A New Lens

Our trusty old SLR camera lens finally bit it this year. After too much accidental cranking on the focus ring while it was set to “Auto Focus” we stripped the thingamajiggy inside and created the next piece of space junk – temporarily?Ç terrestrial.

So, our lives required a new lens. Wouldn’t it be great if when it arrived our lives would become clear and focused and well composed? Of course, these thoughts never occurred to me quite in that way as I searched e-bay for a replacement but they seem pertinent now that I’m writing about it. Writing about something transparently mundane like this doesn’t happen for me unless I can whip up some kind of “concerto of meaning” to play in the process. Actually, more like a “jingle of meaning” in this case but you get the idea.

So I did the bid on e-bay. I lost the first lens at $150 in the e-bay countdown. During those minutes my brain entered into a tiny sliver of awareness where even house fires can not enter. A place where my need pushes and my sense of comparative valuation pulls. A place where life becomes simple and everything comes down to one question, “Will I get a deal?” In this case the answer was “No” because some greedy bastard wanted it more than me.?Ç

I lost the bid on the second lens a few days later. Same scenario; great buying strategy, fixed and final price point, absolute focus… all for naught. And this time the winning bid went up by twenty bucks.

I did my research. I went to the library and parked myself at the microfiche reader. (Just checking if you’re still following along here…)

What I really did… duh…Cha!!… is use Google like every other single person with a question on the known planet. Did you know that “Google” starts with the same two letters and has exactly twice as many as “God?” Yeah, Google is God squared. Actually God helped us to invent Google to handle all the questions like, “What’s the going price for a used Tamron AF 28-300mm f/3.5-6.3 XR Di aspherical IF camera lens for Canon?” Turns out to be around 200 bucks. Google knew because God’s got other stuff going on.

So back to the biding war. I set my price point higher (at just under 200 bucks so I could claim a “GREAT DEAL!” And… I lost again in the classic final flourish of ascending bids and white knuckle brinksmanship.?Ç

Losing three bids on e-bay on the same item just makes you crazy. You want it so bad now you can taste it. The little things just don’t matter anymore.

After coming around to the idea that it is actually e-bay that makes my life worth living and not my wife or family or my well-reasoned philosophical stances or my even my deeply held convictions, I finally won a bid on a lens. I put $150 in as my top provisional bid, intending to finish it off in a blaze of glory. But I?Ç forgot about the bid’s “end time” (oooh… got to love the apocalyptic flavor of that one!) during dinner.

I got the news about the great deal I made after desert. “Hey honey, e-bay says ‘I won!'” Darn right I did, e-bay! Darn right. Even the absent minded occasionally have the winning strategy.

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O for the Presidency

We all seem to be well rid of 2008 by now, what with its economic calamities and recurring images of a world in crisis. Our own tone-deaf and world-blind President leaves office with abysmal support, even among the party faithful. The New York Times tells me that only a third of Americans polled want him to have any public role whatsoever once he leaves office. While we all pretty near uniformly want to see the back of him as President, two-thirds of us want him just to disappear completely from view after January 20th! No role whatsoever. Be gone sir!

I have made personal confession that I see past Presidents in a different light after Mr. Bush 2’s performance. Reagan? I had him down as evil incarnate at the time. I thought he was the master showman who soothed our national nerves with that ersatz cowboy confidence while performing dirty little international Iran-Contra tricks not wholly embraced by our Constitution.

Or George Bush the First. The father of “W” seems like a sweetly benign paternal figure after seeing what his son provided in the second act. How quickly I forget all the campaign shenanigans provided by the likes of Lee Atwater?Ǭ†and crew?Ǭ†(think “Willie Horton”).

I won’t go into guys like Nixon or even rehearse the foibles and failures of guys I supported like Carter and Clinton.

After seeing the debacle of this year’s Detroit Lions football team, a team that lived through the absolute horror of going 0-16, I told my coworkers, “You know all those really bad Lions teams of the past 10 years or so, the ones we all thought we’re so unbelievably crappy? Well guess what… not so bad.”

