My latest for VICE News. In this documentary, I served as both producer and correspondent. Thanks to my crew, Brooke, Phoebe, and Mack.
I once said this song is an "artifact, a witness, an indictment, a prayer." Ten years later, "Dry Drunk Emperor" by the 2000s New York band TV on the Radio remains the most stirring offering in any language of mourning to the victims and survivors of Hurricane Katrina.
And more potently, ten years after the avoidable disaster, the song is a clear call for revolution. It's references to then-President George W. Bush as a "dry drunk emperor" of "gold cross jock skull and bones" and a "mocking smile" are reminders of the darkest moments of the Bush-era decadence.
In the remembrances this week, where is the acknowledgement of those days' feelings of anger, desperation, disgust? Where is the howling from the bottom of our gut?
I encourage you to listen today to this track and to ponder the power of its lyrics:
dying under hot desert sun,
watch your colors run.
Did you believe the lie they told you,
that Christ would lead the way
and in a matter of days
hand us victory?
Did you buy the bull they sold you,
that the bullets and the bombs
and all the strong arms
would bring home security?
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
standing naked for a while!
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!
and bring all the thieves to trial.
End their promise
end their dream
watch it turn to steam
rising to the nose of some cross-legged god
Gog of Magog
end-times sort of thing.
Oh, unmentionable disgrace
shield the children's faces
as all the monied apes
display unimaginably poor taste
in a scramble for mastery.
Atta' boy get em with your gun
till Mr. Mega-Ton
tells us when we've won
what we're gonna leave undone.
All eyes upon
Dry Drunk Emperor
gold cross jock skull and bones
naked for a while.
Get him gone, get him gone, get him gone!!!
and bring all his thieves to trial.
What if all the fathers and the sons
went marching with their guns
drawn on Washington.
That would seal the deal,
show if it was real,
this supposed freedom.
What if all the bleeding hearts
took it on themselves
to make a brand new start.
Organs pumpin' on their sleeves,
paint murals on the White House
feed the leaders L.S.D.
Grab your fife and drum,
grab your gold baton
and let's meet on the lawn,
shut down this hypocrisy.
** Originally published at Thump:
It was 3AM on a Saturday morning by the time we made it to Del Valle, the middle-class mid-section of Mexico City. We inched our way into a tacky, vacant bar where Siete Catorce was scheduled to play a late-night set. Ten Foot, a prominent DJ from London, was playing before a crowd of about eight, and when the Mexicali electronic music producer walked in he went straight for the DJ table. The two hashed it out, and before long, Siete had assumed the position in front of his PC laptop. We were there to watch him make music live on his screen, mixing and manipulating original tracks with nothing but a laptop and a mousepad.
It was a weird, soggy summer night. There were a few strewn about tables, fluorescent lights, people smoking indoors (which is illegal here, but only incidentally), and furtive passages to the restrooms to “powder noses.” The bar wouldn’t have been out of place tucked away in LA’s Koreatown district, and it was a perfect place to dance to Siete Catorce’s mix of tribal, techno, and “emo broken beats.”
A few minutes into his set, I was dancing. A few minutes more and everyone in the bar was dancing.
Dawn approached, and he kept playing. Thin and wily, basked in the glow of his laptop screen, Siete hopped and swayed through his set. Only after every authority figure in the place, from the bartender to the promoter, told him he had to stop, did Siete stop playing. The speakers rested. People were panting, walking around in circles. The young DJ turned to the nearest girl next to him and asked, still bobbing, “Was that good? Did you like that?” But he already knew the answer.
It was good. The girl by his side knew it. I knew it. Even the angry bartender knew it.
Since moving to Mexico City from his native Mexicali—thanks to the release of his EP with local label NAAFI—Siete Catorce has torn through town, playing wherever he can, and frequently winding up crowd-surfing during his sets. From that nameless bar in Del Valle, to the it venue of the moment, Bahía, to Mexico City living rooms dusted with cigarette smoke, he’s been dazzling audiences with a sound that marries Mexican tribal jubilance (à la 3BALL MTY) with an unmistakable feeling of sadness, rage, and foreboding.
It was about time somebody did it.
Life in Mexico is hard right now: traffic is bad, the rainy season was devastating, no one has money, people get paid shit. Encounters with cartel or state violence are basically considered normal. Some economists already think Mexico is slipping into a new recession, even though the cost of food and transportation continues to rise. But night after night, weekend after weekend, the party rolls on. In Mexico City, Siete Catorce (or “7:14”) has been there for us consistently.
“My music is very Mexican but also very tripped-out”—ondeada—Siete Catorce told me. “I like the vibe here. It reminds me of when I lived in Oakland, even in the weather a little bit. I like the vibe of a city that’s always busy.”
Marco Polo Gutierrez was born in Mexicali but was raised mostly in Oakland, CA. He identifies strongly with the Bay Area in his music, tastes, and cultural stance. This got us talking. I went to school in the Bay and spent childhood summer vacations visiting relatives in Northern CA. During one YouTube-scrolling hangout session, we confirmed that we could both rap along with “93 ‘till Infinity.”
“I was born in Mexicali, and when I was two, I went to live in Oakland,” Siete said during a rainstorm in early July. “I lived there till I was 14 or 15. I came over here because they deported my mom, and so, the whole family came back.”
