“We’ve got a ticket to ride”

Moving around in one of the biggest cities in the world may be difficult and challenging. The everyday traffic is heavy and disorganized. It’s like the jungle, where the strongest and boldest will be the first. Maybe not the first to reach the waterhole, but the first to reach the other side of the crossing. That’s one of the reason why on the weekends, I enjoy taking the Metro to go downtown.

In one of my posts I told you about taking a cab (“Where to, señorita” in January 2015), and also mentioned the subway system in Mexico City.

This time, we took the Metro and got our senses full with sounds, colors and smells, that are not always nice…  It was early for our Mexican Saturday morning and therefore the booths with all kind of supplies in the Metro hallways and corridors were either closed or opening. Some of these hallways are on street level and can be very long with stairs going up and down, some electrical. This makes me wonder how older people or people with a handicap use the metro, the cheapest way to travel… And I really admire them the most.  We took the first train in a quiet station and had to make the first connection. We started walking one of the corridors and we noticed different offers on the sides of the corridors: coffee and ‘no name’ donuts, some “tortas” and “licuados”. Tortas are white bread buns filled with ham or cheese, avocado, tomato, salad, cream and jalapeño peppers. Licuados are milk shakes with fresh fruit.  We also saw some mini stores selling everything for making ourselves beautiful while on the train: mirrors, eyelash curlers, eyeliners, curlers, hair slides. Another shop was selling every gadget on earth for cellphones, but mostly ‘no name’ items and very cheap. For those who love pizza for breakfast, there were pizza slices from Domino’s close to the stairs. After a good walk we reached the next train and jumped in because there is almost no time to get in or out of the wagon.

We found two seats side by side and so we could enjoy the ride… if you are not very sensitive or picky. The cars and seats are not very clean, and as some are from the seventies and are a little bit shabby…

A Metro wagon

I remember the elegant U-Bahn (subway) in Munich and forgetting the colors and the elegant materials of the German counterpart, I personally find our version more practical. The wagons in the new Munich subway are like a long worm with almost no possibility of support. The only support rings are high up hanging down from the ceiling… This keeping in mind that the medium height for a German woman is 1.71 cm!  Some of the seats in the worm’s belly are light in a kind of triply wood in a long row (not in the picture), so that when the U-Bahn stops  the last person in the row starts sliding to the front of the car and remember, there is no halt. It’s a little bit like taking a ride in the fair. Sometime the rides are not nice, and I have to mention the bad smell of some U-Bahn (= Metro) users.  in Winter because they haven’t take a shower or washed their coats and in Summer because … I imagine you know what I mean.

ubahn- muc

The new U-Bahn in Munich

However, as I have mentioned before, Mexico is a very colorful country, and the Metro itself is orange with green, or blue seats while the station pictograms go from pink to dark brown. It’s a very good system with attractive designs and colors so that one can easily follow the lines. I imagine this is also very practical for people who cannot read. One of my favorite names of a Metro station is “Indios verdes” or Green indians… The native American folks were a lot more world and environment friendly, but I guess this is not the reason to name this station this way. Is it may be because some Indians turned green with the smell and the filth in the wagon? No, well, it’s because of the two sculptures depicting two Tlatoani or high political leaders in the Aztec empire standing in a big avenue in the Northern part of the city.

In Mexico the political situation, the economy and everything, according to Mexicans, is very bad… However, we don’t lose the good humor. I really had to laugh seeing the sign for the toilets in the Metro Station “Taxqueña”:

Public toilets in the Metro station

Continuing our trip, in the wagon, the first thing that caught my attention, was someone shouting “Fresas con creeeemaaaa” and then “con creeeeema las fresas”. I asked myself how can he manage to sell strawberries with cream in the subway?, and exchanged a surprise look with my daughter. When he got closer I understood, he was selling popsicles!  My daughter and I didn’t think that someone could possibly buy such a thing at 9:30 in the morning in the subway, but we were shown wrong. Two young ladies sitting in front of us bought one “strawberry and cream” and an “arroz con leche” ( rice pudding) one. Well, there are no rules for breakfast in Mexico…

During weekdays you can find all types of people using the subway, elegant businessmen or businesswomen, school children, students, policemen, doctors, nurses, tourists and more, all  representing many of the social classes in our city. Every single time I take the Subway to get to Palacio Nacional in the heart of our capital, I see women making themselves pretty for work. I’ve seen girls using their mascaras and eyeliners with perfection while being rocked and shaken by the Metro. I have never seen one getting down of the wagon like a Panda bear! They are really good at it. This last week I saw a mature women sitting in front of me, who took out a make up bag out of her purse between “Chabacano” and “San Antonio Abad”, two of the stations. With one finger she sustained the bag, with the other two she took out a make up brush and used it to brush creamy make up to her face. I was almost in awe at the procedure. I had to get out on the next station so I couldn’t see the last result, but I imagine it was flawless. Maybe next time I’ll take note of some beauty tips, without forgetting the young girl with the metal teaspoon curling her eyelashes!

