A very happy Mexican Independence Day to all my amigos and amigas. Is it really five years since the Bicentenario? My, how time flies. I wish I were there to celebrate, but alas it is not to be. Still, I send greetings from the UK, which was, of course, the first European country to recognise Mexican independence from the Spanish. Admittedly, this probably had more to do with us wanting to antagonise the Spanish that any anti-colonial sentiment, but ce la vie.
I don’t dance. I can’t dance. I’m not really entirely sure that I understand dancing, by and large. Sure, Shakira can bust some moves, but I’m not sure that she’s really dancing. She’s teasing, the old flirt that she is. Besides, she’s not British, and that is an important point. I do know that we Brits can’t dance. There are many things we are good at, but dancing isn’t one of them. How can I really ram this point home? Well, allow me to introduce you to the world of Morris dancing. Or Victorian Ball Room dancing. Two atrocious forms of human movement that hardy groups of people try very hard to keep going into the 21st century.
There are just some things that we should let go. These should have been abolished at the same time as death by hanging, blood letting by leeches, punitive castration and other forms of unnecessary and painful activity. And then there is this, the most modern example of Brits being unable to dance. Which makes me wonder if we abolished hanging and castration too soon. Perhaps blood letting could be brought back too? By axe, rather than leeches. Where’s James Holmes when you need him? Lastly, I produce as evidence to finish the debate off, Peter Crouch. The Colombians can do this. And we get Peter Crouch. Enough said. I rest my case.
So, in a nut shell, I don’t agree with dancing. In much the same way many other people don’t agree with President Obama, or Israeli settlements. I have no idea what it’s all about but I just don’t like it. But, as with every issue of global importance, there are occasional meetings of the mind. Seeing eye to eye. An understanding. With dance, I have found some common ground.
The Mexican Folklore Ballet. Or more properly know as the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico, de Amalia Hernandez. They have just performed a run of five days at the London Coliseum, which Mrs P and I were lucky enough to be able to go and see. It was their first trip to the UK for more than twenty years, although we have both seen the performance before, at their home in the Palacio de Belles Artes in Mexico City. It’s a story as much of a dance. The story of Mexico through the ages, from the Aztecs, through Revolutionaries and Conquistadors, all accompanied with a fabulous mariachi band.
And as far as dancing goes, this is much more Riverdance than Swan Lake. It’s a two hour riot of colour, cacophony of noise and whir of movement that seems to pass in half the time. You become quite involved in the epic telling of Mexico’s history, quite literally if you’re one of the lucky souls who gets a dance with one of the pretty ladies when they take their act to the theatre aisles.
Photography was forbidden in the theatre. Although towards the end, a fair few people starting getting a few shots for posterity with their phones. I joined in and have a set of fairly poor quality snaps on Flickr. Which you can see if you click here. But for a taste of this particularly exquisite flavour of Mexico, it would be best if I left you with something a little better. A promotional video.
This post was not sponsored by Fox News. Although, having included capital punishment, terrorism, torture, sexism, anti Obama rant and the middle east in a single post about dancing, I expect an interview soon. Crap, I forgot immigration….
This year will be different things to different people. And different organisations, nations and other entities. According to the UN, 2015 is the Year of Light. The Chinese are convinced that this is the year of the sheep. Or goats. One or the other. What sort of offspring do you get from a papa sheep and a mama goat? The Chinese should have picked that, whatever it is. The Russians and the North Koreans have decided that it is the year of friendship between Russia and North Korea. Hey, don’t mock. Everyone needs at least one friend.
So what about the UK? We have the best ‘Year Of’ of them all. Here in Blighty, 2015 is the Year of Mexico. Which makes me happy. In Mexico, they are having the Year of the United Kingdom. Which also makes me happy. There are events galore, and I’m pleased to say that Mrs P and I will be participating. We have our tickets booked for the Lucha Libre at the Royal Albert Hall and for the Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez. Both events are in July, and we’re looking forward to both. Myself, more the former than the latter. If you’re there, give us a shout. I will be Mistico and she will be Blue Demon.
