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April, 2009:

Pig Flu Mexico City Day 6: in which we decide to eat lots of Bacon

As we close out Day 6 of Mexican Swine Flu Mania, it appears this virus has no intent of leaving the country quietly. A smattering of recent developments for anyone living under a rock:

  • The World Health Organization has raised the pandemic alert level to phase 5 on a scale of 6, meaning there is “sustained transmission among people in at least two countries”.  To get to phrase 6, the virus has to show an outbreak in two different regions. It believes “a global outbreak of disease is imminent.”
  • There are now 99 confirmed swine flu cases and 1 death in Mexico; 91 confirmed cases in the US and 1 death; other countries are being added to the list continuously. (UPDATE Thurs AM: now 5 confirmed swine-flu deaths in DF)
  • Mexico City has officially closed *all* restaurants; some are open for take-out only. The government will be paying them $50 PESOS a day to help offset their financial losses. (FYI, that is ~$4USD for the day.)  No such financial offsets are announced for street-performing clowns.
  • The Mexico City government has dictated a closure of all “non-essential government and private business activity” between the 1st and 5th of May.
  • The financial impact of this crisis is currently estimated at $57 million USD a day in Mexico City alone due to the drop in economic activity.
  • Suspicions regarding the source of the virus point towards a (seemingly absolutely disgusting) pig farm in La Gloria in the state of Veracruz. The farm is a subsidiary of Smithfield Foods, and townspeople nearby had 1,800 cases of an “acute respiratory infection” back in February that apparently didn’t get mentioned to the federal governement (allegedly). Check out this excellent description of more interesting pig farm details.
  • Mexico is great for conspiracy theories; check this out for some hot proposals of how Obama secretly snuck swine flu into the country.
  • A number of countries are considering/instituting bans on flights to Mexico, foremost those whiners the French. So far so good on flights to China…will I make it onto my plane May 8th???

Given that you are all probably well-saturated with data points about the swine flu frenzy, let me share how I have spent my last 24 hours (besides working from home). We did indeed make our wild venture out Tuesday night to Costco & Chedraui (local grocery store) to buy supplies for aforementioned friend’s birthday dinner.

As you may or not be aware about Mexico City, many of its citizens (chilangos) have sort of a fatalist attitude towards life, perhaps stemming from the crazy/random things that seems to happen to/in D.F. (as per prior post re. swine flu + earthquake in one day). So instead of approaching things from the standard, American, hide-under-your-bed-until-it’s-over point of view, we decided to embrace the apocalypse & host a pork-heavy Night Breakfast. (i.e. tasty breakfast foods for dinner, heavy on the bacon)  Take that, pig flu!! We aren’t skerd of y’all.  Anyway, pics below from grocery store trip + bacon frenzy.

John is fully prepared to fight our way through the crowds at two grocery stores with his blue-post-it-mask.

John is fully prepared to fight our way through the crowds at two grocery stores with his blue-post-it-mask.

We came expecting a madhouse, but Costco turns out to actually be fairly quiet. Note conspicious absence of people near the pork section of the Deli on the left. Probably ~50% of people had masks on, but all store employees.

We came expecting a madhouse, but Costco turns out to actually be fairly quiet. Note conspicious absence of people near the pork section of the Deli on the left. Probably ~50% of people had masks on, but all store employees.

Contrary to Costco's belief, apparently Corn Flakes & Special K are *not* what people stock up on during a flu pandemic...

Contrary to Costco's belief, apparently Corn Flakes & Special K are *not* what people stock up on during a flu pandemic...

OK, this isn't super-relevant to the swine flu, but who was the marketing wizard behind this brand of hotdogs?? "See guys, the thing is, they really aren't food, since they are all just lips & *ssholes, so that's why we'll call them FUD instead. I already submitted the copyright. Whaddya think?"

OK, this isn't super-relevant to the swine flu, but who was the marketing wizard behind this brand of hotdogs?? "See guys, the thing is, they really aren't food, since they are all just lips & *ssholes, so that's why we'll call them FUD instead. I already submitted the copyright. Whaddya think?"

One of the fine selections on offer at the Costco deli was this "Pastel de Carne". I realize this is meatloaf, but directly translated it says "Cake of Meat". Mmmm. Luckily we were not confused by the Spanish "cake" word usage & did not mistakenly buy this as a birthday cake...

One of the fine selections on offer at the Costco deli was this "Pastel de Carne". I realize this is meatloaf, but directly translated it says "Cake of Meat" (or Pie of Meat). Mmmm. Luckily we were not confused by the Spanish "cake" word usage & did not mistakenly buy this as a birthday cake...

As we left Costco to go to the normal grocery store (Chedraui) down the hall, we passed the Costco cafeteria. FYI: Do not eat here. While their hotdogs + drink for $1.75 or huge slice of pizza for $2 SOUND like fantastic ideas, they are almost certain to give you the Mexi-poops. Best avoided at all costs; go back and buy yourself some Cake of Meat.

As we left Costco to go to the normal grocery store (Chedraui) down the hall, we passed the Costco cafeteria. FYI: Do not eat here. While their hotdogs + drink for $1.75 or huge slice of pizza for $2 SOUND like fantastic ideas, they are almost certain to give you the Mexi-poops. Best avoided at all costs; go back and buy yourself some Cake of Meat.

