Wash that big mouth out with soap!

One of Donald Trump’s former aides, Omarosa Manigault Newman, has just published , Unhinged, a book that purportedly reveals the president’s secrets. And apparently, there are many of them. She questions the physical and mental health of the president, and makes both personal and political allegations and comments on his life.

Because she wrote her book, Trump called her, “a dog”. Surely he wanted to insult her, but he revealed more than he intended. Real dogs are honest and loyal to a fault; they rarely turn on their owners. But if they do, it usually follows years of cruelty and abuse. So by calling her a dog – one could surmise that his bullying pushed her to publish her tell-all tale – and the bar lowered still further.

The US president may be a serious candidate for the 5-star “most-vulgar-leader-ever-award”, but he is NOT the only crude contender.

“We have good reason to believe now that profanity is in the brain, that even if it’s not necessary to language, it’s part of human language as it’s developed. We can curb the impulse to swear, just as we can curb fight or flight responses, but it is part of our make-up, so when it seems useful to us, we use it, even in the workplace.” explains Michael Adams, Professor of English Language and Literature, Indiana University and author of In Praise Of Profanity.

I’m troubled with the pervasiveness of this attitude. President Trump revealed more than he planned when he insulted his former aide. And I believe the rise of public profanity reveals a lack of concern about where this behaviour is taking us. Our global society has sunk us to yet a lower level – now we also see a decline of civility and manners – and we just accept it. The same can be said about invasions of privacy and bullying. They have both become so commonplace, that most of us have endured soul-destroying attacks in one way or another. We get little sympathy and are told: Deal with it and get on with your life.

On internet forums, F-bombs and similar expletives are more common all the time. We giggle at video clips of children using profanity. Sometimes I have found myself punching LIKE after LIKE, until I stop and think a minute. Then I go back and punch UNLIKE. I do not LIKE profanity used when suitable adjectives and adverbs would suffice. Besides – LIKE and UNLIKE – there should be a third option: WASH THAT BIG MOUTH OUT WITH SOAP.

I can’t say I never swear, I often use “soft-swear-words”, but rarely do I bring out the F word, and never N, or C. In Spanish I don’t use the CH, I or C words – I can’t say them naturally – and I don’t want to get to the point where I can.

Have you ever thought: Why did I say / show that? Why didn’t I keep THAT to myself? Well, I sure have. Perhaps I will regret writing this post, but this is how I feel (and I am choosing my words with care). If your opinion is different; let me know. I like the openness of the times we’re living. But hey, I would like to see some self-restraint and decorum coming from the mouths and tweets of our leaders.

Leaders are supposed to – ugh, ugh, ugh – lead. Lead by their thoughts, words and deeds. It would be nice if we had that kind of leader to follow. And let’s not dump all the blame on world leaders. There are others who look to us for leadership. Maybe we need to curb our tongues, our strutting and our aggressiveness with our kids, our grandchildren, our employees, our parents, other family members, friends and strangers. Pretty-much everyone appreciates getting respect.

When I get stressed, angry or emotional, I think about people of substance – people I truly admire – I try to mirror some of their behaviours – it helps me.


And the times, they are a-changing

Olga Moguel,owner of AMARO and President-elect Andés Manuel Lopéz Obrador

Since July 1st, the day of the national election, Mexico has experienced profound changes, and I anticipate this will continue for the next six years (the length of the presidential term). Some international reidents in Merida have told me they feel confused by the conflicting opinions they hear about President-elect Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). They wonder if he will be able to fulfill the promises he has made.

During the months leading up to the national election, the traditional political parties did their damndest to demonize López Obrador, a long-time activist, aspiring to the presidency. Their propaganda within, and outside Mexico, described him as an “upstart”, “leftist”, and “unreliable.” They predicted an AMLO victory at the polls, would cause foreign investment to immediately flee, and that he’d steer Mexico towards a fate similar to that of Venezuela, under Chavez. Because he unsuccessfully ran for the presidency in 2006 and 2012, many called him an “old loser”.

López Obrador did not give up; he tried to work with the established parties, but he found that many elected members were more interested in their own advancement than in the needs of the citizens they presumably serve. He could not go along with this, and so he launched, the National Regeneration Movement. In Spanish the new political party is called  Movimiento Regeneración Nacional  –  commonly known as MORENA. No small accomplishment, and for that new party to win the election with 53% of the vote is unheard of.

One has to ask why the citizens of Mexico abandoned their traditional party loyalties to vote for an almost unknown entity. Truthfully, the level of corruption, insecurity, and economic instability had surpassed what the majority of Mexicans could tolerate. Everyone knew that a vote for the traditional parties would mean more of the same old – same old. With AMLO and MORENA, at least they could hope the situation would improve.

Many people also wonder how the lives of everyday citizens will change under Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s leadership.

I am not shy about expressing my opinions, but I think it is important for readers to know what AMLO’s supporters from Merida’s business community, social service providers, educators and artists have to say. So for the next few weeks, I will interview such people and publish what I learn.  Today I’d like to start with:

Olga Moguel Pereya

 Olga Moguel Pereya

Many know Olga Moguel Pereya as the owner-manager of Amaro Restaurant and Cultural Center. Dining at Amaro, under the leafy canopy of a huge orchid tree, always makes for a wonderful evening. And attending presentations, exhibitions, lectures, and roundtable discussions, organised by Olga in her on-site auditorium is always thought-provoking.

Olga’s father was a career diplomat with Mexico’s Foreign Service; her mother was from Argentina, where Olga spent much of her childhood. She grew up listening to conversations between her parents and their friends from the Embassies of other countries. “Through my association with people from all over the world, I learned to respect cultural, religious and political differences,” says Olga, “and I developed strong opinions of my own.”

Civil and indigenous rights, diversity of all kinds, mental health issues and women’s equality are some of her passionate causes. “It hurts me to see people suffering with no hope that their situation will improve.”

She believes that the governments of the past four decades are responsible for the erosion of social, cultural, and family values in Mexico. “Because they have mismanaged the public treasury to such an extent, the economy is in a deplorable state. There are not enough jobs, and people are so preoccupied with making enough money to provide the basic necessities for their families, they have little time, energy, or other available resources to ensure that wholesome values are passed to their children.”

Olga feels that the example set by the government authorities, their abuse of power, and their arrogance has weakened the spirit of the general population. “When people know that their elected officials are corrupt, what incentive is there for them to follow the rules,” she asks.

