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January, 2010:

Las Jirafas y la Mula in Santa Maria la Ribera

Back in December, John, friend Susan & I went on a long overdue visit to one of Mexico City’s up-and-coming neighborhoods, Santa Maria la Ribera. (Read as: no Starbucks yet) For additional colonia commentary, check out SMlR resident Jesus Chairez’s blog, or Lesley’s post re. her visit.  There are several cute little spots, like the oft-mentioned Russian restaurant Kolobok. We did not commit to a full meal of Russian food, but I can speak highly of both the empanadas & the wheat bread sold at the to-go window.  Jesus also recommends Salon Paris, one of the local cantinas.

But one place I’ve not seen heralded is the restaurant “Las Jirafas y la Mula” (the giraffes & the mule). They get double-bonus-points for having a sweet website complete with animated giraffes running across the screen.

Why is Las Jirafas y la Mula worth a visit? So glad you asked…

  • They have a cohesive, witty marketing theme: everything is tall or long, like a giraffe!! (ok, fine, so I’m not sure where the mule fits in…)
    • The quesadillas are an impressive 45 cm long
    • The beer is served in yard glasses
This mammoth quesadilla happily provided a light snack for 3, when combined with agua de jamaica & a 1/2 yard of beer.

This mammoth quesadilla happily provided a light snack for 3, when combined with agua de jamaica & a 1/2 yard of beer.

  • They have a display case full of kitschy giraffe accoutrements, which speaks to me since I feel giraffes are probably my closest animal relative (tall and elegant…?).
Hello giraffe pals. I always like to see a theme maximized to its full potential.

Hello giraffe pals. I always like to see a theme maximized to its full potential.

  • The yards of beer are stabilized by metal rods that slip into holes PRE-DRILLED into your table. Brilliant!
A well-engineered beer holder, if I've ever seen one. Sidenote: John & I were not intentionally trying to dress/act alike this day... I swear, we are not one of those couples who wear the same brightly colored hawaiian shirt whenever we travel together. Honest.

A well-engineered beer holder, if I've ever seen one. Sidenote: John & I were not intentionally trying to dress/act alike this day... I swear, we are not one of those couples who wear the same brightly colored hawaiian shirt whenever we travel together. Honest.

  • They have a salad-bar-esque station with various toppings for your quesadilla, including an excellent salsa verde (& plenty of chopped-up nopales for anyone who likes the slimy little devils).
  • Flour tortillas for the quesadillas! (yes, it’s true….I kind of like flour better than corn…pls don’t tell anyone in DF)
  • You can order either just plain dark or light beer, or beer with a variety of crazy flavors added to it. We wussed out on our first visit & just got a straight-up dark beer, but we will probably have to go back to try the cerveza de sabor….

We will be making a return trip soon to further bond with my giraffe friends, so will try to report back on the edgier beer options. This could also be a great lunch option after a visit to El Chopo on a Saturday afternoon– it’s just a few blocks west of that market, across Insurgentes.

Las Jirafas y la Mula: Calle Manuel Carpio #93, a la esquina con Doctor Atl, Colonia Santa Maria la Ribera

Here you can review the options for quesadilla fillings & strategize in advance on what you would like your "45 centimetros de sabor" to contain!

Here you can review the options for quesadilla fillings & strategize in advance on what you would like your "45 centimetros de sabor" to contain!

Cat Whistle satisfies all gift-giving needs

There is a dude I’ve encountered at a couple markets in Mexico City who walks around holding a big, black plastic garbage bag. You can hear him coming from a couple aisles away, because it sounds like he is accompanied by a very angry cat. The first time you come upon him, you are a bit startled because he seems to have a cat inside this garbage bag that is flopping about vigorously.

You may then become horrified as he asks a fellow passer-by to kick the cat in the bag. Or, you may quickly realize the “cat” is in fact a long wooden stick, hidden inside the bag, that the guy smacks against the inside of the bag to simulate a cat.

