Saturday, December 27, 2014

a sheynem dank, 2014!

Our life tends to be somewhat chaotic.  We sometimes move country and city.  We leave friends behind.  We make new ones.  Life is constant change for us.  Which is good.  I like it.  But it also means I really do need sit back and take a look at what the year brought for us, to appreciate all its complexity, to be thankful, and to remember what's important.  We could also say that my memory works in a very UNchronological way, and that this is the only tool I have of putting some order inside my head?

my inner polyglot errant

Though we didn't travel as much as we like - well, in all honestly, we'd never be able to afford travelling as much as we'd like! -, the two trips we did make were truly amazing.  Seeing Nova Scotia in January meant stunning landscapes and impossibly quaint towns under the unique ambiance of the Atlantic winter and, basically, having them all for ourselves (who'd be that crazy to travel there in the middle of winter, right?).  And Scotland in summer became, undoubtedly, one those trips that'll enter our relationship mythology as an impossibly beautiful and magical bonding experience.

I feel a little guilty including South Korea here, because it was a work trip and the huz couldn't join... But  anyhow, though short, it was incredibly eye-opening, and left me wanting more - and convinced I need to take the huz there someday!

And language-wise, I finally (finally!) got to take the Icelandic lessons I had always wanted! Super tough, but fun! And I've probably forgotten a good deal by now... but still, nothing beats trudging through snow at -20 °C (-4 °F) to practice twisting your tongue to a language still very similar to the one of the sagas, right? I was really lucky I was in a place like Toronto with a fairly decent Icelandic presence.  And talking about difficult languages, thanks to my trip to Korea (and my many hours in planes), now I can at least read hangul (the letters) and say a few expressions! A bit of Icelandic and Korean? Not bad!

my inner yid

I would have never guessed yiddishkeyt would enter my life as strongly as it did this year.  Maybe knowing that I'd leave such a Jewish-friendly city like Toronto really forced me to ratchet things up a notch or two and to make some decisions. Maybe I just had to leave all the ingredients I'd been gathering for many years cook and settle inside long enough.  Whichever way, I not only enjoyed Toronto's Jewish cultural life to the full, with film festivals, Yiddish lectures, Ashkenaz fests, café-cabaret-brunches, klezmer concerts, hora dancing... I also publicly and decidedly identified with that part of my heritage that originated so long ago in Southeastern Ukraine.

And, once in Mexico, I found myself with plenty of firsts: my first Rosh Hashana seder, my first Hanukka, my first mezuzah...  I'm usually always doing something, hurrying somewhere, being with someone, and these new rituals that ask for a moment of quiet, for a simple pause... they're really welcome. Plus, quite frankly, methinks I don't look that bad in a yarmulke, eh?

my inner queer

Now, what a year this was!  I'd have to be totally insane to complain.  I don't even know where to start!  That World Pride took place in Toronto meant I immersed myself in the queerest possible world ever. Not only was it the best I had partied in a very long time, it was the most I'd ever celebrated gender, sexual and orientation diversity and expression.  Madly!  That and a number of other things (film festivals, porn events, performance artists, inspiring writers) solidified my staunch conviction in the need for diversity and freedom. All the trans people I met, however briefly, during 2014, left me convinced that through their tenacity, honesty, humour, outness and loving this is becoming a better place. This was the year I decided to try and drop labels as much as possible, and made it a strategy to seek the more alternative crowds.  Because life was so much richer that way. At least for me.    

my inner Canuck

Excuse me for appropriating the title of "Canuck", but that's probably the best descriptor! I enjoy nature greatly, and 2014 sated my thirst for green, for mountains, for water and flowers.  Scotland, of course, was the highlight.  But even Toronto and its islands and parks gave me aplenty, including a spring that exploded crazily after an incredibly harsh winter.  And talking about winter, my inner Canuck totally enjoyed it!  I successfully drove through a snowstorm.  I did cross-country skiing!  I saw temperatures of -44 °C (-47.2 °F).  I walked on a frozen lake and on a frozen canal.  And I enjoyed spring's first warm sun-rays like you'd do an oasis in the desert.  The most brutal winter in a long time, and I was there, and I made the most out of it.  So many bragging rights! (of course, I don't "brag", but it's so fun to add this to one's list of experiences, isn't it!?)

my inner Post-Modern-Hippie?

No question about it, this was a year of love love love.  Now that I'm in Mexico, I got to finally experience again the true caring of my family in person through food, and toasts, and parties, and coffee, and museums, and long talks...  That was real food for the soul.