Mexicali is the vast desert sister city to Tijuana. Singer-songwriter Juan Cirerol is from there, and there’s a significant Chinese-Mexican population, but other than that there’s not much going for it. It must have been a tough place to adapt to after feeling the freedom and mobility that comes with life in Oakland.
“Well, over [in Oakland], you’re in the ghetto. It’s dope because there are cultures from everywhere. And you grow up exposed to all that. I just hung out with my cousins. They were stoners and listened to rap and hip-hop. And that’s the environment I grew up in.”
His sound, he explains, is deeply rooted in the all-night birthday and quinceañera parties among relatives that marked his childhood—the hours and hours of cumbia. It’s an experience that almost any Mexican kid can tap into, but in his case, one that is marred by the trauma of a parent’s expulsion from the United States.
In 2007 Siete's mother was deported. He tells me she had to visit a sick relative in Mexicali and used a sister's passport to cross back to the U.S., and was caught. His entire family followed her to Mexicali. This was around the same time that the Baja drug-smuggling corridor erupted in internal warfare—one site of unrest within a country-wide drug war that was getting increasingly out of control. All across northern Mexico, many young producers and musicians at the time were literally retreating to their bedrooms for safety. They dabbled across genres, from sad-core garage to hard-core club. In the process, they developed the personalities that would later become an Erick Rincon or a Dani Shivers, names now defining music in Mexico today.
Siete Catorce started playing piano at the age of five. Once he settled in Mexicali, he downloaded Ableton Live and started taking his first cracks at house and electro. “Then I started making glitch, glitch-hop, dubstep, stuff like that,” Siete said. “But that was a long time ago, when no one listened to Skrillex or anything.”
He explains his start as a producer in recognizable steps: first came the teenage boredom, then the isolation; followed by an introduction to raves, a few lessons in desktop mixing, and a period of dancing around genres and scenes before finally finding a sound. In this case, it was thanks to a cumbia remix he did for the cura of it—the shits-and-giggles.
“You could say that what changed everything was when I remixed a track by Celso Piña, ‘Cumbia del Poder’,” Siete said.
The remix of the Celso was driven by a dubby boom with some hip to it. A DJ in Canada picked it up, and then the music site Generation Bass posted it, Siete recalls. Then, in April 2011, he was invited to open at a party for experimental electronic music in Tijuana.
** 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.
* End of the line: a concha below the volcanos at the terminus of Line 12, Tlahuac, Dec. 31, 2012.
I've spent three years reporting stories in Mexico, the region, and sometimes on Mexico-related topics north of the border from the Los Angeles Times bureau here in Mexico City. On top of that, I've been contributing steadily to a bunch of magazines and radio, Web, and video outlets, all places I love.
It's been rad. But, man, I needed to make a move! And I think I've made a good one. Vice is expanding, not contracting. It has vision, huevos, and, most importantly for anyone who wants to do good journalism, cash.
Talks started informally months ago, and it's been a fully pro negotiation and transition with Vice Mexico publisher Eduardo Valenzuela and the head of content here, Bernardo Loyola. I've also been contributing pieces to Vice's New York headquarters, so I'm looking forward to working more closely with the editors at the hub.
For more context, check out these highlights from a recent profile on Vice by The New Yorker, including interesting comments from players such as CEO Shane Smith:
Rupert Murdoch, after his visit, tweeted, "Who's heard of Vice Media? Wild, interesting effort to interest millennials who don't read or watch established media. Global success."
"Part of the reason Vice is successful is because we have cash to make stuff. Everyone else is just fucking wandering around trying to find budgets to make their dream project."
"[T]he nice thing about Vice is that it's the future and it's already very profitable."
McInnes told me, "My big thing was I want you to do stupid in a smart way and smart in a stupid way. So if you’re going to Palestine, try to find a good burger joint. Don't talk about Israel and the borders, 1967, Gaza -- just find a good burger joint. Conversely, if you're gonna do a thing on farts or poo, talk to experts in digestion, find out the history of what we know about farts, why they smell. Be super-scientific and get all the data. Which is what we did with 'The Vice Guide to Shit.'"
Vice is opening bureaus as quickly as traditional-media organizations are closing them.
Smith told me, "It used to be, back in the day, that news was the most profitable of all shows that the networks did. The Gulf War built CNN. There's a lot of conceptions that news doesn't make money, that young people don’t care about news. But young people obviously care about news -- that's why we're successful."
Still, if Vice is the future of media, it might be argued that, for all its faults, it's no worse than what we already have. For anyone accustomed to the current offerings on cable news -- with its twenty-four-hour cycles and blow-dried personalities rehashing wire reports -- it's hard not to be impressed by Vice's vitality and by some of the topics that it covers firsthand.
Pretty G. ...
My top priority is to always challenge myself, challenge my craft. I'll be editing an established publication again more than ten years after my "EIC" days at the college paper. But, hugely, my primary audience for the first time will be hispano-hablantes en México y Latinoamerica. That's a crazy challenge for this die-hard pocho and I'm eager to take it on!
