May 31, 2013

Storytime

My roommate and I were talking about the disappeared kids, and she really felt strongly that if there was a whiff of bent cops, it was highly likely to be bent cops.

She then told me this story, from about ten years ago.

Every year, the American school where she works takes all the second graders to a camp in the countryside for a few days of being away from parents, nannies, etc, because camp is a good way to make sure you're getting educational experiences outside of the classroom.

Anyway, so they all live in one long building: girls dorm, nurse's station, boys dorm, and spaces for a few teachers and the camp councilors. One dark and stormy night, around 5 am, one of the teachers was awakened to the sound of men shouting. At first she thought it was workers trying to reconnect the power because the lights were gone.

Then she heard the shouts of "chests to the floor!" and in bursts masked men with machine guns. 40 heavily armed masked men had forced their way into the compound and the building. In the other room, the teachers had guns to their heads. In the boys dorm full of second graders, the masked assailants were busy beating the crap out of the camp councilors and staff.

An emergency call was placed to the US embassy pinpointing the distress call, and the embassy immediately got on the phone with the local police department who promised to investigate and then did absolutely nothing. So the embassy responded by sending trucks and helicopters.

The masked assailants turned out to be the police, who claimed they had the wrong address and thought they were busting a meth lab. Mexican law requires all law personnel to wear some kind of identifying insignia. These cops had nothing except body armor, masks, and guns. Coming from a country which bombed the Chinese embassy because of a wrong address, I can understand a little bad intel.

What remains inconceivable is why the assault would continue when you force your way into what is obviously a summer camp for the city elites filled with children.

The shitstorm which followed must have been epic. The son of one of heads of a major Mexican bank was among the terrified students and he came out with four cars of bodyguards to verify with his own eyes that his son was OK. The mayor of the state came to the school personally to apologize. You can bet that whatever shithead was in charge of the operation, and probably a good number of police were probably sent off to hunt chupacabras somewhere godforsaken in the north, if they were allowed to keep their jobs.

I'm constantly reminded that Mexico is largely whodunit territory- who can really draw the line between police incompetence and corruption?

Grocery run


Playime at Discotheque Bilbao

Last night, I had a few drinks with friends, then we watched a movie, then drank a lot more beer, danced, and finally around 1 AM, my boss kicked us all out of the office. Wait, what?

Tatiana and David co-teach an architecture studio in Dusseldorf and their students have been in Mexico for the past week (see the post about 'eye tacos') and last night, I guess they wanted to show a movie related to the studio and also give the students a chance to mix with the office.

The beer came up to the office in two full shopping carts, and after lunch, there was a white storm of cleaning and sorting and storing models. A little after six, David set up a projector, and started playing Shantel's Disko Partizani, which was a bit of a shock because it's really esoteric (although Shantel is German). Anyway, all the German kids came back and we started passing out the wine and beer. Mexico only has two types of beer- pale lagers or dark lagers. They're both weak, although the best of the sad selection is Victoria, a dark lager which is a clear winner over Tecate, Corona, Sol, DosEquis, Leon, Modelo, etc (and they're almost all brewed by the same massive conglomorate Modelo.)

Anyway, we chatted with the German kids for about an hour while munching on bread and a party tray. I met an interesting student named Stefan, who has also traveled extensively and we compared notes on Mexico, China, and Germany. Most of them spoke good English, although really they'd have to to be able to understand Tatiana's lectures.

The movie we watched was called Playtime, by a French director Tati, filmed in the 1960s in a hypermodern vision of Paris where all the buildings are uniform international style, and you only see the famous monuments reflectedd momentarily in glass doors. It loosely follows a large tour group of American women and a Magoo-like Frenchman. It's a great movie actually, a gentle satire of Modernism both as an architectural style and mode of thinking and working. It's an obvious heavy influence on Terry Gilliam's Brazil, although Tati finds the humor in the humanist-modernist conflict which is only slighly exaggerated here, while Gilliam finds the horror in its bleak full expression.

Tati is also more subtle than Gilliam. There's a great extended scene of some apartments with entire walls of glass shot totally from the exterior since the facades are so transparent. In one of the scenes, a man slowly undresses, distracted by watching the TV in the wall, on the opposite side of which a woman sits, watching attentively the TV in the same wall. From the street, the scene becomes a striptease although neither knows it.

Anyway, after the movie, I figured everyone would leave, but instead, more beers were passed around, and David and his professor friends acted as DJ, and before you could say "uno mas?" the office became a dance floor. Lots of salsa and merengue. And more beer. At one point, for reasons which escape me, everyone in the office was linked arm around each other's waists as we circled a group of desks doing some kind of simple Turkish folk dance.

The German students were amused by their dean and the professors getting loose on the dance floor, and I've been in thier position before- the exhileration and liberation of study abroad. Anyway, we all had a good
time and finally David kicked the stragglers out of the office a little after 1 am.

It's post transit hours, so I ended up walking back the apartment, although Vania and Mariano walked with me part way. I was a little more on guard than usual, since a few days ago apparently 11 young adults were kidnapped in broad daylight (by the police? by the cartels? by the mafia?). They were taken from Zona Rosa, from a club a few blocks from where I work, although they were all Mexicans from a violent and dangerous section of the city, which probably had some bearing on thier kidnapping. The club was closed and the police deny any knowlege, although witnesses say that the SUVS into which the people were taken had police markings (although this too, could be faked).

May 30, 2013

celebratory photograph

We found out yesterday that we didn't win the competition to design the new basilica in Cancun. Today, more details emerged about the winners. They're not well known, actually nobody in the office knew who they were. The celebratory publicity photograph issued for the press said a lot though. Nobody could have been happier than the ecstatic padre, with the possible exception of the architects, who are visibly overjoyed.


Still too early to tell about the proposed design. Could be terrible, could be amazing.

May 29, 2013

grappling with social issues

A Very Pedestrian Superhero Grapples With Mexico City Traffic

Lucha Libre USA Mexican wrestling tour grapples with controversy

One of the cultural identifiers of Mexico seems to be its Lucha Libre masked wrestlers. It's actually not too different from the American WWF when you get down to it- heros and villians, backstories, staged bouts, the pageantry of it all.

However, unlike the US, luche libre characters sometimes are expressions of social needs or deeply rooted issues. For example, Nacho Libre was based on a true figure of a Catholic Priest who assumed the identity of Father Storm to raise attention and money for an orphanage.

When the AIDS crisis hit Mexico in the 80's, a villain emerged by the name of El Sida (SIDA is AIDS in Spanish), who won round after round, taking out heros until he was finally defeated at the last minute by Superbarrio.

Superbarrio emerged in the wake of the 1985 eathquake as a crusader and advocate for the victims of that disaster in particular and for the poor in general. In the aftermath of the quake, the government took a week to respond, and so instead of letting their neighbors perish in the rubble, the city organized itself into rescue teams and dug themselves out.

Why don a mask instead of writing their representative in congress, writing letters to the editor, or circulating petitions? Because these are actions that only work in well-functioning democracies. The Mexican government in general probably deserves only slightly more credit than the public gives them (none). These luchadors work by calling very public attention to issues to generally embarrassing the hell out of whatever government bureau is failing its constituents.

Which brings me to the above new examples. I became an instant fan of Peatonito (little pedestrian), the champion of the pedestrians and defender of crosswalks from overly zealous drivers, and advocate for better sidewalks. Frankly, I think its awesome. Mexico City needs you, Peatonito! Take back the streets for the pedestrians! Push back against the tyranny of the cars! Where can I get a tee shirt? Unsurprisingly, the alter-ego of Peatonito is a mild-mannered urban planner.

The other story is darker, on the north side of the border, the inevitable villian representing the anti-Mexican sentiments. The evil luchador has taken the name of Brewer, a blatant reference to Jan Brewer, head of the Department of Homeland Pageantry.

This kind of social activism gets me kind of fired up. Dare I wear the mask of El Aguador, crusader against urban hardscape and advocate for localized rainwater retention and use?

Or is it time for Espacio Publicito, (Don EP), who defends public space against the encroachments of government and private commercial interests?

May 28, 2013

cultural transpositions

The andean flute music is gone. Maybe there were complaints.

Today, without any money, I roamed the other side of the Reforma to see the balance of the other pavillions. Japan and China were booming. Tons of stuff for sale. Japan was selling everything from chopsticks to inflatable katanas to Zojirushi rice cookers. Korea was doing a brisk business too, although the tee shirts the staffers were wearing said "I [heart] Korea" instead of "Y[o] [corazón] Coréa". There were other odd transpositions too. I caught the Chinese booth selling genmaicha (Japanese tea) the US booth was selling French fries.

