Archive for the ‘Photos’ Category
It is currently raining for the first time since November 3rd. (It might’ve rained when I’ve been asleep between then and now, though.) So that makes a grand total of four rain showers since I arrived in September. Life is tough in Mexico…
Woke up feeling glum after a dream that I’d been turned away from entering the country in an American airport and put back on a plane to Lincoln. I reached out of the bed to look at the time on my iPod, turned off the alarm that was due to go off ten minutes later, and opened my email, trying to hold the iPod in such a way so I could still read it lying down, without it flicking between landscape and portrait view. First email I see is from my mate John telling me Roy Hodgson is out and Kenny Dalglish is in as caretaker manager. The glumness disappeared. It’s rarely a good idea to get back together with an ex-girlfriend, but I was a little bit giddy reading that. Kenny Dalglish is pretty much the only hero I’ve ever had. Later in life, I came to love the work of Brian Wilson, but it’s tough to have new heroes when you’re out of your teens, I think. It may well be a disaster having him back, but in this horror of a season, what could be better than having 24 hours to dream of thrashing Mufc tomorrow. And who knows, it may well happen. Anyway, I’ve been in a good mood ever since John’s email, which might explain why I took this photo of me and the cat reflected in the baubles hanging from the lampshade in the lounge.
After a few days out of the city at the weekend home of the family of friends, after those few days of sunshine and doing nothing much, getting back to Distrito Federal, it’s noticeable how loud the city is. Every regular big city has noise, but what makes Mexico City different to London, Berlin, Toronto is how much of that noise is specifically designed to disturb you. One could be charitable and say it’s noise that is there to alert your attention to certain things, but on the whole, the noises are there to be loud enough to make sure people in apartment buildings can here those noises through closed windows. And if, like me, you don’t really want to traipse down four flights of stairs to buy bananas or get your knives sharpened, they’re just added noise to an already noisy city. Still, I could leave with the trash men ringing their bells, the knife-sharpener’s whistle, the tamales guy’s looped announcement coming from the speakers on his bicycle, the steam whistle of the guys selling sweet potatoes, the shouts of “agua!” or “gas!”… I could live with all of those if the cilindreros, the organ grinder who plays on the street outside my bedroom/workspace would be swallowed up by the earth for crimes to the ears of human beings.
So, yes, as you can tell, I came back from a weekend away fully relaxed. I went to this place called San Gil. It’s a strange (to me, at least) little private estate, spread out around a big artificial lake and 18 hole golf course. It’s near a town called San Juan del Río, in the state of Querétero, about an hour-and-a-half northwest of Mexico City; a pleasant ride on a motorway through yellow-ish countryside with dusty hills on the horizon. And, since leaving Bellingham in the middle of 2009, I’ve hardly spent five minutes outside of one city or another. I spent the majority of the journey staring out of the window at the lack of buildings. Every now and again, there’d be cattle or sheepses in the fields, farmhouses, or by the roadside, cafes, restaurants, Pemex gas stations, auto shops, and places that sold concrete crap for the garden.
Nearing San Juan del Río, we found out that the people who’s house we were heading to were behind us on the road from the city, so we stopped for food at a barbacoa restaurant. Barbacoa is lamb cooked slowly in a hole dug in the earth, and covered with leaves. And it’s fucking delicious. It’s so very, very tender. I had some soup with the lamb, and, duh, some tacos de barbacoa. Also of interest at the restaurant were the pictograms used to indicate the toilets. Because all men smoke pipes, and women use fans.
At the house, it was one of those weekends where, afterwards, you wrack your brain to try and remember the order of events, but it’s impossible. The relaxation all blends into one mush of doing lots of nice stuff. Playing basketball and chess with teenagers, drinking tequila, eating all kinds of awesome food, sitting in the sunshine, riding a bicycle around the resort, playing with the dogs, and watching the freshly bathed and brushed male dogs suddenly get all fruity and spend an afternoon humping each other.
Noticing how quiet life is, noting the lack of policemen, enjoying the guilt-free drinking of beer before lunch, drunkenly not caring about making a tit of yourself playing the Xbox Dance Central game, trying to take poker seriously but just enjoying bluffing with a ridiculously stupid hand, developing intricate handshakes with a 12 year old, standing around chatting in the ever-busy kitchen, watching some gorgeous sunsets. It was a lovely long weekend.
I went for a wander downtown yesterday. Truth be told, I don’t often leave my neighbourhood because, well, it’s quite nice, and everything I need on a daily basis is here. But, I was looking at Google Maps, and noticed a museum on there that I’d not heard of before: Museo Mural Diego Rivera. It costs 17 pesos to get in, with an extra five pesos if you want to take photographs. I wanted to take photographs, so I stumped up that extra 26 British pence.
