Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Broken hearts, broken bones and lots and lots of SEXY!

It's been a year of firsts. 

My first divorce, first operation, and first broken bone. In May, my husband of over twelve years and I divorced. Then in mid-October, I broke my foot. In between these firsts, some other, more interesting and dramatic firsts took place in my life.

Perhaps one day, I will turn all my juicy, racy, sexy stories about a reformed housewife, turned single mother, making her way in one of the most notorious narco-states in modern day Mexico, into a New York Times bestseller, but in the meantime, I need a break. 

And since 2014 was so full of plots twists and turns, I need to take a rest, and that includes this blog.

I'll still be writing, at El Silabario and Expat Island, but for now, I won't be publishing anymore to Life in My Mexico. Feel free to dash off an email to me, if the thought of no longer reading posts to this blog upsets you greatly. My email is dushka.rinasz@gmail.com

And believe me, my most heartfelt wish for you and yours: 2014 was a real bitch, here's to 2015 being f-ing awesome!

Love and peace-
La Güare (aka Alma)

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Getting the Most out of Morelia's Film Fest

With each passing year, El Festival Internacional de Morelia (FICM) grows in reputation and Twitter followers.  Here are some insider tips to get the most out of Morelia’s Film Fest (October 17th to the 26th).

Tickets, tickets, tickets
There are several ways to get tickets, directly online at Morelia's Film Fest's official site,  Cinepolis Centro or Plaza Las Americas.  You can buy a cinebono: 4 tickets for $140MXN at Centro and Las Americas but you still have to exchange each ticket for a ticket to the particular film you want to see.  There are also free screenings, the first slated on the program is Roberto Galvadon's 1947 La Diosa Arrodillada in Plaza Benito Juarez. Events programmed in Patzcuaro, a real gem in Michoacan's repertoire of colonial towns, also appear on the festival's official website.
Cinepolis Centro FICM 2013

"The Most"
Time to spare before the film starts? Want to run casually into or rub elbows with actors, directors, producers, glitterati inc. who are also at FICM? Make sure you hangout downtown, past party venues have included La Casa Grande, defunct restaurant La Conspiracion, and Palacio de Gobierno, where this year's inaugural party is most likely to take place. 

Past party sites and celebrity sightings include local hot spots like Tata Mezcaleria (rumors have that Tata has already been reserved for several production parties), El Abrevadero, SAK and La Monina (usefully located across the street from Cinepolis Centro), El Jardin de las Rosas, Los Portales where you can find one of Morelia's most talked about restaurants, Lu, located in Hotel Casino. 

Last year I ran into Alfonso Cuaron at Casa Grande. Visit its sister business, Trico, a delicatessen/restaurant,  for coffee, desert, tasty food or a drink at the sidewalk cafe
El Abrevadero (watering trough) is where you can find several of Morelia's bars, cantinas, eateries and night clubs

However,  the best answer I've heard so far as to how to get the most out of FICM came from a local resident and former FICM collaborator (who shall remain anonymous).  How can you get the most out of Morelia's Film Fest? "See all the films you can.

Which film did you enjoy seeing the most? Who did you run into at FICM? Share your comments here below.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Veronica Loaiza: In the Face of Corruption

Quirky, passionate, controversial.  Three words I would use, without hesitation, to describe Veronica Loaiza.  We met several years ago at an art show she was organizing.   Since then I’ve come to know her as an artist and an active member in our community.  Recently, she’s been caught up in a media scandal after Veronica denounced two politicians for misdoings.  She has since moved away from Morelia as a result of threats she says she’s received.  Last month I had the chance to interview her and ask for her side of the story.  For more information, click on the links in the interview (most of the links are in Spanish).

Veronica Loaiza
It’s a sunny Friday morning when Veronica Loaiza answers my Skype call.  Veronica has had a rough couple of months.  She’s in the middle of a media scandal after blowing the whistle on two politicians, Congressman Ernesto Nuñez, and Mayor Juan Carlos Campos.  She’s openly denounced both elected officials for acts of collusion and fraud after working with them for several months planning a cultural festival for the small Northeastern town of Zitacuaro. “Everything turned out different than the way we had planned it,” she begins, “because of the situation of corruption that exists in Mexico.  And as it turns out, as in my case, those of us who decide to execrate acts of corruption end up suffering a backlash from those in power.”

