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?

Saturday morning in “la Roma”

How is life in Mexico City, the D.F., as Mexicans know their capital? People living in other countries have heard or read about the atrocities committed every day in this huge metropolis. To our luck not everything in this city is horrible. There are dangerous areas and neighborhoods where you’d never dare to walk or drive through either by day or night…

In spite of the millions living here, the rhythm of this city is different compared to big, not huge, cities in Europe, such as Frankfurt or even the small Munich. Does it have something to do with the patience of the Mexican character and the impatience of German citizens? Let’s see what to do on a Saturday morning.

In Bavaria life starts very early, even earlier on Saturdays. In some country sides, such as the “Allgäu”, Saturdays are the days to repair anything there is to repair: your house or car or bike or… It is also the day to go an get your car washed and to go shopping, either groceries or home appliances or cars. Shops open rather early and by noon you’ll be ready to go home and cook lunch or to go have lunch in a restaurant that will only open from 11:30 to 14:30 or 15:00, if you’re lucky.

And on a Saturday morning in one the biggest cities in the world? Well, it will depend on the neighborhood you live in and on your wallet. Nevertheless, life won’t start very early. At around 10 o’clock you can go and have breakfast in some nice coffee shop or “antojitos” booth or restaurant.  Mexicans love to eat and they enjoy eating out with family and friends. At around 11 o’clock you’ll find all those places very crowded.

Last week we decided to start our day with breakfast in the nicely decorated “Mercado Roma”, close to where we live. We took a taxi to avoid having to look for a parking lot in that area, that is usually very crowded. The driver left us in front of the Mercado and we strolled through the narrow corridors full of smells, sounds and colors.

Mercado

Mercado Roma

As you can appreciate in the picture above, before 11 o’clock on a Saturday morning you won’t have trouble finding where to sit. There are booths selling Mexican specialties, such as enchiladas, sopes and tacos. Other merchants sell excellent olive oil, different kinds of vinegar,  cheese and other specialties. There is a delicious bakery specialized in maccarones in several flavors and there are a couple of tapas bars. On that morning we felt like having some churros with cinnamon and sugar, some hot chocolate and a cup of coffee. They were delicious! We enjoyed the view to the inner backyard full of plants.

The market is called “Roma” because it’s in the neighborhood called “La Roma” or colonia Roma, with its South and North parts. The well sounding name reminds us of the beautiful Italian capital, Rome. If you see some of the mansions built here at the beginning of the XX century you may think that it is because of it’s beauty that it is called that way.  I also thought that way, but I was wrong. As I said before the colonia Roma started extending itself very close to downtown, el Centro with its Colonial buildings and Aztec ruins. The better situated citizens started moving out of the “Centro” and founded the new neighborhood.  At the beginning there used to be some “Romerías” or Spanish styled markets and “fiestas” of pilgrims dedicated to some catholic virgin or saint. The pilgrims used to walk all the way to Rome… So maybe, Rome is really in the name!  People started calling this neighborhood the “Romerita” or small romería, and the very short form “Romita” stayed and changed to “Roma”. (Info taken mainly from ” Time Out, Mexico Magazine, July)

After our stop at the “Mercado Roma” we walked the street called “Tonalá” where we stopped several times to admire nicely renovated houses. We also passed in front of the Institute Goethe with cultural activities and German courses… However, if you live in Mexico city and want to or need to learn German just give me a call 🙂

I told my daughter that my mother was born in this neighborhood and that my alma mater was located in the street called Puebla. We decided to go and visit the place. We continued on the “Tonalá” street till we got to the Avenida Insurgentes, that crosses the city from South to North and is 28,8 Km long. I really didn’t want to continue walking on this main road so I suggested a smaller street to get to “Puebla”. We passed by many different shops and even a Vegan coffee shop. One of the shops drew our attention when they finished opening their doors. Its a disguise store that has all kind of disguises in all sizes. You’ll find the traditional clowns, next to pirates, sexy ladies, Darth Vader, Batman and Wonder Woman and some aliens I couldn’t identify. They gave us their visit card and we left laughing and imagining how we would dress for our next event!

Our next interesting view was the church “Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia” or something like the “parish of the Holy Family” that was built during the critical period of the Mexican Revolution. It was one of the first churches in the neighborhood.

IMG_2571

Church in La Roma

We continued walking and I started wondering if this was the right street. When we got to the next big avenue, Avenida Cuahutemoc, I knew it. We had been walking in the wrong direction. I apologized and I suggested we should cross Avenida Chapultepec and go back in the right direction walking through the Zona Rosa. This neighborhood is known by is known for its shopping, nightlife, gay community, restaurants and bars. There is also a pedestrian area with beautiful sculptures and trees. In the 80´s the Pink Zone lost its flair and started changing color to a deep red with all its bad sides. Nowadays local business are trying to change it again making it safer and not that “red”. Let’s see, if they can. I hope so.

