Music and whiskey

TWO HOURS after shooting the video above from the upstairs terraza, I was sitting on the Jesus Patio eating seedless green grapes and listening to the hog next door expressing displeasure with her situation, which she does often.

This is being written yesterday, Saturday. The previous night had seen a heavy downpour that lasted I don’t know how long because I went back to sleep after waking briefly to notice it.

Some things don’t change much in these parts, and the sounds of sunrise are one of those things. Roosters, tractor-trailer trucks on the highway up the mountain behind us, crickets, the loudspeakers of the house-delivery propane trucks.

However, some things do change, and they’re generally for the better. We got some great news recently. An international chain of movie theaters, Cinépolis, is opening here in our mountaintop town. Hooray! Now we won’t have to drive to the state capital for first-run flicks.

The changes that have occurred over the past 17 years that I’ve been here are considerable. There were no major supermarkets. Now there are two. There were no stoplights. Now there are many. There were few Gringos. Now there are way too many!

I wonder how they’ll react to the Cinépolis chain. Over a decade ago, the Mexican convenience store chain Oxxo opened its first store here, and the Gringos, many of whom are aging hippies, went bananas. Egad! Modernization!

We have numerous Oxxos now, including one directly on the major plaza. Another sits on the nearby smaller plaza. Their signs are subdued, not intrusive.

I’m praying for a full-blown Walmart and Costco.

Convenient shopping is a good thing, and it does not detract from the morning views I get from the upstairs terraza, something I love and that never changes.

* * * *

An old friend emailed me this week. I rarely hear from people above the border, so it was a welcomed event.

He and I worked together on newspapers for decades both in New Orleans and Houston. Like me, he is divorced more than once. Unlike me, he is not currently married. He’s three years older than I am, and he lives alone in a home he bought in Colorado after he retired from the Houston Chronicle.

I had sent him a note after seeing him briefly on a Netflix documentary of Janis Joplin who was a close friend of his in high school in Port Arthur, Texas, and later in her early years of fame and drug-addled degeneracy.

My friend is a much-published poet, but not in recent years. He said his life now is mostly whiskey and music. And that all his major life decisions were wrong ones. That last resonated with me because all my major decisions were wrong ones too. Till 1996 when my major life decisions did a 180.

What happened in 1996? I stopped drinking. My friend is 76 years old, and I doubt he will do that.

I didn’t even mention it.

Here’s to music and whiskey! And staying the course.

Two to tango

WE MEXICANS are really incensed. We have been disrespected, as they say in the ‘hood. Oh, the effrontery!

The pinche (look it up) Gringo President Trump wants to build a wall along the border. What a slap in our faces.

And how undeserving!

We’re mad as hell, and we’re going to stop shopping at Sears, Costco and Walmart. Of course, that would only put the Mexican employees out of work, but it’s a price worth paying, shooting ourselves in the foot.

Those of you above the border cannot imagine how insulted we Mexicans are at this wall idea. Insulted, I tell you!

Here’s a post we might have titled Border Wall for Dummies. It  is the entire nasty matter in a nutshell.

First, both nations are equally — well, almost — at fault. For decades now, both Democrat and Republican administrations have ignored or even tacitly encouraged the immigrant invasion over the southern border.

Second, millions of Mexicans have been sneaking into the United States, tunneling below ground, climbing over fences, flying in with tourist visas and overstaying, backpacking across the arid deserts, you name it.

Some have been my relatives.

And all are in the United States illegally, millions, building neighborhoods, packing “sanctuary cities,” creating Little Mexicos all over the place.

Finding enchiladas has never been so simple.

It finally reached a boiling point for U.S. citizens, and that’s what put Trump into the Oval Office.

Americans are divided almost equally into two camps. On the left are the people who croon Kumbaya, reject national borders entirely and sincerely believe that all peoples, with a tiny bit of effort, can live in eternal peace.

In spite of there being absolutely no historical evidence to support this conviction. Quite the contrary.

It is the addled Flower Power mindset of the 1960s that has filtered down through the generations, and still thrives among a healthy percentage of the population.

These Kumbaya crooners, ironically, are the ones rioting in the streets and punching Republicans in the name of love.

On the Great Divide’s other side are people who believe in borders, who know that a nation is a tribe with a common culture, language, religion, race, something that merits and requires protection.

Reams of historical evidence support this fact.

* * *  *

TWO TO TANGO

Here in Mexico, we have a couple of notorious Gringo enclaves, particularly San Miguel de Allende and Ajijic, Jalisco.

new-imageMexico’s government puts the number of Americans living in Mexico at around 700,000.*

It’s very probable the overwhelming majority are here with visas or — like me — have become citizens, although that’s not very common.