I have, for many years, publicised the many links between the UK and Mexico. Some of them are best left alone. Ok, so we may have syphoned off a bit of oil in the early parts of the last century. Possibly quite a lot of oil. We may also have enforced borders between Belize and Mexico that was more in our favour than Mexico’s. But still. We gave you football and pastes. And that counts for a lot, right? Although the best common bond between these great nations? Well that would be myself and Mrs P, of course. and this blog. Alas, the video below gives none of us a mention. Pft.
There are dates that stick in the memory. Birthdays. Deathdays*. Terrorist attacks. Anniversaries. February 16th is a date that sticks in my memory. In 2011, on that date, I got on a plane and flew back to the UK. Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid. Have I made myself clear? I hope so.
Life in Mexico was fun. Every day was an adventure. Every single day. Without exception. In the UK, every day is either a Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday or Sunday. Preferably one of the latter two, which might turn out to have an adventure of sorts in store. Sometimes. True, there are benefits to living in the UK. There are no doubts about that. I’ve almost forgotten what it’s like to turn on a tap and not really be certain whether any water would come out. But certain that if it did, you shouldn’t really drink it. Although I did drink it on more than one occasion without any noticeable side effect. Tis all but part of the adventure.
Since returning to the UK, I’ve droned on about Mexico City to anyone who will listen. I’ve also droned on to anyone who won’t listen. That’s one of the benefits of droning on. It doesn’t really matter if anyone listens or not. It’s a pitiful form of self therapy, but it relieves the withdrawal pangs.
It doesn’t, I fear, give anyone a real idea about why Mexico is such a fabulous little patch of planet Earth. I’ve shared videos over the years on this blog, and I watch some of them sometimes. I sometimes think that opening YouTube and entering Mexico City in the search box is the equivalent of a smoker having a sneaky cigarette when he’s trying to quit. Naughty but nice.
Sadly, most videos show only one facet of the city. It either dwells on the poverty or crime, or on the history and developed parts of the city. If ever there has been one video that almost, almost, captures the Mexico City I lived in, it’s the one I’ve embedded below. Perhaps you’ve seen it before. But it’s so well done, it’s nice to see again, isn’t it. It’s a government sponsored creation. Who’d have thunk that a political/tourist motivated bit of work would best capture the Mexico City that I lived in? No, it misses out a lot of the warts. But truth be told, I did my best to miss out on the warts too, when I lived there.
- Deathdays. Why does no one use this word? It’s such a logical choice. I claim copyright.
I don’t sell many photos these days. In fact, I don’t sell any photos these days. It’s been a year at least since the last one. Maybe two. I used to sell a handful each year, almost entirely through Flickr. It was never my biggest source of online income, but the half dozen or so shots that I flogged in a good year added some useful pennies to my bank account.
But I may have sold the one below. I say may, because I haven’t received the cash yet. Never count one’s chickens till they hatch. But I live in hope. Does anyone care to play a guessing game? A point for the person who can name the artist. Two points if you can name the location you’d find this mural. No clicking on the image through to Flickr though. That’s cheating.
Happy Independence Day to all my Mexican amigos. I’m sorry I can’t be there to share it with y’all. Instead, the same as every year since 2010, I’ll post my video from the Bicentenario. And the same as every year, I’ll say ‘wow, has it really been so many years since that great day?’ So this is my most unoriginal post of the year, but it’s become my own personal annual nostalgic tradition.
Every now and then in Mexico, to my amusement, I’d get asked when the UK’s Independence day is. Perhaps next year, I’ll be able to tell them. It’s three days after yours. September the 18th. Because, if Scotland gains its independence from the UK, does England not also gain it’s independence, albeit by default?
And simultaneously, it will be the Year of the UK in Mexico. It’s a plan, and everyone’s invited. It’s one of those wishy washy government level type cultural exchanges that are all jolly well and good, but fairly limited in scope beyond getting a few big wigs together for a bit of a pow-wow over a drop of tequila or pint of beer. To be fair, this is bigger and grander than most of these sorts of affairs.
