Aug 31, 2013

No one expects the Spanish Inquisition

Friday was a good day. The other intern brought some soup she shared with the office which a really good beef brisket soup with a corn and beef broth. Really nice and earthy. Ed came back to visit and I left before JP and he could get together for some beers.

I stopped by a watch repair store on the way back from the office and bought a new leather strap for my old watch. It's kind of strange that as much as I love different watches, the one I tend to wear the most has been the old Swiss Army watch I rescued from the lost and found box while working a summer job at Ross in Scottsdale, an eternity ago.

Anyway, the guy wanted 150 pesos for the strap, which I thought was excessive. Maybe its because its in Zona Rosa, maybe its the Gringo Tax, but I talked him down to 110, which was all I had on me, which is probably still a lot, but cheaper than the US. The entire time, he kept insisting that I had an extra ten pesos somewhere to get the price up to 120. After I told him I was an architect, we went through the whole charade again, as I insisted that yes, some architects make money, but not interns in famous offices.

Rested at home, and then caught a metrobus up to Roma to meet Alba, a Spanish coworker, for her birthday party at a tapas restaurant called Broka. She said 9, but I still dont know if that means 9:30 or closer to 10. I poked my head in around 9:20, looked around, didn't see anyone I knew. Small place, bar, a few tables. Cute, but I didn't really see how they were going to have a party here. I strolled around the plaza to kill about ten minutes and came back. This time, I followed some people in who headed to the back to the room were there was a curtain. Through the curtain, I discovered the rest of the restaurant.

There was a huge patio courtyard, and several side rooms filled with tables. Alba and one of her friends were there, smoking near a set of long tables. Alba was happy to see me, and we chatted and drank for about fifteen minutes before the flood of Spaniards arrived. Within 30 minutes, the table was filled, pretty much entirely with Spaniards, and more standing around. There must have been about 40 people there.

The tapas they brought out were excellent, and were a mix of everything. Mexican tacos, spinich cocktails (?), tuna sashimi on a crisp cracker with avocado.

It could have been an awkward situation- I was her only coworker friend there, and I didn't know any of the other people. But I dived right in and chatted with the people around me in Spanish. It did help that they were mostly architects as well.

It's kind of strange, but I feel much more comfortable talking to strangers in social situations in foreign locations. I don't know if its because there's the whole "what brings you here to Mexico" which has a lot of conversational potential, or if its because simply being a gringo who can converse in Spanish is kind of different, and I feel like I get credit for simply attempting to speak in Spanish.

The two shots of tequila and the beer probably helped too.

Anyway, after about an hour or so Sophia and her boyfriend came, and they had to kind of hang around on the sidelines while they drank. I think they were a little overwhelmed by all the Spaniards. I excused myself from the table and went over to talk to them. We talked for awhile on a variety of interesting subjects, and they invited me to a party at the house of Sophia's boyfriend's coworker.

I paid for my two beers, and left a small pile of money with one of the Spanish guys I'd been talking to since I had no idea what the tapas or table cost (my guess- not cheap).

Outside, the three of us hopped into a taxi (safety in numbers!) and crossed insurgentes into Condesa. We waited outside a frosted glass apartment gate before his friend let us in.

It was a big house, in a row of many like it, with apparently about 16 rooms that are let out to young internationals. The place is owned by a Frenchman, which explains why there were so many French twentysomethings there. But they were all speaking Spanish in deference to the mix of the party. I struck up a conversation with a young Frenchman who shared his 40 of Tecate with me, and he explained that he was actually living in the French embassy.

Wait, what? I guess it kind of makes sense, I mean, Assange is living in the Embassy in the UK, and he's probably not pushing conference chairs together to make a bed. Apparently, the French embassy here has a few rooms they let out ot nationals for short term. I don't remember exactly what he was doing, but he was looking for a room. I can't imagine drinking until 4 am, and staggering back to an EMBASSY and having to pass through the security screening to get to your bed.

There were lots of handprints on the walls, apparently a ceremonial signature for people who stayed there and were leaving. There were a few Americans in the mix, mostly economistst and allied fields. A designer or two. It was fun. I talked with people, asked about where they got thier IPA beer, drank more of our own Pacifico. As the party was winding down around 2 am as the alcohol stocks ran low, I decided to make my exit, and walked the 20-30 minutes home. 2 am Condesa on a saturday night is still a very lively and active place. Lots of people out.

The worst part was running the gauntlet of she-male prostitutes lined up along Neuvo Leon. Drank a glass of water, and went to bed, falling asleep mid-chat with Tay.

Aug 28, 2013

night of the musuems (reprise)

After work today, I met K for a beer and some food near the office, and we talked about the pincha teacher's union before she left to go meet her lawyer. 

Since tonight was the Night of Museums, where all the museums are open late and free, I caught a bus downtown. It was a beautiful night, cool and brisk, no rain.

I really love the center of Mexico City at night. Neon in the windows, blazing florescents lighting up late night taco stands and snack vendors, buildings old and new dramatically uplit. Tons of people out strolling, making out, sitting, conversing, just messing around. 

Tay's comment still cracks me up. I'd warned him about all the public displays of affection in the streets here, and after a night of walking around, he said "it's like the Mexican youth are going off to war." 

What's really funny is that many times, the guy will totally not be into it. I've seen guys checking phone messages and playing smartphone games while totally entwined. 

Anyway, I walked to the national museum of arts which was open until 10pm, and got to see a really fantastic exposition of historic photography from Mexico City, from 1840s darraguetypes to contemporary photos. Really stellar exhibit. I might have to pick up the exhibition catalog.

Walked back under the monument to the revolution and caught a metrobus back home. Going to miss this town. 

The anti-teachers

Today was a crecendo of activity of the teacher's union of Mexico. A massive group of them from all over the country marched from the Zocalo where they've been camped for the  past month to the president's house in Chapultapec Park.

From the office on Reforma, I watched them march down the street. The street was a solid mass, filling the street, and so long that it took an hour from the first to the last marcher to pass by. That means that the march, standing still, is already over a third if not half the distance of the route.

It's nauseating, actually. The teachers union is up in arms because the president of Mexico who was elected in December on a platform which included educational reform, is attempting to make good on his promises.

The biggest reform- teacher evaluations. They want to make teachers pass an evaluation to make sure that they are, in fact, capable of teaching. The Mexican economy is third largest and arguably one of the strongest in central and latin America, but the educational system is near the bottom.

There are a few reasons for this, but I can't help but wonder if one of those reasons is because teachers inherit or buy thier teaching positions and there are no qualifications, examinations, or credentials required.

It blows my mind why/how anyone would set this up thinking it was a good idea. What probably happened is that with educational reform in the early 1920s which modernized the system, tons and tons and tons of teachers were brought under the same system and then they unionized.

The teachers union of Mexico is the largest, most powerful union, not only in Mexico, but in all of Latin America. They pick politicians, and they have done nothing but stunt the educational progress of Mexico since the word go.

Looking with contempt at the marchers, I had to ask my coworker, "how can these people, teachers, conscietiously march? Do they not realize that this is basically a crime against the schoolchildren of Mexico? Why aren't they being pelted with rotten tomatoes?"

My coworker pointed out that many of the marchers may not have been able to have any say in the matter. To work in the public school system, you are required to join the union, pay union dues, and the union leadership tells you if you want to keep your job, you have to get on this bus to the capital and join the protests.

They effectively shut down the city today. Major roads closed to allow the marchers to cross, the metro and metrobus stopped running. Schools across the city were closed, and not just the public ones.

In general, I find unions to be a balancing force to the power of the owers of capital and the game they have created. However, the teachers union is a parasite, a fat, bloated tick on the back of Mexico, retarding its children and stunting its growth. To the union of Mexican teachers, VETE!!!

Aug 27, 2013

a day without rain

It's going to be one of those very long weeks where every day is an eternity and friday comes shockingly quickly.

Monday, yesterday, I'm struggling to remember anything remarkable that happened. I skyped both my parents, and I ate at burrito.

