Expats

Spring and the Jacarandas are in Bloom

Jacarandas

Spring along the malecon and kids’ play area, Chapala

Arnold commented that I hadn’t put any details about our European trip on the blog, and I guess the truth is that when we got home at the end of October, after a month away, I was pretty tired and ready to just chill for awhile back in my own house and enjoy sleeping in my own bed. And of course, traveling to Europe with my professional photographer nephew-in-law Eric made it into a photography trip rather than a writing trip; I took hundreds of images and we had a lot of fun posting them on Facebook and having friends follow our progress through Italy. Then Wendy, Arnold and I went off to Paris for a great week, eating our way through every bakery and charcuterie we could try in Montmartre, where we stayed in a perfectly delightful apartment.

So of course when we got back home and all the excitement was over, everything ground to a halt for awhile, and before I knew it it was my birthday in December, then Christmas, then time for our annual week in Puerto Vallarta, and now here I am realizing that I haven’t put anything up on the blog in months. The months that passed were all so – well, quotidian, and the point of the blog always was to record our adventures adjusting to our lives as expats, and the contrasts between our new life here and our old life back in the States. But the contrasts, aside from the deep differences in the world-view of most Mexicans and ours, seem to me to be be diminishing somewhat, at least here in our little bubble by the lake. Where I look for contrast and cultural differences, more often than not something interesting happens that makes the two countries seem to be approaching each other — even though I know it’s just an illusion…scratch the surface and those deep differences will quickly appear. But, I also think I am just increasingly accustomed to life here; things that would have really thrown me a few years ago seem normal by now.

Still, there are little subtle changes all the time here as Mexico continues to stumble into the First World. I went into the post office the other day to mail a package of real estate information to a friend who is planning to move down here sometime this year; I paid for the package and proudly Jorge, the young post office manager, handed me a little slip of paper with a bar code on it. “Look, Señora,” he said. “It’s a tracking slip. Now you can track your package all the way to where it crosses the border into the U.S.” Of course this won’t tell me whether it will have actually GOTTEN to him in California, or when, since once the envelope crosses the border and hits customs, the Mexican tracking number is useless for the U.S. Postal Service, but, hey, it is a start. Some day they will probably have some cooperative agreement between the two postal services where the tracking number will work in the U.S. too, but that is probably years away. At least now I was able to look up the package and it said it’s en route, which I guess means I don’t have to worry that it’s still stuck in the Ajijic post office, forgotten under a pile of magazines or something. Poco a poco, like we say around here; little by little.

I’m aware that the apparent ease of my adjustment might only be a fond dream for many of the other foreigners around here, who battle daily with cultural differences and the language barrier makes it endlessly frustrating for many of them. I have the advantage of speaking Spanish, so things that might confound me or confuse some other person who is trying to sort out what’s really happening, almost always really have an explanation. Sometimes it might be almost fanciful – like the time a plumber told me that the reason he hadn’t called me nor answered his phone when I repeatedly tried to contact him was because his cell phone fell down into an aljibe (water storage tank) he was cleaning out, and he had to get some money together to purchase a replacement. Many people here simply wouldn’t believe such a tale, and would think the guy was just being stereotypically Mexican, not wanting to deal with clients (until “mañana”) – but I was perfectly willing to accept his alibi and get on with my life. I actually enjoy these screwball stories most of the time, just shake my head, and figure whatever needs fixing will be fixed eventually and I should just chill. Maybe I’ve lived here too long.

So once again, the jacarandas are in bloom, littering the streets with purple blossoms with every little breeze. Life is steaming along for everyone in our little circle; Sofia will be graduating from preparatoria in July, and she is already deep into the process of applying to universities and figuring out where – courtesy of us, pretty much – she will want to go. We tried and tried to get her a visa to come with us to the U.S. but it has proven to be impossible, so we have given up on it. It’s the topic of another blog post, but the long and short of it is that the U.S. government refused her a visa to come to the U.S. as a tourist for a couple of weeks on her spring break, convinced she was lying and that she wanted to go up there to work. They never even would look at the stack of documents she had prepared before her interview there; the whole misadventure was a horrible and, dare I say, expensive, fiasco.

But kids spring back from most disappointments, and after she was denied a visa for the second time, she just recommitted herself to her studies and pulled her grade average up to a 9.6, which will greatly enhance her chances for a nice scholarship at one of the colleges she has picked out. Now she is seeing the end of prepa, kind of like the horse seeing the barn, and she’s working really seriously to get her grades up as far as she can between now and June, when she will take her final exams.

