Monday, April 27, 2009

La bendicion de la Ciudad: Que te vaya con Dios

El Angel - Reforma, Mexico City

Adios, mi Mexico querido

Me da pena. That most Mexican of expressions. One that my gringa soul rarely has need for, but today, it fits my sentiments. Me da mucho pena decirles que ya es el fin de mi blog chilango porque he regresado a mi hogar, California. I left the US for love of Mexico, and, again for love, I have returned to mi patria, this time for love of my boyfriend, who calls Los Angeles home. I will of course return to Mexico many times in the many decades to come and I will always consider it one of my homes. However, no longer will I be able to peer out my own window and spot green VW taxis, jacarandas in bloom, and taqueros expertly chopping pork on a trunk-sized block of wood. Ya te extraño, Mexico. Ya les extraño, mis amigos mexicanos, ustedes siempre estån en mi corazon.
In the handful of months since I've returned to California, I'm often struck with momentitos of nostalgia. When I chat in Spanish with the woman behind the counter at the Mexican market downstairs from my office who calls me mi'ja. When I turn a corner here in east LA and come face to face with a brilliantly painted mural of la Virgen. When a group of young mariachis takes the stage at the Book Festival singing "Ay mi corazon..." When I spot fuchsia bougainvillea climbing up the walls beside the freeway.
I thought about continuing to blog on this site, but my two Mexico years stand apart. I've started a new life and a new blog that will be an attempt to reconcile my three homes: Sonoma, DF, and, now, Los Angeles. I hope you will read it and enjoy it:

Hasta pronto, amigos

Con mucho amor, Sierra

Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

A note on the use of bright colors in Mexico

Police officers patrol in Puerto Veracruz

Our use of color is just social convention, right? So why not make police uniforms in Veracruz light pink? Well, it may be convention, but it's hard to let go. Living in another country can mix up your associations with color, however. For instance, in the US, we strongly associate death with the color black, which is standard for funerals. In Mexico, they also associate bright yellow and gold with death however as xempasuchil (marigolds) are used to decorate graves on Day of the Dead. For Westerners, the color red can be tinged with shame - red light districts, the scarlet letter...but it is ubiquitous in Chinese restaurants here because it is considered a lucky color.
All westerners who travel in Mexico are immediately struck by the bright colors everywhere - the color of houses, products, even the food, hit levels of brightness and saturation rarely seen in anything but children's toys in the States and Europe. Westerners generally love the bright colors and walk around snapping photos of fuchsia bougainvillea against bright orange walls and rainbow-colored houses all tumbled together.

Colorful houses in Guanajuato
Homes in Guanajuato

My boyfriend (who is Mexican-American) and I were talking about colors after an unfortunate run-in with some nasty pulque that we bought in a market by his house.

Pulque sold at Mexican market in Norwalk, CA

True, I have tasted pulque before and he had not, but we took two very different impressions from the brightly colored cans. He was immediately drawn to the bright colors (note that most of the packaging in this market was distinguished by bright colors), where I immediately saw bright colors as a red flag. Especially in food stuffs. I think of food that is brightly colored and it is largely suspect: cotton candy, strawberry and orange soda, gumball ice cream, green chorizo...
I think the experience that really hit home that Latinos and Westerners have totally different orientations toward color is the first time I saw the Moncada barracks in Santiago, Cuba. The barracks are legend in the history of the revolution. Castro and his men stormed them, very unsuccessfully, in 1953 and the attack is considered the start of the Cuban revolution. About 120 rebels went in, over 60 were killed and another third were captured. When Castro was taken to court for his role, he delivered his famous "History will absolve me" speech.
I had only seen photos of the barracks in black and white, so imagine what I felt when I saw this legendary historic site for the first time in full color:

Moncada barracks
Yes, you can still see bullet holes in the building, but to a Westerner like me, the barracks look like an elementary school! Color is cultural. Case closed.

Don't worry about the Trojan Horse

Because the AZTEC horse is headed your way! Beware, matey!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

My favorite sign ever - I simply can't decide

I've seen some interesting sales pitches in my life. These two signs include two of my favorites - I can't decide which I prefer, the vendor promising me the world or the hard sell accusing me (if I were Mexican) of betraying my people?

"If you buy this snow cone, you will go to heaven and your children will be born strong!" Personally, I'm sold.

"QUESTION: Why, if....1 - We are Mexicans; 2 - We employ Mexicans; 3 - We have very beautiful clothing; 4- We have an extensive selection and; 5 - Above all, we offer the lowest - the LOWEST - prices...
Why don't you come find out? Malinchismo?"

