Combatting the Piggy Sniffle with a Bacon Birthday Party in Mexico City

In a few hours, I’ll be getting on a plane to embark on a mini-vacation to San Francisco with my husband. Yes, we’ll be wearing our N95 face masks the entire flight, and furiously wiping our hand with sanitizer every few nano-seconds. No, we won’t tell anyone in San Francisco we’re visiting from Mexico City. Take that, John MCcain and other crazy Arizona politicians who want to close the border. (I’m not sure he’s aware that there are more than 2 million Americans who live in Mexico for work and/or personal reasons? Is he going to quarantine us, his fellow countrymen?)

Anyhoodles, before I leave, I wanted to alert your attention to the highlight of my morning, this fantastic blog post from my fellow American-Mexican friend, Julie. She decided to throw a bacon-and-pork themed birthday party for her friend, Ben. (My only dismay about this post is that I wasn’t invited!) The post includes their journey to Costco, which was surprisingly calm, despite media reports that grocery stores have turned into a scene from Blackhawk Down.

Enjoy: Pig Flu Mexico City Day 6: in which we decide to eat lots of Bacon

I’m Fine in Mexico City — But Avoiding Information Overload Syndrome

Boring newsflash: I’m totally fine, Brendan is fine, Charlie is fine. Being in the middle of the swine flu epidemic is surreal, depressing and not exactly fun, but it’s not panic, it’s not pandemonium, it’s not chaos, it’s not scary. I love Mexico, and this latest drama won’t help it’s already tarnished public image. (For the record, I nor anyone I know was ever affected by the drug violence.)

In spite of how crazy the situation may seem according to American journalists (and bloggers), things here are pretty tranquilo, like when I’m out walking my dog, or picking up a panini with my friend Lesley.


However, let me backtrack: when Lesley got to my house today, I was stressed, anxious, scared, wild-eyed, near panic. I opened the door to my apartment building, and said something like “oh my god!” She took one look at me and asked what’s wrong (as any normal sane person would do).

Nothing specific was wrong, so I didn’t have a good answer for her. “You know!” I stuttered, referring the world around us.

But later, it dawned on me: I had been online.

I should know better, since this whole thing began, I noticed right away that as soon as I break my self-imposed rule of avoiding information overload, it spirals into an anxiety-fueled clicking session, and before I know it, I’ve clicked my way through dozens of articles and blog posts and videos and panicky Facebook updates ….and I feel way worse than I did before. I feel terrible.

So, word to the wise: If this thing starts to spread to where you are, don’t make yourself miserable following every tiny internet update. In reality, you’ll probably be fine, even if you DO get sick. Yes, you may get sick. I might get sick. Someone you know may get sick. It’s always a possibility, flu outbreak or no flu outbreak. Not to mention the myriad other ways of getting sick, hurt or dead. In fact, when I read the cold hard facts about swine flu — the symptoms, the diagnosis, the treatment — I find it calming. It’s objective, useful; I feel better prepared if I do get any weird signs of disease.

As a sidenote, I’m so tired of the “should you panic?” journalism/blog headline. How — in any way, shape or form — would panicking be a useful thing, for anyone, at anytime? To me, the word panic, by definition, implies a useless human response that serves no real purpose. But that’s just me.  Still, I can’t help but wonder if people want to freak out? That they enjoy the drama?

Update from Mexico City: Swine Flu, Fear and Facts

A man in a Mexico City church prays with a "tapaboca" -- face mask. <sub>Photo by Flickr user Alma Rodriguez Ayala.</sub>

A man in a Mexico City church prays with a "tapaboca" -- face mask. (Photo by Flickr user Alma Rodriguez Ayala.)

So, it’s only been two days since we first heard about the swine flu outbreak in Mexico City, and wow, how the news has changed. Swine flu (or, most accurately, the swine/bird/human flu) has been identified in several other countries.

Personally, life goes on the same for us. Yesterday, the bars and restaurants on our little street were crowded and noisy. The paleta store next door had its typical steady stream of visitors craving frozen fruits on a stick. We had a terrific Argentinian lunch with friends.

The main differences for me has been:

1. Hygiene: I’m seeing more people in face masks than usual. I’m washing my hands more than normal. I’m not wearing a mask, but I’m also not going out in any crowds (per usual).

2. Icky Facebook:  Not fun during a flu epidemic — if there’s any hysteria to be had, it’s on social networks. So, I’m taking a Facebook hiatus for now, since I only use Facebook if it’s fun. My last post was to share this link from Dr. Marc Siegel: The Most Powerful Virus Is Fear Not Flu.

