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  • This pandemic of fear

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: Fear is one of the principal threads running through the story of the coronavirus pandemic, and so is the reluctance of many of us to articulate and deal with our fears. ...

    A friend in San Miguel recently complained, and I sympathized, that pandemic fears have contaminated all aspects of her daily life. Going shopping for groceries used to be an innocent pastime, an occasion for friends to exchange hi-how-are-you's and idle gossip by the coffee bar. Now "going to the Mega" involves a gauntlet of face masks, spritzes of hand sanitizer and waving at acquaintances from a safe distance. Those feeling most vulnerable, and afraid, just have groceries delivered and never leave home.

    Some try to hide their fears with bravado, with pretend-indifference to the general alarm, though they still make sure to take their N-95 masks, purchased months ago, when they venture outside their home. Just in case. ...

    Continue reading Al at Life at Rancho Santa Clara: This pandemic of fear. More #RanchoSantaClara.

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  • Adjusting to the new abnormal

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: We've been in shutdown mode for almost two months, and recently I was reminded of how this weird situation might be getting to me: I couldn't remember which day of the week it was.

    Being confined at home, except for a few outings to the grocery store and a restaurant once a week, hasn't been terribly hard for Stew and I. We haven't lapsed into fits of anger—we haven't tried to kill each other—or suffered bouts of insomnia or ongoing depression, as some friends report.

    Yet the humdrum-ness of this new routine is becoming onerous. We're surviving alright but feel as if someone has put our lives on "pause" indefinitely, leaving us unable to make plans beyond what are we going to eat tonight. Our lives seem truncated. ...

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  • Covid-19 forecast for San Miguel: Hopeful but with a chance of storms still ahead

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: This year, the vernal equinox, the official beginning of spring, fell on March 19. And by an odd coincidence, on the same day the mayor of San Miguel announced a sweeping lockdown of the municipality, to go into effect the next day, that banned most public activities indefinitely, in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

    And if the latest numbers are accurate—a big if—the city's proactive and strong response may have effectively stopped or slowed down the spread of the contagion. As of yesterday, only nine cases had been reported in San Miguel, and everyone recovered.

    I don't know if such auspicious numbers will hold, but for the moment feel relieved, as if the end of siege by an enemy we can't see or hear, but can kill us anyway, may be in sight. ...

    Continue reading Al at Life at Rancho Santa Clara: Covid-19 forecast for San Miguel: Hopeful but with a chance of storms still ahead. More #RanchoSantaClara.

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  • What is this? Summer, spring, early rains or what?

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: We haven't had any significant rain here for months, and that, in addition to a heat wave for the past couple of weeks, is making me doubt my own propaganda about San Miguel having the "perfect climate."

    It's been pretty miserable indeed, temperatures up in the low 90s. Not Baton Rouge, Houston or Phoenix miserable, mind you, but uncomfortably hot nevertheless.

    The worst of the day comes in mid afternoon, when even the slightest wisp of a breeze vanishes, and the sun doubles down. A couple of days last week we took pity on Félix and sent him home early. I told him he was looking darker than normal, más moreno que nunca, and about to faint.

    Around San Miguel there are vast farm fields, on which you can spot distant silhouettes of men, women, and I suspect, even some children, hunched over in the blazing sun, picking broccoli, garlic or whatever. Don't know how they can stand it.

    Yesterday morning, however, as if someone had flipped the channel on the TV ...

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  • The quarantine is depressing the hell out of me

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: Not the most felicitous or inviting headline, I'll grant you, but that's how I'm feeling right now.

    Since this self-quarantine—house arrest, social distancing, or whatever you want to call it—began, when? 21 days ago?, I've tried really hard to convince myself that our situation here at a small ranch in Mexico could be worse.

    Yea, much worse, I keep repeating to myself. Still, I'm running out of positive thoughts. ...

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  • Uneven compliance with coronavirus preventive measures may be a bad omen for San Miguel

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: Despite stringent, almost draconian, directives by the municipality, for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, substantial sectors of the population seem to be carrying on business as usual. More worrisome still is that those seemingly oblivious to the lockdown are poorer sectors of the populace most likely to be affected by the epidemic if, or when, it reveals its full lethal face to us in San Miguel.

