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August, 2010:

1st Taco & Mariachi Festival in Plaza Garibaldi!

Alert to any Chilangos and/or Mexico City visitors during the week of September 3-12, 2010: two of my favorite things (tacos & mariachis) are being celebrated in yet another Mexican festival!!  (Lest anyone forget how successful the LAST festival was that I recommended, please feel free to revisit my Burro Festival recap.)

Another brilliant mascot!! A sombrero-wearing, guitar-playing taco who's just waiting to be dipped in the roja or verde salsas at his sides.

I am hoping this is the first in a series of awesome Mexican-themed events to occur in DF in the run-up to the Bicentennial excitement this September. To be fair, if I was planning this event (at which CANIRAC anticipates 100,000 attendees), I might have started inviting taco vendors prior to 10 days ago… But I did learn when I was coordinating events at TI that excessive advance notice just doesn’t sit well ’round these parts (or at least may not be as effective as you might think when trying to get people to attend something), so I’m counting this as “cultural differences”. :)  Perhaps the 2-weeks notice is right on track for the taco vendors!

Regardless, I know for sure that the mariachis will be amped up & ready to go, so any “artistic events, cultural events, Mexican snack sales & many more surprises” will just be frosting on the cake!! Mark it on your calendar, people. Not sure where Plaza Garibaldi is? Check the map here. And for anyone of the opinion that Plaza Garibaldi is a den of iniquity & thieves, I beg you to give it a chance– you might have as much fun as these folks did. :)

I need a cactus chair

I came across an interesting blog today entitled “Hoy es un gran día para mostrarte lo mejor de México.” (Today is a great day to show you the best of Mexico.)  It’s kind of an assortment of travel hot spots, activities, and design highlights around Mexico. Even if you don’t speak Spanish, he has some great pics to peruse.

Juan Carlos’s blog tipped me off to this chair, which now has me wondering, a) how much of our existing furniture would we have to throw out in order for this chair to look good in our townhouse, and b) should I start playing the Mexican lottery in hopes of winning enough money to buy one?

Do these chairs not scream "I love Mexico"?

And look, they even have pseudo-prickles, in keeping with their namesake prickly pear cactus! (both photos courtesy Juan Carlos's blog)

These are entitled “Prickly Pair Chairs” by the designer Valentina Gonzales Wohlers, who graduated from Ibero here in Mexico City. Check out her website for more info re. the cactus chairs (under “What”, then “Furniture”, then “prickly pair chairs”) or her Facebook page for additional pics. If the prices shown here are accurate, I will be playing the lottery for a looooong time before springing for one of these…  Valentina– any discounts for people who actually live in Mexico??? 😉

This same blog also tipped me off to a new trendy hotel located just across from the US Embassy in the Zona Rosa. While I typically don’t highlight the Zona Rosa as a must-see area for visitors to Mexico City, it is a good central location with easy access to the cooler neighborhoods of Condesa, Roma, and the Centro. The new hotel is from the Room Mate chain, which we found to be quite popular when we were in Spain last year.

My understanding of the concept is that each hotel is given a person’s name & personality traits to make you feel like you’re staying at a friend’s house, combined with fun decor, reasonable price points, and good locations.  Coincidentally, Valentina is the name of the new Room Mate hotel that’s opened in Mexico City, and she is “curious, sporty, and sexy.”

The trendily-decorated lobby of Room Mate Valentina

One of the junior suites at Valentina

The decor looks fab & the price is right (or at least reasonable), starting at $76USD pre-tax for an “executive” room with free wireless, so I will be curious to see if the actual experience matches their fashionable website! Let me know if you’ve stayed here; I will try to pop by & check it out in person sometime in the near future.

In the meantime, I am accepting donations toward a Prickly Pair Chair… :)

How Driving in Mexico City Changes You

~ Conversation snippet from inside our car, Tuesday night, 6:30PM ~

What are we going to do with this?