3. Ambivalence. When the news first broke, I had no idea what to think, although life in Mexico never fails to surprise me. I’m still quite mystified by the whole thing — it’s not every day that you find yourself living amid a flu epidemic. But, I am not panicked, I am ambivalent. I do not feel like I am at (or was) at high risk of catching the virus. I also know I have access to excellent medical care if anything were to happen. But I feel bad for the people who have lost loved ones.

4. Annoyance. My two cents: Closing the border with Mexico (I have no idea if anyone is seriously considering this, I just see fear-mongerers proposing this idea online) would solve nothing, but it would be an interesting experiment. It wouldn’t slow the spread of flu: Viruses don’t follow international protocols and stop floating across cramped borders because people no longer are crossing, including viruses that may exist in the border area’s significant wild bird and hog population. But it would slow international commerce on a grand scale and have economic and cultural ramifications no one can predict.

So, yeah, basically life goes on the same.

*Steps on soap box*

Now, for my unsolicited advice. As a person who used to report on diseases as a professional medical journalist (and now edits medical information of a wide variety), I’m acutely aware of the pressures put on journalists from editors and producers to ‘sex’ up a story, to scare the heck out of people.

Keep in mind that this is what’s going on right now, to some degree. And as Dr. Marc’s article points out, even health organizations are not immune to fear, and have sparked useless hysteria by over-reacting and misjudging the situation.

You can imagine how that hysteria is compounded when it gets in the hands of journalists.

But, yes, people are sick and some are dying from this flu. But illness and death is a human universal.

So, as someone speaking from the epidemic’s ground zero, and not freaking out, my advice: The best way to mitigate your risk is read everything with a grain of salt, and educate yourself about the facts. And if you do get sick, follow the recommended steps (included in that link). This post from an infectious disease expert might also help you feel a bit better.

*Steps down from soapbox*

I’m off to enjoy my Sunday in sunny, beautiful Mexico City, folks.

Is It Any Wonder? Man-in-Wig Gets His Fondle On in Mexico Subways

Before we ponder why he might have been compelled to do so, let’s take a look at the lovely “lady” who was arrested this week in Mexico City for:

1. Dressing as a woman, meaning he put on a wig – una peluca (I know this useless bit of vocabulary b/c of the plethora of wig stores by my house) and a dress.

2. Sneaking on to the women’s-only cars of the Mexico City subway.

3. Touching women inappropriately.


Hmmmm. He looks too sweaty to be one of us lady-folk.

….But wait, perhaps what helped him first go unnoticed was not his face, but his his female-like height:

Unfortunately, all the police here seem to carry guns this big -- not just for fondlers.

Unfortunately, all the police here seem to carry guns this big -- not just for fondlers.

OK, yes, he blends in better now. (Although few males I know would look masculine standing next to those robots.)

Even if you don’t read Spanish, the video on El Universal‘s site is worth watching — could the music be more dramatically ridiculous? And the police definitely wanted the guy to feel humilated — forcing him to take his wig on and off, just in case you had any doubt that the lady was indeed a tramp.

As I read through the story (understanding little, by the way), I scrolled down to read the comments. One person’s comment made me laugh: Aye! That’s my mother-in-law! And then I felt bad, because this guy had been out fondling women, and that’s creepy and gross and shouldn’t be funny, but kind of is. Especially given his method of approach.

Then I kept scrolling down, and I snorted. Is it any wonder the world is what it is? I thought. Here’s what appeared:


In case you can’t see that clearly, it’s a story on 1) Britney semi-nude, 2) Rihanna’s mini bikini and 3) some perfect-skinned woman named Sofia who doesn’t seem to have anything important to say, but she’s got a great smile, no?

In sum, that’s tits, ass, and a great smile.


Flu Outbreak in Mexico Adds Apocalyptic Touch

Are pigs to blame for the freaky flu outbreak in Mexico? <sub>By Flickr user</a>

Are pigs to blame for the freaky flu outbreak in Mexico? (By Flickr user

About a year ago, I was walking down a street in Condesa with Brendan and friends Jesica and Erik. A massive storm had just blown through Mexico City, and tree limbs and leaves were making it hard to walk. Needless to say, the power was out in most of the city, so traffic was reaching an unprecedented cacophony.

“It often feels so apocalyptic here,” I said to Erik, speaking not only of the tendency for city services to come to a screeching halt after a thunderstorm, but the two earthquakes I had experienced in only a few months’ time. (And looming nearby are two beautiful but very powerful volcanoes.)