Loaiza left Morelia; she explains “I’m fearful for my safety.  Those concerned with my safety have told me that Juan Carlos Campos has taken drastic measures against those who have spoken about his acts of corruption.”  She continues, “maybe I should have looked into what kind of people I was dealing with before working with them, maybe I should have asked more questions…” her voice trails off.  “There are people in Zitacuaro who have gotten in touch with me to tell me that they are really upset about this situation, that the Mayor is a criminal…”  In an open letter to the people in Zitacuaro, Loaiza states “this situation where federal funds [are being misused] is regrettable, we could have had an entire arts festival for the whole community, and now everything is unsure.”

Veronica Loiaza, Archictect, Artist, Promotor

Veronica Loaiza
Art therapy with Veronica Loaiza
Even before graduating from Michoacan State University in 2003 with a degree in architecture, Loaiza was involved with the arts.  As a young child, she studied painting, often tagging along with her mother to classes with Alfredo Zalce. After entering college, she started organizing art shows. “I’ve been networking for years, trying to get these types of cultural events together.  I’ve worked with Veronica Bernal with Music Festival, Andrea Finck in the Marinette Festival, Marco Antonio Zavala at AMANC (where she is currently overseeing art therapy  project for children with cancer), The Children’s Hospital, as well as teaching at the School of Architecture at the state university.”  Veronica is passionate about art; it shows through her work, which of late has been with her not for profit Contenedor de Arte.

Art, Performance and  Facebook: 
El Licenciado Julian Velazquez y su amada, Carmelita

Loaiza's creation Julian Velazquez, brought to life on Facebook pagesAlmost as an allusion to Veronica’s professional life working with influential politicians, “As a child, my mother would buy Vanidades. At the back was Corin Tellado’s section, basically a novela, where she would write about different romantic situations involving women.”  Loaiza explains “one day I was in a bar with a friend and across from us, a couple, a man, and a woman, were sitting together.  It was clear from their body language that they were in some kind of romantic relationship.  The man, in his mid-fifties, was wearing a suit and tie, he looked like the typical politician or public servant, while the woman, about twenty years his junior,  could have been his assistant.
My friend and I began a dialogue based on the impression we had of these two people; we named the man Licenciado Julian Velazquez and the woman, Carmelita. Their relationship was based on the fact that Julian Velazquez, who is married with children, can and does use his position of power to help Carmelita advance in her career.  Carmelita has the material wealth that she has thanks to her romantic involvement with Julian Velazquez and does not mind that he is married with children.  After that, I began posting things on Facebook about Licenciado Julian Velazaquez as if I were Carmelita.  These types of situations are so common that they are cliché.  People began reacting to my posts, either taking it as a joke, judging me, or asking if it was true.”  Loaiza explains that any resemblance to reality is mere coincidence “it touched a nerve in some people, they see themselves reflected in what I was posting.  It’s been funny and interesting how people have reacted to this story; people have even asked me how my relationship with Licenciado Julian is going.  I am not interested in having a romantic relationship with a man the same age as my father.  There are plenty of women who are, which is their personal decision, I’m not trying to make a moral statement, and this is just societal reality.”
Veronica Loaiza

Loaiza’s art performance on Facebook took on a new level when “it got to the point [where] people would go up to my parents and say I was in a romantic relationship with Ernest Nuñez based on these posts.  That was a way to cast doubt on my moral integrity, which has nothing to do with the fact that these politicians want to keep four and a half million pesos for themselves.”  Loaiza continues to explain that “it turns out that after the fact, they presented the plan for the arts festival to CONACULTA.  Which ended up auditing the project and it turns out that they (the Congressman and the Mayor) had inflated costs about 60%.”  What will come of all this? Not much for now, since most elected officials in Mexico have what is known as fuero:  immunity from any criminal proceedings. 

Art as an act of protest

“My past work has focused on cultural and societal critiques, and since this has happened, I will focus my work on art as an act of protest against corruption and violence.”  Loaiza is not the first artist to protest violence and corruption in Mexico, and she most likely won’t be the last.  What are her hopes for Michoacan?  It’s difficult for her to come up with something positive, she’s been through too much in the past few weeks to feel upbeat.  But she adds “Morelia, Michoacan for that matter, is full of hardworking, honest people.  Many of them are sick of this institutionalized corruption.  It is up to us to change it, but I am not sure how.  It is going to take a long time, generations even, for all of us to stop normalizing corruption.”  “But do you think it is possible?” I ask her.  “Sure, it is possible” she sighs, “it is just a matter of us, those of us honest, dedicated people, to want to do it.”

