Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Persistent calls from India

I’ve been getting a lot of unsolicited phone calls lately, usually to the phone number belonging to my former company. The business has been closed for long enough that I feel free to mess with whomever calls on that number. My favorite opening, after I hear the telltale click of an automatic dialer plugging me into a call center, is to ask before they say anything, “Are you calling about the virus on my computer?”

Since most of the people calling me do, in fact, want to put viruses onto my computer, they usually know they’ve been had and they hang up right away. But today I got a couple of extremely persistent guys. The first one assured me immediately that he wasn’t calling about a virus.

“OK. What would you like to sell me?” I asked.

“Oh,” he said, “I don’t want to sell you anything.”

I interrupted, “So how can you make money if you don’t have anything to sell?”

He replied that he wanted to give me something for free, so I asked how his bosses could possibly pay him if he didn’t have something to sell.

He replied that he wanted me to have solar power and that it wouldn’t cost me anything.

I interrupted again, “OK, you’re not selling anything but you want to sell me free solar power.”

He kept trying to explain his “free” product to me and I kept interrupting with stupid questions and jumping to absurd conclusions. The guy wouldn’t give up. Finally I asked, “Don’t you understand that I’m messing with you? Most people would have hung up by now.” Unimpressed, he pressed on with his sales pitch. I finally thanked him very much and told him I’d have to be the one to hang up.

The other persistent caller really did want to try the “virus on your computer” scam. Undeterred by my sarcastic opening, he assured me that he was calling from Windows Technical Support and that they’d noticed on their servers vast amounts of traffic indicative of a highly-sophisticated morphological virus. Clearly reading from a script he didn’t know very well, he had a hard time spitting out those fancy words.

Ignoring the fact that what he said made no technological sense, I said, “If you’re going to sell me a virus, you’re going to have to practice your script. That didn’t go smoothly at all.”

“Oh no,” he rejoined, “I never said anything about a virus…”

I interrupted, reminding him what he’d just said about that highly-sophisticated morphological virus.

He pressed on, gushing over the urgency of solving this problem. “I know you have a high-quality antivirus program on your computer. This problem can’t be detected by antivirus software. We need to solve it right away.”

“OK,” I said. “Tell me your phone number and I’ll call you back.”

“You don’t have time to call me back,” he urged, “you need to log onto our website right away.”

We circled around those points a couple of times. I said I wouldn’t do anything unless he gave me his phone number so I could call him back and then we’d talk further. I figured that if he gave me a real phone number I could complain to the authorities, but he wasn’t that stupid. He made up a phone number starting with 800 but ending with too many digits. It was painful to hear him making up the sequence, struggling over each digit and then going too far. I told him that couldn’t be a real phone number so he repeated the same number, though smoothly this time.

Next I asked for his name. I couldn’t call him back without knowing his name. He said his name was William, but he couldn’t really pronounce it. Then he elaborated, “William Vincent.” Great. Now he’s a family member. I actually did try dialing the first seven digits of the number he gave me. Sadly, it didn’t get me to William so our little game is over.

I may not bother answering the phone at all tomorrow. Apparently that guy I messed with a few weeks ago really meant it when he said that he definitely would NOT add me to his do-not-call list.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A day in the land of the Maya

We started the day with a visit to the Montejo mansion. Two successive governors Montejo founded the city of Mérida, which until then had been a Mayan city. At the end of our visit, we stepped into a classroom with a huge mural on the wall, showing the Montejo mansion in the midst of a Mayan landscape. Indigenous workmen chipped away the ornamentation from stones that Montejo had removed from Mayan temples. My heart went out to the workers in the mural, destroying important cultural artifacts on behalf of their oppressors, and I said something about it to Alla.

An employee of the mansion overheard my comment and “corrected” my impression. He claimed that the Maya had already abandoned the city when the Spaniards arrived, amplifying and decorating his story with numerous fabrications about the Maya. I looked at his Spanish face and let the matter drop after questioning his claim that Montejo had taken over an empty city. He seemed sure of his facts.

We stopped next at City Hall, where we spent a lot of time studying various murals and paintings depicting the history of the Yucatan Peninsula. Most of them included texts explaining the historical events shown, including the 20-year war between the invading Spaniards and the locals who didn’t want to give up their land. The Spaniards had better weapons and ultimately prevailed, though Mayan culture never disappeared and by now dominates the area.

