27 March 2010
I have mentioned nothing concerning the day to day extravaganza here as Easter approaches. This article provides a good overview of the events and what it is like here right now in this most Catholic of countries. One is constantly encountering little processions in the street as small groups follow religious icons being carried around the city.
Yesterday, the Friday before Holy Week, was dedicated to the Virgin of Sorrows. Little shrines sprung up on what seemed like every block.
This one was erected in a small room opening onto the street directly across from my little grocery store. Shrines for the Virgin of Sorrows feature the color purple.
26 March 2010
March has been beautiful. Today it will reach a high of 80° F. (27° C.). Tomorrow we are set to hit 86° F. (30° C.).
La Mexicana is off to the Pacific beach with friends. I am sitting the house and the dog for her. The courtyard has lit up.
Here we are looking down toward the front gate.
The winter tourists are leaving town in droves.
The outdoor table is all cleaned up and ready for some evening dinner parties al fresco.
Okay. I admit that I got a little carried away taking pictures of it all.
25 March 2010
I promised to return with further facts concerning that abandoned shanty town near Mineral de Pozos that we visited on February 8. In the interest of following through, here are some additional refinements to the story.
The whole situation grew out of the ejido system of land reform that was in place in Mexico during the middle part of the 20th Century. I will briefly explain. For the odd couple of people who are interested in more information, I refer you to that Wikipedia article.
Mexico celebrates a centennial and a bicentennial this year. This is the bicentennial year of the declaration of independence from Spain in 1810. This is the centennial year of the Mexican Revolution of 1910. (The wars resulting in both cases lasted about 10 years, but these are the years officially celebrated to mark the events.) As in the rest of Latin America, the central problem here has always been concentration of wealth in the very few—historically, the landowners. The motto of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 was Libertad y Tierra, “Liberty and Land.”
After many false starts following the Revolution, the celebrated president Lázaro Cárdenas took office in 1934 and initiated the ejido system of land reform. This is the same Cárdenas, by the way, who expropriated the oil industry in Mexico from foreign ownership with compensation.
In this case land was expropriated from the owners of large tracts and made available to small farmers through a kind of homesteading system. The small “homesteading” farmer, or ejidatario, did not become an owner of his tract. The government owned the tract. But the ejidatario could use the tract in perpetuity so long as he did not abandon it for more than two years running. Ultimately, the ejido system was abolished in 1991.
The tract on which that shanty town is located is expropriated ejido land still owned by the government. It had been abandoned by everybody for the obvious reason that it is absolutely barren, the soil riddled with shards of rock. A descendant of the original large landowner got the idea that he was entitled to claim this particular land back from the government. The government denied his claim. Whereupon, he become angry and in effect said, “Okay, if you want homesteaders, I will provide you with homesteaders.”
At that point the man bought advertizing on the radio in all the larger cities nearby, San Luis Potosí Guanajuato, Leon, Querétaro, and more, announcing that free land was available on this tract. They came in droves. Local notarios made money from these people by drawing up “documentation” of their claims. After a lot of confusion, the government finally expelled them from this government land.
The result is this bizarre and haunting landscape that I have tried to show you in photographs.
24 March 2010
Sunday I had the opportunity to dine at an amazing establishment called Restaurante Arroyo in the Tlalpan district of Mexico City, the world's largest single Mexican restaurant. The Arroyo specializes in barbacao, barbecue Mexican style.
The place is full of music. It has its own small bullring. Its own cock pit. It is huge. The video at the restaurant's website will give you some idea of the place and its cooking methods. In the video you will see vans with the word itacate on the side, a strictly Mexican word that in one sense is used to refer to a doggy bag. These vans carry out loads of food for private parties that the Arroyo caters.
Notice that the guy in the video draws a cross in the soil, or whatever it is, that is used to cover the meat in the pit.
