Saturday, September 27, 2014

Margaret and Me

This is my "little" sister and me in October, 1995. She lived in Midland, Texas and I was there so that I could take down a exhibition of my work in Odessa. Margaret had helped me get it down. I don't know where we were when this was made or who took the shot but it was with my 35mm SLR camera. Tiny negative, grainy film but I have very few pictures of the two of us together because I was always the one using the camera. I'm thankful for this picture. A year later breast cancer took her life. Today she would have been 74 years old. I still miss her deeply. Rest in peace, Margaret Ann Williams Taylor. RIP

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mercer Logs 4

Friday, March 27, 1874
 Barometer 29.5 This day begins with the wind NNE, light. Very foggy weather.
     The first on record. At about half past six O'clock PM was born unto Edward Thos. Bernard and Emma Livingston Mercer, a bouncing boy baby. It made Ned feel about the size of two ordinary sized men. Don't blame him for feeling so. There are others who would feel just as big and wish they were in the same fix, eh Jed.
     So ends this day. Wind ENE, moderate. Very smooth bar. High tide. Barometer 29.5
Oh, my gosh. It has been almost a month since I have posted on this blog but I have not been doing nothing. I've spent some serious time working on the project I've mentioned before, The Mercer Logs. In trying to make a photograph that might be evocative of something in the log, I had been worrying about how to handle the issue of three Mercer babies that were born during the time of the preserved logs. I had thought that when I went to Port Aransas again I would try to find some infants to photograph. Suddenly in the middle of the night, which is always when my good ideas seem to occur, I thought, Hey, I don't have to find babies, I already have pictures of Mercer babies. So I spent a day digging through negatives and digital files for pictures of my grandsons. I still have some negatives in Houston and I think I have some additional pictures that will be considered for the book. But when you see a baby in the book, it is going to be a Mercer. 

Friday, September 5, 2014

Staying Put

A few weeks ago an architect brought me a proposal about building a new house on a great piece of property. I immediately was taken with the idea. I don't really need more house but it would be lovely to have a lot that was large enough to have garage, a garden, a bedroom and studio on the first floor. I checked with my financial advisor and we talked numbers. After he told me I could do it if I could hold the line on the cost within certain parameters, the fantasy of building another house occupied my every thought. Then the owner of the lot decided he didn't want to sell.

I was disappointed but I was in lust with the idea of a new house. I looked at a couple of new houses and checked out another lot but as the days passed I started to think about what building another house would mean. It would take at least a year, maybe a year and a half. In many ways building a house is a very creative endeavor but it is also stressful.

Is that the way I want to spend my time? You know at my age even though I feel great, time is limited. Today I've been thinking about Joan Rivers. A week ago she was still moving and grooving. Her death is another reminder of why I came to the decision that I want to travel more and do more photography more than I want to build another house. I still have my bucket list and my blue highways list. I don't want to put those things on hold for a year.

So I'm not building or buying another house. I have some things that I want to do to Casa Mercer to spruce it up but I think I'll just stay where I am. Unless.......

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Christmas in August?

Nope, this is not a picture from 2013. I shot this at Costco last week, August 28, 2014. It is a good four months until Christmas! Okay so maybe the retailers want to encourage us to purchase our Christmas decorations now so that in November we will have more money to spend on gifts. There were two aisles of Christmas stuff. And some of that stuff isn't even a part of the way that Mexico traditionally celebrates Christmas. It isn't suppose to be Santa bearing gifts! In Mexico the three wise men bring the children gifts.

Other than my irritation with the Christmas stuff, the trip to Costco was good. I love the independence that I have with Lola. If the housekeeper tells me on Tuesday that she is low on some cleaning product, I can plan a trip the next day and have her a new "five-gallon bottle" when she comes again on Thursday. I also like being able to drive to Mega when I want grapefruits, a melon, a bag of know the heavy stuff. Then it is a pleasure to shop in the mercados for the daily vegetables that I need.

Back to the Christmas thing. I'm sure that Costco in the US is already stocking their aisles with Christmas stuff as well. But it is too damn early in my opinion. We have other celebrations before Christmas: The San Miguel Festival at the end of September, Day of the Dead at the end of October and for me, a trip to Texas to see family and celebrate Thanksgiving. Christmas in August? No thanks. I'll wait until December.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Pozole Rojo

Yesterday as I walked back from Don Pedro it was about time for comida. I was hungry and was trying to decide if I would stop at a tiny new restaurant I'd heard about or go home and make a sandwich. I was leaning heavily toward going home but there was a sign in the doorway of Victoria's Comida Mexicana that read Pozole Rojo. I haven't had Pozole in a long time. That sign changed my mind. I stopped.

There are four tables and the restaurant looks so bright and clean. They brought me a menu. I looked at it for informational purposes but I already knew I wanted Pozole. They had both rojo and verde. I chose the rojo. They had bowls for chico or grande. Even though I was hungry the chico looked grande enough for me. They asked if I wanted the lettuce, radish and onion in it. Yes, yes I did indeed.

