Saturday, November 17, 2007

Watch out Americans - the Mexican "spicy beer drink" is coming!

Vendors of specialty "ethnic foods" have already pushed us Americans pretty far. I mean, we're scarfing down pad thai and falafel like there's no tomorrow, deliberating between tikka masala and spring rolls, and, of course, squirting limes in our beers (heresy!). But they just can't stop. The latest thing to hit a supermarket shelf near you - michelada mix.

Mexican brewers offer variation on regular beer
Companies hope to make inroads in U.S. market with spicy ‘michelada

In it's simplest form, a michelada is a ton of lime juice with beer, served ice cold with a salted rim. However, it's even better if you also throw in chile, worchestershire sauce, maybe some hot sauce and even some soy sauce or tomato juice (see former blog entry: Q: Why is Mexican beer so crappy? A: Just add chile").

Americans are lazy, so ready-to-go "Michelada Mix" could be genius - if you can get Americans to drink chile in their beer which I think is the rub of the whole enterprise. I've got some marketing ideas:

1. Employ the edecanes from the Automotive Show. I think they could probably sell men just about anything. For the women, your options are pretty much Antonio Banderas or Enrique Iglesias.

2. Target frat boys. They´re all about novelty (watermelons laced with vodka, jello shots, beer popsicles). A girl commenting, " drink chile in your BEER?!!!" is a great conversation starter almost guaranteed to lead to a hook-up ("I guess it IS kind of manly to put hot sauce in your beer. How can you handle it, it's so SPICY....").

3. Do not refer to a michelada as "Beer lemonade" or worse, "beer limeade."

4. I suggest marketing materials employ the word, "Caliente." Americans think it means spicy, and, as we noted with the "Yo quiero Taco Bell" campaign, we learn more Spanish from commercials than high school language class. I can already imagine millions of Americans sidling up to the bar and saying, "A Corona, please. Make mine caliente." "Baby, you are as caliente as a michelada." I'm sure for a modest sum, you could get Paris Hilton to change her tagline to "That's caliente." C'mon - it would be hilarious!

Ugliest dog ever?

I've been to the zoo in Chapultepec Park with my nephew a couple of times. It's free, it's got lions and tigers and elephants and camels and penguins, not to mention they just had an exhibit of deadly poisonous snakes and frogs - I mean, what's not to like? The Mexican zoo also has a selection of animals native to this country, including my favorite - XOLOITZCUINTLE - THE ANCIENT AZTEC HAIRLESS DOG!!!! AKA ONE OF THE, IF NOT THE MOST, UGLY DOG ON THE PLANET EARTH!!! As you might notice from the picture, the Xoloitzcuintle´s most notable characteristic is that it's hairless. And like other extraordinarily ugly animals or people, it provokes a kind of response like "It hurts to look...but yet I can't. tear. my. eyes. away!!"
Here's some fun facts courtesy of The Washington Post:
- Near extinction in the 1940s, there are now about 5,000 "Xolos" out there.
- They can sell for up to $2,500.
- Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo had one.
- "They were considered sacred by the Aztecs, who sometimes ate their meat as a cure-all for illness or buried the dogs with their owners to help guide the human spirit to the afterlife."
- And the up side of ugly? Xolos are popular with asthmatics who can´t do fur.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Metro Station History of Mexico

Forget the big fat textbooks. You can get the down-low on Mexican history simply by cruising the metro.
As you might imagine, dictators, full-blooded Spaniards and traitors are not overwhelmingly honored – there is no Metro Porfirio Díaz, nor Metro Cortés nor Metro Malinche (the famous Indian woman who was Cortés´s translator and lover and is generally considered the ultimate traitor of all time). More of the historically-oriented stops honor the heroes of the Mexican Revolution, although the topsy-turvyness of that time ensures that you’ve got in some cases both the former Mexican presidents and the leaders who overthrew them. Here’s a run-down of some major stops winding generally from pre-conquest to post-revolution.

The “poet-king,” Nezahualcoyotl ruled the city-state of Texcoco, creating the “Athens” of the New World, his court full of philosophers, artists, musicians and sculptors. There’s some doubt whether he actually wrote all the poems attributed to him. One of them appears in tiny print on the face of the 100 peso note:
Amo el canto de zenzontle
Pájaro de cuatrocientas voces,
Amo el color del jade
Y el enervante perfume de las flores,
Pero más amo a mi hermano: el hombre.
I love the song of the mockingbird,
Bird of four hundred voices,
I love the color of the jadestone
And the enervating perfume of flowers,
But more than all I love my brother: man.


Moctezuma II Xocoyotzin was the second-to-last Aztec emperor and the unfortunate one who welcomed Hernán Cortés into his sumptuous palace in Tenochtitlán where he and his men stayed for several months. It’s not entirely clear what went down, but Cortés screwed over Moctezuma, who ended up a prisoner in his own home and died not all that long after.

Cultlahuanctzin (whose name was later changed into Spanish language as "Cuitláhuac" which is SO much easier to say) was the tenth Aztec emperor and the one who defeated Hernán Cortés in the Battle of La Noche Triste ("Sad Night") in 1519. Cortés and his native allies tried to escape from the castle in Tenochtitlán (now Mexico City) and basically got slaughtered.

