#TBT A City Icon

Most cities have an architectural landmark that is appropriated as an icon. More often than not, it’s a tower of sorts or at least something that towers over the surrounding area. London has the Elizabeth Tower. Paris the Eiffel Tower. New York, the Empire State Building. And Mexico City has the Angel of Independence. A golden lady with a generous bust and Red Bull style wings over-looking the metropolis from a lofty perch. Her image is used on taxis, tourist literature and all sorts of Continue reading “#TBT A City Icon”

One CDMX Museum

A while ago I came across a Facebook post title, ‘If You Had To Choose One Museum In Mexico City, what would it be?’, with the basic premise that the visitor will be in the city for just three days. I never got around to putting in my suggestion, but I enjoyed reading other people’s recommendations. I’ve seen my fair share of Mexico City’s museums. In fact, there can’t be that many people who’ve been to more of the city’s museums than I. Continue reading “One CDMX Museum”

Four Years

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.

The Memory Bench

Different cultures deal with death in different ways. In Mexico, of course, there is a special day for the departed – Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead. But then Mexico has a special day for every type of person, living or dead. The English method is simpler. A short service, then back home for some triangle sandwiches and crisps and a few beers. Then back to work.

Although that’s the short story. Wherever you walk in Britain you’ll see an inviting bench, ready to take the weight off your feet. The longer you’ve been walking, the more inviting it is. Benches are every where. Town centres, woodlands, along paths, in gardens. Everywhere. And most of them will have a small rectangular metal plaque. Upon which is a dedication to a loved on. It’s a memorial and a seat. We are such a practical bunch, us Brits.

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I never met Bill. But what a great name. It was a fine view too. I always read the plaques. It’s funny to think that there’s a life long story behind each one of them. Many of them mention how the person used to love sitting there for hours. I sometimes can’t help but be grateful they’re gone, or they’d be sitting there still, leaving no place for me to rest my weary bones. I used to wonder how you go about getting a memorial on a bench. So I ‘googled’ it. It’s a council run thing, unsurprisingly. In Bournemouth you dial 01202 451781 an go for option 1.

I’d like a bench with a plaque in my memory one day. Preferably a day quite some time from now, if possible. Does Bournemouth Council allow a little wit or sarcasm on the plaques? I’m guessing ‘stabbed to death with a spoon here whilst admiring the view’ is probably out of the question, although it would be fun to spook a few people. Humourous plaques do exist though, as can be seen here, here and here.

Where should my bench be? Perhaps along Gloucester Road in London. Or across from the British Museum. Both great places to sit and people watch. But no, I think if I am going to sit anywhere for a long time, it should be in Mexico DF. Where the sun shines its warm rays on the city every day of the year. Near the Obregon monument would be nice. Or along Reforma, maybe? No, my preference would be Avenida Alvaro Obregon. My favourite street in the whole city.

I don’t need the plaque to say anything much. It could state how much I always liked a shapely Latina derrière. Lechery beyond the grave appeals to me. But it should certainly be in English, just to bewilder the locals. Gary Denness, 19.10.1972 – 20.10.2073. Lived past a hundred and still never saw England win a bloody World Cup. Such is life. The dates are by far the most important thing…

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The London Taxi

The London taxi, properly known as a Hackney Carriage, is the best in the world. Really. It has no rival. Is this news surprising? It is news. Not my opinion. From comments I’ve read around the world, it appears so. Which I found surprising. Unlike most taxis around the world, the Hackney Carriage is a purpose built vehicle. Unlike most cities around the world, the drivers know every nook and cranny of the city they serve. Their training course, the Knowledge, is thorough. The charges come from a regulated meter, and aren’t too outrageous. And the cars are comfortable.

I tip my invisible hat to ye, Hackney Carriage drivers of London. Never was a taxi so easy to get into and out of, nor swallow so many bags, nor sit so many people comfortably. It also looks fantastic. Along with soldiers wearing bearskin hats, red post and phone boxes, double decker buses and Big Ben, the Hackney Carriage is an instantly recognised London icon.

