Sunday, November 30, 2008

Mumbai

It's hard to talk about it. You know what I think of extremists and religious fanatics. They are the lowest scum because they attribute to and justify their criminal insanity by God. And because they are religious they think they have some kind of exemption. These are people who love the power that blood letting confers to them. They are lower than animals. They are obviously incapable and resentful of living in a civilized world. And those who fan their fires and fund their activities don't deserve to live.
It's not surprising they were Islamic extremists. These people seem to have a very high tolerance for utter depravity and sheer hatred, like burning women with acid, or killing a child in front of his parents or opening fire on innocent citizens. What is mainstream Islam doing to counter this madness? What are the zillionaire Islamic princes doing with their money that perhaps could help turn the tide against these crazed young idiots?
I think now would be a good time for the government of Pakistan, in concert with other injured parties in Mumbai, to get these people where it hurts. To find them and arrest them and, if that is the law of the land, execute them.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

My only consolation

... in this unholy financial mess is that I hope that the rich, greedy bastards who got us here (Republicans, motor company executives, Citibank assholes) are losing a lot of money.
My mantra these days is: hang 'em by their balls.

Friday, November 14, 2008

American Buffalo

I'm very happy that there are two David Mamet plays now running on Broadway. If it was up to me, there would be Mamet plays running on a loop forever, I love him so much.
Quaint is not an adjective that should even come up when talking about a Mamet play, but that was the feeling I got yesterday from the new production of American Buffalo, directed, without the slightest edge, by Robert Falls.
There is the interesting multiculti casting, which, like many plays on Broadway today, brings movie or TV stars to buoy ticket sales. I have no problem with any of the gifted performers in American Buffalo. Cedric the Entertainer, the fabulous John Leguizamo, and I See Dead People, (Haley Joel Osment). Hey, we have a Black president, and yes, this is America, where corruption and greed and venality are everyone's God given right, regardless of skin tone (isn't America great?).
It's cool to mix it up. But it has to work.
What I love about Mamet is that he just cuts right through the American bullshit. What is American free enterprise if not permission to scam someone else? We are all pool sharks, con men, small time robbers. In Hollywood, in real estate, in antiques, doesn't matter. To see these three not upstanding Chicago citizens scheme is to think of people like Henry Paulson and whoever is still at large for the subprime mortgage catastrophe, no difference. This is the land of the massive con and the absolute genius at paying lip service to empty words like freedom and justice, and shit. I love Mamet for calling it out.
The play should and does resonate in these times where money, or its precipitous vanishing, is on everyone's mind. But something about the show feels strangely muted, and lacking sharpness. Not the text itself, with its gorgeously salty language and great humor. There is something off in the performances. It's like the actors are holding back. Like a paint by numbers show. Mamet plays should feel like someone is twisting a knife in your gut, not like a Hallmark movie of the week. The end violence felt contrived to me and I'm hoping it is not the fault of the play, but of how the production gets there.
Dennis Frantz, in the movie, gave a definitive performance of Donny, the junk shop owner. You could tell from his droopy eyelids he had been around the block and then some. Cedric, who has an amazing presence, is avuncular and wise but he is totally lacking edge. He could be running the cub scouts, yet he is supposed to be some sort of a shark and the disparity between his heartfelt concern for the kid and his ruthlessness is not as clear and horribly ironic as it should be. He is the center of the play and the unleasher of the action. He uses people. Being a nice little crook does not cut the mustard. Donny's calculating turns need to hurt, and they don't, so the play falls flat.
One nice thing about Cedric, however, is that the rhythms of the speech feel natural in his African American inflection. The actors all do a great job of getting the musicality of the speech right. In fact, in my experience, the only time when this hasn't happened is when Mamet directs his plays himself and the actors all sound like robots. I surmise that actors must love to wrap their tongues and voices around the sound of Mamet's cursing. It is delicious, and vicious and gorgeous.
As Teach, John Leguizamo is vibrant and funny and suitably sociopathic. He is a perfect small time hood, full of comic idiotic bluster, yet menacing enough. A live wire. I thought his was the best performance, though the audience (who doesn't know dick and gives standing ovations to the post) showed much more love for Cedric. If Leguizamo is trying to affect a Chicago accent, he should abandon the effort and just be himself. I think he can grow this into a great performance, but last night it felt as if he was holding back. The violence needs to be more convincing. When he goes on a rampage he needs to let it tear. I'm sure Dead People can stand a couple of good slaps in the face for the sake of thespian immortality (then again, if the play is a hit, I wouldn't blame him if he didn't). It should not feel like the actors are dicking around at acting. This is a Mamet play, for crying out loud. The guys in the Hollywood office a couple of blocks away display more ruthless, savage instinct than these street guys from Chicago. Now bring back the guys in the real estate office, and I'm in heaven.

