Archives for the month of: December, 2014

I was at the turnaround point in my run which is where I typically stop and pee and have a gander around for my favorite bird – the diminutive Vermillion Flycatcher – when I heard a furious gravel churning noise behind me of clawed padded feet scrambling madly in rapid motion.

My mind flashes to a much too familiar image of horror – that of getting set upon by some savage overprotective cow dog. I turned just in time to see a full grown coyote race by me panting with exertion, before he hurled himself over the four foot gap of the canal to then quickly disappear into a recently mowed farmer’s field.

My heart was pounding. Then sensing wetness, I looked down to see that I was dribbling somewhat copiously onto my sandals. I’d seen coyotes before but never so close up that I heard them breathing and the sound of their footfalls. On my way back I stopped to talk to the young guy who was tending cattle in an adjacent field. He told me that there were lots of coyotes seen in the valley. I said I didn’t doubt it but never so close up.

I got him to introduce me to his four dogs which he cheerfully did. One was called Blacky, another Fatty, and one was called Milton. The other I don’t remember. Milton made me laugh out loud. A big dangerous looking shovel-headed brute of a pit bull with the incongruous name of an intellectual (John Milton, Milton Friedman – you get it), but pronounced in the Spanish way was what made it ever more laugh worthy as it called to mind an old Saturday morning cartoon called ‘Milton the Monster’.

I no sooner got into the combi for the ride back into town and got seated when a tiny little girl looked up from the mess that she was making in her lap, directed her smile at me, and said ‘hello’. I usually have to tease little kids before I can get a word out of them but this little girl was obviously very comfortable in her own skin. She couldn’t possibly have remembered me from another combi ride a few months back but I remembered her. Now here she was sitting eating half of a muffin, pinching off such tiny little portions that didn’t amount to more than a few crumbs at a time; half of which were ending up on her lap.

I watched her with great amusement for the next 15 minutes as she alternated between tiny bites and brushing crumbs off herself. She had on a blue and pink knitted hat which didn’t quite hide what appeared to be a self-inflicted hairdo. I guessed her to be about two or three years old. Her mother periodically assisted in the crumb brushing; standing her up to do so. They quietly chatted back and forth during all these ministrations that included a napkin that mom from time to time got out to wipe her tiny little mouth. The stuffed animal wedged between her legs also received similar attentions. All the meanwhile mom was catching her and/or straightening her up on the bench as the combi lurched down the rutted road. The little girl constantly smiling as in one blissful little bundle of joy. She turned and waved to me as they got off the combi at the central plaza and gave me a cheerful, smiley ‘goodbye’.

It has been my observation that these Mexican children are never more than an arms length away from love. As a rule parents here don’t plop their children down in front of television sets so that the parents can have some ‘me time’. No, children here are constantly being interacted with. Babies get passed around like footballs. Little children are constantly being picked up, held and kissed. Older children are given pats. Big children play gently with their younger siblings. Brothers and sisters hold hands while walking down the street. Same for two sisters. And playtime hasn’t yet been subsumed by electronic media but still involves other kids. Big families means that there always cousins to play with; not just brothers and sisters.

(It has been my great pleasure to have had a tiny window for as long as I have into this constantly replicating culture with its values of family, church, and tradition).

Food. I need to talk about the local food for a moment before I end this post.

So after getting home from my run, I sluiced myself off up on the terrace, changed my running shorts into cargo shorts, put on my cleanest dirty shirt and walked down to the Mercado for lunch. I picked up a fresh squeezed glass of carrot/orange juice from Alberto’s jugoteria then settled on carnitas at Beto’s place. There were lots of different cuts to choose from. Keep in mind that carnitas in this part of the world is taking all the parts of the animal and boiling them in lard in what effectively is a giant stainless steel wok over a big gas burner. The meat comes out tender and succulent and surprisingly ungreasy. And every last piece of the animal retains its different flavor.

I choose a piece of snout (melt in your mouth gelatinous goodness), a piece of intestine (chewy, slightly salty), and a piece of rib meat (slightly fatty, fall off the bone tender). I assembled 3 tacos dressing them up individually, one by one. I loaded up the sliced snout with diced onion, cilantro, and Beto’s own mild red salsa. The sliced intestine taco got dressed up with avocado and a vinegary chili, onion, and radish salad. And the rib meat got pretty much the same treatment as the snout. Delicious.

