Years and age

What does it mean to you to get a year older? Do you feel the difference from the day before your birthday? In many cultures there are different celebrations for that special day.  Some people like to celebrate their birthday, while others prefer to forget or actually do forget it. In English the word means ‘the day when you were born’, same as in German ‘Geburtstag’, while in Spanish we simply refer to completing another year, counting up or down, ‘Cumpleaños’, one more or one less…

Birthday cake

An Austrian birthday cake

On that day, if you celebrate, you  become king or queen or star for a day. People congratulate you for being born (they should congratulate your mother…) and give you presents, not always. In Germany, for example, if you go out with your friends you are the one who should pay and they bring you the presents. In Mexico you should’t pay for your meal and usually everyone contributes to pay the bill. Many of my colleagues in Munich used to bake a cake and bring it to the office or to school. It is a real honor to bake the cake for the day. You may believe it or not, but in the IT companies I worked for the men were proud bakers, while many of the women simply bought the cakes. I did’t ask why… Men had the recipes from their mums or grandmas and I found that quite nice! The German culture is a cake culture or should I say a self-baked cake culture?  I wasn’t that good at baking and had only two fool proof recipes, but my mother-in-law had about ten times more!

Here in Mexico, you rather buy the cakes in the bakeries.  After more than 20 birthdays out of Mexico I really enjoyed this one. I didn’t have to bake and didn’t pay my meal 😉 Over here we usually sing the famous song “Las Mañanitas” that mentions the day that you were born was the day when all flowers were born and the nightingales all sang… very poetic! However, the poetic part gets lost when it is your neighbors who have engaged a Mariachi group to sing “Las Mañanitas” to someone in their family or to their sweetheart at 5 or 6 am when the sun sets and the birthday is starting!

In Germany there is a special hymn “Hoch soll er/sie leben, drei mal hoch!” Something like with honour should he or she live, heigh up, three times up! And if you’re not that big and heavy you may be thrown up in the air three times!! You may be very familiar with birthday parties in the US, there are many films and TV series that show you the celebration. I remember that the tradition of cake and candles is an American one… I hope I’m not wrong.

This year was a very special birthday for me. I felt that I had a accomplished a major task. I have closed a big cycle in my life and have started a new one. It’s been like beginning to write a new book, with some old and many new characters, some good, some mean… 😉 and in a different surrounding. The book I finished, was an exciting story with a positive ending. The one I’m starting is one with a good beginning and I hope it won’t get very rough (accidentado). There will always be laughter and happiness, sadness and tears, and all those emotions that make life worth living it. I’m very excited of what this new era will bring and I’ll keep you posted 😉

p.s. I like to celebrate with family and friends, but I don’t like to confess my age. However, there are always good schoolmates who remind you of it and of those good old times in Kindergarden posting the exact dates on your Facebook page…

Grasshopper’s Hill, the Carmelites and Santa Fé 

What a funny title is that. What do these words have in common? Some of you will already know what I’m referring to while others will know what it is. Last weekend, one of the quietest ones in Mexico City we decided to do some sightseeing in the city.

We started on the 25th of December to the South of the city and drove through an almost empty Avenida Revolución to San Ángel, which is one of the prettiest neighborhoods in town. This neighborhood is well known for its beautiful colonial buildings, its buganvillea leaning on the walls and its baroque churches. We left the car in an almost empty plaza and started our walking tour. On such a day Mexicans have a very late breakfast and usually visit their relatives to have the rest of the Christmas dinner warmed up, that we called Recalentado. The Christmas Eve dinner usually consists of dried cod fish in a tomato, caper, potatoes and chilies sauce called Vizcaina style or Basque style, remembering our heritage. There is a very traditional dish made of shrimp dumplings in a mole sauce with a vegetable called “romerito” because it resembles the Rosemary bush used in the Mediterranean kitchen. However, it has no aroma. These are usually very hot. There may be a real big turkey or maybe something else, besides the “Christmas salad” that has to contain apples and nuts. My grandmother had another version which contained red beets, oranges, peanuts and some sweets called colación… a strange and sweet mixture.

You can imagine that after these delicacies and a lot of noise present in every Mexican celebration, on the morning of the 25th everything is very calm… Silent morning, instead of silent night

We walked and passed at least two small squares full of Poinsettias and then got to a side entrance that didn´t really show where it was leading to. We entered the porch and reached the atrium with very big figures made of pottery representing the Nativity. We then heard people praying and a priest officiating Christmas mass. We got closer and went inside the church, a beautiful colonial church with a golden altar called San Jacinto. This church was built in the 17th century by Carmelites monks. This Catholic church has beautiful gardens in the front part and is very popular for weddings and baptisms. We stayed for a while enjoying the ceremony and the warm voice of the priest.

