Jun 29, 2013

museum of modern art, scotch

Took it easy today. My throat is still sore, and so I hope I'm not getting sick.

Made pancakes for breakfast. I moved K's ipod player to the dining room and loaded Songza so now I finally have some music back in my living spaces. Right now I'm chilling out to a bossa nova station, and it's real niiiiiiice.

I did finally get out and immediately grabbed two more barbacoa tacos for lunch before pressing on to Chapultapec park. Today, I wanted to visit the Museum of Modern Art. Like so many buildings, the exterior of the building belies its beauty. Actually, I had to double check my iphone to make sure I was at the right building. The building visible from the sidewalk, the main entry, is kind of...small. And round. The faceted drum of the building with the reflective dark glass and protruding silver mullions looks more like bad 80's architecture than avant garde 60's.

As it turns out it's just the welcome center, so to speak. It's got the gift shop, a few small exhibition rooms, a lounge, tickets (M$25), etc. The inside is quite nice, with the sensual, cool geometry of 60's modernism. Above the central stairwell, a massive shallow dome covered in gold, from which a modern glass light fixture string of pearls down to the lower level.

One passes through a pleasant sculpture garden to get to the larger building, in the same style, but containing the larger galleries. This building has a really cool mod lounge in the center atrium with books, benches, tables, and chairs. I really wanted it to be a bar selling Mai Tais. The domed ceiling above this atrium is a massive skylight which provides a warm yellow cast to everything. There are four huge exhibition rooms, one of them permanent, with the collection of Mexican artists from Diego Rivera's generation. There was Orozco, Sisquieros, Dr. Atl, Friday Kalho, the whole gang.

The other exhibits were good, although there was one artist who made incredibly realistic large charcoal drawings based on photographs. From a distance, it looked like a black and white photograph, down to focal blurring. The subject matter was also very striking- insane people at an asylum, the dead at the morgue in various stages of autopsy.

Anyway, afterwards, I walked over to the zoo since it was right next door and free. Mexico City has so many great museums and attractions. The zoo is not one of them. Didn't see many animals in the enclosures, and McDonald's dessert stations were everywhere. I did see one of the Mexican hairless dogs (Freda Kahlo kept two) and the rare "volcano rabbits" which looked like regular rabbits to me.

Came straight back home since I was getting tired and didn't want to overexert myself today since I'm planning on traveling to Tepotzlan tomorrow morning for some more sightseeing.

Oh, and K brought over nine bottles of good Scotch whisky from cleaning out her storage unit, most of them with less than a quarter bottle left. It's actually kind of a shame I'm not into scotch. I tried a little bit tonight, and it still tastes like furniture polish.

Jun 28, 2013

ups and downs

Today was a mix of ups and downs.

[-] At some level I knew that my $300 root canal was not all that I was going to have to pay. Today I went back to the dentist and talked about options for filling the canal. Depending on the condition of the tooth remaining, the cost will be around $700 for the reconstruction. Worst case, they have to in with the post and rebuild the tooth. Best case, they can do an inlay for a lot cheaper and that will hopefully hold me until I'm employed somewhere with dental benefits. (Although those insurance bastards will probably have a clause somewhere that states that fixing past dental work will not be covered).

[+] barbacoa tacos for lunch! see post below.

[-] Tonight I set up my student loan repayment schedule. For 300 months. I'm not insane- the interest alone on that sucker would be more than a year of school. But it sets the minimum payments low NOW when I'm tight on cash, so I can OVERPAY when I start to have a positive cash flow in my life. Or I could be killed in traffic here and get off scot-free.

[-] Roommate left early this morning. The apartment feels pretty empty.

[+] After grocery shopping, I re-arranged the furniture in the main living space. This is a positive because it's a modicum of design satisfaction.

[-] the cheapest flights I can find to Germany cost about three times my monthly salary, and take me about 40 hours to get there. The proposed itinerary includes items like "11 hour layover in Newark"

[+] I talked to my boss David today and he okayed my travel plans to Germany.

[-] sore throat and drainage still bothering me. No fever or lightheadedness though.

[+] I'm proud of myself for actually getting some important stuff done this week which I was procrastinating.

Think I'll round out this incredible friday night with some laundry folding and maybe, if I'm feeling really wild, read another chapter in Octavio Paz's analysis of the events of Tlatelolco in 1968. Chingon!

barbacoa fridays

One of the other joys of fridays is the food market about a ten minute walk from the office. Went there today in serach of some barbacoa tacos. Barbacoa is basically mutton (sheep) which has been slow roasted so that it's really tender, moist, and off the bone. It's not dissimilar from roast beef, although the mutton has a more distinct flavor and texture, more like pulled pork. At any rate, you throw some barbacoa on a doubled corn torilla, throw on some chopped onions and some hot sauce, squeeze a lime wedge over it, and it's just really, really good. I downed four for lunch today, and washed it down with a cup of agua jamaica, a sweetened cold brewed drink made from jamaica flowers. ¡provecho!

Jun 27, 2013

Another day

Started posting some of my blog posts to archinect, and it was somewhat gratifying to see them tweet the post to all the Archinect twitter feed followers. Actually, Architect plays host to quite a few recent WashU grads. My friend Alex Morley has had a few excellent contributions, as has Freda.

Anyway. Still fighting stairs at work although I think I've cleaned up the rest of the building. Bathroom elevations are important. And so are stair nosings.

Salad for lunch, and four of us took a break this afternoon for the 2 for 1 frozen yogurt chain downstairs.

K is leaving tomorrow morning, so the fridge is pretty bare since its my food. Made fried eggs topped with avocado for dinner since I've got avocados and eggs.

Going to miss K, she's been a great roommate and its nice to come back to an apartment with someone there. On the flip side, it means I've got tons of space and now I can leave my dirty socks everywhere.

Or work on my rapping

Jun 26, 2013

Late nights and days of stairs

Long day at the office as I attempted to make up some time lost with the dentist. I'm trying to bring this houses stairs up to US residential code, and its just too tight a space so I've been working on stretching and reconfiguring floor plans, and theres just no clear winner. All of them have bad compromises. Who wants to walk up a 8" riser stair, even if there are codes which permit it? Actually, whats killing me is the 36" width restriction. Either the stairs are too narrow, or the corridor is. On the other hand, people get way animated and fired up on the building code forums online. I followed a flame war over fireproofing the underside of stairs. (Spoiler: turns out it doesn't apply to single family residential, but the one guy maintained that sure, you could legally skip it, but you could also legally cover your floors with broken glass and keep anacondas in the baby room.)
Anyway, thinking of my dad today too since its his birthday. I left work around 10 pm so I didn't get a chance to call him :/ 

Jun 25, 2013

The pain of procrastination

Riding the metro, and especially transiting through Tacubaya, I cannot help but be reminded of Fritz Lang's movie Metropolis, where masses of the lower class surge throughthe industrial   underground passages and giant elevators. 

The fact that the upper classes tend to eschew this form of transportation reinforces the analogy. There may be divided cities here, but at least they're on the same topographic level.

I saw the dentist this morning. He spoke english fluently, and his office handles a lot of the employees from the American school, so I feel in reasonably good hands. 

Anyway, the dentist took my medical history, took a look, and made some xrays. The cavity in my tooth goes all way  to the nerve and is beginning to form an abscess at the base. So, root canal.

I'm actualy waiting for the proceedure now, sitting in the small waiting room with rustic wood panels, obligatory chamber music, and a paper machie parrot.