Well who gives a prickly pear about eating a burrito, you may  be saying, You're in Mexico.

Actually, burritos are rare in the capital. They're a decidedly northern Mexican dish and its just something you don't normally find here. I was directed to a burrito stand near my office from another article in my go-to website: Culinary Backstreets. I went with the recommendation: the Hawaiian. With bacon sauce.

The cook slaps a massive flour torilla on the grill and chops up a hot dog with minced ham and uncooked bacon, and then after its sizzled for awhile, throws on some thin sliced deli ham. Then he adds sliced pinapple chunks and drizzles the pineapple juice over the grill to cook it all together before tossing in the shredded cheese and picking it up with the hot torilla. Last goes in a long squirt from the bacon sauce bottle.

I took a bite and suddenly I was ten again, eating the hot dog roll ups mom used to make in Phoenix, which was basically a flour torilla rolled around a hot dog and string cheese stick and heated up. Actually, it was really tasty. I ate every bite, and used the left over tortilla to mop up the bacon sauce and the escaped pineapple. 35 pesos.

Today I got to the office around 8:45 and there was nobody there. Even after one of Tatiana's assistants unlocked the door, it was me, the assistant, and another intern for the next two hours before some people finally started trickling in.

And then after lunch, everyone left, including the assistant, so it was just the other intern and I, and lacking any meaningful work for the day, we just sat around and talked. The hours oozed by in the overcast and sleepy day.

It was an eventful day for online work though- I got a rejection note from a Boston architecure firm, I applied to a firm in Germany, I submitted my boards for this architecture thesis competition, and a relatively famous architect in Chicago who does really cool water infrastructure projects shot a few emails back and forth and he's going to include some of my river maps I did for my thesis in a book he's working on. So that's kind of exciting.

Glass of wine and a can of black beans for dinner. No rain today.

standard deviation

Sunday, I got up and walked to work. Actually, I had no intention doing real work, but I wanted to use the office computers to send out job applications and to make boards for an international thesis project competition.

I had to walk, because the metrobus was not running due to the Mexico City Marathon. I followed runners all the way to the office. It was surreal, actually. No cars on the normally congested streets, people just out walking, and tons of runners.

Bystanders shouting "Si, se peude!" (you can do it!) and "Vamos!" (Let's go!) at all the runners. There were a ton of racers. I actually had to cross the route four or five times, and the runners were so thick, that every time, I had to carefully time my entry, run with the marathoners for a few hundred feet while I moved across the street, and work my way back up to where I crossed.

At the office, I met my coworker Moises who was there and we basically had coffee and worked all day there. Around three we took a break and got Papa John's pizza. In general, pizza in Mexico is appallingly bad. How, you may ask, do you screw up something so simple, and so horribly? Maybe my stardards were just low, but the pizza we ordered at Papa John's tasted well within a standard deviation of the US pies.

I also grabbed a couple of beers from the convenience store downstairs to go with the beers and the applications after I'd finished the competition.

I ended up helping Moises work for the last two hours, and I finally left around 9:30pm, about twelve hours after I'd arrived in the morning. So that was sunday.

Antares Mall in Polanco

The last few days have really gone by at the regular speed of 60 minutes per hour.

Saturday, I hung around the apartment after making pancakes for breakfast, and only got out after reviewing my list of places I wanted to go before I leave Mexico.

I went to an upscale mall in Polanco, the Antares. This is actually a really nice mall. From a purely architectural standpoint, its probably my favorite mall in the Americas, and just behind the Mall of the Emirates in Dubai. The one in Dubai happens to have a bar that sells hot chocolate. Inside a fake log cabin surrounded by snow on an indoor ski slope.

Anyway, this one is really nice, a gracefully curving canyon of glass and open terraces and bridges, where the food court seating, instead of the dark dinginess of most food courts, is a massive arcing terrace which overlooks the rest of the mall.

The stores were of course typical Polanco- way too much money spent in an attempt to make it feel like an American mall which ultimately just kind of feels pathetic. The mentality is just differnet. For example- nothing is on sale. There's no sale racks, like the overall mall experience would be devalued. It was the nicest Sbarro's I've ever seen.

Even the pretentious georgian facade of the Brooks Brothers store looked embarassed to be there.

I caught a surprisingly convenient bus back to Sevilla metro and walked to catch the Metrobus home, stopping for a burger, fries, and a beer at the grill next door.

Aug 26, 2013

one day on the glass and steel edge of Mexico City Modernism

A reader requested a one day trip to visit the highlights of "innovative contempory architecture" in Mexico City, and it made me think about what I've seen here (and about what I've missed). Please keep in mind, this is mostly compiled "if memory serves" and its always beneficial to double check hours of operation. In general, most museums in Mexico City are closed mondays. Typically, most places are only open from 9 or 10 am until 6 or 7pm. Given the amount of time it takes to get around this city, even if you're going by taxi, you're going to have to move quickly through these places. I've organized the tour in a rough arc which sweeps up from Tlalpan/Coyoacan in the south to Polanco, to Buenavista, and finally arcing back to end in the Centro Historico.

Most places don't open until 10am in Mexico, so take the time to eat a good breakfast or a leisurely coffee. If you're in a mid-century modern kind of mood, there's an unpretentious and quite good vegetarian cafe on Reforma near the Angel called Yug which serves up Mexican breakfasts in the gound floor of a 1950's apartment building by Mario Pani. Or grab a coffee from Starbucks or Celito Lindo in the steel and glass mall Reforma 222 by Teodoro Gonzales Leon. Really, there is a plethora of high-design coffee shops and bars all throughout the hip/bohemian colonias- Centro Historico, Roma, Condesa, Polanco.

It is almost a requirement for visiting architects to visit at least one work by the master of Mexican Modernism Luis Barragan, and the most accessible (and cheapest) is the Chapel and Convent of the Capuchinas Sacramentarias in Tlalplan. You don't need a reservation, although it's helpful to have one since they're only open during the weekdays between 10am and noon, and then from 4-6pm. It's about 60 pesos and takes about an hour for a Sister to guide you through. Tlalpan is on the far southern edge of the city, and although its pretty, if you want to limit yourself to works within the last decade, you can take it as read.

Next stop is a quick spin by MUAC, the museum of contemporary art in the south campus of UNAM, the national university. This building was one of the latest works by the incredibly prolific Mexican modernist Teodoro Gonzales de Leon, and is a work of minimalist glass and concrete set on top of a lava field.

Farther north on the northern edge of Coyoacan, check out (at least the exteriors) of the Cineteca Nactional and the Centro Cultural Roberto Cantoral. The former is a bunch of movie theaters showing independent and foreign films (excluding Hollywood) and the latter is a new concert hall. They're right next door to each other. Although I havn't yet been to see them, they're next on my personal list of recent projects.

Take a half hour stroll through the outdoor Monument to the Victims of Violence in Chapultapec park. It's on Reforma, past the national auditorium and the campo militar polo grounds. It's both severe and serene at the same time.

If you're hungry at this point (and you probably will be) you can stop for lunch at the Camino Real by protege of Barragan, Legoretta, on the edge of Polanco. Expensive, but considered to be a fantastic example of Legoretta's work.

Or if you´re in the mood for something a little more contemporary, grab a bite at the trendy rooftop bar of Condesa DF, a sleekly remodeled and minimalist hotel in the center of Condesa.

Moving on to cultural district of Polanco, you have many examples of some wild and expensive architecture that's so new, some of them aren't even open yet. The Mueso Soumaya by Fernando Romero is definitely worth a visit (free) although really only the first two levels (and the hexagonal tiled hyperbolic exterior) are interesting architecturally. Next door, take a photo or two of the amazing steel canopy of the yet-unfinished underground Cervantes Theater and look across the street to shoot the exterior of the David Chipperfield designed Collection Jumex which is due to open later this year. For a nice example of high-design meets high-fashion, take a look at the curving canyon of cantilevered glass at the Centro Comercial Antares which is right behind the Jumex, which from the various catwalks and wood decks, frames the new contemporary architecture going up all around it.

