Winter Mystery

Over the last week, Putin’s given us Brits a twoferone deal. Another Russian exile has turned up murdered – this time strangulation rather than a nerve agent was the preferred method*. Then he sent in his secret weapon. Another blast of snow from Siberia. He’s proving to be a tough customer, is ole Vlad. But he does create quite the scenic conditions for a photographer. I haven’t really taken advantage of them, wandering only as far as the local duck pond, armed only with my iPhone. But still.

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Religious Marsupials

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 of them. Shucks, who knows.

Mexicans are Catholics like marsupials are mammals. Almost the same. But not quite the same. They do have very distinct differences. Many Mexicans identify themselves as Guadalupeans, after the rather famous virginal patron* saint of the country. The story of the good lady is here. Then there’s Santa Muerte, the Saint of Death. He’s a favourite of the criminal fraternity of Mexico, who will go to offer prayers in the hope of a successful heist. The Vatican doesn’t approve. What do they think about the increasing number of exorcisms? There is Day of the Dead, another quasi-Catholic festival.

Then there’s San Judas Tadeo. If you’re in Mexico City on the 28th of the month, you’ll see a constant stream of young guys and gals carrying their statues on the way to a church not far from Belles Artes, on Avenida Reforma. When the Catholic faith travelled to foreign waters from its European heartland, there was bound to be a bit of assimilation of local beliefs and customs. I couldn’t honestly say whether the rest of Latin America has as distinct a variant of Catholicism as Mexico. Perhaps other expats can clue me in. But for sure, Mexican Catholicism is a unique, separate, even cultish offspring of the original.

The point of this story? Today is Guadalupe’s big day.  Millions upon millions of people will go to the Basilica de Guadalupe on an annual pilgrimage. It’s quite the spectacle. Parades of banner waving groups walk miles upon miles to get there. Many will crawl on their knees. Some will do so just for the last stretch. Others for far longer distances. You can visit the Basilica any day of the year and you’ll see some scraping skin off their legs.

You should visit the Basilica by the way, if you happen to be in the vicinity. The churches and the gardens are both worth the trip to this northern part of the city. I went several times. Here’s a short video I shot the last time I went, which was too long ago. It’s one part of Mexico’s Catholic-ish faith. There are lots of other facets. Some surprising, others bizarre. Some are charming or even enchanting. Other parts are plain nuts. But none of it is ever boring.

*I’m not Catholic, not much of a believer in religious virgins, and I do know the cure for those who are afflicted with that particular condition. Normally I can’t resist cracking a gag, and be damned with any offence I cause. But hey. It is her big day. So I’ll pass this opportunity up, just this once…


Church, Inc

Britain is seemingly filled with churches and cathedrals. Every town, village and hamlet has one. At least one. Most of them are hundreds of years old. Quite a number of them are many hundreds of years old. I’ve visited lots of churches. Out of historical interest, never spiritual need. I’m not the odd one out though. Christianity has largely fallen by the wayside in the UK and lost relevance to society in general. Attendance figures were low in the early 80s. They are half that now. They’ll halve again before too long. The average age of the UK church goer, on the other hand, is close to doubling. From mid thirties in 1980 to early fifties today.

More than two thirds of the UK population have no connection to the church at all. I’m pretty sure that without the revenue brought in by weddings, baptisms and funerals, the church as an institution would be in even greater trouble. I’m not sorry that the church is dying on its feet in the UK. Whilst not an atheist, I have no time for any organisation based on hocus pocus. At the same time, I’m not glad the church is in such dire trouble. Many people need to believe in something and churches are traditionally good at bonding communities.

So what happens to a society when religion enters terminal decline? Well, there’s less need for so many churches. The Church of England has had to close down hundreds of them. Getting on for two thousand since the end of the war. Some are demolished. Some are turned into residential apartments. I know of one which is a nightclub. Predictably, the supermarkets got in on the act too. The teachings of Jesus and capitalism are not compatible, in my opinion. It’s one or the other. And the latter is clearly winning. The money changers are in the temple.


