Thursday, August 13, 2009

Mexico


[Pollo con Mole en Cholula]
My old friend, Tom Seymour, was in town for a few hours and somehow Tom, Pam, and I made a spur of the moment decision for me to go visit Tom and his family in Puebla, Mexico for a week (Aug 4 thru Aug 11, 2009). Since Pam is already going to Hawaii (without me) to take Alison to BYU Hawaii, it seemed appropriate that I could go on this little trip that I had long wanted to do (and Pam had no interest in going). The following are some of my thoughts about the trip.

While driving from the Mexico City Airport to Puebla, I vocalized my first impression of Mexico. Esta es la landia de la barilla (This is the land of rebar). Almost every structure is made out of a concrete and rebar framework with bricks embedded later within the framework. Most concrete columns had about three rebar stubs shooting up out of the concrete in anticipation of another floor. Structures are built in modular boxes that can be added as they can be afforded. I saw no wood used in rough construction except as form boards and temporary support for pouring concrete. No trusses. No rafters. Roofs were made of concrete, even the occasional pitched roof. Mexico will never burn down. It may fall down in an earthquake, but it will never burn down.

Between Mexico City and Puebla are two beautiful toll freeways that show Mexico at its best; there is a mountain range to cross with pine forests.

The best sites that I saw were, the pre-Columbian ruins at Teotihuacan, the ruins at the Templo Mayor (Tenochtitlan), El Zocalo in Mexico City and the surrounding buildings, El Zocalo in Puebla and its surrounding buildings, and the town of Cholula, home of the largest pyramid in the world that is also unexcavated.
I walked so many miles in Mexico City that I think I should be worthy of some kind of ribbon.

La Merced Market in Mexico City was scary. I never knew people could be packed together so closely. I walked there from the Zocalo, a long way, with the intention of boarding the subway there. I walked past the subway entrance a few times before I finally found it. It looked like a rabbit hole. Dos pesos (20 cents), and five stops later I was in the Zona Rosa, just six blocks from my hotel room.

The Zona Rosa was a nice night club and restaurant zone that in recent years has become a gathering place for gays and lesbians, and maybe 50% straight folks. The revelers looked very young to me. At first I was disinterested in the gay scene of the Zona Rosa but I decided that I might as well check it out…as a spectator/tourist. I peered through some of the windows to watch the various bands. They were all good. Then down one side street I could hear what sounded like a perfect Slash guitar sound. I followed the sound to the sidewalk below a second story club where the most captivating rock band was supporting a howling lead. I stood listening for a while. Then, after moving back to the corner, I watched a leather lesbian band nonchalantly thrash out some song with a good beat while the angry singer was drowned out. I moved along and soon found my way to the Hotel Bristol, two blocks north of Avenida Reforma, and two blocks out of the Zone. The Zona Rosa is far tamer than Bourbon Street in New Orleans; but then again, I was in bed by 9 o’clock.

Hotel Bristol was a very good bargain and I’d stay there again without any reservation (maybe I should rewrite this sentence).

From the Hotel I walked to the Museo de la Antropologia, and stayed most of the day there. This museum is the best attraction in all of Mexico (in my humble opinion).

The vendors tried to sell us all kind of stuff at Teotihuacan. One guy approached and said, Quieres ver mi Junk? Cuesta almost nothing.” I laughed and said I am only interested in obsidian sacrificial knives. Really. I found some but the handles looked cheap.

One vendor in Cholula showed me his obsidian necklaces. I asked if he had any in some other color than black. He hesitated…then we both smiled.

Fields of corn are planted everywhere. I saw no means of irrigation. I think all the crops are watered by rainwater. Summer is the rainy season. It’s no wonder, then, why people settled the high planes of Mexico. The weather was much cooler than I expected, and the altitude much higher.

The cities (not the colonial parts) looked like a concrete jungle but after looking and thinking, I commented to Tom, “If everybody would just finish plastering their blocks, and paint their plaster, this town could look beautiful. It really wouldn’t take very much.”

Although I saw much trash on the ground, I noticed many signs warning against throwing trash on the ground, and even threatening fines. It seemed to me that Mexico is awakening to the “Give a Hoot, Don’t Pollute” mentality.

There is an active “No Smoking” movement in Mexico, yet too much oil is still used in cooking.

I was unimpressed with the food. I don’t know exactly how to describe this feeling I have about the food. When I tried to express this thought to Julie (Tom’s wife) she said, “You mean it looks the same as it probably looked 100 years ago?” Yeah, I guess that sums it up. I have eaten Mexican food all my life in Southern California and Mexicali, but I am going to admit something perhaps blasphemous. I didn’t like the Mexican food that I ate in various restaurants during this trip. San Diego Mexican food (even Mexicali Mexican food) is different and I like it better.

I ate the two most famous traditional dishes of Puebla: chile en nogada and pollo con mole (see picture).

I found it interesting how the Mexicans have so much love for Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo, while outside of Mexico they are largely unknown. Perhaps the reason that I find the Mexicans’ admiration for these artists so odd is because in the U.S.A. there really is no contemporary painter that has reached the attention and admiration of the masses like they have. In Mexico, Diego and Frida are like the Beatles and their legend keeps growing.

Prices are not necessarily cheaper in Mexico. In fact most materials are more expensive. Only labor is cheaper in Mexico.

Books are ridiculously expensive in Mexico, perhaps because they are not a labor intensive product, or perhaps because people don’t read very much. But at those prices it is understandable why people don’t buy books. For instance, laborers earn between US $1.00 to $1.50 per hour yet the good paperback books easily cost US $20 to $30. Crazy. I would hate to be a bibliophile in Mexico.

When I was walking down a street in Puebla, in the colonial sector, I glanced into a courtyard and saw two women making brooms by tying thin sticks to broom handles. I barely registered what I had seen. But when I saw many people in Mexico City using the same kind of brooms to sweep their sidewalks in the morning, I realized the brooms were not for tourists.

Mexicans love to sweep in the morning.

August is cactus apple (called “tuna”) season in Mexico and of course I had to try some. So Tom pulled off the road near Teotihuacan. I got out and approached the Indian woman who was selling cases of tunas. Before I got up close to her, she already had pealed a tuna and was handing it to me. I told her I was a tourist and was anxious to try a tuna for the first time. I wanted to buy just one, but she said just one would be free. I stood there and ate the whole thing, seeds and all. It was mild and sweet. A real treat. I picked out a couple more and paid her.

There were large agaves everywhere in the countryside, also nopales. What struck me was the random agave, nopal, or tree in the middle of a plowed field. They seemed out of place, yet it was a common sight.

Pedestrians are targets and have no practical right of way.

The Mexicans of Mexico City and Puebla seemed more friendly than the Mexicans in Mexicali and El Centro. At least at first. Pam suggested the difference would probably have something to do with the way Mexicans might encounter some kind of disrespect (at least at times) in the United States. Hmmm.

My advice to Mexico is:
1) Get control of the birth rate so that the average education levels of adults can be increased [already happening].
2) Talk up education as a national imperative.
3) Allow foreign investors to bring their capital and management to the country, to buy up the competition or just outright kill it if they can. Mexican companies that survive will necessarily have to change for the better.
4) Consider that dissenting voices who are preoccupied with “raza” issues, may actually be regressive and may ultimately hinder progress.
5) A few other things.
6) Watch Mexico rise.

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