It was a year of bonding with friends, too, through gruelling cross-country ski sessions, through exhausting obstacle races, over home-brewed beer, over Chinese food, over vegan cupcakes. Note to self - food and adventure do friendships a whole lotta good.

And it was a year of enjoying and meeting new sweethearts/beaux/SOs (frigging labels!). The sweet and doting ginger too gentle to do sarcasm and too caring not to rush to my encounter when I felt depressed. The kind and loving transman who pushed me to my athletic limits - and who easily surpassed them, but with absolute grace - and who arranged for a candle-lit patio farewell. The genuine and free blue-eyed dancer with whom I lay in the sun on a romantic barge-tour, who's unafraid to love and unafraid to say it out loud. Good people that took me as I was, maddening quirks and all; good people through whom I discovered new sides to my own self; loving people who were gentle, non-judgemental, giving, and transparently honest; amazing people that brought light, warmth, a better me, and excitement.

Truly awesome gifts from 2014.

the huz

Last, but never least, the huz.  Honestly, I look back through 2014 and all I can see is this handsome, strong, artistic man standing by me.  Notwithstanding my weird and challenging nature, my changing interests, my globetrotting lifestyle, my porous heart. Growing, cultivating his almost too broad artistic interests, letting me enjoy his Butoh by frozen lakes and atop soaring ranges and even, after tending to everything his creative mind demands, still making sure I'm warm, fed, and happy.  After all I put him through this year, including tearing him away from one of the places he loved most, I see someone who yet again proved his determination, loyalty, honesty, and solid true love.  I'm one lucky bastard.   

So big, big thanks, 2014.  Totally.

P.S.  That photo on top at the very beginning of the post?  It's from an exhibition in Toronto this year. People from very different walks of life were asked to pose together.  And I think it represents wonderfully the idea of risking doing something new, meeting someone different, and putting yourself outside your comfort zone.  There was a lot of that for me this year.  And that was good.  

Friday, December 26, 2014

a merry Christmas, Mexican style

You might already know this, but in Mexico, the big Christmas day reunion actually takes place on Christmas Eve. That's the time to get together with family (biological, chosen, or both), to eat until you're ready to burst, to toast and drink to your heart's content, and to go to bed pretty late (dinner usually starts after 10pm, sometimes as late as 11 or midnight!). 

And after so many years abroad, it was time to partake in one big, family stuff-your-face affair!  Yes, sorry, another food post.  Well, mostly!

So, what does one have at one of my family's Christmas dinners?  Well, it's a pretty mixed affair, as you'll see:


I must have talked about romeros (or, more affectionately, romeritos) before... Anyhow, this is typical from central Mexico, and it has a strong link to indigenous cuisine, as its made with a type of seepweed (a sort of shrub with edible foliage), mole (a thick, spicy sauce made from countless ingredients, including chocolate, various kinds of chilli peppers, tomato, almonds, clove, and whatnot), tiny potatoes, shrimp patties, and nopales (edible cactus).  You eat them with either maize tortillas or with white bread.  It must be quite an acquired taste.  And the vegan ones my sister made for me... wow, I could never have enough of that!  

Turkey and Casserole

This must be a custom imported from the US (I mean, we're neighbours, right?), because I can't remember having this when I was very very young, but it did enter our Christmas dinner soon. This time they served it with applesauce. Obviously, I didn't try this.  Nor do I find it particularly exciting. But it is interesting that it forms part of our traditions now. So that's why it appears here.  OK?  Oh, and since we're importing other traditions, see that tiny casserole in the lower right corner? I brought a set from Canada! So my sister did this Canadian-French recipe with cherry tomatoes and puff pastry (it was a Canadian-French set) - Now, that was super tasty! And now we have a Canadian-French tradition to balance the US turkey. Neat!


This one I used to love before I was vegan.  Though its origin is indisputably Spanish, it got bettered - in my humble opinion - in Mexico.  It's cod cooked with tomato, a bit of chilli, lots of olives, potatoes, onion and I don't know what else (some people are so secretive with their recipes!). The Mexican twist? You add banana peppers. Perfect! Frankly, even as a vegan, I must say this is super yummy. Or maybe it's all the memories it brings back, because I did grab a tiny bit to try, and the texture, smell and taste brought me this well-being feeling of being surrounded by loving people during a happy time. 


