Jul 30, 2013

Notes from Cuetzalan- on culture and public space

In most cities and towns in Mexico, there is a zocaló or central plaza. It's an open space, usually loosely programmed, traditionally used for markets, celebrations, protests, ceremonies, relaxing, and socializing. The zocaló is also usually surrounded by some of the most important buildings in the social functioning of the town, notably the main church, and the seat of local governance.

Historically, it was derived from the Spanish hierarchical urban grid- the status of the building and the inhabitants increased with proximity to the open square at the center. The hierarchical form of the grid made a center. It's an interesting contrast to the Jeffersonian grid used in the planning of many US cities, which was much more egalitarian- since all the squares were equal in importance, it severely decreased the strength of any space as 'center'.

In the hillside town of Cuetzalan, the zocalo is broken into a series of terraces and steps:
1 is the main church of the town, 2 is the main public building which includes government offices, city hall, a small tourist center, and some ATMs. To the west and north are restaurants and bars, to the south, uphill from the zocalo, hotels.

The churchyard B is largely unprogrammed, including only benches along the walls, and a large pole in the center which indigenous dancers ascend for the famous flying dance. The main point of access to the churchyard is through the lower plaza A which is where there were some cart vendors set up, things for sale on blankets, and also a large trampoline for kids. The road which passes by A continues north steeply downhill so the northwest corner has a great view of the hills across the valley.
A few feet higher is a public garden plaza, C, with a high gazebo in the center and a lot of low plantings and a few trees. Continuous seating along the planters coupled with the shade meant a lot of people were sitting here. The planters were centered in the plaza, leaving ample open space around.
Marching uphill, D is actually a series of wide steps which could function as amphitheater seating for events at the base or a quartet playing in the gazebo. During market days, the steps fill with rows of blankets and vendors selling fruits, pottery, flowers, and housewares. At the top of the steps, E is a flat avenue which connects one of the main streets leading in to the center, and has a series of shallow stores along the north side, tucked into the hill. One must then climb a flight of stairs on either side to ascend to F, not really part of the plaza, but still important as an overlook and passenger drop-off zone. From there, you have a great view of the entire zocalo stepping down below you, and the guardrail is wide enough that one can comfortably sit on it.

Also vital is the wide path and stairs running along the west side of the zocalo which joins the various plazas together and connects the major streets which lead to the zocalo. On market days, people drink and eat in the shade in front of the restaurants and bars, and on the other side of the path, vendors sell meat, vegetables, fried dishes, and small handcrafts.

Some things I can lean from Cuetzalan:
  • Provide a mix of programmed and unprogrammed space.
  • People like to look at people, terracing allows stairs which make things more interesting and inviting, but also allows the people in higher terraces to get a better view of the lower terraces, and it exposes the activities on the higher terraces to the people on the lower terraces. 
  • Lots of seating in different spots with different characteristics. Public, intimate, sunny, shady, hardscape, softscape.
  • Don't make the the big public space the only connector. It's not an intuitive leap, since you want to have a lot of people moving through spaces to make it lively and get people to engage with it. But sometimes people just want to get from A to B without browsing the flowers or stopping to chat. If a space becomes so programmed and slow and full of people, people will begin to avoid it as a bottleneck. Offer public space as an incentive and delightful temptation, rather then something that is required to plow through.
  • Reading from Jane Jacobs, adjacency is vital. The church and administrative center are vital to the functioning of the city, so people are constantly coming and going. Aadditionally, the restaurants and bars and hotels feed off of and enhance the pedestrian traffic coming to the Zocaló.
  • Provide a plethora of ways in and out but only a few major ones. 
The biggest question left for me, however, would this kind of space work in the US? I've seen so many of my classmates, and myself included, include public outdoor spaces in our site designs or masterplans labeled variously as "community space", "public plaza," or worst, "event space." When was the was last time you deliberately went to a large public outdoor space in a US city? What kind of events do you expect people to have? 

One big problem is that for these kind of sucessful vibrant public spaces, is you need a high population density and more importantly, a pedestrian center. Cuetzalan is not a city. It's a pretty small town with a couple thousand inhabitants, about the size of my high school. However, the town is compact enough that you can walk anywhere and get everything you need. The zocalo works because there's daily foot traffic using the space and passing through the space. US cities have been effectively been gutted as walkable environments by the ravages of automobile culture. The only exceptions I've seen are hyper dense cities and tourist towns on the northeast coast, and usually the tourist towns only work at a pedestrian level is because there was enough historic preservation in place to maintain the pre-automobile urban fabic.

Another problem is the nature of commercial activity in the US. Our outdoor market spaces are limited to occational and small farmers markets. For one, there's no demand. Everyone buys everything at WalMart or Target, and they get thier fruits and vegetables from the supermarket.

The other problem is in our hyper-beaurocratic sanitized society, you need a permit for everything. I frankly don't know Suzy's lemonade stand is able to operate without a certificate from the department of public safety and welfare. Even the hot dog carts have to display certifications. The amount of hoops is a huge discouragement to the causal weekend food chef. 

On top of that, there's taxes, which adds another layer of beaurocracy and record keeping. Now, I am all for taxes, but I think there should be a threshold at which a transaction is nontaxable. The economy of the small transactions which make the plaza here work would be drowned in paperwork. Literally, the ice cream vendor would spend more money on paperwork and tracking receipts then he would get in revenue from his product. 

And then you'd still have to clear whatever zoning or municipal ordinances describe what may or may not happen in public parks and plazas. I would imagine that you can't, for example, set up a trampoline in a public park in the US and then charge visitors to use it. Ok, fine, but then you lose that amenity, and you lose the potential for that amenity. If you dont have interesting things happening in public spaces, people just won't use them. Especially since in the US, we have historically separated everything. There's a part of the city where the government is. There's another part where the parks are. There;s a bar district. There's a restaurant district. If you're lucky, there's an "Entertainment District" which is a combination of bars, restuarants, and a movie theater. 

I used to think that Americans just didnt know how to use public space. The real issue is that we never needed to, so we never bothered. We have surrogates for all the things a zocalo provides. I think if I plopped the zocalo and the surrounding buildings down in any American city, it would be a dismal failure. Even if I surrounded it with the code-required sea of parking, it would still be a failure because nobody walks in the US, and there's only a few places were public transportation works well. Americans would read and practice the zocalo as either an Event Space for special events, or as a kind of quaint entertainment center with a church. Like Main Street USA in Disneyland, itself a bitter if unintentional parody of dense, pedestrain urban centers.

Jul 29, 2013

24 hours in Cuetzalan

Late friday afternoon, feeling restless and bored, I was flipping through my digital copy of Lonely Planet: Mexico for places accessible from the DF. A Pueblo Magico called Cuetzalan jumped out at me. Waterfalls, idyllic setting in the steamy jungle mountaintops, locals in indigenous clothing, a town which appeared frozen in time. So I packed an overnight backpack, went to bed, and in the morning I rode to TAPO to catch a 9 am bus to Cuetzalan. For the next six hours.

It's not easy to or cheap to get to. If it was, it would probably be drowning in tourists. The round trip bus tickets were about $40. And six hours on a bus. That's a big discouragement. At least it's a direct route with a few stops along the way.

The climb out of the city reveals the valley of Mexico for what it is: a vast bowl drowning in a noxious brown broth, shockingly visible from the roads ascending the ridges.

We crossed through the high pine forests which surround the city, drove through the high plains and through hills covered with joshua trees. I watched the three movies which played one after another and read intermittently. The last hour, we were driving through dense tropical vegetation along twisting and winding mountaintops before the bus finally dropped us at the bus depot at the edge of the small town. It was warm, with very high humidity, but not unpleasantly so. It felt nice actually as a contrast to the cool dry air of the capital. I'd arrived at 3pm in the heat of the day, and I had a return ticket at 3:30 the following day, which left me with 24 hours for a Cuetzalan adventure.

I'd grabbed a nutella crepe (Chilangos are crazy about crepes, no idea why) at the bus station before I left, but it was now 3pm and I was starving. But I needed a place to spend the night more, so I set off down the steep cobblestone road towards the red dome of the church. In most Mexican towns, its usually pretty easy to find the center. Look for a giant dome or spire and that's going to be the big town church. The town church is going to sit on the zocalo, the town square, which is the center of activity, food, and information.

The guidebook had suggested Posada Jackeline as the "best value" option (clean, cheap, and good location are my only requirements), and it was surprisingly easy to find, steps from the overlook over the zocalo. A flight of concrete steps led past the office where I plunked down my 150 pesos (about $12) for the night and got a key. The hotel was a small brightly painted courtyard building with the two dozen rooms opening into the patio. I'm not sure what the qualifications are for a 1-star hotel, but this one might have squeaked it's way in. My room key unlocked a padlock on the door latch. A very spartain room with a musty smell and cracking paint. Two chairs, a table, a bed, and a bathroom with no shower curtain. Forget a minibar and a TV, a fan would have been nice. The guy running the hotel appeared at my open window and passed me a small towel and a roll of toilet paper. I dumped my bag and set out to the zocalo to get my bearings.

Cuetzalan is a dense town on a hillside, so all the streets are either steep or flat. All the buildings in town are whitewashed with red tile roofs, and banded with a earthy red at the base. The zocalo is actually a really great series of stepped spaces which climb the hill. At the top, there is a kind of an overlook with a balustrade great for sitting and watching the city and forested hills beyond. Walking down some steps, there is a series of wide terraced steps where many people had set up stalls and tents and tables selling food and clothes and souvenirs. There is a kind of public garden at the base which is boarded by the municipal building containing the tourist center and the ATM, and then the final terrace is the church plaza with the massive pole in the center for the flying dancers.

The sky was filled with small butterflies for some reason, the entire time I was here, there were thousands in the air, flittering and fluttering, mostly black with yellow stripes.