Don't linger too long here, because you need to get to the Biblioteca José Vasconcelos, which is my favorite new building in Mexico City. It's an unbelievable, massive, jaw-dropping building, essentially a national library where they took away the floors and left the shelves suspended in space. This place is open until 7:30pm most nights.

Almost done, continue the trip westward to the Centro Cultural de España, another new building which I have not yet visited, but on my list. Located in the heart of the central historico, literally up against the Aztec ruins of the Templo Mayor and contrasting with the ancient palaces, it contains exhibition spaces, galleries, and I believe also a museum of the city. This center closes at 6 typically.

From the centro cultral de Espana, it's a short walk across the Zocalo to the hotel Downtown Mexico. This is a modern remodel of one of the old palaces, and a delightful contrast between the preserved ancient building and the minimalist interventions inside. Skip the high end tourist boutiques and designer chocolate stores, and eat at the Azul Historico in the center. It's less of an architectural recommendation (although a wonderful place to eat) and more of a "best restaurant experience you will have in Mexico City" recommendation. Also go up to the swanky roof bar with views of the palaces lit up at night, although you may want to pass on their 60 peso domestic beers.

Mexico!

Aug 25, 2013

palace to palace

Wedesnday, Tay opted to get a little more sleep while I went in to work. Later, he took the metrobus to the middle of town, and hiked over to the national art musuem in the centro historico before coming back over to meet me for lunch.

This trip, I've had a very miserly habit of metioning the relative cost of things, usually related back to the cost of my typical lunch at the comida corrida hole in the wall. So I decided to take Tay there. The food is good, I've never gotten sick eating there, and its an example of what the common people of the city and country eat all the time. Home style Mexican cooking, basically.

So I got us seats at the tiny tables and ordered Tay and I calabasa squash salad and shredded chicken mole. He liked it- he said that it was the first type of squash he actually enjoyed. I need to see if its in the Rick Bayless book.

Anyway, that's a fast lunch, so we wandered back over to Zona Rosa to a Cafe Pendulo (a restaurant cafe bar with all the seating in the books) for a cup of coffee overlooking Calle Hamburgo. It was really nice, just enjoying talking over coffee.

I'd made a reservation at Azul Historico, a relatively new restaurant in one of the courtyards of the Downtown Hotel, a very cool hotel in one of the old palaces of the Centro Historico. The chef had two other restaurants in other parts of the city, and apparently, this one was much more focused on preparing authenic and traditional Mexican food. Rave reviews and not horrifically expensive either.

We had our reservation at 9, and so I'd planned to get off work at 7 and meet Tay at the apartment, but my work load at the office made me late, and instead I asked Tay to meet me at the Insurgentes metrobus station. I got there and waited for Tay before realzing that the metrobus stop was closed. Tay'd mentioned that his phone was dying in one of his last texts to me, and so I got a little worried, imaging Tay wandering around an area unfamiliar, at night, with no cell service. We were able to text, so I just raced over to the next stop where Tay was waiting for me, and we caught the metro to downtown.

The centro historico is beautiful at night especially, with the tourist hordes gone, and the ancient buildings lit up.

The courtyard we ate in was beautiful and kind of magical in the "pueblo magico" sense. The courtyard was filled with trees whose canopies covered the entire couryard, and from the canopy were suspended all kind of glowing pendants which lit the wood tables in the courtyard below.

We started off with Caiperhinas since Mexico is somewhat close to Brazil, and then for appetizers, Tay ordered cochinita pibl tacos and I got a flor de calabasa (squash flower) soup. They were both amazing. The best cochinita pibil I've had actually.

For the mains, we ordered fish. Tay's was red snapper on a bed of fried plantains, covered with tortilla strips, an avocado, and tomato salsa. Mine was also a red snapper, but in a sea of tomato sause apparently Veracruz style. The fish was good but kind of lost in the sauce.

We each got a dessert, which were good, but not as remarkable as the appetizers and entrees. The total damage including tip came to about 500 pesos each. This is the most expensive meal I've ever had in Mexico, but really, a drink, appetizer, main, desert and tip for less than $40 is still a steal. A meal here would easily be twice that in the US.

We wandered through the hotel, got a view from the roof deck, and then walked back along one my favorite places to walk at night, along the Alameda to the giant monument to the revolution. Tay waved a goodnight to the final resting place of Pancho Villa as we walked by.

In the morning, I said goodbye to Tay, gave him a big hug, and went off to work. Tay spent the morning packing and sorting and then he let himself out and caught a cab to the airport from the secure taxi stand near our apartment.

It was so good to see him, it really made me happy that he came here and braved Mexico City. I made him walk everywhere and how much we ran around and the altitude, he was looking a little tired by the end of the trip.

I was also happy that our culinary trip started with the Mexican Denny's and ended with one of the better restaurants in town, and actually very pleased by the symmetry of the first and last meals in palace courtyards in the old center.

Tay starts back to his final year of law school soon, and I'll be thinking about him.

Tay's visit also marks the endgame of Mexico for me. My last day is officially the end of September, which leaves me about a month left. I've already started applying in Boston and Germany, but now it feels like the late sunday afternoon of my Mexico City weekend, and it's time to start wrapping things up and writing my exit.

In about two weeks I'll be 29. In two months, I don't know where I'll be, although I'm hoping it's Germany.

Aug 23, 2013

Lucha Libre (pero cerveza caro)

Tuesday, I had to go back to work, so Tay got up with me and we took the metrobus into town. I got Tay a metrobus card so he used it actually quite a bit, although he stuck to the two basic metrobus routes and didn't venture into the subway. I can't say that I blame him.

While I worked, Tay walked from my office to the Anthropology museum and eventually found the concealed entrance. Like me, his impression was that the Aztec exhibit was the prize and everyone else was kind of sideshow.

After walking back to meet me for lunch, we took the metrobus way far south to San Angel, and had an agreeable if not a little expensive lunch at a recommended restaurant on San Joquin square just as it began to rain. After lunch, I had to hurry back to the office, but Tay wandered around and looked at hte overpriced boutiques around the area before catching a metrobus back up north to my office.

That night, after I got off work, we hurried to the Arena Mexica for the tuesday night Luche Libre. What a surreal experience. I was planning on getting some cheap seats a bit further back from the action, but I felt hurried at the window and the seller interpreted my request for "second ring" as more or less "second row" still pretty cheap.

Lucha Libre is kind of like WWF wrestling but with more acrobatics and more cathartic for the audience. After being thoughly checked for weapons we were admitted to the grungiest indoor arena I've ever seen. And that was in dim florescent lighting.

The arena is actually quite big, with the ring in the center, and an elevated catwalk to the ring from a theatrical entry stage with a LED screen backdrop for the luchadores to dramatically enter. In that way it was really fun. They played all kinds of music to introduce a luchador, who would be displayed on the giant screen, there would be lasers, tons of fog, and bikini girls would would dance in place along the edge of the catwalk for the luchador to walk, run, strut, or leap down.

Tay grabbed us some beers immediately which turned out to be huge movie theater sized big gulps of cerveza but our happiness turned to dismay when we realized that we could only afford one between us. I even scoured the arena looking for an ATM (no luck) since lucha libre is really best served with copious quanties of beer and a few shots of tequila beforehand.

It was fun and entertaining. There was an all-female fight including one woman in her fifties if not sixties. There was a midget with an eagle mask who got in a kick to the head of one of the rival luchadores. The luchadores were actually quite acrobatic, doing flips in place, and backflips off the ropes, swan dives off the ring, tons of tumbles and flips. It was really amazing just to see for that. Actually, the two and a half hours flew by amazingly fast. Everything was boom-boom-boom.

The crowd ate it up. Yelling and swearing, even I learned a few new vulgar combinations. There was a group behind us who heckled incessantly with the most obscene language, mostly suggestions for acts of incest or the luchador's mother's line of work.

I'd go back for a friday fight, which is supposed to be even louder, crazier. But I'm definately bringing more cash.   

