Murphy's Law, in respect to publishing is as follows: Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong at deadline.
When we decided to move to Mexico last year, we were betting our livelihood on the expectation that with current technology we could run a desktop publishing business from anywhere, as long as there's access to high-speed Internet and electricity. We hooked up to the local cable company for the Internet access and signed up with Vonage (using a regular telephone) and Skype (using a headphone and mic on a laptop), our reasoning being that if one failed, the other should provide backup.
We already produced one antique map guide earlier this year, for the Northwest states, using the carefully cobbled-together system, and the results were better than adequate. My customers tell me I sound like I'm talking from the bottom of a well, but they can understand me. Sometimes in the middle of a Vonage call the other person begins to sound like "whaaaaat's ...the... maaaaaaaaatter....... with.......your...... phooooooooooone?" and I must sound pretty much the same because they'll often hang up in frustration. Then I put on my headphones, type the number into Skype and call them back. It was working, mas o menos, until today, two days before we wrap up this issue, when both systems began to fail. There's no mystery. The cable company, Mega-Red, is stingy with bandwidth. We may have to look into other options.
At least we started the day right. The Capt. consented to join me for a walk up to the Sundial before the 8am Cruisers' Net, so the entire morning wasn't a disaster. After all the rain we've had, there were swarms of gnats in our faces, so we had to walk briskly. If we stood in one place to snap a picture, we had to clap our hands vigorously as though applauding the scenery, which is, of course, worth the applause.
The Tetas, looking more than ever like a hitchhiker's thumb
Anna's Mamadog waits for her morning constitutional
We passed our friend Anna's beautiful house, which has been up for sale for over a year (got a spare million to spend?). A cat in a Zorro outfit (black mask, white shirt) watched us from Anna's yard.
Beyond Anna's is one last house, overlooking a long, narrow rock extending out into the bay. The Capt. suggested it was a spurt of volcanic rock from some ancient flow. A path follows its ridgeline out to the end, where a couple of norteamericanos, back in the 80s, created a giant sundial and a compass out of cement. You can stand on the current date and the sun, casting your shadow onto the dial, will tell you what time it is...Mountain Standard Time, that is. We were last there in the spring, and since then I regret to say a number of kids have taken the liberty of defacing its surface with graffiti. Our friend from the Ranchitos tells us the kids sniff the paint and then make their marks when they're high. No pithy philosophical comments, just names and such, barely readable. But they couldn't deface the view, the best 360-degree sweep of the San Carlos landscape to be found anywhere.
The Sundial and Compass, as low tech as you can get and not subject to Murphy's Law, but subject to some random graffiti since we last saw it. Que låstima.
On the way back, Anna's old Mamadog was reclining on the porch, waiting for her mistress to take her out for the daily walk. In the open field in front of our house stand a number of giant cacti that look like saguaro, but these have dozens of extra arms. Are they another variety, I wondered? The Capt thinks they're just "very successful saguaros" that have had the advantage of more water than the desert version we see on the highway going north. Quien sabe? He could be right. I'll have to Google it.
Meanwhile back to Murphy. Hello? Hello?
A very successful saguaro?
Tuesday, October 24, 2006
While we're underway, Sophie's favorite place is the V-berth, so she's camped out beneath it hoping we'll notice her and give her a boost. To the left in the foreground is the galley, to the right is the nav station. Next is the dinette and a settee, then the head to the left, the wardrobe to the right, and our berth in the bow. The tall white post is the mast, which is stepped to the keel.
Deadline looms, and I feel like the Borgs on Star Trek, a machine all but attached to my head. Sunday afternoon The Capt. pried me loose from my workstation and pulled me out of an advanced case of deadline mania. We packed up and escaped to the boat for a few hours' sailing and an overnight sleepover just around the corner from the anchorage, at Martini Cove, where the water's as clear as gin.