The three younger kids are all doing well in their first year in private school, thriving with nice new friends from good families and tons of homework and real books and real lessons, none of which really happened at the underfunded and overcrowded public school in San Antonio, where they had been going before (and not learning much of anything). It has been fun to watch them blossom in their new environment.

One thing we are facing, rather resignedly and sadly, is that both my parents’ ashes and those of Arnold’s daughter Ava, have been languishing in the bedroom closet. It has been ten years since Ava died, and we have decided we need to send all three of them to their final resting places. More on that in a subsequent post, I promise.

A domestic detour…

The last several days have been occupied with domestic matters, the most inconvenient of which was the sudden, unexpected demise of our water pump. For no good reason that we could ascertain; it wasn’t even that old. To explain why this was a catastrophe, here, the municipality gives you water whenever it has some, and it gets delivered to a big underground storage tank inside your property called an aljibe, which is usually somewhere fairly near the street. Many larger houses also have purification systems to rid the municipal water of impurities ranging from plain old mud and sand to nasty intestinal parasites, so you can actually drink it from the tap. The luckier ones among us also have a second, large rooftop storage tank, called a tinaco, which holds enough water for a backup day or two for times of drought, when the water authority only distributes every couple of days, or when there’s a power outage. The tinaco dribbles its water supply down to one’s faucets and toilets – in a teensy little stream, but there is indeed a very welcome trickle so you aren’t completely out of luck to wash your hands or whatever. It is gravity fed, being on the roof, so even if the power is out it’ll still work.

So all was not lost, we did have the water out of the tinaco, but once it’s empty, you’re sort of a goner. Thus to conserve that supply, showers, laundry, anything requiring a certain volume of water, was not in the cards for several days. The “Jewish American Princess in Mexico” irony of carrying buckets of water from the pool to flush the johns was not lost on me. My mother would have had a hissy-fit. Actually I didn’t even THINK of using the pool water; Arnold did. Which shows you what a totally urban creature I am; obviously there is a ton of THAT water out there.

Clearly getting the pump fixed was top priority.  The plumber first thought that all we had to do was replace the computerized controller which had apparently burned its motherboard out. This happens all the time here where there is tremendous variation in the current. The motherboard got promptly carted off to Guadalajara for repair, of course involving expenditure of a boatload of pesos. Then it was looking like we also had to replace a faulty valve on top of the pump itself (another bunch of pesos). Only problem with that being that our pump was a fancy model that had come from the States, and the parts were nowhere to be found in town, not even in Guadalajara. They would have to be ordered from the States via Monterrey – a couple of weeks? Naw, we thought, let’s try something else, what they call a “Mexicanada” where they just improvise something from what they have and hope to god it works, which it actually often does. I still have one toilet in my house that flushes perfectly well with a Mexicanada wire thingy my gardener made for it five years ago. Mexicanadas are what keeps all those Volkswagens running here – wire, chicle, rubber bands, string – they really do work, most of the time.

But alas, the Mexicanada approach failed with our fancy U.S. made high pressure pump. Various threaded bolts –for gas connectors, toilets, god knows what – were scrounged up or purchased and tried that were mas-o-menos the right size, but when the water in the tank got pressurized, they all leaked or flew out or just listed to starboard and didn’t seal anything, spewing water all over the place. Not only that, further examination revealed a small crack in the pump itself (weird, the whole thing is stainless steel, but oh well…) and it was obvious at that point that aside from not wanting to be without water for several weeks while waited for this dumb little valve from Monterrey, the whole unit was then going to need to be replaced entirely.

The house remained without water till we could resolve the situation, and I am domestic enough a creature so that I went crazy trying to figure out what to try next. Making things more difficult (bienvenidos a México) was that our plumber, who is usually very reliable, was nowhere to found after the repeated failure of his various Mexicanada attempts at repair. He “fixed” it, it worked for a while, he went away, then an hour after his departure, the pump went haywire again and shut down. So we needed him to come back and try something else, urgently. But his cell phone wasn’t receiving any more calls due to his mailbox being full, “out of the area de servicio“, or otherwise unreachable. We just couldn’t find him anywhere for a couple of days, while we went showerless and the dishes piled up in the sink. It just brings out the worst “What is wrong with people in this country?” xenophobic tendencies any frustrated expat might have, especially some of the people I know around here. Most of us worked pretty much like dogs our entire professional lives, promptly showing up as required and even more promptly returning phone calls from clients on phones that worked, for decades, in order to save the money for their Retirement in Paradise one day. I know intellectually that you just cannot expect Mexicans to be like Americans, you just can’t. And actually I don’t even want them to. Except when I have a plumbing emergency .