In every trip you may jump at the opportunity to buy sweets, peanuts, combs, scissors, tools, books, even anatomy books and creepy legends of the city, maps, hairpins, ball-pens, colors and really everything you may need in your daily life… and maybe even more!  The merchants are also very flexible and sometimes with one hand they sell one thing and if no one is interested, they switch to another thing that they have hiding in their plastic bags or in their backpacks with the other hand.  There are other people who give everyone something, for example a bag of soft candy and a paper that explains why they want you to buy and contribute to their cause. Others simply sing to do something for a coin or two.

Reaching our goal, we got out of the subway system at the Zocalo, or Main Square in the Historical Center of the city. As usual, the wideness of the area and the monumental buildings surrounding it, amazed me. It’s quite a sight: the magnificent Cathedral, the Sagrario Metropolitano, that is the small church adjoining the cathedral, the Palacio Nacional and the huge Mexican flag in the middle of the square.  On one side of the Main Square or Zócalo, you see a very long Colonial building, The National Palace is the seat of the federal executive in Mexico.

We crossed the Zocalo to get to the Gran Hotel de la Ciudad the México to have breakfast on the terrace with one of the nicest views in downtown Mexico City and to exchange our impressions of this entertaining ride.

Zocalo y Palacio Nacional

The “Zócalo” or Main Square with the National Palace in the background

I hope you enjoyed the ride!

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

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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?

No cow, no horns

Have you ever heard of a city called “Cow horns” or something like that? There is a beautiful city only about 80 km from Mexico City, on the way to the Pacific Ocean, called Cuernavaca.

Who thought of calling it that way? Are there many cows around? No, no cows. It was the way the Spaniards in the 16th century understood the name of the Aztec town which was called “Cuauhnáhuac”. This means “by the woods” in náhuatl, the language mostly spoken in the central part of Mexico and that had extended to the South of the country reaching even Central America.

Cuernavaca is known for its fabulous weather, never cold, never too hot, because of its privileged situation. It lies at about 1510 m above sea level. That’s why in the 19th Century Alexander von Humboldt called it the “city of eternal Spring”.

Last week we went on a short trip to stay there for a long weekend. The highway to Cuernavaca is usually very crowded on the weekends so we decided to leave in the early Friday afternoon making a stop at “Three Marys ” or the real name “Tres Marías” at about 3500 m above sea level. This stop is almost a must for everyone traveling that highway. There are hundreds of small booths, or mini-restaurants offering all kinds of Mexican delicacies served in tortillas or in other specialties made of corn flour. We ordered delicious quesadillas filled with cheese, the classical version and that’s why they are called that way. You may also order others filled with potatoes, beans, chicharrón that is “roasted pig skin”, a very hot sauce and fresh avocado. I promise, if you don’t know what “chicharrón” is, try it, you’ll love it.

After our break we continued on the highway to Cuernavaca. The highway is one of the best in the area and, without consideration of some of the not so experienced drivers, you’ll feel quite safe.  Mexicans are very brave, proud and family loving. They won’t hesitate taking their whole family, including the parrot and the dog, to spend a warm and sunny weekend in Cuernavaca. They also have a deep faith in the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron virgin of Mexico, and counting on her help, they will drive their old cars with almost no brakes… Don’t be afraid, there are emergency lanes in the highways surrounding Mexico city especially marked as “Emergency route for cars with no breaks” =:-O

On the other hand you’ll find some of the Mexicans on the other side of the wealth scale driving their powerful German cars or motorcycles. I always think that the Virgin always has to be very busy…

An hour or so later we arrived with no problem to our destination, a nice neighborhood South of Cuernavaca and we spent the afternoon by the pool with a perfect view of the valley.

On the next morning after an excellent breakfast at home we drove downtown. My brother was a little bit afraid of our sightseeing tour because there have been some violent incidents in the city in the past year. However, we decided to go anyway as it was during the day, not by night.

Our first stop was at the “Palacio de Cortés” that is now the Museum of the State of Morelos.  This magnificent palace was built by Hernán Cortés as one of the official residences of the Marqués del Valle de Oaxaca, himself, in 1535 and is one of the oldest residencial buildings in colonial Mexico.

