First Symposium of American Retirees and Mexican Government Representatives

National Forum on the North Ameican Retiree Community: Expectations and Options for Living In Mexico

by Beryl Gorbman

This past weekend, I was an invited delegate to a conference in Mexico City, along with 44 other American expats, who met with highly placed officials of the Mexican federal government and the American embassy to talk about issues of concern to American retirees here.

The conference was coordinated by an organization called International Community Foundation (ICF) and was handled beautifully by a Mexican PR firm. ICF has produced a number of studies about American retirees in Mexico, some with surprising conclusions and statistics, that had been made available to us before the conference. You can read these studies on their website. Their goal is to promote good works in Mexico through the philanthropy of American retirees.

Most of ICY’s focus to date has been on the western coastal communities of Mexico, but they were enthusiastic about having representation from other parts of the country.

There were people in our group who had accomplished some laudable civic endeavors. I was deeply impressed by Ted Rose and Susan Hill of Colima and their organization Project Amigo . Not only do they get American dentists and other caregivers to come down and treat people, but they provide scholarships for disadvantaged kids, and regularly send them to the USA to live with American families and attend school.

Ted Rose of Project Amigo – center. Susan Hill, second from left.

All the Americans and the organizers got together Thursday evening and talked about the meetings with the Mexican officials the following day. ICF suggested four major areas for our conversation focus:

  • How American retirees and the Mexican government can increase opportunities for local communities
  • How the Mexican government can help expats age in place
  • How the Mexican government can improve engagement in local communities (?)
  • How the American expat community can help improve the image of Mexico outside the country.

Initially, we were in an elegant meeting room, that looked like a medieval courtroom in a building next to the federal palace in the zocalo. We were joined by about 100 Mexicans from various organizations and a number of people from the newspapers and TV stations. (Most of the newspapers covered the meeting the next day.)

Meeting participants

Officials' podium

Mtra. Gloria Guevara Manzo, National Secretary of Tourism. To her right is Richard Kiy, President of ICF.

Ms. Guevara, surrounded by reporters

Other officials included  Lic. Nathan Wolf Lustbader, the director of the federal economic office of foreign relations (to the best of my translation abilities).

The room in the magnificent old building where the common sessions were held, was truly royal. Bishops’ chairs lined the walls and the carved wall in back of the speakers’ podium was a work of art.

back wall of podium

The general tone was that the Mexican government valued the financial and philanthropic contributions of the increasing numbers of American retirees and want to know what services we think we need to continue living in Mexico.

After the official presentations, we broke up into smaller groups and met with people from our own states – officials involved in tourism, foreign relations, and economic development. They were quite sincere in wanting to know what our concerns were about Mexico. The discusussions were genuine dialogues – questions and answers across the board, all done with a spirit of genuine interest and cooperation. It was an intelligent exchange, one that I enjoyed immensely. I felt we were clearly heard.

Some of the expats expressed fears of continued cartel violence and said that if it got worse, they would consider leaving Mexico. Some of us talked about the need for assisted living facilities for our ageing population, and access to good medical care.

Our discussion group, which inlcuded expats from Yucatan, Colima, San Miguel and Ajijic, was attended by about eight attentive government officials, including two from Yucatan, one from the State Tourism Board. We were carefully recorded and observed – they were really interested in what we had to say.

Since one of the stated goals of the conference was to attract more retirees to Mexico, I pointed out that the Tourism Board might consider producing new promotional materials that stressed the truly wonderful things about Mexico and not just the recreational and vacation opportunities.

Martha Lindley of Merida suggested that they consider planning assisted living facilities so that those of us who so desired could “age in place.” Howard Feldstein, from Ajijic, was concerned about the crime rate they were experiencing there – not narco crimes, but home invasions and robberies. The officials said they would look into heightened security.

Howard Feldstein from Ajijic

Some of these photos are from the cocktail hour and dinner we had the night before the conference. It was a great group.

