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!

 

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 🙂

The fly that steals butter

A dear friend of mine, who loves German same as I do, read my last post on the butterfly. She dug around finding the German word ‘Schmetterling’ as very hard. She came across the etymology of the word and found out that the word ‘schmetten’ derives from a Czech word that is used to designate a type of cream. This linguistic road meets the English one, if we think of a ‘butterfly’. In old folk stories butterflies turned into witches and stole cream, milk and dairy products!  It’s really funny that in this case the development of the word almost turned into a cruel joke. Everyone forgot about the fairy tales and nowadays we may only think of the other similar term, schmettern, that can be associated with the battering of a butterfly 🙂

 

The fly in the butter

If this were a show and tell in school, I’d start with the sentence “a butterfly is an insect with two pairs of colored wings… ” However, when I listen to the word butterfly I usually imagine a simple and common fly landing softly in the butter of my breakfast table… Who was the one who ever thought of calling such an insect a ‘butterfly’? Let’s take a look at other languages, a butterfly is a ‘Schmetterling’ in German, and the verb ‘schmettern’ means to dash, to batter, that is, to violently smash something…. Such a name for such a light and insecure insect? Please, come on, who called it that way? I imagine it was maybe someone with a magnifying glass looking at the huge eyes and the hairy body of a butterfly… Let’s move to the Latin based languages, butterfly in French: papillon… It sounds like a very big paper something, ‘papier’ is paper… so… Do you get the image? A little bit better than German, but still hard. And Italian? The word sounds at least friendlier and playful, ‘farfalla’ … Better, and in Portuguese, it’s ‘borboleta’ a word that I associate with ‘bubbles’ and something light and also playful. My favorite though is the Spanish word: Mariposa. It’s like a tiny Mary posing or landing somewhere… A nicer and softer image in our heads, isn’t it?

butterfly

Mariposa

 

This time I started philosophing on this special insect because during the last cold days I carried in some wood for the chimeney and among the logs I found a delicate blue and brown butterfly. What surprised me was the fragility between the coarse wood and that it was still alive. So I took it delicately from a wing and, although it didn’t flatter (schmetter 😉 ) widely, it started moving softly. But, what could I do with it in a cold and grey day? I opened the door and left it posing on the balcony. This left me a little bit sad because I knew that in spite of having resisted all along hidden somewhere the butterfly wouldn’t make it long. So what was all that struggling and resisting for?
The next thought I had, was about the cocoon… Where had it been all winter long? Where had it been hiding, sleeping, charging energy? At that point I saw the awakening as a very cruel thing, you are warm and safe in a cocoon and wake up only to encounter difficulties. But maybe having the opportunity to see the world, especially in spring, may have been worth it.

Enjoy the sunny days that are to come!

Oscars, redheads and will power…

What can you do on a rainy or snowy afternoon that transports you to another world? I know, reading!…or in this case watching a movie. As the weather hasn’t been very friendly in the past weeks, I decided to dedicate my long afternoons to movies.

This year I managed to watch almost all of the pictures nominated for the Best Picture Oscar. I was very happy to see that both of my favorite actors got an Oscar. The first one is Julianne Moore for her role as Dr. Alice Howland in “Still Alice” and the second one is Eddie Redmayne depicting Dr. Stephen Hawking in “The Theory of Everything”. It is a funny coincidence that both are natural redheads!