What is the purpose of this witty theatrical display? He is selling a product that I like to call the “Cat Whistle”. This 10 peso gem (worth every centavo, I might add) is a small foam/plastic whistle that you place against the roof of your mouth. Depending on how it is positioned in your mouth & how you blow on it, the whistle makes a noise eerily similar to a cat who is getting the crap beaten out of it. HOWEVER, my friends, the value does not end there!!! The small piece of paper that accompanies the whistle in its packaging depicts the wide array of other animals that can be simulated with this same product. Not only can you recreate a baby crying, but seemingly every common barnyard animal + a few more exotic options!

In the event you are having trouble visualizing this hilarity, check out the below video courtesy of friend James:

Now in the interest of full disclosure, I will tell you that there is no way you will reproduce 90% of the animal noises this whistle claims to enable. It CAN be done, because I’ve seen the sales guy go through about 6 of ’em in quick succession. However, this is totally one of those things where you think “Well that looks easy enough!”, and then you get it home & it makes one sound, tops.

Luckily the cat noise is the easiest & funniest one to make. The first time I ran into this guy, John’s dad was with us on a visit to Mercado Jamaica. John looked on with disgust as his dad & I about pissed ourselves because we were laughing so hard while watching this guy. We both bought a Cat Whistle, and discussed various strategies for Bob to incorporate the Cat Whistle into his job at a university. Top of the list is: while giving a presentation to colleagues, start making cat noises, ask “Is there a goddamn cat in this room?”, and while everyone distractedly looks for the cat, grab the stuffed animal cat you were hiding on your chair & throw it at someone. Watch hilarity ensue.

As a side note, this product reminds me a lot of Rocky the Raccoon. I vividly remember my mom & I making this purchase on my first trip to Washington DC, from a magic store in Union Station. The salesman worked this springed puppet like a pro, making it appear that he had the liveliest raccoon I’d ever seen climbing up his body. Needless to say, once my mom & I got it back to the hotel room to show my dad, it simply looked like me pushing a slinky covered in brown fur across my chest.

My dad was somehow the only one in our family who could make Rocky the Raccoon function as advertised. I was forever jealous, and made a mental note to never again buy a product whose usage required special niche skills.  Obviously that lesson was instantly forgotten when I heard the seductive sounds of the Cat Whistle…

Note to all Mexico City residents: Valentine’s Day *is* coming up, and you know what they say…. A Cat Whistle is forever.

Ok, so maybe I won’t park my car here

As seen in a parking lot in Patzcuaro, Mexico:

"Notice: We are not responsible for the robbery or burning of your vehicle."

"Notice: We are not responsible for the robbery or burning of your vehicle."

Fair enough on the robbery front; that’s par for the course in most parking lots. But the fire part? Uh, has that happened here before? Or happened often? I guess what I’m asking is: what are the odds of my car being burned down if I park here?

We decided to take a taxi.

Newsflash: free water at restaurant in Polanco!

Living in the fancy-pants neighborhood of Polanco in Mexico City, we see loads of overpriced, trendy restaurants where the food tends to be sub-par. There are a few diamonds in the rough, but it is rare you can escape lunch (much less dinner) with a bill of <$200 pesos at any of the see-and-be-seen joints. These are the sorts of places where when I ask for bottled water to drink, they ask you what brand you would prefer (could anyone tell the difference??), and then bring out about 300ml of water for ~$3. *hate* Therefore, when a new chi-chi restaurant opens up in ‘Polancito’ (the area I call ‘downtown Polanco’, south of Masaryk between Anatole France & Alejandro Dumas), I am predisposed to just ignore it.

That said, when friend Heidi & I decided to have a girls’ dinner out last nite, we couldn’t be bothered to wander much farther than that very area. Heidi suggested a new restaurant called Brassi, and although I was slightly skeptical, the lure of its fun bistro decor was enough to lure us in.

