Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Chivitos" and Other Tasty Things

A few days ago I wrote a post about some of the stores and restaurants located close to the apartment where in am staying.  One of the places that I mentioned was a little restaurant whose sign advertised hamburgers and "chivitos".  I assumed that "chivito" was made from goat meat since "chivo" means goat.  I then did a bit of research and discovered that a "chivito" is a popular Uruguayan sandwich which contains lots of yummy ingredients but no goat meat.

Alejandro and I decided to try the place for supper one evening... and it was so good that we made a return visit last night.  The restaurant is called "El Orujo".  It has been there for over fifteen years, which speaks well for the quality of their food.  I have no idea how I have missed it for so long.  On my last several trips to Mexico City, I have been staying at the same apartment just a stone's throw away from the restaurant.

On our first visit we both had to try the "chivitos".

 As you can see from the photo, it's a big sandwich on a bun.  It's a bit messy to eat, but it is delicious.  It contains a thin slice of steak, ham, bacon, mozzarella cheese, lettuce, tomato, and mayonnaise.  Not exactly healthy eating, but it was very yummy.

Last night we shared an appetizer of Argentinian sausage on bread, and then we tried a couple of their pasta dishes.  Alejandro was very happy with his spaghetti in "pomadero" sauce, and my spaghetti with mushrooms and chipotle cream sauce was very good.

We finished by sharing a dessert of "alfajores"... a traditional treat from Argentina and Uruguay.  It consists of a stack of several cookies with a creamy filling in between them.  It is covered with powdered sugar and served with "dulce de leche" (caramelized sweetened condensed milk) to the side.  Wow!

I am sure that we will return to "El Orujo" again! 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

¡Viva Yo!

I am writing this at 4:30 A.M. on a Saturday morning.  More than an hour ago I was awakened out of a sound sleep by loud music... music so loud that the windows were literally vibrating.  I threw some clothes on and ventured out into the hall.  I discovered that the deafening noise was coming from the apartment right above me.  I went downstairs to the lobby.  (Even eight floors below the music was faintly audible.)  I woke up the poor doorman.  I told him about the music and asked him if it was against the rules of the apartment building.  He said that parties were allowed on Friday and Saturday nights.

I am reminded of something that James Michener wrote in his book "Iberia", a memoir of his travels in Spain.  In discussing the character of the people, he used the term "Viva yo!", which translates as "Hurray for me!" and conversely "The hell with everyone else."  As charming, gracious and hospitable as the Spaniards are, they can also be inconsiderate of others.  I think that the Mexican people inherited a bit of that trait from their Spanish forefathers, especially when it comes to noise.
When I rented a house in Mérida earlier this month, the next-door neighbor thought nothing of letting her two small dogs bark incessantly in the middle of the night.  One night, or rather one early morning, I went outside and yelled at the top of my lungs for them to quiet the dogs.  I know that the neighbors were awake and heard me.  I could hear voices on the other side of the wall.  But they made no effort to hush the dogs.

And now as it is approaching 5:00 A.M., the party upstairs is still going strong, and the windows are still vibrating.  

Maybe it's because I am sick with a cold, but my posts of late have been on the negative side.  My grumpy side is coming out.  However I would truly like to hear comments from my readers, especially those who are Mexican or who live in Mexico. 

P.S.  I finally went upstairs and banged on the door.  They turned the volume down... although it's still too loud.  I thought I heard a voice say, "Sorry."  So perhaps my tirade is misplaced... perhaps it's a bunch of "pinches gringos" that have an apartment upstairs.      

Not So Sunny (or Warm) Mexico

Many people do not realize that Mexico City does not have a tropical climate.  Its altitude of 7350 feet above sea level moderates the temperature considerably.

Winters can be a bit chilly, but, since it is also the dry season, the sunshine will usually bring the temperature up to the 70s by mid-afternoon.

The last couple days, however, we have hardly seen the sun at all.  It hasn't rained, but the skies have been overcast.  On Thursday the low was a very chilly 37 F, and the high was only 55 F.  (At higher elevations in the city the thermometer went below freezing, and according to the newspaper, a couple of homeless people were found dead from hypothermia.)  On Friday the high temperature was only 59 F.  Of course homes do not have central heating, so the apartment has been chilly too.

