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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Holiday Travels – Part Two

Have you ever been fired from a job? I have, and it’s humiliating. It really is like it happens in the movies – you have to pack all your workplace personal effects – eight years’ worth, in my case (including a plaque for “Most Valuable Player,” oh sweet irony) – into a cardboard box and make the long walk to your car. My boss was kind enough to fire me after hours, but there were still several people working late, and I know what they were thinking as I slowly shuffled past them, looking at the ground and trying to bite my tongue. Gives new meaning to the phrase “Walk of Shame.”

I kid you not, though – as soon as I pulled out of the parking garage, it was as if a weight had lifted. I could breathe clearly again! I was free! My more level-headed friends would almost certainly go home and immediately file for Unemployment Compensation and polish up their resumes. Me, I did those things as well, to be certain, but they weren’t my first order of business. No, my first task was to buy an airline ticket. Going somewhere. Anywhere. Get me – the fuck – out of here.

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Holiday Travels – Part One

I have mentioned in previous blog entries that my first solo international trip – to Mexico City over Thanksgiving 2002 – raised the travel bar for me. With apologies to my parents (who always put together a great Thanksgiving Day spread), Turkey Day 2002 was probably the best Thanksgiving of my life. Others, since then, have come awfully close.

The other day I started thinking about all the places I’ve been to – not just over Thanksgiving, but at any time. I have been to 41 U.S. states and more countries than I can keep track of. I have set foot on six continents. I have completely filled two passports and had extra pages added to both. According to flightmemory.com, I have flown almost 740,000 miles. That said, holiday season travel gives me an extra lift, because travel over Christmas always reunites me with my parents, whom I wish I could visit more often, and because travel over Thanksgiving maintains my own tradition – 11 years running – of going someplace new, sometimes with friends but often by myself.

Seeing as it is mid-way between the two holidays as I write this, I thought I’d share, over these next few days, a few fond holiday season travel memories.

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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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Seriously, What’s the Problem?

I read a terrific CNN blog entry Wednesday about America’s (and the world’s, but mostly America’s) misconceptions about Mexico, their muyyy complicated neighbor to the south. The link is below:

http://globalpublicsquare.blogs.cnn.com/2012/11/27/mexicos-misconceptions/

I wanted to digest the article for a day or two before offering my own opinion. I encourage you to read it yourself. It is insightful and generally accurate, although I partially disagree with one of author Ravi Agrawal’s major points. He comments that the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India, and China should make way for four other, less-respected, faster-rising countries: Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey, and South Korea. A well-intended observation, but he’s being too generous with some of the aforementioned countries – and not generous enough with others.

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Same Same, but Different

I hope, Loyal Reader, that you are well, and that if you’re from the U.S., you had a good Thanksgiving. I spent my Turkey Day eating chicken wings and drinking cheap Chinese beer; not very patriotic, I s’pose.

It has been three weeks since I arrived here, and those three weeks combined with countless visits over the past 10 years have given me, I think, good insight into the myriad ways in which Mexico – and Mexico City in particular – is similar to its neighbor to the north, as well as into the many ways in which it differs.

A few random observations, both good and bad….

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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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So why Mexico City?

So why Mexico City? “Why not?” would be a great reply to that oft-asked question, but of course there’s a bit more to it than that.

I took my first trip to Mexico City over Thanksgiving of 2002. Ten years ago. Though not my first international trip (I had previously set foot in Europe, Canad-ia, and Brazil), nor my first trip to Mexico (that would be a drunken 1998 road trip from San Diego to Tijuana; is there any other kind?), I now know that my 2002 Mexico City trip/holiday/vacation was the trip to change the course of my life to include more travel than anyone I’ve known. This was the trip because it was my first international trip alone, to a place just four hours from my former homes of LA and Chicago by plane, yet whole worlds apart.

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