Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Above Average

It has been a rainy July in Mexico City.  With more than a week left in the month, we have already exceeded the historical average of rainfall for the month.

 As you can see from this screenshot from the Weather Channel, we have had almost eight inches of precipitation so far (actually more than eight inches since we had a brief but heavy shower an hour ago).  The average for July is 7.2 inches.

That is good news for the drought-stricken country and for the city which was going to run out of water.  The rain has been widespread, so hopefully, the lakes and reservoirs are filling up.  The downside is that drainage in the city is inadequate, and with heavy rains some streets become flooded.  One notorious example is the freeway by the airport.  There was also a tragedy just a block away from where I live.  During one of the storms, a tree fell and killed a woman who was sitting in her parked car.  The rain is welcome, but we don't want sad stories such as that.    

After All These Years

The last destructive earthquake to hit Mexico City was on September 19th, 2017, when 228 people perished and more than 40 buildings collapsed.  There are still empty lots in the city where collapsed or damaged buildings were cleared away.  An apartment building where I used to rent an Airbnb, although still standing after the quake, was eventually torn down because of structural damage.  I sometimes make a point of passing by there, and although you can see some construction material and equipment beyond the barricade, the lot remains vacant.

Amazingly, nearly seven years after the quake, I come upon the ruins of this building while walking around the same neighborhood.


Monday, July 22, 2024

Another Salsa

Last week I made another kind of salsa.  This one goes by a number of names.  It is often called "pico de gallo" (rooster's beak), although that name is also used for a salad made of jicama and orange.  It is also called "salsa cruda" (raw sauce) because the ingredients are not cooked, or "salsa mexicana" because the ingredients are the colors of the Mexican flag.

It is very easy to make.  It was the very first item of Mexican cuisine that I learned to make many decades ago. After I returned from studying at the University of the Americas in Mexico for three months, I missed the flavors of genuine Mexican cooking.  The wife of one of my Spanish professors in Ohio taught me how to make this simple salsa.   All you do is mix together chopped tomatoes, chopped onion, chopped cilantro, and a chopped jalapeño pepper.  Then add lime juice and salt to taste.  It's a wonderful garnish on top of many dishes.

I Want a Tortilla!

 Alejandro's family has two dogs, Pepe and Iztac.  They both love tortillas.  Alejandro's sister snapped this photo while he was separating the stack of tortillas (so that they don't stick together).  Pepe and Iztac are watching intently, hoping that they might get a treat.

Sunday, July 21, 2024

Someplace Different

On Sunday mornings Alejandro and I usually go out for breakfast at a nearby branch of a chain of restaurants called "Toks".  The food is good, and by this time the waitresses all know us.

On our way down Insurgentes Avenue to "Toks" we pass this hotel, Hotel Novit.


I have read that the hotel's restaurant, "Aktuel", is supposed to be quite good.  We kept saying that we should try it out sometime for breakfast.

So, last Sunday, we finally went there.  We were seated in the outdoor courtyard.  (They also have tables indoors.)  Our waiter recommended the breakfast buffet which they serve daily, not just on weekends.  They had a good selection of items, and everything was tasty.  The service was very good, and the price was reasonable.  

The only problem was that we ate too much!  By early evening when we went out for dinner, we still were not hungry.

The place will not replace "Toks".  (In fact, we went to "Toks" this morning.)  However, from time to time we might go back to the hotel restaurant for a change of pace.

Pyramid on the Plaza

Saturday of last week, after our great dinner at "Testal", we walked to the main plaza, the Zócalo, where there was going to be a light and sound show.  A replica of the pyramid of the Mayan city of Chichén Itzá had been erected for the show.

We arrived around 7 P.M.  The show was to begin at eight, and there was already a crowd gathered.  We waited patiently until dusk when they began testing the lights for the program.

The show dealt with the Mayan civilization, and Felipe Puerto Carrillo, the socialist governor of the state of Yucatán from 1922 until his death in a coup d'état in 1924.  

