Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Gift

This is my first 2017 post that is actually about something that happened in 2017. And I'm glad I begin this year's posts with this – a very intimate performance by butohka Gustavo Thomas. 

The place – his studio in the centre of Mexico City. The crowd – only some 20 people who have been close to his work as a Butoh performer or as a performance artist. The concept – an improvised performance from him, to us, to thank us for our presence and to celebrate the beginning of a new year. The improvisation's name – Obsequio (Gift).

He being him, and the idea being one of giving, of sharing what you most value, made this a raw, intimate, moving performance that included childhood memories, a suit, a Oaxaca "resplandor" or traditional headdress, flowing wine, a toast both personal and communal... 






Artistically speaking, I've been following this man's Butoh explorations for at least 4 years, as a photographer, as a videographer, as location scout, as mere observer, as supporter... Even after seeing all I've seen, after his improvisation I turned and told a friend – the dude's effing mad. And I meant that as the highest compliment, and we were lucky we could at least temporarily partake of his madness within those old, slightly slanting walls in an old street of this chaotic world.  

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

tortícolis cultural

The morning of New Year's Eve we had a wonderful stroll around the historic centre of Mexico City. You see, streets in the historic centre tend to be rather narrow, and the centre itself is somewhat dense building-wise. So, if you want to really appreciate what the area has to offer in architecture, you have to practice what some people call "tortícolis cultural", or a "cultural stiff-neck" – obsessively looking upwards. It may not be comfortable, but it's worth it! 




Monday, January 16, 2017

the colour of the gods

In my hurry to finish writing about Argentina and to do my 2016 reflection I forgot there were a couple of things we did between Christmas and New Year's Eve! One of them was going to the Palacio de Bellas Artes to see El Color de los Dioses (the Colour of the Gods), an exhibition on how old Greek, Roman and Aztec statues would have looked like with their original colours.

I think the photos say it all. What a different world! So unlike the marble-white (Greek and Roman) or stone-grey (Aztec) that dominates our imagination! Can you imagine all those temples in bright hues of blue, yellow, red? And look at those fantastic patterns on the tunics and clothes! And the eyes!










The exhibition closed on January 8th. I had been dying to see it, glad I managed. And glad to have had the opportunity to get a more accurate picture of such an important past. 

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

challenging, disappointing, wonderful and to-be-thankful-for 2016

NOTE: This is a very personal post, more than most. And it might seem really boring to most of you. Plus it's got way too many photos. But it's an exercise I like to do, to help me put things into perspective. Feel completely free to skip it altogether!



Well, this was not an easy post to write. First of all, there was all the media tendency to call 2016 the worst year in a long time. And sure, there was no shortage of things to complain about though, as some sites tried to counter-argue, there were good things to 2016. 

Also, I try not to focus too much on the negative when I write in my blog. This has to do with appreciating what good there is in my life, and not obsessing on the bad. But where do you draw the line between simply ignoring the bad as opposed to obsessing over it?

So, after some – conflicting – thought, I've decided to sort of follow my tradition of leaving most of the bad aside, while still acknowledging it. 


The bad (no, the worst!)

It pains me to say that 2016 showed me some very ugly sides of my country. A corrupt, racist, inept, uncaring side that affects everybody bar some living in pretty privilege bubbles – and let me tell you, I have deleted a whole really long paragraph on how much emotional and financial stress we went through because of corruption and ineptitude. I also deleted a really long rant about how shameful and unfair it is that the majority of the population has to deal with that too. And I also got rid of another section on how we felt hopeless at times. We have gone through rough times before, of course. Once each in Beirut, Beijing and Toronto. Mexico City was no exception, it seems. Such is life.


The amazing

Travel

But now, let's go on to the good stuff! Even just a very superficial recount of the other aspects of my year looks... well, so good! Starting with travel! I mean, I began 2016 in amazing Juchitán, in Oaxaca, where we experienced one incredibly rich and fascinating side of Mexico. And we spent some magical and relaxed days wandering around the city of Guanajuato. And, well, I mean, we spent our 16th (yes! 16th!!!) anniversary in Peru! That was just one of our most amazing trips ever. And, incredibly, thanks to the discovery of some unused air miles, we even finally got to go together to Buenos Aires! With a stopover in Panama! I'd have to be out of my mind to complain.







Work AND travel!?

