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Where. Do I. Begin.

This story has been brewing for some time. It all begins with one particularly brutal classist society: Mexico. Then you have a safe neighborhood, a nice apartment, and a reasonably upper middle class young couple. And when you are reasonably upper middle class, you have an unspoken duty to society. It is this: you hire people to do things for you that you can do yourself.

To me, and to many Americans I would imagine, this feels very uncomfortable. Not necessarily wrong because you’re paying someone to work, but because this arrangement has all kinds of unspoken power differences inferred, rather demanded, by the rules of the game of classism.

First, it is very racially obvious who is the “patron” and who is the worker. Sorry, but the shorter and more brown you are, the more your life is “destined” to clean someone’s house, or street, or park, etc. Of course I don’t believe this, it is a long and unbalanced history that has shaped society in this way, but I am yet to find an exception to this rule in the limited scope of my experience here in Mexico. I would love to hear somebody refute this- but I will say it is the rule rather than the exception, so much like the rest of the world, yet blatantly, painfully obvious.

That’s pretty bad, but what makes it even worse in my eyes is that there seems to be an expectation that people of the “lower class” identify themselves when mingling among the middle class. Small women walking beautiful dogs through our neighborhood still wear their work aprons, as if the owner is sending a clear message: “This is my cleaning lady walking my dogs. Those nice dogs wouldn’t belong to her!” I know that this is a cultural perception on my part: perhaps they wear the aprons because it is comfortable and practical if you’re going to be cleaning. But EVERYONE who is in this position wear them, and to me it is an accepted identity to proclaim to the world: this is my position in life. This is what is expected of me.  I’m kind of tempted to buy one of these aprons and start going around town, walking my dog, going to the grocery store, etc, just like they do. You’ll never see a middle class person doing this, even if they ARE comfortable and practical. I guarantee you that it would get a lot of open-mouthed stares!

I saw this “keeping someone in their position” very clearly within the first month living in Mexico. A family acquaintance invited us to a fancy welcome dinner in a very nice restaurant in a very nice part of town. The dinner party consisted of the two of us, three other adults, and a 2 year old. And a nanny, wearing a nanny uniform. And although we were sitting in an enormous, empty restaurant, at a huge table accomodating more people than we were, the nanny had to sit in a chair outside of our dinner circle. And wait for us to eat. Next to us. Silent. And the 2 year old sat at our table. That, in my opinion, is not how you treat another human being, whether you are paying them or not. I think the people we were eating with, at heart, did not mean anything malicious. It was perfectly part of the societal norm. It’s just that I find the norm kind of disgusting.

The power imbalance creeps into the consciousness of everyone living in this society: I observe many embrace it, many ignore it, and have yet to hear many people talk about it. Out loud. Maybe they don’t notice it anymore. All I can say is that the voices on the upper middle class side of the divide are largely silent. I’d like to know what the other side of the divide has to say when we’re not around.

So, it was within this context of confusion mixed with quiet outrage the first few weeks in Mexico that I got a knock on my door. It was Imelda, the wife of the portero (rough translation- do-everything-man for the apartment building), who lives in a cubby-sized apartment on the ground level,  who asked me if she could clean our apartment. Horrified by the idea that I have no excuse not to clean for ourselves, I politely declined. She waited another day before knocking again. And asking again. And again, being politely refused. This cycle repeated about 4 times before I finally gave in. I do believe, despite all that I’ve said before, and how uncomfortable it makes me, that this is the right thing to do. You should employ people to help you if you have the means, because you are a source of income. Even if you don’t need them. Money on the table is better than a moral highground. And even if you can’t change their social circumstances, or the fact that you are tall and white and they are short and brown, by damned you have an opportunity to pay them a fair wage and try to treat them like an equal in the couple of hours you spend together. That’s it, that’s the best I got.

So, ok Imelda, come on in. Once a week. Name your price. Stop calling me Señora. I’m Megan. No, I will not sit here and tell you every last thing that you have to do. No, you do not need to clean my floor with a toothbrush, get up please. No, I’m not buying you a ladder, I think I can handle the tops of the cabinets, being that I’m 5’8 and you’re 4’8…ok? I got that one covered. Where do we go from here?

