We’re calling it “Positive Poverty”

I had a conversation with Gabrielle a few weeks ago in which we discussed not trading in our retirement for paid work.  Despite the fact that we’re going to have to hunker down on exceedingly slender funds, since we’re on the other side of our mid-60’s we agreed that the freedom to spend our remaining days as we see fit is worth what we both know is going to be a tremendous struggle.  We decided to call it “Positive Poverty.”

Despite its roots in history, this is a decidedly First World concept. You see, for us it’s a conscious choice.  We are well aware that for billions on the globe, it is no choice at all.

As a child of the world’s most fully realized vision of a Consumer Nation, I find it faintly absurd that I’m about to embark on a chapter of my life in which, at last, I’ll need to resist temptation. Frankly I’ve never been very good at it, and if “past experience is the best predictor of future action”, I’m really not sure I can change.

Of course, intellectually I can find a lot of reasons.

smoke stack industryReducing my carbon footprint makes me feel the most virtuous, like Tom Waits must feel in this picture.

Tom WaitsBut, this is a new virtue for me, and as such I suspect it’s really just skin-deep.  God knows, I’ve bought my allotment of stuff in the past.

See, there's even a magazine for it.

See, there’s even a magazine.

O.K., so I’m a veteran thrift store shopper.  But in the past that was just a simple aversion to paying retail. Perfect example:

New jeans $25.00 and up, up, up.

New jeans: $25.00 for the cheapies. $75.00 for the labels, then up, up, up!

Old jeans worn and faded, just the way I like 'em. $3.00.

Old jeans, worn and faded just the way I like them. $3.00 at Goodwill.

But that’s just a financial decision, rather than a spiritual commitment to stop consuming for the sake of some vague idea of freedom which frankly, I haven’t done much with before. I’ve been out of work for a little more than a year and trust me – no novel took shape, no painting appeared, no poetry wrote itself. In fact, I’ve spent that year being singularly unproductive.

I watched a lot of T.V.

I watched a lot of T.V.

So, why not find a job in the States?

I suspect this blog is going to become a place where I explore an answer to that question. I mean, what’s positive about poverty?

If you already have one for yourself, I’d love to hear it.















Film review: “Adam’s Apples”

You must have a dry, dark, nearly mad corner in your brain to enjoy a film like “Adam’s Apples”, a 2005 pitch-black comedy from Danish director Anders Thomas Jensen. Starring Mads Mikkelson as Ivan, an impossibly optimistic preacher, and Ulrich Thomsen as Adam, the unrepentant neo-Nazi sentenced to community service at Ivan’s rural church where he will join Gunner (Nicholas Bro), a fat kleptomaniac sex-offender, and Khalid, a Saudi sentenced for robbery (Ali Kazeem) who, we are later informed, has a political conscience because he only robs gas stations owned by the corporation that plundered his country.

Adams ApplesAt the beginning of the film Ivan cheerfully tells Adam that Gunner and Khalid have completely reformed and that, with a goal, Adam too has a chance to transform his life. Ivan isn’t particular, and when Adam sarcastically spits out that he’d like to bake an apple pie, Ivan puts him in charge of the church’s much-beloved apple tree which he must tend for several weeks before harvest.

Jensen is not above using the apple tree in the biblical sense and when it is first assailed by crows, then infested with worms, and finally struck down by lightning we can rummage around our brains to tease out whether the fruit of knowledge has a dead man’s switch built in? Ivan makes no such judgements but informs Adam that the trials of the tree are Satan’s work at testing Adam’s goal.

It’s the rare film that can make a brutish neo-nazi a sympathetic character, yet we are forced to look through Adam’s eyes when he clearly sees that neither Gunner nor Khalid are remotely reformed, the first drinking himself into a daily stupor in the church kitchen when not stealing everything that’s not nailed down and the second with a ski mask and a wad of $17,000 in cash in his room after nightly forays to neighboring gas stations. Already disgusted with Ivan’s absurd goodness, (Adam breaks his nose within the first five minutes of meeting him while a few minutes later Ivan pops into his room with a cheerful, oblivious message about lunch), Adam makes it his mission in life to destroy Ivan’s contention that everything is working out splendidly.

