Trailer Park Nirvana image created by Stefany Kleeschulte.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Mariachi Song of the Day - El Rey

My family sings. Growing up, we sang to every song on the radio, especially on long car trips. My parents were young and knew a lot of the current music. They liked musicals and Harry Belafonte and Miriam Makeba. My sister Constance serenaded us on a rafting trip with Ethel Merman does Joni Mitchell ("Blue").

So it was with extreme frustration that last night, Christmas, I could not join in with the singing of the Mariachi standards. What fun it was listening to my friends sing along with Javier and Jorge. When Jorge's little granddaughter sang, I actually got teary-eyed. But I wanted to sing too!

The first song I'm going to learn is El Rey.

This one's for you Mundo!

Yo se bien que estoy afuera
Pero el día que yo me muera
Se que tendras que llorar

Llorar y llorar
Llorar y llorar

Diras que no me quisistes
Pero vas a estar muy triste
Y así te vas a quedar

Con dinero y sin dinero
Hago siempre lo que quiero
Y mi palabra es la ley
No tengo trono ni reina
Ni nadien quien me comprenda
Pero sigo siendo el rey

Una piedra en el camino
Me enseño que mi destino
Era rodar y rodar

Rodar y rodar
Rodar y rodar

Y después me dijo un arriero
Que no hay que llegar primero
Pero hay que saber llegar

Con dinero y sin dinero
Hago siempre lo que quiero
Y mi palabra es la ley
No tengo trono ni reina
Ni nadien quien me comprenda
Pero sigo siendo el rey

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Walk on Water

This year, in order to survive Christmas, I did the thing that always works for me. I pretended I was on holiday in a foreign country and that I didn't know anyone. The first two parts of the equation were easy - holiday and foreign country - but the last one - that I didn't know anyone - was a little more difficult. So I basically hid out during the Christmas Eve potluck preparations and then when I knew everyone was pigging out at the clubhouse I pulled my chair over to the seawall and imagined I was in Mexico!

Weather-wise, the day was one of the best we've had in weeks. Clear blue skies, no wind, and downright hot when sitting in the sun. I stared out at the water. The tides were the lowest yet. I put the Kindle in the trailer, donned a fleece vest, grabbed my camera and refreshed cocktail and went down to the beach.

One of the things I love about really low tides is the ability to walk way out into the water. From the shore I imagine it looks as though I'm walking on water, much like the heron in the photo below.

I've been told that during low tides one can walk out to the island. I tried that once a couple summers ago. I got about halfway to the island but chickened out, afraid of sting rays and fishermen at the helm of boats who may not notice a woman walking on water.

Looking back towards town.

There's not much in the way of tide pools here. Mossy sandstone. The occasional walking seashell.

It was fully dark when I got back to the trailer. I walked around lighting the luminarias a friend from the States had placed all around the park. People were leaving the potluck dinner. My newest stray cat scratched the hell out of my foot in an effort to keep me from walking away (he's quite affectionate - a little too affectionate).

It was nice being alone in a foreign country for Christmas Eve. But not as nice as being with family. Feliz Navidad.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

After a Sudden Death all Hell Broke Loose

I keep thinking about the woman whose husband died suddenly.

What have these past two nights been like for her? She's away from family and close friends. I think about the heaviness that must fill the motor home. The heaviness of that abrupt absence, the heaviness of the silence around her, the heaviness of the reality of her future alone.

My understanding is that her husband had not been well and they were hoping to get in one more trip to the beach. I wonder if his refusal to go to the doctor was his way of acknowledging that his time was now.

The day he died was a bad day in the park. As I was offering my condolences to the wife, Flo walked up and I could see she'd been crying. One of her beloved dogchilds - the uglier but nicer of the two - had died at the vet's in Hermosillo. He was there to get his intestines unkinked. I don't know if he died before, during or after the surgery. He had congestive heart failure and his heart couldn't withstand the stress. I felt worse for Flo than I did for the woman whose husband had died.