After some hours walking in the sun we decided to take a break and have something to drink. We started looking for a coffee shop and decided to take a sit in a place called “La Casa de los Abuelos”, or grandparent’s home. We got in thinking that it was a small place with its own bakery, but what a surprise when the lady at the entrance assigned us a table in the main hall. A big area decorated with big candlelights and pictures giving the place an air of  “old” or “like our grandparents saloon”. The fruit juices we ordered were very refreshing and we thought of going back to have breakfast some other Saturday morning.

After this well earned break we continued to “Puebla” street, but this time in the right direction. We got to the “Universidad de las Américas” and to my surprise the nice façade has been changed into a red wall. It used to be a very nice façade with a Mayan design that let you see a small inner garden and some of the classrooms. Very nostalgic I told my daughter that I had studied there and had taught English and Spanish here, parked my car in this street, had some Corn Dogs in the old TomBoy in the corner, which doesn’t exist anymore,  and that I had had a great time. However, everything changes, and I’m now getting to know my city again.

Have a nice time!

 

Sankt Nikolaus and Krampus

Today is December 6th, a day awaited by all children and also all those children at heart in Germany. The first Christmas Markets have already opened. Grandmothers, mums and all those who enjoy it, have started baking Christmas cookies and cakes. We could say that Christmas is in the air…

Who is or who was Saint Nicholas? Nicholas was born around the third century A.D. in a territory that used to be Greece, and that is nowadays Turkey.  He was from a wealthy family though his parents died when he was still young. He was named bishop of Myra and he dedicated his wealth and life to help the suffering. If you want tor read more about him, follow this link http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/who-is-st-nicholas/.

Saint Nicholas is not only well known in Europe, but also in the US in cities that have a big German heritage, such as Cincinnati, Milwaukee, among others.

In Southern Germany not only the good ones will get a present from “Nikolaus”, as he is known over here. No, those who have been bad or naughty will start sweating as St. Nikolaus doesn`t always come alone. He has a “partner” called “Krampus”. He is sometimes represented as a demon with a big sack where he packs children who have been bad and takes them away. I can imagine that having such a figure at your door will make you regret a lot, if not all of your sins in the past year.  And yes, it is a tradition in Southern Germany to engage someone to play the part of  Saint Nicholas and to ring at your doorbell. Parents with especially “difficult” children can also engage a “Krampus”… He would also be good for some difficult partners, don’t you agree? 😉

Krampus

Krampus, one of his representations

There is even a parade dedicated to this character, in an Austrian town at the Wörthersee.

To celebrate Saint Nicholas, families gather on the eve of the 6th in the warmth of their homes sharing cookies, a steamy tea and some “Glühwein” (spiced wine) for the adults.

There are many different recipes to prepare your own spiced wine. I would say that the classical ingredients for a red one are a 1 liter of a not very dry wine, an organic lemon sliced, some cinnamon ( 2 pieces of bark), 3 cloves, sugar white or brown, some cardamon.  You can also add orange peel and some aniseed, if you like. Add the ingredients to the wine, heat it, but be careful not to boil it, and leave it warm for an hour or so. Ready, enjoy!

Some families will be awaiting the visit of Nikolaus with his presents singing the Nikolaus song:  “Lass uns froh und munter sein…”, which would be more or less “Let us be happy and cheerful…”

Other families will leave a shoe with a small letter for him at the main door. On the next morning, the morning of the 6th, a plate with “Lebkuchen” or gingerbread  cookies, oranges, clementines, nuts, a chocolate Nikolaus and maybe some extra present for the little ones.

Nikolaus plate

Brought by Nikolaus

 

Especially on the weekends, the Christmas markets with all their smells, lights and charm are very attractive. There are cities famous for their markets, such as Nürnberg. You may book a tour to visit the Christmas market. However, Munich has also got a wide selection of markets, from the very commercial and well known one at Marienplatz to smaller ones. Almost every neighborhood has got its own. There is avery nice one, specialized in handcrafts at the Münchner Freiheit, which is a square in the neighborhood Schwabing with the same named underground station. There you can find exclusive handmade jewelry, lamps, paintings, knitted clothing and very good food.

There is another very popular Christmas market downtown, called Medieval Market. The artisans sell their handmade products, such as leather goods, wood, ceramics and of course, mouth watering specialties, such as oven baked bread with sour cream and scallions.

Other smaller ones are the “Weihnachtsmarkt” in Haidhausen, next to the S-Bahn, or suburban station “Rosenheimer Straße. You can eat a delicious 1m “Bratwurst” or sausage and drink some hot honey wine from the horn, the same way the “Barbarians” did… There is a very small one, but not a secret one anymore, in the “Residence” yard. They mostly have food and spiced wine booths, and while enjoying your hot beverage you can listen to live Christmas music playing.