That’s the effect that President George W. Bush has had on me. His record has been so consistently awful that he’s softened my memories of past presidential-related traumas. After this experience I look back and say, “Reagan? Hmm, he was alright I guess.” Funny how he now looks so much better in comparison. All you have to do at the very least is manage to win one stinking game a year.

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A Lesson in Church

I just spent the morning shoveling sand and drinking beer with my Mexican muchachos. It’s a community ritual known here as “corrado” (I think… don’t quote me) where the guys in town get together and work to pour a concrete slab. All by hand, no concrete pumper truck, just a gas powered concrete mixture and 30 beer fueled Mexicans with one likewise gringo. We did this little exercise ourselves three times for our house but it was fun to finally be a member of the crew. Of course the requisite huge “comida” feast followed where Stef and I gorged ourselves on pollo and frijoles charro. And did I mention more beer. All before 10am. On Easter. Ah, Mexico.

I realize this seems an odd choice for an activity on Easter Sunday morning. But that doesn’t appear to be the case for these fine Mexicans, who find more solid purpose in their religious imaginations with Palm Sunday and Good Friday. Easter here is very sedate festival day. Possibly a welcome relief and respite from a long week participating in the many festivities which culminates for them in the Good Friday procession.

I’ve had quite a week myself. We went to the Palm Sunday procession, then walked through the churches on Maunday Thursday with our good friend Charlotte and out-of-town guests Dot and Wes. Charlotte has become a real resource on Holy Week here in San Miguel (Semana Santa), even authoring a book on the subject. Of course she and Wes hit it off big time (he being a student as well as teacher of world religions).

I also had my wallet stolen that same night in a church courtyard. My own minor Maunday Thursday betrayal. I was foolish enough to forget all my lessons on how to take due precautions while traveling, leaving my wallet bulging provocatively from my back pocket. (“Mira chavo, el gringo esta estupido!”). The theft was executed very professionally using the old block and bump routine. And right in a church courtyard, in front of a Jesus praying in Gethsemene and a Judas hanging from a tree still holding his sack of coins. If the story of Jesus praying in Gethsemene while the disciples slept can be viewed as a story about vigilance then I was certainly the sleepy desciple. I’ll leave you to guess who played the part of Judas in my mind with his bag of coins.

Only for that moment though. The thief has my forgiveness by now and it comes to him with the hope that the $140 bought more groceries than Tequila.

One final piquaint irony. I discovered my wallet missing much later while Wes and I were walking with the group to the restaurant. We were talking about how people we both know who are physically challenged in one way or another manage daily to deal heroically with their adversity. Until that moment for me, the proposition remained strictly hypothetical.

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The Paducah Forum

We are once again preparing for a trip to our home in Mexico. Our plan is to get down there twice a year if at all humanly possible. With the date fast approaching I am just now realizing that I haven’t yet posted anything about Paducah. That would put me in the position of writing a blog post from Mexico a week or so from now with never a mention that we’ve been doing in Paducah for all this time. It’s possible I could use the excuse that the life here seems less exotic, somehow less noteworthy. Or maybe the weblog has taken on a “Life in Mexico” flavor that I find hard to shake. Or it could be that I suffer from classic writer’s block. Actually all these things apply to some degree. Add in a healthy dose of being preoccupied with adjustments to home making in Paducah, taking on a full-time job, etc., and the elements for the long silence begin to add up. The truth is, I’ve started writing several times and always came up empty. The sparks never seemed to create the flame. This morning is a little chilly so I’m getting out my flint to try again.

Paducah is a wonderful place. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a town more friendly and gentle. The pace of life is a true antidote to the disease of urban frenzy and the mild weather in general is a balm. The members of the artist’s community have been all of the things we expected; stimulating, committed, fascinating and kind. We did arrive at a somewhat awkward moment here with the community undergoing some fractious upheaval. None of it is unexpected as part of the growing pains of this noble experiment as it emerges from it’s heady visionary days and aims towards solidifying and institutionalizing it’s gains. I say “noble experiment” because the concept of an artist’s relocation program contains just enough of that element of intentional community to supercharge the group dynamics. Since we are all in a sense stakeholders in this project, there is no avoiding the inevitable clash of opinion over the direction in which we move.