In the video you will also see a young woman rolling out some brown sauce. You will then see it being poured over fowl. That is mole, which comes in different flavors. The classic here in Mexico is a mixture of unsweetened chocolate, various dried chili peppers, dried nuts such as almonds and peanuts, and sesame seeds. It is one of those things that sounds awful but is absolutely delicious.
It is the small touches that count though. This gentlemen came table side with his trained canaries. When he opened the door of the cage, a canary emerged and one by one pulled little horoscopes out of a box for each of those of us at the table. That is La Mexicana's grandson, Brenden, admiring the whole operation.
Mexican horoscopes are not the sappy, feel-good horoscopes of the sort to which we have become accustomed with, say for example, the modern fortune cookie. These horoscopes bluntly tell you where you are screwing up and what you had better do to correct it. They then graphically describe the consequences for you if you do not.
23 March 2010
22 March 2010
I finally made it out to Frida Kahlo's house yesterday, The Blue House (La Casa Azul). It is located in Coyoacan, a delightful section of Mexico City. The house really is blue, and I mean really blue.
Photographs are prohibited inside. Consequently, I have only photos taken in the interior courtyard, which was much larger than I expected. Actually, the entire house is much larger than I expected.
Frida built her own little Mayan-style pyramid in her courtyard.
The sign says that sitting on the pyramid is prohibited.
In lieu of interior photographs, I found this slide show on youtube. I do not know what happened to the background music, but the photos are excellent. The most interesting room was her studio of course.
And a slide show of some of Frida's paintings, many images of which I have previously posted here.
La Mexicana and "The Purse" holding court in the courtyard.
These are the twin volcanoes, Popocatépetl and Iztaccíhuatl, in the distance from the hotel window. This is a rare site. The volcanoes are normally completely obscured by the smog.
18 March 2010
Aha! Finally. The last episode consisting of only 4:40 and featuring my only personal appearance. This has been an epic cooking session. I am exhausted.
Now, thanks to La Mexicana, nobody can say that we never discuss cooking and food here at The Solipsist.
Oh, my goodness. I forgot to mention that this is the anniversary of a great day in Mexican history, and a day known to any educated Mexican. On this date in 1938, President Lázaro Cárdenas decreed the expropriation of the foreign-controlled oil industry by the Mexican government. Lázaro Cárdenas was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, of Mexican presidents. This move was immensely popular among the citizens.
The expropriation of the oil industry included provisions for payment to the foreign oil companies for their assets. This led in turn to the famous day a month later when thousands of women came to the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City to donate everything from chickens to jewelry toward the effort to pay off those foreign oil companies.
All has been quiet here below the Tropic of Cancer for a few days. But not for long. Early tomorrow morning I climb onto the big bus for another foray into Mexico City. Three days only. That is all my nerves can take. Should be a bit interesting though. That place always is.
In the meantime here is the fifth installment of the Mexican cooking video. How many installments did I say at the beginning there would be? Anyway, I lied. However, there will only be one more installment and that consisting of only a couple of minutes. I will also make a personal appearance in that last one as something other than only a disembodied voice in the background.
16 March 2010
Yesterday afternoon La Mexicana had a problem. She had the DVD of the young singers' performances hot off the press. However, the bass, Salvador Silva, was by then down in Mexico City and in need of a video of his two performances to present to somebody today as part of his portfolio or part of an auditioning process or something. In fact he needed the videos yesterday, as these thing so often happen.
The only thing I could think to do was to convert his videos down to a smaller file format and post them on the internet. He could then download them himself from there. She will send him the disk with the big files on it later. It all worked out to his satisfaction.
In any event since those videos are up anyway, I will go ahead and put one here. He is doing a solo from the opera Mefistofele by a composer named Boito. He is quite obviously in the role of the devil.
15 March 2010
It is time for a report on the opera competition of Saturday evening. I feel compelled to explain that I am not pretending to be someone who I am not in connection with this opera thing. I am just a country boy who took a shine to opera for some reason, and I continue to be nothing more than a dilettante. I know only something of the Italian composers and a couple of the Frenchies and Mozart. I know nothing of German opera.
