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Celebrations

Baby Midwesterner!

Wow, a lot has happened since I last posted… Primarily, a new arrival to the Midwesterner family!  Please welcome Paige.

Lucha baby!

While it gives me heartburn that Paige will not actually be a Midwesterner, we know she will be one in heart & spirit. 😉  And we’re already getting her acclimated to the spirit of Mexico as well.

Hat tip to Dos Borreguitas for the cutest onesie!

Dia de los Muertos: homemade sugar skulls & an ofrenda for Marcia

One of the marigold-heavy ofrendas on display in Mexico City

Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) was always one of my favorite holidays during my time living in Mexico. The elaborate, colorful ofrendas (altars)… the well-dressed Catrina statues the tasty pan de muertothe fascinating traditions at the cemetaries… It was so interesting to spend two years in a culture that not only felt comfortable talking about death, but actually celebrated it.  I shared several photos from one year’s festivities around Mexico City in this post, and I’ve definitely missed all the rituals the last two years back here in the US.

My mom humoring me by eating at a taco street vendor in our hometown back in Sept 2009. :)

But this year’s Dia de los Muertos holds even more meaning for me than any I experienced in Mexico.  It falls on November 2nd, just two days before the anniversary of my mom’s death last year.  She passed away on a chilly fall day in Grand Island, Nebraska after a year and a half of battling lung cancer. We often joked together that she would have lived a more devil-may-care lifestyle if she’d known that was coming; a stage 4 lung cancer diagnosis after never even having smoked a cigarette seemed a bit crap.

I’ve been thinking for a while about what to do in her honor as the calendar creeps up on one whole year that she’s been gone. One of my friends does an extravagant, multi-course dinner every year in the theme of her home state to honor the memory of the restaurant owner who taught her the key tenets of Midwestern cooking– dairy, meat, and booze. I love that idea, but I wasn’t sure I’d make it through a reprise of the last meal Mom & I cooked together without getting a little weepsy this year.

Visiting the Dia de los Muertos displays in Coyoacan with my mom in October 2009.

Luckily, the traditions surrounding Dia de los Muertos offered the perfect solution, along with perfect timing. In fact, Marcia’s last trip abroad was to visit us in DF during October 2009, so she got to see all of the ceremony firsthand & loved it! I decided to assemble my own ofrenda to celebrate her, led by my friend Lesley’s great how-to guide.  I was buoyed by discovering that friend Ross had a whole garden full of marigolds to share, the flower always seen adorning altars in Mexico.  And we already had the iconic Catrina and Catrin statues, purchased with my Mom’s guidance at the Coyoacan DDLM market.

Tracking down calaveras de azucar proved to be a challenge in the DC area, but I came across an extensive website — www.mexicansugarskull.com — where I was able to buy all the accoutrements to make my own sugar skulls at home. I was slightly afraid this would turn into an arts-and-crafts disaster, but Angela’s site did a pretty good sales job, claiming “even second graders” can do it. :)  And finally, I was able to special-order orange blossom water (a common pan de muerto ingredient) from the Italian Store in my neighborhood for a mere $2.99.

Making the Sugar Skulls

Early last week I started work on the long pole in the tent: the sugar skulls. I started with a five-pounds-of-sugar test run, carefully heeding the dire warnings on the website (Don’t make them on a rainy day! Sugar hates humidity! Don’t use crappy meringue powder!). I opted for the “Oaxacan Medium Skull” mold from the various options available, which I liked because it was very 3-D (you make the front & back and then adhere them together with frosting) but wasn’t so big that you have to scoop out the insides to get it to dry properly. The process was surprisingly quick– just mash sugar into the plastic mold, scrape off the back with a flat edge, and flip it onto a piece of cardboard.

Halfway through my five pounds of sugar skull-making run! The mixture of sugar, meringue powder & water should feel like beach sand.

They’re supposed to dry for 12 hours. Because I’m anal, I gave the 14 skulls a few days to relax on a card table set up in our living room.  But during that time, I accidentally knocked one skull-half onto the ground, and amazingly it did not break! After that litmus test, I felt confident enough to email a few friends to see if they might be interested in joining me to decorate the skulls. I still hedged my bets, though, promising a big batch of chili to eat in case this project was an unmitigated disaster. :)

On Friday night, I made another five pounds worth of skulls, even though it had rained during the day and weather.com claimed 97% humidity at 9AM. I flipped our A/C on in the morning, and the skulls turned out fine. I whipped up a couple batches of royal icing around noon on Sunday, and began assembling the skull halves together– this was probably the most tedious part of the process. Their royal icing recipe dries crazy-fast, so at least there were no worries with things slipping around.

Rows of assembled sugar skulls, awaiting their time in the makeup chair...

Bright and festive icing, all ready to decorate some skulls!

That evening, a few folks came over and we dined on a new chili recipe John had tested out (verdict: tasty but futzy, as I guess one should expect when one is making one’s own chili powder & tripling a recipe). Then, we plopped the piles of neon royal icing I’d made into the icing bags, complete with zip ties.

