Saturday, April 29, 2017

Good Friday by the Cathedral

Continuing with the Easter theme – my previous post was about a Good Thursday lunch, remember? – on Good Friday we went for a walk around the historic centre, specifically to the Zócalo, Mexico City's main square. 

Now, it being Good Friday, there were representations of the Passion of Jesus in a number of places, including exactly in front of Mexico City's Cathedral. In fact, this was a representation in the style of the ones made during colonial times, and the costumes and manner of speech were – unsurprisingly – very reminiscent of Spain instead of the Roman Empire.

Personally, I find the Passion of Jesus such a bloody and violent affair... but then again, it's a huge part of the local culture, so it was worth having a look.

And since we were there, we also entered the cathedral (the Catedral Metropolitana). I assume I had gone in some time before? but it had been so long I couldn't remember any details? So, this was pretty much like a first visit.

To begin with, this is the continent's largest cathedral. Period. Building already began in 1573, on top of an Aztec temple. And it's got one massive, impressive choir, in the central nave, rising majestically above you. In fact, the choir was so imposing and beautiful it was by far my favourite part of the cathedral...

So, we began with a Passover dinner, then a Romanian Easter lunch on Good Thursday, then a representation of the Passion of Jesus and a visit to the foremost cathedral in the continent for Good Friday... A very religious and culturally intense period, eh? But we were not done. We still had something special on Good Saturday... 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

a Romanian Easter

So, it seems we're not the only ones trying to keep up some traditions alive, because during Easter we were invited... to a Paști Românești! A Rumanian Easter dinner!

We have this friend from Romania who bravely decided he'd try to reproduce a traditional Romanian dinner, and invited us as guests along with some other people. Lucky us!

Among many, many interesting things:

He painted some boiled eggs red. The colour symbolizes the blood of Jesus Christ, and you're supposed to knock yours against someone else's and try and crack it. Once cracked, you can peel and eat it. We had the eggs with fresh scallions and rye bread. Nice! And there were other appetizers that looked a lot like the ones we used to have in Lebanon, like stuffed grape leaves, stuffed cabbage leaves (sarma) and eggplant purée.

Then followed the main dishes, including a leg of lamb – lamb is not normally eaten in Rumania, except for this holiday – and cozonac, a kind of sweet bread with raisins. Delicious! Oh, and another thing called pasca, another bread-based dish, but with a cheese filling. Our friend put so much work into this dinner! Amazing!

We left feeling incredibly full, very fortunate to have been invited to share this tradition, and also encouraged to try a *Passover dinner next year, which we saw as rather daunting but... it can't be more daunting than this Romanian feast! 

*By the way, we did go to a Passover dinner with a friend. A humanist, atheist, chaotic, fun, delicious Passover dinner, which also encourages me to attempt one at home next year.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

of Jews and Feminism

The Museum of memory and Tolerance (Museo de Memoria y Tolerancia) of Mexico City is a fantastic place to go to. Always. Their sobering permanent exhibits are really good, touching on the Holocaust, on many other genocides, on racism and discrimination... But it's their temporary exhibitions that keep us coming back over and over again.

This time? We went back for two special things. The first one consisted of some recovered manuscripts written by Luis de Carvajal, a Spanish Jew who moved to America in order to escape the Spanish Inquisition in Europe. These texts are from 1595, and 70 years ago were stolen from Mexico's National Archives. Now that they´ve been recovered, they're at this museum. 

These are considered the first texts written by a Jew on American soil, and consist of a diary, prayer instructions... They are really small in size, probably to make it easier to hide them. Alas, Luis de Carvajal was finally detained by the Inquisition for practicing "the Mosaic Law". He committed suicide.

Those books are part of the permanent collection now, so you have to cross most of the exhibits before you get to them. Right after the room they're in, there's this piece in commemoration of the children that died during the Holocaust. A simple, and moving, sculpture.

And then we moved to the temporary exhibition, on Feminicide. I'd say it's a must. Feminicide is a scourge, and it must be both exhibited, acknowledged, and combatted. This exhibition, through an incredibly thoughtful layout, takes you through sheer cold brutal facts, through archival narratives, through artistic installations. It educates, it denounces, it moves, it empowers... Kudos to the museum and the curators for this incredible meshing of information and art to deal with such a delicate and outraging subject... 