“That’s why I like it,” he said, with a big grin.

And now, after a spring filled with widespread water shortages, the city wakes up to the news that school is cancelled today due to a mysterious flu outbreak. Officials are wondering if it’s connected to the swine flu cases in California.

It came out of nowhere — yesterday was a normal day. Today: Bam, schools closed, people dying, traffic quiet. What the?

An email from Brendan: “don’t have physical contact with anyone today!” I sneezed this morning, and thought: Oh, no. Then: Oh, puh-leeze.

If you’ve ever seen the movie Apocalypto, you’d know this ain’t a new thing. Mexico always seems to be teetering on the edge — yesterday traffic was snarled for hours after a roof collapsed near our neighborhood — but a flu outbreak is taking it to a whole new level of discomfort. Earthquakes I can feel, flu germs – yikes.

I, The Owl

“Being bright-eyed and raring to go first thing in the morning is not just a case of how much sleep someone has had, nor is it a reflection of willpower. Genes may largely determine it.”

One of my dog's best attributes is how sleepy he looks in the mornings -- just like me.

One of my dog's best attributes is how sleepy he looks in the mornings -- just like me.

While this may not excuse me being a total bitch in the morning, I have to say it is comforting to read this, from an excellent blog post in today’s New York Times: Larks, Owls and Hummingbirds.

I have always struggled with my “unique” circadian clock, from childhood up until this very morning. After college, I even took a job with hours that are more fitting for me — copy editing a newspaper from 4 p.m. until midnight. The hours were great, the days off were terrible — Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and always working holidays. So I didn’t last long, and switched to a reporter position with day hours and weekends/holidays off. I loved it, except that I no longer got to sleep in until 10 or so, then head off to the beach and enjoy the sunlight before going into work. Instead, I’d race out of the office at 6, and try to soak up any fading rays before sunset. Then, I’d force myself to fall asleep early. Still, no matter what I did — or have done since then — I do not feel awake until about 10 a.m.

Now in my early 30s, I understand that is just how I am. And I wait for the world to understand that, too.

(Meaning: Read the column, and don’t hate me the next time we share a morning together and all I seem to do is yawn, scowl and drop things.)

Joy Interviews Self on 18 Months in Mexico City

Admiring the fruit for sale at a market in Malinalco.

My mother-in-law admires the fruit for sale at a market in Malinalco while dining on Mexican gelato. That's my out-of-focus ear on the right.

Joy and her husband Brendan moved to Mexico City in October 2007, or, about a year and a half ago. We last spoke to her in October of 2008, when she was still enjoying life in Mexico City but admitting she had pretty much given up on formal study of Spanish (“Soy floja, muy floja,” she admitted to us, after the interview was over). Let’s she how’s she doing now…

Q: Joy! So good to see you again. How are things these days?

A: Good, but stressful. I’m working two jobs these days and my poor sweet Mom is grappling with an ongoing health problem — but getting better day by day!  Entonces, tengo mucha prisa.

Q: No joke. So, we’re guessing the lax attitude about Spanish continues?

A: Yes, indeed. It’s not something I worry about most days, although I do spend a lot of time mentally flogging myself about it. Example: I realized, por ejemplo, that our clothes dryer is backed up with lint, and I have no idea how to translate that nor the confidence to make phone calls to get that problem solved. (Google Translate is an enormous help, though.)

Perhaps at some point I’ll reach a point where I can start taking classes again, for right now, it’s not a priority.

Mexico is nothing if not photogenic. My mother-in-law and I stand with some Judas sculptures, at the Museo de Arte Popular.

Mexico is nothing if not photogenic. My mother-in-law and I stand with some Judas sculptures, at the Museo de Arte Popular. (We're the ones with purse straps.)

Q: We can tell you’ve thought a lot about it, and that’s really all that matters to us (*hugs given all around*). So, on to some of your more favorite topics: How’s the traveling these days?

A: Pretty awesome, as always. I think since we last spoke, I’ve been to Oaxaca, the Yucatan, Texas, New York City and the Estado de Mexico — twice. For a while there, I was definitely traveling only on fumes, so right now I’m taking a travel hiatus, because I’m gearing up for a trip to San Francisco with Brendan! I’m hoping to feel rested once we leave for that trip, and even more rested when we get back.

I always manage to find the strays.

I always manage to find the strays.

Q: Oooo…..San Francisco! We’ve always thought you’d like it there. It’s a “Joy sort of place” no?