Two tangents. Number one: on the topic of money, cigarette prices were raised this week from 30 pesos to 38 pesos a pack. That’s, what, just over a 25 percent rise. That’s a heck of a price rise in one go. It still means that cigarettes are crazy cheap for the visiting Western wallet: £1.98 / €2.32 / US$3.07
Tangent number two: I want to see one of those TV-advert-washing-detergent style tests when it comes to flash photography in museums. I don’t doubt that flashes and touching a) damages art over time, and b) constitutes like sexual assault. But I’d like to see an artist paint two exact copies of a painting, and then do an experiment where one is left in normal conditions, and the other has flash bulbs going off in front of it every few seconds for a year or so, to replicate long term damage.
The main thing in the museum, and well worth the paltry admission price, is the big ass mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park.” Absolutely crammed full of detail, lots of Mexican people on there, elements that I recognised, and others that I didn’t cos, frankly, my knowledge of Mexican history isn’t that deep. But even I could see that it goes from the Conquest on one side, through to the Revolution on the other.
According to this site, the mural was originally in a hotel foyer, but when that hotel was destroyed in the 1985 earthquake, the mural was saved, and now it has its own wee museo. The rest of the museum’s collection doesn’t amount to much, really, and were most of it in a bigger museum, I wouldn’t really pay a huge amount of attention to it, cos aside from the odd thing here and there, it wasn’t really overly impressive. And it was one of those museums where the guards stand a bit too close and follow you around. I understand the need for guards. If they’re not present enough, you get cunts like Banksy walking around and hanging their own tedious shite on the walls like they think they’re clever or something. (Oh, you really don’t know how angry I get just thinking about him. Breathe, Craig, breathe…) But when they hover, I find it impossible to actually pay any attention to the art. My mind just stops, and I start pretending to look at the art; it’s like I’m acting and my role is “person looking at art.” Except, this isn’t Hollywood or a West End theatre and I’m not Al Pacino or Laura Linney; I’m acting in a Manor Leas Junior School play and I’m a seven-year-old who is very bad at pretending to be enjoying looking at a painting. On top of that, the guards at this place never smiled. I was one of very few people in the place, and in every room I smiled at the guard, but not once was my smile reciprocated.
One thing that I particularly enjoyed about seeing this mural, a mural that I have never knowingly seen a picture of in my life, was how something I am working on, and have been working on intermittently since I arrived in September, is vaguely reminiscent of Rivera’s mural. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised because the idea for my drawing came after I saw his “Man, Controller of the Universe in the Time Machine” mural in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. I wanted to do something as detailed as a Rivera mural, but in pixels, and as a “first impressions of Mexico” type of drawing. Seeing “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in Alameda Park,” though, has spurred me on to finish it. Here’s what I’ve done so far:
What you can see in my drawing so far is… front row, left to right: EZLN “leader” Subcomandante Marcos; the luchador Blue Demon; revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata; Frida Kahlo; two Day of the Dead-style skeletons in green and red either side of an eagle stood on a cactus eating a snake, just like the Mexican flag; former L.A. Dodgers pitcher Fernando Valenzuela; Jesús Malverde, the “narco saint”; El Santo, another luchador; composer and band leader Juan García Esquivel; and Miguel Hidalgo, leader of the War of Independence. Behind those people, there’s a torta stand, a street sweeper, a shoe shine guy (not a guy giving another guy a blowjob as a couple of friends have suggested), and a woman selling corn snacks from a cart. On the other side of the road, there’s a cilindrero (an organ grinder, or as I tend to call them, cunts), and behind the trees, an actor/comedian called Cantinflas. Eventually—eventually—it’ll be full of people and things. Eventually.
Across the street from the Museo Mural Diego Rivera is this building. Obviously, a huge building like this in the centre of Mexico City dedicated to whatever idiotic space alien some two-bit sci-fi writer made up in his silly head was probably entirely funded with the generous and willing donations of members of this particular “church.”