Bob Bruneau, who nominated me for the conference, is an old and dear friend from Seattle. It was so good to see him after many years. He and his partner own a flower shop in Puerto Vallarta. He was my real estate broker years ago in Seattle.

As it turned out, Anne McEneny of ICF and I had been exchanging communications on and off for some time about some of my blog articles and I had published the link to their agency reports almost two years ago.

Bob Bruneau, Puerto Vallarta

Merida's own charming Martha Lindley

Delegates from Baja

You can spot an (ex) New Yorker anywhere.

Anne McEneny of ICF is in the center.

After the conference wound up with final speeches by officials at around 1:30, we went to Sanborns House of Tiles with Russ Mills of Puerto Vallarta. We were all quite pleased at the way the conference had gone. Speaking for myself, I don’t recall ever having been asked by a Mexican government representative what might make my life here more pleasant. I appreciated the opportunity and I thank them for listening to us and for having this conference.


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Mexico City’s Grand Zocalo

by Beryl Gorbman

The Templo Mayor ongoing excavation

Last weekend in Mexico City, I had an opportunity to hike through the entire Templo Mayor excavation project, the ancient Aztec buildings right in the main zocalo, just next to the grand cathedral. The archaeologists have removed a number of the old colonial buildings in the last thirty years, as the extent of the Plaza Mayor revealed itself, but I think they are done tearing things down and they are reconstructing what they have. These are the remains of the grand Aztec city of Tenochtichtlan, constructed in the 14th century.

An extensive and well-constructed wooden catwalk takes you, by twists and turn, through the entire site. I might mention that there are lots of up and down stairs that can wreak havoc on the knees of those of who are no longer young. That, combined with the thin air of Mexico City, suggests that you allow plenty of time to get through the site.

At every turn, you are treated to views of the ancient buildings juxtaposed with colonial splendor (the cathedral) or the more modern buildings of downtown Mexico City. Unlike our ruins in Yucatan, the Templo Mayor project is right in the middle of downtown and the contrasts are spectacular.

Of course when Hernan Cortes arrived in the 16th century, he did his best to level the old city and construct the grand colonial structures that are in today’s zocalo. These buildings include the government palace and the spectacular Metropolitan Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary. 

The reconstruction is an extraordinary project, exposing temples, sacrificial chambers, sewage systems, and residences. Just next to it is a spectacular museum containing objects from this site and others. For a single admission price, you can hike for hours – through the ruin and the four-story museum.

Spillway to carry "black water" out of Tenochtitlan (Where to, I wonder?)

Quetzalcoatl, I suppose

Tenochtitaln ruins against the colonial skyline


The Templo Mayor Museum

This large new museum in the ancient complex is a fascinating building. Although it is a dull sandy square from the outside, a lot of thought went into the indoor architecture, full of grand internal vistas, educational cubbyholes, good standard glassed-in displays, and best of all, huge structures standing here and there, designed to surprise you as you round a corner or step off of a staircase. I actually gasped when I suddenly encountered a massive god figure standing in my path as I got off the elevator.


Aside from the contents themselves, the thing I like best about this museum is its masterful lighting. The objects weren’t just illuminated, they were enhanced and made even more beautiful by the plays of light and shadows. I have a few pictures of some of these displays, but they do not do them justice.

I was so captivated, I didn't read the signage on this or any of the others.

Massive animal head

The god figures seem more literal than the Maya ones.

The Cathedral

The cathedral, which took over 250 years to complete, was one of Cortes’ first projects, which he had constructed directly on top of the old city. It is unbelievable to behold, the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas.

Main entry to the grand cathedral

No matter how much of a heathen you are, you’d have to be made of ice not to feel the power and beauty of this place.

Main altar

Here’s a photo of the whole cathedral, courtesy of Wikipedia.

The general area 

We got around the area by what I call tuk-tuks. They are pedi-cabs with electric motors that supply 20% percent of the power.

Pedi-cabs with motorized assistance

If you’re looking for skilled workmen, they are set up in front of the cathedral.