    During an early morning visit to town yesterday, mostly to get groceries, the different responses were noticeable.

    At the Don Pedro hardware store, where we stopped for about five minutes to fetch a PVC connector, our hands were doused with sanitizing gel when we came in, all the employees wore face masks and the cashiers constantly sprayed and wiped the counters and even the register keyboards. The place seemed to be rehearsing for "Coronavirus: Armageddon."

    It was the opposite scene at the fruit market down the road, next to a butcher shop. The place was quite mobbed by customers and suppliers unloading crates of fruit and produce, but except for a young cashier, and Stew, no one wore masks, gloves or any other precautions. Instead, this was a carefree scene from "Pandemic: What Pandemic?" ...

    Continue reading Al at Life at Rancho Santa Clara: Uneven compliance with coronavirus preventive measures may be a bad omen for San Miguel. More #RanchoSantaClara.

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  • Music meets memories during the quarantine

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: Judging by the increase in Facebook postings, most pretty lame, and in the number of newspaper advice articles on how to cope with "self-isolation," the coronavirus prevention campaigns may be driving people batty.

    Folks complain of insomnia; being unable to focus and grieving; excessive drinking leading to domestic violence. Some couples are even talking about marital problems. Other people fear a slide from boredom, to anxiety, to outright depression.

    None of these symptoms are caused by an existential ennui of the kind you can thrash out with a fellow penseur at a Paris sidewalk cafe. We are talking about people bored out of their gourds, especially when they remember this self-isolation drill might go on for several more weeks, if not longer. ...

    Continue reading Al at Life at Rancho Santa Clara: Music meets memories during the quarantine. More #RanchoSantaClara.

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  • Of plans, mice, men and pandemics

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: I subscribe to a weekly newsletter from the Center for Contemplation and Action, an ecumenical think-tank (or prayer-tank?) in Albuquerque, founded by Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and well-known author and celebrity in Christian circles.

    His daily messages focus on different meditation topics, many of which go zinging by six or more feet over my head. He bases his messages mostly on Christian and Roman Catholic scripture and writings, but occasionally also dips into the Buddhist dharma, or "bible".

    Last week's newsletter, though, lit a bulb in my head, probably because the daily topics focused on the coronavirus pandemic, the universal preoccupation du jour.

    Thursday's message was, in particular, simple, yet poignant: We are not in control. ...

    Continue reading Al's writing at Life at Rancho Santa Clara: Of plans, mice, men and pandemics. More #RanchoSantaClara.

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  • And now, let's pause for a moment of gratitude

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: I've been trying to write a post about the COVIS-19 virus for three or four days, only to cave in and quit, under the weight of so much bad news. And who can blame me? The last news bit I read yesterday was that Chicago, our hometown, has plans to turn its huge convention center into a field hospital to treat up to 2,500 people, and to lease refrigerated semis and a warehouse to hold the bodies of those who don't make it.

    Such grim news pile up on your mind and soul like withered fall leaves on the ground, and make the already unnatural exercise of "social distancing"—in effect, to isolate ourselves from other people—all the more onerous. Plus it makes me feel that as if the dreaded black dog, always lurking nearby, is coming closer to my door.

    So as an antidotal exercise, I've made a list, partial I'm sure, of things I ought to be grateful for. Feel free to add your own items. ...

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  • Looking for solace amid the quarantine

    Al of Rancho Santa Clara wrote: I've always thought—and I hope this doesn't sound sacrilegious—that one the principal functions of churches is not just to point the road to heaven or hell, or remind us of our moral failings. Rather, churches or religious spaces also provide us with both, a place to meet like-minded people, and also a quiet, private time to deal with our quotidian preoccupations, even daydream a bit.

    In San Miguel, where expats have to confront a foreign language, food and customs, churches provide a critical place for both companionship and reflection. Churches help us soften the jolt of adjusting to the new realities of living in a foreign country.

    Also, after the ritual Sunday hand-shaking and hi-how-are-you's, churches give us a quiet place to sit and reflect privately, except to, of course, when we are called on to rise and recite some religious text or butcher a hymn. ...

