Friday, December 17, 2004

At Long the Latest News

Hola me amigos, acquaintances, y people I don't know who stumbled here looking for pictures of absolutely unfettered depravity. I know it's been awhile since my last post, but I haven't been on the internet for awhile. It's actually been kinda nice not to check my e-mail every day and waste all kinds of time reading useless articles, but I have been a bit neglectful of my blog. Luckily, I write offline, so I have some things to catch you up on.-

I cut myself shaving again today. In all the years I've been shaving and I think I've been shaving a few years more than many of my contemporaries, I've never mastered the art. Today was a real doozie. I actually sliced my nostril a-la Chinatown, but not quite as drastic. And we all know about noses and how they bleed. Well, it bled and bled and bled some more, while I cursed. I think it's my nature to rush things like shaving and that fact coupled with my skins slow process of drying out and wrinkling up and becoming more sensitive as I age, that's causing all the cuts. Anyway, lesson learned, you gotta start paying attention to those little things that come in and make life harder because it only goes one way. What I need is that guide I saw making it's way into single men's Christmas presents a few years back in the (practical guide to..) 90's. Wasn't it called "The Man's Practical Guide to Life" or some crap? It had all kinds of tidbits about how to shave, take stains out of suit pants with salt, cheat on girlfriends etc... It's another thing you might see this year perched next to the usual selection of Cole Porter Greats, Verve Jazz Box sets, Cranium game, and thermal insulated travel mugs all clustered there, fighting for retail supremacy in the sensitive 5-second-decision-zone of the Starbucks countertop. Starbucks has recently invaded Mexico and it's popular. For all you Starbucks lovers out there rest assured that they are just the same here. If you want to get that Vancouver coffee vibe all you need to do is go to the nearest "bucks" and you'll be right back at home, guaranteed. I remember reading some "Onion" article that quipped about Barnes and Noble being opened in Cambodia as an ironic joke. Any journey to the third world will in my opinion reveal that these ironic jokes are more real than one might imagine. It's not too uncommon to see a Mc Donalds or Popeye's Chicken nested in the middle of shining examples of 3rd World Urban squalor. No need for Photoshop here, the blending and smoothing have already been done. Yikes.

We're going to a soccer game tonight. It's the DF Pumas Vs the Monterrey somethingoranothers. I will of course have to root for the Pumas to avoid decapitation. It's the final game for the playoffs in the league and it's going to be a real zoo I'm told. The Pumas are the University team and since I'm enrolling in Spanish classes at the City University, I guess they're my alma matter now. We watched the playoff game last night on TV and it was pretty crazy. In Latin America they bring a crew of Riot Police with plastic shields onto the field immediately after the game ends to protect the referees. It's weird to see two referees high fiveing each other surrounded by a square of riot cops. The mexican national team, I'm told, doesn't compare to the Brazilian or Argentinean teams, but I was told by some locals, that they do play good style of soccer here. I'm just looking forward to being in a packed stadium with all the singing and screaming etc... The games are relatively reasonable at 17 bucks a ticket.

OK, I'm back from the game now, woah, it was quite the experience. Unfortunately, I didn't bring my camera and consequently have no pics! I was told that they might not let me in and the prospect of having to Queue up again after finding some way to ditch it. Anyway, it's not that big a deal as we all know what a Latin American soccer game looks like from TV probably. The stadiums are huge and packed for the popular games. The fans are absolutely gonzo for thier teams and jump around and sing and cry and fight. At one point a minor fight broke out close to us and riot cops came over with officials to defuse the rukkus. People were hurling beer, food and long strings of obscene insults, but in the end common sense prevailed if not helped by the fact that Mexico City's team won. This game was one of two final games in the league between Pumas from Mexico City and another from Monterrey which is in the north part of the country near the US border. There exists a rivalry in more aspects than just soccer with the northern states in Mexico. People in the south and central part of Mexico seem to view northeners, or "nortenyas" as being more gringo-like and less identified with their Mexicaness. Apparently, the northern states tend to be more wealthy and infiltrated with ideas and icons of American culture. I can see how that happens being from a country in which almost everyone lives a few miles from the American border many of whom wish they were down there making "buckets of cash" and "becoming rich and famous" and winning "American Idol", not the ingeniously named, "Canadian Idol".

I actually hear that now in the states, you are paid in cash, in a bucket. It's a new policy... At the end of the work week your boss gives you a bucket- with cash in it. Who knows how much? but since it's in a bucket, you can imagine it's a lot. If you're lucky, there'll be some chicken in there too. Maybe slaw and biscuits... It's part of the new, "Buckets of cash for all" policy.