In the commercial center that holds Costco, Chedraui, and a movie theatre, many of the other small stores were shut down Tuesday night. But not the PET STORE, generally recognized as a bastion of cleanliness and sanitation. Good choice, Pet Store Manager! Let's press our luck & see if we can get some Dog Flu action going here.

In the commercial center that holds Costco, Chedraui, and a movie theatre, many of the other small stores were shut down Tuesday night. But not the PET STORE, generally recognized as a bastion of cleanliness and sanitation. Good choice, Pet Store Manager! Let's press our luck & see if we can get some Dog Flu action going here.

Inside Chedraui, activity was brisk but overall things seemed normal. The only sign of a run on supplies was this shelf that had been nearly wiped clean of canned soup & bags of pasta.

Inside Chedraui, activity was brisk but overall things seemed normal. The only sign of a run on supplies was this shelf that had been nearly wiped clean of canned soup & bags of pasta.

One promising item we observed for sale was this yogurty drink called "Svelty". I seriously considered buying a dozen to see if they could actually make me look svelty, despite all this sitting on my butt I am doing since our gym is shut down.

One promising item we observed for sale was this yogurty drink called "Svelty". I seriously considered buying a dozen to see if they could actually make me look svelty, despite all this sitting on my butt I am doing since our gym is shut down.

Our first shocking discovery at Chedraui was the number of pork products still for sale! Obviously there must be at least one sane Chedraui store manager out there who knows the swine flu is not transmitted by eating pork! Perhaps he should have a chat with Egypt before they make all their country's pigs take a dirt nap.

Our first shocking discovery at Chedraui was the number of pork products still for sale! Obviously there must be at least one sane Chedraui store manager out there who knows the swine flu is not transmitted by eating pork! Perhaps he should have a chat with Egypt before they make all their country's pigs take a dirt nap.

Next stop: the Chicharron stand!! For those unfamiliar, these are fried pork skins. We were curious as to how the chicharron business was faring with all the bad PR, but were not able to find any managers to ask about that NOR how they felt about the Egyptians trying to flood the market.

Next stop: the Chicharron stand!! For those unfamiliar, these are fried pork skins. We were curious as to how the chicharron business was faring with all the bad PR, but were not able to find any managers to ask about that nor how they felt about the Egyptians trying to flood the market.

We finally made it to the checkout. Here's me, getting the death glare from the people in line behind us as I prepare to pay with my FOOD STAMPS (job "perks" are a little different in Mexico). This is almost invariably a hellish process in which the checkout person cannot trust the amount of food stamps I have given them & so must count them 4-7 different times, each time rearranging/restacking the piles of food stamps to ensure no one knows exactly how much I am paying.

We finally made it to the checkout. Here's me, getting the death glare from the people in line behind us as I prepare to pay with my FOOD STAMPS (job "perks" are a little different in Mexico). This is almost invariably a hellish process in which the checkout person cannot trust the amount of food stamps I have given them & so must count them 4-7 different times, each time rearranging/restacking the piles of food stamps to ensure no one knows exactly how much I am paying.

As you can see, my first outing in Swine Flu City was fraught neither with drama nor blatant interaction with swine-flu-carrying crazies. Whew. So then, on to the Night Breakfast! To prepare for the pork-fest, we created an impromptu ofrenda for the Swine Flu, similar to those associated with Dia de los Muertos here in Mexico (but less ornate). It seemed only fitting…

John spends a moment to reflect at the Swine Flu Altar, with the feast that we are about to receive.

John spends a moment to reflect at the Swine Flu Altar, with the feast that we are about to receive. (and yes, he's wearing his Utilikilt, the defacto fashion choice for all men in times of influenza pandemics: www.utilikilts.com

Sasha confessed that being house-bound for days on end has left people slightly crazy, with a tendency to dress up their babies in things like Superman (or Superbaby?) costumes. I felt this was a good approach for making Ivan appear less vulnerable to viruses.

Sasha confessed that being house-bound for days on end has left people slightly crazy, with a tendency to dress up their babies in things like Superman (or Superbaby?) costumes. I felt this was a good approach for making Ivan appear less vulnerable to viruses.

Sasha's claims were backed up by the arrival of Alan with newborn daughter Ruby dressed in a Syracruse cheerleader costume. :)

Sasha's claims were backed up by the arrival of Alan with newborn daughter Ruby dressed in a Syracruse cheerleader costume. :)

The guest of honor, Ben the birthday boy, boldly made the first dive into the sea of bacon, eschewing all talk of pig flu on his special day.

The guest of honor, Ben the birthday boy, boldly made the first dive into the sea of bacon, eschewing all talk of pig flu on his special day.

Despite his tough talk, Ben was later seen communing at the Swine Flu Alter, offering ground pork leftovers to Herman, Jackie & George in an misguided gesture of goodwill.

Despite his tough talk, Ben was later seen communing at the Swine Flu Altar, offering ground pork leftovers to Herman, Jackie & George in an misguided gesture of goodwill.

To close the evening, I brought our final piece of bacon to the Swine Flu Altar in hopes of exchanging it for a cessation of the virus's attack on Mexico City. This may have been foiled by someone eating the offering when I turned my head for 2 seconds.

To close the evening, I brought our final piece of bacon to the Swine Flu Altar in hopes of exchanging it for a cessation of the virus's attack on Mexico City. This may have been foiled by someone eating the offering when I turned my head for 2 seconds.