Admittedly, there's a nostalgia factor also at work here. I grew up checking out Vice as a teenager, picking it up once it started appearing at skate-, head-, and record shops in my hometown. When I lived in L.A., I was around when lil Mark "The Cobrasnake" Hunter started showing up at the Vice store parties at Sunset Junction. Through friends, I met and really fell in love with one of Vice's original muses, lil baby Dash, and I still think fondly of the time we shared in L.A. with K. Garcia and Nina T., the trouble we'd get into. ... Que descanse en paz.
The magazine, the brand, the broader ambitions of Vice Media have morphed so much, it's remarkable. I am honored to get a chance at joining what I suspect will become a long tradition of good, fucked-up reportage. I start on Monday. Got a story idea?
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY — They were tweeting about it, turning it into memes and ogling it in real life along the route that President Obama took from Mexico City's airport to the colonial front gate of the National Palace.
Throughout Obama's visit, which ended Friday, the president's super-armored presidential limousine, nicknamed "The Beast" when it was unveiled four years ago, almost stole the show from the cool and cordial display of diplomacy between Obama and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto.
When Obama stepped off Air Force One and hopped into the customized state Cadillac, one cable newscaster on Mexico's Foro TV called it a "spectacular vehicle." Broadcasters on a variety of channels seemed to mention The Beast — La Bestia in Spanish — as frequently as they could.
And they were also talking about it in Costa Rica, where Obama was headed after his morning forums with Mexican students and businesses.
Maybe it's that famed American engineering stirring up the fascination? Or could it have to do with Mexicans' similar obsession with the popemobile whenever the Holy Father comes to town?
"We came to try to see the car, La Bestia," said tourist Daniel Castillo, a 33-year-old port worker from Tamaulipas state who was standing outside the National Palace with his wife after Obama and Peña Nieto departed Thursday afternoon. "Don't really care for ... that señor," Castillo added, referring to the U.S. president.
News cameramen on motorcycles chased The Beast as it passed some of Mexico City's toughest neighborhoods along its speediest highways. Infographics on La Bestia adorned news sites, with journalists noting the elaborate features, such as a blood supply in case of an attack.
In a cruel twist, there was another vehicle nicknamed La Bestia making headlines in Mexico this week: The freight train that chugs along the rain forests and backcountry of eastern Mexico, carrying vulnerable migrants from Central America on an often deadly attempt to reach the United States.
On Wednesday, migrants were again attacked by suspected drug gangs, this time near the city of Coatzacoalcos in Veracruz state. At least nine were seriously injured by men armed with machetes and firearms who tried to extort $100 from each of the travelers, The Times reported.
According to accounts, some migrants were thrown from the train for refusing to pay. In recent years, tens of thousands have gone missing while traveling along La Bestia's tracks.
"Now isn't it curious that Obama's limo is called La Bestia, just like the train that takes thousands of migrants from Chiapas?" a politician wondered on Twitter, referring to Mexico's border state with Guatemala.
Castillo, the tourist, said cartel violence fueled by U.S. demand for drugs has made it too dangerous to travel from Puerto Altamira, where he lives, to the border to visit Texas. He and his wife now prefer vacationing in the "center of the country."
Obama "should stay over there and fix his own country's problems," Castillo huffed.
His wife, Irene Gomez, said the couple hasn't seen some family members in the United States in years. Most of her relatives left Mexico to flee the drug violence, she said.
"Everyone is going to the United States because the insecurity is so bad," said Gomez, 34. "And what are they doing over there? They're deporting people, separating families."
Once Obama's "beast" had departed the National Palace on Thursday, the low fencing placed around the Zocalo square was removed and pedestrians gradually reclaimed the plaza that has been at the heart of national identity here for centuries.
A few passersby hurled curses at the front door of the palace as soldiers emerged for the customary evening flag ceremony. For some, the awe of the La Bestia faded away and reality set in once more.
* Photo by AP via LAT.
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- Skull motifs. Dollar bills pasted on a wall. Phrases written in neon lights. Figures cut out of photographs. Or, if you like, a bunch of lines on paper.
It's hardly surprising that the offerings at Zona Maco, the Mexico City contemporary art bazaar that opened its 10th edition Wednesday, tend to look and feel like the art for sale at any other big fair.
Many of the galleries with showcases at the glitzy five-day event are visiting from established art centers like New York or Milan. But the ambition of Zona Maco's longtime director, Zelika Garcia, is to help build a mature art market in Mexico by cultivating domestic galleries and buyers.
Has it worked? Not entirely.
Numbers on Mexico's cagey collectors and what they're spending are hard to come by, and Garcia was not available for an interview. But dedicated fair-goers said that the number of collectors in Mexico City remains small.
By far the biggest local art patron is Eugenio Lopez, heir to Mexico's Jumex juice fortune and owner of the Jumex Collection, said to be the largest private art collection in Latin America. Housed at a juice-making plant in the Mexico City suburb of Ecatepec, Lopez's collection is reportedly worth at least $80 million.
On the fair's opening day, which was attended by Lopez and other noteworthy buyers, including the former mayor of Tijuana, Jorge Hank Rhon, there was much grumbling by dealers, artists and visitors.
There was no Internet connection in the hall at the Banamex convention center and not a lot being handed out for free. No water for sale, but plenty of tequila cocktails.
"Slow," "pale" and "thin" were some of the words used to describe the scene.