I think this is root canal #3 for me. I try not to keep count. It's not going to be much fun. At least its going to be a lot cheaper than the US. 

Of course, if I'd just taken care of it a few months ago, perhaps as soon as I'd arrived, it would just have been a $100-200 filing, and I'd already be back at work. 

I can't keep doing this. Unless I get my procrastinaton under control, I'm not going to be able to live the life I want to live. In a way, I kind of feel that it's my major barrier to reaching true adulthood, my late twenties nonwithstanding.

I'll start working on my procastination problem tomorrow.

....Later...

The proceedure went fine. No pain at all. The endodontist wanted to know what flavor of topical anesthetic I wanted, and since piña colada was on the menu, that's what I went for. I am in Mexico after all. It was by far the easiest root canal I've ever had. I was totally numbed for the entire thing and so far no pain or swelling post-procedure. 

I got the American School discount, which means my grand total came to just about $300 USD. This is without insurance. I'm beginning to understand medical tourism. I think I shelled out close to $800 my last root canal in the US. 

No pain in my jaw or tooth anymore. Still taking it easy post procedure though. K met me for enchiladas for dinner tonight at the place near my office. Delicious as usual, although the telenovela volume was cranked to 11.  One thing off the list. Time to start putting my life together.

Yesterday, I got my first student loan bill. 

Jun 24, 2013

Bad: looking forward to a dentist appointment

Didn't feel well today. Last night my tooth and jaw hurt so bad that I had a hard time falling asleep. In the morning, I had some lightheadedness and drainage. Even now my neck is kind of stiff. Either it's my tooth in which is causing this or I might be getting sick.

Actually, I feel much better now. No lightheadedness at any rate. Not so much pain and no fever or swelling. And I have an appointment with a dentist tomorrow, the one my roommate goes to. Apparently he's the recommended dentist for the American School so I'm pretty comfortable going to him.

Worst case, dental abscess, but we'll find out tomorrow. Payment will be an issue, possibly. I just hope they take cards and I won't have pay with cash. One step at a time.

Jun 23, 2013

rainy saturday

Saturday morning began with me rolling out of bed around 8 am and my roommate emerging from her room shortly after. We caught a cab down to a fonda about a mile south of us, Fonda Margarita. This place was highly recommended in a few articles about culinary backstreets in Mexico City as a breakfast joint for pretty much everyone from politicians to working families. Actually, I was kind of surprised about the quantity of press relative to the development of the restaurant.

A fonda is basically a very simple restaurant which generally serves popular food of the countryside, a healthier version of American soul food, so to speak. Typically the building it is in is very crude- I've eaten at fondas that were basically tarp-covered- and food is prepared in large batches in giant clay bowls over rough propane stoves.

Anyway, this Fonda Margarita had been reviewed in numerous publications, lonely planet travelers ranked it #2 of things to do in Mexico City, and the website which was half in English had had obviously more money put into it than a lot of the restaurant.

We got there at the right time- perfectly situated between post-drinking rush (the fonda opens at 5:30am expressly for this purpose) and standard breakfast crowd. We were seated at long picnic tables with other diners and we perused the giant menu printed on a vinyl banner on the wall. I opted for the chicarones salsa verde, fried pork skins drenched in mild green salsa and a coffee.

The family across from us shared some tortillas while we were waiting for our food. The clientele looked very mixed. I could easily imagine some of the diners were very wealthy. There was also a guitarist who played and the doorman turned out to be a singer as well. I'd definitely go back there again. When we left, the line stretched around the building.

From the apartment, I struck out for the monument to the revolution, where I'd heard there was going to be a market, music, and lucha libre wrestling. I got there too early, and hung around watching them build the wrestling ring, which was kind of interesting.

Wandering around the monument site, I was accosted by two gentlemen who inquired about my spiritual beliefs, and so I spent the next half an hour talking and arguing with some Jehovas Witnesses while the luchadors wrestled in the background.

Lucha libre is pretty ridiculous. It's somewhat entertaining, and all the moves and antics are kind of fun, but maybe it just seemed more absurd given the middle of the day and the somber nature of the plaza (the major heroes of the revolution are entombed in black volcanic rock nearby).

Apparently at the big fights in the arena, they dress midgets up as gorillas and throw them into the mix too.

Next stop was Fusion: casa de disenadores (house of designers) in the Zona Rosa. This is actually a bonanza for me since I've had a very hard time trying to track down independent designers in Mexico City. It still feels very nascent even compared with places like Buenos Aires. What it is a complex filled with about twenty or thirty small stores and stands of designers selling tee shirts, jewelry, shoes, bags, books, and some other small housewares. 

I was also there to try to find Carlos. Way back in 2006, when Saori was still living with Joyce back in Tempe, Joyce, a young Taiwanese woman also studying at ASU, was dating Carlos, and I actually met him one night in their tiny apartment.

I remember thinking how badass it must be to be a jewelry designer in Mexico City, so its funny to meet up with him here. I did find him with his work at the design fair and after a somewhat protracted introduction, he remembered Saori and grasped our connection. Actually, I barely remembered what he looked like.

Anyway. From there I walked through a part of the city dedicated to auto parts and auto service and stopped for some tacos in that neighborhood. Mexico City is very strange. You do have a giant mix of uses in most residential neighborhoods, but as you get closer to the center of the city, the uses become a lot more specialized. For example, near the Chinatown, there is a street of nothing but small shops selling lighting. And a street of small appliances and repair. And a street of nothing but shoes sellers.

The tacos were unbelievable, one of the best tacos I've had here. Oversized, with hand made tortillas, meat was perfectly seasond and the right chunkiness, and not stingy with the pineapple at all. I doctored it with onions and cilantro and a bit of spicy green salsa, and it was gone.

Caught the metro south to find a church designed by Felix Candela. It was close to the station, which was good because it was closed. I dove back underground under skies beginning to get cloudy and headed to El Mercado.

There is a giant fruit and vegetable market in Mexico City in the historic center, a vast hall filled with stalls and vendors. This building is invisible because it is surrounded by second ring of markets of various temporality. The ring is so thick, when you emerge from the metro, you emerge in the middle of the market.

Or to be more accurate, I emerged into a full scale flood. The first sign of trouble was the waterfall cascading down the metro stairs. The market was under the seige of a torrential downpour of rain and the tarp coverings and patched roofs only go so far. There was rain from above, water coming up from the overwhelmed drains, and the crowds of people choking the narrow alleys of the market literally brought everything to a standstill. It's actually quite claustrophobic because there's really nothing you can do except shove along with the crowd. There's no outlet and no escape except literally into the merchandize filled stalls on either side. Needless to say, I could have picked a better time to visit the market.

Overwhelmed with the masses of people and the tight spaces, I finally entered the market proper and got a few shots before deciding I needed a little more space, so I fought my way out and emerged into the rain and the southwest corner of the centro historico. I walked through the old core of the city, skirting the edge of the Zocalo, and only stopped for churros and chocolate at Casa Churra.

This place suckered me in with the churros, but actually it kind of sucked. I ordered chocolate and churros. It took them about 30 minutes to bring out the chocolate, and the churros 15 minutes after that. Then it took me 30 minutes to get my check and get change. And it was more expensive than el Moro. Skip Casa Churra, walk the extra ten minutes and get to the better place at El Moro.

Last stop of the day was the pasteleria Ideal where I loaded up with bread. It was also packed, and navigating with a precariously balanced tray of pastries was a task. Somewhere after I paid, I dropped my recipt, and I spent a worried 10 minutes trying to find it before a little girl gave it to me. I thanked her, grabbed my bread, and dragged my sopping wet shoes home.

