Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Strandbeesten!

We're damn lucky to live in the centre of Mexico City. Not only are there countless museums, special exhibitions and events to keep you busy without ever having to leave the area, but once in a while it's a true gem that arrives practically at your doorstep, like Theo Jansen's Strandbeesten! At Laboratorio Arte Alameda, which is a convent-cum-museum a couple of blocks from us!



Theo Jansen is a Dutch artist that's been building "beach beasts" (strandbeesten) for some 30 years, using simply materials but incredibly complex engineering. Theo describes his creations as living beings that reproduce by infecting our brains and making other humans bring more to life. His strandbeesten have been "evolving" with time, developing better walking capabilities, better interaction with their environment so they won't drown and so they won't be carried away by the winds of the beaches they "inhabit", they've developed "muscles" and "stomachs" that keep them moving even when the air they "feed" on stops blowing... 

The exhibition we visited even had an evolutionary chart of all of Theo's creations! He really does take seriously the whole evolution aspect! As a matter of fact, what you see below, bar the last one, are basically fossils (why, of course! these are species that preceded the current one, right?).








The most recent species seems to be this one here. The "stomachs" store compressed air and, once the wind stops blowing, simple physics lets the air out once more and makes this strange creature move forward in brief, tentative steps.



Just seeing these creatures by themselves, static, would have been enough. But twice a day they inject compressed air into the strandbeest and it moves! It's amazing how these simple automatons capture our imagination and attention! They also have a fossil that you can operate manually by pushing it, and people were definitely lining up for that too!



I never thought I'd see a strandbeest up close. And having a better understanding of Theo's views of his own strandbeesten made it so much better. Loved this. LOVED this.

Monday, May 29, 2017

House of Apocalipstick's No Ball

As I've mentioned before, we're always on the lookout for more alternative scenes and events. Luckily, the habib found out – through an artist he follows on Instagram – that there was going to be some sort of competition and party by House of Apocalipstick, a vogueing group! The ball was called, ironically, No Ball, and took place in a rather nondescript club in a slightly sketchy part of town, called Paradise Club.

I had seen people vogueing at different gay and gay-friendly events here in Mexico City, so the opportunity to see them all gathered seemed too amazing! By the way, vogueing started as a very stylized dance that originated with African American drag queens in the 60s, and which in a sense imitated the poses seen in fashion magazines like Vogue. You can see an example of this in Madonna's famous video "Vogue". Vogueing has kept evolving since and today incorporates newer styles (like Vogue Fem) which in turn incorporate new steps (like the Duckwalk, which you'll recognize in the video at the bottom).

Needless to say, we had an amazing time at this extremely queer space, watching people do catwalks, competing through their dance, and even mocking the heteronormative business world with a very satirical "business catwalk". 





Now, the light was not the best for taking a video, nor was the angle. But still, this should give you some idea of what was going on there:



This was a real breath of fresh air for us. Will definitely keep our eyes on House of Apocalipstick from now on!

Friday, May 26, 2017

the City of Angels – odds and ends

So, lemme see... what's left to say about Puebla? Well, there was this bazaar we went to on our very last morning. Lots of old stuff, some of it true antiques. In fact, as we were heading for some cold drinks (it was so hot) we passed by a gorgeous old radio! Like, those that were really tall, with numerous knobs for tuning to different kinds of stations and even different cities! I really wanted it! Of course, such a piece didn't come cheap and, once the owner told me how much it was, I had no choice but to go back to getting my cold drink. No amount of haggling could have brought it down to an affordable price for me!




There were some Huichol artisans by the bazaar, too. The Huichol people live in northern Mexico, and they're famous for their delicate and intricate bead work, usually covering animal figures in dazzling and colourful patterns. And they were working on their stuff right there!



Finally, remember that klezmer concert we went to at a synagogue in Mexico City? Well, that group came from Puebla, right? And we came across them by one of the main squares! So, here you have them again, the 100% Poblano and traditional-klezmer connoisseurs Grupo Klezmorino!