Our Father who art in Tescos,
hallowed be thy wholegrain.
Thy dairy come.
Thy bakery be done
on checkout as it is in aisle seven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our double dipping,
as we forgive those who double dip against us,
and lead us not into Sainsburys,
but deliver us from Asda.
For thine is the warehousing,
and the logistics, and the retail,
for ever and ever.



Religious Differences

I stumbled across the photo below when looking through some old snaps of Mexico. Churches and cathedrals in England* and Mexico are very different. As far as cathedrals go, England wins. Hands down. As impressive as the Metropolitan Cathedral is, it is (at least architecturally) a poor cousin of Westminster, St Pauls or Salisbury. In my opinion, anyway.

But cathedrals are few and far between. Churches, in both lands, are everywhere. Churches in England are best suited to the movies. They add great atmosphere as either backdrop or centrepiece on a dark night with a full moon shining eerie light across gothic parapets and adding a ghostly glow to the ground hugging mist.

But Mexican churches are much the better to actually visit. There’s none of the cold, spartan approach the English take to interior design. Every church in Mexico is an art museum unto itself. They ooze charcter and warmth. And, most importantly perhaps, a heavenly connection.

* I often switch between referring to my country as England, Great Britain and the UK. It may seem very random, and sometime is. Often not though. On this occasion I use England because I’ve never been to Scotland, Wales or Ireland. Not once. I’ve only been north of Watford a handful of times. Manchester and Stoke, once each. Leicester twice. All but the Manchester trip was at least a quarter of a century ago. It’s quite shameful, really.

Ink Angels


The Ciclothon Pilgrimage

After several years of waiting, I finally got to do the longest Sunday Ciclothon route of them all – from Chapultepec Park to the Basilica de Guadalupe. And seeing as I joined the route at the halfway point, I effectively did a ‘lap’. Tiring to say the least. The normal route is a good deal shorter, going round the Zocalo, but once a month they send us the full length of Reforma and Avenida Misterios up to the Basilica.

The Ciclothon is still going strong, despite a degree of hostility toward it from the city’s many car drivers. Radio talk shows regularly offer space for them to vent their frustration. They should join in, not berate it, if you ask me. And see the city at closer hand. I didn’t get many photos, not least because there’s not much on the route I haven’t photographed countless times before. But I did get a couple of snaps of this architectual gem, just a hundred metres or so from the entrance to the Basilica.

A sadly neglected gem, like so many others. Now housing a car park for pilgrims who can’t quite be bothered to walk to church on a Sunday morning. Thousands do walk, and many of them walk some distance. Often carrying pictures of the virgin, or other heavy looking religious icons. I’ve often thought of coming here on December 12th, the day of the virgin. Millions do. I’d get some good photos. But if the crowds of an average Sunday put me off…


Miracle of Jesus

Jesus Christ may well have walked on water (a debatable fairy tale) but how’s this for a miracle…

Jesus Lopez and two buddies set off from San Blas on the western coast to fish for a bit of tuna 10 months ago. And today they were finally found, somehow still alive, floating near the Marshall Islands on the other side of the Pacific.

A diet of raw fish, the occasional captured raw bird all washed down with blood and rainwater has kept them alive for over 9 months.

Senor Lopez is still at the time of writing aboard the boat, a Taiwaese fishing vessel, that found them, but thanks to the wonders of modern technology has already been interviewed for TV!

Apparantly the first thing he intends to do when he gets home is go to church to give thanks. Perhaps he ought to say cheerio to the ocean first. So Long and Thanks for all the Fish…I doubt he’s ever read enough Douglas Adams to get the pun though.


Saint Anthony’s Day

Another Catholic saint for you, this one from Portugal. His special power is that of marriage or something or other. Most Catholic’s have a personal saint, one they choose as their favourite, and this chap is my girlfriend’s number one man in a brown gown.

