Sep 30, 2013

Colima

Saturday night, I hopped on a 10 hour (well, actually 9.5) bus ride to Colima, close to the pacific coast. I'm staying with my friend Pepe there and I'll be here for a few days. It's warm, jungly, and humid in this quiet small town.

Sep 28, 2013

Bargains

A little over a year ago, I sat down to lunch with Samir, my former boss in Boston. He told me, you know, sometimes it's the little moves that make big changes to the direction of your life. I came to Boston when I was barely 20 after my brother suggested I come here and work. Samir is now one of the senior partners of one of the more successful architecture firms in Boston.

I love to travel, I love to see new things and to plunge into the depths of different places around the world. There is such work to be done everywhere. New places shift the mind into high gear- you question and pay attention to everything. It's a way to really see problems and solutions hidden in plain view. It is a characteristic of people to take familiarity for granted.

However, I'm really bad at life changes, I hate it and instead of celebrating new and unexpected futures, I get really depressed when I leave. After 20 years there, I was mostly happy to leave Phoenix. I felt like I was just getting the hang of Boston and the pleasures of the east coast when I left, and I was beginning to be really comfortable in St. Louis. I'm still a gringo here, and sometimes the feelings of alienation are overwhelming, but my departure from Mexico City feels premature too. There is a richness and complexity here, a city which feels tantalizingly bursting with potential.

At this point the writing on the wall is an unconventional career path, and I'm totally ok with that- as long as its going somewhere, and I can pay down my loans and save a little, forget drafting Wal-Marts.

It's just part of the bargain- you can't keep traveling the world and become a local everywhere without the pain of leaving behind friends and interests. It is the road to the perfect taco, the best sunset, the leading edge of what is happening now.

On the flip side, it's the hard path- if you stop pushing, you roll to a stop, you end up working in the same company for fifteen years in the same town, your friends become a deep part of your life and the ChiChi's enchilada plate is really not that bad and they have buy-one-get-one frozen margaritas on Thursdays.

I exaggerate, but four to five years feels like a good amount of time to spend in one place. And probably, that's about the right amount of time to work at any one place too.

Sep 25, 2013

Beans for dinner

Monday not much happened. I ate beans for dinner and spent the day working on some conceptual renderings. I scanned in my letter of recommendation from my boss and sent out a new application.

Yesterday, I walked to work and spent the day working on the same batch of renderings. It's fun, graphic work. Beans for dinner.

Today, I walked to work (past the King-Kos printing center) and bought a large orange-pineapple juice fresh squeezed. I will miss the pleasant walk to work and cheap, fresh juices. T was sick today, but she needed to review some work, so we all went to her house, I with the renderings I'd been working on.

She lives in Polanco, and we she wasn't picking up when we first arrived, but coincidently, one of my coworkers parents lives across the street, so we went up to their top floor terrace and enjoyed drinks and sunshine and the view while we waited.

T has a beautiful apartment in a small building at least 70 years old, guarded by two yorkshire terriers. I'm always curious about how archutects decorate their own homes. Her apartment has a lot gracefully curving walls, and a beautiful curving wall of operable windows. I liked the furniture, but the art was very strange, and so were all of the lamps. In her dining room, a graphite or charcoal sketch of fighting monkeys cut out of the paper to just include the monkeys was encroached by a strange wispy plant reaching into the room and framing the windows.

Even sick, T had a full schedule. We waited in her living room for about fifteen minutes for our meeting, and another architect she collaborates with came in after us.

After our meeting, we adjourned back across the street to A's house and hung out on her patio. We ordered a pizza for lunch and satiated ourselves on ritzy Polanco pizza.

We had taken a taxi there, but it took nearly 30 minutes. We walked back in about the same length of time. The teachers have once again closed Reforma with their marching. I took a detour by Legorreta's Camino Real Hotel and took a photo of the iconic sloshing fountain in the front. It looks like a shark violently thrashing around.

I left work early to meet K for noche de los museos, when most of the museums in the city are open late/special programs and events/are free. We went to the palace of the inquisition (no one expects the Spanish inquisition!) and joined a guided tour. The guide was strange. We spent most of the first hour of the tour outside of the palace, getting a lecture on the history of Mexico history from before the Mexicas arrived. His spoke simply- it was easy for me to follow what he was saying, but he was super long-winded (don't you just hate people who go on and on about minutes, like what they had for dinner two nights ago?). And he was also missing some important things. Like the name of the architect.

We saw some interesting things inside, but when my attention flagged around the 90 minute mark, I couldn't follow the Spanish so we bailed to get chocolate and churros at El Moro.

We walked back through the center of the relocated CNTE teachers encampment at the monument to the revolution. Its amazing to see. A mini city. Cables supporting tarps and tents everywhere waiting to clothesline you. It sounds like people are starting to return to Oaxaca, which is where most of the bussed-in protesters hail from. A surreal obstacle course. Beans for dinner. Actually, churros and chocolate for dinner.

Sep 22, 2013

elementary school teachers at the discotheque

Friday after work, I met K and Amanda in a waiting taxi and rode out to Garibaldi station. K had been talking up this pozoleria I'd found online, and one of her friends came along to try it as well. Pozole is a pre-hispanic soup, based on pork or chicken broth and filled with the shredded meat, garbanzo beans, and hominy. Traditional pozoles are served usually topped with baked tortillas or chicharones (fried pork rinds), fresh onion, dried oregano, chopped chiles, and red chile powder. Pozole is a soup of accouterments.

