Tuesday, December 28, 2004

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Lucky sheep, cranberries, suicidal electrical systems -- Feliz Navidad

Santa Claus, or his elves, paid a visit to my bank north of the border, leaving enough goodies in there to buy a crock-pot … AND… an electric oil heater. I appreciate thick concrete walls about June, but in December, it gets just a tad chilly. And, I’ve lived here so long, my fingers and toes go numb when it’s only 5° at night (Celsius, of course… 40° to those of you in Gringolandia). WHOO… HOO… Eva Perra was enjoying herself roasing by a Portuguese radiator (don’t know why it was Portuguese… but it said “Product of Portugal” and the manual was in Portuguese, which I don’t read, but can figure out)… until…my nice, cheap, subsidized electricity went out. OK, maybe running the washing machine, the computer, the electric coffee pot and a couple of lamps at the same time had a little something to do with it, but I didn’t just blow a fuse. The fuse… maybe just completely stressed out… turned suicide bomber. It literally blew out… taking a chunk of the switch with it. In Mexico, this is why you have an extended family – you keep someone around to fix stuff. Not being exactly Señor Fix-it, and being a little leery of playing with live wires, I do the next best thing… go to the neighborhood hole-in-the-wall Comida Economico for my household needs. Santa left more than enough for a new fuse box and fuses, and the electrician only charged me a few pesos over his lunch. And, the Señora threw in some bones for Eva Perra. I’ve learned my lesson… I’ll take down the Christmas lights… manaña. Christmas Dinner included New Zealanders, Canadians and cranberries. The latter are something of an obsession for foreigners this time of year. Until a couple of years ago, people had cans (costing, what… 50 cents?) mailed in (running, oh… 100 pesos or so in postage) or trekked out to the pretentious Polanco specialty food store (they wrap your packages and deliver them to the chauffeur. I think even the clerks arrive by chauffeur… they know such strange, exotic foods as Cambell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, but they don’t know how to get to the Metro). Nowadays, for a hefty price, and if you’re willing to make a special trip to the gringo ghetto, you can find them in the exotic foods aisle at the supermercado. Or… have them smuggled in by a Canadian with extra room in his suitcase (he also brought in the once-forbidden smoked salmon… a few years ago Congress, to get Socialist and Green support for some tax bill, lumped decadent capitalist and environmentally suspicious goods together and slapped an exorbitant luxury tax on them: Rolls-Royces and canned salmon are still rarities here). I’m starting to see the (non-Christmassy) light at the end of the Guadelupe-Reyes tunnel. I’ve actually started having to do some real work… putting together test material, figuring out where we’re going to find teachers and start thinking about fruit (the other bidness… is fruit exporting) for next year. And about finishing the paint job in my bedroom: it still looks like a badly-done knock-off of a de Kooning abstract: abruptly going from slate to blood-red with a pink and yellow border around the top. I’m going to have to rethink that project.

We're all set for the New Year... including divine assistance. San Judeo Tadeo -- patron saint of collecting our 30,000 pesos from Abbot Laboratories and other lost causes, was joined by Santa Muerte in her blue dress (nothing to do with Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels -- but our consulting witch doctor recommends a blue Santa Muerte for business success) and our LUCKY SHEEP.

I've lived here going on four years, and never did understand why all the farmers come into town selling toy sheep. I thought they were Naciamento accessories for the shepherds. Noooooooo! DUH! Lana ... wool... is slang for money. SO... naturally, if you want lana, you need a borrego. We've got the students, we're getting the teachers (most are still around, though one quit in a dramatic huff... and tried to sue us. We said "thank you"... she doesn't have anything to sue us for, and besides... we would have paid her to go away, and still will pay here. But there's no hurry now. At some point... the manaña after manaña we'll get a demanda, and pay it then. In the meantime, it's an interest-free loan), and things are looking up. We're a standard, normal Mexican company with our standard, normal consultants... the accountant, the lawyer, the computer geek, the witch doctor. And -- standard and normal -- not much got done in the way of planned Holiday time-fillers. I worked a little on my Mexican history book (it’ll be done when it’s done), wrote some letters, did a little translating, and otherwise wasted time. But, that’s what I’m here to do, ¿verdad?