I plan on eventually opening a church in Mexico City. It will be the Church of Depeche Mode. It seems to exist already on an informal basis, but I plan to write a book about the great god Gahan and his god pal Gore, and there will be adventures of how Gahan, Gore and the lesser god, Fletcher go around the world spreading joy. Not just spreading joy, but also tearing down walls in Germany so that people with mullets and snow-washed jeans can unite with their mullet and snow-washed jeans-wearing brethren. And how the former god Clarke left our holy warriors to sing with a girl. And how the former god Wilder blasphemously abandoned our divine group due to “increasing dissatisfaction with the internal relations and working practices of the group.” And there’s even a part of the book where Gahan dies and is born again two minutes later. And these tales will be illustrated with moody photographs taken by a Dutch man whose name I can never pronounce correctly. And we will worship their Depecheness and their Modean ways by the singing of their hymns from the hymn book, which shall be called Music for the Masses. Please turn to page 76, and let us sing “Never Let Me Down Again (Split Mix)” for it is fucking awesome. We will try and cram song titles into our sales pitch on the streets and university campuses of Mexico. We will promote a New Life! We will teach The Meaning of Love, and that People are People, and that if people ignore the Blasphemous Rumours they will Enjoy the Silence that comes from having Love In Itself. And I, some two-bit blog writer, will be rich forever. Rich, I say! And many chicks will want to blow me. And they’ll probably want me to do them in the pooper, too. And I will build my big office compound right next to the Scientology one, and we will laugh at the poor saps who give us money. (The more I think about this, the more it sounds like a good idea, frankly.)
On the way to the museum, I must’ve taken the wrong exit out the subway station, or turned the wrong way at street level, and ended up walking a block or two in the opposite direction. When I saw a landmark I recognised at the end of a street off to my right, and I’d regained my bearings, I decided it was time for a coffee and a bite to eat. There were two or three well-dressed elderly men outside a place called Cafe La Habana, which was quite nice to see; I’m a sucker for older gentlemen who don’t wear trainers and sweatshirts, mostly because I imagine my generation and the generation younger than me will be the most hideous generation of old folks, clothing-wise. (This comes from a 40-year-old man in jeans, a hoodie, and a baseball cap). It didn’t look empty or overly busy, which is pretty much my favourite thing when it comes to cafes.
Inside lots of square tables, a nice big wooden bar with circular stools, some with busted upholstery. On the walls, up to the high ceiling, lots of framed black and white and sepia photographs of Havana and, I assume, Cuban people. They even had copper fire extinguishers, which seemed to have brass plates with words engraved on the front. Above the bar was a huge photograph of the cafe itself. Being in there was like when you’re looking at a tree at dusk. Your brain knows the leaves are green, so you see green, but if you were to actually look at the colour of the leaves in that light, they may well be purple. In that cafe, my brain knew I was in a Cuban cafe in Mexico City, but if I actually looked and turned off my brain, it kinda could’ve been a northern social club in 1970s England. Here’s a couple of photos, but like a fool, I had the setting on macro, so while furtively snapping the pictures I didn’t notice that they were focussing on the foreground, but you’ll get the idea.
I kind of like that in this photo, the man in the middle is dining with an enormous human/lightbulb hybrid on one side, and a man with a transparent balloon for a head on the other.
As I’ve seen in a fair few other Mexican restaurants and cafes, there were a couple of TVs. One a flatscreen, the other a fatback TV. Seems like that should be the retrofit word for old tellies. The reception was fuzzy on the fatback, but it was kind of in my eyeline, so I ended up watching it. There were people doing some sort of dancing in a bright pink studio. And when that stopped, the camera cut to a sofa where a young man with gelled hair was being interviewed. I have no idea who he was, but he kinda looked like a soccer player. All the time during this interview was a man dressed in a furry gingerbread man suit behind the sofa, waving and being silly. A few moments later, the gingerbread man ran over to the middle of the studio, joined another man in a snowman suit, and did a kind of pile-on, like you’d do in the school yard. And a load of people—adults!—in pink or blue jumpsuits joined in. It wasn’t odd in the slightest.
The waiter brought me a menu. I ordered a coffee. He heard my flawless Spanish accent and brought me an English menu. He asked how I wanted my coffee: strong or light? Strong, please. With some milk, please. And sweet baby Jesus in a manger in Bethlehem, that was an awesome cup of coffee. Absolutely the best cup of coffee I’ve had this year. Maybe last year, too. Frankly, I can’t remember having a strong cup of coffee—or even a cup of strong coffee—that was as good as that. I’d ordered a chorizo omelette, too, and soon enough, I was taking this photograph of it.
And a lovely omelette it was, too. The frijoles refritos were better than most I’ve tried, (I’ve just noticed, when checking the spelling on the Internet, that “refried beans” is a mistranslation, and that frijoles refritos means well-fried beans, not twice-fried beans), and the omelette itself was a good half-inch thick. Best of all, was having the chipotle on the side. A proper marinated chipotle, not just the sauce stuff. Chipotle is a whole heap of spicy goodness.