Golden Statuette

The Oscar

 

Another performance that really impressed me was J.K. Simmons in the supporting role in “Whiplash”. In my opinion, this year presented many interesting candidates and I would not like to believe that the prizes were bought, as some people may think. Other years may have been different…

“Still Alice” left me quite shocked with the idea of suddenly starting to lose my memory. Alice starts noticing small changes in her daily life. She started forgetting unimportant things, like some items on her shopping list. Then she started forgetting the names of people she had been just introduced to, she started forgetting words and the contents of her lectures in the university. She started to lose her usual sharpness and clearness. It is very difficult for her to accept losing who she is and who she has become, her ideas, her thoughts and especially all of her memories. However, with the help of her husband and family the loss is a little bit less painful until she isn’t really herself anymore. We all know the feeling of trying to remember the name of a book, a place, an address. A German saying quotes: “What you don’t have in your head, you have it on your feet”. This means that we all have had to run twice to the supermarket or find a convenience store nearby because we forgot to buy milk… I know that our concentration and our brain should work hand in hand to avoid extra runs.  However, it is no the case of Alice, who suffers from a very aggressive form of Alzheimer. I spoiled a little bit of the story, but it is worth watching the film, especially if you like dramas.

If this is the case, you will also like “The Theory of Everything” that is the biographic movie of Stephen Hawking. It is based on the book written with the help of his wife, Jane Hawking, who believed in him and gave him all the support he needed. We all have heard about this famous professor, his theories about the Universe and his incredible will to survive and think. The relationship between him and his wife is the core of the story presenting many nuances and changes of their marriage. Eddie Redmayne is incredible from the very beginning of the film showing us a young and good natured Stephen who starts noticing small changes and difficulties in his movements till he is diagnosed with ALS, a motor neurone disease. Eddie’s performance gives us a perfect idea of the development of the illness. Prof. Hawking is now 73 years old and was only given two years to live. He is the best example of a positive attitude, an infinite will to live and good humor.

Here you can watch Eddie’s speech at the Academy.

As for the Oscar for best picture, I liked very much that “Whiplash” was nominated for this category. What is the movie “Whiplash” about? It has also a lot to do with a strong will, patience, talent and human relationships. J.K. Simmons is Fletcher, an instructor and director of a jazz band in a conservatory. He will not permit that talent gets wasted and pushes his students to the very last borders of sanity. His ways are not kind and he can be as mean as the meanest villain in a comic book. He is bad tempered and arrogant. Andrew, Miles Teller, a promising young guy enrolls the band and is challenged by his instructor until he almost reaches madness. Fletcher challenges one of the new students to achieve his best on the drums. He has to be the fastest and every beat has to be exact and on time. The characters are so well played that while watching I almost got up and threw the drums and everything at the instructor. You get so mad and outraged while watching. It is a story that goes to the very bones, very well performed. The film also got an Oscar for sound editing and it is really worth watching.

Whiplash in IMDB.

My favorite choice for the best picture was “Birdman” and it did win. Michael Keaton was great in his role as Riggan, a “worn out” actor who used to play the role of a superhero trying to achieve a hit again.

Birdman

Birdman or The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance

It is a film that has to do with strong emotions and a newly found will power. Birdman was a forgotten superhero who could even fly and observe the world from the “heights”. Riggan, the actor who played him, is a man who has lost his self-confidence, lives a mediocre life and wants to be someone again. Birdman is now his alter-ego who encourages him to leave his comfort zone and tries to be successful again. Riggan also wants to patch the broken communication with his daughter and has to prove to himself and the public and critics that he can be better than the arrogant new theater talent, Mike, played by excellent Edward Norton.

Alejandro González Iñárritu, as writer and director, creates a film where Riggan changes in his inner and outer life. His dreams and wishes are images of the old superhero intermixed with scenes and struggles in real life. He learns to defeat himself and overcomes his fears and disappointments. The film combines in a very subtle manner reality, illusion and delusion. The dialogs are witty and sarcastic while the movie reminds you often of a theater play because it was mainly filmed in one take.

I didn’t watch American Sniper, but I don’t like war movies nor do I agree with the vision of many American films of their military and heroes. Clint Eastwood was the director and I imagine that it could be a good film for those who like the genre.

Another film nominated in many categories was The Grand Budapest Hotel. I liked the originality of the settings, the camera, especially the frontal takes usually in 4:3 resolution. The music and the atmosphere were very appealing. I found the story very original, but although I liked it, it is not one of my favorites. It was maybe too bizarre for me… who knows.

I also watched “Boyhood” where the same actors were filmed for a period of 12 years. It is about the coming of age of Mason and his family life. His parents are divorced and his mother, played by Patricia Arquette, becomes the most important person in his life. She plays her role in a very natural and convincing manner without glamour or stereotypes. For her performance she got the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. His father, Ethan Hawk, was not very present and was not very responsible when Mason was very young. Within the years he changes his ways and becomes a good companion to Mason and to his daughter Samantha.

The project and the filming idea were very ambitious and got to a successful end. This is a very innovative way of filming that started 12 years ago with a defined beginning and had a predefined ending, but was flexible enough to adapt to changes during all those years managing to show the development in all characters.

I wish you an interesting week watching some of the winning films.

Words by Blair Gaulton

Toutons Tubas and Other Tales

Words
Can cocoon and mislead.
Harm those yet unborn;
cover our world
in hatred’s storm.

words can
fuel love and wondrous deeds
that will be told for generations to come
they are the seeds
inspiring others to do the same
to bring our world back
from its destructive track.

May all our words
inspire others in a good way
so one day
they can say
we helped to spark their flame
to build a better world again.
(C)BJG(Blair Gaulton)Feb 2015

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Where to, señorita?

One of the most challenging events in a huge city is to go from A to B. In the Mexico City Metropolitan Area you can take the bus, the subway, the tram, take a so called microbus, a minivan, called ‘pesera’ because they used to charge one peso for the ride, you can take a taxi or if you like strong emotions and are very brave you may even drive.

Mexico City

Mexico City from the plane

 

During my last stay in Mexico City, I noticed many changes in the streets. The main changes started in the eighties with the re-planning of streets and avenues. The so called ‘Ejes viales’ (something like traffic axis or road) were created by renaming, numbering and modifying the direction. The Ejes include the names of the old avenues and streets and for the not so young they are still called that way. In the modern DF, how the city is also called, there are also elevated roads which can be used by paying a fee. These elevated roads connect the south with the north and offer a faster way to move. The common people take the road below, at street level, and end up in a big traffic jam during the rush hour.

An easy way to get around is to use the subway system that was first built in 1969 and has been continuously expanded.

http://www.metrosdelmundo.com.ar/americadelnorte/mexico/metro-mexico-df.php

Although the ‘Metro’ is the cheapest and fastest way to move, it is also extremely crowded. If we remember that there are about 20 million people living in the Metropolitan Mexico City area, you can imagine how crowded the Metro will be between 7 and 9 in the morning, or even earlier.

In my last visit I decided to avoid the metro and to use the always available taxis. There are different types of taxis. The most common ones and the cheapest ones are painted in gold and dark red (bordeaux, not masala ;-)) They are all over the place and can be stopped everywhere just by raising your hand. A trip in one of these taxis is recommendable, if you more or less know where you are going, you speak at least a little Spanish and you are not dressed in light colors or elegant garments. I assure you that this can be a very colorful experience and you shouldn’t miss it, if you visit the city.

Taxi

Taxi!

 

I took several of these rides, being the shortest one of only 100 m long… I raised my hand, a taxi stopped, I got in and the driver asked me where I was going… I couldn’t even finish telling the driver the address because he suddenly stopped and told me: ‘Lo siento, seño, no es mi rumbo. Ya estoy terminando, mejor bájese.’ Something like, ‘Sorry, mam, it’s not my way. I’m finishing, so you better get down’ He was not unfriendly, but very clear. I took my handbag, got off the car and waited on the street side for the next one. This time I was lucky and the driver took me to my destination, in about 15 minutes.