Here the film descends into an absurd battle between faith and reason where we are never quite sure which side Jensen is on. Through a series of unlikely events spiked with episodic violence that is treated as matter of factly as the surreal bible in Adam’s room that, shaken by the morning bells, always falls off his dresser open to Job, we are led to an allegiance with either Ivan, who introduces his vacant and paralyzed 9 y.0. son as a math genius and active athlete and counsels a woman to have the child she has been told has a 60% chance of retardation because his son turned out so well, so that we are able to understand there is something radically wrong with this man, or to Adam who is determined to wipe that beatific smile off Ivan’s face so he will be forced to see the same bleak, brutish, unreasoning world that constitutes his own existence.

It’s a tribute to “Adam’s Apples” that we change allegiance countless times as the primeval battle between good and evil unfolds.

“Adam’s Apples” is not for everyone. There is a kind of dry, cracked, sardonic humor in Danish films that is more bleak than most, perhaps because of their long winter, and few American critics have given this movie the unreserved thumbs up I’m willing to proffer. But if you’re open to a wild romp of a film that challenges you to think while you’re laughing, you could do worse than spend 94 minutes with this brilliant cast.

Mads Mikkelsen Adams Apples

Mads Mikkelsen, Ivan

Ulrich Thomas Senson

Ullrich Thomsen, Adam

Ali Karim, Khalid and Andres Bro as Gunnar

Ali Kazeem as Khalid with Nicolos Bro as Gunnar.

scean Adam's Apples

Ivan and Adam with a solution for the apple tree

Wildly popular in Denmark and offered as their film for the 2006 Oscars, it has won 19 awardsacross a slew of European and South American festivals, and was nominated for another 13.

If you decide to watch it, I would absolutely love to hear what you think!

Currently on Amerian NetFlix.

My propane war

My propane woes continue …

propane tank


I purchased my third canister of propane in a one week period this morning.  The first was last Wednesday from Noel Gas, but it was empty in three days. Leak!

Thus far four people have tried to diagnose the problem.  The second canister came from the delightful Arturo from Soni Gas on Friday. He checked and rechecked the disappearing gas and decided that I needed a new regulator.  That was $11.50 for the part and $13.00 for his time. Cheap, if that fixed the problem, because at $30.00 a pop per cylinder, we’re only at a total of $84.00.

But, noooooo.

Soni Gas’ cylinder too went into the wind.  Empty three days later. Yesterday.  Arturo is handsome, but he didn’t fix the leak.

This morning the father of the family across the street came to sniff and test anything visible. First he took the stove apart and pronounced it as’ not the problem’.  Then he tested all the lines by pouring soapy water on connections and cords. This is the standard method to detect leaks.

leak in propane lineHe, like Arturo the Handsome, was looking for air bubbles.

But, there are none.

Without air bubbles, el padre thought disconnecting one piece and capping the extraneous line might be the problem. The cap cost $2.00 and I gave him $8.00 for his time.  With a lot of muchas gracias.  And now I’m at $94.00 for two tanks of gas, parts and tips.

But, el padre thought we were on the good foot at last.

That’s when I ordered the third tank.  I asked my neighbors which gas company they used? Express Gas Nieto – and they delivered in 10 minutes after the neighbors called.  How I was looking forward to a hot shower.

But, noooooo.

The Nieto hombre installed the new cylinder of propane and began to re-check the connections. Forget the cup of soapy water, he used a  bucket.  Finding no bubbles, he tried to re-light the water heater.  Oops. Nada. He pointed towards a metal tube going up (somewhere) to the roof. Then he scaled the building.  When he was on the roof with his soapy bucket he told us that he smelled gas on the roof but couldn’t determine where it was coming from.