The food website/blog I follow, CulinaryBackstreets.com, highly recommended this semi-secret restaurant, Pozole de Moctezuma, which has been in business for about 65 years.

We walked to a nondescript residential building, and found the buzzer button next to the tiny hand-lettered "pozole" and were buzzed in. Down a dingy and dark hallway, we emerged into the lobby where there was the entrance to the restaurant. We were seated immediately.

The food was really good. I'm not sure the pozole was as good as Tia Calla's pozole in Taxco, but it was delicious and huge. The service was great, very welcoming and happy to explain the correct order to add all the stuff to the soup, and the overall experience was really nice, amplified by the somewhat clandestine nature of the place.

Saturday, I bought some groceries and made pancakes for breakfast. Afterwards, I went to San Angel to start my final souvenir shopping rounds. Didn't come up with much. San Angel is just too overpriced and touristy. The quality is good, but the prices are way beyond the value. I hopped a bus and rode to the nearest metro, jumping out at la Ciudadella market, where the prices are the best in the city, although you have to dig through a lot to find good quality. Did pick up a few things, and after much deliberation, bought myself a new leather messenger bag as a final souveneir/birthday present. Really fell in love with it, and had to think about it the entire time I was at the market.

I stopped for for a late lunch of tacos al pastor at my favorite taco stand near the plaza of the dancers before coming home for a nap.

K was hosting a girl's night out and so about five or six other elementary school teachers came over for drinks before heading out to a club. They invited me to come with them, and I said ok. The club was at polyforum Siquerios, called Dommelite Discotheque, and is a 70's, 80's, and 90's club known for its older crowd. Past the vallet, I found my way to the doorman of the club. "Do you have a reservations?" he asked me. um. no. After shelling out 100 pesos for cover (about $7.50) I went in to find the deadest nightclub I've ever seen. A few guys at the bar, a few small groups of people, mostly in thier 30s-40s sitting around in groups. K and her group occupying a few tables in the corner.

The way clubs work here, is typically you buy a bottle of something and then you also get mixers with it. The Americans were working on a bottle of tequila and the Mexicans were working on a bottle of Capt. Morgan. Rum and whiskey seem to be the drinks of choice among upper/middle class here.

After an hour of drinking, the club filled up, and the teachers broke open the dance floor. There was a lot of drinking, a lot of dancing, fog machines and "Y.M.C.A." and a guy in a white nautica jacket and white pants who finally worked up the courage to come over and chat with the teachers. I was probably the youngest person at the club, with my popped collar Lacoste polo, but age didn't hold anyone back from dancing with abandon. It was quite fun and K and I walked back from the club around 3AM.

I love living in a city where (A) you can walk back from a nightclub. And (B) its not considered strange for people in their 40s to dance and drink all night.

Sunday, today, was a recovery day. Probably, I had too much tequila. I ended up sleeping and resting and reading most of the day. I did end up finally finishing the gargantuan epic Terra Nostra with a desire to simply finish propelling me the last 20% of the book. It is dense, labyrinthine, and simply huge, on the same scale as Atlas Shrugged. I might move on to a history of tacos next.

Sep 20, 2013

Letter of Recommendation

To Whom It May Concern:

I am an architect, founder, and recent head of Kulhausen Architects, one of the most prolific, most awarded and largest architecture firms in the world. Our recent clients include the Nation of India, Houston Spaceport Authority, Samsung, Giorgio Armani, and Starbucks.

Mr. Alec Perkins came to our Shanghai office as an intern six months ago. His resume indicated that he had some prior professional experience in architecture. He neglected to include his experience as an artist. And poet.

Mr. Perkins was initially placed as an assistant coffeeman for a toilet partition design team, but he was brought to my attention by the head of the team as having capabilities which far exceeded his responsibilities. After a consulation with my senior staff, we decided to move Mr. Perkins up to the position as head of the washroom drafting department. The following month, he was on my senior staff.

As for his skills and capabilities as an architect, I can only describe him as sublime and insurpassable. If his work contains flaws, it is only that we may not be blinded, or to remind us of our frail humanity and the transience of all things.

He knows how to use autoCAD, yes, but it is a lie and an obscenity to describe his dance and art as "using" autoCAD if it were a mere tool- I am a poor man, weak in imagination who can barely produce a technical image of a hypothetical piece of hardware in an imaginary building. Mr. Perkins creates labrynthine, complex, worlds with blinding speed, terrifying and brilliant in their beauty.

The drawing sets which emerge from these worlds we print on mylar- the paper falls apart from all the men and women who weep over it. As a document, it is a bridge over the impossible chasm which separates eternity, spirit, and subliminty from the visceral and temporal joy of sensorial experience, the reconciliation of what it is to be God and Man. His bound sets inspire cities around the world to build multiple copies of the buildings described. At present, there are 12,529 identical auto emissions testing facilities being built around the world, many in remote villages with no motorized vehicles.

His five page Stair 08- Construction Details  has been on top of the New York Times Bestseller list for nine weeks, and has only been recently been surpassed by his critically acclaimed Door Hardware Schedule, with a Broadway adaption slated for November.

A month ago, it gave me great pleasure to step aside and offer my seat as the head of Armin+Vambery, which is his current position, in addition to that of National Architect. When Mr. Perkins asked me write him a letter of recommendation, I broke down in tears. I am as unequal to this task, I told him, as the snowflake to the avalanche. He rebuked me saying that no man is greater than others as all men are equal, and that it is he who needs my help, wretched as it may be.