“The repressive tactics of the government have only served to create more crime,” she adds.

Olga and I agreed that many people have lost their trust in the conventional parties, and so this is why they decided to elect the candidate who seemed to want change as badly as they do.

“And what will change if there is less corruption? How will this affect people’s day-to-day life?” I asked.

“It will affect everything,” said Olga, “Currently, at least 30% of the country’s budget is diverted from where it should go. This happens in all areas of health, education, and other social services. When this money is back working for the population, there will be better services; the circulation of more money will boost production and create the need for more employment.” In Olga’s opinion, most members of the traditional parties have lost touch with the citizens who are not part of their socio-economic class.

Having said that, Olga threw her hands up in the air – “These politicians were elected to serve the country, not to “serve themselves” – When she calmed down, she added, “López Obrador has always walked with the people. He visits even the smallest villages, and he knows what their needs are.”

Olga at Amaro with Elena Poniatowska

She says that AMLO has the loyalty of the majority of Mexicans. She is confident that when they see strong, exemplary leadership, fiscal austerity, and a responsible government, not only will their incomes improve, but so will the national attitude and confidence for the future.“When the people feel more secure, they will shed some of the aggressiveness and the rage that we see in the traffic and in their inclination towards cynicism.”

“But all on his own, AMLO cannot make change happen,” Olga cautions, “It is up to us to follow his lead and adjust our ways too. We need to stop paying bribes, we need to recover our manners, and treat one another with respect – and we need to take care of our children – they are the future.”

Olga reminded me that this year she registered as an independent candidate to represent Yucatan in the House of Representatives. She did not win a seat but she added that she is willing to help the new administration in any way she can.

And through AMARO’s cultural center Olga says she will continue to offer a space for those who wish to voice their ideas. She has defined her role.

To summarize, I would say we all need to do as Olga does. We need to determine our role, and do what we can to contribute to the betterment of the country we live in.

What can members of the international community do? They are not supposed to get involved in political acts. However – supporting people in need is not a political act – it is an act of solidarity.



A Red Rose in her Hair: Part 4

Alberto’s – the dinner choice on Monica and Peter’s first night in Merida

Monica opened her eyes, but at first she couldn’t get her bearings. An AC unit quietly hummed in the corner – and someone was whistling outside – rather well in fact. From the light peeking through the raw cotton curtains, she could tell the day was well underway. M–m-m-m-m-m, she breathed in the familiar aroma of freshly-brewed coffee.

Fully awake now, she slid from the high four-poster bed and wiggled her feet into a pair of flip-flops. She tied the sash of her robe, and hoped Peter would not take offence at her walking around the house without first getting dressed for the day. But she just couldn’t take time, the promise of caffeine was too powerful to resist,

Shutting her bedroom door behind her, she crossed a courtyard where small brownish birds splashed in a fountain. They flew away as she approached, but by the time she reached the arch leading to the kitchen, they had returned to their morning ritual. She couldn’t see anyone, but a thermal carafe sitting on the blue and white Talavera tiled counter looked like what she wanted, more than anything in the world. She picked it up, and as she poured, she heard Peter call, “I’m in the pool Monica, come on outside.”

“Buenos días,” she answered, as she took her first sip of the rich, dark brew.

Peter looked so pleased with himself, standing chest-deep in the water, drinking a big glass of orange juice. “Could there be a better way to start the day,” he asked.

She agreed that this was about as good as it gets. Just 16 hours ago, Raymundo – the driver Peter contracted for airport pickup – brought them to this spectacular home. He carried their bags inside, and assured them he was on call 24-7, in case they needed anything at all. Monica was not used to so much attention. Giddy from the heat and novelty – she unpacked her clothing and accessories – then joined Peter for margaritas on the upper terrace. While watching the sun set, she could feel the tension of years slither out of her body, and evaporate like water on the hot terracotta tiles.

She felt like a young girl again.

At “Alberto’s”, a restaurant they chose by fluke, they’d enjoyed a Lebanese meal – truly authentic Baba Ghanoush,  lamb kababs – and of course, a couple more Mexican margaritas. “So far, Merida has surpassed my expectations,” she said – And I hope my liver will survive – she thought to herself.

Alberto, their host, had so many stories and so much history to share. Eliabeth Taylor and Richard Burton had dined at his table – and of course – Graham Greene. “He was a prince,” said Alberto, “but he seemed sad all the time, actually more than sad; I don’t remember how you say this in English.”

“Do you mean he was melancholy?”

“Yes exactly,” Alberto winked.  Monica figured that would have been true – could the whiskey priest in “The Power and the Glory” – have been imagined by a content writer?

As the evening wore on, Alberto’s stories got more florid and effusive – No, no, no – Monica hadn’t spent such an entertaining evening in decades. And it looked to her as though last night had been Peter’s first one ever.

“You know what?” Peter looked at her appraisingly. “I have to confess that even though I admired you for coming along on this trip, I worried that I’d have to look after you. I wondered if you could handle stairs and uneven walkways. But you are as fit as a woman half your age.”

There it was again. Why do younger people patronize their elders? OK, some of her friends had definitely given up on life, but she had not. Monica felt she should not have to prove herself to Peter or anyone else. “Well I worried too,” she confessed, “I worried that you wouldn’t be able to keep up with me. But I can see you’re going to be just fine.” She stood up and unfastened her cotton robe. She snuck a look at Peter’s face, filled with embarrassment and confusion. This is fun, she thought as it slipped from her shoulders. She could not help but laugh out loud at the way his face flooded with relief.

“Whoa Nellie!” Peter said, “Nice bathing suit! For a few seconds I thought you were about to go skinny dipping.”

Monica teased him. “Don’t worry,” she said, “Aunt Augusta was a model of propriety; although she had a wild streak, she disciplined herself. She was sedate, and I am too. Do you have plans for today?”

“Actually, I thought I’d explore one of the cenotes I’ve read about; do you want to come along?”

“I’ve been doing some reading too,” Monica said as she held up a book she found on a shelf in her bedroom.  “There is a group of English-speaking women here who crochet hats for kids with cancer. I think I’ll check it out.”