As always, once we hoisted the sails and started flying across the bay, I began to feel human again. Well, it felt like flying, but we were only making about five knots, which the Capt. says is the speed of a man trotting. The new boat, he added (never failing to throw in some tidbit meant to make our recent acquisition more attractive to me) has a hull speed of eight knots. The longer a boat is at the waterline, the faster it travels.
With waves between three and five feet high, we were knocked around a bit, but I reminded myself how lucky I am that I don't get seasick. Finally we came about and headed for Martini, where three Mexican powerboats were having a musical contest, each blasting its own favorite radio station in a friendly clash of sound. Here we come with our satellite radio broadcasting the Capt's favorite space/Celtic/alternative music, which was immediately drowned out. I went below, tossed together some black bean refrito-cheese-salsa fresca tacos and just as I brought them up to the cockpit, the other boats left the cove. Excellent timing, mucho gracias, senores!
Sophie and I made a quick kayak excursion to the tiny beach, where she investigated interesting smells and I collected shells. Found a new kind of cowrie I'd never seen before, studded with a regular pattern of orange bumps on the upper surface, and reminded myself I've got to Google these shells, so I can identify them.
After a cockpit shower I climbed into our comfy berth in the bow and dived into my current book, "Return of Little Big Man." Perfect escapist reading! Jack Crabb witnesses the murder of Wild Bill Hickock, joins Buffalo Bill Cody's Wild West Show and meets Sitting Bull, Queen Victoria and the Prince of Wales. The Capt. was reading the fourth sequel of Dune. When the words began to dance before my eyes I looked up at the stars through the forward hatch until I drifted off to sleep.
Looking out of Martini Cove in the early morning, everything blue and lavender and silver gray
At dawn, coffee in hand, I was on the foredeck watching pelicans and sorting out in my mind why I find them so appealing. They're so dignified! I've seen fishermen gutting their catch surrounded by a quiet circle of pelicans, waiting for a bite. They'll all go for a tidbit when it's tossed their way, but they're good-natured about it and back off when one makes the catch. Then they assume their little formation again. No screaming, no jostling for position. I love to watch them fly in formation, and skim across the water. And it's fun to watch them make their sudden cannonball dives, and kick off when they take flight from the water.
The bluffs surrounding the cove are riddled with interesting caves, some large enough to crawl into. I've been told Indian artifacts have been found in some of them.
We were anchored in 11 feet of water, but I could see the bottom clearly. In the cove the water was my favorite color of blue-green, and I spotted three tiny flourescent purple dots floating in the shadow of the boat. What were they, I wondered.
Heading back into the anchorage as rain threatened, I got a couple of shots of the beautiful, colorful homes perched on the hillside, with long stairways leading down to their own pocket-size beach.
Currently in the anchorage is the 120-foot Artic Eagle from Sitka Alaska, a fascinating two-story home-on-the-water outfitted with its own drop-down back hatch and a crane, both useful for all the conveyances aboard. There's a small powerboat, a panga-size dinghy, an inflatable raft and even a little Japanese Jeep-style car, probably a Suzuki Samurai. I tried to imagine how much gas and diesel they have to carry to power everything, not counting the boat engine itself. What adventures they must have had getting here!
Decades ago, when I worked for a San Francisco advertising agency, it was an office tradition to pass around a tray of martinis on Friday afternoon around five. A nice touch, but I think I much prefer our version of the Martini break.
Saturday, October 21, 2006
A moth as big as my hand, the size of a small bat, flew into our laundry room and landed on a beam, the closest it could come to camouflage (every other surface in the room is white). If I were asked what color it was, the short answer is "brown," but a closer look revealed a whole palette of hues, even sapphire blue. We snapped a couple of shots, hoping the strobe wouldn't disturb it, and then left it to enjoy its nap. I Googled it and found an article identifying it as a Black Witch Moth (Ascalapha odorata). Their wingspan can be as much as seven inches. Like bats, they're nocturnal and like their day-long siestas. Their favorite food is acacias. They don't bite and don't carry diseases or threaten crops. In 2004 hundreds of them were spotted in Texas and New Mexico, even in southern Canada. They migrate up from Mexico every few years and then return later in the year, looking the worse for wear, in a migration pattern scientists are at a loss to explain. Why leave Mexico, in the first place? Is it some sort of moth's rite of passage? Ours must not have made the migration yet--every feather on its wings was perfect.
