Tag Archives: Mexico

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.)

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Turds and Tea Leaves: Zuli’s On Solid Ground

…whereupon a gushing progenitor sounds a trumpet in proclamation of his newborn daughter’s impending inclusion in the next X-Men film based on the hue, shape, odor, and consistency of her poo. And wherein you, dear reader, shall learn of the proud family history baby Zuli has inherited. All of this and more in what has grown to be an unanticipated, but heartily welcomed, break from living Brazlishly now that your scribe is on paternity leave in northern Mexico.

Zuli’s legal birth name is Azul Eileen Straight Vega, but for our purposes here only the first name counts. Azul is Spanish for “blue” (her artist mother’s favorite color on the palate), so despite the felicity she’s indisputably felt to her baby core since daddy launched her alluring likeness into the digi-age milliseconds after birth, you might say she’s a blue, or indigo, child. Wikipedia describes indigo children as ones that, “according to a pseudoscientific New Age concept, are are believed to possess special, unusual and sometimes supernatural traits or abilities. The idea is based on concepts developed in the 1970s by Nancy Ann Tappe and further developed by Jan Tober and Lee Carroll. The concept of indigo children gained popular interest with the publication of a series of books in the late 1990s and the release of several films in the following decade. The interpretations of indigo children range from their being the next stage in human evolution, in some cases possessing paranormal abilities such as telepathy, to the belief that they are more empathetic and creative than their peers.”

With this definition, the pickle morphs into how, precisely, might we distinguish an indigo child like Zuli from her peers, those snot-nosed sucklings of the sniveling masses? While assuredly no expert in these matters, I’m inclined to believe you can predict greatness in the consistency of an toddler’s poop, uncannily similar to Babe Ruth calling his left field homer, a shaman interpreting tea leaves, or a santeria practitioner tossing chicken bones.

Bowel movements being a predictive mechanism for future performance is hardly a novel barometer to the Straight family. Truth be told, our gatherings normally devolve into scatological sideshows, particularly once my father and Aunt Jo lock into one of their staple reminisces about a random toilet clogged yesteryear. All specimen of chortle and guffaw perennially supplant decency at such times, but we’re a of blue collar background and don’t purport to uphold the heightened standards of a finishing school grad, so whatever. The lightness and blessing of these comedic commode communions has trailed me my whole life, even into the bloom of adulthood, hence I am gleefully attentive to the occurrences of my lower intestine. Sometimes, though, it is a curse, like the time I messed my drawers twice in a day my freshman year of college, or losing 40 pounds during my first six months of Peace Corps in El Salvador due to an unbroken chain of parasitic infestations.

Lest you, dear reader, find thyself getting high n’ mighty about the standards of public decency you believe I’m defiling here, keep something in mind: it ain’t just me. As one particular best-selling illustrated children’s book is titled, Everybody Poops. I am oft warmed at the recollection of a RIP Magazine interview with Motley Crue in 1990, released at the zenith the LA bad boys’ commercial conquest while eating hearty at the trough of their Dr. Feelgood album. The interview revealed that newfound sobriety hadn’t dissuaded Motley from their core distasteful principles, nor had pregnant bank accounts after selling millions of records rendered them upstanding young men to you could intro mom. Before every gig, as the interview detailed, they’d gather in a circle while bassist Nikki Sixx shat into a Kleenex. And if it was chunks, they’d rock.

And so all of the foregoing – the strew now brought to a steady boil – brings me to my point. Last night, I awoke to find Maria changing Zuli’s diaper at 4 AM. By the dim light of a street lamp slithering through a crack in our curtains, Maria’s eyes scarcely hovered open and alert while executing what have already become muscle-memory motions. I intervened, assuming charge of the scenario, judging the culprit to be a pissy Pamper. The velocity with which I was dispossessed of this spurious conceit was prompt: without realizing ’twas a literal shit-show into which I marched, poop was suddenly smooched between the chubby digits of my fingers. Still lingering half slumbered myself, I had a fleeting itch on my chin and reactively lifted a feces-filled finger to scratch, besmirching my goatee with a goodly poo. But was I disgusted? Hellz no, amigos. For my daughter’s log was brown and solid. I say: BROWN and SOLID! A harbinger, an omen, heralding grandeur itself foretold.