The exhibit is powerful, and so I decided on using just two images, since there's no way to do it real justice here. The first one is a corridor with hanging ropes impeding your progress, while you hear misogynistic sexist messages. The second one is a field of pink crosses, overflowing near the back and spilling over a side of the museum, representing all the women killed by gender violence. 

Sure, you usually need some activity to pick up your spirits after a visit to this museum. But if you're in Mexico City, you also cannot miss a visit.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

waffles at Behr Taller de Waffles

We have walked by this place in the Colonia Roma Norte a number of times. With just two small tables and stools for four people at the bar, we had never managed to sit down for brunch. Until a couple of weekends ago! 

Behr taller de Waffles – our new favourite waffle place. First off, we love sitting at the bar. We love doing it for Japanese food, for coffee, and waffles have proved to be no exception! Then, they have these very creative combinations! Though they do have vegan waffles, this one I'm gonna describe is the least vegan one of them all – it's called G.T.F.O.O.H., and it has fried cheddar, soft bacon, two eggs sunny side up, agave syrup... and sriracha! I have to say, this was delicious! And just look at the thickness of that waffle!

Coffee was good, though you'll finish so full from your massive waffle I don't know how many of you could still fit in even a coffee after that! And the service was excellent – I was even asked how my coffee was. I was honest and said my espresso was more acidic than I liked it (which doesn't make it good or bad, it's just a personal taste thing), and then the barista tried a different way of preparing the cup and gave me another one! So cool.

We'll be back. If we find a seat, that is!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Ostgut Ton night

I've been living in Mexico City's historic centre for some two and a half years now. And it's such a rich, dense, complex area you never stop discovering stuff! Like Foro Normandie, where  a couple of weeks ago I went for a night of electronic music called "Ostgut Ton night".

Of Berlin's Bergheim-like inspiration, DJs Answer Code Request, Kobosil, Somewhen y Nina Sonik kept me pulsing and in a trance from about 11pm until 5am, when I left (though it was by no means over by them). Foro Normandie is a subterranean venue and, after I exited and began my walk home, I could feel the sidewalk vibrate with the music below! An epic night. And a venue I'll keep my eye on from now on!

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

kinky beer?

So, we go to this place by the Monument to the Revolution – Crisanta, about which I've written a couple of times, because you can sit and have a beer with views of the monument. We order some local craft beer – the Mexican craft scene has exploded with countless breweries and beer types. I get an "ale stout". What's that? don't know! but it was good! 

After some sips, I notice the label is more than a luchador (Mexican freestyle wrestler)... First off, below the figure it reads "Black sado"?! Then... he has a whip in his hand? And that's not a vest, that's a leather harness! and spiked leather bracelets! Well well well! It seems kink has entered the Mexican beer scene? LOL.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

a quick Cartagena work trip

One of the perks... NO, the MAIN perk of my current job is that I get to travel. Like, a lot. Sure, it's usually very brief stays, and most of my time is taken up by work. But I always – ALWAYS – manage to squeeze in some exploring.

So, end of March I ended up in... Cartagena, Colombia! I had never been to the country (I mean, Bogota's airport doesn't count!), so this was a fantastic opportunity to have a look!

I stayed a total of four nights. And here's just a sampling of what it was like...

The walled city by night

The area where Cartagena de Indias was founded had been inhabited for some 5000 years even before the Spanish arrived, but the city you see nowadays is from the early 16th century. In fact, the historic centre, or Ciudad Amurallada (walled city) has been a UNESCO heritage site for some 30 years already!

I spent a couple of nights wandering inside its walls. By the way, exploring by night is about the best idea, given that even this early in the year it's already pretty hot. Towers, churches, balconies over narrow streets, squares of many sizes, stands selling traditional sweets under old arches, and dinner in the form of arepas (a sort of corn patty) cut open and filled with queso (cheese) which, due to the arepa being super hot off the pan, melts right then and there!

Right outside the walls there's another historic part, Getsemaní. Less famous, more bohemian, less manicured and somehow more authentic, with lots of graffiti and people still living there. It's a shame I only came here once for a beer and a small walk with a colleague, 'cause i really enjoyed the vibe! 

