Thursday, January 27, 2005

busco vocho preferiblemente 1994

Since I arrived down here, I have had the dream of buying a VW Bug (called vocho down here). Since there is more than one VW plant in Mexico, the amount of vochos in Mexico City is amazing. Every taxi cab is a vocho. But I read about 6 months ago that the stopped producing the old edition. Which raises a good point: What will be the next type choice of car for all those taxistas?

I think the vocho comfortably sits 5 anywhere in the world, but here in Mexico, the number increases to 8. Often times, you can see a vocho driving down the cobbled stone roads, bumbing and banging, with 8-9 people in the car.

Anyways, I am looking for a used vocho to buy.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Jugo de Naranja

As most of you already know, in Spanish, the English word 'juice' translates as jugo and 'water' translates as agua. But what these two words can represent in their respective languages is not exactly the same. In the U.S., any sort of fruit or fruit-flavored beverage can be called 'juice,' even if it doesn't actually contain any real fruit juice.

In Mexico, jugo means 100% fruit pulp and 100% fruit pulp only. So if you go to a restaurant or juice bar and ask for a jugo de naranja, you're going to get pure, fresh-squeezed orange juice. And you're going to get a good deal, too: a big, 16-ounce size glass for a buck or so. Fruit pulp or juice concentrate added to water, on the other hand, is called agua. So the kind of thing that often passes for 'orange juice' in the States would be called agua de naranja here. It makes sense, huh? I tell you, fresh jugo is one of the things I appreciate most about living here, not to mention all the fresh fruits in general that are so hard to get in the southwestern U.S.

How much does the fresh juice cost? It usually will run you about 7 pesos for about two cups of fresh squeezed juice. One of my old students, named Vladimir, has a taco stand where he makes fresh orange juice for his father, who owns the joint. Good tacos and good juice during my break also helped the day go faster.

Friday, January 21, 2005

unfinished houses

I came back to Mexico last Saturday, bringing my friend along with me for a short visit. One day while we were riding a bus through the countryside she asked me about the thin metal rods, usually capped with an upside-down soda bottle, that jut out from the tops of the ubiquitous concrete-block houses. These are support rods for concrete walls and when they are left to jut out above a building it suggests an unfinished building project.

I recalled asking about the rods myself after I first arrived in Acapulco last year, since the place was absolutely full of the things. I got two explanations: one romantic, one pragmatic. The first said that the metal rods reflected the eternal dreamer in all Mexicans, that they were forever hoping for the windfall that would provide for the next upward expansion of their house. The second explanation was that Mexicans pay a lower property tax if they can claim to be living in an unfinished house. This loophole – if it does indeed exist – seemed to be begging for abuse, but noone has ever authoritatively affirmed or denied its existence to me. However, knowing the inefficiency of the Mexican taxation system, it could well be true. In any case, it makes for a good excuse to quit your construction project half-way through.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sidewalks

One thing that I am continuing to be puzzled over here is: the sidewalks. Here in Mexico, walking down the street is not the as easy as one thinks. This is mostly due to the construction of the them. Most are only built for 1.5 persons, so it is hard to walk while carrying on a conversation. If you do manage to fit 2 people, always be on the lookout of random holes that some time can cause damage. A simple 100 feet of sidewalk may have 2-3 holes, and the relief of them fluctuates for driveways and natural trees that have grown up through the red brick.

Monday, January 17, 2005

I spent a good part of the day on Friday at the cinema, where I took in 2 Mexico-related movies.The first was a low-budget comedy called “A Day Without a Mexican.” I’m not sure if this one has made much of a splash in the States, but it’s been a huge hit here – it’s playing everywhere around town and has been routinely selling out theaters during its first two weeks in circulation. It’s tells the story of a 24-hour fog that descends around the state of California, cutting it off from the outside world and mysteriously enough, also causing all of the state’s “Mexicans” to vanish (One of the recurring jokes in the film is that Californians think that all people from Latin America are Mexicans. Of course, here in Mexico, Canadians and Europeans complain that the locals think that all white people are Americans.) Suddenly, the non-Latino community appreciates how important the missing people were to their state, for not only have the illegal immigrants who pick 90% of the state’s agricultural crops vanished, so have prominent Mexican-Americans and Latinos like the fictional governor, lieutenant governor and top scientists and entertainers. Even the Los Angeles Dodgers have to cancel their game where their 8 Latin players are missing, though the NBA assures the public that its games will go on without a problem.

Anyway, it’s a pretty funny film with some poignant messages and statistics added in as well. See it if you can.The other film I saw yesterday that I would not recommend is “Man on Fire,” starring Denzel Washington. It’s a very bleak and far too violent film about an ex-U.S. Army hit man who comes to Mexico City to bodyguard a rich couple and their daughter against kidnapping. Guess what? The cute little daughter gets kidnapped anyway and a whole slew of people get brutally murdered as a result.The only thing I enjoyed about this film was that it was shot in Mexico City and has scenes depicting the various faces of the city, from the wealthiest communities and historic downtown to the sprawling, impoverished slums. The problem was that the film was shot with such an overwhelmingly dark, paranoid feel that to me, it didn’t reflect what it honestly feels like to be here.

The movie certainly isn’t going to do anything positive for Mexico City’s image, and actually there have been a few editorials in the local newspapers bemoaning the hit that the city’s already poor public image takes from the film. It’s really too bad that so many people, Mexican and foreigner alike, are fed such consistently lousy images of the city. After all, it’s the nation’s capital and home to some of Mexico’s best museums, theaters and archaeological sites. Sure, there’s a lot of crime here, but there also are a lot of great neighborhoods and parks where you see children running around and families looking perfectly content and non-paranoid. Hey, Washington D.C. has a ton of crime but plenty of people who live there happily. Just ask some of my friends that live in D.C. (Dave and Steve Bowen, along with part of the Armstrong Family). And you don’t see tourists avoiding the chance to the Smithsonian Institute, the Washington Monument or the World War II memorial because they think they’ll be shot in the process. Someone at the D.C. tourism office is doing a good job with their PR.

I think Mexico City needs to get that person on the case down here a.s.a.p.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

You say goodbye, I saw hello..

In Mexico, when people pass acquaintances on the street without stopping to talk, they say 'adios.' At first this struck me as kind of odd, since I'm used to people in the states greeting each other with 'hello' or 'hi' when they pass in the street. But I guess it makes more sense to say 'goodbye' to someone who's walking right on past you...

Saturday, January 08, 2005

How to greet in Mexico?

It seems like a simple enough concept, but even after 3+ months here, I just can't seem to get the hang of the buenos dias/buenas tardes/buenas noches greetings. Clearly, for the locals, it's completely instinctive to know which of the three to use at any particular moment. But for me, when I go to greet someome, I always have to stop and think o.k., it's 4:28 p.m., that's the afternoon, right? before I can blurt out: "Buenas tardes!"

I have been thinking about changing my sleeping patterns. My new daily routine could be simplify the problem somewhat, for by getting up at noontime, I would have been able to eliminate the need for buenos dias and reduce my greeting possibilities to just two.

Last Thursday, for example, I had to get up early and meet up with a whole bunch of people at about 6:30 a.m. Since the sun was up, I greeted them all with buenas tardes! I bet they thought I was drunk.

Buen Provecho

One of the best customs that I love down here is the simple buy lovely buen provecho while you are eating (might be translated into "eat well" in English). It is so nice while I am eating in a small cafe to have someone enter and say Buenas tardes Buen procecho! Sometimes stranges will then proceed to begin asking you questions, complete strangers!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Taxi!

I spent this past week down in San Miguel, where I had the chance to get reacquainted with an old friend: the taxi colectivo.The taxi colectivo is a form of public transportation that works in many ways like a bus. It follows a set route and charges a set fee like a bus, except that it's not a bus, it's a taxi cab, and in most cases a small Nissan or Toyota sedan. It also doesn't have set stops, except at its starting and finishing points, so you can hail one down at any point along its route.The seating capacity for a colectivo is six, including the driver. That means that up to three passengers fill the back seat and two cram into the passenger's seat. It can get quite cozy, that's for sure.

When I lived in Cueranava in June 2003, I rode a colectivo back and forth to school every day and there was always a mad scramble to get those three back seats since nobody likes to share the front seat. Since I wasn't all that agressive about it, I usually ended up squeezed in front, event though I was often the biggest person in the vehicle.Like taxi drivers everywhere, colectivo chauffers are not much for safe driving. So it can be a little terrifying to be crammed into a front seat with another adult, no safety belt for either, as the driver tailgates at 60 m.p.h. or swerves in and out of traffic.But what you lose in safety with the collectivo, you gain in economy.

One day this last week, I had to go to a location on the outskirts of Queretaro. To get a taxi to bring me out there, I paid 60 pesos, or a little more than 5 dollars. But on the way back I grabbed a colectivo and paid 6 pesos, or a little more than 50 cents. Plus I got to know rather well a very plump middle-aged woman who shared the passenger seat with me. We had a very pleasant chat during those moments when I was able to pry my face off of the inside of the windshield glass.

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