Probably it wasn’t such a great idea for me to vent to Rosa, the maid, and Carlos, the gardener, about just how furious I was that the plumber wasn’t accessible by cell phone after three days, and how Americans always return their calls (I realized the second I said this that of course it was nonsense, but it was too late). They then eagerly launched into “save the Señora’s sanity” mode and came back with a zillion suggestions as to how I should proceed, ranging from “fire him at once” to “give him a good lecture but then let him have another chance, pobrecito” with everything in between. They also brought me the cards of a bunch of other people in town they know who they assure me will be much, much more reliable, cheaper, “de confianza” (you can have confidence). The “fire him at once” option would work fine except for the fact that as in so many houses, he has done all the work around here for the past several years and knows where every single wire, cable, plug, connection, fuse, etc. etc. on our property is. Do I really want to start all over again with someone new?  For as Arnold points out, a new person will immediately come in and tell us we have to replumb and rewire the entire place – more pesos down the drain, pun intended – because everything that has been done was wrong and we are going to be electrocuted/drowned straight away. And then there was the other unfortunate fact that at that moment we were still utterly without water and I wasn’t in a mood to, as they say, shilly-shally around with someone new. But the “give him another chance, pobrecito” approach is also fraught with problems – I truly do think he’s been drinking more; something does seem to be going on with him because the quality of his work just isn’t what it used to be. Much to ponder.

But thankfully, the cavalry showed up yesterday afternoon. Finally I was able to reach him on his cell phone – he apologized and said he had had the flu; he’d be right over. Which he was, but he looked just fine to me when he got here, maybe a bit hung over, to tell you the truth. But he did show up and we were once again reviewing all the options for the poor dead pump, when Arnold saved the day by saying “just give him (yet more pesos out the door) some dough, send him to the hardware store and tell him to buy a nice, basic, Hecho En Mexico pump, nothing fancy, with parts that will be readily available at the aforementioned hardware store, and he can install it tomorrow and then maybe I can take a shower!?” We did exactly that, and this morning bright and early (both Carlos and Rosa had told him he had better straighten up and fly right because the Señora was pretty fed up with days of not knowing where he was) he was at our gate with a nice big box with a new pump in it from Amutio Hardware, the expensive place in the village that is actually pretty reliable.

Rosa did laundry all day and caught up, I took a nice long shower and washed my hair (¡finalmente!),  Floors were washed, beds were changed, we put water in the flowerpots outside, all is now well in our little world. The four kitties and Reina even have fresh water in their dish.

Onward and upward.

Brief Kitty Update

We dared to go out tonight to friends’ house for dinner, so Group 2 was locked up in our bedroom for several hours. Now we’re back home and they’re roaming around, having been sprung, getting in each others’ way and hissing their heads off. But at one point a rather spectacular hissfest between Luigi and Rosie (Luigi having cornered her, not such a good idea) was so loud and scary that both Missoni and Tabitha jumped up on the buffet in the dining room either to escape or to watch the show. They were completely concerned with what was going on down on the floor between the other two and didn’t realize that they were only three feet apart from each other. Is this progress?

Missoni finally jumped down when she realized, with a start, how close she was to Tabitha. Tab has been chasing after Missoni, and started after her once again, but I scooped her up and stopped her. Sometimes discretion is the better part of valor. Maybe in a few more weeks our life will return to normal, the four kitties being more adjusted to one another, and we can resume our worrying about being kidnapped and beheaded instead of breaking up catfights. You just never know in life. Who would have ever thought we would have four cats? And my mother is now so far past being able to even be grateful that we’ve turned our lives upside down to give them a home here, or even to be aware that the cats are gone from her house, that it doesn’t matter. It really doesn’t matter, but I look at her two cats, who are actually settling in here quite well (it’s our original two who are crazed) and think “I just really couldn’t have put them up for adoption, we will all – animals and humans – make it work somehow.”

Today it’s one year since my father died — his yahrzeit – and I remember on the day he died noting that had been a particularly spectacular day here – big puffy clouds, blue skies, the perfect temperature outside, just a hint of a breeze, flowers and birds everywhere. It was like that today too, particularly gorgeous. Once the rains start every June, things do get better.