"What bothers me is there's no real thread," said Mario Ballesteros, editor of Domus Mexico magazine. "Even the big-name galleries, it's like they're just pulling out the inventory, like a garage sale."
On the bright side, government cultural agencies are becoming more involved, offering special programs and providing venues for Zona Maco events, said Maria Ortiz, director of volunteers at Mexico City's Museum of Modern Art.
Give the scene more time to grow, Ortiz said. "They have international galleries coming now, and so we can see art from abroad that we couldn't see otherwise."
By the afternoon, works were selling briskly. A government cultural official announced the establishment of an $829,000 fund to buy new work for Mexico's museums.
Prints by the artist and tattooist known as Dr. Lakra, made in his trademark style of embellishing vintage paper nudes, were going for $12,000 apiece at the booth of the local Kurimanzutto gallery. Working musical instruments made out of gun parts from Mexico's violent drug war, by Pedro Reyes for the Labor gallery, were going for $20,000 and up.
But some of the most interesting events are happening away from Zona Maco. Across town, small galleries, art collectives and pop-up curators are offering a host of intriguing indie exhibits throughout the week.
The group Bucareli ACT brought art viewers to a decaying downtown street Tuesday night where largely disused buildings were turned into venues for sound-art and other shows. A new video by artists Ilan Lieberman and Rafael Ortega juxtaposed clips from the classic film "King Kong" with footage of the arrest of the famously smirking U.S.-born drug lord, Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez.
Also away from the fair, art titan Gabriel Orozco is launching a collection of new works at Kurimanzutto on Saturday, a homecoming of sorts after a retrospective of his art traveled through New York, London and Paris in recent years.
Could Zona Maco be the place where a future Orozco makes a first sale? If market-savvy skills are any indicator, why not?
In the young artists section, Monterrey-based gallery Alternativa Once was showing "TwitterDrumSolo," a drum-kit that played itself, by 25-year-old Daniel Perez Rios.
A lanky guy in glasses, Perez explained that he used a computer to program the drumming to match surges in tweets about the presidential candidates on the night of last year's election.
The bass drum, for example, played when tweets mentioned "electoral fraud." Asked how much the piece cost, Perez replied: "You'll have to talk to my dealer."
How do you guys rip YouTubes now that Zamzar succumbed and doesn't anymore? Cuz I need the entire audio to this hour-long fashion collection video musicalized by mi hermano Total Freedom, "Meat Fashion Show A/W 2013 - Believe."
Ash's mixing is, like, prime material. Call it trap, rave, hoodie gothic, whateva; his style has become recognizable by ears alone. Particularly in awe of the track that starts at about minute 38. Deaaaaaaamn. (Clothes are good, too.)
* The following is an excerpt. Gatopardo is on newsstands in Mexico now.
Sábado 15 de diciembre de 2012
[11 Ix o 18.104.22.168.14]
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 in the Feb. 1, 2013 print edition of the Los Angeles Times:
MEXICO CITY -- In the Mexican remake of the popular U.S. TV series "Gossip Girl," the privileged teens at the center of the drama still have it all: stylish clothes, great hair, top-of-the-line sports cars.
The types are familiar: Bowtie-wearing Chuck Bass is now known as Max Zaga, and effortlessly chic Serena van der Woodsen is now Sofia Lopez-Haro. The setting is no longer the Upper East Side of Manhattan, but the former "jewel" of the Mexican Riviera, Acapulco.
Wait a minute — Acapulco?
As filming began last week in the port city on the southern Pacific coast, "Gossip Girl Acapulco" immediately sparked passionate reactions among social media users in Mexico.
Many expressed disgust at the idea that a show about Manhattan's teen elites would be translated into a contemporary Mexican setting, where drug-related violence, especially in places such as Acapulco, and class and racial barriers remain entrenched. Others, though, said they were dying to see the finished product this year on media giant Televisa.
It may be little more than a whisper-worthy coincidence, but Acapulco is considered one of the most violent cities in Mexico, perhaps topped only by Ciudad Juarez on the U.S.-Mexico border. In 2011, the last full year for which figures are available, the national statistics institute said 1,114 people were reported killed within Acapulco's city limits, which has about 789,000 residents.
Kidnapping and extortion are believed to be rampant, and gory execution scenes are common mere blocks from the major tourist zones. The State Department urges U.S. nationals to "defer nonessential travel to areas further than two blocks inland" of the downtown beach.
("Let's hope this new round of 'Gossip Girl' only sees Blair losing her virginity, and, not, on top of it, her head," said the New York Observer, naming another character from the original series.)
Acapulco also happens to be deeply in debt. This month, Mayor Luis Walton Aburto said the city owed about $33.2 million. The city hopes a fresh push for tourism income can help it climb out of its fiscal hole, but when reached by phone, several municipal officials said they hadn't heard about "Gossip Girl Acapulco" until this week.
There is no clear sign that the Mexican series is part of any larger plan to revitalize the struggling city. But the brain behind the project, producer Pedro Torres, said he hopes people will see the beauty of Acapulco through the show and maybe venture to visit.
Torres, in a hurried telephone interview punctuated with garbled asides to aides, said "Gossip Girl Acapulco" will remain true to the story line and character types that captured viewers in the original. The only difference, he said, will be the setting and the use of "mannerisms of Mexican speech."