Scene: John & Julie are driving from Polanco to a friend’s house in Condesa for dinner. They are sitting in traffic on Thiers, a street that often requires 2 minutes to drive down, but tonight is requiring about 25 minutes. Traffic is so thick that they both momentarily lose all judgment and purchase a bright blue mini-keg water bottle from one of the dozen street vendors winding their way through traffic.

They are sitting in the far right lane of about 5 lanes, and they see a brown car emerge from a garage & prepare to enter the standstill traffic, roughly one car ahead of them.

Julie: [in a joking tone since this question is totally unrealistic] “Are you going to do your good deed for the day and let that guy in your lane?”

Amazingly, as if God wished to spare John & Julie the moral dilemma, the red car ahead of them lets the brown car into the lane. This is RARE in Mexico City.

Julie: “Wow. That was unexpected.”

They creep ahead another 40 feet, approaching an intersection where numerous cars are in line, waiting forlornly for the gap in traffic that will never come. The red car ahead of them YET AGAIN lets a car enter his lane. This is virtually UNPRECEDENTED in Mexico City.

John: [in a loud, indignant tone] “Who is this ahead of us, The Good Samaritan?!!? What the f is going on here?!!??!”

Julie considers chiding him for his outburst, but realizes she was also wondering “Where is this red car from anyway? Mayberry??”. They chuckle briefly in a moment of self-reflection at what impatient meanies they have become while driving in DF. [Sidenote: lest you think poorly of us, this approach is *required* to survive here. Just trust me.]

Then they move to a middle lane to minimize further confrontations, and distract themselves taking photos out John’s window of a prominent hood ornament.


In summary, I think both of us are going to be banned from driving in the Midwest ever again after our 2.25 years here. Do any training/re-acclimation sessions exist for topics like:

  • Re-adapting to Pedestrians: Our Friends, Not Our Targets
  • How to Gauge Whether Your Fellow Citizens Deserve to Merge in Front of You
  • Car Accidents: Just Because No One’s Bleeding Doesn’t Mean You Didn’t Have One
  • Turn Signals and their Place in Society
  • Red Lights: They Still Serve a Purpose Before 7AM and after 10PM

Please advise if you know anyone who can help us re-integrate into US-style driving. I think we’re going to need it, or DC’s Beltway’s drivers are never going to know what hit ’em. :)

Learn Mexico City slang on your iPhone!

Have you been promising yourself that you would spend some time to learn more Spanish before visiting Mexico City, but you just haven’t gotten around to those Rosetta Stone CDs ? Have you been living in DF for a few years but still have no idea what your taxi drivers are saying while they’re talking on their cell phones? Have you been too lazy to read through the Effective Swearing in DF blog, or even to watch Werevertumorro on YouTube?? (Thanks Alice for the video tip!)

Finally there exists what you’ve all been waiting for: an iPhone app for learning Chilango slang & obscenities! Güey Spanish promises to help you “Learn the Mexican slang needed to speak like a Chilango verdadero.”  Here’s the link to their iTunes app as well.

Although I am living in the dark ages with neither an iPhone nor an iPad, I was able to test out Güey Spanish last night on my computer– the app is also available on their website for anyone still trapped in the olden times of laptop use. 😉  I tallied up 50 correct answers & 17 wrong answers during my extremely scientific analysis of the program (a.k.a. how long does it take me to get 50 answers right). The terminology covered on the site definitely skews in the direction of “words I wouldn’t use around my Mexican grandmother unless I wanted to be beaten with a day-old tamale because of my foul mouth”. But the obscenities are interspersed among other abuela-friendly words that you will hear all the time in polite conversation here & probably have no idea what they mean, like fresa, lana, porfis, etc. I hope they continue expanding the vocabulary, because right now I reckon you could cover most of the terms while on a taxi ride from the airport to Polanco during rush hour. :)

¡Chécalo, güey! ¡Órale!

One of the more polite terms covered in Güey Spanish.

