Gringo Land: San Miguel de Allende
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San Miguel Church

San Miguel Church

“Gringo Land,” the taxi driver said. He had spent much of his youth in San Miguel de Allende, but he wasn’t thrilled with the direction his town had taken. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I stepped from the local bus on Canal Street in San Miguel. The bus dropped me a couple of blocks from the main square, “The Jardin.” The towers of the La Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel, rose above the surrounding buildings. “Easy to find,” I thought. “No way to get lost in this town.

San Miguel baptism

San Miguel baptism

As I walked up toward the Jardin, I heard a voice, not a mariachi band or someone speaking in Spanish. “Breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. Lift those hips.” Yoga? Yup, a fucking yoga class in front of the church, the leader chanted his instructions with a loudspeaker. And the students, I haven’t seen that much sagging white flesh and varicose veins since my last high school reunion.

San Miguel art school

San Miguel art school

In Guanajuato, gringos are the exception, in San Miguel, they’re the rule. You don’t see many locals in the center of town. They do venture there, but for special occasions. In my three hours in San Miguel, there was a baptism and a wedding ceremony in the church. It’s still the beating heart of the town, but it beats slower now.

San Miguel is a beautiful town. It’s easy to see why Americans are drawn here: great weather, comparatively cheap prices, an artistic haven. What’s not to love? I’m not a shop-til-you-drop guy, so maybe that’s why I didn’t like San Miguel as much as Guanajuato. That’s not to say I wouldn’t return here. They have a vibrant writing community, art schools, language schools, it’s easier to navigate than Guanajuato, but sometimes difficulty is part of the fun.

San Miguel-1-1

Mexican buses: Perhaps the biggest surprise of my trip was the Mexican bus system: cheap, clean and efficient. An hour and a half drive from Guanajuato to San Miguel cost $8.50. For that price you get a box lunch, a reserved seat, plenty of leg room, a television in the back of the seat, no surcharges for luggage and it left on time. Europe has their trains, Mexico has its buses, and we have . . . crappy airlines, customers treated like crap, $50 to check a bag, seats built for midgets and overworked airline employees. Rant over.

 

 

Guanajuato: Stranger in a Strange Land

Hey, I'm way too high here.

Hey, I’m way too high here.

Color me stupid. I was high above Guanajuato Centro, sweating and panting, totally lost, with no Spanish to ask the way back home. I’d intended on doing a quick loop of the downtown core, with a stop to peek at the Alhóndiga de Granaditas, one of the first sites of the Mexican War of Independence. Somehow, I’d missed a turn and climbed much higher than I’d expected. There didn’t seem to be anything akin to a cross street up that high, so I said a quick prayer and headed down one of the small, vertical alleys. I must have appeared like something out of a bad movie to one of the local women. She started when she spotted me; most gringos don’t venture up here. Guanajuato is a tourist destination, but not normally folks from the United States. They all end up an hour and a half up the road in San Miguel de Allende, or as my driver from the Leon airport termed it, Gringo Land.

The lady scurried off and I stumbled down the hill until finally found the Alhóndiga which was orginally used to store grain. The Spanish troops used it as a fortress in the early 19th century until the local residents stormed it on September 28, 1810. Mexicans remind me of the Irish, in that they are very attuned to their history. When I referred to the attack as the opening of the war of revolution to locals, they quickly corrected me, it was “a war of independence.” Point taken.

Guanojuato, El Pipila

Guanajuato stairs

Guanajuato attracts Mexicans, because of sites like Alhóndiga The city is the cultural and historic center of Mexico. I wanted something different: an adventure, and Guanajuato is it. They don’t cater to Americans down here. My daughter wanted me to bring home postcards, but I spend a couple of hours searching for some. Postcards are a gringo thing. If you travel in Europe, a smattering of French or Italian will stand you in good stead. There, when I fumble with the language, more often than not, the waitress will take pity on me and speak to me in English. Alas, I have no Spanish other than el baño por favor, so communication is difficult, but it would be arrogant of me to expect the locals to speak English. So, I muddle along as best I can.

