Monday, September 29, 2014

food and colour

Mexico is super colourful. And Coyoacán, a beautiful colonial part of the city of which I've talked a number of times in the past, particularly so. 

These are some photos from around the Independence Day festivities.  Above is a tree covered in knit thingies, and below are my beloved quesadillas from the Coyoacán Market (Mercado de Coyoacán). And, by the way, even though quesadilla is derived from the word "queso" (cheese), in Mexico City it's not rare at all to ask for a quesadilla without cheese.  In fact, chances are you'll be asked if you want yours with or without cheese if you don't specify that yourself!

Anyhow, the first one is squash blossom (flor de calabaza) with green salsa.  The second one is button mushrooms (champiñones) with red salsa, and the last one is my favourite, corn smut (huitlacoche) with green salsa.  On corn tortillas.   Too good.

Friday, September 26, 2014

queering it up in Mexico City's centre!

Our second weekend in Mexico City - a couple of weeks ago - was more proof of how fun this city can be, as we did some queer bar hopping in Mexico City's Historic Centre!

This city has become pretty open.  Marriage equality has been a reality for a number of years now. The National Council for Discrimination Prevention has done plenty of campaigning to educate people about discrimination against ethnic, linguistic and sexual minorities, among many others. There isn't a single day I don't see a same-gender couple holding hands or even kissing on the street. And Mexico City's government is not shy about talking about gender, transsexuality, native peoples and the like in public spaces like the subway.   All in all, there is a visible progress and openness.

So it's no surprise that one of Mexico City's streets in the historic core - República de Cuba Street - is full of queer bars.  BTW, I prefer to call them queer as opposed to gay, as it's obvious that, though the clientele is mostly male and gay, the places are welcoming of everybody.  And one of my buddies was up for showing us a night of good, queer fun right there.

The (bad quality) photo above was taken at our first stop.  Well, technically, it was the second, because we had had a drink at another queer-friendly bar in a different part of town, but it was our first stop in the historic core, and it was way more interesting than the first place.   Anyhow, this place is called El Marrakech.  And it had a couple of rather peculiar pieces.  The first one was the hood of a Beetle Volkswagen (at one point a ubiquitous sight in the city) with a bump and with the word "Putazo!" written on it.  "Putazo" means, in its more common sense, "a strong hit" or "a strong blow".  In another sense, it could be interpreted as "überfag"or "überhomo".   Besides the Beetle hood, there was the life-sized photograph above, of a guy with countless gay slurs on his skin, most of them truly offensive.  

What wes there to like about these two items? in a place like this? Well, in a culture that, despite all the progress made, is still a bit homophobic and queerphobic, these items symbolize - whether the owner intended it or not - an important appropriation of slurs, which is an empowering action often performed by discriminated minorities.  Unfortunately, this appropriation of slurs was simply beyond the comprehension of countless - mostly straight - Mexicans who, during the soccer World Cup, ardently and aggressively defended their right to scream "puto" ("faggot", "fag") to the goalies of opposing teams...

Anyhow, social discussion aside, the place was packed, the music was good and varied if a bit too loud, the feeling somewhat lefty and alternative, no posing whatsoever was to be seen, and local beer absolutely plentiful.  And people were having the best of times, even climbing unto the bar to dance! Apparently, there are stripper and drag queen shows, but we moved to our next stop before we say any...

La Purísima, our second stop, is a slightly more upscale (or less downscale?) version of El Marra (as people usually call El Marrakech).  And the theme is genius - the Holy Virgin Mary!  There are images of the virgin, crosses, sacred hearts, and yet another sign of appropriation of a slur - a big neon sign spelling "puto" in capital letters.  And lots of fun, of course.  By now we had had two beers, and a mezcal.  

Our last stop - and it's a shame I didn't take a good pic - was El Viena, a cantina that exists, apparently, since the 1950's and where gay people would go to for a simple beer.  Today, it's a place with a clientele that goes from the youngest legally possible all the way to the oldest who'd still enjoy going out for a night of fun.  And there's plenty of dancing here, mostly Mexican and Latin-American rhythms. Needless to say, the place is both super friendly and very flirty.  And it's got a super fair share of great dancers!  And we had another mezcal.  (that stuff's become so popular!) 

And that was just three of I don't know how many queer places in the area!  I'm liking this city's evolution.  Looking forward to seeing more!

