I took about 400 pictures this month and picked my favorite one from each day. I'm really glad I did this project. Thanks to this guy for the idea. I really recommend trying it sometime, it really makes you appreciate the funny little things that happen in an otherwise mundane day. A friend of mine's sister passed away last fall and after that I remember him saying how important it was to appreciate every day. This album has definietly made me do that.
I have spent a lot of time this year hanging out at this taco stand near my house. They have a variety of tacos, including tripe, beef shank, beef, chorizo-style sausage, tonque, brain. And of course, they have the most famous taco in Mexico City, tacos al pastor. When my friend Adam came and visited me from Miami, the first thing he wanted to do was eat tacos al pastor. Wikipedia provides this definition of tacos al pastor:
Usually pork, it is marinated over one or two days with a blend of different chili peppers, spices and herbs (such as adobo), and then slowly cooked with a gas flame on a vertical rotisserie called a Trompo (lit: spinning top), very similar to how Shawarma is cooked, with a piece of fresh pineapple on top. The juice from the pineapple contains an enzyme called bromelain, which breaks down protein and makes the meat very tender. When ready, the meat is then thinly sliced off the spit with a large knife. It is served on small tortillas, with finely chopped onions, cilantro and a small slice of pineapple, and usually topped with some lime juice and hot salsa.
This interesting video describes tacos al pastor as Lebanon's Contribution to Mexico (and no, we're not talking about Lebanon, IN, the town my mom grew up in and we visited roughly 1,000,000 times growing up). Mexican history is highly shaped by Lebanese immigrants. Most notably, Carlos Slim, the country's richest man who was briefly the world's richest man, is the son of a Lebanese immigrant. My best friend here, Kendall, is from Austin, TX. His grandfather and his grandfather's brother emigrated from Lebanon a long time ago. Kendall's grandfather decided to move to Texas, but Kendall's grandfather's brother stayed in Mexico. Kendall is finishing up his year as a Fulbright Scholar here and has been staying with his Mexican relatives.
Perhaps the two things most synonymous with Mexico City are pollution and traffic. As I've mentioned before, the mayor of Mexico City has taken a lot of actions to attempt to solve these things. A big initiative lately has been the promotion of bicycles. The main street through the city, Reforma, is closed to cars on Sunday mornings and is widely enjoyed by pedestrians, roller-bladers, and bicyclists (as an aside, the Lake Shore path is easily one of the top five parts of Chicago life). The city lately has had a big push to encourage more people to utilize bikes as part of their day to day lives. A huge concern about biking is safety, as drivers here are careless and generally insane. But even in the center parts of the city (Roma, Condesa, Reforma, Polanco), where everything is compact, hardly anyone takes a bike. You could ride your bike through Chapultepec Park, but not too many other places. I live in the far south part of the city and down here it is massive suburban sprawl; biking is very impractical down here. Apparently this month the city has finally begun constructing new bike paths, and more free bikes are available around the city. There's a cool CNN video report about the attempts to offer free bike rentals and encourage biking in the city.
I found out all the previous info just now. When I saw the posters below at a Metro station yesterday, which encourage citizens to use bikes for daily activities, my first thought was "This'll be a huge failure." Nobody in this country rides bikes, certainly not the well-off people features in these ads. But as I started researching this campaign, I remembered this Adam Carolla rant on why things never get done. His point is things never get done because people always say 'Well, that won't solve all the problems', and then people don't do anything at all. I have no idea how impactful this program will be, but given the low cost of the program, it's definitely worth trying out.
We're in the home stretch now of this month of photos, with all dates from now on ending in 'th'. Once a month, a group mixed between foreigns and Mexicans come together for a monthly party called 'Mexpats', a play on the term expat (expatriate), i.e. people living in another country. I've met some good poeple at these events.
One of the most interesting things about living in Mexico has been the introduction to new food.
