Friday, September 30, 2011

Article: 'Til 2013 do us part? Mexico mulls 2-year marriage

‘Til 2013 do us part? Mexico mulls 2-year marriage

Reform would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment

updated 9/29/2011 8:22:53 PM ET

Mexico City lawmakers want to help newlyweds avoid the hassle of divorce by giving them an easy exit strategy: temporary marriage licenses.

Leftists in the city's assembly — who have already riled conservatives by legalizing gay marriage — proposed a reform to the civil code this week that would allow couples to decide on the length of their commitment, opting out of a lifetime.
The minimum marriage contract would be for two years and could be renewed if the couple stays happy. The contracts would include provisions on how children and property would be handled if the couple splits.
"The proposal is, when the two-year period is up, if the relationship is not stable or harmonious, the contract simply ends," said Leonel Luna, the Mexico City assemblyman who co-authored the bill.
"You wouldn't have to go through the tortuous process of divorce," said Luna, from the leftist Party of the Democratic Revolution, which has the most seats in the 66-member chamber.
Luna says the proposed law is gaining support and he expects a vote by the end of this year.
Around half of Mexico City marriages end in divorce, usually in the first two years.
The bustling capital, one of the world's largest cities, is much more liberal than the rest of the country, where the divorce rate is significantly lower although on the rise.
Abortion is legal in Mexico City, while the Supreme Court ruled this week to uphold state laws in Baja California that say life begins at conception.
Leftist Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, who angered the Catholic Church when he made Mexico City the first Latin American city to legalize gay marriage in late 2009, announced this month he would soon step down to run for president.
The church criticized the proposed change.
"This reform is absurd. It contradicts the nature of marriage," said Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Mexican archdiocese. "It's another one of these electoral theatrics the assembly tends to do that are irresponsible and immoral."
The Church holds considerable sway in the country with the world's second largest Catholic population after Brazil.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A food and music-filled weekend

The main themes of the weekend were food and music (and reading for class if you really want to count it, but clearly not as exciting).

On Saturday I joined a friend for lunch, with ingredients brought from his hometown in the state of Veracruz. The base was a totopo (similar to a tortilla but baked; typical in Oaxaca), with beans, Oaxaca cheese and chinameca meat on top (peppers are optional). Chinameca is pork marinated in achiote (an organge-red dye obtained from the seed coat of a tropical fruit; used for coloring foods; "annato" in English) and then dried and smoked. It is cooked in a frying pan with a little bit of oil before it is served.

totopo with beans, Oaxacan cheese and Chinameca

Saturday night I went dancing at a Cuban salsa place. It was a bit strange to see the normal Cuban-themed decor mixed with Mexican decorations from Independence Day.

On Sunday I joined a classmate at a gathering of family and friends. I helped prepare the chiles en nogada -- made both with the traditional chile poblana as well as others with chile ancho. I had to leave for a bit for choir rehearsal, but went back after to enjoy the chiles they saved for me (one of each) and they were delicious! My classmate and some of his family members play a style of music called son jarocho, which is from the state of Veracruz. I caught the end of their jam session and even sang along to "El Cascabel," which I sing with the choir.  They play guitar-like instruments called jarana jarocho and requinta jarocho. Another instrument is a wooden box that you sit on to play the metal prongs (sorry, not sure how to describe it better!). And finally there's a percussion instrument called quijada, which is made from the jaw bone of a donkey or horse. You strike the large end of the jaw with the palm to make the teeth rattle and/or scrape along the teeth with a stick.

Overall, a great food and music-filled weekend!

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Calle 13: Latinoamérica

A while back I shared the song Latinoamérica by Calle 13, featuring Totó La Momposina, Susana Baca & María Rit. Today Calle 13 released the official music video, presenting it at UNAM.  See the video below (or click here for the Youtube site)

Monday, September 26, 2011

Article: Mexico City copes with that sinking feeling

Mexico City copes with that sinking feeling

In Mexico City, many buildings sink each year as the city's 21 million thirsty residents suck up water from the aquifer beneath one of the world's largest metropolises.
McClatchy Newspapers
MEXICO CITY — Walk into any of hundreds of homes or buildings in the huge capital, Mexico City, and you feel immediately that something is amiss. The buildings tilt.
"If you put a ball on the floor here," Thierry Olivier said, sitting on the ground floor of his three-story building, "it will roll over there."
By Olivier's calculation, one corner of his 105-year-old building is 11 inches lower than the other. It lists like a tipsy cantina patron.
It's a common phenomenon here, where many buildings are sinking, as each year Mexico City's 21 million thirsty residents suck up water from the aquifer beneath one of the world's largest metropolises. As the water level in the aquifer drops, the ground above it sinks.