She's right, corruption didn’t happen overnight, but it is on each one of us to, as the saying goes, to stamp it out from our trinchera (trenches). Veronica Loaiza has done just that.  She spoke up, spoke out and told her truth about a situation that is all too common, all too frequent.  It is up to the rest of us to continue the conversation, to ask ourselves on a daily basis “what can I do today to make my community a better place to live?” That is how we can change things that we don’t want, like corruption in our communities. Which leads me to the moral of Veronica Loaiza's story as she has faced corruption: Real change starts from within. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hang from a Cliff in Atécuaro

Rappelling in Atecuaro
Michoacan, the soul of Mexico. Diverse, beautiful, breathtaking. This central Mexican state is full of hidden gems.  One such place is Atécuaro, Michoacan.  About thirty minutes outside of the colonial capital, Morelia, a visit to Atécuaro is a great day trip.  You’ll find a small town that holds a large festival at the beginning of August for its patron saint The Divine Savior, as well La Peña de Atécuaro, a cliff that overlooks the town and the valley. To get to La Peña, you must climb and hike up a steep path through an old growth forest for about an hour.  Anchors in the cliff face are used for rappelling by eco-tourism groups and aficionados.

Atecuaro's countryside
Atecuaro, Michoacan
Trout farm in Atecuaro
Atécuaro is also peppered with small, artisanal mezcal factories, frog and trout farms.  Visitors can sip on local batches of the agave beverage while frog legs or trout is prepared fresh. La Casa de La Trucha is one of the local trout farms with an on-site restaurant.  Owner and operator, Felipe Arreola explains to the sound of flowing, gurgling water “our trout comes from another farm in Villa Madero. We raise it here in natural ponds, where we sell it once they are about six months old. The secret to healthy trout is that there is clean, flowing water.”  With all the water, greenery and peacefulness, it is virtually impossible not to feel relaxed at La Casa de la Trucha (consuming mezcal will of course also help).
Religious procession in Atecuaro

To visit Atécuaro, you can drive, take a bus, taxi or hire an eco-tourist guide.  For more information on visiting Atécuaro, visit Morelia’s municipal tourism website at http://venamorelia.com.mx/atecuaro/

Monday, July 28, 2014

Yoga Behind Bars

Yadira teaching at one of Morelia's jails
Photo Credit: Orlan Tal for Silabario.com.mx
It seems like everywhere you turn there is news in the media about violence in Mexico.  And you´d be hard-pressed to come up with a better stereotype for a violent setting than a prison. Yet, a Mexican prison is exactly where you'll  find a small group of peaceful warriors, bringing a message of hope and transformation to some of the most dangerous criminals in the country.  Ann Moxey’s foundation, Parinaama Yoga, which focuses on bringing yoga to prisons, has reached Michoacán.  Six hours a week, Yadira Martinez, affectionately called Yaya by her students, teaches yoga in Morelia’s Francisco J. Mujica’s Penitentiary.  She explains “there is a duality that we all possess. A light and a shadow.  [I can] show my students that there is another side to life, there is internal nobility in everyone, even a murderer.”  

The term hardened criminal takes on new meaning with ahimsa, nonviolence and Yaya’s philosophy of transformation. “I show them that they can open up, they can break that shell, that husk they have formed [around themselves] and that place in their heart, where their nobility resides…they can use that to have another opportunity at life.”

Yaya began working with juvenile inmates over two years ago.  Focusing on prisoners with addictions, for the past ten months, she has been working with adult students as well.  Recalling her very first class with 25 juvenile inmates, she smiles.  “I was nervous. I realized that I had to divide them up into two groups and that the guards couldn’t be present in class. No guards in class was a sign of trust for them [the inmates]. It showed them that I trusted them.” A lot of what Yaya does is re-education of people who have lived through life experiences where violence, substance abuse, and neglect were more common than rare.  “My students learn that they can soften their faces, their breath (deep breathing) and that can make them more aware and reduce their anxiety.”  The hope is that the inmates hold onto these teachings so that the quality of life in the penitentiary improves as well as their lives when they are released.  “I support them with the literature on yoga postures and spirituality” Yaya explains, “so they can learn and teach themselves.”  And as the saying goes, a lesson well learned is hard to forget. 

If you would like more information on how you can help through donating yoga mats, please email yayamro@hotmail.com 

For more information on how you can help the Parinaama Foundation visit http://annmoxey.blogs.com 

For a Spanish version of this story, please visit www.silabario.com.mx

Special thanks to Director Lic. Sergio Bustamente Hernandez and the head of the technical area in the penitentiary, Capitan Jose Manuel Rodriguez Rivera.

Monday, July 7, 2014

And the Winners Are.....

Thanks to everyone who participated in the Lexikeet.com promotion for three free months of online language learning! The winners have been notified via email and they are:

Monica Barcena
Carolina Martinez
Lenée A.Voss

You'll be hearing about their experience soon and in the mean time, check out Lexikeet.com for your own free membership and begin learning a new language today!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Hurry! Time Is Almost Up...

Time is almost up to win one of the three 3 month memberships on Lexikeet.com! This giveaway ends June 30th, 2014.

Check out the original post here to learn more about Lexikeet.com or read bellow for the terms of the give away:

For the next month, in collaboration with Lexikeet, lifeinmymexico.blogspot.com will be giving away three premium memberships. To enter your name in the giveaway, you must:

  • subscribe to this blog by entering your email in the subscribe box in the above right hand corner
  • follow me and Lexikeet on Twitter, make sure to use the hashtag #lifeinmymexico 
  • like Lexikeet on Facebook.

Once you've done these three things, send me an email dushka.rinasz@gmail.com with your name, Twitter handlebar and Facebook name. So what are you waiting for? Sign up for your chance towin one of the three 3-month premium account(a $45.00 USD value) today and NEVER say ¿que? again!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Going Back to New York

burger ROC NY
Local burger joint Irondequoit, NY
One muggy August afternoon in 2001, I packed a suitcase, told my parents I’d be back in two weeks from visiting Mexico and never returned. On June 5th 2014, I returned to Rochester, NY for the first time in more than a decade. I spent some days in my hometown, catching up with old friends and family and then Ithaca, NY, and New York City.

It's not a zoo, but the best
supermarket in the world
Rochester, NY
A great outing for early morning, the Seneca Park Zoo is full of interactive installations that are meant to inform and educate. There is an otter presentation that puts emphasis on conservation and cleaning up the environment.

Eastman House ROC NY
Hangin' with George
Preserving the history of one of Rochester’s most famed millionaires, The George Eastman House is a walk through a time when moguls were only millionaires (because now they are billionaires) and went on safaris to Africa (wait, that is still a thing...). I have always liked the Eastman house and gardens; I always wonder what it must have been like to live with so much material wealth after his mother struggled to support him and his siblings, even if Eastman's mom was unimpressed by her son's fortune. 

A traditional English pub in downtown Rochester, I watched the opening World Cup game at The Old Toad. The bartender spoke with a British accent; she was either really good at faking it or they take the authentic part really serious and outsource to the UK.

Ithaca, NY
Taughannock Falls
Taughannock Falls NY
The clever slogan “Ithaca is Gorges” is no exaggeration. Ithaca is in the heart of the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The natural beauty is worth the trip. If you are in Ithaca, make a point of visiting, at least, one of the falls, you won’t regret it.
Ithaca is a small town, housing two major universities, it is full of shops, cafes, bars, restaurants, and activities. Our stay was short, but The Moosewood Restaurant was the perfect place to reunite with my madrina, Marina, her son and my mother. My mom raised us with Moosewood recipes. She’d introduce us to exotic foods from her worn copy of Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook. Over green enchiladas (I had to get something spicy!), locally
The Moosewood
brewed Chocolate beer (Marina and I split), salads and creamed potato soup, my mother explained she bought Mollie Katzen’s book in Rochester at a book signing when I was a small child. Ironically enough, she did not get the book signed, but we still use that recipe book to this day.
On my shopping list was to track down a record. “A record?” my dear chosen aunt/madrina asked me. “Yes, a record.” In the basement of Autumn Leaf Used Books, I found exactly what I was looking for: Angry Mom Records. I got the vinyl, I got stickers, I got happy.
Our reunion continued with Marina’s daughter, my dear friend Leslie. She works in Ithaca and knew where to take us for dinner. At Just a Taste we had freshly made tapas as we waited. I was surprised how quickly we filled up on tapas; it looked like a little bit of food but combined with the local ‘flight’ of wine (a sample of locally produced wines), we were laughing and reminiscing with full bellies in no time.

Brooklyn aka NYC
Museum of Natural History

Home to my fantastically fierce and creative cousin, SabinaIbarrola, Brooklyn did not disappoint. We had lunch (lamb with chicken) in Central Park and visited the American Museum of Natural History. I had a restful nap in the planetarium induced by the dulcet tones of Neil DeGrasse-Tyson’snarration of how the universe is expanding. And on Saturday night, I got to know some of the performers from internationally renowned Heels on Wheels.

The trip was short (10 days) but well worth it. Rochester hasn't changed that much: the weather still sucks, and the people are warm and kind. Although I must admit, the best part of my trip was hearing my children say “¡bienvenida a casa mami! Welcome home. 

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Read This Post And You'll Never Say "¿Que?" Again

Make sure you read this entire post for the chance to enter to win three months of free language instruction.

