Friday, October 31, 2014

the perfect dictatorship


A film about endemic corruption, unpunished murder, manipulation by the media, ruthless ambition, irresponsible ignorance... All based on real events from the last few years.  It's a comedy, alright, and it makes you laugh. Until you can't kid yourself anymore and feel the chills and the anger of knowing that this may be fiction, but barely so.  Shameful.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

La Bipo



More cool exploring around Mexico City's historic centre.  This time, La Bipo!  

LOVED:  

The name!  La Bipo is short for La Bipolar, which means, you guessed right, The Bipolar).

The menu!  Not only many vegetarian options (WHAAA?), but the language itself was rather playful. For example, Martinis were renamed Martínez, beer and pop appeared under their very colloquial names (chela and chescos, instead of cerveza and refrescos), and so on.  But better than anything, the veganizable dishes!  Whoa!  




The kitsch!  Mexican popular culture items, especially ones which were at some point looked down upon as classless, are being thoroughly reappropriated and are popping up everywhere!  These plastic boxes, the doll, and remixes of 80's and 90's songs gave this place a very fun ambiance! 



The food and drink!   Of course, all of the above would not have made it into my blog were the food not good.  Mezcal has become incredibly ubiquitous.  And I'm grateful for that.  And do note that it's always served with something spicy, usually orange slices with chile powder.  But the fideos secos (very thin Mexican noodles  that are fried first, then cooked witha tomato sauce until most of the liquid has evaporated) in a chipotle sauce (the chipotle is a smoke-dried jalapeño chile of complex flavour) served with avocado were out of this world!  So good! 




This rediscovering of this part of the city (thanks in no small part to friends of ours who've explored it before us) is amazing!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Tosca for everybody


Tosca being performed inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Beaux Arts).  A screen outside and seats for everybody.  The Palacio lit up.  The Torre Latinoamericana (Latin-American Tower) as part of the background.  Ways to relax at the Alameda Central park.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

ÑOR

ÑOR:  From "señor" (mister). Used as a colloquial form of treatment aimed at men over 40 years old. 

Though this very good friend of mine was referring to someone else when he said "that ñor?", I loved the word (which I had never heard in it's masculine form).  I loved its sound, its terseness, and its initial eñe.  And since I'm over 40 now, why not embrace it? especially if I like it so?  So starting on my birthday a week ago, I playfully embraced ñorness - after all, I'm as unbothered by age as by plenty other things, so vive la ñorité!  

Contrasting starkly with last year's birthday, my ñorday was, quite frankly, quiet.   But also multi-day.  And good.  Just having moved here and with so many urgent things to arrange for life to attain the slightest sense of normalcy, I had no energy left for birthdaying up my week, kept a low profile, and just did a few simple things I wanted to...


STUNNING VIEWS  OF THE PALACIO DE BELLAS ARTES

OK, this was the huz's idea.  But one of my birthday pleasures was, most definitely, seeing him all happy for taking me for a double espresso (my favourite) in a sunny terrace (we inherited sun-worshipping from our stay in Canada) with views of this beautiful building.  A real treat.  Plus a chance to admire the building's Art Déco staircase.  Double treat!
  



MEMORIES FROM THE MIDDLE EAST

My huz took me to another very interesting site of the city's historic centre - the Ottoman Clock Tower.  Given to Mexico by Turkey in 1910 to commemorate Mexico's 100th Independence anniversary, it includes Turkish, Lebanese and Mexican symbols as a sign of their friendship.  I love its design, I loved seeing again Arabic numerals (two of the clock's faces have Arabic numerals instead of Roman ones), and it was nice to remember a bit of my stay in Lebanon.  You gotta pay your respects to your past, right?  We might have seemed a bit silly, but there we were, reciting out loud the numbers on the clock face, in our very Lebanese version of Arabic.  Happy.



SHALOM KANADA?