Taxi drivers in the city are mostly men, if I dare say, I have never seen a woman. They are from a very young age… I didn’t ask the youngest one I got how old he was because I was afraid he might have said sixteen… Ooops! The oldest one was sixty five and was planning on retiring soon and enjoying family life, with his wife, children and grandchildren. However, he was not very sure, if he could afford leaving the job. I didn’t ask him, what kind of retirement plan he had because not everyone has one.

In one of my other trips I was asked very kindly where I was going: ‘Damita, ¿para dónde va?’ Or something like ‘Little lady, where are you going?’ As I have been living many years in other countries I was surprised by the word choice of my driver and on first thought I imagined that he was referring to my being short… ‘Little lady’ I thought, very funny. However, I noticed that some of the taxi drivers use that term to refer to us, women. I simply didn’t like it and didn’t get used to it.

I had to take a plane to travel to Cancún and called one of the other popular taxi services, the so called ‘taxi de sitio’ or official taxi stands. These are usually safer because they register your name and pick up address and give you the number of the taxi and sometimes the car brand of the car that is going to pick you up. These taxis should be in better conditions and the drivers are also a little bit better… But this is a rule with exceptions. I once got a car that was almost losing parts during the trip…

On my way back home from the airport, I took a taxi from the official services in the airport. They are more expensive, but better. This time I had a newer car and a friendly driver who asked me ‘¿a dónde la llevo, señorita? More or less, ‘where shall I take you, miss?’ I noticed that he wasn’t the only one calling me miss or señorita… I got suspicious and thought that it was maybe the same way we used to call our older, unmarried teachers in school… I’m now single again or for Mexican taxi drivers, maybe simply unmarried, and of course I am a teacher… I have to give this more thoughts 😉 The courteous driver showed me his new tablet attached to the front part of the car and started playing some Mexican music videos from the seventies, asking me if I remembered this and that. I was returning from a very relaxing short trip in the beach, but started doubting of the relaxing effect. I must look really old because he then asked me about my grandchildren! And I’m not a grandma yet. Time doesn’t make us younger 😉

Another one of my trips took me about an hour because it was Friday and a longer trip. Fridays in the city are usually chaotic, and the worst ones are every 2 weeks, when people get paid. Most people get their salary or money twice a month, on the first and on the fifteen with the previously mentioned consequences in the streets.

mexico streets

From A to B in Mexico City

This driver was also friendly and chatty. He started talking about his teenage daughter who wanted to get a piercing asking me my opinion, and if I had children. He then changed the subject to his problems at home, his wife had left him and asked me if I was married. I was too slow or maybe too honest and answered that I wasn’t married anymore. He then wanted to have all kind of advice on how to cope with loneliness and asked me if I thought he should ask his wife to go back for the third time… It was like a telenovela! The nice thing about this trip was that I almost forgot the traffic jam.

Two other trips were unforgettable, the one with the almost completely broken and dirty taxi with a dirty driver who reminded me of Charlie Brown and Snoopy and their friend who walks with a dust cloud on top… Yuk! To my disgrace I was in a hurry and had to get on time to an appointment and this was the only taxi available. The two other ‘exciting’ trips were one from the airport with a driver who thought he had a Formula 1 car and had me jumping form one side of the back seat to the other with every curve he took. Of course, the belts in the back almost never worked! The other one was with a driver who was really mad about everything: other drivers, other cars, people, buses, the country and especially the politicians! I remembered some of the bad words and curses that I hadn’t heard in a loooong time.

In the many trips I took I also noticed that Mexican taxi drivers love either tropical and lively cumbias or dramatic rancheras where everyone has lost the love of his or her life and has decided to get drunk with mezcal to forget the pain…

After some of those trips I also thought of getting some tequila or mezcal to recover from the shock. However, I managed and can recommend taking a taxi to get to know some of the real Mexico.

Bye, have a nice ride home!

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 🙂

 

Bio and organic… Really?