Jun 21, 2013

Rain

More and more rain today. Coldest day since I arrived. Wore a jacket and scarf to work this morning, and the garage basement was closed with a foot of water when I came back home.

Jun 19, 2013

comida

Went to the grocery store after work last night. There's a dingy Sumsea about a ten minute walk that I go to stock up on my light dinner makings. Picked up whole milk, a bunch of yogurt, half a kilo of fresh corn tortillas, and two cans of beans. Welcome to light and easy dining. The bagger at checkout asked me something apologetically, and I said basically sure, not knowing exactly what I was agreeing to, but figuring it was some minor inconvienence or another. Turned out to be he gave me my groceries in a small cardboard box. Ok.

Whew! Another thrilling story from the annals of Mexico City!

Speaking of dining, here's what I eat in an average day here
  • desayuno 8am - I usually alternate between a bowl of cereal or cup of yogurt at home, and grabbing some pan dulce (sweet bread) on the streets. Everywhere there are street vendors selling pastries of various types including donas (donuts), muffins, cakes, puff pastries, etc. If I'm feeling tribal, I'll pick up a traditional tamale Oaxacaña (green tamale wrapped in banana leaf) and atole.
  • coffee break 11am - coffee or tea from the office kitchen and some peices of fresh french bread with jam or honey or whatever.
  • comida 2pm - Lunch is the big meal of the day here, and my main source of protein. Most days, I go to the comida corrida place around the block. It's cheap, fast, good, and they give you a good mix of rice, beans, and meat, sometimes even some greens. I'll also go walk for enchaladas, grab tacos from the street cart at the corner, takeway Japanesish food, barbacoa tacos from the market stalls on friday, burgers occationally, that kind of thing. 
  • cena 8:30pm - Light and easy for dinner. Salad, or ramen with egg, yogurt, beans, tortilas, leftovers, whatever. Just a little carbohydrates or greens to get me through the night and take the edge of my hunger. Sometimes a slice or two of pizza from the counter up the street. 
At some point, I'm going to have to start cooking stuff from the Bayless cookbook since I can get all the ingrediants cheaply and easily right here, right now.

pyramids with extra cheese

Sunday morning, I dragged myself out of bed and hauled myself over to Mexico City's north bus terminal. I met Sergio there a little after 9, and we bought bus tickets for Teotihuácan. Only about 40 pesos. We waited less than ten minutes before getting on the bus, going through the usual security check and pat down.

Teotihuácan is northwest of the city, about a 45 minute ride out to the outskirts, amid mountains and agricultrual fields. Not as pretty or dramatic as the ride out to Puebla, but about half as long. Some people actually rode standing, and a guitarista played a short set in the passenger aisle before passing the hat and jumping out on the way out of town.

The bus dumps you at the entry 01, and its a short walk to the entry. The vegitation is more open and sparse, like Phoenix or Tucson, with grasses, scrub, agave plants taller than I am, and sparse trees and a few bosques. The area is much more rural and more open to the sky. Actually, everyone warned me to put on a ton of sunscreen and bring a hat, and I did both. If you forget your hat, there are only about three hundred hat vendors happy to supply you with one on your way in. Actually, inside the complex, almost everyone was wearing a hat.

It's surprisingly easy to get around as far as orientation and navigation goes. The signage is decent, they give you map, and its pretty clear how to orient yourself. After all, you can't miss the massive pyramids. 


I'd been warned in the guidebooks about the vendors everywhere. They weren't agressive, just annoying. They were all selling the same crap: ceramic puma calls, ceramic eagle cries, toy bows and arrows, and some obsidian junk like mini hatchets and arrows and masks. The puma calls were the worst, but actually it got to be so ridiculous to be funny. The vendors would try to get your attention by blowing them, which sounds like kind of like a growling wildcat scream, and then all the kids who bought them were also blowing them, so everywhere we walked it was like we were surrounded by eagles and pumas. 

It's an amazing place to walk around, and the way that the site is structured and broken into plinths and walls and stairs means that the site is constantly dramatically revealing itself. You climb a set of wide stairs and boom, a sudden vista of a massive yard and a temple complex formerly hidden from view. 

I loved the fact you could walk pretty much anywhere and explore the ruins at your own pace and route. We saw pretty much everything there, taking about four or five hours for our explorations. The pyramid of the sun blew me away with its massiveness. For some reason, its more staggering and impressive than the great pyramid at Giza. The pyramid of the moon is really impressive more from its arrangement at the head of the great street of the dead and the cluster of symetrical pyramids arround its base. 

The entire time I was there, I wondered about the extents of reconstruction. I learned later that most of the surfaces of the building had been rebuilt, but with the same materials and using similar construction techniques. I'm not convinced, since there was a lot of what looked like concrete mortar in use. Still, its a huge contrast to the other giant precolumbian ruins of a city north of the border. The ruins of the Mississippian civilization at Cahokia are basically overgrown earth mounds not much different from hills, possibly the saddest UNESCO World Heratige site in the world. Interesting, but it takes a lot of imagination to visualize the massive native theocratic city that was there. 

In the ruins of Teotihuacan, it is not a great leap of the imagination to imagine the daily life in the city, the grandeour and severity. You can still feel the awe and dread when you ascend a neraly vertical stone staircase lined with stone snake heads to the sacrificial platforms.

After a few hours of walking, we were both famished, so we followed the recommendations of friends and guidebooks and went to eat at La Gruta, a nearby restaurant.

La Gruta (The Cave) is literally in a cave, a vast cavern with a wide ragged gash along the top which lets in a surprising amount of light and access to the dining terraces. It's a major tourist trap, overpriced, but not ridiculously expensive. It's also huge. You could probably seat ten tour busses of tourists inside. 

We were seated next to a large table of Russians being seranaded by a trio of Mariachis. I ordered a plate of Mixtas(?), lamb meat cooked with a kind of adobo chile sauce stuffed in maguey leaves (Maguey is basically like agave) and served with rice and refried beans. And a cold beer. 

Around the time we were finishing up, the floor show started. The commencement was heralded by a few men dressed up as Teotihuacanis, assumably, with elaborate headresses blowing conch shells around the restaurant. They followed this with an energetic dance on the stage joined by the Teotihuacani female dancers wearing traditional gold lamé outfits. From there, the routine progressed through a series of costume changes and dances from around Mexico and through its history. The conch blowers traded thier feathered headresses for the charro's sombrero and guitarrita. It was way cheese.

The bill came to about 200 pesos each, or about $16. It's four lunches back at the office, but you might as well go full tourist at La Gruta.

Jun 17, 2013

wake to quake

Sitting at home late saturday night, after attempting to go to Ita's wake, I realized the table was shaking. The shaking began graduatally, and out the open window, there were some people shouting. The shaking quickly grew such that I could feel the apartment moving at least a few centimeters. Somewhere outside, there was the clatter and crash of falling dishes. I just sat in the chair, transfixed, and about a minute later, the shaking stopped.

The earthquake was a magnitude 5.8, a somewhat serious temblor. No visible damage to my apartment. We didn't even lose power or internet. However, it's pretty scary. There's a feeling of surreal powerlessless as the room moves.








Online, people reported in from various neighborhoods around the city. Didn't sound like there was any major damage anywhere. Sirens began to sound and I could hear helicopters making rounds overhead. Apparently the city government does a city wide patrol to look for damage immediately after a quake. They must have learned something from 1985.