Cartas a Frida



I do not often review a restaurant on this blog, but yesterday I had a delightful experience that I want to share…

To start with, if you are in Yucatan right now, you know the weather has been beastly hot and humid.  The temperature usually drops after sunset, yet last night at 8 pm, that had still not happened. Jorge and I did not want to leave home, but some friends suggested we get together for dinner downtown, and since we haven’t seen them in some time, we agreed.

As soon as we got out of the car, I felt perspiration on my upper lip, and by the time we had walked two blocks to the outdoor restaurant where we planned to eat, my swirling skirt and sheer blouse were stuck to my body like saran wrap. My hair had drooped, and I am sure that even my ears were sweating. I regretted not wearing cotton… but hindsight is 100%, isn’t it?

We quickly downed one drink at the place where we thought we’d spend the whole evening, and then we headed for the door. “Where shall we go now?” someone asked. “Wherever they have AC is fine with me,” Jorge said. I looked around, and across the street I saw a restaurant with beads of condensation on its windows. “Thar’ she blows,” I crowed, and got ready for the others to join my b-line for salvation. But our friends were holding back. “We’ve never been to that place,” one of them said. I looked at both with total resignation. “Neither have I, but it looks cool in there, and I have to get out of this steam bath.” They saw I was close to meltdown and humoured me.

Once we entered and felt the blessed comfort of the AC, we decided that no matter what the menu looked like, we would stay. And without even taking in our surroundings, we plonked onto the four closest chairs. A waiter immediately rushed over. “Would you like some water,” he asked… I knew that we had come to exactly the right place.

The restaurant we had stumbled upon is called “Cartas a Frida”. Anyone who has met me even once, probably knows that I am an unabashed, unswervingly loyal fan of Frida Kahlo. The first time I saw her work was during a Grade 11 Art class. Our teacher, Mr. Laing liked to show slides of his favourite painters and on this particular day, he focussed on Frida. I had never seen such vivid colors and her “subject matter” shocked me. In North Vancouver during the mid 60s, we did not get much exposure to anything remotely avant-guarde. I fell in love…

And when I moved to Mexico a decade later, I looked forward to seeing more of Frida’s art in galleries and museums. But no, I did not; even the Casa Azul was a derelict mess.  At the time, Frida’s husband, Diego Rivera was much acclaimed; however critics did not consider Frida, a serious artist. But I felt OK with that; it was as though she was my “secret”. Then sometime in the early 90s, her image began showing up everywhere. Matchbooks, key-chains, journals, posters, little wooden boxes, earrings made from bottle caps… any flat surface was a potential space for exploitation. I was not in love with that…

But I came to terms with it, as I have done with much in my life. And now, when I come upon a tasteful, beautifully staged “Frida-theme” establishment, I am ecstatic. And the restaurant, “Cartas a Frida”, is indeed such a place. I fell in love again…

So… feeling happy with the comfortable temperature and lush surroundings… with an attentive server looking out for us… no giant TV screen broadcasting a loud sporting event to annoy us, but romantic Latin soft rock enhancing our mood… we wondered what more could we ask for?

Well… we were there to eat, weren’t we? And once again we were pleased; our meals surpassed our expectations. The four of us found exactly what we wanted to eat on the extensive menu, and we all enjoyed what we chose. The presentation and portion size were perfect for an evening meal. We got our plates at the same time… what was supposed to be cold, was cold; and what should be hot, was hot. Three of us shared a bottle of red wine, and Jorge had a beer. Our water glasses were kept full… there would be no heatstroke on our waiter’s watch!

When the bill arrived, again we were surprised… less than 800 pesos for four complete meals and our drinks. For price-conscious diners, this is hard to beat. But what surprised us most is that our table was the only one occupied. Why was such a restaurant was not full?

“Cartas a Frida” is located on Calle 55, between Calles 58 and 60… less than half a block from Santa Lucia, the “restaurant plaza”. The outside lighting is subdued… a good thing in my estimation, but maybe it doesn’t stand out enough to draw people in? Their social media presence is also low-key and I have not seen any print ads.

Jorge and I started our own college in 1990; we know how hard we worked to make it successful, and without our friends supporting us and cheering us on, it would have been even harder. It takes a while for an independent business of any kind to become known. With no splashy ads like the ones chain establishments can afford, locally-owned and operated bistros often languish. I would be sorry to see that happen to this restaurant. With full enthusiasm, I am joining the cheering section, and I urge everyone reading this post to also support “Cartas a Frida”.  I am sure you won’t be sorry …

I took a few photos with my phone… in the low light, they did not come out too well… but they do give you and idea of what the place looks like. Go soon, and enjoy…


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A Red Rose in her Hair: Part 3

Today, the third instalment of my short story. If you haven’t read the first two, click on:

https://changesinourlives.wordpress.com/2018/07/10/a-red-rose-in-her-hair-1/     and then:


The plot thickens here:


“No more gin martinis,” Peter said, “For this month in Merida, it’s margaritas for me. ‘You want one?”

Monica whooped with the enthusiasm of a first-timer at an all-inclusive resort.  I can’t believe I’m here, she thought. The sky, striped with every shade from soft melon to shocking scarlet looked like one of her own too-vibrant-to-believe paintings. A flock of starlings screeched as they flew over the pool, and a lone guitar strummed somewhere close by. She watched her travel companion pour lemon juice, tequila and triple sec into the blender – add ice – then turn away to rub one of the squeezed lemon halves around the rims of two blown-glass goblets. “Do you like salt?”

She nodded and grinned.

“Me too, but not too much.” With a flourish, he pulsed the Osterizer for just 5 seconds. “I don’t want the ice get to the slushy stage,” he said, “Tell me if you like it.”

Monica let out another whoo-hoo.  “It tastes like a salty-sour snowstorm. Peter, where did you learn to make these?”

“My aunt gave me the recipe,” then he added, “My Aunt Augusta.”

Monica settled deeper into the wicker rocker, and took another long pull of frosty flavour. “I think you need to explain why you look like a kid who just found 50 dollars.”

Peter stretched his arms out wide. “What a great way to describe how I feel,” he laughed, then turned serious. “When we met, I felt overwhelmed by your sense of adventure. Let’s face it, not many women your age would agree to take off for Mexico with a stranger.”