Teotihuacan

I have to give my brother credit- after more than five hours on busses Sunday, he gamely was up and out the door before 9 to get back to the bus station for the ride to Teotihuacan. He was kind of surprised by all the salespeople which boarded the bus and rode for awhile, selling thier wares and music. Teotihuacan is a short ride, and we walked in from where the bus dropped us.

Not as packed as when I'd been there before on the weekend. The tourists seemed more European than American. Probably Europeans characterize Mexico more as The Exotic New World, versus the typical American view of Mexico as divided into Beaches + Margaritas and The Place My Housecleaner is From.

We'd skipped breakfast so after wandering the grounds for an hour or two, and climbing the pyramid of the sun, we headed out to La Gruta, the restaurant in a cave. When I was here several months ago on the weekend, we had to wait to get a table, even though the place easily seats a few hundred diners. Peering into the dim cavern, I wasn´t even sure they were open. I saw some waiters, so I shouted down "¿Estas Abierto???" and they shouted back up "¡Si!"

We had to dodge the front upside down exclamation marks because we weren't expecting them.

There were actually a few diners, but they were sitting on the mouth of the cave terrace, with more light and in a smaller area. Tay decided that if we were going to eat in a cave, we might as well go full cave, and not mess around with this mouth of the cave business, so the waiter walked us down the stairs to the cave floor and gestured to pick any of the open tables we canted in the deserted cavern. It was very surreal, actually, eating in an empty cave. Food was not bad, a bit pricy, but amazing tortilla chips and salsa. Tay got some kind of unremarkable barbacoa and nopales and I got a soup which was pretty tasty and then I helped tay on the barbacoa and nopales.

After lunch, we walked through the museum and hit the pyramid of the moon and the palace of Quetzalcoatl. By then we were pretty tired of the pyramids and we wanted to avoid the rain which looked like it was approaching, so we hiked out of entrance 2 and picked up a bus back to the capital. I'm still amazed by how accesible places are here. Try to imagine getting to landmarks 30 miles outside the city in the US. You are pretty much doomed to renting a car wherever you go unless its a very select few cities on the east coast.

We hopped off early and rode the faster metro back to the center of city from the periphery. Back in town, we ended up grabbing a bite to eat at a taco restaurant a few blocks from my apartment and called it an early night.

Taxco

We were up at the crack of 7:30 and got to the bus terminal a little before 9. I bought us two return tickets for Taxco and after three incredibly cursory frisks and a few bag checks we were on the bus. Tay slept a bit and a I dozed lightly and about two and a half hours later, we were pulling into Taxco.

In Taxco, we hiked up the narrow stairs and alleys to get up to the Christ statue. Like my first visit, Tay took photos of everything. I'd promised "charm out the ass" and Tay was suitably impressed. No burros in the street, but still a disgustingly cute Pueblo Magico. Still a great view from the outlook over the town, and Tay convinced me to take a taxi back down.

The town is actually filled with ancient white VW Beatles without passenger seats (people sit in the back row) as taxis, and we jumped in one after inquiring the return ride (a very reasonable 40 pesos). It was a surprising highlight- driving down the incredibly steep, twisting, and narrow streets, dodging pedestrians and other cabs, backing up where the roads narrowed down to one car width, we were bounced around and the experience very like the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.

The cab dropped us at a small, homey place the guidebook recommended and we enjoyed some beers and garlic roasted rabbit for lunch.After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon wandering the streets, shopping the various silver jewelry stores and artesanal stalls. Tay ended up buying a beautiful black-on-black pot made in the far north close to the US border by indigenous peoples, and it did bear a striking resemblance to the pottery of the southwest, especially the Pueblo tribes.

After much humorous deliberation, I ended up buying a very thin silver link bracelet, which I negotiated down to about $5.50. My forearms are pretty dark now from all the sun, and I liked the contrast of a little silver. Tay eventually decided against the neckalace he was debating, although I modeled it too so he could see how it looked.

We stopped for some beers and micheladas at the pizza place outside of the cathedral, and took in the view of the verdant valley while we enjoyed our drinks before heading back to the bus station. Of course, the bus was late, but at least we got back to México within 3 hours after being forced to watch some astoudingly bad Adam Sandler Disney movie. The encore was a Mexican film about a senatorial candidate which was horribly photographed but also remarkable for the fact that it didn't feature any brown Mexicans except as peripheral domestic. It was mercifully cut short by our arrival back in Mexico City.

Aug 18, 2013

Mojitos for all

A shot of tequila, a half bottle of wine, and two very weak mojitos later...

Tay and I started today with a leisurely breakfast at Cafe Tacuba, which serves good food in a beautiful historic palace with awful service. It took us about 30 minutes just to get the check. Tay tried atole and the chicken tamales, and I went for the house special enchiladas which were really good.

After, we walked though Chinatown to Ciudadela market, where we spent a few hours browsing the several hundred stalls. Tay picked up a few things and I ended up buying a simple sling sack for carrying things for $40 pesos. We sat down for a beer (at the restaurant at the market where I protested to Tay that they might might charge us a higher price than a bar outside).

I introduced Tay to my favorites tacos (a 10 scale taco in my book) and we walked into colonia Roma.

In Roma we hit Los Insurgentes, a kind of hip dive bar popular with the bohemian and hip young counterculture crowd of the two neighborhoods of Roma and Condessa that
It straddles. We were in search of pulque, a precolumbian alcoholic beverage made from fermented agave sap.

In Los Insurgentes, a cup of pulque costs about 20 pesos. It's far cheaper than beer. Pulque is most popularly served flavored with nuts and fruits (and probably a lot of sugar). Tay and I ordered a glass of fresa (strawberry) and original pulque, because you gotta go full Aztec (actually, even the civilization a 1000 years before the Aztecs drank pulque and even had a pulque god).

Pulque is repellant to the point of undrinkability. The aftertaste is a kind of slightly nutty and reminds me of the smell of agave plants. That, and the fact that its cheap, are the only positve atributes of pulque.

It's a thick, foamy, milky white liquid, slightly viscous, with tons of fiber from the plant. The alcohol and tiny foam bubbles give your tongue a strange tingling sensation. The taste is somewhat bland but acidic, tangy and sour, like a hint of old yogurt. Trying to describe it to my brother, I mentioned it was like drinking a glass of thickened stale sweat, and after that I wasn't able to take any more. I suppose that if you get really wasted on the stuff, the taste/texture doesn't really bother you, but I don't know how people get to that point.

Taylor's strawberry favored pulque was more tolerabe, but the yogurty taste remained and the thickness and sweetness made the entire thing a bit like drinking a melted strawberry frozen yogurt. We left money on the table and left our drinks less than half-consumed.

We spent a few hours resting at home, and then went out to an Argentine restaurant for dinner in Condesa. We got a nice table by a window to get a view of the lively street scene, had a really nice meal and split a bottle of wine. My house made linguini was great. Fonda Garufa was the name of the place. After the meal, and braced by the wine for the cool evening, we went searching for a bar. We finally found one, and after getting past the metal detector wands and frisks, we entered a kind of bar which was surprisingly empty for a saturday night in the heart of Condesa. The music and other clientelle suggested we might have been at a less popular gay bar, or at least a closeted bar.

Anyway, we ordered two mojitos (the running gag of Tay's trip here) and the waiter finally brought out four. "Two for one tonight" he told us. Two for one mojitos- on a saturday night? How desperate is this place? Anyway, it turned out the mojitos were pretty weak, more like the potency of one strong mojito was split between two glasses, so after the two beverages, we walked home, trying to avoid eye contact with all the indeterminate-gendered hookers along Nuevo Leon. It was a good night.

Aug 16, 2013

the Legend of Mojito

I am not Mojito. I am his brother.

Tay landed yesterday afternoon, a little before 1pm. I got his text, still stuck at work, trying to finish some foam models. I raced to the airport via three metro lines. Actually, Line B, which I'd never traveled, was really interesting, partially a sky train with some kind of 90's high tech spacey stations.