"It was I who proposed the idea of placing it in Acapulco," Torres said.
One of the most powerful figures in Mexican television, Torres has remade imports such as the reality TV shows "Big Brother" and "Fear Factor" for Mexican audiences.
"There is no doubt that the city of Acapulco has suffered serious problems of drug trafficking and violence like many other cities in Mexico," Torres said. "But, well, this series is not a portrait of that. This is fiction, a complete fiction."
"Gossip Girl Acapulco" is the second attempt at farming out the franchise to a foreign market by Warner Bros., the original show's producers. As The Times reported last year, the company announced the launch of "China Girl," a "Gossip Girl" for Chinese audiences.
In previews of "Gossip Girl Acapulco," in addition to their material wealth, the central characters also seem to have inherited the European-looking side of Mexico's racial spectrum, a persistent feature of Mexican television that can either be read as a reflection of the country's stubborn class hierarchies or as a tool that inadvertently promotes them.
A better term for it might be "aspirational," which is how actor Vadhir Derbez described the show's context during the press rollout for "Gossip Girl Acapulco." Derbez, who plays Max, the Mexican Chuck, said the show will have valuable lessons to offer viewers.
"People see these kids who come from lots of money, and it may seem unreachable," the actor told an interviewer. Yet "it has a strong message behind it, that money is not everything. And that's cool."
Torres' Mexico City-based production company, El Mall, said it is in negotiations with U.S. Spanish-language networks Telemundo and Univision for possible distribution of "Gossip Girl Acapulco" north of the border.
"I've been living in Acapulco for a month with my family and we've had an incredible time, with an incredible climate," Torres said by phone. "The truth is, one should have the normal prudency like in any other city. We do not have any security detail that is out of the ordinary."
"Gossip Girl Acapulco" is to start airing in July on the Televisa network.
* Photo via Gossip Girl Acapulco FB.
Dancing + being in love + flying?
"Dancing in Slow Motion," by friends Teengirl Fantasy, features vocals from the venerable Shannon Funchess. And don't you think she sings with the grace of a chamana from space? There are a variety of great remixes, such as a noteworthy mix Brenmar. But the original has that beautiful pause at 2:39 ... and then it catches you, safe.
** Originally published at World Now:
For travelers who've never been to the ancient Maya city of Chichen Itza, a virtual window into the site's pyramids and plazas is available online, among 30 archaeological zones in Mexico now mapped by history's greatest peeping Tom: Google Street View.
From the comfort of a computer, any Internet user anywhere can now zoom in and examine the perfect form of Chichen Itza's Kukulkan pyramid, known also El Castillo, or the Castle.
On Google Street View, a viewer can almost feel like they might tumble into the Sacred Cenote, or natural sinkhole, where Maya priests practiced ritual sacrifice. Or imagine cavorting on the Plaza of the Thousand Columns. Or maybe do some souvenir browsing, up close and in intensely high resolution.
Google and Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History, or INAH, announced the new maps last week. Using a 360-degree camera mounted on a bicycle, Google captured "street views" of other major archaeological sites in Mexico, such as Monte Alban in Oaxaca and Teotihuacan outside Mexico City.
The Internet search engine has focused its publicity campaign for the new maps on images captured at Chichen Itza, one of Mexico's most storied tourist destinations. But for travelers who have been there, could Google Street View now be better than the real thing?
Consider: A recent (physical) visit to Chichen Itza confirmed that tourists are no longer allowed to climb the Castillo pyramid, no more tackling its famous 91 steps that President Felipe Calderon recently climbed in a widely mocked tourism video.
Visitors can no longer actually, physically cavort among the plaza of the columns. In fact, most of the structures at Chichen Itza these days are off-limits to tourists, who must settle on snapping photos behind wire barriers. Worse, the archaeological zone is also overrun with vendors from the neighboring communities, making a non-virtual visit a somewhat disappointing experience overall.
Since Chichen Itza was declared a new Seven Wonders of the World site in 2007, access has been limited due to concerns over deterioration and also because the site's restoration process is ongoing, said an INAH spokesman.
The same is true at the Palenque zone in Chiapas, the spokesman said, where a visitor like you and me may no longer be able to climb that site's spectacular structures. But on Google, at least, there's a decent shot of a man in an orange polo with a sweat towel on his head.
* Photo: A view of the Kukulkan pyramid, or El Castillo, at the Chichen Itza archaeological site in the Mexican state of Yucatan. Credit: Google, via INAH
** Originally published at World Now:
It was a sweet Olympic gold victory for Mexican soccer, yes. But that was last week.
On Wednesday night, Mexico was defeated by the United States in a friendly match at the cavernous high-altitude Estadio Azteca in Mexico City, 1-0, the first win for the U.S. on Mexican soil in 75 years of a storied and often bitter rivalry.
The only goal of the game came from U.S. defender Michael Orozco Fiscal, 26, a Mexican American native of Orange.
When it happened, in the 79th minute, utter silence seemed to befall the entire Mexican capital for a second or two. The United States had not won a single game at the Azteca, and Mexico had barely lost there against any opponent, in official matches or friendlies.