She could not help but contrast Peter’s acceptance of her as a person, with that of her daughter. All the way from North Vancouver to YVR, Janis had hurled a barrage of hm-hm-hms, tsk-tsk-tsks and oh-oh-ohs at Monica. She sounded like a vinyl album with the stereo needle caught in one of its grooves. “Mom you have to re-think this again-again-again-again-again.”

When did the role reversal start? What event or circumstances got her daughter thinking  like some kind of authorative figure who had to closely supervise Monica’s every move? She would make a point to ask about this when she returned, but right now, she needed to show this broken-hearted man that life would go on – he’d meet another – his love would find a true home.

“OK Peter, let’s toast our escape, and freedom from conventional judgements, from ageism and from past hurts. Let’s keep open minds – I hope you’ll make the most of this month – Carpe diem.”

Their second margarita disappeared as fast as the first. “I will make the most, of this month; I promise, and what do you say if we go find some dinner? I’m starving,” He showed her a magazine left on the coffee table by the villa owner – Yucatan Today – it featured full page photos of scrumptious-looking meals offered at the local eateries. He flipped through and pointed. “This place – Alberto’s Continental Patio – it’s close by and rated with 4 ½ stars. Let’s go find out why they lost that half-star,”

“I’m more interested in seeing why it got 4 ½,” Monica rejoined. She unfolded her sore knees and stood up, more-wobbly-than-expected. Get over it, she told herself. No way would a few aches and pains make her miss her first foray into magical Merida.

The restaurant’s towering mahogany door stood ajar. Peter and Monica stepped over the threshold onto a stone floor oozing with age. Copious green vines cascaded from the rafters and crept into shady corners. Baroque art – a few originals and lots of copies – covered every wall. Three brightly painted carrousel horses romped by a fountain filled with goldfish. “Those koi look big enough to end up on the menu,” Peter warned.

A man with caterpillar eyebrows approached, “Hello there, my name is Alberto, let me escort you to the best table we have.” Amused, Monica waited for a bit more flattery from their dapper host. He looked over at Peter – “This is your son?”

“No, I’m his Aunt Augusta.”

Alberto’s face turned radiant, he wrung his hands with disbelief, and quoted: “I have never planned anything illegal in my life,’ Aunt Augusta said. ‘How could I plan anything of the kind when I have never read any of the laws and have no idea what they are?” Are you THAT Aunt Augusta?

Monica gasped and clapped her palms together.  “One’s life is more formed, I sometimes think, by books than by human beings: it is out of books one learns about love and pain at second hand.”

Tears of true joy leaked from Alberto’s eyes. He sighed, “I knew Graham Greene, during the period of his life when he wrote about ‘you’. Back then, this restaurant was not ‘a faded lady of Merida’. No, no, no. In this very spot, the who’s-who of Mexico’s tourism, entertainment, political, and artistic circles gathered. I had to be ruthless at running off the social climbers.”

They both looked at Alberto – and obviously – he was not making up any of this. Peter nudged Monica, “Let’s remember what we said about freedom and keeping an open mind; I think we might learn a thing or two tonight.”



Sing it out!


Yesterday I shared a post I saw on facebook – a video of the Angel City Chorale’s appearance on “America’s Got Talent”. This marked the first time a choir made it past the audition stage of the popular talent show.

And it has unleashed a tide – a good tide – it seems a surprising number of Merida-area residents think they’d enjoy singing in a choir.

Watch the performance that started all this – The Angel City Choral – and their rendition of Toto’s, “Africa”:


A professional musician / composer / conductor, named Sue Fink founded of the choir. She says that giving back to the community that supports her was the original motivation; I am sure she never dreamed the group would grow to include more than 160 members. The choir singers completely cross the diversity spectrum, with sopranos, altos, mezzo-sopranos, altos and tenors of every ethnicity, age and gender.

And guess what – singing is not only fun – medical studies back up the claim that singing is good for us. When you sing, endorphins are released, which of course brings about positive psychological effects. If you suffer from depression or feel overwhelmed, singing will help you find your equilibrium again.

  1. Singing boosts your immune system.
  2. It releases stress.
  3. Your heart (the physical and emotional ones) will function better if you sing
  4. You’ll find you have more energy.
  5. Singing improves your memory.
  6. And it fosters clear thinking through correct breathing.

It does not matter whether you are a singer people enjoy listening to or one that sounds like the cat in the back yard; it is the act of vocalizing that brings health benefits. If you are not the “choir type” – that’s cool – singing anywhere, anytime is good for you.

So, if you’d like to join some-kind-of-singing-group, get in touch by leaving a comment at the foot of this post, or send me a facebook message. I’ll keep track of names and contacts and time will tell where we might we go from here.




A Red Rose in her Hair – Part 2

On July 10th, I published Part 1 of this story. If you did not see it, you should first have a look at the earlier instalment – you can find it here:


Then carry on with today’s add-on (seen below) or to open separately, click here:


 “Travels with my Aunt” by Graham Greene 

A Red Rose in her Hair – Part 2

Monica’s fingers tucked the stray strands of white hair behind her ears. She wanted to make sure the rose was in full view because Peter McLeod was somewhere in the room – she positively knew this – a few minutes ago, she’d felt the temperature rise slightly, and her intuition was never wrong. Oh yes, he’s here, she thought, but will the rose be enough to lure him over?

She let out a sigh; what a pain that people often made assumptions about her, based solely on her outward appearance. Yes she was getting on in years, but she still felt in her prime. Her enjoyment of adventure, meeting new friends and rising to challenges had not waned. She had no doubt that she possessed enough stamina for whatever lay ahead. She also had a strong feeling that if Peter invited her to join him on his trip to Yucatan she’d be able to help him get over the loss of his fiancée. Not in a romantic way – of course not – but helping people held great appeal for Monica – almost as much as adventure – and if she could combine the two? And with that thought came the command – Turn around to the right – Now!

A man much younger than her, but certainly not far from fifty, stared back. He twirled his index finger around his own ear, indicating the rose that rested against hers. Peter then moved his rather clumsy frame towards her table. An indefinable emotion deeply creased his features, and he quipped:  “Monica Turner, I presume.”

She nodded and laughed at his version of the familiar quotation. “One and the same good sir,” she volleyed. And the time had arrived to get rid of the elephant in the room. “I can imagine you were expecting someone younger.”

“True that,” he replied with equal candour, “But here we are.”