The walled city by day

Because, sure, by night the temperature was very pleasant. But I wanted to see the historic centre by day too, right? It's a colourful part of town, with lots of pastel colours, including on the churches' domes. Besides, the wall goes practically all around the centre! It seems Cartagena was the usual target for pirates in the Caribbean, so they really had to have some serious defenses, right?

Sunsets by the beach, toucans and arepa 'e huevo

I did not stay by the historic centre, but at an old hotel by the beach. That particular beach had a stone pier jutting into the sea, and I spent a couple of nights there just enjoying a nice, relaxed Caribbean sunset...

The hotel had its own special residents, as well. First, this gorgeous toucan! I think I saw that fellow every single day of my stay! Of course, it figured out that a) we were not dangerous and b) that mornings we had plenty of food around us. So it was more than willing to perch on a chair by you or anywhere near your food! Although you could see it at any number of other places, too.

And then deer? I saw two of them my first evening, but I didn't see them again. So sweet! A lot less trusting than the toucan, but one did get pretty close to me!

And behind the hotel was a bay, where I say some storks (I think, I'm definitely not a bird-geek) on an evening walk back to the hotel.

I had most of my meals either at the hotel or where we were having the workshop, so a couple of mornings I decided to go for a most traditional breakfast – arepa 'e huevo con suero, or arepas filled with egg and a side of sour cream. This kind of arepa is made with a very very thin dough, egg is placed inside before it's set to fry, and then it's deep fried. Not bad at all, if just a tad heavy for breakfast! Oh, and Colombian coffee? Thumbs up, of course!

What you came for

Like I said, I went to Cartagena for work. And this work has to do, in essence, with making people's lives better through a more effective use of international cooperation, which can in turn detonate broader change. When you're in an office typing away, or at nice conference halls with well-versed and well-dressed officials, it's really easy to forget the real reason behind all those documents, and meetings, and conferences, and reports... 

It was very welcome that, as part of my work, we visited a centre for local infants, a result of development cooperation efforts. A nice reminder that it does get better somewhere along the convoluted line between my office and someone's home.

Good-bye Cartagena!

I had to fly back to Mexico via Bogota. And since I had a few bills left while waiting for my Mexico City flight at the airport,  I decided to go for one last Colombian thing – a local brew! But then they also had a local spirit, aguardiente. And I hadn't had that yet either! The barman's suggestion? A "submarine"! The local beer, with a shot of the local spirit floating upside-down inside. Not bad at all. Not bad at all. And with that, I bade farewell to Colombia.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

a weekend with the Calgarian

So, a couple of weeks ago we had another visit from the Great White North that we miss so much – a friend from Calgary we met in Toronto! Some highlights of things we shared during his visit?

Vegan tacos!

Yes, in the Colonia Roma Norte there´s a place called La Pitahaya Vegana, and they have a number of delicious vegan tacos! Sure, they look very colourful, but the tortillas, the fillings and the salsas are amazing! Except maybe some ricotta made from coconut, which tasted good by itself, but sort of didn't quite mesh well with the cheese concept? Whatever, you should try this place.

Art at Museo Jumex

The habib really wanted to see this exhibition on a Mexican conceptual artist, arguably one of the first and most influential Mexican artist on this genre. The habib had a field day there, while the rest of us (me, our Calgarian, my sis and her family) tried to follow and understand the exhibit the best we could. Lots of interesting video and text, and definitely not the easily digestible kind, but still enjoyable and intriguing.

Café de chinos!

Mexico City has a number of places known as cafés de chinos (Chinese people's cafés). They were originally set up by Chinese, decades ago, but the food served there was mostly basic and definitely Mexican. They were, after all, just businesses where you could drink coffee and eat cheap. They were most definitely not Chinese food restaurants. 

There are quite a few left around, but one of the more famous and old ones is Café La Pagoda, in the historic centre of Mexico City. Just so you have an idea of what you can get there, look at my dinner – grilled nopal, on a bed of beans, with traditional salsa, tortillas, and sauteed chile and onion.

By the end we were all so full we couldn't order any of the beautiful sweet bread you could see by the window!

Mezcal for whatever!

Of course, we had to take our bud to one of our favourite places – El Bósforo, a mezcal bar or mezcalería. Business was a bit slow, so we could all sit at the bar, and the barmaid had a fantastic time explaining to our friend how to drink and enjoy mezcal. Big tip before anything else – you sip this, you do not slam it! LOL.