Over the years I have lived in Mexico, expat friends have enlisted my help due to trouble communicating in Spanish. As a language teacher and learner, I know how challenging learning a new language can be. The need to speak Spanish is a reality. Thousands of US retirees and non-Spanish speakers from around the world continue to move to Mexico every year; about a million US citizens call Mexico home. They all have different reasons for moving, but one thing is certain; speaking the language of the country where you live should take top priority.

Online Learning with Lexikeet

There are a lot of options for language learning, but online learning is the most flexible and attractive for several reasons; you can study anytime, anywhere, it lets you work at your own pace. Third, it is affordable.  I've found that like most expats, being in a classroom learning a language can often conflict with experiencing life;  if you don't interact with non-English speakers, you aren't taking advantage of your situation. And if you haven't made the move yet, online language learning allows you to learn in a structured manner, while preparing for your visit, extended stay or relocation.

Lexikeet is an extremely useful tool for learning a new language.  You can select how much time you want to study online, from as little as 15 minutes a day to over an hour.  Plus there are interactive exercises and games. Lexikeet offers Spanish, Japanese and Chinese (as well as English as a Second Language) and allows the students to decide how they want to learn.  The website has a clean, user-friendly format where you can select your learning style. Students will find a selection of different learning objectives, styles, and goals to choose from making Lexikeet a flexible alternative, going from personal to business, leisure travel, academic and power learner.  The user decides on the study time and Lexi, the parakeet avatar, is there to assist. Whichever your learning objectives, Lexikeet makes it easy for you to reach them and so you can, communicate more effectively.

Learn Spanish basics and more with Lexikeet
For the next month, in collaboration with Lexikeet, lifeinmymexico.blogspot.com will be giving away three premium memberships. To enter your name in the giveaway, you must:

  • Subscribe to this blog by entering your email in the subscribe box in the above right-hand corner
  • Follow Lexikeet (and me) on Twitter, make sure to use the hashtag #lifeinmymexico 
  • Like Lexikeet on Facebook.

Once you've done these three things, send me an email dushka.rinasz@gmail.com with your name, Twitter handlebar, and Facebook name. So what are you waiting for? Sign up for your chance to win one of the three 3-month premium account (a $45.00 USD value) today and NEVER say ¿que? again!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Cristina Potters is Mexico Cooks!

For the first time in 2010 Morelia en Boca started showcasing Mexico’s gastronomic culture in Michoacán’s colonial capital.  Once a year traditional cooking methods, along with new trends in the culinary world are brought together in what has become one of the most significant gastronomic events in the country. Cristina Potters is among those to have been present since the beginning. Her close relationship with several of the event organizers gives Potters, whose website Mexico Cooks is praised by Lonely PlanetTravel Age West, and Mexico Premiere, an intimate view of this year’s event.  She confesses she couldn’t miss this year because “of the homage being paid to my good friend (restaurateur of Mexico City’s El Bajio) Carmen “Titita” Ramirez. I am also looking forward to learning about new products from Michoacán, seeing friends and exploring more about cuisines of Mexico and Michoacán from chefs and other producers.” After more than thirty years living in and traveling through Mexico, you’d think that Potters would have found her full, but the gray-haired, blue-eyed foodie is passionate about talking and partaking in gastronomic culture.

Photo Source: Taste of Tequila
Cristina’s first encounter with Mexican cooking was in the convent where she was living when she first arrived in Mexico. Volunteering in the overcrowded Tijuana jail, handing out food to the inmates, it was Mexico in the 80s. “I was studying a postgraduate degree in psychology and theology in the Northwest of the United States, volunteering with a group of people who were working with mentally ill addicts who were homeless. The Bishop of Tijuana got in touch with us. One of the other volunteers, a nun, had a close relationship with Mother Theresa and the Bishop had the hopes that Mother Theresa’s order could help with a very similar situation in Tijuana.” 

As it turned out, Cristina and some of the other volunteers ended up in Tijuana later that year.  That was Cristina’s very first contact with Mexico and Spanish. “I felt like a fish that had been caught and then thrown back into the water. It was bizarre. I loved it!” Her love for Mexico was marked by a disciplined dedication to learning the language. “I would wake up an hour earlier than everyone else and study Spanish. I had an old grammar book that I would use and a Spanish dictionary that I would read. I would memorize five new words a day and make a point of using them in conversation.” Her devotion to learning came turned out to be one of her best investments. She remained in Mexico and even became a Mexican citizen about a decade ago.

