Before and After

It’s been a busy week in la casa de Joy, as we prepare for a tropical vacation to …Oh wait, that’s right! We frigging live in the tropics! Well, OK, as we prepare to go to Puerto Vallarta this weekend, and because it’s at sea level — as opposed to Mexico City’s 7,500 feet — it will feel muy tropical.

¡Sí, vamos a tomar nuestras vacaciones en Puerto Vallarta!

One of my many tasks was to get Charlie groomed. He’s not coming with us, sadly…but headed off to puppy kennel prison for the long weekend.

Charlie before his haircut and bath.

Charlie before his haircut and bath. Messy face, messy feet.

Sparkly clean and fluffier than a cotton ball!

Sparkly clean and fluffier than a cotton ball!

10 Great Reasons to Visit Mexico City

The cathedral in Mexico City's Zocalo.

The cathedral in Mexico City and an art exhibit with a long line, in front. Photo by Mr. Bob.

Mexico City often takes a verbal beating from Americans as a place no one would ever want to spend on a vacation. From what I’ve heard and read, yes, there was a time when the city was a hellish cacophony. Now, not so much, especially if you stick to the areas recommended in guidebooks.

But, keep in mind, even with a strong economy and tight pollution controls, it’s still not a relaxing place, it’s an exhausting place, but in a good way. Like New York. The reason I’m blabbing about this is I just read an article from SFGate.com today entitled “Smile: You’ve Got 10 Great Reasons to Visit Mexico City.”

The writer did an excellent job at nailing down the spirit of the city…here’s a few of the passages I especially endorse:

“The oldest part of Mexico City compresses 700 years of history, including Aztec ruins, Spanish colonial grandiosity, Art Nouveau showplaces and avant-garde experiments.”

Indeed, the centro should be a must-see for every tourist. Be sure to visit the Aztec Templo Mayor.

“Take a detour into leafy Colonia Condesa, a happening place with trendy bars and restaurants, and a mix of classic architecture and sleek lofts and apartment buildings….The centerpiece of Colonia Condesa is the oval-shaped Parque México. The one-time horse-racing track makes for an especially beguiling stroll in spring, when lavender jacaranda drift to the pathways.

For sure, come to my neighborhood! And grab a fruit juice at Frutos Prohibidos on Calle Michoacan (I recommend the strawberry) and rest your feet in beautiful Parque Mexico.

“Geography, disparate civilizations and an international roster of conquerors and immigrants have produced an almost infinite variety of Mexican cuisines.”

Anyone who has read my blog before knows I get practically weepy and misty-eyed whenever I discuss the food here. Before long, I will start bursting into song.

“The village of Xochimilco, now a southern colonia, is a living museum of pre-Hispanic Mexico City, offering a unique opportunity to join Mexican families on outings to the last remains of ancient canals and chinampas (floating gardens) that predate even the Aztecs.

We took my Minnesota in-laws to Xochimilco in February, and I can only imagine, for them, that it was the complete opposite of the St. Paul winter climate. They don’t believe in muted colors in Mexico, and Xochimilco is one of the most colorful places in the world, if not the most colorful.

What I wouldn’t recommend that was mentioned in the article: The Alameda Central. It’s gotten a bit down-around-its-heels-lately, and its utterly cramped and dirty on the weekends. As the author mentions, Bosque de Chapultepec (Mexico City’s Central Park) is a better bet, and you must — must — walk up to the castle for terrific panoramic views of the city.

And what the writer didn’t mention, but many tourists enjoy: the ancient, sprawling ruins of Teotihuacan.

Recently Discovered: Awesome New Blog Guanabee

So, after I introduced my readers to El Compayito, a Mexican hand puppet who is serving as a sports correspondent for the Olympics (yes, you read that right) I noticed a new blog linking to me: Guanabee.

It’s awesome. Witty, smart, funny, and on-target. (“Jack Weil, the man credited with popularizing the “Western shirt” — favored today by rockabillies, old Mexican men and lesbians — has died at the age of 107”).

It’s awesome also because they think like yo, noticing all the strange racist undertones of the Olympics coverage on Latin television. They even now have a running series: “Latinos Hate Asians.”

Part 1: Oh My: Spain Shows Us How They Feel About The Chinese
Part 2: Not To Be Outdone, The Spanish Olympic Tennis Team Proves They, Too, Are Good At Racism
Part 3: Inés Gómez Mont Makes Chinese People Say “Ferrocarril” And Other Spanish R Words
Part 4: “El Compayito” Is A Handy, Utterly Mortifying Little Reporter

No Minifaldas, Por Favor: Groups in Mexico Condemn Miniskirts

Oh boy. I’ve already discussed racial issues this week — do I really want to go here?