I got the bill: 81 pesos (£4.22 / €4.95 / US$ 6.54). Generally, the place was fantastic. It’s about 15 minutes away on the subway from my place, but I foresee I’ll be visiting here many, many times. The waiter was super friendly, and, well, let’s not pretend this doesn’t make a difference: a couple of the waitresses working there were cute. While I’m in a Rough Guide to Chipotle and Cute Waitresses kinda mood, here’s the address, should you be here and fancy checking it for yourself: it’s on the corner of Bucareli and Morelos, just a block or two from Juárez Metro station.
On the way home from the museum, I went into a Radio Shack to get the cable that I didn’t buy yesterday. Something that I’ve noticed happens here a lot is that cash registers in stores seem to run out of change. This is no Argentina where cambio is prized like water in a desert, but nonetheless I’ve found that lots of people who work in stores end up rummaging around in their own pockets, or asking colleagues for enough change for the 200 peso note I’ve handed over.
Back on the subway, and as always, there are people selling stuff in the carriages. I’ve never taken a subway ride where the carriage hasn’t had someone selling sweets, gum, sparklers, toys. Today there was a kid selling little bubble thingies. I don’t know what they are called, but you dip the plastic stick with an O shape at its end into a small bottle of washing-up liquid type stuff and blow. I don’t know if it’s a general evolution in this product’s make-up, but here the bubbles seem to be made of something less poppable that washing-up liquid. When they land, they kinda stay there until they wither, and they’re a wee bit sticky, too. This little kid was selling them, and blowing bubbles into empty space, but they inevitably landed on people. Passengers were wafting them away, and the kid was ignoring the nuisance he was causing. I was stood in the doorway, and sat next to the doorway was an old fella in nice shoes, a lovely tweed jacket, with a handsome moustache and the balding yellowish grey hair of a smoker. He was ignoring the kid and his bubbles. One landed right on the top of his bald head. If you had placed it carefully with tweezers you couldn’t’ve done a better job at getting slap bang in the middle. He had one clinging onto the arm of his glasses, too. I wanted to alert him, but I didn’t. I caught the eye of a woman sat opposite him and she smiled conspiratorially, so I felt that alerting him would’ve been being a bad sport. Ho hum.
And another thing. I wonder what it must be like to be of an older generation and see an everyday word you use have its meaning changed. Gay, for example. This isn’t, by the way, the part of the blog post where I go on to lament that you can’t say darkie any more, gosh no. There would’ve been a time, before I was born, I imagine, that people used gay in the old sense of the word regularly, but now that version of the word is all but dead, because were one to use it in the sense of something being lighthearted or carefree, you would have to follow it with an explanation that you meant lighthearted or carefree, not homosexual. I guess that definition of gay is heading towards the history books where words like thither, mischance, and felicity live. (Yes, that was a “You’ve Got Mail” reference.) And there’s something very delicious when one thinks about the homophobes of the world having to use such a lovely word to describe something they hate. But I guess that’s where words like faggot come in, sadly; another word that’s original meaning has been dispensed with. I got to thinking about this when, on the subway, I heard an English-speaking tourist use the word nightmare. I wonder how far away the English-speaking portion of the human race is from using that word primarily in a sentence like, “I had to wait three minutes for a bus, it was a nightmare,” rather than “I had a nightmare last night about having sex with my dead uncle Tony in a battleship on Mars.” It can’t be too far off. Although I guess we don’t really have as many linguistic options to cover a hole in the language that nightmare would leave, compared to the rather small hole left by the original meaning of gay disappearing. Anyway, should you want to read a blog post about not being able to use the word darkie any more, you can find something like that if you go to Flip Flop Teapartyin’, my Sarah Palin fan site.
Anyway, thanks for visiting the blog this year. It’s not always been good or interesting, but it has at least plodded along, and there was a time there in the middle of the year when I seriously thought it would end for good. 2010 hasn’t been my best year. I wrote a book, which is something I am pretty darn proud of; but apart from that, I’ve spent way too much of my time feeling unhappy. Boo fucking hoo. But, onwards and upwards. 2011 beckons, and if I don’t write anymore before the Gregorian calendar does its thing, may I wish you a Happy New Year y Feliz Año Nuevo und Guten Rutsch!
There I am saying there are no clouds in Mexico City, and look at this grainily-photographed beauty that I saw when I went out of the house a few moments ago.
This is the view from my bedroom window. As you can see, it’s not snowing here. In fact, the last time I saw any precipitation of any sort since early November. Now, I realise that most of the people reading this are likely to live in countries that are cold and wet right now, so I don’t expect any sympathy, but it’s weird. It’s weird to be in a city where the weather has been virtually identical every day for a couple of months. It’s not particularly hot. One could wear a t-shirt in the daytime, but one can also wear a sweater and feel fine. And there’s virtually never any clouds. I miss clouds. I guess you only realise you liked something so much when you don’t see it any more.