Museo del Edo. de Morelos

Palacio de Cortés

The building itself reminded me of the medieval castles in Spain with some characteristics of the Arab architecture. It displays an array of objects from the prehistory to the contemporary rural state of Morelos. The most interesting work to me was the mural painting of Diego Rivera, showing the different stages of the “Conquista” starting from the arrival of the first Spanish conquerors to the Mexican Revolutions with its heroes Emiliano Zapata and José María Morelos. This Mexican state is named after him.

We left the museum with a mixed feeling of proudness and shame, and maybe only my Mexican readers will know what I mean…

We continued walking one of the main streets and entered a recent opened museum for modern Mexican Indian folk art, (Mmmmh, how do I translate this: Museo de arte Indígena Contemporáneo?)  It was too new and only the shop and the library were open. What a pity!

We walked to the Cathedral of Cuernavaca, dedicated to the assumption of Mary (la Asunción de María) that was built as a convent in 1537. We were quite shocked with the masses of young people and the food booths in the yard, but what shocked us the most was the pop music that was being played with very loud bass tones.

Yard

Inner yard

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The Cathedral

We walked through the gardens and entered the main building. What a surprise! There are very old wall paintings depicting the missionaries on their ships and boats cruising the ocean to the Americas.  We could also appreciate the first “Mexican” cherubs in the walls. The indians had to learn the sculpting techniques used in Europe at that time, 16th century, and decorated the monuments, created in the Viceroyalty of New Spain (Virreinato de la Nueva España), that way. Some of the oldest ones are found here.

cherubs

Cherubs in the New World

However, it is a shame that the Catholic church abuses its power and organizes such big events in the Cathedral. Unfortunately, people don’t realize that they are destroying our historical patrimony with their parties. They had extremely loud music with the loudest speakers and sound mixing machines under the arches of the main building making everything vibrate and reverberate, not only our stomachs. Besides that, they also took down a wooden sculpture of a saint with no care, damaging the fragile wooden hands. It is valid to try to engage the youngsters and to give strength to their faith, but aren’t there any other safer places in town?

Worried and fascinated we left the Cathedral to walk to the “Jardínes de la Borda”, a nice house with a magnificent garden with all kinds of flowers and plants of the region. They were originally built by a rich miner José de la Borda of Taxco, the Silver City. This big house with its gardens were used later on as the weekend house of Maximilian of Habsburg and Charlotte of Belgium, later of Mexico. Though they couldn’t enjoy their residence for a long time…

It was quite hot and sunny so we decided to take a break and have lunch at a nice restaurant, called Hidalgo, just in front of the museum. I was a little skeptical because very often the eating places close to main attractions are not the best ones. However, I trusted my brother and we went there. It was the best choice we could have made! The food was excellent and we sat outside with a nice view of the Palacio de Cortés and to the small plaza next door. We had the best “sopes” ever! Sopes are made of corn flour, but they are smaller and thicker than tortillas. Some were mixed with black beans and other were mixed with baked banana, simply delicious! We also had some tacos with salmon “pastor style” and as a main course white fish in a mango sauce cooked in a big banana leaf and some tender grilled beef with guacamole. All this with a light rosé Mexican wine. Excellent!

Afterwards we decided not to walk very far, we couldn’t have done it after our meal 😉 We stayed for a while in the plaza with huge trees enjoying the live music, the dancing people, the smells of corn and sweets and the fair that took place there that weekend.

IMG_2633

Sweet and more in the plaza

We got home very happy with our tour and continued talking about what we had seen by the pool…

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.

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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!

 

Tlaloc, Moctezuma and Dr. Simi

I thought I would have time to write again more often. However, I was wrong… I have been fighting a lot of different battles.I never thought that coming back to my homeland was going to be easy, but life has always a lot of surprises. If it wouldn’t, it would get quite boring.
I’ve always been very interested in history. I loved to visit ancient ruins close and far from Mexico City. When I travelled to other countries I preferred the ones who offered an interesting historic panorama. I enjoyed treading about the Aztec mythology and learned the names of the Gods. One of my favorites was Tlaloc, the God of Water and Rains. I’ve always loved water. In these days I have started to have doubts about him…