As they sized one another up, they exchanged a bit of chit-chat – about the weather – the busy restaurant – should they order a meal or a drink first? “I could use an extra-dry double martini,” she confessed, and he agreed that he could use one too.

Despite her age, Monica seemed fit, fun – and she certainly looked eager to go to Merida. Maybe this would work out? “Do you have children? What will they think of you coming to Mexico with me? We are hardly a conventional couple of traveling companions.”

Monica looked pensive, and tried to come up with a way to allay his doubts. He had a point; her children would be horrified when she told them about this trip. She smirked when she imagined their comments: Mom, be sensible – You are a senior and that puts you at risk – There are so many con artists out there – Your days of globe-trotting are behind you – If you want to go on a vacation, join one of those escorted tours – But Janis and Jason didn’t understand. Just because she could not do everything as fast as she once was able to, did not mean she could not do them at all. “Has anyone else with my name contacted you?” she wanted to know.

Peter admitted she had been the only one; “And departure is just a week away,” he added.

She studied his expression and body language; he did not appear to be hopeful that someone else would come along.

“Have you read the book by Graham Greene – “Travels with my Aunt”, he asked her.

“Peter, it is one of my favourites.” Monica felt fully comfortable for the first time that afternoon. “My passport is good for three years; I have money earmarked for travel, and if you’ll have me – I’ll be your Aunt Augusta – ”

Peter reached for her hands – they were awfully frail   but he had made up his mind. “OK Augie. Let’s work out the details.”

50 Austerity Measures


President-elect of Mexico, Andrés Manuel López Obrador

50 austerity measures that will be applied by Mexico’s new President

Last week, Mexico’s President-elect, Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO), published a document that lists 50 austerity measures he feels must be applied in Mexico. He also details how he’ll carry out his plan, and according to him, the money that returns to Mexico’s coffers will fund many of his government’s ambitious goals.

Some of the reforms AMLO proposes will take effect as soon as he assumes office on December 1, 2018. Others will need the approval of Mexico’s Congress and Senate before they can become Law. It should be noted though – AMLO’s political party, MORENA, holds a virtual majority in both houses – so passage and implementation of all 50 points are likely.

My family lives on a peso-based income and we have certainly taken some financial hits because of the corruption and ineptitude of recent Administrations. I have NO sympathy for “the old boys’ club”, and I’m ecstatic that for the next half-dozen years, Mexico will have a markedly different roster in the Congress and Senate.

Many members of Merida’s international community have expressed confusion about AMLO. Immediately following this paragraph, those who read Spanish will find AMLO’s words (in black text) And for those who have less Spanish skills, I follow each of the 50 points with a synopsis (in bold) I know it is a  l-o-n-g  read – but if you keep going – you will gain a better understanding of the changes coming to this country..

“Los 50 puntos que se aplicarán para llevar a cabo medidas de austeridad”

“50 austerity measures that will be applied by AMLO”

  1. Se reformará el Artículo 108 de la Constitución para agregar que el presidente de la República en funciones puede ser juzgado por delitos de violación a las libertades electorales y por delitos de corrupción.

As it stands, Article 108 of Mexico’s Constitution exempts the President from prosecution for violations of electoral liberties and for corruption. This immunity will be stricken, and from now on the President of Mexico will be answerable to the same laws as all other citizens of the country.

  1. Se suspenderán por completo fueros y privilegios para funcionarios     publicos

Government functionaries, including the President will no longer be above the law, nor receive excessive perks and privileges.

  1. Se reformará la ley para considerar delitos graves el tráfico de influencia, la corrupción, la asociación entre funcionarios y particulares para cometer fraudes a la hacienda pública, el robo de combustibles y el fraude electoral en cualquiera de sus modalidades; las penas no permitirán al inculpado la obtención de la libertad bajo fianza.

Laws will be reformed so that – peddling of influence, corruption, tax fraud, siphoning from the gas-ducts and electoral fraud – will all be classified as first degree felonies. While investigations ensue, those accused will not have the right for release on bail. 

  1. La Fiscalía General contará, en los hechos, con absoluta autonomía; no recibirá consigna del presidente de la República y sus prácticas se apegarán al principio del derecho liberal, según el cual, “al margen de la ley nada y por encima de la ley nadie”.

The Prosecutor General will have complete autonomy to prosecute; there will be no interference from the presidential or other governmental organisms. There should be no act outside the law, and no person above it

  1. La Fiscalía Electoral estará encargada de garantizar que las elecciones sean limpias y libres; a evitar la compra del voto, la coacción, la amenaza, el uso del presupuesto público y de bienes para favorecer a partidos o candidatos y castigar cualquier tipo de fraude electoral. Su distintivo será la imparcialidad y su misión la de establecer en México una auténtica democracia.

The Electoral Prosecutor will be charged with providing clean and free elections – without attempts to buy votes, threaten or coerce the public to choose a particular party or candidate – and will punish any form of electoral fraud. The Electoral Prosecutor will be impartial and will establish an authentic democracy in Mexico.

  1. La Fiscalía Anticorrupción será garante para evitar este mal que tanto ha dañado a México y no permitir bajo ninguna consideración, el predominio de la impunidad. El mandato que recibimos del pueblo en las elecciones del 1º de julio de 2018, consistió, básicamente, en confiarnos la apremiante tarea de acabar con la corrupción y la impunidad.

La Fiscalía Anticorrupción podrá actuar con absoluta libertad y   castigar a cualquier persona que cometa un delito de esa naturaleza, tratase de quien se trate, incluidos compañeros de lucha, funcionarios, amigos y familiares. Un buen juez, por la casa empieza.

The Anticorruption Prosecutor will be the authority who will see this practice eliminated.  For far too long, the progress of Mexico has been hindered by corruption, and the citizens have been victims of the inequality it sustains. It must stop. On July 1, 2018, the people of Mexico placed their trust in us – and we understand that above all – they want to see an end to the widespread corruption and impunity.

The Anticorruption Prosecutor will have absolute liberty to act and prosecute those who continue these practices, no matter who they may be. This includes coworkers, party members, public functionaries, friends or family. A good judge cleans his own house first.

  1. Todo funcionario deberá presentar su declaración de bienes patrimoniales; así como la de sus familiares cercanos y será publica y transparente en todos los casos.

All those who hold public office, and their families, will be obliged to make a public declaration of their material assets and properties.