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  • San Miguel's thumping response to the Coronavirus pandemic now awaits enforcement

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Pardon my cynicism, but I half expected city officials in San Miguel de Allende to remain silent or lapse into denial with respect to the Coronavirus pandemic that has shut down much of the United States and several European countries. National and international tourism is practically the town's only business, so the city is, understandably, loath to take any action that adversely affects that.

    Instead, the city issued the following ukase—in both English and Spanish to be sure everyone got the memo—that pretty much locks down San Miguel until further notice. Dramatically, bells pealed last night at 6:30 to announce churches would remain closed except for special circumstances, which I imagine would be funerals.

    Even more stunning, the mammoth Good Friday procession has been cancelled. That event, probably the biggest in the city's religious-tourist calendar, had been cancelled by the bishop of Celaya, who has jurisdiction over San Miguel. ...

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  • Letter from Coronavirus Penitentiary

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Yesterday, or the day before, we received an email from a friend in St. Petersburg, Fla., who said public alarm in the U.S. over the coronavirus pandemic is approaching the batshit-crazy level. "I don't know what to say or do."

    Among rank-and-file Mexicans, here in normally somnolent San Miguel, not so much. There's a general awareness of the issue and the city government has closed public schools and some public venues, but folks are not closing stores, locking themselves in their homes or walking around with face masks. The Tuesday Market is open and buzzing. No problema.

    But the expat population, tuned in to reports from home, has worked itself into high-anxiety mode. On Saturday we spotted a foreigner on the street wearing a face mask and surgical gloves. Hope she didn't get run over by a bus. That would be too ironic.

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  • When the peas come rolling in

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: I suffer from a lifelong aversion to vegetables that I blame on my parents. My father was a very picky eater, and my mother couldn't, or wouldn't, cook much beyond black beans and rice, staples of the Cuban diet, to accompany a pork dish of some sort.

    Ever since setting up shop at this ranch, about 11 years ago, that aversion, almost close to a phobia, has started to abate, thanks in large part to the cultivation of good part of our own produce.

    On Monday, Félix brought in a handful of sweet peas that Stew used on Tuesday in an omelette that had the usual eggs, plus shallots, cheddar cheese, asparagus, canned red peppers—and the fresh peas, whose flavor popped above the other ingredients. Forget canned, frozen or any other manifestation of peas you may have tasted: They can't compete with these fresh peas.

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  • The coronavirus epidemic: Should we lock ourselves in our homes?

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Without even stepping outside the ranch, Stew and I have been pelted mercilessly with reports about the spread of the coronavirus, as lack of information and hysteria slowly push aside prudence and even common sense.

    The local Episcopal church has installed jugs of hand disinfectant by the doors and advised congregants to avoid any touching during the customary exchange the "sign of peace" at the end of the service. Should you just nod to the person beside you? Blow discreet air kisses to the people across the aisle? Should the priest put on gloves during communion? Wear face masks to church?

    Lest you accuse the local Episcopalians of paranoia or mass dementia, consider that back in the U.S., many churches and synagogues have adopted even more ridiculous measures, such as elbow-bumping instead of the usual handshakes. In northern Italy, one of the epicenters of the virus, churches have emptied out as the faithful watch mass on television.

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  • Here's hoping for a better honey season this year

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Mexican bees wake up promptly as the sun pokes over the horizon, but the Mexican vendor in Aguascalientes, who sells us bees and other supplies for making honey, is not much of an early riser.

    The drive from San Miguel to Aguascalientes Tuesday afternoon was tedious, curvy and took the better part of four hours. We stayed overnight at a cheap motel so we could get to the supplier the next morning, just as we'd been instructed, by 7 a.m. But alas, folks at the bee supply store were an hour-and-a-half late showing up and we didn't wrap up our business until after 10 a.m.

    We'd come to pick up two new hives, each with a queen bee and five "frames" covered with restless bees. Bees are touchy critters, calm when it's dark, but furiously buzzing after the sun comes up. It's best to handle them early in the day.

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  • The poor will always be with us, but not here

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: As soon as you set foot in this sanctuary of privilege, you know this is no public park where the hoi-polloi would gather on a hot Sunday afternoon, to spread old blankets on the grass, drink Coronas and cook ribs on a beat-up Weber grill.

    At the end of a five- or six-kilometer dirt road, you run into the first of two security gates, where guards with clipboards ask for your name, if you have reservations, and at which one of the three restaurants, jot down your car's license plate and probably take your picture with one of several cameras mounted here and there.

