March 30, 2017

Part 3: Five Skills Every Foreigner Should Master While Living in Mexico City


This is Part 3 of a 5 part series...

Part 1:  Interpersonal Communication Skills (see previous post here)
Part 2:  Risk Management (see previous post here)


#3 Minimizing Distractions
Here we highlight the critical skill of blocking out the cacophony that emanates from the local streets at all hours of the day. 

A quick side note before I dive head first into the importance of mastering this skill…part of what makes Mexico City special is not just the fact that there is ongoing local street commotion (as most big cities have their fair share of it) but the kind of commotion which is an integral part of the cultural drum beat that makes Mexico truly unique. The truth - it’s pretty great!  So this is by no means a complaint about the local sounds - simply a shout out to the skill needed to sometimes contend with these sounds that often start at, oh, 7 a.m. on Saturday mornings.  

I’m referring to the roving mobile street vendors which typically fall into three categories… 

1) The trucks that want to take unwanted old appliances and mattresses off your hands…
The first time I heard this sound drifting through the neighborhood I thought it was a small child looking for his mother.  So imagine a large truck roving the streets with several men hanging off the back with a megaphone blaring a recording of a small child in a sing-songy voice asking for “estufas (stoves), colchones (mattresses), etc.” It’s quite genius, really.  No need to cart your old items to Good Will - these guys will do the hauling for you!  



Coincidentally, I almost got decapitated walking down the sidewalk the other day when a woman tossed her old mattress over the side of her terrace, from 5 floors up.  Apparently no need to send a warning shot to pedestrians below. The most amazing thing - the same recording of this small child’s voice is used by the thousands of “Good Will” trucks in every neighborhood throughout Mexico City.  When you hear it - believe me, you know what it is.  I now give a quick glance up to dodge what might be tossed down on me from the apartments above. 


2) The Mexican version of the “ice cream man”…
Again, pure genius. So tamale vendors on bicycles ride up and down the streets blaring the same recording hawking “Tamales Oaxaquenos!” referring to tamales from Oaxaca - pronounced Wa-ha-ca.  (Side note - Oaxaca is about a 6 hour drive south of Mexico City and known for its culinary delights to the tune of grasshoppers, worms and ants…but more on that later!).  This urges people to run out of their homes to make a hot tamale purchase.  By the way, tamales are to die for - wrapped in banana leaves and filled with mole.  Ummm, heaven!




3) The sweet potato vendors...
Behold the camote.  So this guy works a rolling cart up and down the street of the neighborhood but in unique fashion, his presence is made known by the blowing sound of a pressure cooker, heated by a small fire.  Image a very, very loud, high pitched whistle sound that lasts for, ohhh, a good 10 seconds at a time.  I always think a freight train is pulling into our apartment.  The camote is more of a dessert - served hot with a heavy drizzling of condensed mile, cream and a side of berry marmalade. To die!


Stay tuned for Part 4...coming soon!


March 1, 2017

Mexico City Hosts the PGA Tour WGC Mexico Golf Championship


We interrupt our 5 part series to bring you this...


We are all a buzz with golf as The PGA Tour has arrived in Mexico City!  This week, the city is hosting the inaugural PGA Tour World Golf Championships, Mexico Championship event.  The top 50 players from around the world are here and vying for a slice of the $9.75 million purse.  There is no cut in this tournament which means every player is guaranteed a minimum of roughly $50,000. 




The event is being held at the Club de Golf Chapultepec.  If you’ve ever attended a professional golf tournament, or watched one on TV, you may have noticed how golf courses make a complete transformation to host these events on such a grand scale.  The planning, the logistics are all quite impressive - hospitality, volunteer and media tents, the fan zones, the apparel sales, the accommodation and transportation for the players, caddies and families.




The evolution of the 17th hole grandstands...

The volunteer requirement to pull off an event like this is massive - 1,200 are here at this Mexico tournament (all in green shirts).  Volunteers are needed as Marshalls (crowd and noise control aka the “Quiet Please”, or as we say in the south “Hush Ya’ll”, people), walking scorers, Laser SHOTLink (this tells the TV announcers how far a ball is lying from the green), standard bearers (walking scoreboards), player hydration and corporate hospitality. 

I am honored to be working directly with the players in the Club House as co-chairman of the Players Services Volunteer Team.  We have registered the players and provide concierge support throughout the week.  We also liaise with the caddie and player transportation chairmen.  