And then some other wild things happened that I can't really write about but I'll just say all hell broke loose.


Elmore Leonard wrote some of the most worthwhile tips for writers I've ever come across. In one of his tips (see below) he says to never use "all hell broke loose." I was in the midst of writing my book and when I read that I thought oh-oh and sure enough I used that phrase to describe a scene where two men were having a confrontation in my small trailer. I was afraid they were going to break into a fight. I was afraid all hell would break loose. You bet I got rid of that! (oh and don't use too many exclamation points for goodness sakes!). So as you read, be on the look out for "all hell broke loose"; you will see it everywhere. Keith Olbermann said it last night in his show.

Here are Elmore's tips from the NY Times. They're priceless.

JUL 16, 2001

Easy on the Hooptedoodle

These are rules I've picked up along the way to help me remain invisible when I'm writing a book, to help me show rather than tell what's taking place in the story. If you have a facility for language and imagery and the sound of your voice pleases you, invisibility is not what you are after, and you can skip the rules. Still, you might look them over.

1. Never open a book with weather.
If it's only to create atmosphere, and not a character's reaction to the weather, you don't want to go on too long. The reader is apt to leaf ahead looking for people. There are exceptions. If you happen to be Barry Lopez, who has more ways to describe ice and snow than an Eskimo, you can do all the weather reporting you want.

2. Avoid prologues.
They can be annoying, especially a prologue following an introduction that comes after a foreword. But these are ordinarily found in nonfiction. A prologue in a novel is backstory, and you can drop it in anywhere you want.

There is a prologue in John Steinbeck's "Sweet Thursday," but it's O.K. because a character in the book makes the point of what my rules are all about. He says: "I like a lot of talk in a book and I don't like to have nobody tell me what the guy that's talking looks like. I want to figure out what he looks like from the way he talks. . . . figure out what the guy's thinking from what he says. I like some description but not too much of that. . . . Sometimes I want a book to break loose with a bunch of hooptedoodle. . . . Spin up some pretty words maybe or sing a little song with language. That's nice. But I wish it was set aside so I don't have to read it. I don't want hooptedoodle to get mixed up with the story."

3. Never use a verb other than "said" to carry dialogue.
The line of dialogue belongs to the character; the verb is the writer sticking his nose in. But said is far less intrusive than grumbled, gasped, cautioned, lied. I once noticed Mary McCarthy ending a line of dialogue with "she asseverated," and had to stop reading to get the dictionary.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb "said" . . .
. . . he admonished gravely. To use an adverb this way (or almost any way) is a mortal sin. The writer is now exposing himself in earnest, using a word that distracts and can interrupt the rhythm of the exchange. I have a character in one of my books tell how she used to write historical romances "full of rape and adverbs."

5. Keep your exclamation points under control.
You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose. If you have the knack of playing with exclaimers the way Tom Wolfe does, you can throw them in by the handful.

6. Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose."
This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
Once you start spelling words in dialogue phonetically and loading the page with apostrophes, you won't be able to stop. Notice the way Annie Proulx captures the flavor of Wyoming voices in her book of short stories "Close Range."

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
Which Steinbeck covered. In Ernest Hemingway's "Hills Like White Elephants" what do the "American and the girl with him" look like? "She had taken off her hat and put it on the table." That's the only reference to a physical description in the story, and yet we see the couple and know them by their tones of voice, with not one adverb in sight.

9. Don't go into great detail describing places and things.
Unless you're Margaret Atwood and can paint scenes with language or write landscapes in the style of Jim Harrison. But even if you're good at it, you don't want descriptions that bring the action, the flow of the story, to a standstill.

And finally:
10. Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.
A rule that came to mind in 1983. Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can't allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative. It's my attempt to remain invisible, not distract the reader from the story with obvious writing. (Joseph Conrad said something about words getting in the way of what you want to say.)
If I write in scenes and always from the point of view of a particular character — the one whose view best brings the scene to life — I'm able to concentrate on the voices of the characters telling you who they are and how they feel about what they see and what's going on, and I'm nowhere in sight.