VW in Guanajuato

VW in Guanajuato

Perhaps what I savor most about Guanajuato are the smells and sounds. Walking through the Centro, you smell sugar and spices and just a hint of something sour. In the morning I lay in bed and listen to the roosters crow and the dogs bark. At any hour, you may hear the melody of a Mariachi band. Perhaps they are practicing for the coming evening’s performance at the Jarden de la Union, the vibrant heart of the city. Perhaps they are just living the moment.

I’m still in Guanajuato, still exploring, so there will be more later.

RoboDuck Where Are You?

RoboDuck: Where are you?

Roboduck_display_image

 

Changes have come to Autzen Stadium. After the Michigan State game, an MSU beat writer took Oregon to task for having the “most/loudest artificial noise of any stadium I’ve been in”. Being a Duck honk, I dismissed his gripe as sour grapes, but during the Wyoming game, we blared electronic music well into the Cowboys’ snap count at the risk of a penalty. In the Arizona game, the loudspeakers belted out an ear-splitting NBA arena techno-tune to arouse the crowd. You’d know the song; it’s the same one used by the Portland Trailblazers and Mississippi State Bulldogs to pump up their fans.

One music video that excites Duck fans is “Shout” at the end of the third quarter. It’s a brilliant idea that’s right rightfully become a tradition. But now, Dailmer Trucking sponsors that moment. You can’t miss their promo banner splashed across the bottom of the screen as Belushi wiggles his toga-clad tush. Commercialism in Autzen is rampant. Not only do we have our Chevron Techron races and a T-shirt cannon, but also Intel has been appointed our “Title” sponsor and On Point Credit Union is our “Presentation” sponsor. I’m still trying to figure our what a “Presentation” sponsor is or does.

The height of market absurdity comes in the form of the new “speedy” avatar phone application that’s hyped on the big screen. If you didn’t catch it, think of a poorly drawn South Park knockoff character dressed as a Duck football player. Now, you too can download the speedy avatar app and send insipid whiney-voiced messages to your friends. The folks in Section 34 agreed that the concept was the worst since RoboDuck, but at least RoboDuck brought with him a commercial-free dopiness, an honest attempt that missed the mark.

This movement into high tech commercialism reminds me of the 2002 Fiesta Bowl. Every stoppage in play, every end of the quarter was an opportunity for an in-stadium commercial, whether it be an on the screen ad for Bank of America or an on-field promotion for Frito Lay. At the time I was smug in my belief that we would never stoop that low at Auzten. Now, I just pine for the return of RoboDuck.

 

Help, I’ve Fallen

According to the CDC, one third of people 65 and older will fall this year. I haven’t reached that magic age yet, but I have taken my obligatory tumble about a month ago.

Elderly Falls Stairs

Scene of the crime

I was carrying a laundry basket down the stairs, not a care in the world and not paying attention to what I was doing. Someone had left a bag of clothes on the stairway, I tripped on it and fell. Happily enough, I wasn’t injured. Two factors saved my bacon. First the bottom of the stairs was carpeted and second, I’ve been working on improving my balance. I landed on my elbows in a plank position. I could have easily ended up with broken bones. How do you protect yourself from falls? I’m concentrating on three areas to protect myself from falls: balance, flexibility and bone density. In this post, I’ll focus on improving balance. For the past couple of years, I’ve been working with a personal trainer, Donna Porter, also known as the Posture Commandant.

Step by Step Fitness

Donna Porter

I workout with Donna two days a week at her Step by Step Fitness Studio in Portland, Oregon. You don’t have to shell out big bucks for a personal trainer. Many Medicare supplemental programs provide their clients with access to Silver Sneakers.  I heartily recommend that you check out a program near you. Here are three simple exercises to help you improve your balance.

