song on her count.

“Uno, dos, tres…” and nothing. NADA. She saw that I noticed they did not pay her any attention and she smiled at me as I threw my arms up in the air. They were walking and she was behind them in a car. What would she do if they didn’t sing? She tried again. “Los alumnus de la primaria y de la secondaria ahora van a cantar (some song she named)..UNO! DOS! TRES! Nada.
I don’t know how far they walk, but I am guessing they head to one of their sister churches. I don’t know how often the parades will take place, but if one has some more unique characteristics, I will post it. Most of the processions will be like this one. Therefore, this is your Christmas parade from 75th Street. Feliz Navidad.

The First Carolers

Today is Tuesday, December 2, 2008. It is 7:30pm. I am sitting at the computer in my office aka opium den and I hear faint sounds of children singing. I slide to the door because I am wearing socks. I have learned to run and slide so as to not run and fall on my ass. These cement tile floors are slippery. I grabbed coins on my way to the gate. This is what I find outside:

The first thing that strikes you is the kid with the crossed eyes, isn’t it? You are thinking, like I did, ah, the kid has a chance to make a face for the camera. Yucatecans generally don’t like to be photographed; you have to ask permission first. You could steal their soul by reproducing their image in that camera. If you look at the second photo, however, you see the child has a real eye problem.
I know they are not singing about Christmas, it is about the Virgin de Guadalupe. She is the patron saint of Mexico. However, I don’t understand the obsession nor the protocol with the Virgin no matter how many questions I ask. Virgin of Guadalupe day is December 12th and celebrated here on the 15th. The patron saint of the church two blocks up the street is also the Virgin. That gives her double importance in this neighborhood.

What I don’t understand is the reasoning behind the songs they sing to me. By the time I get from inside the house, run toward the door, find change, and get to the gate, they are almost finished with the first song. It is always the same. Then I throw the change in their collection box and they sing the second song that blesses the house and everyone in it. I think the first song has to do with the miraculous patron saint the Virgin of Guadalupe. But I am not sure. It is not Jingle Bells, I know that.

So if you don’t give money, do they sing a curse this house song? Yes, they sing something that is akin to the trick in trick or treating. I think they sing “you cheap bastard, we’ll be back to toilet paper your house, and by then all your hair will fall out, etc.”