The Volunteer Chairmen...I'm guessing you can pick me out from the crowd

I’m cheering on Bobby Diaz, currently ranked 472nd in the world and the solo Mexican player in the field.  He eared an exemption to play one week ago, nudging out two other Mexican players vying for the coveted spot. 

Source:  www.pga.com.mx

It is a privilege to work so closely with the PGA Tour and with the best players from around the world.  This is a special opportunity for the game of golf to be elevated here in Mexico. So let the tournament begin! 


Tune in to watch on the Golf Channel throughout the week and on NBC Saturday and Sunday.



Stayed tuned next week as we return with Part 3 of our 5 Part Survival Skills Series!

February 22, 2017

Part 2: Five Skills Every Foreigner Should Master While Living in Mexico City


This is Part 2 of a 5 Part series...

#1 Interpersonal Communication Skills (see post below)

#2 Risk Management
Here we refer to honing your driving skills.  Well, actually, in Mexico City, my best advice related to driving is...don’t.  Just don’t.  It’s actually quite difficult to accurately communicate just how crazy the driving is here.  If you can imagine sands through an hour glass...and each grain of sand represents a car...and every car is hell bent on getting through that intersection before everyone else  - well then, I have transported you here. This is where driving rules are apparently overrated and the horn reigns almighty.  



What adds to this joy is the fact that, by some accounts, Mexico City is ranked #1 for the world's worst traffic.  Link

A favorite observation while driving in heavy traffic on a road with three lanes moving in the same direction, is when the vehicle in the furthest most right lane decides to floor it and make a left hand turn cutting off, and in front of, all other lanes.  This of course induces sheer panic and terror for all in the vicinity. What is most amazing...the locals hardly flinch at this type of offense. I, on the other hand, close my eyes and pray, scream, and/or contract whiplash from diving onto the floor of the vehicle.

I also enjoyed the time when my Uber driver missed a turn and rather than going around the block, threw the car in reverse and floored it past heavy oncoming traffic for about 3/4 of a mile.  As I exited the car I gave the driver a bit of side eye - he laughed, threw his hands up and said “Mexican drivers!!”  It’s fun to exit a car in a wave of nausea.  



My neighbor told me her Uber driver fell asleep today with the car moving while driving in heavy traffic.  I won’t share her exact sentiments but let’s just say she kindly woke him up and asked him to pull over to let her out at the next corner.

So managing risk is essential in Mexico City.  While in a moving vehicle, consider blindfolds and earplugs and be prepared to hold your breath the entire trip.



Complete hats off to the locals and to my foreign friends who drive here - you all deserve superhero status!


Stay tuned for Part 3...Minimizing Distractions!


February 15, 2017

Part 1: Five Skills Every Foreigner Should Master While Living in Mexico City


This is Part 1 of a 5 Part series...

If you have ever lived in a foreign country you know there are certain survival skills that will contribute to your overall health, well-being and sanity.  Here I present those that apply to Mexico City.

#1 Interpersonal Communication Skills  aka  Expressing Ideas
This is most commonly known as learning the local language.  Now I’ve already talked in recent posts about my limited linguistic depth related to speaking Español. I’m not sure I have the “language chip”, (taking a line from our good friend, David Telepak), although I strive to improve and continue to wrangle with it daily.

What is most important here is to cultivate your sense of humor and to rely on it often.  I’ve stopped counting the number of times I’ve tried to express myself in what I thought was Spanish - only to have a group of store employees burst out laughing then turn and walk away with shaking heads.  Thick skin is a requisite. 




It’s also important to know that some Spanish words have an undercover meaning.  Take for example, the word ahorita.  Ahora means "now", and ahorita means "right now".  But here in Mexico, what ahorita reeeeally means is:  maybe one day...but definitely not right now. 

For example, if a repairman says “I will fix the pipe explosion that is flooding your apartment ahorita”...expect to see him in a week to 10 days.

If you are without a smartphone or any sort of Internet translation device - the only fall back position is to charade it out.  One thing I know for sure, the game of charades is not a common entertainment pastime in Mexico.  