Food has been the common thread throughout Cristina’s life in her adopted land. “The first person I came close to in Tijuana was a man who had been in jail for four months.” The inmate, Sergio, was a coyote. “I was handing out food to the prisoners when this hand came out and grabbed my arm. ´Sister, do you speak English? Can you help me?´” After helping Sergio get back in touch with his family in California, Cristina received a Christmas card for years. “It was moving to be able to make an impact on a person’s life like that.” Two and half years later, Cristina’s culinary journey through Mexico continued with a trip to the heart of the country.  Traveling from Tijuana to Michoacán with a nun friend, Cristina found herself 10,000 feet above sea level in a very humble home in rural Tancitaro, Michoacán.  Her month long trip sparked in her a fervor for Michoacán and its food.  “We would eat fresh milk that we’d buy straight from the farmer who’d measure out the milk directly into the pot.  We’d have a piece of pan dulce for breakfast, maybe a piece of fruit. The tortillas were made by hand every day.”

Back in the convent in Tijuana, Cristina learned all she could about cooking Mexican food.  “I didn’t know anything about Mexican food. I knew about cooking, but I didn’t know the first things about how to make a green sauce.”

Cristina affirms that her two main passions in life are food and politics and though she insists the former is “neutral” while the latter is left leaning, her thoughts on GMOs seem to go the same way as her politics. “GMOs mess up the regional cuisines.  Those Monsanto crops, the corn, can cross-pollenate with the native criollo corn. The problem is that the GMO corn is infertile. The seeds are saved from one year to the next, and if the seeds are not fertile, the criollo corn will die off.  Plus, you can’t make a Oaxacan dish with corn from Michoacán. These corns are specific to their region. Those three color tortillas are not gonna happen if the criollo corn disappears!” Her passion for food and politics merge, and Cristina Potters´s love for Mexico is as clear as mezcal joven. Her love for learning translates easily into a love for education and sharing knowledge.  She asks me if I know how to pick out Chinese chile de arbol.  “Chinese chile de arbol?” I am incredulous.  She nods and explains. “If there is no stem, or seeds and it is flat, you can be sure those chiles are Chinese.  They pick off the stems, so there is no excess weight and the same with the seeds. They are flat because they are packed tight.  These chiles are flavorless and bland.” And what about jamaica flowers, she asks me. “The jamaica flower is also being imported from other countries like The Sudan.  The jamaica flower that is dark purple is usually Mexican but ask your marchante if it is nacional.”  Buy local and national food. Now those are political ideals I can get behind and, happily put in my mouth.

Cristina Potters lives in Mexico City with her wife, cellist Judith McKnight. She writes regularly for her blog, Mexico Cooks!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

American Food and Old Mexico

With yet another Memorial Day weekend has come and gone, I´d like to pause a moment and reflect upon the definition of American food. American food  is as varied as it is hard to define.  From beignets to burritos, barbecue to clam chowder, American food is nothing more and nothing less then a hodge podge of flavors, ingredients and culinary traditions from around the world.  

Keeping that in mind, take a look at this map showing the pre-1848 war US-Mexican border.  Then appreciate how much of America is really not that "American" after all.  After the war, basically from one day to the next, a large portion of Mexico became a part of the United States. Which means the food that people ate did the same, it stayed in the same communities but with a different name. The border might have moved but the people didn't. So the next time someone offers you some "good, old fashioned American" food, ask them which kind of tacos they have. 

Note: My apologies to those who caught my mispelling of beignets, just thinking about them makes me lose focus....


Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Online Learning: Effective Thinking Through Mathematics

Readers on this blog know that I am an online education advocate, having been an online instructor and a MOOC student for several years now. I have been asked to review a website that helps you learn languages in an easy and entertaining manner, so keep an eye out for that post.


Writers are constantly re-writing, reviewing, reassessing their work. Several months ago I found myself stuck on a particular piece of writing, not sure if I was obsessively reviewing and not advancing becauase of it.  A step back and new perspective was needed, I had to look at my work from a new light.  It just so happened that around the same time an email from edx.org featuring new courses caught my eye.  I read the description of one of the courses,  EffectiveThinking Through Mathematics and thought that was just what I needed.  I signed up and several weeks later the Professor, the quirky and constantly jovial, Michael Starbird, introduced himself in a Youtube video.  Professor Starbird began by presenting the elements of effective thinking.  According to Starbird, there are five elements of effective thinking. First you must understand deeply, second, you must be willing to make mistakes, third raise questions, ask yourself ‘what’s missing?’, the fourth element of effective thinking is to follow the flow of ideas, while having a perspective on your life, and finally, the fifth element is to change, to become a different person.