Jenny and I awkwardly fill up the fancy icing bags. Normally I am a big proponent of ziplocs or baggies for dispensing frosting, but I have to say, these things were worth the $4 I spent.

We gathered everyone around the table with their blank skulls, and set to work!

Silence fell over the room as everyone focused intently on their designs...

We found that Leah's pecan pie helped provide the energy needed for this project... Also note the piles of colorful foil & sequins/confetti at the ready, and toothpicks came in handy as well.

For a group consisting largely of engineers, diplomats, architects, and lawyers, I was quite impressed with the level of creativity displayed in the end results:

A lovely array of calaveras courtesy our artistic friends! Marcia's is in the middle of the front row-- often Mexicans inscribe the name of the deceased on the skull's forehead.

We sent most of the skulls home with their creators, but a few stayed behind to grace our ofrenda. Mexicans believe that the souls of the dead come back & visit their loved ones during Dia de los Muertos, so the ofrenda is the offering to the deceased. The skulls joined a few photos of Marcia, candles (to help light the way for the spirits), a good bottle of red wine (things the person liked to eat/drink), a glass of water and a pile of salt (to quench the thirst of souls after their long trip back), pan de muerto (for nourishment), marigolds (which represent the passing nature of life), her Golden Bear necklace (favorite items the person liked to wear), and a Swedish dala horse in honor of her Swedish heritage. Lots of these items also symbolize the four elements of nature- wind, water, earth and fire, like the breezy papel picados that represent the wind.

UPDATE— I came across one DDLM-related saying today after I posted this that I’d not heard before but really liked. “Ya que el camino de regreso al mundo de los vivos no debe ser resbaladizo por las lágrimas.”  Translated, “The path back to the world of the living must not be made slippery by tears.” Great summary of the Mexican attitude towards celebrating the lives of those who have gone before us, rather than focusing on our sadness.

Our first ofrenda! My mom also helped me pick out the papel picados on the wall during our trip to Mercardo Jamaica in DF a few years back. I am amazed they are still (mostly) in one piece!

And a candlelit ofrenda view, including the pan de muerto I'd made the night before.

I had made vastly more sugar skulls then we ended up decorating (apparently not everyone has my perfectionist tendencies of needing multiple tries to hone my skull-decorating skills), so I whipped out a couple more after everyone left. One for my Grandma Arline, and one for John’s Uncle Brian.

The other family sugar skulls I made.

I debated for a while as to whether dogs deserved their own sugar skulls, but ultimately decided I had to draw the line somewhere. If our old beagle Roscoe and terrier Dave each got one, then what about Sophie the guinea pig? Or those fish we had for a while? The barn cats out at Grandma Dorothy’s farm?  There are limits, people.

As we cleaned up after the festivities on Sunday night, I gave John a big hug. “Thanks for being so supportive and not making me feel like a crazy person for wanting to do all of this,” I told him. “It’s just the kind of thing Marcia would have liked,” he replied, “Frenzied house-cleaning before having company over, friends, laughter, good food, red wine, and a project!” :)

It’s going to be a tough November 4th this year for me, my dad, and my brother, as well as for lots of her close friends & family. I just hope she knows how much we all miss her.

The Carmanns, all dressed up with somewhere to go. :)

Love you, Mom

Back to Mexico City!!

This past year has been a struggle for me & John to readjust from the “every other weekend = a 3-day+ vacation to a beach, jungle, colonial town or archaeological site” schedule that we got accustomed to living in Mexico City. :) (Yes, I can almost feel your waves of sympathy washing over me.)   So after a long, challenging, nearly-vacation-free 2011, we made last minute plans to zip down to Mexico City today (Friday Jan 6th).  We debated going somewhere new & unknown to us, but for this particular trip, the comfortable & familiar won out. Consider it a greatest hits tour….just 15 months after the original tour.

Planning has been pretty light thus far… all we’ve really accomplished is starting a list of places we need to eat…. So far we have:

Point being– we are super excited to eat & wander through all the fun neighborhoods, mercados, etc. & track down some friends while we’re there.  More photos to follow of anything else new we discover while there. My current fascination is this— Bamboocycle, a company that makes bicycles out of bamboo. Love it!

Is it wrong to just want to replicate this photo again in person? Love ya, tacos al pastor (& even the sullen taquero).

Happy Holidays from Midwesterner in Virginia

A belated Merry Christmas & Happy Holidays to all from me & John here in Arlington, Virginia!  Thanks so much for continuing to visit this blog & offer your comments. I love hearing from everyone who has Mexico questions, anecdotes, & tips to share.