What I should have done was grab my emergency earthquake pack and ducked under a table or a doorway. Making a run for the street isn't really going to work since I'd have to run about 100+ meters under four other buildings. What I did was just sit in my chair thinking, "is this an earthquake?" I dont even have an emergency earthquake kit.






There's really no time. Earthquakes come and go in a matter of minutes. A kit would be useful though- something with water and some dried food and my passport, roll of gauze, particle mask, flashlight, whistle. Maybe build it into a hard hat.

consideration

K and I were talking about neighborhoods and safety and she told me about one neighborhood near where she works. A lot of her coworkers take the metro in and have to cross through, and apparently, all of them have been mugged at one point or another. There is a particularly notorious flight of stairs.

One day, coming back from work, a teacher was mugged on these stairs. They took everything, basically leaving him with only the clothes on his back. Frustrated and angry, he howled in English after his attackers- "How am I supposed to get home?!?!"

His muggers stopped, turned, rifled through his backpack, and threw him his housekeys and 3 pesos for metro fare.

cities of blood

Saturday morning I got up and made banana pancakes for breakfast, drank coffee, sat around, surfed the net. A month ago, I would have been out the door by 9, but I'm starting to live into the weekends more. Besides, the city doesn't really come to life before 11 on the weekends anyway.

I caught a train to Tlatelolco, my site for the day. Tlatelolco is many things to many people, a condensed active slice of Mexican history which is particularly drenched in blood and subjugation.

Geographically, Tlatelolco is a massive horizontal bar of land in the north of the city. The entire complex is about 2 kilometers long by a half kilometer wide. It was a masterplanned complex of mostly social housing towers mixed in with parks, markets, museums, plazas, and a few corporate towers. I think the whole thing was made in the 1950s, a lot like Pruitt-Igoe.

Back 700 years ago, when Mexico City was Tenochitlan, an island city, Tlatelolco was another major center along the causeway to the mainland in the lake area ruled by the Aztecs. A large temple and palace complex was errected. There were frequent human sacrifices, and the skulls of the sacrificed were shish-kabobed on horizontal poles and displayed in a massive skull rack called a tzompantli.

Anyway, after a few centuries of ripping beating hearts from chests, the Spaniards arrived and ended the empire of the Aztecs. In Tlatelolco, they destroyed the temples, and used the stones to errect a cathedral right there on the site, one of the oldest in Mexico City. This dark church feels really ancient.

Fast forward to contemporary times, and the utopian modern urbanists built the massive housing scheme of Tlatelolco, and also a modernist tower adjoinging the Cathedral and the excavated ruins of the Aztecs. The large plaza created between the concrete wall of apartments, the old cathedral, and the ancient temple site became the Plaza of Three Cultures.

Each culture also brought their own bloodbaths. The Aztecs sacrificed thousands on the site to keep the sun in the sky. The Spanish slaughtered the Aztecs and used the blood of the surviviors to build the cathedral. The Mexican government slaughtered student protesters here in 1968.

1968 brought the olympics to Mexico City, but also unrest as felt in other countries around the world. A predictable and escalating pattern emerged: student protests were put down with excessive force and violence by the government, and more protests popped up, outraged by the government and military reaction. The city was wracked with protests and marches. Under pressure from the Olympic committee and US creditors, as well its own tyrannical and autocratic tendancies, the government ended the majority of the protests with a full scale military invasion of the major universities, thousands were rounded up and arrested.

A faction of the hardliners called for a protest march ending in Tlatelolco, as the protest movement had grown to include the disatisfied poor, many of whom lived in Tlatelolco. In the square, speeches were made as federal troops quietly moved in along side steets and sealed the square. What happened next is highly disputed- several accounts I've read indicate that goverment snipers started shooting at the federal troops from one of the housing blocks, and the federal troops responded by opening fire on the apartment building and the square filled with protestors. The protesters in the square attempting to flee, found every way blocked. They had been deliberately trapped.

By the governent's count, there were only 20 people killed, although the total is probably much higher. Some claim 200 killed or missing. Either way, the plaza once more ran with blood, and Mexico was never the same again.

50 years later, there is a small memorial on the square. The pedestal it sits on is identical to the stone pedestals used by the Aztecs to display the skull racks. UNAM, one of the striking universities, now controls the modernist tower and runs several museums on the site, including a memorial museum to the events of 68.

After wandering Tlatelolco, I stopped by the chicken place near Insurgentes and got the soup. Good, but spicy. I'd eaten the enchaladas there before without incident, but this time, they recogized me as a Gringo, so it turned into a spectacle- trotting out the Spanish for idiots, hey, try this special MEXICAN chili powder, it's chingon!, etc. etc. I just want lunch, not Cheech Marin, gracias.

It started to rain after I finished so I hopped a nearby metrobus and went home.

Jun 14, 2013

Ita

I had the pleasure of meeting Sal's grandmother on several occasions before I went to Mexico. Most of those times, I was down in Rio Rico, visiting Sal's wonderful family. For one party, she made tinga, my first experience with the central Mexican dish. She spoke almost no english, but she still made me and Saori feel incredibly welcome.

Years later, when I arrived in Mexico city to stay in the house her husband had built when they were both young, she remembered me, which is remarkable for the few times we'd met and her advanced age, but even more remarkable was the fact that she remembered Saori too and remembered we were together.

To reassure my nervous grandmothers about my move to Mexico, I told them I was going to be watched over by Sal's grandmother, and they were much relieved, as all grandmothers belong to the International League of Grandmothers.

Living in her house, I would greet her whenever she shuffled by the bedroom I was occupying. She wanted to be so helpful, she tried to wash dishes and make beds, even when her strength had failed her.

Her daughter and son-in-law moved in with her years ago to help with the house and to take care of her. Her grandson, Alejandro, in training to be a doctor, took amazing care of her and treated her with the level head of a professional, and the compassion of family. The entire family made huge sacrifices to accommodate her, and the extended family that could came down over two weeks ago to pay their last visit.

"Ita" for "Abuelita" (little grandmother), clung to life so faintly for so long, but passed away this afternoon, around the time that the afternoon rains started today. She will be deeply missed by many.

moussed

Jun 13, 2013

OCOLA

So I took the recommendation of the Culinary Backstreets page and walked over to the chicken place near Insurgentes. True to work, it was really a slightly improved metal shed (they had finished walls and a tiled bar in front of the kitchen).

I grabbed a spot at the bar since I'd come alone, and ordered a plate of green salsa chicken enchaladas. It always makes me so happy when I see food being made in front of me, and then when you think, oh man, I hope that's for me, and then it turns out to be what they set down in front of you.

Slightly different than what I was expecting, but I guess I really havn't had the enchaladas in Mexico City before. They start by making their own tortillas. Big points. Then they put cheese in them and heat them and that goes on the bottom. Then a generous layer of slow roasted chicken that's been stewing all day in a pot the size of a small bathtub. Then then chile verde sauce, tons of crema, more cheese, and more salsa verde. Really killer. Hard roll served on the side because you need something to sop up the rest of the crema/salsa verde after the enchaladas are gone.

$42 pesos. Amazing. Ten minutes walk from my office and I have to cross a major street, but definately at least a once a week place. Looks like everyone there was eating the soup anyway, which I still need to try. And the enchaladas mole.

Anyway. Five o clock rolls around so M and I go grab frozen yogurt at the place a few doors down from the office since its 2x1. My tooth is not happy about the cold.

