Ride down the mountain

IT’S ABOUT a 40-minute Honda ride to the state capital on a smooth four-laner. We went there today, as we do most Tuesdays, to go shopping, mostly at Costco and the fancy-pants Walmart offshoot called Superama.

Along the highway, coming back, we saw smoke rising from a number of spots amid the near-distant mountains. Brush fires. That’s why we’ve had some air pollution in recent days, not enough to bother me, but some people are irked.

There are berry plantations en route, also ranches and cows. At times military trucks barrel by, the Army mostly but occasionally the Marines.

Helmeted guys with serious expressions stand in the back of those trucks with macho weaponry, most notably very large machine guns. The Army vehicles are green while the Marines sport gray.

The Marines are said to be more honorable, better trained than the Army. I’ve never had any trouble with either. I support the military in principle though I’m not sure why Mexico needs a military. Who are they gonna fight? Guatemala? No contest. The United States? No contest again, but in a far different way.

Costa Rica gets along fine with just police.

My solution to Mexican law enforcement is this: a national police force, nothing else. We have that already, the policia federal. Just let them take care of everything. They’re already armed to the proverbial teeth, including military-style equipment.

But our new ding-a-ling president has formed yet another separate military outfit. It’s hard to keep up. Mexico changes its policing and military on a regular basis, trying to get it right at last. Maybe someday it will.

Buddy Holly sings on the Honda’s stereo. The rear of the car is loaded with merchandise like olives, croissants, Philadelphia cream cheese, hydroponic lettuce, carrots and celery.

We also had the Honda cleaned inside and out at a downtown carwash. That was following a stop at Star Medica where I finally got the first of two chickenpox vaccinations. The follow-up will be done in another month. I’ll breathe a sigh of relief.

Heck, I’m already breathing more easily. I’m glad just to be breathing. Some will remember my chickenpox scare of six weeks ago, an event worsened by idiocy.

A honcho from the glass place passed by the Hacienda on Monday to take additional measurements for the domo, which is almost done, glass-wise. He said they’d finish the work tomorrow or Thursday. Bet on Thursday. When that’s done, we’ll do the electric.

In the meantime, it’s bone dry hereabouts. We’ll have rain in about three weeks, and everything will morph. We won’t see mountain brush fires driving home from the state capital, but we’ll still see soldiers, and we’ll still have croissants, olives and cream cheese in the Honda, which will be nice and clean from the carwash.

And I’ll be fully vaccinated. Good for decades more.

The modern mountaintop

MY HOMETOWN has a new hospital, a large, snazzy spot just two blocks from the main plaza. It’s called the Bora Medical Center (yes, in English*) and Hospital.

The website, like the medical center itself, is still not completed, but both are up and running, open for some business if not all. That will come later, they say.

This is the second significant private medical facility to arrive here, the other being the far humbler but still quite good Clínica Pátzcuaro, as some call it.

When you grow old, medical facilities rise in importance.

When I moved here almost two decades ago, there were two small government hospitals and a few clinics. I would not have voluntarily spent one night in any of them.

Before moving south of the border, I frequented bookstores in Houston, sitting and thumbing through all the “Retire in Mexico” books available. Most did not even mention my current mountaintop pueblo, and those that did didn’t have much good to say about the place, mostly that it got real cold in winter, which it does.

I wish that would keep more Gringos away, but it ain’t working.

When I arrived, there was only one internet provider. Now there are various. What passes as a ring road, called the Libramiento, was a potholed four-laner. Now it’s a smooth six-laner. There were no traffic lights anywhere. Now there are quite a few, all on the Libramiento.

We did have a movie theater that was hidden on the edge of the central market downtown. It was an old, dingy place with two screens and mildewed seats. One showed X-rated movies, and the other showed mainstream fare that had debuted months earlier in the nearby state capital. That theater shuttered years ago.

A huge lot on the Libramiento is currently being leveled. Reliable scuttlebutt says a movie complex will be built and a Domino’s pizza too. Twenty years ago, there were no Gringo-style convenience stores. Now we have lots, a Mexican chain called Oxxo.

When the first Oxxo arrived, many in the Gringo community were outraged. It conflicted with the “authentic” look of the town, they whined. Mexico ignored them, and good for that. Oxxos are very convenient. You can even pay bills and send money about anywhere via an Oxxo cashier. I wish they had ATMs, however.

Two decades back, there were no chain supermarkets. Now we have two. One is the Walmart-owned Bodega Aurrerá, and the other is the Mexican chain Soriana.

I want a Costco and a full-fledged Walmart. A Best Buy too.

We had no department stores till a few years ago when the Coppel chain constructed a large, two-level store across the street from the Bodega Aurrerá.

Mexico now has its own Amazon, which debuted about five years back. It’s just as good and efficient as the branch above the Rio Bravo. It even sells Alexa.

Speaking of Gringos, when I arrived on the mountaintop, there were about 40. Now there are 10 times that number or more, and newbies arrive every year. I wish we could funnel them all to San Miguel de Allende. It’s warmer there, and they’ll be happier. You don’t even have to learn a word of Spanish in San Miguel. Everyone speaks English.

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* This is a bit disturbing. When the natives speak English to you, it usually means you’re gonna be charged more.

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.

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* 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. )