Actually, I was really curious about what the US booth would sell. Mexico and the US are slowly eroding the differences between the two as far as goods, economics, lifestyles, and appearances are concerned. The question- what food is most representatively American? Here's thier menu.
  • New Orleans Jambalaya
  • French fries
  • 100% beef hot dog
  • Iced tea with lemon
  • desert: blueberry pie with "crema battida" which I belive is whipped cream.
Anyway, Reforma is lined with American culinary pavillions: Wendy's, Starbucks, Yogurtland, Starbucks, Capital Grille, Starbucks, Olive Garden, Starbucks, McDonalds, Burger King, Starbucks, Carl's Junior Burger, and Starbucks.

The rest of the pavillion which was apparently sponsored by a local english language acadamey, had books on passing the TOEFL, the Guiness Book of World Records, notable Hispanics in the US, and a cardboard cutout of Barack Obama. Like the Belgian pavillion, there was also a selection of beer on sale, although unlike the Belgian pavillion, the beer was the typical industrial swill. I can't believe they spent the money to import Miller Lite. I suppose the average Mexicans and Americans do love thier weak lagers.

The secretive nation of North Korea also had a pavillion and I got to peek inside. It was all painted artwork of typical themes and a bald mannequin wearing a tradtional chesong. I was curious who was running the damned thing, and as far as I could tell, it was a grinning guy who looked like a typical young Mexican twentysomething.

The Russian pavillion was hopping too, although I hope that if any Chilangos decide to visit the Old Country, that they travel in an organized tour. Russia is still about as xenophobic as Saudi Arabia and similarly tourist-friendly.

May 27, 2013

working at epcot

For the next two weeks, Paseo de Reforma, the street in front of my office, plays host to the international fair of Mexico City. Groups from about fifty counties have put up tents and from midmorning to late afternoon...mostly sell stuff. Most of the tents have a food component, which made me really excited until I saw the prices. Still, I couldn't resist some jamon crudo on bread from the Spanish pavilion, and I picked up a pork sandwich from the Cuban tent, which also sold cigars.

Many tents had hot food, and most had packaged desserts, pastries, bottles of national alcohol, etc. My friend M had to pull me away from the Belgian pavillion, with all the bottles of incredible Belgian beers. $50 pesos a bottle. It's only $4, but that's also a breakfast pastry plus a full meal, and I've been overspending lately as it is.

We only had time to see Europe and parts of South America, some of the Middle East, and a few countries of Africa. I had to hurry through the Panamanian pavilion because it was nothing but tons of beautiful panama hats for sale. See the above paragraph.

The downside, apart from the temptation to spend, is that our proximity to the Ecuadorian and Peruvian pavilions ( no coey, I checked) is that with the office windows open, we are continually listening to Andean flute music on repeat. I listened to "el pass coindor" at least once an hour the entire day, and also some flite covers of "the sound of silence" and "my heart will go on."

It's going to be a long two weeks.

Dinner tonight was package udon soup with a half avocado, eaten with a spoon.

fixing the bag

On my flight to the US, I brought a small sewing kit and restiched the strap to my bag. This time I did a much cleaner job. I actually enjoy sewing on flights- its something somewhat active and passes the time well.

sin agua

Today was also very low key. It began without water.
For some reason, the water situation in this building is precarious to the point where at first I wasn't sure if I was going to have enough hot water, and now, I worry about having water at all. I've shortened my shower to the point where I run the water long enough to get throughly wet, then shut the water off to lather up my hair and body, and then rinse as quickly as possible. Sometimes I'm fast enough to actually enjoy showering in warm water for an extra two minutes before the temperature starts to fall.
Anyway, Kate took me to an organic produce market over in Roma, which is the most bohemain of the trendy parts of the city. I bought some fresh ginger there for noodles.

Next Kate took me to a Japanese store where I stocked up on ramen, soba, udon, somen, and dashi for soup. They also had a store where I bought some chopsticks and a soup spoon. Outside, they had a weekend BBQ set up where one could by traditional Japanese street food along with Argentinian chorizo, and American style hamburgers and hot dogs. I got two onigiris, a really good yakitori, and I got really excited to see the takoyaki, but it was actually pretty mediocre. Not bad prices either. 
I went back home and basically never left again. I've been tired all weekend, so the rest of the day I spent reading and skyping. I'd planned to go out again at night for some churros but I finally decided against it when it started to rain.

The water was back on tonight, and miraculously, it stayed on, and it stayed hot.

May 26, 2013

Mexicanizing the room

Decorating the bedroom with market finds. Woven striped blanket I had to have, two hats, and revolutionary portraits, including one of Emilio Zapata.

easy saturday

One of the tacos I ate the other night disagreed with me a bit, so yesterday was relatively low key.
I walked to the grocery store and bought milk and yogurt (the yogurt here is great! Not as good as the stuff you get in Europe, but superior to the American variety at least), and walked over to the local Mercado. 

The Mercado del Valle is pretty much a one-stop shop, the consolidated remains of the village market located under a massive sawtooth roof. It's a market divided into a bunch of stalls of varying size, grouped mostly by good or service. Tons of fruit and vegetable vendors, butchers, florists, toys, household repair stalls crammed with an explosion of pipes, tools, fittings, glues, paints, etc. There's also small restaurants of the comida corrida type, and taquerias and fruit juice squeezers, plumbing specialists, picture framing, bike repair, gift wrapping, woven baskets, dairy products, pinatas, cookwear, dishes, ad infinitum. And a high end coffee shop. I pushed some low-hanging pinatas out the way and found myself next to chemex offering expressos, cappuchinos, speciality hand brews, and a small seating area under their second floor shop which sells specialty teas and coffee making equipment. 
Mexico city continually catches me off guard with these kind of juxtapositions. I got a cappuchino and they gave me a stamp card with my first star. 15 stars gets me a free drink.
I need to do more price research at the supermarkets here before I go back again. Without any idea of what the price of things should really be, I got ripped off by the one-armed avocado lady.
Later in the afternoon, I took the metro to the Zocalo to the National Art Museum, a beautiful palace of arts containing a great cross section of the history of Mexican artwork, from 17th century religious paintings to Diego Rivera to more contemporary vanguards of the 1950s. The building itself is worth seeing.
I walked by the Palacio Belles Artes where across the street I saw the figure of lady death, in a white plumed black hat and flowing black gowns. I've been in this city so long and reading too much Octavio Paz, that my first thought was "am I imagining this?" I think she was coming from the Monsanto protest going on in front of the museum, complete with chanting, prayer, and placards.
Afterwards, I took a very long and circuitous route to get back to the mercado at the Ciudadella, the giant tourist market. I'm trying to make my room more personalized, and for me, I want to a live in a space that has much more of a cultural texture to it. I want to wake up and feel like I'm in Mexico. So picked up a striped blanket I'd seen before to use on my bed for about $20, and also stopped by my favorite shop which sells Jalisco style pottery to pick up a pair of shot glasses ($3.50). I also stopped by a bookseller who was hawking vintage photos and picked up four black and white studio portraits of revolutionaries and revolutionary era couples. I put these above my headboard, and hung my two Mexican style woven fedoras above the bed, and I really liked the change.
I spent the rest of the afternoon at home resting and skyping Saorichan, and then headed out to the birthday party.
One of my coworkers, J, facebook invited me to her birthday party at a Japanese restaurant in Roma Norte, a chic and bohemian part of the city about a 30 minute walk from where I live. The invitation said dinner, and 9, so I was in a bit of a quandry. On the one hand, if its a dinner reservation for 9, then I should probably be there at 9. However, the saying goes that Mexicans are only on time for funerals and bullfights, so I should get there closer to 10.
My conversation with Saori ran long, so I ended up making it to the restaurant around 9:45, which turned out to be the time that birthday girl and a few guests actually showed up. It also turned out to be just drinks, which was fine since the restaurant looked freaking expensive. The restaurant was called Omiya, you entered on a theatrical Japanese footbridge into what was once a palatial home on the street corner. The interior was nicely and interestingly decorated, and they served serval types of Japanese beer along with the usual offerings. Lots of different rooms offering different things- a main dining room for noodle dishes, a few sushi bars, and a few rooms upstairs for DJ music and more drinking. 

I got myself a Sapporo and settled in. The drinking arrangement turned out to be bottles of Jack Daniels. In Mexico, at least with the circles I run around in, which tend to be overwhelmingly upper class and upper middle class, the drinks of choice are hard liquor, usually Jack Daniels or rum or vodka, usually mixed with (surprise) coke, or soda water. So I threw in my $18 for the drinks and they brought out a tray with the booze and glasses and ice and we got the party started. I had a great time, met some really interesting people who were happy to practice their Englishh as I practiced my Spanish. I met a Mexican (they were all Mexican, apart from a few Chileans and Argentinians) who had just returned from a year of working in Boston, so we had a long conversation across his girlfriend about Boston and the DF. 