* Explanation required. Malinche was the translator/lover of Hernando Cortes - the one who conquered Mexico for Spain, doing quite a bit of pillaging and slaughtering on the way. (Look for Malinche in Diego Rivera's mural in the Palacio Nacional. She is pictured with Cortes, with a little baby on her back with a round, dark face and bright blue eyes). She is considered the ULTIMATE betrayer of her people EVER. "Malinchismo" is now often used to describe Mexicans who consider foreign things better like if you're always going on shopping trips to Texas...

OMG! Where's Jack Sparrow?

Apparently, Veracruz is still populated by pirates. Even if they're sneaking in cheap Chinese goods in cargo containers instead of robbing chests of gold.

Am I "using" "quotation marks" "appropriately"?

I saw too many funny signs in Mexico to count. I particularly like the use of quotation marks on this one. I'm going to have to say no if someone offers me some "meat."

Hustling in Puerto Veracruz

I'll say it. The Puerto de Veracruz is NOT pretty. It's a pretty rough place - a genuine cargo port, industrial, with polluted beaches and a stench coming off the sea that made us gag more than a few times. Not that that put a crimp in one local gig - throwing coins off the malecon (sea wall) and diving down to retrieve them. Veracruz is famous for its music and the air is constantly filled with music ranging from marimba to mariachi music to son veracruzano. The bands play for tips or charge you for a few songs or your choice as they cruise the cafes. The different groups seem to be competing to make more noise and the result is a sort of merry cacophony punctuated by vendors blasting reggaeton from boom boxes in that theory that this somehow will want to make you buy a tour or a t-shirt that says: "Soy chingon."
Various vendors have different strategies for catching your attention - see forthcoming entry El Guero ice cream shop. Here are a few:

Video from a tourist strip by the malecon near downtown - I was pretty entertained by the dancing Mickey.

Nothing says generic pharmaceuticals like a man in a huge creepy suit dancing on the street. Yes, I did get a hug. Yes, I was scared.

I had to admire this guy's chutzpah. I watched him rig up his own tight rope, yet passerby were so nonplussed, he was whistling to try and catch people's attention.

Adventures in Veracruz

I am a complete failure at blogging recently and so backed up on my photos and audio I don't even know what to say. Sorry readers! In the past three months, I've been through 3 job changes and two moves, so I guess it kind of set back the blogging. But have no fear, I will soldier on to complete all my Mexico blog entries. Adelante!
Right before returning to the States, I went on an adventure to Veracruz with two friends and their two friends who were visiting from New Orleans. We spent the evening in the port, did a little cruise around the bay in the morning, then headed up into the mountains of Xalapa with a small detour to Xico. We went river rafting, then headed back to big, bad DF.
Our primary activities during this excursion were eating seafood and drinking really good coffee. Veracruz is famous for its coffee. We partook at both of the most popular cafes where they serve coffee so dark you can't see through it in big glasses. After they plop it down, you tap the glass with your spoon and a teenage boy immediately comes running with an enormous metal pitcher of milk which he pours from as high as humanly possible so that your coffee foams up cappucino-style. better way to start the day...or the evening, for that matter.

Chris handles the vertiginous milk pour like a pro.

Dulce doesn't know whether she trusts this guey...

The result....worth risking 2nd degree hot milk splatter burns...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Election night in Mexico City

I sent this out to family and friends via email, but I've been thinking that maybe it does have a place on the blog, even if it's on a more serious note.

Written on the night of the election:

Election night in Mexico City started off with a 10-person airplane
carrying the minister of the interior, Juan Camilo Mouriño, crashing
two blocks off Reforma, one of the city's biggest streets. This is a
headline akin to "Condoleeza Rice's airplane crashes on the National
Mall." Mouriño is President Felipe Calderon's right-hand man, recently
charged with taking down the narco-traffickers. Sitting in traffic due
to the crash, listening to tense broadcasters on the radio, was a firm
reminder that I wasn't home in California tonight.

My friend's Mexican roommate traded calls back and forth with her
brother as we walked to an Election Night house party with some of our
paisanos. CNN dominated the room, full of chattering Americans, Brits
and Mexicans sipping wine.

The past several weeks, I've explained the American electoral system
quite a few times - with each explanation it seems to make less sense.
My French room mates were very intrigued by the electors ("los grandes
electores" - you have to get a bit creative with translation
sometimes) who supposedly cast these electoral votes for the states.
Then again, some idiosyncracies of other country's systems came to
light, for instance that in Britain, the election takes place and the
new Prime Minister is sworn in the very next day, moving into the
offices as the former Prime Minister frantically packs and heads out
the back door.

The interest from everyone has been keen. A Swedish co-worker said he
thought the whole world should be able to vote in the American
election since it affected everyone - he assured me the world would
never vote Republican. I assured all my friends here that I would be
voting for Barack. A friend's cleaning lady showed up Tuesday morning
and asked, "Si vas a votar por el negrito, verdad?"