I would not hestitate to recommend Mr. Alec Perkins for the position of architect, of chairman, of head of state or university, of Swami, and Dalhi Lama, and Pope Emeritus. I would not hesitate for a femtosecond. He is the apogee and hope of the human race, and above his genius, grace, empathy, wisdom, and prescience, is his bottomless well of humility.

With Utmost Sincerity,

Munch Kulhausen
Partner
Perkins Architects

Alec Goes to Jail

I'm out now, but you might be wondering the chain of events which led to me going to jail Tuesday.

 I was walking out the door for work when I checked my phone. Moises had sent me a message the night before- no work today. I wish I'd slept in a little more, but now I was ready to go do anything with a sudden windfall.

Since I'd been reading up on the war of independance and the wars of revolution, I decided to go see the Lecumberri palace prison, the infamous Black Palace constructed by Porfirio Diaz in 1888 to house all the criminals and dissidents his Order campaign could arrest. It was a place of murder, cruelty, and torture, and was used by all the tyrants who followed Diaz until it finally closed its doors in the 1980s. The elected president of Mexico, Madero and his vice president, Pino Suarez, were both murdered outside of its walls- they were shoved out of the car they were being transported in, and shot in the back.

Since then, it has found reuse as the national archives- the radial arms of cellblocks now house reading rooms and media centers and the cells now contain shelves of books and documents. It was interesting to visit- it still feels like a prison, despite the glass and the light. There were also two small panopticon jail blocks, probably for extra security prisoners or isolation. Without a real excuse to get into the archive halls, I had to content myself with photos from the massive hub of the radial prison, and views of the outside.

Getting there was a challenge. I jumped out by the national legislative building and it was in high defense mode. Few people on the streets, police patrols, and steel barrades closed off streets. I found my way blocked at several points, so I took a small residential street. It was an obviously poorer neighborhood. Run down buildings, people standing on street corners, a big crowd of people sorting trash. I hid my watch and tried to not look like such an obvious lost gringo. All the cross streets were blocked at both ends. When I got to the end of the street, I turned the corner and ended up in a dirt cul-de-sac with some temporary strucutres built from scavenged material. There was an older man sitting in a dirty plastic chair in the middle of the lot facing the street. I stood there, blinking at the impassable path, and then turned to leave.

"where are you trying to go, young man?" the old man asked me (in Spanish). I turned back. "I'm looking for the Lecumberri palace" I replied.
"ahh, its impossible to get through here, you need to go all the way back around where you came in, this neighborhood is completely closed off," he told me. " Take Congresso up, and then turn right"
Actually, it made me feel much better about crossing through this neighborhood to have been able to talk to someone and discovering that they were actually nice and helpful.

Outside of the Lecumberri palace, I caught a new metrobus route which ran just south of Tepito, and I hopped out north of the Zocalo in an area I'd somehow missed. There centro historico still has so much I havn't seen. I stopped into a few ancient churches, a few exposition centers, saw some more Diego Rivera murals in the secretary of public education building, and crossed Garibaldi plaza.

Since I was in the neighborhood, I tried to find the semi-secret pozoleria which culinarybackstreets.com rated as one of the best in the city. I didn't have the address, but I knew more or less where it was from where I'd mapped it, so I got to the street and asked two guys sitting in the doorway of a small kiosk. They both knew it, and one of them got up and walked me back to Reforma to describe how to get there.

The pozoleria is in an unmarked residential building. There's a black door and a small buzzer panel with the list of residences, and in very small letters, the word "pozole" next to a button. I pushed it and was immediately buzzed in. I entered a small residential building lobby and immediately saw the restaurant which looked quite like a normal restaurant complete with a hostess stand. It was only 12:30, so I was too early for lunch, so I remembered the place and caught a bus to Condesa where I devoured some of those mixiote tacos from my new favorite taco stand before heading back home ahead of the daily rain.

Sep 18, 2013

tortillas for an army

Monday was a national holiday to celebrate Independance, so instead of going into work, I donned my giant sombrero fiesta and trucked out to Reforma for the big military parade.

I joined huge crowds along the parade route, and grabbed a spot on top of the ecobici rack so I could sit and then stand (precariously) when the parade started. Almost everyone there had a green baseball cap that was being handed out by young volunteers, so it was a sea of green hats. I wondered mildly why not red or white, and remembered that red hats were the colors of the strikers, and white hats would be too boring. Green goes better with the Mexican football team's jerseys anyway.

The parade started about an hour after I arrived. It was a massive parade, mostly consisting of endless regiments of marching soldiers. My roomate K joking said that it was the parade of the entire Mexican armed forces. There were probably 50,000 troops who marched by. The most interesting parts of the parade were
  • the horseback mounted actors portraying figures from independance, mostly focusing on the revolutionaries- Madero, Carranza, Zapata, Villa.
  • the "environmental protection" division which drove by several trucks with engineers in hard hats and planting tools, and two big trucks with stacked plantings of sapplings and plantings, probably for soil stabilization after natural distasters. Or just after military manuevers destroy local ground cover.
  • the giant tortilladora trailer following the cooking truck. I can't even imagine how many tortillas the Mexican army consumes.
  • the parade of international forces- my guess is the military detachments from each embassy. That was really fun to see the different uniforms for all the different nations. The US was represented by marines in dress grays. They all looked really young. 
And the soldiers kept coming. I left after the second hour and grabbed a bite at my favorite enchilada place near insurgentes before coming home to beat the increasingly strong rain.