Most days I eat lunch at Tec's cafeteria. Living in Mexico has opened my eyes to a whole new world of food. My favorite: mole negro, a chocolate-chili sauce. What I hated: chicharrón, i.e. fried skin of a pig. Gross! I've also tried cow-tongue and cow-brain tacos, they were okay. I really like eating tripe tacos; I'd never eaten tripe before.
I recently joined the Junior Club, a rather old tennis club in Condesa. The people there are really nice, all fourteen courts are red clay (very different style of tennis) and you must wear "tennis whites" while playing. I have one friend, Jordan, who already belongs, and we're trying to meet other people to play tennis with. It was a lot easier in the days when moms made play-dates for us.
Jordan and I played tennis today, and then had lunch there. Unlike most private clubs, the prices on food and drink are really cheap (the power just went out in my house for 3 seconds, and then came back on. This is rather normal for here) there. And they got a sweet pool. Like I said yesterday, the weather is a big reason why I moved here, and it sure is nice to lay outside by a pool in February.
One of the main reasons I moved to Mexico was for the weather. Hard to complain about sunny and 75 degrees on February 19th. Yesterday Robbie Lear and I went golfing El Copal, a course just north of Mexico City. Despite getting rather last on the way there, we eventually found the course and had a really fun afternoon. It was pretty surreal to be on a golf course surrounded by slum-filled mountains, but I suppose that is an apt metaphor for the socioeconomic extremes of Mexico.
There are a few driving ranges in the city, but none owned by people with any clear idea about what to do to really make their businesses succeed. From a business standpoint, golf should be free. The ranges should be doing all the can to offer free beginners clinics, host specific companies for free "Golf 101" days, etc. The cost to the ranges of things like this would be next to nothing. Of course, none of them are doing anything like that. I'd love to be able to open and operate driving range here. It's not that golf is inherently disliked by Mexicans; nearly all the caddies, themselves from poor backgrounds, get to play for free once a week at the course they work at, and they all love the game. I think lots of people would like golf here, and eventually be willing to spend lots of money on it, if they were first given lots of chances to try it free.
So, who wants to spot me the money to open a range here??? I'll be waiting...
After living in the Midwest my whole life, one of my favorite things about living in Mexico City is being surrounded by mountains. It was really cloudy and rainy the last two days, and the clouds were low enough that they were covering the tops of the mountains. Let's just hope it's sunny this weekend!
One of my favorite feeds on Twitter is "The Mexico City News." This feed, written in English, is similar to "The Onion," and offers sarcastic commentary on DF events presented as if it were actual news. One of their most constant targets is the Mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, a man who never has shied away from the spotlight. He'll probably run for President in two years, and he hates when there are days that Mexico City is not setting some of world record. But, to his credit, he has accomplished a lot in terms of environmental issues.
One of the best things to happen to the city is the Metrobus. I just joined a tennis club and I ride the Metrobus every time I go there. The bus, which has its own lane, improves travel times and is much less intrusive on the environment than the number of mini-buses that were operating before. It's still a popular myth that Mexico City is the world's most polluted city. In this report released last fall, it isn't even in the top 10. To honor DF on the implementation of the Metrobus, Harvard recently awarded Mexico City with the 2009 Roy Family Award for Environmental Partnership.
The Stilings are well affiliated with Harvard. I'm practically the most distinguished researcher at their Center for International Development. My uncle was a featured usher at the 2008 commencement. Oh, and uh, for what it's worth, my sister actually went there (showoff).
Naturally, there are now posters at every stop informing residents of this prize.
La clase de martes se llama (más o menos) 'La Politica en Mexico'. No se exactamente el nombre pero este suena bien. Hablamos y hablamos y hablamos, basicamente es una version de 'Hardball' pero sin el guapisimo Chris Matthews. Es una clase donde todos dan sus opiniones sobre la politica en Mexico. Para mi, es poco aburrido. Prefiero clases de matematicas, donde hacemos problemas y aprendemos ecuaciones nuevas, o clases donde aprendemos muchos hechos especificos. Es decir, me gusta salir la clase con una lista de estadisticas/hechos nuevos. La clase no usa 'Powerpoint', es una clase de 'freeform'.
