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 foxnews.com: "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.