Ut oh.

Ut oh.

[The tube enters the house at some point and travels somehow to get to the stove.]

If the leak is in an exterior fitting, it’s the gas company’s responsibility.  If the leak is in the interior of the building (behind a wall, running underneath the floor, wherever) it’s the landlord’s responsibility. I know this because when Niet0 Gas guy No. 1 left he told me he would send out a Nieto Gas Expert.  Then I called the landlady.

Nieto Gas Expert came within half an hour.  He re-soaped all the connections, scaled the building, and called for a hammer when he was on the roof. Fifteen year old Alex translated something along these lines: “There’s a pipe/tube that runs a foot or two and then goes under the concrete.  The pipe/tube has a hole in it the size of a nail head and there are other smaller holes.  The pipe/tube is very old.  He could replace it for $25.00 (materials and labor) but he’d have to tear up some concrete to do it.”

Rut roh.

That would be an interior job.

Enter Emilio, the landlord’s maintenance man.  Though he’s a little old and rotund to be scaling the roof, he makes it.  He sees, hears or smells the holes in the pipe and, proving that everyone has their own solution, retrieves a hand-held, gas powered welding machine from his truck. I hear 30 minutes of hammering, banging and tapping. I don’t hear any concrete being ripped up, which begs the question of additional holes in what Nieto Gas Expert termed “a very old pipe” beneath the concrete.  But, there is only Emilio standing between me and a hot shower, so I must trust that if he wants to weld the holes he can see shut, that will do the trick.

Exit Emilio.  Despite the fact that there was a mini-explosion when he re-lit the water heater, I now have gas.


You probably have much bigger problems than going without a hot meal or shower for a couple of days.  It’s been raining this afternoon and there are people in San Miguel without shelter.  But, life is nothing if not quotidian, so I offer you the story of five Mexican men and one Mexican teen ager who cheerfully tried to help.

Let us hope I have gas in three days.

Now, as your reward, here is a picture of Hungry Cat:

dinner cat












Talking propane in San Miguel

Nearly all homes are powered by propane in San Miguel.  Homeowners have huge gas tanks on the roof while casitas and apartments order by the cylinder.

propane tank


You’ll notice that these tanks have no gauges, so the only way you can tell if you’re getting a full tank is by tipping it back and forth to guesstimate the weight. I’ve never felt adequate at this – is it 3/4 full or full-full? – and at roughly $30 USD per tank it can get critical on a slender budget. My best guess at what I’m getting has been how long a tank lasts. On average, about a month.

So when I ordered a tank last week to discover it was empty within 4 days, I thought I’d gone all wrong, or the gas company had truly cheated me.

These are the kind of situations in Mexico that get me depressed because without a good grip on the language one has no recourse. Facing my next expenditure of $30 how, I wonder, can I explain to the gas person that I haven’t used any more gas than usual, but I’m now empty?

Here’s where I apologize to Soni Gas.

When I moved in last October I used Soni Gas for my first delivery. I can’t smell.  Some friends came by who could smell and warned me that I had a gas leak.  Using Noel, another gas company, I discovered that the delivery guy with Soni hadn’t hooked the tank up correctly. I made a big stink about it and was chastised for dissing a company without giving them the chance to fix it. But I didn’t have the language to explain the problem so I just switched companies.

But Saturday I had an empty tank from Noel who have been delivering regularly. Had the same guy who’s been here month after month slowly reduced the tank’s capacity while pocketing the difference (plus tip) I gave him? Without gauges it’s easy to do.  And San Miguel is full of stories of how it’s done.

What to do?

I decided to give Soni Gas another chance.

Enter the young Arturo who wasn’t in a hurry to hook-up the tank and run. In fact, because friends had been by on Friday and smelled gas again I handed Arturo a cup full of soapy water and asked him to check for leaks.  [Could an entire tank have leaked out over the course of 4 days? Was I impugning Noel for something that wasn’t their fault? Arrrrrgh!]

