Saturday, September 27, 2008

Independence Day Sept. 15th-16th

Independence Day
It was Monday, September 15th. Finally, Independence Day had come, as Mexico had been preparing for weeks. From Friday on, people in the streets showed their pride by wearing red, white, and green paint on their faces. On Monday, they took it to a whole other level. Mexican nationalism was represented by tri-colored wigs (red, white and green), fake mustaches, fake eyelashes, big sombreros, flags, ribbons and more. I too was nominated to show my pride and wear a sombrero. I received a few remarks while we were out, such as, "You are not Mexican," while others were in support and said, "Viva Mexico!"

Below is a picture of a sign that the owner of Casa Bertha made for me. Earlier in the evening I had said that people were making comments about me not being Mexican. Here are my documents folks.

Caley, Nina and I stayed in Guanajuato City to watch "El Grito", while Katie and Colleen insisted on going to Dolores, where the original "Grito" was yelled by Miguel Hidalgo in1810. It went,"Long live the Virgin of Guadalupe and death to the gachupines (Spaniards)." Hidalgo was a Mexican born Spaniard and priest, who was fed up with the injustices brought on by the ruling class in New Spain. Therefore, at dawn on September 16th, Hidalgo declared independence and the war began.

In Guanajuato city, the "Grito" was scheduled for 11:00. Since it was raining, we waited inside until 10:30 before we made a run for it. The "Grito" had already happened by the time we arrived at the plaza, where music was blasting, people were dancing, making congo lines and foam was being sprayed everywhere. Cheers were still being yelled, "Viva Mexico!"

Even though we missed "El Grito," that did not stop us from enjoying the rest of the evening. We came to a consensus that dancing would be the best way to finish the celebration. We found ourselves near our hostel jamming out to salsa, cumbia, reggaeton, ranchero and norteño until four in the morning. We could not have had a more Mexican experience as we were the only three gringos in the bar.

At one point during the night, I took a small break from dancing and made a comment to a young Mexican man on the dance floor saying that I have never seen such nationalist pride. I was utterly impressed. He looked at me with a serious, straight face and replied, "What do we have to celebrate when we are still living in a country plagued by insecurity, kidnappings and crime?" He left me speechless. And with that, I will sign off.

Bits and pieces of Guanajuato (Sept. 13-16)

First and foremost, I would like to dedicate this blog to Colleen for being such a wonderful hostess.

The hillsides of Guanajuato
Dogs were barking. A man was singing to the radio with his deep, baritone voice. Water was running through the pipes. Church bells rang. Those were the sounds that accompanied my solitary state on the roof of the hostel, Casa Bertha, in Guanajuato. From my rocking chair, I saw houses upon houses set against the hillside. All together, the haciendas looked like the top of a Crayola crayon box as they were painted brilliant purple, violet, deep orange, periwinkle, hunter and moss green and burnt red. Hidden among them, I could see Teatro Juarez, a beautiful colonial theater located in the center of town.

Mummy Museum
During the day a group of us went to the Mummy Museum. Seeing mummified people was one of the most unique experiences that I have had yet. A long time ago, unclaimed bodies were found in Guanajuato in a type of soil that had naturally mummified the dead. Tradition says that the families of the bodies were forced to pay taxes and if they could not afford it, the deceased would become an addition to the museum.

The mummies still have their skin, hair and teeth. Some of their clothes were preserved too. Captions hung on the walls next to them, giving them an identity. For example, the first mummy was supposedly a French doctor from the 19th century who had no family. Another woman had died during a cesarean section; she and her child were propped up next to each other.

As I left the museum, the sign read, "Aquí acaba la vida y la eternidad empieza" (Here life ends and eternity begins). Woah.

Diego Rivera's house
The famous, Mexican muralist, Diego Rivera was born in Guanajuato in 1886. His actual house was nothing to write home about, but it was interesting to see the progression of his art work over the years. He went through stages of realism, impressionism, neoclassicism, and cubism before developing his signature style as a muralist. Thus, seeing his earlier work provided me with a new perspective for viewing his more recent pieces.

