Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Shining

Washing a car in this dusty and only partially paved country seems like an exercise in futility. Yet vehicle grooming here reflects devotion usually reserved back home for the good china. 

I learned this the first time I took our little Honda Fit to the Real (ray-AL, meaning “royal”) car wash for a quick rinse. I now know that a quick rinse is not commercially available here.

Once I paid my 65 pesos, about five bucks, the car passed under the all-around spray nozzles as fast as it would have anywhere else. But what happened next at first impressed, then delighted, then confounded and finally annoyed me as I watched the big hand slowly circle the waiting room clock.

A gang of attendants armed with rags and a variety of chemical sprays tore open all doors and hatches and proceeded to treat the Fit like a crime scene. 

Particles and fibers were extracted first in bulk, then captured in clusters and finally hunted down one by one. Corners and crevices I hadn’t yet become aware of myself were exposed, freed of foreign objects and sanitized. Every surface, including the door edges and frames, was wiped until it shone. 

Attention then returned to the exterior. Glass was polished. Metal wheels were cleansed by hand of all traces of spatter and grime, even around lug nuts and the rims of the perforations. The tires were glossed up with Armor All. 

Bored, impatient and getting very hungry, I stepped outside in hopes of signaling that I was satisfied I’d gotten my money’s worth. I was ignored and left to count the number of times any given panel, fairing or fixture was rubbed down by another attendant. Five times was typical, but some reached double digits.

Nearly an hour had passed before the last dirt dervish handed me my keys and spread a towel on the driveway next to the driver’s side door so I could wipe my flip flops before  sullying the pathogen-free interior. I regretted that I hadn’t showered that morning, or brushed my teeth.

On the way home, I thought to myself that my Fit would never get a more intrusive cleaning, but I was wrong. 

When it was time to take the car back to the Honda dealer for its first warranty inspection, I found out that all service visits include a wash. Not only was the car spit-shined just like it was at Real Carwash, but they popped the hood and turned a pressure hose on the engine. 

It looked like it just came off the assembly line. On subsequent visits for minor adjustments such as bulb replacements and the like, I tried to say don’t bother with the washing this time. They pretended they didn’t hear me. It seems to be a matter of the dealership’s honor. At least there's wifi in the customer lounge.

Not everybody has time or money for this, but the lust for gleaming chrome seems nearly universal, and the market has responded at all levels. You can’t go to Walmart or the supermarket without being solicited for a wash by a guy wheeling a portable compressor..

And it’s hard to find a busy block in town where there isn’t someone waiting with a bucket and a rag.

But these fellows aren’t that much cheaper than Real, you get no attention to your interior and you still may have to wait a while before you can drive away. 

I dread all the options so much that I tolerate several layers of stubborn dirt on the glass for days. I realized this morning just how much I dislike dealing with it when I was stopped at a traffic light and sensed movement in one of the mirrors.

“Thank God,” I thought when I saw what it was. “A squeegy man.”

Monday, February 24, 2014

Publish and Perish

If there's a horse that's been beaten deader than "Blame The Media Hype," I hope I never have to smell it.

For example, even at 13 to the dollar I'd be rich if I had a peso for every time I heard one of my fellow expats say the only reason people in the U.S. think Mexico isn't safe is that news reports exaggerate crime and violence here.

If editors dug deeper, the idle chatter goes, they would learn that Mexico ranks well back in the global pack on per capita murders, armed robberies, rapes and other violent crimes. They would include this information in their scare stories to avoid alarming readers' in the midst of their travel and retirement planning.

It's an argument that stands up well enough to the kind of rebuttal you get at a noisy happy hour from people who already agree with you. But here are some of the problems with it.

First, the scare stories are true, and compelling. The drug cartels really are giant corporate enterprises in which systematic kidnaping, extortion and murder are routine business tactics. The State Department doesn't try to reassure us with the crime statistics; it issues travel warnings. It's an incredible, shocking story that won't quit. Mexican newspapers certainly aren't holding back. Mob hit photos are a bloody staple on the front pages of the many tabloids here.

Second, notwithstanding recent successes in capturing the likes of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the cartels' brutality has exposed to the world what Mexican residents have known since forever, which is that their government is too riddled with corruption and incompetence to be counted on for protection from random, wanton violence.

Third, editors do report the crime statistics. Even if they didn't, anybody who takes an actuarial approach to selecting vacation or retirement destinations can find them online.