Puerto Carrillo confiscated land from the large haciendas and distributed it to Mayan peasants. He built public schools, granted women political rights, published all laws in the Mayan language as well as in Spanish, and began the conservation and restoration of archaeological sites such as Chichén Itzá.  When he supported a rebellion against President Alvaro Obregón, he was captured, tried and executed by a group of army officers.  This is the centennial of his death, and the President has declared 2024"The Year of Felipe Puerto Carrillo".

Alejandro said that there were a number of historical errors in the narration of the program.  I objected to the speeches given by politicians prior to the show. They were largely propaganda extolling the ruling party.  I almost felt as if I were in Cuba.

Saturday, July 20, 2024

The First of the Season

If you have read this blog over the years, you know that our favorite restaurant in Mexico City has long been "Angelopolitano".  Unfortunately, in our last several visits there it seems that the quality of the food has gone downhill.  Even their signature dish "chile en nogada" is not up to their usual standards.

"Chile en nogada", a poblano pepper stuffed with meat, fruits and nuts, covered with a cream walnut sauce, and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds, is the national dish of Mexico.  It is traditionally served for Mexican Independence Day (September 16th) because the colors of the dish... green pepper, white sauce and red pomegranate seeds... are the colors of the Mexican flag.  It is also during the summer and autumn months that the walnuts and pomegranates are in season.  "Angelopolitano" is one of the few restaurants that serve "chile en nogada" all year long.  Most places have it on the menu for a limited time, usually in August and September.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about a restaurant called "Testal" that we discovered.  It serves traditional Mexican cuisine, and it was so good that we thought that we had found a new favorite to replace "Angelopolitano".  When we were there, the waiter told us that they would soon begin serving "chiles en nogada".  So, last Saturday, after visiting the "Touristic Festival", we decided to go back to "Testal" to see if they had begun serving the "chiles".

Sure enough, outside the restaurant there was a sign announcing that the season had arrived.

The menu had a special insert with their offerings for the season.  In addition to the traditional "chile en nogada", they have a vegetarian "chile" with mushrooms instead of meat.  They also have an enchilada that is filled with the "chile en nogada" stuffing.

As usual, we began our meal with soup.  Alejandro had bean soup which was very good.

I had the soup that Alejandro had ordered the last time that we were here.  Half the bowl was filled with cream of corn, and the other half with a cream of "huitlacoche" (corn smut, a delicacy similar to truffles).  It was superb.

By the way, the crusty rolls known as "bolillos" were also excellent, just as good as the ones they serve at "El Cardenal".

Of course, for our main dish we both ordered the "chile en nogada", our first of the season.

The "chiles" were scrumptious, every bit as delicious as they used to be at "Angelopolitano".

Along with our main course, we received little pieces of paper saying that our "chiles" were numbers 386 and 387 that they had served this season.

We also received a paper giving the history of this dish.  The walnut sauce dates back to medieval Europe.  The stuffing of chopped meat with fruits also has its origins in the Middle Ages.  The poblano pepper has been cultivated in Mexico since pre-Hispanic times.

When Mexico won its independence from Spain, Agustín de Iturbide, who had led the Mexican forces to victory against the Spanish, briefly ruled the country as emperor.  Using the walnuts and pomegranates which were in season, on August 28th (the Feast Day of St. Augustine) of 1822, the nuns of a convent in Puebla, created this dish to honor the Emperor's Saint's Day.  Iturbide was soon deposed, but this dish with its patriotic colors remained the national dish. Most people north of the border think that Mexican cooking is nothing more than tacos, enchiladas and various Tex-Mex dishes, but in fact, there is nothing more Mexican than "chiles en nogada".

We ended our dinner with a delicious, although non-Mexican, dessert.  We shared a large slice of tiramisu between layers of crepes.

Move over "Angelopolitano".  This wonderful dinner clinched it.  Our new favorite is definitely "Testal".  The waiter told us that they will serve "chile en nogada" until October, so we have time to return... and return again... for more of this most Mexican of dishes!