In addition to that, I have come down with a cold... so I have been spending a lot of time inside sitting under a blanket and reading.  On Friday I didn't even venture outside until Alejandro came by in the evening to go out for supper with me.

Yes, I'm sure that my readers who are suffering through real winter north of the border don't have a lot of sympathy.  The good news is that by Sunday, the sun will reappear, and the high temperatures will be back in the mid-seventies.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Take a Walk with Me

As I have mentioned before, Condesa, the neighborhood where I am staying, is quite well-to-do.  However it is not a bastion of Mexico City's uber rich. Tiffany's and Gucci do not have their stores here.  I am sure that Condesa has its fair share of snobbish Mexican yuppies, but the general atmosphere here is one of eclecticism rather than stuffiness.  In fact there are buildings here and there that in the U.S. would be considered characteristic of a blighted neighborhood rather than a solidly upper-middle class district.  

 A modern apartment building towers over an older building that has seen better days.

You will even occasionally see an abandoned, derelict building.

Come take a short walk with me to see some of what you will find within just a couple blocks of my apartment.

I am staying on Amsterdam Avenue.  The street runs in an oval in the heart of Condesa.  A tree-lined pedestrian walkway runs in the middle of the avenue for its entire circuit.

Azaleas blooming in the middle of January

Right across the street from my apartment is a cabaret which puts on musical shows.  I can hear the music in my apartment, but, fortunately, it never keeps me from falling asleep at night.

If you want to ride around the city on a bicycle (something that seems a bit dangerous to me!) there is an EcoBici bike stand just around the corner from the apartment.  This program of the city government is intended to reduce automobile traffic.  You can purchase a card and use it to rent a bicycle from one of the many bike stands in the city.  (I have only seen the stands, however, in the nicer neighborhoods of the city.)

You can have a workout using this exercise equipment located along the pedestrian path.

I suspect that the equipment was placed there for public use courtesy of the gym located across the street.  Many young people in Condesa seem to be quite fitness oriented.  You see a lot of people jogging along the pedestrian walkway and in the parks, and there are a number of private gyms in the neighborhood.

You can also see in the above picture a feature of the neighborhood which created a good deal of resentment in Condesa...  the "parquímetro" machines.  You are required to pay to park along the neighborhood streets.  You must go to one of these machines which are located at intervals along the street, feed it some coins, and then put the ticket you receive on the dashboard of your car.  If you don't pay, you may return to find a lock placed on one of your tires.

Condesa is loaded with restaurants representing many different cuisines.  This one sells grilled hamburgers and "chivitos".  I had to do some research on what a "chivito" is.  I thought that it might be grilled goat meat, since "chivo" means goat.  In fact it is a Uruguayan sandwich filled with steak, cheese, ham, bacon, tomato, olives and mayonnaise.  It sounds good!  I'll have to give it a try sometime.

On the next corner is a Middle-Eastern restaurant.  I don't care much for Middle Eastern food though, so I haven't been there.

Along the walkway is a small shrine in honor of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico.

Continuing down the street is a little shop called "Abbey Roc" which specializes in Beatles memorabilia. 

And a couple doors from the Beatles shop is a bizarre little store that sells "Magic Remedies".  According the sign they have "the legitimate and original gadgets of power"  "All your ills have a remedy".  But since another sign says "Laughter is Magic", perhaps it's just for fun rather than being a serious store of the occult.

"Cassava Roots" is a chain of stores that sell a wide variety of teas in unusual flavors.  I've have been there several times, and their teas are very good.

Next up is the "Gran Vía" bakery, which I have been known to frequent upon occasion.

Finally, at the busy intersection of Sonora and Amsterdam, if you crave the familiarity of home, if you really must, I suppose you could visit one of the ubiquitous Starbuck's. 


Thursday, January 28, 2016

Tacos al Pastor

Sometimes for lunch I will go to a little dive called "El Fogón de Pepe" (Joe's Oven).  It's basically a "taquería"... taco restaurant.  It's not my favorite taco joint in Mexico City, but the food is decent and it is close to where I am staying.