The town was a curious collection of Mexican tourists and locals in typical clothing of jeans and tee shirts, although almost all of the men wore big woven cowboy hats, and also about a third of the people dressed in their local native attire. The campesino men, all older, were dressed all in white, with loose pants tied mid-ankle, white shirts, wide-brimmed sombreros and wore complex leather strapped sandals. The women, young and old, all wore white or cream billowy dresses with elaborate embroidery at the necks and sleeves, and most also wore light embroidered shawls. Many of them came barefoot.

At the tourist center, really an office with a counter open to the square, I talked to a woman who was thrilled to have a chance to practice her English. She gave me a good map of the town marked with places to eat, visit, shop, and sleep, and described the various offerings in the town and surrounding areas. They do really seem to try to make things easy for tourists, which I suspect is the main livelihood of the town. I pocked the map, and went to go find some grub.

At the other end of the square, I ate a bowl of shrimp soup from a recommended restaurant. It was ok, but I think I just ordered wrong. Should have gone for the pineapple stuffed with seafood. After lunch, I wandered back to the hotel and changed into swimming shorts and flip flops. I walked down behind the church and hopped in a combi which had a bunch of young people carrying towels and hiking sticks and bathing shorts, and confirmed with the driver that he was going to las brisas (the name of the waterfalls).

It was about a ten minute combi ride, really pleasant, with the views of the hills, passing small houses and tiny villages, indigenous people walking barefoot, chickens. I followed a small group down a short trail following signs and we came to a concrete footpath which descended along the side of a steep tropical ridge. Amazing views of the canopy covered hills and valleys. At the valley base, there were a few stands selling trinkets and drinks, and I paid my 5 pesos entry fee and walked to the waterfalls.

 The falls were really pretty. Not huge, but just large enough to be dramatic, crashing from the surrounding vine-covered grotto into a large pool at the base where about fifty visitors were mostly hanging out on the pebbly beach or splashing in the shallow water. There as also the token beet-red German or Belgian tourist with an expensive camera and tripod taking pictures. I dropped my stuff and trusting the people not to steal my change purse (or camera) and waded in. The water was a little chilly, but not freezing, and it felt great in contrast to the high humidity and heat, especially after the hike down. I swam out to where there was a secondary waterfall, a stream splashing over mossy rocks, and sat for awhile, letting the stream of warmer water wash over me. It was wonderful to simply float, hit by the spray and buffeted by the current, looking up the water falling over me and the green rocks above. After mostly drying on some rocks, I grabbed a beer at a concrete patio with some plastic chairs, and relaxed watching people come and go on the way to the falls.

I went back the wrong way, ending up in a town I didn't recognize. Some girls told me where I could catch a combi, so I went down to the street and waited, and finally one came by and took me back to Cuetzalan. In situations and places like this, I love combis. You don't need to hire a taxi, you don't need a car, you don't need to memorize bus schedules. Back at the hotel, I took a shower and then spent the rest of the late afternoon exploring the town.

At dusk, a group of indigenous dancers came out to do the flying dance. Five dancers in red costumes climbed a pole carved from a single massive tree about 50 meters high erected in the middle of the church square. The top of the pole was about level with the belfry. They climbed without ropes or harnesses and all sat on a square wood frame around the top while the leader danced and hopped in place on the round top of the pole while playing drums and a flute, about 160 feet in the air. The other four then flipped backwards off the the square frame, and suspended by ropes tied to their feet, began to spiral around the pole "flying" upside down. As they spun, the rope unwound around the pole, lowering them closer to the ground and finally they all flipped in place acrobatically to land on their feet.

The sun setting on the town and surrounding hills was really nice, and made me happy I'd decided to spend the night. I wandered through the town at night, the narrow cobblestone streets and buildings lit by yellow streetlamps, and even late into the night, the streets were filled with people shopping, selling, enjoying sweets and coffee, drinking in the bars. I stopped in and grabbed some tacos with a cup of the locally made "wine" locally distilled alcohol flavored with fruit. Not bad, actually. I didn't even go blind.

Called it a night around 11, and read in bed for awhile. I was actually pretty tired. I'd bought some mosquito repellent, but it turned out that the only things that bit were some anklebiting flies down by the waterfalls. Didn't sleep that well, either from the mustiness or the heat or the strangeness of place.

I was up early, well before 9, and walked around the market which was in the final stages of being set up. Sunday is the big market day, with many more indigenous in town from the surrounding countryside. I grabbed a cup of coffee and some tlacoyos (small corn meal patties stuffed with beans) from one vendor, and then some mini fried enchaladas and atole chocolate from another vendor. It was still too early to do some serious shopping so I decided to try to visit the local ancient ruins after buying a cheap and giant sombrero from a vendor for $2.

Took awhile. Against my better judgement, I walked to the edge of town and tried to catch a combi from there rather than asking at the tourist center what was the best way. I took one combi which took me the wrong direction, and hopped out a tourist stand selling adventures in caves. They helped me find the right combi and soon I was passing through a small town with a lively street scene. Wondering where I was, I suddenly realized I was passing by my hotel. I could have waited at my doorstep and saved about an hour of frustration. Anyway, this combi driver took me in the direction I wanted to go, but then basically told me he had no idea where the pyramids were and that I should basically just get off. In other words, fuck off.

I jumped out, a few buildings around, and Cuetzalan across the valley. I walked to a nearby store where I asked a woman about how to get to the pyramids and she walked with me to where a young guy was lounging on the side of the road and the three of us waited there until lo and behold, a combi came by with the name of pyramids on it. I jumped in, waved goodbye, and rode this combi which took me to within fifty feet of the historic site entry.

For all of that, the pyramids at Yohualichan were a bit disappointing. The scenic drive was worthwhile, and the overgrown and quiet ruined pyramids were serene and the views from the hilltop were nice, but this was no Teotihuacan. I wandered through, took some photos, decided that I'd rather spend more time in Cuetzalan, and hopped on a combi waiting outside that took me directly back to Cuetzalan. The bus picked up more passengers, mostly in the native variety, and I think most of them were speaking to each other in nahautl, the pre-columbian tongue which is the language of the village around Yohualichan.

By now, the streets were full of people and stalls. Woven shirts and embroidered dresses, embroidered souvenir tortilla warmers, flowers, stacked fruits and vegetables, household goods, cooking equipment, leatherwork, machetes and leather sheaths, fish tacos, CDs and DVDs, jewelry, used clothes, shoes.

I picked up a guayabera style shirt some simple lines of embroidery, and a jarrito clay mug to use as a pen holder in the office. After checking out of the hotel, I crossed the street to enjoy a leisurely lunch at Restaurant Yohualichan which has nice views of the puebla and surrounding hills for a decent price. I drank a beer, enjoyed the breeze and the music and the views while munching on a plate of local specialities, including enchaladas, tlacoyos, mushrooms, and marinated pork. 

In the heat of the afternoon, I made my way slowly back up to the bus depot and waited in the shade while trying to let the breeze dry the sweat from my body before I'd be sitting in it for the six hour return to Mexico city. 

Three more movies on the way back. Wasn't able to sleep, although at least I had the sense to bring some snacks with me this time. Read more in my book, watched the dramatic sky, and finally, exhaustively six hours later, we were pulling into the Mexico City bus terminal once more. 

It's a long haul from Mexico City, but well worth the trip. Really an incredible place. Justifiable if you're only in Mexico City for a week? Debatable. It really comes down to your patience for bus rides and the opportunity cost against the desire to see a part of Old Mexico.

Jul 27, 2013

Away message

Off to Cuetzalan Puebla for an overnight trip! To return late Sunday. Andale!

Jul 26, 2013

Cooking in Mi Cocinitita

Buenos noches amigos!

Today we are back in Mi Cocinitita for more great traditional Mexican cuisine! Ustedes listan? Vamos!

Orale, tonight your amigo Alejandro is going to show you how to make a simple yet delicious antijo called Frijoles Practicantes. It's a great starter, but you can also serve it as the traditional main course. This dish is a local favorite of los practicantes in the city, as well of course as the native pobres.
And it's one of mi favoritas, tambien!

Unlike many Mexican dishes, this one uses very common ingredients, and I'll bet that even the gringo o gringa at home probably can find these in the pantry!


1 can of frijoles negros, frijoles refritos, o frijoles charros. Really, any can of beans will do.

3 salchichas (hot dogs) although you aspiring cocineros in the US may want to to try to find the cheapest hot dogs possible in the dirtiest convenience store in the worst part of town to approximate the empty flavor and spamlike texture of the salchichas Mexicanas.

1/4 cup of crema (sour cream)


Heat the beans according to the manufacturer's instruction. Many practicantes in the city live without microwaves, but we're going to break the tradition with some modern convenience.

Slice up the salchichas into bite size pieces. Microwave on high for about dos minutos.

Add the sliced salchichas to the frijoles and "float" the sour cream on top by carefully dumping it into the middle of the bowl.

I would typically pair this with a fine lager, usually you want to select a dark larger like Victoria or Modelo Negro to go well with the beans.

Buen Provecho!

If you enjoyed today's recipe, stay tuned for more great dishes from Mi Cocinitita - here are the culinary delights ahead:

- Sopa de Ramen con camarones picante
- Cereales de Caja con Leche
- y mas!

Jul 24, 2013

small victories at the 7/11

With K gone for the month, I've had to pay most of the utility bills. I mean, we're going to settle up later since we're splitting them, but I mean, only one of them can be paid online. The rest of them you have to actually go bring cash and pay them somewhere.

In an effort to combat my procrastination, I decided to not wait for the internet bill to be past due before taking action. I waited until the day it was due.

There is a store about a ten minute walk down the street for the internet company, but its only open when I'm at work (and on saturdays, faceplant), so I needed to find one near my office during lunch.

Lo and behold, the website lists a location in the Mall of the Stars, a short 20 minute walk from my office.

