Sunday, May 25, 2014

Article: 10 things Mexico does better than anywhere else

10 things Mexico does better than anywhere else

By Karla Villegas Gama, for CNN
May 22, 2014 -- Updated 1626 GMT (0026 HKT)

Editor's note: This story is part of a series highlighting superlatives of countries and cities around the world. Click here for pieces onItaly, France, the United States, Canada, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Indiaand South Korea, and watch for upcoming installments featuring other countries.

(CNN) -- Icy beers, empty beaches.

It's a compelling image, but it captures only a feeble percentage of the diversity and excellence that imbues one of the most incredible countries in the world.

Here are 10 things Mexico does better than anywhere else.

Celebrating death
Plenty of cultures do ancestor worship.

But who else turns the commemoration of their dearly departed into an annual fiesta of art, food and community?

On November 1, aka the Day of the Dead, Mexicans put together ofrendas (shrines) for loved ones who have passed away.

Every ofrenda includes pictures of the deceased, food, drinks, skull-shaped candies, candles and cempasuchil, the Aztec marigold or flower of the dead.

The belief is that souls of children come back to earth to visit family and friends on November 1 and the souls of adults do the same on November 2.

Day of the Dead festivals take place across Mexico. Three of the most elaborate are held in San Andrés Mixquic (in Tláhuac, Mexico City), Patzcuaro, Michoacán and Janitzio, Michoacán.

Horn sections
From symphony orchestras to oompah bands to soul and R&B horn sections, everyone loves a blast of brass.

Whereas most countries tend to save their horns for parties and special occasions, however, Mexico kicks out the brass jams on a daily basis.

Where else can you hear tubas -- actual tubas! -- laying down bass lines on the radio every hour of the week?

It all comes down to bandas, the heart of both traditional and popular genres of Mexican music.

Bandas are typically comprised of 10 to 20 musicians who play brass instruments, woodwinds and various percussion.

Every Mexico traveler is charmed by mariachi, but bandas are a part of several broader genres, the most characteristic being ranchera, quebradita and corridos.

Mexico's national liquor is a worldwide bar standard, with exports to 96 countries.

But don't come to Mexico expecting to impress locals by chugging a syrupy sweet margarita or knocking down manly shots all night.

Tequila is meant to be sipped and savored, like fine whiskey, which, as any Mexican will tell you, the best tequila can compete with.

You can get a taste of the top-shelf stuff on the Tequila Trail, which includes some of the country's most renowned distilleries.

Alternates are The Tequila Express tour operated by Casa Herradura and the Jose Cuervo Express tour.

Curing hangovers
Mexican parties are notorious for going berserk in the blink of a bleary eye.

That, of course, leads to a familiar disaster the following morning.

Fortunately, Mexico's kitchens spring to life with the best hangover grub on the planet.

Wake up, guzzle water then inhale some spicy chilaquiles, carnitas (pork) or barbacoa (sheep) tacos with hot sauce and plenty of revitalizing grease -- maybe slam a light breakfast beer if you're in really rough shape -- and you'll be back making requests from the band by nightfall.

Double entendre (Albur)
Called "albur" in Spanish, double entendre isn't just a linguistic trick for Mexicans, it's an art form requiring a nimble mind and the ability to convey smart but subtle messages, often laced with sexual or R-rated undertones.

Many languages, of course, employ veiled connotations and witty wordplay.

But albur is so important in Mexico that there's a national tournament to crown the best alburero.

The current champ is Lourdes Ruiz, who's won the competition every year since 1997, defeating men and women. She even teaches albur courses.

Still not convinced Mexicans take double entendre more seriously than anyone else?

What other country has a day devoted to the subtle intricacies of its language?

In Mexico, Albur's Day is celebrated on March 1.

Diplomado de Albures Finos (Course of Fine/Classy Albures) classes are held at the Galería José María Velasco (Peralvillo 55, colonia Morelos, Tepito, Mexico City); free admission; participants receive a diploma.

Vatican City does a pretty fair job as the center of the faith and it has some decent paintings on its ceiling. But its population of 800 souls isn't exactly staggering.