Most are spread out quietly all over the nation, and most mind their own business. Mexican law forbids them from political activity, and marching in the streets waving U.S. flags and demanding “rights” would be outrageous.

You know, like illegals do in the United States.

It would lead to deportation.

Mexicans mostly ignore San Miguel and think it’s a cute place to visit. However, if there were hundreds of San Miguels instead of one, it would be very different.

And it would require hundreds of San Miguels and Ajijics across Mexico to be comparable to what now exists in the United States, to create an equivalency.

If there were hundreds of San Miguels full of Gringos here illegally, refusing to learn Spanish, opening little businesses selling grits, ham and red-eye gravy, there would be a national outcry. We would be apoplectic!

We would go postal!

Then the shoe would be on the other foot, and Mexicans might understand President Trump’s historic trip to the White House with a tad more clarity.

No nation really wants to be multicultural. Just up to a point, it’s interesting. After that, it gets nasty.

(No nation on earth apart from the white populations of North America and Western Europe embraces multiculturalism. Just those lands where hippies reigned in the 1960s. The Soviets shielded Eastern Europe from Flower Power.)

Mexico, in cahoots with the Democrat and Republican political establishments, brought us Trump.

It takes two to tango.

* * * *

* You’ll often read that one million Americans live in Mexico. This is a myth that has existed since before I moved south 17 years ago. I find the official 700,000 number a little difficult to believe, but perhaps it includes part-timers. And perhaps I misread, and it includes all foreigners, not just Gringos.

(Note: I saw on Twitter this morning that our President Peña Nieto has announced a new program to support and facilitate continuing education for young Mexicans who return from the United States. More positive effects from Trump.

(Furthermore, about 60 percent of Mexico’s exports currently go to the United States. Mexico recently announced it will begin widening its trade with other nations. This diversification is a positive thing, bought to us by Trump. )

Another cord cut

IT SAT IN my email folder at dawn on Monday. Your account has been canceled. Your credit card, that is.

My last Gringo card. Zapped for inactivity.

I moved south 16 years ago with four credit cards, all issued by U.S. institutions and all paid in full every month via the checking account I opened in 1999 at Banamex USA,* the U.S. branch of the Mexican behemoth Banamex.

I’d been a longtime Wells Fargo Bank customer, but I was planning my move to Mexico.

sailor-knot-9-ana-maria-edulescuThe four cards were a Wells Fargo Mastercard, an AT&T Universal Visa and two other Visas from another bank, somewhere in the Dakotas, the name of which I have long forgotten.

The two Visas from the Dakota bank were the first to go. I had to cancel them both 12 years ago after one was skyjacked by Sky cable television down here. Never give Sky your credit card number for recurring charges.

That is very good advice for most Mexican firms.

That left me with two credit cards, which didn’t concern me.

A few years later, Wells Fargo sent a renewal card to my post office box here. But due to living in Mexico — a shady land, you know — they insisted I go to a bank here and jump through all manner of hoops to prove I am who I am.

Screw that, I muttered to myself as I cut up the card.

That left me with just one card, the AT&T Universal Visa. I was starting to get a little nervous. To have a backup, I went to Banamex here where I had a checking account and requested a credit card. They gave me one with a $10 limit, only a slight exaggeration, and there was a fat annual fee too.

About a year later, I got a hair up my keister about something, and I canceled the card. I hadn’t used it much.

So, back to just one credit card.

THE LETTER

Then the letter came in 2014 from Banamex USA. Your checking account will be canceled shortly. That happened due to a new U.S. law known by its initials, FATCA.

It’s all Barry Obama’s fault, of course.

Banamex USA was my only way to pay off the U.S. credit card. No other option existed.  I do not now qualify for another U.S. bank account. No U.S. address or driver’s license.

That effectively nulled my last credit card. But I never canceled it because, I thought, maybe one day I might need it, though I could not imagine how, where or why. I held onto the account, my final Gringo credit card, a lifeline.

There was no annual fee.

For many months, I was left only with a Banamex debit card, which is not as secure as a credit card, especially online.

I asked for my Banamex credit card again. They wouldn’t reissue it. It was due to FATCA, but they danced around that fact. Irked, I canceled my Banamex account that I’d had for 14 years. They didn’t seem to give a hoot.

Heartless, greedy capitalists!

HUNTING ALTERNATIVES

I opened a checking account just up the street at HSBC-Mexico. I asked for a credit card. Not just yet, they told me. Later maybe. Later came and went. No credit card.

So I went even farther up the street and opened a checking account at Bancomer, still keeping the one at HSBC. Again, I requested a credit card. Wait three months, they said. I waited, and they gave me a credit card. Yipee!