Sep 16, 2013

N- the letter English loves to hate

My roommate teaches first graders, so she does a lot of letters research in the form of hunting down YouTube clips touting the uses and benefits of G, A, T, P, and N in song form.
It occurred to me that N overwhelmingly leads words with negative connotations. The narcissistic Nazi neutered the nymphomaniac while the nihilist negated his nothingness with narcotics. It doesn't help that N forms No, Not, Non- either.
Nice is probably the best thing you could say about N. It's better than naughty, but someone Nice could also conceal a soul as nefarious and necrotic as night. Niceties are formalities- don't forget there is none of the genuine and grounded goodness that G offers. N is the nadir, nothingness, never.
N is also for naming- a process by which control and limitation is applied. We gave N names to animals we didn't like, much to the misfortune of newts, nematodes, nymphs, nags, nightingales, narwhals, and gnats. Gnarled letter purists are gnashing their teeth, but the same goes for the Gn combination as well, gnawing like gnostic gnomes. I doesn't matter that it starts with the letter G since it carries the N sound.
Nnnnnnnnnnn- the sound of non-commitment and nausea.
How many terms of endearment begin with N? My little nonentity? My darling gnu? My sweet nugget?
N is for neo- novelty and newness, a nascent nebulousness which could turn out to be as noisome and noxious as needles and nails.
(People names are excepted for some reason- I like the names Nancy, Norma, Nadine, Nadal)
Science's neutrality has found a more welcoming home for N. Networks of normative neurons in nine neutrino-nonagons. But even the naming of body parts reflect a certain queasiness- knees and the nape of the neck, nipples, nictating reflexes and nephritis.
What good can come of N? There is a nougat to the nastiness- nature and its natural nephews and nieces: nurturing, nesting, and nursing and nectarine nectar.

Sep 15, 2013

The short end of the stick

The after clearing the Zocaló with tanks and riot police Friday, the president has shouted la grita to the packed Zocaló.

¡Viva Mexico!
¡Viva independence!

Over 200 years ago, a defrocked priest named Hidalgo cried out the la grita in what many consider the start of the war of independence.

It has been over 200 years of massive brutality and heinous actions by corrupt leaders, of bloody revolutions and coups, of repeated betrayals, of class warfare, of invasions domestic, French, and American, hapless European monarchs and local despots with iron fists. Of lands and resources squandered and sold to foreigners to enrich the revolving door of ruling elites who fled the country when the public could no longer bear the stench. Santa Anna who sold more than 50% of his country to the US. Pancho Villa who raped nuns and turned convents into brothels. Profirio Diaz who murdered thousands of dissidents in a 30 year long Orwellian nightmare. And of course the perpetual and unending suffering and neglect of the Native classes, and of the countryside in general for the Distrito Federal.

Mexico had suffered so much and deserves so much better. For a new year of independence, I would like to see a more egalitarian Mexico, breaking down class lines and class stigmas. I would like to see the population engaged in the political process and holding public servants and politicians to account.

I would also like to see a comprehensive and aggressive water management plan, better maintence of sidewalks, and more incentives to take public trasnsportion, but these are back burner problems (for now).

For my own independence day, I applied for a job, cleaned my room, and did some shopping. I picked up a ridiculous campesinos sombrero and some festive Mexican flags and decals to hot glue to it, and ate a really delicious chile en nogada for a late lunch at the market.

I spent the night hanging out at the apartment with K and her friend who is having a spat with her boyfriend and crashing here for the night. K seems to be the councilor for her many friends here.

Anyway, I drank a bottle of Mexican IPA from Baja (eh), and then worked on a shot of Mescal while watching the fireworks on TV.

¡Viva México!

Sep 14, 2013

Workin' Saturday

Thursday I drank too much coffee and ended up with only a few hours of sleep. Friday I worked until 11pm, chugged a cup of noodle soup and crashed in bed after literally stumbling around the apartment. Today, as in saturday, as in the the first day of the weekend, I wasn't able to sleep past 8:30, ate some cereal for breakfast, and had to go in to work at 11. Felt awful like I was hung over all morning. I think its dehydration. Or altitude. Worked until 10pm. Ate three tacos al pastor on the way home with a beer, and watched professional boxing.

Yesterday, I bought my return ticket to the US. Mixed feelings about leaving. I hate to miss dia de Los muertos, but I don't want to hang around another month. Got a great deal on the ticket though, $130 mexico city to San Antonio.

Tomorrow is Mexico's independence day, or at least the first day of its commemoration. Me plan is to go around taking photos of the celebrations and decorations, and to brave the crowds of the Zocaló for the traditional Grito or shout by the president.


Sep 11, 2013

wet cat and mixiote

Monday, my coworker Alessia suggested some soup from the Sanborns down the street. I've been fooled by Sanborns crappy food before, but she insisted that this soup was really good. I usually give everything two chances, so I came along. It was an overcast day as we walked over, looked a bit ugly to the west. Didn´t think much about it.

We ordered our soup, and hung around waiting for them to bring it out. Took them about fifteen minutes to prepare our to-go order. When we returned to the door, we found a crowd of people watching it pour rain like an upended bucket. In Arizona, when it rains, it rains like this. But Arizona rain is a ten minute downpour and then the bucket empties. This downpour was continuous. I started to see animals running by two by two.