Mexico, by contrast, ranks second in the world for number of Catholics (Brazil is first, the Philippines third) and, according to the National Institute of Statistics and Geography of Mexico, 83.9% of the Mexicans are Catholic.

Nothing says "Mexican Catholic" like a reverence for the country's seemingly endless manifestations of the Virgin Mary.

Which may be why the priest Miguel Hidalgo carried a symbolic flag of Guadalupe when he led the opening stages of the Mexican War of Independence in 1810.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is the most venerated Virgin in Mexico, maybe the world.

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe in Mexico City is also one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Mexico, reportedly the most visited Marian shrine in the world.

Each December 12, about 5 million pilgrims from across Mexico visit the Basilica to thank the Virgin for her favors or to ask for a miracle.

Basilica of Our Lady of Gaudalupe, Plaza de las Americas 1, Col. Villa de Guadalupe, Delegación Gustavo A. Madero, Mexico City; +52 55 5118 0500

Quick lunches
Known around the country as Vitamin T, tacos, tortas, tamales and tostadas are part of the everyday life.

Mexicans are constantly on the go, so it's no wonder puestos and changarros (food stands) can be found on practically every corner.

It doesn't matter if you're in the subway, leaving school or taking a lunch break away from the office -- Mexico's streets offer endless options for a fast and delicious meal cooked right in front of you with super-fresh ingredients.

Soap operas
In 1958, Telesistema Mexicano produced "Senda Prohibida" ("Forbidden Path"), the first Mexican telenovela (soap opera).

Fifty-six years later, its successor Televisa has produced a whopping 740 telenovelas.

The formula hasn't changed much.

A man and woman fall in love but, for tragic reasons, can't be together. After overcoming obstacles they finally get married.

Fifteen years after exporting its first soap opera, "Los Ricos Tambien Lloran" ("The Rich Cry Too"), Televisa has found a rich market outside Mexico.

Of all countries that export soap operas, Mexico ships out the most, carving niches in other Spanish-speaking countries, as well asChina, the Philippines, Israel and Saudi Arabia. (Link in Spanish.)

Televisa isn't the only network producing successful telenovelas.

TV Azteca and Argos Comunicación also create top-notch weepers.

Wrestling costumes
Professional wrestling (lucha libre) may be more Hollywood north of the border, and grittier in other countries, but nowhere is it as full of pathos as in Mexico.

Those hilarious/spooky masks aren't just fun to look at, they're a major part of the drama.

Removing one from an opponent's head is one of the greatest triumphs and most thrilling moments in lucha libre.

Matches are held at Arena Mexico in Mexico City on Tuesdays (7:30 p.m.), Fridays (8:30 p.m.) and Sundays (5 p.m.). Tickets can be purchased from Ticketmaster.

Polite lies
Mexicans' deep fear of appearing rude has given us a bred-in-the-bone aversion to uttering the word "no."

Instead -- and unfortunately for those unfamiliar with the rules of courtesy here -- we've developed a talent for white lies that allow us to say yes to fulfilling any request.

Even if we can't do anything about it.

White lies can be as clichéd as "the dog ate my homework" or as morbid as "my beloved great aunt has suddenly developed pancreatic cancer."

But the granddaddy of polite lies is "ahorita."

"Ahorita" literally means "right now," but it's almost never that.

When a Mexican tells you they'll do something "ahorita," be prepared to take a seat, because the wait can be long.

Think of ahorita as the Mexican art of procrastination -- it's been passed from generation to generation -- a term that can mean anything from "in 10 minutes" to "in three weeks."

Ahorita's cousin in crime is "I'm on my way."

This really means, "I'm on my way to finishing this TV show, maybe getting off the couch, calling my sister, taking a shower, grabbing a snack and actually leaving home to meet you."

You've been warned -- we're great at it!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Feria de las Culturas Amigas

La Feria de las Culturas Amigas (the Friend Cultures Fair? I'm not sure how to translate that....) opened in the Zócalo last Saturday, May 17th, and will run through Sunday June 1st.
According to the Fair's website, there are 87 countries participating this year. Each of the participating countries has its own stand, most selling food, drink, artwork, and/or handicrafts (English needs a better word to translate "artesanías"). Throughout the day there are performances on the stage in the Zócalo as well as other nearby locations.

