My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
** Originally published at Munchies, on May 7, 2014:
“Why is it that we have allowed people who are totally incompetent in food to design our food?” Diana Kennedy was saying, her gray and white hair lifting lightly in the breeze. “Our food doesn’t have the flavor it used to have. I remember the chile poblanos, full of flavor, thin-fleshed, very dark green, and that big. Now ¡olvidalo!”
“Forget it,” she said. Today, there is actually a four in ten chance a chile poblano served to you anywhere in Mexico has been imported, most likely from China. Kennedy knows this, and the truth seems to burn through her entire being.
A living legend in food, Kennedy started exploring the markets of Mexico’s towns and villages more than fifty years ago, meeting cooks and gathering plants and recipes with the precision of a ethnobotanist. It has been her lifelong project of achieving total intimacy with Mexico’s native ingredients.
Sitting at Kennedy’s outdoor dining table with a tiny glass of mezcal before me, I struggled to imagine the flavor of the chile poblanos back then because fifty years ago, Mexico and the planet were simply different places than they are now. There were less people, for one, and probably a lot less contaminants in the air, in the soil, in the water. In our lives.
There was no transgenic corn in Mexico fifty years ago, and definitely none imported from the United States—as there is today—not in the land where science has agreed that corn was born.
At 91 years old, Diana is old enough to remember what that Mexico tasted like. Her palate fuels her ideas—and anger.
“People are losing taste, especially in the US, and then it passes to Mexico,” Kennedy told me. “It’s ridiculous, but then nobody has paid attention to the agriculture in Mexico.”
* All photos by Alejandro Mendoza.
Rest in peace, Mike ... journalist, press advocate, warrior.
O'Connor was funny as hell, too, in the face of all the calamity he saw in Mexico. A dry wit that seemed at first to border on the unstable. He used extremely, uh, colorful language whenever warranted. It was fun talking to him on the phone, like we did just a few weeks ago. He'd ring me to shoot the shit for a bit, catch up on deep media-world memes. We'd curse the owners, curse the politicians, make dark jokes about life as a reporter in Mexico.
While working for Tracy Wilkinson at the LA Times bureau in Mexico City, I met Mike and gradually got to know the critical work he did in these years. He'd travel to the most cartel-corrupted regions of the country to investigate the murders and disappearances of local news reporters, and to offer support and guidance for those still keeping up a candle in the darkness. His most recent in-depth report on press security in Mexico for CPJ focused on the state of Zacatecas, which, not surprisingly, is smothered by fear, corruption, and silence.
He did it mostly in secret, to protect his subjects, and to protect himself. He was expert at these topics, shared his advice liberally: no photos of you if you cover corruption and drug war in regional Mexico, all lines should be considered tapped and recorded at all times, BlackBerry BBM (was) the most secure communications method for reporters working on dangerous subjects. In conversations both serious and casual, he made it clear: Never, ever trust the Party.
In short, fue un cabrón de los buenos and he will be missed, sorely. Especially now, as the silencing power of political and mass-media hegemony takes hold in Mexico, as the country returns to official-party rule, and as so many journalists begin falling, whether in intimidation, in selling-out, or in death.
Bad news losing you, Mike. Bad news for all of us.
** Originally published at VICE México:
Ahora que acaban de pasar las fiestas patrias tuve mucho tiempo para contemplar el antojito al que le tengo más cariño en todo México: el pambazo. Una delicia, un desmadre, con un nombre que prácticamente grita “fiesta”, el pambazo se derrumba y derrite en las manos como un alud que anuncia no la muerte sino puro sabor. O, como a veces les digo, "the best comfort food in D.F."
Tengo años comiendo pambazos aquí, pero por un par de días no me acordaba cómo fue que los conocí. Anduve rarón, buscando en mi boca la sensación inicial de este platillo que a un desconocedor --la neta-- le puede parecer medio asqueroso.
¿Fue en el Centro? ¿En la Guerrero? ¿En la Portales? ¿O ni por aquí, y mi memoria me falla? Ayer me llegaron las vagas imágenes de cómo y cuándo fue... y no'mbre, con razón no me acordaba: fue una noche que por poco no sobrevivo.
Les cuento: Tenía un cuate, que desde luego le perdí la pista, que conocí por parte de la Señorita Vodka en las épocas en que cantineabamos duro y harto, al principio de la última gran recesión. Una noche nos invitó este tal Memo a chupar y fumar en su casa en el norte, arriba del Circuito Interior, y como yo andaba de periquillo sarniento, me lancé por la línea amarilla a la Colonia Valle Gómez.
Sacamos las caguamas, las papitas, creo que un tequila o un whiskey, y nos pusimos a escuchar cumbias de mp3 conectadas a la tele. Todo bonito. Luego, a Memo se lo ocurrió que saliéramos a las "casitas" del barrio donde tocas y te venden un toque. Memo los conocía a todos. Dos o tres veces, nos pasaban a unas salas oscuras pero acogedoras, y ahí nos servían unas madres que a final de cuentas fueron cigarros de coca. O sea, crack.
Por tener la rabia de la noche, tomas decisiones que son inspiradas o totalmente estupidas. En esos momentos, cómo disfrutaba andando a las tres o cuatro de la madrugada a casas vende-drogas por un barrio arriba del Circuito que no conocía, metiéndome pura mierda. Inspirado y estúpido, el efecto en muchos casos es igual. Conoces lo nuevo de ti o del mundo. En este caso, conocí el pambazo de México.
Los perros de la calle ladraban. La noche se había puesto fría. En algún punto, necesitabamos comida. La mujer de Memo fue con la señora de la esquina y trajo el primer pambazo que vi en mi vida. "¿Qué. Es. Eso?"
Todos soltaron una risa. Hahaha --y a la boca—. Y así es como la vida toma sus ejes, ¿no?
Al día siguiente, y en días que pasaron después, pase la peor cruda de mi vida. Peor. (Say no to crack, amigos.) Pero pasó. Así fue. Y ahora conocía lo que era el pambazo.