In general, pretty much everything mass produced for sale in Mexico is pretty low quality. Don't get me wrong, artesian items are fantastic here, vastly superior to American, but let's talk about umbrellas and shampoo and electronics and the stuff that actually fills our lives. If you're not spending through the nose, you're generally getting crap.

Now imagine what the malls are like.

This one was also under renovation. The ceiling had been ripped out and they were in the processes adding new floor tiles. But not in a consistant way. The new floor was about 80% done, but that last 20% was a random constellation of missing tiles, leaving 2" depressions everywhere. I saw a woman literally sprain her ankle while I was walking around, trying to find the damn store.

It was like playing Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? I'd ask someone and I'd get a little clue each time. "it's a small store." "It's definitely downstairs." "It's a kiosk." After about 20 minutes of searching, I finally found it.

"Kiosk" is generous. I'd have said "podium with a laptop" and a dude advertising services. I asked if I could pay my bill there. He said no. And he also told me that my bill was due today and they'd disconnect my internet if I didn't pay it today. "Where can I pay it?" I asked.

"7-11," he told me.

Well hell, there's SevenElevens on every block.

I thanked him, found a SevenEleven in the mall, handed over my bill and my payment, and they took care of it for a convenience charge of about 40 cents.

SevenEleven is also where I pay the water bill and my phone bill, so really, why should I be surprised that I could pay for internet there too?

Anyway. I guess I can chalk it up to small victories. Paying bills on time and learning how to work the city better. I still hope they don't cut off my internet. My internet addiction is probably the only thing that got me out there today anyway.

Ruta del Peregrino

Yesterday I found the idea of returning to the empty apartment for the night unbearable, so I decided to follow my coworker Moises home and watch Ruta short for Ruta del Peregino (The Pilgramage Route) which is a blockbuster action epic featuring bits of architecture in northern Mexico and the religious pilgrims who walk the 100km route. The contemporary additions to the very old trail was funded by the state government who set aside a couple million dollars to hire famous architects to create pavillions, rest houses, and lookout points for the religious route. Tatiana Bilbao was asked to do the masterplan, and she also created a few of the architectural follies along the route.

Moises lives about 45 minutes away by metro, duirng most of which you're in bodily contact with at least two people at any given time. Although he lives a lot farther away from the office and the center of the city, he's paying about half of what I'm paying for rent. Like me, he has his own room, but he also shares his apartment with four other people.

Anyway, we grabbed tacos near his place and finished with some pan dulce from a very small and basic bakery down the street. "You can buy everything here!" he exclaimed. Back at his apartment, we ate our pastries with milk and watched the movie. It's compelling enough if you're an architect-at least the running time was only 70 minutes. It does actually put the monumental works into context- you hear the sounds of the route, the camera gives you a sense of the vastness and solitude of the area, you see how people use the various strutures and objects, and what thier comments are. Ai WeiWei did one of the overlooks. Two pilgrims in the documentary chatting: "A chino [asian] made this one!"
"oh, really?"
"I can tell because it's made of stone!"

Interestingly, many of the pilgrims tag the various concrete works with markers and spraypaint. Everywhere is "Familia Fuentes was here" or "Fam. Lopez." As people hike the 100km and have to carry most of their durable goods with them, this means that they're making a concerted effort to carry graffiti impliments.

I caught the a late metro back, riding mostly empty trains and passing through quiet stations before making it back to my apartment a little before midnight. 

Jul 22, 2013

things to do before I leave mexico

1) Oaxaca - the city, the countryside, the beaches, the food. It sounds like I could spend a week in Oaxaca. Maybe at the end of my internship.

2) Dinner with the Patinos-Pratos, I still owe them big time. Maybe that Coox Hanal restaurant....

3) Go to a Lucha Libre wresting match in the Mexico Arena

4) Drink pulque in a pulqueria. Pulque is the ancient Aztec ancestor of mescal, crudely fermented, and lower in alcohol content.

5) Visit my friend Jose in Colima. It's a long trip, but it sounds amazing. Weekend trip.

6) Xilitla and the Jardin de Posadas. Xilitla was a tiny village that attracted an eccentric British architect maybe a hundred years ago. The architect built a fantasy garden in the middle of the jungle, filled with architectural follies, stairs to nowhere, etc. etc. It looks phenomenal and surreal.

7) Visit SantaFe and have a drink somewhere upscale. Santa Fe is the new CBD based on American models- its impossible to get to without a car, the architecture is all modern and upscale and the entire area is scaled to be completely pedestrian unfriendly. Why do I want to see it? Because I want to see what our cultural exports look like on an urban scale.

8) Find something really cool and buy it. I've already started looking for the one amazing thing. I know it sounds like I'm going to look and look and end up buying an overpriced sombrero at the airport gift shop, but I have a feeling I'm close.

Monday returns

Hard to force myself out of bed this morning. Grabbed a hot Oaxacan tamale from a vendor on my way to to work, but I was too early. Moises was sitting down in the elevator lobby in front of the door. Which meant Ed was sick again and we'd have to wait for someone to arrive who had the office keys. Our hallway party was joined with a few other people before Vania showed up and let us in.

Kind of depressing not having Sergio or Julietta in the office anymore. Oh well. Time marches on and we got a new intern anyhow. Moises was actually surprised they hadn't already filled Julietta's position.

David came back today and went around, greeting everyone personally. He also brought his little son with him today, who looks like he's about four or five. Only speaks a little spanish, mostly german. He's a frequent visitor to the office and usually ends up playing with blocks of pink styrofoam we use to make models.

I continued to work on parking garage lighting design for the luxury condos I've been assigned to, one of those bread-and-butter projects that have been in the office for years. I don't even know if they're started construction yet.

I can't believe we're more than halfway through July. I need to start working on my final list of things I want to do before I leave Mexico. Maybe it will be a recurring blog post that keeps getting updated.

Jul 21, 2013

Sunday with the Virgin, Belles Artes, and the Yucatan

Got out into the city late today, making my first stop at my favorite bakery, Pasteleria Ideal, in the historic center. It was quiet since most Mexicans were still at mass, but overflowing with baked goods. I limited myself to a cinnamon donut, a kind of lightly glazed rolled pastry, and a kind of muffin with a light lemony angel food cake texture. I will miss the Mexico City bakeries. I will also probably end up bringing home type II diabetes as well.

I found a cafe on one of the pedestrian cross streets, and sipped a latte outside while munching on my pastries.

Stopped by the Feria del Los Disenadors Independentes in the Pasaje America, which is basically a corridor through a building connecting two streets. The pasaje was filled with tables covered with work by independent designers- jewelers, tee shirts, stickers, felt, soaps, makeup, artesianal mescal, etc. etc.

I finally made it to Palacio Belles Artes, which is actually more of a theater venue than a museum, although the murals by Sisquieros and Diego Rivera are pretty amazing.

In particular, Diego painted a huge mural, Humanity at the Crossroads, which was apparently a re-creation of the mural he created for the Rockafeller center in New York. The Rockafellers had it destroyed because of the anti-capitalist themes. What the hell did they expect? It would be like the US Army commissioning Pablo Picaso for a mural at West Point, or asking Cat Stevens to write a national anthem for the US.

I've seen sketches of the Rockafeller mural, and this one is very different. It looks like the Rockafeller version suggested anti-capitalist themes. This mural in the museum featured Kant and Lenin and the uniters of humanity. Maybe el Sapo was a little upset.

The building of the Belles Artes was constructed under the lengthy dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, who wanted to remake Mexico City in the image of Paris. To that end, he had numerous civic buildings in the beaux arts style erected.

The ornate white marble shell of the Belles Artes was completed but revolution and geophysics intervened. Construction stopped and the heavy shell began to sink into the soft lakebed. After the revolution, the sinking was halted and the interior finished in an amazing art-deco style.

After the Belles Artes, I worked my way back across the centro to where I was supposed to meet Sergio for lunch. I popped into another palace, the palacio Iturbide, where there was an exhibit of the Guadalupine, the Virgin of Guadalupe.

After the miraculous appearance of the Virgin on the tunic of the poor indigenous Juan Diego, there was both a massive need for depictions of the virgin, but also a need for technical accuracy. Apparently, the populace felt that for maximum miraculousness of the reproductions of the image, that technical accuracy was critical. So a template was created and passed around the various artists of the 1700s, leading to a standardized depiction of the  Virgin, even down to the placement of the stars on her cloak.

As an image, its fascinating. Why, for example, is the virgin cloaked in night sky? Why is she standing on a crescent moon?  Are those clouds parting around her? What is the function of the little cherub at her feet? There is something enigmatically Buddha-like in her expression- serene, with a head inclined in prayer, but smiling slightly. There are some who say that the pattern on her dress is actually remarkably pre-columbian, and that it is possible to pick out pre-columbian religious symbols from her tunic.

The Guadalupe has always been a contentious issue. For decades, the Catholic church refused to recognize the divinity of the appearance to Juan Deigo, and, with good reason, suspected that the cult-type worship that emerged around the virgin of Guadalupe was actually a masked form of worship to an earth goddess venerated even before the Aztecs.

Really, its has not been that long since a congregation in a rural village was exposed for hiding pagan indigenous gods behind the alterpieces in the local Catholic church. Mexico is an unbelievably compromised/hybridized country.

Anyway, I met Serigo for lunch at Coox Hanal, a Yucatan restaurant with an excellent reputation. Sergio actually came yesterday to make reservations since they dont take them over the phone. I was expecting really expensive, but actually, it was really surprisingly cheap. Pork featured heavily on the menu.

I got a surpsingly good lime-pork soup and some pork/bean tacos, polished off with a Mexican beer. About 100 pesos. Delicious and cheap. We passed a line that wound around the stairs as we left.

Sergio came over tonight to drink some mescal before he takes off to Switzerland tuesday, and I entrusted him with my birthday present for Saori. He was kind enough to take it with him and to mail it from his home country, so it should get to her sooner rather than later.