I met Maria who was in the tiny kitchen that is separated from the tables by a counter. She and her sister Victoria own the restaurant. Maria speaks English and she is a charming woman. I didn't get the exact address of the restaurant but it is on the same side of Ancha de San Antonio/Salida a Celaya as Don Pedro and is across the street from Los Faroles Restaurant. They are open from 10 AM to 7 PM everyday but Sunday. The rest of the menu looked delicious and the prices were reasonable but I don't know whether I'll ever try the other items. I think I may be stuck on their Pozole.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Help Wanted

Shot from my front door last night. It was shot at 1/5 sec, f1.8, 1600 ISO. I'm using a 45 mm f1.8 lens on the Olympus OMD E M-1 so it is the equivalent of a 90mm f1.8 lens. The lens weighs maybe 5 oz. I really, really like this lens. It is sharp and has good contrast. A similar lens on a full frame camera would weigh in at a  pound or more and probably cost 3X as much.
This image would have been better, and certainly would make a better print, shot at a smaller aperture and lower ISO and that would require a tripod. I have a small travel tripod but still it would be a nuisance to carry to dinner or a cocktail party. I want to go out to photograph at night with the camera on a tripod and no other agenda but a photo shoot.  I'm hesitant about doing that by myself. If I'm going to do some serious night photography, I need to hire an assistant who can be on the watch for what is happening around me while I'm setting up the shot.
Anyone looking for an occasional night time job?

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nothing Is Certain But Death and Taxes

Unless you are a US citizen living in a foreign country you have probably never heard of a fairly new tax law called FATCA. The original goal of this law was to target those bad old millionaires who were hiding income and assets in off-shore accounts. Maybe even those dangerous drug cartels who move money around. Alright! Go get 'um.

But wait just a minute, this law is also affecting US citizens who live in other countries off of fixed retirement income. It is also affecting citizens of other countries who are working in the US and want to send money back to their families. And it is forcing foreign  banks who do business in the US to keep records and report back to the IRS or else face substantial penalties on the bank's US assets.

If you want to know more about the law I've given you a couple of links in the two paragraphs above and there is much more you can find by Googling in case you are really interested. There are financial, ethical and privacy issues about FACTA that I do not like but what I want to talk about is how it is affecting me today as well as a lot of my friends here in SMA.

My savings and investments are in the US. I don't make any money in Mexico. I use an accountant and file the required reports each year and of course I pay my US taxes. I had an arrangement set up where I can write a check on my US Bank and either deposit it to my Mexican account or cash it for pesos. That is how I was paying my living expenses. It has been working great.

Now the monkey wrench, FATCA, gets thrown into the system. The Mexican Bank has to comply with the reporting requirements for US citizens with foreign accounts or stop servicing US citizens. There are quite a few US ex-pats in Mexico and the banks don't want to give up that clientele. While there are many rumors about which bank is doing what, basically most of the banks have stopped accepting US checks for cash or deposit. And they have set up ways for wire transfers to a banking facility in the US and somehow those funds get transferred to our accounts in Mexico. I assume this provides a way for the Mexican banks to gather the data to comply and avoid stiff penalties in the US. Also, it is a way for the US to track our dollars as well.

My Mexican bank said they would not accept any US checks after August 15 so I wanted to test the wire transfer method before then. They told me that the wire transfer would take 24 hours. I arranged for my US bank to do a transfer last Thursday. Thursday after banking hours I sent the Mexican bank the transaction number. Friday they told me that in addition to the transaction number they needed the dollar amount as well. I sent it to them.

Monday I got an email from the bank that the transfer of funds would occur on Monday evening. Tuesday I went to the bank to see if the funds were, indeed, there. Yes, the funds were there but the transfer had not been made on Monday afternoon because the lady in Mexico City was not available Monday afternoon. Therefore the funds would not available until they had "slept" in the bank overnight. Don't ask me why my money has to sleep in the bank. Don't ask me why there is "one lady" in Mexico City who has to do these transfers. I'm just reporting what I was told.

So my wire transaction will be available on Wednesday, four full business days after the transfer. The system works but I think that a 24 hour turn around isn't going to be a reasonable expectation. I think it is more likely that it will be a 48 to 72 hour turn around. That is okay with me as long as I know what to expect.

This law has put a burden on foreign banks, not just in Mexico but worldwide. I don't think we have the final rules and regulations that will be propagated by the IRS nor do I think the foreign banks have it all figured out either. They are looking at ways to make the reporting easier and less costly for themselves as well as more convenient for their clients. In fact my bank has told me about another option for moving my living expense dollars from the US to Mexico. It might work better but I think I'll let a few other beta-testers use it first. And who knows the bank may even come up with an easier plan or the IRS may change some of their regulations. I'm going to let the dust settle.

As Benjamin Franklin wrote in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, "In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes."