San Miguel de Allende

A Dingo Ate My Baby Ruth

Dark screen. A long pause and then we hear soft human cries and moans and sniffles; the black air filled with sadness. Within seconds a deep male voice commands attention over the darkness: “Per istam sanctam unctionem…” and the lights go up to show we’re in the bedroom of a well maintained house, crowded with mourners.

The camera pans the room, showing close ups of distraught faces. Women and men of all ages weep or stand speechless, full of grief, left with nothing more to say.

Quickly the camera zooms in on framed photos of a family and their dog or just photos of the dog. The camera pulls back to reveal the same dog, now lifeless, in the middle of a king-sized bed. A young girl sits alongside Dexter, for that is the dog’s name, and strokes it affectionately.

The male human voice comes from Father Hannah, local pastor and long-time family friend, who continues giving Dexter the sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick with Last Rites: “… et suam piissimam misericordiam adiuvet te dominus gratia spiritus sancti, ut a peccatis liberatum te salvet atque propitius alleviet.” An altar boy swings a thurible, an incense burner suspended from chains. Several people make the sign of the cross as a line forms and mourners approach Dexter, touch his paws for one last time, kiss his forehead or his long nose.

A young boy pushes his way through the crowd to see what’s going on. In one hand he holds a half-eaten burger. Another young boy next to him turns, points to the burger, and asks: “What’s that?” The first young boy replies: “Bacon burger.” “Smells yummy,” says the second boy. “It is. Want a bite?”

Suddenly, Dexter’s head snaps up.  He sniffs the air several times and looks over in the direction of the kid with the burger.  He begins to drool.

An elderly woman in the room clutching rosary beads looks to the ceiling and shouts: “It’s a miracle!”

No. It’s bacon.

I wanted to open with that scene for two reasons. The first is to show how, for many of us, our dogs are family and our love for them is unconditional. The second is to acknowledge that when it comes to bacon, the canine species is all in. So am I.

[to be continued]

Cartoon #24

I recall from a college literature class that someone, a British lord or a person with a similar amount of time on his hands, wrote a letter to his son. In the letter the man complained that he had to make it a long letter because he didn’t have time to write a short one. I wanted to post an entry tonight but I don’t have time, unfortunately, so I’m going to throw in another old cartoon. This one is from Mas o Menos, a weekly cartoon panel I did in San Miguel the first time I lived here. Vaya con nachos:

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Cartoon #8

While living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, the first time, from 2005-2007, I drew a weekly cartoon panel for Atencion, the local bi-lingual newspaper. Mas o Menos (More or Less) focused on the expat community. Here’s one example of the panel (I’ll share others in future blog posts).

Vaya con nachos!

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The Clumsy Expat – The Pilot Episode

Zacateros Street during the Los Locos parade (it's usually not this crowded).

Zacateros Street during the Los Locos parade (it’s usually not this crowded).

If my present life were a weekly TV show it would be called “The Clumsy Expat.” Voice-over narration would open each episode with words along these lines: “Somewhere between The Invisible Man and The Ugly American stands The Clumsy Expat, unknowingly asking directions to where he’s already standing and ordering a leather shoe for lunch.”

I may not have been the last guy from north of the border I thought would end up living in the middle of Mexico, but I was close to the end of the line. Then again, I once owned a Yugo and still can’t remember why.  I guess the takeaway is I’m easily confused.

Nonetheless, and my confusion notwithstanding, I’d like to discuss a topic that’s close to my heart and legs: namely, walking a dog in the streets of San Miguel de Allende, Mexico.

Since the last time I lived here, mas o menos eight years ago, the dog walking scene has changed dramatically, and, I might add, for the better.  Thanks to the dedicated efforts of such groups as S.P.A. and Save a Mexican Mutt, and their generous supporters, I notice fewer stray dogs wandering the streets or working the rooms.  I’ve also noticed more professional dog walkers, who are usually fanny-pack-wearing males tethered to a pack of mismatched breeds, a motley crew of ears, legs, and tails.

Closeup of the Dukester.

Close up of the Dukester.

In my own case, I walk one poodle.  (This is the point at which I pause for a few seconds to let all the cheap poodle jokes get out of the way.)  My dog, Duke, is an 80-pound, apricot-colored Standard poodle who looks like a baby Wookiee.  He has long legs and sits on the sofa like a human, with two legs on the floor.  When we leave a book on the coffee table in front of Duke, it looks like he’s reading it.  He very well could be.

And, of course, Duke loves to bark and has the deep bark of an opera baritone who is enthralled to hear his own voice.  I’m training him to bark to “Old Man River,” thinking if I can pull it off we’ll both get on the Letterman Show.