Friday, December 24, 2004

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Wrestling with (and for) Human Rights

I've said it once, and I'll say it again... in a lot of ways, Mexico is a much more liberal -- and libertarian -- country than we give it credit for. Take this story from today's La Jornada sports and entertainment section: Win or lose, it doesn’t matter as long as we get respect, Mexican gladiators say. ARTURO CROSS BARCENAS ©2004, La Jornada en Medio (Friday, 24 December 2004) “My Flowers” and “Polvo de Estrellas” (Star Dust) -- Florencio Diaz Volinos of Torreón, Coahuila and Felipe Alvarado Diaz of Acapulco, Guerrero – both have 18 years experience as Mexican Triple A “Luche libre” wrestlers. Billed as “exóticos” they appear mostly in Nuevo León and Coahuila venues, wearing their pistachio colored tights and wigs. They say "our style is universal". The pair rejects the “exotic” label. Says My Flowers, “We are complete fighters, but bring diversity to the ring. To put on a show, we go through the same preparation as any heterosexual wrestler". - Are they homosexuals? Yes. - Are fighting for sexual diversity? “I’m not,” says Polvo. "I don’t have any cause. We only ask to be accepted and respected for what we are.” - Has it been difficult to work with their image? Polvo, who grew up watching Santo and Blue Demon films and was always a wrestling fan, said "In the beginning, yes. For the first eight years, there were guys who didn’t want to face me, a homosexual, a fag, a queer. Then, they realized their opponent was a prepared fighter. Some of them had a problem with it.” My Flowers and Polvo de Estrellas Photo by Jesus Villasca (La Jornada) My Flowers, a drag queen before turning pro wrestler, added, "For me it has never been difficult to work with heterosexuals or exotics. I’ve defined myself as homosexual since I was 18 years old. For a homosexual, we either do things well, or we don’t do them.” - Do they have a homosexual following? According to Polvo, "No. Our fans include everyone – men and women, but especially, children.” And My Flowers adds “we can’t say if homosexuals come to see us. Maybe they come to see a Latin Lover. People like all kinds of fighters. We’re a little edgier than some". Or, maybe, as Polvo opines, “they like our style. I wave my fingers at my rivals and kiss my opponents, caress them. They get angry, but most guys know I can defend myself.” For My Flowers the important thing is to give a good show. "It doesn’t matter to us whether we win or lose. There are other “exotic” wresters, in Mexico, as well as the United States and Japan. "In Japan there is one with dog name". In Triple A, there are only three: the other being Pimpinella, also from Torreón. - Who are the better fighters? "That’s up to the fans,” says Polvo. “We’ve both won and lost against gringos ". Polvo said his most humiliating defeat was when he lost his hair. "I am a little vain, like all people". My Flowers adds, "We all have our vanity. I’m not just a pretty face.” My Flowers is married, the other wrester single. Asked about legislation on the matter, Polvo indicated “it doesn’t interest me. One makes a life with or without papers, with or without rights. I have not been discriminated against. People who complain are assholes. Everyone lives as they want. My world is my world ". - What about discrimination outside the ring? For Polvo, “that’s calling me a puto, when people keep quiet. Let other people get excited about it.” For both Luche libre is a sport and spectacle in evolution. "There have been criticisms of Triple A. It would be beneficial if Triple A worked with the other fighter’s organizations,” said Polvo, adding that it’s not a question of machismo. It comes down to women. “They want to fight. For me, it’s unimportant. I give them credit. Woman are more independent now.” Says My Flowers, "my advice … given more to men than women…” “Love me all night,” Polvo finishes. - What would they be doing, if not Luche libre? Polvo answered. “Prostitution.” - Have many offers? My Flowers says "No"; Polvo: "I yes". My Flowers explains: "People imagine that we must be very robust lovers. But, in my case, I’m very docile. I like to be a bottom". Polvo however, says "I take the lead.” My Flowers does not have a favorite wrestling hold. But for Polvo, "I grab the first thing I can, but what pisses off an opponent is when I grab them by their testicles. They get angry and yell". “HELP! A homosexual has me by the balls!” My Flowers mimicked. He added, more seriously that there are always going to be homosexual fighters. Polvo knowingly adds that “time is the only thing that will stop us. We’re doing what we want to do, and I’ll keep going as long as the public lasts.” For My Flowers “Luche libre is my life. I don’t know what I’ll do in the future. My only fear is old age,” says My Flowers. “And death,” adds Polvo. Says Polvo: "I am neither proud nor ashamed of being a homosexual. Accept it.”