On Sunday night, we were determined to go see a callejoneada, or a group of students dressed up in medieval costumes who sang and played musical instruments. Their wardrobe consisted of a burgundy velvet jacket, puffy balloon shorts with black tights and a matching crown.

Within a block of our hostel, we heard the music and followed the sounds until we reached the rest of the crowd. We arrived just in time to hear a serenade sung by a teenage boy. All of the women were invited onto the steps so that the group could sing to us. Unfortunately, I was not the lucky lady chosen for the serenade.

Each callejoneada belongs to a different department at the University of Guanajuato. The students play in the band to help them finance their schooling. This tradition was brought over from Spain ages ago and was reborn in the 1970's.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Good energy and bad energy.

Last night, I was talking to my friend Carlos about religion. He does not believe in god, nor does he deny there is one because he cannot prove it. What he does believe in is energy: good and bad energy. Carlos elaborated by saying that individuals send out these vibes, they are absorbed by others and then returned. We both agreed that it is a bit like karma.

That talk was put into practice tonight when Brigitte the Beast, or the woman from whom I am renting my apartment, came home and started lecturing Irma and I about how we need to put the dishes away, sweep the floor, close the drawers tightly, etc. She started on her rant just after I offered her some of the quinoa pilaf and steamed broccoli that I had prepared for dinner.

Now that our fabulous, vegetarian dinner had been interrupted by You-Know-Who (yes, she's almost as bad as Voldemort), Irma and I went to our rooms. Minutes later I heard something break in the kitchen. Brigitte had accidentally shattered a wine glass. Unfortunately, she got what she deserved for sending out bad vibes.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Friday night errands

I had to get two pairs of shoes fixed and one pair cleaned so I bagged them up and took a walk through the neighborhood. En route, I stopped at the "papeleria", or the mom and pop stationary store, to buy some folders and asked where I could find a shoe repair shop. The woman pointed and told me to walk up the street two blocks.

There I was at a shoe repair shop within five minutes from my door step. The man in charge was a good two-hundred and fifty pounds, dark skinned and wearing an unbuttoned, sleeveless, plaid shirt. He looked at the first pair that needed new soles and gave me a look of concern, but reassured me that they were fixable. Next, I showed him the shoes that I wanted cleaned and asked if he could do it while I ran back to the house to get some more cash. "No problem," he said.

I came back within 15 minutes and a young boy, around 12 years old, was spraying my boots with black stuff. His hands were the color of my boots: charcoal black. It did not seem to phase him as he proceeded to wipe his nose with his working hands. I asked him from whom he was learning the trade, "My uncle," he replied with a smile. It was refreshing to see a family business as that tradition has disappeared over the years in the States. I paid the uncle's little helper and was on my way.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Comfort Food

I have now been able to locate and buy soy milk (original, as most of the brands are loaded with sugar and are either sold as chocolate or strawberry), hummus that is made daily and quinoa. What more could a wanna-be vegan living in Mexico city want?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Public transportation

In the morning, I have a ten minute walk to the metro. At 7, before the sun has come up, shoe shiners roll their stands to the outskirts of the station. The juicer man prepares his fresh fruit:oranges, papaya, mango, pineapple and guava.

The trains are very efficient, as they run every two minutes. When the train arrives I force my way on and guard my belongings. While the space around me is minimal, the cars are not suffocating because the windows are half cracked. Men and women, who are often blind, walk up and down the aisles with speakers on their backs selling hit CD's or children's videos for ten pesos.

Five minutes has gone by and I have already arrived at the bus terminal. The trick is finding the bus that will take me to my destination. First, I pass the gauntlet of vendors selling coffee, pastries, sweet bread, yogurt parfaits, churros, soda, candy, stationary, shoes and DVDs. There are six rows of buses in a parallel formation with lines of people beside them filling the sidewalk. Even though the destination of the bus is posted on the windshield, I had to ask the first couple of weeks if it made my stop.