As you can see, we had an amazing time in Puebla. I'm really grateful the habib decided we visit on that May long weekend. Looking forward to exploring more of this unfathomably diverse and rich country that is home!

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

the food from the City of Angels

Of course, no trip is just about seeing the sights, it's also about eating! Especially in a city with such a rich tradition as Puebla! 

Tacos árabes

Puebla had a big Lebanese immigration in the past, which left its mark in at least one very popular and traditional dish, the "tacos árabes", or Arab tacos. Now, the funny thing is that, first of all, lamb was not as easy to get, and apparently it wasn't particularly loved by the locals. Also, most of the Lebanese that moved to Mexico were Christian, not Muslim. So, can you guess what the substitute meat was? Pork! So, the traditional "Arab" taco is made with... pork! Isn't that ironic? They're served in pita bread, not in tortillas. And they're usually accompanied by labneh (Lebanese yogourt), some onion, and jalapeño pepper. 

It will never come even close to the fantastic shawarma we had in Lebanon, but I have to say this is a fun intercultural dish. 




Sweets

The variety of sweets is mind-boggling, so I won't even bother listing them. Nuts are a favourite, as well as some small jelly-like rolls infused with a bit of alcohol (called little drunkards, or "borrachitos"), marzipan, crystallized fruit... We went to a shop on the Calle de los Dulces (Sweets Street) and grabbed a bunch of stuff which, obviously, lasted us the whole trip! So much sugar...




Pasita

Puebla has its own popular liquor, called Pasita (it means little raisin). It's not too strong, it's very sweet, there are numerous rhyming sayings that incorporate the word "pasita", and our experience was that it tastes way better if served at least a bit cold. We had one at a very nice restaurant and one at a traditional cantina. We couldn't get to the original 1916 cantina where it was originally served, but we did visit a branch that looked quaint enough and definitely did the trick. Oh, and it's served with a raisin (of course, right?) and with a piece of goat cheese! 




Churros!

Sure, you can find churros anywhere. But isn't it always fun to get them at an old churrería in a historic district and watch this and other pastries being made right there?




Cemita

As you might remember from my first Puebla post, Mexico was invaded by the French. Also, shortly after Mexico ended what is known as the French Intervention and killed Emperor Maximilian I of Mexico, the country was ruled by Porfirio Díaz, an almost three-decade long period known as the Porfiriato. Porfirio Díaz considered France as a model to aspire to. All this meant that there are a number of Mexican traditions that have their origin in French customs, being fully appropriated and somewhat transformed in the process. 

That's the case of the cemita, a brioche-like bread with sesame seeds. Nowadays it's a popular bread to make tortas (Mexican sandwiches). We headed to a place called Las Poblanitas for this and, to be honest, I didn't expect much. After all, it was nothing but a torta. But I wanted to try the famous cemita anyhow. 

Well, we loved it! The bread was nice and soft, not dry. And we got ours served with insane amounts of Oaxaca cheese that was shredded by hand right in front of you! That plus avocado, some chipotle peppers and a special ingredient I had never tried but with which I fell in love right away because of its taste and fragrance – pápalo (also known as papaloquelite). It's a herb that could look like cilantro, but with much bigger leaves, but the taste is... well, I can't describe it. But absolutely loved it! One of the best tortas I've ever had. And proof that there are reptile-like aliens among us, because only someone who could unhinge their jaws could take a bite at that! LOL




Mole

Now, THIS is what I had come to Puebla for! Puebla is known as the creator of at least one kind of mole – mole poblano, a colonial Mexican sauce with a gazillion ingredients including, of course, chocolate, which gives it its dark and slightly sweet taste. We went to a fantastic restaurant called El Mural de los Poblanos, and I couldn't resist ordering a tasting of different moles.

I was served five small bowls of shredded turkey with five different kinds of mole-like sauces, as well as a small bowl of re-fried beans, and some tortillas. From right to left (and skipping the rightmost one, which is the beans) I had pipián verde (made with pumpkin seeds), pipián rojo (similar, but spicier and red), mole poblano (heavenly, simply heavenly, I could have had so much more of that!), mole manchamanteles ("tablecloth-staining mole", sweeter, with fruit) and adobo (a paprika-based sauce). I enjoyed every single bit of this. This was absolute perfection. 



That was followed by a good espresso with the cutest of coffee meringues...



And by a much bigger, pink meringue (see the French influence? 'cause these are all considered Mexican desserts!) filled with a delicate pulque (a fermented drink made from the sap of the Agave plant) foam filling. Amazing!



Chocolate, as it should always be served

Finally, when we visited Santa María Tonantzintla (see my previous post), in an alley nearby there was a small market, and there we found a lady selling chocolate she had whisked in a huge clay casserole and which she kept cold with a big chunk of ice inside. Water based, with the requisite foam product of the whisking with a traditional wood "molinillo" (a whisk). Served in charming colourful gourd bowls. This was not only refreshing and delicious, but it really rounded our experience at that fantastic church of Tonantzintla.



Our Bed&Breakfast

I didn't take any photos, because I felt a bit shy, but our hosts at our B&B introduced us to a number of things, including a very simple, soft and beautifully rolled bread called pan de agua (water bread); to zapote blanco (a white variety of zapote negro, or black zapote, a Mexican fruit); a tlacoyo (sort of like a thin Mexican pancake with savoury fillings) with shredded chicken in some special sauce... Everything was delicious, we were so lucky to have landed at this B&B!


I could so go back to Puebla to keep eating... We're almost done with Puebla, just one final post with stuff I couldn't fit in any of the previous ones!

Monday, May 22, 2017

ancient and mystical Cholollan

If you visit Puebla, you must take a few hours to visit the district of Cholula (Cholollan, or "place of those who fled", in Nahuatl), which is just a short 15-20 minute drive from the city of Puebla. We actually went there twice. First, to visit the famous Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios, which sits, as so many churches do in Mexico, atop a pyramid, the Pirámide de Cholula, a massive thing with the largest base in the continent (some four times bigger than the Great Pyramid of Giza).

Now, the church itself is nice but, for us, the main attraction was just getting up there and have stunning views of two volcanoes you can also see from Mexico City – the Popocatépetl (the "smoking hill" in Nahuatl, on the left in the first photo below) and the Iztaccíhuatl (the "white woman", on the right). 

What can I say, I love these volcanoes. And having these views was amazing!





For this picture here we had to walk quite a bit. The most famous pictures of Cholula feature the church with the Popocatépetl as background. But you need to find the proper spot, which is no easy task since it seems nobody's willing to share their precious photographic secret. And then, well, weather needs to cooperate, which it didn't in our case since on the walk to the spot a cloud planted itself over half of the volcano. At least we tried!



We also visited the ruins of the pyramid, but one of its main draws – tunnels within – was closed off to the public. And though the remains of the pyramid you can see from outside are nice, you could safely miss the museum, although they have a scale model of the pyramid that gives you an idea of how it looked like and how it is – like so many other pyramids – a layered building, with the newer parts simply built on top of the more ancient ones. 



Now, when we were at the Museo Internacional del Barroco, we saw a video that very briefly showed the very baroque but also very indigenous-influenced interior of a church – the Iglesia de Santa María Tonanzintla. Also in the district of Cholula, but in the Tonantzintla community. It looked gorgeous, and our last day in Puebla we decided we had to pay it a visit before we came back to Mexico City.

This church is from the 16th century, though its most famous part – its interior decoration – was done in the 17th. And it is famous because it's a fantastic example of indigenous baroque. So it's dense and rich and over the top, like most baroque church interiors, but it's also got plenty of local elements – the use of colour, angels with feather headdresses, eagle warriors (a kind of Aztec soldier), local plants... It's absolutely unique and breathtaking.







On the way to Tonantzintla the car passed by Acatepec, another Cholula locality. One glance at the façade of the church and we knew we would have to stop by after Tonanztintla. It's just a 15 minute walk from Tonantzintla, and then you get to the Templo de San Francisco Acatepec. It's from the 18th century, and it's known not just for its baroque façade, but for the use of Talavera (the ceramic from Puebla) on it. Gorgeous. So colourful and rich!