Little did I know what lay in store from that day on…

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Fun times in Mexico City this week! On Tuesday night, we celebrated Dia de la Independencia (Mexican Independence Day) in the Zocalo, Mexico City’s main square since the Aztec empire.

Mexican capitalism...I mean pride....at it's finest

Mexican capitalism...I mean pride....at it's finest

We were fortunate to get “front row seats” to the party- that is, a standing spot in the rain partitioned a little bit from the main crowd closer to the Palacio Nacional, because one of Alex’s good friends works at the President’s office. I love living in Capital cities and having friends in the government. Sweet hookups abound! So we all met at Los Pinos, the Mexican “White House”, and rode an official bus down to the Zocalo. Fun times!

Alex in front of Los Pinos

Alex in front of Los Pinos

Our "VIP" passes...100% proud to be Mexican! Tee hee!

Our "VIP" passes...100% proud to be Mexican! Tee hee!

Can somebody explain to me why Mexico City has sailors guarding the President's house?

Can somebody explain to me why Mexico City has sailors guarding the President's house?

When we arrived, it had already started to rain.  But even though it was around 6pm, the Zocalo was already roaring with live entertainment and swarms of people flooding toward the action. Think Times Square on New Years Eve proportions, but let me tell you this right now: the Mexicans know how to throw a party. Everything was in epic proportions! And, because the Bicentennial is 2010, this was the pre-Bicentennial party, so they did it up BIG. I can only imagine what the party will be like next year! It was pouring 100_1501for around 5 hours straight, but that didn’t stop patriotic Mexican crowds decked out in Red, white and green (it looked like Christmas had exploded all over the place) to flock to the square by the thousands several hours early to secure a place, see the enormous stage where groups of 40+ mariachis and famous singers from all over Mexico were performing, see the absolutely INCREDIBLE laser show in front of the palace, sing anthems, and wait for the Grito!

View from the bus: a rainy day indeed!

View from the bus: a rainy day indeed!

It aint a party without the foam!

It aint a party without the foam!

100_1484

Swarming crowds, despite the rain

The National Cathedral looked like it belonged in Vegas

The National Cathedral looked like it belonged in Vegas

Pimp my Zocalo

Pimp my Zocalo

Stage with Cathedral backdrop

Stage with Cathedral backdrop

Pre-bicentennial decorations

Pre-bicentennial decorations

The stage

The stage

Palacio Nacional

Palacio Nacional

Let me tell you about this laser show. They set up a thin fountain of water in front of the Palacio Nacional to act as a wall to project images for the laser show. In addition, they used special lighting effects to trasform the face of the Palace into various forms: antique, black and white, covered in vines, covered in words, undersea, covered in Day of the Dead skeletons (my favorite), and illusions that pieces of the palace were moving in 3D. I wish I could do it justice in the pictures, but being that I have the world’s crappiest camera, there was a torrential downpour and it was night, well, you get it.

Here’s a clip of one of my favorite moments in the show:

Although the real holiday is September 16, (Wednesday) the main event in Mexico is el Grito de Dolores, which happens midnight of the 16th (or in this case 11pm due to torrential downpour) where thousands gather in the Zocalo in front of the National Palace to hear the President ring the same historic bell Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla rang on September 16th, 1810, and cry the same words shouted just before midnight to declare war on Spain. Although the original cry was uttered from the small town of Dolores, in the nearby state of Guanajuato, the original bell now hangs from the Palacio National in the Zocalo.

Please excuse the amateur videography. But this is my footage of the moment itself:

After el grito, the crowd disperses, and heads off to various celebrations City-wide, powered by plant-based beverages into the wee hours of the morning. The rest of our evening involved getting lost trying to find the bus and eventually boarding it, returning home, and defrosting our socks. Wild times. But I must say, totally worth it, a truly once in a lifetime opportunity.

The next day, we joined the rest of the bleary-eyed citizens of Mexico City for a bowl of birria, spicy meat soup, for “breakfast” (approximate time: 2pm). I can say that although the soup is a traditional hangover recipe, it tasted quite good even after a sober night! The music was loud, and many fellow patrons, hiding behind their sunglasses, ordered another round and fortified with spicy beef. Viva Mexico!

Perfect morning-after food: Birria and (for the strong willed) beer.

Perfect morning-after food: Birria and (for the strong willed) beer.

Bleary-eyed customers

Bleary-eyed customers

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed

Vivia la independencia! Viva Mexico!

The laws of human attraction baffle me here. I’ve never been one to reel in a lot of attention on the streets. I’m perfectly ok with that. There are plenty of beautiful women out there to do that job for me-who are built better, dress better, walk better, flaunt better… I’m always the lady walking behind the other lady that has a group of dudes track the progress of her behind all the way around the block. And then I walk by and run into a pole or drop my ice cream cone on my shirt. Hot.

Of course, there are times and places, right or wrong, when any woman expects the symphony of “praise” to be showered on her as she walks the streets- this for me is a 5-block stretch of South Broadway in Baltimore, or below many a construction project worldwide. Ok, lets just go ahead and be stereotypical here, it fits with my story. The “Mexican” (what many Americans refer to any Latino) guys in America are famous for this. I’m pretty sure I’ve never had a baby or look like any of their Moms, but somehow they all think my name is “Mamasita.” Also, I think there is a guidebook out there instructing young Latino men that if you whistle and hiss, a woman will come running in response to your mating call, and darn if they don’t keep trying.

So sorry if I didn’t expect just the least bit of a reward for my grooming efforts down here in Mexico. I figured that any American woman down here, no matter if she was born to a wolf mother and hunchback father, would be the object of at least a little attention on the streets.

What? Nada.

Alright, lets be honest, maybe it’s me. First of all the women here are gorgeous, and DEFINITELY know how to flaunt it better. Or at all. These chicks wear 3 inch heels to the mall, the grocery store, the park, the street festivals, the airports…there is always product in their hair, always jewelry in their ears, and they always mark their territory with perfume…I can usually tell when one of my female neighbors has been in the elevator before me, and by now, I can pretty much tell who by the scent. I’m impressed- awed in fact at the grace in their stilt-walking steps and the time it must take to prep for simple outings. Naturally, in this type of environment, one such as myself would expect to be overlooked.  Again, I am perfectly content with that fact. In this context, it makes sense.  My housekeeper (I know, don’t judge) Imelda, with no malice intended, happily pointed this out to me as we chatted in the kitchen.

“Your mother in law wanted me to tell you,” she offered helpfully, “that you might want to start making more of an effort. Look at all the pretty women in the street. You’re not doing your husband any favors by dressing the way you do.”

Fact or fiction whether this came from my Suegra? No matter, message received. And filed in the “ask me if I care” folder.

Here’s where I begin to be baffled…

I have a magic hat. Really, it’s magic. The hat cost about $6.99 at Target. You’ve probably seen me wearing it. I do not wear it to be cool. I wear it because I often (as in, multiple times weekly) do not like wash, style, or brush my hair, at least before 1pm, and therefore when I can no longer stay hiding in my squalor because the dog needs a walk, I throw on the magic hat and a coat over whatever clothes I’m wearing and head out the door. This, my friends, is magic time for me in Mexico City.

They whistle. They mutter under their breaths. They stop me for directions then try to keep talking. They make me stand there with grocery bags that weigh 20 kilos and talk to me about dancing and would I like to go sometime. I’ve had men turn around from walking in front of me in the park, who I swear could only see me from spider sense, and start asking me out. Are they attracted to the smell? I have to angle my head to the opposite side of where they are standing to hide my morning coffee breath as I politely tell them I’m married.  This only happens, without fail, on the no-makeup, no-shower, hat hair, bleary-eyed afternoons. Never, never once I tell you, have I gotten a compliment following a morning I used a blowdryer. Or heaven forbid the rare day I feel like actually putting an “outfit” together or, deep breath, wearing a pair of heels to meet someone for dinner.

Someone explain this to me, please! Is it the thought that I just may be desperate enough to go out with anyone? Or maybe they think I work the nightshift or else there would be no other excuse for looking the way I do? Or maybe there is a Mexican tale that states a woman in a hat will fulfill all your wildest dreams? Does the  hat create a mirage of beauty?

Please don’t tell me it’s my natural beauty. I am a beautiful person, I think, but I have a great potential to have unbeautiful moments. The hat is always present during these times. I honestly think it’s the hat. I don’t know what it is. It could be the new match.com for underachievers. Magic, I tell you.

Sweet mother of Mexican food, the cuisine here is stupendous. Yes, I loved “Mexican food” before moving here. Who doesn’t? But of course it may be of no surprise to you that what we eat in the USA scarcely resembles food made and served in Mexico. Yes, I love cheese, yes, I love sour cream. You rarely find those ingredients in main dishes here. They let the flavor of the marinades, salsas and spices do all the work. Sorry vegetarians, you won’t feel at home here. Well, here in DF you can find anything and everything, but step outside the city limits where the tumbleweeds roll and donkeys are a form of transportation, and it’s carne all the way, baby. I’ve had to get used to it. Not being a real carnivore before coming, aside from weekly chicken and the occasional red meat, it was a big adjustment having so much beef and pork. And Mexicans LOVE to eat meat! Well, when in Rome, so I started getting used to the meat eating, and now I’m hooked. Cause it’s just so good! Added bonus: we live in the restaurant district. Unlimited delicious food at our disposal. Metabolism, don’t fail me now! Cholesterol, I just don’t want to know until I have health insurance again. It will be a short-lived insanity, might as well live it up while we’re here. (Thankfully I have a dog to walk twice a day so it keeps me from needing to be shipped out of Mexico on a crane in a few months)

So, what is the food like here? There is a ton of variety, but some standards. Limes with every meal. At least 2 kinds of salsa. Lots of color. Meat. MEAT. Chiles, spicy. Sometimes huge plates, sometimes lots of small plates.

The BEST: tacos. Tacos here are served as different cuts of (usually) marinated meat with small corn tortillas (soft, you will not find the El Paso hard-shelled tortillas down here). You dress them up how you want them with onions, pineapple, cilantro, and unlimited salsa. No cheese. No cream. Very seldom guacamole. So incredibly delicious! My absolute favorite, desert island food, is tacos al pastor, which is marinated pork which slow roasts on a spit over a fire all day and is sliced thin by the taco. Served always with sliced pineapple (which roasts on same spit above the large meat roast) cilantro, and optional onions and salsa. YUM!

Limes and salsa part of almost every meal...

Limes and salsa part of almost every meal...

Here’s a picture I took of a feast Alex and I had in Monterrey: these were tacos al carbon:

taco feast

taco feast

I have found that they eat even more meat up North,  in Monterrey and Cadereyta, where my family is from, than down here in Mexico City. When my mother in law comes to visit, I have to stock my fridge with cuts of meat I’ve never bought before because I want her to feel at home here.  They are serious about their carne asada up there. Alex thankfully has expanded his palate a bit living abroad and married to a nurse who regulates his diet, but when it comes down to it, there’s nothing like a big chunk of red meat for this man.

Pretty much the mecca of meat for most Monterrey Mexicans is cabrito,

Cabrito

Cabrito

roasted baby goat. This is one of the only dishes I refuse to eat. I no longer eat goat for any reason, dating back to a goat roast in Tanzania that made me swear off even the smell of this animal for a lifetime.  My Mexican family loves it though…even though I’ve never been to eat cabrito in Monterrey, Alex was having a craving and Sandra was feeling adventurous, so we went to a cabrito restaurant here in DF a few days ago. Alex ordered riñonada..the kidney section. Mmmmm….”delicious”.

Another favorite of mine is breakfast. Saturday and Sunday mornings are a big treat for us to go out sometimes and have a huge leisurely meal in the morning. Some recent favorites:

Chilaquiles: corn chips, eggs, chicken, salsa- scrambled together served with beans. YUM.

chilaquiles with red and green salsa

chilaquiles with red and green salsa

chilaquiles in Monterrey (morning after a lonnnnng wedding)

chilaquiles in Monterrey (morning after a lonnnnng wedding)

Alex’s favorite breakfast: Machaca con huevos: dried shredded beef (very Northern Mexico)

machaca con huevos

machaca con huevos

When Rona was visiting, we tried some breakfasts with very traditional/seasonal ingredients: here’s two omelettes we had one morning…mine was flor de calabaza (squash flowers) and Rona was brave and tried huitlacoche (corn fungus). Both very good! For any of you Mexico City readers, the two best casual breakfasts in Condesa I think are El Ocho and Maque, where we got the chilaquiles and omelettes, respectively.