One of my favorites is the “Weihnachtsmarkt” at the Rotkreutzplatz, a square in Munich West. Here you can buy very nice candles, stoneware and wooden toys and before you get real cold, you can drink some “Glühwein”, too.

The last market I’m mentioning is the “Tollwood”. It is not only a market,it is really called “Tollwood Winter Festival” and you can find it in the same area where the famous Oktoberfest takes place, in the “Theresienswiese” with direct underground access.  It’s nice to visit this place when it’s dark and snowing. As you may remember, it’s already dark at 4.30 pm However, on Saturday and Friday evenings you may rather stay home or go somewhere else because it will be very crowded. The good thing about it, you will forget everything about the cold weather, especially in the tents 😉 Another important thing to remember, most of the Christmas  markets will be open till 8 o’clock, except Tollwood.

Tollwood

The Tollwood Christmas market

 

I know that this tradition is now very popular all over the world, so look for the Christmas market close to your place and get some Christmas inspiration 🙂

 

Día de Muertos

Have you ever thought of death as something colorful, cherished, venerated? I imagine not… Death is always the symbol of an end, the ultimate end. Death in many religions is the step to eternity… a transformation. In metaphysics, the changing of matter into energy or light. But something colorful, with music, dancing, delicious food and drink?

That is how “Día de Muertos” is present in Mexico and how it is celebrated. Depending on the region, you may find different types of meals, music, decorations, but the essential elements will always be there: the deceased members of the family, orange flowers called ‘cempasúchitl’ in Mexico, skulls made of sugar or the modern version, made of chocolate, dancing skeletons made of papier mache, or of plastic, and the traditional Pan de Muerto, or ‘bread of the dead’ a sweet yeast bread with formed dough bones as decoration.

Are Mexicans not afraid of dead or why do they seem to mock dead? They write funny poems, called calaveras, that are like a funny obituary to their living friends. They also decorate sugar skulls with the names of the living and they cook the favorite meal of the dead, leaving it served on an altar hoping that the dead will drop by and eat a little bit. These two days in November are then the bridge to the world of the dead… Does that sound creepy? It may be. Where do these ideas come from?

Festivity Day of the Dead

Festivity in Chignahuapan, Puebla

(Picture courtesy of my brother)

In pre-hispanic Mesoamerica, which started in the central part of Mexico and went way south to northern Costa Rica, in the time the aztec empire occupied that area death had a dedicated god. This god of the dead was called Mictlantecuhtli, in Spanish el señor de los muertos, the king of Mictlán (Chicunauhmictlan), a section of the underworld (now take a deep breath and try to pronounce the Aztec words…) As any other aztec god, he was venerated in many different regions and had his own ceremonial rites performed by the priests of dead.

If you want to know more about him, follow this link:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mictlantecuhtli

In Mesoamerica, skulls and skeletons were part of the decoration of temples and dead had an important part in everyone’s life.

When the first Spanish missionaries arrived to Mexico around 1530 something, they started converting,missioning, the naturals of those parts of the earth, to the catholic religion. Most of these conversions were forceful and threatening to the so called ‘indian’ population. However, some of the missionaries, being shocked with the brutality used to mission the people, they decided to use a more ‘human’ conversion and they started tolerating some of the traditional rites adapted to catholic celebrations.

More on missionaries in New Spain: http://www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx/los-misioneros-en-la-nueva-espana.html

There is a very old town, rather a village, called San Andrés Mixquic, close to the huge Mexico City where you can appreciate exactly this integration of Aztec beliefs in catholic Mexico. Every Mexican village has a main church and a main square, where people used to gather. Many of theses catholic churches were built using the materials that were part of a pre-hispanic temple. In this town, the cemetery attached to the church still keeps its Aztec decoration, showing skulls, bones and other skeletal parts made of stone to decorate the graves, but also real skulls and bones were piled close to the tombs… This I found really creepy. The graves, that were very old, showed the names of the inhabitants which were usually a Christian first name accompanied by a nahuatl, or aztec, surname. I found this town to be a fantastic relic of the past.

San Andres Mixquic

Cemetery in San Andrés Mixquic

Let’s move to a nicer element, the orange flowers, called Cempasúchitl. The golden orange flower is well known all over the world. It is named “marigold” in the English speaking world and its scientific name is Tagetes erecta. I was reading that in Mexico this flower is also used to cure abdominal pain. In Germany, it is very popular in the Summer gardens to attract snails and avoid them eating other flowers or vegetables.

What about food? I was mentioning above that families like to prepare the favorite meal of the remembered dead family members. However I have never seen KFC (fried chicken) or tiramisu or burritos in any of the altars… So what is usually cooked in these days? In Mexico, as it is Fall, you usually cook a dessert with lots of molasses (in this case a dark sugar cane sirup) and pumpkins. To make it even tastier, cinnamon, cloves and oranges are added, too. You can imagine that every family has a secret recipe. Another traditional dessert is one similar, but using a small orange fruit, sour and tasteless, called “tejocote” instead of pumpkin.

