I Neglected to Mention…

I wuz here:

Yes! I went to the BIGGEST concert of my life this week — Radiohead at ForoSol in Mexico City — 70,000 people strong. It was fantastic, and the crowd was awesome. They played some great songs, and this one was amazing live:

Radiohead’s “The Bends” was an album I listened to obsessively in college; it helped me study and remember things like what nephrons do and how to conjugate German verbs.

And, as I’ve already told Brendan about a dozen times, I had to produce a 15-minute television show my senior year of college for a class called, aptly, Television Production. I decided to do a show similar to Austin City Limits, and placed an ad in my college paper (where I worked, of course, as the news editor) for a band to star in my show (I billed it as a possible audition tape they could hand out to book gigs).

I picked a band that played Radiohead covers. How it went: After they play two songs on a softly lit sound stage, and end with “Karma Police,” the lights dim, the credits roll, starting with “Produced by: Joy Victory”… all the while the lead singer repeating “for a minute there, I lost myself, I lost myyyyseeeelffff” until the credits stopped. My classmates were speechless — it was flawless — unlike everyone else’s show that semester. *Patting self on back, still, after all these years*

I made an A. The key being that simplicity is always better.

(I wish I could unearth that VHS video, probably stored at my parents’ house.)

Anyway, enough of my brief moment of glory. Back to the concert — I also loved the opening act, the German techno-pioneers Kraftwerk. My favorite live song was the Tour de France. So beautiful.

(If you see Kraftwerk live, you’ll be signing “We…. Are….the Robots” with a German accent, for at least a week ).

What So Much of Mexico Really Looks Like

For all its natural beauty and amazing culture, Mexico is still a deeply impoverished country. People do the best they can, scraping together what work they can find. But there is no “American Dream” here — for a variety of complicated reasons, it is quite difficult to become a self-made man or woman in this country. If you’re born rich or poor, you’ll likely die that way — unless you immigrate to countries where people are given more freedoms to fight their way out of poverty.

When you leave Mexico City (or any of Mexico’s major cities) you quickly see a different reality. The countryside — once gorgeous — has been burned to clear land for crops, and many people live in simple cinderblock hovels, some with electricity and water, some without. The infrastructure has not been maintained, the roads are littered with deep potholes. People are standing on the side of the road, selling what they can.

My father-in-law — always an observant photographer — took these photos from our minivan as we left one giant oasis, Mexico City, for the small oasis of Malinalco. The two hour drive between the two locales is less idyllic, but beautiful in its own difficult way.

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Churches are always the nicest buildings in the poor towns:

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Many people still make their living off the earth:

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When Charlie Has Fun, Everyone Has Fun

This past weekend we stayed in lovely Malinalco, Mexico, with our in-laws and their friends, renting a house, hanging out in hammocks, eating fresh Mexican produce, playing dominoes and visiting the town (we recommend Las Placeres restaurant).

Charlie came along, too, and he worked on getting in touch with his inner wolf.

He spent a significant portion of the weekend hidden in the garden.

He spent a significant portion of the weekend hidden in the garden.

"Are you calling my name? Can't you see that I'm fine???"

"Are you calling my name, again? Can't you see that I'm just fine???"

Of course, though, he can't resist the attention of his humans.

Of course, though, he can't resist the attention of his humans.

Yes, There’s Bad News in Mexico. And: Alabama!

So my dear friend Marc read a recent news article coming out of Mexico, and emailed me: You’re being careful, right?

I wrote back what I think many of us Americans in Mexico write back when asked about violence in Mexico: Yep, I’m being careful, but, overall, I feel pretty safe. And: Did you hear Alabama is going down in flames, too?

Not long after I wrote him back, I went to CNN.com and discovered that Germany is no longer safe, either, at least not if you know any German teenagers.

What am I getting at here? I’m not making light of violence. Instead, I’m saying I’m exhausted by journalists who are coming up short when it comes to providing context about the drug war in Mexico.

This context is not hard to provide. I’ll help: Here’s how to do it. Write a paragraph that covers the following points, in your own words:

1. It’s bad. It’s a war. Especially along the U.S. border.

2. It’s bad because AMERICANS want drugs. Mexicans and others are providing an expensive and sought-after commodity that happens to be illegal.

3. But most of Mexico remains downright lovely, and dare we say, relatively safe. Few Americans have been caught up in the violence, despite what the Houston Chronicle says.

4. Now, let’s talk solutions. Wait, there’s only one: Legalize drugs.

5. But Americans don’t want to hear that (*inserting fingers in ears, singing nanny-nanny-boo-boo*), we’d rather let people die from violent acts than legalize a commodity that people will use no matter what, for the end of time, all over the world.

6. Meaning, that, this is a fucked-up mess we’ve got on our hands, Americans share the blame, and that if Mexico somehow manages to expunge the drug cartels from the border, the violence will simply move elsewhere.

If You’re in the Mood to Pity Me

So, our shower head broke yesterday, and the task of buying a new one fell on my shoulders. As with so many random things, I had no idea how to say it in Spanish.

I checked our ginormous English-Spanish dictionary, under “shower.” While there were many other useful terms connected to the word shower (such as how to say “shower with affection”) they did not include direction on how to translate “shower head.”

So I looked up the seemingly closest, more precise word: faucet. It told me what I expected: llave.