At this point I really hesitate to revisit the particulars of the period recently past. But I do feel the need to at least talk in general terms about some of the lessons we can draw on in retrospect. Much of the emotional hurt was unfortunate and avoidable. Some of it was inevitable since a large part of the community decided that it was necessary to create an alternative organizational structure for the artists of LowerTown. Some building blocks for that structure were inadvertently dropped on some people’s toes. The truly curious element in the whole tussle was (and is) the part that e-mail played in actually militating against communication. We have an e-mail group via Google Groups called “LowerTown Artists Forum.” It was established to provide for the dissemination and cross-fertilization of ideas. While it does serve those functions adequately as far as getting news and questions out to the group quickly, it suffers from two very significant shortcomings.

The first might be characterized as; “I didn’t know it worked like that!” This is the shock (and shockwave) that comes from realizing you’ve just sent a very personal and pointed opinion out to the entire group when you just meant to talk to one confidant. The e-mail forum concept was simply too new and unfamiliar to many and simple mistakes in addressing messages soon turned into major flaps. In an e-mail forum, the dreaded “reply” button turns into a broadcast medium, blanketing the entire forum. Private thoughts promptly become public knowledge simply because the sender neglected to check the address line carefully before sending. I want to emphasize that the mistake made here isn’t in having the sentiment. We all tend to air our most strident opinions only in safe (read: “private”) contexts. This context is crucial for us all to vet our opinions so that they may be brought to the larger stage based on feedback received in the private setting. The mistake arises only from a simple lack of knowledge about a very new media. I’m sure that in the early days of telephone usage people didn’t understand the function of a hand over the mouthpiece.

The other shortcoming of the e-mail method is the “Alternative to face time” dilemma. We use e-mail because it is convenient, free and has the nice quality of instantaneous reward. It’s truly amazing to think that we actually lived without it all these years. But a huge problem with e-mail is that we now use it as a substitute for face-to-face or voice-to-voice interaction. Time and again, a contentious issue would emerge in the forum and promptly degenerate into personal attack based on a misreading of tone and nuance. We rely on a whole variety of subtle cues to communicate nuance of meaning, most of them are visual and auditory. All of this can be lost in translation between the voice in our head when we write and the voice that is heard by the recipient of our e-mail. This is especially true when motives are in question or mutual trust begins to break down. The solution to a situation like this where intentions are misread is simple but takes some courage and a bit of generosity of spirit; pick up the phone and call. Just call. Begin with something like; “I thought we should just talk to each other because the last thing I intended was a personal attack on you.” The price we pay by not talking to each other is immense.

Since I’ve now jumped up on my soapbox to provide my “how to” guide to e-mail usage let me make another suggestion. Resist the urge to present yourself as cheerily constructive and positive in the open forum while flaming the person you contend with in the private e-mail channel. Don’t do it. The validity of your opinion rest squarely on personal integrity and the respect it engenders and by doing this little “one – two” you throw away any chance of being perceived as someone who sets aside personal issues in the interest of reasoned discussion. The public forum may be fooled, especially if the victim of this maneuver is sensible enough to not expose your duplicity in the public forum. The more important focus of your effort (the person you are in discussion with) is not. In the best-case scenario you’ll get a phone call and you can both talk it all over.

I think this may be my reason for my not writing about Paducah as of yet. I had to get this out of my system before I could move on. I realize that no one is asking for my advice and I that I don’t really know all the ins and outs of this situation. These humble suggestions are only offered in the spirit of fostering community health. But please remember that I need this advice as much as anyone. If my underlying thought in this post is; “we need to stop acting petty”, that’s plainly a projection of what I need to remind myself.

The community here is maturing. We arrived late to the effort but it seems the early “settlement” days are behind us. Ahead lies the challenge of developing the vision into a day-to-day reality. We will continue to disagree because much is at stake and we each have our unique perspective. Now, more than ever, we can’t afford to let our lesser natures dominate. We are muddled people. We are also good people.

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Peace from Central Mexico

A horse at pasture in Alcocer

A horse at pasture in Alcocer

Mexico is a place where the quiet daily routine is practically as old as the mountains behind our house. I watch my neighbor across the rock fence behind us do her laundry by hand and hang it out to dry. The shepherds lead their goats, sheep and cattle every morning to the small lake near our house for a drink before herding them past our front gate to the mountain pastures above. In the evening they return the same way and we get to watch the cooperation between shepherd and dogs as they work the animals, driving them home. Their work is purposeful, yet never hurried. The path is well known by both the animals and the herders so it becomes part of the routine of daily life down here. Watching the comings and goings.

