Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mexican Termites Are Killers - A Cautionary Tale for Those Wishing To retire In Mexico.

We have all heard in the news that colonies, even gangs of Termites are causing terrible damage to property in Mexico and this is making the government worried that expatriates will think twice about settling in this beautiful country. The US government, also caught in the grip of a termite induced property recession are warning citizens to stay away.

Fully armed termites


As a long time semi-resident of Mazatlán we have had first hand experience of being caught in the crossfire of two opposing termite factions - The Subterranean Faction and The Ground faction (commonly known as the SUBFAs and the GROFAs). We had been free of the gangs in the past but in the struggle for territory they have overflowed (some even flying) from next door and have taken up the fight in our garden and even brazenly moving into our home devouring any cellulose they can get their tiny teeth into and that includes books and treasured old magazines and newspapers. Our beams took a hit but we managed to curtail expansion using a powerful formulation from Home Depot. The outdoor faction have indiscriminately taken down any wood they have managed to find in their path and that battle is ongoing using extreme measures and savage weapons of all kinds from chemicals to bludgeoning with sticks.


This is our house in July 2011 (unfinished but looking OK)....................




and this was our house when we go back from a couple of months away virtually destroyed after the warring termite gangs had been caught up in a territorial dispute.


Two Months Away Termite Damage


And below is a security camera shot of the destruction after only one week of in-fighting.

One Week Away Termite Damage

So be warned any person who is considering moving to Mexico on their retirement. Don't leave for a vacation without employing a fully armed security guard armed to the teeth with a ready-to-use formulation of imidacloprid  to watch over your lovely retirement home. 

postscript:

We have heard tales of whole groups of retirees living in those moving homes thingies leave as one after termites have sunk their teeth into a piece of wood owned by a next door neighbour. So we ask on-the-move retirees not to panic unduly when a solitary termite attacks your neighbour. 

How To Discourage Termites In Your Mexican House - Buy A Kindle.



I love books and have many in my Mazatlán house and would have had more if the termites hadn't eaten dozens in my absence.






Owning a Kindle is going to make Cicero's famous quote redundant so I am going to sell/burn my library and place a Kindle (already ordered) on the bookshelf. A Kindle with a gazillion titles on/in it.

That'll do the trick and impress my guests with the fact I am sooo 'au courant' and a reader of books albeit electronic.*







* It'll also give the fucking termites one less reason to set their unwelcome feet in my house.

ps. This where your books will stored - on Amazon's own cloud.




Tuesday, November 15, 2011

British Expat Subculture and Why I Dislike It....Or A Cautionary Tale For All Expat Ghetto Dwellers




The British tourist has traditionally been considered rude, mean, poorly behaved and linguistically incompetent. Whereas the stereotype of the holiday in the UK is all red buses, telephone boxes and the London Eye, the stereotype of the UK holidaymaker abroad is a sun-reddened shirtless and overweight man translating from English to the local tongue by shouting instructions and flailing gesturing arms energetically.



Glaringly obvious then that the stereotype of the British expatriate isn’t all that favourable either. Having lived for much of their lives in the constant murkiness of British weather, the stereotypical British expatriate has been attempting to harness the power of the Mediterranean sun to power an existence as British as roast beef and just as bland. They socialise with other expatriates in bars named after famous London landmarks, shop in British supermarkets and speak Spanish less fluently than Christina Aguilera.



Spain is a traditional country for the British retiree to escape to but now that lifestyle is coming to an end by the European downturn.

As many expat retirees rely on a combination of pensions, stock and home equity to fund their retirements, it is no surprise that the crisis has seen many of them in dire straits. Unsold and unsellable Spanish homes mean that although a house may be worth money on paper, there is no  comfort to be had in a stagnant market. Likewise, the share market is slow to recover, and the former quarterly windfalls in the form of dividends have either dried up to a trickle or turned red as the international money-bleed is tipped to continue through 2011 and beyond.

