Dec 28, 2010

Navidad 2010 ...Old traditions and New

About the time I spent my first Christmas with Susan and her young kids, I was introduced to Frank Capra’s movie “It’s A Wonderful Life”. Susan recalls phoning me at my studio downtown and urging me to come home to watch it on TV. From that day on, the Yuletide has included a viewing of “Wonderful Life”. Interestingly I was not alone in discovering the old b&w film around then.
When the film was made in 1946, it received mixed reviews and did not even return its budget at the box office. While it did get 5 Oscar nominations, it was shut out by the year’s big winner, another sentimental classic, “The Best Years of our Lives”
That his film had this renaissance came as a welcome surprise to Frank Capra and others involved with it. "It's the damnedest thing I've ever seen," Capra told the Wall Street Journal in 1984. "The film has a life of its own now and I can look at it like I had nothing to do with it. I'm like a parent whose kid grows up to be president. I'm proud… but it's the kid who did the work.
Anyway in our house, “Wonderful Life” became our annual staple. For several years it played numerous times leading up to Dec. 25, so much so that Michael memorized the bulk of the dialogue. Our Mike, who has earned degrees in theater and voice teaching does a great Jimmy Stewart and the other characters too.
Right on schedule, “Wonderful Life” showed up on the Dec 24 TV menu. For a while, as baby Amelia was going to sleep, we played it with the sound down, and Mike did the voice-overs.

Overnight, Santa found his way to our little grass shack and filled all our stockings. Every good little girl and not so little person got little toys and candies. Mike & ReBecca got a taste of Mexico via pineapple lollipops that come with spicy chili powder (!); Susan got a nice selection of diabetic sweets and cookies (our local Chedruai was well stocked in these.) I missed getting the traditional Terry’s chocolate orange but filled my belly with many other sweets during morning coffee (only at Xmas.) I was lucky enough to get my annual year-end magazine -- this year Susan found an English language GQ with “Men of the Year”.

Pippin was recruited to be an elf but did not look too thrilled about that.

It is never too early to start with media awareness, don’t you think? Amelia first enjoys some quality video with her mom.

A little later, she goes through the magazine with her dad. “Yes, that is Stephen Colbert, one of GQ’s Men of the Year. Can you say ‘truthiness?’...Yes, I know they should be called Persons of the Year, and they will be when you grow up.”

We (Susan) cooked an 18lb turkey with all the trimmings. It was so nice to sit down with the start of our third generation. This picture was taken just before we sat down and popped our xmas crackers and put on our funny hats. Months ago when we were still up north, Susan made our Xmas plum pudding. Then a couple of days ago, we sought out some real New Zealand butter and she prepared the hard sauce. Even though we were predictably stuffed, the hot pudding was brought flaming to the table to be topped with the brandy-soaket hard sauce. (Hmnn, booze...It’s only once a year!)
Living with a toddler’s energy is certainly part of the “new”. We had dinner around 5 and then after we ate and did a basic clean up it was quiet time again. Normally we would be playing some boisterous board games -- well, maybe next time. On the other hand, we grandparents are getting older every year, and early quiet times and bed times are more and more welcome.

Dec 24, 2010

And a child came from the north...

And we unwrapped her swaddling (Toronto) clothes and place her in shorts and a t-shirt.

We have one grandchild and she is visiting with her mom & dad for Christmas. What a lovely focus to all our attention.

At just 1+ year, she gives real meaning to the word toddler as she is walking around like a drunken sailor ( her dad’s words), and so her movements are shadowed by an adult at all times.

As a perfect little girl, she is quite gentle and understands the words “pat, pat” as in don’t grab the xmas tree or the dog.

She has been to the beach several times and just loves the feeling of the sand between her toes and running through her fingers. Watching her delight in these discoveries is wonderful.

Perhaps I am biased but I believe Amelia is overflowing in charm and is totally irresistable.

Tomorrow will be xmas morning and we are preparing stockings for everyone. Of course there will be more pictures to record the event, and the images will be there to remind her of that first xmas in Mexico when she is older and able to process and store her memories. I guess that is what photos are for.
I know I can’t remember events when I was very young and then only the ones that have a black and white photo to go along with it.

Dec 13, 2010

24 and counting...

Susan & I just celebrated our 24th anniversary of the day of our wonderful wedding. We were able to share it with our friends Ken & Shirley who were visiting us from our old home town of North Vancouver. The afternoon was warm and calm and so we headed into the town of Playa for a stroll along 5th Avenue and a sunset walk on the wide white beach. As we strolled along, we happened onto a wedding that had just taken place in front of a beach-side hotel. The young couple was now enjoying their reception in the adjacent restaurant. Ken suggested that Susan & I introduce ourselves and give them our good wishes and share our good fortune for that portentous date, Dec 6. Rather than bother them we stepped over to the little wedding arbour that was still on the sand and added our good vibes vicariously.

As an anniversary treat, Ken & Shirley took us to dinner at one of the neatest restaurants any of us had ever been to. It is set underground in a cenote.
For those who may not know, cenotes form the water drainage system through much of the Yucatan penninsula. There are no surface rivers anywhere in this large area, as it the land is made up of porous rock, mostly limestone. Over the centuries, the rainwater seeping into the rock formed cavities and underground waterways that created cisterns of water for this population and underground drainage to the sea.
A cenote can range from a little sinkhole that might swallow up a fridge or a WV to vast caverns. Several cenotes in this area have been developed into commercial swimming pools, with some of the larger ones including snorkeling and even scuba diving.

The Alux Restaurant is mainly a series of dry caves that form a scattered collection of imaginatively decorated rooms connected by passwageways, all artfully lit with coloured lights. Stalactites and stalagmites abound.
We were seated near a grotto with a small small waterfall that added even more atmosphere.
The service and the meal were superb. Ken and Shirley, who have traveled a lot and have frequented many fine dining places were impressed.