Shana Tova u Metuka

Yesterday night was probably the first time anybody in my family had a Rosh Hashana seder (a Jewish New Year dinner) since either the late 19th century in southeastern Ukraine or since the early 20th century in China.  I say "probably" because, obviously, I have no hard data to back that up.  And questioning the dead to see if they had abandoned the practice altogether or were just very secretive about it is, well, impossible.  At least when you're an atheist.  [SIGH]     

Nevertheless, with all the awkwardness implied in doing something for the first time ever, with zero first hand experience and hopefully enough reading done, with limited ingredients and all the restrictions imposed by not living yet at your own place, I did what I could.  "It's the thought that counts" has never rang more true.  

We set the table.  We placed some green apple slices and a small bowl with maple syrup; a salad made with beets, pomegranate, cilantro, onion, lime juice, balsamic vinegar, cranberry juice and salt; a bottle of red wine; and the only round bread we could get our hands on - cranberry bagels.  

And so, with the sweetness of maple and pomegranates symbolizing the wish for a sweet and joyous year; the round bagels symbolizing the cycle of days, seasons and years; and soothing Persian music by Mahsa Vahdat as background (a nice coincidence, given the pomegranate and the Babylonian influence on the celebration), we wished each other a shana tova u metuka, a good and sweet year.  The significance of the coincidence of this celebration, of our somewhat rough landing in Mexico City, of yet another beginning of a new life for us, and of sweet flavours tempering tart ones, is not lost on me. 

A good and sweet year!
 שנה טובה ומתוקה‎
Anyada buena, para munchos anyos!
אַ גוט געבענטשט יאָר

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Paella and the Roma Norte

One of our friends just happens to cook a fantastic paella.  A paella so good, he says - and why not believe him - he won a prize for best taste at a paella competition in Spain itself.  And no matter what, his paella was truly good.  How do I know?  Well, I removed all the animal bits - the mussels, the pork, the shrimp, the sausage, the "what the hell is that thing" - and all I was left with was with rice, red peppers, and string beans.  And it was oh still sooo tasty!  Plus, this was at La Chicha, a place in the Roma Norte, a district of Mexico City full of big old houses, a few pretty tree-lined squares, and tons of cafés, bistros and interesting and neighbourhood-style corners.  Not to be missed, neither Paco's paella nor this part of town. 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Fàilte gu Alba: lakes, castles and Butoh

I've finally found the time to edit some more photos and write more about that amazing anniversary trip to Scotland! Yay!  So, let's waste no more time!

the road to the sea

Our third day in Skye we decided to drive south from Torrin to the tony village of Elgol (Ealaghol), to catch a boat to go to a more isolated part of southwestern Skye.   The drive, of course, was really pretty.  It was a short drive, about an hour long, but the usual ritual of driving a bit, spotting a lake (or a hill or some other sight), stopping, admiring, photographing, and shaking our heads in disbelief at how many times we were doing this, repeated itself like all other days. 

Though near, reaching Elgol itself requires either good driving skills, or an automatic car. Fortunately, we had the latter, because the very last stretch is up and down some rather steep and twisting roads.  The views, of course, more than compensate whatever stress you might have felt during the climb and descent.  Elgol lies by Loch Scavaig.  And why don't I let the photo below say it all:

the cauldron of waters

Once in Elgol, we waited for a bit and then we finally boarded our boat to another part of Skye, to visit another Loch: Loch Coruisk (Loch Coire Uisg), which means the cauldron of waters in Scottish Gaelic.  As was usually the case during our wandering through Scotland, the way to the destination was as fantastic as the destination itself.  The clear skies, the shores of the isle, the hills rising in the background.  And, the icing on the cake - seals!  Aplenty! Basking in the glorious summer sun.  How clichéd and obvious, but it's just so much more beautiful to see these creatures in the wild!

And once there, it was just a short hike and we finally reached Loch Coruisk, at the foot the The Cuillin mountains.   Yeah, yet another stunning picture perfect place.  Gorgeous lake with pretty islets and surrounded by mountains; quiet and calm...  We strolled around, we took off our shirts (it was so sunny and warm!), I picked up some small flowers (which were everywhere!) for a last shoot of my beard weaved with them, I swam in the crystal clear and refreshingly cold waters, and we had a final peaceful long look at the lake from one of the mountain's slopes.   I mean, we knew we were in for a nice surprise at Loch Coruisk but this exceeded our expectations by so much!   

Of course, the boat-ride back to Elgol was as pretty, of not even more so (maybe the light was different?) than the ride to Loch Coruisk:

the castle by the lake

We had learned our lesson from previous days, so after our morning explorations we headed back to the B&B for a nap.  And in the early evening we drove east, for our last castle: Eilean Donan (Eilean Donnain).  And what a great idea that was.   The castle was already closed so, instead of swarming with visitors, it was basically deserted.  And the evening light shone on it beautifully, casting the castle's reflection on the water and giving the blue in the Scottish flag - next to the castle - a specially vibrant hue.  We had been looking for exactly this: our castle by the water, and just the right time of day.  This was as good as it could get.

sunset moods

Back on Skye, our very hungry selves had to have dinner, which included a Guinness - my husband's - and, to balance my huz's Irish choice, I had some beer from the Orkney islands, which lie north of Scotland.  After all, where on earth besides here was I going to find this???