Masons, plumbers, whatever you need...

This figure, located in a public building, defies explanation and I didn’t ask. My friend Bob said he was “hot.”

Who might this be?

We also saw the Palacio des Belles Artes, Alameda Park, and had lunch in the original Sanborns (House of Tiles.) Mexico City is endless fascination. I was there for only two days, with only a few hours to myself. I look forward to my next trip, but may need an oxygen tank.


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Pictures of the Week

Beryl Gorbman

Please feel free to use my photos, but I would appreciate it if you would credit them.

Seattle Krispy Kremers

Each guy is eating a full dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. Look at them! Who needs anti-depressants?

Krispy Kreme rules
Keith and Richard’s Garden

Capitol Hill Garden

Thanksgiving turkey, poor thing. 

Doomed turkey BEFORE

This turkey, raised by my brother in Seattle, weighed 42 lbs. dressed and unstuffed. At least my bro lost the nerve to slaughter him himself and took him to a butcher who quickly dispatched him for $10.

Turkey met doom.

As if he'd never lived...

One of the World’s Cuter Dogs

Curry Irvine-Geller

Face With a Thousand Stories

Thank you for letting me take your picture.

Black Friday, Northgate Mall, Seattle

Fashionable Thanksgiving OD

Houston Airport 12/27/11

Rocky and his person waiting for a flight

Home Sweet Home


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Police Brutality in the US

Beryl Gorbman

Generally, I’ve been a police fan. I like having them around. But thanks to the Occupy movement and other incidents, my feelings about the Seattle Police have changed.

Today, Richard Pauli sent me this YouTube video of an officer in California needlessly pepper spraying a group of silent, inert demonstrators – and the video goes on to righteously ridicule the officer. Here is the link.

Since the US populace has been complacent since the early 70s, and there have been few public outcries about anything, I haven’t given much thought of the ability and proclivity of some officers to wantonly abuse power.  We (me included) have satisfied ourselves with writing piercingly clever editorials and letters, displaying our artful use of words on websites, and having intellectual discussions when social issues have raised our yuppie ire. Speaking for myself, a person who made noise and marched in the 60s, we have relaxed. Too much. Now, at last, a young, energetic mass of people have risen, as if from nowhere, furious with the outrageous status quo and not holding back their opinions, which have taken an active, visible form. Good for them and it’s about time.

The pepper spray video shows just how far behind the police are in dealing with spirited crowds. I imagine police training in recent decades has not included much emphasis on how to work with non-violent demonstrators. I hope that gets remedied very soon.

The mistreatment of the Occupy demonstrators all over the country has underlined a general  misuse of police power that should have shocked us (me) into action before this. In the last few years, in fact, Seattle Police have fatally shot so many civilians, that they are under federal investigation. The most apalling case was the fatal shooting of well-known Native American woodcarver John T. Williams, as he was walking downtown carving a piece of wood. Officer Ian Burke approached him from the rear, and from a distance of about twelve feet, shouted at Williams to drop the knife. Williams didn’t and Burke fired multiple shots, killing the elderly man.

John T. Williams (photos from Seattle Times)

The Seattle Times, 12/17/2010, reproduces the narrative from the Officer’s microphone/recorder.

Officer Birk: “Hey, Hey, Hey. Put the knife down, put the knife down, put the knife down.”

(Shots fired) Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.

Officer Birk radios in: “Unit 33. Shots fired Boren and Howell. Subject wouldn’t drop the knife.”

Dispatcher: “Shots fired. Boren and Howell….”

Further radio transmissions can then be heard.

Then, a faint woman’s voice can be heard saying, “He didn’t do anything.”

Officer Birk can be heard saying “Ma’am, he had a knife and he wouldn’t drop it.”

The radio dispatcher asks for a status report.

Officer Birk answers, “Under control. Subject is down.”

Dispatcher: “Copy. Subject is down.”