But that was just pleasure travel with my habib! Workwise, travel was pure madness! Good madness, though. LOL. I have never had to travel so much, in such a short period, for work. And this will enter as one very special memory in my professional life, for sure. I visited Lilongwe, in Malawi. And Amsterdam, as a stopover. And New York, where I felt honoured to be working at the UN. And Seoul, with which now I already feel kind of familiar due to all my work visits, and where I can never have enough noodles and coffee. And Panama (yes, I visited twice!). And I made it back to Beijing as well! I loved being back home in China, I really did. And Nairobi! One extraordinary experience that even included a small safari. See? Absolute, fantastic, good madness. Accompanied by a break-neck work pace. But oh so worth it.











Work...

And since I'm talking about work, December 2016 saw the conclusion of two years of hard work. For the first time I could finally say I was a real practitioner in my field. I learned tons, and my efforts earned me the recognition of my peers – no small feat and no small honour considering how clueless and useless I felt when I began my new career path. Definitely a highlight of 2016.


Mexico City


I also kept enjoying my city, with the invaluable assistance of the habibi, of course. I cannot list all the exhibitions, events, films and whatever we loved. But I can certainly point some extraordinary highlights, like an exhibition by Witkin. Like attending Mexico City's Jewish Film Festival and getting shocked by a holocaust documentary as well as moved by another one on intersex people. Like my habib presenting his Languid Bodies Butoh performance and moving many in the audience to tears. Like seeing Rodin's Gates of Hell (which also triggered memories from Japan, many years ago). Like attending the Pride March and hearing Alejandra Guzmán live. Like going to a beautiful exhibition by Annie Leibovitz in a semi-abandoned former palace. Like an exhibition by Roger Ballen that in turn made me a fan of Die Antwoord. Like seeing my habibi perform Butoh by the city's main square (the Zócalo) and then have a photo of his performance land in an artbook, and also seeing him explore new paths with a group during a performance called Photohealing. 












And that is about seeing my city, but we also kept tasting it! We can't get enough of its Korean, Russian, Japanese, Taiwanese, Chinese, vegan and Swedish food (ok, true, Korean ranks way way high above the others! LOL). And I also began eating oysters, delicious oysters! And we began making our own kefir. And now we've added cholent and even Karaite kybynlar (an Ukrainian Jewish pastry) to our repertoire of home-made dishes! 







Friends, and family, and love...


We also enjoyed the visit of two dear friends we met in Lebanon, ages ago! As is usually the case, we were really happy to show them our city, and also to see it through their eyes! And there as another friend from Montreal that also visited, and who actually showed me the one Sikh temple of the city! And I attended a service there with him! And we also took part in friends' and family celebrations, which are always precious since we never know how long we're staying in any one place. And, of course, how could I fail to mention the habibi, who has spent 16 years by my side, who keeps amazing me through his art, and who proves himself as loyal and caring and loving every step of the way. 




the Miracle of the Oil

Personally, there were some really dark moments for us this year. Re-read that paragraph on "the worst" of 2016, and don't let its length fool you. Dark means dark means dark. But during Hanukkah the habibi shared a reflection with me, regarding the year we had. He said that, at some point, it might have looked like the oil would only last for a single night, and that darkness lay ahead. And then, it lasted a second night. And then a third one. All the way until the eighth and last night. And by that last night we were fine. And life was good.

After looking at all the great things this year brought us, I can say that, indeed, despite whatever hard times we went through, this was a good year. Our – very atheist – candles shone bright, happy and strong in the end. Yes!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

the Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year marathon

Christmas and hanukkah sometimes fall rather close to each other. But this year it was a perfect match - the first night of Hanukkah was Christmas Eve, and the last night of Hanukkah was New Year's Eve. A pretty dense week, eh?


Christmas

Of course, we were not going to stop having a Christmas tree, with our Chinese (as in bought-in-Bejing) lights, Canadian baubles, Icelandic elves... as gaudy a tree as there can be! 



Christmas Eve we were having dinner at my sister's. But before that we had a day around the Roma Norte neighbourhood where, while enjoying a nice draft beer, a man came by to offer some songs called sones jarochos. Enjoying these requires speaking very good Spanish, I'm afraid, as the lively music incorporates improvised verses that make reference to someone in the audience or the person requesting the song. These verses tend to be very witty, funny, and more than often a tad offensive. This was a pretty cool pre-Christmas Eve moment.



Once at my sister's, it was eating non-stop, as is usually the case. I think I mention this every year, but in Mexico the most important dinner is on Christmas Eve, and not on Christmas itself. Also, people tend to have dinner really late, around 10pm or even later. Among many delicious things, there were two items I'm incredibly glad to see at the table every Christmas - cod northern Spanish style (bacalao) and seepweed with mole sauce and potatoes and shrimp (romeritos). Both are very popular in the centre of Mexico, and attest to the very mestizo character of the city. I took horrible pictures of my plates, though, so your imagination will have to do (aided by a leftovers photo further ahead).

Something I hadn't seen in ages were Bengal flares, which were incredibly popular when I was a child, along with a number of fire-crackers made for personal consumption. Looking at the flares at my sister's patio brought many memories from so many years ago...   



It was a a nice, pleasant family reunion. And since I never know for sure how many more of those I'll have before moving country, I really appreciate sharing these dinners with my sister and dad.

Now, clichéd as this may sound, my habibi and me went for Chinese on Christmas. I mean, most everything is closed during the day, right? But the Chinese restaurants in the area east of Metro Viaducto are so authentic you are likely to find more signs in Chinese than Spanish! We settled for one called Jing Teng, with oodles of dimsum to choose from!

We got to practice our Chinese, we had delicious dumplings, we swooned over our traditional Chinese greens, and oohed and aahed with the mapo tofu and zhajiang noodles. We ordered way too much for the two of us, but we were oh so happy!




Hanukkah

With Christmas behind, we could now focus on our Hanukkah dinner! On the 26th, just a day after Christmas. We were going to offer friends and family some now traditional stuff - borscht, mulled wine, vegan cheesecake... But instead of latkes I asked the habibi we take a risk and try to prepare Karaite kybynlar, the pastries my mom used to make and which she learned from her Odessan grandmother.

It was our very first attempt ever at make them, I had no first-hand experience with my mom (I was never in the kitchen  as a child while she made them), and on top of that I wanted to make them vegan... Then we decided to bake them in the oven instead of frying them like my mom used to... Well, they did not look much like what my mom used to bake, but I can definitely say they were delicious and even pretty! 

So, now we can include another item in our repertoire - vegan kybynlar! Yay! 

Needless to say, this was a wonderful evening, with family, friends that had been to our Hanukkah dinners before, and friends who were with us for the first time. And my vegan cheesecake is always a big success, if I may say so, LOL. And this year it was accompanied by some amazing alfajores we had brought from Buenos Aires! 

Since I look at Hanukkah from a very secular and cultural point of view, it's a very nice thing to be reviving traditions and to keep building on an long-intuited but only rather recently asserted identity - Yiddishkeyt. 






Now, having these two feasts could only mean one thing - amazing leftovers! And most multi-cultural ones! On the 27th we helped ourselves to this most beautiful - if slightly unaesthetic - of plates, with romeritos (Mexico, pre-Hispanic), bacalao (Spain) and kybynlar (Ukraine). So, so good!



New Year

Like I mentioned before, the last night of Hanukkah fell on New Year's Eve. We lit the eight candles of the hanukkiyah, and enjoyed the last night of this ritual. I love how it creates such a peaceful ambiance, and also how unreligious it can look, which makes it a lot easier for me to incorporate as a home ritual.



But once the candles were out, we started getting ready, 'cause we were going to party at the Ángel de la Independencia! They were closing part of Reforma Avenue, and there were going to be public concerts, then fireworks, then more music...

We were not that crazy about the music before the countdown, but the fireworks? Awesome! They were fantastic, and the monument (the Ángel) worked wonderfully as background! It was a really nice show, honestly. And right after that? A concert by the Ángeles Azules! I really wasn't sure who they were, by name, but once they started playing I recognized their songs! And so we danced and sang what little we knew, with the rest of the people, and with quite a few foreigners! I was personally very glad to see people from so many countries having such a fun time by the Ángel!  






Once we felt it was enough partying, we walked home. It was just so pleasant, walking along Reforma Avenue, the night cool but not cold, the habibi and me chatting and reflecting on our experiences in this city... Nice.


A new tradition?

Next morning I had a very specific request for the habibi. Fortunately I had warned him in advance, so we'd have the necessary ingredients. For breakfast on January 1st I wanted... chilaquiles! Basically, friend tortilla chips with tons of salsa, beans, onion, avocado... So simple, and so good! I think I want to do this every year!



And that's how we finished the year. Surrounded by friends, good food, new experiences in our city, and new traditions.