British expats in Spain now live in the same kind of no-man's land that political asylum seekers and recent immigrants face in Britain. The inherently racist attitudes to outsiders in the UK (suspicion at best and outright abuse at worst) is now at work against against British expats. This hostile attitude is, in part, understandable. The vocal minority of British expats who enjoyed all of the comforts of sun and inexpensive living while moaning endlessly about local 'laziness' and the annoyances of Spanish bureaucracy have done little to invoke local sympathy in hard times.



While many expats do try to learn the language and involve themselves in their community, the slightest hint of a British Imperialist attitude is enough to turn an already proud and defensive people against expats. Now, when the ghetto-dwellers need the help and understanding of their community, it is clear that there is no community to turn to.



A stronger push on the part of expats to quietly, and humbly assimilate into Spanish life could provide a framework for future cultural understanding in times of need. The obvious truth is that a petty thief is unlikely to break into the home of a known - and well-liked neighbour - no matter what their country of origin is. Similarly, a known and well-liked neighbour will never die forgotten in a Spanish apartment. The beauty of the Spanish 'nosy neighbour' is that he or she is more likely break down your door than passively wonder where you went.

Expats who refuse to live in the now-silent ghettos know this first-hand.











Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hotel MiniBar Tales - The Fridge That Spies On you.


"May the police secretly install a Global Positioning System device on a vehicle without a probable cause warrant issued by a judge in order to track a suspect’s every move?"

As a now seasoned traveler having lived for a number of months in hotels, the fridge in the room has become an indispensable companion not only in keeping beers cold but also in drinking its contents. Some minibars charge reasonable prices as those encountered in China and other countries in Asia and others charge downright exorbitant prices as those in Europe and the USA.

Not only are the prices worrying but in Europe and the USA many minibars employ infrared technology to spy on your behaviour.



After a day tramping the streets all day doing what I do one desires a cold beer or two straight from the fridge and a snack but one is also hesitant to pay the preposterous prices for the pleasure (especially the chilled Pringles) , so I would BYOB and replace the beers therein putting them to one side and put mine in their place to chill. I would then replace the hotel beer when I depart. In effect on checking out I would receive an enormous bill and if I had removed all the alcoholic beverages to make more beer room the hotel would now have a dossier on me suggesting that I was a heavy drinker and possibly an alcoholic. Information that may be used as evidence of a dodgy character if I happened to be pulled up in front of a judge or stopped by the TSA (as I have been done but that's another story) sometime in the future.

I normally inform the front desk of my switcheroo, asking to remove any blasphemous charges that may have occurred and the clerk told me that, indeed, the fridge was spying on me, and that the hotel would confirm my story at checkout.

All the while, the Supreme Court was debating whether Americans had a “reasonable” expectation their movements would not be electronically monitored. Yet we live in a world today where we pay $300 for a hotel room that spies on your alcohol intake, where millions of people voluntarily “check in” their every movement on FourSquare and Facebook, and where we routinely give big-name and no-name mobile-phone applications the right to track us everywhere we go.

All of which means we submit to our own warrantless monitoring voluntarily and there is nothing to prevent the police or government from monitoring 24 hours a day every citizen of the United States.

And the day will soon come when at birth we are implanted with a miniature GPS chip.

And if you argue for the case that if we have nothing to hide why worry, we certainly wouldn't be inviting you to our New Years party. Well we may, just to be courteous, but you can stand in the street and we'll pass you drinks through the window.

Zeno's Arrow or How To Get Rid Of Univited Guests.



Don't you hate it when you invite friends to your house for dinner and they drag along their friends who are staying with them. People who you would never have invited under normal circumstances. People who even your friends didn't invite but just happened to be passing through Mexico and thought they would drop in and have now stayed for a month. People who you need to hire a mechanical digger to shove out the front door.  More often than not these interlopers are downright terrible company.