For about $4 US I can get a glass of jamaica (iced hibiscus flower tea), a bowl of soup, and two or three "tacos al pastor".

"Tacos al pastor" (shepherd-style tacos) are one of the most popular varieties of tacos in Mexico City.  It originated with Lebanese immigrants to Mexico City.  Their cuisine includes shawarma, lamb that has been roasted on a spit.  The Mexicans took that idea, but substituted pork for lamb.

The pork is marinated with chile peppers, spices and pineapple.  It is placed on a vertical spit called a "trompo", and roasted with a gas flame.  The meat is sliced off the rotisserie, and served on a corn tortilla with chopped onion and cilantro.  Bowls of sauces and lime wedges are served on the side.  It is a very tasty snack. 

Absolutely Absurd

(image taken from the web)

I have not been keeping up with the news back home in the U.S., but I know that there has been a major scandal about lead contamination in the drinking water of Flint, Michigan.  Politicians there are scurrying to try to save their political necks.  Now imagine the outrage if a U.S. city of more than 5 million people announced that there would be absolutely no water for any of its residents for three days or more.  Heads would roll!

Well, that's what is going on right here in Mexico City.  Much of the city's water is piped in from the west, and the pipeline that carries it into the city will be shut down for maintenance work.  Beginning early Friday morning and throughout the weekend, an estimated 5.3 million people in the metropolitan Mexico City area will have no water.  Some parts of the city will not have full service restored until February 6th.

Most homes and businesses in the city have one or more "tinacos" (water tanks) on the roof and some have underground cisterns.  The doorman of the apartment where I am staying says that the "tinacos" and cistern are full, and that we should have no problem.

Alejandro's house has a cistern, so if they conserve water, they should be OK too.

But what about all the people that don't have cisterns or even "tinacos"?  The government says that water trucks will bring water free of charge to those who have none.  I wonder how many water trucks it would take to supply this huge, sprawling city.  I can imagine a chaotic situation. 

Those of you who read my blog know how much I love Mexico.  I am certainly no Mexico basher.   But sometimes I just have to shake my head over some of the things that go on here.  This situation does not help Mexico rise above the stereotype of an inept, poorly governed Third World country. 


Wednesday, January 27, 2016


A dramatic sky captured from the window of my apartment yesterday...

The Shopping List

I thought that perhaps my readers, especially the ones who do not live in Mexico, would be interested in how much groceries here cost.

A couple days ago I went to Sumesa, the grocery store a couple blocks from my apartment, to pick up a few items.  Here is what they cost in dollars, using an exchange rate of 18 pesos to the dollar.

Roll of paper towels (180 sheets) - 80 cents
2 liter bottle of water - 64 cents
1 liter container (approx. 1 quart) of orange juice - 98 cents
1 liter container of skim milk - 84 cents
1 dozen eggs - $1.10
400 grams (14 ounces) of "asadero" cheese - $2.47 

Yesterday I went to the "tianguis" (open air market) that is held each Tuesday in the neighborhood.  I'll usually go there, instead of the supermarket, to buy fruits and vegetables.

These were the prices that I found there...

white potatoes - 37 cents per pound
Roma tomatoes - 75 cents per pound
white onions - 50 cents per pound
avocados - $1.00 per pound
bananas - 37 cents per pound 

I would expect that prices are higher in Mexico City than in smaller cities in the country.  Prices might also be higher in my part of the city, since it is a more affluent neighborhood.

So, how do the prices compare to where you live?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

A Truly Magical "Magic Town"

I have mentioned a number of times the "Pueblo Mágico" (Magic Town) program of the Mexican tourism department.  The designation of "Pueblo Mágico" is given to small towns throughout the country for their beauty and cultural and historical significance.  There are currently over 100 "Magic Towns" across Mexico.  Critics have said that the tourism department has lowered its standards and has given the designation to towns that are less deserving of the award.  I have visited a number of the "Pueblos Mágicos", and I agree that some are more interesting than others.  However, there is no denying the magical quality of the town of Malinalco

The town is located in a sub-tropical valley surrounded by dramatic mountains and cliffs.  It is in the State of Mexico about 70 miles to the southwest of Mexico City.   Alejandro and I visited the town four years ago, and found it an enchanting place.  My blogger friend Kim, who is spending several months in Mexico City, had never been there.  So, last Saturday, we took him to this "magic town".

