Colonia San Antonio, photography, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Hey, buster, who are you calling the ‘friendliest city in the world’?

News item: Conde Nast Traveler names San Miguel de Allende the “friendliest city in the world.” It beats out Dublin, Lisbon, Bangkok, Copenhagen, Mexico City, and Bruges among others. The media company previously named San Miguel the “best small city in the world.”

This can’t be good.

I was asked to respond to all this by an otherwise sharp and responsible newspaper colleague. And so …

All right, the next guy who says San Miguel de Allende is the friendliest city in the world gets a punch in the nose, see?

A city with a reputation like that could get itself hurt, see? A city could pick up a rep-u-tation with talk like that, and not the good kind, see?

Other cities start thinking it’s a patsy and start aping all that friendly stuff and the next thing you know, you’ve got a six-way tie for the friendliest city. 

And that ain’t good for nobody, see?

Why, if everybody is friendly, then what’s this world coming to?

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Rants and raves, Reviews, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Review: If it’s ‘Wednesday,’ it must be Netflix

One of Wednesday’s (Jenna Ortego) many talents — besides deadly martial arts skills, frightening visions, icy stares, enormous eye rolls, and a disdain for all things human — is playing the cello. There is something very Sherlock Holmes about that.

You want to know what makes my day?

“Wednesday.”

Not the day, necessarily. The movie series that is on Netflix.

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Rants and raves, Reviews, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Movie review: ‘Spirited’ away

Ryan Reynolds and Will Ferrell sing and dance their way through “Spirited” en route to making a classic holiday comedy movie.

Let the Christmas movie season begin!

Contrary to first impressions, not all holiday movies this year are about:

  1. A high-powered, stressed out, high-pressure, mid-30s, professional urban woman who …
  2. Returns home to Hickville to help her Mom/Dad/kid sister/orphaned niece …
  3. To move into a rest home/restore a failing business/take over the family B&B/adopt a child …
  4. And falls in love with the hunky fireman/hunky plumber/hunky school teacher /hunky yoga teacher …
  5. Who really has a PhD/feeds the poor/is secretly wealthy/makes Christmas toys for needy kids/builds wooden boat/is Santa.
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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

That time I tried to overthrow the local government at a Tiblisi puppet show

Editor’s note: In a newsletter for former Union-Tribune newspaper staffers, a colleague in San Diego recently recalled a review I once wrote that outraged the mayor and her staff. Jack Reber, the editor of the newsletter, asked if I would fill everyone in.

Glad to do it. But, as in my online days with SignOnSanDiego.com, I take great pleasure in scooping mainstream media. So, you will read it first, here on my own blog. My newspaper friends may get it at midnight tonight. (Sorry, Jack. I can’t help myself.)


Ah, the Russian Arts Festival of 1989. Gather round kids and I’ll tell you as much as is permitted by the several nondisclosure agreements I signed to gain a generous separation bonus from the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Obviously, I kid. There was no bonus.

My one assignment during the Festival was the Tiblisi State Puppet Theatre, under the direction of the great and late-Rezo Gabriadze (below with some of his creations). Georgean puppets aren’t like the Muppets, Shari Lewis and Lambchop, or Punch ‘n Judy. They tell real and elaborate stories, often tragic, and even violent or sexually mature.

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Colonia San Antonio, photography, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Writings

Thoughts upon taking a leak …well, taking a picture of a leak

This is my kitchen faucet.

Well, one of them.

There are four — two basins with two faucets each, two hot, and two cold.

Earlier today, this one — the hot tap in the left basin — was leaking.

The drip was annoying as hell. I was trying to distract myself from the need to write.

And the drip, drip, drip kept breaking my lack of concentration.

“I need a plumber,” thinks I, thinking of great thoughts.

So I start to take a photo to send to our property manager.

But at this moment, the sun reaches around the corner of the country kitchen window.

And catches the gleaming brass in its grasp.

“This is rather beautiful,” I think.

“Not annoying at all.”

The brass faucet floats in the air, like a shiny spaceship lost in the cosmos

Meanwhile, I’ve been carrying full pots of water out into the courtyard.

And nominating various plants as “Most Needy” before

Showering them with water, like the beauty queens they are.