Here's some more shots of Mexican food. This is something you can get at a lot of Mexican restaurants- Little sweet onions fried in a mixture of Worcester, and soy sauce very good indeed. These we bought at a mall. Mall food seems to be similar all the world round, but in Mexico there are some nice places to get fast food. Tacos pastor I think I mentioned in a previous entry, but I seem to be eating so many of them.

Street meat is where you get the good stuff in Mexico. Goodbye Mr Tube Steak. We were downtown in the Zocalo at Christmas which is pretty nice. The buildings get the full "deck the halls" treatment. The square is full of people hawking little twirling flashing led toys and sparklers. There are free concerts on a large stage here and several ongoing protests. All the protests come to the Zocalo which is both the nerve centre for the country and it's biggest constituency, Mexico City.

Last weekend was the yearly Pilgrimage to the Virgin Guadeloupe who is the country's patron saint. Supposedly, long ago, the holy virgin appeared, as a dark-skinned woman to the Indigenous people here and they can't stop talking about her since. It's a big deal though and everyone came to Mexico City to make a pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadeloupe and pray and party like it's 1499. Actually, it was pretty interesting. Many small neighborhoods in Mexico City get into it and hold these weekend-long block parties. Practically every block in the city has one of these little shrines dedicated to Guadeloupe and some are intricate and laboriously constructed out of plaster. Christmas lights and other decorations gussy her up for important occasions. We walked through one of these parties which was in full swing in a bus loop. The picture doesn't do it justice. Imagine pulling into Kootenay Loop with a crowd of drunk folks salsa dancing around some hastily rigged up DJ equipment, projection screens, and disco lights and the ever-present collection of street hawkers and steaming food booths. This goes on til the wee hours when everyone is hammered and throwing eggs filled with flour at eachother. Then, the next morning, bleary-eyed, everyone heads to the Basilica to pay their respects. It's Christianity all right, but not as I know it.

It's cold here now and Christmas fever is in full swing. The streets are plugged with cars and people hawking and buying and then hawking them again and then going to buy something from a hawker. In short, the city is crazy. A few days ago it really got cold here mainly because most buildings here don't have heat or insulation so you can't come from outside bundled in jackets and expect to sprawl out on the sofa in a sun-run t-shirt with a brandy after cranking up the registers to the $80 dollar a month setting. I remember how I used to wear a t-shirt indoors during the winter and then pop open a window to get some "fresh air" and let the heat just roil away into the crisp winter air. Ahhh, those were the days. The Zocalo, which I mentioned before is looking pretty nice these days. It's amazing. It's probably the biggest open square I've seen and there's always something going on in and around this part of town. There is an informal market made up of hundreds, maybe thousands, of people with tarps and blankets on the ground full of stuff, who, with the appearance of the local police, en masse jump up and gather everything in the tarp and heave it out of sight only to appear again moments later when the police have finished "making their point". I didn't get a picture of some great street food I ate called, "tacos de canasta" or "basket tacos" which are sold warm from a huge wicker basket. They are simple made of potato, beans or meat tacos slathered in oil or grease of somekind and on a cold winter day so delicious, addictive, and affordable, I was almost angry as I ate them.

The other day we visited Ale's friend Ana to put up her Christmas Tree. I Don't think we're going to do the tree thing as they are really expensive and a lot of people use the imitation ones here. There isn't really anything of importance to say here accept that Christmas is coming and I hope everyone is feeling the vibes and is in good spirits. Don't forget to visit friends and family if you can and pour a little out for the Homies and try to avert your attention from the glitz and the "don't pay till May" crap unless of course you want to pay in May. I'll try and post soon, but I've been on and off with the internet, but I'll try and keep things up to date. Holiday Wishes Homies!

Sunday, December 05, 2004

City, City everywhere... and not a drop to drink

Infrastructure is kind of boring, but in Mexico City it's pretty crazy. Mexico City's infrastructure is quite different and water is one key thing I've noticed. I think in most of Latin America rather than have water towers elevated up above the city, water tends to still be pumped to the roof of all buildings where pressure is established by gravity feed. There are these large black tanks on almost every small building. I'm not sure how it works in other North American cities, but it seems most towns have central water towers or the water just comes from an elevated reservoir somewhere. I could be wrong though.

Here's a picture of some rooftops outside of Ale's apt. The arrow points to the water tanks. Most people try to avoid drinking it as there can be disastrous results.