However, a real meal to commemorate your dead relatives would be nothing without some “Pan de Muerto”, Here you can find a recipe, in Spanish though: http://www.mexicodesconocido.com.mx/pan-de-muerto.html

It is usual to find all theses elements on an familiar altar in many Mexican homes. The altar will include cempasúchitl, pan de muerto, may be some “mole”,  or another real spicy dish, and nice photos of the relatives that are not anymore among us.

Family altar, Dia de Muertos

Family altar, courtesy of my cousin

People usually go to the graveyard in those ares and take care of the graves arranging them with colorful flowers. I remember visiting the graves of my grandparents and buying the flowers in one of the many booths at the entrance of the graveyard. I also remember as a child that there were lots of “gladiolas”, gladioli or gladiolus, mostly white or pale pink and carnations.  I don’t know why, but to me these gladioli always make me think of a cemetery…so don’t send me any 😉

I almost forgot to mention the dancing. There was a very famous illustrator, Javier Guadalupe Posada, who depicted skeletons and skulls in Mexican daily life, as part of life and not death. He satirized the political situation of the dictatorial Mexico he lived in.

Music and dancing have an important role in celebrating any festivity. To celebrate Día de Muertos in many cemeteries, especially in the smaller towns and villages, live music is played while children, people and animals, like dogs or pigs, are simply running or playing around. This celebration usually takes place by night and a sea of candles will light the darkness. In Mexico, in the state of Michoacán there is a folk dance called “La Danza de los Viejitos” ( The Dance of the old ones) performed during the celebration of “Dia de Muertos”… a little bit macabre, but quite true…

Bailamos flaquita?

Shall we dance, my skinny one?

Many elements of these celebrations my be found in cultural expressions, for example, in films, paintings, and popular folklore. In 1960, a film conjugated successfully many of these special elements in a surrealistic atmosphere. It is called “Macariobased “on the novel of the same name by B. Traven, set in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (modern-day Mexico)” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macario_(film)).

To finish this fascinating topic, I would like to include some popular sayings in Spanish that show the sarcastic and humorous way of seeing dead in Mexico :

“El muerto al pozo y el vivo al gozo”. (more or less… The dead to the water well and the living to pleasure)

“No andaba muerto, andaba de parranda”. (He wasn’t dead, he was out partying). This is also the refrain of a popular song.

“De gordos y tragones están llenos los panteones”. (Graveyards are full of fat and gluttons) Mmmm, nowadays completely political incorrect. Sorry…

“El que por su boca muere hasta la muerte le sabe”. ( The one who eats by the mouth, savors even the death)

And there are tons and tons of saying, songs, pictures, music… to joke about death in Mexico.

Tying the knot

For many the wedding day is the most expected day in their lives, it’s the day a dream comes true. It is the day when you officially commit to your best half. Every culture has its own traditions and rites. Rites are more often observed on such a day than in normal life. We all want to show our best face and share joy and happiness with the guests.

I remember the weddings of my older cousins, lots of planning, deciding and excitement. Who will be invited to the religious ceremony and who will attend the party afterwards? Where is it going to take place? Coming from a country where the extended family plays a very important role, weddings are usually very big events. However, the longest weddings I have attended to have been German weddings. I know that Indian weddings may last for days and that brings to my mind the funny film ‘Monsoon Wedding‘ where bride and groom hadn’t met before. Their marriage had been arranged by their parents. Although this doesn’t sound very nice to our “Western” ears, I sometimes wonder if this method is not better that our ‘marrying the love of our lives’.

Monsoon Wedding

Film “Monsoon Wedding”

Thinking of the weddings I have attended in Mexico City, I remember every one of them as being quite formal, except mine. Everything designed and well combined. They usually started with a religious ceremony in church and then a big meal in a luxurious restaurant. After the meal, mostly a dinner, live music was played and everybody would dance. Sometime later, the just married couple would cut the Wedding cake and shorty afterwards the party was over. Weddings in small towns or villages in Mexico are very different, depending on the geographical location. In general, they last longer and may even include the whole village to celebrate the marriage.

In the city there is always a dress code that should be followed unless you would like to stand out… I remember that for the wedding of one of my brothers, one of the younger ones who had been working in Europe, came into the restaurant, that was a colonial hacienda with a big garden, in a kilt. It was quite a surprise! When the dancing started the nicest couple was my brother in his kilt dancing with my daughter, at that time 5 years old, in her Bavarian dress, a dirndl. They were very sweet!