    Then you proceed to the second security gate, with a terse sign warning, "No bodyguards (escoltas) allowed on premises." Indeed, a couple of drivers or escoltas leaned against gleaming white Chevy Suburbans outside the gate, smoking, chatting and waiting the return of their patrones.

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  • An old easy rider rides again

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Once upon a time, maybe 15 years ago, in a place far away, Chicago, I used to be an avid cyclist. I would ride to work and back, about five or six miles each way, and most astonishingly, I would do so every morning, regardless of the weather, with a tenacity bordering on insanity.

    There were easy, postcard days when the sun shone, and the breezes from Lake Michigan blew gentle and cool. The ride would be an instant drug-free high. I would meander on the bike paths of Lincoln Park, a huge patch of lakefront greenery on the scale of New York's Central Park. I'd pedal past the Lincoln Park Zoo and park district greenhouses and gardens, the Cafe Brauer, a cousin of New York's Tavern on the Green, and for the final stretch, a narrow path between Lake Shore Drive and the emerald water of Lake Michigan. There were showers and lockers at work, and I'd usually arrive at my office late.

    On those perfect days, I would occasionally let go of the handlebars and put hands on my hips, maybe even sing or whistle a tune or two. Life doesn't get much better.

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  • Dr. Zhivago visits Havana and feels at home

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: A few days ago we watched Dr. Zhivago on Amazon Prime, a three-and-a-half hour whale of a movie that calls for at least two bags of popcorn and multiple trips to the bathroom. Omar Sharif, as Zhivago, was at the height of his hottie-ness when the movie was made 55 years ago. That far back I probably was too, and unlike Omar, I'm still alive. A perpetually swooning Julie Christie, who played Lara, didn't look too shabby either.

    What really struck me about Zhivago were the brief vignettes about life under early Bolshevik social engineering, including the attempt to solve the shortage of housing, and achieve instant economic equality, by confiscating private homes and, overnight, converting them into public housing for the proletariat. The transitions were overseen by some local schmuck, suddenly promoted to revolutionary avatar ever-ready to spout Communist one-liners and threaten anyone who voiced any doubts.

    Dr. Zhivago's author, Boris Pasternak, initially sympathized with the egalitarian goals of the Bolshevik revolution, but turned sharply away from them later in his life. The Soviet government, ever vigilant against any "fake news," banned the publication of Dr. Zhivago at home and kept Pasternak from accepting the 1958 Nobel Prize for Literature. The book ultimately was published in Italy.

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  • Looking for ol' time religion

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: A couple of weeks ago we heard that Jon, really an acquaintance more than a close friend, whom we had met at the Unitarian group in town, had died. His death by itself was not that newsworthy; given the geriatric demographics of San Miguel's expat community, we constantly hear of folks who've died or are battling a dire affliction. On bad days, the place reminds me of Land of the Living Dead or the Nearly Dead. Not funny.

    What caught our attention, though, was Jon's age: 77. Jon wasn't that old, really. Just four years older than Stew, five more than I. We likely will live longer, or perhaps not. We hope our departure is nothing as dramatic as Thelma and Louise's, but the precipice at the end of the road in definitely in sight.

    Understandably, discussion about the uncertainties, and even terrors, of aging and age-related infirmities is not something that expats generally want to share over comida. It's like the crazy uncle locked up in the attic, who keeps banging on the rafters, but who everyone tries to ignore.

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  • This too will end, but not just yet

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Our legal battle with someone trying to take a piece of our ranch began in June 2018, and it's been working its way through the innards of the Mexican judicial system since, slowly and methodically, but not definitively. It's a fight not only over ownership of a piece of land but, more crucially, to preserve our right to freely go in and out of our property.

    Last week we received news from our lawyer that the judge, after several months of cogitation, had in effect rendered a split decision. She'd mandated the creation of a roughly 100-square-meter public easement, or a servidumbre de paso, in front of our entrance gate, to guarantee free access to our land, but also had ruled that the other guys could keep the rest of the disputed land, which measures approximately 3,300 square meters.

    Not a perfect solution, but at least this hassle would be over. We weren't happy with the verdict, but under the often-used WTF!? clause in the Mexican Civil Code, had decided to accept the guarantee of access to our property as a settlement and move on. Or so we thought. ...

