Monday, November 28, 2005

Driving Reforma

Reforma is a like Mexico Cities' answer to the Champs Elisee. That may not mean much to you if you've never been to France or Paris for that matter, but lets just say it's one of those big, grand, wide, boulevards lined with trees and statues and fountains. It is one of the focal points of DF and besides being lined with trees, it is lined with the tall and imposing towers of Mexico's banking, government, and business centers. The names are pretty well known: Citibank, Scotia Bank, Sears, Bancomer, Bankity Bank-etrade-dot Bank. I wish at times that there were some more interesting businesses on Reforma, but, well that's how it is. The street itself is pretty impressive though. There are some nice statues and it's pleasant to walk down at times as there are free art exhibitions quite often and you can always buy some chips drenched in Valentina sauce or something and there are lots of beautiful old stone benches to sit on. On either side of this street are nice neighborhoods with tree lined streets and fountains of their own, but nothing in DF compares to the grandness of Reforma. Oh, and usually it's totally clogged with cars from 5am to 11pm.

These pics were snapped while moving down a surprisingly sparse Reforma on a particularly dark and bronze-skied day. I'm not sure if it was because of air quality but the light was a little surreal so these turned out dark. That building is the largest in Latin America and called the Torre Mayor which can usually be seen from most areas in Mexico City.

Far behind the ever-present paper vendor is the famous Angel of Independence which is a nice sculpture sitting atop an unmodest tower and ringed with one of the most confusing traffic glorietas that I have ever navigated; in that the traffic moves alternately in both directions. Anyway, it's beautiful and well, old too; ancient even. I'm told that Reforma was one of the main thoroughfares or promenades in existence when the Spanish arrived in Mexico City for the first time, and knowing a little about the way the Aztecs built cities in those days, it was probably pretty "grand" then too. I'm just going to say the word, "grand" one more time. "grand". There. I said it.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Please, sir... May I have some more?

Well, I've been eating again as we all must, and, as you can imagine, I've been eating some interesting stuff. Mexico city is big enough that it attracts healthy amounts of people from all over the country so as the people here say, "What happens in Mexico, happens in Mexico City!" In many ways this is true despite the many people outside of DF who may despise such elitist urban chants from the snobs in the big city. It does seem that you can get almost anything you can get and experience almost anything you can experience in Mexico in Mexico City albeit with a twist; ie: there's someone stealing your rear view mirrors and smog everywhere. Foodwise this is doubly true.

There is a kind of soup called Pozole here that is very popular. There are even franchises dedicated to Pozole. It's basically kind of like a corn stew with pork strips in a broth. There are huge chewy pieces of a large variety of corn inside. This is a type of Pozole they make in Guererro state that we bought from a restaurant called Casa Licha; a hole in the wall nestled in a unassuming, almost hidden neighborhood street. My friend Bernie somehow came into knowledge of this place and takes us there sometimes as there is really no way I could ever navigate to this place without full knowledge of the city to say the least. Casa Licha serves food from Guererro. There is a green herb oil on the surface (maybe oregano?) which makes this type "verde". People eat pozole as a snack or as a whole meal and this place seems to be very popular on the weekends. It's one of those places that is known to have good pozole, but is not located in a popular neighborhood. As far as I can tell there are quite a few places to eat in DF that serve very good authentic food that can't be found easily, yet people go the distance to ferret out these places as many Mexicans seem to be pretty discerning when it comes to local fare. The pozole here is very good. I've had street market Pozole and while it fills the stomach it was full of dubious meat pieces and hard bits that were a bit too, uh, "rustic" for my taste, but I've had good stuff now and I can say I like it maybe almost as much as your average Chilango- if there is such a thing.

These are chalupitas, or small Guererro versions of the chalupa. It's basically a hard little cup shaped tortilla with pork strips on top again with some chile, onion and light seasoning smothered in a sweetish sauce. They are appetizers and super delish.

these are Tortas Ahogadas we got at a popular restaurant that serves food from Guadalajara. Guadalajara is in Jalisco state and the second biggest city in Mexico. I've heard it's a nice city and it must be full of people with iron stomachs because this dish was hands down the hottest dish I've eaten in Mexico so far. It's basically a torta (usually elaborate Mexican sandwich made from a Kaiser Roll, but in this case the bread is French style) floating in a very very hot salsa. It's messy and the salsa is so hot they give you a plastic glove! This is so you don't damage your manicure or heaven forbid have the salsa seep into a hangnail or something. I'm not kidding. I used the glove even though I felt like an employee of Subway.