El pambazo, como ya lo sabrán ustedes, es como una torta ahogada chilanga, por decirlo de una manera cruda. (¡No quiero se me echen encima los tapatíos!)
Es tradicionalmente hecho con el pan pambazo, que es relacionado al bolillo, y tradicionalmente contiene papas con chorizo por dentro, aunque variaciones existen y se practican por todos lados. Se fríe. Con el aceite, la salsa guajillo se fusiona con el pan y con las papas con chorizo. Aparte, se le echa lechuga, crema y queso fresco.
Lo más destacado de este platillo es el uso generoso de salsa de chile guajillo que une tanto el contenido como el soporte de la torta. Así es, el pambazo está mojado en esta salsa en todas las etapas de su preparación: principio, intermedio, y a veces momentos antes de consumir. ¿Cómo no lo puedo querer?
Con Abuelta Marthita, una receta para unos pambazos "bien mexicanotes".
Calientitos, suavecitos, y a veces mal hechos, he comido pambazos en las esquinas más tristes que he conocido en la Ciudad de México. Y también en las más hospitalarias, en barrios donde la gente guarda ese orgullo natural, duro, fiel. De noche, de día, o de mañana, el pambazo me consuela. Y aún mejor, me llena.
Últimamente, me he enamorado del pambazo que sirven los fines de semana en un puesto que se pone por la placita de la Romita. Con una Coca Cola bien fría, es la perfección. Tanto me he obsesionado, que en estas fiestas patrias nos inventamos uno en casa. Este es el relato del resultado.
"La Normis", mi jefa que vino de visita a la ciudad (muy patriótica, la señora), preparó una salsa guajillo en casa. Esa fue la parte más complicada y en realidad ni puse mucha atención; no tenía ni las ganas ni el tiempo para preparar chorizo con papas. Entonces, muy a lo norteño, improvisamos de esta forma: en el mercado, mi amá buscó y buscó hasta encontrar un puesto que tenía chilorio enlatado de Culiacán, Sinaloa (carita la lata, por cierto). Yo fui por los bolillos.
No teníamos nada de experiencia con el proceso de elaborar un pambazo. El primer intento salió bastante aguado y deprimente. En el segundo intento, al chorilio le agregamos cebolla y, sí, papa picada. Hmmm. En este punto, con pena, le informé a mi madre que ya no estabamos hablando de un pambazo, literalmente viéndolo. Como con Abuelita Marthita, también nos faltaba lechuga. Pero bueno, estaba rico la cosa de cualquier forma. Hicimos cuatro.
Este jueves, en el bajón post-fiesta, noté que en el refri quedada un poco de la carne. En una sartén quedaba un poco de la salsa. Y en una bolsa escondida, quedaba un bolillo. El pan aún no se había endurecido.
Regresé la salsa a la estufa y me puse a tostar el bolillo en un comal. Luego, al baño rojo. Luego la carne con papa. Luego el queso.
Entonces sí se puede.
* The following is an excerpt. Gatopardo is on newsstands in Mexico now.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 220.127.116.11.14]
Finalmente conseguimos aquí una información clave. En el pueblo llamado Ticul, al sur de Mérida, un poco antes de llegar a Oxkutzcab, vivía un experto en garabatas, como se le llaman a los huaraches en Yucatán. Uno de los curanderos que conocimos en Kambul, Jorge Coronada, nos dijo que el maestro José Ortiz hacía los mejores zapatos de la península. Nos lanzamos para allá.
Un lugar se revela por el carácter de sus caminos: a lo largo del periférico de la ciudad de Mérida —una vía moderna repleta de fábricas y oficinas de gobierno— era común la presencia de la policía, fuerte aunque nunca amenazante. Pasamos por uno de los varios retenes que se instalaron para seguir manteniendo el orgullo de Yucatán: el estado más seguro del país. Al llegar a Umán tomé una calle que nos llevaría al centro, pero se convirtió en un camino cuyo sentido era opuesto al que veníamos. Del otro lado venía un joven en un taxi-motocicleta y cuando nos pasó me miró con desdén y me dijo: "¡Vete a la verga, vato!". Pensé que nunca se puede decir de un lugar que "la gente es tan amable y tan acogedora", porque siempre hay excepciones.
Cuando llegamos a Ticul ya era de noche. El cielo estaba despejado y un mar de estrellas brillaba arriba con intensidad. La luna estaba majestuosa y los caminos entre la selva oscura eran largos y rectos. Este pueblo era como los demás en Yucatán: tenía un mercado, una estación de camiones, zapaterías, tiendas de ropa y de teléfonos celulares, además de casas de piedra de un piso que parecen haberse construido hace veinte o doscientos años. Todos los pueblos de la llanura de la península son iguales; están edificados alrededor de una plaza con una iglesia que parece un fuerte. De hecho, muchas funcionaron como tales: las iglesias de pueblos como Tizimín, Muna y Ticul son altas, con pocas ventanas y están construidas con muros de ladrillo de grandes dimensiones; un recuerdo del pasado, cuando los mayas se resistieron a la conquista española por generaciones —mucho más tiempo que los aztecas.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 1."]
Un viajero del siglo XIX, John L. Stephens, describió a este pueblo como "el perfecto retrato de quietud y descanso". Íbamos en el coche por el centro polvoriento, cuando giré a mi derecha y enseguida me detuve junto a un hombre de mediana edad, que estaba sentado afuera de una zapatería. Buscamos al señor José Ortiz, el zapatero, dije. Aquel hombre tendría unos sesenta años, el cabello blanco y unos extraños ojos verdes y cristalinos. "Él es mi padre", contestó y explicó cómo llegar a su casa.