New pet peeves

What is it with all the people dragging their wheeled luggage on the streets of New York? Is this an airport? Are we a Greyhound depot? Can somebody explain to me, if you are not actually traveling to a far-flung destination, why you need to drag luggage around like a homeless person of means?
Whatever the explanation is, I don't like it, so cease and desist.

Adult men over the age of 25 who wear baseball caps outside of a park on a Sunday or of a baseball field, should have their headgear confiscated, I don't care if they are Paul Simon or Ron Howard.
Yesterday at the theater I saw middle aged gentlemen wearing baseball caps. What are you, a child?
Wear a fedora. And take it off if you are inside.

By the way, I'm so glad Summer is over so I don't have to see a flip flop again for 6 months.
Flip flops outside the context of a beach or a pool should be banned. People who wear business clothes and flip flops (you are only temporarily excused if you just had a pedicure) should be castigated with expulsion from NY. (Half the population of the city would have to leave).

I've also had it with bands of teenagers who scream in the subway. Your hormonal mutations are not an excuse.

My friends*, it is not rocket science to learn how to use the Automatic Postage Centers, those magnificent wonders of human engineering, at the Post Office. Please do not stand there with your index finger hovering in the air like you are lost in the forest or stuck in slow motion for eternity. Ask for help from your fellow impatient shippers. A man cut in line to check a zip code. Apparently, his zip code existed only in planet Zardoz. So the machine asks him to type the address, and the guy starts typing the name of the people who live there. "Davey Johnson..." Three times, until I had to tell him to just type the address. Geez.

It's so nice to wake up in a peevish mood!

*My friend Katya says that we will never be able to say the phrase "my friends" without recoiling in horror. It's like in A Clockwork Orange. You can never hear the song "Singing in the Rain" innocently ever again.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Death of Manners

I got a kick out of this article by Henry Alford on the decline of manners in NY (some people think there never were any manners to begin with). Alford has a tactic by which he apologizes to the people who were rude to him in the hopes that they will realize the error of their ways. It is very funny because they don't.
Alas, I do not have Mr. Alford's patient, pedagogical disposition. My tactic is to counter with a murderous stare and a sharp EXCUSE ME? or even a WHAT THE FUCK?
I once got an entire glass of ice water spilled on me by my next table neighbor at Blue Ribbon Bakery. I was totally soaked. The guy didn't say moo. He blithely continued chatting with his friend as if I did not exist. In instances like this, what I feel like doing, instead of didactically turning the other cheek as Mr. Alford counsels, is to harpoon the offender on the spot. To bash his brains out with a baseball bat, a la Al Capone in the Untouchables. That's how.
Most recently, I sat on a flight from Mexico City to JFK. The family in the row in front of me had two very fussy kids who screamed bloody murder intermittently during the entire flight. The parents were not effective at controlling them. I was surprised that having enjoyed the company of my darling Mini-Enchiladitos nephews the entire week, I was ready to strangle these two little pests a la Lady Macbeth (except wide awake and in full possession of my faculties). But that was not the worst part, since one understands that sometimes there is no reasoning with children. I was sitting next to a couple that simply did not have a concept of personal space. The guy next to me was fidgeting and moving and falling asleep on top of me and behaving, once again, as if I wasn't there, so I moved to another seat across the aisle that was empty. The owner of the window seat gave me a nasty look, but too bad, buddy. If you want to claim the row for yourself, you need to lie across it. Otherwise, it's finders, keepers.
Then finally, when we were able to leave that freaking plane (it takes people longer and longer to remove their shit from the overhead bins), and we were standing in line for the immigration officers, the couple, who turned out to be Israelis, were still on top of my hair. Not standing behind me in line, but right next to me. Breathing down my neck. Getting. On. My. Personal. Space. The woman was wearing a nicotine patch and demanded to speak to a manager. She demanded that there be more officers attending to "the customers", as if this was a supermarket line. Take it up with George Bush, lady, I wanted to say, but we all just snorted back at her. The Delta lady told her to zip it, it's the federal government you're talking about and you can get arrested (oh, I so wish). I wish I was like Henry Alford, but that would have made my day.