Tlaloc

Tlaloc, God of Rain

In Mexico the rain season has started with its complications for people and nature. I like to watch the stormy skies and think: well done, Tlaloc. Nevertheless, I think Tlaloc is putting me on trial. You may know that we have just moved to a new apartment full of sunshine and… water! Imagine the first week in your brand new home when you start hanging your matching towels in the bathrooms and putting those nice presents your family and friends have given you in the adequate places. While doing this, I noticed that the paint in the bathroom was peeling off the wall. I asked one of the workers and he simply told me that it’s because of the steam when you use the shower. Having lived in an older house when I was young, I immediately recognized the problem: a water leak. I was right and fortunately they attended my complaint and opened a big hole in the wall to look for the problem. After a day of hammering, dust and not being able to leave my place, they found a nail dug across one of the PVC pipes. Long live plastic! Two days later the hole was closed again and a week later the bathroom was as good as new…
The weeks passed and I had to think of my roots. This time I remembered Mexican history. You may know the name of the Mexican emperor, the one who lost the empire: Moctezuma. So you may also know what happens when tourists, especially, Europeans or Americans visit our country… Well, they suffer quite a lot of inconveniences because they aren’t used to Mexican food… I’m lying in bed for the second time in a row with his revenge. It would be even funny, but I have had high fever and have not been able to leave our home. So, dear Moctezuma, are you punishing me for the many years I preferred the ‘blond folkes’ (or in Mexico the so called güeritos)? I hope not 😉
I thought I had made peace with Tlaloc, but last week, on the same day as Moctezuma stroke for the second time, I was arranging some stuff and reached, with the help of a stair, the highest shelf of the cupboard close to the bathroom… Yes, that one. I suddenly saw a big dark spot on the wall. I couldn’t trust my eyes… No, no more water! But yes, it was another big, rather huge water spot on the ceiling and wall. I immediately wrote a message to the construction company (do you want to know the name?) and they came some days later with a hammer and a chisel. And you know what it meant… This time I almost felt guilty. The night before I had used the jacuzzi to relax after opening the moving boxes. It hadn’t been very relaxing, because after the relaxing time I had another stretching hour of floor gymnastics because the water splashed out of the tube and I didn’t notice. I cleaned everything and nothing happened… only two days later when I noticed the big spot I was telling you about. Dear Tlaloc, don’t you want to go on vacation? It’s Summer!
This last time hammer and chisel were not that fast. I should have called Thor, he would have been faster than the poor guy they sent me to open the hole in the wall. After the wall was broken a real flow of water came out, like a small waterfall!! You can imagine my distress: dirt, broken bricks and water and the guy asking if I had a rag to clean the mess… The waterfall was finally contained or maybe it stopped by itself. A second guy came to help the first one. They discovered another hole in another pipe… Can you guess the material? Of course, plastic, too. They sealed the hole and up to now we’re still hoping that no more water will come out and that they can soon close the passage to another dimension, regarding the size of the hole.

Hole

Hole with the repaired pipes

Hopefully, I can please the Gods and Aztec spirits. I won’t ever make fun of my Aztec name, Tonantzin, that stands for the Mother of All Gods, just the Aztec ones 😉 I would like to know precisely what they are expecting from me. Future will tell, but please, no more Aztec challenges.

Oh, and I forgot to tell you where I got the so needed medicine I am now taking. I went to the pharmacy, where they also have a physician for common illnesses. The first week I got sick, I didn’t consider necessary to go because in Germany we learned to cope with illness all alone. Be strong, don’t complain and don’t take medicine. Oh, and don’t look for a doctor between Friday noon till Monday or during school holidays because you won’t find one. Most of them are enjoying their free time, very treasured in those latitudes. In this case, I’m thankful to Mexico and their doctors who are always there for you. So this doctor gave me a prescription and I bought the necessary medicine in the pharmacy. I have to tell that he wasn’t very friendly, but asked just one or two questions and the most important one, if I had any allergies. Afterwards he charged me with an incredible fee o more or less 5 EUR, and I could start taking the parasite killing bomb 😉 I bought them next door in a so called ‘Simi’ pharmacy where you get similar no name medicines. Good or bad, but I had to laugh when I saw ‘ Dr Simi’ out of the store waving his hand. Next time I’ll accept his hand shake!

dr_simi

I wish you a nice week with no water disasters and in good health!

An old new life

Moving may make you think of boxes, clothing, cooking ware, bicycles, old tires, old stuff and lots of work to do. Besides that, all the paperwork that has to be taken care of. It also implies cancelling services and changing your address in all possible businesses and Internet sites you have ever registered to. This is what I have been doing for the past few months… without exaggerating. There are events that will leave a deep mark in your life and moving is one of them, incluiding the bruises I’ve got while moving boxes and putting things back in place.