De todos modos, me caen muy bien con la gente. Hay tres de mis amigos en esta foto. La en la izquierda se llama Rene nació en los estados unidos a padres mexicanos. Se mudó a Mexico con su familia en la edad de 12 más o menos. En el centro hay Lucia, los dos se graduarán este semestre. La en el la camisa rosa es Alejandra. Empezamos el semestre pasado, y tomamos todas las mismas clases (y nos graduamos en diciembre!).
Todo por hoy! Espero que todos esten bien, y espero que este blog sirva para una patada en el culo para aprender espanol wey. Confíame, vale la pena ... las chavas aqui les encantan mi espanol!
I'm feeling rather spry right now considering I only slept 1 hour last night. As long as I can make it through an easy lecture from 7-10 tonight, everything will be A-Okay!
The constant traffic of Mexico City actually leads to jobs for numerous local entrepreneurs. Many perform as window washers or performers, doing juggling or acrobatics of varying quality. But the slow stream of cars also leads to many people who walk in the middle of the road on highway entry ramps looking to sell to drivers and passengers alike. There are some things that a driver would naturally be interested in purchasing while waiting in the never-ending hell that is traffic in Mexico City: candy, cigarettes, open containers of alcohol. But the fun doesn't end there. I've seen this guy for several weeks now, and he's still going strong. Now, I've honestly wondered who would feel that the on-ramp is a perfect time to buy a puzzle. However, given the possibility of the Mexican version of this happening, perhaps I should buy one the next time I'm on that entry ramp to the Periferico.
One of the thing I've been happiest about here in Mexico is that I've found a great church. I started attending Union Church in August. The church is English speaking and has been meeting in some form or another in Mexico City since 1873. The community is 2/3 Mexican, along with several Americans, some Europeans, several people from various countries in Africa, several from Jamaica, and some from Asia. Many of the members are part of the diplomatic community. If you're interested in checking out Union sometime I'd love for you to join me.
Starting this Monday, Robbie Lear will begin leading a weekly discussion group about faith and life at the Hard Rock Cafe in Mexico City at 7:30pm. I won't be able to attend due to classes, but I definitely to encourage you to check it out.
One of the more enjoyable facets of compiling this photo diary is thinking I know which picture I'm going to publish, and then having something pop up unexpectedly. I had a couple of good ones, but I saw this around 3pm today and knew this would be the pic of the day.
'Fresa' in Spanish means strawberry. But if you hear the word in Mexico, it generally refers to a class of people (Wikipedia):
Fresa (which is Spanish for strawberry) is a slang term often used in Mexico for a cultural stereotype of superficiality to youngsters of whom many come from a high class and educated family.
The term fresa (then often likened to the "preppy" stereotype), was born in the 60's to define teenagers with a conservative mentality, who didn't drink and enjoyed being from traditional families. During the 80's the meaning changed and became a term to describe the lifestyles of the young and rich.
The fresa accent is also different (faked) from the typical slow-pitched Mexican accent, with a higher established accent, different tone and "proper" vocabulary.
In her semi-autobiographical debut novel, 'Mexican High,' Liza Monroy describes the life of the daughter of an American diplomat, attending The American School, perhaps the capital of fresa-dom. The novel, written in English, is very entertaining and is a really interesting look at life in Mexico City, including the over-the-top excesses of some of the school's student. There's an American diplomat family at my church, and one of their sons (who is a senior at The American School) said that the book is rather accurate. I definitely recommend reading it.