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

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Better watch out... Santa Claus is comin' to town...

Sunday, December 12, 2004

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Whose flower is this? Poinsett and "Poinsettias"

Cuernavaca, Mor. - Tired to paying royalties to foreigners, floriculturalists and local authorities are working to produce a variant of the native Flor de Noche Buena (Christmas Eve flower) and to annul the U.S. patent American producers hold n this native plant. The floriculturalists have already initiated genetic studies aimed at breaking the monopoly maintained in the United States by commercial producers over buds and cuttings, which they have held since 1828, when the first American Ambassador to Mexico, Joel Roberts Poinsett, obtained U.S. patent rights to the plant, according to Antonio Garcia, president of the Ornamental Plant Producers Association of Tetela de Monte (Protem, for its Spanish abbreviation). Additionally, members of the State of Morelos Historical Society (CCEM, in Spanish), through its representative Victor Manuel Flores, have asked the Federal Secretary of Governance (Home Affairs) to review diplomatic treaties relevant to annulling the patent. The proposal is supported by Cuernavaca mayor, Adrián Rivera Pérez, and State Secretary of Agricultural Development, Víctor Sánchez Trujillo, who have committed themselves to support the iniative to produce a version of the flor de Noche Buena that bears the name Morelos or Cuernavaca , at a Autonomous University of Morelos (UAEM, in Spanish) discussion. State authorities support spending public funds to help breeders produce their own variety of the native plant and to propagate it, cutting the need to pay royalties to producers in the United States. "A present example is the mole, a local chile patented in Japan. We have to breed a new variety, just to recover the name, said historian Flores, who considers it unjust that the Morelos growers and Morelos authorities have to resort to these measures just to recover recognition that this Christmas ornamental originated in Mexico. Considered like one of the most elegant and beautiful exotic flowers in the world, the flor de Noche Buena delighted Ambassador Poinsett when he first saw it on Christmas Day in 1825, adorning a nativity scene in the Franciscan church of Santa Prisca in Taxco, Guerrero. Captivated by the beauty of the plant, ambassador Poinsett sent cuttings as gifts to his friends in his hometown of Charleston, South Carolina. After returning to the United States, Poinsett registered the plant in his own name. The patent was later sold to Paul Ecker Ranch de Encinitas, California. Sold throughout Europe and South America, the plant is also known as the poinsettia. Poinsett's Mexican biographer, the historian José Fuentes Mares, once said in an interview that "Poinsett left Mexico accompanied by a million curses." The Morelos variety According to the State Historical Society, a hybrid variety of the flor de Noche Buena has been commercially cultivated in Morelos since 1965, although local floriculturalists must buy authorized seeds and cuttings from the United States breeder. José Antonio García, president of the Ornamental Plant Producers of Tetela of Monte, says that although Morelos is national leader in the production of the potted plants, they cannot export, due to international regulations that prevent Mexico from exporting soil. Nevertheless, the producers are searching for alternative substrates (growing media) that will allow them to export potted plants, although the priority is creating a newly patented variety. For this, the group has engaged a Tetela biologist specializing in genetics. As of this year, studies are incomplete. A second investigation has been undertaken by UAEM, backed by the Department of Agricultural Development. "I believe that we must get a legal opinion. If Poinsett's patent is upheld, then we must produce our own product. The Ambassador robbed the flowers and cuttings and patented them under his own name, knowing full-well of their Mexican origin," said historian Flores.
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Behold, I show you a mystery -- in three parts...

