Monday, May 25, 2015

this is how we entertain - Part II

Our buds from Toronto came back for their second weekend with us. We had so much on our list of things to do, and so little time. So we made the best of it and...

Well, at first we didn't do much, 'cause they arrived on Thursday night, so we simply took them to our local Japanese noodle place. Where they got to see some of the Mexican passion for lime, as their salmon sushi had some thin lime slices on top, and the soy sauce had lime juice! Not quite the radical Mexican take of Pizza del Perro Negro (see my previous post on our friends' visit), but still an interesting cultural adaptation.

Next day we sent them off to museums, as we both had to work. With dozens of museums in the city, we decided that the Castillo de Chapultepec (the only royal castle actually used by a royal sovereign in Latin America!) and the Museo de Antropología (the Aztec Sun Stone!) were two musts they couldn't miss, and they weren't that far from here. Plus, they got to experience part of Mexico City's normal life, as the route they had to take was partially blocked by a demonstration! Oh well...

Friday night it was time to unwind! So the habib and a good friend of his prepared dinner, we invited two other friends, and prepared to have a nice soirée with Peruvian food, excellent company, and Regina Spektor as background music.

Now, dinner was complemented nicely with some craft stouts, porters and IPAs we had, and with a fantastic mezcal one of our friends (who's from Oaxaca) brought. All of which put us in the right mood to take our visitors clubbing. To a gay street - called República de Cuba. By Mexico City's historic centre. Which meant having a drink at a place decorated with religious paraphernalia like paintings of saints and images of sacred hearts (called La Purísima). And watching a drag queen show with Whitney Houston and Britney Spears at a cowboy-esque bar (Oasis). And finally dancing salsa at a cantina (El Viena). Quite a complete tour, I'd say!

Fortunately, the late night walk back home from República de Cuba allowed for visiting a few historic sites - which we had all to ourselves in the quiet of the night - before going to sleep. Like beautiful, secluded, ancient Plaza de Santa Veracruz.

Now, of course, beer and mezcal and partying doesn't translate into an early Saturday morning. But it can translate into brunch! Which gave us the perfect excuse to introduce our friends to our favourite brunch place - Volver, in Roma Norte. Smoothies, mimosas, good coffee, vegan enchiladas, fantastic French toast, chilaquiles with grilled hanger steak, huitlacoche (corn smut) omelet... Yum. Yum. And yum again.

And once happily full, it was time to show our friends another side of Mexico City we're very fond of - Coyoacán! It used to be a separate town and it keeps a very colonial and relaxed atmosphere, with leafy cobblestone streets, quaint squares, and just a very different feel. 

We had a delicious walk along Francisco Sosa, my favourite street in Coyoacán, one of the oldest in Latin America, and about a kilometre and a half of villas and old buildings, ancient trees that have begun breaking through the stone sidewalks, and birds singing. Oh, and a street vendor selling mamey! A pink-red, very sweet, meaty fruit I didn't hesitate for a second buying for us to eat during the last stretch of our walk!

Now, there's tons to do and see in Coyoacán. But one major attraction is the Casa Azul, Frida Kahlo's and Diego Rivera's house. And though that meant enduring a thunderstorm with hail, standing in a ridiculously long line-up, and paying what must be Mexico City's most expensive museum entrance ticket (no, like really, serious!), we went in for a peek at Frida's life. And for an exhibition we didn't know of! of Frida's dresses and corsets! Called "Las apariencias engañan: los vestidos de Frida Kahlo" (Looks are deceiving: the dresses of Frida Kahlo), and promoted with a drawing by Frida Kahlo herself, under which she herself had written down "las apariencias engañan". 

Frankly, this was the highlight of the visit, gaining this peculiar insight... a cross between Oaxacan pride, a desire to disguise physical characteristics, being iconoclastic, and the financial means to put it all together. Amazing. 