Then comes the bus ride: the most thrilling part of the excursion. If I am lucky, I get to sit down. My knees rub up against the back of seat in front of me. Other days, I stand in the one-person-wide aisle trying not to knock people out with my bulging backpack. Within 15 minutes to a half of an hour (depending on the traffic), I have arrived.

The challenge now is getting off the bus. For the first couple of rides, I would look out for the landmark closest to the hospital and wait for the bust to stop before I got off. Too late. With the stick shift in gear, the bus was already going again and I was pulled back into my seat. My new learned technique requires getting up in plenty of time and making my way to the back of the bus with a few minutes to spare. As soon as the vehicle comes to a halt, the doors open and I jump off.

Riding home is similar. It requires flagging the bus down near the hospital and hopping on: sometimes while the bus is still moving.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Being a vegetarian and a wanna-be vegan

Boy is it difficult to be a vegan in Mexico City, let alone a vegetarian. Below are a few tales that better explain my dilemma.

At work, I asked what type of soup was for lunch and they replied, "vegetable." Great! I got back to my seat, stuck my spoon in it, swirled it around and tiny pieces of meat floated to the surface. To avoid wasting it, I closed my eyes and pretended that there were not flakes of dead, rotten animal carcass in my soup and gobbled it up.

The other day I was told that I had to try "chapatas." It is like a panini with ciabatta bread. There was only one vegetarian option on the menu, and of course it had cheese. After having to explain my gastronomic preferences, the woman at the grill was kind enough to make me a chapata with roasted vegetables instead. Ahhh, a vegan sandwich at last. My hopes were set high, until I bit into a sandwich coated in mayonnaise.

My latest non-vegan adventure took place the same night that I found the blue corn tortilla lady. After dinner, Will and I went to a café. The chocolate croissant looked too good to pass up. I purposely forgot that butter was used to make the croissant. No later was I unpleasantly reminded that it was not vegan when I bit into the crispy, flaky treat that tasted of manteca (lard). After eating the lard-tasting dessert, I will not forget next time that I should stay away from certain baked goods.

Mandy, will you please send me some vegan treats?

Mi casa (que es tu casa tambien)

I have never heard the frase, "My house is your house," used more than I have in Mexico. On that note, here is my house, which is also your house.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Blue corn tortillas off the street

Last night, I had my first experience eating food off of the street. I have been repeatedly told not to, but I will only live in Mexico once. Moreover, I resist the savory smells that come from stands on the street on a daily basis. On my way to work in the morning, I am woken up by the aura of tacos, quesadillas, flautas and more as I enter the metro station. At the institute, almost two entire blocks are taken up by food vendors where people chow down on fried tortillas layered with re-fried beans and cotija cheese.

Returning to last night's adventure; it was the sight of blue corn tortillas that made me stop in the first place. Blue corn chips from the states are my favorite, so I had to try fresh, hand-made blue corn tortillas. I hoped that she would have vegetarian fillings, as there was a two-foot long slab of sausage sizzling on the grill. Luckily, she had something I would eat: flor de calabaza (flowers of gourds) and hongos (black fungi). Not only did I enjoy every last bite of my street food, but I managed to not get sick the next day.

While my friend Will and I were eating, we learned the origin of the maseca and a little background information on the chef herself. The maseca is brought to her from Puebla daily. She has been at the stand for eight years now and is open from 8-12, Monday through Saturday. She used to be open from 8-2, but crime in the area has caused her to cut her hours short. If you are interested, I will take you there. As you can see, I am looking for an excuse to go back.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

One rainy Sunday in DF

I woke up this morning at 10 to a phone call from my mother. She wanted to know how she could reach my Mexican cell phone. Within the city you need to dial 044 to call a cell phone from a land line, but apparently it is not necessary when calling from abroad. Sorry about that, Mom.