But not evenly. Layers of soft clay beneath the city vary in thickness and the ground sinks faster where clay dries out, grows brittle and collapses. That means that in some parts of the city, sidewalks buckle, window frames lean, subway lines need expensive repairs and drainage canals no longer flow downhill.
Engineers say, however, that inhabitants face not only structural risks but potential health problems as houses and apartment blocks incline.
"When a building tilts more than 1 degree, then I think it begins to become very uncomfortable," said Enrique Santoyo Villa, an engineer who is experienced at propping up and bolstering churches, monuments and other tilting structures.
By Santoyo's standards, when a 100-foot-high building is 1 foot off its vertical axis, it becomes hard to live in. One notices it while lying in bed, he said, or perhaps washing the dishes and seeing tap water flow oddly.
"Tables aren't stable. Liquids don't look right when they are in big containers. ... Window panes can break. Doors don't close right," Santoyo said.
Ancient Aztec lake
Ancient Aztecs built the city of Tenochtitlan on an island in the middle of a large lake, making it the capital of their powerful empire. When Hernan Cortés and fellow conquistadors arrived in 1519 and conquered the Aztecs, the Spaniards built Mexico City atop the Aztec ruins and then drained much of the lake to control flooding.
Scores of colonial churches and other stone buildings in central Mexico City have survived frequent natural disasters but succumb to the soft clay underfoot, leaning or sinking into the ground.
Experts say parts of the metropolitan area have sunk by as much as 27 feet since the late 19th century, an average of 2.5 inches or so a year.
Some of the heaviest stone buildings, such as the opulent Palace of Fine Arts, have sunk 13 feet in a century. Its original ground floor is now a basement.
The tilt of other buildings is noticeable. A few list as a whole, while others, such as Mexico's National Palace in the city's Zócalo central square, undulate.
The city's main cathedral and abutting Sagrario Church are a special case. The church is built partly atop the rigid remains of a giant pyramid to the Aztec sun god, so it sinks less than the larger cathedral.
So acute was the cathedral's tilt that Santoyo and other engineers, working in consultation with Italian experts who had stabilized the Leaning Tower of Pisa, spent six years and some $33 million to reinforce the foundation. The project was completed in 2002, correcting a 2.7 percent tilt to 2 percent, enough to stabilize the structure.
No building in the capital leans as precariously as the Basilica of Guadalupe, the central place of worship to Mexico's patron saint. Construction of the basilica began in 1531 and lasted more than a century; by the 1970s it had tilted so much that it was declared unsafe, and a new basilica was built next to it.
Visitors can still enter the old basilica, but the walk from the main door to the high altar is uphill.
At a gift shop in a separate building, Sister Reina, a nun at a cash register, said customers "say they feel dizzy when they walk in."
There's no hope that things will get better.
"It's like an orange. When you press the juice out of it, it is impossible to put the juice back in. It's been deformed," Santoyo explained.
'Feeling of vertigo'
The city has condemned 50 or so structures since 2006 because of leaning, and an additional 5,000 or so homes and buildings are unstable and at risk, said Oscar Alejandro Roa, director of prevention at the city's Civil Defense Bureau.
In some of the buildings, he said, "You have a permanent feeling of vertigo."
Large earthquakes are a constant threat. A magnitude-8.1 quake in 1985 left some 10,000 people dead and caused at least 800 buildings to collapse.
Given constant tremors and subsiding soil, engineering and architectural firms in the capital make a steady living by bolstering buildings.
"This building was leaning against the other one," Raul Jimenez, a building administrator, said outside one seven-story apartment block in the city's Condesa district. "They dug down and filled the foundation with more concrete. ... A lot of the buildings around here are crooked."
It's not just buildings that suffer from uneven settling. Water mains and drainage canals also have been affected.
"Drainage systems and public transport are all having problems," Roa said, adding that crews have had to do major repairs at six points along the city's subway network to deal with sinking.
Some drainage canals and pipelines built a century ago no longer are inclined or even flow uphill, requiring extensive repairs.
Soil cracking open
Perhaps more eerily, the drying of the subsoil has caused cracks to yawn open. In July, experts measured a new crack at a mile long and dozens of feet deep in Santa Maria Huejoculco in Chalco, in the eastern part of greater Mexico City.
More than 380 fissures have opened in the greater metropolitan area, according to a database of cracks at the Geoinformatics Laboratory of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
As the ground shifts, some owners put their faith in engineers to correct any subsidence that may occur.
"Mexicans are probably the best foundation engineers in the world," Olivier said, adding that he expects his building to last another century.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Master's program language requirements