We interspersed some Mexico into 2011’s Annual Baking of the Cranberry Almond Coffee Cakes.  This is a tradition my mom Marcia started many moons ago (i.e. bake as many cakes as your largest bowl size permits– you will alway be batter-mixing-space limited– and then give them away to a neighbor or two + whoever crosses your path in the day or two after baking).  Since Marcia is no longer with us to celebrate this year (and to remind me that I forgot to put any almonds on the aptly-named coffee cakes BEFORE they went into the oven), I whipped them up on my own with some help from John + brother Tim.

This seemed like a good occasion to break out the Rompope that I spotted at a grocery store in Nebraska & dangerously transported back to DC in my checked luggage.  We discovered this egg nog-like liqueur in Mexico, where we heard it was created by nuns in a convent in Puebla.  So, we took to calling it nun nog.

Cranberry-Almond Coffee Cakes & Rompope....a winning combo. Note evocative nun imagery.

The coffee cakes turned out great, despite their addition of almonds post-baking.  And I offered up a toast to Marcia, who I know would have enjoyed sipping a glass of nun nog with me on a Friday afternoon.  Love you, Mom.  I hope any nuns hanging out where you are give you a sip of their stash.

Celebrating New Year’s Eve in DF

We found celebrating the Año Nuevo in Mexico City to be a bit different than our prior U.S.-based New Year’s Eve festivities.  In the U.S., pressure always feels high among the 20/30-something crowd to have THE MOST AMAZING NIGHT OUT of your life.  This usually involves spending 2x what you would normally spend on dinner at a restaurant whose food will be 1/2 as good as normal, and then spending the subsequent hours trying to purchase drinks from a bar packed with dozens of sweaty, overdressed strangers. :)

Most of the folks we knew in DF took the opposite approach: they spent New Year’s Eve at home with their families, where food & drink are plentiful, cheap, and readily-accessible!  But this begs the question, if NYE is not the crazed event that it is in the US, what is there to do in Mexico City for the non-chilango crowd?  Here are a few options to consider…

  • You can still go out for an overly-expensive, fancy New Year’s Eve dinner!

Lucky for you, there are still plenty of folks who will be out celebrating. As per Ruth’s post, Jaso & Piazza Navona will both be open on Dec 31.  Open Table may also serve as a useful starting point to determine which restaurants are serving dinner, as does this article on Chilango.com highlighting places that are doing fancy fixed-price options.

  • Learn & take part in traditional Mexican New Year’s traditions!

Cristina has a great summary of some favorite traditions within Mexico.  I found the “eating of the 12 grapes at midnight” the easiest to emulate. Make a wish for each grape you pop into your mouth!

You too can be the recipient of tired grapes from a bar in Mexico City @ midnight!

But I also quite enjoyed the lucky underwear– go to any Mexican mercado during the month of December, and you’ll find reams of red & yelow undies for sale.  Wearing red underwear increases your odds of finding the love of your life during the upcoming year, and yellow underwear is said to bring money.

We found this lucky-undie array at the mercado in Morelia, Michoacan shortly before New Year's Eve.

A quick non-NYE-related sidenote: I think when we saw our first red/yellow underwear display in Morelia back in 2008 (our first holiday season in Mexico), we didn’t understand the significance… But you know what we DID understand the significance of?  This hilarious display of other novelty underwear next-door to the NYE underwear:

These 20-peso novelty undies have provided an ROI of about 1000% in terms of amusement derived. We have given these as inappropriate gifts to more people (and laughed more at their expense) than we had ever hoped. Hindsight being 20/20, I would buy another 30 of these if I could.

  • Go to one of the trendy bars in Mexico City that you can’t get into on a normal weekend!

When we had trendy-club-goers visiting us from the US in Dec 2009, we were worried about telling them that “sitting at home together” was the preferred activity for NYE.  So, we decided to go out in Condesa to the strip of bars that is usually too much of a mob scene for us to bother going to on a normal Saturday night. :)

Pata Negra, here we come. (Address: Tamaulipas 30 at the corner of Juan Escutia)

We started out with a beverage at the King’s Pub, and then spent most of the evening at Pata Negra followed by Zydeco.  We were a little too early for much excitement @ King’s Pub, but I did score some sweet glasses there:

Yes! Feliz Año Nuevo indeed!

The best part about being at Pata Negra for the New Year’s Eve midnight countdown was: NYE is such a non-event that the 4 of us personally started the countdown in English based on the time shown on John’s watch. :)  But they did come through with glasses of grapes shown above! In general, the bars along Tamaulipas (normally quite busy) were pleasantly full but not heaving, which was perfect for us.

What are you folks doing for New Year’s Eve this year?? Will you be incorporating any Mexican traditions in your celebrations? :)

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Our First Christmas Posada in Mexico City

One of the many Mexican Christmas traditions I’m missing while back in the US this year is the posada. The season of posadas began on Friday, December 16th– nine days before Christmas.  When we lived in Mexico City, this marked both a time of holiday joy & grinchy anger, because of the sharp uptick in traffic (even worse than normal!).  My friends told me the reason traffic got SOOOO bad was due to all the chilangos driving to posadas after work each night, as well as shopping for last-minute Christmas presents. :) Unfortunately my social calendar never had nine days of parties in a row, but I did get to experience at least one authentic posada thanks to my MBA classmates!