I had a cavity that fell out in Boston at the end of my stay. Before I left, I went to the dentist who told me that it was stable but to get the cavity refilled. I never got around to it in St. Louis because I was really busy but mainly because I've never been to the dentist in St. Louis I have no insurance, and its hard to drop a grand to fix a cavity that isn't really bothering me.

Last week, that tooth decided to go North Korea on me and really started to hurt, so I got a dentist's number from my roommate K, who she uses and likes. Im going to call them tomorrow to set up an appointment. Even though they're probably more expensive, I'm thinking its still going to be much cheaper than the US. But I need to schedule a consultation first for an estimate, see how I feel about the place, etc. Really hope this doesn't become a root canal. I don't know why I'm so stupid about teeth.

Quote of the month: procrastination and indulgence are creditors who charge interest.

Met up with my roommate and her teacher friends for Tacos in a nearby colonia. Also 2 for 1, but for tacos al pastor. Tortillas, marinated pork, pineapple chunks, onions, cilantro, lime juice, mmmm.

K and her friend and I went out to Roma for a drink afterwards. Condesa and Roma late night are really beautiful along the bar streets. It's a fantastic night world I've written about before, with tiny, electic bars spilling onto the sidewalk since all the bars are open air since the weather here is so beautiful all the time, the canopy of trees hidden in darkness, lights strung everywhere.

We stopped into a bar in Roma, Ilicit, I think the name was. There was a fake rhino head on the wall. Chill place. The music wasn't too loud and good people watching opportunities. We each bought a hefty shot of Don Julio tequila blanco, which was smooth and almost slightly sweet. It's a premium tequila, for which we paid 100 pesos. I winced when I heard the price- its only about $7.75, but that's still two lunches and a breakfast for me (remember my plate of enchaladas was 42 pesos).  The good thing is that its sipping tequila, so you can actually nurse it for awhile, and its strong.

We just had one and called it a night. I really wish that I was getting paid double what I'm making now and that Saori were here. There's just so much nightlife and cool restaurants and museums and nearby cities. Unfortunately, I think that maybe my boss, the #3 in the office, is probably only making doubly my salary. Apparently the office in general is pretty cheap. We get good perks, but lousy pay, even for Mexican architecture offices. It's probably because we're a rising star office.

I heard from a friend of mine in NYC, Chuck. He also works really long hours, and he really is not having much fun at the office and aparently he's got a lot of horror stories about his boss despite working there for less than two months, but he's still able to go out to eat at good restaurants (in New York City!!!) and STILL save half his paycheck. I haven't had a month where I've broken even yet.

Mexico's been amazing, but I'm frustrated at times by the thought that I could be in the east coast, starving with miserable weather, but hanging out with a third of my graduating class.

At this point of my life, I need an Opportunity Cost of Living Adjustment. I need to maximize what I've got going here and remember why I came.

daily images






Jun 12, 2013

Vote Morris

Worked with Ed the Scotsman today on the house drawing details. My coworker Julieta did all the work, and I just asked a few questions and made some minor tweaks and sheet layouts, and so I kind of feel like she should get to have her work critiqued rather than me, since its pretty good experience and Ed is a really experienced detailer.

I can't complain, I'll take the experience, although there's bound to be be semantic issues and drafting and building conventions that don't align between Europe , Mexico, and the US.

For example, this is a house with two floors- an upstairs and a downstairs (no basement). The downstairs is about the same level as the ground around the house. In Mexico and Europe, the upstairs floor is called the first floor, and the downstairs is called the ground floor.

It makes sense if you call the second floor the first floor above the ground which is why they call it that. I guess if you think about a building like a chart, you have a baseline of 0 and you have to go up to 1. The convention falls apart when you lamely admit that in a typical 2 story house, there is no second floor.

Absolutely riveting, I'm sure.

Anyway, today I saw another example of the subversive and allegorical approach Mexicans seem to favor in dealing with big political issues. Apparently there's a town in Mexico that is so filled with corrupt officials (locally known as rateros [rats]) that one man is running his cat, Morris, in campaign for mayor.

The campaign quickly went viral, some graphic designers lent a hand, and now everyone in Mexico knows about the state of corruption in Xalapa. Maybe something different will happen this election as a result.

Jun 11, 2013

culinary backstreets

It was gratifiying to discover that Mexico City makes the elite six global cities which qualify as Culinary Backstreets. I've visited four of them, and in each city, I did actually eat from vendors carts, holes in the wall, and local greasy spoons. 
Actually, eating at the tarp covered shed where I enjoy my comida corrida lunch nearly daily, I was lamenting the fact that there's no Yelp or Google Reviews for these kind of places. You never really know where the good ones are, what to order, how late they're open. Usually there is no phone number, and the addresses are always approximate.


It's interetsing that for an English language site (American?) there are no American or northern European cities. New Orleans should have probably made the list. Perhaps NY, LA, and Chicago are too mainstreet for culinary backstreets. Actually, come to think of it, in the US, typically the case is you either live somewhere with a great food culture which is mainstreeted or you live somewhere with really mediocre food in general, and the search for really good common food is a monumental undertaking.

In Mexico, if someone invited me back to thier home village for a meal in near the old village center, I bet it would be delicious and cheap enough for the common campesino to also enjoy. In the US, if someone wanted to take me back to thier small home town, I'm not going to be much impressed with the fare, especially if its in the midwest. I've seen a lot of small and big towns across the US, and good, cheap, or even reasonably priced, food is hard to find. Here are the dining options in small town USA:
  • McFranchize
  • Loco Paco's Casa de Queso
  • TGIFernBar (ritzy small town)
  • Breadsticks!
  • Greasy's All U Can Eat Cafeteria
  • Spud's Burnt Chicken and 3.2 Beer
  • Hit-N-Miss Local Fried Things
  • Chang's Imperial Pu Pu Palace
  • Diesel 'n Waffles
  • The Sad Fish
  • La Tratoria Ragu Spagetti-o 
And that's only if you're lucky.  The BBQ Basement is usually a safe bet. Unless it's bone dry. And Bill's Burger Shack if BBQ Basement is closed. Get the peanut butter milkshake. Trust me on this one.

Jun 10, 2013

Warning: this post is rated PG-13 for Language

Really tired today, didnt sleep well last night. I did finish the tome about Mexico City. El Monstruo by John Ross was a long read but massive in scope and rich in detail. It's a political analysis of the history and politics of the city he lived in for fifty years after coming in the 1960s as a beat poet/journalist/activist/draft dodger.

He lived in an ancient hotel in the city center and I still stop and look up at the balconies. He died of cancer less than two years ago, shortly after finishing the book.

A good book, not for the casual traveler, but more from someone interested in Mexican history and politics. It's helpful to live in this massively conflicted city.

In other news, the maid came today and cleaned everything and made the beds and put my junk neatly in the corner on top of my suitcase, and my roommate K left me a donut. Is it bad that I can I can identify the maker by taste, or can everyone tell the difference between Krispy Kreme and some other mom and pop shop?

I moussed my hair today to try to get it under control. I have a feeling that I will leave Mexico with a hair product habit. It's probably about pincha time, tambien. I also like how my tablet autocorrects "pincha" to "Ponca"

Actually, it seems like American explicatives are the best. Explicatives in Spanish are either too weak or too strong. There are real fightin' words no Mexican will say sober or without great passion. Americanese, on the other hand, have a great variety in the middle range, useful in a lot of situations and flavors of mood. It's fucking versatile, man.