A: I know. Two days in the city, and two days north of the city, with the Redwoods and the Pacific. We’re both really excited, plus we get to see our old friend, Jason, who recently finished up his time with the U.S. Marines.

Jason, Brendan and me outside a poorly named restaurant in Uvalde, Texas.

Jason, Brendan and me on a road trip in '06, outside a poorly named restaurant in Uvalde, Texas.

Q: How is your homeland, Tejas, these days?

A: Same as it ever was — and that’s what I love about it. I spent several weeks in February and March in Corpus Christi, helping my Mom out and enjoying the quieter pace of life there. Last time I also got to  spend some real quality time with one of my oldest friend in the world, Jenny. She’s on kidney dialysis, waiting for a transplant. We played bingo and got pedicures! A very Corpus way of having “girls’ night out” I guess.  I also hung out with her while was in dialysis — my third time to do that with her, and it’s always eye opening to watch her blood get filtered by a giant machine. I’ll be back in May to hang out with my Mom on Mother’s Day.

Q: We’re keeping both Jenny and your Mom in our thoughts, by the way. We’re curious: Did you say you visited Oaxaca?

A: Yes! In this case, a picture says a mil palabras. (Joy takes out photo):

Beach perfection in Oaxaca.

Beach perfection in Oaxaca.

Q: Oh wow, that looks incredible.

A: It was. The water was the perfect temperature, and the coral reef is right offshore. I’d throw on my snorkel — no need for fins — and float around for hours, checking out the incredible array of fish. On a basically private beach surrounded by rocky cliffs.

Q: You’re such a beach girl. How are you liking non-beachy Mexico City these days?

A: You know, today I was out running errands — and with the exception of the drunk man who made smoochy noises at me — I can’t help but think I live a sophisticated life, even though I may dress like a country bumpkin. Today I was thinking to myself “Am I the only woman left in Mexico City who doesn’t own gladiator sandals?”

Q: What? Really? Sophisticated?

A: Yes, one of the great myths about Mexico City is that it is a sprawling hellhole (check out how terrible it sounds in this USA Today article — the reporter sounds like he’s holding a grudge, no?)  It’s far more accurate to say it’s too big of a city to generalize (other than it’s big).

I don’t own a car nor want one. I walk to the grocery store, I walk to the bakeries, I walk my dog down a lovely leafy path three times a day. I pass dozens of sidewalk cafes, street musicians, children having fun.  It’s the sort of idealized big city life we fantasize about growing up in a vastly horizontal Texas city.

But….there are also frequent car alarms and lots of traffic/batshit insane drivers, and the people sometimes get on my nerves (especially the rich people, who would sooner die than scoot over the on the sidewalk to let other people walk by…)

And while we still haven’t experienced any crime personally, we hear terrible stories everyday.

The view from our apartment.

The view from our apartment.

Q: Does it still remind you of New York?

A: Often. Although my lifestyle here is more “upper class” than it was in NYC. We rent a three-bedroom apartment with wall-to-wall windows that overlooks Parque Mexico. To have that experience in NYC — a big apartment overlooking Central Park — well, as they say here, no mames. And IF we wanted to, we could rent a big house with a big garden.


Q: But you look a little perplexed right now? Do you want to move?

A: Well, the longer I’m here, the more I realize I want to live in the U.S. again — or that’s at least how I feel right now. Whenever the weather warms up in NYC, I start to crave it like it’s a slice of chocolate cake served with a fresh cup of hot coffee. I miss my friends there, I miss taking fiction classes and I miss not ever worrying about my personal safety.

I also reallllly want a garden.

Q: So you’ll move back to NYC? And have a cool urban garden?

A: There are worse things that could happen. But at this point, we have no idea. We’re in no huge rush to leave Mexico. We’re planning a trip to a coffee plantation slash resort in Chiapas next month, and I love having that sort of travel experience at my fingertips. Chiapas! Coffee plantation! Wow.  But in terms of long-range what-the-hell-are-we-going-to-do-next,  we’re constantly ruminating our options — constantly.

When I start to seriously consider New York again, I remember the tiny apartments, the mice, the dirt-covered snow and the overpriced everything. So, it’s a “I have no fracking clue” sort of answer.

Malinalco, Mexico

Malinalco, Mexico

Q: Well, that’s OK. It’s been great catching up, by the way. And we look forward to speaking with you in October of this year — your two-year anniversary in Mexico!

A: Me too. I’ll bring you back some Chiapas coffee.