Where did Mexico come? Tied fifth, a great result. I don’t know whether to be surprised at this result or not. Taxis in Mexico City have the worst reputation ever! And yet, providing you’re not going too far (it’s a big city, and I’ve been in more than one taxi where the driver got lost on a south to north jaunt) then it’s cheap, cheerful and there’s a plentiful supply of taxis to choose from. You do need a choice though. Some times the ‘meter isn’t working’. Which is taxilingo for ‘it’s a gringo, he’s got the cash, why not milk him of as much of it as possible’. Which didn’t work on me. It shouldn’t work on anyone….just take the next damned taxi that will come along in about…oh, say about fifteen seconds?

Easter Getaway

More than half a million Brits are boarding flights this Easter. To anywhere but here. Spring has officially started, but the snow drifts burying half the country suggest that winter has decided to overstay her welcome this year. It is bleeding freezing. A few brave cherry trees are blossoming, but the flora remains in stubborn hibernation. I wish I were one of the six hundred thousand headed to the sun. Alas, I am not. I will have to make do with dreaming of the sun.

Anyone care to guess where in the world I’d rather like to be sunning myself? I’m offering no prizes. I have been consoling myself with a few videos  of my favourite city and country. I’ve posted loads of them over the years. The Bicentenario series by Televisa. The wonderful rendition of Cielito Lindo for the Banamex advert. The very slick advert by the Mexico City government. There’s lots of old reels available on YouTube too. Remember the 1940’s video in colour that did the rounds a few years back? There’s a couple of black and white ones too.  And one from the 1950’s too.

Or are you just after the hard facts? Perhaps this National Geographic video will be to your liking.  But I found the video I’ve embedded below the most interesting. It’s a BBC documentary, made in 1999. I’m sure that’s Taxquena in the opening few minutes. This is a period that put most residents of DF, at least those that can remember it, in fear of their city. I knew so many people who had horror stories of crime in Mexico City. Nine out of ten of them came from the mid to late 90’s.

When I first arrived in 2003, things were calmer, but still edgier than they are now. The doors of the Hostel Cathedral which almost abuts the Zocalo would have its doors shut not long after dark, and a security guard or two toting shotguns.  Those days are happily gone. The hostel has its doors open till late at night and you can walk three blocks from the Zocalo without getting robbed. Although, to be fair, there is still one direction you’re not best advised to stroll off in…

Axes and Exiles

Seventy two years ago today, a  young revolutionary-minded Spaniard strolled into an office in a Coyoacan home and plunged a ice axe into the head of an old revolutionary Russian. A day later, Leon Trotsky died as a result of the wounds inflicted by the pick axe. His home today remains largely as it looked on that summers day in 1940. The photo below is one I took in 2009 of his desk, where he sat when the the fatal blow was struck. Although these days, the people sneaking around the compound are tourists, rather than Soviet assassins. It’s one of my favourite museums in Mexico City, yet doesn’t get the footfall it deserves. they really need a decent multi-language website, perhaps.

Political fugitives still exist in the 21st century. The most famous, or infamous, of which would be Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. I’m not sure I approve of what he’s done. Although I certainly don’t entirely disapprove, either. But regardless, I support his fight against extradition on two grounds. Firstly, I would not trust the Swedes to not extradite him to the US – and I most definitely do not trust the United States to afford Assange either a fair trial or even civilised treatment.

Iraqi jails, Guantanamo Bay and the incarceration of Bradley Mannings have somewhat tarnished the reputation of the US judicial system. Further tarnished, I should say – any country still operating the death penalty is a bit backward in my opinion. China, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia….and the US. It’s not a good list to be in. Secondly, I do not like the way successive British governments have implemented and acted upon extradition treaties.