Time for bed. It's past midnight and I have a busy week ahead.

Jul 20, 2013

picking poisons

I inadvertantly poisoned myself this afternoon. No ill effects that I can see now, but that only opens the door to more sinister possibilities.

I went back to San Angel this morning and went shopping at the market in the square, and the small independent boutiques through the area. If you are looking for high quality, curated, Mexican artisanal crafts and jewelry, this is the place for it. Of course, you pay a steep premium for the pleasure and convenience.

In my browsing, I picked up a pair of polished wood shot glasses for about $4. They are really quite lovely, each made from a single turned piece of heartwood, dark, with really pretty grain. They are a pleasure to hold.

I washed them out when I got home, and tested one with a shot full of mescal. The way I normally drink mescal is to sip it, so the mescal sits in the cup for a little while, maybe five or ten minutes. The flavor seemed just a hair off, and I thought, maybe the alcohol is acting as a solvent if these things are stained incorrectly. After filling it again with vodka and letting it sit for ten minutes, I poured the vodka into a clear glass to observe the color. There was a faint but definite yellow tint.

So I figure I drank a shot worth of mezcal tainted with whatever was used to varnish or stain the wood. Interestingly, the other wood shot glass passed the sitting vodka test fine.

Right now I feel fine. Actually pretty good from sipping on the mezcal (from a ceramic shot glass this time). Probably I didn't consume enough of whatever it was to do any harm. Probably the mezcal is wreaking more damage.

Anyway, tonight I cleaned the apartment a bit, ate some noodles for dinner, slowly sipped away a few shots of mezcal and practiced with a Spanish-language version of Monsters, Inc. Good movie.

Jul 19, 2013


Today was a lot of ups a downs.  If my week was a movie, this morning is the Dark Night of the Soul. Just felt low. And then sat down with JP, the #4 in the office and about my age, and basically pointed out that my lighting designs were banal and generic.

To my defense, I was designing a parking garage, but its still crappy because it's true. The other problem is I was using autoCAD to lay out the lighting. I calc'd the number of foot-candles I wanted on the floor, found a light fixture that I wanted, calcuated the number of fixtures I'd need, and basically deployed them in a grid. And because it's autoCAD, which is designed to be accurate to millimeters, I meticulously spaced each lamp.

In short, I did everything that the lighting consultants was going to do anyway, but without showing and kind of design intention. Or, shorter, I engineered when I should have designed.  One of those days where I really wonder if I should be working in some massive corporate office, where you dont design as much as you produce drawings.

So I ditched CAD, printed off some plans, and started sketching on top of them, and when I had some lighting  ideas, I opened up illustrator and started roughly laying out lights with colors and fills and lines. Illustrator is awesome. If I had only one adobe product, that would be it. It lets me design and lay out ideas much more intuitively and quickly than CAD, which wants to know precisely how close object N is from object P.

It's fishy fridays at the comida corrida stand I frequent, so I brought a shrimp cocktail back to the office for lunch. Good stuff.

Left slightly earlier than usual, and walked to Polanco to pay off the remainder of my dental bill.

Made beans for dinner, shot of mezcal, and then after rain lessened, I caught a train to the centro historico. I met up with Sergio at El Moro, the churros and chocolate cafe, and it was packed. The way to get a table is to stand around inside, hovering around occupied tables until someone leaves. And then the waitress comes around to take your order. Over amazing churros and chocolate, Sergio and I talked about Americans, what I thought was so great about being American, consipiracy theories regarding Snowden, etc. Afterwards, we walked through the Alameda to the metro where we parted ways.

Sometimes I forget what an amazing city this is just to walk around at night. Even after 11, the street vendors disassembling their stalls, bathed in the neon and fluorescent lights, the late night revelers, kids having syrofoam fights, lights in old buildings. The islands of warmth, smell of frying or roasting meat, and bright light of the taco stalls. Taxis, police cars with the red and blue flashing, even the LED glowing toys for sale on the dark squares, like phosphorescent squid washed  up on the beach. There is a surprisingly human scale to this city which is among one of the largest in the world. The sizes of storefronts and porches and overhangs. The way building widths and heights are broken into the scale and speed of the pedestrian. 

A Columbian Thing

Today is the last day for Sergio, and yesterday was Julietta's last day. It's been a quiet week of people leaving. Many people still on vacation or simply waiting in visa limbo. So, with a much smaller office, the ten of us all went out to lunch at Crepes y Waffles, a restaurant in nearby Roma which sells it's eponymous offerings. Apparently, it's actually....wait for it... a Columbian thing.

Prices were a little spendy for my lunch tastes (about 100 pesos per crepe), so I got a basic classico, a Crepe Sencación, which was heavy on the basic and light on the "sensation." It was good through. We lingered a long time before heading back to the office.

I ended up selling my little wood chapulin to Sergio. It's just not exactly what I was looking for. I'll have time to find what I'm looking for while I'm here.

Tonight, the plan is to go out salsa dancing with Julietta and friends. It sounds like the World TaeKwonDo Championships in Puebla is a no-go, since we can't buy tickets online. I'm sure I can find other things that need doing this weekend. I can name at least five or six, actually. It's hard to make myself get things done here.

It's the whole divided task thing that's killing me. I've been thinking of my time here as somewhere between a vacation and a job, but the problem is that it's blurring into neither. I'm finding it difficult to focus at the office (guess where I'm writing from?) and my time off is spent less doing touristic, relaxing, interesting things and more just empty time online from my apartment.

While I'm happy with my agressive travel outside the city, I need to re-evaluate and re-state my priorities here. Work when I'm at work, make time to job hunt, really relax and enjoy myself on my time off.

Jul 18, 2013

who was that masked man?

Today, I was crossing the street with a big crowd of pedstrians near my office, listening to my music and thinking about buying some pan dulce when I suddenly I'm walking next to this guy in black with the luche libre mask and wristbands in zebra crossing colors. I got a little overexcited, but its not every day you meet an actual masked hero out defending the pedestrians of the city.

I stop and yell "Peatonito! Mi hombre!!" we do that handshake/bro-hug thing and I tell him "Muchas gracias, señor! Andale!" I can tell he's a little bemused and confused but asks me "¿de donde eres?" and I reply as I depart "Estados Unidos".

I'm still geeking out over it. There's something about seeing someone, who admittably, looks a little outrageous, doing something a little extreme for the common good, that charges me up, makes me think, what am I doing to help? Peatonito has a day job, he's not gettting paid to don a mask and fight aggressive drivers. He does it because as an urban planner, he knows what the stakes are and he's willing to dive in do something. What am I doing with my time off? Mostly wasting it online. 

Jul 17, 2013

surprising facts about Mexico City

There are a lot of misconceptions about Mexico City, so I thought I would take the time to enlighten readers with some surprising things that perhaps they didn't know.

The city is run and controlled by the leader of the Tortas cartel, an enigmatic woman known simply as "Rica." While the national government used to govern the Distro Federal, or "Daffy" as the locals call it, Rica's network of Ronin enforcers coupled with a city-wide food distribution network simply muscled out the federal government. Today you can walk down any street and find dozens of of her pavillions, clearly marked with "Ricas Tortas" where locals can meet thier representatives one-to-one, air greivances, and get some delicious sandwiches.

There are actually no cars in Mexico City. The pollution got to be so bad back in the motorimg days, that the Rica simply laid down the law and everyone had to get rid of thier cars.  Everyone either walks, rollerblades, or bicycles. The police are the only exception.

Mexico City has the largest population of samurai in the world. During the modernization of the Japanese Meiji restoration, huge numbers of Ronin and nearly all of the Ninja clans fled to Mexico, most of them settling in Mexico City. While some went to work for the cartels, many found employment with the city as park rangers.

After Rica's coup, the entire police force of the city found themselves out of work. In the US, when police cruisers turn on thier flashing lights, it means they're trying to pull you over. Here in Mexico City, the police drive around with lights flashing all the time to indicate that they're available for hire. Less fortunate officers have resorted to selling riot gear on popular streets.

Many people have seen the skull cartoon engravings by Mexican engraver Jose Posada, but few know that he was actually born with no skin or muscles on his face, and he spent his life raising awareness for the extremely rare skull-head syndrome.

The Centers for Disease Control has issued medical advisories for travel to Mexico City, as there is currently an epidemic striking large numbers of people with weakened immune systems and especially the elderly. The disease is known locally as Danzon and symptoms include waltzing movements, repeated turns in place, and shuffling. Many suffer the delusion of returning to decades prior, and affect the dress of the early 20th century.

The city is actually protected by vigilantes in superhero costumes. With the police out of work, and the samurai limiting their efforts to places with trees in which to hide, a ragtag army of Iron Men, Mad Hatters, Marios, Luigis, Doras the Explorer, and Chavos have donned constumes and patrol the streets. They form a particuarly heavy presence in the popular historic district to maintain order

Due to the high population density, most houses are only ten feet wide. This allows many families to squeeze into the street. This is also the reason that Mexicans eat tortillas instead of loaves of bread. Turned sideways, its possible to have a lot more tortillas than slices of bread in the narrow kitchens.

Mexico City is actually a thin urban ring around jungle filled with highly dangerous insects and animals. The Aztecs revered and feared these creatures and created many sculptures of thier likenesses, many of which survive today.

There is an religious order which plays music to encourage suicide. Throughout the city, you can find many adherants to the Orden de Musica Cosmica easily recognizable in their brown habits, hats, and hand cranked organs. This male-only sect believes that God is trying to call everyone home and so the faithful produce incessant, droning, horrifying music intended to drive listeners to suicide, while other members hold out thier hats for alms.

Jul 15, 2013

Subpar journalism

Didn't sleep well last night. My choice of barbacoa taco stalls for lunch came back to haunt me. I guess I need to stick with the street vendors my microbes know and trust.