One day I was lost searching for a bowling alley to meet friends, without my phone.  Luckily I found a group of people nearby and stopped to ask for help.  I realized I didn’t know the words for “bowling alley” and therefore had no option but to charade it out.  And really, to properly represent the action of bowling a bowling ball, there is no choice but to act the whole thing out - the proper stance, the wind up, the back swing, taking the required 4 steps, the ball release in a crouching stance and then of course at the end, the massive hand and arm gestures with a "POOOOOOOOSH" sound effect that represents the ball striking and bowling pins flying. As I concluded with this theatric ten-pin portrayal, I looked with eager anticipation at my audience.  Aaaaaaand...nothing.  I got nothing.  The non-reaction.  Blank stares.  Nada. 

I mean, come on...I’d vote for the falling down laughing then turning and walking away reaction vs. the null set.  

Imagine trying to smoothly walk away with dignity from this scenario.  You can’t.  

Facepalm.


The elusive bowling alley, finally found, bruised ego in tact... And note:  Bowling was actually spelled in English!!


Stay tuned for Part 2...Managing Risk!

February 8, 2017

The Mexico Butterfly Migration - A truly magical experience


It took us roughly 11,900 steps uphill to find them.  The last 1,700 of these steps were made in silence as we honored the large sign that politely asked for "Silencio, por favor".  We didn't quite know what to expect but we were rife with anticipation and determined to find them.  At the top of the mountain, there they were...the Butterflies.



Each year millions of monarch butterflies (mariposas monarca) make a hefty trek, to the tune of about 2,500 miles, from Canada to the midlands of Mexico. How they find the same spot to huddle up each year from early November to mid March remains a mystery. 

So when we set out to see these winged beauties, I imagined a large open field or maybe an enormous cage-like sanctuary with butterflies filling the air.  What we found was much more interesting and extraordinary.   

For starters...this experience requires an uphill mountain ascent.  It took us a little more than an hour by foot, horseback is an option as well. Hundreds of people of all ages joined the expedition...some of the more courageous in high heels, I might add.

When we arrived at the nesting spot - nothing to see here!  We were surrounded by huge evergreen trees covered with drooping branches and dead leaves. Not a single winged creature in flight.  I finally turned to my friends and offered 10 pesos to the first person to spot a butterfly as we started to think this adventure was a bust.  A trail guide nearby witnessed this exchange and gave us the silent, "just be patient", gesture with her hands...and so we waited.  

But as we waited, we looked closer and realized these huge trees with weighted, bending branches were actually covered with colossal clusters of butterflies. In the cold, they nestled together, in their grey withered leaf disguise.



After 20 minutes, the sun came out, the butterflies warmed up...and the trees turned to beautiful monarch brown...



And then they took to flight...



We were fortunate to see these beautiful creatures take to the skies.  Many a butterfly-seeker have made the trek on a coldish day, only to see drooping branches of dead leaves.  


The Monarch Butterfly Dress by Luly Yang Couture  Source Link
(Stunning fashion, particularly The Monarch Look collection)

If you are considering exploring the Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve, or enjoying the blog, please share a question or comment below!


February 1, 2017

Running a 10K Through the Heart of Mexico City

Last summer Steve got the bug to run the Boston Marathon and asked if I had interest in joining him in August at a qualifying race in Santa Rosa, CA.  Of course I was interested and if he was going to run the Marathon - I would run the 1/2 Marathon in Santa Rosa the same day.  After all the great "at altitude" training we were doing - surely it would be a walk, or run, in the park on race day.  And so the training began...

I entered a 10k (6.1 mile) race half way through my training to find my "race legs" again - it had been 6 years since either of us had entered a race.  This race was held in the heart of Mexico City and started at the Angel of Independence - the iconic image of Mexico City and also ran past many of the city's historic treasures.  It was quite fantastic - I highly recommend!  With an early 6 a.m. start, I figured finishing a race by 7 a.m. would not be a bad start to a Saturday.  


The beautiful Angel at the start line...


Now I must come clean, the reeaaaal reason I entered the race was to get the t-shirt. Everyone who has run in any sort of race knows you typically get a commemorative race t-shirt the day before the race at packet pick-up along with your bib number and racing chip.  Let's be honest, these shirts can be very hit or miss from a design standpoint.  Some look as if they were designed in the dark and are down right ugly - my beige shirt with a hand drawn stick figure from the Sweetwater 5K comes to mind.  
But in Mexico City, race t-shirts are a piece of running gear to behold.  All are made with microfiber wicking technology in cool colors and great design - something you'd be proud to take home to your mother, and wear again and again.

