Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Back from Mexico!

posted by The Vidiot @ 4:48 PM Permalink

Gusanos (worms) with guacamole and blue corn tortillas (not shown).
(Also not shown, the tequila I needed to wash it all down.)

Let me just preface this post with saying that I loved Mexico. The people, the country, the pyramids are all amazing and interesting. We had a lot of fun going to Mexico City and seeing Frieda Kahlo’s house and Leon Trotsky’s house, going to Teotihoucan, drinking Pulque and tequila, strolling around the zocala in Puebla, visiting the ruins in Cholula, taking the scariest bus ride everrrrrr to Oaxaca and seeing the mercado there and pretty much buying everything in sight, seeing the ruins of Monte Alban, and then stopping off in Vera Cruz City for a day (after an interesting over-night bus ride where the bus was stopped by the military so they could search and examine all of our luggage) and then back to Mexico City. But Mexico has many faces, and while as an American tourist we got to see a lot of the shiny bits, being thinking people, we were also aware of, and in some cases sought out, its less appealing aspects.

Let’s just say there’s no better way to describe Mexico City but that it’s a sort of bizarro Paris, though I’m not implying that Paris is automatically better. Paris is clean, Mexico is dirty. Paris has pristine buildings with interesting architecture, Mexico has interesting architecture, but it all seems a bit run down. Paris is all about style. In Mexico City, if you saw a woman wearing something other than jeans or sweatpants, you did a double take. Everyone is thin in Paris. In Mexico City, mostly everyone, except for some of the men, had jelly rolls. Additionally, the women had absolutely no shame about those aforementioned jelly rolls -- the tighter and shorter the polyester top, the better. Paris is snooty. There is absolutely no snoot in Mexico City. I mean none. The folks there are just plain folks -- no high-falootin’ attitudes there. They both have excellent subways and they both have excellent food, but Paris does food with style and drinkable water, and Mexico City does not. And that was the biggest difference between Mexico and not only Paris, but NYC and the US as well: the food safety issues. (Oh, BTW, the best beer to drink in Mexico is Indio.)

In Mexico City, and throughout Mexico really, there seems to be little or no food regulation, or if there is, the inspectors are adequately paid off. There are these sidewalk stands everywhere you look. The food is cooked right there on the street, the containers are all open, the food is handled with bare hands and the car fumes just flood the entire area. Some of it looks delicious, but to me and my sensitive stomach, well, I just viewed it all as a source of WMDs. That’s not to say I didn’t eat. Oh, I ate a lot. But we mostly went to the most expensive restaurants or Mexican chains like VIPS. The only food I ate off the street was some cookie gallettas things and even those, I just tried one or two of them and then threw them away. (They were delicious, but oddly sucked the spit right out of my mouth.) Those Mexicans must have some hearty flora in their digestive tracts. And by hearty I mean Genghis Khan hearty, ready to kill any hapless invader the moment the invader arrives on the scene. I managed to try a lot of the local delicacies before Montezuma began to exact his revenge. For one thing, I ate worms in Mexico City! (Oh, yes I did.) (Honestly, they were tasty, but psychologically, it was difficult.) I ate corn fungus in Puebla and I ate Mole Poblano in Oaxaca. I wanted to eat the roasted grasshoppers that Oaxaca is famous for, but Mr. Montezuma was far too busy to let me try. The food in Mexico is definitely not for the faint of heart but worth the danger.