What Steinbeck did in "Sweet Thursday" was title his chapters as an indication, though obscure, of what they cover. "Whom the Gods Love They Drive Nuts" is one, "Lousy Wednesday" another. The third chapter is titled "Hooptedoodle 1" and the 38th chapter "Hooptedoodle 2" as warnings to the reader, as if Steinbeck is saying: "Here's where you'll see me taking flights of fancy with my writing, and it won't get in the way of the story. Skip them if you want."

"Sweet Thursday" came out in 1954, when I was just beginning to be published, and I've never forgotten that prologue.

Did I read the hooptedoodle chapters? Every word.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

To Die in Mexico

This could be a tip for living in Mexico but I don't have time to fully explore the subject.

The man in the motorhome two doors down from me died this morning. Somehow I missed the noise of people banging on doors, the lights of the ambulance and the police.

He and his wife arrived about three weeks ago, just before Thanksgiving. They'd been coming down to Kino for a long time but I don't know how long. He got this cold that's been going around and it lingered, settled in his chest. He wouldn't go see the doctor. Then this morning he got out of bed, went and sat in a chair and died.

Another gringo died here a couple years ago and it's impressive how easy and cheap the arrangements are. Someone (police? coroner?) calls a couple morticians or local mortician brokers and they bid on their services. The body is taken to Hermosillo and cremated. The whole thing takes only a day or two and costs around $600.

To save my daughter even more money she could have Saul take me out in his boat and dump me in the Sea of Cortez (he has to be three miles out). A hundred bucks would probably do it.

So, Stef, if you're reading this, I'd like my ashes scattered in the Santa Rita Mountains but if you don't have the money, just do the Saul thing.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

So You Want a Latin Lover (Mexico Tip Numero Cuatro)

You're a gringo - big, fat, nose hairs so long they get stuck in your teeth, with boring stories and a know-it-all attitude - but wait! Who's that hot chick on your arm? Why it's your Mexican girlfriend, your novia, your amor, your corazon.

This town may be lacking in toilet paper, cheddar cheese and even avocados but it appears to be brimming with young women who will latch onto a gringo, any gringo. He doesn't have to be rich; just rich enough to help her out - buy her dresses and shoes and maybe a washing machine for her madre.

In the summer, when the gringo population thinned out, there were only three men at happy hour at the trailer park and all three were married with wives in the States and all three had novias. They were so damn cocky about it. Puffed out their chests while they downed little blue pills followed by shots of gin or whiskey.

If the tables were turned - if it were me and Flo and another gringa with young Mexican boyfriends (who we spent money on) those same men would say we were pathetic losers being used for our wallets.

It is very possible that the three of us gringas - me, Flo and our imaginary friend - could have Latin Lovers too no matter that we are senior citizens. We are poor by expat standards but still way better off than our barrio neighbors. I've been hit on by men from all age groups - from the 20s on up - but have declined all offers (although I may have to give in before I'm too old to ever have sex again).

The one hitch in the Latin lover plan is that if you are a woman who is looking for a well-off Mexican - at least one who can support himself and is not married - then the pickings are slim here in Kino. You really need to be in a bigger city, a resort town maybe.

In Kino you'll not find one of these....

or these....

but a woman can always dream....

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Spanish Word of the Day: Bufanda

Yesterday I ran into a man I hadn't seen in a while. He was full of compliments and I was thrilled not only at the sentiment but that I understood him!

One of the things he said was that I looked younger (mas joven). At this age that is about the highest compliment a woman can receive (outside of thinner and, sadly, mas flaca or delgada was not in there).

