Tag Archives: Mexican

Faux Mexi-Morsels: Living Pancho Villa-ishly with a Brazilian Twist

…in which we learn of the gut-rumbling effect of Taco Bell caliber “Mexican food” in Rota 66, one of Rio de Janeiro’s f-i-n-e-s-t Latin-esque eateries.

December 26, 2014 – 8 PM

I’m forcing Maria to eat – what else? – Mexican food tonight at the Rota 66, just around the corner from our crib. I’ve been threatening the staff for nearly a year that my Ciudad Juarez-dwelling wife would descend upon their humble establishment, like a locust to a summer crop, to take their Pepsi Challenge. Now verily mayeth we discern if a Juarense finds their wares worthy of carrying Pancho Villa’s lineage… And the hour is upon us. We’re taking a small vial of Tabasco sauce, since it’s highly doubtful they’ll have anything spicy enough for my beloved hot tamale’s palate.

December 27, 2014 – 9:30 AM

The reviews are in about last night’s Rota 66 experience. In Maria’s words, when asked a moment ago with the benefit of 12 hours of hindsight and a steaming Saturday morning coffee molding her assessment, “Um, me gusta y tiene buen sabor.” This she spoke decidedly and dead-pan, after precisely two seconds of pondrance, with the hint of a smirk and in the same manner a Foreign Service Officer prompted to comment on the competency of a colleague might reply, “Well, he’s just a really nice person…” In other words, mighty diplomatic of my wife. When I tried to put it another light and asked that she rank it on the 1-10 scale, she chuckled me out of the room, roundly refusing to acquiesce to my silly whims. This is why I married her: seldom does one encounter such benevolence in a partner. (She also tells me I’m guapo and that she can’t even see my head spots.)

Now, before you go thinking Maria’s vagueness is an implicit denunciation of the eatery, let me “esclarecer as duvidas” as they’d say in Brazil. Caveat the first: Maria and I ain’t foodies. I eat for function, fuel. Occasionally I gorge if it’s my momma’s cookin’, probably the one time I do eat for the sheer oomph of it. Maria, for her part, eats for at least some degree of pleasure, but bear in mind that Ciudad Juarez, for all which it is known contemporarily, isn’t recognized as a gastronomic capital of any ranking. Caveat the second: I’m also the cheapest SOB you’ll ever meet, not apt to go out for dinner given the cost of most places in Rio. To quote former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, when asked why he didn’t order room service much, “I got plans for those millions, and it ain’t for sandwiches.” Hell, I could take you back to my first real job, from 1992-1995 doing 2.5 years’ hard time at the McDonalds in Quantico, Virginia. I distinctly recall preparing Frankenstein-ish sandwiches combining breaded fish and chicken patties plus Big Mac meat and literally stacks of pickles, my adolescent notion of gourmet. The goal post hasn’t moved far since.

So at the Rota 66, then, I had the chimichanga, and Maria had the 3 taco combo. We both drank Swiss lemonades, which tasted neither like Lemonade nor anything Swiss, at least not per my recollection of my trip to Basel in 2007, though keep in mind that all I know are three Swiss products: cheese, chocolate, and Swiss enchiladas (this last item may be an invention of rich Mexicans trying to seem worldly, admittedly). Were I to offer a highlight of our meal, it’d be the the Nacho Imperial, of the Taco Bell variety, which we ordered at the outset. These served as the opening salvo launched ‘cross the bow of my sinking gut. The nachos were delivered unto us as a confection of plain Doritos, refried beans, melted cheese doubtless squeezed from a Brazilian moo cow’s teat that very afternoon, diced green chiles, and something special. I know not what ’twas, this mystery ingredient. I asked the waiter and yet he, too, found himself confounded in its identification. Thus only can I imagine that in the kitchen, when someone orders the Nacho Imperial, they call over Cleberson the Chef, who likely hails from the interior of Minas Gerais state: “Oi, Cleberson, it’s TIME!!!!” And voila: Cleberson makes the magic happen.