Woke up this morning to the sound of loud construction equipment in our "front yard," an open space of several acres that separates us from the high-end homes on the bluff. Six-thirty a.m. on a Saturday seemed a little early for such endeavors. After coffee I walked over in the direction of the din and saw a narrow towering piece of equipment spitting out debris (wood chips?). The sight fed into all my apprehension about the coming condo projects. San Carlos is one of the new hotspots for real estate and tourism, and it's only a matter of time before this beautiful open space in front of our house is filled with hotels and apartments. With a spectacular sea view, cool breezes, all utilities already in place...the only surprise is that it's taking this long.
Our "front yard"
Alex Garland's novel 'The Beach,' is about about a group of people who find a secret beach in Thailand and start a very private community. The only shadow over their happiness is the dread that others will discover it and tourism will follow. They are willing to go to any lengths, even murder, to keep their private Shangri-La unviolated. It was made into a movie with Leonardo DiCaprio, using a beach in Indonesia for the setting. I read that the Dec. 26 tsunami wiped it out, which I guess is one way of keeping it private.
The only attitude that makes any sense to me is that of the Tibetan monks who create sand paintings, only to erase them again in a ceremony meant to remind them of the temporary nature of everything. Once a group of monks made an especially spectacular sand painting at a museum in San Francisco and somehow a woman slipped in and destroyed it herself. The monks reportedly had a good laugh.
Speaking of sand, I'm feeling a little melancholy today after spending time in The Sandbox, a collection of blogs from American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan sponsored by Slate Magazine and cartoonist Garry Trudeau (the only cartoonist ever to win a Pulitzer, in 1975).
It's not easy reading. I know so many norteamericanos of both sides of the issue who don't want to read or watch news about Iraq anymore. The young people who represent us there are aware that the war is becoming "old news," a subject no one wants to think about anymore. This knowledge leaves them feeling abandoned and rejected, much as the Americans in Viet Nam must have felt toward the end of that conflict. The difference is that during Viet Nam we felt empowered by our protests. Now we just choke down our feeling of helplessness and go on about our business.
Meanwhile these young soldiers are blogging about their daily lives and most of it is riveting, some of it brilliant. They aren't feeling sorry for themselves, which is more than could be said of me if I were in their position. I learned that in spite of the courage it takes to get through each day, the real fear of most young men is that they will find themselves in need of "help" -- the euphemism for psychiatric counseling, and when word gets out they will face reprisals from other soldiers. "When soldiers try to get help, especially when they tried to in Iraq, they were shunned, mocked, and treated like a lesser person," wrote one soldier from Texas.
Another blog describes an incident when a platoon sets aside its "knock and search" mission to offer medical attention to a village, and how the sharing of children's photos brings them together.
How to support our troops? Take a look at The Sandbox and leave a comment or two. Every blogger likes to know his/her words are reaching someone who cares.
Wednesday, October 18, 2006
The Woods and their Broken Angel
Today in the New York Times I came across a story about a house in Brooklyn that defines the word “ramshackle.” The owners, Arthur and Cynthia Wood, are “one third finished” in their project of remaking the former headquarters of the Brooklyn Trolley, now called the Broken Angel, “better than before.” But a recent fire, the lack of permits and building plans and the fact that they have somewhat...um...unorthodox building methods using found materials, aroused the disapproval of the Dept. of Buildings, which has issued a notice to vacate.