Mexico is even going to be graced by a flying visit from Prince Charles. This will be his fourth trip, believe it or not. Dear old Carlos, he’s a misunderstood soul. He’s inherited so much and will continue to do so, right up to the point when he inherits the whole of the UK. But there’s a flip side to this. He’s also got his mother’s nasal drawl and his father’s sense of humour. Worse still, he’s got the family crown. Not the shiny jewelled gold one you wear. The balding one that you don’t.
One does hope that he manages to keep some of his thoughts to himself though. His last visit was included in a documentary. One probably shouldn’t refer to a family prepared dish as ‘a plate of decomposed sheep‘. And suggesting to the little girl if the Mexican postal service is ‘not very good, is it‘ probably wasn’t tactful either. Maybe she had the last laugh. Mexicans are entrepreneurs, and those envelopes were probably stuffed full of cocaine. She had discovered the world’s most secure drug distribution model. Maybe.
This did have me thinking though. Has the Queen herself ever visited Mexico. Indeed she has, it turns out. In 1975, exactly thirty years before I began my own Mexico-UK cultural exchange programme. It seems it was quite a big event over in Mexico, and it still exists on video. Good ole YouTube, eh? It was the first ever visit to Mexico by a British monarch, and it was repeated in 1981. Given the Queen’s age, I suspect there will be no more trips. But why do they insist on calling her Isabel? I mean seriously, I know plenty of ladies in Mexico called Elizabeth. It’s not an unknown name there.
Mexican relations with the UK have mostly been good. Sure, there was a little testiness when Mexico nationalised their oil industry. There was the time that a few British warships turned up in Veracruz to collect some unpaid debts. There was also a small argument over who got to govern British Honduras, aka Belize. Top Gear appears to have caused some friction too, in more recent years.
But we were the first of Europe’s powers to recognise Mexico’s Independence. We also supported them in the Pastry War. To be fair, this was probably done more out of spite to Spain and France rather than any real goodwill toward Mexico. But still, you take what you can get. In return, Mexico supported the UK, albeit secretly, during the Falklands War. Again, probably out of spite towards Argentina. All is fair in love and war. Enjoy the video.
Once upon a time, back in very early 2003, I took a look at Mexico. I knew little about the country. Desert, sombreros, tequila, two World Cups and a crime wave. I was looking for a TEFL course, and there was one in Guadalajara that was cheap. So I took a look at Mexico. There was, of course, an awful lot more to the country than I knew of. That’s not my fault. Mexico wasn’t (and Cancun apart, still isn’t) on the British radar.
One thing in particular caught my attention. A factoid, stating that Mexico was one of a small number of countries that contain a majority of the world’s flora and fauna. What the hell – in a desert?! It turns out that there’s plenty of jungle about too. I was intrigued. I carried on looking. The rest, as they say, is history.
The BBC had a fascinating documentary a couple of nights ago, all about one of the heroes who is trying to save Mexico’s incredible biodiversity. Specifically, bats. And by default, also tequila. It was a really enjoyable and informative programme. Mrs P was once one of those with a negative view of bats. Not any more. Rodrigo Medellin is a modern day, real life superhero. Truly the Bat Man of Mexico.
The show is on BBC iPlayer for the next five days at the time of writing. Click the link in the paragraph above. If you life outside the UK, you will probably need to know how to work a proxy server. If not, then watch this completely unrelated documentary on the most insane animal on this planet, the Honey Badger. I’d like one as a pet. Mrs P wouldn’t. Nor would my neighbours. Nor any other animal within a 25 mile radius.
