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.