Watch the game-winning goal here:
Mexico's current sports superstar, Javier "Chicharito" Hernandez -- who didn't play for gold in London in the men's soccer final on Saturday -- attempted a few desperate strikes in the final minutes to salvage the game.
But U.S. goalie Tim Howard delivered crucial saves for the Americans, despite being battered with harrasment from the stands, a custom relished by fans at the Azteca. (At least one pesky person Wednesday was distracting the U.S. goalie with the light of a green laser.)
There was surprisingly little bad blood for Orozco in Mexico's media the next morning and among armchair analysts online.
Where could an ardently nationalist fan draw a line on criticism anyway? The U.S. friendly roster is rife with border-blurring athletes, a reflection of the complex historical migration patterns between the countries, and maybe a little of that free-trade spirit that has defined the binational relationship since 1994.
Edgar Castillo, a defender born in Las Cruces, N.M., has played for both the Mexican and U.S. national teams. Midfielder Joe Corona -- half-Mexican, half-Salvadoran and born in Los Angeles --plays professionally for Tijuana. And Herculez Gomez, born in L.A. to Mexican American parents, plays in Mexico for Pachuca.
Game-winner Orozco's parents are from the Mexican states of Durango and Queretaro. He was born in Orange County but plays professionally in Mexico for San Luis.
"That's history," he told one news outlet after the game. "It does leave a mark in my heart."
Photo: U.S. defender Michael Orozco, right, celebrates with teammate Terrence Boyd after scoring during a friendly soccer game against Mexico in Mexico City, Aug. 15, 2012. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press
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.
From Frank Ocean's first mixtape, a video and track that captures with uncanny accuracy a certain late-2000s decade Los Angeles lifestyle that led to many transcended boundaries for many kids in the city at the time -- right when no one was really paying attention.
* "Excavations" is not a category on this blog, it's a theme.
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.
We're doing a cool event on Tuesday night, May 22, at Casa Familiar in right in San Ysidro, the most southwesterly community on the U.S.-Mexico border.
Excited to share the space with Gustavo Arellano, OC Weekly editor and author of the new book "Taco USA"; Bill Nericcio, San Diego State professor and author of "Tex[t]-Mex," who organized the event; and un servidor. I think I'll read some from "El bajón y el delirio."
** 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
** Originally published at World Now:
MEXICO CITY -- The campaign for the front-runner in Mexico's presidential election is producing reality TV-style documentary videos that show him kissing and flirting with his wife, eating ice cream and returning home after a day on the campaign trail to hug his daughters.
The videos constitute a new level in the blurring of lines between politics and pop media in Mexico, and appear to be energizing support among voters.
Enrique Peña Nieto, galloping toward the July 1 vote with a double-digit lead over his two main rivals, would be the first president from the former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, in the 21st century. The PRI, often labeled through its history as quasi-authoritarian, was booted from power in 2000.
The videos primarily star Peña Nieto's wife, telenovela actress Angelica Rivera, and are narrated from her perspective under the title, "What My Eyes See, and What My Heart Feel" (links in Spanish). In them, she follows her husband to campaign events and chats with him between stops in clips that feel like journals or diary entries.
One ends with Peña, 45, and Rivera, 41, arriving home and letting the viewer in on plans for an evening of dinner, bathing and bedtime. In another, he samples local ice cream. Here's a new clip from a stop in Villahermosa, in the state of Tabasco:
The videos are meant to show an informal, intimate side of the couple, who married in 2010 after the sudden death in 2007 of Peña Nieto's first wife, Monica Pretelini, while he governed the central state of Mexico. The clips have garnered thousands of views on YouTube and "likes" on Facebook. There, Rivera's public page frequently posts casual snapshots of her and her family.
Political advertising in Mexico's two most recent presidential campaigns, won by Vicente Fox in 2000 and fellow conservative Felipe Calderon in 2006, has moved steadily toward a more U.S.-style media approach. The PRI's effort this year takes the current social-media orientation of Mexican politics to a new level.
Peña Nieto personifies the trend, making some political commentators bemoan the nature of the 2012 race. In a Jan. 27 column in the daily Reforma, author Juan Villoro called Peña Nieto a "political hologram" and a "tele-candidate."
"There is no election today that is not decided in the media," Villoro wrote. "Trusting in this precept, the PRI has chosen a telegenic candidate. The problem is that he appears to have little more than luminous wrapping."
U.S. officials in Mexico have been watching Peña Nieto's rise for years, noting his telegenic qualities since the start, according to leaked U.S. diplomatic cables. One of those cables from 2009 relays a description of Peña Nieto as "a pretty face with nationwide appeal, but lacking in substance and political savvy."
His strongest detractors early on were apparently concentrated within his own party, the leaked cables show. In another from 2009, contacts inside the PRI told U.S. officials that they believed Peña was "paying media outlets under the table for favorable news coverage, as well as potentially financing pollsters to sway survey results."
His campaign has carefully guarded his public appearances, and the videos in "What My Eyes See, and What My Heart Feels," although edited with an unscripted, chop-and-cut flair, are no different.
During his first campaign stop in the city of Oaxaca, for example, Rivera's video diary showed an upbeat Peña Nieto greeting supporters at the city's central plaza but no images of the crowds of demonstrators who had gathered to protest the PRI machine.
The party isn't alone in pumping funds into sleek documentary-style video spots.