Excuses, excuses

I have been asked to put this on my blog:

"I can't go to the gym because I forgot my iPod in Mexico."

It's true. So I don't go.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Day of the Dead in Photos

Death is cool.

This is pan de yema, the traditional Day of the Dead bread. Too beautiful to eat.

Spooky.

At an exhibit of alternative altars. This one illustrates how I feel about PCs.


A more classic altar.

Servants, Anyone?

In case you are in dire need of servants, you can call this number, which I saw affixed to several trees and posts in the enclaves of the wealthy in Mexico City, and your staffing problems may be solved.
In Oaxaca, a much humbler place, there were many such signs advertising the services of clowns.

Mexico: Bizarroland


Every time one goes to Mexico, one can expect something to punch you in the gut.
Yesterday, my hour and a half trip to the airport was a fitting farewell. The cab driver decided to use an unorthodox route to get me there on time. Traffic chaos in Mexico is a daily occurrence but it was made even more hellish by the crash of a Lear Jet that was carrying the Mexican Minister of the Interior a couple of days before (everybody thinks it was done on purpose by drug lords). The plane crashed on top of a major artery of the city in rush hour. Two days later, traffic was hell. So my driver decided to take Reforma, our Champs Elysees, all the way to the airport. This was far more fun than driving on the freeways. The city government has put lovely sculptures by important Mexican artists on the Chapultepec stretch. They also have a photo exhibit of handicapped people. Then there was a stretch with colorful sculptures of giant alebrijes, who are dragon spirits, or as a cab driver in Oaxaca told me, somebody's dreams made art.


And then came the punch to the gut. On the intersection between Reforma and Insurgentes, the two major Mexico City avenues, appears a large group of men wearing only their underwear (briefs). They are stomping their feet and chanting. Most of them look young and fit. They are manifesting some displeasure with the government and the undersecretary of the interior. Big signs claim that the government lied to them (and this is strange, why?) They are also creating congestion. I snap a picture. One of them happily waves at me, another one seems to be carefully fishing something out of the deep recesses of his ass. It is all very disturbing.


Then I look out the other window and I see a couple of such men, this time older, tied to wooden crosses hanging from posts, which is not only way over the top, but frankly totally indecent. Then in the distance I see a bunch of women, absolutely buck naked, sans panties, sans bra, standing on a dais, chanting slogans. I was so shocked, I forgot I had a camera in my hands. None of them owned the airbrushed, hard-bodies nudes we expect to see when confronted with human nudity. They all seemed overnourished and underexercised, but my question is why are the women allowed, or why do they comply, to be totally naked while the men are not? Unless it's a Spencer Tunick photo, naked people in the middle of the day, in the middle of civilized life, is a very visceral, disturbing sight. The question of course is also, who the fuck are these ridiculous people and why the fuck are they not all thrown into police vans and ordered to dress? If you are Mexican you know the answer, which is coming, bear with me.
The cab driver calmly informs me that they have been there for weeks*. Someone must be paying for the show, I say, and we both surmise (I guess; he knows) it must be that freaking vantz, that pest of the left, our wannabe Hugo Chávez, AMLO (Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador). To me, this grotesquerie bears his signature.
As for the question why is this allowed to happen? For the same reason the government allowed a massive AMLO provoked camp out in the middle of downtown Mexico City for months. Tactics like this are designed as provocation. AMLO, or whoever comes up with these moronic obscenities, wants the government to bring in the police or the national guard and use violence against the protesters, who are supposed to be "the people" (the actual Mexican people are working to feed their families, every day). The government decides they are not going to fall into the trap, so they allow it. Knock yourselves out, is the government's M.O. Nobody can accuse them of trampling anybody's self-expression or their right to protest. It is also traditional for the government to pander and pay lip service to the left, instead of actually helping the poor.
Me, enlightened despot that I am (and getting more despotic by the minute), I would have these people arrested in less time they would take to pull their pants down. I'm sure there is an obscenity law buried somewhere not so deep in the Mexican laws. When I was a teenager, for crying out loud, you couldn't sit in a car with a date without fearing that the police would come and shake you up for committing "faults against morality", so give me a freaking break.
And if you are a bleeding heart liberal, you have to understand that in Mexico there is a traditional practice of paying "the people" to protest. I don't doubt that at the beginning there were actual peasants with legitimate grievances. Now it looks to me like someone is paying for the parade to continue. It took me a couple of minutes to realize I should have taken more pictures, but I swear I was too stunned.
* just google 400 pueblos and you will see many grotesque pictures. You will learn they are supposedly peasants from Veracruz who have been doing this since 2002. Mexicans are both a patient people and masters at passive aggression.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

I'm not surprised about Prop 8

It is very sad indeed that the last bastion of deep seated prejudice in America is against gay people. It is difficult to connect the step toward real human progress that the vote for Obama represents with the passing of propositions that seek to ban gay marriage in America. Obama himself has not come out fully in favor of gay marriage and I'm sure that this is not out of personal conviction, but political reality.
But the fact is, people still cannot get over homosexuality. It apparently is too much to ask from men and women to understand that homosexuality exists in nature and that gay men and women need to be equally protected and served under the law.
Centuries of religious and social prejudice in pretty much every culture in the world make this a bias that is extremely difficult to overcome. If you are a racist, you can live your life segregated from those you hate or fear. However, the fear that you may be that which you fear or hate is a different story, and much harder to combat. The concept of homosexuality brings terrible private sexual anxiety to people. It is almost a physical, biological reaction, the absolute denial of the possibility of such an option in yourself. And allowing gay people to fully express such an option within the framework of society just fans those fears and ignorant hatreds all the more.
The hurdles to overcome this particular prejudice may be very similar to what certain minority groups have to deal with, but they are also very different. They are more visceral, more personal, and more private. Honestly, it surprises me that gay people treat this as if it was any other prejudice and they are shocked when the rest of society doesn't go along.
In order for homosexuals to gain the full equality they deserve under the law, they need to understand that the nature of the fight is different. I don't know exactly how you combat these deep seated fears and prejudices. I guess by education and example. And by making this a legal issue, a constitutional issue, an issue of equal rights. But it is clear that culturally it is not an easy fight and despite the progress that has been made so far, the puritanical, conservative majority in America, which in this case spans across race and class, is still not ready for a mature discussion and understanding of human sexuality, which is what this issue is about. It may and should be ultimately resolved via the law, but we are dealing with our own concept of human nature.
Spain, a country that was deeply Catholic and conservative for centuries, now has legalized gay marriage and nobody bats an eye. America, a country founded on the most progressive, humanistic principles on Earth, can't, for the life of it, see beyond its 0wn sexual hang ups. I am still waiting for fucking New York State to act, and I ain't holding my breath. This is one of the most difficult contradictions that we have in America and therefore I think this fight requires different thinking and different measures. Because as heroic as it is, and as much as it has achieved, we are still not there yet.

The joyful aftermath

Now that I have been able to collect my thoughts, scattered as they were by more powerful emotions such as joy and relief and pride and amazement, here they are:

McCain's concession speech was the greatest moment of his campaign. Had he sounded and acted like last night throughout, he may not have been trounced the way he was. Call me paranoid, but I thought that making it about African-Americans at the very beggining of the speech still had a whiff of scaremongering amongst his base. It was over 100 million people who voted, it was about more than African Americans. Thus, I didn't find the speech as gracious at the very beginning, but maybe it's just that there is a certain tone-deafness in McCain's camp in general. Then McCain corrected course. When alluding to the mistakes he made, I could not help but parse this as the major blunder of choosing Palin for a running mate (against his wishes, according to a New Yorker article). About her, there is no need to expound. She showed who she was, or rather who she wasn't from the very beginning and it just kept getting worse. The way she was manipulated by the campaign and used to unleash ugliness was not only cynical and disgusting but a terrible setback for women and for everybody in America. There were many other mistakes that showed McCain was out of touch with the reality of most people. The condescension towards Obama, the racial baiting, the patronizing tone towards the American people (Joe the Plumber?) but most damaging was the ideological tunnel vision of his campaign strategy. Their base, to which they pandered and because of which they floundered, is irrelevant today. Most American people have more common sense and more authentic decency and, as the results show, more pressing problems, than those fringe lunatics that Steve Schmidt and Karl Rove think can win them an election. Republicans showed that they live in a dangerous ideological bubble of their own making that has now felicitously (for us) and disastrously (for them) exploded. The fact that they pretended that G.W. Bush, the biggest elephant in the room in the history of the world, wasn't there, didn't help any. The entire McCain campaign symbolizes neatly and beautifully everything that is wrong with the Republican party. Now they have four years to regroup and fix it, and perhaps they can become a viable party again for those tax-obsessed people who believe in total self-reliance, not for evangelical loonies and intolerant bigots and ultra-rightist extremists.

I was struck by the cold indifference of McCain's body language as he patted Palin in the back and as he almost forgot that his Barbie wife was standing beside him (who must have been the most relieved American of all). He barely acknowledged her, and not for the first time. Compare that to what goes on with the Obamas and I'm just thrilled we have a power couple finally who seems to be having an actual, living, breathing intimate relationship. They are a real couple. I'm thankful just for that. I believe it is more important than it seems (think the Nixons, the Fords, the Clintons, the Bushes and the Bushies. I rest my case). I also love Biden's wife. She seems authentic.

And then we have our winner, who is not only intensely charismatic and capable and intelligent and a magnetic orator (and super duper handsome), but who ran, as he himself said, the best political campaign ever. If he runs this country with the intelligence and strategic acuity and steadfastness and nimbleness with which he ran his campaign, we may have a formidable president. For a spine-chilling comparison in leadership styles just think back to Hillary Clinton's debacle and/or the McCain campaign. Both seem rudderless and opportunistic and willing to shift and pander at any cost for the big prize. Meanwhile, "That One", breezes through on message, on point and without psychodrama. That's who we need at the helm.

I found it interesting that the victory music playing was no Motown or Stevie Wonder. It was a bombastic film score from John Williams for The Patriot. As an inside joke it works real well. But it is also a cunning choice because, like Obama's victory speech, it is about America, not about our different particularities. The Clintons used Fleetwood Mac (Don't Stop). It would have been a joyous get down and boogie had the Obamas used any of the magnificent music that is the African American legacy to this country, but it was politically right to use something generic, because this presidency, as Obama mentioned time and time again in the speech, needs to be about everybody, not about him being a Black man. Still, in the speech, he did not disappoint in this respect. Nobody can accuse this man of being an Oreo. The speech was perfectly nuanced between inclusiveness and the acknowledgment of his historical reality and its astounding implications for America and the world. When he mentioned what that 106 year old Black lady who got out and voted had been through to get to this day, through Birmingham, Montgomery and Selma (and I will add Katrina), he brought it all home.

But images can speak louder than words even as magnificent and adroit as our new President-Elect's. The faces in Grant Park, a veritable mosaic of color; the booing faces in Arizona, a sea of white. Guys, I have news for you: that is not America anymore. Hasn't been for a while now. America is more like Obama, an amalgam of races and nations and colors and creeds. Sasha and Malia beaming, their parents looking and acting like parents and like a couple. And I was surprised by Obama's gravitas, no doubt influenced by the sad loss of his grandmother, but also I'm sure by what he correctly deemed appropriate for the moment. He looks like a statesman, talks like a statesman and acts like a statesman. I'm in love.

I'm also in love with Michelle Obama. I can't wait for her to be the first lady. She rocks.

I have been reading the comments in the NY Times (the schmaltziness gets boring pretty fast). Apparently, Australians are uncommonly happy about the results. But I have not seen comments from Israel. Israel should be rejoicing just like the rest of the world. This man is committed to a foreign policy that will restore America's standing in the world and I'm sure this will include plans for a lasting peace in the Middle East (which means more peace for all the planet). Jews need to understand that he and Biden, not the macho bluster and evangelical craziness of Bush and the Satanic self-interest of Cheney, will be in the best interests of Israel and of the Palestinians.

Lastly, I heard the message that outgoing POTUS sent Obama. It sounded like a frat boy talking to a buddy. Awesome dude! I must agree, but it is so below the standards the occasion requires. Luckily, we can look forward to the winds of change from now on. Oh, happy day.

Barack Hussein Obama

I ran out of tissues. I think I ran out of snot.
I was stuck at the Middle Enchilada's home in Mexico City, unable to go to an election night party because of a terrible airplane accident that killed Mexico's Interior Minister (the number 2 man in power) and which blocked traffic in the city for hours.
So I watched by myself in amazement as the networks called the election for Obama relatively early into the night. By what looks to me like a landslide. Florida, Colorado, Ohio, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, for crying out loud. What a fitting reprieve.
And when I saw Obama and his formidable, beautiful, magnificent family on that stage, when I heard that sober, measured and fantastic speech, when I saw Biden's family mingle with the Obamas, well I just bawled like I haven't bawled in a looooong time.
My darling friends in New York called me to celebrate and congratulate and I could hear the joy and the noise and the relief and the happiness.
Americans, you did well. Finally.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

I ate everything in sight

Because in Oaxaca, that's what you do. You eat and pray to the Lord that Moctezuma does not wish to revenge himself on you. There are certain things you have to taste while in Oaxaca. I can spare you the grasshoppers if you are squeamish. You are also forgiven the maguey worms. I don't expect you to eat something I won't.

Chapulines with tlayuda (grasshoppers, anyone?)


But you absolutely must go to the food market and have a fruit water from Doña Casilda, whose female heirs still run the stall. You should try a new flavor for every day you stay in town, but if this strikes you as too much, you must have the agua de tamarindo, which is the best tamarind water I have ever had and I ever expect to have. You must also have the agua de chilacayote, which, if someone like Ferran Adria or Joel Robuchon came up with it, you'd be very impressed and would pay lots of money for the privilege. Here it costs less than 1 USD and it is pumpkin water with piloncillo (raw brown sugar) and it is exquisite. You can also have horchata (rice water) with tuna (cactus fruit) or agua de zapote, a black fruit that I believe only exists in Mexico. Drink it to stay, or to go in an ingenious plastic bag with a straw.
You can thank me later.


Across from Casilda are the very popular ices of Chonita, the most fabulous ice cream parlor ever, bare bones and totally authentic. The Oaxacan nieves (snows) are lighter than sorbet and are unbelievable, and come in flavors like burnt milk, roses, avocado, corn, mezcal and every fruit known to Latin man. They are tasty, refreshing and hand churned.

The flavors of Oaxacan ices at Chonita.

Ices on the street. We had the Leche Quemada, which tastes exactly like burnt milk and sugar.



You of course, will try mezcal, which is an amazing smoky hard liquor that has become fancy schmancy but is the drink of the poor, made from maguey cactus and which will cure everything that ails you (in small doses). This you have as a shot like tequila, with sal de gusano (here pictured with a shot of tequila), which is salt with chili and powdered worm (I'm kicking myself for not having bought some) and slices of orange. Fabulous as an aperitif before lunch. Makes you feel like an Aztec warrior.
You will have mole, whether you like it or not. It can be negro, coloradito, amarillo, almendrado, verde. I had an amazing coloradito at La Casa de la Abuela. A little goes a long way, but this one was superb. The thing about Mexican food, the genius of it is that it is an explosion of flavors. There are so many things happening at once in your mouth that you don't know what hit you. Mexicans are not afraid of color, and they are not afraid of flavor. Neither should you be.
You will taste Quesillo, which is like the Mexican mozzarella, a fabulous string cheese that is the pride of Oaxaca (their queso fresco also rules). At the market, they sell little snack bags with little quesillo pellets, which you pop into your mouth. Addictive.
You will have traditional Mexican chocolate, which is not at all like the disgraceful shit that passes for hot chocolate in the States. In fact, you will witness the grinding of cacao at a chocolate mill, where it is ground and mixed with sugar, cinnamon and almond to your specifications. Then you will feel like Moctezuma before he had dreams of revenge.
If you are adventurous, you can try tejate, which is a weird precolumbian beverage made of corn meal and cocoa butter and which you drink from colorful gourds (although plastic cups are available to go). It is a watery milky thing that has a mix of cornmeal mixed with pure cocoa butter on top, which gives it a fatty texture. The drink itself is refreshing and I wish I could tell you what it tastes like, but I can't because, except for sweet, I can't possibly describe it. It's as if you eat chalk with sugar, corn and a bit of cinammon and something that tastes smoky and ancient. It's an acquired taste.
You will abandon your digestive system to fate and will try a corn on the cob or esquite (just the grain in a corn broth with lime, chili, salt, mayo, and cheese) from the street. Probably nothing will happen to you except sheer bliss.
Photos coming soonish.

