Saturday, December 28, 2013

Now That I’m A Local Mazatlana



Now That I’m A Local Mazatlana 
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                Several Montana friends have asked me to please, do not comment about the weather while I’m down in this sunny southern clime. That seems a reasonable request to me since you, my friends on the High Line, are currently experiencing the annual return of the Ice Age.

                It has long struck me that weather in Montana has a separate and distinct personality, unpredictable in moon, even schizophrenic, of which one does well to be wary.  Living up north, I was constantly on the look-out for its next meteorological move, almost afraid to open the door to see which mood was on my step.

                In comparison, weather here seems actually boring, every day the same. Don’t worry. Be happy. The sun shines. The breeze wafts tenderly off the ocean. When it rains, the sky falls, but fifteen minutes later the sidewalks are dry. What’s to comment? (Remind me of this when hurricane winds batter the city and/or in August when the mercury bubbles up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit.)

                Meanwhile I promise to keep my weather comments to a bare minimum. I have been told that I have a tendency to gloat, an ugly quality, especially from your best friend whom you love dearly. I argue that I don’t gloat. I eagerly share my experiences, that’s all.

                But, with respect, I will not mention that I check the Havre Daily forecast with a hint of glee. That would be rude of me.

                Now that I am practically a “local”, I feel competent to give advice about what to bring when you come visit. 

                Money, four cotton tops, four shorts, sandals and a pair of tennis shoes, underwear, a toothbrush and bathing suit. That about says it all. I presume you will wear one set of those items. That means the rest fits in a backpack with room to add a few small items which I ask of you since I cannot find them in Mazatlan. You will bring more, of course, probably lug a suitcase along, but it is unnecessary. You won’t wear more than those four cotton outfits. 

                If you want your phone to work, add Mexico to your current plan before you arrive. When you get here, unless you want a four thousand dollar bill, please hide the phone from yourself. 

                Lupe brought me a Mexican phone from Moviestar. Sounds exotic but it’s just another phone company.  He chose that one because they assured him they set the phone so everything would be in English: voice mail, instructions, those kinds of things. The actuality is that the phone allows me to speak into it in English. If I can get the call to go through.  Everything else is in Spanish: voice mail, voice instructions, the folded paper of instructions that came in the box, tips, promotions. I know enough to figure Moviestar is offering me special deals but not enough to use them.

                I would give you my number but you don’t want the charge per minute. Stick with email. Besides, if I heard my phone ring, I probably would not remember where I put it. Oh, just another minor detail—I have somehow brilliantly managed to lock out incoming calls. 

                Every block in the city provides opportunities to eat, such as the little breakfast and lunch place on the corner a few feet from my apartment door. Yesterday I explored beyond my block, in search of a lavenderia. I found one just two blocks away, along with at least eight more eating establishments of various sizes. And a place to get my hair and nails beautified. 

                Between the laundry and my hair cut, a man named Rudy stopped me. “I remember you. You were at the Luna Palace last year.” I had purchased a raw opal from him. A good memory is as a polished jewel. It is flattering to be remembered. 

                Just last week on the beach Roger asked me, “Where is your ring?” Roger had sold me a ring set with a Mexican agate two or three years ago. Oh, sweet Roger.”

                Shortly before Evelyn flew back to Harlem, the one in New York City, she and I were having a Coca-Cola at my corner comida. A man from Edmonton whith whom we’d had a long conversation just the day before walked by without recognizing either of us.

                “He didn’t remember us from yesterday,” said Evelyn.

                “Yeah, to them we all look alike.”

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
December 5, 2013
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Impatient in a Virtuous Country



 Impatient in a Virtuous Country
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            Patience is a virtue. I live where patience is exercised on a daily basis. Therefore I live among a virtuous people indeed. 

            I, however, have been found out. I stand revealed as one naked in my impatience, not virtuous at all. Previously I would have described myself as patient. More patient than most I might have said with a hint of a smirk. I might have felt a bit smugly righteous. 

            If “instant gratification” is the mantra of people in the United States, then “manana” is the mantra of the people of Mexico. 

            Mexico runs on a cash economy. Mention checks and I receive a raised brow with you-gotta-be-kidding look, a snicker or outright hee-haw laughter. I didn’t mean foreign checks. I wanted to open a bank account here and use local-bank checks. It isn’t done. First, I have to have resided here a year before I may open a bank account. Every bill to pay, every purchase is by cash although credit card use is becoming more prevalent for larger items. Otherwise, grab  your wallet and count the pesos. One thing sure, no overdrafts. And you always know exactly how much money you have. 

            Cash society equates with long lines. I go to the bank to buy pesos, take a number and wait in line. When paying bills, which one also does in person, one moves through roped lanes and eventually arrives at the counter to shell out the pesos. 

            One eventually develops a tolerance which becomes an “it-is-the-way-it-is” acceptance. Que, sera, sera.  