Unas cuantas cuadras atrás, sobre la misma calle, nos topamos con el taller del señor Ortiz. Había un pequeño letrero pintado a mano junto a un poste de madera que marcaba la fachada de la casa. La puerta estaba abierta, y dentro se veía todo iluminado por un foco fluorescente pegado a una mesa de trabajo, que bañaba la habitación con una luz azul pálida. No había nadie adentro. Tocamos y llamamos a la puerta, tocamos y llamamos. En la ventana de la calle se veía una serie de luces navideñas que formaban un altar a la Virgen de Guadalupe, de esas que vienen con música de villancicos con un solo tono. Poco a poco nos fuimos metiendo y esperamos dentro. Viejas fotografías y mapas colgaban de las paredes, como si no hubieran sido tocados por décadas. Estaba claro que el taller del señor Ortiz era un lugar especial. Me sentí satisfecho por estar ahí.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 2."]
Una mujer pasó por la calle y al vernos preguntó qué estábamos buscando. Un minuto después, José Ortiz Escobedo llegó y se acercó a mí y mis compañeros.
Era un hombre viejo y muy delgado que vestía pantalones y una playera de trabajo. Tenía un rostro bien parecido, moreno, y una nariz triangular puntiaguda. Nos saludó con amabilidad, y pudimos entonces presentarnos. Queríamos ver, le dijimos, las garabatas que vendía. Al principio fue un tanto difícil comprender lo que decía. Tenía noventa años de edad. Su acento maya era fuerte —el turbulento y entrecortado castellano, que hierve en la punta de la boca para luego estallar en sus cus y kas.
El señor Ortiz explicó que no podía vendernos ninguno de los huaraches de piel que colgaban en la pared. Parecían objetos delicados, pero resistentes. "Te pueden lastimar los pies", dijo. Ortiz sólo hace sandalias a la medida. Dijo que podría tomarnos la talla y tendríamos que regresar mañana o el día siguiente, si así lo deseábamos. Me probé un calzado y me quedó perfecto, pero el señor Ortiz insistió en que no nos vendería ni un solo par que no estuviera hecho a la medida. Ni un cinturón, además, aunque también intenté llevarme uno. Por un momento me resultó imposible entender que, a diferencia de la ciudad de México, aquí el dinero no podía comprarlo todo.
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 3."]
Le pregunté si había escuchado algo acerca de la supuesta predicción de los mayas sobre el fin del mundo. "Si se acaba el mundo, me voy para Mérida", concluyó.
El señor Ortiz, que no había ido a Mérida en muchos años, nació en esa casa donde estábamos parados, lo mismo que su padre. Ha trabajado como zapatero por más de setenta y cinco años. Se casó a los veintidós, y su esposa aún está viva y tiene la misma edad, noventa. Tienen ocho hijos, aunque sólo sobreviven cinco, y doce bisnietos, dijo. Se puso a traducirnos ciertas palabras mayas como che para madera, o eck para estrella. Los mayas de Yucatán siempre han dicho lo que piensan, dijo. Y como él es un hombre de edad, no fue nada tímido para enunciar lo que pensaba. "Los mayas lo que ven, lo dicen —dijo—. Lo que hablábamos ahora es mestizado, no es la verdadera lengua maya. La verdadera es ofensiva, ofende a la mujer".
"El apellido que tengo no es maya… Es español… Y a pesar de que soy maya porque nací en tierra maya y nuestro estilo es maya, el apellido no lo es".
Le preguntamos qué comía para estar tan sano y despierto: chaya, lechuga, espinaca, rábano, chayote, nada de carne. Se movía por la habitación libremente y usaba sus brazos para hacer énfasis en sus ideas. "Tengo que trabajar —dijo—. Si uno se acuesta, envejece más pronto".
Cuando le pregunté de nuevo sobre el significado del "fin del mundo", contestó que "el sistema de ellos termina. El sistema de los otros, ahorita, es lo que va a terminar. Y empieza lo de los mayas".
[Previously, "Incidents of Travel in the Yucatan, Part 4."]
* English-language posting is forthcoming ...
** Originally published at World Now:
TULUM, Mexico – Hold on to your doomsday fever, folks, the Maya calendar date celebrated Friday as the “end of the world” might actually be off by two days – or a full year.
The end of the 13th baktun cycle of the so-called Long Count of the ancient Maya’s intricate, interlocking calendar system might correspond to Sunday, not Friday, said Carmen Rojas, an archaeologist with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History.
Rojas stressed that the Maya not only calculated baktun cycles of 144,000 days, but also had systems that measured the marches of Venus and the moon. Other scholars note some Maya glyphs mark dates thousands of years further into the future.
In addition, calendar dates that Maya leaders recorded on pillars that survive to this day might have been modified over time to suit certain cultural or political interests of the day, Rojas said during a walk-through Thursday of the ruins of Tulum, a pre-Hispanic port city situated on a spectacular bluff overlooking coral reefs in the Caribbean Sea.
One such inconsistency leads some Maya scholars to believe the 13th baktun cycle ends on Sunday, while others say it might be off by a full year or more.
Dec. 21 "is not a relevant date for us. It is an accident that someone would take and pull it out,” said Rojas, a specialist in the archaeology of cenotes, a type of sinkhole. “If you look at a book of Maya epigraphy, there are so many dates that could be commemorated. The glyphs are also not so easily interpreted. It depends on the correlation that you use.”
Nonetheless, in recent days, tourists from around the world have flocked to the so-called Maya Riviera on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Quintana Roo state, leading to higher-than-normal occupancy at hotels and on flights arriving at Cancun’s international airport, local reports said. Many visitors say they are using the supposed end of the 13th baktun as an opportunity for spiritual reflection and cleansing.
In Guatemala, people are gathering at the Maya site of Tikal for ceremonies marking the end of the baktun cycle and the winter solstice, which does correspond to sunset on Friday. Separately, highland Maya tied to the indigenous rebel army known as EZLN in Mexico’s state of Chiapas have mobilized and occupied at least five towns, reports said.
As tourists arriving on packed buses swarmed the Tulum site on Thursday, one visitor said she came to the region to get married at a nearby resort -- just in case.
"The end of a cycle is the end of a cycle, there are obviously translation issues," said Rhonda Church, a visitor to Tulum from San Marcos, Texas. "I find it interesting."
