Thursday, December 17, 2009

Castillo De Chapultepec

   Plopped on the only hill in the city center you will find Mexico City's nostalgic nod to aristocracy. This beautiful castle is surrounded by an expansive park that makes NYC's Central Park look like a hotel courtyard.
   Holding to classic castle lore, Chapultepec's history is typical. A collage of full stops and new starts. As of this posting, it stands proudly as Mexico's National History Museum.

These images capture only a glimpse of the meticulous landscaping and elegant restoration. What cannot be aptly conveyed is the sense of peace found looking from these gardens down onto the unforgiving metropolis below. As if tiptoeing over the brow of a sleeping giant.

Chia Car.

Hearing of the entrepreneurial tenacity prior to my arrival was one thing. Witnessing it on virtually every street corner since landing in Mexico City is quite another.  The plant-mobile above is an example of the informal economy that supports roughly half of the 22 million that dwell within this sprawling metropolis.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mr. Poinsett, I mean Poinsettia.

Taking a stroll through Parque Mexico the other day all I saw was red. Like walking through a Rorschach inkblot test- "Holiday Edition".

"So Carlos- what's with all the Poinsettias?"
"the what..?"
"all these red plants everywhere... how do you call them in Spanish?"
"oh you mean Noche Buena" [translated Christmas Eve]

Enter Joel Poinsett. 1825. Newly appointed Minster to Mexico. Enjoys long walks on the beach and dabbles in botany. During his stay he takes a trip to southern mexico and stumbles upon a red leafed plant which was used as a dye by the Aztecs. He sent a few home to the United States. Fast-forward to that vibrant holiday symbol on your dining room table and the rest is history.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Reality watered down.

The old man gazed longingly into the puddle as if looking through a window. His clothes, a mix of rags and tatters, roughed up by a cruel world. For the many who quickly passed, it was a fleeting reflection of a busy world. 

culinary conquest.

Within the confines of the quaint neighborhood Condesa (Mexico City) there can be found Taqueria HOLA.  Mexican food has long been a favorite of mine but since crossing the border i realize i was only inside the cave, consuming illusions of this iconic cuisine. Now, armed with a few pesos and a insatiable appetite I feel like the Cortés of the culinary world.  American fast food chains abound in the city except for Taco Bell... I wonder why.

Hola, is a cement slice on a quiet side street. For 3 bucks i had two tacos and a glass of agua (or water flavored by fruit juice) todays´ tasted like guava.

A corn tortilla, lightly flavored rice, black beans, marinated chicken/beef and some crumbly white cheese, nothing flashy, (although there were more additions one could choose from). There in lies the beauty- keep it simple stupid.

Ordering one taco is more like two- as they account for the overflow with an additional tortilla...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Crickets for dinner with 22 million of my closest friends

Getting the lay-of-the-land from my friend Carlos over some beers.

A look from Plaza de la Constitucion, the largest square in Mexico City

Arriving only a few days ago, it is hard to say what to make of this monolithic mexican city so far. I have the luxury of living with a local while i am here which makes this urban monster feel a little more homey than if i was holed up in a hostel. and of course being with a local also provides for some regional revelations such as having dried crickets for dinner the other night at a bar of all places. turns out they are a staple food in Oaxaca, (southern mexico). i guess i had had just enough to drink to think this was a good idea. they came in a clear plastic bag, in a small dish accompanied with lime slices, for flavoring. needless to say i will have to go back and do it all over again as i didn´t get any photos for proof.

A street performer letting loose on a couch shell much to the delight of young women passing by

Thursday, December 3, 2009

down the baja in the bus...

after Tijuana me and my friends Matt and Alex headed further south down the Baja. Surfing, camping and drinking tequila. some great days by the beach, and too many laughs to count. Highlight of the trip south was a surfing lesson from a crazy guy named "Coach". He took us in his 4Runner over some sand dunes and we had one hell of a good time surfing for the day. Now it's on to Mexico City tomorrow.

thanksgiving "Tijuana" style.