I was walking out when I happened to spy some of the loveliest yellow skinned chickens ever. By the way, chickens here – some anyway – are fed marigolds to get that curiously rich looking yellow (verging on gold) colored skins. I wasn’t planning on cooking that evening but those chickens looked so splendidly inviting that I bought one. This particular place does all their own processing. They slaughter, dip in boiling water and pluck. All in a space about the size of a small walk in closet. Very fresh. Squawking one minute, laid out picture perfect the next.

The chicken was skinned and chopped up. Skinned, because boiled chicken skin doesn’t have the same flavorful attributes as does its fried counterpart. I dropped the pieces in boiling water which held only a few pinches of salt, some whole dried hot chilies, and half a dozen bay leaves. Forty minutes later I added some new baby potatoes that I bought off an indigenous woman in front of the central cathedral two days before.

I poured off the rich broth to serve later as a soup base.

Dinner was fresh bread, hot chicken and potatoes with a mayonnaise and caper sauce on the side. Simply marvelous.

Advertisements

I really suck in this area. I have been trying to accomplish two goals: increase sales and move away from the onesy-twosey retail end of the business and go straight wholesale and do volume.

I have tried everything – or so I thought – failing miserably each time. For example, I hired and fired three sales and marketing people. The strategy was for them to get accounts and increase sales by getting our handmade shoes/sandals and bags into brick and mortar stores. A dismal failure. Why? You tell me. Lack of motivation maybe? Stupid? Lazy?

And I tried going the sales and marketing route solo. I spent two weeks in South Miami Beach. I visited a lot of stores. Talked to a lot of people. I knew before I started  that I wasn’t a sales person but desperate times requires desperate action. I tried but I sucked.

It seems the solution might have been in front of me all this time and it only took me two years to find it. Yup, hidden in plain sight. So yesterday we opened a wholesale page on our Sahara Sandals website.

Long story short, I don’t care who you are. Buy as few as 6 pair (mix and match) and get 50% off. And the discount scales with the volume. Buy 120 pair and get 65% off.

Let’s see if this works.

PS – During this time our webmaster enabled SSL (Secure Socket Layer). I am told this does two things: 1) Pulls the eCommerce piece onto the saharasandals.com website instead of pushing the transactional processing to another corner of our hosting website and 2) the SSL icon gives our customers solid assurance that their credit card data is secure.

Mexicans take Christmas very seriously. The Christmas celebration started December 1st and won’t wind down until February 7th. Yup. Two months – and then some – of Christmas.

One of the bands playing behind the Mercado this morning.

One of the bands playing behind the Mercado this morning.

Oh, and the noise. The closest cathedral to my house (one block up and one block over) starts broadcasting music over their outdoor loudspeakers at dark-thirty. Fireworks – as in every morning – start about the same time and go on all day long. Sometimes there are barrages every 15 minutes. And yes, barrages. As in rockets. As in a dozen at a time.

We’re talking missiles that go 100 – 150 yards into the air before a flash of light followed quickly by deafening explosions. If the wind is right I sometimes find burning paper on my 3rd floor terrace. One time I found a projectile that crashed without exploding on the roof of my laundry. I left it there, comically perched as it was at an angle that  reminded me of the ’60s TV series ‘Lost in Space.’

This morning there were already mariachis out playing in the streets when I went down to the Mercado for breakfast. There was a huge stage set up behind the food court building with such a gigantic array of loudspeakers that it made me positively shiver in fear for the noise that was yet to come.

Mariachis, Tequila, and Coke

Mariachis, Tequila, and Coke

My post-breakfast errands took me up behind the cathedral above my house and there were already two live bands set up and playing. It was 9 am and already some people were drinking tequila. I was invited to drink on three separate occasions but begged off as it was a wee bit too early for me. You should know that very few people will get drunk; at least early on anyway. The early morning tequila is just a tradition.

Today, being the 6th day of Christmas is the day that is for the laborers in the Mercado. So I found the old Mercado buildings this morning all dressed up like aging tarts with baggy nylons and smeared lipstick. And I suspect down there that the first bottle of tequila was opened long before I got out of bed this morning; and I am an early riser.