Flor de calabaza

Flor de calabaza

Huitlacoche

Huitlacoche

Another fun seasonal treat Sandra and I both tried when she was visiting was Chiles en Nogada. We couldn’t figure out all the ingredients, but they were basically large peppers stuffed with ground beef, pinenuts, spices, fruit(?) etc, and then topped with a walnut cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Not something I’d eat everyday, but fun to try and very pretty!

Chiles en Nogada

Chiles en Nogada

Tequila is quite plentiful here but done differently…rather that the animal house tequila shot method we Americans are so fond of…especially the later the night and the worse the idea…tequila here is drunk slowly in sips with meals, or combined with grapefruit soda, mineral water, sangrita, etc. Here’s a fun traditional tequila drink called La Banderita, (the mexican flag) and it’s three shots drunk sequentially- first lemon juice, then tequila, then sangrita, in little sips. A big hit with the visitors…

la banderita

la banderita

from a different angle

from a different angle

Well, that’s a brief overview for you of some of the culinary delights I’ve enjoyed over the past several months. I don’t have pictures of most of our adventures, and left out some real classics such as mole, tamales oaxaqueños, molletes, albondigas, the list goes on…I’ll try to provide you with some more pictures and descriptions as time goes on. Come visit, we’ll take you out to eat. And eat. And eat. Also, if you live in the US, try to go to as many places as possible where they serve Mexican food but don’t speak English. Usually little hole-in-the-wall restaurants that may be attached to Mexican grocery stores, or tiny taquerias with a Mexican flag in the window may be pretty good bets. Stay away from places that have “chimichangas” on the menu (any Mexican will ask you what the heck a chimichanga is), burrito joints or any place that has a talking chihuahua as a mascot if you want to eat closer to authentic Mexican. You won’t be disappointed.

Ok, so now I’ve been to 2 weddings in Northern Mexico, one being my own, and had such fun at both experiences that I thought I’d share what they were like. Let me first say this: they go all out. I mean, ALL OUT. From the pre-activities to the guest’s dresses and hairdos, to the decorations, to the band(s)(wow!) to the service, to the ultimate untiring dedication of all on the dance floor, I was impressed from beginning to end. I did an informal poll of Alex and Co. to see if this was generally the norm for weddings in Mexico, or if I just happened to participate in two of the most extravagant weddings in history. He assured me that is was pretty much the norm-even for people who couldn’t afford all the details, certain things were always a given, such as always a live band, and always the over-the-top dresses and hairdos. I think I may have to become a Mexican wedding crasher while I’m here. they’re just that fun.

How can I break it down?

First, before the wedding…

For our wedding in Cadereyta, a small desert town about 40 minutes outside of Monterrey, we had an entire day of pre-wedding activites. These included, oh, a bullfight (with wedding party participants) and a night in Alex’s Uncle’s nightclub where they entertained close to 300 people with hired entertainers (comedian, singers), traditional food, music and dancing. Ah-mazing. The bullfight was, shall we say, a cultural experience, and you can still hear my screams on the video footage, as my husband, intelligently sporting a red polo, kept a smile plastered on his face while a raging bull charged straight towards the future of our unborn children.

That bull's aimin' low...

That bull's aimin' low...

Also, they surprised us and had the wall outside the bullfighting arena painted with our names on it. So cute, and a great memory for us.

So cute.

So cute.

Unfortunately, for this last wedding we went to, we arrived in Monterrey just in time for the reception, so I wasn’t able to participate in the ritual preparations for dress, hair and makeup. Almost every woman who goes to a wedding, as a guest, gets their hair and makeup done.  At first, the tomboy in me reacted with a big ‘YIKES’ at first glance seeing the daytime soap makeovers, truly red carpet worthy (or at least Latin Grammys worthy) but then I thought, “why the heck not?” How many occasions do we Americans have to dress over-the-top other than prom? So now I kind of approach it as if I’m going to a costume party, which if any of you know me, yeah. I wish I had more close-up example pictures to show you, but for your viewing pleasure, I do have a few gems:

My family were the world's best sports for our wedding...

My family were the world's best sports for our wedding...