After all that walking, the rain, the museum... it was time to eat again! And since our friends had expressed a desire to eat pozole, we took them to one of the best known places for it, a very unassuming and small market on Higuera street. Where we proceeded to order tremendously filling bowls of pozole Michoacán style, to which you add lime, onion, chile powder, oregano, radish... And let me say, our friends loved it! Success!

Since my sister joined us there, we all headed for one last thing, also on Higuera street - La Botica mezcalería! Some of us had mezcal, some micheladas (beer with lime juice and a rim of salt), and very few of us (not me) some bugs (maybe grasshoppers? they were partially chopped, so it was difficult to tell). Pozole, mezcal, bugs. A very complete culinary experience, eh?

A final walk around the very old Iglesia de la Conchita and the Casa de la Malinche - both early 16th century buildings! - and then, finally, a taxi ride home to rest so our friends could leave next morning (after another breakfast at the El Hijo de Don Toribio) for their Querétaro, Sierra Gorda, San Miguel de Allende and Morelia adventure. After which we'd have yet another opportunity to share our Mexico City with them!

Saturday, May 23, 2015


Planet Melancholia, right before colliding with Planet Earth...

Or, instead of a Lars-von-Trier-esque situation, maybe just a 22° halo that results of the reflection from light through hexagonal ice crystals in the atmosphere surprising countless people in Mexico City yesterday? Much more accurate, but so much less poetic...

Thursday, May 21, 2015

IDAHOT Mexico City 2015

Sunday was the International Day Against LGBTQphobia. OK, I'm lying. Sort of. In Mexico it's officially know as the International Day Against Homophobia. But frankly, can we limit ourselves to combating just one kind of discrimination? Granted, this was its original name, but it's been expanding as we become more aware of who discrimination affects and as we become more inclusive. So there, against LGBTQphobia. Deal with it.

Anyhow, there weren't that many events in the city marking the day, but there was one happening not far from our place: a kiss in in front of the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

See that photo above? That's what the kiss in is about. Non-heteronormative couples kiss in public, so everybody can see, so people can take photos and share, and so we can fight discrimination through in-your-face visibility. On the one hand it was amazing to see so many young people participate. It's exciting to see them being so political! On the other hand, I can't but wonder if their level of activism isn't driven by the discrimination and exclusion they still experience in their personal and professional lives...

Still, I was there, with a purple pashmina on my neck (purple was the colour of the event), along with my habib and a friend, supporting with our presence, documenting with our cameras, doing our own tiny insignificant bit by kissing very publicly, and celebrating.

Looking forward to more, bigger events next year!

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Israel Baila (Israel Dances)

There's always a strange dialogue going on in my mind when I go to a dance event that showcases professional dancers along with semi-professional ones. When I'm watching a semi-pro piece, on the one hand, part of me can't help criticize a bit either the quality of the performance, or of the conception of the idea itself. On the other hand, I admire that people who love dancing, but who can't do it professionally for whatever reason, can share their passion with a sympathetic public and fulfil themselves. Could it be that I, as a most unprofessional writer (hello... this blog?), feel somehow connected to those dancers? Am I probably even jealous?

Anyhow, the origin of that strange introduction was this Sunday's dance event at the Teatro Ángela Peralta, an open air theatre in Mexico City: Israel Baila (Israel Dances). Because, you see, thanks to the motek I'm getting to enjoy quite a number of the events organized by Mexico City's Jewish community. And enjoy this one I did as, like I mentioned, there were professional performances too along with the semi-professional ones (most of which I liked too, by the way). 

For example (and talking about the pros) there was a well known Israeli choreographer called Keren Rosenberg, a dancer certified in a technique employed by Batsheva (one hell of an Israeli dance company) - Gaga. She, along with Mexican-Israeli dancer and choreographer Moisés Himmelfarb, created a piece specifically for this event - "Come meet me here", a title that reflects on their first meeting in Israel, her living in The Netherlands, his living in Mexico, and their meeting in Mexico City to work together and create a duet. I was intrigued by their dance, as I perceive them as resonating at somewhat different frequencies, yet somehow sorting their way around to synchrony at different points. Hmm, or... you could forgive all those inappropriately appropriated vocabulary - my artistic lexicon is rather differently abled - and have a look yourselves:    

They were followed by La Cantera, whose dancers were choreographed by Keren during a special workshop she gave here in the city. I must say, even with just two weeks coaching, I quite enjoyed their performance. And I'm sure they did as well! As for A Poc A Poc, they were unconventional? And a definite change of pace. 