Here's the rub...and it's a fairly sweet rub, at that. In the US, most racers subscribe to the notion that it's bad luck to wear the race t-shirt during the race.  If you're wearing the shirt and you fall and break an ankle and cannot finish - you technically  can't wear the shirt ever again, because you didn't officially finish the race.  And, well, it's just generally bad luck and often not a good idea to wear something brand new on race day. Side note:  if you have fallen victim to this fashion felony - carry on - I'm sure many reading this have proven this theory wrong. I happen to fall into the "don't jinx yourself" category as I need all the help I can get on race day.  

So here I am at the start line of the race and one of these things is not like the others. It's me...not wearing the darn shirt!  Mexicans clearly feel differently about the race day t-shirt wearing debate.




It's often comforting to make small talk with at least one person standing near you at the start line - it eases the tension and is a good way to pass the time while waiting for the start gun to go off.  So I struck up a conversation with a very nice Mexican young man standing next to me who quickly realized I was a native English speaker. He was overjoyed with this perfect opportunity to practice his English - and practice he did!  I was generally happy to oblige and so we chatted for a few minutes in very broken English and Spanish. All was good - I was learning a few new phrases in Español at 5:59 a.m.  The gun went off and I turned my focus to the personal record I was hoping to run.  But then I realized as we started to run - this guy was still interested in carrying on a full conversation...  "Where are you from?", "What brought you to Mexico City?", "Would you like a PowerBar?"...on and on.  I'm all up practicing my Spanish, and heaven knows I need it, but Dude!  We're racing!!!  I decided to quickly make my move, smiled and shouted a hearty "buena suerte!! then dove head first into the sea of orange...


Received a bonus t-shirt at the finish line!!


January 25, 2017

Lost in translation Mexico City style...

So I was asked today how my Español was coming along...after a year, it’s about as good as my Russian was while we were living in Moscow.  There I could say “no more vodka please” and used a sophisticated expression for what I thought was “have a good evening” only to realize after 2 years I was actually saying the childish equivalent of “nighty nighty, sleep tighty”.  I finally figured that one out the week before we moved from the motherland which explained the never ending side eye I received.

Today I was standing in line at the grocery store and heard a woman behind me launch into a quick-paced heated Spanish conversation.  Her voice was insistent and got louder and louder as she was relentlessly trying to get her point across.  I minded my own business, stared at the ground and tried to politely ignore the escalation behind me.  After a minute I finally turned around to see what was happening...only to realize she was simply trying to tell me her cashier aisle was open so I didn’t have to stand in the long line on aisle three.  The crowd behind was staring at the floor. My high school Spanish teacher is slowly shaking his head with tears in his eyes.  Lo siento Señor Mecina!

We all know Starbucks delivers a comical experience when it comes to writing names on cups.  “Ann” seems to be hard for Spanish speakers to say - so I usually say my name is “Anita” (little Ann or Annie).  This prompts deep rooted snickers and belly laughter every time.  I’m always up for a good laugh but I was starting to get a complex.  I finally asked a Mexican friend - que pasa?  She said “you are 5’9” and the fact that you call yourself ‘little Ann’ is hilarious to Mexicans - they are not buying it!”.  I now tell them my name is Gabriella Maria Sofia Francisca. The laughter has stopped.




Metro station identification is genius here.  Like most urban metropolises, Mexico City has a bustling metro subway system that was built in 1967 in preparation for the Olympics. To make it easy for visitors and because adult literacy rates were low at the time, picture icons were created to identify each stop, (side note:  50 years later, literacy has risen to just under 95 percent). 

This easy to read metro stop identification makes sense to me and is far better than, say, the Russian metro system where station names are at least 15 characters long - all consonants with a few Greek letters thrown in for good measure.  

You make the call...which seems easier to you?


Moscow Metro
  
Mexico Metro

January 18, 2017

Mexico City Street Tacos! Prepare to never be the same...



Steve and I both stopped in our tracks one day as we rounded the bend on our way to the gym.  We were engulfed in an intoxicating cloud of Mexican heaven.  We were on "street taco row"...glorious, glorious street taco row!  Found on many streets and street corners in Mexico City, this is where the honor system is king and there’s no such thing as one too many.