We chose a table in the middle of the black-and-white checkerboard floor and sat down. After a waiter deposited our coats & purses onto one of the purse-trees that are de rigueur in Mexico City restaurants (bad luck -and foolish- to put your purse on the floor), I was shocked at what happened next. Another waiter arrived at our table holding what appeared to be an open, clear glass wine bottle filled with WATER & inquired if we would like some. He filled our glasses & left the big bottle of water on the table.

Now for any US folk reading this, this is not *remotely* novel. America is the land of free-flowing water, where any restaurant worth its salt will keep tasty tap water filling your glass as long as you keep slurping it down. Since drinking from the tap is not an option in Mexico, neither is chugging down as much water at dinner as your little dehydrated body might like– unless you want to pay more for bottles of water than for your entree.

Because of this, upon our water waiter’s departure from the table, I stared at Heidi with wide eyes & asked her, “Do you think this is free?? Do you think they will refill this if we drink it all???”  We were both hopeful, but uncertain. I informed her that if the food was anything above ground squirrel meat, I would definitely be coming back SOLELY because of the option to drink as much water as I wanted.

As it turned out, the food was pretty good. She had tomato soup; I had the Brassi salad speckled with carmelized pecans & pears soaked in port in a honey mustard dressing. We shared an order of mac & cheese, which was slightly under-salted but well-presented in its own wee cast-iron skillet that had spent a few minutes under a broiler to crisp & brown the cheese on top. For dessert, we split the largest order of profiteroles I’ve seen for $58 pesos– 5 puffballs filled with vanilla ice cream & doused in melted chocolate. While I wouldn’t say the cuisine is breaking any new boundaries, I thought everything was tasty & well done; (we also saw sandwiches being whisked by accompanied by thin french fries that may merit a future try). Along with 3 glasses of pinot grigio & 3 rum/cokes, ourbill came to about $880 pesos– not exactly a fire sale, but quite reasonable for a tasty 3-course dinner for 2 plus that many drinks. Knock off the alcohol & you’re probably down to more like $400 pesos.

Anyway, the bill’s arrival most excited me because of what it lacked: a charge for WATER. We handily polished off 2 large bottles of the stuff and it was free! free! free!

John likes to refer to me as “the waterhorse” because of how much water I tend to drink when we go out to eat, so learning how to ration 330ml during a 2 hour meal as been a struggle for me here. But now, I am excited to report that there is at least ONE restaurant in Mexico City who seems to have figured out how to treat the water in order to dispense it liberally from a tap in the dining area. Rest assured that I will be back to visit Brassi, perhaps on a day where I have ingested no liquids whatsoever just so I can take full advantage of this perk. :)

Brassi: Virgilio 8 at the corner of Oscar Wilde in Polanco. http://brassi.com.mx/

The Spanish Wingman

Of all the unique things experienced by visitors to Mexico City, I’ve found that our US-based guests are most surprised that English is not spoken more prevalently here. I think there’s a general assumption among Americans that everyone in Mexico is dying to move to the USA and hence is furiously learning English. Point of fact, many Mexicans are perfectly happy here in Mexico!  And although plenty of folks do speak English in DF, it certainly isn’t the defacto language if you venture off the 4 or 5-star hotel tourist circuit. :)

All of that said, the last thing I want to do is dissuade non-Spanish-speakers from taking a trip down to Mexico City! You can certainly get around DF; it may just be a bit trickier & require a bit more research in advance, depending on your travel goals.

Of course, depending on your travel goals, your best bet may be finding yourself a Spanish Wingman. This was the lesson learned with our most recent visitor– let’s call him “Mandrew” for the sake of anonymity. Mandrew is an experienced world traveler who enjoys learning about the culture of other countries, ideally as communicated through their women. Despite claims of spanish/portuguese/swedish/thai fluency, most of Mandrew’s foreign vocabulary seemed centered around greetings & ordering tasty beverages. However, his regular traveling companion (let’s call him “Mruckenmiller”) assured us that Mandrew’s efforts had never been stymied for lack of knowing a language, offering anecdotes of various Brazilians who fell victim to his portuguese-free charms.