In Sao Paulo, women like to dress feminine and elegant, I would say, very sexy, with deep décolletés and very high heels. However, many of them are catholics and want to get the blessings in church. Therefore, the witty Brazilians always have a box with all kind of shawls in different colors to lend to the ladies while attending the mass. Clever, isn’t is? Another great idea for ladies wearing really high heels is that the couple orders many pairs of flip-flops in all sizes to be given out when the dance is starting. The flip flops or thong sandals may be designed in the colors used for the flower bouquets and the table decoration and they can even have the name of both printed, for example Pedro e Leopoldina 😉

I have also attended a couple of traditional weddings in Bavaria. Lots of food and tons of cake! Weddings over here are either Bavarian or simply different. I like to see the families in their traditional costumes, called Trachten in German. For younger men shorter Lederhose and knee high Lederhose for older men. In these occasions women are the ones wearing the longer dresses! There are also long ‘Dirndl‘, that’s the name of the traditional dress for ladies, middle ones and the very short ones, very popular among young girls, and men… All men, at least all Bavarian men, will agree that a Dirndl is the best way to underline a woman’s treasures… for the dirndl women usually wear a special brassiere called “balconette” that offers a very good support and forms a perfect décolleté… a little bit like a balcony…  Traditional clothing has become so popular that during the world’s famous Oktoberfest it is now normal to see Asians, South European, African Americans wearing a dirndl, an imagine, even Mexicans!   I’m mentioning those origins, because it is difficult to distinguish a blond Swedish or Austrian from a blond German girl, that’s why, me, a small dark haired Mexican looks very different indeed…(Me 😉 )

That to the dress code. Other German weddings are not that strict regarding the dress code. You can wear what you want, a little bit more elegant than everyday… and I think that sometimes that is the problem… Some guests keep their blue jeans and if lucky, wear a shirt instead of a t-shirt keeping their comfortable walking shoes.

A Bavarian wedding is not only Bavarian fashion, there are also lots of food, music and anecdotes.  Some traditional weddings start early, at about 10 or 11 o’clock and while waiting for the guests and family to gather,  “ Weißwürstchen und Brezen” are served. For those who are very thirsty, they can start the day with a Weizen or Weißbier, a wheat based beer.  After this “light” second breakfast, there is usually a ceremony in church, catholic or protestant.

weißwurstfrühstück

Brezen, Weißwurst und Bier

(Image from: http://www.typisch-bayerisch.de/index.php/essen-trinken/weisswurstfruehstueck/248/)

After mass, guests and the just married couple go to the restaurant where the party takes place.  Drinks will be served, yes, you’ve guessed right, more beer: a Pils or a Helles or a Radler or… and of course, other beverages. If it’s noon or half past noon, lunch will be served. A typical starter is a broth with some “Spätzle” or thick noodles made of eggs and flour and others with liver. There is a special “Wedding soup” also made of broth, usually no chicken broth, served with two or three dumplings, one only made of eggs and flour, and the other one with liver, too.

Afterwards they serve a traditional salad, not very big, with raw red and white cabbage, rasped carrots, rasped turnips and maybe lettuce and tomatoes. Ah, and of course finely sliced paprika, red or yellow. The dressing is usually thin and a little milky and it shouldn’t be sour.  Sometimes in between the courses there are stories on the life of bride and groom, usually funny, sometimes indiscreet… depending on the person telling the story. The now married couple expects their friends and family to perform some sketches with funny and nice episodes in their lives for example, how the couple met, or the first visit to the in-laws, among others.There may be some games and word games, but not for everyone to take part in, but only as clapping and laughing spectators. That would be too spontaneous… Continuing with the menu, usually some dish with pork meat, may be some filet medallions with champignons or pepper sauce, and to be fair, there may also be a “meatless” option for the many vegetarians here.

Afterwards the dancing music starts and the couple and guests start to dance usually in pairs and strictly following the steps they have learned in dancing school. It is very common for teenagers in Germany to go to dancing school to officially learn the most popular dances, especially the Waltz. The ladies are the ones who enjoy this part of the party while many of the gentlemen discreetly engage in deep conversations about football or they simply “disappear” out of the room to stretch their legs 😉

Everybody brings the presents and congratulates the freshly baked couple. Hopefully, everything turns out fine and the couple may start their honeymoon…

I also hope not many of the delighted couples organize dress, wedding car and honey moon on a boat with these items I found close to my place.  They remind me of Tim Burton’s “Corpse Bride”…

Bride's paradise

Brautparadies… (= Bride’s paradise…)

Have a nice week!

Mexico and its food

Mexico’s cuisine has a very long tradition and an immense variety of dishes influenced by history and its geographical situation.

The very basic ingredients all over the country are corn, beans and chili peppers in all their varieties. There are many vegetables, fruits, herbs and animals that can only be found in traditional dishes in the country. Because of that mosaic of flavors and colors Mexican cuisine has been declared by UNESCO as one of the world’s intangible cultural heritage.

Although all Mexicans are more or less familiar with their specialties, there are dishes that are almost exclusive to one of the 31 federal states and can only be found there.

I can also say that there are the brave Mexicans, who eat almost everything and are used to eating very spicy or very hot food. There is also the not so brave kind… I have to confess that I belong to the second one because I don’t like chilies and I’m not used to eating very typical food.