Fourth, most people don't think like actuaries, praise Jesus. If there's a break-in on your block, you feel less safe when you hear about it, even if you just read that crime is down for the third straight year in your town.

Fifth, if you're looking for something to explain why more people aren't coming here to visit or buy second homes, the lingering effects of the recession are far more likely suspects than narco-terrorism headlines.

Finally, the Mexico fear factor may be a straw man. Lots of people don't seem to have any trouble figuring out that the actual risk to themselves from the drug wars is outweighed by Mexico's many attractions. I read recently that there are about 1.5 million U.S. and Canadian citizens living here at least part time, and the trend continues relentlessly up, not down.

Blaming an image problem on the media has been a popular parlor game forever for people who start with a grudge against them anyway. But players who claim to think journalists are hyping narco peril for fun and profit should be aware of an additional statistic.

Between 2006 and 2012, 67 reporters and editors were killed in Mexico and another 14 went missing, according to the country's special prosecutor for crimes against journalists. During those years, Mexico was one of the most dangerous countries in the world for people who report the news.

They continued to show up for work anyway, because they believe the cartel cancer on their society is a story that has to be told regardless of the risk to themselves. 

As they were putting their lives on the line, I doubt they gave much thought to how it might affect the plans of snowbirds and retiring baby boomers.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Change Is Hard

The basement laundry was coin operated for our first several years in New York City back in the 1980s. Then they put in a "launder-card" system and the sun rose on a new era.

Gone forever were the days of worrying not only about whether I had enough money, but also about whether it was the right money, the days of hoarding quarters for the jar, hoping one or two would come back with counter change, even sometimes tailoring purchases to achieve a sales total that would get me some.

It was a minor nuisance of city life, but an ever-present one. Then came the cards, and the tyranny of the quarter stopped on a dime. When it did, I never looked back.

Until now.

In Mexico, the question isn't whether you'll get back the desired coin with your change. It's whether your seller will be able to make change at all. There are times when your money is no good here. Or there. Or anywhere, so it seems, because nobody's got enough change.

And the prevailing retail culture here is that if you find yourself in a situation where the retailer can't make change from the legal tender you present, you are the one who has committed a social misdemeanor.

Last month I popped into an Oxxo, Mexico's answer to the 7-11, and poured myself a cup of their lousy coffee for which the price was the peso equivalent of about 40 cents. My heart sank at the counter when I realized the smallest thing I was carrying was a 200-peso bill, worth about 16 bucks.

The girl at the register made a face like a mouthful of spoiled milk and a scornful comment that I translated to myself as, "These people." She did, however, come up with the change and handed it over with a great show of struggling not to spit on it first.

If that's what happens in a national, high-volume convenience store chain, you can imagine a similar scene at a trinket shop or a fruit stand. You don't get the Oxxo attitude there, but you don't get your merchandise either, or at least not right away.

The clerk, or even the owner, will utter a quiet "Momentito, señor," and go looking for somebody in the back who might be carrying enough cash to make the change. If nobody's there, he may go out the door to cast the net wider on the street.

On occasion, it may take two or even more contributors to assemble the required scratch.  I slink away, mumbling my "Que tengan buen dia" -- have a good day -- and wondering how much of it they'll have to spend getting straight with each other.

We do our best to avoid these awkward moments, but there's no way to escape all of them. They call cash efectivo around here, but there are times when it doesn't deserve the name.

The ATM's dispense 500-peso bills for the lion's share of our cash withdrawals. Then we try to plan our shopping in hierarchical order. You can break a 500 at the supermarket, although we prefer to use a credit card there.

A 500 can also be used for a fill-up at the Pemex station, where we can't use credit cards anyway. And you can hand one to the waiter at a restaurant. He'll take it away out of your sight, and if they have trouble digesting it, at least you don't have to watch.

Any further shopping that doesn't include large purchases needs to be put off until after you've done one or more of the above.

Even then, you're not necessarily in the clear. Elizabeth's Dora balloon sprang a leak the other day, so Pam walked her down to the oceanfront malecon to get a replacement from the well-stocked vendor.

The price was 30 pesos. Pam handed the man two 20-peso notes, feeling pleased with how well she'd planned for the transaction.