Nowadays we ask each other, if what we are eating is really what it is supposed to be. Some of us try to be fair to ecology and look for sustainable products, avoid eating meat and only buy “bio” or organic products… What would my grandmother think, if she could see that everything healthy is now ‘bio’? Aren’t we all biological beings, that is, ‘bio’?

What is Organic? Lets see the definition of http://usorganicproducts.com/why-us-organic: “Under USDA regulations, “organic” is a labeling term that indicates that the food or other agricultural product has been produced through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation and genetic engineering may not be used.” Aha, now we know a little bit more.

Doing the groceries week after week we encounter different types of organic or bio products in every supermarket, in a food discounter, a standard one or in the specialized, certified organic supermarket. If we are looking, for  example, for: eggs. Every place has an enormous amount of organic eggs. Is this possible?  How come? Where do these happy, well fed chicken live? If never seen such a farm while traveling around, and judging by the tons of eggs that are sold, there should be many of those farms everywhere. Close to where I live, there are some ‘Bio-Bauernhöfe’ or organic farms. Some of them sell not only season vegetables, but also eggs, honey and sometimes even pork or beef. How do I know, if the eggs are really organic? In German supermarkets eggs are all and each of them marked with a seal with a series of numbers. These ciphers show a 0 (zero) for organic eggs in the first place, followed by other digits that encode the country they are from and even the original farm or producer. In this way, as a customer you can decide, if you stick to national German eggs or if you buy some foreign eggs… (http://www.deutsche-eier.info/das-ei/erzeugercode/).

The prices are a little higher than for non organic eggs, but they are still affordable.

bio_eier

German bio or organic eggs

 

Trying to buy some ecological correct chicken or organic or bio chicken in the supermarket will leave you quite breathless. I have seen half a chicken breast for up to 10 €, so that for a whole chicken breast you’d easily pay about 20€! There is even an online shop for organic chicken. http://www.biohaehnchen.de/Bio-Haehnchenbrust

Are bio turkey or chicken really happier and healthier than their counterparts?

In this article, http://www.biohandel-online.de/cgi-bin/mobil/display.pl?file=/public/HTML/2013/mb20131201.shtml, in the magazine biohandel.de, they reached the conclusion that there is no perfect type of bio turkey. The breeds used for the food industry are very prone to illnesses and are of course treated with antibiotics. There are some specifications for the bio animals, for example, they are allowed to medicate the bio turkeys only once in their life… However, the dosage will then be prolonged as much as possible. And chicken? Well, you may draw your own conclusions. I try to be conscious and I buy ‘bio’ chicken, if we ever want to eat some meat. However, last week while looking at the 10€ for the mini chicken breast, I was thinking that this chicken was maybe one of the Royal organic chicken of Prince Charles in England!

I know, some of you may be thinking that the solution is to stop eating meat and convert to a strict vegetarian diet… Mmmm, are all the biological vegetables we find in the supermarket really ‘safe’ and politically correct ;-)? Nowadays, every supermarket has its own ‘bio’ brand, always with a very green etiquette and biological sounding name, e.g. BioBio or simply Bio… Are they to be trusted? I doubt it. Bio or organic grown products are usually more expensive. Searching some web sites for tests and opinions, I found this article from one of the official TV channels in the north of Germany, the NRD. After having tested bio products in discount supermarkets, which are very popular over here, they came to the conclusion that their bio brands are ok. They taste better than conventional products and are less expensive than the products from exclusively organic-supermarkets. Are there any negative points? Of course, the long transportation having products traveling thousands of miles from other continents to get to our racks and the packing. Most of these bio-vegetables or fruits are packed in plastic trays covered with plastic… Really ecological or bio?

Bio spinach

Organic spinach from Italy

 

If we start questioning our ‘modern’ way of life… we wouldn’t be here anymore. We are more than 7 billion people on this planet. How can we get organic food for everyone? If I remember that there are millions of people suffering famine, without water and no medical care to be able to grow healthy. I consider our ‘first world problems’ and lose my appetite.

Have a healthy week!