New girl in the office today. I haven't't had a chance to talk to her, although I've heard she's studying in Boston, and interning here as part of her program. Could be BAC, Harvard, MIT. Who knows, at any rate, it's another intern. The question on my mind is: what is she going to be working on? My house project is done, and today I moved on to assisting the Lyon project a bit and then jumped over to reference research (Hello Pinterest!) for a giant apartment tower on the coast.

I did post another blog on the archinect.com page, which got good coverage through the site, although reading it later, the speling errores made me cringe. I really wish I'd ran it through an application with spellcheck before publishing it. Nothing kills credibility like stupid spelling mistakes.

As long as I'm metablogging, I'm nearing the end of moving my blog posts over from tumblr to blogger. I updated the best and worst post: in between the time when I published it a month and a half in and now, I've come to really appreciate Mexican warmth and hospitality, and to really loathe the rainy season here.

When you run out of things to write about, stop writing.

top 10 best and worst things about Mexico City

This is a revised list from a post I wrote when I was 5 weeks in. I've been here now for over four months.

Top 10 worst things about Mexico City
  1. The sidewalks really suck here, awful paving conditions, when you’re lucky enough to get paving. And the drivers are real pincha pendejos. Pedestrians have rights only when they form large enough groups tondo serious damage to the car.
  2. Being a perpetual gringo means you’re always offered the gringo price and the gringo experience.
  3. The air pollution is horrible. My nose has not stopped running since I got here. Often you can smell the smoke in the air.
  4. Public transit. Taking the metro wears you down, you crave to see the sky again, and it’s always hot and stuffy and often reeks of bodies and urine. The metrobus only has legible signs from the platform, so you never know where you are, or where you are going. Also, during rush hour, the metro buses are so packed, they make the metro feel spacious by comparison.
  5. My GI tract is still getting adjusted. I'm generally better off sticking to the street food stalls to which I've already accustomed my intestinal flora.
  6. The entrenched classism/desperate poverty
  7. I miss my friends and family here. It’s an amazing city, but I’m only really seeing it with one eye when I see it by myself.
  8. The language barrier. My Spanish is improving, but there’s slang and a LOT of word play and other connotations and subtleties that I’m just not going to pick up because it relies on a deeper, longer understanding of the local culture and language. 
  9. Service is generally bad everywhere you go. It doesn't matter if you're in an upscale department store or a dingy Woolworths. People just have better things to do than waste time on satisfying your needs.
  10. In the summer months, it rains every day. Cada. Pinche. Dia. There is no joy like walking in sopping wet socks squishing around in sopping wet shoes. At least there's sun during the early afternoon.
Top 10 best things about Mexico City
  1. The food is wonderful. Everything you eat is delicious and fresh.
  2. The really low cost of living. I can get a two dish lunch with rice and beans and tortillas for about $3. Non-taxi transportation is dirt cheap. Things are cheap, the markets are cheap.
  3. There’s a huge number of things to see here- an insane number of museums, works of architecture spanning from pre-columbian ruins to contemporary works.
  4. The weather is generally great- cool in the mornings, warm afternoon, cool at night, a good mix of sun, rain, and cloudy days. Except summer late afternoons suck.
  5. The city really feels inhabited and alive, I love the way people actually use public space here, and the way they interact with each other which creates a city out of a collection of buildings and parks and streets.
  6. Markets! Everything from tourist markets to used clothing markets to fruit and vegetable markets and pirated DVDs and music and the food stalls, and usually everything mixed all together, since most people in Mexico City still prefer to shop at their local markets over supermarkets.
  7. Public transit makes the best of list as well since you can get to most places in this massive city in a relatively fast and insanely cheap manner. There’s a variety of options from buses to trains to combis.
  8. The city has such an intensity of space and variety of spaces on top of each other, I’m constantly thrown off balance by the shocking transitions between filth and sterility, desperate poverty and slick opulence, chaos and serenity, usually separated by distances measured in meters. Its a good thing because it keeps me on my toes, fully engaged, empathic to the city.
  9. It's generally possible to get everything you need for a household within walking distance. If its not available at the local market, street front stores, supermarket, or from street vendors, you can get it by hopping on a convenient bus or metro.
  10. Mexicans are genuinely warm and friendly people, incredibly hospitable. They really do mean it when they say Mi casa es su casa.

Jul 14, 2013

Sunday recovery

Slow morning of making banana pancakes and some housecleaning. The floor was so dirty, I broke down and swept.

I took the slow bus all the way up reforma to LaVilla, looking for some religious art at the massive market outside that pious Disneyland. Everything was new and mass produced, didn't see anything handcrafted.

Giving in, I caught the metro back to Zona Rosa and the Bazar Fusion, the weekend independent designer jewelry and craft fair. Also got some really fresh peppermint sorbet.

Grocery shopping in the afternoon, and some Skype calls with family. Wrote a long post about Taxco, and now I think I will hit the hay early tonight. Maybe read in bed for awhile.


Saturday morning, I was up early, dressed and packed, and by 8:30, uncharacteristically exactly on time, I was standing outside the city's southern bus terminal, waiting for Sergio.

The city could really use a new building for this terminal. It's huge, first of all, the size of an airport concourse with I would guess about 50 bus slots. It's an incredibly cheap building, with the majority of the money going into a stupid metal band around the front facace, and long walls of glass along the front mostly obscured by vendors. The interior is dingy and dark, with an ugly space frame roof/ceiling structure. due to the high volume of bus travel in this country, the bus terminals should be at least as nice as the airport- nicer, since the vast majority of users are native Mexicans.

When Sergio arrived, he took lead on this trip since he's been talking about Taxco since we took the first trip to Teotihuacan. Taxco is slightly under three hours away, so the ticket ended up being about $24 round trip. Big spender, I know.

One thing I really enjoy about Mexico City and the surrounding country, is how accessible everything this, and how relatively cheap it is to get from one place to the next. I walked ten minutes from my apartment, picked up a bus that dropped me at metro station, and took that to the bus depot probably six or seven miles away. It cost me about 40 minutes and less than a dollar. From the bus terminals around the city, I can get to hundreds of towns and villages throughout Mexico, and I've never waited longer than 30 minutes for a departure once I bought a ticket. I do have to admit that a basic grasp of Spanish is useful to buy tickets, especially when it comes to talking about when you want to return, which seat you want, that kind of thing. I haven't tested the ticket agents' English skills. Yet.

The bus ride was slightly under three hours. Another damned simpering American drama on the ride out. Some bland movie about a little girl looking for her father in a town where everyone rides horses and wears cowboy hats all the time. (My new theory is that you get banal movies to put people to sleep on the day rides, action movies for the night rides).

The approach to Taxco is gorgeous. Taxco is nestled into the sides of a few steep valleys filled with lush vegetationn. Not quite tropical, but a lot more green, humid, warm than Mexico City. It's a colonial city which still looks vaguely Spanish, with whitewashed walls, terra cotta red tile roofs. The way the town climbed the walls of the valley, and formed a series of massive bowls, the steep, narrow cobblestone streets, really reminded me of Positano in Italy.

It's an incredibly picturesque city. The old churches, with the extremely baroque church in the center juts up through the sea of red roofs, and is highly visible since the city is always curving up towards you. Of course, it is on the rolls as a Pueblo Magico, and actually, the town's biggest criticism is that it has become a museum piece- building codes enforce strict adherence to preservation and similar colors, styles, and textures of the historic town. Every weekend, it floods with tourists and everywhere were boutiques and restaurants and overpriced rooftop terrace bars. As a center for silver mining, Taxco over the past century became a major center for selling and making silver jewelery and tableware, so you also see silver (or silver plate, gotcha!) everywhere you go.

The bus dumps you at the south end of the town and you must climb into the city to get to the zocalo. Thankfully, there are signs for the tourists, and locals are actually quite friendly and will give directions as well. In the Zocalo, our first destination was the church.

This church was donated by the town hero, Borda, the man who opened the silver mines and brought wealth and fame. This benefactor poured most of his resulting wealth into this church, which is pretty amazing. Baroque only begins to be describe it. The interior is lovely, with every surface of wall and ceiling whipped into sea of baroque fillagree, many walls becoming alterpeices themselves, with armies of cherubim, phalanx of saints, and everything covered in gold.

After the church, both our guidebooks recommended Pozolaria Tia Calla (Aunt Calla's Pozoles) for lunch, and it was right next door, so down we trooped (its in a basement).

We were about an hour early since Mexican lunches typically start at 2, the restaurant didn't even open until 1.

So we decided to walk up to the Christ monument up on one of the hills overlooking the city, like a miniature Christo in Rio. We asked directions from one of the teenagers promoting a restaurant or a silver shop and he gave us really detailed directions.

It's a hell of a climb, almost all stairs. It's a fantastic way to see the city though because you quickly climb out of the most touristy parts of the city into residential areas, and you're ascending stairs a few feet wide past people's houses, balconies, patios, and the city reveals amazing moments as you keep going. We lateraled through some narrow streets, past small monuments and chapels and fountains, and found more stairs. We asked about five people for directions, and they were all very happy to give us directions, ask about where we were from. Their answers all invariably included "up, up, up, you just keep going up."

We did finally make it, although my Columbian-Swiss guide with his jungle wilderness skills took us the wild steep way though the forest at the base of the monument to get to the top.

The view from the Mirador (lookout) at the base of the Christ statue was really amazing. Worth the hike up, or the combi to the base of the hill, five minutes away, or even the $3 cab fare up from the Zocalo. The entire spread of the town, the distant rain, the rolling green hills and gentle mountains.

After resting a bit, we hiked down the way we came, and went straight to the Pozolaria. Closer to 2pm now, the place was hopping, nearly full. Despite the basement, it was spacious, well lit, with a few windows admitting natural daylight, and screens showing soccer everywhere. We took the guidebook's recomendation and got the classico, green pozole with pork three ways.