Thirty years ago, Torvill and Dean enchanted the world at the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo with their rendition of Bolero. Their performance won gold and set records as they scored a set of perfect sixes. Their routine changed ice skating. They creatively elongated their performance to fit the musical score by staying on their knees at the beginning, and they introduced ‘death on ice’ to the sport with their finale, collapsing on to the white stuff as if they’d been shot. It started a trend. Before you knew it, skaters were finishing their dances with more and more elaborate death routines. Appearing to have simply been shot was ‘old school’. Skaters mimicked being mown down by Gatling guns, or from being slashed with a thousand cyanide laced blades. Yes, it became ridiculous. Utterly absurd.
Football has its own version of death on ice. I shall call it ‘Death on Grass’. Others refer to it simply as diving or cheating. The more eloquent commentator refers to it as simulation. But it’s far more than that. It is truly performance art. It’s a dance. It’s a talent. Some are better at it than others. And it is played to an audience of three. True, there may be tens of thousands in the crowds and tens of millions watching at home on television. But the performance is purely for the benefit of the referee and his two assistants on the line. The referee signals his approval of the dance in question by blowing his whistle and awarding the match to the team who performed Death on Grass the best over the 90 minutes.
The evidence that it is an art form and not cheating? Every time you hear someone say ‘well, it’s part of the game these days‘. Or, ‘...I know, but that Robben, he’s just so good at it‘. Or even, ‘…yes, but if you leave a leg out, you know what he’s going to do‘. Even my own argument against diving is an admission. ‘But it shouldn’t be part of the game’. That I say the word shouldn’t as opposed to isn’t is a confession that I know that actually, when all is said and done, it is. And so it continues. Our beloved, beautiful game continues to be shamed and gamed by artists performing Death on Grass.
Some of it is almost Monty Python-esque. Death by shooting, slashing, from a piano dropped on the player from a great height. Death by being shoved in a tumble dryer or from being struck by a bulldozer. Some look like they are in a rabid death throe. Do you remember Indiana Jones and all those lucky escapes he had from certain doom? Did you ever wonder what those scenes would have looked like if he hadn’t escaped? Watch a game of football and all will be revealed. When and where exactly did all this nonsense start? I do not know. But being British I will point an accusing finger at the continentals. Especially the Italians. But you know the Germans are probably at the centre of it all. Bloody Germans. Where will it end? Hopefully before several team mates go so far as to get together and choreograph ‘death by nuclear blast’.
Football has spent the last week completely focussed on the Luis Suarez biting incident. It shocked the entire sport. You don’t bite on the football field, Luis! You are an animal! But what were the actual consequences of his bite. Not to make light of the trivial bruising to Chiellini’s shoulder, but the consequences to the result were as they should have been. On the field that day, none. After the event, the offender was punished. You could argue that Suarez should have been sent off, and that this might have altered the final outcome. I accept that. But his action in itself did not influence the scoreline.
Last Sunday, Arjen Robben, a world renowned grand master of Death on Grass, treated the world to a special performance of his art form. Which is, technically, every bit against the rules as biting. The consequences? The Mexican football team were knocked out of the competition. He broke the hearts of more than a hundred million of my compadres and comadres. El Tri’s grand Brazilian adventure was cruelly and unfairly cut short. We were deprived further touchline remonstrations and celebrations by Miguel Herrera. We must suffer further games of Dutch Head Kicking football. Yet, as further evidence of how open to interpretation Death on Grass is, there are arguments on both sides, for and against Robben. But as a fan, I’d rather see Suarez take a nibble out of a players should than see a team cheated out of the whole competition. And then there’s this guy. Who shall henceforth be forever known as What The Hell Oh My God guy. But the Guardian has a more composed view…
For the record, my firm opinion is that Robben dived and cheated. Was there a sliver of contact? I don’t care. Robben clearly played the ref, not the game. Who do I blame? Robben, of course. Plus, his manager. Indeed, I blame all managers. I always find the post match interviews galling, having to listen to a manger ranting and raving about how his side were cheated. Here’s the deal. If the referee is fooled, then the only consequence a player might face for his cheating would be via his manager. I cannot recall a single incidence of a player actually having to face any consequences for diving in a Monday morning meeting with his manager. I have, a couple of times, heard a manager say ‘he’ll have a few words’ with an obvious and persistent diver. Who continues diving the very next week. So one assumes those words were ‘keep it up, son!’