Besides a metro station, the Aztec Emperor Cuauhtémoc, whose name means "descending eagle" in Nahuatl, also has a statue just down Reforma from Colombus. He took power in 1520 as successor of Cuitláhuac, not the happiest time to be an Aztec ruler. As Wikipedia has it: “He ascended to the throne when he was 18 years of age, as his city was being besieged by the Spanish and devastated by an epidemic of smallpox. Probably after the killings in the main temple, there were few Aztec captains available to take the position.” Cuauhtémoc is still a somewhat popular name for baby boys.

Isabel la Católica
Queen Isabel of Castile helped Columbus finance his journeys to the Americas in between politically unifying Spain with her husband Fernando II of Aragón and spearheading the Inquisition which expelled the Jews from Spain.

La Raza
Literally “the race,” the term comes from the book La Raza Cósmica, by José Vasconcelos in which he proposed that eventually all of the people within the Spanish Empire would completely mixed into a new race that had the best attributes of all the cultures. Here, Columbus Day on Oct. 12 is called "Día de la Raza."

Benito Juárez (1806-1872), a Zapotec, was Mexico´s first and only Indian president. He served an impressive 5 terms (considering many successors only lasted months and years), overseeing such major programs as the expropriation of church lands, bringing the army under civilian control, liquidation of peasant communal land holdings, and adoption of a constitution.

General Ignacio Zaragoza was a hero of the Battle of Puebla – that´s right, the very one we’re supposedly celebrating every Cinco de Mayo. On May 5, 1862, the Mexican army kicked butt against the way better-equipped and experienced French army which took advantage of America´s distracting Civil War to invade Mexico and set up a short-lived monarchy.

The station logo depicts the church bell of Dolores Hidalgo, a symbol of the Mexican War of Independence (1810) against Spain and the eleven-year-long insurgency that followed. (Metros Allende and Hidalgo are named for notable insurgentes).

Emiliano Zapata raised a peasant army in Morelos in southern Mexico, supporting Madero in the overthrow of Porfirio Díaz. However Madero didn´t address his and his followers’ demands for “Tierra and Libertad,” so the fight continued until Zapata was killed in 1919.

Barranca de los Muertos (Gully of the Dead)
A barranca is like a ravine. During the Mexican Revolution (1910 – 1921) this was a place where revolutionary soldiers dropped many corpses. Just delightful. The Mexican revolution lasted from 1910-1917 and killed as many as 1 million of the population of 15 million. The war overthrew Porfirio Díaz, who ruled from 1876 to 1911 (minus 4 years when he put a hand-picked successor in charge). After he was overthrown, Francisco Madero took over, but was soon overthrown, as were 8 others between 1913 and 1920.

Niños Héroes

The Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848 was the one that ended up in the cession of the Mexican territories that are now California, Arizona and New Mexico. The “Boy heroes” were six teenage military cadets who died defending Mexico at Chapultepec Castle in the heart of Mexico City from invading U.S. forces in Battle of Chapultepec on Sept. 13, 1847.
Scenario 1: They were ordered to fall back, but they instead fought to the death, the last survivor wrapping himself in the Mexican flag and leaping from the castle to prevent it from being taken by the enemy.
Scenario 2: Five commited suicide by stabbing himself and the sixth jumped off the wall, all saying they would rather kill themselves than be killed by the Americans.

Either way, the Niños Héroes are right up there as far as martyrs go.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Toque-me: A decidedly sketchy way to get your kicks

A friend of a friend recently came to town for a visit - Ronny, the guy on the left above - and we headed over to Plaza Garibaldi to pack as much chilango fun as we could into his few days here. Plaza Garibaldi is basically mariachi central - they´re all over the place in their fancy pants serenading people - a small Plaza packed with nightclubs that attracts a crowd ranging from children to old people and whose entertainment includes passionate singing, cock fights and elaborate skirt- and lasso-twirling, in short, a very strange and rather Mexican scene.
While waiting for Ronny downstairs in the bar in his hostel near the Zocalo, I struck up a conversation with the Mexican kids sitting next to me who were from north of the city and we ended up dragging them along to what they assured us was a place we were sure to get robbed. The taxi driver agreed with them but said we´d be fine as long as we didn´t pass the yellow building.
Two pitchers of pulque later (guava and strawberry flavored), our new friends decided it was time for a toque. Which sounds sketchy if you translate it as a "touch," but in this case it translates to a "hit" - of electricity. Two people grab the two metal pieces and everyone holds hands, then the guy with the wooden suitcase gleefully cranks up the electricity, which feels like extremely intense vibration and immediately gave me flashbacks of Mr.Knight´s 9th grade science class ("I´m going to need a volunteer with LONG BLOND HAIR for this next experiment." Anyone remember this?) Anyway, the verdict? Toques sketch me out and I probably wouldn´t personally do it again, but I think I will make all friends who visit me take a hit.

The Mexican B-day song does not go "Feliz cumpleaños a tí"

There have been a lot of birthdays this month and after having sung it perhaps 15 times, I think I´ll master the Mexican birthday song by the time my birthday rolls around. I swear I´m not pathetic - it´s ridiculously hard - for a second-language learner anyway. Here goes:

Estas son las mañanitas
Que cantaba el rey David
A las muchachas bonitas
Y te las cantamos aquí

Despierta mi bien despierta
Mira que ya amaneció
Ya los pajarillos cantan
La luna ya se metió

This is the morning song
That King David sang
To the beautiful girls
And we sing here today

Wake up, my dear, wake up,
Look it is already dawn
The birds are already singing
And the moon has set.