Off to school at dawn

Off to school at dawn

The pigs are a different matter. There aren’t so many, just a handful. Usually a litter born in the spring to a mama sow, who guides her charges up and down the arroyo and parts beyond near our house. They continue to free range until whoever owns them decides they’re ready for market. But until then, we get the pleasure of watching them make their way along, exploring the nooks and crannies for grubs and bugs and whatever pleases them.

I watched a lone horse off and on today make its way around the little lake, grazing grass and weeds. Usually they’re tied somewhere to graze but this one dragged its lead rope around as it meandered from one side of the lake to the other. Part of the time it stood belly deep in the water enjoying the cool, no doubt, and nipping the tender grasses that grow in abundance along the edges of the water. The cattle egrets made their silent way into our valley and swooped out of sight at the far side of the lake. From time to time I was aware of a burro complaining somewhere nearby. A neighbor’s rooster crowed, just because.

A view towards our house across the presita

A view towards our house across the presita

Most of the afternoon I worked on one of the architectural rendering commissions I’m doing right now, listening to “Missouri Sky” by Pat Matheny. Our studio on the second floor is a quiet haven, free of distractions like internet, housework, and television. It looks out on the lake and mountains and all the glorious, peaceful outdoors that tantalizes us, but I guess it’s enough just knowing it’s there that keeps me focused. By 4 o’clock Dave and I were both ready for “tea,” he having worked in our cactus garden and side yard all day, cutting grasses, clearing out weeds, and starting a compost pile. We took our repast up to the roof terrace and settled under the overhanging limbs of the pepper tree at the north end. From there we looked out toward the valley and beyond across which stretch distant fields, the town of La Luz in the mid-distance, and far to the north yet another mountain range, all part of the Sierra Madres that march southward from the border. The sun was bright but the wind made it cool. Soon, the clouds gathered over the mountains just to our south and we were rewarded with a small shower through the sun and a rainbow that stretched from the lake below us to the lower slope of the mountain behind.

Wishing you all peace from Central Mexico.

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Borrowed Eyes

Stefanie models the Talavera tile kitchen

Stefanie models the Talavera tile kitchen

When will your house be done? When are you moving in? How long dear Lord, how long? When you build in Mexico you have to get ready for the hurry up and wait. No schedule is firm, no crew is consistent, every budget is filled with bubbles and shadows. But “poco a poco” the thing gets done. You watch it happen day by day and the changes are so incremental that you sometimes miss the effect. Certain features appear rather rapidly and you go “Wow, look at THAT!”; a spiral column to support the front porch roof, the shaped bricks that form the top edge of our stepped stair rail, the finial at the top of our onion-dome cupola. But the mass of changes accumulate slowly over the course of days and weeks. That and the fact that our focus is always on whatÕs still left to be done all militate against awareness that any real progress is being made.

Stefanie poses with our friend Floyd in front of our house in Mexico

Stefanie poses with our friend Floyd in front of our house in Mexico

The best way to see what has evolved is with the help of friends. It’s time like these when you just need to borrow some eyes. We invited a group of friends over a few days before leaving for Florida even though our construction site was still a mud and gravel lot, the exterior paint job half finished, the second floor is still a work in progress with tile-lights-bathroom in various states of completion. But inviting them over was the right thing to do because those borrowed eyes helped us to see what we’ve actually done. Where we see an unfinished structure set amidst a chaotic heap of construction rubble, they see a little gem of a house with no mention of those other distractions. I’m always looking at what’s left to be done instead of what’s right there before my eyes. The accumulation of details needs a fresh set of eyes to appear whole.

Hermilo does the brick rail on the staircase

Hermilo does the brick rail on the staircase

Our friends were generous with their praise for our efforts. All of them had experience with the distinctly Mexican process of home construction, to one degree or another. We had good conversations up on the roof patio, comparing notes and swapping horror stories. But I benefited most by being made to see the whole thing at once, as something to be appreciated and celebrated, instead of just a pile of unfinished details moving glacially towards completion.