I spent the week of thanksgiving in Tijuana. I was there to help build cement brick homes for people who applied for help through an organization call Esperanaza ("hope" in spanish). much more can be said about what i experienced than what you will find here in this posting or in the one photo for that matter. It was a powerful experience. I have never worked so hard since living on 180 acres as a kid. Most often i was helping with the cement mixer. All 12 of us, ranging in reasons as to why we were here, worked hard until 1 then the family that was getting help with there home would provide lunch. Some of the most amazing food I will ever eat. the week ended i was left forever changed by the experience and by seeing a side of Tijuana that never gets much airtime on the nightly news.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Made it to Malibu.

A hard rain and strong wind accompanied us on the drive down the coast yesterday, blowing the van all over the road, but the storm subsided in the evening and welcomed us to Big Sur with some awesome views. And a highlight of the day was stopping off to see the elephant seals, some of whom enjoyed picking fights.

We rolled into Sand Dollar beach campground in the evening, made some dinner in the van, pasta and steamed veg. laughed and shared late into the night. In the morning it was back on the road to make it down to Malibu where we were going to meet up with Alex's sister for the night. It was great weather, and driving along the california 1 I realized of all the places I have traveled to, this piece of coastline is as beautiful as anywhere else in the world.

Tomorrow- meet up with the group in San Diego, a 4 hour drive from Malibu. And then across the border to begin the week of bulding cement homes in Tijuana.

Friday, November 20, 2009

let the adventure begin.

7. 7;30. 8:30. time has little meaning to a 1978 VW Van. it was torture waiting for my friends to arrive. but alas, close to nine at night i stood on the corner of parker and california street and watched as the brown beast rolled to a stop.

we laughed and i listened as they told me of all the mini adventures that took place on their drive down from Vancouvor B.C. to the bay area. and where else would we go to drink but on the corner of Haight Ashberry. If you start to notice my constant name dropping of life in a VW van it is because i am awakning a surprising desire i have always had to travel, without reservations and/or restrictions in such an iconic mode of transport. life is good. today we are headed for Big Sur, yes, in a VW Van. oh yeah, and for music we have a radio (shown in photo) that you have to crank for a minute to play for 20 minutes, something useful out in the wilderness or in a VW Van.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

reading material

As one might guess Lonely Planet Mexico city is tucked safely away in my backpack. I fully intend on putting its information to the test when I walk the streets of that quaint city of 20 million. But as I make my way south via VW van, I have aquired some reading material that is proving to be very informative. Written by David Lida "First Stop in the New World" is a fasinating indepth look at the under belly of Mexico City. Most interesting part so far: ficheras, women who linger in bars around Mexico City with the intent to provide lonely men some much need companionship. Like it is described in the book "a women to whom he can recount the various misadventures and misunderstanding of his life; a women with whom he can dance to the familiar ballads on the jukebox." I find this to be such a novel idea, that women, for a tip (and a percentage of the drinks the man orders) serves to fill an emotional void in a man's life, if only for a few hours in a bar. I will make a point of seeing this "only in mexico city" phenomenon at some point during my stay.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

On the road (again).

My destination was Mexcio but I had one good reason for making a stopover in San Francisco. Tickets to see Ray LaMontagne. His voice, perpetually hoarse and distincly orginal had an element of intrigue that drew me to see him live. would he live up to his persona, saying little to the crowd, hidden away on stage without a spotlight? I expected all these introverted rumors to be true. As it turned out it none of them were. He talked at length about his songs, made jokes, and played with a level of genuine passion one rarely finds in music today. It was an amazing performance.

A chilly San Francisco night greeted everyone who poured out of the small venue, the brisk sea breeze whipped across California St., my arm drapped over Tess, (a friend of mine who joined me for the show), we both agreed it was a spiritual experience. A moment when one's existence seems to make that much more sense thanks in large part to the power of music.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Apple Runner

This story first appeared in the LAST WORD section of the Inlander on OCT 29, 2009

Every autumn the Evergreen State cultivates a crop that has all the characteristics of an illicit drug trade. I stumbled upon this unlikely connection during a recent job I scored at Green Bluff, north of Spokane.

I started as a lackey stocking shelves. I rapidly moved up the ranks, from pushing a dolly to running pallets on a forklift. By week's end I was behind the wheel of the boss' brand-new pickup truck. With this series of promotions I was unwittingly transformed into a "runner" for Washington's most treasured commodity: apples.

"Hey kid, you got any experience pullin' a fifth wheel?"
"Sure," I said with stone-cold confidence. In reality I had none.
"Good. I'm gonna have you pick up some apples tomorrow morning."