Personally, I loved the whole ensemble. But then you must remember my standard for gourmet. I could see her countenance of doubt across the table, and part of me was prompted to proclaim defiantly, “Woman, you NEVER had it so GOOD!” But the prudent part of me – admittedly still in its early stages of development – filtered all this down and opted for keeping the proverbial trap shut. Dutifully, Maria partook of these Mexi-morsels and cleaned her plate to all but one taco, which she kindly offered to her husband, knowing full well that I’m a Dirt Devil in human form. As for Zuli, slumbered did she the entire eve, waking only hours later to kick her old man in the ribs whilst I tried to slough off the coma induced by the redonkulous amount of faux-Mexi ingested at the Rota 66.

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Zuli and the Human Layer Cake

…whereupon we find out how one gringo burro, very much a pendejo in his close-minded thinking and tunnel vision approach to dressing his newborn daughter, is out of keeping with canonized medical philosophy involving the baby fashion equivalent of wearing a wool serape on the beach.

Our lives are full of things with layers: Taco Bell’s 7-layer burrito. Layer cake. The Big Mac. Club sandwiches. Multi-layered dips. An onion. The Pentagon. Late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez’s security detail: all those concentric rings of guards. The last three episodes of Star Wars: all those layers of dung! Yet these pale in comparison to the layers my beloved Maria – verily, apple of my ojo and mamasota to my mamacita! – drapes upon our Azul Eileen. Last time Zuli slept, I counted 37, excluding the diaper. Why do Mexican women do this to their newborns?

The answer lies in the resfriado, which basically means getting cold. I saw this for the first time under a different name, “la mojada caliente”, in El Salvador while I was a Peace Corps Volunteer there in the late 1990s. Farmers slaved all morning on their hillside plots, lathering up in sweat equity. Returning to their shacks after the corn was shucked and with machetes spent and hanging from their thin leather belts, however, the farmers refused to bathe until late in the evening, for putting col water on their hot bodies could only result in the mojada caliente. When I asked why this was bad, they looked at me dumbfounded: didn’t I know the mojada caliente caused all manner and variety malady including, but not limited to, arthritis, lumbar spine pain, and heart problems? Wasn’t I aware that the mojada caliente, if occurring with sufficient frequency, could shorten one’s life by numerous years?

No doctor myself, but assessing their arguments begin of dubious premises, I once posed a counter-argument. Could it not be that a such pains and discomforts were actually rooted in a lifetime of working in subsistence agriculture (which involves constant bending at the waist and heaving hefty loads onto the back and shoulders), eating nothing but meager servings of beans, rice, and maiz-based tortillas (zero veggies in the diet there), and having practically no access to medical care of any sort? Not to mention, you know, routine natural disasters and, until 1993, the civil war? Could all of this not warp your body and even kill you sooner than your time? My theory was never taken up for serious investigation by Don Chepe or any of his constituents, but at least they listened to me politely whilst I expounded it over coffee and sweet bread one afternoon.

Mexico’s resfriado is a mojada caliente by a different name, but the concept is identical. Like the mojada caliente, the resfriado is derived from the Aristotelian humors, a medical theory first brought to popular lighten 1025 when the Persian philosopher Ibn Sina (Avicenna to us Farsi-impaired Westerners) published The Canon of Medicine, a work of five books that compiled and presented all the known medical knowledge at the time, including stuff passed down by the Greeks. The four humors – sanguineous, serous, bilious and atribilious – were the fluids coursing thru the human corpus. Aristotle believed them linked directly to the brain and heart, our core organs. Any imbalance of one humor over another leads invariably to a system out of whack, hence sickness, disease, even death. According to this school of thought, external elements like hot and cold can have adverse affects on humor equilibrium. And who wants THAT?

And so I stand corrected. When our daughter finds herself outfitted in 53 layers of clothing and blankets before setting forth on a visit to WalMart on a 106 degree day without shade in the Mexican borderlands, it’s in keeping with canonized medical philosophy. A thousand years old, but canonized none the less. And so I should be stop being humor-less about the whole affair.

(***And no, Maria and I aren’t fighting over this. It’s humor. She doesn’t put THAT many layers on Zuli. I just think it’s funny, that’s all. No one’s gotten boiled like a crab in a crock pot yet, so I’m going to assume Maria knows what she’s doing and this is all good.)

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Dragonforce at Starbucks Guadalajara: A Return to Living Mexicanishly

…whereupon the omniscient gray-bearded gods of good husbandry and fatherhood grant one gringo’s petition of relief from bad Brazilian weather, extortionately priced Panamanian airport chicken wraps, and an encroaching swarm of Mexican airport mosquitos.