"Momentito, señora," he said.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Quantum Fizzicks

I try not to miss a sunset if I can help it, so I stepped outside with my margarita at the restaurant where my friend Robert was exhibiting some new paintings recently to watch the last few minutes of daylight slip away behind the horizon.

The light show was about halfway done when Robert and his partner joined me at the balcony railing.

"The sky's pretty clear," I said. "Maybe we'll see the green flash."

The partner rolled his eyes, grunted and shrugged. I asked him if he'd ever seen it.

"He's seen it," he replied, nodding toward Robert. "But not me, no." He sounded a little like somebody talking about seeing leprechauns.

"Oh yes, I've seen it," Robert said with sympathetic modesty that anybody but a tolerant partner might have found more grating than honest gloating. People who have heard of the green flash but not seen it are common as bougainvillea blossoms around here.

The thing happens just as the last sliver of sun disappears, when the atmosphere and the curvature of the earth bend the light in a way that lets only the green portion of the spectrum reach an observer.

Conditions need to be ideal, an unobstructed view to a distant horizon with no interfering clouds or haze. And the angles are only right for a nanosecond. If you blink or turn to the bar for another sundowner, you miss it.

"I've seen it too," I said. And I'm pretty sure I have. If you keep your eye pinned to the very last wink of solar crescent before it's all gone, the wink changes hue. Sometimes it's too pale to be called a color, but other times it's definitely green.

I was afraid that Robert's partner might be feeling like the odd man out, so I tried to think of something reassuring to say.

"It happens so fast it's almost mythical," I told him. "It's probably a lot like cow tipping."

Our friend Vicki in Nebraska told us years ago about cow tipping. She was raised in farm country, and she said tipping cows was a popular after-party activity for small town teenagers. Cows sleep standing up, she explained. You can creep up on them in the dark and push them over on their sides. Sometimes they don't even wake up.

We were drinking, so this sounded hilarious. We definitely wanted to try it, and Vicki promised to take us along some time. But she never did.

I haven't run across anybody else who claimed to have tipped a cow or knew someone who had, and I've met several who assured me from personal knowledge of the creatures that it can't be done.

Still, for me it remains a charming possibility, though an elusive one. That's why it comes to mind whenever I'm empathizing with somebody who hasn't been in the right place at the right time with proper focus to catch a green flash.

I'm even a little unsure myself that what I've experienced is the thing everyone gets so excited about. The phenomenon I hear others describe seems a lot greener and flashier than mine. How many times do I have to watch the sun go down before I'm sure I'm not missing something?

It's not that I doubt it's real.

A number of years ago somebody gave me a set of DVD's with lectures by a world-renowned astrophysicist about the latest developments in astronomy. He started off with some basics, including the optics of the flash.

Then he took us on a tour of research frontiers in the wider cosmos, explaining in layman's terms how scientists are slowly but surely cracking the codes that will unlock the deepest secrets of the universe.

A decade later, those lectures are obsolete, and I've seen him quoted in news stories about some of the discoveries that overtook them. Dr. Alexei Filippenko of Berkeley is his name, an authentic genius who doesn't kid around.

So I'm a believer in the green flash. But if any of the deepest secrets of the universe turn out to include cow tipping, we should get a new universe.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Maldito If They Do, Or Don't

Maldito means something like "accursed." If you ever see a film with Spanish subtitles, you'll recognize it as the pallid stand-in for whatever filthy four-letter expletive is being uttered on screen.

But it seems like the right word to describe the sorry plight of anybody responsible for maintaining public safety in the truly maldito Mexican state of Michoacan, next door neighbor to the east and south of Jalisco where we live.

We were planning to go there next month so I could go shopping in Paracho, where all they've done for centuries is make guitars.

Unfortunately, the town lies in the middle of Michoacan (mitch-wah-CAN) just north of a region known as Tierra Caliente. Long known as the fertile source of a good part of Mexico's avocado and lime production, it's now notorious as the festering center of turf controlled by a barbaric drug cartel that calls itself the Knights Templar.

Farmers and small businessmen or anyone who might have something the "Knights" want lives under the constant threat of extortion, kidnaping, rape or murder.

Honest citizens got tired of waiting for their listless and corrupt authorities to do something about it. They organized into vigilante groups, armed themselves with shotguns and black market AK-47s, and started fighting back.

We began seeing news and photos of firefights on small town streets. That was more than enough to make us decide my old guitar would have to do for now.