Among the Americans, it was all about being from a swing state. My
friend, Catherine, had the most cachet being from Virginia.
California, not so much in the presidential election, although the
three gay guys at the party were closely watching Prop 8.

We nearly ignored the early, crazy-eyed prognosticating of the TV
networks, waiting for real results to come in. Then it hit the screen
- "Obama wins." We checked "President Obama." We check
the NY Times: "TV Networks call election in favor of Barack Obama" -
perhaps one of the longest and weakest headlines ever to grace their
Web page.
One British woman was a bit nervous about busting open the champagne
just yet, asking, "Didn't you Americans learn anything in 2004?" We'd
had it with the tentative hopefulness though.

Between the weight of our past and the weight of the future challenges
we have to face, this election night is a singular moment of levity
and jubilation. After a campaign it seemed would never end, after so
much anticipation, worry, posturing, analysis, circumspection, I feel
that I can just let go. A burden has been lifted off my shoulders that
I didn't even realize I was carrying.

As I sat in a foreign country, next to a Mexican friend, at last, I
was proud to be an American. Barack gave a little shout out to all us
Americans abroad and we all cheered. Together, we proved America's
strength - that we can change, that we can see the error of our ways
and do what it takes to change them, that we can be a force for good
in the world.

As I face the challenges of the next 100 years - global warming, the
wars, the economy - instead of feeling despair, I feel the history of
America and our accomplishments and culture swelling behind me and my
fellow Americans standing around me. We are innovators, we never give
up, and our country is a place where anything is possible. I hope we
can hold on to that feeling so that I can always leave my country and
be proud to be an American.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Mexicans LOVE Starbucks more than suburban soccer moms

The new Starbucks right off the main Plaza in colonial San Miguel de Allende, a UNESCO world heritage site

After living in the Northwest, I concluded no population could ever be as ga-ga over Starbucks (yet at the same time "so over" Starbucks) as people in Portland and Seattle. I was wrong. The new, and somewhat unlikely candidate, for the most Starbucks-obsessed is Mexicans.
El Starbucks (pronounced eh-Stár-buhks) entered Mexico in 2002. There are now about 30 Starbucks nation-wide as far as I can tell; the company indicates that 9 stores are currently being prepared for opening. This small number of stores doesn't capture the enthusiasm for Starbucks. Just like when it first started expanding in the U.S., it is THE happening spot, especially among the teen set. The Starbucks cup could now be considered a standard accessory for the upper-crust in all major cities and the presence of a Starbucks confirmation that you are living in a "nice" neighborhood. The Starbucks in the above photo was feebly protested by San Miguel's huge American expat community, but the Mexican locals welcomed it with open arms. To me, the true indication of the passion for Starbucks - You can get a much better latte at almost half the price at Punta del Cielo or Finca Santa Veracruz, Mexican chain stores that are everywhere, but people pay the about same for a Starbucks latte in Mexico City as they do in Dallas.

The meat market: Mercado San Juan is a vegetarian's worst nightmare

From Mercado San Juan - Mexico City, DF

And to think you thought I would spare you.

The meat markets in Mexico City are a far cry from the sanitized meat cooler at Safeway. My first piece of advice - wear close-toed shoes. All Mexican market vendors are very conscious of presentation - they'll cut beautiful designs in the fruit and stack apples and pears into enormous towers. Meat vendors are not exactly an exception, however, a tower of skinned rabbits is just not quite as alluring somehow. Most of the meat stands are equipped with a tree-trunk-sized chopping block as well as a guy with a machete whaling on whatever unfortunate piece of meat needs to be diced up. Any part of the animal is fair game. If the part of the animal exists, there is a Mexican who will make tacos out of it. Tongue, intestines, brains? Those are all somebody's favorite.

The accompanying slideshow is a walk through Mercado San Juan, considered the king of all markets for a it's wide selection of gourmet and imported products, as well anything a cook could desire from unusual fruits and vegetables to meats. Whatever it is, they can get it for you here. Have a nice walk through the market...

Mercado San Juan - Mexico City, DF

Trashy journalism: National Enquirer has nothing on Mexico

Good old-fashioned sensationalism - inside the plot to kill Barack!!!!

Mexico's version of the Page 6 girl.

The "back cover" which is always lewdly displayed as the front cover on the news stands.