When other officers arrive, Birk can be heard saying:

“He had the knife open. I approached him. I asked him to drop it multiple times. He wouldn’t drop it and he turned towards me.”

Other officers can then be heard talking among as they deal with the scene.

Then, in response to an officer asking if he’s ok, Birk says:

“Yeah, I’m fine.”

The officer asks “he just had a knife?”

Birk: “Yeah, he had it out. He was carving it up, carving up that board, with it open. I approached him, and the tool (?), I instructed him to drop it multiple times. He wouldn’t do it.”

Other officer: “Good job.”

Birk: “Yeah.”

The knife appears to be only three inches long, and I believe the illegal length for an open knife blade in public is six inches.


Furthermore, John T. Williams was as deaf as a post and did not hear the officer calling him.

Last week, the SPD pepper sprayed an 84 year-old woman who had come downtown on an errand and decided to join the demonstrations. I can’t imagine that Dorly Rainie was enough of a threat to warrant this treatment.

Dorly Rainey (photo from Seattle Times)

By the way, one of Dorly’s two rescuers was an Army sergeant named Caleb, who I had featured in an article about Occupy Seattle recently.

Here is an excerpt from an article called America Has Become a Facist Police State by a writer named Carl Gibson on Reader Supported News.

In the early years of public school, or in public addresses by politicians, America is touted as the Land of the Free, or the Land of Opportunity, or the Greatest Country on Earth. We’re taught from near-infancy that this country was founded on the right to say what you want, whenever, wherever, to whomever. We’re told we have the freedom to assemble peacefully, to petition our leaders for a redress of grievances. We’re taught that if you’re apprehended by the law, you have the right to a fair trial and legal representation.

Yet, today we live in a country where government aids the corporate takeover of elections. Here, banks who fraudulently took Americans’ homes for profit can get bailed out by the taxpayers, and use the money to pay themselves 12-figure bonuses. This is a country where even US citizens can be detained without due processtortured, and even assassinated overseas.

Today, in the Land of the Free, nonviolent political protesters using their First Amendment rights to speak out against all of the above can be beatentasered, and maced by heavily-militarized police forces, using military-grade equipment, without any provocation.

Here is the link to the entire article.

I’ve tended to think that writing like Gibson’s is extreme and that if you behave well and put one foot in front of the other, the system will protect and help you. I’m afraid one thing I’ve learned from the Occupy movement is that I am wrong about this and I find it terrifying.

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A Gentle Death

Beryl Gorbman

Merida, Yucatan

Yesterday I had the privilege of spending some time with a friend who was dying. I realize this sounds corny, but it was, for me, a profound experience.

Teetering on the brink of death is a sacred time for the dying person, no matter who they are, and for those who share it, it can be a sacred time too. It is an overwhelming concept that very soon, this human being will cease to exist. It is like distilling a whole life into a pinpoint of consciousness, and then releasing it.

My friend, who died this morning, was in her late 70s and she wasn’t well. She was in pain and her husband had died within the last year. She made a decision to stop eating and she just lay down in her bed and waited.

When I held her hand, I felt her deep despair and sorrow. She was weak, but her desire to die was strong. I was sorry she was leaving this way instead of on the pink cloud described in much of the literature, where people come to terms with death and are ready and accepting, and sort of float out into the tunnel of light with smiles on their faces.

None of the deaths I’ve witnessed have gone that way. They have all been sorrowful, or painful, or in one case, screaming angry.

We’re so tuned to extend our lives – lose weight, exercise, think positive, do yoga – that until you’re directly confronted with it, it’s hard to wrap your head around the fact and finality of physical death. To see a gentle death, to be involved in it, can give spiritual perspective to our view of things. An entire life extinguished.

People who are dying know that although we who remain are sorry and mournful of their passing, that soon we will get over it and they will be dim memories. That’s all that will be left of them. Dim memories, getting dimmer by the day.

Coming to terms with your own death probably means letting go of your concern about being forgotten. My friend who died today had come to those terms. Relatively few people were involved in her last days. She just wanted it to be over.