Football mangers will continue to bemoan ‘poor refereeing decisions’. They will continue to send teams out who will attempt to create the perfect conditions to goad a poor decision out of the ref. I will continue to mock their hypocrisy. And nothing will change. Until the governing bodies take firmer action. A television referee for top flight football. Who can view the replay, at different angles, and make an informed and more accurate decision. The game can be brought back and the offender punished.
Some people say this would break up the flow of the game. I argue it will do quite the opposite. If the players can’t get away with it, they won’t do it. The flow of the game will be improved. And games will be decided by goals again, rather than by performance art.
The world of ice skating eventually curbed the ever more evocative interpretations of death. The world of football can do the same, if it imposes its will on to the players taking the field. Let’s not forget that football is a game. It’s sport. It’s not, despite Bill Shankley’s assertion to the contrary, more important than life or death. Twenty years ago yesterday, a sad and non-simulated ‘Death on Grass’ type incident occurred. Colombia’s defender Andres Escobar was gunned down and killed, days after scoring an own goal that knocked his country out of the World Cup in the US.
Colombia was not a safe or happy place at the time. This was only eight years after Colombia had been due to host the World Cup themselves, in 1986, but were forced to give the tournament over to Mexico due to a lack of finance to put the necessary infrastructure in place. It was a shame that such a talented team who had such high expectations had to exit in such a fashion. More of a shame that the defeat lead to the death of one of the team’s stars. I watched a movie/documentary called The Two Escobars a few years ago. It was an excellent film. It’s now on YouTube. Enjoy…
I still miss you. Mucho. One day I will return, insha’allah. There are still a few museums in DF I need to knock off my list.
How is Mexico better than the UK, asked no one ever. Well, there’s the weather. And the food. And the chicas. And the friendly faces. And especially the weather. And the fresh fruits. And the racists, too. Let’s big it up for the Mexican racists. They don’t, quite frankly, get the credit that they deserve. How so are Mexican racists better than UK racists, you might wonder. Well, I have no scientific proof, empirical evidence or hearsay to offer. Just personal experience.
I have been the ‘victim’ of racial abuse twice. The most recent episode happened just a couple of hundred metres from home, a week or so ago. I had seen the chap loitering about Westbourne, earlier. White, shaven headed, casual attire, chunky set of headphones stuck on his head. He looked a bit spaced out. Looks can be deceiving. Our conversation was more than simply ‘spaced out’.
Are you English?
Errr…(wondering where this is going)..yes.
No, you’re not.
I’m pretty sure I am.
No you’re f*****g not, are you!
Ok. But actually I am.
There was a strange pause. Where does the conversation go from here? I shrugged and decided to let him finish it with himself, and carried on walking. A moment later I heard him launch into a tirade of colourful language, with the gist being that I should go home to my own country. It was utterly surreal. For those who might be passing this way for the first time, I should qualify, or rather disqualify, his ham fisted attempt at racial profiling. I am white, 6 foot tall, blue/grey eyes, fair haired and when my skin does have any colour to it, after a little too much sun, you would most definitely associate the tone with English Lobster Red. I was born in London to parents born in London to grandparent born in London and so on. I have an unmistakeably English accent.
How did my racist friend get it so wrong? One can only assume that he’d made up his mind that I was a Polish or other European immigrant and felt it unnecessary to remove those bulky headphones in order to confirm his initial prejudice by actually listening to my responses. In the industry of racial ignorance and hatred, the bar for membership is already set pretty low. This guy dropped it on the floor. Dang, he buried it.
Once upon a time in Mexico, I was asked by a homeless chap for some pesos. I had none. After I had walked a safe distance past he started yelling. ‘Pinch ingles!!’ Over and over. Well, at least three times. Was I offended? No, I was thoroughly impressed. He had managed to identify my nationality correctly, and had not gone for the more likely and obvious Yankee critique. See, Mexican racists are better than British racists. They’re smarter, more thoughtful and more considerate. One nil to Mexico.