Day of the Dead in Oaxaca

I know y'all want to read about the election, but that will be tomorrow when we know what happened. Suffice it to say that it's election day in the US and the Mexico City Airport is dead.
In the meantime, I will regale you with tales of my travels this past weekend in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead, which kicks Halloween's butt big time.
Only in Mexico are the dead celebrated with such a mix of wistfulness and colorful joy. This being Mexico, we could not fathom which cemetery to go to on the eve of the holiday to see the families communing with their dead, because everybody had a different story. Nobody could agree on the date or the place, so we ended up at Oaxaca's main cemetery on the night of November first, which was a bit disappointing. Mind you, outside the cemetery it was fabulous. There was a mini-amusement park and of course, street food galore. We had to have our hot cakes de la calle, which for some mysterious reason we have never been able to ascertain, are the best pancakes on Earth. Nothing comes close to the feathery, fragrant taste of these things. I had my street pancake slathered with cajeta (the Mexican version of dulce de leche, made with goat milk) and had paroxysms of unbridled joy.
Inside the cemetery, however, there were many altars, but not that many people.
I had been to the Xoco cemetery years ago, a humble place where the poor humbly sit on the simple tombs and quietly commune with their muertitos. The big place in Oaxaca, where the grandees are buried, is not humble in style nor deed. There were a couple of obnoxious upper middle class families bringing Mariachis and screaming from one stone to another as if they were at a party. I don't believe this is the true spirit of this holiday. It seemed to me typical of the kind of arrogant Mexican who lords over the rest of them with a bit more money and much more vulgarity. But the next morning, after our visit to the elegant ruins of Monte Alban, we went, on our cab driver's recommendation, to the Xoco cemetery, which has an inscription in the entrance that reads, "You are dust and to dust you shall return". The pillars of the greek-looking entrance are painted a day-glo lime green, so it's all good. The Xoco cemetery was ablaze with orange and red flowers, bursting with cempazuchitl, the traditional, fragant flower of the Day of the Dead. The explosion of color was magnificent. Entire generations were watering the flowers, and lovingly cleaning and upkeeping the graves, eating and drinking quietly. The graves had gorgeous altars and some had carpets made of colored sand with effigies of Jesus or the Virgin. But what is most touching about Xoco is that the graves are so humble. No marble monuments there. No screaming nouveau riche vulgarians. The most lavish graves are covered in simple tile. Some of them are plain mounds of earth. I saw many graves of little children, all decorated lovingly with toys and balloons. And there were lots of living little ones at the cemetery. For Mexicans the idea of death is not something you shelter a child from. It's part of life. There we are, walking amongst the graves, when we run into an little old man selling ice cream from a cart. And then who else should turn up but a clown in full clownish regalia, selling balloons for the kids. A clown in the cemetery and nobody finds this in the least strange.
Just as the precolumbian traditions melded with the Catholic rite to create rituals such as this one, Halloween has been coopted by Mexicans in a unique way so that it is now part of the holiday as well. The entire weekend children were wearing scary disguises. Impoverished parents send their kids trick or treating tourists for money and it is all a bit overwhelming, because the poverty and the exploitation of children is natural and overwhelming. Certain altars at the graves had Halloween decorations -- ghosts, pumpkins, orange and black trim, and half the children were dressed as Tim Burton's characters from Nightmare before Xmas or Corpse Bride (but with traditional regional costumes). Once upon a time, one would decry these horrifying intrusions of American marketing into the glorious vernacular traditions, but to the Mexicans' credit, a) they don´t give a shit where it comes from as long as it suits their purposes, and b) they take these Disney garbage and turn it into something uniquely Mexican (sad, funny, sordid, morbid, bizarre, amazing).
Photos are coming soon.