This is one tiny part of the Mercado all dressed up for today, its single biggest day of the year.

 

Each and every day of the 12 Days of Christmas feature celebrating a particular trade. On the 9th day, it’s the huarachero’s day. They’ll get a parade and have live music just like the Mercado people are having today.

Fiestas are serious business down here. Mariachis are a well loved and honored profession. Mexicans have a culture that is so multi-threaded that an enthusiast could spend a lifetime studying it and still miss some of the interconnections.

Just one of the many mariachi groups playing in the Mercado today

Just one of the many mariachi groups playing in the Mercado today

For example, I thought November was just about the Day of the Dead celebration on November 2nd. Wrong. It is actually celebrated here as a 4-5 day fiesta. And just how old is the Day of the Dead? The Catholic Church has long since hijacked it but I would strongly suspect that some of the symbolism predates Columbus – like leaving food and drink for the dead at burial sites? And tangentially, are you aware of the irony of names: the devastating Hurricane Katrina and the most popular Day of the Dead figure also named Catrina?

But for November that’s not all. There is also St. Cecilia’s Day on the 22nd. And of course there is a fiesta for that. And because she is the patron saint of music – yup – that means another opportunity for lots (and lots) of music.

I can’t help but think that the Mexican version of hell must be soundless. Like one big sensory deprivation tank. No one to talk to. And no music. That must seem insane to the average American who spends their life working in a quiet office commuting to and from their quiet house gently nestled in some quiet suburban neighborhood.

No. Mexico is decidedly a surround sound environment. Generally speaking, Latin America is loud. But Mexico is louder. And Sahuayo is that place within where the amplifiers spends most of their time cranked up to 11 (cheers, Spinal Tap).

Led Zeppelin sized speaker stacks

Led Zeppelin sized speaker stacks. The amplifiers cranked to the max all to address an area no larger than about 6X the size of the stage; and 300 people maybe. Loud? Indescribable.

PS – I am going to attend a little girl’s first communion at one pm. Ximena is eight years old and is about the cutest thing on two legs. And of course there is a big party that follows the mass.

IMG_2883

Radiant Ximena. And click on the image to see the beautiful handmade details of her dress.

 

It is going to be a delightfully busy day.

PPS – Being a gringo I have just three gripes with Mexico. First – as I’ve been trying to point out – it’s too damn loud. And the fact is when God gave the devil dominion over Michoacan the first thing the evil one did was to populate this place with lunging, snarling dogs and then provide it with a surfeit of rocks, thorns, and fiendish biting ants.

So why I am still here? Because the people are kind and their smiles are as radiant as the sunshine.

I am grinding my way through ‘Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything’ by University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt and New York Times journalist Stephen J. Dubner.

And to be quite frank, the book appears to be another spin on economists and other so called brilliant thinkers trying to play catch up with Friedman’s ‘The World is Flat’. Witness Tyler Cowen’s ‘Average is Over’, Kevin Kelly’s ‘What Technology Wants’, or Taleb’s ‘The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable’.

Note: Provocative titles don’t necessarily make for provocative and insightful contents. As someone once astutely noted after the OJ Simpson trial, that ‘given enough billable hours, one can create reasonable doubt’. And given enough pages it seems that some nonfiction writers are personally convinced that they can create grand works filled with insightful wisdom of astrophysical dimensions.

And let’s stop right there for a minute. Trying to add profundity to the minutiae is challenging at best. Take data analytics for example. An economist (or researcher) can mine petabytes of data forever but for right now the only tool at hand appear to be regression analysis; seeking those variables that correlate; hence, their highly subjective conclusions.

I have thus far found the opening Explanatory Note to ‘Freakonomics’ to be more useful than the contents. Maybe because I generally agree with the premise “…that the modern world, despite a surfeit of obfuscation, complication and downright deceit, is not impenetrable, is not unknowable, and – if the right questions are asked – is even more intriguing than we think. All it takes is a new way of looking.”

In spite of that premise, the read is still a real grind. Although to be fair I will say that book provides some useful examples and I did gain some useful knowledge that “incentives are the cornerstone of modern life. And that conventional wisdom is often wrong.” And I liked the fact that the authors reinforced what I have long held to be true and that is, “knowing what to measure and how to measure [it] makes a complicated world much less so.”