Then we rushed to another symbolic place - the Mexican-Israeli Cultural Centre.  There was nothing Canadian or Canadian-related nearby.  But this did wonderfully for my Canadian experience, since it was in Canada where I recognized and identified with the part of my heritage that was Jewish.  What an intense lunch hour! (oh, yeah, in case you didn't know, all this was done during my business lunchtime!) 



REMEMBERING WHY WE'RE HERE

The last stop - at least during my lunchtime "celebration" - was the Templo de San Hipólito.  I'm still totally unreligious and decidedly atheist.  But I was my mom's first child, and she was so worried something could go wrong she prayed to this church's saint (reputedly the saint to pray for when you have a difficult situation) asking for the birth to go well.  So I thought it appropriate to come here and take a few moments to think about my mom, who passed away some years ago while I lived in China. It was comforting to sit there, looking at the candles, remembering her.  





ÑORDAY + HOUSEHOLD ITEMS ARRIVAL = PARTY!

So, yeah, my birthday was over, officially.  But our household items arrived home from Canada safe and sound!  No way we weren't going to celebrate, right?  So we headed to this very cool - almost hipster but still relaxed and very pleasant - bar called El Bósforo, and we toasted with mezcal both to my birthday and our things being back with us!  hurray!  hell, having them at home again felt most definitely like a huge birthday gift!



THE HUZ, THE HUZ

And what followed mezcal?  Home cooked dinner by someone who loves you dearly and who went through the trouble of finding vegan mole tamales.  Effing A. MAY. ZING.  And probably the most Mexican birthday celebration I had ever had in my entire life!  I mean, tamales? mezcal? nopales? tortillas?  Whoa!  And super yum!  Score!  



WE'RE GONNA GIVE YOU CAKE AND CANDLES WHETHER YOU WANT IT OR NOT

Several days later, I was still being pampered.  This time by my sis.  Who despite everybody's gentle and joking but still somewhat serious protests, she made a wholly vegan chocolate cake for me.  And caring little or nothing that the actual date was well past and that I hadn't even suggested she do anything, she still got us all together (including my dad), found candles, and had everybody singing happy birthday to me.   Awww.  How could I say no to that?   WHO could say no to that?   



AND YOU GOTTA LOOK GOOD TOO, ÑOR

And were that not enough, I even got a gift from a very close friend, and it amazes me how perfect it was - a gift card for a haircut and a beard trim at a barbershop!  No ordinary barbershop, BTW. Nope. Mexico City had long lost its barbershop tradition, caught in a whirlwind of fancy places doing stylish things.  Only the older guys in some isolated places could still attempt a decent barbershop job.  And then these guys opened up Barbería Capital with people that had been training long up north (in Canada and the US) where the tradition has kept going uninterrupted.  And so, over a week after my birthday, I got to enjoy the last of my birthday treats - a full treatment with masters of the scissor and blade.   So I can still look hot in my ñorness.   LOL.  




Totally not bad for a birthday I tried to push aside in order to concentrate on "pressing matters".  Like an Argentinean cartoon character - Mafalda - once complained: "COMO SIEMPRE: LO URGENTE NO DEJA TIEMPO PARA LO IMPORTANTE" (as always, what's urgent leaves no time for what's important).  Fortunately, I had a team around me (huz, family, friends) making sure I still enjoyed some "importante" time.  Like I said, it may have been quiet.  But it was good.  And multi-day.  And I've armed myself with a new word I love: ÑOR!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Aztec pizza?



I've been eating plenty of Mexican stuff.  Plenty.  But this creation at Gino's, an Italian restaurant in the historic centre of Mexico City, really blew my mind.   Forget the name - which is a bit ridiculous - and try to put these ingredients together in your mind:

- mushrooms
- corn smut (or huitlacoche), which is a fungus that grows on maize and which is described as having a taste between sweet, savory, woody, and earthy
- caramelized strawberries
- herbs

It was so bizarre I had to give it a go.  And it was delicious!   How on earth did they come up with this combination!?  I will admit it's probably not for everybody but, personally, the chef deserves an A for courage and another one for actually managing something tasty.