In my last trip to Mexico I started the gourmet tour in a very well known restaurant called “El Cardenal” in the south of Mexico City. The cardenal, in English cardinal, is a red bird found in North and South America, and just to remind some of my European readers, Mexico is in North America, neither in Central nor “Middle” nor South America, and this last one is not to be confused with Latin America.

We were celebrating three birthdays on the same day and had a very large table. The friendly waiters shared their seasonal specialties and we ordered some starters and a small tequila shot with lemon slices and salt.

I was very excited to have my first Mexican dinner and looked expectantly to the plates that they were serving. They brought some guacamole, the very typical one only with creamy avocados, coriander, lemon juice and green chili peppers. This type of guacamole is usually used as a sauce for either quesadillas or chicharrón, which is pork rinds fried till it gets golden and crusty. Not the best dish for a cholesterol reduced diet 😉  And just to clarify the term quesadillas, those are corn tortillas filled with cheese. If they are hand made and the dough is a little bit thicker they can be filled with potatoes, or squash blossoms (flor de calabaza).

I knew these two starters and enjoyed them with white cheese and warm corn tortillas. Following these two, they brought two nicely decorated stoneware plates with some white stuff with herbs. I didn’t know what it was, but got a little bit suspicious asking my sister what it was. “Mmmm… escamoles”, was her answer rolling her tortilla ready to serve herself a big portion. I started unwinding my Mexican memory and remembered what it really was, saying aloud: “ Oh, my goodness. Those are ants’ eggs! I think I’ll pass!” Some of the guests were delighted and attacked the plate with lots of tortillas while I watched thinking, well, it’s like insect caviar. However, I was a coward and didn’t try them.

IMG_1369

Escamoles

The next dare was served in another stoneware dish called cazuela. In this case I had no doubt, they were what they looked like: worms! They served the specialty of the months of May and June in Central Mexico, the worm that only grows in the agave plant or maguey. They are called Maguey worms. One of the agave plants, the agave tequilana form the Tequila region in Mexico is used to produce tequila.
I could sit next to the escamoles and continue eating my tortilla with guacamole. However, the sight of this dish, was too much to bear for me, so I asked the Maguey worm fans to take them to their side of the table. I was saying that I’m a “bad” Mexican because I don’t like exotic things and I really admired our Russian guests that night who really tried and even liked the worms… not with vodka, but with tequila.

IMG_1370

Maguey worms

There were a lot of spicy dishes to my right and left, but as I had just arrived to Mexico, I ordered a medium beef steak with some beans and it was delicious. For dessert we had some tequila strawberries and guanabana sherbet. Guanabana is a fruit that tastes as a combination of strawberry and pineapple, with some coconut and banana. Simply refreshing and delicious!

237px-guanabana

Guanabana, it’s not a mango.

My next culinary highlight was in Acapulco in the Mexican Pacific Coast. The day we got there we were served a delicious white fish steak in an Aztec marinade… This marinade is prepared with achiote (Bixa orellana) which is a small tree originating from the tropical region of the Americas. The name derives from the Nahuatl word ( language spoken by the aztects) for the shrub, āchiotl.  

Achiote can be found in the market or supermarket as a paste that is usually diluted in vinegar and some orange juice. It is a delicious marinade for fish, pork or white meat.

Another traditional recipe we had in Acapulco was “Pescado a la veracruzana” very similar to the “Pescado a la vizcaína”. It’s not scientifically proven ;-), but I dare to say that the style “ a la veracruzana” is quite hot and includes a lot of chiles of the chilaca sort. If you want to know more about chile you can read here http://www.eatmorechiles.com/chilaca.html

This dish was also delicious though it left my lips and tongue burning!

On our small boat trip surrounding the Acapulco bay we were served ceviche, or in other countries cebiche, made from fresh raw fish cured in citrus juices, such as lemon or lime, and spiced with chili peppers. Additional seasonings, such as chopped onions, salt, and coriander, may also be added.

I was mentioning that the Mexican cuisine was influenced by its history. Before the Spanish conquerors arrived in the 16th century, there were no big animals such as cows, pigs, horses, etc. and therefore the native cultures covered their protein intake with insects, smaller animals and lots of fish and seafood. Nowadays we can also eat a lot of seafood in modern combinations such as the carpaccio of almeja (clam or mussel) that we had on our second day. The clam meat was very thinly sliced seasoned with a sweet, sour and spicy balsamico vinaigrette. Simply marvelous!