This means “key” as in “keys” that open doors, and apparently faucets. I did the translating in my head, came up with a phrase and headed to Sears (pronounced Say-arz).

Walking aimlessly in the ferreteria (hardware section), I was spotted by a worker, who asked me if I needed help.

“Si! Estoy buscando para llaves de la duche.”

I got the look I know so well: Befuddlement, with suppressed laughter. Happens to me constantly folks — it’s the consequence of moving to another country with a different language than your own and the lack of a personal translator by your side.

If you’re lucky, the experience is humiliating enough that you’ll never forget the proper word ever again. If you’re not lucky, you’ll either never figure out the word, or people will instantly start laughing.

In my case, I happened to spot the “llaves de la ducha” in the back corner just as I was asking. “Por alla!” I said, pointing and walking to them.

I think I heard a giggle behind me as he followed me, and once we got to the wall of shower appliances, I asked “como se llaman?” while pointing to the showerhead.

“Regaderas,” he said.

And that’s when I realized I was asking for the keys to the shower. At Sears.

Mexico City: Surrealism on a Daily Scale

Salvador Dali said “I don’t do drugs. I am drugs.

Mexico City could equally say the same. I’ve been here 17 months or so; I tend to forget how freaking weird the place is. Then, usually when I know I have visitors coming, I’ll start to look at the city with a fresh eye again, seeing it as they’ll see it.

Last night, on my two-minute walk to the gym, I encountered the following:

– A “flamboyant” young man in pink sunglasses and white denim jacket singing “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy?” in Spanish.

– A giant man precariously but stubbornly riding a tiny bicycle.

– A four-year-oldish girl playing with her mom on the stoop of her apartment in a t-shirt declaring “Soy Muneca” (I’m a doll).

– A Honda Civic for sale. The flyer posted in the car’s window said: “Se Vende. Soy GUAPA, no? y muchaaaa experiencia!” (For Sale. I’m hot, no?…and very experienced.)

Speaking of surreal. This is hilarious, but not exactly safe for viewing at work:

Iguanas Everywhere, Just the Way I Like It

In spite of the presence of billions of Canadian tourists, the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico still has lots of live lizards. (Let’s not mention the iguana roadkill I kept spotting last week, nor the several times we had to stop in the middle of the road to let an iguana pass, much to the annoyance of other drivers…)

This was one crawling over the Mayan ruins in Tulum. He could easily eat my dog as an appetizer.

"Does my butt look big?" This iguana was crawling over the Mayan ruins in Tulum. He could easily eat my dog as an appetizer.

This one has obviously been to Handsome Iguana Modeling School.

This one has obviously been to Handsome Iguana Modeling School.

This spry little one spent a lot of time trying to scare my sister-in-law.

This spry little one spent a lot of time trying to scare my sister-in-law. He frequently appeared out of nowhere, claws at the ready.

Another lizard we spotted often was the gecko. This 6-incher hung around while we drank beers on the patio.

Another lizard species we spotted often was the gecko. This 6-incher hung around while we drank beers on the patio. Brendan still likes to tell the story of when he first moved to Corpus Christi, Texas. Being a native Minnesotan, he didn't know what these creatures were, and when spotting one in his apartment, smashed it to bits. Since geckos eat mosquites and are otherwise harmless, we South Texans revere our geckos. Although he now admits they are "benevolent creatures," his story is still horrifying.

Fat butt iguana and gecko photos courtesy of Suz Walsh.

My Brush With the Mexican Police

OK, so technically this was my second brush with the Mexican police. The first occurred back in 2004, when a group of police officers pulled Brendan and me over in Oxcutzcab, a Mayan town in the middle of the Yucatan peninsula, and asked if we were lost (we were). So, they provided us a special police escort to the highway we were trying to¬† find, and honked their horn and waved at us on our way out of town. It’s a memory we still speak of fondly. “Remember the police escort?” “Yeah.” “That was awesome.” “Yeah.”

Well for my second go-round: prepare yourself. I know you’ve heard plenty about the Mexican police and their bribes and brutality.

This time, it was while we were driving down the road to our fabulous little hotel near Puerto Morelos, Mexico, on the Caribbean Coast. We had hot tacos and cold beer in the backseat, which we were bringing back for my sister-in-law and her bf. We had no time to lose! Soggy tacos = a little less delicious than not-soggy tacos.

But then we saw the flashing lights of a tiny police moped, so we pulled over.

And yes.

I got a speeding ticket.

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Red-hot speedracer Joy shows off her speeding ticket, which she waited to do until after she had gone snorkeling, showered and had a drink in hand.

I was doing 60 kilometers per hour in a 40 km zone (in miles: a heart-stopping 37 miles per hour in a 24 mph zone!). Was that marked anywhere along the road? Claro que no! Officer Israel Something-Something took my driver’s license, wrote me a ticket, and said to go to the transit police office on Monday to pay the fine and get my license back. (Here in Mexico, especially with tourists, the police need collateral to make sure they get their fines paid). Problem was, we were leaving the next day, a Sunday.

So, instead of spending the last hours of my vacation at the police headquarters, begging to get my license back, I went snorkeling. My license will remain in Puerto Morelos (hopefully), and I’ll order a new one. Thank god they haven’t started taking passports, or then it really would have ruined my trip.