This, my friends, besides the vegan romeros, was more proof of my sister's love for me. These things here were very simple dumplings my mom used to make for Christmas and Christmas only. She used to call them "panecillos". This recipe she learned from her grandmother from Odessa, who - according to my research - was, in order of probability a) a Karaite Jew from Odessa (I'd place my money on this option, definitely), b) a Crimean Tatar, or c) a mixed race Turkic-Russian. Anyhow, these definitely go back to recipes from the area, whether you call them kybynlar (if she was a Karaite Jew), chiburekki (if she was a Crimean Tatar), or pirozhki (if she was a Turkic-Russian).  I hadn't had these in over 13 years, and I always talk about them.  And my sweet sister thought of making me happy by making them for the first time ever completely by herself, and on top of that she made vegan ones with some mushroom based filling! What a fantastic surprise. And I ate so many, sooo many. Nom nom!

Vegan marzipan and cake

Definitely a Spanish tradition. And I barely managed to fit in my stomach a slice of the vegan wine-infused Christmas cake my sister made as well as a few pieces of pure almond marzipan. Too good. Too good.


Now, exchanging gifts during Christmas Eve seems quite common nowadays. In my family we never used to do that because my father insisted gift-giving during Christmas Eve or on Christmas was a "foreign US tradition", and the only time there were gifts at home was when the three wise men ("los tres reyes magos") brought them on the morning of January 6th (a very Spanish tradition). But, those of us who exchanged or gave gifts solely on January 6th were and are a diminishing minority, and social pressure means gift giving on Christmas Eve and/or Christmas, as well as on January 6th. Then again, it was fun to give my sister and her family gifts, and to get some in return! Including a basket full of yummy goodies and a bottle of mezcal! Wow! 

Now, a tiny twist that required a tiny dose of cruelty. I like to surprise my husband. It's about the only time ever I do lie to him. So, during dinner,  I convinced him I had no Christmas gift for him (that's the cruelty), because I supposedly thought it'd be better if we went shopping on the 25th to let him choose himself. Truth was I had indeed got him a few gifts, smuggled them home, hid them under and behind the tree where he couldn't see... and when we came back from my sister's place, I "accidentally" dropped my ring under the tree and asked him to help me look for it. At which time he found his gift! Under our Chinese tree, with a Danish elf at the top, flanked by two Icelandic trolls, surrounded by Canadian and Mexican baubles. So rewarding.  Absolutely priceless.

A very merry Christmas indeed. With good food. Good people. Good gifts. Lots of love. And a successful surprise. 

P.S. BTW, we can home loaded with plenty for "recalentado"!  That is, leftovers for reheating and eating the coming days! And most of this stuff does taste better after a day or two, eh? Yay!

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Juan Pablo Villa

Juan Pablo Villa.  We first heard this guy's music while in Canada.  Not live, but from some online videos and pieces. He had gathered musical traditions from different peoples, like cardenche singers from the north of Mexico, or Inuit throat singers from Canada and Alaska.  And the result was, frankly, deeply moving.

Sunday we had the chance to hear him live for the first time, at Mexico City's Centro Nacional de las Artes.  He came through as authentic as he sounded.  And his canto cardenche moved me to - almost - tears.

A must if you can get hold of him (click here to go to his MySpace page).        

Monday, December 22, 2014

traditions traditions traditions

Unsurprisingly, the holiday season offers plenty of opportunities for eating (btw, if I keep publishing about food here, I might have to re-brand this as a food blog instead of a travel blog! LOL).  And when it comes to holiday eating, it also gives you a chance to get close to tradition.

So yesterday, at a family lunch that lasted for... some seven hours - yes, in Mexico, holiday feasts are quite the lengthy affairs! - it was nice to have again a few things I used to love as child, like...

Dried fruit and marzipan!

What holiday season could be complete without these two?  Mexico no doubt inherited its love for dried fruit and marzipan from the Spaniards.  I think I had like 5 or 6 pieces of marzipan myself, it was almost embarrassing seeing all that wrapping crumpled next to my plate!


Yes, I'll admit it, as a child my parents didn't mind us having a bit of alcoholic beverages during the holidays.  Cider, eggnog, anis... Just a bit.  But a bit, nevertheless.  But yesterday was particularly special, as the anis we drank was made by an aunt following a recipe from her husband, from Spain, who passed away years ago.  It was thick, sweet.  And definitely very characteristic.   