I thought Mandrew might be stymied in the Spanish-heavy environment of Mexico City. Instead, I learned that he is a man who knows when to call on his resources.

Saturday night was bustling at Big Red in Polanco last week, so we settled in for a nite of miniscule-but-bargain-priced tequilas & beers. Late in the evening, Mandrew spotted a lovely lady mysteriously sitting alone at a table, so he made his move. Two minutes later, he was back at our table to inquire whether John would be so kind as to join him.

And so it was that John made his debut appearance as…. SPANISH WINGMAN. Experience the drama via my photos from our nearby table, slightly blurred due to my constant laughter. Although I could not hear the dialog per se, I’ve extrapolated a few quotes as I imagined them…

"Oh-la senorita... You are so pretty tonite in that trendy outfit. Did I mention to you that the leopard is my favorite wild animal? Wearing that shirt, you remind me of the time I spent in Tanzania working on my doctoral thesis entitled 'Similarities and Differences Between Leopards and Siamese House Cats'...  John, can you translate that?"

Mandrew: "Oh-la senorita... You are so pretty tonite in that trendy outfit. Did I mention to you that the leopard is my favorite wild animal? Wearing that shirt, you remind me of the time I spent in Tanzania working on my doctoral thesis entitled 'Similarities and Differences Between Leopards and Siamese House Cats'... John, can you translate that?"

John: "Este... Mandrew te dijó que es un placer conocerte y el nunca ha visto una mujer tan hermosa quien parece como un gato de Africa. El era un doctor para los gatos en Africa."  (In English: "Uh, Mandrew says it is a pleasure to meet you &  he has never seen such a beautiful woman who seems like a cat from Africa. He used to be a doctor for cats in Africa"

John: "Este... Mandrew te dijó que es un placer conocerte y el nunca ha visto una mujer tan hermosa quien parece como un gato de Africa. El era un doctor para los gatos en Africa." (In English: "Uh, Mandrew says it is a pleasure to meet you & he has never seen such a beautiful woman who seems like a cat from Africa. He used to be a doctor for cats in Africa")

[Imagine various other photos of witty repartee here]

Girl: "¿Cual es tu planeta favorito? Mio es el sol. Siempre ha sido mi favorito."   (English: "What's your favorite planet? Mine's the sun. Always has been.")

Girl: "¿Cual es tu planeta favorito? Mio es el sol. Siempre ha sido mi favorito." (English: "What's your favorite planet? Mine's the sun. Always has been.")

 [Insert additional awkward pauses & deep eye-gazing]

John: "El dijó que 'Eres preciosa; tienes ojos bonitos y me encanta cuando sonríes. Tambien tu cabello es como una cascada de leche chocolatada.'"   (English: "Mandrew said "You are beautiful; you have pretty eyes & I love it when you smile. Also, your hair is like a waterfall of chocolate milk.'"

John: "El dijó que 'Eres preciosa; tienes ojos bonitos y me encanta cuando sonríes. Tambien tu cabello es como una cascada de leche chocolatada.'" (English: "Mandrew said "You are beautiful; you have pretty eyes & I love it when you smile. Also, your hair is like a waterfall of chocolate milk.'"

Mandrew: "OMG, you like technology?!?? I love girls who like technology! John, ask her if she has ever networked more than 4 Linux workstations to a remote printer."

Mandrew: "OMG, you like technology?!?? I love girls who like technology! John, ask her if she has ever networked more than 4 Linux workstations to a remote printer."

Mandrew: "I hope jpeg technology still exists in 30 years so our grandkids can see how we first met!"  Girl: "Me gusta cuando me tocas con tus patas de gato grandes"  (English: "I like it when you touch me with your big cat paws.")

Mandrew: "I hope jpeg technology still exists in 30 years so our grandkids can see how we first met!" Girl: "Me gusta cuando me tocas con tus patas de gato grandes" (English: "I like it when you touch me with your big cat paws.")