I am seriously disappointed in the way the British government has approached the impasse that has been created by the Ecuadoran government granting Assange political asylum. Threats to burst into the embassy and take Assange by force? That’s simply not on. It’s what you’d expect of a tinhat dictatorship. I really don’t believe it will happen. It won’t have much public support here. I hope it doesn’t happen – it’d be a national embarrassment and would reflect poorly on us as a member of the international community. I would hope it would be the death knell of our current government too. Perhaps the Liberals will grow a pair, pull out of the coalition and force a general election.

I’ve pretty much given up on the current government doing anything to help out the economy. As far as the average Joe is concerned, it’s just about watching the pennies and hoping the pounds will take care of themselves and not turn into Euros. I think most of us don’t fully appreciate exactly where all our money goes and just how much (or how little) expendable income we actually have.There are personal finance tools available, one of which I have been trying out. It is quite amazing how much money leaves my wallet on frivolous purchases. A proper money management tool really brings it home. It also makes it easier to see savings that can be made. There’s no need to wait until you are in the dire financial straits of the Greeks to start economising.

Here He Fell

The Metro Experience

A link to this was posted to my Facebook page the other day, with the promise that it would bring back memories. It sure did. I’m looking forward to my commutes when I return. I never tired of the metro. Although I did avoid the busiest parts of the line in rush hour whenever possible. Life gets crazy in rush hour.

The video was taken by a chap called Santiago Arau – you should check out his Vimeo page for a few more pretty cool Mexico videos. I do like Vimeo. I didn’t renew my subscription with them because I simply didn’t have the cash at the time. I’d sell them a nice bit of ad space on my blog – say, for about what it costs for a years sub to Vimeo! Out of interest, has anyone ever signed up for Vimeo, or gone and bought a Pro account on the basis of my blog? I know I did get a few enquiries…

Mexico Metro Project

I don’t often dedicate a whole blog post to pimping someone else’s blog. But I’ll make an exception today. I suspect it’ll have limited appeal – it’s a niche blog. It’s one guy’s project to document every metro station in Mexico City – the MCM Project.  I almost typed ‘in DF’ then, but of course certain parts of the Metro go beyond the Federal Districts borders. It’s in English and Spanish, by the by.

Anyone who’s read any of my older posts will know I loved the metro. I loved it because it was efficient. I loved it because it was cheap. I loved it for the separate world that seems to exist there. I loved it for the art and obscure wonders that can be found there if you look hard enough. Every journey was an adventure. It’s a truly wonderful system.

And, in case you’d forgotten or never known, I hold the world record for covering the entire network in the shortest time. Admittedly, as I’m the only person (as far as I’m aware) that has taken up this challenge, I only had to do it to claim the record. When the new line opens, I’ll have to do it again. It’s the rules.

But anyway, I digress. If you’re ready for a tour of Mexico City, station by station, then this is the blog for you. When he left a comment on my blog recently, I bet he had no idea that he’d bumped into such a kindred spirit. Nor that he’d bumped it someone who’d already done his entire project in little more than ten hours! But I never did document the system in half the depth he’s doing. I’m on his virtual carriage for the ride.

The Obvious Choice

Moving back to Mexico needs planning. Short term, I pretty much know what needs to happen and how things will go. Long term? I am, after all, planning to settle permanently. Do I want to teach English for the rest of my life? I could probably scrape by comfortably enough. But I’d like to embark on something slightly more challenging, and preferably a good deal more profitable. What to do?

I’ve had a number of ideas. But there is one that stands out. Open a tea shop. A Little English Tea Shop. There’s a lot to commend the idea. The average start up in Mexico lasts two years. Except those serving up food. They have an average life expectancy of eleven years. I like those numbers.

The idea of a Little English Tea Shop appeals for a number of other, more important, reasons. It’s something that can start off small, and something that can easily grow with success. Hell, I could start off with a market stall on Alvaro Obregon. It’s something that would have a unique twist on the average coffee shop. We’d have to sell coffee, of course. Hot chocolate too. But tea would be the selling point. English tea, herbal tea, every tea. We’d serve it in tea pots. And in winter, we’d clothe the tea pots with a tea cosy.