  1. El presidente de la República ganará menos de la mitad de lo que recibe el presidente Enrique Peña Nieto, sin ningún tipo de compensaciones.

As President of the Republic, AMLO will earn less than one half of Presidente Enrique Peña Nieto’s salary, and will not receive other compensations.

  1. No se comprarán vehículos nuevos para funcionarios.

    New cars will not be bought for government authorities

  1. No se comprarán sistemas de cómputo en el primer año del

No new computer systems will be purchased in the first year of AMLO’s government

  1. No habrá más de cinco asesores por secretaría.

There will not be more than 5 consultants for each Secretariat

  1. Solo tendrán secretarios particulares los secretarios o equivalentes.

Only the first officers of each Secretariat will have their own assistants.

  1. No habrá bonos ni otras canonjías, el salario será integral, según la Constitución que a la letra dice: “Se considera remuneración o retribución toda percepción en efectivo o en especie, incluyendo dietas, aguinaldos, gratificaciones, premios, recompensas, bonos, estímulos comisiones, compensaciones y cualquier otra, con excepción de los apoyos y los gastos sujetos a comprobación que sean propios del desarrollo del trabajo y los gastos de viaje en actividades oficiales.”

There will be no preferential bonuses or other enticements. According to the Constitution, the salary received by the public sector (monetary or in kind), including allowances, bonuses, stimulus packages, commissions, travel expenses, and compensations of every description will be transparent. Appropriate reimbursement will only be made for work-related expenses.  

  1. Se limitarán los viáticos al mínimo.

Work-related travel will be kept to a minimum.

  1. No habrá partida para gastos médicos privados.

There will be no more private medical benefits for government employees.

  1. No habrá caja de ahorro especial; es decir, dejará de existir la    partida conocida como “seguro de separación individualizada”.

There will be no withholding funds from the budget, to be distributed amongst the employees of government institutions.

  1. No se viajará al extranjero sin autorización del secretario y la partida se reducirá al mínimo.

No travel to foreign countries will be authorized, except by the head official of each Secretariat.

  1. Se cancelarán fideicomisos o cualquier otro mecanismo utilizado   para ocultar fondos públicos y evadir la legalidad y la transparencia.

All trust funds and other mechanisms to withhold public funds for government employees’ personal use will be abolished.

  1. Nadie tendrá guardaespaldas, solo los encargados de la seguridad.

The government will not pay for personal body guards. The contracted security personnel and the army will ensure the safety of government officials and personnel.

  1. Se suprimen todas las estructuras y programas duplicados (oficialías mayores, oficinas de prensa, publicaciones, defensorías jurídicas, compras, contraloría interna y otras) y estas funciones o programas se centralizarán en una sola unidad o coordinación, dependiente de la secretaría relacionada con los asuntos en cuestión. Se reduce toda la estructura de confianza en un 70 por ciento de personal y del gasto de operación.

All duplicated structures and programs will be eliminated and these functions or programs will be centralized and coordinated by the appropriate Secretariat.  The reduction of extra-official infrastructure and personnel will be reduced by 70%.

  1. Se reduce toda la estructura de trabajadores, empleados de confianza, en un 70 por ciento.

The number of public service employees and extra-official workers will be reduced by 70%, and the same percentage of savings will be had.

22. Se bajan los sueldos de los altos funcionarios públicos a la mitad de quienes ganan más de un millón de pesos anuales, de manera progresiva; pero lo ahorrado debe significar el 50 por ciento del gasto actual.

High ranking officials who earn more than one million pesos a year will progressively see their salaries cut in half. This saving will signify a 50% reduction of the current budget.

  1. Nadie podrá utilizar aviones o helicópteros privados. Se venderá la flotilla de aviones y helicópteros. Solo quedarán los destinados a la seguridad, la protección civil y los que se ocupen para enfermos.

No one will have use of private planes and helicopters. The fleet will be sold, except those necessary for national security purposes, national emergency response, and for medical transfers.

  1. Se cancelarán las pensiones a los expresidentes de la República.

The pensions given to ex-presidents will be cancelled.

  1. No se utilizarán vehículos y otros bienes públicos para asuntos particulares.

Government issued vehicles will not be lent for personal use.

  1. No podrá contratarse a familiares.

Family members of government officials will not be eligible for hire in other government positions

  1. Los trabajadores de confianza laborarán de lunes a sábado y, cuando menos, 8 horas diarias.

Personnel in extra-official positions, within the Secreariats, will work Monday to Saturday for at least 8 hours a day.

  1.  No se puede asistir al trabajo en estado de ebriedad, ni tomar en las oficinas públicas.

No one is permitted to  arrive at their government work place in an inebriated   state, nor drink alcohol on the job.

  1. Se reducirá en 50 por ciento el gasto de publicidad del gobierno.

The government’s publicity budget will be reduced by 50%.

  1. Los funcionarios de Hacienda, Comunicaciones, de Energía y de otras dependencias, no podrán convivir en fiestas, comidas, juegos deportivos o viajar con contratistas, grandes contribuyentes, proveedores o inversionistas vinculados a la función pública.

The employees of the Secretariats of Communications, Energy Taxation, and other Secretariats in a position to extend favours cannot fraternize – at parties, at sporting events, or travel – with persons who are service providers or investors, or who have an interest in winning contracts with relevant Secretariats.

  1. Ningún funcionario público podrá ocupar en su domicilio a trabajadores al servicio del Estado, si no lo tiene permitido o no cuenta con autorización para ello.

No government employees may ask other subordinate employees to work in their home or other properties, without authorization to request this service.

  1. Ningún funcionario, sin causa de emergencia, podrá ordenar cerrar calles, detener el tráfico o pasarse los altos o estacionarse en lugares prohibidos.

No government employees may ask for streets to be closed, park in restricted areas, or drive through red stop lights, except in the case of national emergency.

  1. No se comprará ninguna mercancía que exista en los almacenes públicos en cantidad suficiente.

No unnecessary purchases will be authorized, if and when the items in question can be found in government storage facilities. 

  1. No se remodelarán oficinas, ni se comprará mobiliario de lujo.

No government offices will be remodelled; nor will luxurious furnishings be bought for government offices.

  1. Sólo tendrán apoyo de choferes los secretarios y subsecretarios.

Only the highest ranking and second-highest ranking officials of a Secretariat will be assigned a chauffeur.