Yard

Inner yard, San Jacinto in San Àngel

Belén

The Nacimiento or Belén

We left San Jacinto and walked through the irregular streets of San Angel imagining the insides of the mansions we walked by. Some have enormous gardens where you could get lost in and many of them have huge libraries with all kinds of books…

We got into a small shop, the only one opened, and admire some handicrafts. However, we were not in the mood for shopping. We crossed the avenue and got into the yard of the El Carmen complex. This areal includes the church with its beautiful 3 domes covered in yellow tiles, the former monastery and religious school building. This monastery is now a museum and is very famous for its mummies in the basement. We didn´t visit it because it was closed for the holiday. But we will come back.

Leaving this beautiful neighborhood we drove southwards on one of the longest avenues in the city, Insurgentes. We reached a huge entrance that let us to a newer shopping center with restaurants, cinemas an amusement area for children, a Catholic chapel and a small park. This place used to be a paper factory, Peña Pobre, that merged with another paper industry called Loreto, so that they were known under the name Loreto y Peña Pobre. Nowadays it’s this new outside mall called Plaza Inbursa, a big Insurance company. Times change and investors, too.

We were amazed because besides the very big parking lot and park area there is this beautiful old central building with a light ceiling that lets in the light. There are the usual shops and well known restaurants, but they are well integrated in the area and we had a very good meal in one of those.

Next morning we had breakfast in a ‘Vintage Green’ coffee shop in La Condesa. The place is nicely decorated with wood, plants and wine bottles. There are vegetarian and even vegan dishes and we thought of coming back with one of my brothers for a gluten free meal. After a delicious coffee, hot chocolate, bread and eggs… for two, we continued our walk to Chapultepec park or the park with the grasshoppers’ hill. It was close enough for a walk, but the difficult part was to cross the three or four lane streets surrounding the park. Finally, we made it and got to the park. This is the biggest “lung” in the city and it has always existed. I mean, the area, the hill and the water were there in prehispanic times. The name is nahuatl or the language that the last civilization in the Mexican valley before the Spanish conquerors arrived in the 15 hundreds spoke. At that time the valley contained a huge lake where the Mexicas or Aztects built there first city in the 13 hundreds. The park the way we see it was made a park at the beginnings of the 20th century and the zoo was created. There is also the famous Castle of Chapultepec on the hill of the grasshoppers, that was the royal residence of Maximilian of Habsburg and his wife Carlota in the 2nd half of the 18th century. As we may remember, his reign was very brief and he was executed by the Mexican forces in 1867 in Queretaro. Carlota went crazy or had a monster depression and left for Europe where she was kept in a closed castle. There is a very good book telling this part of Mexican and European history called “Noticias del Imperio”, Fernando del Paso, who presents an accurate and interesting view of that time. More information on the Castle, click here.

To get to the top of the hill you can take a small train up and down. From the top you can get a beautiful view of the city and of the park with its small lake.

We went down and started walking through one of the main streets inside the park. However, we hot the feeling of walking in a marketplace of Asia or the Orient. There are hundreds of people selling their merchandise shouting to praise their goods: Globoooos, refrescos pa’ la sed, paleeeeeetaaas, algodones, quesadillas,,tacos and, and, and… My daughter just shouted: ‘ You made my day!’, when she saw the cotton candy machine and the cotton candy in all rainbow colors almost the size of a tree 😉 We had to buy a purple one that matched the color of her boots!

Chapultepec

Cotton candy and more in Chapultepec park

We then tried to reach the zoo entrance, but the many booths selling all kind of stuff to the people who were arriving at the park made our goal almost impossible and we decided to take a side way close to the zoo and left Chapultepec.

The third free day we had for the Christmas holidays we decided to drive to the Mecca of modern Shopping in the city: the famous and very popular Santa Fé neighborhood. It’s in the west part of the city that has become a very important business district. Many of the skyscrapers contribute to the attractive landscape with its original architecture. The Santa Fe shopping center is one of the biggest in Latin America. This part of the city is like being in the United States and it represents a big contrast to the Colonial Mexico and a bigger one to the pre-Columbian ruins scattered in the city.

Plaza Santa Fe

Santa Fe Shopping Mall

Good or bad, but visiting this mall you are not really shopping in the ‘Third World’. However, it also shows that the world is globalized and is getting very homogeneous… or maybe boring?