That’s all the news tonite from the Hot Zone, but keep posted tomorrow for an expected update from the US Embassy & continued developments on the international flights front! Thanks to all for your thoughts & well wishes; we are staying safe and hopeful. May the bacon be with you.

Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City: Day 4

As we wrap up Day 4 of Crazy Pig Flu vs. Mexico City and beyond, all is still well here on the Southern front. I have essentially not left our apartment building since Friday night, not so much out of fear as a lack of anywhere to go. As per all of the news, much of Mexico City has been pretty quiet the last few days, with all public events, schools, movie theaters, and a number of restaurants shut down. John did go into work at the Embassy today, but even that was quieter than normal, with the consular section shut down for the week to avoid having ~1600 people a day waiting in close proximity to get a visa. He commented that among the general public, mask-wearing ranged from between 20-50%, frankly not as high as I expected.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

OK, I don't want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but these tapabocas (aka face masks) that my husband got today from the Embassy are outrageous. My best analogy: blue post-it notes with dental floss ties. I reckon this prevents the intake of swine flu about as well as a lucha mask, which I may consider purchasing instead. At least the lucha masks reflect the shape of my face; these masks seem to assume my face is two dimensional. You will note the pug is similarly displeased.

Things took a turn for the apocalyptic around noon today when we also got hit with an earthquake. A cool 5.6 on the ol’ Richter Scale, I was initially excited because this was the first earthquake I have actually *felt* during our time in Mexico. The neighborhood we live in is one of the more seismically stable, so until this AM I had been deprived of any earth-shaking excitement. Luckily, no injuries or damage have been reported from this one, so at least it shouldn’t ADD to the general level of panic. That said, I think it is safe to say that most of us are awaiting the plague of locusts or frogs dropping from the sky, just as a bit of icing on the cake to follow our trifecta of druglords, swine-flu, and terremotos.

The CDC announced tonight a recommendation to avoid all non-essential travel to Mexico. What was originally a Mexico City school closure through May 6th, has now become a country-wide closure of all schools. Starbucks has even closed 10 shops in Mexico City & reduced hours of operation of others. You know when even Starbucks is willing to forego a few bucks, things must be tense.

Despite all of these signs of doom, as my friend Joy pointed out, there is so much we don’t know. We keep hearing stats on number of “possible” flu cases in Mexico City & corresponding numbers of deaths that seem to be a disturbingly high percentage. However, few stats seem yet available on how many mild flu cases have been seen or how many cases & deaths are officially, 100% sure, from the swine flu (this A/H1N1 strain). Word this afternoon from the Embassy (working with the CDC who is visiting Mexico at present) was that only 26 cases have *officially* been diagnosed as this strain of swine flu and only 6 of those cases have died.  Another article in Reforma (MX City newspaper) tonite stated the number of reported cases have been falling over the past three days.  Argh. Trying to keep up with the stats in a situation like this seems like a lost cause.

 

Thus far, air travel in and out of Mexico has not been impacted. However, many of us here are suspicious as to how long of a reprieve we will have… (especially those of us heading to China on May 8th for her MBA interim trip!!)… The airport in Tokyo is “thermo-screening” arrivals from Mexico to try & detect high body temps. Anecdotal evidence from US airports shows them not even making a cursory glance at incoming passengers as of today. Where is a good middle ground? Does closing borders/airports really help in a situation like this? Arguably no. But realistic assessments can hardly stand in the way of a media stampede over the cliff of reason, eh?
Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

Speaking of over the cliff of reason, I want to let any fans of Jackie, George and Herman know that we are taking excellent care of them, taking every precaution to hide them from the pig-haters that seem to be lurking around every corner these days. (Well, at least Jackie and Herman are protected.) Overprotective, you ask skeptically? Um, hello people, it's called SWINE flu. Who do you think are its most likely victims?? (Note poignantly-titled sheet music book resting above the little dears on our piano.)

From a personal perspective, I am more sad than scared at this point, since most of what we’ve heard about this particular influenza strain is that it responds to prompt treatment from drugs like Tamiflu (of which we are assured there is plenty here in Mexico City). The difference in mortality rates between the US and Mexico cases is certainly concerning & curious, but also not inconceivable when one considers the disposable income that your average Mexican has to spend on health care, whether they would choose to spend it on an immediate doctor’s visit based on fairly unremarkable initial symptoms of fever/coughing/lethargy, and how that delay in diagnosis might negatively impact them when it turns out they have a strain of the crazy pig flu. Obviously after the shit-storm of media coverage, me and every other chilango here in D.F. will be sucking down Tamiflu ASAP if we have symptoms even remotely akin to those!

 

At this point, I am more depressed on behalf of Mexico, who needed this media blitz like a hole in the head after months of totally unbiased (ha) “Everyone’s being killed by narcos” coverage. Even if this influenza epidemic dies down over the next week, I fear it will still take a considerable toll on tourism throughout Mexico, since it is not as easy to draw a map showing where viruses don’t do business. Just within Mexico City, the number of businesses on lock-down + the number of parents who can’t go to work (because their children are home from school) will have a crippling economic effect if it continues long term.

To those of you potential travelers with trips coming up this summer, please don’t start making any cancellations yet!! I believe we’ll know a lot more by the end of this week as to whether this will wither out or continue to ramp into pandemic proportions. While obviously I agree with avoiding travel over the next couple weeks, it is hard to make any accurate forecasts beyond that & the CDC/Mexico government needs a few days to sort out the facts from the furor.