It was St Tony’s Day on June 13th, and Paola duly lit the candles around his picture, and said the necessary prayers. Apparantly though, women will sometimes then place his picture upside down for a week in the hope he will find them a husband….


Marriage In Mexico

Easy if you are Mexican and both Catholic. A mountain of paperwork and procedures if you are not! This is a summary I received from a Mexican girl who married a Brit…

You will have to send your birth certificate (and any other document, like divorce papers) to England to “Apostille”. It cannot be done here in Mexicoso documents needs sending to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. When you have your birth certificate “apostillado”, then it becomes valid in Mexico. Then you will have to send it to translate with a “Perito Traductor”, it has to be made by an official translator.

Then with the official translation you will have to take it to “Secretaria de Gobernación” to ask for a permission for you to get married in Mexico as a foreigner. They will ask for other documents as well, but if you don’t have the first one, you cannot make the rest. A lwayer is recommended unless you have a few years to spare…

After you have this permission, then you can put together all the documents for the civil registry. Birth Certificate (officially translated and apostilled in your case), permission from Secretaria de Gobernación, a payment, from MXN$2,000 if you get married in the registry, up to MXN$4,000 if the judge will marry you outside but in the same delegation of the city. Sometimes they won’t marry outside their delegation. Sometimes they ask for medical certificates, IDs of 2 witnesses for each partner, Mexican residents. You will have to go there and ask for the list of requisites.

Then you set the date of your civil ceremony!

The catholic mixed marriage needs to be approved by the “Arquidiócesis Primada de México” (Durango #90, Piso 2, Col. Roma). You will have to ask for an appointment to present your documents and have an interview.
The documents you will be asked to present are:

For your mexican girlfriend – Birth certificate, baptism certificate, confirmation certificate, proof of address document, ID, and 2 photos “credencial” size.

For a foreigner – Birth certificate, passport, proof certificate, and 2 photos “credencial” size.

Payment of $400 (you can ask for a receipt)

A letter saying that you want to get married and asking for the approval for the mixed marriage.

Then for the interview, each has to take 2 witnesses to testify that they know you – not necessarily the same witnesses you will have in your wedding. During the interview they are going to ask if you are willing to participate in a Catholic marriage even though you are not a Catholic. You will fill out some forms accepting this, and stating that your children will be raised as Catholics.

After the interview they will tell you when you can collect your letter approving the marriage, because this is a document that needs to be taken to the Church where the marriage will be performed. You will also need to attend some pre wedding lectures by a priest.

You will have to find a priest that is willing to do mixed marriages. Not all of them will, as it is a personal decision for them.

When you have the letter of approval from Arquidiócesis, you will have to take it to the Church together with a certificate or letter saying that you received the pre-wedding lectures, and other documents that the Church is going to ask for, like ID, and mostly the same as the Arquidiócesis asked for before.

Once all of this is completed and approved, then you can finally arrange the date of the wedding!


Saint Anthony Abbot

Catholics have a saint for every possible event in life, and the current favourite in our home is Saint Anthony Abbot, who’s patronage’s include animals. So prayers should be directed to him please for Bob the Turtle who isn’t much better today! Myself, being a heathen blasphemer, am relying more on the anti biotics we got at the vet’s today. It’s bloody hard work getting the little blighter to open his mouth and swallow a few drops though! Strong paws and a head that can retract or extend an inch a go….not easy work at all. Now if there was a saint for opening mouths, then maybe I’d get a bit more excited!


Semana Santa

It’s Easter, called Semana Santa in Mexico (and I guess the rest of the Spanish speaking Catholic world). Another crazy fiesta filled time of year. The City has emptied as much of the population heads to Acapulco, Cancun if they can afford it, or some other retreat from the smoke.

But those who are left have gathered with family, or are at church do’s. Which are particularly bizarre for this self confessed heathen. Grown men dress up as Roman soldiers and other characters from the crucifiction (firm believer here that ‘fiction’ is the key word for most bible stories!) and enact the whole scene for throngs of believers in the streets around the church.