Hat tip to Arturo for the alert!

Obesity linked to Snickers consumption at gym

My fellow blogger Burro Hall has previously mentioned the ongoing battle between Mexico and the United States over which country can achieve higher obesity rates. Today I discovered another tactic at use in this war. However, it was observed at the US Embassy Fitness Center (patronized by US & Mexican citizens alike), so this tactic seems to be supporting both sides in this obesity quest…

Check out the section I’ve outlined in red below, from the Fitness Center Rules of Operations:

Snickers are required?!? If you're wondering why my gym-going has increased so much, there's your answer in a nutshell. ;)

Ignoring the absence of rules 2, 3, 10, 11, and 13, focus in there on #4: “Proper dress is required, clothes and Snickers at all times.”  Snickers are required at all times in the gym?? No wonder I haven’t made much progress losing weight here…

What the Embassy gym might look like if rules were carefully followed...

Jeez, am I getting tired of seeing THIS guy at the gym every morning. Put a shirt on, will you!!

* Amazing image quality courtesy the winning combo of Microsoft Clip Art and Microsoft Paint, every graphic designer’s dream team 😉

P.S. To avoid the inevitable discussion with some killjoy out there, yes, I realize it is supposed to say “sneakers”, not “Snickers”. *Sigh.*


Cognitive dissonance: sexy, gourmet hot dogs

While watching television last night in Mexico City, we saw one commercial that really stood out– in a bad way. It ran twice in an hour.  The first time, we debated whether Saturday Night Live producers had somehow snuck a fake, joke commercial into Cablevisión’s Mexico programming. The second time, we felt slightly nauseous.

Decide for yourself, readers. Zwan salchichas de pavo (“turkey sausages”): are these worthy of an advertisement overlaid with soothing, classical music, while little nubbins of dirty hot dogs cascade through the air? Have you ever seen a woman eat a fork-full of hot dog that sensually? How realistic is that, anyway? Can you even close an omelet when such large chunks of hot dog are jammed inside it??

credit for ZWAN Salchicha from claudia arana on Vimeo.

Thanks a lot, Zwan, you and your zero-fat-added turkey sausages. Now I will spend our last few weeks in Mexico living with the fear that we might end up at a dinner where the host will have been sufficiently swayed by this advertising to think that it is socially acceptable to serve hot dogs anywhere besides a BBQ attended by young children. Especially hot dog nubbins. Blek. :)

Sancocho: the most impressive meat stew ever

One of my MBA class friends here in Mexico City is married to a woman from the Dominican Republic. For Rodolfo’s birthday last year, his wife made an amazing Dominican creation known as Sancocho de las Siete Carnes. John and I were invited to the Gran Sancochada (as apparently one calls the event at which one stuffs oneself with sancocho), which of course we could not miss!

Now the recipe I linked to above states “Time: 90 minutes”. That sounds extremely optimistic to me, as I believe Rodolfo’s wife Elizabeth spent *at least* all day making this dish, and probably plenty of additional time scrounging up all of the ingredients! To start with, you have seven meats. These typically include beef, chicken, chorizo, pork, perhaps some goat, maybe bacon or cured beef (cecina), you get the idea. Rodolfo was quick to point out in his invitation that although the specifics of the siete carnes are left a bit vague in advance (depending upon what’s available), “…no es carne de gato, ni de rata, ni nada por el estilo.” [translation: It’s not cat, nor rat, anything along those lines.] :)

In addition to the meat, sancocho requires a variety of  Dominican-y vegetables like “la yuca, yautía, ahuyama, y todas esas cosas dominicanas que no entiendo lo que son,” in Rodolfo’s words. [translation: yuca or cassava, yautia or malanga which is similar to taro, ahuyama or cucurbita maxima which is a type of squash, and all those Dominican things that I don’t understand what they are.] I also recall ñame [yams], platanos [plantains], corn cobs cut into thirds, and other more familiar vegetables and spices.