I knew immediately why that was so, that I looked mas joven. Not because of some Olay night cream or  change in diet or more sleep. No. It was because it was cold and I had a bufanda (scarf) around my neck. For "women of a certain age" this sudden fountain of youth needs no explanation and I plan on having my neck bufanda'ed for the next three months or so.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Toilet Paper! (Living in Mexico Tip Numero Tres)

As most of you know, most of Mexico is a no-flush-toilet-paper zone. So if you decide to stay in Mexico for a while bring the biggest, fluffiest, softest and most favorite brand of toilet paper you can buy in the good old USofA because a) you won't be flushing it so no worries about clogging up septic systems, and b) you won't be able to find it here.

Mexican toilet paper sucks. Even the brands you can find in Walmart are not on a par with the paper we're used to back home.

Now here's additional information for those of you who will be staying in an RV.

If you keep your black tank valve closed (which most RVers agree is the way to go) and use that blue stuff that breaks down solid wastes, then you can flush all the toilet paper you want. Keeping the black tank valve closed is environmentally better because you use less water that way. What I used to do before my valve got stuck in the open position - and thank God it didn't get stuck in the closed position! - is when it was getting near the time to empty the tank (and believe me, you won't need a gauge to tell you when that time is approaching), I would close the gray tank valve (which I normally keep open), take a shower, do dishes, all of which fills up the gray water tank, empty the black tank, then open the gray tank valve to thoroughly flush everything from the sewer hose.

Should you keep your black tank valve open, you'll be using a lot more water to make sure stuff is flushed from the bottom of the tank. A handy gadget to have is a wand-like plastic tube with holes in the end. Attach the wand to the outside water hose, insert in toilet and turn the on/off knob to open. Water will spray all sides of the tank thus doing a bang-up job of cleaning out that sucker. Of course you need good water pressure for that to work which we ain't got - at least not here in Kino - so you might want to add a water pump to your list but I'd hold off on that until you know if you're going to be here for a few months or for forever.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Tips for Living in a Mexican Fishing Village without a Bank


When I arrived here in 2007 the road from Calle Doce to Kino had just been widened and paved and not too long before that the first ATM machine had been installed. In the days before the ATM machine the woman at the pharmacy acted as money exchanger, or people went to the bank in Calle Doce.

Off and on Kino has had more than one ATM machine. Two of the machines were blown up, the one by the mayor's office (that one has never been replaced) and the other by the police office which was repaired but has been out of order for a long time now.

The most reliable are the machines at the Pemex but they have the highest ATM rates, around 70 pesos (not including what your bank charges). Those are swipe-card machines which I like because my debit card is my money lifeline and I'd hate to lose it in some plastic-hungry machine. Only once did the Pemex machine screw up by giving me less pesos than requested and recorded on my receipt. I called that Corporate Bastard Bank of America and, no questions asked, they took my word for the error and adjusted my account.

The other machine is by the Red Cross and its ATM rate is around 40 pesos. It's a swallow-your-card machine but so far I've had no problems with it. This is the machine most people use but quite often it is out of service.

The best deal going is the relationship between Banco Santander and that Corporate Bastard Bank of America: No ATM fees and no international use fee. Nada. Zip. It's a real thrill to look at your receipt and see 0 transaction fees. I love that Corporate Bastard Bank of America!

Use pesos when you are here. This town is not yet touristy enough to want mostly dollars. Restaurants like La Palapa and Pargo Rojo will take dollars at close to the exchange rate. Casa Blanca will take your dollars, too, but at the 10:1 rate so you're better off using pesos. The same is true with the little grocery stores; they'll take dollars but I'm not sure they're going to mess with doing the math on 12:1 or 13:1.

The ATM by the Red Cross dispenses mostly 500 peso notes which can be hard to break. I use them when I get gas or at the pharmacy or the Super T Del Mar which seems to be brimming with smaller notes.

I think that's about it except for this word of advice: learn your numbers in Spanish. Most clerks and vendors will tell you the amount in pesos, not dollars. At a grocery store you can look at the cash register to see what you owe but still, learn your numbers!! I have never been given the wrong change but still, learn your numbers just in case someone makes an honest mistake. My head is like a block of cement when learning Spanish but in my journals I wrote out the dates in Spanish and once I got 1 to 31 down, the rest was pretty easy. Still some people will say the amount so fast that I'll be lost and have to ask them to slow down and 500 always confuses me but I do pretty good.