I arrived at work the following morning in a torrential downpour just as my boss was backing up the truck to an empty 30-foot-long trailer. 

"OK, kid, the GPS is set. I got Jack's programmed into the system, just follow the directions and it should put you there pretty close to 10:30. Now here's a blank check. Fill it in ONLY when Jack tells you how much you owe, got it?"

I looked my boss in the eye as beads of rainwater ran down my face.
"Got it."

The intense rain clouds over Spokane faded as Highway 395 opened up towards the west. The clouds had retreated to little more than looming globs of gray scattered across the sky. I rolled my window down, cranked up the radio and reflected on this "job."

A similar "assignment" must be taking place in many other corners of the world. Somewhere, some young clueless kid is driving a flashy new vehicle, following GPS coordinates to an undisclosed location, picking up a load of Premium Grade-A.... Guns? Marijuana? Who knows, maybe diamonds or rare parrots. My job was apples.

Or maybe, I thought, I'm a fleeting blend of legendary identities. Pablo Escobar plus Johnny Appleseed. These wildly exotic daydreams sustained my imagination through the bland backdrop between Ritzville and Moses Lake.

It wasn't long before the uniquely non-human human voice of the GPS pulled me back to reality, informing me that I was approaching my turn. I obeyed the robotic woman. I took Exit 164. Now headed due south, I left Central Washington behind and entered a seemingly barren, inhospitable climate - one that is ironically perfect for fruit.

Another turn onto an even more obscure road led me to what the GPS lady referred to as my "destination." I slowly passed a wall of stacked apple bins and recognized the "open gravel area" where "Jack" would be expecting me. I checked the time. It was 10:34. Right on schedule. Keeping to my boss' instructions, I turned the truck and trailer around for an easy exit. Or did he mean getaway?

The day had turned hot as I stepped out of the truck. I walked around the trailer, when I heard the gentle groan of a tractor. The deal was about to go down.

Like clockwork, a man and machine crawled out from the dirt road that flanked the final row of apple trees. Was it "Jack"? I couldn't see him. He was lost behind a mountain of fruit. The tractor, equipped with a front fork, carried two bins of apples, stacked one atop the other. The only confirmation of a human at the helm was the barely visible top of a straw hat poking above the oncoming apples.

"I got some apples here for ya," said the old man. His eyebrows were permanently slanted towards the bridge of his nose, making me wonder if his expression wasn't formed from a lifetime of tasting unexpectedly tart apples.

"Great, that's what I'm here for," I blurted out. I feared that if I said anymore Jack would start to pick up how little I really knew about these "apple deals."

In short order, the old man loaded 16 wooden bins and then the tractor's motor clunked and sputtered its way to a peaceful silence.

"OK, that makes eight bins of Jonagold for juice, six for eating, and two bins of Ambrosias," he said. I was momentarily confused when he used the term "juice," until I realized that must be slang for cider, kind of like calling cocaine "blow."

"Now let me show you these Ambrosias," he said and I followed him to the trailer.
"See this white film on the apple? Tell your boss that's not a pesticide or chemical, it's calcium carbonate... It works like a sunscreen. Customers see this stuff and think it's gonna kill'em or something, like it's some kind of bad chemical. Tell him it won't be on the next batch."

Out of curiosity, I asked how many pounds of apples I was carrying. 
"You're looking at 16,000 pounds there," he said, after running some calculations in his head.

I wrote out the amount owed on the check, shook the coarse hand of this McIntosh Man of Mystery and thanked him for the goods. I secured the bins with tie-downs, pulling them tight so none of my precious cargo would be lost on the ride back. I put the key in the ignition, dropped the truck into drive and started for Spokane. My cell rang.

"Where are you?!" The boss sounded impatient.
"I just finished with the tie-downs and now I'm headed back."
"OK, that should put you back here at 3:15."
"Yeah, that's what the GPS says as well."
"See you then."

Now heavily weighed down, the truck was pulling a full shipment of Washington state's version of white powder, and I was the quintessential naive middleman with everything to lose and little to gain. Merging onto the highway, checking my driver's side mirror, I caught a glimpse of the tender white flesh of an Ambrosia scattering across the left lane.

Make that 15,999 pounds of apples. I knew I was going to have some explaining to do.

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