We arrived at Grace & Lalo’s house to discover a well-dressed dog, which I took as a sign that this would be a successful night:

Santa dog = key ingredient for any posada. :)

They had their own outdoor patio heater, which was both awesomely warm & perfect for lighting sparklers on:

It's all fun & games until someone loses an eye, David.

And most impressively, they were even prepared with posada instructional booklets!

All the official posada wording you could ask for

These were important, because a key part of the posada is reliving Mary & Joseph’s experience trying to find shelter in Bethlehem. You set up half the party attendees outside pretending to be a very pregnant Mary & tired Joseph, and the other half stays inside telling M&J to go away & not bother them. FINALLY Joseph explains how he has the mother of our savior with him & then the jerks inside are like “Oh! Our bad! We didn’t know! In that case, come on in!”

The text for the exchange between Joseph/Mary + the meanie lodging folks. It almost feels like that experience you had at the Motel 6 outside of Albany when you showed up at 2AM without a reservation.

Once Mary & Joseph are let inside the house, then the party gets started with some singing, a good old fashioned piñata, food and drink.  I was pleased to see that much like the Lutheran church, no celebration is complete without the opportunity to burn you & those around you with small candles while singing:

Ceci makes the rounds with candles surrounded by their protective, holiday-themed mini-muffin wax drip guards

Alonso pauses to marvel at the flame of light burning so close to his fingers.

The celebratory singing begins!

Finally, the time for the piñata arrived. I took endless pleasure in watching the careful, laborious piñata set up.  I will confess to the fact that my motto of life in Mexico (“What could go wrong?”) flashed through my mind more than once… 😉

Things began with the transfer of the metal ladder over the electric fence. It was never clear to me whether it was truly on or off, which just made the process all the more exciting. :)

The other side of the piñata was secured to this ladder across the street.

To get a full visual of the piñata setup as well as hear a preview of the piñata-smashing theme song, you can check out this incredibly-dark video shot right before the first piñata contender made their way up to the plate:

Luckily the street that the piñata was strung across was not very busy... :)

Finally, it was my turn!!

Grace carefully instructs me in the ways of piñata-beating, while I am blindfolded with an artsy blue scarf.

I think I may have knocked loose one of the piñata's wings, which I promptly claimed for myself as a victory hat.

After the piñata excitement died down, we headed back to Grace’s deck and continued eating & drinking. The fan-favorite drink at any posada is ponche. It’s kind of the Mexican version of hot apple cider here in the US, but better (added alcohol optional but recommended). Check out some excellent recipes courtesy Maura, Silvia, and Lesley.

Good ponche, good people, good times. :)

It looks like we may miss the boat on hosting a posada this year here in Arlington, VA, but hope springs eternal for next year. Though I really need to work on mastering the lyrics to the piñata song.

Is anyone out there holding their own posada this week??  Would anyone like to bring over some tamales & ponche and we can have a quick posada, just the two of us? :)  In the interim, here’s to all my GMBA classmates who made our first & only posada so much fun! Check out more posada blog posts below…

Disclosure: I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program. All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

What’s happening this December in Mexico City?

December in Mexico City is jam-packed with opportunities for celebration, highlighted by the Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe on Dec 12, posadas, office parties, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve, just to name a few.  I found during our time in DF that the Mexico City goverment (a.k.a. “GDF”– Gobierno del Distrito Federal) really gets into things around the holiday season. 2009 brought a new Guinness record for the World’s Largest Christmas Tree, followed quickly by the World’s Largest Rosca de Reyes.  What could possibly be on tap for December 2011, you may be wondering??

The record-breaking Christmas tree I saw in Mexico City in 2009 was definitely not a natural fir.

Well, the GDF just announced some of their plans for this year’s Christmas/New Year events.  I was curious how the general economic climate might affect things, but this hilarious sentence from the article in El Universal put my fears at ease: “Los festejos de Navidad y Año Nuevo en el último periodo de la administración de Marcelo Ebrard en la Ciudad de México serán más austeros y con menos atractivos espectaculares que las temporadas anteriores, excepto por el posible concierto de la estrella pop Britney Spears en el Ángel de la Independencia.”

Rough translation?  “The Christmas/New Year’s festivities in the last perod of the Ebrard administration in Mexico City will be more austere and have fewer spectacular attractions than previous seasons… except for the possible Britney Spears concert at the Angel of Independence.”  What??  While I’m not certain whether bringing in a washed-up-but-surely-still-high-dollar American pop star says to me “we are keeping a close eye on the budget,” I appreciate their enthusiasm nonetheless!  :)

You’ll obviously want to monitor for Britney confirmation (they are trying for concerts on Dec 1, 3 & 6, and we’ll know next week whether negotiations have been a success), but here’s what you should mark your calendars for in the interim.

