Monthly Archives: October 2012

Sometimes people are jerks: Ode to the hemeroteca

This summer, my adviser contracted me to do some research in Mexican archives and libraries. Now that I am back in Mexico I have done some more research for her. Today I went to the newspaper and magazine library at the UNAM (Hemeroteca) and it went so much more quickly than last time. It seems that the person in charge of photography and photocopying decided to tell me to do about 5 extra steps in May, which added approximately 5 hours of work, costing my adviser some of her grant money, and some of my sanity.

It is possible that I misunderstood her instruction for me to go the University’s Patrimonio area, and get permission to reproduce journal articles, but since I am fluent in Spanish, and familiar with its Mexican variation, I doubt that. Someone wanted me to do extra work, for some unknown reason. In Mexico, I have noticed people with little power, such as security guards and low-level bureaucrats, impose rules at random over people, who, in the grand scheme of things, earn more money, and have a better social location (this would be me vs. someone working at the UNAM). I have experienced this in particular with women. Those of you who know me and who know about my experiences in Mexico should know that on the whole, Mexican men veer from friendly, to too friendly, to sexual harassment, and I am likely to experience all three things in a single day. When I have to do paperwork, however, I can use this to my advantage (even if I feel slightly badly afterwards). If I smile and look foreign. Since I don’t look Mexican, because of cultural mannerisms I will never grasp, and because I think it is important to be polite when asking questions to others, this is not difficult. With women, however, it is a different story. Some women seem to feel threatened by me, and so they make my life more difficult. I want to tell them that I am not like a person in a movie, I have morals, but I don’t really want to go telling them I’m Mennonite because then they just get confused. I also want to tell them that I did not come to their country to “steal” “their” men, their resources or their anything else. I just want to do research, talk about it and write it down. Other older women treat me like a child. Frankly, I prefer the second. But wouldn’t it be better if we stuck by each other and confronted unjust systems of gender relations head on?

Day of the Dead

Mexico has a lot more holidays than Canada. So far, there was Independence Day in September, and now there is Day of the Dead in November (to be followed in a couple of weeks by Revolution Day)Día de MuertosDay of the Dead is by far the most colourful holiday. I also like it because it is a positive way to discuss death, or at least a way to discuss death, and is one of the ways Mexico deals with death that makes sense to me. Although it is somehow different from what I learned about in Spanish class in high school (as in, life is not a (stereo)typical Oaxacan city in the mythical past), and not celebrated extensively in all parts of the country, it is still really interesting.

Yesterday, I went with some people from the Casa de los Amigos to the Mercado Jamaica to buy flowers, fruit and pan de muerto (bread of the dead) for the ofrenda at the Casa de los Amigos. I think that many but not all people do ofrendas here in Mexico City; I doubt that most people buy so many flowers for their individual homes. If I had one, I would have as few of these fragrant flowers as possible, and decorate the ofrenda with papel picado (crepe paper with designs cut out of it), and focus on the candy skulls so that I could eat them later. Later today I might go back to the market to make one of my own. . .

Mexico City Top 10

1. Comida Corrida. How do I not have a picture of my favourite thing in Mexico?

2. Tianguis – open air market. Yesterday a man talked me into buying a coconut milk drink. Totally worth it.

3. Street food, generally

Chocolate con churros (thanks Wikipedia)

4. Concerts (sidebar: should I change my ticket to see Calle 13?)

Kevin Johansen Concert

5. Books

Books!

Books!

6. Bookstores

7. Museums

View from the Museo de Historia

8. Seeing something strange and thought-provoking every day: in the wake of an apparent police raid, people selling things on the street running everywhere with their stuff. One man continuing to try and sell things as he ran.

9. Unusual religious rituals. On Sunday I saw so many people with statues of San Judas, on their way to get them blessed. He is the patron saint of lost causes and jobs.  Should I join them on November 28th?

10. The 10th thing is not easy. This is not because I do not like Mexico City, or because there are only 9 things to like about it. It is impossible to categorize the chaotic multitudes or organize this city in a meaningful way. And every time I leave my house the city’s inequalities, juxtapositions and smog slap me in the face.

Murals

On Sundays in Nicaragua, I would sometimes try to balance out my ultra-conservative morning church time with mass at the place where I was volunteering, the Centro Cultural Batahola Norte. At the centre of the salón where the masses took place was a beautiful mural that combined Jesus and the Marxist New Man, conforming to Revolutionary ideals (and the era it was first painted, the 1980s).

Mural Nuevo Hombre Nuevo Amanecer, centrobatahola.org

The whole centre was, in fact, covered in murals. I think that this mural made a huge impression on me, because as I was reviewing my pictures yesterday to try and find the picture of the map I put up yesterday, I noticed that I am drawn to murals, public art, street art and graffiti. In post-Revolutionary Mexico, as in Nicaragua, murals were a state apparatus, where the state could instruct the Mexican people about revolutionary heroes, the new understanding of the past and present, and the future everyone was to work for. I also wonder what the relationship people have to these murals now, and whether advertising, pushing another agenda, can be thought of in a similar way. (Here in Mexico, and in Nicaragua, people are paid to paint their houses with particular brands, political parties or candidates). In other places I have visited, public art creates places to meet that are available to most people in the city, or that have been crucial to the revitalization of a certain area, or provide a place to reflect and critique current political movements. The slideshow below shows some of my recent favourites.

