Tehuacán

Tehuacán

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Two Favorites in One

Last year I wrote about the "pambazo", of type of Mexican sandwich which has become a favorite of mine.  A couple weeks ago I wrote about the restaurant "Hijos del Maíz" which specializes in "chilaquiles", another favorite.

Today I left Alejandro's house for a couple days and returned to the apartment which I rent.  For lunch I went back to "Hijos del Maíz" and I ordered a "pambazo de chilaquiles".

The "pambazo" is a thick roll dunked in salsa and filled with potatoes and chorizo.  "Chilaquiles" are crisp tortilla triangles simmered in salsa with other ingredients.  Here the "chilaquiles" were mixed with the chorizo and potatoes and stuffed within the "pambazo" roll.


It was very filling, and very tasty.  And, as you can see from the photo, it's the type of sandwich that must be eaten with a knife and fork.

My Friend Luna

Alejandro's family has two dogs.  One of them is a mutt that they found on the street eight years ago.  They brought her home, adopted her and gave her the name Luna.


Luna is generally suspicious of strangers, but from the very first time I visited Alejandro's house she has been friendly with me.  Luna is very affectionate with those whom she trusts, and she loves to be petted, scratched and rubbed.  I could spend hours petting her, and she would still want more.  When I stop, she nuzzles me or lifts her paw to say "More!"

The only down side to this is that after being with Luna, my clothes are covered in dog hair.

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Baby, It's Cold Outside

Another cold front has passed through Mexico City.  Even though this is the dry season, there has been little sunshine to warm up the afternoons, and there has been some rain.  Last night in parts of the city at higher elevations the temperature dropped to 24 degrees Fahrenheit (-2 Celsius), and precipitation fell in the form of sleet or snow.

(image taken from the internet)

There was no snow here at Alejandro's house, but it certainly has been cold.  The HIGH temperature today was only in the 50s.

Death - Mexican Style






In the 45 years that I have been traveling to Mexico I have observed or even participated in many of the traditions of the country.  However, I wish that a funeral had not been one of them.  It seems to me that the Mexican funeral customs are a grueling marathon that places an immense burden upon the bereaved.  Nevertheless Alejandro told me later that psychologists have said that the Mexican manner of dealing with death is the healthiest.  It is already a blur in my mind, but here are the events as I can best remember them.  

As Alejandro's mother was breathing her last breaths around 3:30 on Sunday afternoon, her son read verses from the Bible and led those gathered around her bedside in prayer. 

As soon as María Luisa had passed away, everyone got to work preparing for the "velorio"... the wake... which was to held in the house that very evening.  The front room was cleared of furniture.  The carport / courtyard was scrubbed clean because the overflow crowd would be seated there.  Folding chairs for the visitors appeared from somewhere.  People from a funeral home came with a casket.  María Luisa's body was dressed and prepared for viewing.  Amazingly by six o'clock everything was ready.  Alejandro's mother rested in the casket with lighted, tall tapers at each corner.  Flower arrangements from friends had magically appeared in that short time.  People began to arrive.  Some brought big kettles of coffee; others brought bags of sugar for the coffee; others brought packages of Styrofoam cups.  I went to the corner store and bought a dozen large bottles of soft drinks.

The front room and the courtyard were soon filled with family, friends and neighbors.  Lay people from the church did readings and led the others in prayer.  Later, member of a religious community came to say the rosary.  Then a couple of guitarists arrived, and there was singing... hymns at first and later popular songs.  

I went to bed around midnight, but I got very little sleep.  When I got up Monday morning there were still around twenty people there.  A couple of the women had gone to the market and bakery to buy tamales, quesadillas, bread and pastries for breakfast.  As the morning progressed the doorbell rang constantly as more people came to the house.  It was eventually standing room only.  Prayers were recited in the front room.  In the afternoon a dinner of chicken and rice was served to everyone.  Around three o'clock a priest arrived and said mass.  A hearse had arrived at the house, and after the mass the casket was carried to the hearse as the crowd applauded.

María Luisa's wish was that she be cremated.  Even at this stage she was accompanied by family.  A contingent of us followed the hearse to the cemetery crematorium.  There we sat in a waiting room for a couple hours until the container with her ashes was presented to Alejandro.

But it is not over yet.  For the nine nights, beginning tonight, family members, friends, and neighbors will come to the house to say the rosary.
 