Since I´m sure you´ll want to sing this song at home - I´ve selected my favorite Youtube clip with the tune. This clip beat the other several thousand because:
- It is the cheesiest.
- It has mariachis.
- It has pictures of dawn, people kissing, flowers and both the U.S. and Mexican flags, in other words, everything you´d ever want in your birthday Youtube clip.

Here´s another handy song to know - the Piñata song!

Dale, dale, dale.
No pierdas el tino.
Porque si lo pierdes.
Pierdes el camino.

Ya le diste una.
Ya le diste dos.
Ya le diste tres.
Y tu tiempo se acabó.

(Hit it, hit it, hit it. Don’t loose your aim. Because if you lose it, you lose the way.You hit it once. You hit it twice. You hit it three times. And your time is up.)

This video basically sucks, but I couldn´t find one better either because the kid had whacked the piñata down within the first few "Dales" or everyone seemed drunk.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Gringos beware! Do not try this at home

Thanks to everyone for the great e-mails after I sent out my mega-update - good to hear from you. I'd especially like to thank Juan and Polo who can add to their respective business cards "Master of Chilango Colloquialisms and Coach in the Fine Art of Speaking Mexican Spanish." Both can contribute guest entries to my blog anytime.

In the spirit of sharing, here's the link to the "Dirty Word of the Month" podcast I recorded as part of my last job as an editor at Smart English Magazine.

¡Qué lo disfrutes!
Dirty Word of the Month

Following Juan´s sage advice, I´m adding a star system to the rapidly growing list of "Vocabulario Esencial" to prevent well-intentioned Spanish-language learners from ending up with their foot in their mouth (meter la pata). See below for some more tips to avoid saying something obscene.

But first - this excellent expanded definition of "a huevo" from Polo:

A Huevo’s main meaning is more related to saying Yes and in certain variations it is a reaffirmation of your actions…

In some cases A huevo is used in a cool way, to express coolness…
Like the “shagadelic baby yeah” Mexican version of it…. A huevooo...


Q: Vas a ir a la fiesta?
Are you going to the party?
A: A huevo!

Q: A poco no esta padre ese coche?
Isn´t this car awesome?
A: A huevo!

Q: No puedo creer que te ligaste a esa vieja!
I can't believe you hooked up with her.
A: A huevo!

Q: No se como pudiste escaparte sin que tus papas te regañaran.
I don't know how you got away without getting caught by your parents.
A: A huevo!

I'm trying to think what the English translation would be and I'm thinking something like "Hell yeah," "F--- yeah" or "Don´t you know it!" or maybe like "Boo-yeah," although let's not start saying that again and indeed forget we ever once said such a thing.

So I've given you guys some fun vocabulary to play with, but here's some that you´d best not touch with a 10-foot pole. In other words, don't try to use these phrases without the help of a trusted and patient Mexican friend with a good sense of humor.

Words that are way too easy to mess up:

I finally just had to cut my parents off. It´s just too easy to go horribly wrong.
If your food is spicy - "Está picante."
If the weather is hot - "Hace calor."
If you are hot (and not in the Paris Hilton way) - "Tengo calor."
If you say "Estoy caliente," it means you´re horny.

I´m embarassed = Tengo vergüenza
Estoy embarazado/a = I´m pregnant (and probably even more embarassed)

One of the first things we all learn in Spanish is How old are you?/¿Cuántos años tienes?
Easy - I thought. Until an English friend asked a teenager we knew, ¿Cuántos anos tienes?/How many anuses do you have? To which she replied, "Just one, but it works very well."

Not a problem in Mexico. However, in Habana, Cuba, and only in Habana as far as I can tell, papaya is slang for a woman´s vagina. The beloved tropical fruit is referred to as "fruta bomba."

In one sense, they´re just eggs. In the other, they´re balls. Do you really want to talk about huevos that much? Just don't, okay?
I would like to insert a joke here, courtesy of my friend, Ana.
¿Por qué la gallina ama tanto a sus pollitos?
Why does the mother hen love her chicklets so much?
Por que le cuesta un huevo cada uno.
Because each one costs her a huevo.

Practically anything you try to say
Due to the good old doble sentido (double meaning), I think just about anything could be construed as a reference to sex. For instance, apparently planchar/to iron is slang for sex here in DF.
I once tried to say something about putting spicy chile in my beer and ended up saying something about penises. The moral of the story was the barman offered me the biggest cup of beer I've ever seen in my life and said it was on the house if I drank it all. I decided to use the only word in Spanish I'm aware of that has only one meaning, "No."

Bad words you shouldn´t say in front of your suegra (mother-in-law)unless she's as cool as those old ladies from the Golden Girls or Phyllis Diller, and maybe you shouldn´t say at all if you´re a girl:
(*Note: These aren´t the best translations. But this is a guide advising you what NOT to say so...)

Chingar - f---
Vete a la verga - Go to hell (literally Go to the penis)
Pinche - 'effin, damn
Güey - dude
Cabrón/a - asshole/bitch
Pendejo - stupid asshole
No mames - Shut up, No way! Literally, stop sucking the tit or something like that. No manches would be the innocuous expression to use.
Anything with madre, ie:
Estoy hasta la madre- I´ve had it
Es todo un desmadre - It´s an effin mess.
Chinga tu madre - Go fuck your mother.