The cupola. Mario said "This is art" This is right

The cupola. Mario said “This is art” This is right.

The first floor is largely done; the terracotta tile is sealed, the walls are painted. Our bed frame and headboard arrived a day before our mattress. And we had one lovely night sleeping on it before we had to leave for Florida. The refrigerator was moved in just as our cooler arrived from our rental casita. The built-in closet was installed the same day our car arrived with a pile of cloths on hangers. “Just in Time” construction. And just in time to leave for Florida and another rounds of art fairs.

Paint on walls of the dining room. Cat installed in the chair.

Paint on walls of the dining room. Cat installed in the chair.

We’ve left the house to our work crew; Mario the head maestro (“El Mejor”), Hermillo the other magnificent maestro, and Diego and Francisco our two helpers who endlessly mix cement and carry it up to the maestros. Oh, and our cat. We’ve actually built the place for her I think. Paintbrush will get to enjoy the fruits of our efforts more than we will the next two months. She’s got several prime sunny spots to lounge in and a place to look out the window there. Our previous rental casita had virtually none of those kitty amenities. And she’s got Margarina to come every day to tend to her needs.

Our full crew will be working for two more weeks while we’re gone and after that we might just have ourselves a house. We’ll return in April to touch up paint, put some plants in the ground, put our feet up. Take a look around. Start to “see” the place.

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What of Silence

I can sneeze again. And finally blow my nose. I can pick up something heavier than a gallon of milk. Oh yes, and one more thing. Best of all I can also hear again. This last and best thing is thanks to the wonders of technology by way of a new cochlear implant. All the other things were just nuisances, my restrictions after the surgery. I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve found you can wait out nuisances but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a lot harder to deal with obstacles that threaten your way of life.

I can now say that I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢ve experienced hearing loss both gradually and all of a sudden. If I have a choice, quite frankly I prefer the former. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s a whole lot more manageable in the long run, allowing you time to prepare and practice and think your way through coping with it. With the failure of my CI last month the loss came on like a gale force, and in fact sounded like one. A huge roaring, screaming wind that threatened to knock my head off if I dared to turn on my processor. There were no hints that something was up, at least not anything to make me believe that my miracle of hearing was about to come to an abrupt halt. I was simply going about my normal day when it suddenly sounded like a motor had been turned on which had no directional clues and kept on so unrelentingly that I silenced it by turning off my processor. When I turned it back on I knew that something was desperately wrong. The noise was no longer a motor but an unbearable screaming rage.

For approximately a week Dave and I mustered forces to deal with this new prospect in our lives. I found that if I weathered the screaming for a few minutes it toned down to a dull roar which I could withstand long enough for some conversation. I even managed to make a few phone calls to arrange an evaluation appointment with an audiologist in Dallas to see what the problem might be. For his part, Dave helped me stay positive with humor, patience and understanding. In the end we made our way to Chicago to meet with my doctor and audiologist as well as a representative from Med El, the manufacturer of my CI, to come to some conclusion about what was happening and what solutions might be available. All three agreed upon seeing me and hearing my descriptions of what was going on with my CI that it had failed and would need to be replaced.

I had always said years ago with my first CI that I would be fine no matter what happened with it. In my new reality of total deafness after receiving my replacement CI that resolution seemed a tad glib. While waiting for activation (that is, getting hooked up to your processor) during my first experience I still had the luxury of some hearing in my non-implanted ear and wore a hearing aid in it. So while my world seemed a little less clear, I still functioned pretty normally. I talked with people, went to work, stayed connected. This time I had no such assistance from my other ear. Its last vestiges of hearing gave way within a year of my first implant. I awaited my activation this time acutely aware of the difference and grieving the loss of my residual hearing as though deserted by a dear friend.

