I can now define “perfection”, thanks to the invention of the Perfectometer.  As you can see in the photo, it is easy to construct from scraps lying around the house.  Our friends who invented it are snowbirds, and thank goodness they all come down every year to continue the conversation, contribute to the local economy, and provide us provincials with new ideas like this one.

I’ve long been intrigued by the gringo-isation of the Mexicans and the Mexican-isation of the local expats.  The phrase “too gringo” when uttered by gringos has it’s own bitter-sweet taste.  On the other hand, when an expat says “too Mexican”, well, that is way too gringo.

We first encountered this marvelous invention on Christmas day, during Christmas dinner with friends who live about four blocks away.  This, by the way, was the first time in many years that we were home but not being hosts.  Our annual “orphan’s Christmas” ritual has come to an end, the victim of our geezerhood, and it’s kind of nice to sit back and let someone else worry and plan.  That’s another thing that the snowbirds bring with them: lots of good old gringo energy (and of course that kind of statement is too –but not way too- gringo).

Every gringo expat should have one of these.  Hang it on the wall in the place most folks like to hang out.  It’s a great conversation starter, and once started the conversation goes on indefinitely.  Recovering alcoholics exempted, a margarita seems to contribute to the spontaneity, and the laughter…

Like all instructive methods and devices, the Perfectometer, when used properly, will lead the participant to balance (“perfect” on the meter) … eventually .  Maybe.  Meanwhile, it will probably be at least as entertaining as “pin the tail on the donkey” (way too Mexican) or “charades” (way too gringo), and it doesn’t cost anything to make one.  So c’mon down, make a meter, and use it to achieve personal perfection.

Santo Gordo:

As I have said here many times, Mexico is like prison in a certain way: an anonymous space in which new residents, who arrive with no history in that place, can – and sometimes do – reinvent themselves. ( I didn’t want to expend much energy in maintaining a myth, so I became myself only more so.)  My father once said “you can trust everybody, but what can you trust them to DO”?  I think that’s some of the best advice that anyone has ever given me.

I mention all this because I have come to believe that there are at least three of every expat: the surface image that we (often successfully) urge other people to see; the imperfect remembrance of “the real story” which we share with trusted others; and the stew of fears, regrets, ambitions, and urges that we mostly keep to ourselves.

Charles Kerns, who has spent quite a bit of time here in Oaxaca, has built a protagonist that reveals a little of all three. Like most ex-pats, our hero has mixed feelings about his paisanos.  He disses them a lot, but tries to make a point of hanging out with some of them at one of the local bars from time to time.

Trying his best to carve out a life of indolence and torpor, El Santo (the saint) is besieged.  He comes upon a murder; he gets dragged into a fight between two greedy gangs in the employ of the current- and the previous –  governor, over gold and silver mines;  he flies to Los Angeles to help his landlady’s daughter; he drives over the mountains at night in the middle of a hurricane in order to warn the villagers in a friend’s home town of an imminent invasion by the Army which as it turns out was never planned.  The Mexican culture eludes him and he sometimes doesn’t understand the advice that local sages give him.  Alternately smug and terrified, he perseveres; and through it all he never loses his wry sense of humor.

All the narration comes from Roberto Evans, otherwise known as “Santo Gordo” (saint fat guy), who brings with him certain “standards” for order, cleanliness, and linear thinking.  None of his Mexican friends tells him the whole truth, because they don’t think that he is aware of the nuances of Oaxacan political, social, and daily life.  However, as he is pulled along by events, he does learn enough to be able to stay in Oaxaca, with all sorts of favors owed to him; safe – at the moment – from harm.

Kerns captures the sounds, smells, and ambiance of Oaxaca, and catches the whimsical, sometimes ironic and often contradictory realities of expatriate life lived in a place where, depending on the “mood” of the grammar,” yes” may or may not mean yes, and “maybe”probably means probably not.

Kerns is already at work on a Santo Gordo sequel.  I look forward to it…

More on the new immigration regulations:

I handed in my papers recently.  Visa renewal time has rolled around, with its annual ritual of filling, duplicating, translating, and peso depletion (paying the fees, to you).  In a week or so, I will have to return to sign the papers, get my fingers inked, and then wait another couple of weeks for the official card to wend its way to MexCity and back.  Next year, I will apply for permanent residency, the twentieth – and last – annual pilgrimage of obeisance paid to the gods of bureaucracy…

As I expected, not everyone was on the same page.  For instance, when I paid my first visit to the offices of the Instituto Nacionál de Migración (INM, the immigration department of the executive services (Gobernación)’.  I asked a new agent (only a few were retained from the previous six-year presidential term) for the list of things I would need to change my status to permanent residence, and was told that I had to have three more years of my temporary visa.  Whoa, I responded. I had been filing fm3 papers for 16 years, and the law as I understand it appears to only require 4 consecutive years of temporary residency.  Oh, no, I was told: your understanding is not correct.  You can buy one, two, or three years  Here is a list of requirements,and fees.

[These models were, I am told, created in Zaachila by a group of Jumbies that now live there. I will have more info on that in the next Newsletter.]

Two days later, I was back, with the requisite paperwork and the money to pay for three more years.  My bank statements showed a steadily increasing income; I had filled, duplicated, and translated.  When my number came up, I was talking to a new person.  He looked through my paperwork, and a confused expression came over his face.  Why are you not applying for permanent residency, he asked.  Because someone else in this office told me I could not, I replied.

He gathers up my papers and takes them into the Jefe’s office. Sensing that something non-routine is happening, every agent that does not have a petitioner at his/her desk follows him. This gringo doesn’t show enough income for permanent residency.  The law appears to demand that he apply anyway.  What to do?  Heads move closer to each other: a full press huddle. Heads nod, the jefe smiles, and everyone returns to their desk.

Because of my low income, I am told, I will be granted one year more on my FM-3 (temporary) visa, after which I must show enough income to guarantee my perpetual solvency.  He asks whether I will be able to satisfy the requirements by then?  Perhaps some income source I forgot to put down here?  Nudge nudge, wink wink… Most assuredly, I reply in my best bureaucrat-soothing tone of voice, which we both understand to mean that I will – if necessary – forge, lie, and do whatever else it takes to spend the rest of my days in Paradise. Smiles, hand shakes, and wishes for a wonderful day.

They have sent my paperwork to MexCity to be approved.  I believe that approval is pretty much automatic for one-year requests, and after almost 20 years here I am somewhat of a known quantity.  There isn’t any reason for me to worry. So why am I worried? Is it my natural – and learned – distrust of authority?

Or, like Roberto Evans, do I just resent everything that gets in the way of my happy slide into indolence and torpor?

[I call her the Queen of Radishes…]