Suddenly, prospects began to dim when her two guy friends showed up:

Mandrew: "So great to meet you gentlemen. I was just telling your lady friend here how much we enjoyed the two full days we spent in the Anthropology Museum here in Mexico City. I just can't stop learning about Mexican history!"

Mandrew: "So great to meet you gentlemen. I was just telling your lady friend here how much we enjoyed the two full days we spent in the Anthropology Museum here in Mexico City. I just can't stop learning about Mexican history!"

While the combination of Mandrew’s powers of seduction + John’s Spanish Wingman translations were strong to quite strong (just like Mruckenmiller’s stock portfolio), in the end the 4 of us opted to return to our apartment unaccompanied by these newfound friends. Don’t worry, readers who were rooting for Mandrew. You can rest assured that he did not sleep alone that nite.

Even fewer translations were required to arrange this relationship.

Even fewer translations were required to arrange this relationship.

Any single, English-only-speaking males who are planning a visit to Mexico City in the coming months, do advise if you would like to investigate engaging John’s Spanish Wingman services. Fees are negotiable & while results are not guaranteed, let’s just say– Unless the goods [aka, you] are odd, your odds are good.

The Mexican winter of 2010

Our friends & family up north (like my parents currently experiencing -29F/-34C windchills in Grand Island, Nebraska) are sure to appreciate the latest weather developments from Mexico City. I was slightly amused tonight (Thursday) reading tense articles on www.reforma.com about the impending weather doom expected to hit the city ASAP.

Apparently Mexico City is expecting RECORD BREAKING low temps this weekend, the likes of which have not been seen since 1886. (DF is really focused on breaking records these days.) It sounds much more dramatic in Celsius: 4C in the city and down to -5C in higher areas. (a.k.a. 39F and 23F for those of us who are Celsius-illiterate)

Late this evening, the Secretary of Public Education announced after much debate that schools would NOT be suspended tomorrow (Friday). The subhead on that news article was “Piden a padres de familia que manden a sus hijos a la escuela, pero bien abrigados”— “They ask that parents send their kids to school, but well wrapped up.” (I think the article is subscription-access only on Reforma, but here’s the link just in case it works.)

That line was my second favorite only to the quotes in the article regarding how the Government of DF declared a “maximum alert” due to the drop in temperature & expected freezing rain/sleet. The Secretary of Civil Protection did a nice job of working in some commentary regarding climate change, for any skeptics out there:

“‘Por el cambio climático, existe la posibilidad de un fenómeno meteorológico inédito, dentro de lo que cabe, incluso una nevada en el centro de la Ciudad’, dijo Brizuela.”

“Due to climate change, the possibility exists of an unprecedented meteorological phenomenon, all things considered, includes snowfall in the center of the city.”  *

But the one John most enjoyed, after telling me about a few winters he spent running outdoors in sub-zero-fahrenheit temperatures in Minnesota & Iowa, was:

“Si la temperatura es por debajo de los 5 grados, se tiene que evitar hacer ejercicio al aire libre, ya que puede haber un enfriamiento, y si se tiene un cuadro de infección respiratoria, no se debe salir a la calle, pues no sólo estará en riesgo su salud, sino la de otras personas, además de evitar automedicarse.”

If the temperature is below 5C, you have to avoid exercising in the open air, since you could have a cold, and if you have any respiratory infection characteristics, you should not go out to the street; not only will you risk your health but that of other persons, besides avoiding self-medicating.”  *

To be clear, I don’t mean to trivialize the valid risks of freezing weather in a city where most homes do not have heaters & plenty of people do not have homes, period. And given the standard day-to-day traffic in Mexico City + my experiences driving in cities that only get freezing precip a few times a year (talking about you, Dallas), I can’t even fathom what new circle of hell would be unleashed on the roads of DF during sleeting rain.