Back in the city… Two other excellent restaurants in Mexico City are “El Bajío” which can be found in different locations and where they don’t use chemical additives, such as artificial chicken broth, to their dishes. I had a mole enchilada, being mole one of the most traditional Mexican dishes with fried beans puree and rice cooked with tomatoes.  The word “mole” is also from the Nahuatl and it simply means sauce. We can find many different types of mole and in many colors according to the main ingredients. One of the best known, even out of Mexico, is a brown or reddish brown thick sauce that contains chocolate as a main ingredient. If we go back in history, one of the versions says that the word chocolate comes from the nahuatl word xocolatl, meaning “bitter water”. Xocolatl was a bitter beverage made from the cacao beans, not the creamy and sweet paste we know as chocolate. Other ingredients for mole are nuts, such as peanuts, almonds, and many spices such as cinnamon without forgetting the different types of dried chilies.   For more on mole, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mole_(sauce)

If you cannot visit one of the very extense Mexican coasts you can go and eat or dine in the fish restaurant “ Los Arcos” in the Avenida Insurgentes in Mexico City. I had the best fish taco ever! It was fish “al pastor” or shepherd’s style. Its like the Greek gyros or turkish döner. You’d be disappointed if it weren’t spicy. So, yes, it was spicy, but not very hot. Tacos al pastor are usually of pork meat marinated with “adobo” which includes a red dry type of chili peppers called chile ancho. They serve it in corn tortillas with pineapple dices, raw onions and coriander. In this case instead of pork they used fish and it was a complete success.

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A fish taco

I also had the best shrimps ever! They were coated in flour, eggs and coconut, fried and served with a freshly made mango sauce. My father had a fish stuffed with shrimps in a hummer sauce.

I could tell you for hours about Mexican food, its origins, exotic ingredients and family recipes such as the chicken in cilantro sauce or the white fish in green sauce…and… and… and… as you may have noticed, Mexican food is not chili con carne, nor nachos nor tortilla chips with sweet tomato sauce, nor any kind of salad with kidney beans, red paprika, sweet corn or yellow cheese…

Frankly speaking, after describing all these dishes I got hungry and will go to the kitchen to serve dinner.
Buen provecho! Guten Appetit! Bon appétit! Buon appetito!

 

Rabbit or hare?

I decided to go hunting… At the beginning I really didn’t mean to. I thought that finding an explanation to the “Easter Bunny” would be easier. However, I’ve come across the most interesting things.

Easter Bunny close to Bamberg, Germany

Easter Bunny close to Bamberg, Germany

The first thing that caught my attention is the fact that sometimes rabbits were used to symbolize “Christ” in early Christian times. This convention was continued and was even used in the decoration of some churches, e.g. the three hare window in the Roman Catholic Cathedral in Paderborn, Germany, where three rabbits or hares are united in a triangle with only one ear of each showing. They are meant to symbolize the Trinity.

http://www.american-buddha.com/cult.hieronymusbosch.plate9.htm

If you’re interested in this topic you may want to take a look at The three hares project of Chris Chapman. He shows different versions of the motive and its depiction in Medieval Europe basing its origins in Asia.

http://www.chrischapmanphotography.co.uk/hares/index.html

In the late 15th century and beginnings of the 16th some famous painters included rabbits or hares in their religious painting, such as Albrecht Dürer on his woodcut The Holy Family.

Albrecht Dürer's The Holy Family

Albrecht Dürer’s The Holy Family

He also created the most detailed painting of a hare, his famous Young Hare (German: Feldhase) in 1502 in watercolors.

A very informative page is http://steadfastlutherans.org/?p=28531 where you can read a very interesting, however personal view of Easter and its symbols.

 

Going back to the “Easter rabbit”, that by the way was a hare, like Bugs Bunny and not a sweet fluffy rabbit, it is usually seen as a symbol for fertility.  Hares and rabbits are very prolific and can give birth to several litters a year. They are very early sexually mature and can conceive the second litter while still pregnant with the first!

 

In the early 19th century, Jakob Grimm, tried to explain the myth of Easter, the eggs and the bunny. The idea of the German goddess Ostara became popular with his version. She wasn’t really well known or popular before that. Grimm based his version in some medieval writings, some from the British Isles, and word semantics from German and other northern languages. However, up to now nothing has been scientifically proven.

Another interesting fact I found in my hunt was this image:

Ixchel_Rabbit_maya

Ixchel with rabbit husband

It has been sometimes used to portrait the goddess Ostara and his mate, the rabbit or hare!  If you look very carefully, especially for those of you acquainted with Mesoamerican art, you will recognize some facial traits… Yes, indeed! This is a Mayan sculpture representing the Mayan goddess of fertility, Ix-Chel. She was the goddess of fertility, motherhood, the moon and the menstrual cycle. She was mother of all. In other representations she holds a rabbit in her hand as a symbol of fertility while sitting on the crescent moon.  On this image she is standing with the rabbit at her side to symbolize fertility.

As you now know, this image has nothing to do with Ostara, the Old German goddess!