Anyway, that is the latest from the new “ground zero”. I will likely venture out of the house tomorrow to purchase groceries for an impromptu birthday-dinner we will host on Wednesday for a fellow “inmate” in our apartment building. This asssuming a) the grocery stores are open, and b) I find a face mask with more protection than blue tissue paper. Over and out from the hot zone!!

Luchadores in the Fight Against Swine Flu

This photo of up-and-coming luchador El Matador protecting two of his young, swine-flu-avoiding fans made my day today. Join El Matador’s fan club on Facebook to be kept in the loop on all his crazy shenanigans!!

Now that I may have more free time thanks to finally FINISHING MY 2nd TERM MBA FINALS today, also keep an eye out for an upcoming interview of El Matador, that will shed light on what everyone has been dying to know: How to Become a Mexican Luchador!!

El Matador takes on TWIN potential pig-flu carriers!! Down with influenza!!

El Matador takes on TWIN potential pig-flu carriers!! Down with influenza!!

If the druglords don’t get ya, the flu might…

In late-breaking news from here at my dining-room table Financial Accounting 12:30AM study session, there is a chance my final exam scheduled for today (Friday) may be cancelled due to a flu outbreak in Mexico City & surrounding areas. El Universal just reported that the Secretaries of Health & Public Education have decided to cancel all classes from preschool through university in order to control a possible flu epidemic. WTF???

There has been a flurry of instant messenging/facebook activity among my colleagues as we try to determine whether avoiding a suspicious respiratory infection is sufficient grounds for postponing our exam & being forced to think about accounting for even ONE MORE DAY. My vote (thanks to my mother’s insistence on me getting a flu shot this year) is a strong NO: FULL SPEED AHEAD!!!!

Other news sources ponder whether this may be related to a crazy new swine flu recently diagnosed in the States in TX & CA. Inconceivable!!! How could my good friend bacon turn on us like that???

Anyway, more news to follow shortly from the apparently cursed land of Mexico. Any chance of us convincing all those druglords that there is a “drop” going down this weekend at an infected pig farm? Is that actually a word druglords use to describe a drug deal or have I just been watching too much NYPD Blue from the 90’s?

***UPDATE***

Well sure enough, all the university campuses were on lock down today & for the remainder of the weekend. Since we could not go to campus to take our test, our accounting individual & team final exams turned into take-home, open-book, open-note exams (which I must admit was a pleasant surprise). It was all the more amusing as I had written to the professor earlier in the week asking if there was a chance that we might be able to use 1 page of notes during the exam, and he denied me. So, I felt obligated to send him another email today clarifying that although I did want to use notes and my husband does work for the all-powerful US Embassy, I did not incite an outbreak of influenza in Mexico City solely to get some help with accounting. 😉

As proof of how seriously us MBA students were taking the flu threat, here is a pic from the arrival of classmate Walter to the portion of our team exam:

Walter was taking no risks with the rampant flu epidemic in Mexico, and was similarly well-prepared with his accounting textbook at the ready...

Walter was taking no risks with the rampant flu epidemic in Mexico, and was similarly well-prepared with his accounting textbook at the ready...

¡Obámanos!!!

So we saw him!! Eeeee! Know that I sacrificed the chance for a handshake in favor of “The President is only 4 feet away!!!” photo attempts, realizing that the memory of a handshake would be less effectively conveyed via a blog. 😉  John almost managed to get a hand in, but was foiled at the last minute by a secret service agent who was pushing his way through the crowd paralleling Obama as he walked along the perimeter shaking hands.

The entrance to the hotel + intimidating warrior.

The entrance to the hotel + intimidating warrior.

The festivities were held at the Presidente InterContinental Mexico Hotel in Polanco, conveniently located within walking distance of our apartment, where Obama spent the night. The area around the hotel had been on near-lock-down for the two prior days, so the walk to the hotel was intriguing as we passed hundreds of armed local police/army (which for whatever reason, doesn’t make me feel particularly “secure” here in Mexico…). One stat we heard was over 3,000 local police were on the scene, but total security was probably well over that between police + army + Secret Service + whatever other organizations were out and about.

Here’s a photo overview of our experience with ¡Obamanos! ’09, followed by some additional commentary regarding his visit.

We passed dozens of parked buses/trucks/jeeps that had brought in the hundreds of police/army members to secure the area around the hotel. Once you got within a few blocks, all streets were barricaded & heavily armed dudes were hanging out everywhere.

We passed dozens of parked buses/trucks/jeeps that had brought in the hundreds of police/army members to secure the area around the hotel. Many buses were still filled with snoozing police. Once you got within a few blocks, all streets were barricaded & heavily armed dudes were hanging out everywhere.

The barricades directly around the hotel were lined with hopeful Obama-watchers & photographers, all of whom I believe were disappointed by his arrival through the hotel underground parking garage.

The barricades directly around the hotel were lined with hopeful Obama-watchers & photographers, all of whom I believe were disappointed by his arrival through the hotel underground parking garage.

Entering the hotel entailed passing through metal detectors, I'm sure to the delight of any hotel guests who were unfortunate enough to have chosen the Intercontinental for their Thursday night stay.