The silence in some ways seemed almost as unbearable as the screaming noise from the failed CI had been. Since Dave and his family, with whom we were staying during my recovery, know little sign language we were forced to communicate through lip reading and writing notes, neither of which prove very satisfactory in following a conversation. I also knew from living with my first CI that when it was turned off I didn?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t speak very much. So during that week prior to activation I became not only deaf but also mute, speaking only when asked something or if I had a question. My world turned inward to a terrible degree. My disquiet at this sudden deafness was surprising given my earlier resolve. Evidently things weren?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t so neat and tidy after all. It?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s one thing to say you are fine with deafness but finding your way when thrust into it of a sudden feels like being in a rudderless boat. You are adrift without direction, your connection to the greater world cut from beneath you.

A friend asked if there were something good about the silence. For me there is if the silence is chosen. At night with my processor off I don?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢t have to endure snoring or dogs barking or other disquieting distractions. In the morning it is nice to go about my routine thinking my own thoughts, free to ease gradually into the noisy world. My week of enforced silence was an endurance test, or perhaps more so, a test of my will. I marveled at my friends who have gone into this silence and accepted it as their life. Most became proficient at sign language, but all have come out the other end as productive, happy people, at peace with where they are. Given time, no doubt that would also be me if I would have to go that route. To get there would require a considerable period of adjustments not only on my part but also that of my family and friends.

Today I?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢m experiencing the wonders of sound again. The voice of my husband, friends, family. I talk on the phone and listen to the shrill whistle of a morning bird who frequents our yard. I hear the call and response of lambs and their mothers grazing along the creek just below our casita in Alcocer, the rhythms of jazz on a radio station streamed over our computer. I shop and run errands, managing my transactions in broken Spanish. Life goes back to normal, but it?¢‚Ǩ‚Ñ¢s with a new perspective. That there are still new twists and turns in my journey of deafness which require adjustments and introspection as to my response to it. I value more the varied choices of my fellow travelers in surmounting the challenges of deafness that threaten to cut off the world. I realize more than ever that my reality is an existence split between silence and sound. And I know the price exacted to achieve a balance between the two. Peace is had not by mourning the loss but by embracing the life that is.

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Loop de Loo!

In general, things don’t turn out the way you had planned. Have you noticed? If you can just accept that on principal life becomes one sweet kick in the pants; an adventure, instead of ruthlessly inconvenient. The problem arises from the fact that you have to make plans in the first place. We focus on our well laid plans in order to confront our fear that otherwise life will just happen to us in some random, chaotic fashion. So we diligently make plans; to change jobs, to move to a new town, to travel to foreign countries. But in the process life happens to you in some random, chaotic fashion anyway.

The trick here I guess is to make plans but also to plan to be flexible. And definitely don’t be too surprised when life forces a hard right just as you were trying to veer left.

I talk a lot with Stefanie about us being “plan junkies”. Since we’ve made the big break with our past lives to work as artists (what we called “The great leap into the unknown”) we have seemingly been in continual plan mode. And one wild plan begets another. In the context of our current lives as international gypsies our recent plan seemed perfectly reasonable; drive up from our home in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico to complete a small looping circuit of art fairs in south-central and midwest states of the U.S., spend a few days in between settling details on our other house being built in Paducah, Kentucky, and then head back to Mexico. All done in roughly four weeks.

Well, the drive up through Mexico went without a hitch, unlike a previous trip during which we ran into a problem with our radiator coolant pump. That required some serious Mexican mechanical improvisation to get us across the border. This time it was a smooth trip up to Shreveport for our first art fair.

That’s where things started getting squirrly. Stefanie developed an issue with her cochlear implant. With some troubleshooting we determined the problem to be with the implant itself. Not good. After the fair we drove to Dallas for a consultation with a specialist. In talking with her we realized that we would need to make a trip to Northwestern Hospital in Chicago, the home of her original surgery.

We scheduled an appointment for her and mapped out a new plan. We could do one one last art fair we had scheduled for me Houston and then grab a train to Chicago. Houston didn’t have a station (because who knows why) but there was an Amtrak rail stop north of there in Longview, Texas.

After the fair we were sailing along out of Houston when we cracked a bolt on our alternator bracket and began thrilling to the sound of a loud “Schreech!!” coming from the engine during acceleration from a dead stop; the classic engine noise from loose belts. At the first repair shop we found the mechanic pointed out the problem and said the broken bolt would need to be drilled out which would cause us a delay of at least a half day.