Geez, this could go on forever...
Well, if anyone has some hilarious stories about making egregrious errors while attempting to speak Spanish, send them along.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Pobres futbolistas chaparritos

*Can't get this to upload straight, but you all can turn your heads, right?


Mexicans are short!

That is not in and of itself a major problem for anyone besides tall people visiting Mexico who are well-advised to watch their heads. However it has hit a new level of concern according to this news article anyway, because it is preventing Mexico from dominating on the football field. To quote:

"The Mexican national soccer team is 'a team of short stature' which is why they need to look for taller, heavier and stronger players in order to truly compete, according to the technical director to the club owners."

Apparently, the average height for the Mexican team is a mere 1.75 centimeters (5'9"), ranking even behind Japan, compared to Germany's impressive 1.85 centimeters (6'1"). This is indeed grave. I was too busy giggling to actually reach the conclusion of the article, but in terms of resolving this problem, I'm sure prayers won't hurt.

Want a job? How much do you weigh and do you live with your mom?

I like things that aren't entertaining on purpose - for instance my ballot for the recall of California governor Gray Davis which included exotic dancers and a sumo wrestler among the candidates.
A couple months ago, my friend Marco was taking job applications and showed me a few. I think I would put the standard Mexican job application form right up there among the most personally invasive documents ever created. You can pick one up for 10 cents at any stationery store and it pretty much covers all elements of your life, many of which I'm pretty sure would be illegal to request of job candidates in the States. That's not to say that everyone fills out every section nor that this application is used by all candidates everywhere. However, it exists. Among the not-quite-so-common line items:

Personal details

Recent photo
You live with: O parents O family O relatives O alone
People that depend on you: # of children, a spouse, parents, other
Civil state: O Married O Single O Other, explain

Health and Personal Habits

What do you consider your current state of health?
Do you suffer from any chronic disease?
What sports do you play?
Do you belong to a team or sports club?
What's your favorite pastime?
What is the goal of your life?


Names of parents and spouse, whether alive, home address and job
Names and ages of your children

General information

Do you have life insurance?
Have you been affiliated with any union?

Economic information

Do you have any other income? How much?
Does your spouse work? Monthly income _________
Do you own your home or pay rent? Value of house or monthly rent _______
Do you have your own car? Brand and model ___________
Do you have debt? How much?
How much are your monthly expenses?

The ultimate guide to Mexican meat

You think you speak Spanish? I bet you can’t even read a Mexican menu. I certainly couldn’t when I got here and I swear someone’s inventing new kinds of meat here everyday just to confuse me.

In school, learning the words for different meats was a 10-minute mini-lesson that looked something like this:

Red meat – carne
Beef – res
Chicken – pollo
Pork – puerco
Fish – pescado

Mexicans have a considerably broader view of the realm of meat, as reflected in their use of a bajillion different words, much as the Eskimos have a bajillion different words for snow.
You might pick up a Mexican menu with only two menu items – let’s say tacos and tortas (a badass Mexican sandwich) – that runs to two or three pages because there are so many different meats or combinations of meats listed.

The quick and dirty guide:


Al pastor – a succulent hunk of pork with a delicious sauce that is roasted on a continually turning spit for hours. You’ll see guys adeptly lopping off bits of the meat and the pineapple on top with a machete-like knife, the meat flying through the air, landing perfectly on the tortilla in his hand. Impressive.
Jamon - ham
Tocino- bacon
Cueritos – strips of gelatinous pork fat. This one is not growing on me, even when draped over a bed of cabbage sprinkled with lime and hot sauce on top of a big chicarron.
Chicharrones – pork rinds. So bad, but yet so good.
Milanesa – a piece of pork pounded to less than a centimeter thick, breaded and fried
Maciza – pure, solid leg meat
Chuleta – pork chop
Carnitas – various body parts, thankfully chopped into little bits
Trompa - snout
Cachete – cheek


Arrachera – outrageously tender beef
Bistec – straight up beef, thin sliced steak
Carne asada – grilled steak, usually marinated in lime or orange juice
cecina - beef, thin sliced, salted, dried in the sun
Costillas - ribs
Tripa – pork intestines. Yes I tried them, no I was not a fan.
Lengua – tongue.
Suadero – thin strips of breast bone meat
Sesos - brains
Machaca – powdered meat. Sounds nasty, but it’s delicious with eggs. Think more like crumbled beef jerky.


Pollo - chicken
Pierna - thigh
Pechuga – chicken breast
Pavo – turkey
Pato – duck

Sausage of indeterminate animal origin

Salchicha – sausage, more like a hot dog
Chorizo – Mexican sausage, crumbly and tasty, also comes in a bright green form which honestly freaks me out.
Loganiza – chorizo, but different, apparently. Even my Mexican friends were a little hard-pressed to pin down the difference, so we grabbed a waiter whose theory was one has more fat, if that is actually possible.