Monday, January 29, 2018

She Is At Rest

Yesterday afternoon, Alejandro's mother passed away.  I, along with family members and friends, was at her bedside.  She was a sweet, kind and loving woman.  We are deeply saddened, but relieved that her suffering is over, and that she is now at rest.  I will always hold her in my heart for the warmth that she showed me and for welcoming me as a member of the family.


María Luisa, you will be missed by your many friends and family members.

Descansa en paz.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Feast Day

The parish church in Alejandro's neighborhood is dedicated to San Juan Crisóstomo (St. John Chrysotom)  Yesterday was his feast day in the Catholic calendar, and it was marked with festivities.  There was a carnival with children's rides set up on the little plaza in front of the church.  In the early evening Alejandro and I went out to run an errand.  When we returned to the house we discovered that the cross street steps away from his house had been closed to traffic.  There was a small procession of parishioners bearing religious figures.  (The images were covered with plastic because it was drizzling.)  A band brought up the rear of the procession.




Saturday, January 27, 2018

Family

One of the wonderful things about Mexican culture is the importance of family... but sometimes I'm glad that I am an only child.

Yesterday I went across town to the condo to pick up some clean clothes and take care of a couple things.  I got back to Alejandro's home around 2:30, and I was thinking that my timing was perfect.  I was just in time to warm up left overs for the family's afternoon dinner.

When I opened the door, I found the house full of visiting relatives.  Alejandro's mom is in very bad shape, and family members from as far away as Chiapas converged all at once to say their goodbyes to her.  I would estimate that there were thirty visitors.  That may be an exaggeration, but in the small house it seemed as it there were even more.

Alejandro's father was upset that we didn't have food to offer everyone.  But, as I said to him later, isn't it customary for the visitors to bring food to the home of a sick relative??  Alejandro's favorite aunt and uncle brought an apple salad and a gelatin mold, and those were quickly devoured.  Alejandro and I ran to the corner store to buy bottles of soft drinks to offer to the guests.

Of course there were plenty of children among the crowd.  The aforementioned aunt chased the kids out of the sickroom, and did not care if she were offending anyone.  Good for her!

Around 7:00 P.M. Alejandro, his father and sister and I finally took refuge upstairs in his sister's apartment to eat.  What should have been our afternoon dinner, turned out to be our evening supper.  

The last visitors did not leave until 10:00 P.M.  However, those were the favorite aunt and uncle and a couple of their adult children.  Of all the members of Alejandro's extended family that I have met, they are probably the ones with whom I feel most comfortable.  I enjoy their company... but by 10:00 I was exhausted and I am sure that Alejandro, and his father and sister were also.

In spite of all the commotion, Alejandro's mother slept through a good portion of the impromptu family reunion.

I just hope that family members do not descend upon the house again today! 

Thursday, January 25, 2018

More Street Sounds

One of the sounds which I most associate with Mexico City is the recording played by the trucks of the junk dealers. They make the rounds through the city streets buying old appliances and other household items.  It doesn't matter whether you are in a working class neighborhood or an upscale district, you will likely hear this recording being blasted on a daily basis.

This morning I heard a truck´s recording from a distance, and I went upstairs to hoping to film if it should come down the street in front of Alejandro's house.  After a short wait, sure enough, the truck turned onto the street.  




"Se compran colchones, tambores, refrigeradores, estufas, lavadoras, microondas, o algo de fierro viejo que vendan."  Loosely translated... We buy mattresses, bedframes, refrigerators, stoves, washers, microwaves, or anything of old metal that you want to sell.

I did a bit of research and discovered that the voice is that of a young lady by the name of María del Mar Terrón Martínez.  Her father wrote the words, and made the recording when she was only ten years old.  Now more than a decade later, her voice is one of the most iconic sounds of Mexico City.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Street Sounds


There are all sorts of sounds on the street that are unique to a Mexican city.  I have always been meaning to capture some of them, but I never have.  Either my camera is not nearby, or by the time I take it out the moment has passed.  This morning at Alejandro's house I heard the sound of the man coming down the street ringing a bell.  I grabbed my camera, rushed upstairs, and was just in time to film the bell-ringing fellow as he passed by the house.


Anyone who has spent much time in Mexico knows what that bell means.  It's time to bring out your garbage.  In some neighborhoods the garbage truck is following the bell ringer down the street.  In Alejandro's neighborhood, the truck is parked around the corner, and the residents come out with their trash and take it to the truck.  Garbage collection is done on a daily basis.

Perhaps I will have a chance to record some more of the unique Mexican street sounds before this trip is over.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Good News... Sort Of

Yesterday I returned to Alejandro's family's house after a couple days at the condo.  When Alejandro returned from his shift at the hospital, he told me that his mom was going to be released to go home.  The doctor said that her kidney function has increased a bit, and that her severe anemia is a little better.  