Of what will presumably be a multitude of majestic moments in my daughter’s life, this may be my eminently proudest one, after her actual birth. For in just five days of life, Zuli’s already abandoned the incipient green purges of her accumulated pre-natal waste, repositioning herself atop the plateau of The Real Human Dump. I know nothing of children, but this doesn’t seem the normal course of events; I’m inclined to believe that, indeed, Zuli is a true-to-form Indigo Child. I won’t be shocked when the begins communing with defunct relatives, bending forks thru mind power, and telepathically warning her mother and I about traffic jams on highways yet unseen as we travel on family vacations. Someone call Professor X; I’ll be sending her to the academy, that he might assist my daughter in honing this mutant-like power.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Sonoran Hot Dogs and the Mogwai Chicken Titty

…wherein we discover Briancito’s deftness at steering his fiancé to another brand of hot dogs, lament how this did not translate into a concurrent capacity for guiding his newborn daughter’s alimentary schedule, and address a quandary: why do babies, like Gremlins, always seem to feed after midnight?

Mexicans from the state of Sonora fashion themselves hot dog experts. Have you ever eaten one from there? It’s hardly an unpleasant experience, and their preparation certainly rivals, or exceeds, the quality of franks served at other “mega-doggo” establishments throughout northern Mexico. A decent folk, the Sonorans will be the first to admit that history has treated their state wretchedly, and perhaps this compels their tenacious belief in the superiority of their state’s hot dogs, a ready fidelity to hold alight the weenie torch in both word and deed.

Maria, my Mexican fiancé hailing from Ciudad Obregon in Sonora, is no exception to that belief system. Standing at just over five feet in height and of delicate corporeal constitution, she speaks softly in a voice that sends a thousand purring kittens scampering through my heart. A humble and polite woman by nature, she keeps her accomplishments mum (at 28 she’s finishing a doctorate and is already a tenured art professor at a major university in Ciudad Juarez). These attributes favoring humility, combined with her general humane and warm treatment of others regardless of station in life, she gives the truthful impression of a woman who loathes competition and avoids conflict at all cost. However, when hot dogs are at stake, she is unequivocal regarding Sonora’s dominance. It’s damn near a petty nationalism, though fortunately for humanity one over which no blood has spilt, save that of the swine perishing for this noble cause.

In the days before our daughter’s birth, I flew into Ciudad Juarez, where Maria lives. We crossed the border into El Paso, Texas, to purchase groceries and supplies before holing up in a temporary apartment back in Juarez for two months. In the meat section of the Target supermarket, Maria asked if I’d like hot dogs for dinner that night. A resounding yes, of course, being a gringo with fond memories of franks consumed at family barbeques and block parties all throughout childhood and adolescence. I’m predisposed and will greedily suckle at a tightly-skinned and condimented frank any time, any place.

Yet despite green-lighting the purchase and merely awaiting her selection, Maria remained static and dumbfounded, scrutinizing the available hot dog variety. I’m no expert in micro-expressions, but I know my woman well and spotted the desperation hegemonically creeping over her countenance. I asked what was wrong. As it turns out, came Maria’s apply in a nearly catatonic disbelief, Target did not offer hot dogs from FUD, the Aztec nation’s largest packaged meats purveyor and, given the fact that Sigma Alimentos (FUD’s parent company) wields a monopoly on franks sold south of the border and is consequently the only hot dog to which Mexicans of most stripes are ever exposed, Maria’s preferred brand. It took some doing, but I ultimately convinced her that this was not, in fact, the end of days as foretold in the Maya Codex, and that another variety of frank might still do the trick. Oscar Meyer, Hebrew National, and Ball Park Franks could all deliver the goods this very night. But baby, I reasoned with every iota of charisma I could conjure, you gotta let it happen. Similar to every man, my relational influence will wane severely once hitched. It is the unfortunate nature of things that I’ll go from Mighty Baby Maker to being the stiff knocking out rent and paying for cable. But on this single occasion, it pleased me greatly to wield such influence over Maria’s alimentary habits. To convince a Sonoran to consume a hot dog that is not FUD is, indeed, no dismal feat.