Christmas Events in Mexico City 2011

  • Ice Skating in the Zocalo!  December 4th will be the first day that the 2400 square meter ice rink will be open in the Centro Historico.  Check out the photos of its construction.  The ice rink should be open through January 7, 2012.
  • 50-meter-tall Christmas Tree!  Alas, they won’t be trying for a new world record this time, but there will still be a sizeable tree to view in the Zocalo. You’ll be able to see it from the pedestrianized street, Francisco I. Madero.
  • December 4th Parade!  At 6PM, lit-up floats carrying athletes that competed in the Panamerican Games will depart from the Diana statue on Reforma & head towards the Zocalo.
  • **UPDATE–December 4th! Britney Spears free concert is confirmed!! It will be at 7PM @ the Monument to the Revolution.
  • Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe on December 12th!  Now this is not a GDF-sponsored event, but rather an annual pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City made by tens of thousands of people.  To be honest, I wouldn’t necessarily recommend going on the actual feast day due to the crazy crowds… but if you want to experience a massive cultural event that happens all over Mexico & see its source, this is the place to be. I posted some logistical instructions here for how to get to the Basilica– scroll down about halfway through that post.
  • More Glamorous December 18th Parade that includes a FAKE SNOWSTORM!  This parade will start at La Morena and go up Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas. I believe it will cut right and end at street 20 de Noviembre in the Zocalo, but the map is a little unclear… (see below)  But to reiterate: they are going to have machines launching fake snow into the air to fall on parade watchers. Love that.
  • Nativity Scenes Galore! Apparently Reforma will have 3 nativity scenes instead of the usual huts selling random gifts/food, but there will also be a LIFE SIZE nativity scene in the Estadio Azteca parking lot. It just makes sense, people!
  • More Stuff for Kids! The Zocalo will also be packed with various other activities/games/inflatable bounce houses/etc. to entertain your kiddos, so bring them on down.
  • Another Crazy-Big Rosca de Reyes!  While I am unclear if this is a world-record-breaking contender, there will nonetheless be another massive rosca de reyes (the king’s cake traditionally eaten on King’s Day) created on January 6th. Keep this in mind if you haven’t eaten enough during December.

Logistics

Here’s a blurry map to give you a feel for the parade routes:

Parade maps courtesy Milenio online: http://www.milenio.com/cdb/doc/impreso/9068350

More info:

If you read Spanish (and/or can send website through a translator), monitor these two newspaper pages online that are tracking updates on holiday events in Mexico City: El Universal and Milenio.  Also Ciudadanosenred.com.mx may have additional details– thanks to them for their helpful article summarizing these events!

Finally, you can check out the current progress of the Mexico City ice rink & general Zocalo preparations in the video below, courtesy of El Universal:

Have a great holiday season & take advantage of all that Mexico City has to offer during this festive time!!
**Updated 11/30 to reflect the dramatic free concert news of everyone’s favorite pop star. 😉
Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

16 Tips for a great Mexican Independence Day

Have you ever wondered whether Mexico gets as excitable for its Independence Day as the United States does for the Fourth of July?  Are you curious what traditions Mexico has that parallel the American traditions of eating your body weight in grilled meat, dressing up in a t-shirt emblazoned with a bald eagle wrapped in a US flag holding a shotgun in its claw, and trying not to lose any digits while lighting off firecrackers?  Have you been too afraid to travel to Mexico for its Independence Day because you just weren’t sure what to wear?? My friends, I am here to help. :)

First, don’t be fooled by Mexican Independence Day’s better known brother, Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Battle of Puebla. Mexican Independence Day falls on September 16th, but most of the festivities take place the night before on September 15th. My husband and I were lucky enough to be in Mexico for THREE Independence Days in a row– one in Acapulco and two in Mexico City. This string culminated in 2010’s Bicentenario frenzy, a.k.a. the 200th anniversary of the start of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain. By this time, we’d settled in & become as well-versed in the ways of the Grito as we could hope for. So today, I pass along to you some of the tips we’ve gathered for ensuring you have a great Mexican Independence Day experience!

1. Nourish yourself with patriotic foods.

The above "chile en nogada" taco is basically the lazy man's version of this classic Mexican dish.

One of the most recognizable foods that emerges towards the end of summer is the chile en nogada. This consists of a chile poblano stuffed with a combo of meat/veg/fruit, covered in a walnut sauce & sprinkled with pomegranate seeds + cilantro. Note the colors of the Mexican flag! I sampled the above delight at the (apparently one-time) Tacos & Mariachi Festival last year, but I highly recommend you check out Cristina’s post of how to cook a chile en nogada and Lesley’s on where to do a chiles en nogada tasting in Mexico City.

2. Quench your thirst with patriotic drinks

Pretend this tall lime juice shot is a bit greener, and you'll get the Mexican flag patriotic feel... Bandera is the name for this 3 drink combo, whose color scheme matches the Mexican flag (in Spanish, also "bandera"!)