Finally (well, finally because this is the last piece I could see before leaving, as I had to attend an IDAHOT event), my day's favourite: Ayn Haseará (the Eye of the Storm, עין הסערה), by Moisés´s "Proyect Ayn". I so like the music. I absolutely love how the choreography follows the music's ebb and flow and build-up. And I'm fascinated by the group's movements and Moises's composition overall.

And all this for free. Gratis. With a raffle at the end for a ticket to Israel? Which I assume I didn't win, as I haven't got any calls... LOL.  All in all, a win/win.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

this is how we entertain - Part I

Guess what - we have visits from Hogtown! (that's Toronto, for you out-of-towners.) Two dear friends from Toronto decided to take up our offer to stay with us and see our home city! So happy! And, being the incredibly considerate people they've always been, they decided to organize their Mexico adventure to maximize their time with us, spending weekends here in Chilangolandia (slang for Mexico City) when I'd have plenty of time to spend with them, and using weekdays to explore other parts of the country! Totes amazing.

So, how did weekend 1 of 3 go by? Well, after our friends settled down at our place, we proceeded to...

Take one of them (our other friend was in dire need of a nap) for views of the Palacio de Bellas Artes from the 8th floor of one of the more emblematic Art Deco buildings in the city. 

Show said friend the local alternative to Starbucks - Cielito Querido. It's endearing how they make fun of the Starbucks lingo and their use of Mexican sayings and words, plus this friend really enjoyed her mocha with Mexican chocolate!

Drag them (went back home for our now well-rested bud!) along the now pedestrianized Francisco I. Madero street, cutting through the Historic Centre all the way from the Alameda Central to the Zócalo. Very very busy, but with countless old buildings and churches to show! 

Share awesome Mexican lunch-dinner (rather late for lunch to them, somewhat early for dinner for us, LOL) at El Mayor, with views of the Zócalo, of the Cathedral and of the Templo Mayor ruins. The first time our friends tried huitlacoche (corn smut)! and micheladas (beer with lime juice and a rim of salt, so refreshing)! And you could see one of our super shy volcanoes, the Iztaccíhuatl (yeah, our local names can be rather long and challenging)! 

And to finish that first day and let them sleep well and recover from their super early flight that morning, a couple of mezcals at our local undergound-ish drinking hole, El Bósforo. With some 60 mezcals to choose from, it was fun to simply tell the servers what kind of flavour or experience you were looking for, and let them suggest. The "verde mexicano" (Mexican green) mezcal was especially good, interestingly.

But that was just day 1. On day 2...

We made sure they started with a very Mexican breakfast. We had a number of places we wanted to take them to, but it being mother's day, we feared all of them would be packed, so we opted for a less fancy, but nevertheless very authentic, local place - El Hijo de Don Toribio. Freshly squeezed orange juice, huevos motuleños (fried eggs on a fried tortilla with a layer of beans, with a spicy tomato sauce, peas, and plantains), scrambled eggs Mexican style, and chilaquiles (for me)! Yum. Which allowed us to proceed to...

Go the Museo de Arte Popular (Museum of Folk Art) to see numerous crafts, like trees of life, alebrijes, masks, calaveras (playful skeleton figures usually made for the Day of the Dead) and whatnot.

Head for the Monumento a la Revolución for a coffee right exactly underneath it, in an airy and cool café with the ceiling of the monument exactly above our heads far far high up. And a chance for our buds to meet the motek! Double score!