Good news... however, she is very weak and is unable to get up or walk on her own.  I worry about how Alejandro and his sister are going to take care of her.  Their mother's return from the hospital is not a reprieve from all the stress that they have been under for the last eighteen days.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Out for a Walk

Yesterday afternoon I took a long walk, mostly through the adjoining neighborhood of Colonia del Valle, which is on the other side of Insurgentes Avenue.

I was struck by how empty the streets were on a Sunday afternoon.





I thought to myself that if traffic in Mexico City were like this all the time, I would have no qualms about driving here.  Of course, I am sure that by this time the highways leading into the city were bumper to bumper with people returning from weekend excursions.

Here are some pictures of interesting architecture.  These buildings probably date from the first half of the twentieth century when neo-colonial and art deco architecture were all the rage.





This art deco building now houses an ice cream shop.





I am no expert on architecture, but I would say that this building, built in 1931, mixes art deco with some neo-colonial decoration (such as the gargoyle-like water spouts).




I mentioned a while ago that small trees and shrubs along the sidewalks are often sculpted into geometric shapes.


The weather was warm, and I had to take off the jacket that I was wearing.  I hope that that is a portent that the cold wave is over.



Sunday, January 21, 2018

Keeping My Distance

I still have my cold.  I really don't feel bad... in fact I took a long walk this afternoon.  The runny nose, sneezing and coughing are simply an annoyance.  However, as long as I have symptoms, I do not want to return to stay with Alejandro's family.  It would be bad enough if I gave the cold to one of the other family members, but it one of them spread the bug to Alejandro's mom it could be a very serious thing.  At her age and in her weakened condition, a simple cold could easily develop into pneumonia.

The situation with Alejandro's mom is not good at all.  She is still in that dreadful hospital.   The doctor says that there is nothing that can be done other than dialysis.  However Alejandro's mother has said that she does not want to go through dialysis, and Alejandro and Sandra are respecting her wishes.  In spite of that, the doctor refuses to release her from the hospital.  Tomorrow, Alejandro is going to go to the hospital administration to demand that she be released. 

It has been a nightmare, not just for their mom, but for Alejandro and Sandra too.  The stress that they are under is enormous, and I worry about them too.

Sunday Breakfast

My cold has certainly not affected my appetite.  At 9:00 this morning I was out the door of the condo to have breakfast.  I walked a short distance to a restaurant on Insurgentes Avenue called "El Bajío". 



It is part of a chain of Mexico City restaurants that specializes in traditional Mexican cuisine. Alejandro and I had been to a couple of them and thought they were very good.  When I started renting the condo near Insurgentes, we were pleased to see that there was an "El Bajío" nearby.  We tried it out for supper one night, but we were sorely disappointed.  Neither the food nor the service were as good as the other restaurants in the chain that we had tried.

I did not realize that it was open in the morning for breakfast, so I decided to give it another chance.  I arrived shortly after it opened, and no one else was there.  I thought, "That's not a good sign."  But soon Mexican families were coming in for Sunday breakfast.

I was seated by a window, and the sunshine felt good.  A waitress came with a clay pitcher of Mexican hot chocolate, and asked if I wanted some.  It was so good!  (Swiss Miss eat your heart out!)  And you get free refills.  Another waitress arrived with a basket of sweet rolls.  I selected a "chocolatín", a chocolate-filled, croissant-like pastry.

I placed my order from the menu, and first I was served a Veracruz-style "tamal".  (The singular of "tamales" is not "tamale".)  It comes wrapped in a banana leaf.


Untie the banana leaf and there is a scrumptious "tamal".


Next I had an order of "enchiladas verdes"... chicken enchiladas in a green sauce.  The waitress had warned me that they were spicy, but it was a very nice level of heat.


All of the "El Bajío" restaurants are beautifully decorated with Mexican handicrafts.

An entire wall is covered with woven baskets.


Another section of wall had strings of papier-mache fruits and vegetables.



My breakfast, while more expensive than at most places, was excellent, and so was the service.  "El Bajío" on Insurgentes definitely redeemed itself in my estimation.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Dinner for One

Usually on a Saturday night, Alejandro and I go out for dinner.  But today Alejandro was at the hospital with his mother, and I was alone in my apartment trying to get over the sniffles.  After spending the afternoon dozing and reading, I got dressed to go out and eat.  There are a lot of restaurants in my neighborhood, but the area is not noted for its fine dining.  A lot of the restaurants are U.S. or Mexican chains.  There was one restaurant a short walk from the condo that Alejandro and I have noticed on previous visits, and we have said that we should try it some time.  It is an Italian restaurant called "La Posta".  I decided to go there this evening.