The book also validated some currently held suspicions that “journalists need experts as badly as experts need journalists”. And that the future [which started not all that long ago] will increasingly become – economically speaking – even more inequitably distributed. And yes, while that is not an original idea, it was their example I found quite novel. “An editorial assistant earning $22,000…, an unpaid high-school quarterback, and a teenage crack dealer earning $3.30 an hour are all playing the same game, a game best viewed as a tournament. The rules of the tournament are straightforward. You must start at the bottom to have a shot at the top.” And as we all know, the top is so nose-bleedingly high that most workers will never get their game past the early rounds and will unknowingly suffer, tragically playing out their lives, condemned to forever compete at the bottom of the food chain.

Where the book really began to lose me was when they started mucking around in sociology and spent pages (and groan, pages) attempting to build an argument that parents don’t really have as much influence over their children’s socio-economic future as conventional wisdom once suggested. My short counterargument would be that children are most influenced by those who set the most credible examples of good life/best living. And it’s from there they best chose their role models. And if the parents aren’t there for them – as in don’t set good examples – then their children will be looking elsewhere. Rap music lifestyle anyone?

I really tried to like ‘The Power of Myth’ by Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers but sadly couldn’t finish it. And it held so much promise. After living in Mexico these past two years I have often found myself puzzling over the substance of myth especially as it relates to the modern American. And I have convinced myself that we Americans no longer possess the proper images of self, society, and nation to prop us up.

I agree with Campbell where he says – speaking of the hero [in myth] – “It’s what Goethe said in Faust but which George Lucas has dressed in the modern idiom (through ‘Star Wars’) — the message that technology is not going to save us. Our computers, our tools, our machines are not enough.” He goes on to say, while answering the question – ‘isn’t that an affront to reason? – “that’s not what a hero’s journey is about. It’s not to deny reason…the hero symbolizes our ability to control the irrational savage within us.” The question arose “Now that we moderns have stripped the earth of its mystery…how were our imaginations to be nourished? By Hollywood ?” The mostly undeveloped answer to this question seemed to be that finding it would be solving a prime question of our time.

From there on, the story began to peter out. Lots of words. Lots of stories. But there were no cogent ideas that propose a viable cookie crumb trail that would lead us moderns back in search of the symbols from which to reconstruct a useful identity from the collected detritus of our own culture.

On a lighter note, I should be ashamed to say that among the many things I’ve got going on my reading table at the moment is Patricia Bigg’s: Mercy Thompson series; book two ‘Blood Bound’. It‘s mostly about the supernatural adventures of a pack of werewolves and a bunch of vampires; shit I most definitely am not interested in. I am reading it – and book two, mind you – because the woman narrator is an auto mechanic – specializing in Volkswagens – who lives in a house trailer.

I got to thinking more about this as I fired up my ancient Kindle this morning and it occurred to me that I am reading this book because I am drawn to characters that get stuff done. And Mercy Thompson gets it done. I truly like the idea of a woman character who is an auto mechanic*. And not just that, but someone who specializes in some of the weirder model esoterica of the Volkswagen line. From my perspective, that is an excellent framework to build any story around. And I really like the writing style.

I am still working my way through Francis daCosta’s ‘Rethinking the Internet of Things: A Scalable Approach to Connecting Everything’. I am really enjoying this book. And as I’ve mentioned earlier, the IoT is going to be entirely different than any of have previously thought. Francis daCosta’s an expert in machine to machine communications (M2M). And while I expect to post a longer piece in the future on his book in the short: daCosta expects an increase of 2 orders of magnitude in connected things (read 700 billion devices), and while IPv6 scales way beyond that, it won’t be used as the addressing scheme. And no, your toaster won’t talk to your dishwasher.

I am also starting a new book that I found on the subject of bricks and building with earth by Gernot Minke ‘Building with Earth: Design and Technology of a sustainable Architecture’. This looks like a great read.

*Apart from bicycle mechanics, why aren’t there more/any women out there working as mechanics?

PS – I used to subscribe to the morning book/night book reading model. Now I am following more of a technology/escapist fun/history reading regime. And with the new e-readers it is pretty easy to jump around.