After racing the length of the airport, I finally caught up with Tay and we picked up a taxi back to Del Valle. He dropped his stuff, and we took the metro the centro historico. I accidently grabbed the wrong train, so when we popped out at Pino Suarez, I was a little disoriented, but we followed my compass and the crowds, and they led us into the heart of the center, the Zocalo.

We took some photos and then went in search of some food. I suggested the Sanborns cafe in the Casa de Azuelos, because it's an in amazing old palace, its some place I've never eaten, and they would have decent tables and seating to get some space so you're not eating elbow to elbow.

The food was, sadly, much more mediocre than I was expecting. There are actually a few major chain restaurants of astounding mediocrity in Mexico, catering to the crowd seeking pseudo-American style comfort based on the Sizzler/Chilis/Denny's model. It's rare for me to find food in Mexico where I just say "meh" but this was it. At least I was able to try the seasonal speciality of Chiles en Nogada.

We walked around the historic center some more and then went up in the Torre Latinoamericano, up to the observation deck. The approaching afternoon rains were actually spectacular, and the air was clear enough to see Santa Fe, and all the ringing mountains and volcanoes around the city. We watched the rain for awhile and decided to make a run for the metro. It was still coming down when we left, so we bought two 10 peso plastic rain ponchos and made a crazy run to the metro station which was packed. We smashed into a Tokyo-crammed subway car and rode it until we could transfer to the metro bus and ride that back to the apartment.

We waited out the rain and rested at home. A few hours later, we ventured out again. We wandered by the lovely monument to the revolution and I called Tay's attention to the final resting place of Pancho Villa. Our goal was La Opera, an ancient and ornate restaurant in the historic center. It was great, beautiful, old interior with gilt wood and faded red velvet cushions, good food, not ridiculously expensive. They had a full bar but refused to serve Tay a mojito, (which became his namesake for the rest of the night and all of today), but they gave him a beer and me a shot of tequila. Afterwards, we hit up El Moro, and split a plate of churros and some hot chocolate.

This morning, we had a bowl of cereal at the apartment, Tay grabbed a Starbucks on our way to the metro, and we popped out in Coyoacan. We walked through the viveros where the aggressive black squirrels unnerved Tay and we watched the matadors practice with bulls wearing tennis shoes. We walked through Coyoacan and visited the Frida Kahlo museum. After the museum, we went back to a seafood restaurant at the market called El Jardin del Pulpo (The Octopus' Garden) and got some seafood dishes and beer for lunch. We also stopped by a taqueria so Tay could try a taco al pastor.

We walked and walked and walked some more to get to Chapultapec park, the metro jammed packed again. We wandered through the castle on the hill until we reached the upper exterior balconies, and basically collapsed on the benches up there until they closed the grounds. We walked to Condesa and the swanky modern Condesa DF hotel where we enjoyed cocktails on the roof deck overlooking Condesa. Made me realize how much I've missed gin and tonics. Tay did get his mojito. We walked back to the apartment since we were both wiped and Tay was showing the beginnings of the typical GI troubles that hit vistors here.

We stayed in tonight and I fixed some leftover rice, chicken, and salad for dinner. A very busy day and a half.

Aug 14, 2013

expert tourist

The laundry machine has a spin cycle setting that goes from "gentle tumble" to "demonic possession." Of course, if you want your clothes to be mostly dry when you take them out, demonic possession it is.

Every time, it sounds like the machine is about to tear itself apart, and the top of the machine basically oscillates a full inch. If I happen to be talking to people on skype when it launches into the spin cycles, they look started and horrified, like there's a helicopter trying to land inside the apartment.

There's a joke about length of time between washings. Underwear- 1-2 days. Shirts- 1-2 weeks. Jeans- 1-2 months. Bed sheets- huh? But I'm washing the sheets tonight because my brother Tay is coming tomorrow afternoon.

I can't wait to see him and to show him the Mexico City that I've been living. One of my friends at work commented that by now I'm an "expert tourist".  I guess it's somewhere between a novice tourist and a local expat. In some ways, I guess its better since tourists get to do fun, interesting things, and local expats tend to get wrapped up in the day to day.

Today was kind of a low day, in a string of low days. I don't know why. I had plenty of stuff to do at work, the weather was good, my brother's coming to town. I've started remembering my night's dreams and they're dark and uneasy. I mean literally dark, the weather patterns in my recent dreams are always dark skies. It's probably from deep seated unease with transition periods, and generally taking myself too seriously.

Changing the routine is a tried and true method of making myself feel better, so I jumped off the bus early and grabbed dinner at a food truck permenantly parked on Insurgentes. It's always grabbed my attention because the neon sign on the front reads, enigmatically, "Vlad Mayab", the name of the place. It turns out they sell a variety of dishes including tortas, tacos, panuchos, etc. but specialize in Yucatan style cooking.

The back of the menu explained (in Spanish) that actually "Yucatan" was a name given to the region by other tribes which had the ears of the Spanish conquistador cartographers. The indigineous and ancient name is actually Ma'ya'ab. Which explains the "Mayab" and is also probably related to the name of the indigenous people (Maya).

Anyway, for me, Yucatan cooking means cochinita pibil, which is a really savory slow roasted and juicy shredded pork, usually served with lime and red onions.  I got it in a burrito, served with potato chips and a Coke. Good stuff.

Mexico observation for the day- Mexicans seem to love pageantry in general and uniforms in particular. Even if its something as basic as a jacket/apron, people put it on. People take dress very seriously. Valets for businesses which seem to scarcely need the formality wear full suits and reflective vests over the dark blazers to make them more visible. Street sweepers wear apron/jackets. Sidewalk vendors wear aprons. The tiny hole in the wall place with no doors or windows and a tarp for the roof has embroidered waiters jackets and napkins with the name. Street food vendors wear cooking smocks. Walking through the muddy park, I couldn't help but notice that all the people doing martial arts attempted whenever possible to wear the appropriate unform. This meant sandals and stockings and billowing pants and tunics from Japan, and knot and loop chinese jackets for the people practicing kung fu and tai chi. Appearances matter.

Aug 13, 2013

the golden ticket, or, why does chocolate in Mexico suck?

Sometimes its easy to forget that chocolate was invented and named by native Mexicans. English has so many borrowed words and unfamiliar sounds that we take for granted the origin of the "xocol" at the beginning of the word.

It's also easy to forget in Mexico, since most of the chocolate you find here is absolute crap manufactured by Cadbury, Mars, and Nestle using obviously the shoddiest ingredients. I mean, its worse than the checkout aisle crap you find in the US. Here, like there, poor quality is masked with excess caramel, peanuts, crackers, and cookies.

Mexico harvests cocoa and there are a few companies that process the beans and manufacture chocolate here, but this is very high end, gourmet chocolate with their own shops. You can't even buy any decent chocolate at grocery stores.

Which is really sad. If you think about the availability of really good cheese in France or good wines in Italy and Argentina, it makes me wonder if its the generally high cost of chocolate production that pushes Mexico to export its beans.

Tequila is made here, which seems like it would be an equally expensive product to make, and its still relatively cheap and high quality. Actually, maybe its a bad comparison. Blue Agave grows in a variety of climate ranges so there are many regions of Mexico which have massive fields of the agave, and with the low cost of labor and a relatively simple process of distillation, maybe that drives the cost down. Cacao grows in very limited and particular climates, so maybe its the limited supply that drives up the price.

The city of musuems would not be complete without a chocolate museum, so I may have to hit that up one of these days and try to figure out the answers to my questions.

Anyway, it finally hit me that I've been craving chocolate for a few days now, so I made a special trip to the luxury grocery store Superama, and bought a bar of Lindt Swiss dark chocolate. They didn't even sell locally made good chocolate.

When I placed my one item on the conveyer belt at the check-out counter, and looked at the lonely 50 peso bill in my wallet, I felt like Charlie Bucket, spending the value of one of my typical meals on a chocolate bar. 

Aug 10, 2013

Dance dance dance

It was probably the beer that did me in.
Or the huge shot of mescal.
Or what I ate for lunch (corn fungus, anyone?).