  1. Los policías y militares de las distintas corporaciones no estarán al servicio de funcionarios o particulares sin plena justificación.

The police and military personnel will not be used by government officials without authorization.

  1. El Estado Mayor Presidencial se incorporará por completo a la Secretaría de la Defensa y se ocupará de tareas de protección de espacios públicos, instalaciones estratégicas y de la seguridad de los mexicanos.

The Presidential Guard will be reincorporated into the Secretariat of Defense and will be assigned to cover the protection of public places and events.

  1.  La residencia oficial de Los Pinos pasará a formar parte del Bosque de Chapultepec y se convertirá en un espacio para el arte y la cultura.

“Los Pinos”, the official presidential residence will be sold, and will be converted into a space for  Arts & Culture in the Chapultepec Forest.

  1. Desaparecerán las partidas para vestuario o cualquier gasto de protocolo y ceremonial dedicado al Presidente, a sus colaboradores cercanos y a familiares.

The President’s clothing allowance and money for ceremonial protocol, as well as those of his family and advisors will be suspended.  

  1. Se cancelará toda labor de espionaje o intervención telefónica que afecte el derecho a la privacidad de las personas; el sistema de inteligencia del gobierno estará sólo dedicado a la prevención de delitos y al combate a la delincuencia.

All Espionage and listening in on private conversations will stop. Intelligence operations will fall to the Secretariat of Defence. The government’s system of intelligence will only be used for crime prevention and combating delinquency

41     Se cuidarán los bienes de la oficina a disposición de servidores públicos para proteger el patrimonio colectivo.

Government offices and the contents therein will be cared for; they are part of the Nation’s patrimony.

42.    Se evitarán gastos de oficinas innecesarios y se ahorrará energía eléctrica, agua, servicios telefónicos, de internet, gasolinas y otros insumos pagados por el erario.

Government office expenditures will be cut back. Unnecessary use of energy, water, telephones and internet will be identified and eliminated.

  1. Se tratará con amabilidad a los ciudadanos en las oficinas públicas y en cualquier lugar, aceptando con humildad que ellos son, los ciudadanos, los mandantes de los servidores públicos.

Citizens will be treated pleasantly by the personnel in public offices. The personnel will accept with humility that they are in their positions so as to serve the public

  1. Las compras del gobierno se harán de manera consolidada; mediante convocatoria, con observación ciudadana y de la oficina de transparencia de la ONU.

The Government’s purchases will be made with the approval of the citizens, with their observance, and with the transparency of the United Nations.

  1. Los contratos de obra de Gobierno se llevarán a cabo mediante licitación pública con la participación de ciudadanos y de observadores de la ONU.

Government contracts will be awarded to the applicant who makes the most favourable offer. The postings will be supervised by the citizens and overseen by the United Nations

  1. No habrá partidas en el presupuesto a disposición de diputados y senadores, se acabará la vergonzosa práctica de los sobornos o de los llamados “moches”.

There will not be any special allotments from the budget for Deputies and Senators. The shameful practice of bribes and favours will stop once and for all.

  1. Ningún funcionario público podrá recibir regalos cuyo valor exceda de cinco mil pesos.

No public official will have the right to accept gifts that are valued at more than 5,000 pesos.

  1. No se autorizará la contratación de despachos para elaborar proyectos de ley, planes de desarrollo o cualquier tipo de análisis y recomendaciones que puedan hacerse con el trabajo y la capacidad profesional de los servidores públicos.

If enough capable professionals are working in the government sector, outside “experts” will not be contracted and authorized to analyze and design programs for development of the country. 

  1. En las relaciones comerciales o financieras con empresas internacionales se dará preferencia a las empresas originarias de países cuyos gobiernos se caractericen por su honestidad y castiguen y no toleren las prácticas de sobornos o de corrupción.

In our country’s dealings with foreign financial and commercial entities, we will give preferences to those who are known for their honesty; we will not tolerate corruption by taking bribes.

50.    Se revisarán los contratos suscritos con empresas nacionales o extranjeras que se hayan otorgado mediante el influyentismo, la corrupción, y que causen daño a la Hacienda Pública. En caso de anomalías que afecten el interés nacional se acudirá al Congreso de la Unión, a tribunales nacionales e internacionales; es decir, siempre nos conduciremos por la vía legal, no actuaremos de manera arbitraria, ni habrá confiscación o expropiación de bienes.

Existing government contracts with national and international businesses will be revised. If anormalities are discovered, the case will be brought before Congress. The government will not behave arbitrarily. There will not be confiscations or expropriations

Update on MEL Tours 2019

Zinacantan, Chiapas

It is mid July, and the Merida English Library’s two fundraising tours are filling fast. A few people (who have never traveled with Jorge and me) worry that the itinerary allows for too much free time. We like to include group activities, but we also encourage individual exploration. Upon our arrival in each city, we provide a map, and Sergio takes us on a walking tour so that everyone gets their bearings right away. During the time we are in each place, we visit the highlights as a group. When we gather for breakfast in the morning, or for a glass of wine in the evening, we enjoy hearing enthusiastic stories of discoveries that participants made on their own.

There will be an orientation session in January (date to be announced soon) when Jorge and I will outline optional sightseeing, dining and other attractions that can also be part of your travel experience. Those who cannot attend the pre-departure seminar will receive the info kit by email.


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On the Guanajuato, and San Miguel de Allende trip (January 31 – February 7, 2019) we’ll see topography, architecture, and vegetation that is strikingly different from Yucatan – the music, food, shops and atmosphere are also a world away from what we see in this corner of the country. Although Jorge and I have visited both places multiple times, we always feel excited to go again. We know we’ll have unexpected encounters, eat at restaurants we haven’t tried before – and much to Jorge’s frustration – in at least one of the quaint shops or lively markets, I will find “something” I can’t live without.

We look forward to re-visiting all the places that are part of the itinerary. Dolores Hidalgo was the birthplace of Mexico’s Independence movement; it is also famous for its pottery and amazing ice-cream.  Atotonilco, a world heritage site features indigenous art and a marketplace that always makes our eyes pop out. In Queretaro, more Mexican colonial history comes alive.