Scones too. Lots of scones. With jam and clotted cream. We could sell bags of scones to take away. Tubs of clotted cream too. And jars of real English jams. I’d serve up other sugary English desserts too. I make a mean Apple Crumble. And who can resist a Spotted Dick with custard? I’ve tried out my custard on students. They found it most agreeable. Mexicans do have a sweet tooth too. I had thought of cupcakes too, but it appears I’ve been beat to that market. But then again, I think English cupcakes might have added appeal.

They’ll take away bags of tea in decorative little packs as well. Hot chocolate too. Mexicans invented hot chocolate. The English turned it into a solid bar for eating. Then we made a drinkable version, and we do that pretty good. It’ll be a bit like selling sand back to the Saudis, but I’m game for a challenge. Besides, I’ll have a nice selection of out of date English magazines and newspapers with BBC Radio 2 playing softly in the background.

This would be just the beginning. We would be selling on Englishness. Our ceramics industry has gone from one that supplied the world, to a borderline cottage enterprise. But we still make great ceramics. We could sell dinner sets and plates of a multitude of designs. With commemorative issues for Beatrix Potter, Harry Potter, Harry Wales and the other royals who get wed or dead. It’s be pricey and exclusive stuff.

If it sells it’ll be profitable. Having seen the silly fortunes that the growing middle-class spend on inferior crap in Palacio and Liverpool, I am confident it is a viable proposition. I just need the location. Someone small but visible in Coyoacan or Colonia Roma would make a nice start. But I guess a space in a mall like Perisur would be where the money is at. But anyway. It’s something for me to ponder. The photo below looks great. I took it on Portabello Road in London. I could see it working well in a trendy part of DF though.

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Mexican Days

I love this video. The owner of this Vimeo account released another great video last year which went viral in the Mexpat community. This new one is just as good if you ask me.  And worth watching full screen. I wish I had the talent/ patience/ equipment to make a video like this. I miss Mexico City. A lot. If you’re tired of hearing me say that, then pity my work colleagues who get a daily earful of my pining. But I will be back. And even if you have little interest in Mexico City, the videos are both worth watching, for their creative attributes alone.

Coming to Mexico

I get asked about living in Mexico now and again. It’s nice to know that, despite all the bad press, the country has been receiving, some people still have a big enough sense of adventure to see the appeal in moving to the Distrito Federal. It’s an adventure I couldn’t recommend highly enough. The latest enquiry asked the right sort of questions. The sort of answers you’d get from people familiar with Mexico City will differ according to experience. But here are mine..

Ready, Steady, Gone

I’m planning to go in mid-September, fly to Cancun and find work in DF. How likely am I to find something well-paying this time of year? I’m CELTA qualified with around 3 years experience.

It depends what sort of work you’re looking for. I think most schools usually have their positions filled by end of August. But you might well be able to pick something up. Teaching Business English is pretty easy to get into though, and is my personal preference. It’s something you can get into at any time of year. I suggest checking out Dave’s ESL Cafe and chatting to some people in there. Network with expats in the city when you arrive. There are often ‘Teacher Get Togethers’. Hand out flyers outside international companies to staff on their way in to work. Once you’ve got your first few classes, more tend to come along through word of mouth pretty quickly. You can also get hours, albeit at low pay, from language schools. It’s all good practise will you find something better. And you’re plenty qualified enough…

Is the country as dangerous as Western media makes out? I have reservations about simple things like taking my laptop due to the scaremongering of the British press and the stereotype that Mexico has cast upon my family – none of who understand why the hell I have to do this.

The western media should be sued by Mexico for libel! Although the really negative reports are mostly from northern areas of the country, not Mexico City, the media have been tending to portray the entire country as being in a state of virtual war. Of course DF has crime. All big cities do. But it’s really perfectly safe. I always felt safer there than I do in the UK. I took my laptop and had no problem, although I did have a home to go to. I also used to wander all over the city with nice cameras and my iPod touch without any problem.

What is a good amount to take out there? I expect to have around 4K in savings to fall back on should work be hard to find/organise. How long can I expect that to last?

Four thousand pounds is a lot. That’s about 80,000 pesos. I could survive comfortably, although not extravagantly, on 10,000 pesos a month. 15,000 is very comfortable. This includes rent, food, bills and beer money. I am assuming you’ll be looking to get a room in a shared apartment to start with. But even a nice departamento can be had for less than 5,000 pesos a month. Again, get chatting to people who are in Mexico. There’s often someone who knows someone who’s looking for someone for some place.

What drew you (and away from) Mexico? Did you manage to really hone your Spanish?

My turning up in Mexico was, originally, really random. I was fed up with my job in the UK and looking for a cheap place to take a TEFL course, and a link to a school in Mexico turned up in the Google results. I knew next to nothing about Mexico. A quick bit of research suggested it’d be a interesting experience. And seeing as I’d always turned left out of Heathrow on previous trips abroad, I thought I’d take a right turn for a change. I booked the course and the plane ticket. That was in 2003, and although I didn’t ever get around to taking the course and ended up back in the UK, I had the Mexico bug.
What made me come back to the UK?  I really can’t remember. I must have been mad. All I know is, I will be going back. Not this year. Maybe next year. If not, then surely the year after. And it will be for keeps. My bones will be buried in Mexican soil, and I won’t in all honesty be that upset if I never set foot on English soil again. I’m currently working on getting my Spanish up to scratch for the citizenship test. This really tells you all you need to know. Your folks might think you’re mad for going. I’ll think you’re a bit mad if you ever come back….

Mexico City’s Hidden Treasures

I used to add places I visited, photographed and blogged about to a Bing Map. I got bored today and selected 20 of those places for a new map….places that are slightly off the beaten track, hidden from view, or that are otherwise often overlooked by the average tourist. Summoning up the full extent of my capacity for witty and imaginitive titles, I called this map Mexico City Hidden Treasures.

If you’re in DF and have exhausted the traditional sights and sounds and are on the look out for something different, then this map might be up your street. You can click through each item on the map to my blog post, and from there to any photos I may have taken.

 

Mexico Monday #5

This week’s random blast from the past comes from May 16th 2009

A Mexico City magazine has a competition going for the city’s photographers. All of them….no professional qualifications required. The basic premise of the competition is simple. On the 29th May, go out and take photos of the city. They are looking for 24 photos, one for each hour of the day. So there will be 24 winners, with one lucky photographer getting their pic on the front cover and a prize of 3,000 pesos, whilst the other 23 get a free copy of the magazine with their name credited to their shot.

I’m not sure whether I ever probably reported the result. I probably did. I was one of the lucky chosen 24 winners. My snap got into the magazine, a free copy of which I was allowed to collect. I never got round to picking it up though, sadly. However, my more recent (and considerably more profitable) entry into a magazine did find its way into my possesion. A company sourcing images for Volaris’ inflight magazine stumped up nearly $200 for two of my photos of the Nevado de Toluca and sent me a complimentary copy to boot. Which was very nice of them.

The Gang

Had you thought you’d seen the last of them here on my little virtual corner of the world? Well, there’s more to come. My ten turtles all found new homes. Angus, Rosita, Mr Patel, Angel, Homer and Florecita were all adopted by one of Paola’s friends. They’re having a fine time, apparently.

Bob, Baby, Itchy and Scratchy were adopted by one of my friends, in the north of the city. I get regular photo updates from that bunch. They seem to be as happy as they ever were. Generally speaking, providing they have water to swim in, sun to bathe in and food to indulge in, they are happy.