By Special Request: Comparing Mexico City with Los Angeles

I was asked by my friend Chris to compare differences between Los Angeles – my old home – and Mexico City – my new home. A worthy challenge, and an honor – my first blog request!  (Alas, it took me so long to write this up that Chris – a longtime LA resident – finally just came down here to see for himself. Better late than never?)

Before I comment on the differences – of which there are several – I want to point out a few similarities as well. You probably already know that of LA’s roughly 40% Hispanic population, the majority is of Mexican descent. Most of those Mexican-Americans will, if asked, claim to have at least one living relative in Mexico City. As such, “Mexican” food in LA is often similar to what you’ll find on offer in your typical Mexico City restaurant. Sure, no one eats chapulines in LA – and nor do people eat burritos in Mexico City – but tacos al pastor at a low-budget Van Nuys taquería, for instance, are identical to the same-named dish at half-a-dozen quick-service restaurants in my own Mexico City neighborhood. Mole, a delectable spicy chocolate sauce that can adorn baked chicken or turkey, is a regional specialty that comes from Puebla, just two hours from Mexico City by road. I have enjoyed it in both LA and Mexico City (not to mention Puebla), and I couldn’t tell the difference.

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Then and Now

Time flies when you’re having fun. A few weeks I realized I’d been living in Mexico City for six months. I have rarely regretted my decision to move down here – and you’ll be happy to hear that I renewed my lease for another six months – but my time here has been eye-opening in a few ways. Care to take a look?

(Just a few) Things I know now that I didn’t know six months ago:

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Sense and Sensibility

I love Mexico City more with each passing day. This afternoon I had an errand to run that happened to take me to my favorite neighborhood, Coyoacán. It was a glorious, sunny day and, with my errand done and my stomach growling, I popped into a small bistro for a bite to eat. A common lunchtime option is “el Menú del Día,” which essentially includes an appetizer, soup, entrée, dessert, and water for a fixed price. A gringo with simple tastes, I opted for the “Chicken Menu” and was pleasantly surprised when I was served bruschetta, lentil soup, chicken croquettes with rice, carrots, and cucumbers in yogurt sauce, steamed zucchini, flavored water, and a very interesting postre of figs adorned with chopped nuts and dipped in chocolate sauce. Not bad for 100 pesos (about USD $8.50).

After lunch, I felt especially sated, and took a leisurely stroll back to the metro, noticing for the first time several charming restaurants and coffee shops that I had probably walked past a dozen times before. The other day I observed, in my own neighborhood, a shrub that was trimmed in the shape of an osito (bear cub). Why had I never noticed this before? I am starting, finally, to notice the little things, things I was oblivious to. I am starting, at long last, to actually understand Spanish when spoken to me. Not always – not even half the time – but often enough that when I ask the speaker to repeat what he or she just said, it is muy claro the second time. Living here has agreed with me so much that my senses have, I think, become refined with time.  

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Looking Forward and Back – Part Two

Yesterday, I blogged about the 12 crazy months that had just passed. A roller coaster year of good SoCal hiking, great travels to Europe and Latin America, misleading job prospects, a relationship began and a friendship ended. You can read about it here. Today, I’m taking a moment to look forward.

2013 slate

The world is your oyster, Shakespeare once wrote (or something like that), and I couldn’t agree more. I have basically begun the year in a new city, in good health and in a steady relationship for 12 months and counting. I don’t always make New Year’s resolutions, but I did so this year, and thought I’d share them with you.

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Looking Forward and Back – Part One

Happy New Year! I hope your Christmakwanzaakuh was special, and I likewise hope you spent New Year’s Eve with someone special. As you may know, Loyal Reader, I spent my Christmas and New Year’s Eve holidays with family in Tennessee, and only just returned home to Mexico City yesterday evening.

The days between Christmas and New Year’s should be spent relaxing, of course, but should also include some reflection on the past 365 days, and on what you hope the next 365 will bring. Between hearty servings of zesty goulash, thin spaghetti, tender turkey, and light-as-a-feather mashed potatoes, (the turkey baked to perfection by my sister, who, as it turns out, is one helluva good cook) I did just that. I do just that every year, in fact, but I don’t always learn much. It’s time to pay closer attention.

2012 highlights and lowlights

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Taking a Moment

Something terrible happened this morning in the small community of Newtown, Connecticut. I don’t need to recount the specific details; you know what went down. My initial Facebook comments were – like those of so many others – reactionary and vitriolic. Although I don’t have children myself, I was no less moved by the plight of the families in this unfortunate New England town. The fact that this happened to elementary school students by an apparent stranger, as opposed to the peer-on-peer violence that is, alas, more commonplace, makes this tragedy seem so much more heart-wrenching than Columbine, or Virginia Tech, or….

Enough. We don’t know all the facts yet, and when you consider that both the suspect and his own mother (who supposedly purchased the guns herself) are dead, we probably never will.

Although I managed to avoid most news websites for the majority of the day, I nevertheless needed to clear my head, so I met Pamela at the local multiplex for an opening night showing of “The Hobbit.” The movie was great, especially the second half, and was just what I needed. Any violence depicted in the film was done by sword, not by gun, and was in a hyper-stylized fantasy setting anyway. The movie ended, Pamela and I went our separate ways for the night, and that was that.

Except it wasn’t.

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Stinking Badges

One of my goals, both short and long-term, is to get a job teaching English, a job I can live on. I figured Craigslist was as good a place to start my job search as any, and in less than 30 seconds I was already overwhelmed by what I’d found. Half the jobs were either bullshit or too far away. (Apparently there’s plentiful employment in Santa Fe, the wealthy, non-pedestrian-friendly far-western “burb.” Think Oak Brook if you’re from Chicago, Long Beach if you’re from Los Angeles or Arlington, VA if you’re from Washington, DC.) Perhaps 20 percent were for 7 am lessons, great except that I don’t even go to bed until about 3 am. The remaining 30 percent were in my target neighborhood, fit my desired salary, or simply sounded cool. Some didn’t even required TEFL certification (which I don’t have regardless, although I plan to change that beginning early 2013). Most, however, required Spanish fluency.

Houston, we have a problem.

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Giving Thanks

This past Sunday my girlfriend and I visited the ancient ruins of Xochicalco, roughly two hours south of Mexico City and about 2,000 feet lower in elevation. Xochicalco is specifically dedicated to the plumed serpent god Quetzalcóatl, revered by not just the Aztecs but by other pre-Colombian tribes as well. Chronologically, Xochicalco was one of the last Aztec citadels, occupied after the mysterious fall (abandonment?) of more famous Teotihuacán. On the way back to Mexico City we changed buses in Cuernavaca, and opted to grab dinner in this lively mid-sized city.

The Cuernavaca city center is dominated by the Palacio de Cortés, an imposing fortress-turned-museum built by (or at the behest of, more likely) Cortés after his men conquered the region. Cortés had the local Aztec temple razed, then used the temple’s stones to build his mighty palace atop the same hallowed ground, most likely using indigenous slave labor, a reminder to them of the European man’s supposed superiority. With Thanksgiving just two days away, I couldn’t help but compare that to the history of my own Estados Unidos de Gringolandia.

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Greetings and salutations!

Okay, so bearing in mind the idea of “better late than never,” I’m going to give this thing called “blogging” a try. I can’t promise any regularity with which it will be edited; those of you who know me well probably won’t argue when I call myself one of the world’s worst procrastinators. This blog has been a long time in coming, but this is just the first step. As such, I ask your patience, Loyal Reader. (I originally wanted to use the also-capitalized “Constant Reader,” but feared a lawsuit from Stephen King.)

Thanks for stopping by!