Though I’d never consider living there, I have a soft spot for New York, since my first-ever visit last year when we stayed in Greenwich Village with my sister-in-law, who has been in the same rent-controlled apartment for 40 years. We walked the Village streets every morning for a week, and some of them were a little funky, especially on trash day. But Brooklyn is said to be funkier, and a place like the Broken Angel might fit right in. Some say it represents the feisty, independent Brooklyn spirit.
What kind of reception would the Broken Angel have in Mexico, where architectural and construction methods are quite a bit more relaxed? Is the Dept. of Buildings in the right, protecting the Woods from themselves, or protecting the neighborhood from a potential high-wind hazard? The Woods aren't young (he's 75, she's 69) but they scramble around their home on shaky metal ladders, nonchalantly hang out windows with no glass. No notice was given to the one sure hazard in the house: among Cynthia's menagerie of dogs, cats and birds is a cheetah.
There are scores of ramshackle condemned buildings in the New York area, and many of them are illegally inhabited. No doubt some of these inhabitants have done covert renovations for warmth and comfort. But because most of them lack the flamboyant style of the Woods and remain below the radar, the Dept. of Buildings isn't after them with eviction notices.
At least the Broken Angel isn't a crack house, although illicit substances might have an influence. The Woods could be described as unreconstructed urban hippies in their fancy rock concert attire. She wears a beaded headdress, long slinky dress and a floppy silk shirt, while he wears what John Prine called an "illegal smile" and a jacket reminiscent of Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. He could be a ringer for Keith Richardson in a mellow mood.
We won’t examine the issue of architectural taste. After all, the job is only one-third finished, so who knows how it’ll turn out? The interior is a quirky comglomeration of stone arches and stained glass beams jutting out into nowhere, no insulation, whole floors exposed to the elements, allowing snow to fall on their heads, and...well, you just have to see for yourself. The Broken Angel story, complete with house tour sans cheetah is on You-Tube.
The reconstruction the Capt. and I have just signed up for is tugging at the edges of my consciousness. In hopes of making me feel more committed, he gave me the check to mail and informed me that I would be in charge of naming the new boat. My immediate impulse is to call it the S.V. Boondoggle, so it’s probably best that I delay the naming. But I have to admit, compared to the Broken Angel, our project looks promising. Almost sane, even. We’re (somewhat) younger, there’s no building department looking over our shoulder demanding fees and code compliance, and no snow to fall on our heads!
Who knew that when I moved to this beautiful place, I'd bring along my old workaholic pattern, like a bulky piece of unwanted luggage? In the last few days I've come to realize I've buried myself in work, to the extent I forget where I am. I lose track of time, forget to eat, and my world shrinks down to the size of my computer screen. A certain amount of concentration is necessary to meet our deadline, but this is ridiculous.
So for the past few mornings I've been putting on my trusty Tevas after my first cup of coffee and taking a walk, just to see what I've been missing. Come along with me for a little walking tour.
It's my favorite time of year: lovely cool mornings, still green from the 10-year-record rains of the summer, a breeze that delights my skin. Today I don't even wear mosquito repellant, just sunblock on my face and neck. I head for the beach, feeling a little foolish that I've gone for weeks without visiting the best place on the planet--that is, any beach in the vicinity.
A few days ago when I approached the beach I saw three white egrets and a great blue heron having breakfast along the creek that empties into the sea. The egrets took off in a huff as soon as they spotted me, but the heron, as though aware he's plenty big enough to defend himself if necessary, just stood there giving me the bent eye.
Today, I had my camera at the ready when I started toward the sand and was rewarded with several photo ops. A different pair of egrets was there, smaller but just as nervous, and they took off. But the heron actually seemed to be posing for me. "How's this profile?" he seemed to say.
On this beach are several commercial structures that were all but destroyed in a fierce storm some years back. A couple of the bigger condos are undergoing reconstruction, but the small motel in this photo is apparently a hopeless case. Now it's taking on the look of a historic ruin, lonely and a bit spooky.