Q: You’re awesome!

A: Thanks!

For Those of You Following My Mexican Police Debacle

Good news! After having my driver’s license confiscated in February in the Yucatan for driving a heart-stopping 37 mph in a 24 mph zone, things worked out as planned: I went to the Texas DPS in March, ordered my new driver’s license, and it arrived in my parents’ mailbox a mere ONE week later.

Meaning, I still have absolutely no guilt about snorkeling instead of visiting Puerto Morelos’ police headquarters on a perfectly snorkel-rific Saturday afternoon.

Now that’s some good ole’ American efficiency right there, folks.

Mexico: A Country Obsessed with Walls and Fences

My favorite walls

My favorite walls in Mexico are those that have flowers spilling over them.

In Mexico, most properties — especially houses — are hidden behind huge fences.

While I wish so much of Mexico wasn’t hidden, I understand this fence-me-in obsession on a homeowner level, perhaps because I grew up Texan? We like our personal property, and we like it private — unlike my in-laws’ neighborhood in Minnesota, where there are no backyard fences, which stunned me at first.

In Texas, though, most homeowners wouldn’t dream of fencing in their front yards. Yet in Mexico, the entire property is often ringed by a high wall, making homes of even modest means fortresses of stone and concrete.  The need to give in and build a wall is complicated, especially for American homeowners here who try to live here, sans walls.

For a country obsessed with walls, then, it follows that the walls are not merely practical forms of keeping the world out. They also become perfect space for art and advertising, easily erased and re-painted when the need strikes.

As in many countries, street art in Mexico usually surfaces first on walls.

Street art in Mexico usually surfaces first on walls.

An ad for a music group's performance - "Alacranes" means scorpions.

An ad for a music group's performance - "Alacranes" means scorpions.

Another music group's announcement.

Another music group's announcement.

Comex, a chain of paint stores, is as common as Starbucks is in Manhattan, for obvious reasons. Muted tones are not their specialty. Our apartment, for example, is painted in “Oaxaca Red,” “Gouda,” and “Tulum,”  courtesy of Comex. The bright colors help cover up the reality below — drab concrete (furnished by a similarly-named business in Mexico, Cemex.)

Who needs a sign when you can write it on the wall?

Who needs a sign when you can write it on the wall? This is probably Comex's Gouda color.

Of course, when you’re pondering cultural trends in Mexico, it doesn’t take long to find ancient references. Walls and wall art feature prominently among the sites of the Aztecs, Mayans, Olmecs, Toltecs….

Excavated from the ancient ruins of Teotihuacan.

A mural excavated from the ancient pyramids of Teotihuacan.

And walls — or at least the murals painted upon them — figure heavily in not-so-ancient history, as well.

Famed Mexican artist Diego Rivera took inspiration from the ancient murals.

Famed Mexican muralist Diego Rivera took inspiration from the ancient murals and the ancient people of Mexico. (Note: I'm not entirely sure this is one of Rivera's? There are so many good muralists in Mexico that I tend to get them all confused...and assume they're all Rivera.) Aren't her tattoos -- murals for the body -- gorgeous?

I have to wonder: This national obsession with walls is perhaps why there wasn’t a bigger outcry when the U.S. announced the building of the border fence?  Which I await eagerly to be torn down. Eagerly, folks. If only to save the South Texas/Northern Mexico flora and fauna. Obama? You’re in Mexico this week — want to announce you’re tearing down one of the dumbest creations of the 21st century?

Photos by Mark Hess and Bob Walsh

How to Help Mexico City’s Long-Suffering Street Dogs

Mexico, most of the time, is not a welcoming place for dogs. Strays roam the streets of every city, often looking quite miserable. How to reduce the stray population is a long-standing issue for Mexico, and not one with an easy answer, as much of the human population is also suffering from over-population (poor women with way too many kids). Meaning, taking proper care of nearby stray dogs is a very low priority when you can’t feed your children, either.

It is one of the things I like dislike most about Mexico, as I have always been someone who loves animals and feels like humans have a responsibility to treat all living creatures ethically. I grew up thinking we don’t do enough in the U.S., then I moved here and realize how bad it can truly be.

But, thankfully, there are some organizations fighting the good fight, and one in particular I feel quite confident in giving my money to: Adopta Un Amigo. (It’s a partially bilingual site, they also help cats, and great news: They accept PayPal donations.)

My friends Jonathan and Alejandra adopted their dog, Jelly, from Adopta Un Amigo. Jelly started her life on the street, but is now happy and healthy: