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Going for a stroll

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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.

Written by Craig

September 19th, 2010 at 9:30 pm

Posted in Blah blah,Photos

Fuerzas Armadas de Mexico

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(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.

Written by Craig

September 17th, 2010 at 10:31 am

Posted in Blah blah,Photos,Travel

¡Viva Mexico!

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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.

Written by Craig

September 16th, 2010 at 11:58 am

Posted in Blah blah,Photos,Travel

Diagonally matching

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On Queen Street West this afternoon, two women in diagonally matching clothes.

Written by Craig

September 5th, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Posted in Photos

Douglas

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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 Terry Fox. Two laps of the park equals one mile, what they have called the Terry Fox Miracle Mile. Slight tangent: you may remember that Terry was the person I chose to do as the 1,000th Minipop last year. I won’t write any more, except to say, it’s a really nice little park with people walking around, picnicking, playing soccer, walking the dog; but most of all, it’s interesting which is something that can’t often be said about new public spaces these days. Here’s some more photos.

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May 26th, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Photos,Travel

Just a photo of a nice building

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April 3rd, 2010 at 7:08 pm

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The moon landing

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Found this photo of a Lego moon landing. Probably taken at some point in the Seventies. Large version on Flickr.

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February 22nd, 2010 at 10:16 am

Posted in Photos

Diners

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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.

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February 22nd, 2010 at 10:13 am

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Woof

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February 21st, 2010 at 2:24 pm

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Man with bottle of water

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Animated GIF from photos taken at PGE Park in Portland, Oregon last summer. A couple of the background people are enjoyable to watch, too; specifically the girl putting the white cap on, and the girl in the white t-shirt swishing her hair.

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February 14th, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Posted in Baseball,Photos

Self portrait w/ self portrait

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January 9th, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Posted in Photos,Silly

15:47

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January 8th, 2010 at 12:21 pm

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Sunny

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January 7th, 2010 at 11:24 am

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s2u0n0n9y

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December 24th, 2009 at 11:53 am

Posted in Photos