Friday, October 24, 2014

of domes and cracks



Visiting the Nidjei Israel synagogue (see my previous post) would have been plenty for one day.  But there was this quaint square just across, and neither of us had ever visited it (the joys of wandering around the old parts of town!).  This was Plaza Loreto (see photo above).  And on a corner stood, of course, the church of Our Lady of Loreto (Nuestra Señora de Loreto).

This is something that's always fascinated me about this city.  Since the old Aztec capital sat on a lake, the ground is rather soft and, with time, many big and heavy buildings have sunk somewhat or tilted.  This, being a massive 19th century Neoclassical church (I had to look that up, it's my huz who's got the sharp artistic eye, not me, LOL), was no exception: dangerously tilted to one side, sinking so bad that the steps leading to the door actually lead down from the street.  We walked in, and initially the inside looked maybe even worse than the outside: numerous cracks, frescoes damaged out of existence, and even the scattered fragments of a big piece of plaster that had just fallen on a bench!  Fortunately, there were few people inside and nobody sitting there.  But it did make me wonder whether we should make this a quick visit and not linger inside too long!

But then, once you overcome those "distractions"... your eyes eventually wonder towards the source of light above centre:  one of the biggest domes you could see in this city! huge! and around it? absolutely gorgeous remains of frescoes that had somehow escaped total decay! Whoa.  What an unexpected and inspiring sight.  It was a strangely beautiful combination, the stark contrast of the imposing yet naked dome, the remaining frescoes around, and the stained glass lighting it up...   






If you can, visit this place pronto.  It has survived plenty of quakes so far, for sure.  But who knows how it'll fare if a strong one hits.  That'll be a sad day, if it doesn't make it through.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Nidje Israel - a historic synagogue



I wasn't really looking for this place.  I was actually googling for synagogues nearby.  I'm still not religious at all.  But like a friend noted well, I'm a ritualist (the "atheist ritualist"! LOL), so I was curious about finding a place to learn a bit about traditions that, due to historic accident ("thank you" Russian pogroms) were not passed down to my generation.  And what did I find?  One of the oldest synagogues in Mexico City - Nidje Israel! (NOTE: it's pronounced Nidkhey, as Hebrew words in Spanish follow Spanish orthography, with a harsh j sound)

Now, Nidje Israel is not a working synagogue anymore.  The Ukrainian (yay!), Polish, Russian, Lithuanian and other Ashkenazi jews that founded it in 1941 have long since moved away from Mexico City's historic centre to other areas, and the synagogue was abandoned until 2009, when it was renovated and turned into a cultural centre that offers walks around what once was the Jewish quarter, talks about traditions, festivities and history, theatre plays, and the like.  And so it was renamed the Justo Sierra Historical Synagogue, as it lies on Justo Sierra St.   



Frankly, for me, this was a moving visit.  The visual impact of what looked like an ordinary old wooden door and then to realize there are Stars of David carved on it...  Once inside, seeing how it was beautifully and lovingly restored... The original religious paraphernalia on display... The light from outside soothingly coming through the blue stained glass... 





And the celing?  Colourful, warm, reminiscent of a so physically remote yet spiritually close synagogue back in Lithuania...  I looked long and at the white stars on sky blue background, the rich reds and purples...   






I wondered if my mom ever came here... had she been invited to any of this synagogue's events?  Did she get to wander this place as a child?  Those questions - I'll never have an answer to.   But I nevertheless walked around, surrounded by this peaceful piece of history in the very centre of a city that pretty much welcomed the various Jewish communities without much fuzz.  Diaspora manifestations of so many kinds and from different peoples always have a strong impression on me, and in this particular case I don't need to be Jewish or identify with the Jewish people to still be moved by Nidje Israel (which means, in Hebrew, "the scattered of Israel").  I'll be coming back, no doubt.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

domingueando

To dominguear means, simply, to enjoy your Sunday.   It comes from Domingo - Sunday - niftily turned into a verb with the -ear ending.  Basically, "to sunday".  Well, the Centro Histórico (downtown) is an ideal place for dominguear.  Here's a most basic itinerary for a short, relaxed afternoon domingueando ("sundaying it out"): 


Coffee at SEARS

Yes, believe it or not, SEARS is an excellent place for a coffee!  Well, specifically the SEARS in front of the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Beaux Arts) and its café on the 8th floor - it's got a terrace with the very best view in town of the palace.  Simply stunning!   If you're lucky and weather permits, you'll see the mountains in the distance as background!