The campaign for Josefina Vazquez Mota, candidate for the conservative National Action Party, released a video Wednesday documenting her visit that day to the prestigious Tecnologico de Monterrey university.
In it, she speaks to students in an auditorium, then responds to a protestor who yells at her from the audience. The nature of the protestor's complaint, however, is not specified, and neither is the candidate's response, for that matter. Instead, the video ends with a crescendo of music and the candidate calling over applause, "Do not tire of truth! Do not tire of liberty!"
Photo: Institutional Revolutionary Party presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto, center, and his wife, actress Angelica Rivera, left, during a campaign stop in Papantla, Veracruz, on April 13. Credit: Peña Nieto campaign
El Festival NRMAL fue *laaaaa onda.* Pero la otra realidad pica.
From Wikileaks: "While there is public concern about the influence of the cartels, civil society is in general unaware of the degree to which the cartels have infiltrated key state and municipal institutions. All of the region's police forces are controlled by organized crime. In the case of San Pedro, the ABL cartel called the shots although a 15-person advance squad from la Familia was present in the city and trying to gain a foothold among the police force. (Separately, the former San Pedro Secretary of Public Security reports that La Familia has been engaged in such efforts intermittently since 2006.) As for the other police forces in the area, the Gulf Cartel was the true master. In general, and as was the case in San Pedro, the cartels did not attempt to bribe the municipal secretaries of public security, but bought off the number two and number three level officials on the force. Note: The mid-September detention by state law enforcement authorities of the Municipal Secretary for Public Security of Santiago (a Monterrey suburb) would represent an exception to this rule. End Note."
** Originally published in the Calendar section of the Sunday Los Angeles Times:
On a wide but quiet strip of Vermont Avenue in South Los Angeles, in the run-down Casa Honduras dance hall, the ska kids are waiting for the next band to start.
Couples are making out in the corners of the venue, attached to a Honduran restaurant. They sport dreadlocks, Afros and spiky punk 'dos and are dressed in everything from camouflage and combat boots to Chucks and suspenders.
A sound check ensues with a band called Blanco y Negro. Once its members get going, blasting the room with a frenetic Latin-punk sound sung both in English and Spanish, the young crowd forms a circle and begins to skank. The dance has them lifting their elbows and knees rhythmically to the ska beat, rushing and pushing against one another when the music accelerates into punk or metal.
Bodies are in motion, sweating, pounding skin to skin. Though just eight miles from downtown L.A., by the sounds and faces, this could be a jam in Mexico City or Tijuana.
Ska — the Jamaican sound that expanded into a variety of rock and reggae subgenres in the United Kingdom and then the United States in the late 1970s through the '90s — is booming again in Southern California. It is experiencing a comeback after a decade of relative exile, but this time around it's influenced by ska from Latin America.
Underground shows are happening in backyards and warehouses across Southern California, with mini-scenes developing in areas such as South and southeastern Los Angeles, Orange County and the Inland Empire.
"Do you remember the swing days? This is the new era of that," said Hollywood resident Josh Morales, 24. "But it's more ska-reggae."
"It's like a combination of cumbia with ska," Morales said as the band Los Chiles Verdes began warming up for its set. "It's like Spanish rock.... I don't know. It's hard to explain."
** Read the rest here. Read more ...
** Originally published in the L.A. Times Calendar section:
REPORTING FROM SAN PEDRO GARZA GARCIA, MEXICO -- Oakland-bred Raka Rich brought the flow of California hip-hop, in Spanish.
Puerto Rico's Davila 666 ignited a wild mosh-pit with its Latin-tinged punk.
And all kinds of new Mexican acts — as varied as Juan Cirerol of Mexicali and cumbia-rockers Sonido San Francisco — showed that Mexico's independent music scene just might be at its most dynamic in years. Over 12 hours on Saturday, some 4,500 fans gathered to hear more than 50 international acts at a sonically diverse annual music festival called NRMAL.
The name belies the fact that nothing here can be taken for granted. Not only was it the biggest NRMAL fest held in the past three years, but the fact that it took place in this industrial city of more than 4 million without any serious trouble makes it even more of a triumph.
Metropolitan Monterrey is currently a battleground in Mexico's ongoing drug war, where a string of deadly tragedies such as the last August's Casino Royale massacre, in which 52 people died after drug traffickers torched a casino, have traumatized a once-proud hub of industry and innovation.
The storied Monterrey night life that was once centered around the Barrio Antiguo neighborhood is all but dead after a series of shootings with multiple fatalities at popular night spots. Many musicians who in previous years helped make Monterrey an incubator for new Latino sounds — groups such as Kinky or newer rockers She's a Tease — have migrated to safer centers such as Mexico City or to the United States.
"There was sadness, deception, uncertainty, a lack of will to get things done," said NRMAL organizer Pablo Martinez, speaking about the effects of violence on the Monterrey scene. "I think the fruits of staying standing through this year is this festival."
The outdoor fete, with bands spread over three stages all day long, was a stylish yet friendly event where security was casual and the boundary between the performing musicians and the fans was almost nonexistent.
"This is definitely a cutting-edge festival," said Travis Egedy of Denver punk-rave act Pictureplane as the afternoon got going. "The idea to have a cross-cultural music festival is really important and really cool, getting Americans to play down here for Mexicans."