Neither one of us had an umbrella, so I eschewed the 400 peso umbrellas they sold at Sanborns and spent 100 pesos ($8) on a golf umbrella at a stand right outside the door. I ran back inside. When the rain didn´t even begin to lighten, Alessia and I agreed to make a run for it with the umbrella. I ducked out the door first and opened the umbrella, and immediately flipped it inside out. Alessia and I started laughing and she ducked back inside while I spent a few frantic moments trying to unfuck it. I gave up and went back in the store. A few people who had been watching the scene helped Alessia and me to unfuck the umbrella, and after thanking them, I ducked out again, this time angling the umbrella against the wind. It took us less than ten minutes to get back to the office.

We arrived soaked from about mid-thigh down. It didn't help that we had to walk through several inches of water. I really hate wet clothes. I mean, nobody likes wet clothes, but it's really just awful.


The soup was actually really good. I took off my socks and shoes and left them on someone's portable heater. I made sandals from blocks of pink insulation foam, packing tape, and chipboard. My jeans basically stayed wet until I got my turn with the heater and just set it between my legs under my desk.

Today I finally made it to Tacomix, a sidewalk taco stall which is actually a chain- there are two other locations. They specialize in mixiotes-  mutton (sometimes with rabbit or chicken) slow roasted in a pit with chiles, peppers, onions, and wrapped in maguey leaves. The meat is served up into small corn tortillas, and garnished with super thin french fries. Splash on a little salsa. It's wonderful. I'm not sure its a 10 taco, but its at least a 9. The meat is perfectly seasoned, the french fries add a nice crunch and flavor against the savory meat. I ate four of them since three was not enough.

Sep 9, 2013

frisatsun

Friday was Vania's last day in the office- so I was happy that she joined Moises and I for a lunch of tlacoyos at the friday lunch market. I got chamoy mango neives for desert. The chamoy part is they dump this mix of sugar, salt, and chili powder in the neives. Mexicans love the chamoy flavor. They rim thier beer with with, they put it on fruits, they put in candy. It would be wierd to get any kind citrusy neives without chamoy. It does grow on you actually.

That night there was a party for David's wife who is leaving the country. I got the email wrong and hung outside David's apartment the rain, getting soaked, until I realized that had I bothered to look up the adress, it was NOT David's apartment, but a private office about a twenty minute walk away in Condessa. I was fuming- at myself for once again, not getting enough information before setting out, at the fucking rain which was pouring and soaking my shoes and pants, and at missing the pregaming at a coworkers house since I missed them leaving the office.

The party was nice. A small affair on a covered roof terrace. Really great tacos de canasta (fried small tacos), and an open bar with some of the best mescal I've ever had. I met my coworkers, had a few shots of mescal, ate a few tacos, and hung out and chatted with everyone until the girls (Moises took off earlier) decided to go out to a bar and invited me along.

We drove to Clandestino, a really cool mescal bar a short drive away in Condesa. I got one shot there and worked on it for awhile, since the previous mescals got the room very hazy at that point. I really want to go back since they had a great menu of mescals, all poured from giant glass containers stacked up the walls. I bumped into Roberto, another ex-employee who is apparently a lot more social than he let on in the office.

I excused myself around 2 am and walked home, still a bit tipsy. It was, actually, a really fun night.

Saturday was mostly a recovery day, although I would have been a lot worse off if it had been beer that I was drinking. I set out to try to find a sweater and hiked over to a Liverpool which is basically like a Dillards in the US. It's a department store which contains very distinctive departments. Each clothing brand has its own little section. There's a Gap section. There's a Regent's Street section. There's a Ralph Lauren section. I couldn't bring myself to spend $40 on a sweater that I was only halfheartedly interested in.

In Mexico, it seems like there are only high end labels at US prices and clothes you buy from people under tarps on the street. You either pay a ton of money for imports, or you get chafa (Mexican for "crap"). There is Wal-Mart, sure, but there is no Ross or TJ Maxx equivilant.  Even Sears is high end here, and they sell a very fashion forward line (apparently). I was kind of surprised to see Halloween decorations and christrmas trees on display for sale. It jarring to be confronted with Americana when you're not expecting it.

Sunday, K and I got up early to go into Cuernavaca. Cuernavaca is a city on the other side of the mountains ringing the DF. It's at a lower elevation, and is rewarded with balmier weather and sunshine. It took us an hour to get there, but the weather was about ten to fifteen degrees warmer than the DF. Really humid, much more tropical vegitation. 50 years ago, it was the Hollywood Hills of Mexico City, although its surburbs have swollen as people fled the city in the 1980s and 1990s.

We stopped first at a church by Felix Candela, where mass was just beginning. The church is a thin shell hyperbolic paraboloid, and looks like a giant pale green pringle that's been stretched out. It's actually quite graceful. The nice thing about visiting, which I never understood from the photos, is that the trees which form a canopy over most of the seating obscure the soaring canopy of the open air chapel, so you never really know where the building begins or ends. It's actually quite serene and the view of the city below through the low arch forms a beautiful background to the altar.

On the way back to Cuernavaca, we also passed his famous sculpture. I think he must have master planned the entire neighborhood.

We parked in the historic center and went the Museo Robert Brady. This is like a stylebook for haciendas or hacienda themed weddings. Brady was an American artist, born in Iowa, who was good buddies with Peggy Guggenheim and was born into enough wealth that he spent his life traveling around the world, collecting curios, crafts, and artwork, and filling his hacienda in Cuernavaca with them. He was not an untalented painter either. He had a few works by Frida and Diego on display as well. It was worth visiting just for the explosion of interesting stuff everywhere. It was dripping with texture and extravagent effect. His bathroom was done in a kind of oriental style filled with doors and frames and light.