My response to Mexico's trash newspapers is 3 parts horror and 1 part guilty pleasure. The photos are actually vomit-inducing, the content is sensationalist and morbid, but I have to give them credit - they effectively pander to our basest instincts and they put the worst of American publications to shame.
Mexico is home to a dizzying number of publications. There's Reforma, the equivalent of the New York Times, el Universal and other standard newspapers that largely hold true to international standards of journalism - objective, not too many graphic images, balanced topics. But the newspapers hawked at the small stands and in the metro stations, the newspapers read while getting your shoes shined or waiting for customers to show up at your taco stands are something else. The standard cover images make the debate over how much to show of the Iraq war almost comical. The images rotate between particularly horrible car accidents, Narcotraffickers' beheadings or torture and gun shot victims who always seem to be bleeding out of their eyes. I was kind on you folks and didn't choose one of the more gory pics. Also de rigueur is the skanky girl in a thong. The overall coverage breakdown is as follows: News 20%, Soccer 60%, Other sports 10%, Almost nude girl 10%).My careful anthropological observation of Mexican men "reading" on the metro indicates that after the in-depth coverage of the soccer play-offs, skanky girl is by far the most popular features.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

What EVERY girl wants for her birthday

(Or at least what way too many Mexican guys might think would be a good gift for their girlfriends on their birthdays...)
The official perfume of the Pumas, the Universidad Autonoma de Mexico's soccer team

!Olé! Baby bull-fighting

I often have those "only in Mexico" moments, when I think, "Wow, this sure is fun. No U.S. company would ever insure this activity in a million years!" The latest too-dangerous-for-the-U.S. activity - DIY bull-fighting with baby bulls. Climbing into a stadium ring with an angry, little baby bull that wants to gore you with his little bitty baby horns. Did I mention that tequila shots are handed out before entering the stadium? And that half of the women in the ring were wearing boots with 3-inch stiletto heels?

As you might imagine, this activity was: 1) dangerous, 2) pure chaos, and 3) HILARIOUS! There are various options; our hostess wisely choose the soccer game/bull fight. Twenty guests started playing soccer, after 5 minutes, they let loose the bull who ran around, attempting to gore people who kept venturing out from behind the little partitions to try and score a goal. Unfortunately, I was cowering behind a partition and did not have my camera, so the video is of the next group that went. We all agree that their baby bull is not half as hard-core as ours was. Sooo...everyone survived the event with the only injuries being a señora who got stepped on and will be aching bad tomorrow and the birthday girl's brother-in-law who broke his wrist. Not bad!

Saturday, November 1, 2008

The Bill Gates of Mexico: Carlos Slim

Peces Seafood Restaurant - "The only place that isn't owned by Carlos Slim"

In summer of 2007, a small daily e-newsletter broke the news that Mexican mogul Carlos Slim had unseated Bill Gates as the richest man in the world. The story was quickly picked up by major news outlets who estimated his total fortune at some $59 billion, edging Bill Gates' $58 billion.

There is something obscene about any single person amassing such a fortune, but somehow it is even more obscene when that person does it in a poor country. According to Fortune, "His family's holdings represent more than 5% of Mexico's 2006 gross domestic product, and Slim-controlled companies make up one-third of the $422 billion Mexican Bolsa, or stock exchange."

ONE-THIRD of the stock exchange.

If you live in Mexico, you are paying Carlos Slim. His bread and butter is Teléfonos de México, which was privatized about 15 years ago. Rather than opening up to competition, it remains a monopoly, controling 92% of the country's phone lines, with his mobile wireless service claiming a 70% market share. A study by World Bank found that Mexico's rates for monthly service and residential phone hookups are some of the the highest in the developing world.

But if you ever get tired of paying the Man, well, you can grab a meal at Peces in La Roma.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Only in Mexico - more funny photos

Mmmm...animal heads. I like the futuristic branding - "Entrails 2000"

OSHA - jigga jigga que? What's so wrong with riding on top of loose gas tanks anyway? We'll hope they're empty.

No point. Just love it.

Dinner with the WHOLE revolutionary family.

The ultimate stumper - What IS the most worthless government procedure?

Today, the polls closed on the Secretaria de la Funcion Publica's latest experiment in participatory democracy - a contest to identify "El tramite mas inutil" - the most completely worthless paper-pushing procedure in government. As of 10 days ago, 4,000 people had already put in their two cents. The Secretaria said, interestingly enough, that the most roundly denounced procedures were indeed the most used - paying taxes, getting passports and getting medical appointments with ISSSTE and IMSS. Whether or not anything is improved through this exercise, the squeaky wheel gets the grease. The winner at the federal level pockets some $30,000 and the state and municipal winners take home $10,000.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Day of the Dead meets Halloween in Mercado Jamaica

Mercado Jamaica in Mexico City is painted orange this time of year, its narrow aisles bursting with chrysanthemums for Day of the Dead and a fair amount of Halloween tzotchkes. From traditional papel picado, sugar skulls and copal for offerings to glow-in-the-dark skeleton key chains and Bart Simpson masks, the market is a visual banquet of the morbid.