It turns out that my recent $30 expenditure had leaked out.

propane valveAnd Arturo found the reason why.  Between the two tanks is a piece of equipment called a regulador para dos tankes de gas. Young Arturo heard a sound and beckoned me to listen. Sure enough, the ancient regulador had sprung a tiny hole.  Without a replacement my second $30 dollars in a week would leak out again and, as Arturo informed me, it was peligroso. Dangerous, yes, and no gas to cook on or hot showers until I have it replaced.



Deep breath.

O.K., so how much is a new regulador?  $120 Pesos mas o menos. (About $10 bucks.)


Arturo sez if that I go buy it he can come back later and change it out.

happy cartoon

Good. Because I have NO IDEA how to do it myself.

I say, in mangled Spanish, is it possible I can give you the money and you can buy it and come back later to change it?

Arturo sez, “No problema.  Yo regresso in un hora.”

Happy dance!

Happy dance! 

So now I wait for Arturo’s return so he can fix it and I can kiss his feet.

The Moral of the Story

Can you imagine a supplier in the U.S. patiently diagnosing your problem and cheerfully volunteering to run an errand for you so they can fix it?


Yet, with patience, you can find a wonderfully gentle soul in Mexico who will take your problem on as his/her own. Sure I made the appeal to Arturo that I’m an elderly woman living alone with no sons to help me, but Arturo didn’t require much convincing.

Again I realize: the vast majority of Mexicans in San Miguel de Allende are so damn nice – and friggin’ cheerful while they’re at it! – that along with the near perfect climate they will be the single most important thing that I’ll miss when I leave in another few weeks.

If YOU don’t have the health and financial problems that I have and are considering Mexico as a retirement option, THIS is what they mean when they say “It’s a different way of life.”

No snarling clerks, genuine smiles on the street, shy children who can be coaxed to smile with a game of peek-a-boo over the seat on the bus and, once discovered, service providers who, with a relatively generous tip and true appreciation, will go out of their way to be of help.


Now, if Arturo pockets my money and doesn’t show up to replace the equipment I’ll be writing an addendum.  But, based on my experience of a year in San Miguel,



I have hope.

No small thing in today’s world.

Viva Mexico!


So, I gave Soni Gas another chance.  I have no animus towards Noel Gas. They delivered on time at a fair price, but their guy didn’t figure out the problem. This is how we roll in San Miguel as we search for the best service for our specific circumstances.

Good luck on your search.  Unlike the U.S. where we can spend hundreds just to diagnose the problem, here there is a chance to fix it without pledging your first-born.

Yep, it is a “different world.”


The way, way back

No, not the recently released film but thoughts about leaving San Miguel.

On June 29 I returned to Hospital General with lab results. The lovely GP spoke directly to my bi-lingual friend Julie. In rapid-fire Spanish.



gun to head

So … I sort and pack for my return to the U.S., medicare, and a doctor I can understand.

And, in many ways, America calls to me.

looney bin


From non-stop cable news coverage of the Zimmerman trial to mercenaries in the North Woods of Wisconsin

mercs in Wisconsin

Protecting GTact Mining against fishing, hiking, hunters, and …. potential “eco-terrorists”

to the NSA, GMO, tanking economy, governors imposing ultrasound probes, Europeans taking “Ghetto Tours” in the Bronx, TBTF, the bankers’ attack on credit unions, kabuki style political parties, and the fires and floods of climate change, from here it looks like I’m going back to


In comparison, San Miguel de Allende’s relative tranquility and unrivaled climate now just make me wish

I was rich

I was rich

It’s a hellofa place to vacation!

Blue-door-San-Miguel-de-Allende-Mexico-And what of this word back in the U.S.?

retirement out of focusThat’s right.  It’s out of focus.