The number of ingredients is impressive, but I have to admit what most impressed me about Elizabeth’s cooking [before I actually tried the dish] was the pot she was using. This thing took up about 4 burners on their gas stovetop. It was MASSIVE. And bubbling away inside it was vastly more sancocho than our group of 20-something guests could possibly eat. :) I remember thinking to myself, “This woman is not screwing around in the kitchen,” and feeling slightly ashamed of the wee, loser pots we had hiding in our cupboards back home.

Chef extraordinaire Elizabeth and birthday boy Rodolfo pose with their sancocho success story, inside a pot big enough to bathe a medium-sized dog. Luckily, I am certain that activity has not happened in this particular pot. ;)

The sancocho was served with various accoutrements like avocado slices, rice, hot sauce, etc., and plenty of alcohol. It was fantastic– definitely as meat-diverse as promised, with amazing flavor from all those ingredients having simmering together for a few hours. I had at least two helpings, quickly making a mess of myself trying to eat the corn off the cob and ripping some of the meat off bones. Then I spent the rest of the evening wondering things like,

  • What will they do with the rest of the sancocho?
  • They cannot possibly have enough tupperware containers to store all of that, nor space in their fridge… right?
  • Maybe they have an extra “sancocho fridge” hiding in a back room, just like people in the Midwest have an extra “meat fridge” in the garage?
  • Maybe Rodolfo brings the extra sancocho into work and sells it?
  • What would he charge?
  • Why didn’t we bring 18 tupperware containers along with us?”
  • Is my purse waterproof?
  • Why didn’t I bring a larger, waterproof purse?

This is the point in any food-related post where I might claim, “This was so good I will definitely make this at home!”  And the sancocho was indeed good enough to almost inspire me to that point– it almost feels like it should be a traditional Midwestern dish with all that meat hanging out along with numerous ears of corn!! But given my feelings of pot inadequacy and skepticism that I could identify all those Dominican veggies without a field guide, I think I will just wait for the next Gran Sancochada. 😉

Here I am, trying to pretend that a) I am not intimidated by the size of the sancocho pot, and b) I am ready to just rip into a massive hunk of meat right now.

Elvis Memorial Mass this Monday Night!!

In reading through the Primera Fila section of the Reforma newspaper this morning (which is basically the movie listings & things-going-on-about-town insert that arrives each Friday), I came across this two page spread highlighting all-things-Elvis.

There is an Elvis tribute by the "Rebel Cats" coming up tonite, and Elvis in concert happening August 29th. Who could ask for more!!

Apparently this August 16th is the 33rd anniversary of Elvis’s death, a fact that somehow escaped notice on my personal calendar. But what did NOT escape my notice in this article is the following:

Translation: "Mass in memory of Elvis. Like each year, a mass will be offered in memory of Elvis." Of course it will.

So apparently this Monday night, August 16th, at 7:00PM, there will be a church service in honor of Elvis’s memory. Huh. I mean, is this really something I can *not* go to??? I am morbidly intrigued as to how exactly the Parroquia de los Santos Cosme y Damián intends to honor Elvis during this evening mass…  Elvis “pelvis” (as the article states) seems like the last guy of whom a Catholic priest would be encouraging fond memories.

Regardless, in the event that you share my fascination, Google Maps indicates that the church is located here. It also appears quite close to both the San Cosme and Revolución stops on the metro. I wonder if parishoners are required to dress up…

Best time of day in Mexico City: early morning

The last three days, I’ve been test-running a new morning routine here in Mexico City. The reason for this was the expiration of our Gold’s Gym Polanco membership, which prompted us to reflect on a few questions before we extended it for our last couple months here:

  • They want to charge each of us $1800 pesos for 1 month or $4000 for 3 months?? Am I paying for someone to lift the weights for me?
  • Is there any way we can justify paying >$100 USD a month for a gym here? No.
  • How many people in spandex can I handle looking at during the course of one gym visit?
  • If you can drink a cappuccino and talk on your cell phone during a workout, is it really a workout?
  • What kind of gym has a cafe area that occasionally cooks meat?? (John about yakked one afternoon after a hard workout from the smell of sausage wafting through the gym)

After my return from Nebraska, John and I decided to pursue a more economic option: working out at the US Embassy gym. This costs $50 USD for a 25-visit card, and $100 USD for the two of us sounded much more compelling than Gold’s Gym’s ~$576 USD for 2 months of watching waifs drink coffee while doing side bends.