Entering the hotel entailed passing through metal detectors, I'm sure to the delight of any hotel guests who were unfortunate enough to have chosen the Intercontinental for their Thursday night stay. We also had to turn on all phones & cameras to verify they were real & not secret bombs.

 

Unsurprisingly, we were not the first folks from the Embassy to arrive at the hotel to get in line. Apparently over 800 workers + family members had tickets for the event.

Unsurprisingly, we were not the first folks from the Embassy to arrive at the hotel to get in line. Apparently over 800 workers + family members had tickets for the event.

Our initial point in the *lengthy* line was conveniently next to one of the hotel restaurants, so we were able to have a brief sit.

Our initial point in the *lengthy* line was conveniently next to one of the hotel restaurants, so we were able to have a brief sit.

I was pleased to see one of the Presidential Bomb-Sniffing Dogs on the alert in the hotel lobby.

I was pleased to see one of the Presidential Bomb-Sniffing Dogs on the alert in the hotel lobby.

During our walk to the hotel, a bird made a "deposit" on Mark's arm, which is supposed to signify good luck. This theory was proven tru, as he managed to get a handshake with El Presidente himself.

During our walk to the hotel, a bird made a "deposit" on Mark's arm, which is supposed to signify good luck. This theory was proven true, as Mark managed to get a handshake with El Presidente himself.

As we wound through the hotel in line, we passed this storefront with a security guard MANNEQUIN in the window. I was intrigued as to both a) how many robberies this fake cop deters, and b) why a store selling *property* (arguably something that can not be stolen from your storefront) would feel the need to add this extra layer of highly effective security...

As we wound through the hotel in line, we passed this storefront with a security guard MANNEQUIN in the window. I was intrigued as to both a) how many robberies this fake cop deters, and b) why a store selling *property* (arguably something that can not be stolen from your storefront) would feel the need to add this extra layer of highly effective security...

Finally! We have reached the 2nd set of metal detectors right before entering the official ballroom.

Finally! We have reached the 2nd set of metal detectors right before entering the official ballroom.

Inside the ballroom, we noted two more interesting tidbits. 1) Somebody must have spent *a lot* of hours/dollars on that super-special "Welcome to Mexico" sign in the back... 2) What is the deal with the FIVE American flags vs. ONE shorter Mexican flag on the stage? Are we trying to remind the Mexicans of US dominance (+ height)? This seemed a bit misplaced to me, but perhaps there is a deeper meaning of which I am unaware...

Inside the ballroom, we noted two more interesting tidbits. 1) Somebody must have spent *a lot* of hours/dollars on that super-special "Welcome to Mexico" sign in the back... 2) What is the deal with the FIVE American flags vs. ONE shorter Mexican flag on the stage? Are we trying to remind the Mexicans of US dominance (+ height)? This seemed a bit misplaced to me, but perhaps there is a deeper meaning of which I am unaware...

So we basically stood in that room for 1.5 hours, pressed against all the other embassy employees to get as close to the podium as we could. Rough estimate of number times John & I received comments about how we were lucky to be tall: 27. Number of bitter comments heard about our height from people behind us: 13.

So we basically stood in that room for 1.5 hours, pressed against all the other embassy employees to get as close to the podium as we could. Rough estimate of number times John & I received comments about how we were lucky to be tall: 27. Number of bitter comments heard about our height from people behind us: 13.

Yes!!! Finally Obama arrived!! Here he is waiting while the Chargé de Affairs Leslie Basset gave him a 10-second introduction.

Yes!!! Finally Obama arrived!! Here he is waiting while the Chargé de Affairs Leslie Basset gave him a 10-second introduction (the brevity of which he appreciated).

Obama spoke for about 90 seconds, basically thanking everyone for their service to America. He commented that the use of diplomatic power is just as important as the use of military & economic power. It was perhaps a bit shorter of a speech than we had hoped, but I guess his impending dinner date with Mexican President Calderon *may* have been more important than chatting with us at length...

Obama spoke for about 90 seconds, basically thanking everyone for their service to America. He commented that the use of diplomatic power is just as important as the use of military & economic power. It was perhaps a bit shorter of a speech than we had hoped, but I guess his impending dinner date with Mexican President Calderon *may* have been more important than chatting with us at length...

Then he was ushed over to the left for a photo with all the kids over 6 years old, (who a few Embassy employees had managed to keep entertaining/still for at least an hour-- well done). I trust the official photos are less blurry...

Then he was ushed over to the left for a photo with all the kids over 6 years old, (who a few Embassy employees had managed to keep entertaining/still for at least an hour-- well done). I trust the official photos are less blurry...

Obama was merely feet away from us at this juncture, all the while carefully monitored by Señor Secret Service behind him.

Obama was merely feet away from us at this juncture, all the while carefully monitored by Señor Secret Service behind him.

Another close-up as he made his way along the crowd of raving fans.

Another close-up as he made his way along the crowd of raving fans.

The furor of cameras was intense! This was just before he held two lucky babies (who I guess now will never have leprosy).

The furor of cameras was intense! This was just before he held two lucky babies (who I guess now will never have leprosy).