Here goes: Another eye opener. I’ve seen two news stories this week about how bad miniskirts are for women.

First, a university in the state of Sinaloa wants its female students to stop wearing miniskirts in order to prevent the chances of being raped or harassed.

Sigh.

Second, the Archdiocese of the Catholic church issued some sort of publication recently that stressed the importance of modesty, and the evil of miniskirts. Again, in order to prevent harassment, and of course, to preserve piety. They also urge women to not engage in dirty jokes.

Sighing again.

If only the banning of types of clothing would prevent rape. Or harassment. Or derogatory remarks.

If only it were that simple, right?

If only.

Spain’s “Slant-Eyed” Photo Controversy – Nothing New in Mexico City

So, apparently Spain’s men’s Olympic basketball team posed for a photo, as The New York Times describes, while “pulling on the skin behind their eyes to make it look as if they were Asian.”

To Americans, this may seem shocking or perhaps just really, really tacky.

But, oddly, this is something that happens not just in Spain. From what I’ve learned after living in Mexico City for almost 11 months, there’s a slight hostility toward Chinese people, for reasons not totally clear. (They also seem a bit mystified by the culture — here, if you find yourself perplexed about something, instead of saying it’s “like Greek to me” you say an expression that means “it’s like Chinese to me.”)

When I first moved here, I was flipping through Reforma, a popular-but-pretentious daily newspaper in Mexico City. A fun section to scan is “Club Joven,” where beautiful, overly coiffed-and-tanned young people pose for photos at parties. In the edition I was reading, one young man had thrown a China-themed party, and everyone in all 15 or so photos unashamedly posed while pulling their eyes back with their fingers. (At the time, as some you may remember, I chose to focus on the other shocking feature of Club Joven — all the exposed chest hair of Mexico City males.)

At the time, I was confused and perhaps a little offended by the party photos, which is perhaps why I didn’t mention it. I did ask my Spanish tutor about it, and she tried to politely explain that it was a “cultural difference.” (For details on these cultural differences as they apply to pale people like me, see “Hey White Girl, Wanna Buy a Sofa?”)

While some team members profess innocence and some of the players apologized (but not the coach), it’s still a bit creepy, no? Even one of the star players agrees:

“Some of us didn’t feel comfortable doing it,” player Pau Gasol said to the Times. “To me it was little clownish for our part to be doing that. The sponsor insisted and insisted. They pushed because they’re the people that pay the money. It was just a bad idea to do that. It was never intended to be offensive or racist against anybody.”

(For more on the complicated racial issues in Mexico, this old New York Times article is a good read: Racism? Mexico’s in Denial.)

El Blog de Joy Celebrates 100,000 Page Views

OK, before I get too excited, that’s actually quite small change in the world of the internet. So much so that I haven’t even bothered to host ads on my blog.

Still, I can drink to that, right?

Y gracias, Mexico.

As my friend Connie said, “your blog got a whole lot more interesting once you moved to Mexico City.” Tiene razon, eh?

Mexico’s Olympics Coverage: My God, What Is This?

Last night, during coverage of men’s gymnastics (the only thing on the Olympics worth watching besides men’s swimming), Televisa’s sports correspondents came on to chitchat about the competition — just like sports anchors would do in the U.S.

But then, before my stunned eyes, a freaking hand puppet shot up and started telling jokes about gymnastics. And the two correspondents started giggling. Uncontrollably.

And that’s when I realized I was watching a hand puppet give commentary on the Olympics. And that, once again, I wasn’t in Kansas anymore…..

El Compayito, a long-standing personality on Televisa, Mexico's main TV channel.

Meet El Compayito. Since we don’t watch a lot of TV, we are a bit late to meet him, too. But he’s apparently been on Mexican TV for many years. I’ve written before about Brozo, a hard-hitting news man who dresses as a clown to hide his real identity.

But a puppet?

Only in Mexico, folks. (And it goes without saying, but the puppet and the correspondents made plenty of jaw dropping politically incorrect jokes about Chinese people.)

Here El Compayito pretends to be a rhythmic gymnast in the ribbon competition.

Here El Compayito pretends to be a rhythmic gymnast in the ribbon competition.

I didn't understand much of what he was saying, but he's apparently hilarious. And yeah, I'm pretty sure the anchor is holding a paddle.

El Compayito is apparently hilarious. And yeah, I'm pretty sure the anchor is holding a paddle.

If you’d like to watch Compayito in action, here’s a YouTube clip of his greatest moments on TV:

Ever Tried Dragon Fruit or Tree Tomatoes?