We didn't get to do much more with him, what with work and stuff (he had to do plenty of touristing on his own). But, like practically everybody who's visited our monstrous city, he's in love with it, so we'll probably see him back. Because you can't escape the lure of this capital, eh?

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

a walk around the historic centre

A couple of weeks ago we had a walk around the historic centre of Mexico City. Now, living right next to it, it's not like we haven't explored it countless times. And yet, it is  a huge place – some 9 square km, almost 700 blocks. So, it's no wonder there are parts of it I had never visited, and parts of it I had been by before but hadn't looked at with intent. And so we spent 4-5 hours re-re-re-discovering this fascinating part of town.

We had to charge our batteries, first, of course, which we did at Café Regina, on the historic and pedestrianized street of Regina. Some waffles, some cardamom rolls, nice coffee, a reading of Yuval Noah Harari's "From animals to goods", and we were ready!

One of the first places we reached, and one I had most definitely never ever set foot in, was the Plaza La Aguilita or Plaza Juan José Baz, a square adorned with trees in spring bloom and one of two very old statues representing the legend of the founding of Mexico City – an eagle devouring a serpent, marking the spot where the Aztecs were to build their city as per their prophesies.

As well, and perhaps even more fascinating, there is a set of ceramic coats of arms of that same image – the eagle and the serpent – but from numerous periods of the city's history! It's amazing to see how the symbol evolved with the centuries! Below you can see one of my favourite ones,  from 1692.

Not far from there is the Calle del Niño Dios, or street of baby Jesus, where all sorts of paraphernalia are sold, like dresses for – who else? – baby Jesus! There are also a number of statues, including to one of Mexico's favourite saints, the one that is supposed to assist on difficult times – Saint Jude Thaddaeus. I think he's also the saint of thieves? oh well...

And, since were on the subject of the complex Christian-like pantheon that serves Mexico, nearby (by La Merced neighbourhood) we came across an altar to the Santa Muerte (Holy Death?). Her worship has become something rather public in the last decade or so, and it would seem she would be some sort of continuation of the Aztec goddess of death Mictecacíhuatl – nothing unusual, as even Mexico's Virgen de Guadalupe seems to be a continuation of a previous local deity.

Then, we reached the Iglesia de la Santísima Trinidad, or Church of the Most Holy Trinity, a 16th century baroque church, right by a crossing created by the sinking of the ground. Remember – the Aztec capital was built on a lake. The soft soil, plus reckless draining of water for the city's supply, has made the ground a very unstable think and the whole historic centre is a sort of surrealist landscape, with buildings leaning one way or another, sinking at different rates and angles.

Not surprisingly, we found another altar to the Santa Muerte, this one apparently protecting the makeshift tent of a homeless person.

More walking took us to the Templo de Santa Inés, a church from the very beginning of the 17th century. I loved one of the towers, with beautiful yellow and blue tiles. But what was more amazing was some of the walls – they used a traditional building style with tezontle, a local stone. Not only did the builders use the local materials, but they even followed pre-Hispanic patterns – bigger stones encircled by smaller ones. Gorgeous! And unique!

Plus, the whole area around the temple was simply so colourful and old and alive...

Then it was the turn of Plaza de Santo Domingo, right after walking by San Ildefonso, with more old and elegant houses and a beautiful jacaranda tree.

The Plaza de Santo Domingo is from around the 16th century, and you find two curious things here – the other eagle statue (remember the one at the Plaza La Aguilita?) and traditional scribe booths, where illiterate people would go to to have love letters and other documents written and/or printed for them. Today they may serve other more modern printing needs, and some do engage in document forging – well, at least that's also an old art, right?

We were feeling pretty tired by now, but on our way home from Santo Domingo we spotted one last jewel – an Art Déco building! Right there, surrounded by 16th and 17th century architecture, on a quite tiled street. Superb.

Finally, and still within the historic centre, one last stop to cool down and relax, at the Beer Company. And with a Mexican red ale nonetheless! This city's craft scene has seen an unfathomable explosion of styles! Unbelievable! And so tasty! 

Frigging Mexico City. No matter how much I explore it, there's still always something more! Fascinating. And I feel so lucky to be so close to this part of town so I can go back to it over and over and over again, so I can keep marvelling at the intersection of history, stories, beliefs, people...