Of course, a 7 hour family reunion included a lot more than these two.  But I'll leave some of the others for another post.  Here I just wanted to reminisce a bit about old, sweet flavours from my childhood, during an afternoon of being close to family.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Land of the Morning Calm - the whole bibimbap

And of course, in the spirit of doing the necessary housekeeping before December 31st, I also wanted to have this post with all the entries about my quick trip to Japan and South Korea.  What an eye-opening trip that was.  So grateful!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Fàilte gu Alba - beginning to end

By now you should know I like putting all posts related to a single trip in one place, as I usually have them scattered through a number of weeks, or even months.

Our anniversary trip to Scotland was one of our best ever, and I didn't want 2014 to end without going back to those good memories.

So here they are, all nine of them!

Friday, December 19, 2014

a bright and warm festival of lights

Tuesday marked the first day of Hanukkah.  Since pretty much ascertaining the Jewish origin of my mother's paternal ancestors in 2012, and acknowledging my identification with cultural jewishness mid-2014 - mind you, the process has been a lot longer and rich, this is just the gist of things -, these have been some definitely unusually interesting months.  

First of all, ritualistic me has found great pleasure in the many Jewish rituals and the symbolism that form Jewish culture - viewed more as "yiddishkeyt"*, I guess. The mezuzah at the door gives me the opportunity to take a moment, to be grateful for what's waiting inside home, or to look forward to what's coming outside. The sweet foods of Rosh Hashana remind us of the sweet and joyous things I've had during the year and of the ones that may come in the year ahead.  And now, Hanukkah.

Hanukkah means many things to many people.  Symbolically, and as its other name implies - "Festival of Lights" -, there's a simple wish for a bright, warm time with your friends and loved ones.  As for the religious interpretation, well, you're better off reading or hearing it from some other source more attuned to the subject than from this still unrepentant atheist.  Then there's a more cultural interpretation - Hanukkah represents a moment of fighting for your cultural identity, of asserting and defending who you are and what you identify with (now, using violence to achieve that, as the Maccabees did, is most definitely not acceptable today, but what can we do? all old texts are full of great messages mixed with appalling violence...).  

And so it seems all too fitting for secular me to reclaim the rituals of that almost-forgotten part of my family, a culture that is strangely intuitively part of me, celebrate the right of all of us to claim and defend and manifest our identities, and welcome friends for a bright Hanukkah with heart-warming things like mulled wine (with a touch of Quebec, for our beloved Canada), latkes (as a token of respect for those Eastern European roots), and ponchkes-cum-berliners filled with sweetness.       

So, happy Hanukkah, to friends near and far.  Those of you who are far, you're missed.  Those of you who are near, thanks for bringing you warmth and love to our lives.

!חג חנוכה שמח

Monday, December 15, 2014

Shtot fun Palatsn

Last weekend we took this very unique tour around the historic centre of the city.  It was organized by the Justo Sierra Synagogue (a place we had visited before and about which I've already written before) and by Idish Vinkl (a group promoting the practice of Yiddish in Mexico City).  And what do you get from the - very serious - joint effort of these two?  Shtot fun Palatsn (שטאָט פֿוּן פּאַלאַצן), a historic tour of Mexico City from the perspective of the immigrants who wrote in Yiddish about it!


The Jewish immigrants from the 1920's wasted no time in setting up newspapers.  I mean, most of them didn't have a command of Spanish, and the Yiddish newspapers not only kept them informed about life around them and abroad, but kept them in touch with each other, as plenty of services and businesses had their ads there too, obviously.  And they were set with no small effort, sometimes having to resort to buying old linotypes from, say, New York, in order to keep costs low and the newspapers afloat.

What amazed me the most, though, was to realize that the last Mexican Yiddish newspapers were still printing in the 1980's!  Whoa!

Below: Di Shtime (די שטימע), or The Voice, and Dos Vort (דאָס וואָרט), or The Word (this last one taken at the actual place where some of the newspapers were printed!).


Ashkenazi immigrants to Mexico City from the 1920's had another thing in common besides Yiddish - a very high respect for education.  So barely a year or two after they started arriving, they founded a school!  Granted, with atheists and both Ashkenazi and Sephardi orthodox as members of the community, it seems the only thing they could agree to at the very beginning was in having a place for children to go and be.  One can only imagine the epic and heated debates they must have had trying to decide on the syllabus!

Still, they managed.  And we visited the two first sites of the school.  Super neat!

Below:  A photo from one of the classes.  A grade certificate in both Yiddish and Spanish.  And one of the doorways of the building where the very first school was.