Borrego – ram
Cabra/cabritos – goat
Conejo - rabbit
Médula – marrow
Cochinita de pibil – a Yucatecan specialty of shredded pork with some delectable chile sauce
Adobado – cooked in a chile sauce
Con mole – with a more complex sauce, either made of chiles, chocolate and peanuts, or a green mole with green chiles and garlic and who knows what else
Guisado – a general word for a meat cooked in sauce
A la parilla/asada – grilled
Alambre – a heap of bits of meat, bacon, veggie and cheese

Okay, ya basta. This could go on forever, apparently. I'm starting to feel like Aristotle when he decided to classify the entire plant and animal kingdoms.

And coming as soon as I figure it all out - the ultimate Mexican guide to seafood! Including how to order sushi in Mexico (queso filadelfia, chipotle and salsa tampico anyone?)

Want more? This woman seems quite dedicated to the study of tacos.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

FAQs - Yes the air is bad and there are a hell of a lot of people here

I returned home for a visit earlier this month and, without fail, upon telling people that I have recently moved to Mexico City, they asked:

1) How bad is the air?
2) How many people live there?

It doesn't bug me at all that these are inevitably the first questions out of everyone's mouth, because up until recently, I couldn't have come up with a heck of a lot more.

But I felt bad that I didn't have excellent, rock solid answers for these two questions. True, a bit part of the reason for this is that I simply didn't want to know. But that day of reckoning has come. We must face the truth.

Starting with the population because it doesn't directly affect my future lifespan.

The most recent estimates of Mexico City's population put it at 17.4 million for the Distrito Federal proper (which is kind of like Washington, D.C.). However, if you were just driving out of the Federal District, you wouldn't know you'd left it when you hit the border because many former towns of the surrounding State of Mexico have been gobbled up. The estimate for the metropolitan area is more like a mere 22.65 million, as of 2005, making it the second most populous metropolitan area in the world. Go Mexico! I'd say, "Tokyo, you are so going down," but they are seriously kicking ass.

1. Tokyo, Japan - 34,100,000
2. Mexico City, Mexico - 22,650,000
3. Seoul, South Korea - 22,250,000
4. New York, United States - 21,850,000
5. Sao Paulo, Brazil - 20,200,000
6. Mumbai, India - 19,700,000
7. Dehli, India - 19,500,000
8. Los Angeles, United States - 17,950,000

By more strenuous standards taking note of actual boundaries, Mexico City gets knocked down to 5th place, but seriously, I really doubt anyone's counting past 15 million.

1. Tokyo-Yokohama, Japan - 33,200,000
2. New York, United States - 17,800,000
3. Sao Paulo, Brazil - 17,700,000
4. Seoul-Incheon, South Korea - 17,500,000
5. Mexico City, Mexico - 17,400,000
6. Osaka-Kobe-Kyoto, Japan - 16,425,000
7. Manila, Philippines - 14,750,000

Since lists are so much fun, we'll start there. However measuring pollution isn't really all that easy so take this worth a gram of particulate matter...

The BBC posted info from 2002 measuring pollution by amount of particle matter, by which the top contenders were:

1. Delhi
2. Cairo
3. Calcutta
4. Tianjin, China

Mexico City was all the way behind at 41st.

The Blacksmith Institute did another study in 2006, looking at the health danger of these pollutants and came up with this list:

The 10 worst-polluted places in the world are (in alphabetical order):
Chernobyl (Ukraine) | Dzerzinsk (Russia) | Haina (Dominican Republic) | Kabwe (Zambia) | La Oroya (Peru) | Linfen (China) | Mailuu-Suu (Kyrgyzstan) | Norilsk (Russia) | Ranipet (India) | Rudnaya Pristan (Russia)

Most have serious heavy metal or nuclear pollution which is making a lot of people sick.

So what's the deal with Mexico City?

Pollution isn't just about what factories and cars are spitting out. There are some unnegotiable geographic factors at play here:

- Mexico City is an average of 2,240 m (7,349 ft) above sea level
- It is located in a valley surrounded by mountains on all four sides with only one tiny opening at the north.
- "The region receives anti-cyclonic systems, whose weak winds that do not allow for the dispersion outside the basin of the air pollutants which are produced by the 50,000 industries and 4 million vehicles operated in the metropolitan area"

I haven't found the ultimate source that explains just where everything stands right now. To pull an Oprah - "What I know for sure" -

- It looks smoggy a lot and sometimes my lungs hurt.
- Traffic is something else and 1.5 hours is about the average commute within the city regardless of distance.
- The situation is bad enough that the government has imposed policies like certain cars can only drive certain days of the week and a month ago, the air hit such a point that they were stopping cars at the entrance to the city and not letting anyone in without Distrito Federal plates.

This was the article I found most interesting about combatting pollution, so I'll just end it there for the moment. And don't let the air deter you guys from visiting me.

"If these measures are not fully implemented, the chaos in the city could reach crisis level and we will all be sorry," Oscar Terrazas, professor of urban planning at the Autonomous Metropolitan University (UAM), told IPS. "What lies ahead is true chaos."

Enlightened prophet or alarmist? We'll see in 10 years.

Let's learn about brands!

Isn't mini-Walmart the cutest learning experience ever?! I was kind of partial to the Pfizer lab though.