1874 sweets!

Well, OK, yeah, the sweets are not from 1874, but the shop is, and that's totally amazing!  So me thinks, at least.  On 5 de Mayo St., this place is worth a visit even if you don't intend to buy anything - it's such a delight simply to look at! And if you do intend to satisfy a sweet tooth - good luck, the place has over a hundred traditional treats that have a history as long as the shop's, if not longer. Hell, even the packaging is cute, like the two pieces of marzipan you can see in my hand in the last pic. 






"Educate" yourself at the The Teaching Church

On Donceles St, this temple, officially called the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar (Church of Our Lady of the Pillar), is popularly known as the Teaching Church, from the end of the 18th century.  If you want Baroque, come here.   Stunning.   As for the name, at some point both the wealthiest and the humblest of girls received education at the church's convent.   Like I said, stunning.



Not bad for an easy Sunday, hey?

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

historic centre nights



Living in the historic centre has a number of disadvantages, for sure, and I won't get into that here. But there's plenty of amazing advantages, like being able to take night walks by some of the country's most important sights!  

We did this one here one rainy night.   And the first thing we passed by is the Hemiciclo a Benito Juárez (the photo on top), a monument in honour of former president Benito Juárez and to commemorate the first centenary of Mexico's independence.  Now, I'm not a history buff.  History is probably one of the subjects I have the most problems with, besides advanced math.  But this was no ordinary historic figure - thanks to him, a Mexican of native Zapotec origin, Mexico is the secular society it is today. And as faulty or traditional Mexican society may seem, were it not for the solid liberal anti-conservative anti-clerical pro-indigenous push of Benito Juárez this country would probably be far, far behind where it is today.  Hats off, Benito, hats unabashedly and indisputably off.   
Our next stop was the beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes (Palace of Beaux Arts).  Built at two different moments in the first part of the 20th century - you know, revolutions tend to be somewhat disruptive at times - it has a very interesting combination of Neoclassical, Art Nouveau and Art Déco styles, and boasts murals by Rivera and Siqueiros, as well as a curtain made of a million Tiffany's glass pieces. Plus, the roof has been thoroughly cleaned, the building was lit pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, parts of it reflected on the pools left by the rain... a beautiful sight, don't you think? 





I can only feel really privileged to be able to enjoy Mexico City this way.   

Monday, October 20, 2014

busy crossings


I know, it's silly, but there is something about this crossing that reminds me of China, or even Japan. It's the crossing of Eje Central Lázaro Cárdenas and Calle Francisco I. Madero, leading directly to the heart of the historic centre of the city.  Super crowded, super busy, super lively.   Francisco I. Madero was pedestrianized in 2009 as part of the campaign to revive the centre and, though a few regret how popular it's become, I personally appreciate how walkable this and many other projects have made it.  Especially now that I live so close by.  Nice.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Karaoke with Maruca


I've talked about La Botica before, this mezcalería where I've been enjoying very diverse mezcals and delicious Mexican snacks.  Well, La Botica seems to take on a bit of the character of the surrounding areas.  For example, the one in Coyoacán - the one I've been blogging about - has an interesting combination of hipsters and hippies.  The one in Zona Rosa... Well, the Zona Rosa or Pink District is, as you can gather from the name, the LGBTQ district par excellence of Mexico City.  And what can you find here?  First, it has this cantina or saloon feeling, thanks to the swinging doors.  Then, the clientele is visibly LGBTQ (and allies).   Last, and most definitely not least, the night we went there was this fantastic drag queen - La Maruca - dressed up in a style that strongly reminded me of Dalida (an Egyptian-Italian singer of the 60's - 80's) and who with great flair interpreted a number of sentimental Mexican songs using the place's karaoke!   So much fun!  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

the Angel



I can't believe now I live so close to the most emblematic monument of Mexico City!  Sure, there are numerous very important sites and buildings and ruins, but if you want something everybody would recognize, that would be this: El Ángel (The Angel), which is short for El Ángel de la Independencia (The Angel of Independence), which in turn is how people from the city refer to what is officially called the Monumento a la Independencia (the Monument to Independece).  