“This is art,” I say to no one. “And any moment, a guy with a tool belt and rubber washers

Is going to end this lovely presentation like some emotionally-damaged art critic for the New Yorker.”

I know what I have to do: Capture this hommage to Paul Cézanne.

If a dripping faucet can be likened to a still-life study of fruits and bottles.

So this is it.

It only took about 30 tries to get the dripping water just right.

“Leak more, you bastard!” I shout.

No, not really. I can be a very patient guy when I’m in mindfulness mode.

I was OK with it when the plumber arrived.

Though feeling a little like he’s come to put my dog down.

“Be gentle with my leaking faucet,” I urge.

(Not really. Seriously? You thought I’d say that to a guy who rips out pipes for a living?)

It takes about five minutes, with the right parts, to nip the drip.

Kind of sad.

And yet, look! It is raining out right now.

The Creator’s own leaky faucet.

Though it lacks the brass of my kitchen sink.

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photography, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Uncategorized, Writings

Oceans. Just oceans.

The view along the Cliff Walk in Newport, Rhode Island. Besides the ocean and rocky shore, you can look at the backsides of fabulous summer homes built by robber barons back in pre-tax eras. Enormous marble and granite edifices that were only used during summer’s High Season. The one to the left was used in filming “The Great Gatsby” back in the 1970s. I lived in Newport then.

A reader pointed out yesterday that my blog post on flowers which included some from Cape Cod and Newport, Rhode Island, was sorely lacking, in his opinion.

He essentially asked, How can you post pictures from these two places and not include a single ocean view?

In the writer’s own words, “No cape or Newport there..no ocean in site.”

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Rants and raves, Uncategorized, Writings

Things that happen — or don’t — when your debit card dies and goes to finance heaven

Thirty things I can not do — according to the 876 e-mails that I just deleted — now that my only debit card has been hacked and terminated by my bank:

  1. Buy tickets for the San Miguel chamber music festival’s new season.
  2. Help the Democratic Party defeat the existential threat to democracy that is the Republican Party by donating to 73 candidates for various state and national offices who are currently soliciting me for funds to continue their campaigns.
  3. Take advantage of the special discount being offered by several companies on photo-printed coffee cups, T-shirts, and aprons – and of course, photo books.
  4. The latest one-day-only Kindle book deal of the century! Just for me!
  5. Free shipping – for today only! – on lots of stuff that I don’t need, never wanted, and didn’t ask for.
  6. A 50 percent discount on New Yorker magazine. Ends very, very, very soon!
  7. Twenty-five percent off all personally designed birthday and thank you cards. Extended offer! This won’t last forever. Why are you hesitating? Surely you know somebody with a birthday coming up soon.
  8. Pay my New York Times subscription which has detected a problem with my current method of payment and even after some 30 years as a subscriber has no desire to cut me some slack.
  9. Take advantage of Kayak’s and Skyscanner’s alerts on the price of airplane tickets to Boston, Providence, San Diego, Sacramento, and Reno. Prices going up very soon! maybe in the next few hours! Don’t hesitate!
  10. The last chance to book car rentals at soon-to-go up prices for the just mentioned cities. 
  11. Last chance (again) to get a New Yorker subscription (which I already have) – save 86% on the cover price! (Lots of these. Lots and lots and lots. The equivalent of the inserts that tumble to the floor when you open a magazine.)
  12. An opportunity to get summer fun flexibility by booking a Lake Tahoe vacation rental NOW!
  13. Invitation to donate to Alex’s GoFundMe account. (Who is Alex? I don’t know.)
  14. PayPal has selected ME to apply for its exclusive credit program and they are giving me $40 off future purchases – if only I could.
  15. Last chance to get $50 off certain health and ancestry deals with 23andMe, now that they have a chunk of my DNA sample and personal data.
  16. Today only’s special 40 percent-off deals from Amazon. Is this a duplicate? Is this a repeat? It sounds sooooo familiar….
  17. Purchase the perfect bra from Natori.
  18. Use the limited-one-time-only special credit from Uber Eats.
  19. The last chance to have my gift matched at several non-profit fund-raisers.
  20. Migrate e-mails to a new cloudHQ email address.
  21. Save 20 percent on Rick Steves travel bags.
  22. A free trial on internet-based security cameras.
  23. Incredible deals, this week only, at La Comer supermarket.
  24. Starbucks: Become a member, win incredible prizes!
  25. Renew my now-discontinued Prime subscription. Only days left to do so.
  26. Watch the 88 best movies on Netflix — which will soon discontinue my subscription when my next monthly payment comes due if I don’t cough up some dough and replace my credit card with one that works.
  27. Only one day left to take advantage of the clearance program that will enable me to by-pass airport security lines and stick my nose up at the hoi-polloi.
  28. A chance to bring someone I love for free on Amtrak’s limited-time-only two-for-one hot summer deal. Seriously hot. As in, this is one hot summer and the AC on Amtrak sucks.
  29. Unlock Expedia’s rewards benefits.
  30. Win a custom-designed Airstream trailer and Ram 1500 truck from Omaze.