Mexico has been a culinary delight, but my gastrointestinal tract is going to be happier when I return to the White Bread land.

At any rate, I had a rough morning of it. I got up around 11, and only for some aspirin and water. I mooched around the apartment, surfing the net, resting, until around 1pm when I finally felt decent. I ate a cup ramen soup, and tried to make up my mind whether to go salsa dancing.

My former co-worker, Adal, in addition to his graphic design repertoire, also teaches salsa, and I got the address and the time for the studio.

Every time I see people salsa dancing, I am filled with envy. It  looks amazing and it feels amazing, and being here in Mexico, one of the big salsa countries in the world, I felt bad about not taking advantage of it. So I decided to go.

Not knowing which bus to take, I flagged one and figured out that it was heading in the direction I needed, I paid and sat down. I always forget how slow road travel is here in the city.
Speed is tricky in Mexico City. Depending on the distance you want to travel, your destination, your origin point, and the time of day, fastest could mean walking, paseros, metrobus, metro, or taxi. If the distance is far and A and B are within a ten minute metro walk, metro is always fastest. But I can walk to work faster than I can get there on metro, and the metrobus even at rush hour is faster than both walking and metro.

Anyway, classes were supposed to start at 2:30, and I got there at five till 3. I hovered at the adjacent corner debating whether to barge into the class or to just bag it, when my friend Adal stepped out and hollered at me.

It turns out the classes are small and informal, and most people show up half an hour late anyway. We went into an old large practice room, about the size of a basketball court, with wood floors, handrails, and mirrored walls. There was a giant motivational poster of Russian Ballet star Mikhal [somebody] on the wall, and a stack of prom gates and photo backdrops against the wall in one corner.

The class was about six or seven people, and it was never really clear to me who were teachers and who were friends who just danced all the time, and who was there to learn to dance. I'm not complaining- everyone knew each other, it was fun and casual, like a bunch of friends teaching each other to dance.

The main teacher took me and this other girl who was also very inexperienced with salsa aside, and we spent most of the hour class just learning to move around using the basic salsa steps. Here's cumbia in place, here's the front and back, and side, and here's how to walk forward, and to walk back, and the steps for moving sideways, always to the 1, 2, 3, pause count. I did pretty well with catching the rhythm, and doing most of the steps. My hips remembered the cuban sway, but I totally fell apart at trying to do the simple salsa in place. Threw me off every time.

The instructor was nice enough to speak in english- I guess the girl knew it well enough too. By the end, we were practicng as couples, although with mixed success.

Dance classes are a mix of frustration, embarassment, and pleasure. I need to get over my self-consciousness and practice if I want to improve, which I really do. The main instructor waived my first class' payment, normally 70 pesos. He said he wanted it to be an incentive to come back. Which I think I will.

reggae night at Nameless

So- a few months ago, I wrote about a surreal night where I wound up drinking and dancing at my coworker Pepe's apartment along with a bunch of members of a band. Last night, via a process I won't bore you with, I found out they were playing in nearby Condesa, so I jumped a metrobus to go see them.

I'm glad I'd made a detailed map with the addresss because the venue had no name or sign. There was a security guard standing in the door of a solid metal fence. I asked about music and he frisked me and let me in to a narrow courtyard where there were some people hanging out. Up a small flight of steps into the building, I paid the 60 pesos cover (about $5) and went upstairs to a still sparsely populated bar and dance floor. Really bohemian kind of place. Apparently they host a movie night weekly- this month they're on a David Bowie bender.

People about my age, maybe a little younger. There were a few side rooms where people packed around a table, there was art for sale on the walls, and the few couples on the dark dance floor were shadows against the hot pink lights of the stage. The DJ, who was pretty good, was spinning variations of salsa and electronic mixes.

I mosied up to the bar and ordered a mescal which was prominently displayed, which set me back 50 pesos. The bartender gave me a tall shotglass and an orange slice. It's a good drink, since its strong, slow, and you can sip it for a long time.

The set was supposed to start at 10, so naturally the band started showing up around 10:40. By then, the club had filled up and the combination of tequila and mescal had warmed me up and I was simply enjoying the music and the silhouttes of all the salsa dancers on the dance floor.

When they started playing, it was kind of a mix of ska-reggae which I'd been expecting. It's not really my kind of music, so I stayed for the first half of the set and left around midnight to walk home. Condesa is pretty at night, filled with lush trees, loud house parties, people walking to and returning from bars and clubs and parties at that time of the night. I grabbed some oreos from a convenience store on the way back, and that was my night.

Aug 9, 2013

what is humility?

Archinect has a thread in the forum- what is architecture? My head, totally inflated from all the retweets of my post on SantaFé(o), compelled me to describe it thus:

Art at its most compromised and corrupted,
Science at its weakest and most debased,
Culture in its least accurate, most inscribed form.
The physical tyranny of economics,
The tangible absurdity of politics,
A sly mirror which reveals too much about what we are and what we want.
In the end, a protest against homogeny, eternity, humidity, and gravity.

Lunch

Moises, Vania, and I walked to the market at the end of the street. Vania and I have been there many times, but Moises felt more comfortable bringing a map anyway. Here is what I ate:
  • Tlacoyo requeso - a fat, blue corn patty fried and stuffed with beans and cheese, and topped with cheese, prickly pear cactus, and salsa. Common pre-columbian food.
  • Quesadilla huitlacoche con queso - a folded over blue corn tortilla stuffed with cheese and corn smut
  • Tacos de barbacoa - two corn tortilla tacos filled with slow roasted mutton, red onion, cilantro, and salsa verde
  • Nieves de Beso de Angel - a kind of sorbet which is a mix of almond, strawberry, and walnut flavors.
Total cost: about $5. I will miss the street food here.


Aug 8, 2013

La Chiledongueria

11:21pm on a Thursday night. My absorption in Carlos Fuentes' brilliant, convoluted, and surreal epic Terra Nuestra was faded by the third shot of tequila. I'm not shooting it, mind you, I'm sipping, slowly, but the fact is that shot or sipped, ounces are ounces.

X-Men: First class was a much more accessible option. I liked it, actually, going in I was really ready to give it the Transformers treatment. I guess I'm a sucker for good actors. I ended up just feeling sad the movie was such a wasted opportunity. You get a few really interesting actors together with compelling motivations and you find the whole Cuban Missile Crisis Armageddon Aversion plotline to be just a really tedious bunch of noise.

Last night, K invited me out to one of her coworkers birthday parties at a pizzaria near Juarez station. It ended up being around 20 teachers, mostly of elementary school kids, and a few friends. The age range was almost 30 to almost 40's although I couldn't say for sure I was the youngest one there.
The teachers here have classes starting up in a few weeks, so this was a chance to welcome each other back to town (most of them flee over the summer) to drink and gossip and socialize, but also to prepare mentally. People swapped recommendations for TA's, talked about exceptionally gifted or troublesome kids to watch out for, about bureaucratic bullshit to navigate. Over the numerous glasses of wine and sangria and beer, the semester preparation begins.

Architecture is kind of a gray profession- there are times of high and low stress, but in general, there's time to browse the net, take leisurely lunches, etc. We all work 10 hours a day, sure, but its a low intensity workout. Teachers live in a black and white world of on and off. When you're on, you're on.

It ended up being a very long dinner, although everything was really good. All the bread and pizza dough is made fresh on site and Wednesdays are 2 for 1 pizzas (100 pesos) which is an excellent deal.

Aug 7, 2013

office shootings on the rise in Mexico City

Yesterday, when I got to the office at the regular time, there were a few guys with scraggly beards poking around. I turned out they were part of a camera crew from the Discovery Channel there to shoot the office and interview Tatiana.

A little while later, the rest of the crew arrived. About a dozen lighting people, photographers, an interviewer, director, tech people, lighting people. They were here the whole day, hanging lights, shooting models (no! not that one! It's confidential!) interviewing Tatiana, shooting the office. I got shot from behind, so I'm curious if they'll use my dinking around in SketchUp as part of the overall program. I realized they were setting up a camera behind me, and when I turned my head to see what it was they were shooting at, I was staring into a lens a foot from my face.