Happy and grateful for our last day on Skye, we were simply heading back home.  The sun was coming down, the sky's colours were changing, the light was softening... When we drove past Cill Chriosd (Christ's Church, or Kilchrist) on the road to our B&B, we decided to stop.  It was just so peaceful...  

And, as at other times, my huz realized this was the moment to do Butō.   He donned his black braided wig, his skirt, and amongst the abandoned church's myriad flowers and crumbling walls he did one last emotional moving - as in "involving movement" - meditation.  For me, these are some of the best moments to see him perform, where the time and the place find us and seize him... 

The final drive for our final night at our B&B in Torrin was the best of our whole stay in Skye.  I stopped countless times, took numerous photos, and ignored swarms of midgets (not everything's perfect, right?).   Loch Cill Chriosd, just after the church, was the last an prettiest we'd see on this beautiful island of Skye.  

Our next stop would be Glasgow, where I had an absolute blast!  But that'll be my next post.  

Friday, September 19, 2014

No está chido discriminar

Part of a campaign combatting discrimination of Mexicans of native ancestry and languages.  The bracketed text reads:

"Because 2 is more than 1, let's join against racism.  #It'sUncoolToDiscriminate"

That's followed by a translation into a native language of the hashtagged phrase, and by a basic description of a speaker of that language. 

Pretty cool.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

100% Mexican Nom Nom

My first weekend in Mexico City saw me enjoying a fantastic and very Mexican meal with many things I adore!

- Micheladas, which is beer with lime juice and a salt rim.
- Huitlacoche, which is a sort of fungus that grows on corn. It's an acquired taste, for sure, and I absolutely love it!
- Flor de calabaza, or squash blossom.  Mix it with some mushrooms, some onion... delish!
- Nopal tortillas, or tortillas made from cactus.  Can't have a meal like this without tortillas to make tacos, eh?
- Nopal envuelto en hierba santa, or cactus wrapped in holy leaf, which gives it an incredible aroma and flavour.
- Salsas!  Red salsa, green salsa, super spicy, super tasty.
- And, of course, avocado.  

And afterwards, how about a Oaxaca (that's an incredibly culturally rich state of Mexico) chocolate sorbet in traditional Coyoacán (a very colonial part of Mexico City)?  So rich, like a brownie made ice-cream, but vegan!  Oh my!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Diversity MX

My first few days in Mexico City gave me great satisfaction.  Absolutely effortlessly and at random I came across an ad for MICGénero, an international film festival with a focus on gender; an informative poster about trans people; and publicity for DHFest, a festival about diversity with film, lectures and various events about Mexico's different cultures.  Frankly, I felt thrilled, and excited. This is a good beginning.  

Friday, September 12, 2014

goodbye Toronto, hello Mexico City

The last day of August was our last day in our beloved Toronto.  We had nothing left to hold us there - no job, no home, no belongings save our suitcases...  We may have done this three times before already, but you can never get rid of this very strange feeling of being in a most uncertain limbo, with sadness for what won't be anymore and nervousness about what the future will hold.

So what do you do when the present is hurling you mercilessly towards the future?  You accept inevitability, that's what you do.  So I ordered one of my favourite beers - a Wellington Imperial Russian Stout:

We toasted in the plane with Italian sparkling wine (sorry about the Pringles, but that's all the snacks they had!):

And we finally saw through the window the unmistakable luminous sprawl that Mexico City is. Home, no doubt.  But not quite home.  Home was Toronto.  And before Toronto, home was Beijing. And before Beijing - Beirut.  And before Beirut - Mexico City.  We've come full circle.  We're not the same ones that left, and this is not the same city we left.  Home, yet not home yet.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Ashkenaz 2014

I have a dear friend who, after hearing what I was planning for my last weekend in Toronto, said "I love how ritualistic you are."   That caught me by surprise, as I had never given a thought to that.  But now looking back at that weekend, I can't but grin at his accurateness.

As it happens, there was one last festival we could participate in before we left - Toronto's Jewish culture festival, Ashkenaz.  It takes place only every two years, so it was sheer luck that I got to see three editions  - 2010, 2012 and 2014.  I've always had a blast at the festival, and that it would take place precisely during my last weekend in the T Dot was too much of a coincidence!