But despite all of that, I will admit to being just slightly bemused since this response to a weather forecast tops even that of Dallas for wussiness. (Rest assured that when the city is in frozen lockdown this weekend, I will post an apology for my smugness.)

* crappy, vague Spanish translations courtesy me

The best tacos come from the back of a van

The two friends visiting us this week are your classic “work hard, play hard” types. Since there is no work for them to do here, the focus has been largely on playing. In Mexico, “playing” loosely translates “tequila, cerveza, and more tequila”.

You know things are shaping up to be a good nite when one of your visitors asks for your address to write on his arm, in the event that he gets separated from the group (ideally by a woman) before the end of the evening. (Actual house number has been blotted out with skin-colored ovals to avoid a mad rush of fans to our home.)

You know things are shaping up to be a good nite when one of your visitors asks for your address to write on his arm, in the event that he gets separated from the group (ideally by a woman) before the end of the evening. (Actual house number has been blotted out with skin-colored ovals to avoid a mad rush of fans to our home.)

As you can see, this team was well prepared to handle its tequila:

We blended in seamlessly at the bars on New Year's Eve.

We blended in seamlessly at the bars on New Year's Eve.

After a night of several banderas (3 shots of tequila, sangrita, and lime juice, sipped sequentially), any wise Mexico City resident knows that the best way to feel good the next morning is to coat your belly with 3AM street tacos. The street tacos possess a magical property that most closely emulates that Pepto Bismol commercial, where the pink goo coats the angry stuff in your stomach. Street tacos perform a similar act with tequila– enveloping the mass of tequila in their super-absorbent corn tortilla shells & neutralizing its strength.

Luckily, merely blocks from our apartment lies the premiere street taco van in Polanco (at least to the best of our knowledge, but this claim was recently backed up elsewhere). Not only are the tacos quite tasty, but the salsas are excellent.

Look at these options, people. Each shiny plastic bucket is filled with a little salsa gift from the gods. And all the limes you can squeeze.

Look at these options, people. Each shiny plastic bucket is filled with a little salsa gift from the gods. And all the limes you can squeeze.

The taco van also offers an amiable atmosphere that facilitates rapid friend-making. In fact, after ingesting enough tacos, you may be allowed to briefly ride on the back of some of your fellow taco patrons.

I think the guy & girl at the bottom of this pyramid REALLY enjoyed meeting us... (Note actual taco van in the background)

I think the guy & girl at the bottom of this pyramid REALLY enjoyed meeting us... (Note actual taco van in the background)

Two nites later, we discovered another taco van in Polanco across from the W Hotel. This taco van was a bit more stealth, lacking the clear signage atop its roof. Nonetheless, John & James were not dissuaded from sampling a taco from this unmarked van’s rear:

The boys are not visible in this pic since I believe they were busy getting salsa from the van's side door....

The boys are not visible in this pic since I believe they were busy getting salsa from the van's side door....

I think James & Andrew will leave Mexico City ingesting no fewer than 45 tacos each, probably equal parts from stationary vehicles & from more traditional “restaurant” facilities. And the van tacos get a big thumbs up.

A taste of Yelapa…

Apologies for the delinquency in beach photo uploads!! We have a couple friends visiting this week, so we have been busy with a flurry of taco-eating, pyramid-visiting, tequila-drinking, lucha-watching, bullfight-attending, etc. For an added bonus, one of the visitors (college friend James) is taller than us, which has provided an exciting chance for me to not be the *most* stared at person on the streets of Mexico City.

I don’t want to keep all my cold-climate friends in suspense though, so here are a couple snippets to tide y’all over…

A view from our balcony window...

A view from our balcony window...

Me savoring a Christmas cerveza; I only drink beers whose labels match my outfits

Me savoring a Christmas cerveza; I only drink beers whose labels match my outfits

And a view from the other side of the bay; our place was the yellow house tucked amongst the trees towards the left

And a view from the other side of the bay; our place was the yellow house tucked amongst the trees towards the left

 More details to follow shortly!! In the interim, a Happy New Year to all!!

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