Jun 9, 2013

pancakes to tacos

Man, what did I do yesterday? I started out with blueberry pancakes before 9am, and ended after tacos at 4am.

Blueberry pancakes and coffee for breakfast, then I headed slowly out to the centro. I wandered in from a far edge, so I could wind my way through neighborhoods I hadn't really explored that much, and and stumbled across Pasteleria Ideal (Ideal Bakery).

Pasteleria idea is an 85 year old bakery in an ancient mansion in the historic center. For one thing, it's huge, with sunlit courtyards, balconies, and staircases. It was filled with a mind boggling variety and quantity of pastries, cakes, sweet breads, muffins, cookies, danishes, and donuts. The way bakeries work is you pick up a big round tray and a pair of tongs and work your way around, picking out whatever you want, and then you take it up to the counter and they wrap and bag each item for you.

Although I'd eaten a ton of pancakes, I couldn't resist picking up four pastries (17 pesos, or about $1.50) and munched on them throughout the day. I ended up bailing on my intended goal of Museo Templo Mayor since there was some notice about work and being diverted, and instead I worked my way back across the centro historico, which is always an interesting and enjoyable place to walk.

I ended up at the Museo de Arte Popular (MAP) which is a private museum highlighting Mexican popular artesian craftwork, like papier-mache, pottery, domestic items, indiginous clothing, toys, and religious artwork. It's actually a pretty cool museum, inside a 1920s art deco fire department headquarters. It's fascinating to trace the mixing of indiginous with Catholic traditions brought by the Spaniards.

For one thing, there was no conception of anything like a devil before the conquest, so the artwork reflects a kind of interesting native conception of the devil as a surprisingly human figure. There are depictions of a red devil carrying his little devil son on his shoulders, for example. It makes me wonder about Aztec notions of Good and Evil, or if spiritual reality was even cached in those terms.

Amazing gift shop. High quality stuff with high prices. Probably a good place to visit before hitting the local tourist market.

After MAP, I took the metro home, and picked up some groceries for the coming week. I split some pasta with K for dinner, and right after I took off for el Museo del Chopo.

Earlier in the day I'd called my coworker to see what he was doing, and he told me about an event starting at 8 at the museo del chopo near the Buenavista line. I wasn't quite sure what the event was given my grasp of Spanish, but I understood it was a friend of his presenting something at the Museum, so I though, oh, its probably some research or a talk or something, but the possibility of beers afterwards was also enticing, so I basically invited myself along.

Museo del Chopo is a place I need to return to, it's an iron and glass building which I learned features modern art, and performance spaces. I arrived very late, so I hustled into the audiotorium where music was playing. Actually, what I'd assumed would be an academic presentation turned out to be political satirical musical theater, of the highly surreal variety.

 There was a strikingly lean and pale transvestite who had a few songs and dances, a charro, or cowboy, with boots, jeans, a giant sombero and typical mustache, but topless with a black feather boa. There was also a witch. In the side asiles, a chicken man got people to clap, while a clown distributed balloon animals and reverted at the end to simply blowing long balloon spears and throwing them at people. The music was really good. A kind of mix of northern mexican corridas, folk songs, jazz, and cabaret.

Walking in, it was one of those "what the hell is this but I'm glad I came" kind of moments.

I met my coworker J outside after the show and he introduced me to one of his flatmates, whose name now totally escapes me. She's a drummer who is also a practicing civil lawyer. Or the other way around. I'm not sure. Anyway, her trademark expression for the night seemed to be a drawn out "vaa-maa-noooos!" (lit: "let's go" but more used like "allllll right!").

We waited for awhile for all the performers to get come out, chatting and milling around outside the auditorium. I was given a shot of mezcal, which burned like nothing I've ever had before, but had an interesting flavor. It's the kind of drink that burns holes in bartops. What an eclectic group! Old hippies, artistes, university kids, beatniks. Anyway, several of the performers were also roommates or friends of roommates, and as a big group we headed over the metro to catch a train back to the house. On the metro platform, two of the performers pulled out their Huapangueras, tiny guitars almost like ukuleles.

On the train, we rode a few stops, and they played and sang the entire way there. What a strange moment! The gringo in middle of two musicans, playing as the train rocked and swayed through the underground tunnels of the city. All I could contribute was my toe tap.

Anyway, at the house, we caught up with more roommates, which seemed to be all part of a reggae band that also played local Mexican and Argentine tunes. We settled into what was to be a super chill night. In earlier posts, I'd suggested that the drink of choice here was hard liquor and mixers. I need to revise that to the elites. This throughly bohemian gang of musicians and performers was a solid beer group. They also smoked all night. The music quickly and surprisingly turned to salsa. Salsa seems to just be the party style dance of choice where, which I don't mind at all. It looks amazing, its a chance to show off your footwork, moves, and finesse, and on the whole, its a lot classier than the typical American bounce-and-grind dances to electronic pop rap.

The problem is I'd pretty much forgotten how to salsa. I took a salsa class for a semester (the second half of which I'd like to forget anyway) but A that was nearly 10 years ago, and B the footwork and rhythm for Mexican salsa is slightyl different than the Cuban.

In general, I've found the girls here like to dance much more than the guys, so in desperation, the drummer-lawyer pulled me into the middle of the living room an attempted to give me an "intensive lesson". My sense of rythym sucks especially when I'm attempting to control it, but eventually my footwork got a little better, and actually I handled the complex spinning turns really well. The people there asked me if I'd taken classes.

I'm guessing that most Mexicans simply pick up salsa dancing like other forms of socializing, practicing with friends, going to parties, dancing in the corner, that kind of thing. I don't know if salsa is part of middle school physical education or what.

I ended up talking a lot with one of the performers singers, who was wearing a motley striped corset and multicolored leather skirt with a built in zipper pouch. She told me that was a good witch, that she could read my mind if she wanted to, and that ghosts and spirits were always harassing her. She also admitted to being a liar. She was also pretty blitzed.

Successive beer runs (walks?) were financed by the lead Huapanguera player passing his felt fedora.

Anyway, we drank and danced until most people including the good witch left after 3 am and then our small group went to go get some street tacos. It was me, J, the lawyer, and J's roommate A, who is studying the trombone. I love the fact that here, your post-drinking options are great tacos and not just IHOP. And the fact you can walk there.

There was some kind of argument between all the roommates about the tacos which was kind of uncomfortable and awkward way to end the night, and I ended up crashing on J's mattress a little after 4am. The room was warm, and the mosquitoes harassed me at first, but then they let me sleep.

At 4am, its four hours after the last train has departed, and one hour before the first train arrives. A cab ride would have been a little expensive, but more dangerous to try to flag one in the street.

I slept poorly, and finally called it a night around 9:30am, to the sound of the rain. J was still sleeping, but I couldn't sleep anymore and so A lent me a rain poncho and let me out into the cool and drizzling morning and I caught a train back to my neck of the woods.

Jun 5, 2013

Still alive in the DF.

Long days. I need to get more sleep. I'll be happier when this project is over.

hmm

Graduation was a sunny affair, but it might have been a mistake to wear sunglasses all day. There's something insectoid about the large, black shiny lenses, and the giant black cap and green robe doesn't help either.


Jun 4, 2013

Castles in the Sky

I completely forgot to write about saturday, so, briefly, here's the most interesting thing that happened to me today:

The International Fair is still raging and the Ecuadorian tent is still blasting their Andean pan pipe music. However, its not Andean. So far I've heard covers of Zamfir, Simon and Garfunkel (no, not el pasa condor, the entire album, probably for revenge), and My Heart Will Go On. And then today, there's this haunting melody in the air, and I listen for awhile and realize its the Andean flute version of the theme from The Last of the Mohicans.