The guy who plays Christ apparantly spends 6 months to a year preparing for this short play, absteining from sex and drink. First thought that came to my head on hearing this was ‘Jesus….’, but in a blasphemous exclamational sense, rather than as a noun.

Still, whatever makes people happy! I’m quite convinced though that if the world enters a nuclear apocolypse sometime soon, sending us back to our caves as civilisation starts again, then these people’s descendants could quite possibly, in another 2,000 years time, be still carrying out the scene from the ‘bible’ that has been patched together from whatever documents were left intact.

McVeighists will re-enact the ‘crucifiction on the guerney cross’ of dear old Timothy, who died so that we might live and be free of the Satanic Federalists. Across the other side of the world, Binladenists will become enraged at blasphemous cartoons showing Man of Peace Osama flying planes into buildings, and there will be weird cults such as the Bushism compound in Waco, whose believers pray to the mysterious god known only as Noocular….

Let’s not forget the Indian sub continent religion, where families gather to give thanks and praise Gandhi, the radioactive 9 legged giraffe.


A Heathen Amongst the Faithful

Mexico is a pretty devoutly Catholic country. They take their God stuff seriously, and making offense is the easiest way to get a beating in a city that’s already known for it’s violent side!

And sometimes it’s hard not to offend. At 7am when the church next door starts ringing it’s bells to call the faithfull to service, I mutter profanities. Sometimes quite loudly. Fortunately so far, never loudly enough. Well, I have a had a clout from the girlfriend, but that’s no life or death issue!

I myself rank the Catholic church alongside all other churches and religions/cults etc….Church of England, Judaism, Islam, David Koresh’s Wacko compound (Waco maybe? My mispell adds meaning though!), those Japanese guys who gassed the Tokyo tube. All the same to me.

I don’t mean that in a disrespectful way, and I’m not comparing these religions to each other or trying to relate one to the other in any way. I list them (and I could list more if I had time!) because they do all have ONE thing in common. They are irrelevant in my life. I have no faith based in any of them, and don’t feel their message is for me in any great sense. I appreciate their history, and as well as the many well publicised negatives and controversies surrounding most of them, they are by and large filled with decent believers who do plenty of nice things and who have freely chosen whichever particular religion they wish to follow.

But it’s not for me! I don’t pray nor wait for miracles. I contemplate and make choices. An easy way of thinking for an Englishman in England – it’s harder for natives of Mexico City to swallow though! That’s not to say they aren’t tolerant. But they do seem to find the idea just a bit crazy! I get questioned/interrogated on the subject regularly! My divertion ploy is to explain that Christianity isn’t a big deal in the UK, the churches are getting emptier every year and the real God we pray to these days is the manager of our chosen football team, whilst praying for goal scoring miracles during Saturday or Sunday services at the Church of Anfield/Old Trafford (add whatever church is relevant to you!). Bringing up football in Mexico is often an excellent method of changing the subject!

But here’s my real problem. I’ve been with my girlfriend over a year, marriage is being discussed. It started a long time ago – apparantly it doesn’t require any input from the heathen gringo during the early stages! And a nice wedding in a beautiful church in bohemian Coyoacan is the direction these discussions are going. But before any of this can be reality – I have to be baptised into the Catholic church.

Questions….if I go through with it, are her relatives going to be under the impression I am a wholly converted disciple of the Pope? Do they realise I’ll be doing it just for the wedding, and as we leave the church for our honeymoon I’ll be waving goodbye to a faith I had no faith in? Will I be able to keep a straight face during baptism, and avoid the inevitable urge to giggle at the madness of it all? Just as well it will be done in a language I don’t understand. Can I keep up the lie for the six month process? Should I?

Ah shucks, who cares?! They don’t entiendo me. I don’t entiendo them. No one will be any the wiser on either side of the religious line I guess!