In order to graduate from my master's program, students need 3 languages. This assumes the students' native language is Spanish, plus language tests (comprehension, translation or fluency) in English, French, Portuguese or Italian.

Since I'm an international student whose native language isn't Spanish, I already took my Spanish test. I'll most likely be taking my Portuguese comprehension test this semester (I'm in my second semester of classes).

I found out today -- contrary to what I had been told previously -- that in order to graduate I need to take the test to prove I speak....English. That's right -- even though I'm a native speaker.  Accepting that Mexicans are given the benefit of the doubt that they speak Spanish (and ignoring anyone whose first language was an indigenous language), my question then is why don't the Colombians, Chileans, Argentines, etc have to prove they speak Spanish?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Viva México! Celebrating 201 years

Last week Mexico celebrated it's 201st anniversary of independence. Leading up to the celebration, flags, decorations and independence memorabilia started showing up everywhere: huge banners draped from buildings; pushcarts selling hats, flags and souvenirs all over the city; light-up flags for sale outside the metro; and everything decorated in red, white and green.

Like every year, the night of the 15th (last Thurs) commemorates el Grito de Dolores or el Grito de la Independencia (shout of independence), which was first made by Miguel Hidalgo in 1810 and marked the beginning of the war of independence against Spain. It's celebrated throughout the country, though a main celebration is in the Zócalo, where the president gives the traditional grito from the National Palace. September 16th is Independence Day and includes, among other events, a military parade from the Zócalo to Paseo de la Reforma.

Last year I traveled during the bicentennial, including to Dolores Hidalgo (where Miguel Hidalgo uttered the grito in 1810), San Miguel de Allende (the first municipality freed from Spanish rule) and Guanajuato (click on the names to see the blog updates from the 2010 trip).

This year I was out of the country (enjoying a quick visit home!) during the Independence celebration, so I missed all the festivities, but here's a video from the Associated Press from the celebration in the Zócalo Thursday night:

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Choir, UNAM Foundation and Hostería de Santo Domingo

On Monday, the choir performed for Fundación UNAM (the UNAM Foundation).  I guess technically anyone who donates (or at least on a regular basis?) becomes part of the foundation. However, we performed for the group that meets on a monthly basis -- the big donors. Since it's September -- the month of Independence Day -- the room was decorated in red, green and white and we sang a selection of songs from Mexico, including Xtoles (a Mayan song), La llorona (from Oaxaca, with an added solo in Zapoteco), Por los caminos del Sur (from the state of Guerrero) and Mi Ciudad (about Mexico City), along with UNAM's himno deportivo (school song? sports song? fight song?). They were going to cut our time short, but one of the gentlemen requested that we sing more. When we finished, one of the ladies said that she has the choir's cd and wakes up to it every morning because it makes her happy. Overall -- a success!!

Afterward, we went out to eat (thanks UNAM!) at Hostería de Santo Domingo, which was founded in 1860. It's decorated in bright, cheerful style and its menu includes many typical Mexican dishes. I ordered a chile en nogada, which is apparently a house specialty, and especially popular in September because of it's red, green and white colors. It's a poblano pepper filled with ground beef/pork mixed with almonds, raisins and olives, covered in a walnut cream sauce with pomegranate on top. It was delicious!

choir out to lunch at Hostería de Santo Domingo
(*photo borrowed from fellow choir member)

chile en nogada -- photo from 2010, I didn't take one
of my meal on Monday

Observations: Part 9

  • This week I spent two days in the library at the National Institute of Migration in Polanco (though a different site than where I go for my FM3 stuff). The elevator is unlike any I've seen before. You don't (can't) just push a button for up or down. Instead, you type the floor number you want to go to  and it assigns you to an elevator (A, B, C or D). I was stuck for a bit trying to figure out how to push a button to request an elevator until someone showed me. Make sure you get in the right one, because there's not an option to switch floor numbers once you're inside! It lists (in lit up numbers) what floors its going to. However, as it goes up/down the display of what floor it is passing doesn't really make sense -- I saw lots of 2s and 33's going by. 
  • Also while in Polanco, I saw a ton of men wearing yamakas and/or the wide-brimmed black hats that Orthodox Jews wear. Polanco has a large Jewish population, but I've never seen it quite so prevalent in previous visits. 
  • On Friday, a football (American football) team at UNAM was raising money for new jerseys -- by dressing up as girls: skirts, balloon enhancements, makeup, the works. It was pretty entertaining....