Anyway, on the photo, you can see a roof with a black water tank in the middle. Just to the left of the tank is a spiral staircase. At the top of that staircase is a dog.
That dog spends all day every day on that roof. It makes me sad. I don’t know if it’s up there at night too, the roof is too dark to see properly after dusk. I really do hope that he’s taken inside, or taken for a walk in the evenings, cos he seems quite miserable up there, and spends a lot of time at the top of that staircase looking down.
From my bedroom window last night.
This is a big city. By population, It’s the second biggest city in the Americas after São Paulo, and there are around half a million more people here than in New York. There are 8.8 million people in Mexico City. Lincoln, the city I was born in, has 85,000 people. Mexico City has roughly the population of 103 Lincolns.
There are a lot of the same cultural aspects that I’m used to in England, Germany, the States, and, recently, Canada. But it is different here. For one thing, I don’t really understand what people are saying. I can kinda muddle through reading a sign, a newspaper headline, or an advertisement, but if those same words were spoken, I’d have a difficult time understanding. I’ve spent a total of three weeks here in the past on three separate visits, so it’s not entirely a new experience for me, but the one massive difference I’ve noticed this time is within myself. It’s not very often I notice a positive change in my head, but I’ve noticed one this first week in Mexico City.
I’m a lot less nervous about being somewhere that is “different.” I kinda knew theoretically that I’d relaxed and trusted my instincts more during my six months travelling around the Americas in 2008, but this is the first time I’ve been back to a place where I have been nervous in the past. Mostly unfounded nervousness, of course. My first time here, I was so ridiculously convinced I was about to be mugged at any second in the city centre, it was incredibly annoying for my then-girlfriend. The second time I was here, I really didn’t do much if there wasn’t a taxi involved. And when I was walking around, I was like a squirrel; constantly looking for predators. But this time, I’ve found myself wandering around, and as long as I have my watch on my wrist (it has a compass on it), I know that I’ll be able to find my way back.
Not that I’ve strayed that far — I’ve stayed within a half-hour radius — but I really have noticed that I’m not looking over my shoulder all the time. I’m not expecting to get mugged at any second. It’s not even something I think about. Which is a far nicer way to live your life, frankly.
Today I had a wander, ended up on Reforma (the big avenue where the parades were), and headed west towards Chapultepec, a big ass park. I was on the wrong side of the street — a massive street with about 100 lanes of traffic and a big barrier in the middle — but there was an underpass. There is no human invention as dismal, grimy, and inherently ominous as pedestrian tunnels under big roads. You never see them in children’s stories, do you? There’s a reason for that. They are the invention of a city planner who’s imagination was equal to the darkest corners of David Lynch’s mind.
So, I went into the underpass. This is where one would normally say how it was dirty and smelled of piss, right? That’s not entirely true. It did smell of piss, but it wasn’t that dirty. It was queasily lit, though, as is the law with underpasses. This underpass wasn’t straight, it had a bend in it, so I couldn’t see the other end. And there, right in front of me… was a little ginger kitten! And a little black kitten! Aaaaaw, cute! They miaowed at me. I thought they might be hungry, but I saw an empty can of cat food on the floor. And there was an open door on one side of the tunnel. I looked inside, and there was an old guy in there. I didn’t want to be too nosey, but the quick glimpse I got indicated he lived there. There was a mattress, a chair, and he was sewing something. I looked at him, he looked at me. I smiled, and said “hola.” He said “hola” back. Just outside the door was little red shelf with a framed picture of Mary, a couple of house plants, and some glittery tinsel in the colours of the Mexican flag.
I carried on along the tunnel. When I came out of the tunnel, I noticed it was kind of a tunnel to nowhere. To my left were plywood panels, the sort that go around the outside of a building site. To my right was a locked gate to the park. So rather than go back through the tunnel, I walked along the edge of the road and after five minutes or so I found an open gate and had a stroll around the park. It was getting kinda late, so all the market stalls in the park were closing up for the day. But should I want to buy a picture of a luchador cut out and stuck on a neon pink piece of paper, I know where to come.