* Photo: People pray at Chichen Itza, on Dec. 21, 2012. Credit: Jacinto Kanek / EPA
Here's the extended clip of an interview I did with the charming Yarel Ramos of mun2 some weeks ago in Mexico City about a subject that touches us all -- ha! -- the state of the Mexican pegoratives of pocho and naco.
Enjoy. And ... Pochos Unite!
* ADD: I'm inspired on this subject by the work of historian Claudio Lomnitz.
Remember the emo wars? Well, in some parts of the world, like Iraq, being emo is still denegrated, and in some cases, fatal. In Russia, they wanted to outlaw emo. In the years since its boom in 2008, "emo" has completely lost its second original meaning. It now covers any visual or dress codes that signal modish, "Western," and queerish.
That bothers some people, and probably always will.
Above, an image sent to the Intersections news desk by photographer Conrad Starr, on May 15, 2012, from Vasilyevsky Island in St. Petersburg, Russia. "And BTW it was like 10:30 p.m. and still pretty bright out. Sky is only black from like 11:45 to 3:45 or something," Conrad adds. Funny also that the tag is in English.
From the archive, as ever, the most viewed and most commented post ever on this blog, from 2008, "Violence against emos sweeps across Mexico."
** Originally published at World Now:
They were images that could not have been scripted with any more dramatic irony. Come to think it, it looked quite a bit like a network-produced telenovela. Just gone painfully wrong.
During the latest wave of demonstrations against the results of the July 1 elections in Mexico, protesters in Mexico City on Saturday converged on a colonial church downtown and began chanting and shouting from the outside while an actor's wedding took place inside.
The wedding of comedian Eugenio Derbez and actress and singer Alessandra Rosaldo was being aired live on the Canal de las Estrellas, the entertainment channel belonging the dominant media conglomerate Televisa. Televised weddings are a customary practice for a channel that tends to employ Televisa personalities' real lives as fodder for programming.
Protesters who had gathered by the tens of thousands in central Mexico City apparently got word of the televised event and dozens marched to the church from the Zocalo main square, reports said.
"Fraud! Fraud! Fraud!" the protesters shouted.
The chanting was audible over the Televisa live feed, making for excruciating footage as the bride and groom attempted to stick to their vows while the ruckus was heard loudly and clearly. See unofficial video here and a longer clip here.
There were no reports of arrests or injuries. But the incident stood out as an uncontrollable and spontaneous hijacking of air time in a tense period for Mexico's political and media establishment. Demonstrations have continued in several cities in rejection of apparent president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).
Activists have rejected the election results due in part to widespread reports of vote-buying by the PRI. They are also targeting Televisa, which controls nearly all of Mexico's television channels in a duopoly formed with second network TV Azteca, and which they accuse of giving favorable coverage to Peña Nieto and the PRI for years.
Derbez, known for his role on the slapstick program "La Familia Peluche," is presumably enjoying his honeymoon and has not made public comments since the wedding. But on his Twitter account, the actor retweeted a message from a supporter claiming Derbez did not support Peña Nieto in the election and the demonstrators were "sheep."
Televisa's breezy newscast report on the Derbez-Rosaldo wedding does make a mention of the protesters, perhaps in acknowledgment that their shouting could not be ignored or edited out.
Separately, in the Gulf coast state of Veracruz, a man identified as a member of the PRI was arrested and jailed after he pointed a pistol at election protesters from a restaurant balcony in the capital city of Xalapa during Saturday demonstrations.
Juan Pablo Franzoni Martinez, a PRI activist and restaurant investor, was detained and dragged away by police as his pants were coming down, creating embarrassing images that were then promptly ridiculed on Twitter. Authorities in Veracruz said Franzoni was booked on charges of threatening the protesters and for illegally carrying a firearm.
There's plenty of video circulating of that incident, too.
Here's an elderly man -- he seemed to be about 75 -- who is literaly crawling under a big rig truck to get one last glimpse of Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador today in Tlaxcala, the tiny state in the antiplano north of Puebla.
As "AMLO" attempted to leave the closure of his campaign in this state, squeezing into his campaign minivan to head down to Veracruz, the customary chaos ensued. This truck stood in this man's way. Others were doing it, too. ... Why?
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- It was, in a manner of speaking, the biggest moment of Sunday night's presidential debate in Mexico.
To mark the debate's start, a stunning, undeniably well-endowed model took the floor, smiling silently and carrying a box with four pieces of paper in it that candidates drew to see who went first.
The candidates managed a straight face, but at first sight of her, dozens of journalists inside the debate press room at Mexico City's World Trade Center gasped and jeered.
The woman, identified later as a model and former playmate for Mexican Playboy, Julia Orayen, almost immediately became a trending topic on Twitter.
Orayen was serving as an edecan, a role that has long been traditional to formal political, business, or entertainment events in Mexico.
The edecan is a sort of hostess who stands during meetings or parties to help guide or coordinate guests. They are usually attractive young women with long hair who wear sexy dresses and heels, a feature of Mexican public life that some consider a throwback to the culture's more macho tendencies.
"Who won the debate?" one Twitter user quipped. "Edecan: 93%."
As photos of the debate's busty model kept abuzz online overnight, analysts and even some of the candidates on Monday morning took the edecan as a topic serious enough to discuss on the morning news radio programs.
Speaking to host Carmen Aristegui, presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota said she thought Orayen was "very attractive" but that her dress was inappropriate for the generally serious nature of the debate, the first of two organized by the Federal Electoral Institute, or IFE.
"The truth is, Carmen, I want to say that suddenly I was surprised, and I [thought], 'Well, what sort of event are we attending here?'"
Playing defense, a member of the IFE's governing council said that the edecan was hired by an independent production company contracted to organize the debate, but Councilor Alfredo Figueroa would not identify the producer (link in Spanish).
"We asked the producer that there be no elements of distraction, for a sober dress," Figueroa said.