Some taco vendors sell their "comida" (food) straight out of the back of their cars so it’s no surprise to see people, many in suits, having breakfast and lunch tailgate style across the city, all starting at about 7 a.m.


Shopping cart style...

To come clean, on our first day of street taco discovery, we did not partake.  Let’s be honest, we’ve all heard of a man named Montezuma and his infamous revenge

So we inquired about the health risks of eating from street vendors and quickly learned not all taco stands are created equally.  "Choose wisely" was some of the best advice we have received.  So we benefited from the experience of other ex-pat friends who introduced us to what has to be one of the best street taco vendors in the city.  

So for our weekly pilgrimage, this is our absolute FAVE taco stand with Javier at the helm... 


 

The anatomy of a Mexico City taco stand...
  • Take a hot grill...fire up chorizo, res (beef), pollo (chicken), carne asada (grilled steak) and cerdo (pork) - usually done 3 different ways
  • Add brightly colored bowls filled with chilies, green and verde salsas, guacamole and always a bowl full of quartered limes to squeeze on everything, evvvverything...  
  • Pile all of this on a double stack of tortillas
                                  Provecho!


Payment is at the end of this culinary fiesta when you finally wave the white flag.
We always start with 2 tacos each...and end up eating, well, way more.  What are you supposed to do with indescribable melt-in-your-mouth tacos?  Uno mas, por favor!  And repeat.  



And now for the Throwdown:  

Authentic Mexican tacos vs. the American Tex-Mex style taco

To lay a little ground work - the authentic Mexican taco is quite different from the jumbo stuffed and loaded Tex-Mex tacos we all know and love in the states.  

Let's start with the foundation - the tortilla.  Tacos in Mexico City are almost always made with soft corn tortillas, roughly 5 inches wide (I’ve actually never seen a hard shell taco in Mexico, although tostadas, yes).  Next - the stuff inside - and here is where things fork (pun intended) drastically. Never will you find lettuce or tomato or grated cheddar cheese on a taco in Mexico, unless you slide it in when no one is looking. Authentic Mexican tacos follow the golden rule - less is more, purism rules. 

Here’s the beef:  take the meat, throw in a little cilantro, maybe some white onions and top it off with verde or red salsa or habanero salsa for those with a sincere death wish.  And don’t forget the lime.  

As much as I love Tex-Mex - this throwdown goes to Mexico!




January 11, 2017

Oh Hello Mexico!

There we were...sitting in our favorite cozy London haunt.  A big glass of wine was blocking out the cold and the rain that had been pounding the streets sideways all day. With complete satisfaction, we had just polished off a heaping plate of bangers and mash.  And then he said it...Mexico.

It hung in the air for just a minute - like a big piñata begging to be broken open.  I wasn't sure I had heard him correctly... "What was that you said?  I'm sure I heard you wrong, but I thought you just said Mexico...?"

Three months later we arrived in Mexico City for Steve's next assignment with, to be honest, an equal amount of excitement and trepidation.  We had just landed in one of the largest and most fascinating cities in the world.  And so the adventure began...






Can we all just agree that after our first overseas assignment in Moscow 6 years ago, perhaps this is a nod to warm temperature redemption?  The weather in Mexico City is quite glorious year round. There is a rainy season from Mayish to Octoberish when it's warm and sunny all day until about 6 p.m. and then it rains for 2 hours and then it's over.  Heavy winter coats and gloves are packed away, hopefully never to be seen or heard from again.  If interested in our Russian adventure:  Who Moved My Borscht?

The weather the week we arrived last December:













We quickly joined a gym to help us settle in to a new routine.  Now, Mexico City sits at an elevation of 7,382 feet.  For those keeping track at home, this is higher than mile-high Denver and about the same height as Machu Picchu.  Have you ever tried pounding out a treadmill workout at 7,382 feet? The sensation must be similar to running in quick sand with a sumo wrestler strapped to your chest.  The first time I hopped on the machine - I kept glancing at the incline reading thinking someone was punking me with a remote control, cranking the elevation up to full tilt.  Two minutes in...I could not breathe.  So my usual treadmill workout turned into a walk, run, walk, run for, oh, about 2 months.

The good news - I was in solid company...my athlete extradoinare husband was also wheezing and pacing himself until we acclimatized over time.  And then he started doing hill repeats outside and ran a marathon, but that's another story for another time...

¡Oh Hello Mexico!



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