And like that, our brush with fame was over. Here's John & Sergio on the walk home, flanked by one of the many readily-armed security forces... Definitely doesn't make you nervous in the least... ;)

And like that, our brush with fame was over. Here's John & Sergio on the walk home, flanked by one of the many readily-armed security forces... Definitely doesn't make you nervous in the least... 😉

And so ended ¡Obamanos! 2009. It was a lot of standing & waiting, but it was definitely cool to see our new President in person, who seems like such a normal, down-to-earth, smart guy. Although his talk was very brief, his ease and comfort as a public speaker, ability to think on his feet and to get a quick laugh from the crowd were plainly evident.

For additional photos from the day, check out these photo galleries from El Universal newspaper here in Mexico City: security pics, Obama pics. In general, Mexicans seemed excited about his visit, though most of the press skewed more towards “Thanks for coming but we’re not holding our breath that you’re actually going to do anything for us since you Americans have so many problems back home these days.” One El Universal headline read “Obama abre los brazos pero comprete poco“, or “Obama opens his arms but commits little.”

One of the many current US/Mexico hot topics is the assault weapons ban. Obama essentially told Calderon that he supports it, but lacks the political capital to get it through Congress right now & will instead focus on enforcing existing laws. I am not remotely an expert on gun laws nor am I naive enough to think that the drug cartels wouldn’t get their weapons elsewhere if we made it harder to get them in the US, but reading the spate of recent articles on this topics certainly makes you wonder, “Could it be any EASIER for the narcos to buy assault weapons from US gun shows?” (at gun shows, unlicensed sellers can sell from their “personal collections” to any buyers without a background check).

Anyway, some other random facts from Obama’s visit!

  • When Obama stays overnight on his travels, he is accompanied by over 800 people (Secret Service, White House staff, members of the press, Congressional delegation, etc. etc.)
  • The White House flew down the 2 armored limos, armored SUVs, and multiple (~5) helicopters that Obama was transported in while in Mexico City.
  • Terminal 2 of the Mexico City airport was shutdown for the arrival of Air Force One around 1:30 on Thursday, affecting the departures/arrivals of about 40 flights.
  • El Universal highlighted that “Obama did not walk on any street of Mexico City during his visit.”  As though this is a great surprise…  If Mexicans thought security in Polanco was crazy for this visit, can you imagine if they tried to coordinate him going for a stroll down Reforma???
  • Alas, no opp for a height-comparison photo, but hopes are high for a return Obama visit during our time here in Mexico City!!!

Membership has its privileges…

…and finally tomorrow, I will get to experience one of those priviledges. Membership in what, you may ask? In the Spouses of US Embassy Employees club. Mind you, this is not an official club. Or really even an unofficial club. If it were, I would envision its membership requirements being something like:

  • an inability to remember the 8,534 acronyms that are the apparent sole means of communication among government workers
  • a passion for superficial chats with innumerable govvie coworkers who you assume will probably have moved away to another embassy before you see them again, causing susbequent awkward conversations when you can’t remember their names
  • a slightly-concerning level of desire for some of America’s finest products that are nowhere to be found in Mexico, i.e. real Saran Wrap, good Chinese take-out, and blueberry muffin mix with the wee can of real blueberries in the box.

Anyway, WHAT is said priviledge of belonging to this non-existent club?? A chance to see Obama tomorrow during his visit to Mexico City!!!!

That’s right; this girl has a ticket for the Visit of President Barack Obama tomorrow afternoon. I am somewhat nervous to write this gloating blog post in advance, for fear of jinxing things & causing it to be cancelled due to something like a flaming tacos al pastor stand collapsing onto his motorcade. However, since I rarely have such cause to gloat, I have decided to risk it anyway.

And here’s the proof!

When I make a scrapbook 30 years from now about our time in Mexico, this is definitely going in there.

When I make a scrapbook 30 years from now about our time in Mexico, this is definitely going in there.

Well, here’s half of the proof for the moment. With all you crazy photoshopping wizards out there, I felt a full ticket photo was unwise at this juncture. While I am not holding out great hope for getting any great pics tomorrow with me + the other 8 bazillion Embassy employees + families + pet dogs all trying to touch Obama’s hand in hopes of him healing our leprosy, I will do my best to get at least something that is blog-worthy.

In a perfect world, there would be a magical scenario in which I would be able to get my SECOND “I’m Taller than the President of the United States” photo. However, I will keep the hope alive until tomorrow afternoon.

OK, a few things here: a) this was BEFORE the Monica incident. b) I was not touched inappropriately, nor requested TO touch inappropriately. c) everyone in the Midwest had hair like this in the 90s. d) yes, this is a photo of a photo.

OK, a few things here: a) this was Clinton BEFORE the Monica incident. b) I was not touched inappropriately, nor requested TO touch inappropriately. c) everyone in the Midwest had hair like this in the 90s. d) yes, this is a photo of a photo.

Malinalco with the visiting Nebraskans

Larry & Marcia came for a Mexico visit-- look how happy & unconcerned about violence they are!! ;)

Larry & Marcia came for a Mexico visit-- look how happy & unconcerned about violence they are!! ;)

My parents from Nebraska came for a visit last month, so we decided to show them some of rural Mexico in addition to the Big Taco, D.F.  We spent a couple nights in Malinalco, located roughly 40 miles south-ish of Toluca or 60 miles (but ~2 hours) from Polanco in Mexico City.