More of my coworkers showed up, which was really fun and nice to see everyone in party clothes and makeup. My supervisor, who is actually two years younger than I am, brought two of her friends along, and as the night went on, one of them was really showing a lot of interest in me, and knowing that this could not end well, I politely excused myself and headed home. At this point of the night, our group had finished off the two bottles of jack, and it was about 1 am, and I was going to have to walk home, having spent my cash on drinks. 1 am is early for a Mexico City saturday night, and part of me wishes I'd stayed to see where the group would go next or to see the night out at the bar, but I was feeling a little awkward with the attention. Anyway.
The walk home was about 30 minutes, along a major avenue, in an area I knew well and had walked before, so I wasn't that uncomfortable.

The Tourist

The tourist can only be a passive bystander. The denizen becomes a part of the place. I remain the perpetual tourist less from my inherent gringo-ness than my inability to be touched, to allow myself to change. If you place a white stone in the red sea, what does it become? Wet.

When I returned from backpacking Europe, my ex, Jen, complained that I hadn't changed because of the experience. I have remained watching from the high walls, sometimes even to the point at which I am remote even from myself.

May 24, 2013

eye tacos

Today, I caught David, one of the principals of the office, repeatedly checking the window.

It turned out he was looking for his architecture students from the studio he teaches part of the time in Dusseldorf. I don't know how you can not find the the office, actually. It's on Reforma, between two major monuments less than a quarter mile apart.

Anyway, in trooped a bunch of german students, and I couldn't help but notice that of the entire group of about twenty students, there were only about two guys. I don't know if its just the changing demographics of who studies architecture in Germany or if its an all girl university, or what.

As they wandered around the office, shooting photos of models, sketches pinned to the wall, etc, one of my coworkers leaned over conspiratorially and told me he didn't mind the tacos del ojos. In the US, we use the expression eye candy. In Mexico, it's eye tacos.

The invasion of young German women notwithstanding, today was a long day. I was pulled off the house project I've been working on, and put on the proposal for housing in France. There's a big meeting monday in Paris where they're sending one of the new interns. I don't know why they picked her to go over me. OK, sure, she can speak Spanish, German, and, fine, French, but I've worked at a the office at LEAST three weeks longer than she has.

Hopefully they're picking up the tab for the hotels, trains, flights, meals, etc. What they pay us per month might cover transportation within cities, if she sticks to mass transit.

Anyway, worked until a little before 11 tonight. I was thinking hey its friday, maybe I'll be able to go get some groceries, do some shopping, hit the bank, get some reading done, enjoy a nice dinner, drink some tequila, but by the time I got home, the only thing left available to me is the tequila.

Lunch was really good. A giant styrofoam cup full of chicken soup. They called it gallo de pollo. Chicken soup. I'm not sure what region of Mexico it's from but it was fatnastic. It's basically what you'd imagine chicken soup to be, but with chickpeas, finely shredded chicken, salsa, cilantro, onion, and an entire lime squeezed in, plus chunks of avocado. Green corn (or blue corn, somewhere in between) tortillas served on the side. Wish I'd taken a picture.

Finally got off work and walked to the metrobus. 11 pm is an interesting and active time for the Zona Rosa on a friday night. Couples and groups of friends going out to bars, lively restaurants and cafes, the occasional pimp and hooker.

Not many people on the metrobus tonight. Stopped to grab a bite at my local taco stand. Three tacos of seasoned pork (I think it was pork) heavily loaded up with pico de gallo. I don't know what it is about late night tacos, especailly when you're tired. They're just so good. They fit the late night so well, like coffee fits the morning.

The whole experience is unique- the mobile taco stand lit by compact flourescents, an island of food and steam and light in a dark urban sea. You can eat alone and not feel awkward. I'm reminded of Edward Hopper's Nighthawks. but with tacos.

May 23, 2013

decadent thursday

I'm working on improving my diet here, by which I mean, eating more. This morning I walked the 40 minutes to work, and stopped by the Swiss bakery for some breakfast pastries. Interestingly, the walls were full of Picasso prints, and his portrait was featured prominantly. Either the owners totally spaced on the fact that Picasso was Spanish, or there's some other connection of which I'm totally unaware.

Anyway, got a sugared croissant, a kind of nut muffin, and this massive thing that had something to do with apples. The outside was a kind of crusty sweet shelter, folded up to protect the inner pastry, which was a kind of very moist apple cake, and by the time you got to the center of this confectionary citadel, you were eating baked cinnamon apples.

For lunch today, I went with Jose and Sergio to the comida corrida place a few streets up. I'm just going to start calling it Tony's since there's a guy with a mustache who calls himself Tony, and sometimes we converse in English. Anyway, today's lunch was a kind of spicy boiled beef dish with nopales (prickly pear cacti), and the cold squash salad that I really like topped with farmers cheese, plus, rice, beans, and tortillas. 35 pesos, or about $3. Actually, cheaper than my three pastries this morning.

Then a little before five, I grabbed Moises and we headed next door for the 2X1 frozen yogurt. It's a pretty popular thing right now, actually today the line was out the door and down the sidewalk. Everyone there from the surrounding office buildings, doing the same thing we were.

Dinner was less than spectacular: my last package of shin ramen. Time to make a stop by the korean store again. Since tomorrow's a shorter day, I'm going to try to hit the local markets for some fruits and veg.

counting back the years

Flipping through old posts, here's a 12 month rewind of where I was on this date. How many years ago...

0- typical working day in Mexico City, Mexico

1- taking a break from job hunting to join Tay and Saori on a road trip to Chicago from his apartment in Bloomington, Indiana.

2- job hunting and exploring changes to Phoenix at the newly built CityScape. Still feteing mom and Tay's graduation from ASU. Wondering what I'm going to do during the summer, and trying to figure out how to go visit Saori in Helsinki.

3 working and living in Phoenix, volunteering with Jamie and leading teen volunteers in tire wall building. Saori and I went to Cosanti to buy a bell as a Phoenix souvenier as we pondered our upcoming departure to St. Louis.

4- working and living in Phoenix, Saori and I preparing to take the LEED test.

5- working in Phoenix, went over to mom's house with Saori and played cards with Grandma Loretta

6- very excited to have a full time job at DWL and driving around my new Prius, moving into my new apartment close to downtown.

7 the beginning of my summer internship at DWL, hanging out with Aldo at my Tempe apartment, getting my documents for a semester in Argentina in order.

8- exploring Paris with Chase on my lengthy backpacking trip through Europe

city of water (but none to drink)

The weather in Mexico City actually stays very moderate during the summertime, mitigated by daily rains in the late afternoon/early evening.

On paper, this sounds fantastic, and it probably worked out pretty well for the Aztecs who also became expert hydrological engineers. I read that when Cortez arrived to Tenochitlan, he was stunned by the advanced system of canals and sewage treatment, when at the time the cities of Europe reeked with excrement in the streets.

However, the lessons of the Aztecs were forgotten as soon as the Europeans gained control, and the city has been an hydrological disaster ever since.

My coworker told me that the rainy season has started.
I could have guessed from the four inch deep puddles on sidewalks and streets that I have to cross. The city is nearly all hardscape, and its sinking into the soft ghost lakebed. When it rains, the city floods, a la the everyday catastrophes of New Orleans. When I emerged at my metro station, there was a small waterfall flowing down the steps. The walk home was miserable. It was raining, not pouring, just raining, and the city could not accomodate it. I ended up having to walk through some sizable bodies of water that ran from the flooded streets to the wall, so there was no where to walk around. I was frequently in water up to my ankles.

The apartement garage was flooded with a few inches of water, which I also had to cross on foot. The doorman suggested I wait for a car to arrive and jump in and ride in past the worst of it, but if I were a driver, I woudn't let me with my soaked pants and shoes full of water in the car.

As an ironic side note, the apartment building is running low on water. Apparently the apartment pulls from tanks on the roof which ran dry, so water has been spotty. I don't know if this is typical or its a unique condition to mitigate sporadic domsetic water service.

If it keeps raining like this, I'm going to either need to invest in galoshes or really cheap canvas sneakers that can take soaking and dry out overnight. I'm guessing the soaking-drying cycle is not so good for my leather Bostonians.

Need to get to the grocery store too. Last night's dinner was yogurt. And a shot of tequila for desert as I did laundry. As thrilled as I am to have a laundry machine, last night, my clothes came out wet. Not 'cubbord dry' not 'sopping' but still thoughly wet. I don't know if its because I put too much in, or because the air is so humid from the rain that the water won't leave the clothes. Anyway, without a clothesline, I ended up spreading them all over the floor of my room to dry.

May 22, 2013

Houston: Monday

Shrewd reader, if you will kindly recall that the last time I showered was around 7pm Saturday, you can imagine what I was like monday night.

Dad kindly dropped me off at the airport and it was actually very smooth sailing flying to Mexico City. No questions at immigration, sailed through customs, and boom, back in the developing world.

Mexico doesn't feel like home. It feels like I'm on assignment, an extended vacation. Definitely not home. So I'm still homeless, although I have a bed and a room and a shower and a job.

Caught a taxi straight to my office and got in around noon with the typical Mexico City traffic. Worked a half day, trying to stay awake.