Pozole is a traditional Mexican soup, typically with a pork broth base, and filled with shredded meat, some vegetables, and tons of hominy. The ones we got had two types of shredded pork and came with chicharones (fried pork rinds) and agaucate (avocados). They ladled it out of three massive tin tureens on the stoves in the kitchen nearby.

Squeeze in some of the small limes, toss in a handful of minced onion, and a little sprinkle of some really spicy chili powder, and it's amazing.
Sparkling lemonade to drink.

After lunch, we killed the rest of our time for our 6:20 return bus exploring the city and shopping. We were both looking for silver for our respective girlfriends in Europe. I actually ended up picking up a wooden painted chapulin (grasshopper), because of the strong relation of Mexico City to grasshoppers through the Aztecs.

We more or less stumbled upon the local market, a parallel and separated world from the tourist routes and streets, but no less interesting and compelling. The main market hall was narrow, with five or six floors and stairs running everywhere. The market which spread into the narrow streets and stepped terraces and balconies, was vertical like the city. There was market below and above, with long tall visual corridors through the spaces between buildings to see the spires of the church up on the Zocalo. 

The bus terminal was easy to find again, and we got back on the road to Mexico. I discovered that most people in Mexico (the country) not in the city, refer to Ciudad de Mexico (a mouthful) as simply, Mexico. This made me a little confused asking what line I was in. Of course I'm going to Mexico. Which city?

Anyway, The Amazing Spider Man was the movie for the ride back, and we pulled into the bus terminal a little before 9pm.

What a day!

Jul 13, 2013

A quick dispatch before bed

Coming back from Taxco, at the South bus terminal, you walk under a big blue banner welcoming you to Mexico City. It still doesn't feel like its the place I'm supposed to be, but its as close to home as I've got, and there's a warm feeling of familiarity to be back in the massive sprawling metropolis of the DF.

I re-read The Forever War on the bus today. That book still blows me away. Less about war and space, although the sci-fi is pretty hard and compelling, and more about culture and values. I want them to make into two movies with a soundtrack by The Flaming Lips.

Of course, if it ever gets made, they'll just Michael Bay the shit out of it like what they did to I, Robot and every other sci fi movie in the last ten years (possibly excepting Solaris and Moon).

Jul 12, 2013

cheers to small victories

Today was a day of small victories.

I paid the water bill at the corner market, and then went to a pasteleria and picked up some pastries for breakfast.

For lunch, Sergio and I hit up the friday food market and got some barbacoa tacos and some beso de angel nieves. Nieves are basically a poor man's ice cream, it's more like sorbet and you see it sold everywhere here.

I finished what I wanted to get done at work today and left a little after 4:30, the regular ending time on fridays.

I caught the bus straight home and reloaded my phone credit at the corner store. These convenience stores actually live up to their name.

Then, after becoming a wikipedia expert on mezcal, I set out to buy a bottle. My local grocery store didn't sell it, except a really really cheap version packaged with a bottle of Squirt. That's how you know you're getting the good stuff.

So I hiked back across Insurgentes to Superama, one of the nicer grocery stores in town. While not up to the standards set by AJs in Scottsdale or other luxury groceries, this is luxurious for Mexico City. Decent wine and craft beer selection, and a best bet for international food and toiletries. Incidentally, Superama is actually owned and run by Walmart, which has a huge presence here.

They had about six or seven varieties of mescal, ranging from close to 500 pesos a bottle to 110. I picked up a bottle that was just under 300, a little more expensive than the really good reposado tequila I usually stock in the freezer.

A gaggle of teenage moppets approached me with a bottle of vodka in the  checkout line and cheekily asked me to buy it for them. I turned them down.

Outside of Superama, there was a massive crowd of teenagers and early 20somethings waiting to get into Live in Color, a kind of trance music show where they spray you with neon paint. Lots of kids hopping around with white and neon tees and caps.

Anyway, I ate a little supper of beans to cushion the blow of the alcohol and cracked open the bottle of mescal.

The bottle I got was San Cosme, a brand specifically designed for export to Germany. Actually, "Oaxaca" and "Mexico" feature prominently on the bottle. However, it is from Oaxaca, the provenience of the best mescal.

I'm still a little unclear about the manufacturing differences between Tequila and Mezcal, so I'll probably have some boozy wikipedia time later tonight. One difference is the plant. Tequila is typically made from blue agave, while mescal is made from maguey, or the century plant, as it's known in the US. Hiking around Arizona, I've seen a lot of century plants.

Mescal is rougher than tequila. The flavors are smokier, more complex, somewhere between a really fine tequila and a good scotch whisky. The one I'm sipping now tastes a little leathery, a little sweet, a little vanilla. I'm not sure I like it better than my Centenario Reposado, but its definitely more fiery. You can sip a reposado tequila and it can be so smooth you almost forget it. Mescal says !Ay Cabron! every time you take a sip.

Anyway, tomorrow morning I'm off early for Taxco, to the southwest, the town known for cheap silver.

Jul 11, 2013

The Rainy City

Dear Mexico City,

While I appreciate your thoroughness and rigorous adherence to schedule,  you may want to consider that raining every single day, right around the time that I leave work to walk home may have a detrimental effect on my appreciation for your climate.

Up until about a month ago, you've been wonderful. A little cool in the morning, warm and sunshiny all day, and cool and clear at night. Those were really great days and I know you're capable of so much better than this. Please also consider the state of my shoes, which I now have to rotate because they get sopping wet every night.

I really don't want to have to go buy Crocs. You don't want that, I don't want that, even people I barely know don't want that. Please consider changing your climatic patterns slightly.

Drenched in Del Valle

Today, I found out another person is leaving the office. Her last day is next friday, same as Sergio.

Today at lunch, acting on a Mexico City food blog, Sergio and I hunted down a Vietnamese food truck Nahm Nahm over in the Roma neighborhood. It's bright red with yellow patterns all over it, and its the only other place I know of to get Vietnamese food in Mexico City. (The first is in Polanco somewhere, and apparently its just good enough to take the edge off of cravings for Pho).

Anyway, I got a chicken bahn mi and some agua de watermelon. It was filling, tasted fresh and Vietnamese, and I was pretty happy with it. At 70 pesos it's a little more expensive for lunch options (comida corrida- $35, chef salad- $40) but not bad for something different than usual. I need to come back to try the pho, but from the looks of it, I'm going in with low expectations.

Overall, a quiet day. I dropped a package off at DHL to send some documents to Germany ($40 US, ouch!) but they gave me a DVD for shipping with them. I selected Sherlock Holmes over Clash of the Titans. Actually, I watched Monsters University the other night. It's time for me to start coming back to movies I think.

Or study more spanish grammer. VAMANOS!

an architecture of optimism

On the Archinect.com boards, there was a post by a guy studying to be a graphic designer but considering changing his career to architecture and was looking for advice. The replies were mostly supportive, but there was one architect who wrote:
You're going to be frustrated no matter what path you choose.  I say choose the cheapest easiest path.  There really are no rewards, it's a zero-sum-game.  And you get to work with douchebags in either industry, unless you get lucky and find some nice people to work with.  Happiness is not going to come from any degree or working in Architecture or Graphic Design. 
Ouch. I followed his comment with my own.
As for finding meaning, I can sympathize with ---------- frustrations- if you are lucky, you will get to make interesting buildings with nice people. If you are unlucky, well, there are a lot, a lot of architects whose idealism and zeal has turned to bitterness. From my own experience, the act of designing is a joy into itself, and if you can find a way to do it, regardless of the outcome, it can be rewarding.
 Of course, my feelings on architecture tend to be highly schizophrenic- a week or so ago (and late at night) I wrote:
Sometimes I think before an architect begins his or her education, they should be given a card which reads:
"WARNING: If you discover your calling here, you will become a design junkie. If you are lucky, you will get to design pretty things for wealthy people and organizations. If you are unlucky, you will design buildings to extract money from the public. Often, you will be asked to design things which you know to be poorly designed. If you are successful, you will propagate and promote the established order. The best you can hope for is a modicum of personal satisfaction, a middling salary, and a career which allows you some moments to satisfy your desire to learn, explore, and create."
Plus, you can get away without wearing a tie and architecture is one of those professions people think is kind of cool without really knowing much about it.
I do actually love being an architect. For me, the self-involvement, the selfish search for knowledge and meaning, the indulgence of creation, these block ALL the dopamine receivers. Eyes which destroy and create simultaneously- seeing the world as it is, and as it could be.
I love the monkey on my back.
Ouch. A kind of dystopic megalomania lurks below the surface. It's also highly exaggerated, and only true if you stay as a desk jockey within a comfortable corporate firm. There are other routes. For example, one can start their own firm. Or just avoid corporate work and be forever haunted by the spectre of poverty and joblessness.

Architecture and design is neither inherently optimistic nor pessimistic. The best definition of design I've heard is the transformation of an existing situation into a desired situation. In other words:
  • Pessimist - the glass is half empty
  • Optimist - the glass is half full
  • Designer - the glass has potential to be full or empty
A designer must understand what is the desired situation, therefore, he or she must see flaws in what is existing, which is pessimistic. You have to see the cracks to patch the wall. But the act of creation is optimistic because it is full of hope that the situation can be improved through creation and change. The counterpoint is the architect who creates with the belief it will degrade the situation, typically unwillingly. While this is a source of much bitterness and frustration (behind every cynic is an idealist), I still think that architects are originally motivated through optimism and faith in both themselves and the ability of architecture to change the world, or at least to improve it in small ways.

Personally, I'm very much of an existentialist and romantic who comes across as a pessimist. I don't think the world is coming to a catastrophic end- humanity is much too resilient to simply give up and die. However, I do think that our natural environment is degrading to the point where architecture is becoming moot apart from rainwater collection and protection from the elements.