Oh yes. You have to love it. Mom, I love you, but you are totally pulling a Cruella de Ville in the picture. MWA! You ladies are the best EVER….

OK, fair is fair. Here is one  of me from the wedding…IMG_3409 poor Alex. He’s looking so stately in this picture. I’m expressing my feelings on being the center of attention for an entire night. My inlaws ROCK by the way for setting everything up for our wedding. We literally didn’t lift a finger. In return, we let them decorate us and dress us however they wanted. Including my mom making a last-minute trip to the dress rental place for a more “mexican wedding-appropriate” dress, as decided by my suegra. Mom-I’ll say it again, you are the world’s best sport!

Since I don’t happen to have many formal dresses in my repertoire, Alex’s sister was super nice and let me borrow one of hers for the wedding we just went to. It was elegant but pretty mellow compared to the spectrum of dresses we saw that evening…

Gettin' ready...

Gettin' ready...

Being a dork

Being a dork

Alex pulling a 007

Alex pulling a 007

Alex, has the patience of a saint, by the way, because his dear wife who has literally 1% responsibility per day forgot her only task, which was to bring his fancy black suit to the airport with her. The result: only one man in a brown suit in the entire wedding, the same suit he happened to wear to work that day…he didn’t complain once. What a guy.

The food, as many ask me, sadly isn’t the traditional Mexican fare that one would expect-it’s more of a European-American style creamy chicken cordon blue type of thing, but tasty none the less. The service is amazing! There is a guy assigned to your table to serve your drink of choice all night long. For my non-tee-totalling family, this involved a massive quantity of diet coke for the evening (enough to power a space station I think), and for the rest of the bunch, you can only imagine. It makes the evening interesting but keeps people on the dance floor. There may be a cake-cutting ceremony, but both weddings I went to had amazing deserts that had nothing to do with the cake displayed:

Yum.

Yum.

Double yum.

Double yum.

And the BEST part is that there is a 2nd meal, around 2-3am, for the guests who have worked up an appetite dancing their butts off. In our wedding, it was cuajitos, a meaty soup, and in our friend’s wedding, it was Chilaquiles, a delicious blend of tortilla chips, chicken, and salsa. I bow down to the Mexican cuisine.

Another fun part: the bands. In our wedding, we had two! But the bands are much more than background music. They are a full-blown entertainment extravaganza, from rocking out all types of music for dancing, to orchestrating ridiculous party tricks, to cultural song-and-dance routines. For HOURS. And hours. In our wedding, there was a musical song and dance review by the band who sang songs from all regions of Mexico in traditional costume and dance. Then they DJ’d karaoke contests, lucha libre fights, a Mexican version of the hokie pokie, and much more. THEN there was a 2nd band, more traditional, about 20 guys who played traditional “banda” musica and showed up around 1am. In our friends wedding, the band changed costume about 10 times, doing around a 6 hour review of musical genres, from the 50s-the 90s, and for each costume/theme change, they had a gimmmick and costumes/ props for the crowd. Theater and costume-party-loving friends, take note. For the carnival theme, there was a guy on stilts dancing around the crowd, confetti/balloon drops, women in Carmen Mirandaesque feather carnival outfits leading the limbo and conga lines…for the 70’s theme they handed out afro wigs and disco ball necklaces… for the 50s they handed out sunglasses, for the Norteño/old Mexico theme they handed out fake mustaches and cowboy hats (my personal fav)…for the 90’s there was an old-school NY-style DJ spinning and they handed out glowsticks….I can’t even remember them all! It was so freaking fun!

Balloon hokie-pokie: our wedding

Balloon hokie-pokie: our wedding

Can you name this masked man?

Can you name this masked man?

2nd band in our wedding...

2nd band in our wedding...

Festive partygoers...

Festive partygoers...

One of my personal favorites

One of my personal favorites

I think this was 50's meets 70's...note the disco necklace

I think this was 50's meets 70's...note the disco necklace

Even my drink had fun.

Even my drink had fun.

Old school DJ cracked me up

Old school DJ cracked me up

Random man on stilts!

Random man on stilts!

All in all, the Mexican Wedding experience is an unforgetable one. If you know any single Mexicans, tell them to get married. Then, invite yourself to the wedding. Or crash it. I promise you won’t be disappointed!