It's great people watching, but it will improve the atmosphere of the office when they finally close it all down.

Anyway, Saturday:
Pancakes for breakfast, and then I walked from my apartment to Chapultapec park, coming in at the flower market entrance, which let me into a part of the park I'd never seen before. Really pretty. With all the rain, the grass is coming up and there were families picnicking.

Around the back of one of the military monuments, nestled into the base of castle hill, there is an intimate grotto like space ringed with plants and trees and bamboo, and speakers. In the middle of the lava gravel clearing sprinkled with bugainvillea, there were a scattering of curved benches for leaning way back.

I'd discovered the secret chill out lounge of Chapultapec park. Shortly thereafter, ambient chillout music courtesy of a pirated Buddha Lounge disc started playing. They also had a table out of free books.

Anyway, after recovering from the long walk, I walked up the long path to the castle. Mexico City is relatively flat, and the hill at Chapultapec is an oddity- it is really a rocky outcropping that towers above the surrounding valley, and a long walk up. On top of the hill is a good sized palace of the Imperial Kingdom of Mexico, which is now a museum of national history.

The views are amazing. 360 degree panorama of the city, with the sea of green of chapultapec's lush canopy a vast moat around the castle. It would be worth going just for the views. The castle is also great, a dignified and ornate castle that would not be out of place in Spain or Germany (one of the inhabitants who ruled from here, was, in fact, German, and didn't speak a lick of Spanish either. Another tragicomic chapter in the long sad farce that is Mexican history).

There's balconies all around the castle, period rooms, artwork, murals by the great muralists, gardens, fountains, massive butterflies flying around, and when you get to the top of the castle,  it's a giant roof garden with an observatory,  covered walkways, airy collonades, and a few delicate apartments which served as the home to the rulers of the nation. Looking across this garden, you see only tree tops in the distance and sky, and it feels much like a palace in the sky.

I caught the metro from Chapultapec park to the other Vasconcelos library at the old citadel. Once a cigar factory, its now a massive fortress like building which houses part of the national library. The other library is the totally new building with the flying shelves. This library was interesting as a massive complex of ancient walls, courtyards, and modern insertions and structures. They had free wifi so I was able to Skype Saori for a while while I was there. :)

Afterwards, I stopped by the la ciudadella tourist market since it was just across the street (didn't buy anything) and then walked to the historic center of downtown to pull some cash and eat some tacos before heading back home to plan my trip to Puebla. It was a good day.

Jun 3, 2013

way more about tacos - UPDATED

The whole with Puebla's tacos arabe seemed strange, so I did a little research. It always seemed suspicious to me that the trompe (spit) that the tacos al pastor are carved from lookd identical in use and preparation to the ones used for shwarma or gyro meat. 

Anyway, tacos are apparently a relatively recent  phenomenon, appearing only within the last 200 years in Mexico. Fast forward to the past century when Lebanese immigrants started arriving in Mexico (more questions- why did they come? why did they flee? In the past century of Mexican history there's no time that jumps out me as particuarly inviting.)

Anyway, the Lebanese migrants started subsituting native corn tortillas for thier traditional flatbread and so you have a basically, a Lebanese taco. A generation later of assimiliation and thier kids are substituting roasted pork for the lamb on the spit, someone throws on some pineapple, random idea, but brilliant, and boom, you have tacos al pastor. 

Tacos al pastor, what I took to be the emblematic food of Mexico City, only achieved popularity in the 1960s, and facinatingly, is a cross between Mexican and Lebanaese culinary traditions. 

What I still can't figure out is why tacos al pastor, pork meat in a Lebanese flatbread, is called the tacos arabe. I would think they're really Mexican shwarma. Tacos arabe would be the gyro meat in the tortilla, especially if you think about the envelope as the critical part of defining what is a taco and what is a gyro. Plus, Arab tacos with pork? 

Obviously overthinking this. 


UPDATED

There is, actually, a Wikipedia article exactly on Lebanese Immigration to Mexico (this article is poorly written and in need of revision.)

Apparently, some 100,000 Lebanese arrived in Mexico in the late 1800s, and most of them settled in Mexico City and Puebla (aha!). Also, to answer the whole question about Arab tacos with pork, the majority of ethnic Lebanese are Christian, not Muslism. The whole Lebanese diaspora seems to be related to the historical Arabization of the Middle East after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, and in particular related to the religious violence. Lebanon has violent Jewish neighbors on one side and violent Islamic neighbors on the other.

BONUS: notable Lebanese Mexicans
Carlos Slim- the first or second richest man in the world was the son of a Lebanese street merchant. It suggests (to me anyway) that his ethnicity and culture was the reason he was able to escape the entrenched classism of Mexican society.

Also, Selma Hayek!

puebla


Acting on my goal to explore beyond the city, I decided to take a day trip to Puebla, and one of my fellow interns, Sergio, came with me.

Sergio is a Columbian who also recently arrived in town. However, unlike me, he speaks Spanish, English, German, and French, and he was also interested in seeing more of the area.

Puebla is a city to the southwest of Mexico City, about a two hour bus ride. Historically, it was founded by the religious orders to be a religious center to counter the Aztec religious center of nearby Cholula. It remained traditional and conservative for nearly its entire history. It is also much closer to the active volcano of Popocateptl, and is well known as a center for the manufacture of Talavera pottery.

Anyway, I met Sergio at 8:30 in the morning at the bus terminal here, and we bought round trip first class tickets on the Estrella Rojo line. The cost of the round trip tickets were less than 250 pesos, or cheaper than a taxi ride from the airport.

We boarded right away the nearly empty bus and took off. The seats were plush and reclined, and it was basically the equivilant or better of any chartered bus I'd ever been on. The movie of the ride was some dumb sentimential flick with Richard Gere and a Akita Inu dog. The plot is Richard Gere falls in love with a lost puppy and then Richard Gere dies and the dog waits for him outside the terminal for a few years until it dies too. That's the movie. Fortunately, the ride to Puebla was a beautiful distraction from the sappiness on the screen.

Leaving Mexico city, you pass through neighborhoods which beome progressively more informal until we came to the foothills of the mountains which ring the city, and the expanse of the slums fills the views with the occational slum cathedral poking up above the sea of concrete cubes.

Mexico City fills a vast bowl which used to contain a system of lakes. This massive bowl has the same effect as Salt Lake City, where the surrounding mountains and volcanos trap the air, leading to the lethal atmospheric problems in the city. One you ascend the edges of the bowl, the entire world changes. Suddenly we were in clear mountain air, passing through forests of pine trees, and down into the highlands, with grasses, a few trees, a lot like the plateaus of Arizona on the way to New Mexico. Really quite beautiful country. The ride in was only about 90 minutes, probably due to the light traffic.

In Puebla, the bus dumped us at the terminal a few miles from the center of town, so we figured out how to take a collectivo (bus) for a few pesos to the Zocalo. I must admit, even without a data plan, I ended up using my iphone  a lot simply for the GPS.

Puebla looks like I thought Mexico City would be like. The historic center looks like a historic center, a rigorously gridded city of uniformly old buildings, all painted brilliant pastel colors. Much more picturesque than most places in Mexico City. Not as many pottery sellers as I was expecting.

We were both hungry so we attempted to find a place to eat. We tried a few places in our guidebooks but they were either closed or out of buisiness, so finally we picked a tourist trap with a seat on a balcony overlooking the leafy Zocalo.