The lack of sleep, the altitude, the exhaustion from just running myself ragged every day and night for a week is taking its toll, and I'm still not recovered. The altitude is kind of a bitch too. We're actually much higher than Denver up here. Finally got to go home and basically showered and crashed.

the new old blog is moving

I'm moving my blog back to blogger, off of tumblr, but its at a different address. I've been out of the desert for many years now, but I'm still blazing trails, burning time, etc, so the new old blog can be found here, at theblazing.blogspot.com

May 21, 2013

night at the Casa Prado

Despite the proximity of Mexico City and the US, it still seems to take a ridiculous amount of time to cross a distance which is drivable in about 8 hours.

Because its late, I’ll save that story.

My dear friend Sal and his family are in town, so I retraced my old commute back to the Casa Prado and said hello to everyone. Silvia had some wonderful bean soup on the stove, and leftover tinga so I chowed down and caught up with Sal.

Afterwards, Sal and his dad drove me back to my apartment in Del Valle, so I got to have a nice view of the city at night, from the top deck of the perifetico (double deck freeway).

May 19, 2013

STL: Sunday

In my travels, I keep telling people how close we are in the US to Mexico City. Actually, Mexico City is under two hours from Houston and San Antonio, and you can drive here from the US border in about 8 hours (not that it's recommended).

Despite all of this, however, it does seem to take a very long time to get here.

I shelled out $500 for a late departure from St. Louis that would get me into Mexico City late sunday night, so I'd be able to come into work for a full day Monday morning.

I got the first advantage of the ticket- I got to spend the morning with Dad and Taylor and Neri and a wonderful brunch at Brasserie by Niche in Central West End, where I stuffed myself on pecan waffles, brioche french toast, mimosas, and begines. Afterwards, I took them to City Museum. It's hard to describe what the place is. You really just need to go and see it with the understanding that its an amazing place and well worth the visit.

Dad seemed to really enjoy it, although Neri was a little scared of all the hiding places and grotesque sculptures.

Anyway, we dropped Tay at his car at the hotel and he drove off back to Bloomington, and I caught a ride back to the airport with Dad and Neri. My flight was to Houston first, and then on to Mexico City, although dad had a cheaper flight that connected in Kansas City.

I hung out at the airport for awhile waiting for my flight. It was actually delayed about two hours, which made me really sweat considering my connection was not that long and that flight was the last flight of the day. Somebody hawking Hindusim asked me if I believed in Karma. I told him, "No." He said, "well, do you think that you could believe in Karma?" I thought about it and told him, "I suppose I could believe in anything if I really wanted to." He then asked me if I wanted to take a book, and I walked on. He shouted after me "I wasn't ready the first time either!"

The Baghivad Gita. I read that when I was a freshman in college.

Anyway, I had a very long day at the St. Louis airport waiting to get on a plane. They canceled a few flights, I watched Oklahoma get pounded by tornados, and finally jumped on a plane around 7:40. My flight was scheduled for about 6.

In Houston, they told us we'd missed all our connections, and they might be able to give us some discount vouchers for local hotels. I talked to a desk agent, and they wouldn't even give me taxi fare downtown. I should have read the fine print on the ticket.

"If delays or missed connections are caused through the fault of the airline, then the customer is entitled to free lodging, food, drinks, and spa treatments. If the fault lies with the 'control tower' then the customer is entitled to make a run for it while airline employees attempt to pee on him or her. The airline shall determine where the fault lies."

United Airlines: Uh Oh! Looks Like Rain!tm

So, I paid $50 to take a cab to dad's house in Houston. It's aggravating to shell out 10% on top of my expensive ticket that turned out to be useless for getting me back in time, especially since 1) I could have saved about $200 by getting an overnight ticket directly, and 2) $500 is more than my monthly paycheck.

Anyway, the silver lining was getting to spend a little more time with dad.

May 18, 2013

STL Saturday

Saturday, we got up somewhat early to ensure we got into Winslow’s home in a reasonable time. To save travel time, I’d suggested we take the metro up to U city and walk, and grandma and Tay were amenable to the idea. A few stops down the line we jumped out at Big Bend, and we walked through the massive tree canopy covered streets through the old, rich, neighborhoods. St. Louis is really a lovely place in the spring. The sheer lushness and verdence is hypnotic and intoxicating.

Winslow’s home was one of my favorite places to come with friends and Saori and being back in the old neighborhood was hard. We arrived at a good time. Dad a Neri finally arrived and we had no wait to snag a table. Once again, I ordered the blueberry pancakes. You get three massive pancakes with a pitcher of real maple syrup, for the entirely reasonable price of just over $6. I think IHOP is more expensive.

So, stuffed to the gills once again, I took them on a short driving tour of the neighborhood. (Here’s the park where Saori and I would run and picnic, here’s the house where we lived, here’s Nelly’s high school) and we hit the road to the archgrounds.

At the St. Louis arch, we took photos outside and joined the line to get in just to use the bathrooms. I ran into Anne B and her family and chatted for awhile. They wanted to know how I could stand to be away from Saori for so long. I told them its been really hard.

They butchered Anne’s name when she walked, too.

The museum of the westward expansion was really well done, actually. I liked the dates set in concentric circles on the ceiling.

Outside, we walked down the steps and along the the big Muddy, which is still very high and swollen with silt. It entirely covered the parking along the riverbanks. And a statue I could only assume was Lewis and Clark. One of the two explorers waved his hat above the waves.

We walked up to Laclede’s landing and had some beers over at Morgan Street Brewery, a second rate craft brewery if ever there was one, among the tourist traps, bars, and strip clubs. But the beer was cold and the shade was nice and we enjoyed talking and resting.

From Laclede’s landing, we returned to our respective hotels to prepare for dinner. I put in notice that I was going to meet up with some friends after dinner, and took perhaps an hour nap in the hotel room, hanging out with Tay. I’ve been so tired this entire trip. Eating too much, drinking too much, and not getting enough sleep.
Dad and Neri picked us up and took us out to a great restaurant in the Hill that served local, fresh gourmet meals. Five Bistro is one of those places where the food is presented on a dish as an intricate artwork- with lots of white space. The flavors of everything were great, incredibly fresh, perfectly done, there was an attention to detail in the cooking technique and material and presentation.

Loretta’s trout was easily the best trout I’ve ever had, and Tay’s beef two ways was also phenomenal. I was a little disappointed in the chewiness of my goose breast, but it was perfectly done, with a bit of crispy goose fat and skin on the top of each medallion, and I really chalk it up to goose just not being a very good meat rather than any failing on the part of the kitchen.

The deserts we split were also incredible. House made marshmallows and molasses merengue, sweet brioche tart, chocolate pot with whipped cream. Sheer decadence. And a few bottles of wine.

Dad dropped off Tay and Loretta at the hotel and they dropped me at Cord’s house in Demun. There was a house party going on of that particular circle of friends- I think I was the only one there of my class, but there was still a lot of my friends- Jess and DaveO, Michelle, Cord, Jackie, Marie, Quinlan, and a few others I didn’t know.

Jackie grabbed me a beer and we all hung out for awhile at the house on the patio. This entire trip has been a bit of an ego trip since everyone asks about working in Mexico and the “baller" internship with Tatiana.

We headed off to PepperLounge in two cars. You know me, I can’t be in a city longer than a few days without needing to hit up the clubs. $10 cover for guys. $5 for the ladies. The wouldn’t allow Marie’s boyfriend in with his baseball cap, so he had to leave it in the car.

I was happy I was wearing nice clothes. Felt more stylish at the club. I drank another beer or two, danced a bit, chatted a bit, watched people dance, witnessed an indiscretion or two, and generally enjoyed the state of being just tipsy enough to still be self-conscious about dancing. The last time I was at pepper it was the last stop of the party bus for graduation, and lemmee tell you, I was shammmered. (And again, a similar guilt for leaving Taylor behind).

Anyway, we gave up the night a little after 2 am, and I piled into Jackie’s car as she kindly dropped me off at the hotel.

Tay was snoozing, but I couldn’t sleep. I sat on the floor by the bed, and read for nearly an hour waiting for exhaustion to find me, and eventually, it did.

May 17, 2013

STL Friday

Friday morning of graduation came early and found me putting on my button shirt and slacks. When I graduated from ASU, I wore a bolo tie that was my grandfathers, also the official state neckwear of Arizona. This time, I wore the Banana Republic tie that Saori got me for Christmas, and a Mexican leather bracelet.
I donned the billowy green robes trimmed with black velvet, and put on my giant hat and lavender tassel. I would like to find whoever decided architecture was and would forever be lavender in the regalia colors, and politely punch them in the balls. Lavender. What a weenie color.

We received our instructions for what to do at the architecture commcement at 6pm the day before, par for the course, but we never got any notice of what time to get to the university for the main commencement. The morning of, I went on the website and discovered we were supposed to be there at 8:00, not 8:30. Tay dressed sharp as well and we met up with grandma in the lobby, who couldn’t resist snapping some hotel lobby graduation photos.