So foolish of me to assume that same influence would translate into guiding my daughter’s feeding schedule. As a first-time father at nearly 38 years of age, I’ve labored for years under the theorist’s assumption: babies are solely a matter of conditioning, and their eating habits may be controlled rather rapidly with the proper parental firmness, resolve, and consistency. I put this theory to the Pepsi Challenge last night once I got both Maria and Zuli discharged from the hospital and back to our apartment. At precisely midnight, Zuli’s baby lungs demonstrated fortuity unexpected by her Papi Briancito when she tore the bedroom asunder with a rapturous spate of shrill sobbing. For the next six hours, she brought shocked parents to heel, exhibiting that the proverbial new sheriff has arrived in town.

Since these sleepless nights will doubtless be my nemesis for at least the next 12 calendar months, I tore a quick page from Michael Corleone’s playbook: Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer. Thus enthralled was I to learn the innermost mechanics of this terrible phenomenon, the slumber-less eve. I paid careful attention to how Zuli attacked Maria’s jugs with gums, grit, and determination. The sole image that popped to mind was the evil mogwai, of Gremlins fame, tearing up chicken wings. Just like my daughter on her first night at home, the mogwai were irrepressible, seeking fortification as they readied to launch themselves into the world. It seemed to me at that moment, indeed, that Zuli had been duly possessed by Maria’s mogwai chicken titty.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Ouro Preto II: Extreme Conditions Call for Extreme Responses

Ouro Preto, the colonial Brazilian town in which I find myself, bears the hallmarks of a great number of villes throughout the Americas. The morning mist lifts deliberately from the mountaintops like northern El Salvador. The climate resembles that of Villa de Leyva in the Colombian highlands. The surrounding lush verde foliage is not unlike Oaxaca, Mexico, though the subtropical humidity is thankfully absent from the equation. Houses (some merely shanties, though these are relatively few in number) hand-over-fist up the hillsides like Valparaiso, Chile. And the volume of tourists glutting every available public space is like Antigua, Guatemala, though it feels more like the Venezuelan capital due to the sheer sardine-like compression of corpus.

And yet all these many comparisons matter not, for their beauty hath been torn asunder by two turd-faced, nose-picking children in the room next to mine. Their havoc-wrecking behavior is like a backstage moment at a Motley Crue gig. These two are human molotov cocktails, screaming like effing bottle rockets thru the hotel halls, keeping me up late, or awaking me too early, these two days in Ouro Preto. This morning, the ass-kicking American instinct overtaking me, I was ready to invade.

And yet a cooler head prevailed and I opted for the only sure-fire psychological operation known to shut mischevious children up, at least for awhile: through the paper-thin wall, I made a voracious fart sound. The bombs-over-Baghdad shock-and-awe had the silencing effect I so desired on these sinister creatures, and I subsequently enjoyed the first five unmolested moments of silence, though punctuated with stifled snickers and snorts from the room over, that I have gotten since arrival.

Let me expound on my theorem of a proper imitation toot; the brilliance lies in its sole postulate. Namely, I needed it to be credible. These boys are now of an age to know the Tooth Fairy is a work of parental fiction, hence their natural sense of wonder can no longer be piqued by creations of readily-apparent grown-up fantasy. So I had to straddle the delicate equilibrium between the famine of a popcorn flatulant and the smear of a “shart”. Wetting my whistle and loosening my cheek muscles, then, I sought the right friction betwixt lips and inner-cheek, urging juuuuuust the proper amount of saliva into my mouth, that I might blow this trumpet in a manner sufficiently convincing to 10-year olds that, indeed, their undivided attention was not only merited, but demanded. With 36 years of practice, and two years of teaching at the middle and high school level, I know something of these matters.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,