Fred and I sat up there in the first balcony above the box seats. La Mexicana, who is Director of Administration of Ópera de San Miguel, sat down in row two with all the big wigs of course. I am sure that Fred and I looked like just another one of the gay couples in attendance. Fred and I were able to score tickets to the invitation-only party afterward. I borrowed the photos below from another friend, Naomi, who sat down there in La Mexicana's vicinity.
These are two people whom I am very proud to count as friends now. In the center is John Bills, now retired and residing here, who sang tenor with the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1977 to 2004. He is simply a wonderful guy. On the right is Joe McClain, the Artistic Director of Ópera de San Miguel, whose career in opera and the dramatic arts is too complex and varied to set out here. They acted as two of the three judges.
The thing about this Ópera de San Miguel event that makes it truly fun is the competition angle. This makes the annual concurso here, which is a national competition among young singers for scholarships, especially entertaining. Each of the singers does a solo during the first round. Then there is an intermission. At that point nearly everyone in the crowd has adopted a favorite. After the intermission, each one sings another solo.
A panel of three judges picks the overall top three in 3-2-1 order. There are some other miscellaneous awards. Also, there is an award for crowd favorite. All of us in the audience get a ballot with our program. There is then an award for crowd favorite, which it seems always goes to a different singer from the one picked by the judges as a winner. During the second round, the crowd becomes even more responsive than during the first round and urges these young singers on as they each come out to do their second piece. Quite cool, really. And quite different in atmosphere than a normal, run-of-the-mill recital.
I must say, though, that the thing that strikes me as odd is that there are no categories. In other words all the females of the different ranges are competing with all of the males of different ranges. A male bass singer is competing with the female sopranos and mezzosopranos as well as the other male singers, tenors and baritones. That is just the way it is. One big category. Opera singers.
This is young Alberto Pingarrón Reynoso along with his entourage. Alberto is blind. He is a big favorite among many and not simply by reason of some soppy sentimentality respecting his blindness. He is an intensely dramatic singer. Overwhelming in that regard, actually. He would have gotten Fred's vote for crowd favorite if Fred had not promptly lost his ballot on the way to our seats. Alberto won the special artesano award on the judge's vote.
This is a soprano, Gizelxanath Rodriguez from Baja California, along with one of her pals. Gizelxanath got my vote in an unauthorized category, sexiest female singer. It seems to me that if you want to be a big time soprano, you gotta be willing to show a little. Gizelxanath was willing in that regard, and she had every reason to be proud. That is only an old man's opinion.
This is Cassandra Zoé Velasco in the center, a mezzosoprano from Ciudad de México. I voted for her as crowd favorite, and she won as crowd favorite. I wish I had a better photo of her. The judges awarded her third place. It appears to me that mezzosopranos have an uphill battle to win it all.
A soprano named Zaira Soria Tinoco of Chihuahua won the competition on the judges' votes. Nothing wrong with that. "Professional ears" hear things that I do not. Still, my little mezzo ought to have won in my entirely not-so-humble opinion.
The women in silver with La Mexicana is Shari Alexander, John Bills' wife whom I have written about before. She is a special woman and a special pal of mine. For many years Shari owned and operated a very successful restaurant in The Hamptons, The Ship's Galley. She met John in her later life. Shari is a volcano--a real room filler, and I am roundly entertained by her.
In spite of being married to a man who sang with the Metropolitan Opera, Shari contends that she does not really give a shit about opera. That is almost, not quite, a direct quote. Nonetheless, she has worked very hard raising funds for Ópera de San Miguel. It is a perfect role for her. Shari is personality plus, and it is difficult to say no to her regarding anything. I myself would never even try. When she tells me where to go and what to do, and I go there and do it.