And another for my child bride. For this and other reasons, I’ve become a yuuuge** Bancomer booster.

I requested a credit card from HSBC many times, and they always said no with little explanation. I gave up. Months later, out of the blue, they asked if I wanted one.

I said sure. Go figger.

So now I have credit cards at both Bancomer and HSBC. I also had my AT&T Visa, the Gringo card, till this week, useless as it was, an emotional tie to the old country.

Gone now, like so many other cards and cords.

FORGET AMERICA

My goal these days is to have as little to do with that troubled land above the border as possible. The norm, it seems, for Americans living in Mexico is the opposite, to keep connected to the greatest degree possible.

They keep bank accounts, addresses, homes, relatives. You name it, they keep it. Their Mexican ties seem tenuous.

They’re always visiting up north. They’re always having friends bring down “stuff” they can’t find here, stuff they think they can’t live without. Someone recently posted on a Yahoo forum catering to local Gringos a list of “essential” stuff one needs from above the Rio Bravo. I guffawed.

  1. Workshop tools, as if you cannot find tools in Mexico.
  2. Down comforters, as if Costco doesn’t offer them, and so does Bed, Bath & Beyond.
  3. Mosquito nets, as if they’re not easy to find here.
  4. Smartphones. We Mexicans still use tin cans and string.
  5. Up-to-date laptops. Best Buy, Walmart, Sears, etc., in Mexico just sell crusty Commodores and dusty Ataris.
  6. Linens “to fit your bed.” Somehow, my Mexican linens always fit my beds, both king and queen.
  7. Walking sticks. Certainly, no walking sticks can be found here. I wonder where I found mine?
  8. Good binoculars. Only defective binoculars are sold in Mexico, of course, leftovers from pirate times.

That’s just some of the stuff I saw on the list, all of which is available in Mexico. Do they cost a bit more at times? Sure, but factor in your minuscule electric bill and fresh, cheap veggies and low restaurant tabs, you’re way ahead.

And the beautiful women.

I don’t go north anymore, nor do I have things smuggled down. It ain’t necessary. You can live quite well here with what’s available, and that’s what I try to do.

And now I have no Gringo credit cards at all.

If you read all this, you’re a better man than I am.

* * * * *

* Banamex USA is closing entirely this year. There has long been talk of its involvement in money laundering. HSBC’s reputation along those lines isn’t much better.

** Trump allusion.

(Note: There is a Mexican credit bureau. It has no connection with credit bureaus in the United States, so you start from scratch below the border no matter how good or bad a credit rating you had in the United States.)

A better Mexico

MY CHILD BRIDE spent six months in Spain in the late 1990s doing postgraduate studies.

She often got her panties in a twist due to European attitudes toward Mexico, that it was a backward nation where most roads were still made of dirt.

When I arrived below the border about four years later, most of the roads were not dirt, but the highway system certainly needed some improvement.

That has happened in spades. Many of our highways now are better than what one finds above the Rio Bravo.

* * * *

Nice chains

We have lots of great stores from above the border. Sears, Costco, Walmart, Sam’s Club. And chain restaurants. Chili’s, McDonald’s, Dairy Queen, IHOP, Sirloin Steak House.

Plus many more.

Recently, Bed, Bath & Beyond opened in the nearby state capital. It’s indistinguishable from its stores in Houston or Atlanta. I love that place.

* * * *

Checks and water

Years ago I wrote hereabouts that there were no public water fountains in Mexico. At least, I had never seen one.

I was quickly corrected by a reader who said he had spotted one way over in The Yucatan.

Just this week, I saw water fountains in two stores. One was Costco and the other was a supermarket here on the mountaintop. I was surprised.

But I would not use one. I have formed habits.

Another surprise occurred last week. Our local Bancomer branch was totally renovated, and new ATMS were included. They accept both cash and check deposits!

While I recall such things in the United States, I’d never seen an ATM here that did anything more than dispense cash.

(By the way, if you’re going to open an account in a Mexican bank, I highly recommend Bancomer.)

I recently read a report that about 80 percent of Americans feel that Mexico is a dangerous place to visit. Most Gringos have never set foot here and base their opinions on hysterical reports from the media and State Department.

Fact is you can visit here quite safely. You can go to Walmart, Costco  or Dairy Queen with confidence, and you won’t be mugged or murdered in the parking lot either.

* * * *

Bonus material

While on the Hacienda roof a couple of days ago to photograph the water tank for the post Agua! Agua! Agua! I snapped a few other shots just for fun.

stairs

Looking down the circular stairs on the upstairs terraza.

back

Street out back to the right.

street

The same street to the left.

And thanks for joining me here today.