            Finally came the day I waited patiently in line and signed up for internet. That took “forever”, but fortunately, I had my interpreter friend with me, because nobody spoke Ingles. Imagine me doing that task by sign language. 

            My internet comes by way of Megacable, pronounced mega-caw-blay, emphasis on caw. I bought a television, telephone and wireless internet bundle for $399 pesos a month. Exchange rate that day was $12.40. Uh, huh.

            I swore that I would never buy television service, but I did. In fact, last night my friend and I sat together and watched the championship fights for Mexico. I had five pesos on the red trunks. Quite the rousing battle which ended in a tie. Re-match in January. Patience. 

            The Megacable lady told us hook-up could take from one to twelve days. I snorted because my neighbor Frank had been waiting twelve days for his service at that point. “And what time of day is best for you?” “Morning,” I answered. 

            Everyday Frank and I met outside our doors to commiserate. No service yet. On day nineteen for Frank, one week for me, at 4:30 in the afternoon, the Megacable truck pulled up and two young men knocked on Frank’s door. I grabbed my paperwork, tripped over my feet scrambling out my door. “Me too, Me too?” I poked my paperwork at them. One young man scanned my papers, pointed to Frank, then back to me. 

            At 6:30 they hooked me up to all the services, made sure the television worked and bounded out my door. Oh, by the way, they didn’t have the wireless modems with them; come back manana. Wireless or cable, what did I care, as long as I could use internet. Gleefully I sat turned on my computer and prepared to send my article off to the newspaper, deadline tomorrow. I could not get internet to work. Computer whiz I am not. I fiddled with this wire and that wire and this button and that clicker. Nothing. I checked my hook-ups and they seemed okay to me. 

            Fifteen minutes later Lupe walked in the door to be met by me, red-faced, sweating, teary and grinding my teeth. “Your television works perfectly,” I snarled, “but my internet does not work at all.” Instantly I felt ashamed. “I am so frustrated. Now I’ll have to go to a hotel or cafĂ© in the morning to send my article and we’ll have to have the cable guys come back and . . . “

            “Calm down.” I hate it when someone says that to me. I told him the whole story. Lupe re-checked my cables and found a couple loose connections, sorted and straightened and tied my spaghetti mess of wires into order, and, magically, I had internet service. I thanked Lupe in a teensy-weensy voice.

            “I wish you could have seen yourself when I walked in the door,” he said.

            “Oh, I saw myself quite clearly, thank you,” I said, muttering a hundred “mea culpas” under my breath. I hate being exposed like that. 

            Ten days have passed and still no wireless. Maybe manana.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
December 19, 2013
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Climbing the Stairway to Culture



Climbing the Stairway to Culture
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            The Teatro walls were crumbling, the courtyard given over to dust and dismay, and a historic part of Old Mazatlan doomed to fade into distant memory. With vision, perseverance and pesos, volunteers rennovated the Grand Old Dame and today, tucked into a corner of the Plazuela Machado, the Angela Peralta Teatro thrives, a cultural landmark in Historic Old Town.

            Kathy, Richard and I recently attended an orchestral performance at the Angela Peralta conducted by world-class Jan Latham-Koenig. We climbed to the cheap seats, up in the third balcony. The balcony might be two and a half meters deep. The chairs appear to be old-style kitchen chairs with cloth coverings. Comfort it is not. Squished it is. The marble-columned lobby is open to the stars, the balcony up three flights of marble stairs. We took our seats early to people-watch.

As tourists we wear our best beach-bum togs. No matter, we watch the beautiful women sweep in, and all are beautiful, regally dressed and coifed and jeweled. Each man looks dashing, no matter his age, proud of the woman on his arm, the children by his side. 

            I could have all night to Pablo Garibay on Spanish acoustic guitar, accompanied by the orchestra listened. But, for me, the most memorable performance at the Angela Peralta was a ballet. I don’t remember the name. It was skillfully choreographed with a huge cast, many of them students at the Teatro. The costumed cast doubled as greeters and seat-ers. After the ballet the cast rushed to the courtyard where they were congratulated, hugged, and showered with flowers by family and admirers. Just being part of the throng that night made me celebrate, made me feel like a distant relative come to visit.

            While restoring the Teatro, a many years project, the company also built classrooms for teaching music, dance, and art. Day and night the building is alive with activity, rehearsals, classes, exhibits and performances.

 Everyone in Mazatlan seems to be a musician. Men stroll the streets, singly or in groups, to serenade for a few pesos. Heavy on the brass, entire “Oom-pah” bands gather, perform and pass the hat. (“Oom-pah” is my made-up term, based on the underlying beat.) 

Friday night Kathy, Richard and I toured several galleries near and around Old Town as part of a monthly ArtWalk. The historic buildings, Spanish or southern European in style, have beautiful wooden and wrought iron doors. To enter one must high-step over a ten to twelve inch threshold to the lobby or hallway. I was told the step keeps water out during seasonal torrential rains. In China, the same style riser is to deter evil spirits from entering the home. Same thing, I suppose. Or maybe the steps were designed to keep livestock out and babies in.