Racial prejudice is alive and well, everywhere. Sometimes it’s overt. Often it’s disguised by those who attempt to disguise their prejudice as ‘refreshing candor’. You know the sort. The sentence starts with, ‘I’m not racist, but…‘. And then there are those who are simply unthinkingly ignorant. The latter bunch are not necessarily a bad sort. Just poorly informed, or maybe inclined to speak then think, or perhaps just expressing negative experiences of their own.
The ethnic demographic did change noticeably during my time in Mexico. There are now tons of Polish people in the UK. I like them. They are easy to spot. They are the guys who are usually working that bit harder than the others. My racist friend should take note of that when next choosing a recipient for his ignorance. And amend his spiel – go back and work hard and be productive in your own country while I despoil the local environment and waste perfectly good air by my continuing refusal to cease breathing. Personally, I think we could do with a few more Poles and a few less Brits.
There is a downside to all this immigration though. I thought upon returning to England that I’d be safe to use my real name again when out and about. Hugh Juan could be retired. Alas, it was not to pass. This was a better attempt that some, but it’s not the right spelling. And I do hope Mrs P didn’t notice her new name…
Isn’t YouTube one of the most wonderful inventions ever? It’s an archive that seems to know no bounds. Whatever you want to watch, no matter how old it is, you can find it on YouTube. It’s not even all illegal. Though a fair share of it does have pretty dubious looking copyright issues. What I like is how legitimate companies have embraced YouTube as an archiver though. One of the latest examples being British Pathe, who have dumped everything they’ve got on Google’s servers.
But perhaps history viewed through British eyes isn’t your thing. There’s a Mexican contigent who visit me in my corner of the web. And I have something for you, if you haven’t found it already. The excellent Canal Once has a series, La Ciudad de Mexico en el tiempo. Look back at one of the greatest city’s on the planet as it evolved, revolted, devolved and turned into the wonderfully ghastly mess it is today.
This series is not viewed through British eyes. Although one can’t help but feel that it would have been nice if it had been filmed through a British lens with a British camera crew. The Pathe guys, perhaps…
Let’s jump to the present. There are a few television presenters I watch out for, not wanting to miss a show they make. Simon Reeve is one. Anthony Bourdain is another. The later is an American chef, who like to tour the world. His most recent show took him to Mexico City and on to Oaxaca. It was a good show. But I couldn’t help but feel that there was an odd balance in the story between decapitated bodies and fabulous Mexico cooking.
It would have been nice to see some of the more positive non culinary aspects of Mexico make the final cut. Life in DF is more than ‘shoot a policeman, have a taco. Behead a narco, have a taco. Hang an informer from a bridge, have a taco’. But the over riding theme of corruption that runs through the show, encompassing every part of Mexican life, is a true and sad fact that holds the city and nation back. Badly. Many believe the War on Drugs to be a failure. It’s clearly been a raging success. You just, perhaps, didn’t fully understand what the desired outcome was. Bourdain will also introduce you to the poor chef/restaurateur that fell victim to the daughter of a government official recently.
It comes up now and again in conversation when talking about my former life south of the Rio Bravo. Mexicans are Catholics, right? Yeah. They are. Sort of. Well. Yes, they are I guess, but…you see, they’re kinda like Catholics. Actually no, they aren’t. Some … Continue reading Religious Marsupials
One of my favourite Mexican festivals, Day of the Dead. I have no new photos to share this year, sadly. Maybe next year. Here’s a brief gallery of Dia De Los Muertos photos from years gone by. A photographic memorial of a life gone by.
Happy Independence Day to all you Mexicans and Mexican affiliated persons. I wish I could be there to join in all the merriment. Alas, I cannot. Not in person. But if you are browsing the pages of CNN this weekend, you might see me drift … Continue reading Viva Mexico!