Head to the Historic Centre again for those ruins of the Templo mayor, but not without a quick stop at one of the oldest churches in the city: the mid-16th century Templo de San Hipólito, where numerous people come to ask St. Jude Thaddaeus for assistance, as he's the patron of "difficult situations". 

Take a short subway ride (yay! showed our subway system to our friends too! and models of both pre- and post-Conquista Mexico City at the station we hopped off!) and then haul our friends to the day's pièce de résistance: the Templo Mayor - one of the main temples of the Aztec capital at the time of the Conquista. This place is really interesting, as it reveals how the Aztecs built their temples in layers. Once they had become more powerful or richer, they'd enlarge the temple simply buy building a layer on top, thus burying the previous building stage. This temple was enlarged six times! Should that not be enough sightseeing (and it could very well be), then there's the temple's museum, where you can see two huge monoliths excavated at the site, both reflecting a rather morbid culture with decapitations, dismemberments, and violent child-birth. Not to mention depictions of other beings, like Mictlantecuhtli (the god of death) and Xipe Totec ("the flayed one") that clearly reveal the unfathomable distance between the Aztec worldvision and ours.

Plus, the setting is simply fantastic - 14th-15th century Aztec ruins, colonial buildings, the modern city... all together in this one space.

Unsurprisingly, by now we were all so starving! But it's difficult to get to places without stumbling upon so much else! Like, we had to cross a very ancient square, the Plaza de Santo Domingo, where at some point the inquisition sentenced people, and where not that long ago people had public desks to offer their services to those who couldn't write or type, and where that day they were setting up some floating brain for a festival of lights.

After which we walked to a 140 year old confectionery (Dulcería de Celaya) where we loaded up on traditional sweets before catching a cab to another part of town: the Roma Norte neighbourhood! Why? Our friends have this tradition when travelling - to have a foreign kind of food to see the local take on it. Well, we took them to the Pizza del Perro Negro (Black Dog Pizza), a somewhat alternative place that certainly does the Mexican take on pizza, and does it incredibly well! I mean, who could pull off chile relleno (stuffed chile pepper) or chochinita pibil (pulled pork Yucatan style) pizza? And on top of that the place has two house brews, a blond and a stout? and they're both delicious? We were all more than thrilled!

Bursting from so much food, we took a stroll in hipsterland (the Roma Norte neighbourhood) along Avenida Álvaro Obregón. With a leafy median with statues and (non-working) fountains, around sunset, this was the best walk to relax after lunch! And then, we got to show our friends another public transport option - the Metrobús, which is a bus-system with dedicated lanes and specially designed stations. 

Now, we were sort of ready to call it a day, but I still wanted to take my friends for a craft beer at Crisanta, a nice bar by the Monumento a la Revolución, which is nicely lit at night. This we did sans habibi, because he was exhausted and headed straight home. It was cool to sit down, try out beers, relax, talk, and look at the monument...

Back home... it was a sweets-fest! Our box of sweets from Dulcería de Celaya and my habibi were waiting for us, and we had a go at every single kind of sweet we bought! Fortunately, everybody had their own favourite kind of sweet, so we managed to remain friends afterwards. ;-) 

Now, honestly, that was supposed to be the end. Our friends were travelling next day to Oaxaca, I was working next day too, so it kind of made sense to just go to sleep. Except my habibi wanted to go out and see FILUX (that festival of lights I had mentioned). We're pretty close to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, which was part of the festival, and with my habib at the door with camera in hand, one of our friends and me decided we could use the last of our energy to go take a peek too. What did we get as reward? A fantastic 3D mapping show! Loved it! what a surprise!

And then, finally, it was time to go home. And get to sleep. And prepare for weekend number 2!

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Santa María la Ribera

This is my third (and last!) post about the previous weekend. It was a really fun one! Now, in this post I want to talk about the Santa María la Ribera neighbourhood. This is the neighbourhood my dad was born in and where he grew up, and it was also a pretty famous neighbourhood by the end of the 19th century - it was deemed one of the more modern!


