Sunday, May 31, 2015

this is how we entertain - Part III

Yes, our wonderful Canadian guests came back for one last weekend with us, after a number of days of adventure in Mexico's smaller towns and wonderful mountains full of micro-climates. And after almost two weeks of Mexican food non-stop, they had but one request - hopefully some non-Mexican fare? LOL Since they arrived Friday night after a long drive, a flat tire in the middle of a deluge, and a super long wait for a cab, we took them to a place around the corner with no fancy food, but definitely a choice between Mexican and foreign dishes. A nice chance to relax, and for them to tell us about their adventures! 

And we agreed that the next day we'd play it by ear. If they got up early, we could go to the pyramids of Teotihuacán. If they got up late, we had back-up plans. If it rained, we had more back-up plans. So we all went to sleep and let Morpheus decide.

Now, not unsurprisingly, we all got up late. And happy. Nothing better than a good night's sleep! And we kept our part of the deal - we winged it, deciding one thing at a time. Which meant going for a late breakfast... but not before a short stroll around the Plaza de la Ciudadela, a square where on weekends mostly senior citizens go to dance or to learn how to dance salsa and the like!






And once we shared with our friends that part of the old historic centre, we were ready for a fully non-Mexican breakfast at one of our favourite places, Panadería Rosetta, with lots of - mostly French-based - delicious options, including amazing bread and super good coffee. And me, I tried something I had never had: oven-baked oatmeal with berries, with frothy almond milk with cinnamon. So. Good. 




With a full and happy stomach, we were ready for the historical part of the day - the ruins of Tlatelolco. I love that place. It really shows the mix Mexico City is, with very clear Aztec ruins, surrounded by both Colonial architecture and the modern city. A real contrast. Plus, for some reason, it's usually overshadowed by both the ruins of Templo Mayor and the ruins of Teotihuacán, so it's normally quiet, calm, and offers itself just to you and a few other strange souls. Quiet, green, ancient. Truly special. BTW, for better pictures of the site, go to the post I mentioned above. These two are just random ones I liked.





But guess what, the ruins have a quite nice museum too, a site devoted to the ancient Aztec city of Tlatelolco. We saw codices (you know, their version of books, like the one below that shows four priests walking, the god Huitzilopochtli speaking, and three men being sacrificed), the emblem of Tlatelolco, some gorgeous flutes (a red one with one end representing a flower, another one with a butterfly antenna at one end), and plenty of items we had never seen or that were carefully placed within context. There were even interactive screens, and I got to know in gruesome detail about hearts and sacrifices too. It might seem a small museum, but I say it's one of those that is exactly the right size. 

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And that wasn't all. You see, the square by the ruins is the Plaza de Tlatelolco. It has seen a generally violent history, but the most recent event was the Masacre de Tlatelolco, when the Mexican government unleashed chaos and its forces upon peaceful students and mostly ordinary people demonstrating. It was one dark day, October 2nd 1968. My mother was there, and she luckily escaped by leaving early. So, there's this incredibly detailed memorial, that takes you along from even years before the event until that very night. It's really superbly done, although there are absolutely no English translations. It even goes  a bit beyond that fateful night, showing you Mexico's newspapers unashamedly publishing ridiculous stories about "foreign terrorists" trying to "tarnish" Mexico's upcoming Olympic games. Which went on, as expected. It seems the Olympic Committee was about as worried about human rights back then as it is now. But I digress - this is one great exhibition about one horribly shameful event in Mexico's history where human lives mattered way less than putting on a nice show for the world to celebrate sport.




After that very, very intense experience (the ruins, the museum about Tlatelolco, the massacre memorial), we were ready for lunch. And since we were still in the "no more Mexican food, please" mood, we took our friends to another favourite of ours - Min Sok Chon, for authentic Korean food! The banchan (the side dishes) is amazing and abundant, and the food is unbeatable. And at some point they offered us a second round of banchan! It was good, good, good. And we shared another favourite of ours with our friends! Even better!




By then, one of our friends and my habib were ready for a nap, so we headed to Paseo de la Reforma for a brief look at one of the more iconic monuments of our city, the Angel of Independence. Because, like, I was not letting these friends leave without a look at it!




And then we were ready to drop my habib and a friend off for a nap, while my other friend and me went off in search of sweets to take back to Canada as sweets and, having failed at that (the place was already closed) we brought back home some interesting artisan chocolates for one last simple dinner we had planned with a couple other friends (one of which had celebrated her 40th birthday recently). That was one long, interesting walk, where we talked about opportunities, inequality, poverty... we both had similar worries, but we did have to admit Canada and Mexico faced challenges of rather radically different degree...

Anyhow, once back home, soon our friends showed up for a taste of fig and passion fruit tarts, and the chocolates we had bought (lime and chocolate, mezcal, red berries and chile, and so on...)




And that, I'm afraid, was pretty much the end of it all. Our Canadian friends went to sleep, the rest of us still went to local bar for a mezcal, and next morning I was saying goodbye to our visitors as they took their taxi to the airport, very happy to have shared my city with them, very sad to see them go... 

Sunday, May 24, 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!

Friday, May 22, 2015

Melancholia

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...

Wednesday, May 20, 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!

Tuesday, May 19, 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.

Friday, May 15, 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!

Tuesday, May 12, 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!


OF OLD HOUSES AND CHURCHES

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.





OF FAIRS AND KIOSKS

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?





NA ZDOROVYE!

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!