Further down the beach is La Palapa, a small restaurant specializing in Greek food. I admire the courage of the owners, starting a business in this rather desolate end of the beach, but we haven't dined there yet. I wonder if they serve Spanikopita? Since the last time I passed by, a muralist named Ron Mahoney has turned the utility buildings into a work of art. Bold Greek-themed scenes against a dazzling sky-blue background. Makes me itch to paint a wall myself.
From almost any spot in San Carlos you can see the Cerro Tetakawi, a pair of rock peaks someone thought looked like tits of a goat. I always see a hitchhiker's thumb sticking straight up, as though to say "Beam me up, Scottie." They're the town trademark, appearing in advertising logos and murals everywhere you go. The more adventurous climb to the top. Quite a challenge. Those who aspire to make the climb are warned to watch out for snakes and scorpions. No, gracias!
On the way home I took a side trip down Oyster Street to Evie's Restaurant, where we always buy our coffee beans...French Roast, entero, por favor. Martin, the manager, roasts the beans himself; in fact last night we noticed the smell of roasting coffee beans coming through the kitchen window. Martin is such a gentleman, he always says hello and warmly shakes my hand, "Como estas?" while his wife Angelica measures out my beans. I have to avert my eyes from the display case at my elbow, where yummy little pecan and apple pies are calling my name.
Upstairs over Evie's coffeehouse is their restaurant, and when I peep in I see yet another new mural, a lovely Mexican village scene with an iguana in the foreground. The cook and waitress stop me with a smile as I start to take a photo, and hurry over to move chairs out of the way so I can get a clear shot. "Gracis senoras," I call as I leave.
Back home, I empty my pockets of the shells I collected on the beach. Que linda! Occasionally I chide myself for my shell habit; there are rules on some beaches against walking off with them. But I try to be moderate in my selections, not too greedy, and just looking at them brings me such pleasure. The tender pink and gold and caramel brown, the intricate tweedy patterns, graceful swirls and pearly textures. Some might say, "They're only corpses of dead sea bugs, after all." Like the pelican skull the Capt. collected on the beach at Las Cocinas, which is fascinating to look at, but I wouldn't want a collection of them.
Tuesday, October 10, 2006
Little Lola, Max's new buddy
We just returned from five days in Arizona, and I was uploading photos when our friend from the Ranchitos stopped by. Max immediately trotted in to greet me, trailed by his new little pal, Lola. What a charmer! All white except for a couple of gold spots on her back, huge paws, big dark eyes. A baby Boxer, she speaks her mind with an amazingly big voice for a pup her size. She seems to dance when she moves, though she still has that nervous puppy crouch in new situations, as though a little awed at the big world. This will be a dog to be reckoned with.
Not being a retired expat like most of the norteamericanos I know here, I am in deep deadline for our publication, Cochran's Collector's Guide, a map guide to antique stores in CA, AZ, NV and UT. We go to press the end of October, and there's an immense amount of work still to be done. When I'm sitting at the computer for days on end I tend to get a little weird, so I was glad for our little getaway, even though it entailed further work: we were introducing the Guide to some stores in Tucson.
Seventeen years ago when we started this publication, we used to travel all over California with the Guide, but eventually we decided to rely more on the telephone and mail and save the cost of travel. We're rethinking that decision these days, remembering how much fun it was to explore new places, and how often people responded with friendly interest when we walked in with the book. (We also put the Guide online at cochrans.com)
I'd like to explore the states covered in our other Guide, which covers OR, WA and ID, but we haven't worked out how we'd schedule it. After all, we also want to spend at least four months of the year sailing.
So much to see, so little time...
Monday, October 02, 2006
Our Salty Dog Sophie watches us from the V-berth..."Are we there yet?"