Orayen had her own opinion on the matter. The model told W Radio host Brozo -- who wears a clown costume -- that she felt "weird" by the sudden surge of attention.
"I just got a call to be there, I didn't know what it was going to be about, and much less that it would have such an impact for 30 seconds," Orayen said.
"The costume ... intrigued me," Brozo replied.
"I got a call for a white dress. I took many options, and this was the one chosen by me," she said.
* Image: In a screen shot of Sunday's video feed of the presidential debate in Mexico, model Julia Orayen carries a clear box to each of the candidates. Credit: Twitpic.com, via Twitter
He's looking at a sweater. He's looking at cotton. He's looking at rubber boots. He's looking at a door. This is what Tumblr is made for: Kim Jong-Il Looking at Things. I went through 14 pages and decided to stop (and resume later).
at last the dear leader has quit this mortal coil. i have decided, nonetheless, to keep the blog running as long as my photo archive will last. i don’t how long that will be but i figure that if you’re reading this, you never minded the lack of good taste in this form of humor, which i’m very proud of, and the fact that he’s dead will make little difference.
i have also decided to make no change on the captions. they will remain in the present participle, as always. much like his father still is, and forever will be, the ‘eternal president’ of north korea, so will kim jong-il forever look at things on this site. well, not forever, it’s not like i have infinite photos of the guy, but you know what i mean…
you may tune-in as regularly as before, or if you prefer, join the myriad of successors that have appeared. or do both, if you don’t suffer from some form of attention deficit disorder, which i hope you don’t.
I know about the knock-off, Kim Jong-Il Dropping the Bass. It's amusing and all. But I must say, nothing can compare with the purity of Kim Jong-Il ... simply ... Looking at Things.
* Elsewhere, an amazing set of photos from inside North Korea, at The Atlantic.
** Originally published at World Now:
The front-runner in Mexico's presidential race stumbled in a high-profile way at a world-class book festival on Saturday, when, over several minutes, he appeared unable to correctly name a book that's influenced his life, besides the Bible.
And even then, Enrique Peña Nieto fumbled, not citing an "author" or a prophet whose biblical verse has particularly touched him. Instead, he merely made a vague reference to "some passages of it."
He also confused the names of two well-known Mexican authors, Enrique Krauze and Carlos Fuentes, in a four-minute episode that ended with the candidate red-faced, saying, "The truth is, when I read a book I often don't fully register the titles." (Link in Spanish.)
Peña Nieto's gaffe at the Guadalajara International Book Fair -- a deeply respected cultural platform in Mexico that is billed as Latin America's largest literary event -- continued resonating on Monday, with Peña Nieto defending himself in several tweets.
Adding to the embarrassment, Peña Nieto's teen daughter, Paulina, used a slur and a separate offensive term for poor people while defending her dad in two late-night tweets. Paulina's Twitter profile has since disappeared, and her father issued an apology Monday morning.
The episode has sparked a flurry of reaction on social-networking sites, including satirical "trending topics" on Twitter, such as #LibreríaPeñaNieto, or "Peña Nieto's Bookstore." Users are inventing the titles of books the candidate has "read" full of political mocking and double or triple meaning.
Peña Nieto, 45, is the presumed candidate for the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party as it seeks to recapture the presidency in 2012.
He was at the FIL, as the festival is known, partly because he's a freshly minted author himself, of "Mexico, the Great Hope." Releasing books at the start of the political season is a standard practice for presidential candidates in Mexico, and the practice attracts little scrutiny.
On Saturday, Peña Nieto was responding to a reporter who asked him to name three books that have marked his life. The candidate stammered and smiled nervously as he confused the author of a title he could name, the novel "The Eagle's Chair," saying it was by historian Krauze. It was written by Fuentes, perhaps Mexico's most noteworthy living novelist.
"There's another book by him [Krauze] that I want to remember the name, about caudillos, but I don't remember the exact title," Peña Nieto said.
Peña Nieto's wife, actress Angelica Rivera, sat in the front row and "appeared to suffer more than her husband," according to one local report (link in Spanish). Giggles and then laughter can be heard in this amateur video. Here's another video by El Universal, with a reporter's narration in Spanish.
The episode at the FIL came with the kind of allegorical coincidences that are the bread-and-butter of Mexico's chattering classes.
"The Eagle's Chair" is a political tale set in 2020, in which the United States has cut off Mexico's telecommunications -- radio, television, Internet. The president's Cabinet is filled with stealthy characters, as the book's jacket describes, and a mysterious female figure tells a young man, "You shall be president of Mexico."
Peña Nieto also managed to make reference to another author in Guadalajara, the British conservative politician Jeffrey Archer, author of "Kane and Abel." In real life, Archer has served prison time for perjury and conspiracy to pervert justice.
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto at the International Book Fair in Guadalajara, Mexico on Saturday. Credit: EnriquePenaNieto.com
** Originally published at World Now:
A day laborer outside a Home Depot hardware store in northeast Los Angeles is riding in a bright orange shopping cart in the store's parking lot, peering through imaginary binoculars, as if he were on patrol in a dangerous jungle.
Others are crawling under parked vehicles as if squeezing below barbed wire, or diving and body-rolling as if evading gunfire. Before a sale display for storage sheds, two men lie still on the asphalt, their legs spread, as if dead.
The laborers are undocumented immigrants from Guatemala, and in an unsettling video installation by Mexican artist Yoshua Okon on view at a university gallery in Mexico City, they are war survivors playing themselves.
Before Okon's cameras, the migrants are reenacting their days fighting in Guatemala's long and catastrophic civil war.
The four-channel video piece, called "Octopus," is Okon's latest and possibly most provocative video in a career in which he frequently pushes against viewers' comfort zones with the use of improvising non-actors.
A native of Mexico City, Okon has also lived part-time in Los Angeles. He bought a house in L.A. and came to participate in a rite of passage for many new U.S. homeowners in the last decade -- hiring day workers.