Our train was leaving from Longview that evening around 7 pm and we still had a three hour drive ahead of us. It was around noon. After the mechanic described the problem as being caused by the broken bolt sliding out of position (it was a hinge bolt on the alternator bracket) I suggested that he just “slap some goop on the thing” to keep the bolt in place for a few hours until we could get to Longview and have it repaired properly during our week in Chicago. I was half joking in desperation but after a moment’s thought the mechanic shrugged and said, “Might work. Can’t guarantee it in writing though.” Sensible man.

I’m not sure what made me even say it other than my experience with the many ingenious rigs that our Mexican friends devise to solve problems on the fly. It actually worked like a charm and helped us get up to Longview for the train, eventually.

The rest of the drive from Houston was a wire-to-wire thrill ride because we needed to maintain an average speed of at least sixty for three hours plus. All I remember from that segment is a white-knuckle-gripping David (me) at the wheel of our heavily loaded RAV4, zipping down hills at over eighty on a rolling Texas highway, Stefanie saying “Slow down!” and me yelling “Ya gotta go eighty downhill to clear the top going at least 45!!!” or something.

Stefanie thought there was a reasonable chance that I had become a danger to her livelihood. While her priorities were on continued earthly existence, my sole purpose in life was to make it to the Toyota dealer by closing. Survival came second.

There were some further antics ahead as we approached Longview. Mileage signs toyed with our emotions by tacking on an additional 3 or 4 miles here and there. A seriously screwed-up Mapquest printout had us driving down a small weed-choked road near the edge of town as the clock ticked mercilessly down to 5 pm (their posted closing time on the web). Stefanie is trying to get me turned around and headed back towards town while I’m insisting that “Mapquest says it’s right here!!” and she’s saying, “Does it really look like a car dealer might be around HERE somewhere???”

Heading back into town we used a bit of blind guesswork to stumble on the place, pulling into the dealer’s lot just after five to read “5:30 pm” posted as the new closing time on the service department’s glass door. I strode into the office high on some naturally occurring substance in my blood, announcing “We made it!”, and blurting out “Your closing time on the web is 5!”, and “Take a look at this set of crappy directions from Mapquest!”. The kind people in the office had a somewhat different energy level. They just smiled and waited for this invading force to settle down a minute before asking, “Help you with something?”

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La Vida Dulce

The Instituto Art  Fair - a lively, colorful happening

The Instituto Art Fair – a lively, colorful happening

We’re far from novices anymore at doing art fairs both here in San Miguel and the states. They still take a lot of preparation and forethought in ramping up to the actual event, but we’ve become accustomed to the routine of applying and the inevitable check lists to make sure we have all the aspects of the events under control. There’s a heightened sense of anticipation going into them plus the usual anxiety, but it’s all familiar territory.

I had a different sense, though, in August as we set up our display panels the first day of the Instituto Art Fair. We were in the same spot as the July event so no worries about whether or not we were in the right place. I looked around as we pulled paintings out and began figuring out the best configuration for displaying them. Little by little other artisans began toting their work to their spaces and started the tedious process of getting all in place. The man with the handmade paper wall luminaries was back as our neighbor next to us in the corner along with his wife selling beaded jewelry and embroidered tapestries cattycornered across the aisle. Others, now familiar to us after so many Instituto art fairs, also began arriving – the short, energetic woman from Oaxaca with a single gray braid and crooked smile selling rugs, the two ever-serious young women selling Mexican trinkets, the German lady selling straw hats and Guatemalan scarves, the young man from Veracruz selling his handmade leather-bound notebooks.

The inner courtyard where the fair is held had a sleepy air about it, people quietly going about putting their displays and tables in order. Not a lot of chatter, just some street noise and birds making their morning twitterings as they flitted about looking for their first food of the day. As I made several trips back and forth from the car to fetch things for our set-up I felt the energy of my fellow artists and craftsmen. Less than two years ago I viewed all of these people as part of the exotica that I saw as San Miguel. But with several Instituto fairs under our belt, and becoming part of the routine, I suddenly felt a real connection to the artisan community. Moreover, I felt privileged to be offering my art alongside them.