All the photographers did their shooting of stills and live video with a couple Canon EOS D5s. They had kind of a cool camera setup where they ran a rail with a camera mount between two tripods, so they could do small tracking shots. My friend Moises took a photo of some of the crew and posted it, and I realized that I looked as scruffy and hipster as the photographers. Time for a shave and a haircut? Maybe?


Nadine

My first architecture job was a summer internship way back in 2006 (and seven years later, what is my job title again?) with DWL Architects in Phoneix, Arizona. Before long, I was working under the direction of Nadine, one of the project architects in the office.

Under her direction, she was my guide to the reality of the world of architects- the world of politics, of legal codes, of collaboration, the architect's relationship to consultants, contractors, clients, engineers, officials, and product reps. She told me that, "designers are a dime a dozen, but people who can draw a good detail are few and far between." She was a model manager- I never felt micromanaged, we set up a good system of communication, and I never felt like I was interrupting her. Even though I screwed up a few times, she was level handed with her criticism. I worked under her for three years, through the entire surreal nightmare of the Basic Science Building.

She had a great sense of humor, a bit morbid, a bit scientific, she was the one who turned me on to the XKCD webcomic. She was the rare architect who was cynical but still managed to laugh and find delight. She was the one who organized group lunch outings for like minded colleagues in the office, and thoroughly enjoyed the leisurely meals on local restaurant patios.

When I started, she was almost nearly bald, recovering from cancer treatments. When I told her that I'd been accepted to Wash U, her hair had almost totally returned. Unfortunately, so had her cancer. She was a canny fighter, who resorted to her strong personality when her guile failed to bring contractors and consultants into line. She fought off cancer twice, and even upon receiving a death sentence, continued to come to work and fight the good fight. She got more involved with her bead making, and geology, even as her physical condition deteriorated. Towards the end, she was confined to a wheelchair, and her friends came together to make her house accessible including the building of an access ramp.

After I left for St. Louis, we exchanged a few letters which tapered off. I heard from a friend she passed away this morning. I think she was in her late 40s.

Aug 6, 2013

rock and rollers

Today, shortly after lunch, somebody's cell phone went off with a really loud, obnoxious ringtone. It stayed on and we were all looking around to try to figure out whose it was. Ed, with his headphones on, finally looked up to see us staring at him. He took off his headphones and looked down at his phone.
"Shit. That's the earthquake alarm."

We all ran to the door and fled down the stairs without further prompting. I am learning how to live in earthquake country. Ed's got an app which ties into a seismic service. Whenever there's an earthquake over a certain magnitude within a certain radius of the city, I think its a 5.0 threshold, it sounds an alarm. Depending on the distance of the earthquake, it gives you about a minute to two minutes head start before the waves hit. Those can be crucial seconds.

Anyway, when we got out, everywhere, people were pouring out of the office buildings. David was one of the last people out of the office and he said he felt the stairs moving as he left. The earthquake turned out to be very weak- a 5.1 originating 18 miles below the surface.

Earthquake warnings, and earthquakes, are frankly, terrifying. Out of a blue sky day, death, collapse, mayhem on a widespread scale. You never know if its going to be 1985 all over again. It's kind of like either an invisible Godzilla is going to rampage through the city, or its not.

I prefer tornado warnings. The skies are dark and ominous, and then, in the distance, you hear the eerie wail of a tornado siren starting up, and then another, and then another, in a freaky chorus. You have time to rush to the windows, like we all did in Givens Hall, and to check out the weather sites and locate votex signatures on weather mapping websites to see if there was anything coming your way.

With earthquakes, there's no time for anything except to make an escape as quickly as possible.

Memorial to Victims of Violence

In early 2013, Gaeta-Springall Arquitectos completed a Memorial to Victims of Violence in Mexico. Many people understood the memorial as particularly memorializing the victims of the drug war in Mexico, of which somewhere around 60,000 people have been killed since 2006. As such, it remains controversial, interpreted as a mute and subtle criticism of the federal government's war on drugs.

The memorial is located at the far end of Chapultapec park, in a quiet corner, where unless you know where to look for it, you are unlikely to stumble across it. The site formerly belonged to the Mexican department of defense, which still holds the adjacent property, a massive field with spectator stands used primarily as a polo field. Unpleasantly, depending where you are in the memorial, the smell of horses wafts over the fence, and on game days, the amplified announcer breaks the site's solemnity and peace.

The memorial consists of a series of 70 massive rusted cor-ten steel slabs, arranged on the site either vertically or horizontally. Many of the slabs include quotes about death, peace, and understanding from a variety of mostly Latin American authors, but also notables such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.

The entrance is marked with a single vertical slab, a few benches, and a horizontal slab with the name of the memorial, architects, etc. A path leads you through the site where you encounter more and more slabs until you reach the center of the memorial, where you are overwhelmed with all of the slabs around you, dark angular shapes cutting out the sky, and interrupting your vision through the site. You also find water here, in the form of connected, rectangular shallow pools, some of which have been covered with bar grating to extend the walking surface over them. The beginnings and endings of the pools are often ambiguous so you may be surprised to look down and see the reflection of the sky.

The memorials are also subject to the appropriation of visitors. The architects have stated that they intentionally wanted the steel panels to be a board for people to write the names of victims, to vent their feelings. And people do write on the panels- not one was completely untouched by the white chalk. Other, more permanent media, spraypaint, markers, were conspicuously absent. The site is open on all sides other than the polo field, so it doesn't seem to be a question of vandals or taggers or graffiti artists not being able to get in.

With the rain, the white chalk fades, allowing an accumulation of drawings and messages layered on top of each other. People write different things, although I saw not one name of a victim. Most were messages of peace, some were celebrations of life, there were many "I love you Juanita" type messages, drawings of aquatic life, lyrics from music.

What does it mean as a memorial though?My first reaction were that the steel slabs were stele, oversized funeral monuments, 70 nameless tombstones, each commemorating a thousand dead. Perhaps it stems from an American way of thinking, literal representation- the Vietnam memorial with every name inscribed, the Oklahoma City bombing memorial with the exact number of chairs.

After awhile, I began to understand the slabs not as markers, but particular types of voids. When someone you care about dies, the pain never really goes away, it simply fades over time, becomes a dark block in your memory. A mute interruption in your backward gaze, an obscured block in the present when you look for them. Those slabs still haunt me, I know they're still standing there, miles away as they are.






Aug 5, 2013

glittering Santa Fe

Thirty years ago, the area known as Santa Fe was a massive landfill at the edge of the city. When the dump reached capacity around the same time NAFTA was taking off and creating a lot of wealth for the top 10%, the powers that be decided to transform the dump into a glittering new central business district. Real estate sharks moved in, and for the past 20 years Santa Fe has been growing upwards, a place with "no history or identity," described to me as an "American-style" suburb, lacking street life, pedestrians, public transit, or any kind of non-luxury housing. Basically, a manicured collection of hypermodern mirrored glass and steel towers containing luxury condos and office buildings, sprawling corporate campuses, and giant malls. Wealth and power live there, along with their bodyguards.

It sounded so soulless and awful I had to check it out. It turned out to be not as bad as I'd heard. There were in fact, a few bus routes. Everything else was spot on. Santa Fe is a limp dick dipped in glitter and showcased in a glass box.

I admit I'm a little biased. For one, I despise suburbs in general because they're basically a tax on everyone else when you consider the amount of infrastructure that has to be extended (which the city as a whole pays for), the extra pollution from cars, the waste of energy and water, the highways to and from which chop up the city, ad nauseum.

Secondly, there is the nature of exclusion. I have no problems with people being rich, it's just dangerous and harmful for everyone else when the rich live in a bubble enclave with no connection to the city. When your chauffeured Mercedes-Benz drives you the five minutes from your mansion in the sky to your corporate tower every day, and your weekend never takes you beyond the gourmet grocery store and exclusive club, you might as well be living in Dubai as far your relationship to Mexico and Mexico City goes. Why is this bad? Because you end up with either no connection to the city, or worse, a totally misunderstood one. A lack of empathy coupled with paranoia and misunderstanding in the very people who have immense power over the city is a bad situation.