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  • Vacations are for dreaming

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Going on vacation while you're retired may sound like an oxymoron to those still driven by the nine-to-five workaday life.

    Not so much, though, I've found: Even in retirement one quickly gets entangled in schedules, routines, things that need attention, that eat away at the time every day that should be reserved for imagining and even dreaming. Isn't that one of the reasons why people look forward to retirement in the first place?

    Every year, around January or February, when even in temperate San Miguel the wind gets nippy, days shorter and shades of brown sweep over the landscape, Stew and I decamp to the beach for two weeks. For the past several years we've gone to Playa Blanca, a very quiet area south of Zihuatanejo, on Mexico's Pacific coast, where we rent a beachfront bungalow.

    That arrangement didn't pan out this year so we rented a condo down the road. The digs are much fancier but they accomplished the same purpose: a disconnect from routines back home. ...

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  • My denial runs thin about crime in San Miguel

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: In this morning's Civil List, the internet bulletin board shared by expats in San Miguel, there was a post about the escalating security problem. In addition to alarm, I felt curiosity about what tune the usual chorus of civic boosters, particularly the municipal authorities, would intone this time, to downplay bad news about a town whose main industry is tourism.

    Just yesterday I'd replied to an email from a blog reader, who is considering moving to San Miguel but is concerned about crime here. I spun the problem, I did, so I wouldn't sound like a Nervous Nellie or a carrier of the Chicken Little Virus.

    I said the spate of shootings and homicides are related to turf battles among narco dealers in some rougher neighborhoods, presumably removed from the nicer enclaves where expats live and go out for comidas and gallery openings. Also, crimes occurred after dark; stay off the streets and highways late at night and you should be safe.

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  • The Three Kings vs. American cultural imperialism

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: I realize it's a very uneven match, but this Christmas we decided to do our share to beat back the onslaught of U.S. marketing and cultural imperialism that threaten to undermine traditional Mexican traditions.

    We wanted to give Christmas presents to Félix's three kids, Alondra, 11; Edgar, 8 and Jessica 4, but didn't want to participate in the Santa Claus, reindeer, snow and ho-ho-ho racket.

    Instead we told Félix we'd like to wait until the biblically based Feast of the Three Kings on January 6, also called the Day of the Epiphany. So yesterday morning the entire family showed up, to see what the Three Kings had brought.

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  • Spring makes a welcome surprise appearance

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Contrary to the wistful notions we brought down with us, San Miguel de Allende does have a winter cold, gray and windy enough, to send us rummaging through the coat closet for one of those heavier jackets we'd thought we'd never need again.

    And for three days last week, winter really stretched it claws here.

    Sparrows and other small birds sometimes seemed frozen in mid-air, flapping their wings helplessly against fierce wind gusts. There were no takers at our bird feeder, most of its seed spilled on the ground. Hope rabbits will make use of it.

    One of the hooks on the rope of our flagpole broke and the Mexican flag, whose edges already had started to unravel before the windy onslaught, barely hanged on by one corner, looking like no more than a colorful rag.

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  • The Christmas story: Bah! Humbug? Not at all.

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: I've have a conflicted relationship with Christmas. While I enjoy the gift-giving, the family get-togethers, the decorations, and the memories though I can't quite embrace the elaborate religious packaging, or even a portion of it.

    So I winced last Sunday in church, as I listened to the gospel reading, Matthew 1:18-25, which purported to explain the strange circumstances of how Mary was impregnated by the Holy Spirit, gave birth to Jesus, the Son of God, all the while remaining a virgin.

    Strange indeed. Joseph, an average bloke and carpenter by trade, was engaged to Mary, and understandably apprehensive by her unexpected pregnancy and ready to quietly call off the engagement.

    Then an angel of the Lord arrived to calm his nerves: "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit." And so Joseph married Mary, but refrained from having marital relations until after Jesus was born.

    On any other day, I would write off this far-fetched Christmas fable as just that.

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  • What to do in a gloomy winter day?

