Wednesday, 18 August 2010

Bye bye DF ... for now

So, we´re coming towards an end in Distrito Federal and looking forward to heading down south. T´s parents, Geoff and Rita, are winging their way towards us now and we are jolly excited. On Friday we´ll say goodbye to our friends and students who have really helped us get along here. The month´s free accomodation in Escandon was a particular touch, many thanks to Greg and Jen (and Andy Streetdog of course), and to Gavin and Sandra - we were in one lovely flat for a couple of weeks and then simply moved directly upstairs to look after another lovely flat. You couldn´t plan this kind of stuff. How lucky we are.

I was going to write a joke about God´s Pharmacy, but someone beat me to it, unsurprisingly.

So, what´s left to tell you. The chicken mescal is allegedly not flavoured with chicken, but so named (´Pechuga´) because it uses the 'breast' of the agave leaf. I've seen the nutters body slamming broken glass on the metro, for money (I didn´t give) - one looked severely undernourished and had the pallor of a character from 'Twilight'. Greg and Jen did a piece on this church in the rough part of town where 60,000 young glue sniffers make a pilgrimage on 28th of each month to pray to st Jude, the patron of lost causes. The priest tells parables using slang and swear words and burns an offering of glue at the end.

One of my classes took me quite far out and up onto a big hill so I got to see the whole of the valley in which Mexico City sits, from above - something you don´t often see, because of the smog. Damn it´s big. The shape is JUST like the Santa Clara Valley, where we stayed with Jan and Ania back in January - just bigger and more developed. Could almost imagine the start of the San Francisco Bay out of the corner of my eye. Seriously - go up beyond Satelite and look back, looks just like the view from that hill top above Saratoga. Should have taken pics really...

We had some pre-hispanic food, ants eggs and the like, quite pleasant. And we went up to the Desert of the Lions, the 'double lie' (no desert, no lions), a beautiful forest conservation area just 15 minutes from Santa Fe, the rich concrete jungle where T and I both teach. Andydog had a whale of a time, as did we enjoy the fresh air and nature.

I´ve often noticed similarities between Mexico City and Pnhom Penh in Cambodia. The slight unhingedness of it all, crazy traffic, alleged dangers round every corner and late night food sellers using odd instruments to attract attention, like a Jurassic Park 'raptor' skull whistle. So it was great to hear from Lari & Simo, a couple of young Finnish film makers we met in PP while they were making a documentary about a volleyball team, most of the players having lost limbs through landmines. They sent us this trailer for their film 'Scorpions' - can´t wait to see the full version, this really brought back some amazing memories.

Oh and must shout out to my music partner, Aletz Martinez. We´ve been jamming and recording for about 3 months and have done some gigs at the Hostel. It´s been SO MUCH FUN - thanks to Alma and Aletz for letting me help imbue their flat with much sound. Versions of tracks we´ve done are at - and also a cheeky vocal by Greg Brosnan over a house track I did on his equipment (thanks for that, too!). And well ... that´s it.

Friday, 6 August 2010

More (very) random cultural observations

Here's a great one we learnt in Kenya - I'm not sure if Tania already spoke about it. When we were present at community meetings organised by Pamoja Trust, the NGO we helped out in Nairobi, we noticed that instead of clapping, everyone would gesticulate, making what we can only describe as 'jazz hands', whilst murmuring ¨umeme¨. This is because originally such meetings had to be held in clandestine fashion and loud noises avoided. What's interesting is that umeme means both electricity and lightning.

If you see a crowd of men running after one man in Africa (or at least the Eastern parts we visited), it´s likely that the people are self-policing against a thief.

Something that must be seen to be believed - a group of giggling Mexican men pushing onto an empty metro train, desparate to get the free seats. Normally fairly civilised, offering seats to women and the elderly, something clearly (almost literally) goes out the window when a threshold of numbers on the platform is reached and there are empty seats available. Mind you, India takes the cake when it comes to trying to get on and off public transport. Instead of waiting to let people off (something which we just about - grudgingly - manage in Mexico City), everyone goes hell for leather at the same time, making the whole process longer and fairly exhausting. My humble theory is that these are examples of people (ok, men) just wanting to get a little boyish frolicking into their lives.

In the Mexican Metro, they have big fans, through which at certain times of the day, some kind of spray is pumped out, presumably to kill some kind of harmful little bugger. Folks seem quite unfazed by this, often reaching up to get in a free hand clean. I wonder how that would go down in Waterloo Station, with no explanation. Mind you, swine flu did basically shut down this city for a few weeks, only a year ago.

Here in Mexico, you hear a lot about Quetzalcoatl, an ancient god who had the form of a feathered snake. You see the image all over the place - at archaeological sites, in murals;
in fact one of our ex-flatmates is going to get a tattoo of Quetzalcoatl, amongst other national symbols. Quetzalcoatl has been worshipped all over Mesoamerica, since well before the time of Christ. There was a period where he was supposed to have lived as a man, although Monica told us that, paradoxically, by this time he was already being worshipped as a god in other areas. He was said to have a very white face and therefore looked different to the rest of his people. Which is why, when Hernán Cortés led the Spanish invasion in the 16th century, the indigenous people thought that Quetzalcoatl had returned in the form of Cortés.

Monica told us about connections between Mexico and Asia, particularly interesting being sort of reflections in iconography. Firstly, let me say that sometimes Mexicans do look remarkably similar to Asians - both racial groups share Mongolic genetics. In the Anthropology Museum we saw statues in Buddha-like poses, yet dating from BEFORE the birth of Buddha. And this is great - the Ancient Sun Stones (e.g. this one, covered by Wired), of which you see many reproductions in tourist hotspots, were bounded by a two-headed snake. Turn the whole thing upside down and you quite clearly see a Chinese dragon. Freaky, eh?

For ancient Mesoamerican cultures such as the Maya and the Aztecs, 20 was a very important figure. Their calendars divided periods into 20 and their abacus was base 20. The supposed reason for this is because, with their open toed sandals (huaraches), they could easily count to twenty using all the digits of their hands and feet.