I visited Saturday evening and it was PACKED! I'm glad there's such a great turnout, but it makes it a lot more challenging (and requires much more patience) to browse the various stands.

I was amused that Greece was selling gyros with the description of "Greek tacos." 

Gyro = Greek taco
Gyros are one of my favorite foods, so I had to give it a try. It was... unlike any gyro I've ever eaten or seen before. The bread was completely different (and I say bread because it wasn't pita) and the meat was different and tasted like it had been prepared with lime. It wasn't terrible, but wasn't what I was hoping for.

The Polish and Czech Republic stands reminded me of my summer travels!

Czech Republic and Poland

By the time I visited the U.S. stand they were getting ready to close down for the day. They had a display of American Football (with a Steelers uniform - boo!), what appeared to be information and assistance regarding visas, and food for sale. They only had hotdogs left when I got there, so I'm not sure what else they sold during the day. 


A friend is in charge of the Dominican Republic stand and Edson is working there as well. I tried a quipe, which was tasty, and highly recommend the pastelón de plátano, which I've had on other occasions.

Edson was selling imported Dominican beer and rum, as well as  Mama Juana (Dominican drink made from rum, red wine, and honey that have been left to soak in a bottle with tree bark and herbs) and liquors made with banana (or plantain? not sure) and mandarin orange.

Edson at the Dominican Republic stand

Dominican Republic

I also tried an éclair from France and a piece of chocolate cake from Switzerland. Yum!

Since I visited at the end of the day, I got to see the building surrounding the Zócalo all lit up.

Metropolitan Cathedral and stage

Presidential Palace

If you're local, make sure you check it out! I'll be going back, probably a couple times (and hopefully a weekday when it's not so crowded!).

Monday, May 19, 2014

Singing at the Norwegian Embassy

On Friday the choir had the honor of singing at the Norwegian Embassy in Mexico City as part of their Bicentennial Constitution Day celebration. We were invited after someone from the Embassy saw us perform for Poland's National Independence Day back in November and we've been rehearsing since March.

Rehearsing at the Embassy
Source: Staccato's Facebook

They gave each of us in the choir a ribbon lapel pin with Norway's colors and coat of arms to wear during the celebration.

my ribbon lapel pin

Before performing, the choir with one of the Embassy Counselors who
helped us with the Norwegian pronunciation
Source: Staccato's Facebook

Before performing
Source: Ana's photo

Friday's program and my Norwegian ribbon lapel pin

Ambassador Merethe Nergaard giving a speech before introducing the choir
Source: The Norwegian Embassy in Mexico City's facebook

We sang Mexico's National Anthem, Norway's National Anthem ("Ja, vi eslsker dette landet"), "Vi ere en Nation, vi med" (a song that expresses that Norwegian National Day should also be a day for children), and a medley of "El Cascabel" and "Cielito Lindo." 

lyrics to the Mexican and Norwegian National Anthems in Friday's program

Performing  (I'm the one blocked by the director in the photo - hah!)
Source: Staccato's Facebook

You can listen to Norway's National Anthem below. 

**Edit - The Norwegian Embassy posted a video on their Facebook page of us singing "Ja, vi eslsker dette landet", which I've included below:

It went well: the crowd was attentive (always a plus and not always the case!) and we received positive feedback. One woman asked me how long we had been rehearsing to perfect the pronunciation and memorize the songs. Another woman commented that we "spoke" Norwegian better than she did and she comes from a Norwegian family. I assured her that our Norwegian was limited to those two, very practiced songs, but thanked her nonetheless.

After the speeches and performances, it was time for food, drink, and mingling. Waiters and waitresses circulated through the crowd, serving salmon, caviar, and another type of fish as appetizers. There was wine, beer, and a Norwegian liquor (Akvavit?) to drink. From there, the buffet opened. I had every intention of snapping a photo of both the buffet table and my plate, but after I ate everything I realized that never happened. I tried a small serving of everything, so my plate went something like this: salmon, roast beef, egg, salmon, cod, salad, and more salmon.