Dew kindly offered a parking spot behind his apartment, so I directed dad over there, and headed off to the school at brisk walk upon arrival.

I met up with my classmates behind Brookings and of course, we spent about an hour milling around until we started processing towards the quad closer to 9. Big crowd, the square was really full, and people lined the way, shooting photos and waving at the parade of green robes.

Tay is a standout, so I caught his eye, not sure how he was able to spot me. Maybe because I was one of the 10% of students who elected to wear sunglasses as part of our regalia.

The human traffic directors also messed us up, somehow completely messing up our rows, such that a row of architecture graduates was seated three rows into the Law School. I was lucky to sit next to Silvino on my left, an unknown Chinese girl on my right, and JD graduates in front and behind.

The ceremony was fairly predictable, mostly boring, and overlong. The keynote speaker was the likeable and ambitious mayor of New Jersey, who will likely aspire to the top slot within a few election cycles. Juhanni Palasmaa was there, the Finnish phenomenologist architect, and he was awarded an honorary degree.

Finally! we were called to stand. At first, the people around me were so stunned, they refused to believe it. What? Oh yeah, we ARE architecture masters students. Then we got to hood each other, or at least, to try to hood each other, and simultaneously attempt to figure out if the hoot was facing the right way or inside out since these things don’t come with instructions or apparent sides. I hooded Silvino, and he hooded me. There was a short flash of aching sadness, as I’d imagined for so long the moment of hooding Saori, not just my girlfriend of many years, but also a friend with whom we’d traversed six and a half years of formal education.

Anyway, six million kilometers away in the German night, Saori watched us via the live feed. She texted me throughout the ceremony, letting me know she saw me and Silvino. I know she wanted to be here but the difficulty of leaving a project she really wanted to be a part of and the expense of travel outweighed the impetus to travel. I am sure it was a hard night for her.

All graduation ceremonies are the same. The usual bombastic speeches about achievement, responsibility, and the Future in Our Hands was as well worn as the academic regalia, and not nearly as interesting.
Meanwhile, the faculty doze, daydreaming of the moment they can change out of their hot regalia. They must dread this time of year.

I just rode through, looking forward to the mystical moment when our degrees are magically conferred upon us with the speaking of the words and the gesture of the hands, a Wizard of Oz moment of a sudden bizzare shower of degrees- a light sprinkling of Architecture Techology, a downpour of Masters, a veritable blizzard of Juris Doctor. Given the seating snafu, I should double check my degree to make sure I didn’t catch a Doctor of Law.

The ceremony over, we filed out and wound our way to the architecture building. We lined up again, pausing to steal a coke from the coolers, and processed once more up the hill, and then down the steps of Brookings hall to the crowd of beaming faces waiting in the oak allee. To be honest, this short parade was the highlight of my graduation ceremony.

The architecture graduation ceremony is actually really nice. We got the best seats in the house, a garden party graduation, protected mostly from rain and sun by two lines of massive, ancient oak trees on either side, with the stairs leading up to Brookings hall forming a beautiful backdrop.

The ceremony is also noticeably shorter.

The speaker was a local architect alumni, who spoke about magic and pulled a few cheezy tricks for the audience, who were so bewildered by what was going on, that we failed to appreciate the magic tricks until he started commenting about it. Apparently PD’s facial expressions were amazing.

The other faculty speaker was a retiring professor who spoke with passion and thinly veiled bitterness, at some moments nearly weeping as he commended the students and the time spent in the university. Reid was one of the student speakers, and he gave a nice, funny, short speech.

Ben Ferhmann was absent, was Katherine Dean, and Derek Hoeferlin, a group of professors I would have enjoyed seeing again. I only caught a glimpse of one of my favorite professors, Zeuler Lima, as he was leaving the bathroom after the ceremony.

Now in alphabetical order, I sat between Peoples, Kelly and Perrodin, Chris. The walking graduation went with the smooth precision of much practice. The rain which sprinkled on us during the speeches disappeared, and we were left with the cooler overcast skies. Kelly was very distraught over the fact they’d messed up with her walk- they didn’t mention that she was graduating with honors, an award which is announced with your name.

They photograph you three times when you walk. Once, before you ascend the stage, with the audience as the background, once, when Heather passes you your fake diploma and you shake hands with Dean Lindsey, and once when you get off the stage with diploma in hand, with the school as the backdrop.
Click.
“Alexander J Perkins, with Honors,"
Click.
Click.

Graduate school was a lot of work, and I am so happy that dad and Neri and Tay and grandma could be here. I can barely remember walking across the stage. I remember the presidential for-the-photograph handshake, and I remember seeing dad up in front of the aisle trying to get a close up shot of me walking. There is a real sense of accomplishment or really just acknowledgement, that I am happy that I could share this with my family.

It’s a different feeling than the graduation I attended last year. Last year’s graduation ceremony convinced me, and I thought, Saori, that this was something worth coming back for. Last year’s ceremony felt more jubilant, more euphoric. December graduates just kind of get screwed. For spring graduates, you finish your triumphant moment, defense of your degree project, and there is the euphoria of completion, (and I am so happy that Tay was there for that, too) and the graduation ceremony follows close on the heels of the end of the semester, a public party after a week of parties with all your classmates.

Six months later, everyone has moved on, and you realize that you have, too. Those who return are happy, but they have returned to see old friends who are missed, and the happiness is tempered by nostalgia. Seeing your old friends for those fleeting moments is nearly painful as you simultaneously miss the great times in school and miss your friends even before they have departed.

Anyway. At the reception following the ceremony, I caught up with a few friends, and following the return of my gown (really bad timing, should have stuck around-missed a few group shots of close friends), we took off in search of food.

Barbecue food.

Pappy’s Barbecue food.

Which was so packed, the line went through the building onto the sidewalk. So went to Bogart’s, instead.

Bogart’s is the Dark Pork challenger to Pappy’s domination of St. Louis BBQ. Almost everyone I’ve talked to actually liked Bogart’s better than Pappy’s although Pappy’s retains the crowds and the wider publicity. Bogarts gets points for charm, located in Soulard, just up the street from the Soulard Market. We were able to find a table immediately. I thought the pulled pork was phenomenal, superior to Pappy’s but the ribs and bbq beans, as good and tender as they were, could just not touch Pappy’s. However, Bogart’s has definitely secured a spot in my book of top three best BBQ restaurants in the known universe (granted, I’ve probably only been to a few dozen BBQ restaurants. #1 still belongs to Head Country, in Ponca City, Oklahoma).

After our massive BBQ lunch, we drove back to the hotel and strolled along Euclid, window shopping in the CWE. Grandma’s stomach wasn’t sure about the BBQ, so she bailed and went back to the hotel to rest.
Dad, Tay, Neri, and I decided that the light was not to our advantage for more sightseeing, and we struck out for a St. Louis bar crawl. We began with the hipster brewery of Urban Chestnut, which makes some of my favorite beers in town based on German lines, and we enjoyed some Schnickelpickers in their sunny and tranquil beer garden.

We seriously classed it up for our next stop, the upscale and cosmopolitan Bridge in the Locust district. Here, we ordered serveral charcuterie plates, cheeses, little dishes, and a few different types of beer. My tastes, which tend to favor beers with more complexity and flavor, won titles such as “Butt Juice" and “Horse Sweat". Another round of Bud Light for the table, please! Actually, it was a lot of fun and everyone enjoyed trying new beers.

Our final stop for the night was a tiny blues livehouse down by where the railroad tracks cross the river in the old industrial area south of downtown. If it sounds a little sketchy, that’s because it is.

We’d missed Kim Massie at Beale on Broadway, but that friday, we had the fortune of hearing Marquis Knox play and doing his thing. I’ve seen Knox play a few times before, and this kid (a seriously huge kid, but only 22) plays a mean guitar, sings, and blows the harp. It was crowded but not packed in the dimly lit patio, and after our first round of cheap beer (Abida, in honor of the river and blues in general) we were able to sit closer to the stage where we had a good view of the band and all the middle aged white women dancing in front of them, along with a few drunk twentysomething baseball fans coming from the game up the street.

It’s great to hear live blues again. There’s a few things St. Louis does really well- beer, BBQ, blues, and donuts.

We stayed until Knox took a break from the set, and headed home a little before midnight.

May 16, 2013

STL Thursday

Dew came in late wednesday night. He’d waited too long to pick up tickets from Japan, so he flew from Tokyo to Canada, and then to Chicago, where he rented a car and drove the 5 hours down to St. Louis. There are many things I’d like to do after a transpacific crossing. Driving for 5 hours is not one of them. While I waited, I enjoyed some of Alex’s white wine which had been opened but not finished. It would be awhile before Alex would come back, and it was going to go to waste anyway.

His mom came with him, a tiny and nice woman. I crashed on some mattresses in the living room.