When I arrived around 6:00 P.M. the restaurant was not crowded, and, by the time I finished my meal, I was the only one there.  The afternoon dinner crowd had left by then, and the nighttime supper crowd had not yet arrived.  


I started with a very good soup of roasted tomatoes, green olives and goat cheese.


 For my main course I had something that was a mixture of cuisines... fettucine Stroganoff. 


It was tasty, although the beef tips were rather chewy.

For dessert I had panna cotta.  I had heard of it before but had never tasted it.  I had it in my mind that it was made with bread since the Italian word for bread is "pane".  In fact it is sort of an Italian version of flan.  This panna cotta was flavored with strawberries and amaretto and was very good.


My meal was somewhat on the expensive side by Mexican standards... 370 pesos or around 19 dollars.  It was a good dinner, although not spectacular.  However, I might take Alejandro here someday to share one of their pizzas.

In Quarantine

I felt it coming on yesterday... the first signs of a cold.  This morning I was certain.  It's not a bad cold, and I have no fever, so it is not the flu.  Nevertheless, I didn't want Alejandro and his family to catch it, so I decided to go to the apartment for the weekend.  

This morning I packed a few things that I needed, and took the Metrobus to the condo.  The bus from Alejandro's house was not crowded and I had a seat.  However, when I transferred to the line going down Insurgentes Avenue the bus was jammed.  That surprised me since the stop where I transfer is only the second stop on the Insurgentes line.  

After more than an hour on the buses, I made it to the condo... and I hoped to resolve the problem of getting a key to the new lock on the front door of the building.  The owner of the apartment has been emailing the building administrator, insisting that I should be given a key.  The administrator finally responded and said that the doorman would give me the key the next time I come to the building.

I entered as I did before, using the garage door opener that I have been carrying with me.  I went to the doorman and asked him for the key.  He said that he wasn't authorized to give it me.  I told him to call the administrator.  He did, and I now finally have a key!  I do not care much for this new doorman.  I don't plan on bringing him coffee and donuts the way I did with the previous doorman!

Friday, January 19, 2018

Market Day

Thursday morning when I went out for breakfast in the Nápoles neighborhood, across the street from the restaurant vendors were busy setting up a "tianguis" or outdoor market.


The word "tianguis" comes from the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs, and it has been a part of Mexico's culture for time immemorial.  Every neighborhood will have at least one weekly "tianguis".  In Nápoles there are two (if not more) markets each week.  On Sundays there is quite a large "tianguis" in which the street just around the corner from my apartment is closed to traffic and filled with market stalls.

On Thursdays there is a smaller market.  In this case, the street is not blocked off.  The vendors' stands are set up on the sidewalks on three sides of the neighborhood park.  Here you find not just fruits and vegetables, but everything from shoes to underwear to houseplants.  I know that I have written many times about the markets in Mexico, but whenever I see one, I cannot resist taking more photos.




 


This fellow was frying up "chicharrones" (pork rinds).



If shopping makes you hungry, the "tianguis" always has places where you can eat, such as this taco stand called "Tacontento"...  which is a play on words.  It could be taken to mean "Taco contento" ( Happy taco) or "Está contento" (He or she is happy). 



Thursday, January 18, 2018

Children of the Corn

After spending the night at the condo in the Nápoles neighborhood, I ventured out to have breakfast this morning at a nearby restaurant called "Hijos del Maíz" (Children of the Corn).  I have no idea if it was named, tongue in cheek, after the Stephen King horror story or not.


"Hijos del Maíz" is a chain of small, unpretentious restaurants that specialize in "chilaquiles", a typical Mexican dish that can be served for breakfast or dinner.  There are numerous variations of the dish, but the indispensable ingredient is "totopos", the fried pieces of corn tortillas that are the original version of our tortilla chips.  "Chilaquiles" are a common way of using up left-over tortillas.

The menu offers a variety of different kinds of "chilquiles", and I ordered the "cochinita pibil".. the Yucatan peninsula's version of pulled pork.  It was a tasty breakfast, and I will probably return to try some of their other variations.