This past weekend, I took a trip with my nephews to Papalote (Kite), the children's museum in Chapultepec Park. In many ways, it was everything I would expect from a children's museum - there was an Imax theater, there were games, there were helpers in orange vests reading "Cuate" (Friend), and it was about 95% educational pandemonium. There was one way it differed from the other children's museums I've visited however - all the major exhibits were branded. The science lab was Pfizer Laboratory. The mini grocery store was Walmart. The make-your-own newspaper was Reforma. And I came out with vaguely positive feelings toward Nestle, though I don't remember what their name was tied to.
The advertising industry sometimes gets a bad rap as a bunch of unabashed money-grubbers who use psychology to manipulate people and make them buy things they don't need. Usually I prefer to put the onus on the general public to be a little more critical - you don't have to buy what they sell after all. However, there was something vaguely malevolent about the rampant branding of the non-profit children's museum.
It didn't surprise me though. However many "branded messages" I get a day in the U.S., it's got to be double here. Every possible space is sold for advertising - I pass 20 street-level billboards on the way to work alone - and illegal billboards clutter every sky line.
As we walked out of the museum, we passed a bright red Coca Cola soda fountain with interactive screens, set up as an educational station, and my 5-year-old nephew took a veer right into it. "I'm thirsty," he pronounced.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Sex sells (autoparts)

What the guys see and what the girls see

A couple of weeks ago, I had the distinct pleasure of spending three full days at Expo Automotriz at Centro Banamex here in Mexico City. The massive expo was full of stands for things like spark plugs, door handles, car jacks and what-not. The aisles were full of Mexican mechanics and the stands were full of hot girls in lycra outfits (which, thank God, I was not rocking).

I was representing my new employer, who develops industrial parks throughout Mexico. Hopefully, we'll snag some new clients out of the Expo - most of my day was spent handing out pens and little red balls with our logo on it and telling confused-looking people just what we do. Most of the guys were more interested in hitting up the stands whose hostesses were wearing less clothing. The girls above were the unofficial favorite, causing a mild traffic jam for the entire three days. There were lines 30 deep in some places to get a signed poster.

There were three of us blondes in our stand and even we fielded a handful of requests for photos. Just what these photos are used for, I don't even want to know. I was walking behind a middle-aged couple and the woman remarked to her husband as they passed, "Ella está buena. ¿Quieres tomar una foto con ella?/She's hot. Want to take a photo with her?" Right...

My new vocabulary word of the week was: edecán, which is a catchall term for sexy girls who promote stuff. We had two of our own edecanes in the stand, one of whom runs her own edecan service and filled me in on this fascinating line of work.

1) The girls come in three flavors: A, AA and AAA. AAA are really hot, basically supermodels and they get paid as much as $35 to $40 an hour. AA are cute, swelling the ranks, and don't get paid quite as much. A would be classified as normal people and they might only get $70 for the whole days work and more gigs like serving samples at Costco.

2) The gigs include everything from working conference booths during the day to handing out free shots of whisky at a night club from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sometimes they get to travel to nice resorts and work there all week.

3) Work attire ranges from suits to little spandex outfits. One of the girls said she worked an Axe promotion in a nightclub. At one point a guy started spraying axe all over himself and that was the cue for the girls working throughout the club to start stripping.

4) Clients request what kind of girl they want and look at photos. They might request Mexican girls or güeras or Brazilian girls or who knows what. One time, she had a client request 40 blue-eyed blondes.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

¿Por qué estas aqui?

Todo el mundo me hace esta pregunta. Y de verdad no tengo una buena respuesta, más que decir “Pues, no sé. Me gusta México.”
A veces pienso en Portland, San Francisco y Sonoma, lugares bonito, las montañas, mi gente. Pero no tengo ganas de estar allá.
Más o menos lo que me pasó es que estaba aburrida. Traté de animar mi vida. Leí mucho, viajé a varias partes del norte de California, pero ya no estaba contenta. Me faltaba algo – quizás más que nada lo inesperado. Vine aquí sin expectativos, sin esperar algo, por eso todo que encuentro es inesperado. Mi hermana me preguntó si la vida aqui es diferente que lo me imaginaba. Casi todo es diferente. Pensé que iba a pasar quizás un mes con mi hermana y después mudarme a Guadalajara o Guanajuato, algún ciudad mas pequeña, para trabajar como una reportera de freelance y profesora de inglés. Tres meses después de llegar aquí, todavía vivo con mi hermana, cuñado y sobrinos por elección y acabé de empezar a trabajar para mi cuñado en el campo de parques industriales. ¿Existe una situación más inesperada?
Por eso me mudé aquí. Porque de verdad no tuvo sentido ninguno y por eso tiene sentido. Y porque la comida mexicana es muy rica.

Funny signs

Not a sign, but funny. The bookstores in Mexico aren't big on attractive or themed displays. Here's a typical shelf - "Lesbianism in Mexico," "Red Abortion!" and "Learn Japanese in 30 Days."

This place is sacred. Respect it, vendors and lovers. (Courtyard of church in Cuernavaca)

No pets without diapers. (Pasaje Polanco, DF, in front of Café Snob)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

¡Lucha libre!

Get your game face on.

This is me with one of the luchadoras. Yeah, that's her in the photo behind us, holding her infant son.