Thursday morning, I was up early- I would sleep restlessly the entire trip. I spent the morning with Dew and his mom. We drove up to Winslow’s home for breakfast, then he drove me to the post office to pick up a box to send some stuff to Saori. I took the box with me back to the school, where I dropped my luggage and scrounged up some packing foam for the box from the now abandoned architecture studios.

I went with Dew back to the student store and picked up a few more things for the box, and hiked over to the school post office where I shipped the box to Germany. $20, cheap.

It was about time to check into the hotel, so I trudged with my luggage down the hill the metro and caught a train to CWE. Grandma Loretta got us a hotel in a great location, right on Euclid, and just a ten minute walk from the station.

The receptionist at the comfort inn was not having a good day. All these people kept coming in, almost like there was a graduation in town or something, and they kept on coming and they had all kinds of unreasonable demands like a room that didn’t reek of cigarette smoke.

Maybe they’re better when they don’t have that many customers. Anyway, I ran into some difficulties checking in. At first, she said I couldn’t check in because my name wasn’t on the reservation. (it was, but the person who had put it in had put it in the wrong spot), and then she wanted the card grandma’d used to pay. Well, grandma got on the phone with her, and after a short conversation, the receptionist hung up and said “what a sweet lady, but you really don’t want to make her mad.”

Anyway, I finally got in my room, and to kill some time before the Year End Show, shot some stupid photos with the regalia cap. It’s kind of a funny hat, really looks like something out of the middle ages. And I wanted to get my $100 worth out of the rental.

I walked up the street to a bar on Euclid, saddled up to the bar, and ordered some good St. Louis craft beer. Actually, I downed two pints before snagging the bus that dropped me off at the University.

The Year End Show was a little sparse as far as projects go. Actually, if I hadn’t forwarded the emails and looked over the requirements for submission with Saori via gchat, I wasn’t going to submit anything. For one, I didn’t have any of my studio work on me, and the other, I didn’t really want to hang around the office working late on stuff I didn’t really need to do.

There was a big crowd of people there, and warmed up by the the strong River City refreshments, I caught up with friends and professors, took some photos, and just enjoyed socializing. I was there for awhile. Dad and Neri and Loretta finally came from the airport and picked me up and we drove together to the hotel in CWE where Tay had also just arrived, driving in from Bloomington.

I was so happy to hear that he’d been able to make it, since I’d been warned that he might have to be in training and would only be able to see him over the weekend.

We dropped bags in the room, and walked into CWE to find some dinner. We dined al fresco at the Bar Italia, enjoying the great night weather and CWE atmosphere. Culinary overindulgence would also be a recurring theme for this trip. After a late dinner, Tay and I continued on to have a drink at a quiet cigar bar overlooking the street, and then tottered back to the hotel to sleep.

May 15, 2013

postcards from Dew's apartment



three cities

Casey made me waffles this morning before dropping me off at the airport. It was a nice, short visit, and I feel I could have stayed an extra day. Next time.

The flights are a banal blur. I can barely remember changing planes in Atlanta during my hour layover. I spent most of my time absorbed in the incredible “cannibalistic" revolutions which racked Mexico over a decade. There’s a huge tome about the city’s history written by a somewhat leftist American reporter from the tail end of the Beat generation, who wrote the book as he died slowly of cancer he’d picked up living here for decades. Its not 100% accurate, but, as in so many things, it’s the story that counts.

Actually, I want to see a movie of the revolution. Or a series of movies. You could easily make seven movies, two for each revolution. The characters are iconic, complex, duplicitous, fascinating, the action and scope is epic, and the US is always happy to step in directly with marines, and more covertly with support for coups, double crosses, and assassinations. The story of Mexico from the time of Aztecs seems to be that of an endless parade of bloodthirsty, greedy tyrants sprinkled with a few upstanding and courageous leaders, and an largely agrarian underclass which swung wildly from being ground to dust under the boots of the government and upper class to a roiling tide of totally unrestrained, anarchic destructive rebellion.

It’s way more interesting than some dwarf’s walking tour to find the magic elf earrings. Imagine the entire city turned out to see the entry of untrusted emperor, a feared horde of 100,000 field workers all in white enter the besieged city and proceed to drink hot chocolate, Pancho Villa sodomizing nuns, Emilio Zapata standing at the gates with his finger on the button to destroy the city, and turning away. It’s actually all too bitterly tragic. Really, the only winners in the Mexican Revolution(s) were the US and the leaders who managed to flee to Europe with a sizable portion of the national treasury.

Anyway, in St. Louis, I caught a metro to school and picked up my regalia (if you’re going to spend $100, which is a quarter of what I make a month, on a RENTAL, it’s not just a cap and a gown, you get fucking regalia). Picked up the keys to Alex’s apartment, where I’m spending the night, and walked over from the school. Its a good thing its close, because it was warm today.

Actually, St. Louis welcomed me back with a beautiful afternoon, a rendering perfect sky, and the fresh, lush greenery of late spring. St. Louis, and the US I’ve seen looks so clean and orderly and kempt in comparison with Mexico City.

St. Louis doesn’t feel like home anymore. That distinction departed with a certain woman on a flight to Germany. It’s more like the cities where my grandparents have lived for decades, I’m intimate with the city, and associate it with good experiences, but its just home. I really wonder if I’ll feel ‘home’ when I return to Mexico City.

Walked to pick up churches fried chicken for dinner with some sweet tea. I need to remember that St. Louis is actually more dangerous than Mexico City. There was actually a violent mugging last night just around the corner from where I am now sitting in Dew’s old apartment.

There is a certain nostalgic symmetry to returning to this apartment. Even before school started, when we first arrived, we came to a party at this apartment and got to know Dew, Alex, and a host of other characters we would spend a lot of time with over the coming years. We had a lot of drunken parties here, a lot of overly serious conversation out on the patio, lit only by the glow of the street lamps and cigarettes, a lot of wonderful meals. Our farewell party was here.

After Saori left for Germany and I moved out of the apartment, I stayed here for a few nights. When I drove out of St. Louis for what would be the last time, I left from this parking lot.

May 14, 2013

travel day - back to the US

Took a slow start today. My flight wasn’t until the afternoon, so I slept in a full two minutes longer than my alarm, and then got packing. I made a second trip to the market at la Ciudadela, to pick up a few more things. Not as many stalls open during the weekday.

I left the apartment way early. Kay told me about a sitio taxi stand (much more reliable and safe than hailing a cab) down the street that she uses, and I found it pretty easily. About 30 minutes to the airport, M$140.
No problems checking in or clearing security or immigration, although I had to wait at the check in desk line for at least 45 minutes. Resisted a last minute urge to buy a ridiculous sombrero for graduation.

Flight was only about 90 minutes. Mexico city is so close to the US. Hopped off the plane and was the first to reach an empty immigration and customs hall. Breezed right through after a few questions. Wheels on ground to legally in the country in probably under 15 minutes.

Casey drove out and picked me up and took me back to their house in the “Norman Rockwell" gated community. Casey told me that Saturdays, kids open a lemonade stand in the park. Lots of large brick houses and small parks and large yards.

Casey and Jarret took Logan and I out to dinner at a really good American place. They told me that they usually take visitors out for Mexican food, but…..

I had a pulled pork sandwich on a cibatta, served with sweet potato fries and a shared a bottle of wine with Casey, and it was all great. Logan had recovered from surgery and was happily dropping everything he could reach on the floor of the patio outside where we ate.

Its incredible how fast he grows, but I’m more surprised by his behavioral development. He was feeding himself, and looking around more, much more aware of his surroundings and changes in it.
Anyway, more travel tomorrow as I continue to St. Louis with my midmorning flight out of here.

May 13, 2013

Weekend: Part(y) II

After watching the dancers, I took a quick spin through the artisan craft (read: tourist) market at la ciudadela. Realized it was huge and fantastic ( I love markets) and resolved to come back Sunday.

I’d arranged to meet M and J at the museo Tamayo, a modern art museum in brutalist concrete in parque Chapultapec. I got there early and grabbed a beer from the incongruous small portable bar set up in front of the entry. The bartender handed me a icy corona and when I asked him how much it was he said it was free. There was apparently some conference going on and it provided free beers apparently.

Fine with me. Museums that hand out free beer get bonus points in my book.

Met up with J and M and we wandered through the museum. I thought the architecture was better than the contemporary art, except they had a really fun room filled with a massive mobile of cymbals and visitors were encouraged to go at it with mallets.

From there, we walked to the new Monument to Victims of Violence in Mexico, one way of talking about the bloody storm of the drug war and the pile of skulls rolling out of it. It was a beautiful monument in a horrible location. It is located right outside the main MILITARY fields where a polo match was ending, and the solemnity of the site was broken by the radio announcer and smell of horse. It’s someplace I’d like to revisit.

Jose split to take a nap and Moises and I took the metro back to my neighborhood for a bite of pizza. My coworker A had invited me to a rooftop house party in Coyoacán, and I said sure! He offered to pick me up since he lives close. Actually, once I bought a six pack and brought M over to my apartment we found out A didn’t have a car today and was already at the party, so I loaned M a pair of jeans ( he was wearing shorts) and we took the metro down. It’s a long way.