This course, as it turns out, did not have a direct impact on my writing, but rather in how I approach problems in my daily life.  I have started to take a step back and look at different problems in my life using effective thinking strategies.  And as it so happens, it also has helped me with my sixth grader´s math homework.  We can sit down together and work through problems using the elements of effective thinking!  When we do this, I have to say that the element of effective thinking that I appreciate the most, is the second element, because when making mistakes is ok, we can learn more effectively from them. And where parenting is concerned, learning from mistakes is a given. So it turns out, that my need for perspective on my writing has lead me to a new perspective on parenting. 

For more information on Professor Starbird or edx.org courses, please visit edx.org

Sunday, May 11, 2014

When Life Takes Over

Lately, I have not been writing a lot.  It has been more than a month since I have posted here. My readership has taken a nose dive. This is thanks to that fact that there have been some major changes in my life. Among them being, a divorce and surgery. Life has taken over and my writing has had to wait. The lull in my posts and my other online collaborations isn't permanent. In the meanwhile, as I get my posts going again, I am going to explore the usefullness of recycling old ideas. I'm taking out some old posts, dusting them off, and sharing them here, just like Professor Michael Starbird suggests trying in his online edx.org class Effective Thinking Through Mathematics, so for now, here are some posts from that past that I hope you enjoy:

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Dog's Tale

One of the reasons I like living in Morelia is that I can walk to so many places. Today, while walking home, I saw a cute little Yorkshire Terrrier crossing the street, a red leash trailing behind. It was obviously lost and as I stepped on its leash, my toddler protested, we don't like dogs, he reminded me. I bent down to see if the dog had tags. It did. As we walked back to my home, I looked down at the pup and remembered how much I like having dogs. Diego, our new four legged friend, seemed cheerfull and happy. 

At home, with a little help, I got the Diego's phone number from the tag and called. No answer. My older son was jumping with joy "maybe we can keep him!" I knew that would never happen: we live in a pet free home.
Diego the Dog

I put Diego in the back patio with a bowl of water and we sat down to eat. It wasn't long until Diego was barking and my sons wanted to play with him. So I let him into the house. Diego scampered about, I tried the number again. I got an answer. "Are you Diego's owner?" "Yes" a woman's voice replied. "I have your dog here, you can come by and pick him up whenever you want. Let me give you my address." The woman hestitated. Maybe she didn't want Diego back I thought. "You can call me back if you need to" I reassured her. "Yes, ok, please, that would be great." We rang off.

Fifteen minutes later the woman called back. "Could I have your address please? My husband is on his way to get the dog." My kids frowned. I felt bad. Diego bounced around, he barked at me, he wagged his tail. And then Diego did what no uninvited dog should do: he shit on the carpet. 

As the door bell rang, I felt relief that this canine miscreant, although extremely cute and cuddly, was going home. My son showed Diego's owners where he pooped on the carpet. They said nothing. "Thank you for giving us back our dog" they said impassively. "Maybe Diego didn't want to leave" our housekeeper said as she watched Diego be carried out onto the street. "Well, even if he didn't, I don't want a dog who poops on the livingroom carpet" I answered, even though secretly, I do love dogs, even if they poop on the carpet. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Who Decides What Is Art? Zona Maco 2014

A couple of weeks ago while I was sitting in a student’s office and caught glimpse of this image:

Zona Maco 2014

"What is that?" I asked my student. To which he replied, "You want one? Here, it is yours". It was an VIP invitation, with two tickets and passes to the VIP section of an event called Zona Maco.

Several days past when texting with a designer friend  I wrote “I have tickets to something called Zona Maco” Her reply “Are you inviting me or are you just being poshy?” "What do you mean by poshy?" I asked. "If we go, you'll see." she answered.

As we walked into Zona Maco on Feb. 8th, the very first stand was one by Hermès followed by one by BMW with a supermodel stading in front, I understood why Zona Maco had the very poshy reputation. 
Hermès Zona Maco 2014
Photo Credit: Yao Keng

Touted as Latin American’s largest event for contemporary art and design, this year Zona Maco celebrated its 11th anniversary. It is a space where galleries, designers and the like come to sell their wares. For four days, hipsters, buyers, artists, writers, the media, designers and those curious about the event milled through Hall D at Centro Banamex.

And of course since this is a poshy event, there were also overpriced things for sale. Like hand woven, wool yoga mats for $2000MXN or brightly painted wooden stools selling for $1800 to2,200MXN. So, basically, Zona Maco has capitivatingly gorgeous people walking about looking at art and each other.

