One of the more bizarre (and annoying) recurrences in the street life of Mexico City is the organ grinder. They are everywhere, cranking out the most awful sounds and demanding to be paid for the torture they are inflicting. (Or could it be that they are asking to be paid to stop?) And unlike organ grinders in the provincial capitals of old Europe, these guys don’t even have a pet monkey doing a dance alongside them to lighten the monotony.
I took a walk to Polanco yesterday, strolled around the area and met a young friend for lunch. Polanco is one of the wealthiest parts of the city, full of offices and hotels and upscale businesses and homes. It is a lovely area to walk around in, quite stately and planned seeming. There is a lot of great architecture both new and old, and the money is on display everywhere. I’ve decided I like my neighborhood a lot more than Polanco.
Polanco seems to me to be much more about pretension and showing off. Polanco desperately want to tell the rest of the world how cultured it is, how much money it has, how it has arrived on the world stage. And it seems this has been its goal since its streets were first laid out with names of famous Greek and Roman philosphers (Plato, Socrates, Seneca, etc), mostly English and French speaking writers and luminaries (Emerson, Poe, Dumas, Byron, etc), and scientific greats (Newton, Galileo, etc). Polanco is a place that does not seem to want to be part of Mexico, or even a place that wants Mexico to be a part of the “civilized” world. Polanco seems to be embarrassed by its location outside the G8 (or whatever they call the club these days). It reminds me a lot of Beverly Hills in LA.
As if to reinforce my developing theme, I had an interesting discussion over lunch with my 23 year old friend, who recently started work at a PR firm in Polanco. The things that matter to him right now are money and status. He works intense, crazy long hours for middling pay, but feels these are the dues he must pay. His dream is to move to San Francisco, make a lot of money, and buy one of the Painted Ladies on Alamo Square. Then, he tells me, he will truly be happy.
Julio took me to a part of the city not many tourists go to called Santa Maria La Ribera. It is a mix of sometimes crumbling yet lovely buildings. It is not a wealthy area by any means, but has an interesting character. It is also the site of some damn good seafood (at a place called Boca del Rio).
1. I want a president who inspires, and gives hope.
2. I want my country to live up to its best ideals.
3. I don’t believe it is good for our democracy to maintain dynasties.
4. I strongly believe we need to move beyond rank partisanship.
5. I want someone in power whose highest value is public service, not power itself.
6. I don’t want someone in power who will say or do anything to get elected.
7. I want someone in power who will attack the problems that our country faces, not someone who will attack “enemies”.
8. I don’t want to have to pretend to be French when out of the country.
For all of the above and more, I strongly support Barack Obama for president. No candidate is perfect, but having looked at his stands on the issues, I find myself in greater agreement with him than any other candidate currently running. And Barack has the ability to inspire and move people in a positive way that I have not witnessed in any other candidate. I want to believe that we can move out of the darkest period I have ever witnessed. I want to be able to believe in my country again.
Mo and I took the Metrobus down to the end of the line in San Angel, had lunch at the well known Saks restaurant, then had a leisurely walk over to Coyoacán. Both these neighborhoods are stunningly beautiful and an absolute pleasure to walk around in. From there, we caught the Metro back up to Roma and walked home. I have to admit the public transit systems here are a breeze to figure out and cost almost nothing to ride (about 27 cents for the Metrobus and 18 cents for the Metro).
I came across one of my cherished Indian fruits today in the market with Julio. It is called chico here (and chikku in India). I had always assumed this was native to India, but Julio told me it was from here. Sure enough, looking this up on the web proved that this fruit is originally a new world product, and specifically from this part of the new world. We then went about discussing other fruits, with Julio claiming that the mango was also from here, which I found difficult to believe based on the variety in Asia. Again, thanks to the oracle that is the internet, I was able to verify that in this case, the mango is originally from Asia (and India is the world’s largest producer). I find it fascinating how much the food (and other) cultures of the world were changed by the discovery of the New World. With all of their dishes that are tomato based, many are fooled into believing that this fruit was native to Italy. Nope, it is from the New World. Likewise the humble potato, which so many associate with Ireland (and the potato famine of the 1840’s), actually came from this side of the Atlantic. Entire culinary worlds were changed by these exchanges. Cultural identities were changed, the foreign appropriated as the self. So much of the world has benefited from this celebration and integration of the new and the different. What a shame that our darker natures fear and reject the other, the new, the different instead of working to integrate and understand. How much richer the world could be with heart, minds (and let’s face it mouths) open to the experience of the other.
In any culture, there are numerous transactions that take place. Some of these are so common as to be invisible and considered self evident by the participants in that culture. In my travels I run into these all the time. Whether it be the proper hand to use when eating, negotiating a taxi fare, or proper greeting styles, it never ceases to amaze me what variety there is. And almost without exception people in each of these cultures assume that their way of doing things is the “natural” way.
This morning’s small transaction was at my local fruit juice stand. Mexico City (and Mexico, for that matter) has an amazing collection of stands that sell fresh squeezed fruit juice and milk and fruit juice combos (called licuados). I purchased a mamey licuado and realized (after my friend Julio told me) that they always make more than will fit in your cup and you are supposed to drink part of it there, then wait for them to top off your cup with the rest. The only parallel I can think of in American culture is the old milkshake can that they would give you sometimes at the malt shop when I was a kid. But I really haven’t seen that in years, and even then they would leave both on the table for you. I think Americans prefer their transactions to be brief, complete and unambiguous. The tiny layer of social interaction that the top off forces is interesting.