The men he found at the Home Depot store in the Cypress Park district, it turned out, were indigenous Maya from Guatemala. They spoke a Mayan dialect and very little Spanish or English. They had escaped Guatemala's war in search of work in the United States.
Some fought for the U.S.-backed military government and others for the leftist guerrillas. Some, he said, showed him scars of bullet wounds. Now, as laborers at the bottom of the U.S. social ladder, they fight for scraps of work in the slumping construction market.
"They're more afraid of immigration than about talking about the war," Okon said during a visit this week to the exhibition space in Mexico City's Roma district. "To me, that's what the piece is about. It's the United States. The war is not over. The war is over there."
Okon, 41, has made films with wanna-be Nazis in Mexico City, an isolated family in California's high desert getting drunk on "White Russians," and Mexican police officers who agree to make bawdy sexual gestures they probably shouldn't in uniform.
While these works usually elicit in viewers a mix of chuckles and creeps, "Octopus" is different.
The new video is guided by a polemical stance, not self-parody. Home Depot customers amble past the bizarre scenes playing out with hardly a blink, showing that workers who build homes in the United States have "always been invisible," Okon said.
The artist also had to work guerrilla-style in some form himself. He filmed on the store's parking lot without proper permission. "I had to constantly negotiate with the security guards, until they finally kicked me out," he said.
Over two days of filming in March, Okon said the men from Guatemala gradually stopped giggling through takes and began to seriously inhabit -- or re-inhabit -- their roles. "It felt like a job," one of the workers later told the LA Weekly. And indeed it was; Okon said he paid the men a double day-rate for their time.
"Octopus," commissioned by the Hammer Museum at UCLA, will show at the Casa Jose Galvan exhibition space in Mexico City through January. Next year, Okon plans to take the piece toProyectos Ultravioleta, an arts space in Guatemala City.
A single-screen version of the 18-minute piece is viewable here. In one shot, as seen above, a motorist drives past Okon's cameras with a bumper sticker that reads, "Voter for a new foreign policy."
The shot was not staged.
* Image: A still from 'Pulpo.'
Here's the site for Estrella Cercana, our experimental newspaper underway now at kurimanzutto. At the site, the main editorial crew and I are posting images and links to stuff we're thinking about, talking about, laughing about, cringing at, all through the production process for the weekly periódico con fin de vida.
We'll also be posting the issue's content on the day we publish, planned now for Saturdays through Nov. 5, as well as .pdf files of how the paper looks in print once distributed here in Mexico City.
What is Estrella Cercana, you ask?
It's a publishing project built around Distant Star, the show currently up at kuri, inspired by the literature of Roberto Bolaño. (See Intersections posts on Bolaño from 2007 here and from 2009 here). We're building a weekly newspaper, primarily in Spanish, partly in spirit of the Infrarrealists, but sort-of-actually-really-not-all.
("I haven't even read 2666, and that's so infrarrealista!")
Our newsroom is roaming between the gallery space and various points in the city, and so far always jussied up with the proper editorial bottles and snacks. The first issue of EC drops this Saturday, Sept. 24, and we haven't quite yet figured out how we're going to get it into people's hands. But it's definitely coming. Each issue will feature a beautiful full-color visual piece as a centerfold, and will also come with a link to a special audio track from one of our many beat-oriented comrades and collaborators.
We're all super excited, super nervous, and super busy (everyone on the small team has regular gigs or is juggling various other projects). So let's report it out, be nosy, read, not read, burn books, have a dance party, start a reality TV propaganda show, I dunno!
* NOTE: We are accepting pitches for your Highly Newsworthy stories, photography, cartoons, comics, info-graphics or maps, anything! Write us at prensaestrellacercana at gmail. Or to advertise in our pages, to reach our very classy would-be readers, please write publicidadestrellacercana at gmail.
** ABOVE: A Polaroid shot I've been holding onto for years. West Temple Street, Los Angeles, Calif., circa 2004. It lasted only a day, if not hours.
True role models, as far as I'm concerned. I know that headache. Are we need of an a la chingada with it all, pan-Latino-style work revolt? Play it!
* Previously, "No voy a trabajar."
It's 2011 and the only memory I have left from the 2008 Democratic presidential primary -- in which Barack Obama was fighting a political death-match against the Clinton machine -- is Bill Clinton saying something mildly demeaning about Obama's campaign while in South Carolina.
So I was surprised when I opened a note from a writer who said she'd like me to read a book she wrote about a young gay Latina in East L.A. with a drinking problem, and set during the 2008 Democratic primary between Obama and Hillary Clinton.
The following is an excerpt from that book, "The Voting Booth After Dark: Despicable, Embarrassing, Repulsive," by Vanessa Libertad Garcia. This is from a section called "Lament," while the speaker is on the beach drinking 40s and watching a homeless man collect trash:
I've given others money: Friends, Acquaintances, Churches, Family, Causes, Co-workers, and Other homeless people. I drink the second bottle and catch him to my left not too far away.
I call him over. "Hey you!"
He walks over. It takes him a couple of minutes. Each small step he makes, I take a long swig. I finish it. He opens his bag. I drop it in. We both hear it clank.
I ask him to sit. I ask him his name. I open the third 40.
We're both liberal. Eugene is a lot more hopeful than I. I ask him why he's homeless, of course. He responds and then I reply with a monologue about why I want to die.
Busting up. Throughout, in a series of loosely interconnected sections of prose and poetry (and even a long transcribed IM chat), the book is this wonderful mix of coy and cutting, open-hearted and bleak. It is a short book and ends without a looping resolution, yet it is an enjoyable, satisfying read. The prose sections in first-person have some real gems. Here's another:
Look at me in this mirror, my tits, breasts look great, my face is doing its job and this forty tastes so gooooooooooooooooooooooooooood. I wonder if that bi chick, with the ex-boyfriend, is going to be there tonight. Why can't we just get drunk and then I fingerfuck her and then she falls asleep in my arms all lusty and needy like Kathleen Turner in all those early films before the fun went to her face and turned her into Chandler's dad and then I leave at 6am and then I get a mcgriddle.