By this time we’d gotten hungry and I asked a volunteer guide where to eat lunch. She wanted us to go to Chaya Maya, a restaurant where we’d had a disappointing lunch yesterday. Her face fell when I told her we didn’t like it. She said that it’s the best Yucatan food in the city and that the locals eat there. She really wanted us to try again. Her earnestness won us over, so we decided to go. This time we went to the restaurant’s original location, and I couldn’t immediately even find any non-Mayan customers in the room. We asked if we could have an English-speaking waiter and described what we wished we’d ordered yesterday. He helped us get a huge and delicious meal accompanied by a stream of fresh handmade tortillas.

We loved our meal. About the time we started talking about how we may have more than we could eat, Alla looked up and saw a man staring in the window with deep pathos. That is to say, he looked very hungry. Alla made him a taco from our serving plate and a waitress brought over a take-out box for it. The guy took his food nearby and ate it with such enthusiasm that we stopped eating altogether. Alla scraped up all the food we had left, begged a couple more hot tortillas from the lady making them, and added them to the man’s take-out plate. The look on his face confirmed that the food was more important to him than to us.

After lunch we visited the Anthropological Museum, which had an excellent contemporary pottery exhibit on the first floor and a Mayan architectural exhibit upstairs. We had a great time on both floors.

Apparently we walked around enough, because on the way back to our inn I noticed that my shoe was falling apart. I wanted to buy some glue, and looked at the shops and businesses we passed. Ultimately we reached a little building-supply store where the owner offered to sell me a Coke-bottle full of glue from a gallon can. While I didn’t object to the price, I didn’t want to waste an entire bottle of glue. Finally he agreed to put a smaller amount onto a piece of cardboard since I intended to use it immediately. I stood on a plastic bag while the glue set, and Alla went out to make change so we could pay our five-peso debt. My shoe is a little better, but not by much. The patch won’t hold for long, but we’re flying back to Boston tomorrow.

We’re glad we came to Merida, with its colonial architecture, great museums and festive streets. I think next time we’ll spend another weekend in the city and then move on to the heart of the archaeological zone nearby. We have a lot to see and a lot to learn.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Discovering Mérida

Various friends recommended that we visit Mérida, so we finally went. It may be the oldest continuously-occupied city in the Americas and it once housed more millionaires than any other city in the world. Today we saw lots of mansions and evidence of that former wealth, but on first glance the city looked pretty worn out. In fact, Alla decided last night that she liked our bed-and-breakfast much better than she liked the city and she resolved to hole up at home for our few days in town. I practically had to drag her a few blocks to the square where our landlord told us we’d find food vendors and music.

Alla complained of narrow sidewalks, empty streets and a general feeling of dread all the way to the square. Her concern increased when we got there before the vendors had finished setting up because things even there looked pretty desolate. Alla wanted to flee, figuring she could live on the avocados she had left from Cancun. I held out for something better to eat. As Alla reached the limit of her patience, a woman started setting out interesting-looking ingredients for tacos and Alla noticed.

I helped the woman string up her lights and she gave me my first taco free. We ended up eating many different kinds of tacos, and we liked every one of them. By the time we finished eating, we noticed musicians setting up on a stage. We stayed for the music, and finally went home with hopes for today.

After breakfast we set out to walk the main streets that had been blocked off for bicycles and pedestrians. We saw lots of mansions, plenty of people on foot and on bikes, and lots of interesting artists and vendors of interesting and delicious things. After our walk, we went to another park for more live music and more tacos. I met several American ex-patriots buying tacos from a vendor who speaks good English. My Spanish is coming back, but I was happy to talk with the taco lady in Englsih. Anyway, we really liked the music at this square and stayed a long time. I even got Alla to dance with me.

By now Alla’s impression of Mérida had improved dramatically and by the end of the day we even started talking about coming back next year. Especially after we discovered a beautiful theater with a free dance performance. We’ll go back for another free performance tomorrow evening. I hope it’s as good as tonight’s, which we both liked a whole lot. Actually, I think we both like Mérida a lot.