A Change of Scenery




Yesterday a prepared meal was going to be delivered to the house, and I had also made a big kettle of soup.  I didn't have to worry about cooking for Alejandro's family, so I took off to spend the day and night at the condo that I am renting.  There were a couple of errands that the owner of the condo had asked me to do, and I needed to pick up some clean clothes.  (I had almost used up the clothes that I had packed, but I have plenty of clothes at the condo.)

Even though I didn't leave until 10:00 A.M. after the height of the morning rush hour, the Metrobus was very crowded... so crowded that I had to push my way off when I had to transfer from one line to another.  It took over an hour to arrive at my neighborhood of Nápoles.  The problem of getting a key for the new lock on the front door of the building still had not been resolved in spite of numerous emails written by the owner in Chicago to the building administrator.  However with the garage door opener that I had with me I was able to enter the building.  Inside the apartment, the temperature was cool but not nearly as cold as Alejandro's house.  The condo has a lot of windows that allow the morning sun shine in.

After doing the errands that I had to run, I went to one of the numerous restaurants that serve a "meal of the day" for the afternoon dinner.  I then did an after-dinner walk around the neighborhood.



Even though Nápoles is a modern, quite Americanized area, there are constant reminders that you are in Mexico...


...a vendor on the street selling cups of freshly sliced mangos...




...a lady along busy Insurgentes Avenue selling balloons...




...or the many stands along the street where you can get a shoe shine for the equivalent of about one dollar.

This advertisement for Guillermo del Toro's latest movie, "The Shape of Water" ("La Forma del Agua") is very unique.  There is actually bubbling water within the glass panels of the sign.



In many of the plazas and parks of Mexico City there are metal, sculptural pieces with the letters CDMX... the new official abbreviation for Mexico City (Ciudad de México).  However in a couple of the green spaces of the Nápoles neighborhood I saw similar displays but with the letters BJ.  I took me a minute to realize that the letters stood for "Benito Juárez", the "delegación", or city borough in which Nápoles is located.



Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Getting Out of the House

Yesterday I didn't have to cook for Alejandro's family, so I ventured out on my own.

Fortunately, Line 6 of the Metrobus, the most recently completed line, passes just a couple blocks from the house.  As with most of the Metrobus lines, the bus stops are built in the middle of the avenue, and to each side are lanes reserved for the bus.


I took the Metrobus just a couple stops down the road to a nearby shopping plaza which includes a Walmart, where I did some grocery shopping.



After returning to the house, and putting the groceries away, I then decided to take a walk around the neighborhood.

Alejandro lives in a section of the city known as San Juan de Aragón which is in the northern part of the city about half way between the airport and the Basilica of Guadalupe.


It is not an elegant or beautiful part of Mexico City, but is more typical of the vast bulk of the city than the areas with which the typical tourist is familiar.

One of the commercial streets of the neighborhood is Camino San Juan de Aragón (not to be confused with Calzada San Juan de Aragón which is the thoroughfare along which the Metrobus runs).  The street is lined with all sorts of small businesses, from auto repair shops to opticians to corner grocery stores.  Many of them are little hole-in-the-wall establishments.

  
Along the residential streets, the houses face directly on the streets.  There are no front yards or back yards, and the houses are built right up against one another.  (This is typical throughout Mexico.)  Some of the homes look quite nice and are well maintained... others not so much.  Along the sidewalks there are bushes and small trees, some of them pruned into geometric shapes.


I once wrote in another post that the names of the streets within a neighborhood often have a theme.  Here most of the streets are named after Mexican port cities.


Puerto Acapulco is another commercial street.


Along Puerto Acapulco Street you will find the neighborhood market building.  


It is not an especially large market, but it has the typical variety of stalls selling food, clothing, housewares and many other products.  As always, the produce stands are the most colorful.


Hanging from the rafters are piñatas for sale.


All along the side street that runs by the market are outdoor stalls selling a wide variety of merchandise.  Alejandro says that this is technically not a "tianguis" (outdoor market) because these stalls are here all the time and are not just set up once a week.  On Monday, many of the merchants had not set out their wares, but on weekends it is a very busy place.
Although the street is open to vehicular traffic, it is the pedestrians who pretty much control the street.


Carry-out chicken (pollo) establishments are very popular.  KFC does exist in Mexico, but I didn't see one in this neighborhood.







A number of times Alejandro and I have gone to this bakery for bread and pastries.


But during my walk, I came upon this pastry shop which looked quite tempting.



The menu posted outside of this little corner restaurant made me hungry.  They had all sorts of tamales and crepes.


But I didn't try out the restaurant.  It was nearly 2:00, and there would be dinner waiting for me at the house.