A view of the valley of Malinalco from above

A view of the valley of Malinalco from above

Malinalco is a cute little town in a gorgeous valley that has a small archaeological site that overlooks the town from the mountainside. I would assess it as a great place for a relaxing 1-2 night stay if you’re looking to lounge about in nice, warm weather. If you are a “dooo-sy” type person, meaning someone who needs constant stimulation & multiple sites to see & activities to do, Malinalco may not be the place for you. :)

After much research on lodging, we decided to stay at Casa Mora, a fantastic B&B located just east of the main “downtown” of Malinalco. While you could walk from there to the Centro, it is a bit of a trek, partially on a dirt road, that I would imagine getting a bit toasty during the midday sun. We generally opted to drive & had no issue finding parking within a few blocks of the restaurant/archaeological site/museum area.

View of pool & backyard at Casa Mora in Malinalco

View of pool & backyard at Casa Mora in Malinalco

I completely recommmend Casa Mora, a 5-room B&B purpose-built by artist Raul Mora. The grounds/common areas are lovely, rooms airy & spacious, bathrooms modern & convenient, and pool warm & beckoning! The breakfasts are served family style with fresh-squeezed OJ, fruit, pan dulce, frijoles, a different hot dish each day, and what appeared to be real coffee (unlike the popular instant coffee so pervasive throughout Mexico!). Two honor bars, one near the pool & one in the house’s living room, offer tasty beverages to quench your thirst. And the gorgeous green yard was a perfect venue for lying on a chair with a book. During our trip, the rooms were $2000 pesos a night (inclusive of breakfast & all taxes), so although it is not a cheap option, we felt we definitely got our money’s worth. The staff were all excellent & friendly, and very responsive to our email inquiries prior to arrival (unlike other venues in town that we attempted to look into). For non-Spanish speakers, Raul speaks flawless English so you don’t have to worry about any communication barriers.

Regardless of where you choose to stay, Casa Mora’s website has a couple of great maps that should help you both in getting to Malinalco & getting around town once you arrive.

John & the in-laws enjoying some tasty beverages at Los Pilares

John & the in-laws enjoying some tasty beverages at Los Pilares

Other spots we can recommend– for restaurants, Las Palomas and Los Pilares (both very near the central town square) had excellent food & drink. Also Nieves Mallinali had fantastic ice cream– try the Galleta flavor (the Spanish word for ‘cookie’, and there were chunks of cookie stuffed throughout).  Finally, I was a bit skeptical of the Museum of Malinalco, thinking “how interesting could a museum be in a town this size?”  Surprisingly, I thought the musem was extremely well done & I would say is actually worth a visit!

Here are a few other photo highlights from our time in Malinalco.

We did some pretty intense book-reading on the lawn of Casa Mora

We did some pretty intense book-reading on the lawn of Casa Mora

I realized how long it had been since I'd had the opportunity to walk barefoot on a nice, green lawn. Larry enjoyed the brightly colored flowers that have not been seen in NE for many moons now...

I realized how long it had been since I'd had the opportunity to walk barefoot on a nice, green lawn. Larry enjoyed the brightly colored flowers that have not been seen in NE for many moons now...

Another view of the lovely pool + thatched-roof hut for outdoor dining

Another view of the lovely pool + thatched-roof hut for outdoor dining

Here's one of the bedrooms in Casa Mora, with a second door for a nice cross-breeze + garden views...

Here's one of the bedrooms in Casa Mora, with a second door for a nice cross-breeze + garden views...

Best part of the Casa Mora bedrooms? HAMMOCK IN THE BEDROOM! Brilliant.

Best part of the Casa Mora bedrooms? HAMMOCK IN THE BEDROOM! Brilliant.

Here's the crew with the tasty breakfast @ the B&B-- featuring scrambled eggs with chorizo, as well as chilaquiles (the best Mexican breakfast food ever, FYI).

Here's the crew with the tasty breakfast @ the B&B-- featuring scrambled eggs with chorizo, as well as chilaquiles (the best Mexican breakfast food ever, FYI).

The exit from Casa Mora-- it's hard to get inspired to leave...

The exit from Casa Mora-- it's hard to get inspired to leave...

Our first morning, John & I made the 400-step trek up to the Aztec archaeological site that overlooks the town. This is the map of the site

Our first morning, John & I made the 400-step trek up to the Aztec archaeological site that overlooks the town. This is the map of the site

This was the main building in the archaeological site, which was allegedly some sort of initiation site for warriors. Inside, there are animals sculpted out of the stone around a circular room; this is replicated in the Museum of Malinalco.

This was the main building in the archaeological site, which was allegedly some sort of initiation site for warriors. Inside, there are animals sculpted out of the stone around a circular room; this is replicated in the Museum of Malinalco.

Here's me with the main building + the über-steep stairs leading up towards the mountain.

Here's me with the main building + the über-steep stairs leading up towards the mountain.

We later saw this worker carrying material down aforementioned über-steep stairs... Note the intriguing-but-effective headband support system... My neck hurts just looking at him.

We later saw this worker carrying material down aforementioned über-steep stairs... Note the intriguing-but-effective headband support system... My neck hurts just looking at him.

Here's the remnants of one of the jaguars that once guarded each site of the main building.

Here's the remnants of one of the jaguars that once guarded each site of the main building.

We were lucky to visit during the season of the purple-blossomed jacarandas, which made all views around the valley a bit prettier.

We were lucky to visit during the season of the purple-blossomed jacarandas, which made all views around the valley a bit prettier.