Courage takes many forms. Usually courage means striking out bravely and accomplishing something, standing in the face of danger. My friend’s courage was the opposite. What she had decided to do was NOT fight for her life, NOT try to stop death, but instead, to let nature take its course without interference.

It was her decision, to stop eating and not sustain herself. She felt she had accomplished everything she wanted to accomplish. She said good-by to her family and friends. She meticulously prepared her records and paperwork. Everything was in order.

We will miss her.

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I’ve taken these pictures of meat and fish, cooked and raw, over the years at markets, restaurants, and homes. Some are appetizing and some are not. The pig head picture is my personal favorite. A few years ago I put it on a photo site and it was censored.

Carne in wating, King County Fair, WA, USA

This is what I got in a town near Mt. Fuji, Japan, when I asked for an “American style” hamburger. It’s in sauce and there is a hard-boiled egg on top.



Japanese style burger

Waiting for the butcher, Teabo Yucatan

4-H kid and his beloved protein, USA

Ill-fated piglets, Yucatan

Walking the piggies

Moo. Yucatan

Peek-A-Boo, Oxcutzcab Yucatan

Slaughtered deer, in home of a hunter, Merida

Japan restaurant display - plastic replica

Hacienda Misne, Merida

Pike Place Market, Seattle

Chicken stall at market

Doggie cleanup

sushi with fish eggs

Lechon, Taqueria La Curva, Merida


Carnaval, Merida

Vietnamese to-go, Seattle

Sisal, Yucatan


Heavenly Cuban goat stew





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Occupy Seattle

Beryl Gorbman

Seattle has its own version of Occupy Wall Street. We’ve visited it several times.

The first time was a quiet Tuesday late morning. The police had come through at 7 a.m. and removed all the tents, so many of the demonstrators had gone. There was still a large police presence. The Occupy group is in Westlake Plaza, in the center of the downtown business district.

She has been here every time I've gone.

There were lots of exhausted demonstrators and some real characters. Most of the crowd this Tuesday were young, some homeless, many pretty strange. By about 11 a.m., some of the organizers arrived. They were all tall, white, thin, and snotty. They wore casual but expensive clothing.

Party entertainer

Below are two pictures of Caleb, one of the demonstrators. He is active military. In the first picture, he removed his velcro name tag, but in the second picture, he decided to put it back on.

“I just got back from two tours in Afghanistan,” Caleb says. “”And when I look at it now, I think this country is fucked up.”

Caleb was holding an American flag. “Wanna help me burn this?” he asked. “Maybe later,” I said.


Caleb 2



When I returned a few days later, the tone had changed. It was a Saturday. There was a speakers’ podium with a lot of photos and signs about police brutality. I guess this is why people are confused about the goals of this movement. I had come because of the economic issues, and so had a lot of other people. There were several hundred police officers and the people screaming into the mike were trashing the police (who are far from perfect as we all know) and calling them murderers. I thought this was rude. If I had been a police officer, I would have been angry, but they are trained to not take things personally, I guess. I was annoyed because I thought there were bigger issues at stake than police brutality.

The general tone of the large crowd was a lot angrier too. Here is one of the angriest human beings it has ever been my misfortune to meet. His name is Robert.

He was yelling at the police. “I’m gonna kill all of you punks,” he shouted.

“But they have guns,” I pointed out.

“I don’t give a shit,” he answered. “I’m German. My people stacked Jews up like burnt cordwood at those concentration camps,” he said proudly. “That’s in my blood. Not that I think it’s good to murder Jews, but that’s how tough we are.” He said he had been run off of his property and the elderly relative he was caring for had been placed in a facility.

“They have guns, and I have God,” he said.

Then I had a couple of constructive conversations. The first was with Tabitha, a lovely and intelligent young woman who sincerely wanted to see changes in the lopsided economic structure of our country. She was carrying a clip-board and then went off to make signs.