We get to the Embassy around 7AM, and I depart for home about 8AM. It’s about 2.5 miles back to our house, which gives me about a ~50 minute walk in the morning, right as Mexico City starts pulsating with life.

I realize an hour-long walk in the morning is a luxury that will soon be coming to an end once I have a job (God willing) back in the DC area in November. That could be why I am particularly savoring this time of my day. But I also think the 8:00-9:00AM time frame is a great time to experience Mexico City– tourists, take note!

To be clear, life in Mexico City certainly begins well before 8AM. People in on the street-side of our apartment building have complained of being awoken by the sound of vigorous sweeping at 5AM. For workers who transit in from the far-reaches of DF’s suburbs, their 1-2 hour commute via buses & the metro begins well before sunrise. But from the perspective of action on the streets (i.e. number of vendors set up selling food, number of men and women in suits heading toward work, level of mind-blowing traffic), I feel like it really hits its stride between 8 and 9.

What are the highlights of a walk during this magical hour in Mexico City’s mornings, you may wonder?

  • The food street vendors are in full effect. Tables/carts/stands are set up anywhere with sufficient foot traffic, selling atole, tamales, churros, pan dulce (sweet breads), and sometimes sandwiches. Another type of stand is more fruit focused, selling freshly-squeezed orange juice, other juices, and chopped-up fresh fruit to-go. Some taco vendors are even going at it to satisfy those with a craving for a good breakfast taco al pastor. I’ve been opting for atole (figuring it to be the more healthy option than made-with-lard tamales….even though a tamale verde is the best thing ever). In three days, I’ve stopped by three different atole stands and sampled flavors of chocolate, nuez (pecan), and arroz (rice). Chocolate was very similar to hot chocolate, arroz was like a runny rice pudding with a few rice grains as a surprise at the bottom, and nuez (my favorite) was like drinking liquified pecans. Mmmmm.
  • The weather is perfect. In the morning, temperatures are in the upper-50’s/low 60’s. The sun is usually out, but still slowly sliding in from its ~7AM rise time… no risk of it beating down on you from overhead. It is the rainy season right now, so walking in the late afternoons/evenings puts you at high risk for getting caught in a downpour. However in the AM, the odds of rain emerging out of nowhere are slim– you’ll generally know when you get up if a rainy morning is in store.
  • A popular street vendor stove design in Mexico City

    Other vendors are busily preparing for their day. You’ll see many a pack of gum being artfully laid out at the candy stands throughout town. I passed one woman just arriving to her final destination, whose hand truck was loaded to bear with everything she needed for a day of selling tlacoyos and tacos cooked on a stove like the one at the right topped with a massive metal disc. Of course you may also see vendors still en route to work, such as the gentleman below.

This man would seem to have a deathwish, as he pushes his soon-to-be street stand between lanes of oncoming traffic... but no one bats an eye. I would peg him as a gum/candy vendor based on his cart design, but it is hard to know with certainty from afar.

  • Smugly observing street after heavily-clogged street, and being happy that you are not stuck in that traffic. Sure, you’re breathing a little exhaust…. But you will quickly learn which streets have standstill traffic with lots of peseros (the buses) blowing smoke in your face, and which routes seem to be less stinky.

As taken overlooking the Circuito Interior this morning about 8:15AM. This really isn't that impressive of a photo in the grand scheme of Mexico City traffic, but I was still happy to be walking rather than in one of those cars.