            Most of the galleries presented a staircase or two or three to climb. Some were over living quarters, others included multiple stories. These buildings are ancient structures, two and three hundred years old and more. Personally, I prefer stairs built to code with a good solid railing. One does not always get one’s way. Gamely I clambered up staircases with eight, nine and ten inch risers. Most treads were built for smaller people with smaller feet. Gamely, one must take one’s courage in hand and carry on. After all, I wanted to eye-feast on sculptures in rock, wood, copper and silver, oils and watercolors and prints and drawings, jewelry and photography, mosaics, papier-mache and leather, fiber and stained glass. 

Whew! I was plumb tuckered before we’d seen all the places we’d marked on our map. Kathy and Richard wanted to see one more gallery, just a couple long blocks down that way or maybe to the left a bit, hard to tell with a map which leaves out some cross streets. I opted to walk back to the Plazuela Machado, find a bench where I could rest my weary feet and listen to musicians in the square. 

Couples of all ages meandered around the square, hand in hand. Small coveys of young men and young women ambled around, eyeing one another warily or provocatively. Street vendors quietly offered their wares, all manner of foods and crafts, in tune with the crowd, not pushy. I made myself invisible to quietly view the walking artistry in front of me, no stairs to climb.

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
December 12, 2013
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Becoming a Local



Becoming a Local
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            Several Montana friends have asked me, please, to not comment about the weather while I’m down in this southern sunny clime. That seems a reasonable request to me since you, my friends, on the High Line are currently experiencing the annual return of the Ice Age. 

            It has always struck me that weather in Montana has a separate and distinct personality,  unpredictable in mood, even schizophrenic, of which one does well to be wary. Living up north, I was constantly on the look-out for its next meteorological move, almost afraid to open the door to see which mood was on my step. 

            In comparison, weather here seems actually boring, every day the same. Don’t worry. Be happy. The sun shines. The breeze wafts tenderly off the ocean. When it rains, the sky falls. Fifteen minutes later the sidewalks are dry. What’s to comment? (Remind me of this when the hurricane winds batter the city and/or in August when the mercury rises to 116 degrees Fahrenheit.) 

            Meanwhile I promise to keep my weather comments to a bare minimum. I have been told in the past that I have a tendency to gloat, an ugly quality, especially from your best friend whom you love dearly. I argued that I don’t gloat. I am eager to share my experiences. 

But, in respect, I will not mention that I check the Havre Daily forecast with a hint of glee. That would be rude of me. 

Now that I am practically a “local”, I feel competent to give advice about what to bring when you come visit. 

            Money, four cotton tops, four shorts, sandals and a pair of tennis shoes, underwear and a toothbrush. That about says it all. I presume you will wear one set of these items. That means the rest fits in a backpack with room to add a few small items I might request that I cannot find in Mazatlan. You will bring more, of course, probably lug a suitcase along, but it is unnecessary and you won’t wear more than those four cotton tops. 

            If you want your phone to work, add Mexico to your plan before you arrive. Then unless you want a four thousand dollar bill, hide the phone. 

            Lupe bought me a Mexican phone from Moviestar. Sounds exotic, does it not!  It’s just another phone company. He chose that one because they assured him they set the phone so everything would be in English. Voice mail, voice instructions, those things. That was our assumption. The actuality is that the phone allows me to speak into it in English, if I can get the call to go through. Everything else is in Spanish; voice mail, voice instructions, the folded paper of instructions that came in the box, tips, promotions. I know enough to figure Moviestar is trying to give me deals. 

            I would give you my number but you don’t want the charges per minute. Stick with email. Besides, if I heard my phone ringing, I probably wouldn’t remember where I hid it. Oh, just another minor detail—I have somehow brilliantly managed to lock out incoming calls.  

            Every block provides opportunities to eat, such as the little breakfast and lunch place on the corner a few feet from my apartment door. Yesterday I explored beyond my block, in search of a lavanderia. I found one just two blocks away, along with at least eight other eating establishments of various sizes. And a place to get my hair cut and nails beautified

            Between the laundry and my hair cut, a man named Rudy stopped me. “I remember you. You were at the Luna Palace.” I had purchased a raw opal from him. A good memory is as a polished jewel. It is flattering to be remembered. 

            Just last week on the beach Roger asked me, “Where is your ring?” Roger had sold me a ring with a Mexican agate two years ago. I never saw him last year. 

            Right before Evelyn flew back to Harlem, New York City, she and I were having a Coca-Cola at my corner comida. A man from Edmonton with whom we’d had a long conversation just the day before walked by not recognizing either of us. 

            “He didn’t even know us,” said Evelyn.

            “Well, we have to remember,” I replied, “to them we all look alike.”

Sondra Ashton
HDN: Looking out my back door
December 5, 2013
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