I've often been told that, for a variety of reasons, I am super gringo. Do they think that's supposed to be some sort of insightful statement? One thing I really love about being here is playing up the 'Dumb American' routine (something many would argue is not a stretch for me). Somehow, I was shocked to find out that I didn't quite blend in at a party last night. With this shirt, and perhaps the loss of the ability to follow through on any sort of plans whatsoever, I thought I was a lock to become puro mexicano.
Last night a girl told me I was a total fresa. I couldn't have asked for a better compliment.
There are several government health institutions near my house, including the National Cancer Institute.
You can tell that this is a new facility. Given the numerous problems Mexico faces, it can be easy to overlook the progress the country is making. I learned a lot about this institute by watching a really powerful video Lance Armstrong made. The video is titled 'Stigma & Silence: Global Perceptions of Cancer'. I really hope you watch it, it's about nine minutes long and definitely worth seeing. It was really interesting to learn about how Mexican culture reacts to cancer. Lance came to Mexico last year and had a meeting with President Felipe Calderon to discuss the progress Mexico making is making to battle and treat cancer. Here's a short video of Lance talking about his trip to Mexico. I really admire President Calderon. He's making the tough and painful choices Mexico needs to make to be a greater country, and I can tell he is extremely sincere in the work e does.
A classmate of mine from North Park University, Peder, still just 23, has been receiving chemotherapy for about a year now, and had more chemotherapy treatment this week. Please keep Peder in your prayers.
I was very happy today to find out the name of the mountain I photographed yesterday. Joy, a Texan blogs here from DF, also took a picture of the mountains yesterday, and she was able to answer my question about the name of the mountain I took the photo of.
It turns out I took a picture of one of the four peaks of Iztaccíhuatl. Wikipedia has a lot of good info about it ...
"The mountain has four peaks, the highest of which is 5,230 m (17,159 ft) above sea level. Together, the peaks are seen as depicting the head, chest, knees and feet of a sleeping female figure, which is visible from either the east or the west. Iztaccíhuatl is a mere 70 km (44 mi) to the southeast of Mexico City and is often visible from the capital, depending on atmospheric conditions.
While the first recorded ascent was made in 1889, archaeological evidence suggests that the Aztecs and previous cultures also climbed the mountain.
This is the lowest peak that contains permanent snow and glaciers in Mexico.
Iztaccíhuatl lies to the north of Popocatépetl, and is connected to it by the high pass called the Paso de Cortés.
In Aztec mythology, Iztaccíhuatl was a princess who fell in love with Popocatépetl, one of her father's warriors. The king sent Popocatépetl to war in Oaxaca, promising him Iztaccíhuatl as his wife when he would return (which Iztaccíhuatl's father presumed he would not). Iztaccíhuatl was falsely told Popocatépetl had died in battle, and believing the news, she died of grief. When Popocatépetl returned to find his love dead, he kneeled by her grave. The gods covered them with snow and changed them into mountains. Iztaccíhuatl's mountain is called "White Woman" because it resembles a woman sleeping on her back, and is often covered with snow. (The peak is sometimes nicknamed La Mujer Dormida ("The Sleeping Woman").) He became the volcano Popocatépetl, raining fire on Earth in blind rage at the loss of his beloved."
Apparently, it has not erupted in nearly 12,000 years.
I think the snow-capped mountains surrounding the city are gorgeous. The most famous site one can see from the city from time to time is Popocatépetl, which is actually an active volcano. This peak is one of the four peaks of Iztaccíhuatl. It has a peak of 17,159 feet.
It was very clear outside today and I was able to get a great photo from the rotunda on campus. I really hope to get hiking in the mountains sometime, I know there's some tour groups that take day trips to do it. Who's with me???
This week Mexico experienced perhaps its heaviest February storms ever, a month that is normally entirely dry here. Some parts of the country saw over two and a half feet of rainfall. Sadly a number of deaths here in Mexico can be attributed to the storms, and parts of Mexico City were totally flooded. These were some of the same parts of the city that only get running water three days a week due to a serious water shortage in the city (not surprisingly, those in the better off parts of town don't face water rationing). For as bad as the rains were, they actually might have an overall benefit on the city by filling the reservoirs, which have been dangerously low.