The other big thing about Mexico City was the noise. NYC is noisy too, but it’s actually quite quiet and calm when compared to Mexico City. It felt like that scene from “The Grinch” where he goes “all that Noise Noise Noise!” Almost every store blasted some sort of music onto the street. The traffic is erratic and incessant; there are 22 million people in that city, (that’s nearly 3 times more than NYC) and about 25% of them have cars and use them. There are also a lot of different taxi services and only a few are State sanctioned. Getting into a cab is like playing roulette. You could get into the wrong one if you’re not careful. The worst thing is they’ll force you to empty your ATM card and then drop you in the middle of nowhere. The least worst thing is they’ll really overcharge you. The subways are great (and at about 20 cents per ride a great bargain) but they’re almost always packed. They aren’t air conditioned and every few minutes, someone will try to sell you something, be it candy or music CDs or movie DVDs. For the candy, there were two methods: one was to just bark out what you had and walk through the train and the other is to quietly go from end of the train to the other, placing the item on the a few laps and then walking back through the train and either picking up the items or taking cash for them. For the CDs and DVDs, they’ll carry a player with them and play the soundtrack through a separate speaker so loudly that you can’t hear yourself think AND THEN they’ll bark out whatever it is and how much it is while describing how special it is and why you should want it. Additionally, I guess the men in Mexico City are rabid ass-grabbers so, during rush hours, they segregate the trains. The police make this big noise and pull out this barricade and men aren’t allowed to cross it. Women can ride with the men if they so choose, but the front two cars are for women only, no exceptions. Additionally, the food smells and oddly, tons of perfumeries, soaked the air with their odors, adding to the thick and constant car and bus gas fumes. It was an aural and olfactory cacophony to be sure. The rest of Mexico, at least the part we saw, also had a lot of traffic, but since there were no subways, just walking to the zocala or into a church will extract you from the din.

But the third big difference between Mexico and the US is the poverty. The poverty is laid bare in Mexico. Women, children, families, old and young, were poor and on the streets. Sure, we have poverty here, but for the most part, you don’t see homeless children. That’s one thing the US won’t tolerate. One day, we ventured off the beaten path in the city and ended up in a crazy part of the town that had one shop after another of what we here in the states would just consider 99 cent stores. One after another, all selling the same crap, all blasting loud music onto the streets. There were homeless people just sitting on the filthy sidewalks with their hands out, and people just ignored them. There was one old man, dressed in rags, with one leg that was extremely swollen and he was picking at several open sores on it, to the point that it looked like parts of his leg had been scooped out. It was horrifying. Our Spanish wasn’t good enough to ask him if he needed help or ask anybody to help him. We were both pretty shaken up by it and the image of him sitting there in the grime on the street with people stepping over him or walking past him will haunt us for a long time to come. Our privileged little lives have never exposed us to anything even remotely like that. And don’t even get me started on the hookers, one after the other, like pigeons on a power line, evenly distributed along the street, each younger than than the next. We don’t see that much poverty in the US. It’s pretty well hidden from the majority of us. We catch glimpses of it at the most. Or maybe, I just didn’t want to see it and I didn’t. I don’t know.

But it’s what I saw in Mexico that really clarified things for me: all that diatribble of Mr. Vidiot’s, about the nations states and capitalism and all that, he must be holding back because I think it’s a lot worse than he says. Any system that allows an old man to rot in the streets like that or creates an environment where a young woman hooks to eat, or where young children walk around barefoot, selling crap nobody needs, or an entire family sitting on the street, the father playing an accordion while his wife and children sit next to him begging for money, any system that allows any of this to happen is evil. And though we only saw a few poor people (though it seemed like a lot), I know that old man wasn’t just one old man; he’s one of millions, maybe hundreds of millions of old men out there, all sitting in filth, picking at sores and begging for money. Seeing that kind of poverty didn’t make me pity any of them necessarily, but what it really did is make me angry as hell. Angry with a system where so few profit and so many suffer. Angry where resources are destroyed and wasted in one place while so much is needed elsewhere. Angry with so much complacence, a result of so much perceived comfort. Just. Plain. Angry.

And you should be angry too.

And don’t think for a moment that Barry Obama is going to save anyone from anything.

But that’s a whole ‘nuther post.

Oh, and if you lasted through this entire boring post, I'd like to give a big SHOUT OUT to Bill for holding down the fort while us lallygags were out lallygagging.

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At 11:04 AM, Anonymous bill said...

My pleasure and an honor to help out. You're very welcome.


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