Mexico City used to be a collection of small towns that slowly grew into one another. The result is a vast network of freeways that wind around the city which are usually clogged with traffic and always seem to have some kind of construction being done on them. It's a total headache and the No 2 complaint of Mexico City residents after crime and corruption. People are often late for things here just because of the inevitable and unpredictable battle with traffic. What's cool about this evolution is that the city has many small neighborhoods that actually used to be small towns so they often have a self-contained character. Many little neighborhoods will have town parties and celebrations in their town squares and the streets are small and crowded.

Mexico has a lot of nice parks. Often there's a market going on around the perimeter too. This is one about five minutes from Ale's place and it's a nice place to relax or get a snack. There's b-ball nets and a "rapido" court. Rapido is like soccer, but played with less people on a small, enclosed court. Like indoor soccer I guess.

Mexico City has a lot of public art. Most of them are either colonial statues and fountains or "modern" and made of primary color painted steel. At any rate it makes for a nice diversion for the eyes when much of the landscape can be winding overpasses and standstill, honking traffic. This one is a few blocks from the apartment.

I think I mentioned the Metro before, but I didn't have a picture. Mexico has a pretty good transit system all things considered. It's a few pesos to go almost anywhere and you can using either the Metro or the somewhat ad-hoc minibuses. The minibuses are private and stop anywhere and drive crazily. There are no set routes and you have to know where you want to go and kind of figure out what buses you'll have to take to get there. Cardboard signs in the window have the route displayed, but sometimes a conversation with the driver will be necessary. There's usually some kind of crazy salsa or mexican pop blasting out of the stereo and they are often crowded.

Reforma is one of the biggest arteries of Mexico City and right in the centre is this roundabout that contains this gold angel statue that is one of the architectural icons of the city. Mexico City has a lot of impressive things like this and I like them too. It gives the city a kind of European vibe. ...and when I say "vibe" I mean, "vibe", dudes.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Missin' me slatsky droogs.

Hey remember clockwork orange and how "daring" and "sickening" it was supposed to be? Now it practically reads like a saturday afternoon special what with all the other gut-wrenching mind trips out there like the Paul Bernardo movie for example. There seems to be a petition circulating and, frankly, I don't blame them. I am missin' me slatsky droogs though but not for the ol' in n' out.

Today suddenly things got a bit colder. Literally not figuratively. I'm surprised considering the sun that we've had since I arrived. Anyway, I hope it comes back. Now the air is thick with pollution and fog. It is nice to have a little moisture in the air though. My skin was beginning to feel like a mandarin orange after it's been left out for too long and the inner fruit is all dry and separated from the peel. Luckily, I found this Mexican hat that will not only help me blend in with the locals, but will keep my head warm in this in-climate weather.

It's funny, when you've been away for awhile (it may surprise some that I find a month to be a long time, but I'm not used to being away for these kinds of lengths of time.) You realize that you were attached to some strange things. The things that stick in my memory seem like the most trivial stuff and the things that I don't miss are sometimes the things that I always imagined I would. Like for instance, the mountains. I don't really miss them or Stanley Park either. I mean, on any given year in Vancouver, I'd be lucky to go to either place maybe two times total and it was usually raining. I don't miss Kits. I don't even miss commercial drive. I do miss the brickhouse pub though; those crappy couches and lava lamp bubblers. If a place here has couches, it'll be some art deco affair. Uh, I miss 99 cent pizza if you can believe it although it's not so much a "missing" feeling but maybe it sparks some kind of nostalgia. I can remember clear as day huddling in those steamy eat spaces crowded in with other drunks and late night desperadoes. I distinctly remember the funny moment when you were about to bite into slice #1 of your two slice ticket standing there with nowhere to sit, wet and dripping drunk and just as you bite into that cardboard crust your eyes meet with another patron about to do the same and there was this slight feeling of camaraderie; a sort of sad sack inner knowing, a sort of "it comes down to this doesn't it?" kind of thing. Two people, inches away, not talking, strangers no less, stuffing their gullets like bovines, listening to the urgent, slurping mastication and smacking of lips. ... Hmmm.. Needless to say, I'm sure a similar experience can easily be found here in Mexico City. If San Francisco was built on Rock and Roll as "Starship" told us, Mexico City certainly was built on the 99 cent "quick fix". There's no end to the steaming stalls and lunch counters surrounded by late night half drunk patrons and wal mart christmas oscillations. Sometimes they've got a TV wired up. It all has this Blade Runner kind of vibe, it's awesome.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Soy come comida Mexicana

There are a lot of protests in downtown Mexico for understandable reasons. Like in Vancouver most are sanctioned and "controlled" by a sizable police escort. Still it's cool that they do take place. Some of the most vocal organizations are the farmers organizations and here some of them can be seen making a protest in their underwear. I'm not sure what it's all about, but they got my attention.