While a good deal of what is offered by the artisans is produced for the tourist market, there is still real craft evident in much of it. Creativity is part of the fabric of Mexico in general, and so the hand-woven rugs, the beaded bracelets, the sweet, brightly colored paintings on small wooden panels all are reminders of the arts in everyday life here. Some of it is decidedly humble, but nonetheless it offers up the expressions of its people as a small celebration of their lives. Tourists are drawn to the color, the whimsy, the craftsmanship of the items perhaps not in small part because they are made locally by hand. Art of the people which touches us because it is just that, not high or lofty or cerebral. A celebration of the sweets of life.

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Tuning the Immune

This pig and his friends are here for a reason

This pig and his friends are here for a reason.

Scientists have discovered that it pays to grow up in marginally unsanitary conditions in order to tune your immune system properly. Children in western countries who grow up coddled and sheltered from every pollen grain or cat hair are understandably hypersensitive to such minor irritants as adults. Somewhere in this observation about the source of our currently epidemic levels of allergic reaction is a hard fact: Those dirty little snot-nosed kids you always complained about are all healthy, happy, strapping adults now. Except, of course, for that bully in my grade school class. He’s in jail. His freedom was denied due to a minor legal quibble concerning a gang-related hit contract. Still free of allergies though no doubt.

Or, to put that life lesson in a slightly different way … as my apple pickin’ buddy out in Washington State used to say at the crack of dawn; "Time to get up and get amoungst ’em!".

It’s not just the immune system that needs to be taught how to discern minor irritants from the real deal. Getting out in that big old dirty world helps the mind differentiate whether other dangers are real or only perceived. When we prepared for our trip around the world last year some of our well meaning friends warned us about confessing our American citizenship to those we may meet. Turned out not to be a problem. We never dissembled on that fact and people always treated us with respect, like people everywhere should be treated; somewhere between friendly and indifferent. Never hostile. That’s only in the funny papers.

it's not just that they're cute

… it’s not just that they’re cute.

Now I know the statistics I read and you read in those same funny papers tell us that the general opinion of America is in the crapper. Due to many factors I suppose, one of which may be our current propensity to launch off and take care of military business wherever, whenever we so desire regardless of logic or other peoples opinions. So our American-ness may seem rude or dangerous to others due to some of these questionable decisions by our government. I just never saw that translate into personal animosity. Pity, maybe. And sometimes sympathy, like; "Yeah, I know … my President’s an idiot too…"

You see, pigs play in the mud.

You see, pigs play in the mud.

Speaking of which; rude is when a drunken guest belches in your face as he leaves the party. Dangerous is when he then demands his car keys so he can drive around the neighborhood. Right now the world sees us driving around out there with a full tank and a tall boy in the cup holder.

So perceptions of danger all relate to where we stand, and who’s looking dangerous. Many of our danger meters vibrated right off the dial a few years ago. But it’s important to re-calibrate them by testing them occasionally against the real world. Is the world a scary place? Yes, sometimes. Doesn’t mean we can’t approach it with subtlety and flexibility. Appropriate action (or reaction) depends on realigning our perception of danger to reality. Our danger meters busted years ago after the needle jammed all the way up there. Probably time to get it fixed and stop living our lives based on the same reading we get every day; "Life is Currently: EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!!!".

... and in the street...

… and in the street…

Maybe that’s one reason we did the trip around the world. Might even help explain what we’re doing down here in Mexico. Meter repair.

We face perceptions of danger every day. One of the most common for many people is their financial situation and we’re no different there. Not enough capital inflow to offset the drainage and the evaporation. A little like our reservoir out in Alcocer now that you mention it. That’s getting real low too these days. The lack of rain has caused the small lake to recede to a large puddle. But the rains will come. And we’ll keep making that art until it forms up into vast thunderheads that open up to bless the dry plains of financial desolation. It’s actually raining right now… real rain. Might be a sign but I don’t want to push it because I’ve already chased that image out and beat it with a stick. Just rain …okay?

... and their mother lets them.

… and their mother lets them.

Well then so what if we’re not yet making our fortunes with our art. We’re still far from broke. My immune system registers only a minor irritant. Nothing for my T-cells to get excited about. Good thing my mom let me play kick the can out in the alley as a kid. .

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