I tell you what is nice: the Niños Héroes memorial. The Niños Héroes were a bunch of kids (aged 13 to 19) who resisted U.S. forces in the Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican-American War. As they were killed, the last one wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and leapt to his death from the top of the castle to stop the flag falling into the Americans’ hands. And there I was proud of getting my O-level in art at school…
Anyway, here’s a picture of a common bird here. It makes a nice clicky noise when it flies, and it’s got red bits on its wings that you can only see when it’s in flight. It’s called an Inca dove. I asked the guy at reception what the bird was called in Spanish. He started to Google it, and was about to tell me it’s proper Latin-y name, but then I asked what he would call it, and he told me people just call it a coquita.
(I will, at some point, stop using Spanish words for blog post titles, but for now, you’re gonna have to put up with it. Sorry.)
Well, after Wednesday’s celebrations, I had a sturdy hangover. Actually, that’s a lie: I leapt out of bed at 8 a.m., brushed my teeth, deodorant, and went for breakfast downstairs. I think the guy down there in the restaurant doesn’t like me. He looked at me like I’d stiffed him when tipping the other morning, yet when I was at reception later, I saw a few restaurant receipts and none of them tipped as much as me, cos, clearly, I’m King Tippy McTipper (translation: scared of being that stereotypical shitty British tipper). Yesterday morning, he asked if I wanted eggs, I told him, thank you, no. I think that offended him, too. Perhaps he simply hates me for no reason. That sort of stuff does happen in life, though, right?
I had a business phone call to take care of mid morning, so I didn’t get out to see the military parade as soon as I’d’ve liked. I did see and hear some massive Mexican Air Force planes flying very low, though, while I was listening to a client telling me stuff. Once that was over, I dashed down to Reforma where the military parade was going on, but in the reverse direction from yesterday’s independence parade. It was a public holiday. Even the ever-open stores in this neighbourhood were closed. And seemingly everyone was down at the parade. It was at least three or four times busier. People had come prepared, too: plastic buckets, plastic patio chairs, plastic stools, step ladders, so they could see. People sat on top of portaloos, walls, in trees, balanced precariously on bollards. Enterprising people sold periscopes made from cardboard cigarette cartoons, candy boxes, and the boxes that expensive liquor comes in.
With no chance of getting a good view, I decided to just wander along, get a glimpse here and there. The amount of people, and the fact that there were plenty of horses in the parade made for a whole street that had quite a funky smell of horse poo and parmesan-y body odour.
It was weird seeing such a show of military force. My brain flitted between a frowning lefty pacifism, through an admiration for how aesthetically pleasing it is to see lots of people in the same uniform marching in time to drummers, to a rather wrong feeling that, no matter how different I know from experience Latin American countries are, somewhere in my brain, there still exists the stereotype of military juntas putting on parades like this to remind the people who’s in charge.
The army, navy, air force were all in attendance. Trucks with cannons, and a bunch of soldiers from different countries in the Americas. I caught glimpses of the Colombian, Argentine, and American military. I may have been projecting, but the Americans appeared as though they would much rather not be there. The straight faces of all the other soldiers had a tint of boredom and what-the-fuck-are-we-doing-here? about it with the U.S. bunch.
Following on from all the military were people in lovely costumes on horseback. Not sure which branch of the military they belonged to, but they were certainly a joy to behold, as men whipped lassoes over their heads and women in lovely skirts turned their horses around 360 degrees in unison.
And as if to prove to me that the previous day’s applause for the workers in the parade wasn’t in my head, when the street cleaners brought up the rear, they again raised the biggest cheers. It would seem on the evidence of the last two days, Mexicans really do appreciate those who work shitty jobs to keep the city clean. I don’t think it’s overly pompous to suggest we Westerners could learn a thing or two from that.
Again, I was really tired by the end of the day. Went to bed at 11 p.m. But after an odd dream about me having to arrange a photo shoot for the cover of Elle featuring Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki, a different type of Mexican air force woke me up. A fucking mosquito. I’d only been asleep for a couple of hours, woke up scratching my hand which had three red bumps on it. I tried to hide under the plentiful bed sheets every time I heard the buzz close to my ear, but it was hot as hell under the sheets, and I couldn’t really sleep properly because of the danger of further attacks. A fitful sleep followed. I woke up with my arms and chest and back now featuring around 20 mosquito bites. As if to make a proper comedy out of it, the maid must’ve knocked the switch on the clock radio. I’ve returned to the room while she’s been in here before, and noticed she listened to the radio when she works. Fine with me, but she must’ve switched it to “alarm” not “off.” And the previous user of the alarm had it set for 6.30 a.m. so when Mexican pop music kicked in, I called it quits, got up, admired my mosquito bites, and went down for breakfast where, seemingly, I arrived before the kitchen staff, so sat there reading a book chugging down three cups of coffee before I could eat anything. And the guy there still looked at me like he wanted to slit my throat with a hacksaw.
