Saturday, March 31, 2007

The mystery of the missing shoes

LaManzanilla, Mexico -- The climate is so kind here we live in shorts, tank tops and wear sandals or go barefoot every day. Once in a while we wear formal wear, shirts with collars and tennis shoes, for walking on the gravel streets up the hills to see how the rich and famous live.
But we always drop our shoes at the front door when we return from long walks to keep the dust and sand outside, where it belongs.
So the other night after we had a fish fry on the patio palapa with our friends Michael, Sylvia, Scott and David, we retired after the final margarita with a pile of shoes outside the door.
When I got up the next day and decided I need my shoes they were not there. I assumed Scott or David picked them up in the dark by accident. I went and woke Scott up to retrieve them before he left for the airport, but he did not know what I was talking about.
I went back to double check and found my socks, slightly soiled, stuffed into a pair of shoes I had never seen before. On closer examination the "new" shoes were tennis shoes, made in Mexico, and one size smaller than mine.
Javier, the efficient house man, has no idea what happened.
No one knows where my shoes are, or whose shoes were left behind. We were all sober, perhaps not as a judge, but sober, and have only begun to develop the possibilities:
-- One of us has a shoe fetish and does not want to admit it;
-- Someone sneaked into our enclosed patio in the dead of the night, tried on all available shoes, took mine and left theirs. Sort of an upgrade;
-- Or, our neighbor, who shall go un-named, stole them. Not likely, but currently the favorite theory since he is something of an ugly American, loud and pompous.
The replacement pair are too small for me, so only one thing remains certain. When I arrive back in Camp Connell and the snow and ice, I will probably be wearing a thick pair of socks and my Teva sandals.
I don't think folks on BART in San Francisco will think that weird at all.
But down at the Camp Connell Store, they might start talking.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Paradise, not yet lost

LaManzanilla, Jalisco, Mexico -- I woke up this morning to the sounds of people walking by on the main street below my second-story window, a gentle breeze floating in, and the subtle thump of the surf. I could hear pleasant early-morning subdued voices of a few early risers, and once in a while a family walking toward the church up the street. It was a happy contrast to the noisy bar patrons laughing and talking loudly that prevailed when we finally put the light late Saturday night. They were happy too, but I was sleepy.
This town has about 2,000 residents, mostly Mexican and a few norteamericanos who have settled here for the peace and quiet and lovely beaches and warm weather.
Peace and quiet is a relative thing, as the bar patron on the loud motorcycle reminded us late last night. With all the windows open all the time, whatever is going on outside is what you hear. But with few exceptions, it is peaceful and quiet.
And peace and quite may be a vanishing commodity. A lot of folks think this little bit of Pacific Coast is in the verge of a land rush that will make Oklahoma's look comparatively mild. Think of Miami before the railroad came. Think Sanibel Island before the causeway, and before condos were invented on Florida beaches.
The rules, laws and attitudes are changing fast here. The land cooperatives which actually own a lot of the land, including miles of prime beach front property, have recently been allowed to claim clear title, and thus the right to sell off land that the rich of several countries lust for. The government is encouraging this economic development, and people who previously have owned very little and lived at subsistence level find themselves in line for a sudden influx of big cash.
I'd like to think this might turn out well, but I suspect that in 20 or 30 years this place will start to look like Purto Vallarta, or worse, Miami. Maybe, maybe not. But in one case we know of the lot prices jumped from $40,000 for oceanfront to a package deal requiring more like $110,000 almost overnight, the result of a land speculator coming through making offers left and right. Our landlord here expects the prices to be over $200,000 quickly, and feels the sky is the limit.
But I like the idea of being able to walk down the street at 10 p.m. and feel secure, the idea that the surf is the loudest noise you can hear on the beach side and that everybody can get to the water anytime anywhere they want. I like the street-side taco stands and the frail old man in a hammock who lives in a room across the street who did his best to help me find coffee filters early in the morning. I like the idea that when I am in most streetside cafes there are more Mexican families than tourists. Even most of the tourists are Mexican, having a good time, genial and tolerant of their sometimes bad-mannered American and Canadian neighbors.
I like fact that merchants and residents spray water on the street twice a day to keep the dust down, and it works quite well. And you might see a burro being ridden on the edge of town.
You'll know the end is near, a friend told me, when they decide to pave Main Street. It may be cobblestone, or concrete. But surely a traffic light will follow. And condos.
I know I am whining, and there must be room for all these fertile people on the planet and the rich always get first call on everything.
But I also remember that Pogo was right: we have seen the enemy, and he is us.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Celtic Whatever

Angels Camp, CA -- Celtic people are taking over these California
foothills, and their annual gathering here is a cultural event that says a lot
about America in 2007.
Exactly what it says is unclear, but bear
with me for a look at my day watching and enjoying Celtic
people and a few wannabees.
This weekend thousands of people who claim Celtic roots, or wish they did, gathered for the 21st Annual Calaveras Celtic Faire. "Calaveras" is the county incidentally. The "Celtic Faire" is a wonderfully strange gathering of people who wear pins that say "Kiss Me I'm Irish," men in kilts, children swinging wooden swords,
large males tossing telephone poles, costumed women with support bras
that would make any engineer proud, adults voluntarily eating Haggis, a
whiskey drinking contest, jousting on horseback, lots of music and
The music was terrific. The crowd was pretty strange, and a lot
of fun.
This Faire was so inclusive that even the Irish and Scots attendees
seemed to be happy one group showed up dressed as English soldiers. Now
that's tolerance.
The wandering crowds included young women
wearing rainbow colored little fairy wings whirling around in circles,
and men in cowboy outfits stomping their feet and dancing jigs that
were part Texas Two Step and PartIrish Jig. And then there were the
people dressed up like the bad guys from The Lord of The Rings, and at
least one young women in a black leather bikini with a skull suspended
strategically. One middle-aged woman dancer was actually wearing a mullet hairdo.
The desire to dress up in costume, almost any costume, and walk around in
public seems to have overwhelmed normally sensible people. Historical
accuracy was not required, though there was a lot of that mixed in with
the belly dance troupe and biker clubs and pirates and village idiots,
and people having their picture taken with an older heavyset bearded
man because he looked just like Jerry Garcia.
The best part of the
day for me was the music. Three indoor stages were kept busy
entertaining standing-room-only audiences most of the day. The big name
bands (for experienced festival goers) were Wicked Tinkers and Tempest,
who were both wicked and stormy, and the local favorites The Black Irish
Band and Golden Bough. When the Tinkers and Tempest were playing you
could close your ears and imagine you were at a Grateful Dead concert,
except the smell in the air was ale and stout instead of the forbidden weed of the 60s. And the throbbing of the drums made closing your ears an impossibility.
A wild and talented band from San Francisco, Culann's
Hounds, pictured above, kept the place jumping into the night. It's hard to describe,
but I suspect they are Irish Punk Rock Fusion Hoedown Bluesy Jazzy
something. Damn they're good.
My big disappointment was that the Concertina/Accordion (?) player got rid of her bright fuchsia hair for something more subdued. A band member explained the fuchsia coloring was making the hair fall out, so it seems like a good decision. No matter, they rocked the joint to the rafters.
international bands (two Irish, one Scots) were there to add
authenticity, but the quality of all the musicians was absolutely
superior. In fact, the only bump in the happy day was constantly flaky sound/power systems, which took the edge off some of the earlier performances.

It was very difficult to choose between going inside a venue to listen
to the great music, or wandering outside and feasting on the costumed
and slightly crazy crowds.

So we did both, and had a great time.