Very hard to get to Coyoacán (rich) from the (poorer, industrial) side where Tasqueña station is. Hard to escape from the metro station too. Had to constantly ask people how to get over. Theres a major road which apparently people don’t really cross. The walk at night along basically a freeway was pretty ugly and boring and dirty so I was happy when the houses suddenly turned super nice (and enclosure walls topped with razor wire) and the sound of a party filled the air. A let us up and we climbed up through a very expensive apartment to reach a roof patio filled with maybe 50 young, expensively casually dressed Mexicans. This was no campesino fiesta, it was much more upper class. We got there at 10, an hour after I thought we’d arrive.

It was a fun and interesting party. I found out it was the 22nd birthday of the host. The drinks of choice seemed to be various liquors and lots of Coke and Diet Coke. As friends were nice and they tried sincerely to engage me in conversation. I feel so stupid in Spanish. Time to really start working the grammar. Actually, the first question put to me was one that I could only throw my hands up:

What kind of crude rhymes did American guys catcall girls with?

Mexicans love wordplay and double entendres, and their construction workers and salty cantina inhabitants apparently will whip out a variety of quick phrases of varying cleverness, lewdness, and vulgarity.

I am ashamed to say that I could not even think of one even measly pick up line or come on in English that rhymed or used a double entendre.

Anyway, we all got a little drunk, and we ordered more booze delivered by a motorcycle delivery whose cartoony mascot was a cross between a vampire and a grape. (Vampiritos was the company) and the bottle of booze had a set of plastic vampire teeth around the neck as a calling card.

They played some Salsa and A and his friend twirled a few girls around (A, it turns out, also teaches salsa). The music got loud and I asked if the police would come. I got strange looks. Probably they wouldn’t care. Probably they wouldn’t come knock on doors in THIS neighborhood.

Anyway, party came to end at 3 am and we warmly shook the birthday boys hand as we left in a reception line of drunk partigoers, still clutching our cups of whatever.

I remember piling into a friend of A’s car and the five of us drove to a nearby club, hiding our cups when we passed by a lone police car. I gathered that A’s friends had some connection to the club owner. We paid the $100 peso cover and went in.

All nightclubs are the same. I’ve been to this same club in St. Louis, Scottsdale, Shanghai, Buenos Aires. Dark, lasers and blue lights, loud, throbbing DJ music, expensive white swoopy surfaces, packed with drunk, elegantly dressed people drinking outrageously expensive drinks or getting something on on the packed dance floor under the pulsing lights and fog. We stayed for about an hour and drank a bit more from the tiny table that A’s friends wrangled, dodging waters and other clubbers. I actually like going to clubs once in awhile, especially a little drunk. It’s an environment intended to heighten and intensify feelings of intoxication- a deliberately psychedelic architecture, although it made me simultaneously feel old and miss Saori of course.

Anyway, M decided it was time to go home and we took a cab back to my apartment. I offered to let him crash here since it was a long way back to his place and we were both drunk, and the cabs here are incredibly sketchy.

The next morning, my hangover was not so bad ( note to self- stick to hard alcohol and drink slowly) and M felt fine too although he was entirely perplexed as to why he was sleeping in my bed, having no recollection of the evening after we got to the club.

Anyway, the rest of the day I used for showering, some souvenier shopping, resting, and skyping.

May 12, 2013

Weekend I

It was a busy weekend, and its now late on a sunday night so I’m pretty wiped and going to go to bed soon.
Saturday morning I made banana pancakes for me and Kay, and she went out and picked up some fresh orange juice and fruit for the topping. I love living someplace where fresh squeezed orange juice is within a short walking distance.

Walked through Roma Norte, a beautiful, chill area which is actually more bohemian and more tanquilo than Condesa, to get to a building filled with design stores- Cordoba 25. They had a bookstore, two galleries of art, an interior/industrial design studio and an industrial design store in the first floor. They also had an optical shop upstairs where if you have a perscription they can make you glasses.

Walked through increasingly blue collar neighborhoods absolutely filled with car repar and engine repair stores- shallow storefronts where the ceilings were constellations of engine pistons, hung like fruit.

My goal was la Ciudadela, which is a few blocks consisting of the citadel, which is a currently a national library, a massive artesanal market of touristy souveniers and handcrafts, and a few large squares. I had intended to do some souvenier shopping in the market, but I was distracted by the sound of music and huge crowds in the square.

The crowd was older, most of the people there looked to be over 50, and they were for the most part very well dressed. Many wore the traditional white fedoras of Mexico. It was a massive dance party, and they were all dancing danzon, a type of Mexican dance which is a bit like a cross between salsa and tango, but slower than both. I enjoyed the music and the sight of the all the people in their dancing clothes. I stopped and watched for about an hour. I even ended up buying a similar hat from a vendor nearby. They had a live band that kicked off and played a bunch of music as well.

Architects and planners can delinate areas and create open spaces for things to happen, but really only people can make public spaces. There were people dancing in the narrow passages on both sides of the bandshell. In the US, we can design plazas, but without a culture which knows how to use them, they’re nearly wasted spaces.

May 11, 2013

The Pokiest Little Puppy in Polanco

So, today is mother’s day in Mexico. You might think, ok, whatever, but actually, one of my friends was telling me that in places in Europe, nearly every friday or monday or weekend has some kind of religious holiday in May (actually, I think Saori was telling me too) but interestingly, Mexico, one of the most Catholic countries (90%+) doesn’t celebrate those holidays. Instead, childrens day and mothers day are mostly paid holidays. I still had to go to work, although my roommate, who is a teacher, didn’t.

It’s the day when all the good sons and daughters take their mom out for dinner or lunch and so the city becomes a congested mess as far as traffic is concerned, and all the restaurants and florists put out giant signs trumpeting their mother’s day specials.

It’s an important day for my boss as well, since she’s several months pregnant at this point with her first child. Anyway, I couldn’t help but notice that everyone in the office left before 2 today, a full two and a half hours earlier than usual. I was going to ask some people if they wanted to go grab some lunch, but everyone seemed to be either on their way out permanently, or working on getting to that point.

I asked my friend Jose what his plans were for lunch and I think in the conversation, I inadvertantly either invited myself to lunch with his brother in Polanco, or accepted an invitation to join them.

So, I closed my computer and headed out with Jose. It was a beautiful afternoon to walk, so we walked through Chapultapec park to Polanco. His brother Charlie lives in an old apartment building overlooking a roundabout in Polanco, actually right across the roundabout from the La Parilla Suiza where I stopped for lunch my first week here in the city.

The apartment is actually quite large, over 200 square meters, with four bedrooms, two bathrooms, an outdoor patio, a long balcony running the length of the apartment, and large public spaces. It was nicely decorated as well. Charlie lives there with his girlfriend and a few other roommates who were all pretty chill, including an American from Boston.

Anyway, Charlie has a puppy, Lucas, the pokeiest little English bulldog puppy I’ve ever seen. Actually not tiny either, probably twice the weight of suki and only three months old. Charlie carried Lucas across the street where we ate a late lunch/early dinner at Lucky Luciano’s NY pizza kitchen.

We split a few pies, all pretty good, and the puppy sat the table with us and the waiter brought out water and a plastic tray so the puppy could eat too.

Mexico City and Polanco in particular is crazy for tiny dogs. We were constantly stopped by people who asked about the dog, how old it was, what its name was, where Charlie got him. The dog got them into many long conversations with total strangers, many of them walking their own tiny dogs.

Actually, Lucas apparently doesnt like to walk much. I was amazed at how lethargic this 3 month old puppy was. It just didn’t want to walk at all. Charlie was constantly calling it and whistling for it, and he was rewarded with a kind of strange, slow waddle of the puppy, almost as though it had some joint issues, or never learned to walk correctly in the first place. At the apartment, it spent most of its time sleeping.

After the pizzas, Charlie asked me if I wanted to walk around Polanco, and I said, oh, no thanks, I’m not really interested seeing new places with locals.

Yo dice “claro que si!", claro que si.

So we took Lucas for a walk. A very slow walk. It was more like a mosey. Actually, it was great practice for me to force myself to slow down, because too often I’ll walk too fast in my explorations of the city. It’s partly because I cover wide swaths of area in a single trip because metro stations of different lines are far apart, and because nothing makes you look like a tourist like walking slowly and gawking. But you do see a lot more into the texture and what’s actually happening where you are that way, so I should slow down a bit.

Anyway, I got to see a side of Polanco that I’d missed before. I’ve seen the pedestrian-hostile museum area and the gleaming towers and Presidente Mayersk avenue with its Hugo Boss, Hermes, Porche dealerships, and Tiffany & Co. (Sorry, Zara, I don’t think you belong here.)