Their dress sense is also a dead giveaway as an uninvitable dinner guest and you would rather cross the road or dive into a doorway or dig out your false beard than speak to them on the street. We at the offices of MazReal are considered so insular we do it all the time. So if you see someone in a plastic Grouch Marx face disguise hiding in a doorway it won't be us.


f you haven't already guessed, these are examples of a dress code that for us make the wearers undesirable company. We know it is extremely shallow minded but life is really much too short.



Creased slacks and two-toned shoes just get my goat and are best kept in the confines of those 'men only' 19th holes on the golf course.


Tasseled shoes are OK when kept well out of sight under the ostrich skin desk of your cheapskate lawyer.



Slapping lederhosen is also a no no at our dinner parties. Best kept to Bavaria.


No explanation needed for these poodle-haired 'hard boys' of soft rock image above. That lot I would set my dog on.

This man below is borderline and welcome if he redeems himself and his acid green outfit by bringing along a bottle of outstanding wine and some interesting chat.



Discussing philosophy is a great way for people, if they have enough alcohol under their skin to get involved in a discussion that would allow you to quietly slip away and sit in a dark cupboard with a bottle of vodka and wait for the undesirables to bugger off.


This mind game is one that amused a whole contingent of early Greek logicians and is a paradox called Zeno's Arrow and illustrates the impossibility of motion or change.

Zeno's Arrow by Magritte ( La fleche de Zeno)


The flight of an arrow, said Zeno, is an apparent example of motion. But at any given moment of its flight, the arrow is either where it is or where it is not. If it moves where it is, it must be standing still, and if it moves to where it is not, then it can't be there; thus it can't move. In other words, at every instant of time there is no motion occurring. If everything is motionless at every instant, and time is entirely composed of instants, then motion is impossible.


There you go, try to get your head around that. There is a vast literature trying to prove or disprove or avoid Zeno's conclusion. Lay this on your uninvited guests and the mere mention of discussing philosophy and paradoxical mind games will hopefully get them reaching for their coats and telling you they have forgotten to feed the dog.



Wednesday, November 2, 2011

When A Photographer Uses The Word "Artist" Reach For Your Gun

The answer to this tedious question "Is photography art?' is yes, but almost never when it thinks it is. Most of the photographers of the 19th century who declared themselves artists are considered quaint at best and grotesque at worst. And today the pictures that have pried money out of the arts endowments look like what Fotomat used to not charge you for or what you find in your Aunt's attic.

The great photographic art has been made by people doing something else: by Eugene Atget trying to document Paris -

Eugene Atget
or August Sander trying to codify all the faces in prewar Germany -

August Sander
or Irving Penn (the greatest in my view) trying to fill the pages of Vogue -

Irving Penn

There is of course Man Ray but he was a painter

Man Ray
and Lázlo Moholy-Nagy who discovered that the more things you did wrong, the better the photograph looked. (I like that idea as it works for me sometimes. I call them serendipitous mistakes or happy accidents.) He is one of my favourite artists and photographer because in photography he used to teach his students new ways to look at the world which is the mantra of all creative people.

Moholy-Nagy

However the most famous is Stieglitz who manipulated and scratched his images to ensure the hoi polloi would know they were artists.

Stieglitz


Nowadays the photographer most like to be accepted by the hoi polloi or haute scribblers are those who are really painters like David Hockney -

Hockney polaroid collages

and those bloody awful kitschy pictures of a dogs-as-people - William Wegman who is also a painter.

Wegman

But the high priestess of high concept is Cindy Sherman who creates provocative reflections of the America Psyche using props and wigs and things and whose picture go for millions. 


But today's photographers who use computer software to elevate their normally mundane photographs to fine artworks at the touch of a key by adding artistic effects thus ensuring they appear as 'paint-by-numbers' pieces can be safely dismissed as hopelessly misguided and downright lazy. These works do not, as I mentioned before, show the viewer a different way of seeing the world and as a result they fail completely as creative artworks or even as photographs.





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