Genetically, Duke is a waterfowl retriever.  In reality, he hates water.  As a result, he’ll walk out of his way, off the San Miguel sidewalk that’s just been swabbed with soapy water, and into a moving vehicle or a mob of people, if need be, to avoid the wet stuff.

As far as I can tell, Duke hates two other things in life: pretzels and bark-bys.

Pretzels have been well covered by the mainstream press.  But, for those who don’t speak Dogish, a bark-by is the canine equivalent of a drive-by shooting.  Dogs in the open bed of a moving truck bark at street-side dogs who, until that moment, were having a pretty quiet day.  Whenever I walk Duke and he’s the recipient of a bark-by, he rears up, horse-like, and barks back.  He continues to bark, twisting like, ahem, a pretzel, even as we’ve trekked on and the truck, by then, is halfway to Cancun.

One afternoon when I was walking down Zacateros Street, without Duke, I noticed a couple ahead of me walking their dog.  The dog stopped suddenly, squatting on the sidewalk to take care of business.  The man did what many American husbands would do and picked up his pace, putting some serious distance between himself and the dog.  The woman did what many wives would do.  She opened her purse, took out a small tissue, and bent down to pick it up.  I rushed over and handed her a doggie pick up bag (Aside: I always carry with me Benadryl, Imodium, and doggie bags; I call it my San Miguel Survival Kit).  I said, “Ma-am, don’t use that. Use this.” She looked up at me, thanking SuperDogPoopBagman with her damsel eyes for coming to her rescue, and used the doggie bag. The woman, at least my age or maybe younger, stood up and pulled my cheek affectionately. She said, “What a sweetie you are.”

Now the last time I had my cheek tugged like that I was ten.  And that’s the beauty of living in San Miguel.  No matter how old you are, this town finds ways to make you feel younger.

 

Who Put the Ponder in the Ponderosa?

WatchingTV1When I’m back in the USA and people find out I live in Mexico, they always ask the same three questions. Is it safe?  What do you do for healthcare?  And what’s on TV? Because I’m not sure how much time I have left in life, based on my answers to the first two questions, I think it’s a good idea to prioritize and tackle the most important question first: namely, our TV viewing options.

We have plenty. Our standard cable package includes more than 80 channels, and, as in the USA, most of those channels are filled with spouses screaming at each other, boring community board meetings, fake reality shows, inane comedies targeted at prepubescent children, and the same sexy woman who appears just about everywhere in the world, wearing a tiny bikini and showing viewers how to tighten their abs. I suspect she’s been air-brushed.

Much like how they keep old Detroit beater cars from the 50s and 60s running, Mexico is also keeping old USA television shows alive and well. My favorite is the “Bonanza” channel that runs the old Western show starring Ben Cartwright and sons around the clock—and in Spanish. Have you ever gotten a good look at those three boys? Adam, Hoss, Little Joe? They don’t look anything like their father. So I’m guessing there once was a ranch hand named Very Big Joe who was pretty handy with a lasso and branding iron.

Curiosity got the better of me one afternoon, and I did a little research and learned that the three boys all had different mothers. By the time the series began, all those moms had died. Hmm. Makes you wonder what — or who — is buried on “The Ponderosa” besides fir trees.

QT_WatchingTV2Watching shows in Spanish with English subtitles—or English with Spanish subtitles—is an excellent way to improve one’s foreign language skills. But it has its limits. In an English-speaking show, for example, when a character, usually male and usually in a violent scene, wildly drops the F-bomb as if he were carpet bombing a jungle, the polite Spanish subtitle editor shakes its head in dismay and merely writes “malediction.” Or, in other words, “bad word.”

I love that about Mexico, the politeness and awareness of others in the room. Unfortunately, if you find yourself in a heated argument in Spanish down here, I doubt shouting malediction at your opponent will get you anywhere. I’m not willing to test my theory, so I merely shrug and say, “No comprende.”

 

Cassie Comes Before Lassie in the Phone Book

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We called them the Pug People. They lived in our subdivision, twenty miles outside of Portland, Oregon, and every where they went they took their dog with them, a Pug. Now I’m sure Pugs make decent enough pets and, indeed, they have the reputation of being a much-adored addition to anyone’s family. In fact, I don’t dislike Pugs in general. Asian royalty loved them. Goya painted them. And one of my favorite Hollywood performances of modern times was a Pug named Frank in Men in Black.