Now, in general, I'm afraid the neighbourhood is somewhat run down, and some buildings have survived better than other, less lucky ones. There is the famous Casa de los Mascarones, or House of Mascarons (face sculptures), which still offers some nice views of its façade, but which has seen some of the ravages that being turned into a school and part of the university imply...

Then there was this very interesting building that had a sign that said it was Baños San Cosme, or the San Cosme Bathhouse. It looked like too much design for a bathhouse, so maybe it was a fancy spa in the past, or it was something else and later became a bathhouse. Anyhow, today it's closed and probably awaiting for a buyer?

And at the extreme of disrepair is the Teatro Bernardo García (Bernardo García Theatre), that barely retains its name above the main entrance...

But there are quite a few other buildings that are still in use and still retain some splendour, like the oddly neo-Byzantine Iglesia de la Sagrada Familia (Church of the Holy Family), with the ever watchful eye of god in a couple of murals inside. Quite a strange sight, both within and without! 

And talking of churches, there's the Teatro Sergio Magaña (Sergio Magaña Theatre), which used to be a temple at the very beginning of the 20th century and now works, like I said, as a theatre. One where my habib actually performed at in the past! We even saw a plaque about that play, with his name on it!

Finally, we came across the Museo de Geología de la UNAM (the Geology Museum of the National Autonomous University of Mexico). Now, you really don't come to this end of the 19th century building for its rock collection. OK, maybe some do, but I'd dare say the main reason is just to see the building, look not at the collections but at the original beautiful old wooden and metal cases holding them, admire the metal staircase, and yes, maybe enjoy the contrast of some dinosaur bones against not a modern museum, but one that is over a hundred years old.


In 1844 New Orleans held the World Fair. And Mexico participated with a Moorish-inspiration kiosk (the Kiosco Morisco). Which, after the fair, was brought back to Mexico, and is located now in a big shady park in the middle of the neighbourhood. Pretty cool, right? A 150 year old structure that participated in a World Fair, and now lies right here for everybody to enjoy?


All this walking around made us, quite understandably, very hungry! And our reward was trying a small restaurant right by the park, called Kolobok - a Russian restaurant! Neither of us was too sure what sort of menu we'd find. Maybe a couple of token Russian items and lots of Mexican food? Mexicanized Russian items? Well, one look at the menu, and it became clear: this looked totally authentic, and the food rather what you'd get at a home instead of a restaurant! Exciting!

We (well, I) had kvass (квас), a fermented rye bread beverage. Not the most amazing drink in the world, but it was light and, anyhow, you just don't get kvass anywhere abroad! Then I tried a solyanka soup (сольянка), which contained pickled cucumbers, cabbage, a dollop of sour cream, dill, beef, ham olives.. thick, spicy, and very interesting! And yes, I did eat animal products. But I had never had the chance of trying Russian soups (except borscht), and I was too tempted! Especially after unearthing a lot of information about my Russian grandfather a few weeks ago! I just couldn't resist. But we did have salad - vinegret (винегрет) - with beets, carrots, potato, peas, onion, dill... delicious! 

Another thing we really had to try was vareniki (вареники), which would be the Slavic counterpart to the Chinese dumplings we love so much. These were filled with mushrooms, and came with, what else, smetana (сметана, sour cream) which apparently you simply can't do without? Despite their apparent simplicity, they were very good! And last, but most certainly not least, syrniki (сырники), a kind of pancake made from a sort of cottage or curd cheese, garnished with - in our case - more smetana and varenye (варенье), which is a traditional whole fruit preserve. I'm glad I ordered one for each of us instead of sharing just one as my habib had proposed! LOL

Honestly, forgetting the fact that this was not vegan, it was a fantastic meal, in a nice place, by a nice park.