 

High Knee March

Elderly fall prevention

High knee march

Here’s some fat old guy (ahem) doing a high knee march. When you start, you may feel unsteady, so feel free to place a hand on a wall to steady yourself. Donna would have a cow at how this guy is doing this exercise. If you look closely, his left foot is crooked. Align your feet so that they’re straight and raise your knee straight up keeping your body in alignment, use your stomach muscles to raise the leg, not your hip muscles. Over time, you body will learn to automatically align itself.

Gate Swing

Gate Swing

Gate Swing

Once you’re comfortable with the march, you can add the gate swing to it. Raise your knee as in the march, then swing it out to the left or right depending on the leg you’re raising. In our picture, our old guy struggles to maintain his balance. Actually, this is a good thing as your body learns to adapt and find its balance point. Again, if you feel unsteady, place your hand against a wall for support.

Side Step on Stairs

Stair Side Step

Stair Side Step

Our final exercise is the side step on stairs.  Here I’m side-stepping up and down on the bottom step of a set of stairs. With all these exercises, you should shoot for at least 10 repetitions per set with a maximum of three sets.

 

As with any exercise, start slowly, be careful and don’t overdo it. Good luck and let me know how you’re doing.

Odds and ends

Blog recommendation: I’ve started following Lily Hamrick’s blog Oakland Notes. It’s smart, insightful and well-written. If you’re a an author, you need to read her entry on the nature of evil: http://lilyhamrick.com/2014/03/24/on-evil-2/. Bad guys (and gals) can’t be completely evil — well except perhaps for Iago.

Book store recommendation: If you’re in the neighborhood, drop by Another Read Through at 3932 N. Mississippi Ave in Portland. The owner, Elisa Sapher, mostly stocks used books, but she hosts a shelf for local Oregon authors. It’s a great shop with a wide variety of books. Check it out. Her website has further information. www.anotherreadthrough.com

An Australian television series has captured my attention: Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. Set in  Australia, the series follows the adventures of Phyrne Fisher  as she ” sashays through the back laneways of 1928 Melbourne, fighting injustice with her pearl-handled pistol and her dagger sharp wit.” It’s well-written and the star, Essie Davis, is a delight. If you enjoy mysteries with a strong female lead, this one is for you.  Netflix subscriber? You’re in luck, that’s how I watch it.  http://www.abc.net.au/tv/phrynefisher/

 

 

Ground Observer – Novel Fragment

When I was very young, my mother used to take me up to a blockhouse on the bluff behind the Prineville Hospital. There, we would watch the western skies for invading Russian bombers. This was a few years after the end of the Korean War when American believed war with Russia was inevitable. What follows is a deleted scene from my novel in progress The Brightside Murders. Agnes Flehardy is a civilian ground observer, watching the skies for a sneak attack, but she spies something else altogether.

 

Oregon High Desert

May 1953

 

Six orange lights blazed across the sky, left to right, almost grazing the tip of Grizzly Mountain.  “They’re coming,” Agnes Flehardy cried to no one in particular.  “They’re coming.”  With sudden precision, the lights reversed course zigged back and disappeared behind the black peak.

Her breath showed white puffs in the small room. May, but still the early morning temperatures dipped below freezing.  She’d have to cover her vegetable beds with burlap when she got home. Her hands shook as she dropped her binoculars and picked up the red phone at the rear of the concrete blockhouse. Somehow the overhead bulb had been turned on.  She didn’t remember pulling the cord.

“Control,” a distant voice said on the phone.

“They’re here,” Agnes said.

“Who?” the man asked. “Who are here?”

“The Russians.  The bombers.” In her imagination, an atomic bomb exploded over Barnesville.

“Do you have your book?” An edge crept into the voice.

“Yes. Here, here it is.”  She flipped open the book.  It contained silhouettes of different aircraft, Russian, British and American. Prop planes and jets.  Fighters and bombers.  “Aircraft Identification for the Ground Observer ” on the front.  Agnes was a group observer, proud to help her nation.