Much like the song "Vi ere en Nation, vi med," there was a special focus on the children in attendance. There was special kid food, including sausages, waffles, and popsicles; a troll-shaped piñata; a clown; a moon bounce; and a showing of Disney's Frozen, which was inspired by Norway.

I'm a sucker for sweets, so I obviously enjoyed the dessert table. There was kransekake (Norwegian Almond Ring Cake), brownies, iced cinnamon rolls, cake with Chantilly cream and fruit, a cake that reminded me of a tres leches cake and was decorated like Norway's flag, and ice cream in cone bowls 

Kransekake - Norwegian Almond Ring Cake
dessert table

It was an honor to be invited to sing and a fun (and delicious!) day! 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Axel's birthday and Mother's Day in Maltrata, Veracruz

I spent last weekend in Maltrata to celebrate Axel's birthday and Mother's Day. 

Shortly after arriving on Saturday I accompanied Mamá Juanita and one of her daughters to the cemetery to leave flowers in honor of Mother's Day (always celebrated May 10th in Mexico). I thought it would be just for her mother, though we left flowers for various family members, including her mother, mother-in-law, daughter-in-law, and husband. We saw lots of people leaving flowers for their family members that have passed away. 

cemetery in Maltrata

Back at the house I played with the boys before the festivities began. They went for a swim in the tank (reservoir?), though I just watched from the side.

with the birthday boy

That afternoon family and friends came over for lunch for a joint celebration of Mother's Day, especially celebrating Mamá Juanita, and Axel's birthday. We had a delicious lunch of pierna (pork leg?) adobada, chicken prepared with avocado leaves and lime and I'm not sure what else, pozolearroz rojo (red rice), refried beans, and pasta salad. We ate the bread and pastries of a resobada with our coffee. While we were eating, a man serenaded us, singing and playing keyboard.

When we were thoroughly stuffed, they brought out the goodies for the birthday party part of the celebration: tamales with salsa verde and sweet tamales, fruit kebabs to dip in the chocolate fountain, cupcakes, and Jell-o molds.

There were also two piñatas for the little ones (and not so littles ones) to try to break open and of course run for the treats when they fell to the ground.

Alex taking a swing at the piñata

How cool are these banners for Axel's birthday?

Axel as Captain America
Axel as Max Steel

The piñata provided entertainment after it had been broken and emptied as well...
playing around with the piñata "head" 

I enjoyed celebrating both Mother's Day with my adopted family and Axel's birthday. I first met my little buddy when he was about 14 months old and I've since celebrated his 2nd, 3rd, and now 4th birthday with him. How time flies!

"Rebe" and Axel in 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Si Nos Dejan" is going on tour

Remember when I went to see the show "Si Nos Dejan?" back in February 2013? (Here for the post)

It was recently announced that it will be returning to Mexico City for three weeks, starting June 13th, before embarking on its South American tour. If you have a chance to see it I highly recommend it!

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Happy Mother's Day!

Happy Mother's Day! Mexico always celebrates Día de la Madre on May 10th, whatever day it falls on, whereas in the U.S. it is celebrated on the second Sunday in May. This year there's only a 1-day difference since the 10th falls on a Saturday.

So Happy Mother's Day x 2, Mom! Love you! And happy Mother's Day to all you moms out there, as well!

2011 Mexico visit
PS - We need an updated photo together, Mom! You or I are (almost) always the photographer! 

Thursday, May 8, 2014


There was another earthquake today at noon. I say another because it seems like the last strong earthquake (April 18th) just happened not too long ago. 

Mexico's National Seismological Service reported it was a magnitude - 6.6 earthquake centered near Tecpan, Guerrero (on the coast of Guerrero, about 303 km = 188 miles from Mexico City). 

The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting it was a magnitude- 6.8 quake.

*Edit: The U.S. Geological Survey and Mexico's National Seismological Service have downgraded it to 6.4. 