Music Education

Things must indeed be calming down a bit because our neighbors are having friends over again with their awful music playing (speakers aimed directly over our garden wall, of course), and the plumber never showed up, which tells me he has enough work now to keep him busy. Or else there’s a fiesta (Saturday night?) and that took priority. But the fact of a fiesta is a positive sign; for several weeks it has been dead as a doornail ‘round these parts.

Meanwhile it was a gorgeous day and the pool guy came so once again it was sparkling. These are the luxuries I try not to take for granted – but there they are. So I went outside and got in the water and enjoyed the brief respite from the blaring radios and racket that usually emanates from the evento place up on the highway most weekends. I had to myself the sound of the birds and the horses clopping by outside our garden walls on the street, Saturday afternoon being – since most people quit work at 2 p.m. – when the local horse folk take their steeds out for a walk or for charro training or whatever. That includes a lot of expats who have horses too, but most of them are retired and you can see them out pretty much any old time during the week.

Part of our now-weekly weekend ritual is that José, my mother’s full time and wonderful caregiver – along with his wife Sandra – stops by to give us a report on how she’s doing, and get whatever he needs from us for the week, the most important part of which is a new supply of opera DVDs to watch. José loves opera and since he quickly figured out that Arnold was not only possessed of tremendous expertise but an enormous collection, they now get together every week for their opera conversation. Since my mother is now – horribly – blind and bedridden, can no longer really talk, and sleeps most of the time, both José and Sandra have time on their hands between changing her diapers, giving her meds, turning her, and feeding her.

So José comes back with last week’s plastic bag full of opera DVDs and with a list of questions for Arnold – what is the significance of this or that in this or that opera, why are the sets and costumes so weird (this requires a long essay answer about current trends in opera production) or what was the composer trying to do here? We both enthusiastically try to answer his questions. Then the watched DVDs are returned and Arnold carefully selects this week’s crop – some old, some new, perhaps a French one, perhaps a Russian one, an early Verdi, one with something new and challenging for José, like a countertenor; maybe a vintage recording with a long-gone singer Arnold thinks was terrific. Inevitably José picks out the singer in question and when he comes back the following week for the Opera Exchange he says “Wow, that Madam So-and-So, she really had an incredible voice!” And Arnold beams as his protégé has nailed it. José has a great ear for voices, tremendous curiosity about the performing arts, and in another life, with a couple of degrees in music history or musicology, he might have been a helluva critic. He would have probably loved the experience I had, in my twenties, of working for a time for a major opera company and seeing firsthand how it all goes together magically on performance nights, with hundreds of people scurrying around that gigantic stage in the darkness, as they say, “up close and personal”.

But that of course is part of the tragedy of Mexico – so many wonderful people could have been so many different things. Our gardener, Carlos, whom we do tease about being the bearer, for good or ill, of whatever the news is in town, is actually really curious about the economy and how things work in the world. I have asked him innumerable times “Why, oh why, didn’t you stay in school? You would have been a great journalist or economist – you’re always commenting on this or that story that you’ve read in the news or heard on TV…”  To which he always replies with a sigh, “Señora, half my friends did finish their educations and none of them could find the jobs they had trained for. They also all ended up as gardeners or construction people or laborers. So I figured, I might as well get started early if I was destined to be a gardener anyway, so I could get more clients”.  (And sadly, one thing he is definitely NOT curious about is horticulture.)  When he says that, I’m never sure if that’s just his fatalistic Mexican nature and whether, if he had actually made an effort, things might have turned out differently for him. But my point of view is so terribly American, it is completely marinated in that Horatio Alger stuff that is part of my cultural legacy.  And I totally lucked out: I was also born into a family that valued education and expected me to become some sort of professional. As part of the deal, they willingly paid for my college education, as well as music, art and dance lessons throughout my childhood.

I’m aware, of course, that the America of today is also full of unemployed young lawyers and liberal arts majors staggering under six-figure student loan debt and waiting tables. But for Mexicans, who have been beaten down again and again by corruption, invading armies, ruthless dictators enslaving and robbing them in the name of “democracy” or “revolution”, it’s a whole different ballgame. So maybe all we can do is hope that the next generation makes some progress and that things are better for them as more and more are born into Mexico’s relatively new and aspiring middle class. We found out about a music education program for kids here in town, specializing in teaching them stringed instruments (easier to carry, no one has pianos anyway, and they tend to love violin because of the mariachi tradition). They have a little orchestra and we thought maybe we’d see if Baby Carlos (as opposed to Gardener Carlos) might like to try out violin lessons. I called them and they said, yes, of course, four is the perfect age to start on the violin – which I knew because that’s when my mother had started her violin studies back in the 1920’s.