Our boat takes two hours to travel a distance we could drive in 16 minutes, but that’s the lovely madness of sailing. We travel no faster than a running man. When we sail, it’s not about speed. A decade ago we used to race “Bliss” in San Francisco Bay, but these days we take it easy and get there when we get there.
This was a lazy weekend for the 1st Mate, with the Capt. doing the sailing and the cooking. Gourmet burgers for dinner, morning coffee, oatmeal with coconut, midmorning cappuccino... I am so spoiled).
We crossed San Carlos Bay Saturday afternoon to anchor in Bahia Chencho (which means, appropriately, “Lazy Bay”), within view of Playa Miramar, fronting a small resort suburb of Guaymas. To get to it, we made a wide turn around Isla Peruano, which, according to Gerry Cunningham’s Cruising Guide, is surrounded by dangerous rocks, some visible, some hiding just beneath the surface. I stood at the bow and peered into the water looking for obstacles as we carefully made our way around the island, which is itself only a large rock, looking like a collapsed birthday cake frosted with white bird guano and decorated with a single cactus like an off-center candle. Our depth finder showed us at 17 feet when we dropped anchor next to Punta Colorado, a point of red shale connected to the beach by a sandspit less than a hundred yards wide.
Cunningham says the local Technologico de Monterey Escuela de Ciencias Maritimas y Alimentarios (the maritime school) sometimes conducts experiments and keeps fish pens here.
Punta Colorado at sunset
Poking his head out the companionway next morning, the Capt. observed that we seemed to have transported ourselves to Bali H’ai. Veils of silvery fog hid the mountaintops and the early sun sent golden rays through the clouds. We could see San Carlos in the distance, and with binoculars I could spot the Caracol Turistica, where we live. Mystical harp music from the satellite radio provided the sound track.
After coffee, we secured Sophie in her “float coat,” I tied the kayak alongside the dinghy, climbed from one conveyance to the other, then the Capt. passed her to me. She seemed to get the idea right away and sat quietly between my knees as I paddled the short distance to the beach. The water in this part of the bay was so clear, even though we were only little more than a quarter mile from Miramar, that we could see the bottom, white sand studded with round rocks, which become more numerous as I neared the shore. When we scraped bottom, Sophie jumped off the bow by herself and made for the sand.
Click on the image to watch a brief movie of our kayaking adventure, then your Back button to return
We crossed the sandspit to the other side and found a tiny cove, even more remote and beautiful. As I usually do on these beach trips, I indulged in a little shell-collecting. My most exciting find: two conch-like shells the size of a child's fist, rough and gnarly on the outside, tender pink on the inside. Like some people I know, I remarked to the Capt. What I didn’t find was a lot of trash...a few bits of broken plastic and an abandoned crab trap (a large basket with ropes attached).
To get Sophie back into the kayak, I just pointed at the boat and mentioned that the Capt. was waiting for us. She jumped on the stern behind me, but I settled her in front so I could keep an eye on her.
I spent the rest of the morning trying to learn to snorkel. The part I couldn't handle was putting my face in the water and attempting to breathe through my mouth. I reminded myself that little kids can do it. The Skipper, in an industrious mood, scraped the hull and pulled some barnacles off the prop.
When it was time to go home, he decided he wanted to try to “sail off the hook”: put up the main, haul up the anchor and sail out of the cove without turning on the diesel. Cunningham’s dire warnings about hidden rocks resounded in my head as I took the helm, muttering to myself “This is a really bad idea.” But the winds were in our favor and we moved slowly and majestically out of the little cove and into the bay without incident.
About a half-mile out, the Capt. said, “What’s that swimming out there?” We spotted a series of rounded gray humps, just as they made a synchronized leap, like a pod of dolphins. I realized they were seals when they raised their heads out of the water to watch us. As they passed, one raised a flipper in a jaunty salute.
Altogether, a perfect day on the bay.
The entrance to the anchorage at San Carlos is marked by a rock that looks like a Mohawk Indian in profile