Flying from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on Saturday, May 24 has been a day of precipitated and inexplicable awesomeness. A 50-megaton downpour engulfed Rio this morning, strapping up every taxi in town. Three hours before my flight departed, and I still hadn’t left my apartment. My hand wringing was well underway. Then a one-legged man (another story altogether) stepped (yes, with one leg) into the street on my behalf and, his kindly and knowing booger-pickin’ finger jutting into the inundated avenue (where I spotted a robed man gathering two of every mammal and leading them toward a wood-framed flotilla), hailed by Divine Providence an unoccupied cab. That taxi-hailing finger served as a figurative weather vane for the good fortune to come, for we got to the airport in 30 minutes. No traffic, no delays, the taxista driving at a steady and legal clip, peppering me with inspired queries about (!!!) the ease of handgun purchase in the United States, Stand Your Ground laws, and how he wished that Brazilians could shoot each other when, you know, “one feels threatened”.

At the Galeao International Airport in Rio, then, a series of fortunate occurrences transpired, each one compounding into the next like interest accumulating in a cleverly selected index fund. First, my flagging self-esteem got a long-overdue boost. While in line at the Copa counter to check my luggage, I met a Colombian dermatologist who assured me the vitiligo spots on my head are barely visible and probably “all a figment of your imagination”. Next, said Colombian and I went for cafe before heading to our gate, and whereas I generally despise the Brazilian devil bean for its overly-robust roast, this was actually a cup I’d take home to mom, my beseeching lips seizing upon it greedily with two big-assed buns of pao de queijo. Third, our gate was practically devoid of human presence and our flight to Panama City consequently empty, so I had an entire row to myself. I spread out and read Pantera’s ex-bassist Rex Brown’s autobiography in its entirety. Find me a better way to begin a long trip.

In Panama City, I have to admit, my mood soured somewhat. I paid 11 bucks for a spring chicken wrap, the terminal’s air conditioning was on the fritz (I invite you to try this in tropical Panama; ‘tis an unpleasant experience by any measure), the announcement system may as well have been a Motorhead concert for its ear-shredding volume (even the Brazilians present were covering their ears, so you KNOW it went to 11), and my connecting flight to Guadalajara was delayed due to an electrical failure on the plane’s navigation system. Once in Guadalajara – into which I rolled bleary-eyed at nearly 2 AM – I stood in line at customs and immigration being eaten alive by famished mosquitos, an invading swarm of Biblical proportions, and watched Mexicans slap at the air and each other amidst comments regarding the pinche dengue we were all sure to contract in the aftermath.

But just as with the morning’s sudden taxi luck, the gods of good husbandry and fatherhood, those ageless graybeards grinning down from their benevolent diaper changing thrones, smiled upon me when I reached the customs/immigration x-ray and declaration point. I presented my tourist passport and explained, when queried why I’d be two months in Ciudad Juarez, that I’m here to wed the hot tamale to whom I am betrothed and assume charge of my demon seed. She examined me dubiously, and I thought perhaps she required additional identification, at which juncture I produced my diplomatic passport with a sheepish grin and shrug of the shoulders. She waved the diplo passport away, informing me that her shock was merely over the fact that I have come from a continent away to do something which, in her words, “I couldn’t even get a guy in my same barrio to do.” And so she waved me through without x-ray, body cavity search or further ado on a tourist passport.

Emerging on the other side of the electrical door to the terminal, what should greet me but a Starbucks. Whereupon I presented the Starbucks gift card my mother sent me last Christmas (which the Brazilians will not honor), ordered a white chocolate mocha (which the Brazilians have not yet made correctly for me), and noted that on the Starbucks house sound system was playing “Through the Fire and the Flames” by DRAGONFORCE, sending me into spasms of Guitar Hero.

Next stop in a few hours is Ciudad Juarez, where I’ll be received by the hug-starved arms (and kiss-starved lips) of one Maria Vega. We’ll proceed with all haste to the Chulo Vista Hotel, whereupon I shall slumber after 26 sleepless hours in airports and on planes. Tonight I shall sup loudly at a plate of nachos, my first in 13 months, for a long-anticipated return to living Mexicanishly.

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