GUADELUPE SUITE... Today is the official unoffical start of the Christmas holiday. Mexicans work hard... when they're working... but if they are masters of stretching out the holiday whenever possible. So, Christmas isn't just the 12 days between December 25 and January 6, it's from Guadelupe to Tres Reyes. And, today is Guadelupe Day. On a relatively quiet day, this was taken by a Japanese tourist. Today ther Basillica is visited by an estimated 100,000 pilgrims per HOUR. The Church relies on chubby boy scouts to keep 'em moving... I don't know how many out-of-towners we get, but they seem to be coming from everywhere. I was just outside the airport yesterday, indulging in a lunch at el Porton (a higher priced version of VIPS, which is a Mexican version of Denny's) just watching the pilgrims going by... buses, villages camped in semi-trailers (yeah, probably illegal, but you want to stop people on a mission from God?), farm trucks, bicycles -- cross-country cycling is a popular sport and it seems every cycling club in the country is on the road -- motorcycles (a relatively expensive investment here. Mexican bikers are generally well-heeled people to begin with, and this isn't quite the Sturgis group anyway. Not likely the Hell's Angels are going to join the ride), and... just walking down the road. I was amazed by the number of guys (and some women) with all their camping equipment on their backs, some with their luggage tags still hanging from the frames, I saw leaving the airport. One indication Mexico is becoming wealthier... the NEW Basillica parking lot is already at 90% capacity. Of course all these people need to eat and sleep (one of the best-kept open secrets for budget tourists is the giant hostel run by monks around the corner from the Basilica, if you don't mind sharing a dorm room with a couple of Guatamalan villages)... and a sizable number of them do their Christmas shopping and take in the sites. For a lot of people, the pilgrimage is a reason for a trip to the big city. People take in the sites, hang out, do the normal tourist things... well... most tourist thing. Though you'll see a few college students from north of the border, this isn't the same crowd that flocks to Spring Break every year. But then again, the appearance of a virgin in Cancún would be a miracle! As the politicos spin Everybody is blaming everybody else for the lynching. Of course. The Feds blame the local cops (who, apparently, warned the feds two weeks before the event that their “undercover” operation was making the neighbors very, very nervous). Their latest rationale is that they weren’t looking for drug dealers… they were looking for … TERRORISTS. Of course. Well, a couple misguided youths who set off a small bomb a couple of years ago and blew up a trashcan that broke a bank’s windows had some relatives that live down that way… so – of course – the feds stormed San Juan Ixtayopan, kicking in doors and dragging people off to the carcel. They had videos after all. And who is the first guy to go on trial? The guy who was barricaded in his house with a TV reporter the whole time. Of course! Fox has to blame … oh, somebody. He’s fired the fed police chief, and our local police chief for good measure. No real surprise there, though handing the guy his pink slip during a press conference at least made it look like something’s being done. The newest twist is the old “use and customs” defense. This goes back to Cortés – local communities had the right to their own “uses and customs” as long as they practiced the Catholic religion and didn’t challenge the King of Spain. The King is long gone, and we haven’t had a state religion since 1859. But, to make peace with the Zapatistas, “use and customs” was put back in the Constitution a few years ago. Alas, “uses and customs” aren’t always nice little things like colorful native ceremonies, but also things like chasing born-agains out of your village, and voting for the PRI and… beating the crap out of coppers with video cameras outside your local school. That’ll need some rethinking. The “use and customs” of the Salinas family continue to make the news.
"Family Values"... you mean like the Corleone family ... or the Bush family? The most honest – or rather, least sleazy – of the Salinas brothers ended up a corpse earlier this week. With a bag over his head, a couple of bruises and… dumped in front of a couple security cameras (filming crimes is the new national trend). Enrique Salinas was only the bagman for his brothers, Raul the drug-dealer, and Carlos the unelected President (thanks to some shady state votes along the Gulf of Mexico, and computer problems in 1988, Carlos Salinas – the father of NAFTA and friend of Ronald Reagan, and not Cuauhtémoc Cardenas – the leftwing nationalist who actually put together a credible opposition to the PRI – became president, signed the NAFTA treaty and left office with the federal treasury for a nice retirement in the Europe’s money-laundering capital, Ireland, which conveniently had no extradition treaty with Mexico). The Salinas family values rank right up there with …. Oh, a well-known Connecticut family that claims to be Texans involved in politics north of the border. Except, as far as is known, the Salinas’s had no ties to Adolph Hitler. My suspicion is they offed Enrique for not living up to the family code. Or that he was about to spill the beans on where the loot was hidden (Enrique – like so many Mexicans – emigrated. In his case, to France, where, this poor struggling Mexican immigrant managed to get by in a modest chateau. Where he received a friendly visit from the surête – just a courtesy call. It seems le judge had a few questions about the family finances, and Enrique suddenly became home sick). It’ll be interesting to see who they pin this one on. Nice family.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