See what I mean?
A real voice. "The Voting Booth After Dark" also did something only good books can do: It reminds you --- or tricks you into being reminded -- of places you've been, people and crews you know, even situations that feel familiar or thought-trains you've had.
The thing also made me miss L.A. a little. The billboards. The stucco-choked windows poking out from behind sound walls on the freeways. The unpretentious yet sophisticated L.A. kids who are usually, deep down, from East of East L.A. The bars.
You know I'm down this girl, but this just takes it to another level.
During a recent concert in Puerto Vallarta, Jenni Rivera apparently had a beer thrown at her on stage. The rancherita asked that the girl who threw the beer brought up to confront her face-to-face. Next is a humiliation-fest that only a royal bad-ass like Jenni Rivera could come up with.
"Who do you think has more balls," the singer asks the girl standing meekly before her, "You or me?"
Jenni then dumps a beer on the girl's head, yanks at her hair, and dispatches the unfortunate fan off-stage and presumably to the curb. After asking for respect from the audience -- "I could be in the hotel, making a baby" -- Jenni gets in one last shot, shaking her fingers and going: "Ayy, I caught some lice!"
Yeah, that's pretty clear by now, homegirl, thanks. * Via DListed. ** Thanks, Octavia!
We don't know how or when it started, and wouldn't know what to properly call it. All we have to work off right now is this video recently commented by friend Anahi. Potentially, these are "cowboy crews" at Salinas High School on the Pacific slopes of California's San Joaquin Valley.
That's where generations of migrants from Mexico have traveled to pump out the crops that help make up the breadbasket of the United States. That's what my dad did. Migrants pick your fruit but also have kids. Kids go to high school. And make culture.
Here, they're taking banda music from Mexico and the Mexican diaspora in the U.S. and applying a dance style to it that involves the hopping and spinning of duranguense (previously explored in Intersections here) but with new acrobatic tricks. Mainly, flying into the air and to the ground and landing on your ass, then picking up the hopping right from there. The boys also do this break-dance-rooted diving move.
It looks competitive.
Oh not to worry. This kind of hyper-physicality is totally Mexi. Remember the "dos borrachos" dance clip that went viral a couple years ago? Realness.
But these cowboy crews? Are they big, big? Do they have them in L.A.? In other U.S. cities that are Mexicanizing? Atlanta? Salt Lake City? On Long Island? How are they socially organized? If you're reading this and in a cowboy crew, let us know what's up!
One of the best in blogs in L.A., Chimatli, caught duranguense early on. Here's the blog's dance category. Great stuff. Here, I've looked at tektonic arriving in Mexico City (but since kinda gone?), the cholo-cumbia-chuntaro current in the North, the mosh-pits of Ecatepec, and the (guarded) sonidero scene in and around Tepito.
* Post updated 21-1-11.
"The food factor should always be massive: four Bloody Marys, two grapefruits, a pot of coffee, Rangoon crepes, a half-pound of either sausage, bacon, or corned beef hash with diced chiles, a Spanish omelette or eggs Benedict, a quart of milk, a chopped lemon for random seasoning, and something like a slice of Key lime pie, two margaritas, and six lines of the best cocaine for dessert… Right, and there should also be two or three newspapers, all mail and messages, a telephone, a notebook for planning the next twenty-four hours and at least one source of good music… All of which should be dealt with outside, in the warmth of a hot sun, and preferably stone naked."
Now come on, and be honest, doesn't just a fraction of that sound like a fat slice of heaven? "Stone naked"? I wonder how many days Thompson actually started off in this way. Every single one? And I'm reminded, I need to re-crack open my copy of "Fear & Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72," and finally get "Hells Angels," which I understand is a masterpiece of the form good ole Hunter S. Thompson perfected.
Today, Friday, I went for a big breakfast at la Pagoda, inspired. Huevos con jamon, cafe con leche, una donita, un plato de fruta, totopos y frijoles, salsa, jugo de naranga. Yours?
Above, some kind of water-snake, dead in a swimming pool in a backyard in Cuernavaca. It's the first thing I saw on Christmas morning.
Had a nice Noche Buena at a friend's down there. Cuernavaca, despite its reputation for being overrun by chilangos and gringos, and all their accompanying bad habits, really is the "City of Eternal Spring." The streets are quiet and lush, the homes are just beautiful. I don't know anyone, here or in Mexico City, who is afraid to "leave their homes at night." But then, fear-based class blinders are a powerful thing.
For a more comprehensive and aptly critical portrait of what life is like in Cuernavaca in the age of the drug war, check out the cutting mockumentary "Spring Breakers Sin Miedo," by the provocative video artist Gregory Berger. Watch the whole thing, it's good.
Berger is a longtime Cuernavaca resident who satirizes the spike in narco crime and government abuse in his city by portraying stereotypical spring breakers whooping it up in Cuerna' without a care because their wealthy American fathers financially benefit from an ongoing conflict in Mexico. Berger told me in an interview in September, just before "El Infierno" came out: "I may be wrong, but I believe it's the first comedy about the drug war."
"Each one is a child of someone in a sector who benefits from the drug war," Berger said. "One is a daughter of a gun-shop owner in Texas. Another is the son of the owner of Bell Helicopters."
Berger plays with humor but is spurred by a citizen's moral mettle. He said something in our conversation that's stuck with me, because I and many others I know who are not native Mexicans can relate.
"The more and more it becomes clearer to me that my destiny is to live here, the more I feel incumbent upon myself to work towards the transformation of Mexico. And since my son was born [here], who is a Mexican citizen, it's not a choice. It's something that I have to do for him. So I kind of live this double life, visually. Being this clumsy blue-eyed gringo, I'm always going to appear outwardly as a foreigner, but the fact is I feel more like a virtual citizen of Mexico than I do of the United States at this point."
Cuernavaca emerges in the foothills just south of the mountains that mark the bottom ring of the Valley of Mexico. It's always mild and bright.