Next stop was the cathedral, an incredibly imposing and severe building by the Franciscans, marked with thier symbol of a skull and crossbones over the door. Inside, the dim light from the few small yellow stained glass windows illuminated painted scenes from the persecution and martyrdom of Franciscan missionaries in Imperial Japan.

We had coffee by the zocalo, which had been taken over by a BMX cycling event and throngs of crowds, before heading over the palace of Cortes. This was actually, the home of Cortes, who built it from the stones of the city pyramid which he razed and used as a base for his palace.

The only thing really worth seeing was the mural by Deigo Rivera commissioned by the US Ambassador Dwight Morrow which depicted the brutality of Mexican history from Conquest to Revolution. It's a really facinating mural, and I was particulary intrigued by Diego's depiction of religion.

Over the door where you enter the terrace, he had painted Aztecs cutting the heart out of a European on an altar over blood-stained steps. Following the arrow of time to the door closest to the revolution, over this door, he had painted, on top of the same steps, but in front of a church, three men being burned alive by two members of the Inquisition in an auto-de-fe. Lots of other subtle digs at religion. The cruel overseer whips indigineous cane harvesters while in the background, a European lounges in a hammock, and just barely visible behind him, a depiction of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Cruel looking monks collecting jewellry and valuables from poor looking indigenous people. The first mass with a particuarlly hard looking priest officiating and the native population literally at spearpoint beyond.

Anyway, we pressed on to the last stop, the Taller (studio/workshop) de Siquieros. It's not really his workshop, its more of an art center with a massive central gallery, a few rooms of his large works, offices, and few workshops. It functions largely as a gallery.

This building was completed late last year by a younger woman architect and is most amazing for its use of a triangulated screen block for its facade. It's a pretty cool building. I took a lot of photos and generally made the staff tell me to leave areas I wasn't supposed to be in, taking photos.

Got caught in the rain driving back, and grabbed some burgers and fries at "Hamborgesas memorables" for dinner once we were back in our neigborhood. A good sunday.

Sep 5, 2013

the network

There was an international conspiracy.

Weeks ago, a Japanese woman in Stuttgart contacted a Mexican-American in Arizona.

The plot was hatched. A selection was made. A special delivery was planned. Stuttgart turned the job over to Arizona who coordinated with eyes and feet on the ground, deeply embedded in Mexico City.

The stage was set.

I got up an hour earlier than normal and headed downtown in the hazy sunrise hours to the Pasteleria Ideal, one of the oldest and most famous bakeries in Mexico City in the center historico. I loaded up my trays with a mountain of pastries- conchas, garibaldis, bearclaws, croissants, cookies, muffins of all types. I probaby bought about five pounds of bread.

At the packaging counter, it was fun to watch the guy basically play pastry tetris to get all the pastries in the giant cardboard box they gave me to carry it all out. Finally, they put on the cover and tied the entire thing up with about three yards of string for carrying.

I lugged the awkward box across the center historico all the way to Hidalgo where I was able to catch a bus across to my office. My arm was sore today from lugging it around, actually.

My office was thrilled, they commented how huge and delicious everything was.

For lunch, I took my tupper to the comida corida with the other intern and got a chile relleno with rice and beans and agua de tamarindo. It makes me happy to go there, because they recognize me and know me and are always so happy to see me. It's nice to be a regular.

A little after lunch, I was called over to the front door, and boom! trap was sprung. A massive spray of sunflowers in a bouquet, carried buy none other than Alejandro, with his girlfriend in tow. Alejandro, dear reader, was my first friend and guide in Mexico City, and after abuelita passed away, I was afraid that I'd terminally disrespected him and his family. Alejandro, rememer, is the cousin of my good friend Sal, a.k.a. Chavo, a.k.a. Arizona.

We chatted a short bit while I held the weighty bouquet, and I introduced myself to Isis, his novia. It was great to see him again, and I re-invited him to my birthday dinner that night.

A little while after that, my coworkers crept up on me and surprised me with a cake made out of a stack of pastries, complete with lit candles on top. It still makes me grin to think on it.

Normally, for birthdays, the office buys a cake and they have a little cake and eating party in the meeting room cum dining room, but since I brought the pastries in the morning, I asked them to defer it, since it was given to me as an option. But I guess they still wanted to make me feel special, so they brought out the concha cake and sang "las mananitas" to me while I wore a ridiculous hat.

And of course, all day, everyone in the office came up to me to say "felizidades" for a salute, the traditional Mexican greeting of a hug and an a peck on the cheek.

The flowers turned out be so massive I had problems finding a container for them. Vania helped me by filling up a small wastebasket with water and we put them in there, and then to prevent the weight of the bouquet from toppling the container, we weighted it down with (what else?) marble and stone tile samples. I set it on the floor by my desk and it made me happy every time I looked at it.

For my birthday dinner, K met me at La Chirindongueria, a pizza place near the Cine Chino close to Reforma and Hidalgo station. I'd told everyone that I'd be there at 8, but I found myself running late leaving the office.

Due to the teachers protests (also, I jumped out of work to go shoot the prosters a few times) Reforma was shut down to traffic so the bus I was riding diverted, and I bailed. I had to pick my way through the aftermath of a riot. Trash everywhere. I passed through the man gates of two giant metal barricades blocking the streets. FInally I made it, and of course, the heavens opened up and started to pour rain.

K was there already, and we chatted while waiting for a table. I'd invited the office, but no one was able to come, mostly because the Lyon team was working until 9 or 10 every night. Ramferi,  one of the former interns, came with his girlfriend, and so did Zach, a young midwestern who I'd met for a beer and a talk about cities after he contacted me from readng my blog. Ram's girlfriend was really amused at the story, in spanish, she said, waggishly, "So you guys met online?"