Here's a really interesting 'Wall Street Journal' article on the water situation in Mexico City: "Residents of the capital use on average more than 75 gallons of water a day, the city estimates, far more than their counterparts in most European and American cities whose daily rates are closer to 40 and 50 gallons a day, respectively."
So anyways, as it was raining hard Wednesday night around 10pm, I knew the power was about to go out. It goes out occasionally, especially during storms, but usually comes back within a few minutes. This time, I had to wait 60 hours. And this time, the water stopped working too. Having my university right near my house made this a lot less stressful, and it honestly didn't bug me too much. I'm very blessed in my life, and I still had a bed to sleep in at night and food to eat.
The insane rains continued today, but around 4pm, I finally saw this. I took this picture while driving south on the Periferico. Apparently it´s sunny starting tomorrow. I sure hope so. I have not had running water or electricity in my apartment for 24 hours.
Rain in February in Mexico City is very rare. Mexico is known for the rainy season from late May through September, but is generally rare the rest of the year (and even though, it only rains for a couple hours at night). Being a weather nerd, I headed over to weather.com to check out the monthly rainfall for this time of year. In February in Mexico City, it only rains on average 0.40" a month (comparably, most months in Chicago there is 3" of precipitation). That's what makes the last week so strange. It's been cloudy and rainy most of the last week. There was a hard downpour overnight, it rained all day today, and not surprising at all, my power went out for a while because of the rain. Though tomorrow looks like rain all day, fortunately this weekend is warm and sunny. Unfortunately, next weekend it looks like the rain is coming back. I found this explanation of why it is raining, but I'm not going to pretend I understand it.
Today is day 2 of my picture a day album for the month. This is a picture of a rather unusual chessboard on campus. I think my Tec campus is very cool. Now, if I only knew how to play chess, it'd be even better.
I randomly found this while surfing around the Internet today. "Bewitched" had an episode set in Mexico City. Very campy, but worth a view. It even references Chapultepec Park. Here it is, parts 1, 2, and 3:
This is from 1969. Apparently it was the last episode that Dick York was in. He was replaced the next season by Dick Sargent.
Today is the first day of Black History Month in the United States. Earlier I talked about the black power protests at the 1968 Summer Olympics in Mexico City. Last year, during Black History Month, ESPN created a documentary about this protest. It included Toy Smith and John Carlos' first visit back to DF since 1968. Here's the Facebook page for the documentary. I haven't seen it yet, and haven't been able to find anywhere online to watch it. Posted above is the trailer. The movie seems to be playing at film festivals now. I haven't found anywhere to buy the DVD. I'm going to contact ESPN for more info on seeing the film, and to see if there's anywhere that they are streaming the film online.
Also, in 2006, the National Museum of Mexican Art, located in Chicago, created an exhibit called "The African Presence in Mexico." Mexicans of African ancestry are most highly populated in the Caribbean states of Mexico. The exhibit has been on a national tour for five years, and is at the Smithsonian through the summer. It is returning to Chicago this fall.
A few days ago my friend Matt suggested I took pictures every day this month and post the most interesting one each day. I really liked the idea, and it doesn't hurt that February is the shortest month.
Here's today's picture. I went to Cuernavaca for the first time today, a popular weekend retreat an hour south of Mexico City. It's mainly popular for it's partying on the weekends. Well, today was a holiday and I thought it'd be good to go see the city since everyone's always saying I should see it. It was okay, looked like most colonial Mexican cities, I'd imagine most people love it because of the house parties there. But anyways, it was nice to walk around for the day. I drove Go-Karts for a bit, that was really fun. I visited a Cathedral built in the 1500s. And, I had a really good lunch at a place called Casa Hidalgo. For some reason, I found these salt and pepper shakers to be hilarious.