You travel up and up and up when returning to D.F., waiting for most of the ride for the descent to the valley floor. The climb through the mountains is much, much longer than the descent, reminding me once more how uniquely spectacular the geography of Mexico City is, like a tall mound of mashed potatoes with a soup bowl plopped right into it.
Right away, at the bus terminal, I had to put on a sweater. And I let out a few coughs.
Here's how we know the drug war isn't going well for the U.S. and Mexico governments: the catchy narcocorrido about life as a fun-loving cokehead. It's "El Cocaino," by Los Buitres de Culiacán. They work among many popular narcocorrido bands whose genre always implies a dance with death.
"El Cocaino" tells about not sleeping, partying with "the plebians," dealing with coke-itch, drinking Buchanan's, and not owing anyone any money. The verses all end with the line: "Soy cocaino no se los niego," or "I'm a cokehead and I won't deny it."
I don't keep steady track on this scene but, to those who might a bit more, what are the other new and good -- as in, outrageous or scandalous -- narcocorridos that you are especially fond of? Besides the golden classics, of course?
Looks like Los Buitres have a busy touring schedule across Mexico, too, hitting this month and into next year Michoacan, Mexico City, Oaxaca, Tijuana on the border, and on Dec. 22, a "private event" in Sonora.
* MORE: My post at La Plaza today, "White House: Cocaine market in U.S. under 'stress'." A cokey heart attack trend in Sydney? Seriously?
What does Mexico City sounds like, right now? Maybe, from at least two particular perspectives, a little like this. It's "The Sound of Mexico City," a mixtape I co-curated at the invitation of sound designer Daniel Perlin on the soundscape of D.F., for the Italian design and urbanism magazine Domus. Perlin led the project and mixed the mix.
Throughout, I read a portion of "Down & Delirious in Mexico City" in which I rhapsodize on the city's noise. (It's the first time I've read any section of the book for audio online publication, so I'm a little nervous right now. Will the listener/reader get this particular excerpt's sense of exaggeration, the overblown sound-pyschosis, the humor?)
In addition, there's a pretty haunting piece in there by sound artist Rogelio Sosa. It includes the infamous clip of former President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz saying he was "most proud" of his role in the crackdown on the 1968 student movement.
Perlin and I had to turn around the mix pretty quickly, but I think we managed to string together a decent sample of various musical genres that define the D.F. soundscape right now, cumbia, tribal guarachero, ska, rockabilly, hip-hop. Thank you to the artists whom I personally contacted and agreed to supply a track. They are ...
The Kumbia Queers, whose garage-y lo-fi sound captures a certain "right now" aesthetic that bridges cumbia, punk, and queerness -- particularly of the female sort. The Rebel Cats, the slick maestros of Mexican rockabilly; they play tight and sport a good look. MC Luka, one of many hiphoperos doing it big in the Gran Tenochtitlan; I particularly like Luka because he addresses transnational cholo/barrio culture -- and spits so good overall. Sonido Sonoramico, one of several cumbia bands who play somewhere in town just about every week of the year, easily in the elite of this street subculture. And finally Maldita Vecindad, true OGs of the old-school ska/fusion scene in Mexico City, which in my view operates as an umbrella for many subsequent genres and groups. They've been at it for two decades now and remain committed to a sociopolitical vision of music and its ability to liberate and build community. Respeto.
In the near future, with more time than this project allowed, I'll be linking up more artists who I think define the sound of Mexico City as I've lived it these past three years. I'll also be posting, soon, on my "Top Ten Mixtapes of 2010."
Nos vemos en la calle, cabrones!
Scott explains: "To be fair, newspaper journalists have far too little time to do far too much, particularly with the steady collapse of print circulations. If a story breaks just before the deadline, they may just copy it: but it seems only fair to require labelling in a case like this."
Ouch. Now imagine if you picked up your paper and it was covered in these labels. An experiment in ultimate transparency? Scott's other work is impressive. Check it out here.
* Thank you, Michael!
From a Southern California strip mall near you, above, "Japanese Mexican girls," by artist Shizu Saldamando, via FB. Can I get a pose, too? Check out some of Shizu's work here. A personal favorite are the romantic embraces in "18 With a Bullet."
Believe in Everything? In the maximal ambisexual nature of the Moment?
Then believe in Dis Magazine, headed in part by fair and friendly weirdo David Toro and a collective, based in New York City. Above, a visual appendage to a recent mixtape at the mag's site, by someone called Visual AIDS. No idea who that is right now either, but it looks like we should be friends. The mix seamlessly combines, among other naturally evolved references, jams by Aaliyah (Q.D.E.P. forever my lady), Ace of Bass, and what sounds like that haunting soundcloud theme from the "Terminator" movies.
Total sense, right?
Go there and download it, and give yourself some radical queer balance to the essentially normative expression that is Wednesday's federal court ruling against Prop. 8 in California. Speaking of, after the celebrations tonight, read this article from a January 2010 issue of The New Yorker on the risks of taking same-sex marriage "too soon" to the U.S. Supreme Court.
The battle's only begun. Again.
* Post edited.
Here is Espinoza Paz in his video for "¿Lo Intentamos?" a popular norteño ballad that is just beyond sentimental, almost uncomfortably so -- which is what makes it so, so good. Come on, carressing a wall in loving agony? This is high drama we're talking here.
More than a year since its release, "¿Lo Intentamos?" is still on loop outside my window in downtown Mexico City, demonstrating once more the level of influence that the northern Mexican diaspora has in the cultural heart of the nation. The downtown D.F./tepiteño scene may not be immediately identified with vaquero hats or ostrich-skin boots, but we can definitely get down here or there with the music from El Norte.
Paz, a native of Sinaloa and former fieldworker in California, is a bonafide breakthrough artist in the "Mexican regional" super-genre, a true and proud "paisa." Here he is performing a bit of "¿Lo Intentamos?" live on Mun2, and man, the song holds up so well acoustically. He says he's written more than a thousand songs. Hot.