The first thing I noticed about Mexico’s celebrations – it’s the bicentennial of independence and the centennial of the revolution – was “Sultans of Swing.” Around noon, I walked up to Reforma, the big avenue where the parade would take place, and a few streets away, I could hear Dire Straits*. As I got closer, police and security people were using metal-detecting wands, and patting people down. Contents of pockets removed: camera, cigs, lighter, some pesos. And I was in, and, well, it was still really early. The big speakers that were now playing “Romeo and Juliet” as walkie-talkie people walked hurriedly around, policemen stood looking bored and ready to kick ass with their riot shields, or alternatively completely relaxed and laughing with people.
* Dire Straits really are due their, err, due, I think. I mean, they’ve never been fashionable; red headbands can do that for ya. But some of their stuff is utterly fantastic and still sounds fresh.
Some people had arrived early to snag a a good spot. I had no idea what time the events were kicking off, but the sparseness of the crowd hinted that it wasn’t for a while. I had a mooch around, enjoying walking down the middle of a street that is normally heaving with traffic. And it was lovely to see people looking so happy, ready for a good celebration. Even with the sparseness of the crowd so early in the day, one could see a pattern forming: lots of people wearing green, white, and red, and lots of people in traditional clothes (the women look so beautiful in the white dress with multi-coloured* hand-embroidered patterns, and the men look great is nice fancy bow-ties.) I also noticed how dominant Adidas is here. I’ve hardly seen any Nike clothing at all, even aside from the Adidas-made Mexican soccer jerseys. I was wearing an old 90s-style blue and teal Seattle Mariners cap, and felt a bit weird wearing something so American, so decided to go back to the hotel to change into my Diablos Rojos del México cap. (A Mexican League baseball team.) It was, at least, red, and has an M on the front. While I didn’t want to go as far as some other European tourists I saw later in the day (sombreros, face paint…), I did want to fit in a little bit. Plus, y’know, a green, white, and red, strap-on mohican really wouldn’t suit me.
* Ever since I started the Flip Flop Fly Ball website, and particularly since working on the book – a book specifically for a mostly American audience – I’ve had to remember that things are spelled differently in the States. It has got to the point now, though, where I forget to spell worlds like colour “properly.”
Cap changed, time for lunch at a local restaurant. Fish tacos and a couple of Tacates, watching Real Madrid vs. Ajax on the telly. It was one of those nice, relaxed moments where for half an hour or so, it feels like life is good.
Back down to Reforma. The metal detectors were gone. The sniffer dogs gone, too. Still more policemen than I’ve ever seen in my life on duty. Ranks of them on every corner. Many more people this time. Lots of stick-on Zapata-style moustaches. Families jostling to get their kids to the front. A guy in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, plenty of Yankees caps, and even, somewhat ironically considering the recent political anti-illegal immigration stuff down there, a guy in an Arizona Diamondbacks cap. I was reminded that Mexico City has recently legalised gay marriage by seeing a fair amount of gay and lesbian couples around. Lots of people hawking face paint, banners, flags, bandanas, Mexican coloured stick on eyelashes, and all kinds of noise-making devices. (No vuvuzelas, thankfully.)
It was still early, though, so I wandered off the avenue to a pedestrianised side street where a man dressed up in costume Jim Carrey wore in “The Mask” having his photo taken with people. Time for a few more cervezas. Corona is a third of the price that it was in Toronto. So it would’ve been rude to drink less than three, right? Very loud folk music on a flat screen TV, young lovers spending minutes at a time kissing over a pitcher of sangria, and a guy who looked so ridiculously uncomfortable sat on a bar stool, like all he wanted was to be back in bed where he wouldn’t be nervous about all the people around. Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid jerseyed men walk by. (I did later see a guy in a Liverpool shirt, but he looked English, so that doesn’t count, sadly.) All around, though, you could really feel the joy in the air.
I’d spend my first couple of days in Mexico City wondering if this would be the sort of place I could end up living. I swung between polar opposites: it’s exciting to be in a great city that is new and full of potential adventures, and oh, Craig, what are you doing? why not just give up on this silly dream of living somewhere like this and move back to England, let that bungee that you’ve resisted for so long drag you back. Thankfully, the former was the over-riding feeling I had all day. Why give up? I only need to do that when all other possibilities are exhausted. Stop being a pussy, Craig.