My favourite part!   Of course, Jewish immigrants were still fond of theatre like they were back in Europe.  So it's no surprise that they would still have plays, in Yiddish, in Mexico City!   And we even got to visit one of them - the Teatro del Pueblo, which is under renovation - as part of the tour! 

Below: An ad for a play.  And the Teatro del Pueblo (!)


Mexico was a great country in many ways.  It seems the lack of crude winters made most of these Jewish immigrants very happy, and in general there was nothing like the angry antisemitism they had faced back home.  They formed "Mexicanization" clubs to learn the language and customs, and they also participated in plenty of civic and national events.  Still, antisemitism does rise its ugly head all-too easily and, soon enough, the Mexico City of the first half of the 20th century saw its own antisemitic demonstrations asking for the expelling of all Jews.

Nevertheless, Mexico in general was still pretty accepting.  And Mexico City was an intense enough experience that we have quite a few texts about the city written in Yiddish.   The book you see below is a collection of poems, and the specific one you see there is called Tortillería (טאָרטיעריא), or Tortilla Bakery/Factory, which Tamara Gleason, from Idish Vinkl, read for us in Yiddish at La Potosina, a cantina (bar) on the then very Jewish street of José María and where no doubt many from the early Jewish community went to for some camaraderie in this new world.  

And, of course, people also fell in love, got married, and often would have to do so without their parents and grand-parents, who either had the immigration doors closed to them, or had faced horrible fates back in Europe.  Still, life had to go on, happiness had to be rebuilt, the very first official synagogue erected, and the cycle of life restarted.

Below:  Mexico City's first synagogue, a pan-denominational one - a small community can't afford to stand divided, at least not at the very beginning.  And a wedding invitation, in Spanish and Yiddish, at Mexico City's second synagogue.

There is plenty more I could write about, mind you.  Mónica and Tamara, our tour guides, took us up and down, inside and outside, told us stories, read us poems, had us singing in Yiddish, and made it an amazing 5 hours (yes, FIVE, and they still had so much to show and share!).  I love it when I get to discover these totally unexpected aspects of Mexico City and see how it reveals itself as incredibly more complex and interesting than anybody could have thought.  Alas, the tour's in Spanish, so you better have a nice command of it (or - in extremis - of Yiddish!), because this tour is absolutely worth it.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Chilaquiles divorciados!

No, I swear, people in Mexico City don't eat typically Mexican food all the time, every single day. But I do see it appearing on my table far more often than I expected!  LOL 

That thing you see - in my oh so elegant take away tray - are chilaquiles divorciados with frijoles refritos.   Which means, tortilla bits covered with sauce (real, good, tasty Mexican sauce, not the salsa you get at restaurants abroad).  They're divorced (divorciados), which means red sauce is used for one half and green sauce for the other half.  And they came with refried beans (usually made from black beans prepared into a rather dense paste).  And some red onion.   Pretty vegan, super tasty. And yeah, so stereotypical.  But totes nom nom nevertheless.  A job well done, El Hijo de Don Toribio.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

a tour in the Zona Rosa

Last week it was Zona Rosa's turn for an LGBTQ tour, similar to the one we made around República de Cuba back in September.

So, the Zona Rosa (or Pink Zone).  This part of Mexico City has been considered a queer area since... well, since I have memory.  Of course, as Mexico City has become more liberal and progressive, both in laws and attitudes, this area has acquired a notable reputation for tolerance, not only of queer people but of urban tribes.

Obviously, we could only do a few of the places, there are so many!  And the fact that they're in such proximity to each other and that few charge for entry means you can easily do bar/club hopping, which for me would be one of Zona Rosa's principal strong points.

Among the numerous places you can go to, there's...

Papi. The name says it all.  Almost.  A very young crowd.  Mostly local pop.  And the occasional "daddy" (papi).  

Nicho.  Fancy bears?    

El Vaquero.  Perfect for you to strut around in your cowboy boots and hat.  Shame I forgot to take a photo!

La Botica.  I've mentioned this place before.  A mezcalería (that is, they have a huge mezcal selection).  A karaoke bar.  With the occasional drag queen show (which includes singing karaoke). Spicy toasted broad beans.  And orange slices with chile powder to accompany your mezcal.  One of my favourite places.  

You may or may not like some of the bars.  Or the music.  Or the beer selection.  But the fact that you can freely walk around without having the tiniest worry in the world about being identified as queer is, frankly, exhilarating and, sadly, still a rare thing in most of the world.