If there is an important football match and Mexico is playing, this is where people gather to celebrate a victory.  If there is a demonstration of sorts, there's a good chanc ethe rally will start here.  The Pride March starts at El Ángel too.  When people refer to the 1957 earthquake, they talk about the quake wheen the angel fell down.  If you're going to light something up , El Ángel is a prime choice, and in my photo you see it lit pink for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.   Oh, and it was built in 1910 to commemorate Mexico's independence centennial.  Basically, coming to Mexico City and not seeing El Ángel would be like going to Toronto and not seeing the CN Tower (sorry, I had to use a reference that was close to my heart).

So, as we walked by at night and we saw the goddess Nike, holding a crown of laurel in one hand ("victory") and a broken chain in the other ("freedom"), shining electric purple-pink, I couldn't help feeling... moved? excited? and surely surprised at the stark contrast between my familiarity with it, how dismissively I've sometimes looked at it, and how powerful and welcoming and symbolic it suddenly appeared.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

DH Fest



I had mentioned DH Fest in a previous post as part of the openness of Mexico City that had surprised me.  Well, we made an effort and made sure we had tickets for two of the movies shown as part of the event - which, by the way, is called DH Fest because it's a Human Rights (Derechos Humanos) Festival.  It's interesting that Mexico City would organize a festival with such a broad scope, and it probably reflects contemporary Mexico's worries and aspirations.  

Anyhow, what did we buy tickets for?   Firs, for an Indian-Norwegian documentary called "Light fly, fly high".  



Well, what an amazing docu.  I totally loved it.  It totally moved me.  And I could find no fault at all with it.  The story of a woman who's born with everything against her: female, low caste, disowned by her family, unmarried, and interested in a sport that's male dominated and reeks of corruption and abuse.  The story of determination, self-reliance and uncompromising self-respect.  It's filmed with no moral judgement, with a marvelous objective detachment that gets you deeply involved with the protagonist through her raw story with no need for melodrama or ridiculous music.   The filming team spotted something in Thulasi - the protagonist - something that made them think "Her, she is the one", and it made them follow her for months, with no certainty of what the ending would be like. That's powerful.  And Thulasi, even more so.

Afterwards - and how lucky we were to buy tickets in advance, 'cause they were definitely sold out at the cinema - we saw "Becoming Chaz".  If you've been following this blog, you might have noted I'm a fan of Buck Angel, a very outspoken female-to-male trans activist.  So I was very interested in Chaz's story, as it is a very different transitioning story, from many angles.  



So, first, what I didn't quite like - the way the story was told.  It aired first on Oprah's channel.  That should say it all.  Drama.  Lots.  Music cueing emotions.  And sadly it contrasted like night and day with the previous docu we saw.  Didn't like that at all.

But now let me tell you what I did like.  I did like the brutal honesty.  Chaz, his girlfriend, his family - even Cher - were as honest as they could be.  They bared themselves in order for us to try to understand, even while they themselves were still grasping for a full understanding of things.  On top of that, Chaz himself was there and, like I mentioned, the place was full, with a very strong presence of queer and trans people.  Though the fest might be somehow preaching to the choir with themes like this, I bet there were enough people there that left the cinema changed somehow, and ready to spread a bit more understanding, a bit more openness outside.   I've said it before - I admire and thank trans people who are so open about their lives' stories.  They broaden the way we conceive gender, sexuality, and most definitely human rights.


The fest had plenty more films and docus I would have loved to see if I had had the time.  But these two were brilliant choices.  And it showed me a side of Mexico City I'm growing pretty fond of.