Since molé was invented in Puebla, we both opted for the tres molés enchaladas. They were not bad. It was an expensive meal (about $100 pesos each) but we at least could check molé off the list.

We attempted to see the famous cathedral, but mass was going on so we couldn't really explore it to our leisure. So we walked over to the Library Pontifax y Mendoza. This is the ancient library of the eclesiacial college associated with the Cathedral, and its as old as any of the historical libraries of Europe. It was so old, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was on the "new fiction" shelf. The library was one long hall with high vaulted ceilings, and all the walls were lined with bookshelves, accessible by an additional two levels of narrow wooden catwalks. Everything was gorgeously carved from wood.

We next walked over to the Museo Amparo, which my guidebook claimed to be the highlight of Puebla. The private museum has a phenomenal and extensive collection of pre-hispanic artefacts, and occupies two historic mansions near the Zocalo, and has recently been renovated and expanded by TEN arquitectos. Unfornately, after we paid for our tickets (35 pesos, but still), they told us that the pre-hispanic stuff was not on display, and most of the musesum was closed to complete the renovations.

We were able to see some contmporary photography and a few salons which existed as they were in the age of Imperial Mexico, but what made the 35 pesos worth it was the roof lounge. TEN built a massive wooden deck and glass box on top of the old houses, and that's where the cafe is. There are tables and chairs outside, and I would say that at night it must be an amazing bar-lounge. You have some great views of the surrounding city, right at the level of the colorful roofscape. I grabbed a coffee there, and we continued on our way.

Next stop was back to the Cathedral, which we were able to investigate a bit further, and then on to Santo Domingo. The Zocalo and the surroundings had filled with people out shopping, strolling, and gawking at the car festival going on in the streets surrounding the Zocalo. A former site of the inquisition, the center had gone from autos-de-fe to ferias del autos.

Santo Domingo is another cathedral, but its real gem is the Capilla de Rosario (rosary chapel). When you walk in, you are nearly blinded by all the gold. It is a riot of baroque gilt plasterwork, paintings, and carvings, overwhelming, confusing the eye, from floor to ceiling. It's quite an incredible thing to see and worth the trip itself.

Leaving San Domingo, we stopped by Las Ranas, the taqueria which was closed earlier. Another culinary speciality of Puebla is its tacos arabe, which are basically tacos just with arabic flatbread instead of tortillas. Apparently Puebla has/had a large arabic community. This is interesting to me given 1) Puebla's history as a center of Catholic conservatism and 2) "arabian" tacos are made typically with pork.

Anyway, they were delcious, with tons of fresh squeezed limes and green salsa. We ate them on the curb in the shade of another church.

I was able to talk Sergio into climbing up to the forts on top of the hill overlooking the city, a little over a mile walk from the Zocalo. Really nice views of the city from there, although the views to the volcano were across on the other side of the hill. The fort is known as Fuerte Loreto.

In the Catholic tradition, there is a story about the Loreto, the house of the virgin Mary. The home in which Jesus was conceived was not once, but twice picked up and carried by angels like a divine double-wide going down the interstate. Once to avoid flooding, and once to avoid persecution and destruction, if memory serves. The second time it was carried by angels was as late as 1200 AD, which would make the house, a peasant's house with a tile roof, also miraculously long-lasting. Who was that architect, anyway?
Anyway, the house was finally set down in Italy and became the object of veneration of a certain group of nuns. There are actually paintings depicting the house being carried by angels with the virgin in all of her vestiments and divine glories riding on the roof. From that time on, replicas of the house with the same architectural features and dimensions would be constructed and then made into more elaborate churches over time. This was the case of the chapel on top of the hill overlooking Puebla, although the leaders of the city seized the chapel and made it the center of a small fort from which to defend the city and act as a base of military operations.

Anyway, we walked across the top of the hill to get a good look at Popocatepl and then we headed down to the new memorial to the battle of Puebla. This is a new monument of wood flowing over the landscape, also by TEN arquitectos, with nice views of Puebla and inexplicably, a gift shop and a Celito cafe (a Mexican Starbucks equivilant). Benches lift out of the sloping deck almost like surfboards from a wooden wave. It's interesting, but its more of a memorial park in name than in function or appearance. It's new, but the wood decking is getting punched through and ripped up in places. It looks like it's part of a masterplan for the area just below the fort, since there was also an apparently new addition of a pleasure lake. Since lakes tend to not sit well on hillsides, the side of the hill was excavated for the lake, so despite the nice views, it still feels like an open quarry. Maybe in a decade it will all work better.

As we walked down from the monument, the sky darkened and we decided to seek out the Talavera Uriyarte factory, we walked another 3/4 mile across the center of Puebla and it started to pour rain on us. I had an umbrella, but poor Sergio was left getting wet. The talavera factory was closed when we got there, so getting more wet, we hopped into a tiny combi bound for the bus terminal as the rain worsened.

With the crappy weather, the busses filled up. All the seats in the tiny combi were taken, and I and three other people stood in the tiny side aisle. I had flashbacks to human tetris we played in the combi ride to Aguascalientes in Peru.

At a certain point, the driver opened the door and told us we were there. Sergio asked him were the terminal was and the driver said, its right here, in front of us. I suppose, technically, yes, the bus terminal was right in front of us. Across the freeway.

There was a way across we found, and hopped our way across, avoiding puddles, other pedestrians, and busses. At a freeway underpass where we crossed, two guys were calmly standing playing chess on a beat up white table, oblivious the rain and traffic around them. I picked up some local candy made from sweet potatoes as a momento for the ride home.

The ride back was much more full, and took a lot longer. We were well into the Amazing Spider Man (second movie) by the time we got through all the traffic entering the city. The evening sky coming back was spectacular through, massive, hypnotic cloud formations like you see in overly grandiose western landscape paintings. Still a little damp and tired, I got back to the apartment a little before ten.

Jun 1, 2013

plus/deltas

Well, its been two months since I arrived in Mexico City. Might be a good time to do pluses / deltas at least on the stuff I can change.

Deltas

My Spanish hasn't really advanced since after the first month and people in the office now just talk to me in English, generally. My intention was to use my nights to study grammar, but generally I get sucked into internetland for hours instead.

I still haven't left the city. I'd really like to see the contrast between the city and the country and there's a lot of really amazing places in Mexico I'd like to go. I haven't even made it out to the pyramids yet.

My spending needs to come down. I really need to work harder at staying within my income budget. It's a tricky balance between trying to decide what is going to really enhance my experience here (definitely spend on museums, mass transit) but I need to stop buying clothes, trinkets, hats, and I need to find more effective ways to buying breakfast and dinners.

I need to focus more on the reasons I came down here.

I should keep exploring the city but slow down and take more in, and go with someone. I really like the African proverb about "if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together."

I need to talk to David and Tatiana more about the work they do and get in contact with more designers and architects here. And I need to go visit some of the projects up in Culiucan

Pluses

I'm slowly making friends here with coworkers.

I feel like I'm doing a good job at trying new things and new experiences.

I'm working on eating more and eating better food and I think I'm getting to a better balance.

I'm getting a lot of walking exercise.

I'm still doing a lot of reading and research about Mexican cities, people, culture, and history. Working my way through my third book in two months.

I've been good at practicing safe city techniques, not doing really stupid things, looking both ways on one way streets, not carrying large sums of cash or flashing expensive things, being really scrupulous about taxis and where I'm walking.

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...