“I am trying to fight the media slant on these demonstrations,” she said. “We are not disorganized. What we have done is make a group decision not to interfere with what anyone has to say and people here have different issues and points of view. But we are all deeply unhappy about the way things are headed in this country.”


Then I met Clint, talked about how corporations have more voice in the running of the country, how government and business is intermingled, and the greed of the banks. He said that Chase Bank had donated $3 million dollars to the Seattle police department to support them during the demonstrations.


Clint says that November 5 has been targeted as the date for people to pull their money out of commercial banks and put it in credit unions. (We have personally already initiated this process, and are migrating from Wells Fargo, which dreams up new fees every week, to a credit union.)

Clint says, “We are many groups with a common goal.”

These demonstrators are showing a police officer a photo of someone they said had been murdered by the police.

Showing one of many posters of people killed by police

Here are a couple of guys I thought were undercover police, but they turned out to be a father and son. The son (R) is in the army, stationed at Lewis-McCord and his dad is visiting from out of town.

“I don’t understand why they aren’t more focussed,” said the dad. “They have no organization.  But they do have a lot to be angry about – cronysism, corporate greed, the relationship between corporations and the government…Why did it take young people so long to figure out that there was a problem – that’s what I don’t understand. I’m glad to see them doing this.”

Father and son


A lot of people were wearing masks. “So I won’t be known,” said one middle-class looking man.

Napping on the job


I asked these young people why they were masked and wearing black. They said it was because they are anarchists.


The whole area was surrounded by police. There were police officers on bikes in the mall. At the big intersection just outside the square (4th and Pike) there was a wall of motorcycles. And around the corner, there were plenty of police cars. My favorites were the mounted police. They let me pet a horse.

And there were a lot of straightforward, serious people, carrying signs they believed in, willing to share their points of view, and glad to be there.

Marcia is a social worker.


Cute face, sad sign

Camera looks like a weapon


The demonstrations are like big parties – lots of earnest conversations, friends running into friends, expressions of beliefs. Only they have a dark and frightening overtone. At any moment, the whole thing could explode into angry violence. Some of this is because of the divergence of ideas, some of the darkness is due to random anger, and some to unreasonable police activities like removing the demonstrators’ tents on a cold morning.

There is no doubt, however, that there is a lot of anger out there – and that all sectors of the population are represented. All races, rich and poor, unemployed and professional. And all of us, including the police, are in the 99%, not the top 1% of the population in terms of wealth.

Musician with nice coat


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Finished cover for Madrugada

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Bad Manners at La Choperia Restaurant


Beryl Gorbman

The other day, when 89-year-old Silvia Thomson, who is from England, went into La Choperia on Calle 56 y 51 with her daughter Sandra, they were told that they couldn’t order from the menu – that only the buffet was available. They were surprised as it was a weekday. Mrs. Thomson eats like a bird. She didn’t want the buffet.

So Sandra ordered the buffet, and took a modest amount of food. The first thing she did was slice off a tiny bit of beef for her mom, and give it to her on a fork.

To their amazement, a waiter rushed over and prevented the older woman from eating. He said that since there were two of them, they had to order two buffets. “You can’t eat that,” he said. “This is not for sharing.”

Mrs. Thomson said she was “extraordinarily surprised” and immediately put down the fork. She and her daughter got up, paid the bill, and left without eating anything.

Mrs. Thomson commented, “I have never been treated that way before in Merida. Perhaps a Mexican establishement would not have behaved that way.” (La Choperia is Brazilian.)

Sandra said that unfortunately, Flavio, the affable owner, was not there or this probably would not have happened. Both she and her mother have been there before. Her mother is a visitor, but Sandra, who owns a guest lodging in Holbox,  is a frequent patron.

“I’ll never go there again,” Sandra said. “It was unbelievable.”

According to Mrs. Thomson, there were only two other people in the restaurant at the time. She and her daughter asked the waiter whether he actually wanted them to leave rather than allow a bit of leeway for an older lady. “Those are the rules,” he said.

La Choperia


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