So we are going to take Baby Carlos over to the auditorium on Monday and see if he likes the idea. His mother thinks he will, because he loves the little toy xylophone we got him a couple of years ago, and he has some kiddie drums he likes to play. Maybe he will grow up to be the Mexican Joshua Bell. Yeah, maybe it’ll be the NEXT generation. Meanwhile, José has a spate of new operas to listen to and we’ll just keep on lending him operas until he’s gone though Arnold’s entire collection. Each week he learns more and by the time he is ready to begin listening to them all again, starting from the beginning, he will be hearing them all with a much more finely tuned ear. If we can manage to find someone to cover for him one Saturday at my mother’s house, perhaps when the Met live telecasts start up again in the fall, we will be able to take him into the city to see one.

When confused, do nothing

Based on my last couple of posts, and e-mails I’ve sent to friends and family who have read about the violent goings-on both in Guadalajara and around Lake Chapala, several have expressed concern for our safety here. Suggestions range from “come back to the States IMMEDIATELY while you still can” to “Get yourself a gun and learn how to use it” to “get a couple of big nasty dogs” and so forth. Well, we already have a (useless but cute) dog AND we have just adopted my mother’s two cats (more on this later) so we now have FOUR, count ‘em, FOUR gatos, so no more animals for us; and naaah, we ain’t gettin’ no gun. First of all Mexico has stringent gun control laws not only for the general populace, but especially for foreigners. You can get an exception and get a permit but I am not about to attempt to turn myself into Annie Oakley (maybe Minnie from Fanciulla del West would be a better role for me, come to think of it) at this stage of my life. We have really high walls around our house, an alarm system we actually use, and we bolt the place down pretty securely every night.

I remember taking a women’s self-defense class waaay back in Oakland after a couple of bad guys followed me to my car one night when I’d been working late. The good news was, I was driving (as was my wont back in the States) a powerful and fast little sports car and I was able to leave them in my dust. The bad news was, even if I had had self-defense skills back then, I wasn’t able to use them. My only defense in that particular situation was to run like hell and then drive even faster.

But when the guy REALLY had a gun at my head, during the theft of my car back in 2007, believe me, I could have been the aforementioned Annie Oakley and it wouldn’t have made a bit of difference. He trapped me in a split second in a place you never in a million years would have expected such a thing to happen. He was trying to pull me out of the car by my arm and at that point he pulled the gun. In situations like that you do what you have to do to survive and my instincts told me to just be really nice to the guy and get out voluntarily; back slowly away from the car with my hands visible, leave the engine running, and let him have it. It was insured and I managed to stay alive.

It is true, however, that of late my undoubtedly hyperactive imagination has been tormenting me with every imaginable bad thing that could happen to us here. Undeniably, during the past couple of months the tension level here has soared for everyone. In spite of my tendency to overreact – probably justified because I still DO have some fallout left over from the carjacking  – it occurred to me the other day, that thanks to the miracle of modern medicine, Arnold is still alive.  And for god only knows what reason or sets of reasons, so am I. While I was twisting and turning in the wind, tormenting myself with thoughts of what we might do and how we could extricate ourselves from our lives here and return to the relatively safety of the States, things inexplicably may have begun to quiet down. It further occurred to me that in the “random violence” department we could, indeed, pack up and bail and head back to the Ancestral Homeland only to be mown down there by one of those nut jobs that goes berserk picking off people from a freeway overpass or something. There ain’t no free lunch, I guess.

In any event, I was startled out of my nosedive yesterday, an astonishingly clear and beautiful day, when even Carlos the gardener (whom we refer to as “the Daily Tagblatt” because he watches the TV news and obsessively reports every single crime to me each morning when he arrives) commented “You know, Señora, I haven’t heard anything really bad on the evening news for a couple of weeks now…what do you think of that?” I did think about it, and it did feel to me like the level of fear has subsided; I’ve noticed people out shopping and in restaurants again, and maybe indeed, at least for now, things are improving a bit. There is a whole new crop of white roses starting up to replace the ones I’d brought in and stuck in a vase, and Ricardo had just been by to clean the pool, which had nary a leaf, nary a dead bug, nada, and boy is it warm and nice now. Hmmm, I  thought, maybe I should forget all this cartel stuff for the moment, pour myself an Esquirt Light and throw some good tequila into it and get into the water.