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Statute-tory Rape? Who done the deed?

The Emperor Cuauhtémoc was one tough kid. He was only 18 when, after a well-aimed rock ended Uncle Monctezoma's inglorious, disasterous reign and Uncle Cuitláhuac died a month later of smallpox, he took on the hopeless task of defending the Aztec Empire. Cortés' Falluja-style plan was simple -- destroy Tenotitchlan block by block, and drive the survivors back. Cuauhtémoc and the remaining Aztecs had no choice but to surrender at Tlatlelolco, 13 August 1521. As the monument reads: "This was neither a tragedy nor a triumph, but the painful birth of the Mexican people". Whatever young Cuauhtémoc thought about the birth-pangs of Mexico, he kept to himself. And he kept his mouth shut when Pedro d'Alvardo, who'd already looted everything of value in the City (he even stole the gold parrot toys out of the zoo) questioned him about what might have happened to any gold treasures that were somehow overlooked. If there was any gold left, it was buried under the rubble, which was carted out to the city dump... which is now my neighborhood. It's here somewhere, but I don't know any more than Cuauhtémoc. Who wasn't talking -- Alvardo, the stinker, gave him a hot-foot.

Young Cuauhtémoc never even whimpered, which took all the fun out of sadism. Even when he limped off he never said a word. When Cortés "invited" the ex-emperor to join the hunt for the "rebel" Cristobel Olid (much as Cortés went AWOL from Cuba to invade Mexico, Olid went AWOL from Mexico to invade Honduras), it was with the understanding that Cuauhtémoc must have known something about fighting the Castillians. If he did, he wasn't about to rat on Olid. He wouldn't talk -- so Cortés hanged him, 28 February 1525. The Last Emperor still isn't talking. The Monument to Cuahtémoc, built in the 1880s, has been the middle of a traffic circle where Reforma crosses Insurgentes since the 30s. It was risky, but worth it, if you were into Greco-Aztec 19th Century Revival to try crossing 8 lanes of always moving traffic. The infamous toe-toasting is modeled on Jacques-Louis David's Death of Socrates , though the buff young Greek body with an Aztec face looks more like he's doing body-builder poses than being tortured -- but then Socrates doesn't exactly look like a 73-year old philosopher either. Worth the risk, but for the Aztec's risks were simple things like smallpox and Spaniards and having your heart torn out by your enemies. They never had to deal with rutas and crazed Volkswagen drivers, mega-manifestiones and traffic cops. So... the traffic circle is being turned into a regular stop-light with turning lanes and silent Emperor is moving to the corner -- at least he finally conquors one enemy of the Azteca. He's taking over the Parque Austria, which was partial repayment for the damages done by that incompetent usurper, Maximiliano von Hapsburg, who claimed to be Emperor of Mexico. This is one of the largest statues in the Americas, so moving it is no easy task. It took four cranes a whole weekend to take the Bronze Emperor off his base and nearly a week to move the pedestal. Before he's plucked back on 11 December, he's been undergoing a cleansing (something all good Aztecs liked) and checked over for damages. He's not going to talk, but some time during the 1910 Revolution, or the 1912 counter-Revolution, or the 1914 counter-counter Revolution, or the 1915-21 counter-counter-counter Revolutions, or the 1968 uprisings... or a wild Saturday night sometime between 1880 and now, somebody winged him. He's not going to talk, but --