Cultural diferences

In her post "13 Differences Between a Normal Friend and a Mexican Friend," Susannah Rigg lists various observations of cultural differences between Mexican culture and (what I read as) U.S. culture. I'm not a fan at all of the author's use of "a normal friend" (What is normal? And Mexican is therefore not "normal" since the two are being compared?), but by replacing "normal" with "a stereotypical American friend" (and knowing that "the Mexican friend" is also working off of generalities and stereotypes), it was an amusing read that I could definitely relate to. 

I've added some of my own comments in blue.



by  on MAY 7, 2014

1. A normal friend will decline an invitation if they can’t make it. A Mexican friend will tell you, “Yep, I’ll be there,” knowing full well they can’t make it — just to avoid hurting your feelings.
Yesss. All the time. 
2. A normal friend might socialize separately with their family or with their friends. A Mexican’s family are his best friends…and therefore yours within minutes of meeting them.
3. A normal friend would take at least a year to give you a nickname. A Mexican friend will do it within seconds. In fact, so will the plumber, your doctor, and anyone you meet, really.
Had I mentioned previously that while "Becca" is a normal nickname for "Rebecca" in English, here it's "Rebe"? 
4. A normal friend will pass you a knife to cut your birthday cake. A Mexican friend will shove your face in it. It’s your birthday, so you should have the first little bite, right?
Check out my post from celebrating my birthday in Maltrata (here) for an illustration of the "mordida".... 
5. A normal friend will ask you if they can bring a friend to your party. A Mexican friend will turn up with their whole crew without so much as a phone call. Why have a party if you don’t want people there?
6. A normal friend will give you a call to let you know they’re running late to meet you. A Mexican friend will turn up 40 minutes late, without even a message to let you know. But at least they turned up at all!
Also, in most contexts in Mexico City there's about a 15 minute grace period where it doesn't really count as being late, generally due to the fact that the city is ginormous and transportation and traffic are unpredictable. 

7. If you express interest in a job, a normal friend will wish you luck and offer to look over your application. A Mexican friend will tell you “the brother of the ex-girlfriend of my cousin used to work there, let me just makes some calls.”
It's all about connections. 
8. A normal friend will describe their house and their stuff as belonging to them. A Mexican friend will describe it as if it’s yours, literally talking about their sofa as follows: “Your sofa is black leather.” Mi casa, su casa and all that.
9. A normal friend will make you tea with honey and lemon for a cold. A Mexican friend will pass you their stash of antibiotics. It’s fine though, because their sister / uncle / neighbor is a doctor.
Also, tequila and mezcal (at least jokingly) cure all....
10. A normal friend will schedule a date to see you with two weeks’ anticipation and note it on their calendar. A Mexican friend will say, “Wanna meet in 5 güey?”
11. When a family member dies, a normal friend might avoid you, feeling awkward that they don’t know what to say. A Mexican friend will turn up at your door to talk and listen and to accompany you in your grief.
12. A normal friend will leave their phone in their bag when having dinner with you. A Mexican friend will leave it on the table and happily answer it every time it rings…. “The first one to touch their phone pays the bill” should solve all that.
Or in class... Or in a meeting...
13. A normal friend will add salt or butter to their popcorn at the movies. A Mexican friend will drown the popped kernels in valentina hot sauce, whilst slurping on a fluorescent blue icey. Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.
Valentina goes on chips as well (though I suppose that's not usually a movie theater food...)

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Jenny and the Mexicats

Jenny and The Mexicats is my new favorite band of the moment and I've been listening to their CD on repeat (thanks, Spotify!). They are a self-proclaimed "musical fusion of personalities, rhythms, and nationalities." The band is made up of Jenny (singer, trumpet) from London, Icho (double bass) and Pantera (guitar) from Mexico, and David (percussion - Cajón Box Drum) from Spain. Theirs songs combine flamenco, rock, and folk, sung in both English and Spanish.

Check them out!

Recognize Mexico City's Historic Downtown and Xochimilco in the last video?? 

Monday, May 5, 2014

Cinco de Mayo

Cinco de Mayo (or May 5 in Spanish). For some people in the US, this day is a celebration of Mexican heritage. For many others, this day has become an excuse to drink margaritas and Coronas ("Cinco de Drinko") and possibly wear a sombrero. But do you know what Cinco de Mayo celebrates? Or that there is much less celebration in Mexico than in the US?

