Holiday Decorations around the World

There hasn’t been too much winter chill in the air lately in East Tennessee, where daytime temps have been hovering around the 50-degree mark, only just turning colder a few days ago. Still, Christmas is less than three weeks away, and holiday decorations are up in force.

Though not a religious person, I still enjoy the spirit of the season, particularly the lights, the holly, and the trees. Combined these decorations suggest a communal spirit of giving, and a general air of hope, something of which the world has been in short supply lately.

Here is a sampling of holiday decorations witnessed by yours truly during his travels around the globe. I shall start with cities that I once lived in, then move on from there.

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Mexico on My Mind

Mother Nature has been angry lately. Flooding in Nepal, Bangladesh, and East India. Hurricanes Harvey, Katia, Irma, José, and Maria. Wildfires in California, Montana, Wyoming, and the Pacific Northwest. And no fewer than three earthquakes – one as recent as this morning – to strike Mexico in just 16 days.

It is Mexico, my one-time home for almost two wonderful years, about which I am especially worried.

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A Reunion of Amigos

Q: What do an entrepreneur, a human resources executive, a high school English teacher, a middle school history and science teacher, and a graduate student have in common?

A: They live in Mexico City, and they are my friends.

My long-awaited (for me, at least) return to “CDMX” was a resounding success. I didn’t get to see everyone I wanted to see, nor was I able to hit up every one of my former stomping grounds, but on the whole, I was able to stroll through some of my favorite neighborhoods and spend time with old friends – even if it was just for a quick drink.

Would you like to meet them? (Apologies in advance to mis amigos for posting these pics – although I don’t think the content is anything too compromising.)

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Urban Graffiti around the World

I spent part of last Saturday afternoon walking around downtown Knoxville. It was a perfect summer day, with non-threatening clouds and a gentle breeze. As I headed from Gay Street towards Market Square, one block away, I passed an alley that travels between the two…and did a double take.

Graffiti, alive with color, adorned both sides of this urban alley, and a dozen or so tourists were snapping pictures. When in Rome, the saying goes…and so I did.

Graffiti Alley Knoxville 1

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Portrait of a Neighborhood: Condesa and Roma

My blog journey through Mexico City has taken you through a hodgepodge of neighborhoods nice (Coyoacán, San Ángel, Polanco), not so nice (Tepito, Tlatelolco, Doctores), and “in transition” (Iztapalapa, Santa María la Ribera). The route connecting these barrios “bravos” y “mágicos” would, thus far, be something of a zig-zag…but rest assured that I still have a few more old DF haunts to share with you, Loyal Reader.

La Condesa, west of the Centro Histórico in Cuauhtémoc borough, is – and has long been – the stomping ground of Mexico City’s bourgeoisie. Impossibly-tall, stiletto-heeled Chilangas enter and exit luxury condos, cell phones in one hand and Fendi purses in the other. Professional dog walkers handle seven, eight, even nine dogs at a time, and make it look easy. Tree-lined streets branch off grand thoroughfares and lead to shady parks. Art Deco architecture competes with glassy high rises for attention and real estate value.

Condesa 8 - Avenida Amsterdam

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Portrait of a Neighborhood: Polanco

Museo Soumaya and Plaza Carso 2

Mexico City is an interesting place. From above, its layout is very grid-like, particularly in the central corridor and proper Distrito Federal. But the whole is city is a veritable potpourri (I love that word!) of rich and poor. Wealthy San Pedro de los Pinos abuts poor Tacubaya. Upper middle class Narvarte backs up to working class Doctores. Charming, arsty Coyoacán borders dodgy Tasqueña.  Etc.

Polanco is one of the city’s wealthier neighborhoods. Like San Pedro de los Pinos and other upscale colonias, it borders poorer corners of DF – in this case, Tacuba and Toreo. Parts of Polanco’s northern fringe, Nuevo Polanco, are comprised of endless construction zones that, as such, make the area appear, visually speaking at least, as less safe and less charming. Still, Polanco is a classy neighborhood, one of my favorites in all of Mexico City.

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Portrait of a Neighborhood: San Ángel

San Angel 3

Last week, I wrote the first of what I hope to be a series of articles about Mexico City neighborhoods that I find enchanting. That portrait, about the colonial neighborhood and greater borough of Coyoacán, is similar in theme to my 2014 and 2015 series on Mexico City’s barrios bravos (Tepito, Doctores, etc.). The difference? Coyo isn’t as rough around the edges, and the post was written while wearing a pair of rose-tinted glasses. I am immediately following that Coyo post with my second entry in this new series.

Just one stop south from Metro Viveros – where subway passengers exit for Coyoacán – is Metro Miguel Ángel de Quevedo, named after the renowned Mexican architect and environmentalist. Alight here and you’ll see another sculpture of two coyotes in the middle of a traffic roundabout. Turn left, though, and a ten minute walk along the street of the same name leads you through Chimalistac colonia and into Álvaro Obregón delegación, home to the upscale, hilly neighborhood of San Ángel.

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Portrait of a Neighborhood: Coyoacán

This is a bolillo.

bolillo

Although it looks like a piece of hard bread, it is so much more than that. I was delighted when my dad brought home a dozen of these from a local Mexican bakery, because they reminded me of guajalotas, my favorite breakfast item whilst living in Mexico City.

Also called a torta de tamal, a guajalota is a steamed tamale unwrapped and served inside this bolillo – roll – and topped with salsa verde or roja. Spicy, warm, and filling.

Nothing goes better with a guajalota than a cup of café tibia – warm, not scalding, coffee with the slightest hint of cinnamon – from Café el Jarocho. This chain of inviting coffee shops can be found in just corner of the world – the Coyoacán borough of Mexico City.

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Photo Locale of the Month – December 2015

December is one of my favorite months for being in Mexico City. Although the nights and early mornings can be quite chilly, the sun shines gloriously most days, and the Christmas decorations and noche buenas (poinsettias) are displayed in abundance. Additionally, it seems that each Chilango you meet (and there are many – roughly 21 million) has a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face as he sips an atole (a warm corn beverage, vaguely similar to hot chocolate) or ponche (fruit punch, flavored with whole chunks of fruit) in between rounds of holiday shopping at any of the city’s mercados or galerias.

As regards public gathering spaces in Mexico City, the city’s Plaza de la Constitución – or Zócalo – is ground zero. This is the unofficial geographic center of the city, and the third-largest square in the world, after Tiananmen Square in Beijing and Red Square in Moscow. Mexico City’s Zócalo is home to the location of the country’s presidential palace, its largest cathedral, one of its most important Aztec sites, and the capital’s city hall.

Catedral Metropolitano 1.NEF

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Celebrating Feast Day in Mexico City

Basilica de Guadalupe 40

The Basilica of Guadalupe, in northern Mexico City, is the world’s third-most-visited religious pilgrimage destination. It is here that the Aztecs worshipped at a pre-Colombian temple atop Tepeyac Hill. It is here that indigenous monk Juan Diego saw several visions of the Virgin Mary. And it is here that a series of churches exist today in honor of the Virgin’s first appearance.

Today is Feast Day, a spiritual celebration of the Virgin’s first appearance in Mexico, and a day when thousands – millions – arrive in reverence. Each December 12th, the street leading up to the basilica is closed to vehicular traffic and overtaken by pilgrims, many crawling the last several hundred meters on their knees. Mass is conducted around-the-clock, volunteers feed the homeless at a food station behind the basilica, and Aztec drummers keep the rhythm in the adjacent plaza while others dance in a haze of incense. The energy is infectious at any time of year, but doubly so on Feast Day and during the days leading up to it.

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