For those who have never had a bandera (the drink kind, not the actual flag kind), this is a fan-favorite combo in Mexico year-round, but it’s particularly appropriate when all those Mexican flags are waving across the country. There are a couple banderas visible in the photo above– it includes a shot of tequila, a shot of fresh lime juice, and a shot of sangrita. (Check out my current fav sangrita recipe scribbled in this pic, right side of the page, middle column, black ink starting with “3c tomato juice!”) The key here? These 3 shots are all SIPPED in sequence, not chugged. You’d order this from a waiter as “una bandera con _____” and insert whatever type of tequila you’d like there.

3. Remember that Independence Day falls within rainy season

Note the rather damp conditions that accompanied the Fiestas Patrias in 2009...

…and plan accordingly. Our 2009 celebration on the plaza in Coyoacan in Mexico City was a little wet, but as you can see above most of the locals planned accordingly with their umbrellas and rain coats!  It did put a slight damper on my themed dressing, unfortunately, and all I managed for 2009 was this:

A headband + a single flashing Mexican flag pin? This is Independence Day attire for rookies, people. Consider this the bare minimum of personal decor. :)

4. …but try not to let rain stop you from dressing up like an enthusiastic moron.

Needless to say for the Bicentenario in 2010, we got our act together and purchased as many Mexico flag-themed accoutrements as we could find for either us or our friends to wear. Street vendors are out in full force weeks before September 15 to make sure you are fully kitted up for the big day with not just clothes but also mascots.

I thought I was scoring a unique item by purchasing Señor Jalapeno in Querétaro, but of course I later saw versions of him for sale by every vendor + their pet dog in Mexico City.

John & I peaked with my tri-color mohawk, John's clown hat, flag stripes on cheeks, a necklace of tiny sombreros, and fake red/white/green braids clipped into my hair. Here we are, in the Zocalo on Sept 14th, 2011.

This crazy styrofoam foam hat was also a bold move.

I enjoyed the more traditional cowboy theme + masquerade masks that this group was sporting.

You also have the option to pick one patriotic color for your whole outfit and then add lots of meaningful messages all over the back of it... including the years of the centennial celebration & the actual Grito, as if to imply you attended those events wearing this shirt.

Dressing like a cactus is also socially acceptable... albeit more so when you are in a parade with 200 of your other closest cacti.

5. Just because your friend buys a Mexican flag-colored mohawk, doesn’t mean you can’t buy the same one.

Great minds think alike?

6. Don’t make people guess whether your dog hates Mexico. Dress him up too.

This dog obviously spotted someone else taking a photo of him in his colorful Mexican dog football top.

Let everyone know that a Mexican Muppet is driving *your* dog on Mexican Independence Day, sombreros & all.

7. If you’re a man and you’re not feeling very confident about how to apply your Mexican Independence Day makeup, ask another man to do it for you. As long as you’re both wearing manly, fake mustaches, there’s nothing unusual about it.

Nothing to see here, people.

8. If you see the below patriotic-themed person wandering the streets, don’t let him/her touch you.

Terrifying. No idea what's happening here, but I think there may have been a curse involved. The weirdest part was this person never spoke, just did a lot of lurking. Furthermore, I'm not sure any hand sanitizer was used before that glove silently caressed most of Luis's face.

9. If you’re not very good keeping track of dates and times, try to attend the next Mexican Independence Day centennial event, i.e. in 2110 for the tricentennial.

For any of you who aren’t very good with details, Mexico really helped out last year by installing massive clocks in many of the larger cities to remind you just how of many days/hours/minutes/seconds remained until the Grito. Some of these clocks survived past the bicentennial, continuing to count upwards to an unforeseen future event, but apparently that event has also passed.  Most likely, you will have to wait until 2110 (or 2109 if you’re lucky) for this level of countdown granularity to be provided again. But in the interim, you can take advantage of all the special driving routes that the Mexican government has tagged with signs for the bicentennial.

This clock serves a similarly-important purpose as that of the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England.

10. If you see a massive tray of what looks to be festively-spoiled eggs, buy them!

Refrigeration be dammed, I say! There is little dispute among food scientists that these confetti-filled eggs are fine to store at room temperature.

I don’t know why the egg-shell-filled-with-confetti is not a more popular confetti delivery mechanism here in the US, but these things were awesome.  Not only do these enable you to dump celebratory Independence Day confetti on your pal, but you may temporarily trick him into thinking you are breaking a raw egg on him! Oh, the hilarity! Well, that is, as long as he doesn’t see you carrying this:

Often it is hard to use your ninja sneak-attack moves when carrying a tray of 30 confetti eggs.

11. Learn at least the first few words + the tune of the Mexican National Anthem (Himno Nacional Mexicano).

Susie has the best summary I’ve seen for the national anthem, with not only the lyrics & translation but also video of hot soccer players singing it. Trust me that this WILL be sung on September 15th, and you’ll feel like less of a jerk if you can *at least* mumble things in tune.