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Wednesday awakened every bit as cold, gloomy and clammy as it was in Chicago when we visited over Thanksgiving, about 35 degrees and windy. I cancelled plans to putz around the garden as soon as I stepped outside. Then we discovered our internet connection, and along with it, the internet radio stations that provide background music, news and noise all day long, had also left the building. Stew tried to break the unexpected quietude with some music from our Canadian satellite TV, except that apparently the free music channels had been eliminated during the last service "update."

    Félix showed up as if he were auditioning for Nanook of the North, wearing double hoodies and a knit hat. To avoid working outside, he dreamed up a paint job in the garage, with the door closed, of a wrought iron table. Even the dogs gathered glumly around the Christmas tree, not knowing what to do with themselves, and went back to sleep.

    After breakfast, inside the house, the silence felt like a vacuum.

    What to do?

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  • Growing old alongside our pal Lucy Mae

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: While volunteering at the reception desk of a local animal shelter, shortly after arriving in San Miguel, a woman came in with a battered birdcage holding a pitiful white puppy inside, with a bloated pink belly and soulful eyes. She had found a cardboard box containing three or four puppies, a few weeks old, by the side of the road to Los Rodríguez, a nasty piece of residential real estate near San Miguel. All the puppies were dead except for the one customer in the birdcage.

    But there was no room at the shelter for any more dogs or cats, no matter how pathetic-looking.

    "Here, why don't you take it home and 'foster' it?," another volunteer said, matter-of-factly handing me the birdcage-puppy package. "You take care it for two or three months, until we have room, and then you can bring it back."

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  • My kind of town, Chicago still is

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: When we arrived in Chicago, two days before Thanksgiving, the reception was neither warm nor surprising: The weather was gray and cold, and a steady breeze drove the freezing drizzle at a thirty-degree angle that felt on the bare skin like pinpricks. The 25-minute wait for an Uber taxi felt more like an hour. But despite that initially unpleasant hello, this trip, like others previously, reinforced our love for the city, where Stew and I lived for 30 years, before retiring in Mexico 14 years ago.

    It's not as if the city remains unchanged. Our old neighborhood around Wrigley Field is almost unrecognizable except for the venerable ballpark itself. And the city's skyline continues to evolve, to the south and west of the Loop, and upward with ever-taller buildings. Even the landmark neo-Gothic Chicago Tribune Tower, built in 1925 and where I used to work, is being converted to condos. Ouch. And the iconic Crate and Barrel store on Michigan Avenue also has been transmogrified into the world's largest Starbucks, though we decided to skip the long lines to get in.

    Our comfort when visiting Chicago, however, is not just familiarity but instead a certain bond we feel with the city, its architecture, history and even the bicycle paths which I rode to work for two years, through even the foulest winter weather. Plus, of course, some long-term friendships we've have there.

    Continue reading at Life at Rancho Santa Clara: My kind of town, Chicago still is. More #RanchoSantaClara.

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  • A mid-rise condo for your collection of succulents

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: This blog doesn't often stray into the arts-and-crafts area, but Félix and I last week built this clay brick "condo" for our succulent collection that we're both really pleased with, and feel it deserves some celebration.

    We needed an attractive, and space-efficient way to display the burgeoning collection of succulents we've collected over the past three years. Most of the specimens now live in individual clay pots or in small groups, lined up on a wrought iron table like singers in a choir.

    I had seen some displays made of cement blocks, with some of the specimens transplanted into the two holes inside each block. But we didn't think that was particularly attractive or that the appearance of cement blocks would go very well with the adobe exterior of the house.

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  • The autumn of our forgetfulness

    Rancho Santa Clara Al: Old age is like a car turning over 150,000 miles; no matter how many times you've changed the oil or rotated the tires, things start going clink, clank and pfft.

    In older people, a sputtering memory is assumed to presage dementia. We fret about finding ourselves in the day room of a nursing home, drooling and speaking in tongues, with a nurse or spouse gently patting us on the head or changing our diapers, even though, really, at that point we won't know or care.

    At 71, my memory seems to be pretty much intact, or no worse than it's ever been, except that recently I've been having problems remembering the names of movies and movie stars.

    For a gay man, that's a particularly frightening sign of Alzheimer's: If I can't remember the name of Barbra Streisand's gay son, or how many Oscars Meryl Streep has won, that will erode my credibility among gay friends, who might start ridiculing or even shunning me.

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