Actually, it was a really fun dinner. Everyone spoke Spanish or was sympathetic to the gringos working on it. K's fluent, and she's really social, so she enjoyed talking with everyone and made them feel welcome. The six of us ate our way through four pizzas (two for one! orale! ) and we parted ways after the rain had let up a bit.

I was able to catch Saori online at the office and we chatted back and forth as I worked on my stairs for this project in Lyon. She was overcome that I'd worn my "you are my favorite architect" button to work that day. It was something she'd picked up for me in Helsinki. I missed her so much, but having the flowers from her helped bring her closer to me. She took off at the end of february. It's been so long since I've seen her.

Anyway, I''ve been debating what I should get for my birthday, and I think its going to be a pair of WarbyParker glasses to replace my current ones. It's time to get a more distinctive look and my current lenses are getting a little beat up.

I brought the flowers home today. Of course, as soon as I stepped out of the building, it poured biblically. In Mexico City's rainy season, it doesn't rain as much as it floods vertically. Even managing to hold the umbrella with one hand and the hefty bouquet in the other, my shoes and jeans were soaked in minutes. I caught a sitio taxi near my office, and proceeded to sit in traffic for the next 30 minutes. I could have taken the metro or the metrobus for the amount of time I sat, fuming, in the humid cab, watching the meter creep up as we sat in traffic. When the driver made a wrong turn, relatively close to the apartment, I'd had enough. I threw 100 pesos at him, and took off on foot in the rain. It wasn't like I was going to get more wet than I already was.

Being soaked by rain makes me angry and miserable. It feels like displaced frustration coming to the surface, but in general, I hate rain. It's especially intolerable here, a city of asphalt and concrete that floods even after a little rain. I literally walked through puddles up to my ankles.

Rackum frackum and all that. Other things I need to get better at- grace in unpleasant situations. Everyone has push button frustrations. Everyone is miserable walking with water sloshing around in shoes. What differentiates someone is how they respond, with dignity, humor, and calm, or with general malice to the world.

The flowers look great on the dining table. I recut the stems and found a large enough vase,  and after ramen for dinner, I had a half liter of Fuller's London Pride bitter. GOOOOD stuff. Might have to go back for another bottle. 

Sep 4, 2013

birthday pan

I bought pastries this morning at my favorite pasteleria in the centro historico. It meant getting up an hour earlier and hauling the box across town, but it was totally worth it.



Sep 3, 2013

29th existential check

Tomorrow, I turn 29. I'm kind of excited. I invited my coworker and ex coworkers to pizza tomorrow night at a place that has 2 for 1 specials, and the only problem I could foresee is rampant rioting or the city shutting down its transportation system, either of which would probably curtail  my birthday festivities, and there's a strong liklihood of the latter.

I've been thinking a lot lately about austerity and decadence. Although from the outside, I would appear to live a very austere life here, I am actually quite comfortable, even decadent, in a flaneur or bohemian way.

At 29, I am the most laid back I've been in my entire life. I was talking about how type A we architects are, and my roommate gave me a quizical look and commented that I didn't seem type A at all. I've changed a lot since starting college. When I started ASU, my philosophy was "work harder than the people at Rice." My ego and the initial blazing joy of design fueled my drive. Three years of numbing work taught me that the profession of architecture will not reward you. Graduate school taught me that in architecture, you must reward yourself by diving into what you love.

I'm too patient about some things. I'm not tenacious or persistant enough. I tend to listen to the opening of doors and live by generally going through invitingly ajar doors rather than kicking them down. I need to get better at door-kicking and do more of it.

I'm still pretty stupid about some things I think I should have down at this point. Procrastination is going to be one of those things I'll keep on fighting tomorrow.

What you value and prioritize changes as you get older, but at 29, I feel like I have at least a good grasp of mine.

Sep 2, 2013

beer

As an intern, sometimes you get fun jobs, and sometimes you're a sophisticated algorithm on a repeat loop.

For the last day and a half, I've been sitting at my work station, opening a cad file, binding the xrefs, saving the file to a new folder, and exporting two sheets at PDFs.

If this was photoshop, even I could "record" these actions to be carried out automatically.

It makes for long days.

What also makes long days is my body's reaction to the food K and I had at the breakfast place in our local market. Not fun, although K is much worse off.

Today Roberto, another long term employee, left to pursue projects on his own. He was a nice guy, really quiet, very introverted, but he shared his music library with me when I asked him. Vania's last day is friday, so she's promised to bring in Cochinita Pibil for lunch for everyone.

Taking a break from my factory job, I looked up my birthday from past years, which made me both nostalgic and especially miss Saori. It was only eight years ago, a lifetime, that I was having a less-than stellar birthday turning 21 at a houseparty in Tempe under seige by police. I didn't write about that part since I was still largely self-censoring at that point. I entered legal drinking age cold sober. Every birthday since then has been wonderful, and I am incredibly lucky for my family and friends.

Today, I got paid, and with some of my money, I went to one of the few places in Mexico City which stocks international beers. So I went to the place in Condesa which is the self-styled "Best Beer Selection in the World".  The selection was slightly better than the average St. Louis gas station, slightly worse than my local grocery store there, but beggers can't be choosers, and frankly, I was escatic to have more options than a dark lager or a light lager.