Friday, September 2, 2011

Making recycled paper with the kids

Back in August I went with the Ciudad de México Rotaract Club to spend time with the children at a temporary shelter run by the government. We worked with about 30 kids in the older group (about 7-10 years old) making recycled paper.

The kids were excited to participate in the activity. They had so much energy, which made things a little more chaotic, but the process itself isn't very complicated. We shredded paper (that had already been used and needed to be recycled, of course!) first and then blended it with water in a blender or food processor to make a paste. Each child put paste onto a rag, stretched between an embroidery hoop. From there, they patted out excessive water and started drying it with a hair dryer and then an iron (with assistance). If it had been a sunny day the paper would have dried much quicker outside, but unfortunately it was cloudy and drizzling.

It was fun spending time with the kids - doing the activity, playing pretend, talking about what they planned to do with their paper, watching their games of hangman (success at an organized activity!), etc. The experience was pretty intenses though. All of the children (age 0-12) are there because they were removed from their home due to abuse, their parents are in court proceedings or they were abandoned. It is only a temporary placement (I believe the maximum time they can stay is 2 years) before they are retuned to family, placed with other family, or sent to a children's home or orphanage. Because its temporary housing, each week there's a different number and group of children. It was slightly overwhelming just how many children are there (and what a demanding but necessary job for all of the women and men that work their). I helped take some of the little ones up to the nursery for bed time and it was heartbreaking to think they had to be removed from their home or had been abandoned. It was surprising how independent even the smallest ones were, though I supposed it's a necessary skill when there are that many children. I was surprised we didn't see more behavioral problems while we were there, due to what the children have experienced. I'm glad we were able to bring an activity to break up their day and spend some time with them. It was definitely an intense and emotional experience for me. I hope to be able to go back again. 

Concert at Palacio de Minería

Last week the choir performed as the closing entertainment at a conference held in the Palacio de Minería in the Historic downtown.  We were without a director for the day, but it went well. Someone I know from Rotary was attending the conference and stayed to hear us sing. Afterwards we attended the reception (with appetizers/ finger foods -- yum!)

Palacio de Minería

before the concert

(Can you spot me?)

at the reception

*All photos are borrowed from fellow choir members. 

La Improlucha

Last week I went to La Improlucha - a show that combines the concepts of improvisation (think: Whose Line is it Anyway) and lucha libre (Mexican wrestling, where luchadores are known for the masks they wear, hiding their identity. Read about when I went to a lucha libre match here). 

La Improlucha ring

La Improlucha is every Thursday night -- and it's always different since it's all improv. During the first half, two teams face-off with a variety of improvisations. Sometimes they work with their partner, sometimes the other team, and sometimes all together. The referee/MC leads the show, setting the rules and getting suggestions from the audience of topics/places. After each improvisation, the audience votes on which team won. Most of the match was improvisation, but there was some fighting - lucha libre style- thrown in as well. 

The first two teams were a magician and his assistant against the Tomderkats  (based on the cartoon Thundercats). The Tomderkats won, so in the second half they faced two gypsies -- who ended up winning for the night. For the second half, the MC's character was from Northern Mexico, with an exaggerated norteño accent meant to be hard to understand. 

me as a luchadora

There was also a live band (complete with lucha libre masks) that played during breaks and provided background music/ sound effects during the improvisations. The show I went to was a musical tribute night to the 80's/90's Mexican Rock band Botellita de Jerez and two of the band members attended as special guests. There were also two luchadores, including El Matemático, who is apparently a classic. 

I didn't understand everything that was said, since it's fast-paced with lots of cultural references, slang, double-meanings, etc. Even so, it was very entertaining and I'd recommend it! 

the boys with El Matemático 

the luchadores, MC's, band and specials guests of the night