Noon came around and I decided to take a stroll through my neighborhood, Roma. Right out my front door there was an art sale. Every Saturday and Sunday, artists display their work along one of the main streets in the area. The "Corredor de Arte Roma", as it is called, is only one of the reasons why Roma is known as Mexico City's art district. Many of the paintings were brightly colored works of modern art. Among the artwork, people were selling used books, original black and white photographs, housewares and a number of collector's items.

From the "Corredor de Arte Roma", I walked through the plaza called Rio de Janiero. Couples sat and chatted away on the benches. People played catch with their dogs. A homeless man slept on the bench.

My second to last stop was Casa LAMM, which is a cultural center a block away from my house. I was utterly pleased to finally see the newly inaugurated exhibitions on photographs of India. Aside from admiring the artwork, I realized that Sunday is not dress-down day. I was arguably the worst dressed person in the gallery in my over-sized, thrift shop blouse, jeans and moccasins. Everyone else had put on their Sunday best: suits, elegant sweaters, slacks and fine scarves.

Finally, I went to the super, also known as the grocery store. I made it out of there with a basketfull of fruit, vegetables, garbanzos, frijoles negros, tomatillo sauce and a kilo of tortillas, all for 10 dollars. Not too shabby.

Censorship: a threat to libertad (freedom) September 4, 2008

If taking part in the march, Iluminemos Mexico (Light up Mexico), was not enough to delve into the politics of Mexico, going to the screening of "Voces Silenciadas, Libertad Amenezada" (Silenced Voices, Threatened Liberty) fulfilled that need. The focus of the documentary was on the right to information and means of communication. One of the most poignant messages was that in order for Mexico to consider itself a democracy, journalists must be granted the right to report freely and the people must have the access to credible news sources.

Brigitte, my Canadian roommate, who is a news correspondent for Radio and TV Canada gave me the invitation. She insisted that I go see one of her favorite Mexican news correspondents who was going to be in attendance: Carmen Aristegui. Aristegui was one of the most widely listened to voices in Mexico. Bloggers said that she, "gave the voice to those who do not have a voice." I use the past tense here because seven months ago her contract with W Radio was not renewed. W Radio happens to be owned by two powerful companies that have a lot of pull in the media: Grupo Televisa and Spain's, Grupo Prisa. In other words, they took her off the air and silenced the critical voice of Mexico.

Within a week, Mexico City, has shown me the meaning of solidarity and consciousness-raising. The people here are aware of what is going on around them in terms of the political scene. And, when the general public is not satisfied with the current state of the government, people come together and make a stand.

Is asking for peace and freedom of the press too much?

The march for paz (peace) September 1, 2008

It was Saturday: our first day on our own in Mexico City, the second largest in the world. From the get-go, fellow Fulbrighters and I had already made plans to attend the march, Illuminemos Mexico (Light up Mexico). There is no better way to get to know Mexico than immersing oneself in it. In the end, we are responsible for understanding this country, as we will be future ambassadors.

Around 5 o'clock, we put on our white t-shirts and boots, grabbed our umbrellas and headed off to the march. Soon we became four silent voices out of tens of thousands. White flags were flying high. Signs read, "Basta, ya" (Enough). We marched in unity to denounce the long history of crime, corruption, and delinquency in Mexico. Some people walked with candles, others held up pictures of people who had been kidnapped. One of the ponchos read: Hugo Wallace, in memoriam of one of the many victims. Another name recognized that day was the 9-year old boy of the Marti family, who was kidnapped and later killed. For me, the march was a successful way to speak out against violence because violence only breeds more of the same.

To be a part of that crowd and to later see the march broad casted on TV was probably the closest that I will ever get to comprehending the magnitude of people with whom I share this city.

While the video is in Spanish, I do not think it requires a translator to get a sense for what an incredible event it was. See if you can find us on one of the streets!