It also either shamed or alarmed the federal police. They sent troops and took over state law enforcement, but instead of rooting out the narco-terrorists the troops targeted the self-defense groups, who were certainly easier to find.

Ugly headlines ensued, so the government made a deal last month with the vigilantes under which they would be deputized and allowed to continue fighting in exchange for registering and cooperating with the federales.

There was some applause for what seemed like good news. The deal certainly made sense to me.

Then last week I saw a story in the New York Daily News, which for some reason has been all over the Michoacan tragedy for many months. The story said the vigilante-federale alliance was doomed because the police were demanding that self-defense forces surrender their large-caliber weapons.

The piece invited readers to conclude that the feds are up to their old tricks, trying to co-opt and control a people's movement they regard as a more serious threat to them than the cartel. I almost took the bait myself.

This week, however, the New York Times ran an essay by a writer in Colombia who warned that his country tried working with self-defense forces against the drug lords too. It seemed to work at first, but in the end the vigilantes broke bad, and the government had another evil criminal army on its hands. He said Mexico better be more careful in dealing with self-defense forces.

Along those lines, other reports suggest that at least some of the large caliber weapons the government wants the vigilantes to give up are being provided by rival drug gangs in Jalisco eager to see the Knights Templar taken down a notch.

Hijos de perras! That's another way of saying maldito, no need to look it up.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Shirley Not

We're not telling Elizabeth that Shirley Temple just died. Is that wrong?

Maybe we'll talk about it some more and change our minds. But right now Pam seems pretty sure we shouldn't, and she's taken a lot more psychology a lot more recently than I have.

Elizabeth likes Shirley a lot. Last year Pam ordered a DVD three-pack consisting of Heidi, Little Miss Broadway and Curly Top. I've watched them all with her dozens of times.

We enjoy Curly Top primarily for the "Animal Crackers In My Soup" number, which is charming except for the line that goes "I stuff my tummy like a goop with animal crackers in my soup."  What on earth did "goop" mean, or was it just a cheap dodge for a writer who had run out of rhymes for soup?

My favorite of the three is Little Miss Broadway. I once read that it did poorly at the box office. But I think it showcases better than the others the astonishing show business package that Shirley Temple really was.

Her dance numbers with the talented though odd looking George Murphy are virtuoso performances for both of them. But she was hardly more than a toddler, whereas he had become so noted for his jiggling and dancing that California would soon send him to the U.S. Senate.

Shirley Temple's acting is remarkable too, full of small expressions and gestures that reflect maturity and experience far beyond her years and yet seem natural, not precocious as they often do with other child actors who have obviously been coached.

So Elizabeth and I are both big fans of Shirley the child star.

But Pam and I have hardly talked with E at all about the fact that Shirley Temple grew up and did a lot of other important though less famous things and was now an actual old lady with a family and a life that had nothing to do with being a make-believe orphan in movies made long ago.

I thought her death might be a good way to begin educating Elizabeth on the delicate subjects of grief and loss in a way that might help prepare her for the day they hit closer to home.

But no, Pam said,  it would only be gratuitous trauma if it was anything at all. And before we could inflict it we'd have to talk about fantasy characters versus the real actors behind them and try to give her a sense of the previously unknown and now deceased Shirley Temple Black. Before telling her she's dead.

In Pam's view, if Elizabeth didn't fall asleep in the middle of all this strained, self-conscious parenting, what's the point?

I admitted that the benefit I saw was entirely notional. I am as ignorant of how her little mind works as I was the day she was born.

One thing I am pretty sure of, though, is that she's farther along than we might think in distinguishing imaginative experience from real life.

This morning she was eating breakfast with her cheap but cherished inflatable Dora the Explorer that we got her a few days ago and from which she's been inseparable, day and night.  We were talking about the little homework task she'd done for school the night before.

"I don't think Dora's done her homework," I playfully remarked.

"Daddy," she said, in a way that conveyed some surprise that she had to set me straight on this. "Dora doesn't get homework. She's a balloon."

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Slang Blade

The other day a neighbor who is trying as hard as I am to improve her Spanish asked me if I knew what changuitos means.

Elizabeth told me some while back that chango means monkey, and since "ito" often turns a noun into its diminutive, I had my answer. "Little monkeys," I said.

Not bad, but not quite right. Some word player in the dim past noticed that two crossed fingers looks like a couple of tiny monkeys, and today changuitos in the right context is slang for "crossing my fingers," or "I hope so."