So, thumbs up for Santa María la Ribera. Probably not the prettiest neighbourhood, but certainly a very interesting one!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

nostalgia and truth

Last weekend was pretty intense, I realize now. There was not only plenty of partying (for me! see my previous post), but we also had for lunch some stuff we had bought at a Lebanese place we stumbled upon in the Colonia Roma Norte. We had pita bread, hummus, labneh, baklava, sumac for our salad (which we made with fresh tomatoes, green leaves, radish)... And then I put music from the Idan Raichel Project as background. Granted, Idan's group is from Israel, but the rhythms are unmistakeably Middle-Eastern. And then, all of a sudden, our enjoyment of our food was heightened by memories and a bit of nostalgia from that time in our lives when we lived in Beirut... Living there was not easy, for sure, but it's a nice thing that most that remains are good memories and a feeling that we miss the place...

And to add to that, at night we went to a performance of La Verità, directed by Daniele Finzi Pasca. We had seen Daniele's pieces before, once in Mexico a good very many years ago. Then again in Lebanon at the Beiteddine Festival. So it was nice to see this "old friend" again. But this piece I enjoyed way more than the others. The previous ones had a clearer narrative, even a slightly melodramatic one. Here, there was a storyline, yes, but it was much more subtle, and the imagery he used way more dreamy and fantastic, at times even apparently random. Plus there was a much stronger circus take on this, with amazing and brilliantly choreographed acrobatics, juggling and the like. If you have a chance to see this or any other pieces by Daniele, you must absolutely do so. They're beautiful!  

And that was not all, Sunday was also a day of experiences! But of course, that'll have to go in the next post. It's funny how I'm genuinely surprised at how much we do on certain weekends!

Friday, May 08, 2015

a crazy Friday

I don't go out at night that much. Nor do I stay out that late when I do. Really. But it seems last weekend I all set to compensate! First, we found there was this party called Limonada Ácida Fest at a bar in the centre of town (Bahía Bar). Organized by the Compañía Historia de A E I O U (an independent theatre company, woohoo!), with live tattooing (awesome!), cabaret, craft beer (craft beer! at a party!), varied music, and a more queer crowd than usual. We were beyond thrilled!

By the time we got home, the habib was more than ready to go to sleep. Me, on the other hand, was feeling super charged! And then, just half a block from home, we came across a friend. Who started talking about this place where we could go dancing, a really popular (not as in famous, but as in as far from hipster as possible) cantina also in the centre of the city. With drag queen shows! I signed up immediately, and my habib wished us the best and headed back home. Now, I was originally just going for a beer and a bit of a dance but...

Well, we arrived to Cantinita el 33. A really bare place. Very crowded. Craft beer was practically forbidden. It had a dark room upstairs (what bars have dark rooms anymore!?). And quite frankly it was a death trap, with only a small, narrow, single door I could spot as main access and exit. But hey, the atmosphere was somewhat surreal, we did get to see a performance by a drag queen, and we even got to finish a beer before we decided to leave, as the place got so impossible crowded we were getting pushed around! Quite an experience. I guess sort of a mixed one. But what was weird is that the place was a sort of time vortex, 'cause all of a sudden we had spent some two hours there without realizing!

By the time we left, there were not just two of us (my bud and me), but nine! We came across three of my friend's friends, who were accompanied by four others (all from abroad). Nobody was ready to call it a night, but it was physically impossible to enter the 33 again. So we headed to another place - The Diamond... Which you entered through this very enticing entrance, probably left this way to make police think the place had already closed down instead of staying open past regulation time... 

And what did we find there? A crowd that was a mix of trans people and norteños (you know, guys from the north of Mexico, with hats and boots and all the accoutrements). Being entertained by a drag queen doing Paquita la del Barrio, a very famous Mexican singer. Paquita is not known for her sweet mouth, but this drag queen could have made her blush! LOL

After that, I was done, but we still headed for a walk around Garibaldi, a square full of bars and full of... mariachis for hire! tons of them!

And sometime before dawn I made it back home. Probably having witnessed in one night more law violations than I had since I arrived to Mexico eight months ago, having seen live tattooing, and cabaret, and drag queen performances surrounded by interestingly peculiar crowds... Yep, I had been wanting a different "clubbing" experience, and get it I did!