Pro wrestling of any sort is not a natural interest of mine. When I was a freshman in high school, a guy started a WWF Club for his senior project, putting on several outrageously ridiculous spectacles of posing, jumping around and doing other staged tricks. Loved it. Then Jack Black did Nacho Libre and I was pretty much sold. So I’ve been meaning to get to the luchas since I got here, and started easing my way in last weekend by going to a lucha libre photo exhibition plus espectacular at the Auditorio Nacional.
Basically what we’re talking about here are a bunch of 250-pound men in lycra climbing the ropes and jumping on top of each other before a completely wigged-out audience. It’s great. Some say they don’t “get” lucha libre. There’s nothing to get. We’re not talking about edutainment here.
So I happily joined the throngs, many of them rocking their own shiny lucha libre masks, and cheered as two burly women from Mexico tore into a couple of Japanese girls in ruffled hot pants. ¡Eso es, Mexico!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Do the right thing

I'm from California, so I'm used to heavy-handed public service announcements discouraging smoking, beating your wife or drinking and driving. We're all about that. When my friend visited from Wyoming and saw some of our run-of-the-mill anti-smoking ads, I think it cemented her initial assessment that Californians are wackos.
Here in Mexico, the social crusaders take another approach. They put the warning right in with the commercial, which leads to some pretty funny juxtapositions. For instance, any beer ad will have a short message in capital letters across the bottom reading something along the lines of "TODO CON MEDIDA/DRINK RESPONSIBLY." What cracks me up is that the warnings go far beyond "The surgeon general really thinks you shouldn't smoke like a chimney."
For instance, shampoo commercials usually have a message reading: "SALUD ES BELLEZA/HEALTH IS BEAUTY."
Coca Cola ads (and I think I see about 10 a day) often have the messages: "HAZ DEPORTES" or "HAZ EJERCICIO." A Fresca ad: "COME FRUTA FRESCA." Yeah, those people may look like they're having fun tossing back calorie-laden sodas, but don't forget - eat healthy food! And one of my favorites? Delaware Punch - "COME UVAS Y VERDURAS/EAT GRAPES AND VEGETABLES."
Wow, thanks for that inspiring message. You know what? I'll do that.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Ch, ch, ch

There are always photo exhibitions along the fence of Chapultepec park and right now, there are photos from ABCDF, a photo dictionary of Mexico City with over 2,000 images. Lots of cool pics and some great essays, including one about street names that I might have to share with you guys. In the "Ch" section, they printed the lyrics to the song, "Chilanga Banda" by Cafe Tacuba. A little taste:

¡Ya chole, chango chilango!
¡Qué chafa chamba te chutas!
No checa andar de tacuche
y ¡chale! con la charola.

I decided my Spanish lesson of the day could be to look up all the words I didn´t know. Of the 50 words that were drawing a blank, about half were in the dictionary (all with the caveat: Mexican slang), another half my co-workers could define and that remaining 25% - ¿Quién sabe? Of those 50 words, I think I could probably only use about 5 in mixed company and I'd still get some weird looks. All good fun. Check out the music video -

Chilanga Banda

The metro

The first time I came to Mexico City, I was surprised to learn there was a subway system. Actually, the subway system is easily the fastest way to get around this endless city and my friend who commutes to New York City every day gave it higher marks than the Big Apple´s famous subway. A big plus is it only costs 2 pesos (22 cents) to ride. I take the “limosina naranja,” as my friend calls it, to and from work two days a week. In the neighborhoods at the heart of the city, the subway is firmly underground – a full two long flights of stairs at the nearby station Polanco. At the edges of the city, however, it pops out of the ground, soaring above the graffitied walls and apartment high rises that stretch as far as the eye can see. Even from a viewpoint, Mexico City seems to have no end.
I leave my house at 7:30 a.m., joining the throngs of bustling professionals, street vendors hawking yogurt, gelatin and steaming coffee, and the occasional guitar player. I walk the tree-lined streets of Polanco and descend the gray marble steps into the dim station. When I ride the metro, I truly feel that I live in a city of 20 million. So many feet have padded down these steps that they carry smooth rounded hollows, as though a constant waterfall has dripped its way down over hundreds of years. I step into the flow of people pouring into the station and we line the tracks to wait in the stifling heat of the tunnel. Within minutes, an orange car whooshes up, packed with people. Some push out, some push in, and we’re off again.
A young guy, sometimes really just a boy, unzips his backpack to reveal a speaker and immediately starts blasting us with either ranchera music, the equivalent of America’s twangy country-western, lovesick trovas and boleros, or Spanish versions of American hits ranging from the Beatles to Celine Dion. The burned CDs always cost 10 pesos. Like all the vendors, his pitch is a torrent of familiar words, delivered in a bizarre, high-pitched voice which I’ve learned preserves the vocal chords over a long workday. By the next station, he’s hopped off and another’s hopped on, abruptly changing the soundtrack of our ride.
We pour off the train at Tacubaya, and wind our way to the brown line. The only people talking have cell phones pressed to their ears. Otherwise, there is no noise but the rustling of nylon and polyester and the shuffling of feet. Strains of music wind their way from some other nook or cranny of the station. Parts of the passageways are lined with small booths hawking primarily pizza, donuts and other unhealthy food and “productos naturistas,” just in case you want to pick up a homeopathic remedy for your male-pattern baldness on your morning commute.
One day, the brown line was down so my friend and I had to hop on the lengthier pink line. When we reached Tacubaya, we popped out into a cavern of intricate murals that seemed like a subterranean church. I had never been to this part of the station – I don’t know if I could find my way back again.
I know I’m close to my destination when orange sunlight oozes through the gloom, a sunbeam catching a face here, a purse there as we emerge from the bowels of the metro.