Driving to Santa Fe (there's no metro connection there), is a surreal experience. As you approach, the neighborhoods you pass through get more and more impoverished, which is logical when you consider that 30 years ago, you were approaching a massive landfill. There's a sudden break of nothingness and bam, the two lane roads become four lanes, the grass on the medians are manicured, and you're passing mirrored skyscrapers.

The Santa Fe mall is one of the largest in Mexico. It's a really nice mall, immaculate, white stone floors, polished steel, glass railings soaring atria, freezing air conditioned climate, diffuse sunlight. There is both an Emporio Armani and an Armani Exchange, any and all luxury labels, a Chili's, a BestBuy, a Sak's Fifth Avenue, a Sears, Zara, Crocs, and Gap. To navigate the five floors of the mall, the directory is an massive interactive touchscreen which gives you verbal directions to the store you're looking for. The upper floors with fewer stores, massive open spaces, and more daylight, feel like an international airport terminal. It was also pretty deserted. I was there on a sunday afternoon. Maybe its the family meal time, but usually, sunday afternoon, malls are packed.

From the mall I walked up the street to the hotel Distrito Capital, a luxury boutique hotel which I'd been interested in seeing for awhile for it's design. The front door opens to a long dark corridor lined on both sides with mirrors ringed with lights with a single elevator at the end. The elevator takes you up to the lobby floor where there's a reception, bar, pool, and restaurant. I grabbed a beer at the bar. Everything was very nice, modern, gray, glass and vegetation. Only a few guests. I drank my expensive beer and listened in to the conversation of some adminstrative disciplinarians for an international corporation.

Leaving, I walked down the avenue between the massive towers, marveling at both the architecture and the uncanny resemblance to Dubai. There was only building on the avenue which had a few stores at the base- a few upscale restaurants and a gourmet grocery store. There were a few people out on the street. All of them were private security guards or parking attendants.  I was stopped by the police who told me not to take any photos of any buildings. No explanation why. Welcome to the land of paranoia. I finished my walk to the end of the street, and jumped on a bus to take me away from this sterile wasteland.







Aug 3, 2013

knocking

I guess the americano wasn't entirely caffeine free. I was wide awake until about 3am last night, and then I still tossed and turned until my body decided that 8am was late enough to be in bed.

I soaked tortilla chips in egg batter to soften them before scrambling the mix to make a surprisingly good breakfast dish.

I caught the bus to the really dangerous Zona Rosa, and checked out two markets there. The first was a really quick breeze through one market, which turned out to just sell touristy crap.

Crossing the street, there is an upscale antiques mall filled with small stores selling high quality wares. On weekends, the passages of the mall become lined with a flea market of really interesting and not horribly expensive antiques, paintings, and other artwork including some old indigenous crafts, for which I am searching.

Asked about a few pieces and found some things that began to pique my interest, but not enough to throw down. I walked the mile to get to the market at la Ciudadella, the massive artesan market by the old cigar factory/library.

This market mostly sells touristy crap, but at a significantly cheaper price than the one in the Zona Rosa. Maybe 10% is the interesting stuff worth parsing. Antiques, carvings, artwork, textiles. You can find your tacky tequila shot glasses and felt sombreros, but there's also masks from Guerero (the state known for its masks and carvings), sculpture from Oaxaca, and pottery from Jalisco and Puebla.

I ended up buying a new cotton guayabara shirt with pockets at the base, and two new tequila shot glasses to complement the four I already have. They actually look great as a group.

I stopped to watch the danzon dancers do their slow, genteel dance imported from Cuba, and, entranced, sincerely wished that when I'm in my 70s and 80's, that I too, could wear nice clothes and dance in public squares with a massive crowd of my peers on a regular basis, rather than tucked away in some senior center or gym.

A short walk away, I found my favorite taco stand. I have never had a better taco in this city. They make their corn tortillas by hand right there, lay in a bed of thin sliced marinated pork from the split, and add a generous helping of sliced pineapple. And that's before you doctor it with fresh minced onion and cilantro, fresh squeezed lime, and a thick line of salsa. I grabbed a cane sugar sweetened apple soda from the ice filled chest and it was all amazing.

There are many small dishes in search of perfection in this world- the right combination of flavors, the right combination of textures, the relative sizes of the constituent ingredients. Tacos in general, are close to the perfection of this ideal. These tacos al pastor are as close to the consumation of the ideal that I have ever encountered. (Although some barbacoa tacos I've had come close.)

Caught a metro home, and skyped with Saori for about four hours to find out how her week has been and how her birthday went. Part of me thinks, whoa, I'm dating a 30 year old, but then I remember yeah, but it's Saori, and frankly, in about a dozen months, I'm going to be knocking on that same door. Let others think I'm in my mid-20s, but don't fool yourself.

hey big spender

I splurged on last night's dinner and entertainment.

The total damage came to nearly $17. What can I say, sometimes the hedonist in me comes out in defiance of rice and beans and cup ramen dinners.

I walked to the tiny burger joint a half block from my apartment, and they served me a up a Burgher Yankee- a giant juicy slab of meat topped with bacon and BBQ sauce and all the trimmings, and also the first curly fries I've had in four months, and washed down with a cold Heineken.

I don't always drink beer, but when I do, I avoid crappy Mexican brands.

Afterwards, I walked up Nueveo Leon a half mile to get to El Pendulo, a bookstore/full service restaurant-cafe. On the way, there, I passed two hookers plying their trade, in full view of two motorcycle cops. I think Nuevo Leon must be a zone of tolerance like el Merced. Is it sad that I know both the current and past zones of prostitution in this city?

Anyway, El Pendulo is a fun place, filled with bookshelves, movies, and mixed in with tables, balconies, and outdoor patios. I ordered a decaf americano and a nata tart. The nata tart was kind of like  a very mild cheesecake with a graham cracker crust in a sea of really delicious berry compote.

I ate and drank and read more from the twisted and labrynthine work of Carlos Fuentes for a few hours. Walking back home, I passed about a good dozen hookers. And then a bad dozen. I need to remember to avoid Nuevo Leon late at night.

Aug 2, 2013

warning: bad poetry

Mexico City, have I seen you before?

Did I, dreaming the ages, walk in your gardens with my ancestors? Behind the masks, the city conceals a loss, a melancholy of a fall, a vanished lake, a paradise lost.

Fair climate and bountiful jungle, did you conceal a tree of life and death in the form of a nopal? The old stories speak of gods which walk along the shores of pristine lakes.

Plumed snake god, was it with an apple or a prickly pear that you once tempted a naked woman? After they fled, did you make the garden yours? Did you raise your own people and conceal the tree so that they would never know Good nor Evil?

Unquenchable city,
Ground which drank seas of lifeblood from hearts cut from chests, from flesh rent by Spanish steel, from eyes and ears and mouths and festering sores from alien pestilence, from the slaughter of countless innocents over centuries of war and toil, blood is still sacrificed to you today, spilled on hallowed sidewalks, sanctified corners, on the altars of secluded prisons and distant fields.
The receding lake, stabbed with concrete, bled away until it lies now, gasping at the final shore, vengeance by man.
Which shall bleed to death first?

I have seen the flaming sword of the archangel in the mountain's fountain of fire which guards the entrance to this remote and high valley.

Are you the true center of the universe?

Aug 1, 2013

five years of headers

The blog headers have always captured a certain mood of the moment- they are my attempts to hint at the nature of my journey, which I do tend to romanticize. Some of them were reflections of fascination of places I'd been, others reflected feelings of angst or alienation, many were examples of pride in what I was doing or in personal idiosyncrasies. Some reflect the seasonal changes. And some were just because I found a really cool typeface or image. Most of them remain, like the title, epic and bombastic in the "just kidding, but not really" kind of way.


































































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...