There's language for you. You might think after you've got 100 "power verbs" and the past and future tense under control that you'll be mistaken for somebody who really knows how to speak it. The fun hasn't even started.

Actually, I already had some vernacular for "I hope so." Around here and no doubt throughout the Spanish speaking world they say "ojala" -- accent on the last syllable and the j pronounced like a guttural h -- to express "a wish for a future event to occur."

That's quoted from the Wiktionary definition of the Arabic "inshallah," which translates more or less as "if God wills it." So ojala descends from one of the cultural fragments left behind when the Spaniards evicted the Moors, and now they've all got millions saying it in Mexico, including expats like me.

Basic Spanish is certainly pleasing to the ear, but like any other language its real richness lies well beyond the scope of any conversational course.

Browsing a list of slang I came across online, for example, I found a cluster of expressions involving the egg. The word "egg" is used among other things as a stand-in for cojones or balls, which I am guessing is why the phrase "a huevo" can mean "by force."

In polite company, you can substitute "a producto de gallina" (by hen product) or even "a producto avicola" (by avian product) to use the same crude metaphor.

Mexicans are at least as good at euphemism as we are. Reading Noticias Puerto Vallarta, a local online news site, I came across a story last week about a drunk arrested on the beachfront malecon after he had disrobed in broad daylight, treating onlookers to a full frontal view of his partes nobles.

Like "egg," the words for mother (madre) and father (padre) are powerfully symbolic and have produced their own families of slang expressions, some seemingly at odds with each other.

"A toda madre", for example, means great. But "una madre" is "a nothing, a zip, a zilch." I picked up the commonly heard "que padre" from a Spanish classmate last year and feel bold enough to use it now and then. It means "how cool," and if you're really enthusiastic about whatever it is, you can say "padrisimo."

I found a lot of speculation but no authoritative last word on why the street likes adapting words like these so often for so many purposes. But there are plenty of other expressions that are obvious.

For example, the phrase "ponte las pilas" translates literally as "put on your batteries," but the better translation is "get a move on."

Borrar means "to erase." Making it reflexive turns it into borrarse, which translates as "to erase oneself." You might use that verb to mean "to make oneself disappear" or in the equivalent English slang, "to split."

I found another infinitive in the newspaper the other day that appears in the dictionary as an ordinary verbal citizen, but my theory is that it started long long ago as slang.

The news story was about the wreck of a small plane and the death of its two passengers. The verb is "estrellarse." The word estrella means star, so the verb seems to mean literally "to star oneself." In the dictionary, however, it means to crash or smash into something, i.e. to go splat.

That seems disrespectful of the feelings of the bereaved, but I'm practicing etymology without a license and had better stop now.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Keeping It Real

There's a certain kind of tourist who prides himself on refusing to be satisfied with the synthetic brand of experience on offer in a place like Puerto Vallarta, who looks for the road less traveled where he can see and do what real locals do. I think I've mentioned this before.

Others have noticed too. Puerto Vallarta is ready to accommodate these special people. About an hour south of here is the town of El Tuito, which several of the self-styled travel curators who blog about these parts have certified as a taste of "the real Mexico."

I suspect many actual Mexicans would be discouraged to learn this. El Tuito is a dusty agrarian county seat with a population just shy of 3,000. It has a charming little town square and a modest church, but I can't think what would make it more authentically Mexican than anywhere else.

We live alongside Vallarta's own central plaza and principal church, and when we want to see weatherbeaten masonry, crumbling municipal infrastructure and loose chickens, we don't need to drive 40 miles into the hills. We can just look out the window.

Not that we didn't think our recent visit to El Tuito was worth the trip. It was, and for that matter the trip itself was worth the trip.

The highway south skirts the bay and offers panoramic Pacific views at every turn, all the way to Mismaloya where Night of the Iguana was filmed and beyond to Boca de Tomatlan, where you can catch a water taxi or hike the rugged cliff and jungle trail to the more remote beaches.

The road then veers away from the coast into the heights of the Cabo de Corrientes peninsula, which defines the southern edge of the vast Bahia de Banderas. As you go up, rain forest abruptly turns to long-needled pines. By the time you get to El Tuito in the center of the cape, you've climbed 2,000 feet and the air is noticeably cooler.