In all seriousness, the state of beer in Mexico is such that there's only two classifications here- cerveza claro (light lager) or cerveza negro (dark lager). Sheeeit, if you were set down  in the most isolated corner of Oklahoma, New Mexico, or Texas, even the most decrepid gas station next to the sign that says "next rest stop: 800 miles", someplace so remote and forgotten they still charge 30 cents a gallon for gas and the buzzards are reduced to eating rusting cars, even there, you can find lagers AND pilsners.

They didnt have much in the way of American beer, which was surprising. Some Rouge Ales (ok...), some organic beers (fine, whatever), and Miller Lite (a beer so weak, it can't even spell 'light').

They did have a passable selection of European beers (Delerium Tremens, Chimay, HB), and a good selection of Mexican craft brews. So far, I have not been impressed with the Scottish Smokey Ale, but it's the one I bought with lowest expectations.

The staff were helpful- one guy offered to help me with recommendations. I resisted the urge to say "I'm from Saint Louis, bitch," and simply assured him I was fine.

Ended up picking up five beers of decidedly non-lager types. Tab came up to about 350 pesos, which is about an average of $5 USD per bottle.

Sep 1, 2013

cultural centers

After writing about one day of modernism in Mexico City, I decided to take this weekend to catch up on the places I'd recommended sight unseen (at least, in person).

Saturday, after a lazy breakfast of french toast, I hung around the apartment, wrote some job cover letters, and then walk/metro/walked to my salsa class at the edge of Coyoacan. I rang the buzzer and an older man answered the door. His son, the dance instructor, was still in Detroit. My friend Adal had texted me last weekend about the class being canceled, but I'd assumed that this week was still on, especially since last week, he texted me, "see you next week!"

Anyway, I caught a metro back to the centro historico and made a beeline for the Spanish Cultural Center. The centro historico was busier than usual, more people, more activity than a typical weekend. The striking teachers union was encamped, filling the Zocalo, and occupying several major streets, many of them from Oaxca. They turned the sidewalks and streets into high obstacle courses with a web of cables and string holding up tarps and political banners. The temporary architecture of occupation, surrounded by centuries old palaces which have seen a blinding succession of occupations come and go.

The Centro Cultural de Espana is an interesting building with an interesting history. Located behind the apse of the ancient national cathedral which faces the Zocalo, the center was once a small courtyard building built in the 1930s. The old building fell into decrepitude and ruin, especially damaged in the 1985 earthquake. In 1997 the building was ceded to the Spanish government who restored the building as a cultural center and embassy. The neighboring lot was purchased and a new building was erected around and on top of the old by Javier Sanchez, and opened to the public in 2012. (building history via Wikipedia).  The old building remains ingested within the new building.

During the course of excavating the basement, the builders uncovered the ruins of some Aztec structures including much building sculpture and several walls and platforms. This is hardly surprising, given the building's location less than a hundred meters from the most sacred pyramid in the middle of the holiest plaza of the Aztec Empire.

Anyway, the new facade which is earth red stained concrete, with a hexagonal rusted steel lattice screen, doesn't really stand in shocking contrast to the 1930's buildings around it, mainly because like most of the historic center, the facades are layered with a history of use extending to present day.

When you enter, there's an information desk and the main entrance to a large auditorium, and the rest of the center is accessed via a daylit passageway beside the auditorium. Downstairs, there is a small museum of archeology around the the exposed excavation of the Aztec structures.

The center is really a bit labyrinthine with mezzanines, the large auditorium, a media center, galleries, classrooms, and multipurpose rooms. In the old villa, they put in a design boutique shop/ bookstore, and a few small galleries on the ground floor. Above the old building, they installed an airy bar/tapas restaurant with an open air terrace (Spanish cultural center, remember?). Climb further up and you'll get to a few exterior patios which have views of the back of the cathedral and the surrounding roofscape of the historic center.

Sunday, I decided to go see a movie.

The XXI Century Cineteca Nacional (21st Century National Cinemas) is also a very new building, opened within the last year by Mexican architect Michael Rojkind. The complex includes theaters, concessions (of course!) but also new facilities for the national film archives.

The complex is laid out on a cross of intersecting axes, with theaters along one axis and offices along another, with a parking garage at the far end of the latter axis. The building does try to capture the idea of what buildings should look like in the 21st century. There are CNC milled perforated metal panels, a fair amount of "swoopiness", and a heady dose of futurism and movement especially in the areas with the theaters which are covered by a massive perforated canopy. The perforated canopy allows light to filter down like a tree canopy, and actually makes the grand public spaces very pleasant, with plenty of seating as well.

It's a different, freer moviegoing experience. With the mild climate, everything is outside or open air. You buy your tickets from a window or a machine under the canopy, and walk to your theater, which is directly accessible from the open concourse which anyone can enter. An employee checks your ticket at the door to the theater and in you go with whatever you brought to drink or eat.

I always found movie theaters in the US to be mildly claustrophobic and media-oversaturated experiences, even nice theaters feel like casinos with an overpowering scent of old popcorn replacing cigarette smoke. Here, no posters, no cardboard cutouts, no blasting previews or StreetFighter consoles. The monochromatic architecture embodied enough futurism so that for me, the fun and anticipation before the movie was communicated through the architecture.

The complex which still feels like its filling out, also includes an upscale concessions take-away cafe, with a wide array of drinks for Mexico City, including Japanese Ramune, sake, iced green tea, and beer, and a respectable array of Mexican craft beers, along with the usual selection of sodas and domestics.

Actually, I can't wait to come back at night and see if the second floor terrace with the bar fills up and to see the canopy lit.

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...