12. Learn the Grito– this one’s easy.

The actual Grito de la Independencia (Cry of Independence) is done at 11PM on September 15th. If you’re in any town in Mexico, some important city official will stand, ring a bell, and between rings shout out the names of various war heroes. He does the hard part– remembering all these names. All you have to do is vigorously shout “¡Viva!” whenever he pauses.  Got that?  Check out a full sample Grito from Suzanne here.

13. You can never buy too many fake mustaches too far in advance.

More mustaches, more better. We actually found that some vendors had RUN OUT OF FAKE MUSTACHES by September 14th. Plan your mustache shopping well in advance.

14. Be prepared to get sprayed by a can of foam if you are in the Zocalo for the Grito on Sept. 15.

For the big celebration in 2010, we actually went down to the Zocalo a day early to check out all the preparations/lights/vendors/etc.  It was great; there were still plenty of people out, but we didn’t have to go through security, risk wall-to-walls seas of people, or get doused in foam. I know it’s not the same as being there for the main event, but it was the next best thing!

Note the lack of spray foam coating our clothing.

15. Don’t forget to check out the annual Military Parade on Sept. 16 in Mexico City…but be careful where you sit.

The day after all the Grito craziness, there’s a fascinating show of Mexico’s military presence in a slooooow parade down Reforma. (Hint: wear good shoes.)

These armed ladies were a crowd favorite.

A number of the military companies had a B.Y.O.H. policy (bring your own hawk).

Here is my “where not to sit” photo montage:

I was constantly watching these children, and was amazed that their porta-potty roof seats did not collapse before a policeman finally suggested they relocate. I don't recommend you sit atop a porta-potty.

16. And last but not least, don’t forget that even though your 20-story office building might seem soulless, perhaps he would also like to participate in Mexican Independence Day.

My question: is there a row of windows under there whose inhabitants have to live in darkness from August to September?

While you’re here, check some of my fellow Mexico Today bloggers who are also writing about the mes de patria this month! You can click on the logos below to visit their sites. Enjoy!

Disclosure:  I am being compensated for my work in creating content as a Contributor for the México Today Program.  All stories, opinions and passion for all things México shared in my blog are completely my own.

Upcoming Random Events in Mexico City & beyond!

As part of my continuing “Live Vicariously Through My Friends in Mexico” program, I wanted to alert y’all to some upcoming events in DF, Quintana Roo, and Hidalgo state that I thought may be worth checking out. Rest assured I continue to keep my finger on the pulse of kitschy activities despite my absence from Mexico, all in exchange for the small request of merely a few of your cheesy photos to make me feel like I was there. 😉

MORE LUCHA, MORE BETTER:

That’s right folks– the month of July once again brings us the annual Lucha Libre: La Experiencia!! The dates are July 23 & 24 at Centro Banamex. Have you ever thought to yourself, “I wonder what it would be like if a bunch of luchadors and lucha libre super fans got together and hung out for two days at a tradeshow that also has a professional wrestling ring set up?” Now is your chance to find out!! For fond memories of LuchaFest 2009, check out my prior post.

Recall this photo of me with a veritable "Who's Who" of up-and-coming lucha libre stars.

Their Facebook site may merit a visit, as there seem to be some hot prizes & giveaways happening in the final feverish moments leading up to the extravaganza.

El Matador is on the right, accompanied by famous "mini" luchador Mascarita Dorada. (photo courtesy El Matador)

Since you folks let me down on live reporting from the Feria Nacional de Burros (which, btw, was recently featured in the San Francisco Chronicle online!!), I have already nailed down a correspondent for this event. Friend and luchador El Matador, who has also recently relocated back to the DC area, will be flying down to Mexico City for the craziness. Keep an eye out for the gentleman on the right– if you are lucky, perhaps you can get one of his action figures, which currently is gracing my cubicle at work. I have not yet inquired as to whether El Matador will be doing any wrestling here in DC, but I feel like come election time next year, there will surely be some enterprising politician looking for a popularity boost by taking on one of the rudos…!

MEXICAN MICROBREWS: Yes, Virginia, there is a beer besides Corona in Mexico

If you ask the average person about Mexican beer, you’ll probably get an answer restricted to either the Grupo Modelo brands (Corona, Victoria, Pacifico, Negro Modelo, ) or those of FEMSA (Dos Equis, Sol, Indio, Bohemia, Tecate). But a revolution has been brewing, my friends!! (pun intended)

Mexican craft beer festival? Sold!

A number of craft breweries have emerged around Mexico, and they will have their wares on display September 1-3 at the World Trade Center in Mexico City during the Congreso Cerveza México 2011: Por La Cerveza Libre festival. You will be able to sample more than 100 beers for a mere $150 pesos/day (with advance registration)! This event is part of the Gourmet Show that happens at the same time/place– check out last year’s pics here to see if it merits a visit.