I also can not:

Pull pesos out of an ATM machine. 

Order a new book from Kindle.

Pay for a meal in a restaurant.

Buy a case of wine.

Load up on dwindling medications.

Get U.S. dollars when I fly to Boston today.

Pay for a hotel room.

Pay for the rental car I reserved a month ago

Pay for gas when I drive to Rhode Island.

On the other hand:

I can sit and read a book

I can write to people

I can call family on the phone and chat

I can sit in the courtyard and ask the birds how they managed before the Internet.

I can turn off, tune out, and drop out.

I can go for a long walk in the countryside.

I can sit in the Jardin and listen to Mariachi bands as the sun sets.

I can sit on the roof terrace and watch the sunset.

I can count the church bells and make sure they are keeping proper time.

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Ireland, Memoirs -- fact and fiction, photography, Rants and raves, Uncategorized, Writings

Day 5: Carran to Corofin: “Turn right at the castle ruins.”

Near the end of The Green Road, a garden of earthly delights on the way to Corofin. (Photo by Rose Alcantara)

It is the last day of The Burren Way and we are walking from Carran to Corofin through a rocky wonderland in a gentle misty rain.

You know it is going to be an interesting day when our B&B host Julianne’s directions include the phrase, “Turn right at the castle ruins.” 

She also urges us to detour from the route to visit the triple ringfort of Cathair Chomáin, built on the edge of a cliff around the year 800 A.D. It was excavated in 1934 and 2003 but still holds much mystery about its origins. 

Over coffee and toast – Julianne offers us a full Irish breakfast (part of the B&B fare) but I am thinking of the consequences of a full stomach and the six-plus hours of walking ahead – we learn some of the history of her cottage which has been in and out of her family since the 1800s. It is decorated in the comfy Irish style – family photos cover every wall and horizontal surface. Books cover what is left.

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Ireland, Memoirs -- fact and fiction, photography, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Uncategorized, Writings

Day 4, ‘Not’ Walking the Burren: Ballyvaughan to Carran

Adirondack chairs set out behind Cassidy’s Pub in Carran offered a nice respite as the sun broke through. I can imagine sitting here with a cold pint on a warm summer evening, contemplating the Burren beyond.

We’ve been dodging in and out of the rain since we began walking the Wild Atlantic Way in County Clare four days ago. This morning, awakening to the steady patter of rain on the windows of the Wild Atlantic Lodge in Ballyvaughan, it feels like we’ve run out of dodges.

Did we really want to walk to Carran — or Carron? It is spelled both ways, often side by side, and nobody seems to really care. I asked. “Either way,” is the most common response.

One of the Burren walking guides calls this leg “extremely rewarding and scenic …”

Well, that is encouraging. Except it is dumping buckets outside.

But wait, there is more.

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Memoirs -- fact and fiction, Rants and raves, San Miguel de Allende, Uncategorized, Writings

Welcome to my very first ever New Yorker subscription existential crisis

I have a subscription to The New Yorker, the print edition. It is the one magazine that I like holding in my hands while reading.

Circling unfamiliar, fanciful, and inventive words is part of my reading habit. Circling whole paragraphs. Underlining brilliant turns of phrase. Highlighting exciting writing. This magazine feeds that habit well. The writing is occasionally above my fighting weight, and I appreciate that.

Every time I read The New Yorker, I come away feeling a little smarter, a little more informed, and definitely motivated to keep writing.