The inside was nice, too. Although I'm afraid that, after Tonantzintla, there was no way anything could take our breath away anymore! But still, a nice interior and an unbelievable façade. 






Cholula is said to have at least as many churches as there are days in a year. We only visited these three. And I couldn't be more satisfied. 

Just two more posts on Puebla left! One on food (but of course!) and the usual odds and ends one, lol.

Friday, May 19, 2017

the City of Angels – the treasures within

So, we've covered Puebla's churches and architecture. What about... museums! Let me tell you about four fantastic places in no particular order:

Museo Internacional del Barroco

The International Museum of the Baroque is one huge, beautiful building in the newer part of town. Designed by Japanese architect Itō Toyo'o, this is one stunning building that consists mainly of solid white waves twirling near each other? It's really something. And it's even got a huge pool with its own dark whirlpool in the middle, some terraces with peculiar trees, and a number of views from the different levels. The galleries follow somewhat concentric patterns, in keeping with the curious architecture...

All in all, well worth a visit just for the building itself. 





Unfortunately, what must have been an enormous investment remains just a building, as the collections inside are ok, but nothing to really die for. There was one temporary exhibit on Talavera – the trademark ceramics of Puebla – which was really fascinating, though. It showed you the history of the art, from the ancient Middle East, to Spain, to the Americas, to influences from Asia via the Philippines... This kind of ceramic became so valuable that different and very strict regulations were published already in the 17th century to protect the craft and guarantee its quality.

Like I said, this one temporary exhibit was superb. We loved it. They even had a trunk used by the Manila Galleons (in Spanish known as the Nao de China) that sailed between the Philippines and Mexico! And it portrayed the city of Manila! Awesome.






But that was about it. The rest of the exhibits, I'm afraid, were somewhat interesting, but barely worth the trip if not for the building itself and that one temporary exhibit on Talavera. What a waste of money?


La casa del Deán

Now, the Dean's Palace, wow, what a jewel! This 16th century building contains some magnificent murals, which were preserved thanks to many layers of other materials and paintings on top of them. They were rediscovered barely some 50 years ago! Curiously, they represent non-religious scenes. One of the rooms has paintings of the Sibyls, or ancient Greek oracles. One of them is even carrying the Hebrew Bible and rides blindfolded, as a sign of her not knowing the New Testament.

The other room has murals about Petrarch's Triumphs, with Love triumphing over Men. Death over Love. Fame over Death. Time over Fame. And Divinity over Time.  

What's most interesting, though, is that there are a number of indigenous items, such as local fauna and flora, revealing that indigenous artists must have collaborated in the murals. 





Biblioteca Palafoxiana

The 17th century Palafox Library. Probably the first library in the continent. A quote from the founder: "He who succeeds without books is in an inconsolable darkness, on a mountain without company, on a path without a crosier, in darkness without a guide." Oh, and Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz read books here. What other reason could you possibly need to visit!?

By the way, there was an exhibition on hebraica, books on Jewish studies to better understand the Bible or the different Jewish populations around the world, including China! Fascinating place, fascinating treasures. 






Museo Amparo

Finally, the Museo Amparo. A must. The collections are not huge so as to leave you exhausted, yet they have the most beautiful pieces you've seen! Their indigenous art section was wild! There was art the like of which we'd never seen! I guess that also testifies to the insane richness of Mexico, but still. There was contemporary art (my favourite being a metal bench with faces and feet), there was a gorgeous collection of photos by Juan Rulfo that made your mind sail among images of a long-gone old Mexico. There was beautiful colonial art that reflected Asian influences on the faces of Christs, as well as numerous figures with richly detailed and gorgeously preserved robes made of painted wood...

Oh, and the photos of most of the domes in my previous post? From the museum's terrace!






So, you see? Puebla is a feast for your eyes in so many ways! But there's still more...