As an existentialist, I want to throw up my hands, and say it's simply a part of humanity, that the history of our species is wild swings between excess, brilliance, and exuberance, and darkness, war, famine, and disease. We're neither rabbits nor robots, and the swings generate meaning in a meaningless universe. What does it mean to 'save humanity' anyway?

To save the human race is simple enough. It can be, in fact, a design problem. Perpetual incarceration with rigidly structured diets and exercise regimes. Carefully controlled population numbers. Throw in enough sunlight, challenges, entertainment, and interpersonal interaction to stave off suicidal depression, and we're golden until the sun explodes. This was the classic Modern architecture approach. The only problem is 'humankind' and 'human race' is not 'humanity,' which is something I think more profound and inherent to who vs what we are.

As a designer, whose basic task is improve things, it's also fundamentally wrong to sit back and watch the world burn, regardless of the fact that it bathes in gasoline and delights in playing with matches. Questions of autonomy disturb me. Do people have a right to dumb themselves to death? People eat themselves to death all the time. In the US, you are practically guaranteed the right to do really stupid things that will result in horrible, harmful personal injury. Should cities have the right to make decisions that will ultimately destroy them? As painful as it is, I think you have to allow people, cities, societies, humanity, at least the right to unwittingly set itself on fire. But if you see with your wide view, you have a responsibility to warn, dissuade, or at least make things less flammable. 

What is required is an architecture of optimism. The idealism and faith and confidence of the great Modernists tempered with humanity, the understanding of humankind as being composed of humans.

Jul 10, 2013

slight variations on the typical day

Yesterday, I got my final porcelain crown cemented in place, and the dentist carefully ground and polished it to the point where it felt identical to the tooth that there before. It looks great and I'm so happy that I got it taken care of.

Today when I got to work, Julietta was sitting down in the elevator lobby outside the door. Ed was late. Or sick.  Anyway, I took a seat and we chatted and gradually more coworkers showed up for our hallway party.

The rest of the office who weren't on vacation trickled in and around 9:15, Juan Pablo arrived with the keys to let us all in.

It was a slow day at the office. I sat down with Juan Pablo and we talked about the house project I'm working on and I picked up the edits. Big salad for lunch.

The Museo Tamayo was showing a movie about architecure at 7:30, so after work, I quickly walked over to Chapultapec park through a light rain. What do architects and designers look like in Mexico City? About the same as architects and designers in the US, except a little more Mexican. It was the usual sea of monochrome, thick framed glasses, slim jeans and sneaker.

I ran into Sofia there, who was there with her boyfriend, and we tried to buy tickets for the show. Sold out. I can't believe they sold out of tickets to a movie about architecture ten minutes before the show.

Sofia invited me out for a drink, so we walked over to a kind of sports bar on Reforma and grabbed a seat on the top floor balcony. We had a few beers and talked about Mexico and Mexicans and work. Sofia is Columbian and her boyfriend is Argentine. Arguing with the Argentine over US superiority in the pizza department made me ravenous for pizza, so after we split up, I caught the metro over to the pizza bar on Neuvo Leon at the edge of Condesa.

It's the best pizza I've had in Mexico City, and it is actually, Argentine. They just dont have good American pizza representation here, which is kind of ridiculous. All of the US has access to good pizzas, yet less than an 10 hour drive from the US border, they have these thin, sad, pathetic excuses for pizza. I think most Mexicans just don't have anything better to compare it with.

Home was about a ten minute walk from the pizza bar. I love living in a city where I can walk to get almost everything I need, including decent pizza.

Jul 9, 2013

Double dose of Barragan

This morning I caught the metrobus down to Tlalpan, the town which is "what Coyoacan used to be." It's farther south than UNAM, towards the edge of the city. It's actually quite quaint with small cobblestone streets, charming buildings, and sleepy plazas.

I met my coworker Sergio at the Capilla de las Capuchinas, actually a small covent still inhabited and run by the Capuchin nuns. It was designed in the early 60s by Mexican architect Luis Barragan, and is considered to be one of his best works.  Also the cheapest, at only M$60. All the other Barragan buildings charge M$200.

After the tour by one of the nuns, who was apparently the only on-duty nun for the morning, we rushed over to the Casa Barragan, the house of the architect himself south of Chapultapec park. Sergio had arranged for a tour in English on my behalf.

In a certain sense, if you've seen one Barragan, you've seen them all- each successive building is just about particular moments or emphasizing his core design philosophies. To be fair, you could do a lot worse. As I've said before, Barragan is a master composer of light and color. There is a certain humanity in his work which really reminds me of Aalto- a tour guide mentioned Barragan as a master of emotionally evocative architecture- really thinking about about how spaces make people feel.

Barragan's biggest trick is making minimalism human- he forms spaces with nearly nothing in them, but with texture, light, and color, makes them interesting and warm and inviting. The use of textures and scale and wood really remind me of certain modernist Finnish architects, as well as shades of Japanese. While Barragan studied Japanese architecture and landscape architecture, there is actually a lot of Moorish influence in his work, from his time in Morocco. Spaces are never vast, except vertically. Spaces are broken up with screens, visual barriers, partial height walls. In traditional Arabic form with the emphasis on inward looking and privacy, the exterior patios are surrounded by very tall walls to the point that one can only see sky. But they are still scaled to feel open, I never felt imprisoned in them.

The Cappuchin order has a special veneration for St. Francis of Assisi, who lived an life of austerity. This austerity led the nuns to select the minimalism of Barragan, who true to his word, created a chapel with little "decoration."

However, and perhaps this is the architect perspective, I would argue that Barragan created a place with real warmth and even sensuality- Ando is austere, Mier is austere, Barragan with his spatial compositions and wood and play of light and color is nearly baroque. To many religions, light is a metaphor for the sanctus spiritus. To some, the sun is deity itself. It follows that the manipulation of light plays a huge role in religious architecture, especially Catholic buildings with it's particular orientation requirements.

One enters the chapel from the rear. Above the entry, there is a wood screen brisolet as wide as the chapel and fills the wall to the ceiling. Beyond is a balcony for more seating, and a massive yellow stained glass window which fills the wall. The filtered yellow light streams through the white wood screen, and lights up the triptych behind the alter. The triptyc is composed of three panels covered with gold leaf. For those seating in the pews, the gold panels radiate golden light. It's a lovely space that can take your breath away.

Again, there is more half-walls, wood everywhere, the same furniture and cabinetry designer Barragan used in all of his projects. What makes it different from his houses is that there is a feeling of greater serenity here. When one wanders the ancient convents of Mexico, with its white vaulted corridors, courtyards, and use of light, one can feel the same sense of peace and tranquility.

Barragan himself was a deeply spiritual man. His home was filled with religious art and sculpture, and he had a spacious private patio on his roof which he used only for prayer and meditation.

Austere, he was not. His bachelor pad home (although he had numerous girlfriends and women in his life, he never married) was over 1000 sqm and included spaces for three(!) housekeepers and a chauffeur. He loved music and hid speakers and stereo equipment everywhere, and many of the spaces in his home  reveal themselves with great drama. He had a lot of crap, including a vast library of books.

Some other surprising facts about Barragan:
  • Total control freak, he pushed dining tables against walls to ensure that he could be the only head of the table.
  • He was a few centimeters short of being 2m tall, massive for a Mexican, and pretty damn tall by any measure.
  • For a sculptor of light and color, he graduated with a degree in... civil engineering.
  • He was a developer-architect. His business model was to buy land, build properties, and sell them.
There are few more places designed by Barragan I would like to see, and then its time to move on to the Mexican architect widely regarded as carrying Barragan's torch to the massive, commercial scale, Legoretta.

Jul 8, 2013

Market sunday

Sunday, of course, my body woke me up at 9. No rest for the wicked.

I went to the street market out north of the Garibaldi station. Actually, it's a unbelievable conglomeration of several markets including several permanent market halls, merged into a continuous market covering what feels like a kilometer and several intersecting streets.

Architecturally and urbanistically, its in an inversion of space- during the week, the street is a void bounded by the occupied buildings on either side. During the market weekends, the street becomes entirely filled with stalls, enclosed on all sides with tarps, protected from the elements. The buildings on the side of the street disappear- they either become invisible because the pedestrian is inside the market and their street facades blocked by vendors, or it its absorbed by the market, with visitors flowing in and out in the continuous market space.

I was there because I wanted to see a recommended antiques market. It was a bit like the old markets in Beijing, and a bit like a flea market. Lots of antique brass, records, rocks, carvings, paintings, housewares, jewelry, collectors toys, clothes, hats, ad nauseum. Not many tourists, looked like a real place Chilango's go for their old crap.

The antiques market flows along one side of a major street and entirely fills an intersecting street. Plunging down this antique market street, it slams into a more typical street market of clothing, shoes, CDs, haircuts, aguas, beer, watches, etc. If you turn left and follow the major street market, you'll come to a part where the antique market intersects it again. The antiques market literally wraps all the way around the block, so I followed the antiques away from the street market back to where I started, and looped in again, this time going right. The street market took me all the way back to the metro station and a massive collection of market halls selling almost everything that is possible to buy. Hungry, I stopped to eat some cochinita pibil, a kind of pit roasted pork. There was a stall selling tacos between two the three aisles and a small table so I plunked down and ordered two tacos under the yellow cast of the tarp above. The tacos were lovely, served with delicate pink diced onion and green flecks of cilantro.

Once I got out of the market, I was tired of dealing with masses so I hopped a metro down to Xochimilco.

Xochimilco is a small village which is at the southern edge of the city, where one may find the last of the canals and the remains of the lake that used to fill the valley. There is also a famous art museum there. There was a wealthy socialite named Dolores Olmedo who owned a large mansion on extensive grounds, and she was good friends with the art community including Diego Rivera, Frida Khalo, and other famous muralists and artists from the times. It's actually the largest and best private collection of Diego Rivera's works. After she died, the house became the museum to exhibit the works. It's a beautiful place to visit, filled with peacocks walking around the grounds and Xolozticuintles, the black, hairless Mexican dogs kept by the Aztecs.