The real problem with the Pug People was they took their dog everywhere and carried him in one of those close to the chest baby carriers with Velcro straps. Not only that, they dressed him up and, get this, their dog had more than a dozen outfits from Nordstrom. When it comes to pets I’m fairly open-minded but I have no interest in a pet that’s dressed better than I am.

Cassie, our black standard poodle, moved with us to Mexico.  She may not have dressed better, but she was my superior in other ways.  One look at her and you could tell she had class.  Looking at me and you wonder what class I had dropped out of.  Standard poodles, by and large, are graceful creatures. They don’t run so much as they gallop, like a well-trained circus horse.

Cassie, on the other hand, ran with such enthusiasm that her butt would swing out ahead of the rest of her body, much like a gate swinging back and forth. Even her walk was something of a fashion statement. We called her walk “ditty-bopping” and it seemed to fit.

Standards are hardy and strong, and they like to pull. An Alaskan named John Suter ran a team of standards in the Iditarod many years back, and they performed quite well. At some point, the Iditarod folks changed the rules so that only “northern breeds” could compete and that was the end of that. I like to think the poodles were in the lead in their first Iditarod until they hit a saloon with a cheese spread and show tunes on the jukebox. They’re smart and know their priorities.

The history of poodle ownership is dotted with famous names.  John Steinbeck, of course, owned a standard poodle named Charley. Other writers who owned poodles include Charles Dickens, Victor Hugo, Thomas Mann, Gertrude Stein, Erma Brombeck, Neil Simon, and James Thurber. Many poodle owners come as no surprise, from Josephine, the Empress of France, to Marilyn Monroe to Mary Kay. Other owners, such as Vladimir Putin, are head-scratchers. QT_cassieatgate

I came across a veritable dog crate of ownership stories from poodlelore and wish to close this blog post with one such, uh, tale. When Sir Winston Churchill’s mini-poodle was run over and killed, a leading breeder of English bulldogs offered him the pick of the litter. She was appropriately thanked and then told, “If Mr. Churchill has another dog it will be a poodle again.” I fully understood the sentiment, for having Cassie had pretty much ruined us for any other breed.  Standard poodles set a very high standard, indeed.

Cassie died in 2008.  When she passed away, I thought of the words from the song “Mr. Bojangles,” the dancer whose dog “up and died, he up and died… And after 20 years he still grieves.”

A good dog is hard to find and even harder to lose.

Mexico’s Nuclear Weapon

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Of the many worries facing a typical American or Canadian living in Mexico, in my experience there is one worry that appears frequently and most often rises head and shoulders above all the rest. I think you all know what I am referring to. I’m speaking, of course, about the little matter of noise.locosparade28

Put another way, calling the fireworks I hear in my neighborhood at any hour of day or night a “firecracker” is like calling a debilitating migraine a mere headache. In each case, words fail.

And don’t get me started about the ringing of the church bells. They ring with such enthusiasm and endurance that one imagines they’re announcing the end of hostilities; it’s Victory in Europe Day all over again.

We recently experienced another off-the-charts noisefest. Like Floridians boarding up their coastal houses in the face of an impending hurricane, I stocked up on wax ear plugs well in advance of the event. A few weeks ago, Sunday, June 15, to be exact, San Miguel celebrated its annual Parade of Locos (Dia de los Locos).

The Locos, aka Crazies, celebration is a kooky rite of early summer and, truth be told, one of my favorite fiestas.  Entire neighborhoods, families, and businesses create floats or form bands or play dress-up, en masse, in anything from women’s clothing to a huge papier-mâché replica of a politician’s head, and then march up and down streets. This is a parade where macho men dress up as women and hurl candy with such ferocity and aim that one imagines the entire point of it is to put out as many eyes as possible.

After consulting a guidebook about San Miguel, I learned the town is a festival town unlike most others, even by Mexican standards.  If San Miguel were a college instead of a town it would easily make Playboy’s Top Five list for parties.  At some point, the town was recognizing and celebrating so many saints and heroes the central government told civic leaders to pick a few and stick with them.

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Experiencing these fiestas and festivals has helped me to understand why the Mexican people remain warm, friendly, and downright happy, in spite of a daily struggle to make ends meet.  They know they are always just a day or two away from their next party.  Don’t get me wrong.  When they can find work, they work very hard.  But I suspect they party even harder.

I once told my wife it was a good thing Mexico didn’t own a nuclear weapon because they’d probably detonate it just for the noise. Not to harm anyone, mind you, but solely for the sound it would make and to earn the appreciation of the crowd below.  That’s because in Mexico if it’s worth celebrating, it’s worth a lot of noise.  Now that I think about it, maybe that’s their nuclear weapon: a talent for celebrating life.