Advertisement for Bailes de Mi Tierra's performance at
EBLO's 2014 Cinco de Mayo Festival in Baltimore, MD

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day, but rather the remembrance of an unlikely (and short-lived), David and Goliath style victory against the French in a battle in Puebla, Mexico in 1862, led by General Ignacio Zaragoza.  

Cinco de Mayo is still recognized to some extent in Mexico, generally through parades and I think schools are closed (though the UNAM is still open today), and especially in Puebla. However, it doesn't compare to the extent and popularity of the celebrations in the U.S., either as heritage celebrations with traditional music and dance performances for example, or as an excuse to drink. Perhaps that's because the Cinco de Mayo holiday as we know it in the U.S. was invented in the U.S.

In an excerpt from the article "Cinco de Mayo: An American Holiday, Not Mexican," author  Nick Ng. explains:

"However, Cinco de Mayo was “celebrated” before the Mexicans re-established their government and rule. After the victory at the Battle of Puebla, news had already spread to the West Coast of the U.S., where the event was memorialized by “juntas patrioticas mejicanas,” (Mexican patriotic assemblies), which were a group of about 14,000 Latinos who were networked throughout most of California, Nevada, Arizona, and Oregon, according to Hayes-Bautista. They celebrated the victory with parades, banquets, dances and speeches to boost morale among the Latinos in support of President Abraham Lincoln and the Union. For a short time after the Civil War, American and Mexican veterans would put on their uniforms and give speeches on Cinco De Mayo.
These stories would be passed by each generation to the grandchildren of the veterans from the 1890s,  into World War II and during the Chicano movement in the 1960s and 1970s. By the 1980s, corporate companies began to commercialize Cinco de Mayo by promoting alcoholic beverages, food and products to the Latino communities — “a fake holiday recently invented by beverage companies,” said Hayes-Bautista. He even said that Cinco de Mayo got its own postage in 1996 and former president George W. Bush threw a Cinco de Mayo party at the White House in 2005. Truly, the Cinco de Mayo “holiday” stems from American capitalism rather than a recognition of a Mexican historical event. 
Even though some Mexicans frown upon how Cinco de Mayo is commercialized in the U.S., some believe that this could be a good thing for both Americans and Latinos. In an interview with National Geographic, José Alamillo, Ph.D., professor of ethnic studies at Washington State University, suggested that Cinco de Mayo allowed Americans “to partake in and learn about Mexican culture through Cinco de Mayo.” University of Oklahoma professor Robert David-Undiano, who teaches American and Chicano studies, said that Cinco de Mayo could improve the relationship between Latino and non-Latino communities, ” especially at a time when tensions surrounding the illegal immigration debate run high.” Despite the commercialization of Cinco de Mayo, the American “holiday” could unite Mexican and other Latinos with Americans and other cultures in the U.S. Even so, the significance among the French invasion, the Battle of Puebla and the American Civil War should also be recognized."

Click here to read what All About Puebla has to say in "Why Cinco de Mayo Matters in Mexico, U.S." or here for the article "Cinco de Mayo: An American Holiday, Not Mexican," by Nick Ng. 

Friday, May 2, 2014

May Day

Yesterday was a holiday, so it's a nice surprise every time I remember that today is actually Friday and not Monday! 

Yesterday, May 1st, was el Día del Trabajo, also known as May Day, International Labor Day, or International Worker's Day. This day is recognized internationally -- though no longer (officially) in the U.S. -- and is traditionally a day to demand job reform and better conditions.

According to the newspaper La Jornada, in Mexico City there were two main marches downtown, which included various groups and whose main protests included the rejection of the structural reforms put in place by President Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, unemployment, and economic policy that continues to generate more poverty. 

May Day March
May Day March

The U.S. used to honor International Workers' Day, remembering protestors that were killed in Chicago during a 1886 strike for an eight-hour workday. However, May Day, associated with populist movements, has since been replaced with Labor Day in September in the U.S. You can read more in the article "What's Left of May Day?", an opinion piece by Nathan Schneider, which was published in Al Jazeera America yesterday.