Not easy to get to, of course. Two long train rides and a 15 minute walk, but worthwhile.

35 Signs you've been in Mexico City too long

1) you'd rather take a bus than the subway.
2) you'd rather walk than take the subway.
3) you wear more jackets in summer than in spring.
4) you look both ways before crossing one way streets.
5) you regularly pay less than $3 for lunch, fifty cents for bus fare, and you think its totally normal.
6) you know the difference between an agua a jugo and a liquado
7) you've eaten horse, pig, sheep, and cow. In tacos. In the space of ten minutes and for less than $5.
8) food from a street vendors cart no longer scares you.
9) you had the DVD before the movie came out in theaters.
10) you automatically go in for a kiss when meeting strangers.
11) prickly pear cacti make you hungry.
12) you can't remember what window screens were for.
13) when someone asks you what your favorite kind of beer is, you don't understand the question.
14) you've heard more songs by Men at Work in the past month than your entire rest of your life combined.
15) you buy gum on the subway and you get your hair cut in the street markets.
16) someone says "sunday" and you think "barbacoa"
17) you don't remember what color the sky is supposed to be.
18) you've ever used the phrase, "make mine with corn smut please"
19) you're more afraid of being killed by a car than by a cartel.
20) you're totally comfortable eating elbow to elbow with total strangers.
21) you eat tacos for breakfast
22) you can travel to distant cities more cheaply than to the airport
23) you have more than a few twitter feeds in Spanish
24) you subscribe to a volcano monitoring twitter feed
25) you call avocados "aguacates" in normal conversation
26) you put aguacate and lime juice on everything
27) you put sugar and cayanne pepper on ice cream and around the rim of your beer glass
28) you understand the meanings of several different types of whistles
29) you can name at least three prehispanic gods
30) you know a few dozen words of Aztec language
31) the last question irritated you because there were many tribes in the Valle de Mexico who were speaking Nahuatl long before the Aztecs showed up
32) you can pronounce Xoloitzcuintles and Popocatepetl correctly
33) Your monthly salary is less then what you used to spend on utility bills in the US, but you still have a maid and an apartment with doormen.
34) you wax poetic about tacos
35) you're shocked and flustered when people show up on time.

long saturday

The office is currently involved with a major urban project in France, under the overarching leadership of another major architecture firm, Derzog+Hermuron. Tatiana's part includes three residential buildings, basically housing blocks of about 8 stories.

I've been called in once or twice to help with the model making before big presentations, and yesterday I jumped in as well since David is heading over to Europe tomorrow for a meeting. Anyway, I didn't contribute that much friday, although I stayed until about 1:30 AM. I was doing precedent research, which is basically just looking through Google images. Pinterest is actually a really valuable tool in this regard, although you have to work to avoid the "Magical Castles" and "Cozy nook ideas!" boards when searching for architecture.

Anyway, they brought in PeiWei for dinner (sure, why not?) with an identical menu to the US locations. They forgot to bring my meal, so Paola and Alyessa shared their food with me, which was nice of them.

After helping M finish a model, I called a cab and got home a little before 2. It was actually Moises's last day before his two weeks vacation. It's nice he's able to take it at once.

Actually, the office has felt like it's steadily emptying- since I arrived about four months ago (wow!) three interns have finished their internships and left, one person has left the office voluntarily, and now there are two people on long vacations, plus the head of the office communicating from home and expecting. So the office feels a little more quiet and a little empty.

I had my alarm set for nine this morning since I was expected back in the office by ten. Of course, my traitorous body woke me up at the usual time of 7:28, two minutes before my usual workday alarm. I dressed and went to Reforma an hour early, and grabbed a bite of breakfast at a vegetarian restaurant called Yug. Yug is in the ground floor of a building designed by the famous Mexican architect Mario Pani, incidently. It's a lovely mid-century modern building from the 1950s. The restaurant is comfrotable and not too expensive either. I got basically chiletquilles with scrambled eggs, coffee, orange juice, and two thick slices of wheat toast. A good start to the morning.

At the office I ran into Sergio. He told me that the lasercutting was taking a bunch of time, and two other people were going to be late, so we still had time to go visit the Casa Giraldi by Luis Barragan. Once Sophia showed up, the three of us headed to the metro. Sergio made reservations for the tour in advance. The house was the last of many designed by Barragan in Mexico City. The family who lives there gives tours, but you have to reserve the time and its a little expensive. Actually, at 200 pesos a pop, it's the most expensive tourist attraction I've seen in Mexico City so far.

We ran into another coworker Sonia coming out the metro, and convinced her to tag along, so the four of went to the house in the nighborhood south of Chapultapec park.

The woman who answered the door basically said that she needed a little more time to get everything ready. It turned out that the time was for the son of the family, an architecture student in his early 20s, was the tour guide, and he was clearly hungover and still wiped from friday night.

Anyway, the house was lovely. Barragan has such a humane touch. His houses feel so warm- minimalist, but not empty. The use of color, light, and material make nearly empty spaces feel warm and inviting. We couldn't see all of the rooms (come on, we're paying 200 for this!) but we did get to see the famous yellow hallway leading to the pool. The walls of the indoor pool chamber were a vivid blue, and in the middle of the pool was a wide structural column that had been painted bright red. The contrasting band of red against the field of blue was hypnotic, with a nearly hallucinatory color border. Light is so crucial. There are no windows to the street, but the spaces feel so light, filled with indirect light and bounced color.

When we got back to the office, David had dropped off the freshly laser cut sheets of board and the four of us busied ourselves with separating, sorting, and assembling. Which was no small task. Lots and lots of tiny pieces. We took a break with the company credit card to get panini's from Starbucks, and got back to work.

Our deadline to get the models to David's house nearby was midnight, so he could finish packing and jump on the flight to Europe in the morning. The girls finished their building around 9-10. Our building took a bit longer, especially since we had to attach 300 columns.

Each column was 1/2" long by 1/16" wide. They are slightly larger than long grain rice. We got a system going where Sergio would apply the smallest dab of glue and carefully pass the column to me to stick it on. It was a pretty efficient but boring system and we were finally ready to paint around 10:30.

Protip: typical acrylic based spraypaint is acid to styrofoam. You need to use a water based spraypaint if you have foam elements. Our building model was made of foam separated with chipboard floors.

Can you guess where I really screwed thing up?

The first coat I used the correct spray paint, and then we attached the columns on top of that coat. The second coat, I was spraying on the paint, and I thought, you know, that doesn't look right. I looked at the can, and at the surface of the foam which was taking on the melted marshmallow look and thought
oh SHIT.

At that point we rushed to dab the wet paint from the surface, but the damage had already been done. We stood in the girl's bathroom which doubled as the spray booth and debated how to salvage the model with about an hour before our deadline. I suggested rebuilding the side wall with solid paper board, which was at least the side without any columns. So we quickly went to work cutting and gluing a fix, and then repainted. As we worked, I told Sergio, "you know, I was having such a wonderful day with my buddy, I just wanted to extend our time together." He replied, "yeah, before this, I liked you."

Anyway, we re-sprayed the model, triple checking we had the right can, and I called David to tell him that we were going to be a little late. When I explained what I'd done, his response was the same as mine: "oh shit." Responses to your work you don't want to hear from your boss. But he's a really laid back guy, especially for a German.

We finished the model, wrapped it up in bubble wrap, and attempted to fit into the cardboard box Sonia had made for us. The girl's two buildings were both neatly fit into beautiful and precise boxes, taped along all the seams like it was coming from an Apple Store. Our model didn't fit into the box as much as it wore it like armor. Sergio taped the hell out of it to keep all the pieces together, and it ended up looking like a present wrapped by a first grader, especially next to the girl's boxes.

We shut down the office and literally ran through the light rain in the after midnight hours to David's apartment building, which was about a five minute run away. David was still up and didn't seem too mad, and it was a mixed feeling as I handed over the models.

Actually, from more than five feet away the model looks great. All the tiny columns and the glass and everything look pretty good. In the massive site model in France, I don't think they'll notice. David may fire me when he gets back, once he's seen the model, but in general, defects always look bigger to architects.

Sergio and I walked back towards the office and stopped for some tacos al pastor from a late night vendor's cart. I devoured them and they were delicious. There is nothing that makes tacos taste better than hunger and late night.

I offered to buy Sergio a beer, and we tried to find a bar on nearby Rio Lerma. Saturday night, 12:30pm, no problem right?

Actually, the bar street north of Reforma was in the process of closing. Apparently it's the first stop of the night and all the action shifts south to nearby Zona Rosa, Roma Norte, and Condesa.

The first bar we encountered was Hooters and we walked in to grab a seat at the bar. We were stopped and rerouted back to the hostess stand where the orange shorts clad woman asked us how many were in our party, if we had reservations, blah blah blah. We were finally allowed to go sit at the bar, and mulling over our drink options (dark lager or light lager?) and a different hostess told us they were closing in 15 minutes. Ok. We'll try someplace else. Thanks for letting us know.

In some ways it's so Mexican. In the US, the hostess would tell you if they're about to close, but in Mexico, it's rote process. The hostess would probably ask "how many in your party?" until they start turning off lights.

Same story down the street, so we decided to call it a night. I got a cab from a hotel back to the apartment. When I call a taxi from my phone, there's a set price of 70 pesos to my house. Because its a dialed service, it's more expensive than a regular taxi if the driver takes the same route. The asshole driving my cab decided that the best way to take back was through the congested and narrow bar streets in Condesa to rack up as much time as possible. My total fare was over 80 pesos. Pincha pendejo.

I need to learn how to tell the driver the route to take to not get screwed so bad.

So that was my saturday.

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