WHALE SHARK SEASON IS NOW!! Come swim next to a fish with a 6-foot-wide mouth!

Swimming with the whale sharks off the coast of Isla Holbox in Quintana Roo state in Mexico is one of those wildlife-interaction experiences that I think you have to do at least once, just like a safari in Africa, seeing the giant tortoise in the Galapagos, and visiting prairie dogs in Nebraska. John and I made it down last June & stayed at the Holbox Dream hotel (thumbs up; great air conditioning, which quickly became my main criteria for a hotel on an island in the summer).

We were too cheap to pay for a guide that took photos of us underwater, but check out my friend Joy’s amazing photos or Kelly’s story & pics on their blogs. While the average whale shark is 25 feet long, they can be up to 40+ feet in length– they are the world’s largest living fish! Even the Washington Post is getting in on the whale shark action. They’re really an added bonus to what is already a lovely beach vacation.

The view from our hotel room on Isla Holbox, Mexico

México Desconocido has further tiburón ballena details, for those who read Spanish, and if you search for “whale shark” + “Isla Holbox” or “Isla Mujeres” (the other jumping-off point for tours), you’ll find reams of additional details. In fact, el Festival del Tiburón Ballena is happening July 15-17 on Isla Mujeres.

FERIA DE LA BARBACOA!!

I will caveat this alert with the fact that I know nothing about this festival in honor of grilled meats except for the announcement on the México Desconocido calendar that is backed up by the announcement on the town of Actopan’s homepageTHIS weekend, folks, in scenic Actopan in the state of Hidalgo, a meat festival (probably lamb) is awaiting your arrival. The website indicates the primary attraction at this festival is the competition to win the title of Best Barbacoyero of the Year. The word barbacoyero is not one I’ve come across before, but I will translate it loosely as “one who makes barbacoa“. :)

This photo seems to confirm the event actually exists, though according to this blog we still seem to be awaiting further details…but last year’s agenda was quite thorough!  So don’t let the silly logistical details keep you away! Commit wholeheartedly & with low expectations- this is my travel motto & it never fails. If you show up in Actopan on Saturday with the goals of eating barbacoa & meeting a talented barbacoeryo, I can almost promise your expectations will be exceeded. 😉

The 2009 logo for the Feria de la Barbacoa was the best I could find, but I felt it lends a certain air of authenticity. Also, please note the ambitious "463rd anniversary". Just think what might be in store for the 465th year!!

In summary, have a fantastic time wearing a mask to wrestle a whale shark while drinking a Mexican craft beer and eating barbacoa. What a summer Mexico has to offer!!

The Burros are Back!!

Some things are so important to alert my readers to that I have to emerge from my 2-month blog hibernation to do so.  Any guesses what could possibly make that exclusive priority list? The Feria Nacional del Burro, of course!!

For any readers who had the misfortune of missing my live coverage from the National Donkey Fair 2010, rest assured that you can review both the emotional buildup to the event and the actual event here. Even though I knew it was unlikely that I would be able to attend Otumba’s premier annual tourist draw this year, I have been trying to monitor the innerwebs for further details to share with my many friends in Mexico City who will surely be dying to go. I was almost sidetracked from this quest by starting a new job (yipee!), but it appears I uncovered this year’s DonkeyFest just in time!!

You can review the full agenda for the 2011 Feria Nacional del Burro here. My instinct says that the day to go is this Sunday, May 1st, as that is the day of both the carnival & the burro races, as well as some burro polo. Sunday is the last day of the festival, and I have to say, all the other festival days seem heavy on bands/dance troupes and light on DONKEYS DRESSED LIKE AN AMERICAN TOURIST.  So choose your day wisely. Furthermore, do not dally or foolishly sleep in on Sunday– the good events (i.e. the burro polo) start at 10AM, and it will take you around an hour to get to Otumba from Mexico City.

The website http://otumbariam.wordpress.com/ appears to be the source of info for this year’s gathering (and they are also twittering up a storm). While it is not as witty as their now-defunct website from the 2010 event, I am going to give the Feria Nacional del Burro organizers the benefit of the doubt– surely they’ve chosen to invest their hilarity/sarcasm in donkey costumes rather than html coders. The below poster with a donkey in a frame also bodes well:

How could this event possibly disappoint you??

If you’re uncertain on how to get to Otumba, check out the ever-reliable Google Maps, or hire a taxi– Otumba is just a bit past the pyramids (a.k.a. Teotihuacan). I reckon you could negotiate a <$1000-peso rate for a taxi for the day. Once you arrive in town, just follow the braying & the clip-clopping of delicate hooves.

While I wither away this weekend in the donkey-less capital of Mexico’s northern neighbor, I am going to be relying on my faithful readers in DF to allow me to live vicariously through you. Please, report back on how the Feria has grown to be bigger & better than ever. Get your photo taken on a brahma bull. Purchase an inordinate amount of burro-themed crap. Adorn yourself in burro ears. I will be awaiting word. :)

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