The principal point of interest is the archaeological site atop one of the hills over 700 feet above Malinalco.  Here the Aztecs, who conquered the region around 1470, built one of their most important and sacred ceremonial sites.  Kim led the way climbing the 426 steps leading to the site.

 We finally reached the Aztec ruins at the top of the hill.

The most significant structure in the archaeological site is the House of Eagles.  It was carved out of the rock face of the cliff.

Within this building the bravest Aztec warriors would be initiated into the elite Order of the Eagles.   There is a circular chamber with images of eagles and jaguars carved out of the stone.

Carvings of jaguars guarded the building.

From the ruins there is a fine view of the Malinalco below.

We descended into the town and there we visited the church and former monastery that were built by the Augustinian order between 1540 and 1560.

On the walls and ceilings surrounding the cloister of the former monastery are impressive paintings that were done by indigenous artists.  They depict the Garden of Eden as imagined by the natives.

After lunch, we wandered  through the Saturday "tianguis" (open-air market) with its colorful produce and handicrafts.

 All too soon it was time to leave this truly magical town.


Monday, January 25, 2016

New Currency

The strength of the U.S. dollar is great for tourists visiting down here, but not so good for the Mexican people.

With the exchange rate approaching 20 pesos to the dollar, there are plans to issue a new 20 peso bill...

(image from the web)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

What's in a Name?

We English-speakers know it as Mexico City... the capital and huge metropolis of our neighbor to the south.  In Spanish it is "la Ciudad de México", the City of Mexico.

People here however often just call it "México", which can be quite problematic.  There is the City of México,  the State of México (which borders the city to the east, north and west) and the nation of México (which is officially called "Los Estados Unidos Mexicanos"... the United Mexican States).  The name comes from the Aztecs, who actually called themselves the Mexica.

The even more commonly used name for the capital city is D.F. (which in Spanish is pronounced "day efay").  D.F. is the abbreviation for "Distrito Federal".  Just as our capital Washington is located in the District of Columbia, the Mexican capital is within a Federal District which is not a part of any state. 

 The Federal District (Mexico City) is shown in blue.
The neighboring State of Mexico is shown in red.

The people of Mexico City are referred to as "chilangos"... which can be either a derogatory or an affectionate term.  The Royal Spanish Academy in Madrid, the final arbiter of the Spanish language, recently proclaimed that a resident of Mexico City is a "mexiqueño", which will certainly be confused with "mexicano" (a citizen of the nation of Mexico) or a "mexiquense" (a resident of the State of Mexico).  The word "defeño" (from D.F.) has emerged to refer to someone who lives in the Federal District (although that word has not been recognized by the Royal Academy).

Well, suddenly, with the stroke of a pen, "D.F." and "defeño" are obsolete.  The Federal District has been abolished.  Mexico City... "la Ciudad de México"... is now the 32nd state in the United Mexican States. 

Have I thoroughly confused you???

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Art Deco in Condesa

The Condesa neighborhood where I always stay is one of my favorite parts of Mexico City.  It is an affluent, upper middle class area with an artsy, intellectual vibe,  but it doesn't reek of snobbery like more exclusive districts such as Polanco or Santa Fe.  Modern apartment buildings rise along the tree-lined avenues, and more are constantly being built.  However there is still plenty of architecture dating back to the 1920s and 1930s when this neighborhood was first being developed.  Some of the older homes are of neo-colonial design, while others were built in the style that was all the rage at that time... art deco.  There are a couple hundred art deco buildings still standing in Condesa.  Some are beautifully maintained; others look a bit sad.  I have no statistics, but I would be willing to bet that Condesa has one of the highest concentrations of art deco architecture of anywhere in the world.

Here are a few pictures that I took while strolling along just two of the neighborhood's major streets... Avenida México and Avenida Amsterdam.