Living in Mexico, the New Yorker can arrive two or three weeks later than it should. More often than not, it is the only thing in my mailbox. Late delivery didn’t matter when the content was less topical. Good writing is good writing and it is timeless. I always valued the New Yorker more for its literary content than for its news.

Even the front-of-the-book calendar on events happening in New York City is entertaining, even when those events occurred several weeks ago. New Yorker writers are like the city — bright, challenging, acerbic, engaging, chatty, witty, savvy and, above all, never dull.

The New Yorker is trying to be more timely and that works against my cross-border mail delivery universe. It is still some of the best writing around but by the time the magazine reaches my hands, the rest of the world has moved on. Now, when I pick up a copy, I find that I’ve read most of the stories online.

I also have a large stack of old New Yorkers that I am reluctant to throw out. It feels like hoarding.

So, I thought, time to switch to an online subscription.

Imagine my surprise, then,  when I went online and found that my print subscription expired March 1, 2015.

Is that even possible?

For years, the New Yorker has been arriving faithfully, sometimes two at a time after especially long delivery droughts. And I’ve never once paid my subscription?

For once, I am moved to use two words I despise to describe this moment: existential crisis.

My prized subscription, my only subscription to a printed thing – and I’m what? A glitch in the operation? A bug in the system? A ghost in the machine?

This is a computerized universe. We are a data-driven society. Marketers can tell when your stomach is growling or when you are leaning more Democrat — and swiftly rectify the course of things with ads uniquely chosen for your predicament. To say we are living our authentic lives today means that we are jogging beside a digital stream that knows our every need, predicts our every whim — and responds accordingly.

Usually, an alert arrives well before a subscription expires. Most offer automatic renewal if you choose to take no further action. My online newspaper subscriptions work like that. Convenient, timely, and seamless.

I am not the most conscientious bookkeeper when it comes to my bank accounts. Most times I don’t even think about it. The pension and Social Security come in and the bills get paid. If there is anything left, that is gravy.

I don’t recall an expiration or renewal notice from the New Yorker‘s data grinders. That would have gotten my attention.

Recently, The New Yorker did send me a rejection letter for an essay that I wrote for the magazine’s Shouts & Murmurs section. I sent it in about six months ago and they did warn me that the backlog was horrific. (Ie: “Don’t hold your breath.”) 

It was my first New Yorker rejection and didn’t hurt nearly as much as I thought it might. It wasn’t even an, um, existential crisis.

(Here is a copy of the essay: That time Guy Raz interviewed Satan on the NPR podcast “How I Built This.” Look, I know it is not New Yorker material. A guy’s gotta dream though, huh?)

I actually felt at the time that the humor in my essay was more topically in tune with David Egger’s McSweeney’s magazine. I had a momentary dream of submitting to both, having both simultaneously accept the article, setting off a fierce bidding war that resulted in publicity to all the right people and a three-book publishing contract with an embarrassingly frothy advance.

Instead, I thought, let’s give the New Yorker a chance. It was, after all, my first love, in a literary sense.

So, months after submitting, and forgetting like a furtive one-night stand, I found out that I wasn’t ghosted. I was rejected.

In fact, it felt pretty good. How many people can say they got turned down by The New Yorker

Real answer: Lots. And often. 

Getting published follows the same rules as winning the lottery. You have to buy a ticket to win. And most likely, you’ll need to buy lots and lots of tickets before you get a winner. 

Many writers are rejected dozens of times before a submission is accepted for publication. The magazine is that good. Cartoonists have it even worse. They can be rejected 30 or 50 times before making it into the magazine, although I believe the cartoon department is set up to more quickly reject a submission than other sections of the magazine.

I don’t really think I’m New Yorker material as a writer but you never know.

The trouble is, I’m in the Grandma Moses phase of my literary life. (Look it up, kids.) I don’t know how much is left in the tank and how much of it is worthy of rejection by prestige publications.

By now you might be thinking, “This is all well and good, Bob, but I think you are avoiding the existential crisis that initiated this essay.”

And you are right.

And I don’t know what to do.

I feel like I should submit this to “The Ethicist” column in the Sunday New York Times.

But wait. I’d better check and see if my NYT subscription is up to date.

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