As far as the artwork went, I enjoyed works from several gallaries like Gladstone, Mayoral Galeria d'Art, and and the there were some pieces that puzzled me. For example, a piece by artist Johann Koeng. The grey carcass of a giant squid laying in its own ink. I felt sad. I felt sorry for the animal that I supposed the artist used to cast the mold for the latex reproduction. Other pieces left me agein wondering, "why is this art?" like the instalation piece shown bellow with a obese person laying on a table at McDonald's looking on as what appears to be an employee wipes down the window. There were other pieces that seemed to me to be along the lines of practical art. Like the piece entitled "A Wolf, an Olive Tree and Circumstances" by Siobhan Hapaska. The fur covered, vibrating jungle gym with a uprooted tree dangling in the center was the perfect spot for me to put my tired feet for an imprompetou foot masage. It also would have been a great group vibrator. I know that art historians and philosphers ask and answer this question all the time but seriously, after seeing things like this, I still ask: who decides what art is and why do those people get to decide? 

Photo source:

A Requiem to Theater of Creativity:
Self-portrait as Marcel Duchamp ,
2010, by Yasumasa Mori

Photo credit:@klarf

A Wolf, an Olive Tree and Cirumstanes.
Photo Credit:www.andrehn-schiptjenko.com

@klarf in hipster paradise
I should have guessed what this event was about when I opened the invitation to find a VIP pass. Of course I could have done some research before going. If I had, I would have found sites that poke fun at Zona Maco as well as criticize the event. The website 7Boom.mx has a post tittled "Dejen de Hacer Arte, Hagan Publicidad" (stop making art, make publicity) where writer Jose Luis explains "last year I wrote a review of Zona Maco: there were tears, laughs and a lot of people who demanded that instead of just criticizing, I propose new things." On Miguel Angel Morales' blog there are re-posted tweets about Zona Maco 2014. One tweet asks "is Zona Maco just for taking pictures for Instagram or does have another purpose?" I did find another purpose for Zona Maco when I realized Jose was there. Which Jose you ask? Why a Jose Cuervo 1800 bar offering tamarind and limon cucumber margaritas. 

Limon Cucumber Jose Cuervo Margarita
Photo credit:@klarf

Friday, February 14, 2014

Be My Mexican Valentine

El Gran Panteon Amoroso (The Incredible Loving Cemetery) by Jose Guadalupe Posada

I am not a cynic when it comes to love. Well, maybe I am a little. Let's say I am a hybrid: an cynically optimistic romantic. I do know that if you want to fall in love with a culture, you have to interact with its art. Why not let Mexico's "universal artist" be your Valentine this year? Check out my article on  El Silabario.com.mx about Jose Guadalupe Posada and if you can, visit the show at Morelia's Palacio Clavijero that runs until February16th, 2014. 

Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Teacher Wears Prada

Elba Esther Gordillo Photo Credit:  Marcelo A. Salinas/MCT

Read more here: http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2013/02/26/184266/mexico-arrests-elba-esther-gordillo.html#storylink=omni_popular#storylink=cpy
Education in Mexico is guaranteed as a constitutional right. According to law, it should be public, free of tuition and of bias. However, in reality, education in Mexico is a big business. 

From public school officials asking parents to pay fees (herehere and here) for different things when it is expressedily illegal to do so, to the former teacher's union leader arrested on charges of money laundering, education as it turns out, is not that free after all. The union leader was, until her arrest, the lifelong leader, who said on the day of her SNTE inaguration that "we shall not let our union be anyone's treasure chest, there will be no re-election". Yet when Elba Esther Gordillo was detained on charges of illicit activities and embezellment and  named one of Mexico's most corrupt officials, people just shrugged their shoulders. No one seemed that suprised. So whether it is public or private education, schools mean money. The treasure chest, as it turned out, was meant for Elba Esther Gordillo and her associates.

Photo credit
Several years ago, we enrolled one of our children in a public school. While at the school, we were asked to pay a fee of $500 pesos (about $45.00 USD). Imagine how many families have paid these fees only to see Elba Esther Gordillo using some of the most expensive clothing. It is like a smack in the face. Which is why those with the money pay for private school while those who don't have the money, deal with the reality of corruption and economic inequalities in the public school system.

Photo credit: www.thecornerstoneforteachers.com

Which brings me to an image has been making the rounds on social media lately comparing Finland's education system to that of the the US education system. As it turns out, when you compare education systems in both countries, the differences have everything to do with context. And contextualizing this Mexico only shows that the gap between the haves and have nots widens. It isn't fair that teachers and teacher unions take the blame when it comes to deficiencies in education but when people like Elba Esther Gordillo are allowed to stay in power, corruption becomes institutionalized. Which only really ruins it for everyone in the end. 

The teacher's union provided the perfect environment for breeding corruption. Let a person lead a powerful group of people for life and yes, you will get a monster. It was only a matter of time.