So, the parade. After a while more wander around, soaking up the atmosphere, I settled on a place where a few shorter people had congregated and waited. I was there for about an hour before the big screens showed that farther back, the parade was coming along. Slowly the sound got louder, and then I could see them: a marching band in white shoes, black trousers, orange capes and sombreros playing “Jarabe Tapatío” (the Mexican Hat Dance). It was so exciting! And it made me smile that a song that I normally associate with being a cartoon-y shorthand for Mexican-ness must be incredible popular and important to Mexico if it’s the very first thing in the parade.
The parade was organised so very well. Each section of the non-stop entertainment (literally no gaps where you were looking at only tarmac) was introduced by people holding banners announcing the next section. The first section was Indepencia, tens of people in black jumpsuits with cacti on their heads, holding hands and dancing down the street. A float in the shape of a folded up newspaper dated 16 septiembro de 1810. Fantastic revolutionary dummies operated by people strapped behind them walking along; the dummies had big eyebrows, moustaches, sack clothes and bullets. Behind them, similarly structured horses. Then some huge stone feet. And huge stone legs. then a huge stone torso, and finally a huge stone head. All of which would later be assembled in Zocalo Square as “The Colossus,” a 20 metre high sculpture of a revolutionary fighter by Juan Carlos Canfield Zapata.
The parade went on, my mouth locked open in amazement at everything, my eyes welling up at the beauty of it all. It was so utterly fantastic to be there to see how overjoyed people were at seeing all these elements of Mexican history and culture presented in such a wonderful fashion. I had a melancholy moment wishing that British people could celebrate like this, but, I guess when you have been colonial masters, you forfeit the right to celebrate anything resembling independence.
On and on it went. Women in terracotta-coloured ponchos with long sausage-shaped balloons on their heads; huge feather head-dresses; lots of fantastical masks; parades from all over the country in traditional local dress with local variations of music; a whole section dedicated to workers, which was the favourite part of many people around me. It was beautiful to see the biggest cheers saved for people dressed as street cleaners, cooks, maids, nurses all dancing down the street.
Plenty of drummers. A float that looked like a printing press with kids skateboarding on the “paper” between two rollers. Hats, dresses, colours, music: my head felt like it had been injected with sherbet. People dressed as chickens. Huge wooden coyotes and leopards. Pre-Mexican themes, pre-historic themes, an enormous Day of the Dead-style skeleton flat on a float with dancer atop it in lucha libre costumes. Flowers, horses, twirly skirts. It was very literally two of the best hours of my life. The parade came to an end with real street cleaners sweeping up the parade route, but still in a vaguely organised way that looked like part of the show.
I was tired, my feet ached, but my head was fizzing with joy. The party went on longer, with a couple of stages of music (mariachi type stuff on one stage that I saw, and a symphony on another). Many people headed towards further celebration at Zocalo Square, but my head was already full, I couldn’t really take in any more and fully appreciate it. And I was hungry. I wandered back towards the hotel through a street market selling all kinds of wonderful smelling food. I had two unspecified-meat-but-I-think-it-might’ve-been-pork tacos. The guy was shouting “Tacos! Tacos!” so I went up to him and said “No hablo espanol pero tengo hambre!” He said “taco?” and pointed at the meat. I asked if it was chicken, he said, “no” and then the name of something or other. It looked good, though, so I shrugged and said okay. I was served my tacos on a small red plastic plate wrapped in thing transparent polythene. Guacamole, lime, a good dollop of very hot chili sauce. Utterly fantastic. By the time I got back to the hotel, the fireworks had begun, I watched them through the window. Mexico continued to celebrate, and as late as I can remember before falling asleep, people still walked on the street below shouting “¡Viva Mexico!”
More photos on my Flickr.
On Queen Street West this afternoon, two women in diagonally matching clothes.
I like Douglas Coupland. I like most of his books, he seems like an incredibly interesting fellow, and I think he comes across as a nice guy. So when I arrived in Toronto, one of things I wanted to see the most was Toronto Park, a park that he recently designed that opened in September last year. Before I got there, though, and just a five minute walk away, there’s a Coupland sculpture, “Monument to the War of 1812.” I know nothing about the War of 1812, but apparently the Brits won. So, y’know, yay! Here’s the Wikipedia article about that war, should you give a monkeys.
The first thing I noticed about Toronto Park was the canoe. You can see the canoe on top of a raised bit of land from the big road that runs along one side of the park.
These things are pretty, too. I assume they are fishing floats. Or maybe I’m wrong. I dunno…
But the best and most interesting thing about the park is the route around the edge with big pictures and plaques all about
Found this photo of a Lego moon landing. Probably taken at some point in the Seventies. Large version on Flickr.
Found this photo in a box last night. It was taken in September 2002 in the cafe at the
Safeway Morrisons supermarket in Lincoln. Large version on Flickr.