Which is precisely what I did, remembering for some weird reason the motto I painted on a ceramic tray I made years ago: Fluctuat nec mergitur.

For those readers who have forgotten their high school Latin, it means “it is tossed by the waves but it does not sink”. It is the motto of the City of Paris, which surely has seen far worse ups and downs than our little village.

 

Minimum Security

Some amazing thunderheads are forming this afternoon over the lake – signaling the arrival soon of the rains, we hope! We may have our heads firmly stuck in the aforementioned clouds, but it’s possible that things may be calming down a tiny bit. The army and the federal police came in for a short while at least (until for some unfathomable reason, our state government told the Federal government that we didn’t need them here, so they may be going away….) A local Expat/Mexican citizens’ group formed that bought cell phones for the patrol cops out on the streets, and passed out the phone numbers to as many people in the community as they could, and are initiating some other community-based security measures. They have also started an anonymous denunciation telephone line that at least a few people are actually starting to use. So far two people have been arrested from tips received on that line, they tell us. We don’t dare to become too complacent but it seems as though people are starting just to rebel — anyone who knows the Spanish verb “hartar” will be hearing that word used a lot these days. In this context it means, basically, to be weary, fed up. People are just getting sick of all of this and trying to figure out how to take matters into their own hands.

I heard that a few days ago a van pulled up by a group of kids in the street right in the center of town and it was looking like they were going to kidnap a couple of them. The kids had the good sense to start screaming for help, and people came running out of their houses with bats, rocks, anything they could find, broke all the windows in their van, gave the vehicle a good bashing too, and were ready to kill the guys by stomping on them. The police arrested the alleged kidnappers but of course they insisted they were innocent, it was all a joke. Well, one will never know, but there was another similar incident in another Lakeside village where people rose up on their own and defended themselves against a real or perceived threat. This is what Mexicans are used to doing, after all (viva Zapata) historically and culturally, since the police and justice system are often so completely dysfunctional.

And it is very difficult for the people who work here – we went out for an early dinner at one of our favorite restaurants – early enough to get back home before dark – and there was one other couple in this big place and that was IT. On a Friday night. Before, given the expat community and the weekending  folks from Guadalajara, it would have been pretty busy. We were chatting with the very charming young man who was our waiter – since there was no one else to wait on –  and he said there was a real danger that the restaurant might not survive, throwing yet more Mexicans out of work. Even we are talking about – especially given Arnold’s new status as an official cardiac patient – finding some sort of alternative base back in the States, not only for medical care (paid by Medicare!) but in case things really do get dicey for us.  But with my mother ensconced in a rented house here with her team of caregivers and ever-so-slowly declining, we are indeed sort of stuck for now.

Still, friends are writing to us and saying “Come back! You can’t live as prisoners behind your own gates!” Well, no, but it’s not like that. We aren’t exactly prisoners; one has to go to buy groceries, to the drycleaner, to the doctor, to the dentist, just like anywhere else. They’ve just moved our farmer’s market from across town to within a couple of blocks of us and I can’t wait to check it out as now it is much more convenient. We go out to see friends and to dinner, we just try to get home by dark. And as we get older we aren’t so thrilled about driving at night anyway, so that part is okay. The Princess does have her private sessions with her personal trainer. And we do have this house we’ve put a lot of energy into, and a garden bursting with color, so it’s not exactly like being cooped up in a tiny room somewhere. Picking up and leaving all this….we still love it here in spite of all its blemishes, and it is also, let’s face it, much harder when you’re older than when you are young and it’s all just a big adventure.

For the moment, we are spending time in the afternoons lying on our poolside chaises, Arnold reading his latest mystery novel and trying to regather his wits after the insertion of his pacemaker, learning to live with the reality of the new memento mori he has ticking away inside him. We watch the swallows swoop down and just barely touch the  pool surface to drink and catch waterlogged bugs; there are flowers in bloom and hummingbirds zooming around everywhere. Our version of the minimum-security prison for Wall Street types?  Everything feels tentative, and undoubtedly our future is uncertain. Do we just hunker down and wait it out? Bail? Hard for super-cautious me to live with the “I just don’t know how it’s going to turn out” part and try to live in the moment till things sort themselves out. The Zen of the Drug Wars? We are just crossing our fingers and hope that things will somehow improve – which they actually apparently HAVE in Michoacan and even in, god help us, Ciudad Juarez.

¡Ojalá!