Let’s talk about condiments

I threw a dinner party for some Mexican friends the other night. My Thai chicken curry got rave reviews, but when I left the room, I heard a smattering of discussion about the food. Naturally, I returned to the table to interrogate everyone. My friends assured me the food was indeed delectable, but it was just weird to them that there weren’t any condiments, since most Mexican meals require at least three additives.
I considered this conversation a bit of a revelation, in the sense of realizing something which was blatantly obvious all along, namely that Mexicans are really into condiments. The bare minimum for most meals is chopped onion and cilantro, lime wedges, maybe some jalapeños, and, naturally, at least a choice of red or green salsa. If you’re having tortilla soup or pozole, you’ve also got to include crumbled cheese, pork rinds, and avocado. Seriously, tables in Mexico should be at least twice as big to hold all those little bowls.
My rather no-duh observation was confirmed the next day when I popped into a seafood place for ceviche. There was barely room on the table for the food, due to the wide variety of condiments available and I was eating alone. I consider this photo the confirmation of my theory. Case closed.

Q: Why is Mexican beer so crappy?

A:. Just add chile.

I have always considered the exportation of Mexican beer an advertising success story. I have seen Corona beer selling in New Zealand grocery stores for over two bucks a bottle and Corona is a frat-house staple across the great U.S. of A., despite the fact that it tastes like piss if you can say it actually tastes like anything at all. And Corona is one of the better Mexican beers, indistinguishable in a blind tasting between Sol, Tecate, Dos X or Indios. The only positive attributes of a Mexican beer, as far as I can tell, is that it’s bubbly and it contains alcohol.
Having spent the last five years in Portland, Oregon, where even the lousiest corner market still has an impressive selection of microbrews, I didn’t used to waste my time with Mexican beers. If I’m going for an import, I’ll take a Belgian ale, thanks very much.
Since migrating to Mexico, Mexican beer is pretty much my only choice, and I’ve been hitting up the Negra Modelo, the only dark beer that seems to be widely available. However, I’ve changed my tune a bit since I’ve been enlightened to the correct use of Mexican beers. Beer is not usually considered something which requires instructions, but seriously, ask a Mexican for help before you think about downing a couple Sols.
Think of Mexican beer as cake mix. Just add…all the good stuff. In the case of beer, a wedge of lime at best. Or make yourself a michelada – right up there with shandy on refreshment scale (ignore your hipster friends if they are thumbing their nose at you over their pints of microbrewed, extra-dark porter, served room temperature). To make a michelada, squeeze the juice of an entire lemon into your glass, slide it around the edge, then pour a helluva lot of salt around the rim. Then, and only then, add beer. Delicious. Up the ante with a liberal dose of chile powder, whether around the rim or just dumped around the inner sides of the glass. If you really want to go big, keep the lime and salt, then also add about a half cup of tomato juice, a dash of hot sauce and Salsa Maggi (basically soy sauce).
That is how it is done, my friends. Aren’t you glad the beer didn’t have any flavor to prevent you from enjoying the tasty lime and chile?

Cartas para enamorar/Letters of seduction

Por el Secretario de los amantes/By the secretary of lovers
Biblioteca de Amor/Love Library
México, D.F.

I made the best 10 peso purchase imaginable today. For only $1 US, I purchased a slightly faded, and/or stained paperback copy of Cartas para enamorar at a discount book shop in el Centro. This little treasure begins on page 5 with ¨LO QUE ES EL AMOR/WHAT IS LOVE¨ and by page 74, is offering “CARTA DE UN VIUDO PIDIENDO RELACIONES A UNA SOLTERA/HOW WIDOWERS CAN WRITE TO WIDOWS REQUESTING TO BEGIN A RELATIONSHIP.” In between, it touches on how to look for a girlfriend, how to dress when you’re courting and the symbolic meaning of how you use your handkerchief or fan. The meat of the book, however, is a series of proper letters and responses for every amorous situation imaginable (or unimaginable). I get the sense there may be cultural courtship differences here when the book begins with how to ask the girl’s parents if you can marry her.
As I read over the many letters in this slim volume, I can’t help but think, “Damn that’s good. Why didn’t I think of that?” Unfortunately, there is no copyright date on this book so I have no idea when I was written. Based on the contents, I would say, the Victorian era, perhaps turn of the century. Based on the cover design, I would lean toward the 1970s. These letters are too great not to share – I've put some excerpts worthy of swooning (potential suitors take note) in the column at right.

Monday, June 4, 2007


On May 31, I realized I have been living in Mexico City for over two months. This came as a momentous revelation because it meant my tourist visa had expired some days ago, making me "ilegal." Oops. My co-workers got quite a kick out of this, needless to say, and Ana immediately put on Manu Chao's "Clandestino," which I made her turn down while I called Mexican Immigration and asked some theoretical questions about overstaying visas on behalf of a "friend." The next day, I dragged my butt down to the immigration office, got in line behind about 50 people and hunkered down with my iPod. When the doors opened, I was the sole person in the tourist line and the official took a look at my paperwork, sent me to the "Pay Fines" line where another guy decided the price of my transgression was $700 pesos ($70) which I paid at a bank down the street. Some more stamping of paper and voilá! I can now legally bum around Mexico until September. I'll try to avoid the fine next time around - not to mention the irony.