Boxes

Boxes and more boxes

 

It’s been a major challenge, but everything has turned out fine. My daughter and I moved into a new appartment in a very nice neighborhood. Coming from Europe, nice would mean that it is very green, with lots of flowers, almost no cars and of course no noise, at least this would be the definition of nice in Germany. But in Mexico City, nice can mean very elegant and a neighborhood where you only see big walls and sometimes have a glance of a very big house. However, my new neighborhood is nice in a sense that you can find everything in a radious of 1 km, in walking distance. We also have a traditional park with old trees that refresh the area. Next to the park there is a real Mexican market where you find all kinds of fruits and vegetables at a very reasonable price and of excellent quality. The market is being renovated and it will be very nice once it’s finished. In the same street we live there are two or more convenience stores with all kinds of refreshments, cans, soap, bread and dairies, among other things. They are open everyday, including Sunday. Around the block there is a bakery with gluten free or sugar free products, ideal for my brother and my dad.

 

A bakery

A traditional bakery, not the one gluten free

There is a pharmacy with a small doctor’s office where you can get medical advice without having to sell your car. Mmmm, and I have to mention the place where they sell roasted chicken two blocks away. It’s the best chicken ever, and you get corn tortillas, hot salsa and Mexican rice for free! If you don’t feel like cooking there are lots and lots of small restaurants around. We have been a couple of times to one called ‘La Jarochita’ where you can eat a complete menu including  soup, rice or spaghetti, a main course and a jar of lemonade or Jamaica water. The serving aren’t big, but you can order more for $10,00 or 50 cents. It is very affordable and cheaper than cooking at home,  depending of course of the menu. ‘Jarochita’ is a diminutive for Jarocha that refers to a person coming from the State of Veracruz in the Southeast of Mexico. This restaurant has the flavours of the kitchen in Veracruz and reminds me of my childhood when we used to travel to Coatzacoalcos to visit my mothers relatives.
People in our neighborhood are very friendly, they are always working in their small businesses, and as I mentioned before, they work almost evey day in the week. Many of them open after 9 a.m. and close after 8 p.m.

The streets are not very wide and they have trees, maybe for some of you this is a new idea of Mexico City. It’s a megalopolis, but every neighborhood has its own characteristics and many of them have trees and parks 🙂

The park

Afternoon in the park

Oh, and we also have Internet connection, 20 MB. I put this info here because when we told some people in Germany that we were moving to Mexico, that was one of tne first questions we got: Are you going to have Internet? Well… I leave my next comment to your imagination.
As for the noise, yes! It is very noisy city and where live starts getting noisy early in the morning because Mexicans think that if you honk very loud and for a long time the traffic will move faster. Well, that’s what we have observed up to now! It could also be that everyone wants to show off their cars and the sound of their horns. In the afternoon you will listen to children playing in the yard behind our building and that reminded me to of the afternoons I used to spend playing and running around with my cousins. In my time that was what children used to do, run around and play outside. However, I have noticed that children nowadays spend a lot of time sitting in front of TVs, PC, PSP, Wii and other devices. The children that I hear in the afternoon laughing and playing cannot afford such things. The others live in a parallel virtual world and over here I’ve seen three or four year old children lost in iPads and tablets!
Another funny noise that we have around here is a truck that has a tape with a very loud and piercing woman’s voice shouting the word: ‘ refrigeradores, colchones, microondas, lavadoras o fierro viejo que vendaaaaaaaan’ They are people who buy old stuff such as matresses, washing machines, junk, etc. either resell it in or ‘repair’ stuff. At first I thought it was just one pickup and I wondered when I visited my aunt in another part of the city and heard exactly the same voice how they came around in all parts of the city. Then I realized that it is only a recording and many different pickups! To finish with the noise, I have to mention the Gas truck. They pass every street in the neighborhood, all week, yes, including Sunday, shouting ‘Gaaaaaaaaas’ so that people can exchange their empty gas tank for a full one. As I live on a fourth floor, when I look down to other houses I can always see the gas tanks on the roofs in the sun and getting very hot… It’s always been like that in Mexico and I hope it continues that way, that is with no gas explosions! Ah, and last but not least, if you’re at home and suddenly listen to a bell, like the ones in Jingle-Bells, it’s not Santa or not ‘La Cloche’ that brings chocolate in Easter in France, it’s the truck that picks up the trash in every street and corner of the city.

This is then every day life in a nice neighborhood in one of the biggest cities in the world. I leave you then till next time and I will drink a cup of coffe while listening to the birds, real birds 🙂

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.