I heatedly disagreed with a friend when she said the guy at the Pemex in Calle Doce should know his numbers in English (this was after she asked for 160 pesos worth of gas in English and he just stared at her like she was speaking a foreign language). First of all, the only non-Spanish speakers who stop at the Pemex in Calle Doce are the gringos headed to or from Kino; it's not like that town has an ex-pat community. Secondly, we're in their country and the burden is on us. So if nothing else learn your numbers up to 100 with that rascally 500 and un mil for 1,000 and you'll be set.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Tips for Living in a Mexican Fishing Village at the End of the Road

Some friends are coming to Kino for a few months or for forever and one of their questions was can they get Greek yogurt, walnuts and frozen blueberries here? Oh-oh. These people need guidance. So let's start with food.


Rumor has it a grocery store chain is coming to town (Super Sazo which is bien and barato - good and cheap - according to their ads). For now the town consists mostly of little neighborhood stores (abarrotes), two Oxxos (kinda like Circle Ks) and four Super-Ts (also chains and also small but unlike the neighborhood stores, Super Ts carry alcohol). We have a store that specializes in meat, one for fruit and vegetables. My new favorite - Graco - is a tiny and clean store with beautiful vegetables and some things that can be hard to find like olive oil and cottage cheese. During the winter months the Modelorama in Old Kino carries natural orange juice (it comes in on Fridays) and I've been told the Super Bahia in New Kino also has it. (We're surrounded by orange groves - you'd think someone would sell fresh-squeezed OJ from a cart when in season.)

I have never ever seen Greek yogurt here. I've not seen it in the major grocery chains in Calle Doce (30 miles away) or Hermosillo (60 miles) but maybe it can be found in a specialty market in Hermosillo or the fancy grocery store Vimark. Likewise blueberries but I imagine those might be in frozen food sections in Walmart or Costco or the Mexican stores like Ley's or Soriana's. No problem with the walnuts, however.

As the expat/snowbird population grew, so did some of the American food items like Prego spaghetti sauce and Quaker granola but most people who are here for a while schedule in monthly trips to Hermosillo for big shopping. For two years I vowed not to do that and to eat like a Mexican (except for extra sharp cheddar cheese and gin) which is why I'm sick of shrimp and fish tacos. Being sick of shrimp and fish makes it difficult to eat out. Especially if you're also sick of potatoes filled with cheese and carne asada. So far Sonoran hotdogs have not worn out their welcome.

My advice is if there are food items you cannot live without, bring them. Then search for them in town, try Calle Doce and Hermosillo. If still no luck, hit up friends who are coming down from the States. Find substitutes. It's funny but I still can't sort out the cream situation. You know like cream for your coffee. It's some sort of thick globby stuff that congeals. So if you need cream for your coffee, bring that. Although Mexicans seem to love mayonnaise, if you're a Miracle Whip person you won't find it anywhere (believe me, I've looked).

Stay tuned for tip number two: Money. There are no banks here and currently only one functioning ATM so keeping supplied in pesos can be a challenge.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Demons and Angels

Emotionally it's been a rough two weeks. These Tom Waits lyrics have been running through my head: If I exorcise my devils, my angels may leave too. Today I checked my Freewill Astrology horoscope. Nothing else to say except Adios Pendejos!

Capricorn Horoscope for week of December 1, 2011
Verticle Oracle cardCapricorn (December 22-January 19)
I hope you're not so perversely attached to your demons that you're inclined to keep providing them with a comfortable home. Why? Because the coming weeks will be an excellent time for you to permanently banish them from the premises. Yes, I know it may seem lonely at first without their nagging, disruptive voices chattering away in your head. But I really do encourage you to bid them adieu. By the way, as you plan your exorcism, you might want to include a humorous touch or two. They're allergic to satire and mockery, you know.