We went no further, but one of the best reasons for making the drive is that if you turn west off the highway onto one of the sketchy roads out of town, you eventually reach Mayto and the other beaches where there are only a couple of tiny hotels and literally nothing else but trackless sand and crashing surf as far as the eye can see. That's on our to-do list for sure.

El Tuito and its environs live mainly on farming of sorghum, agave and other row crops, raising livestock and the distilling of raicilla, which is tequila's evil twin. They also make panela, one of the soft, mild cheeses Mexicans favor.

But gringos who go there because they like to congratulate themselves on getting off the beaten track will be disappointed to learn that El Tuito isn't content with its relative obscurity and would be glad to trade its tranquility for more tourists.

The largest raicilla distillery now has its own boutique inn, the panela factory gives tours, there's a patio restaurant on the square that earns Tripadvisor stars, and also a tidy little cultural center with one of those colorful indoor murals featuring heroic effigies of historic figures that adorn public buildings all over Mexico. That's it pictured above.

What's "real" to me about travel is that wherever in the world you go, you find people trying to make a living the best way they can with whatever resources and skills they can bring to bear.

In places where those happen to be meager, it strikes me as curious at best that some visitors feel the impulse to hype and romanticize the resulting struggle to get by.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Love and Death in Mexico

In every rodeo I ever saw, a cowboy who wants to take down a running steer dives off his horse onto the animal's neck and twists its head by the horns until it falls over. But Mexican charros dress much fancier and prefer not to leave their saddles, so they do things differently here.

The horse and rider stand by a gate where a young bull is waiting to bolt. When the gate opens, horse and bull break at once into a pell mell gallop. In the first strides, the rider reaches down with his right hand and grabs the bull's tail.

Then he straightens in the saddle and swings his right leg over and around the tautened tail. That creates enough leverage that when the horse lengthens its stride to pull ahead, the bull's hindquarters are yanked sideways and it capsizes in a cloud of dust.

This short race takes place along a wall marked for distance. Generally the beef is off the hoof somewhere between 30 and 50 meters, the less the better for scoring purposes.

I watched this trick performed a dozen or more times this weekend at the Campeonata Nacional Charro, the national cowboy championship held at a special arena about an hour east of here. This part of Jalisco state isn't really what you could call cattle country, but I guess cowboys like to go to the beach too.

It was quite a spectacle, not so much a rodeo as a combination of dressage and folkloric dance. I really went because I wanted to see live escaramuza, the women's event featuring a team of riders dressed in boot length dresses and petticoats executing precision sidesaddle maneuvers in which they repeatedly almost collide but never do. It was as lovely as I hoped.

But all the events in one way or another were about riders working in intimate partnership with their mounts to perform a complicated choreographed task. One involved galloping to a chalk line, where the horse instantly lowers its hindquarters, stiffens its back legs and slides to a stop.

That's what the charro in the cribbed photo above from some other charreada is doing. (My own pictures were even worse than usual.) Judges then measure the skid marks to score the performance. The best distances while I was watching were about 16 meters.

In another phase of competition, the charro sat his horse waving a lariat and waiting for a horse to gallop past about 10 meters in front of him. His job was to toss the loop so it caught the two rear legs of his running target. I saw 15 or 20 men make the attempt. Only one missed. (The horses never went down. They just ran a few indignant tricycle strides and then kicked off the rope.)

It all looked elegant and easy. The charros in their embroidered pants, white shirts and floppy bow ties were studies in dignity and perfect posture. The horses were so casual in their discipline that it almost looked like joy. One of them even danced to the live oompah music coming from the bandstand while he waited with his rider for their event to start.

But although it looked like poetry, it was also physics. We had almost forgotten that matter in motion in these dimensions is risky for all concerned.

Then one of the tumbling bulls in the "tailing" competition apparently rolled into the right hind leg of the horse who upended him. As the charro emerged from the course, his mount limped, staggered and went over on its side.

A dozen charros immediately swarmed to the fallen horse and rider, stripped away the saddle and tack and cradled the animal's head while a veterinarian came to survey the damage.

After a minute or two, the horse struggled upright to some scattered applause, but a good part of the crowd were ranch people who knew better and watched in silence. The leg was broken right through and dangled uselessly for the few sad moments it took the horse to go down again.

The vet administered an injection, and after a short interval of waiting while it took effect, a couple of mounted charros got busy with lariats to clear the arena.

Then they struck up the band again.