Our waiter, Vicente, created our finale, a flaming fruit dessert.
Muchas gracias to Ken & Shirley for this memorable night.

Dec 12, 2010

Being a Tourist!

I’m sure we have all heard and most of us have said, that when we travel, we like to mix with the real people, the locals, the natives. That we don’t want to go just where the tourists go. That we don’t want to do just what the tourists do.
I betcha it is even more said/heard among RVers, because we are more likely to be adventurers and independent.
I know I have said to many people how much I like to visit the smaller towns and move among the locals and that this or that place was “too touristy”
When we go to places such as historic sites or buildings, Susan and I tend to stay clear of tour groups and guides. We have gone many places and wandered around, largely in some ignorance of the place’s history, pretending, at some level, that we were discovering the place for ourselves.
My excuse is that I would likely soon forget much of the information a guide might dispense. Furthermore, I do like to wander around, unscheduled, gathering my own impressions, and even speculating in the dark.

As this is our 10th year of spending some or most of the winter down here in Mexico, I have come to think of ourselves as “not tourists”. While we still travel on the FMM (tourist) visas, we are in Mexico for most of six months a year. We have invested in our palapa which is an asset we are committed to, and hopefully will enjoy for years to come.
I savour the difference between us and those visitors who come here to Mexico for a week or two. When we are out and about and we happen to be talking to these shorter term visitors, I sometimes mention that we spend our whole winters here, and that we drive down and back. It is a way to inviting them to join us, or at least consider retiring to beautiful Mexico.

So it was with some excitement and mixed feelings that we signed on last week to do a very touristy thing, a “Swim with the Dolphins”
Dolphins are renowned as one of the sweetest, most intelligent life forms on this earth. Being able to interact with them in the wild is rare. (Some years ago, Susan, who is almost a fish herself, was swimming a little off shore on a beach in Maui. As usual, I had a short dip and had retreated to dry land with a book. When I glanced up, I saw a bunch of black fins cutting through the water right towards Susan. In some alarm, ran into the water. They didn’t seem like large fins, and in fact were a pod of dolphins which gracefully swam close to her. They circled around and checked her out and then swam away. Lovely for Susan!)

Swimming with the Dolphins is quite an operation in tropical zones. Here in the Mayan Riviera, there are several places that feature this activity. Just a few kms down the highway, is a fairly big development, Puerto Aventuras (Hotels, Marina, restaurants, etc.) that has a well established program, called Dolphin Discovery. We have gone there several times to walk around, and watch the dolphin shows which run almost every hour. The people are obviously having fun and the dolphins too, seem to to be enjoying themselves. There are about 6 dolphin pools spread around, each one with one or two pair of dolphins. There are trainers who each work with a pair, and at peak times, two trainers each with two dolphins, will be working in the same large water pool, each with a group of people doing different exercises with them. I have watched them closely many times and am continually amazed at how well the dolphins know what to do and where to swim to in the pool to do it. They never seem to get lost or mixed up with the other dolphins, the other trainers, or the other group of people. The trainers use a little whistle and small hand gestures to instruct the dolphins and the dolphins are rewarded with some tasty fish.
We had friends, Ken and Shirley visiting from Vancouver BC, who wanted to give this a go. As a treat, they persuaded us to join them. And what a treat it was. We made some inquiries and picked a day and a time that was not busy. Perhaps ‘cause it was early in the season, it turned out we were the only four people going out that day for the mid day (12:30) slot, so we were a small group to ourselves. We signed up for the Royal swim, which gave us all the full range of exercises to enjoy. Our trainer, Ramon, was energetic and entertaining throughout.
Here is a rundown on some of the things we did.

First we touched their smooth skin as they slowly swam past upright, and then on their backs, closely examining their parts. Our dolphins were two males, Roman and Merlin
We were shown how to handle them without covering their blowholes or eyes.

We each got to swim out a bit and hold one in our arms for a moment.

As this was all being photographed by a staff photographer, every photo-op was covered, especially the kiss, both on the cheek and on the lips. My kissing dolphin, Merlin, had a real thing for me and we lip planted several times. The trainer thought he liked my beard!

We each did handshakes (fin-shakes), held a bar for a jump over, and were spun around in a circle like a clock.

The two show-stopper drills are the fin ride and the foot push.
In the fin ride, we swam out quite a way, holding still in the water in the shape of a “T”, the two dolphins would come up from behind, right under our hands, then cupping firmly over their dorsal fins, we were pulled along picking up speed back to the starting spot where they slid away, leaving us laughing and gasping .

The capper was the “foot push”. Again we were sent to a far spot in the pool, this time lying on our stomachs in the water with our toes down and our arms in front. The two dolphins came up from behind, each placing a nose in the middle of a foot, and driving us forward picking up speed, lifted us up and half out of the water and drove us back to the starting spot where once again, they released us and we settled gently into the water. This was done with total accuracy of position and coordination between the two dolphins, the water, and the funny pink human, screaming for joy on the surface. I had seen it done many times and it sometimes brought tears to my eyes. Experiencing it in the pool was a peak experience that I’ll remember forever.

The session ended with some clapping and splashing, a demonstration of their amazing speed and then coordinated jumps through the air. They even waved goodbye as we left the pool.

At some level,I feared that we were exploiting the dolphins in captivity, away from the wild. But it seems that they are being treated and handled well, fed well, and especially engaged in challenging exercises that utilize their impressive intelligence. They are beautiful graceful animals, and if they can sense our emotions, they are experiencing a lot of our respect and affection and awe.