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Alternative Geography

Sometimes I want to live in more than one place (a Mexico City-Toronto would be very convenient for school, food and social life).

Joaquín Torres García

Case in point: today I had a pretty good day. Even though I was exhausted after going to a concert with some friends of a friend (which was amazing), I decided to make the most of the day and go to San Ángel’s weekly art and craft market. I wanted if a man could make me a leather laptop bag. Given that the price had almost doubled since the first time I went to visit him, and I was 100 pesos short of the deposit that would “almost certainly be half of the cost” I decided it would be better to look elsewhere. I am much more comfortable paying more money, in a clear amount, than guesswork. Then I came home and ate cereal for lunch.

The unfortunate part of being in Mexico is, of course, not having all my books and friends with me. Today I decided to read my advisor’s comments on my conclusion, and noticed that she recommended a source to me that I own (Carlos Monsiváis’ Los rituales del caos). But it is in storage in Toronto. And I refuse to buy it again, because that would be ridiculous.

But would it be so ridiculous if these places fit together on a map like they do in my heart?

The Patriarchy and the Airplane

This past year I have flown a lot, to conferences, to Mexico City, to visit friends, and between Toronto and Ottawa. In these many flights (often on small planes because they tend to be cheaper) I have had the good fortune to get up close and personal to many fellow travelers.

I have come to some reflections: few women travel by themselves, and men traveling by themselves seem to think it is their God-given right to take as much space as possible on an airplane. I say, if you book late, or check-in late, it is more likely you will get a middle seat. That doesn’t mean this person needs to get close to me and get into my space. Interestingly, it never seems to be a problem with women.

This came to a head on my flight back to Mexico City from Tuxtla Gutiérrez. It was a small plane, VivaAerobus. I take this airline because it is cheap, and because you can pay extra money to bypass lines and board first, which means that I can get my favourite seat, with extra legroom. It is like legal bribery. (I probably could get this seat in any case because other people in the VIP boarding group cram into the first few rows of the plane, but the seats are so close together I don’t want to chance it). Unfortunately, in spite of my classic travel pose (sweaters, scarf, headphones and ipod that I turned up as soon as the men sat down), they decided to stare at me and try and talk to me and take over my space. Several times after I thought I made it clear with body language that I didn’t want to engage. Then I just told them.

Coffee Shops in Mexico City: A Progress Report

Several weeks ago, I copied my friend R’s facebook status to ask where a person could find good coffee and a good ambiance for work in Mexico City. So far, I have been to eight coffee shops (whose names I remember) – Café Gran Premio, Starbucks, Café Late Nae, Café Bizarro, Café Vincent, el Péndulo (Polanco y Roma) and el Fondo de Cultura Económica (Rosario Castellanos). There is one more I would like to try, called Efecto Cafeína en todos los sentidos, but I doubt that it’s bright pink walls will be conducive to studying. I also went to a place that only sold churros and chocolate. Not conducive to study either, but definitely delicious!

There is no clear winner in this experience. I should mention that all of them are close-ish to my house – because I refuse to traverse the city for a good place to work. The criteria for me are clean bathrooms, good coffee, wifi, hours, other snacks or food available, service and proximity to comida corrida (Mexican lunch that comes with soup, salad, rice or noodles, a main dish, juice and sometimes dessert and one of my favourite things about Mexico).

Café Gran Premio is near the Casa de los Amigos and good comida corrida for lunch. It has wifi, comfortable chairs, pan dulce (I think), good coffee, and surly service. Starbucks is Starbucks. They accept my Starbucks card, even thought the bookstore and my gym reject my credit card. It is a bit noisy, the snacks are a bit too pricey, and are different from the ones at home. The coffee is dependable but you have to line up to get your coffee. Café Late Nae in La Condesa came on the recommendation of a friend – who just mentioned an intersection, so, it might not even be this one! The coffee was good, there was wifi, but it was tiny, and a bit too open to the elements. It was also far away from restaurants with good comida corrida. Café Bizarro was not open when I went there yesterday a bit before 10, so that was annoying. The coffee was not the best, but it had good cookies, decent seating, a reliable wifi. It was also close to many restaurants, including some good comida corrida. Café Vicent is very nice. It is the quintessential intellectual place, I think. Good food, coffee and beer (I was there in the evening). It did look a bit too dark to study in, though. I’m not sure it has wifi – this is a plus/minus. El Péndulo is a bookstore and café, the coffee is decent but the ambiance is only ok. I have never tried the wifi there. The librería del fondo is also a peaceful place to hang out. I have never had there coffee, only snacks, but the tables are not so big that I would want to spend all day working there.