“Look carefully, the planes are they Russian TU-95’s, the Bears?”

“I can’t tell, all I see are the lights. Orange lights over Grizzly Mountain.”

“East? Heading east?”  Somewhere in the background a bell sounded.

“No, north, then south, then north, then they disappeared behind the mountain.”

“Not Russian bombers, then.”

“Not planes, lights. They’re here.”  Her voice squealed with frustration.  “They’re really here.”  But the line was dead.

 

 

What the heck is DRM and why should you care?

This is a copy of my guest post for the Muskrat Press blog. I’d like to thank them for hosting my article.Muskrat is publishing two new books this quarter by a couple of amazing authors: Lisa Alber and Jeanie Burt. Don’t miss these great debut novels.

 

What the heck is DRM and why should you care?

You’re setting up your Kindle Direct Publishing account and Amazon asks you if you want to enable DRM.  You may wonder to yourself, “What in the hell is DRM?” Briefly, DRM or Digital Rights Management is a process by which the creator, publisher or seller of digital works, notably music, movies, software, or most importantly for the writer or small press publisher, ebooks, controls the use and distribution of their product. In the dawn of the computer age, when floppy disks were still floppy, computer memory was measured in kilobytes, not gigabytes and the internet was the province of Unix geeks, DRM was basic and merely prevented the unauthorized copying of computer software.

Today DRM has expanded to protect all digital works sold over the Internet, but DRM’s  reach has also grown to prevent unauthorized viewing, sharing or other distribution of electronic media. DRM can also be used to delete legally purchased ebooks from a user’s eReader. In 2009, Amazon did just that, deleting copies of George Orwell’s 1984 from their customer’s kindles. Egad! Seems that Amazon was selling unauthorized versions of Orwell’s cautionary tale. Ah, the irony of it all.

We mainly hear about DRM when it comes to pirating music and movies. The Recording Industry Association of American (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) aggressively pursue those that pirate the works of their clients..

There are two primary ways that DRM protected ebooks can be cracked or stripped of DRM. If you’re a small press or someone considering self-publishing, you’ve probably heard of a software program called Calibre. Calibre can be used to transform a word document into ebook format such as mobi, epub, or pdf. But it can also be used to strip off DRM and provide the user with a ‘clean’ copy of the work. This would avoid the possibility of a third party, such as Amazon, deleting the ebook from your reader. If you obtained your original copy legally and you don’t give it to anyone else, then you may not be in violation of copyright law, but I’m not a lawyer, so your mileage may very on this one.

Calibre is a moderately geek-oriented program and most ebook owners wouldn’t bother with the process. Much more likely is someone firing up their Bittorrent or Usenet client and downloading the pirated work which has the DRM already stripped from the book. Then the work must be transferred by a USB cable to the eReader. The RIAA and MPAA focus a lot of their time trying to stem piracy on Bittorent, but to date, there is no single group that represents authors or publishers of ebooks. We’re pretty much on our own.

Back to the original question: should you enable DRM? In the end, it’s up to you as the writer or publisher. DRM will protect your work from piracy from those without the technical skill or inclination to use somewhat geeky methods to pirate your book. The drawback to enabling DRM especially on a kindle or nook platform, is that you, the writer or publisher, may not actually control the digital rights, the maker of the eReader does. Amazon or Barnes and Noble could pull down your book without notice or decide not to support the product as Yahoo did in 2008 when they shut down their music store and shut down their DRM servers. One way to reduce the likelihood of piracy is to price your book realistically. Don’t ask $9.99 for a short story. For a beginning writer at least, your goal should be to attain the widest audience possible, not try to gouge an extra buck from your reader. Also, don’t read, view or listen to pirated works. You can’t expect people to walk the straight and narrow if you don’t do so yourself. Think about the pros and cons of DRM and make the decision that’s the best for you.