The day trip to San Luis Potosi will be new for Jorge and me. This city’s wealth came from the silver mines in the surrounding hills, not from sisal growing in the flat fields as we see in Yucatan. We’ll take in the newly-opened Leonora Carrington Museum, but unfortunately the home and gardens of her compatriot and fellow surrealist, Edward James (Queen Elizabeth’s first cousin who moved to Mexico in 1947) is too far away to see this time – a good reason to return yet again!

 A painting by Leonard Brooks who went to live in San Miguel after WWII

In Guanajuato and San Miguel, art is everywhere. Many painters, sculptors, musicians and writers from all over the world have moved to these cities and become part of the creative community there. If anyone in the group would like to spend a few hours painting, sketching, talking about books or doing some spontaneous writing; I’ll be your enthusiastic companion.

Jorge, Sergio and I will always be nearby, and full of suggestions if you find yourself looking for something else to do.

Don’t worry – this is NOT the bus we’ll be on.

The second trip ( February 28 – March 7, 2019) all by bus from Merida to San Cristobal de las Casas and back again, is for women only. It will be different kind of experience than the first tour. Many of the women who previously traveled with me to Chiapas say it is as much an internal journey as it is an outward one.  Everything about Chiapas is special – you will see majestic places – and you will be touched by the people who live there.


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You can’t help but be impressed by the women working in the market and for me, a glimpse into their religious observance is humbling. On our last day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we’ll visit children’s home. The shelter was established about seven years ago in the middle of the night. Two brothers from San Cristobal de las Casas heard a knock at their door – a small boy stood outside, and in Tzozil Maya (he spoke no Spanish) he told them he was hungry and had nowhere to go – they fed him, and then they fed the next child who came along. Now there are more than eighty kids.

The two men knew nothing about looking after children. But they found a solution close by.  In homes all around theirs, lived many women with their own children. They had no reliable way to feed their families, so in exchange for food and other necessities, they cook and help the brothers with childcare.

The installations are as basic as they come. The children sleep wrapped in blankets, on woven mats laying on the floor – and it is cold in San Cristobal de las Casas. If you think this communal arrangement sounds disorganized and in need of structure, you would be right. But the brothers and the neighbourhood ladies are doing the best they can.

Our group will take them an assortment of useful and fun gifts. Sweaters, knit hats, warm blankets and towels are much needed – they also love any kind of toys or balls – crayons, paints, drawing paper and other craft items. The first two women who signed up for the tour are taking paper and instructions in Spanish on how to make origami cranes. They will help the children make a colorful mobile for the communal living /dining/playing room.  If you have an activity to share, you are most encouraged to do so.

Our BIG bus has room for each participant to bring two suitcases. The idea is to use one of them for Children’s Home donations. The items need not be new. On the first night, we will collect the donated items to sort and distribute later. The participants will then have an empty suitcase where they can put anything they buy along the way.

And it is easy to fill a suitcase. When I was in Canada, I went to a thrift store and told the manager about what we plan to do in Chiapas. She said I could go through the store and take anything I wanted – for free – she even gave me a suitcase to put it in. As well, Westjet allows their passengers to bring a free “humanitarian” suitcase. If you live in Mexico, it is not difficult to get people to help you donate, and you’ll find stores downtown where you can purchase inexpensive items. If you have house-wares you no longer use (pots, pans, bedding, etc) these too will be most welcome.

During your free time, you can be as busy or contemplative as you wish. Optional trips to other nearby towns are easy to arrange. You can have a massage; attend a performance at the local theater; visit the amber museum; or come with me to paint.

As I say, space is filling fast, so let the Merida English Library know if you want to come along.


Proceeds from both tours will be donated to MEL’s expansion fund. You can see full tour descriptions on MEL’s website:


Flor Amargo

A few days ago, my husband forwarded a YouTube video. In the subject line, he wrote: “You’ll enjoy this, in fact, you’ll be fascinated.” Jorge does not usually predict how I’ll feel about what he sends me, and I opened the link not knowing what to expect. OMG! I should have remembered how well he knows my taste in music –  fascinating – does not begin to describe this artist. Her name is Flor Amargo.

Apparently she first gained a wide audience through her participation in one of those TV network-sponsored talent shows. I rarely watch those programs so probably this is why I’ve never seen or heard of her before.  However, I bet that the producers of that show did not know what to do with Flor Amargo,  because she is certainly not a pop princess.

In the clip Jorge sent me, she is playing her accordion and singing, “La Bruja”, inside a moving wagon of the Mexico City metro. At times she had to stop as the train swerved and lurched, but she kept on belting it out. I heard jazz, swing, bebop, rock and roll, and even some sweeping classical chords in her interpretation. “La Bruja” is not her own composition, but she “owns” it.  She’s as authentic as I’ve ever seen.

But something distressed me about the video – her fellow passengers were not happy – in fact they looked extremely displeased with this beautiful and talented young woman who had interrupted their daily commute.

It struck me that lots of us claim to admire women with the guts to be who they really are. We “love” Frida Khalo’s art, Chabela Vargas’ throaty voice, Leonara Carrington’s surreal sculpture, Elena Poniatowska’s  brave writing. These icons are not close enough to touch; we remain at a comfortable distance from their non-conformity and unconventional acts. However, when a young person with the same kind of individuality shows up in our midst, many people do not feel blessed; they feel their personal space has been invaded.

Flor Amargo’s birth name is Emma Mayte Carballo Hernández , and from an early age she showed uncommon talent and determination to perform. She is an actress; she composes, sings and plays multiple instruments. She tap dances too. In an interview she said:

“My message is love, made into music. We are all one, and – what you do to, and for others – you do to, and for yourself.”

She explains that her music is the result of deep self-searching. She finds shelter in music, poetry and her own way of life. She wants to reach her fans but also those, who by chance, happen to hear her voice. (Like me, and maybe you too?)

“Through my messages, I urge others to search inside themselves, find their essence, and share it with as many people as they can, just as I have done. I took painful roads before I got to the point where I could say: I am Flor Amargo.”

Some insist that introspective reflection, soul searching, and the like are a luxury of youth. But others seem to feel it is vital to never stop exploring our deepest recesses, and to use the gifts we find to improve our lives and those of others.

I think the women I mentioned earlier, the unconventional, non-conforming, ones we admire – Frida Khalo, Chabela Vargas, Leonara Carrington, and Elena Poniatowska – have done precisely that.

Maybe several decades from now, the same will be said of Flor Amargo.

Poster for the Flor Amargo concert in Auditorio Nacional