But Charlie took me for a walk through the street behind Mayersk, the one that goes along Parque Abraham Lincoln, and its its where the residents of Polanco really go out and live. It’s a lovely area of lush trees, beautiful and trendy cafes, incredibly expensive restaurants, boutiques, and bars. Lots of foreigners, lots of people in nice clothes and ray bans and lots of little dogs, and narry a taco stand in sight. This side of Polanco is lovely and I can see T Cody’s comparison of it to Buenos Aires. It’s a great place to live if you’re in the money. I could see myself coming back to vacation in Mexico City some years in the future, staying a boutique designer hotel in Polanco or Condesa.

Anyway, we picked up some Modelos at the circle K on a street corner (circle K is everywhere here), and took it back to the apartment. We opened up the sliding glass doors to the patio and all hung out in the living room, the two American girls chatting at the table, Charlie and his amor enjoying each other’s company on the couch, and Jose and I talking and drinking.





Charlie made us deguinos (sp?), which is one of the famous local drinks from his local town of Colima. Colima is a half hour from the pacific ocean not too far from Guadalajara, and its very hot and humid. The drink is a blended mixture of salt, unrefined sugar, lime juice, and masa, the Mexican corn meal made from white hominy, all blended with crushed ice. It’s kind of intense- the lime and salt and sweetness can be overpowering in a way thats very different from, say, a cherry limeade.

So passed the evening, drinking deguinos, way too much crappy Mexican beer (remember that the altitude drops an extra shot in every beer), enjoying the cool night air and view of the roundabout slowly turning to night.

Ended up taking off after 11, walked back to the Polanco station with Jose and rode back down to my local station. Downed a big glass of water, brushed my teeth, and hit the hay.

O orange juice

What is it about fresh squeezed orange juice that makes it so good?

Light and energy from the sun travels the 8 light-minutes to earth, and bathes orange trees in its glow. The orange tree pulls nutrients from the soil and carbon dioxide from the air, and using the raw sunlight, binds them together to create its own energy and sugars. The tree’s roots drink water from the ground and this water gets filtered through the entire length of the tree, from the root tips to the ends of the branches. There is an ecosystem and nested cycles of metabolism, life and death, reproduction. There are the bees which travel from orange blossom to orange blossom with their own cycles of life intertwined with the trees.

When you drink a glass of fresh orange juice, you can taste ALL of it.

Saori and I brought a carafe of fresh squeezed orange juice to a group breakfast once, and upon having a glass for the first time, a classmate remarked to the table, “This orange juice has changed my life."

I thought he was using hyperbole, but he may have well meant it.

May 9, 2013

[maybe] Y.E.S. 2.0

I skipped lunch today to work on a poster for an exhibition of work (YES 4.0). the Year End Show is basically an exhibition of graduating or graduated student work who still gives a dime about academic projects. Basically, its an opportunity for the school to parade schoolwork in front of alumni and parents.

Why am I doing it? On the off chance I happen to walk through the gallery with my dad and grandma and brother, I can show it to them, although my brother’s already seen me at my finest. This exhibit is pretty weak actually. The difficulty is presenting work of over a hundred students in single gallery, and the answer for now seems to be making giant folded paper things that roughly resemble a creased garment bag. To be fair, the organizer has attempted to get more student interest in designing a better display, but so far that hasn’t panned out, mostly because they’re asking students to submit proposals at the worst time of the semester.

If I was doing it, I’d say, alright buckos, submit TWO images and TWO paragraphs that talk about your work or an aspect of your work in school. And then that goes into a rotating slide show projected on the wall.

Anyway, I’m going to go into work early tomorrow to finish it up. At least we don’t have to pay printing costs.

Also, during lunch, I bought a return ticket to Mexico, one way. It took me a long time to get my head together enough to do this simple task and I’m paying the price. Close to $500. I could get a round trip ticket, but the return would be wrong and I’d have to change it and it could cost me another $100 and then some, while for the same total price, I can just buy my ticket back the states a little earlier next time.
Actually, it is a significant day for me, because this is the first time in my life that I used a credit card to make a purchase.

Anyway, after my intimate encounter on the bus, I was ravenously hungry, mostly because I hadn’t eaten anything all day except for some bread in the morning, so I walked over to Central de Pizzas on Nuevo Leon. They have a counter on the sidewalk where you can pull up a bar stool. The pizzas there are amazing. They bake the slices in the pizza oven while you wait, and the crust is thick and delicious and the pizza is thin on sauce, but overflowing with mozzarella cheese. Today I got a slice of pepperoni, and a slice of Marguerite, and they were just amazing. Topped with fresh oregano, and pickled green olives, and served up on a beat up wooden plate with a knife and fork. So good.

They also serve empanadas, so I’ll need to pick up a box to take home sometime.

MetroBus- encouraging walking since 2005!

I think I’m done taking the metrobus in the afternoons. I can sympathize with the women, and I understand why they get their own separate entrance and car. I’m not sure you understand how packed these metrobuses can get. All of these true with no exaggerations: the metrobus was so packed,

-when the driver slammed on the brakes, nobody moved.
-standing, I had trouble finding floor space for my feet.
-the doors couldn’t open
-I was touching six people simultaneously.

And then today, all of the above, plus the added sexual thrill of the fat pincha pendejo behind me grinding his crotch into my ass for the last five minutes of the trip.

Stay classy,  Mexico City.

[blank] Suiza

One thing that still eludes me is Mexico City’s endless fascination with Swiss food. Food in Suissa style, the restaurants la parilla Suissa, Swiss bakeries. Fondue.

May 8, 2013

A Tale of Two Houses

I have a tricky assignment at work. For reasons I won’t go into here, my task is to design a house which would be appropriate and affordable for a middle class family in either Mexico or the United States. The floorplan of the house is more or less established. There are four critical differences that I’m coming up against.

Material
In the united states, I would say this kind of house I’m designing would be a fairly conventional wood frame construction. It’s a house for a middle class family, nothing too elaborate in the finishes or construction, so no steel or cast concrete since you’re talking a lot more money, not so much for the material as much as the cost of labor. In the US, it makes a lot more sense to prefab a building out of expensive components and quickly and easily field assemble because time in the field is really expensive.

In Mexico, wood is a really expensive material. People just don’t build detached houses for the middle class out of wood. They use block or cast concrete or brick since, opposite of the US, material is much more expensive than labor.

So we’re trying to strike a middle ground and develop a house out of concrete block since its a standard that both countries share and you’ve got a lot of options in terms of colors, finishes, etc.

The Maid’s Room
I had a hell of a time trying to translate this one into English, more from the concept than the actual words. In Spanish, it’s “Cuarto del Servicos." Its the room where the maid lives. In Mexican households, especially for the middle class and up, it’s typical to employ a full time maid. Actually, it sounds like most people either employ a maid or are related to a maid. These are small rooms which include a very small and basic bathroom with a shower stall.

Typical American houses, especially middle class houses, (or lets say, the 3rd and 4th income quintile) do not come with maid’s quarters. There are probably college courses which explain why Americans moved away from widespread domestic service, but it probably has something to do with the high level of class mobility in the first half of the 20th century. Anyway, Americans are generally uncomfortable being waited on or with someone who lives so intimately.

The house is quite big so the (American-based) client is concerned about the budget, and the maid’s quarters is a logical choice to get axed. Unless the project is intended for Mexico, in which case a house of that size without a maids room would be kind of like a 3000 square foot house only equipped with an outhouse in the backyard to an American. It’s just a necessity. Not sure how we’re going to resolve that one because its pretty much a binary decision- either there is a maid’s room or there isn’t one, and unless you’re keeping your guests captive, there’s no way it could function as a guest room. Especially since its just off the laundry room and kitchen.

Kitchens
American families like big kitchens. Kitchens are the unofficial centers of the house. Kids do their homework there, parents cook, people snack, partygoers congregate, it’s an important space, and important to maintain good connections to the rest of the house. American kitchens don’t have doors, and most of them are contiguous to living and eating spaces. As egalitarian as Americans are, we like the idea that we cook for ourselves, and we are good cooks, or at least we should have kitchens which convey that idea.

Mexican kitchens, in contrast, are service spaces. The maid or the chef cooks the food, so the idea of a kitchen is the smallest possible usable space, closed off from the rest of the house, hermetically sealed. These are definitely single cook spaces, with a minimum of counter space.

Bathrooms
Mexican bathrooms, even master bathrooms, are tiny. We’re talking one sink and just enough counter space for the sink. I don’t know where Mexican women put on makeup. I’ve seen a lot of them doing it on public transportation in the mornings, or in their cars as they sit in traffic.

Americans like big ol’ bathrooms. Maybe its a our obsession with sterility and a culture of bathing and privacy. Maybe its because when we are in bathroom mode (nude, biological functions, cleaning) our sphere of what we consider to be our personal space doubles in size.

Medium is the message

I moved the blog again. I deleted the Tumblr account and moved everything to Medium.com, a more writing-centric website. medium.com/@wende...