Neither had I, until this weekend.

Our local mercado — Mercado Medellin — specializes in tropical and South American fruits.

So, whenever we go, I like to purchase a couple of previously unknown-to-me fruits, and I try to talk to the vendors about the fruits (as in, what to do with them, what they taste like, etc.)

And with that, I bring you this past weekend’s purchases: dragon fruit and tree tomatoes. Or, as we call them in Mexico: pitayas and tomates de arbol.

Pitayas are originally from Mexico but now grown in Asia, too. Their outer skin is hot pink.

Pitayas aka "dragon fruit" are originally from Mexico but are now grown in Asia, too. Their outer skin is hot pink.

This is simply a gratuitous shot of my adorable dog admiring the pitaya.

This is simply a gratuitous shot of my adorable dog admiring the pitaya.

This variety of pitaya has a white flesh. Some varities have a red flesh. It tastes vaguely like watermelon, and is quite tasty with some lime juice squeezed on top.

This variety of pitaya has a white flesh with tiny edible seeds. Some varieties have a red flesh. It tastes vaguely like watermelon, but is softer and juicier. I loved it with some lime juice squeezed on top.

Tree tomatos, or tomates de arbol, hail from Colombia. They look, feel and taste somewhat like a tomato.

Tree tomatos, or tomates de arbol, hail from Colombia. They look, feel and taste somewhat like a tomato. And they also smell a lot like guavas.

I wasn't crazy about the flavor of tree tomatoes, but I do think their innards look cool, sort of like the human circulatory system.

I wasn't crazy about the flavor of tree tomatoes, but I do think their innards look cool, sort of like the human circulatory system or a lung.

Our Many Hours of Making Mexican Mole

STEP 1: Deciding

A mole vendor in the Xochimilco mercado.

A mole vendor in the Xochimilco mercado. In the front row are the powdered moles; behind them, the wet moles that look like ice cream.

In the markets here, there’s usually a few stalls that sell different types of powdered mole. A few weeks ago, Brendan bought some powdered mole from the mercado near his office, to take back with us to the States and give as gifts to a couple of our friends. He kept some for us, and this weekend, we finally decided to cook with it.

A little background on mole, from my very limited knowledge: Mole is derived from the Aztec word for sauce. It’s usually made from a complex mixture of ingredients, and can be prepared many different ways (guacamole, for example, is one you definitely know). Brendan bought a fairly common variety — mole poblano, a dark-brown spicy mole with a strong chocolate flavor. Before we could make the mole, though, we needed answers:

1. How do you go from powdered mole to real mole? (Most recipes assume you’re making your mole from scratch, or have canned mole).
2. What do we put under the mole once we prepare it?

After about an hour of internet searching and much speculation, we decided to make some type of vegetarian enchiladas. I used to make green chile enchiladas back in college in New Mexico, and so I was familiar with the cooking techniques. And to make the mole, we decided we could probably boil some veggie broth, and add the mole powder until we got a mole-like consistency (like chocolate syrup), and pour that on top of the enchiladas.

STEP 2: Shopping

We headed to our local mercado — a damn good one known as the Mercado Medellin — to purchase:

  • chayote, a local vegetable that’s pretty bland, so good for a possible enchilada stuffing
  • ajonjoli (sesame seeds)
  • the usual purchases of onions, cilantro, limes

Next, we bought freshly made corn tortillas from the tortilleria near the mercado.

Then we went to the big truck that parks in our neighborhood where vendors sell productos de Oaxaca, including fresh Oaxacan cheese (among other goodies). We bought a quarter-kilo of cheese, to put in and on top of the enchiladas.

STEP 3: Preparing

All things considered, our ineptitude with Mexican cooking didn’t really get in the way.

I pre-cooked the sliced chayote in the oven for a long time (I tried to roast them, realizing our roaster doesn’t seem to work). Then I stuffed the chayote, refried beans and cubed Oaxacan cheese into each enchilada. I rolled them up flauta-style, and put them in a big pan and sprinkled more cheese on top. Meanwhile, Brendan worked his magic on the mole, which filled the apartment with a spicy chocolate aroma (um, yum). I threw the enchiladas in the oven for about 20 minutes (at 7,500 feet elevation, cooking takes longer than normal). Then, when they were done, I poured the mole on top.

STEP 4: Celebratory Face Stuffing

Wow. These little guys came out gorgeous and tasty. The innards (chayote, cheese and beans) were mild enough to not compete with the highly flavorful mole.

Mole poblano enchiladas with chayote, Oaxacan cheese and beans.

Mole poblano enchiladas with chayote, Oaxacan cheese and beans.