Before I get to this year's events, I want to assure you: this is a festival for everybody.  It's a celebration of Jewish culture, no doubt.  If you have any real Jewish links, this is one fine opportunity to have a good time.   But if you don't identify as Jewish but still enjoy music, food, dance, discussion... this is most definitely a place for you too.  


When I participated in my first event where people danced in groups (it was a Breton festival in Beijing many, many years ago) I discovered how much fun that was for me.  Ashkenaz is no different, except perhaps that the steps are simpler! LOL.    This year they invited Steve Weintraub, who's been at the other editions too, to guide us through a series of traditional dances and horas.  You have to try this once, honest! Eastern European melodies are fantastic for this!  

OK, so, no, I confess, we didn't have any traditional Jewish food at all.  What happened was that there was a stand with Beaver Tails!  And before you faint, this is a pastry, ok?  Called a beaver tail because it resembles one, that's all.  It's a pretty simple one, too, but with cinnamon, sugar and lemon... it's pure heaven! And we decided that, after all, we could find Jewish food in way more places than we could ever find Beaver Tails, so Quebec (home of this kind of pastry) was the winner here.    Well, my taste buds were the winner, right?

My stomach happy, we rushed for a lecture called "Black Sabbath: Blues and Jews", with Aaron Kula, from the Florida Atlantic University.  I already knew a bit about the influence American Jews had on Blues.  But I didn't have an inkling on the influence African American bands had on Klezmer. Nor had I ever heard African American Blues singers use Yiddish or Hebrew, either!  And a rendition of Eli Eli by Johnny Mathis we listened to during the lecture practically moved us to tears (you can listen to it here).  This was one eye opening lecture.  I love how I get to learn all this stuff at this festival.

An end, and a beginning
There was one very specific moment I was waiting for - Havdallah.  That is, a ritual that marks the end of Shabbes (Shabbat), the end of the week, and the beginning of a new one.  My very first havdallah was in 2010, at Ashkenaz 2010. It was intimate.  It was welcoming.  It was warm.  And it was fun, too (that was one funny rabbi we had that time).  To be celebrating it again here where I experienced it first... for it to mark not just the beginning of a new week, but of a new life for us in another land... for me to have discovered a Jewish identity in this city and through its Jewish community... this was incredibly emotional and meaningful...

The end of that night was absolutely fabulous.   There was David Buchbinder's Odessa/Havana, with a great mix of Jewish and Cuban rhythms.   Actually, this is one of the things that make this festival so fun - with Jewish people living basically everywhere, there's always great music that mixes the local and the Jewish!

Obviously, this photo here has nothing to to with Jewish culture (well, at least not as far as I know!), but between the previous group and the next, we rushed to a stand for a last go at Toronto's vegan hot dogs with some killer fries!  Yay! 

And last, but not least by any means, The Lemon Bucket Orkestra!   You have to listen to this band. Really.  Here's the link to their website.  They have this amazing and super energetic Balkan rhythms that get you off your seat and jumping up and down in a frenzy!  It's incredible how they had the energy to go through the entire show!  We had heard them before, on an impromptu street performance, and I had bought two of the albums.  Seeing them live again, and for a whole concert, was simply brilliant! (I mean, nothing beats seeing an artist perform live, right?)

All in all, this was the perfect ending for a very happy 5 years in Toronto.   I consider myself really, really fortunate, to have been able to mark the end of a cycle with dance, song, food and a quiet moment for reflection.   

The video below is not great, it lacks quality, but it shows a bit of everything I mentioned here (except the lecture).   It stands here as a memory of a happy day, a happy and sad end, and a hopeful and uncertain beginning.  

Sunday, September 07, 2014

the very last gifts from Toronto

I still have a couple of posts pending from our very last couple of days in Toronto (plus the last posts from our trip to Scotland, darn!)... but be patient, you'll be seeing posts from Chilangolandia - slang for Mexico City - in the near future.

Toronto is a city we experienced fully during our five years there.  Here are three things that were, pretty much, the very last ones (that is, in the last day or two before leaving):

A good bagel! With delicious olives, tomato, pickles and cucumber.  A very simple pleasure, indeed. And how I loved it at a place we used to go to:  What a Bagel

A funny shop called Mindzai with Japanese and weird items , and where we had bought - guess what - some queer (as in LGBT) matrioshka dolls!  That was before the Sochi Olympics when all this homophobic legislation was being passed in Russia, so there was no way we were not getting those dolls!

And best of all - a glimpse at autumn colours!  Summer was short, and with too many too cold days, and that made trees start changing colour way ahead of schedule! Bad for summer lovers, but a moving and meaningful thing to see...