The Aztecs, another Mezoamerican culture,  used the rabbit for the name of a day: “tochtli”. http://www.azteccalendar.com/day/Tochtli.html

 

Are there any other rabbit or bunny versions? Many for sure…

In conclusion,  the version of Easter as we know it,  with colored eggs and bunnies, is the one transmitted from German and Swedish cultures to other European countries and brought to the US of America in the 18th century mostly by German immigrants, many of them Lutherans.  This tradition has now extended to many parts of the world without really knowing what it stands for.

Does it really matter? Enjoy your chocolate eggs and rabbits… though I prefer chocolate hares as they have longer ears 😉

Happy Easter! 

red egg

The Egg

Spring has arrived with its milder weather, birds tweeting (twittering? that word has now got another meaning… should I better say chirping to avoid confusion?) and flowers blooming. Yes, its my favorite season!

Everywhere you can find splendid flower arrangements, rabbits, birds nests and eggs!

Eggs are a symbol of fertility and new life.  We can find them all around and in all forms and colors. The real ones, boiled and painted, chocolate ones in foil paper, fondant ones in the classical ovoid form or as sunny side up eggs, nicely painted wooden ones, plastic eggs, and, and…

The tradition of decorating eggs and eggshells is ancient and has been practiced all along history by many cultures. I’ve just found out that the Egyptians used to put them in their tombs. The early christians used to paint them red to remember the blood of Christ.

In East European Countries like Romania, Russia, Ukraine they decorate them with filigree patterns creating small masterpieces.

In Greece, they bake a rich yeast bread usually with a red egg in it, it’s called tsoureki. Other countries like Hungary have a similar bread with eggs for Easter.

pangriego1

Greek Easter bread

What came then first the egg or the hen? It’s a never ending discussion. It depends on the starting point of the discussion and of the participants…

egg or chicken

Who came first?

 

 

 

 

 

The egg has been inspirational for many ideas, not only coking. There is a famous nursery rime “Humpty Dumpty” by Mother Goose. If you want to have a look at the writer ;-), you can check it here:

http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/mother-goose

Does it have a meaning or is it a simple a word game?

Humpty Dumpty was a colloquial term used in fifteenth century England describing someone who was obese. The image of Humpty Dumpty was made famous by the illustrations included in the ‘Alice through the looking glass’ novel by Lewis Carroll. However, Humpty Dumpty was not a person.

(http://www.rhymes.org.uk/humpty_dumpty.htm)

In nature there are thousands of different types of eggs. We usually think of the ones we know like chicken, duck, goose and maybe quail among others. There are beautiful colored ones from little birds like the blue ones of a finch.   But not only birds lay eggs, fish also produce them. We enjoy them ( or rather not… yuk…) as the famous caviar. The most expensive one is the Beluga caviar form the beluga sturgeon in the Caspian See.  Other types of fish caviar are also enjoyable, for example those of salmon or trout.

Moving up in the zoological scale we find humans on top. Although a woman’s ovary has about 1 million oocytes or eggs at birth, only about 500 (about 0.05%) of these ovulate while the rest are wasted. If we imagine that a healthy young man with a typical ejaculate usually produces 300-500 million spermatozoa, that would create a lot of children!  However, we know that it is not that easy… Only a couple hundred spermatozoa survive in the acidic environment of the vagina to be candidates for successful fertilization.

This reminded me of Woody Allen with his always funny to watch “Everything you always wanted to know about sex…” (1972)

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0068555/?ref_=nm_flmg_wr_50

Continuing with fertility, sperm cells cannot divide and have a limited life span. After the fusion with egg cells during fertilization a new organism begins developing, starting as a zygote.  Funny name for a baby 😉

Where does everything begin where does it end?  Great thinkers like Aristotle and Plutarch proposed their own ideas on the puzzle. According to Stephen Hawking and Popular Science (the magazine), the egg came first as it evolved prior to birds.

Coming back to the egg and the hen I visualize the symbol of eternity:. A world egg or cosmic egg is a creation myth of many cultures and civilizations linking the egg to birth. It embodies the idea of a silent universe, all at one bursting into activity and chaos. There is no “first” in a cyclical view of time characteristic of many cultures and religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, as well as other Dharmic religions. The belief of the wheel of time which regards time as cyclical and with repeating ages is also found in other cultures such as Mesoamerican (Aztecs, Mayan) and some native American Indians.

Let`s  continue enjoying the egg in all its forms, especially in mouth watering recipes for Easter.  How about…

…some eggs bendedict?

http://www.yummly.com/recipe/Eggs-Benedict-The-Pioneer-Woman-287104?columns=4&position=1%2F45

… some asparagus with sauce hollandaise?

http://www.yummly.com/recipe/external/Best-Basic-Hollandaise-Sauce-511714

… a tasty tortilla española

http://spanishfood.about.com/od/tapas/r/tortilla.htm

… Or an italian frittata?

http://www.incredibleegg.org/recipes/recipe/simple-frittata

Decide for yourselves, invite some friends, cook together and enjoy 🙂

Oh, dear! I almost forgot “the bunny”!  Don’t worry, you may read about “him” next week.