Friday, July 19, 2024

The House of Jaguars

I mentioned in yesterday's post that I bought a jaguar mask at the "Touristic Festival" last Saturday to add to my collection.

The artist who created this mask is from the village of San Martín Tilcajete in the state of Oaxaca.  He, and many of the village's residents, are employed in the creation of "alebrijes", the colorful and fanciful images of animals.  I don't think that this mask would be considered an "alebrije", but, like the Oaxacan "alebrijes", it is hand-carved from copal wood and hand-painted with intricate designs.

Later that day, I saw a vendor selling jaguar images on a downtown street.  She was from the village of Amatenango del Valle in the southern state of Chiapas.  That village is also renowned for its sculptures, not of wood, but of clay.  The subject of the pottery produced there is almost exclusively of the jaguars that used to roam the forests of Chiapas.  She had several small jaguar masks, so I purchased another.

So, now I have two more jaguar masks added to the collection that I have hanging on the wall of the master bedroom.

Several are wooden masks done by makers of "alebrijes", and several others are of clay from Amatenango del Valle.  One of them is done in the famous black pottery of Oaxaca.   I don't doubt that I will find more to add to the wall.

I started collecting jaguars after a visit that Alejandro and I made to Mérida, Yucatán, some years ago.  There was a tourist shop that sold t-shirts of the so-called "Mayan zodiac" with a different animal for each month.  Alejandro's sign was a jaguar.

In addition to the masks, I have quite a few clay jaguar figurines, all from Amatenango del Valle, throughout the apartment.

(I know that I have probably shown you photos of my individual purchase before, but here is the collection all together.)

Thursday, July 18, 2024

A Festival of Tourism

Last Saturday, Alejandro and I headed to the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City's iconic, monument-studded boulevard.

I had read that the city was holding a "Touristic Festival" that weekend.  The tourist departments of the states of Mexico were invited to participate.  About twenty states plus Mexico City had set up booths along the boulevard.

Not only were they promoting tourism, but they were also selling typical products and handicrafts from their states.  Handicrafts!  If you have read this blog for long, you know that I love handicrafts!

The town of Amealco in the state of Querétaro is famous for its traditional "María" dolls.  Here a woman from the Otomí tribe poses with a display of handmade dolls for sale.

Alejandro by a giant "María" doll next to the Querétaro booth.

"Rebozos" (Mexican shawls) for sale in the booth from the state of San Luis Potosí.

Among the merchandise from the state of Veracruz were bottles of vanilla from Papantla, and a toy representing the "voladores de Papantla", the dancers who descend from a tall pole with their feet tied to ropes.

At the booth from Oaxaca there was a gentleman selling his "alebrijes", brightly painted animal figures carved from copal wood.  I bought a jaguar mask to add to my collection.

A fellow from the state of Nayarit dressed in the traditional attire of the Huichol tribe.

The town of Metepec in the State of Mexico is famous for its elaborate clay sculptures known as "Trees of Life".  This one represents the Bible story of Noah's ark.

The town of Taxco in the state of Guerrero is renowned for its silversmiths.  I bought a couple pairs of earrings.

There was also a stage set up where dance troupes were performing folkloric dances.

Interspersed among the booths were large resin sculptures representing famous Mexicans.  The figures had skull heads and their clothing was decorated in traditional beadwork by members of the Huichol tribe.  More than three million glass beads were placed by hand on these sculptures.

This figure represents the famous comic actor Cantinflás.

The famous mural painter David Alfaro Siqueiros

The 19th century artist and engraver, José Guadalupe Posada, who created the image of the "catrina", the elegantly dressed skeleton that has become the symbol of the Day of the Dead.

I had to do a double take when I saw this figure of a baseball player.  It was wearing a Cleveland Indians uniform.  The sculpture represents Roberto (Bobby) Avila who was a star player with the Indians for ten seasons (1949-1958).  After retiring from baseball, he became the mayor of his hometown of Veracruz.