That welcoming vibe was partly the product of a new spirit of collaboration brought by this year's NRMAL co-curator, Brooklyn DIY promoter Todd P.
In 2010, Todd P. organized a separate festival in Monterrey dubbed MTY MX, competing with the budding NRMAL crew and its first festival. That same year, an outbreak of drug-war violence in Monterrey resulted in many U.S. performers canceling their visits at the last minute. Both festivals struggled.
This year, Todd P. joined forces with NRMAL, setting aside the previous atmosphere of competition. He pumped a New York indie ethos into the lineup with acts he invited such as Prince Rama, Liturgy and Gatekeeper.
"The story line is: It's so bad, things are falling apart and it's chaos," Todd P. said. "I'm here, I'm looking around. It's not falling apart. This is a functioning country. It has problems but it's not the country portrayed in the news."
* Read the rest here.
* Photo: Tijuana goth-pop singer Dani Shivers performs at Festival NRMAL in San Pedro Garza Garcia, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, March 10, 2012.
The costumes are weirdo enough, but the interplay with the ancient archeological site and performers who appear to be native mexicanos is even weirder. Can she come back and do more? Or should we film a re-make?
Feliz año nuevo!
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.
And here is some of the cool shit we got around to publishing in six lil issues of 8-pages each!
This was the best part of the entire Estrella Cercana operation, I think. We turned into a platform for fresh and interesting work, intersecting on the printed page across text and image, and often in interaction with pieces in the "Distant Star" show at the gallery.
We had no editorial guidelines from our publisher, the Kuris. The sky was the limit.
And as things came in, we went with the most Newsy stuff possible. Inevitably, this led to some criticisms about whether there was too much death, exploitation, violence, abuse, loathing, shock-value, guns, fascism, skin, dirty sex, and politics in our pages.
Our response, inevitably, was, 'Duh.' This is a NEWSpaper. (But with pseudonyms at work, yes.) We published, and please stay with me, the following ...
** ... Continued from previous post.
And here's how the team came together.
Homero would be in charge of the production process -- lining up the budgets, locating and contracting the printer, developing an advertising plan, handling all the transactions with advertisers and payments with collaborators, and building a distribution map. It's a huge task over-all. See this recent piece Homer wrote for Tomo.
Alberto, designer behind the Soma site, among others, would be in charge of devising a design scheme and laying out each issue. We looked at Mexican tabloids and Cuban party newspapers he acquired on a visit there. We picked fonts. Alberto subcontracted an assistant design editor, Adiranne Montemayor, also an architect. Then we brought on Javier "Coco" Rivero, the brain behind Writers & Kitties, as copy editor. (It sounds way better as corrector de estilo.)
Coco's job was to review pitches as they came in to a general email address, recommend them to me to read and edit, line-edit stuff we'd want in the paper, and handle any big edits directly with the writers. A key point for me, after the traumas suffered freelancing through la crisis, was insisting early on that contributed pieces to the paper had to be paid, like in "real life." It's the principle. Kuri agreed.
Things started rolling. We bought the Web domains, opened a Twitter, found a printer (a testy old man in the Col. Guerrero, but that's another post), hired a web manager with Rodrigo Escandon, and hired Jeromino Jimenez (aka Ñaka Ñaka) to design a unique banner background for each issue's nameplate. Online, these would be .gifs. Yay.
The gallery gave us a budget for six issues at eight pages, with four pages in color. The core editorial team decided we would reserve the centerfold, known in the old-school as a double-truck, for a strong visual display, like a poster readers might want to keep. The back page would be called FUN FUN FUN, and would be jammed with random newspaper diversion bits, like horoscopes, gossip and such. The back-page would also include the print announcement for our carefully curated audio downloads. (More on that later.)
Then, we put out the call for pitches. Here's my Intersections post announcing the launch of the project.
This was to become the hardest part while getting started, establishing and nurturing the paper's editorial voice and character -- fast. We wanted Estrella Cercana to operate as a refraction, an interpretation, or a decoding of a "traditional" newspaper. We wanted stories and works to have a degree of intimacy or relevancy, no matter the genre or format. News for you and me.
Thankfully, weeks before, the Monterrey journalist Diego Enrique Osorno had published on a Gatopardo blog a "manifesto for infrarrealist journalism." This piece, re-published with Osorno's permission in the first issue of Estrella Cercana, became our anchor text, our baseline.
One part says:
Hagamos un encuentro nacional de jóvenes escritores militarizados o de jóvenes escritores zetas. Si algún imbécil menciona
los treinta mil,
o cuarenta mil,
o cincuenta mil,
o sesenta mil,
o setenta mil,
o noventa mil,
o cien mil muertos,
entonces hagamos algo extra: escribamos una columna de opinión defendiendo a las instituciones o leamos un haikú de guerra en el Zócalo al final de la marcha; cantemos el himno nacional o un narcocorrido antes de que comience la próxima sesión de nuestro taller literario.
Next, it came time to make to the first issue and get it out there. This initial process, as satisfying as it was, came with some ... setbacks.
** ... Part 3, next.
(* Click on the image for a larger view of one of Carolyn Castaño's Narcovenus works. * Post slightly edited)