  • There is no debate over the appropriate greeting at this hour. To explain– if you are the type of person who says hello to passers-by and you are out and about in Mexico City between a) 12-2PM or b) 6-9PM, I feel like these times are a bit of a greeting no-man’s-land. I operate by the principles of “after noon = buenas tardes” and “dusk = buenas noches”. These principles vary amongst Mexicans– some feel it’s not buenas tardes until after lunch, and not buenas noches until it is pitch-black dark outside. I will offer up a buenas noches to a stranger, get a buenas tardes in return, and then panic/feel like I need to look at my watch. POINT BEING: between 8 and 9AM, there is no debate. Buenos dias all the way, people. And just trust me– when everyone you pass by is staring at you awkwardly and you feel obligated to offer a greeting just to break the tension, it’s great to be in the definite buenos dias zone.

For anyone interested in maximizing their food-eating/people-watching experiences on a morning stroll in Mexico City, there are about a zillion cool streets on which to do this. But take note– sometimes the best ones aren’t the obvious ones, like Reforma. Instead, I found one street off Reforma to be much more bustling (Rio Lerma) & have more vendors lurking at its intersections as well. Metro stops are an obvious tip-off for lots of morning activity– the Polanco metro stop on Horacio offers plenty of excitement within a several block radius. :)

If you’re in Mexico City and not yet had a leisurely morning walk that involves a street breakfast of a tamale inside a bun (torta de tamal… touch me, carb overload) accompanied by a cup of atole, you don’t know what you’re missing. And if you’re not confident in your atole-discovery skills, email Lesley and she’ll walk you through it on a street food tour! Enjoy. :)

Casseroles heal all wounds

After two weeks here in Nebraska, hanging out both at the hospital in Omaha and in my hometown of Grand Island, the time has come for me return to Mexico City. I think the Carmann family is feeling a lot better now that we’ve had some time to gather more information & Mom is well on the road to recovery from the surgical procedures. Additionally, we’ve been super appreciative of the support from all our family & friends in words, thoughts and deeds.

Which brings me to a question I was thinking about last nite… What is the standard procedure in Mexico when a friend or neighbor is sick, or has received generally crappy news?

I am very familiar with the cultural norm in the Midwest– casseroles, casseroles and more casseroles! And perhaps a pie! And sure enough, our friends in Grand Island have not let us down. :)  In the 4 days we were home, we received one cherry pie, two freezable chicken/spaghetti-based casseroles (though I confess one did not make it to the freezer… too tasty to just wrap up and put away both of them!!), a bacon-wrapped chicken & dried beef casserole yesterday nite along with a potato casserole (and brownies!), and a promise for a macaroni-and-cheese casserole to arrive on Saturday. (As well as a dozen amazing cupcakes shipped in from friends in Texas.)

Casseroles are the Midwesterner’s way of saying, “I am thinking of you during this crappy time you are going through, and I know that you probably can’t be bothered to cook. So, I am bringing you this casserole that you can freeze, so that you’ll have it at the ready on whichever day your cooking motivation reaches an all-time low.” While they might not fall into the ‘health food’ category, they definitely fall into the “comfort, feel-better food” category.

You can peruse one of our family favorites, Swiss Cheese Green Bean Casserole, here.

Getting back to the question at hand, what is the similar cultural procedure in Mexico? Or even on the East Coast of the US?? (since we’re heading back to Washington DC soon-ish)  Is there a standard food or type of food that is the default option when a nearby friend or family member is in need?? I was laughing to myself, thinking of someone in Boston showing up at a sick neighbor’s door with a big bucket of clams…. or perhaps someone in Mexico hiring a tacos al pastor vendor to make a visit to a hospital. :)

Any insights are welcomed to add to my cultural intelligence… because I’m just not sure how well our Midwestern casseroles would be received in Mexico City…. 😉

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