We went downtown to have a late breakfast. This is the Palacio de Bellas Artes where we went to the awards ceremony. Looming overhead is some large bank building which at some time I think was a sort of Latin American empire state thing.

We ate at this popular little restaurant called, "Restaurant Popular". It's good, downtown, and cheap. The upper level is so low ceilinged that I had to duck in order to fit inside. One thing I've noticed is that I feel a lot taller in Mexico City which is amazing for me because in Vancouver I consider myself rather short. After all the thick shinned Anglicans and grain-fed Scots lumbering down Granville mall like cairns wrapped in bacon, Mexico is like playmobil-land. Ahh, just the rants of someone with small man's syndrome if you happen to be Scottish or Anglican or both, I mean no offense... or do I? In either case you shouldn't take any, just be thankful you aren't one of those stalky, short little pissed-off guys.

In the interests of using this nice photo I'll describe this great meal Ale made. Really good fish with green salsa and cilantro rice. You can eat with cream and avocado and make little tacos with tortillas if you so desire. The tortillas down here are amazing and always fresh and substitute bread at the dinner table. The difference is so drastic from the corn tortillas you buy in Vancouver that I was almost angry as I ate them.

We went to an 80's party thrown by one of Ale's friends a coupla weeks ago which was a lot of fun. My costume was pretty cheap. I think I came off a bit more like Keith Richards than an 80's guy. Now all I need to do is get Ale to dress up like a 13 year old girl and we've got a good Halloween ensemble... or was it the other guy?

Maybe I'll talk more about food. Here we are eating some Tamales Oaxacanio that I bought on the street coming back from the video store. You hear the guy (or child actually as many street vendors seem to be children or teens) every night biking down the street with a steaming barrel of these on the front. He has a tape recorded voice that drones, "Tamales... Oaxacanio... Rico Tamales Oaxacanio...". They are steamed and wrapped in banana leaves with corn, dark mole and chicken inside and one of my favorite snacks here.

These are some stuffed green chile peppers that Ale and I made. We put cheese, corn and hot chorizo inside. They are delicious little ventricle busters in a taco with avocado and salsa. Anyway, there's your update. Food and fun in the big smoke. Mexico City actually is a big smoke today as the smog and fog are completely obscuring everything from view. It's pretty unbelievable, but there it is right in front of me-

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

No bleedin' pics

Hi dudes. I'm writing this from the internet cafe across the street so I'm sorry if I couldn't get it together for any cool pictures today. I went to Puebla last weekend and took some great shots of the Volcanoe complete with plumes of vapor overhead. You know the one that's still active and occasionally spouting magma as they are known to sometimes do? Popopcatepetl or something like that. Anyway, my camera had a card error and I lost all the photos. Lame. Near Puebla is beautiful Cholula, a university town with a pyramid ruin apparently bigger than Cheops in Egypt, but less intact as there's a Catholic Church built atop it. Apparently there was an excavation that wormed it's way through the layers of the ruin's base, but neither Ale or I knew about it so we didn't go inside. Anyway, we went to a party the night before in Cholula where some friends go to school so we decided to head for the Zocalo and get a juice. Fresh juices are everywhere in Mexico and the quality is excellent. You can get juices from many different kinds of veggies and fruits for very reasonable prices. Dare I say cheap? I Dare I say I will- cheap juices folks come and get em in Mexico. They also make these watered down juices that they water down in case you prefer something a bit less sweet and strong and always they add some crushed ice so your juice isn't warm which is one of the problems I've had with fresh juice in Van Can. I rode the bus back to Mexico City from Puebla and was astounded at the quality of the bus network here. Stations were huge, clean, busy and organized like an airport. The buses were modern and fast. Some even have movies. We ended up riding the local minibus system more than a few times trying to get around though and overall clocked more than five different bus rides. Minibuses are fine, but ride pretty rough and jerky. The price can't be beat though at a few pesos a ride. In Puebla we went for dinner where I ate something called Huazontle. It's basically a deep fried weed in a red sauce, and it's delicious. It's a bit difficult to eat as it has a weed-like stalk that you have to strain the meatier parts off of. The seeds of the weed are what you mostly want. Puebla is a big town which kind of reminded me of cities in Spain. It has a lot of Colonial buildings and the downtown core is quite concentrated; buttresses and balconies ironwork and all that. The Cathedral downtown is crazy huge and of European proportions and grandiosness. All in all it was a great excursion out of the sprawl for a couple days. Anyway, I'm getting tired of sitting in this cafe, but I'll post some more pics soon. Hope all is well out there in Netland.