Another view of the Malinalco valley from the archaeological site on the mountain. You can see the main street coming into town above John's head.

Another view of the Malinalco valley from the archaeological site on the mountain. You can see the main street coming into town above John's head.

And here's John being the boss on top of another Aztec building... Clearly could have intimidated many an Aztec had he lived in the right era...  This site was created around 1501.

And here's John being the boss on top of another Aztec building... Clearly could have intimidated many an Aztec had he lived in the right era... This site was created around 1501.

Here's the crew at the top of a street in downtown Malinalco.

Here's the crew at the top of a street in downtown Malinalco.

If anyone can tell me what this magical pink flower is, I am dying to know. They look like they could hardly be real!

If anyone can tell me what this magical pink flower is, I am dying to know. They look like they could hardly be real!

Here's the courtyard at the Museum of Malinalco

Here's the courtyard at the Museum of Malinalco

Here's John & I at Las Palomas

Here's John & I at Las Palomas

And as a prize for any readers who actually made it to the end of the post, here is a shot of me seducing a statue at Casa Mora. Please refrain from comment.

And as a prize for any readers who actually made it to the end of the post, here is a shot of me seducing a statue at Casa Mora. Please refrain from comment.

Commuting to work in the Centro

Just your average commute to work here in downtown Mexico City…

Another day, another dollar, another web

Another day, another dollar, another web

What, did you think Spiderman would take a taxi?

Picturesque Palenque

A few weeks ago while Julie was stuck in class a few friends and I whisked off to spend a long weekend in Chiapas, where we visited the archelogical sites of Palenque, Yaxichilan, and Bonampak – a perfect three-day weekend.  We flew into Villahermosa (in the state of Tabasco) late afternoon on Friday, grabbed a rental car, checked in to the very nice but not overly exciting Crowne Plaza just off Av. Ruiz Cortinez, and went downtown to the Zona Luz, near the river, to check things out.  Paseo Tabasco, the main drag heading downtown to the Zona Luz, has a number of higher-end restaurants and shops.  The Zona Luz itself has some nice pedestrian streets with shops and restaurants, and was bustling with locals on a Friday night; an interesting wander for about an hour, but nothing breathtaking.  While we spent little time there, we found Villahermosa to be a decent jumping-off point catering largely to businessfolk associated with the oil industry, with few tourist highlights except for the Parque-Museo La Venta, a neat museum. 

Heigh Ho Silver, AWAY!

Heigh Ho Silver, AWAY!

We got up fairly early on Saturday and made the ~2.5 hour drive East and South to the archeological site Palenque, a few miles SW of the identically named town.  About 2/3 of the drive is on 186 East, about half of which is four lane; they’re working to expand more of it to four lanes as we speak.  The rest is South on 199 to Palenque.  One highlight of the drive was the frequent and unexplained display of horse statues. 

Palenque, at its height from AD 630 to around 740 and unknown to the Western world until 1746, is noted as a mid-sized site (compared to Tikal and other huge sites), known for its architecture, sculpture, roof comb (more later) and bas-relief carvings.  While a good portion of the central area, assumedly containing the majority of the high-profile buildings, has been excavated, the site exceeds 15 sq km and is less than 10% excavated.  Heat, humidity, and frequent rainfall?  Check. 

Templo de las Inscripciones

Templo de las Inscripciones

The site is amazing, particularly in light of the fact that everything was built without metal tools, pack animals or the wheel.  The precision of the engineering and the scale of the buildings is stunning.  Among the many impressive buildings is the Templo de las Inscripciones, the mausoleum of Pakal, a key ruler from AD 615 to 683 who lived to the incredible age of 80.  Unfortunately, the public can no longer climb this pyramid and descend to his crypt deep inside.  Note the nine levels of the pyramid, consistent with nine elements/levels of Maya mythology.  

Underground river, anyone?

Underground river, anyone?

The present-day structures are impressive in their own right; I can only begin to imagine how amazing they must have been in the height of Palenque’s glory – covered in stucco and elaborately painted in strikingly bold blood-red, blue, yellow, and other colors. 

A couple of decent-sized streams/small rivers flow through the site; in the central area the Maya built an underground channel for the river, then covered it with a vaulted ceiling which was approximately at ground level.  I’m unclear whether this was used as a source of drinking water, sanitation system, etc. 

The Palace

The Palace, with its signature tower, is the largest building, with tons of carvings, multiple courtyards, levels, and undergound passages!

One of Palenque's famed roof combs

One of Palenque's famed roof combs

As mentioned previously, many of Palenque’s temples have roof combs made of stone, then covered with stone carvings, and/or stucco and paint.  Some of these grid-like structures are more than 30 feet tall; on some buildings, all that remain are the footings. 

Temples, Temples everywhere!

Temples, Temples everywhere!

The classical Maya arch

The classical Maya arch

The courtyards are another impressive but little-noted feature of the site – one thing you quickly notice is that very little of Chiapas is flat, so the construction of these broad, open courtyards must have been a hell of a lot of work.  The Maya arch is an archtectural feature found at all three sites we visited.  Many buildings are rectangular; upon entering you find yourself in a Maya arch hallway that runs from left to right; larger buildings employ more complex forms. 

One of the many bas-relief carvings

One of the many bas-relief carvings

Given sufficient demand I might be convinced to post entries on Yaxchilan and Bonampak, but for now I’m all Indiana Jones’d out!

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