When Ale, Bernie, and Josefina and I sat down to eat I was pre-occupied talking or something. As we ordered our Tortas Ahogadas I made the mistake of not paying attention to how the others were ordering. Josefina is from Australia and ordered "no ahogada" Bernie and Ale are Mexicans and ordered "half ahogada". I wasn't paying attention and just said, "No, I'll take it as it comes..." Suffice to say that while it tasted delicious and good, plastic glove aside, it was basically inedible to me. I had to rescue the thing from the pool of lava salsa it was bathing in and revert to the "no ahogada" setting. However, I've been back since and ordered it with Half ahogada which is the best compromise. No ahogada was slightly boring like a sandwich sitting in a pool of watered down Heinz, but full force... I dunno- You'd have to be a serious eater of hot food to pass that without uh... Repercussions to put it mildly. Still I highly recommend these foods as they are not only delicious, but, well, never mind... They're delicious- what more does a food need on it's resume?

Meandering profound thoughts we already know to be true

lately the house has been filling with dust. There is a lot of dust in the air here. In addition we have a cat which always adds to the general amount of dust and hair floating around. Ale's been applying to schools in the UK and Canada so I've been navigating through the somewhat complex pages of various institutions trying to help her find out all the things you need to be accepted and get scholarships etc, but it's been difficult as It's been so long since I've been in a University. It seems like it's become a lot harder to get into school since I applied. School is big business these days. Long gone are the days when people deluded themselves into thinking that education wasn't totally necessary to make a decent living. School is also big biz in Mexico where many people don't get the opportunity to go even to high school. There are many private "schools" that teach languages, computers, business, trades, or anything that seems more useful than whatever gig you happen to be stuck with at the time. Jobs that pay a decent living wage are hard to come by here and seem to be often gotten though a connection or friend of some kind. Education isn't just the key to a better life, in many cases it could be the key to the better life for the whole family. Anyway, it's not like I'm talking about anything that everyone doesn't already know so I'll just shut up about school now.

It's cold and grey today. I was over at a friends house last night and we had a few beers and I talked about Guatemala with a friend who'd recently been there. There are a few towns that were completely buried by mudslides during the hurricane season. Apparently some houses and people are too difficult to dig for so the entire area has become a grave. It's cold in here when there isn't any sun. I actually feel a little vulnerable. In Canada it never really mattered for me how cold it was outside because I always felt I could run somewhere warm like a coffee shop or exactly like a coffee shop, or simply turn up the heat, but as most dwellings here lack insulation or heating it gets chilly in the winter sometimes. Many businesses have heating but many also don't. The other night we were way out near the freeway at this Taco place. Taco places are generally like a lunch counter and totally open to the outside so it was cold. I found myself actually wanting to be seated near the giant, rotating hunk of meat because occasionally they fire up the propane burner and these gusts of heat would come out even though you always smell like a huge greasy taco after. I never thought I'd feel comfortable and familiar sitting next to a dripping, rotating hunk of meat under harsh fluorescent light, watching a dubbed Steven Segal movie on a black and white TV while huge double trailers kick up dust near the Ford plant - Or did I? As we all know - standards change and why not?

Friday, November 04, 2005

El Dia de los Muertissimos!

This week was the fun and colorful DAY OF THE DEAD celebration in Mexico. Many people even get a day off work on the 2nd. so that tells you something about how serious it is. Basically, the idea is that your dead ancestors and relatives are honored on this day and will return to take part in the festivities.

Many people make altars of candles, elaborate seasonal flowers, photographs and candy skulls to attract them. Some offerings are more elaborate and have food dishes and other things the dead may have liked while alive. On the Day of the Dead Generally there is a party on the night of the 1st followed by a day of eating and general holidayness on the 2nd. In places like Oaxaca and Michoacan, (where I've read that the thousands of years old celebration originated) the festivities are even more elaborate. People go to cemeteries and pay respect to relatives or friends who have passed on over the years, maybe have a party and then many stay the entire night in a vigil.

In Mexico City there are many huge offerings made by institutions, delegations of the city, Universities, and other groups. Many were on display in the Zocalo which was packed with onlookers, performers, and offerings. There were free concerts and some cultural centers had art shows and performances dedicated to the day.

Here's an offering with a skull made of beans - How much more Mexican can you get?

After wandering around downtown, we went to our friend Bernardo's place and made a small altar. The orange flower petals are called the Flor de Muerto or zempoalxochitl in Nauhuatl and are generallly part of every altar and can be seen all over the place in the city on this day. It was a good time and a uniquely Mexican holiday. Next time around I'd like to go to Patzquaro in Michoacan or Oaxaca for the Day to see how it is they do it there.