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Monday, 14 December 2009

Mexican cantinas

It's all very well going to bar, a pub, a restaurant, but have you ever frequented a Mexican cantina? You know with the swingy doors, with the stench of urine emanating from the toilet doors that swivel shut as characters emerge from the latrine?

A few days ago, I visited several cantinas, and can assure you that it is an experience I will never forget, and enjoyed thoroughly. The centre of México City, close to the zócalo (which is where the Cathedral and el Palacio Nacional, and ofcourse a giant Mexican flag, and now during Christmas an ice skating rink!) , is home to several of said cantinas. In the past, visiting the centre at night was ill advised, however, after a recent project to encourage tourists and Mexicans alike to visit the centre which included installing cctv, and street lamps, the centre is a far safer area to visit. I am a scaredy cat, and can assure you that the centre is not only relatively safe (just don't flaunt your Rolex, and use some common sense), but absolutely beautiful.

The cantinas, the old ones, still have ficheras. They are women who sit at a table, and the men, can buy a ficha, a sort of poker chip, which they can then give to the lady and request a dance. Just a dance. This is not some form of prostitute, just someone to accompany you on the dance floor. It is truly charming to watch. After several tequilas, and beers, I danced the night away, merry as a mouse. It was glorious. The waitresses, with their tight jeans, slightly too tight for my taste, and pasty makeup, added to the charm. I believe that such tight jeans create what is called a camel toe...forming the outline of the women's "private parts", leaving nothing to the imagination. It was all out of a Cantinflas movie, and made me feel as if I had taken a big ole' step back in time.

I was invited to dance by some older men, who were slightly inebriated, and due to my shyness I said no thank you. When they kept asking, I was told to simply say that my boyfriend would get jealous. It worked like a charm! Great tip for Latin American countries!

The cantinas serve chicharrones (fried pig skin/fat) and complimentary peanuts on plates. Add some chile to the pig and peanuts, and you have a tasty snack to energize you for some serious dancing. Salsa, rancheras, cumbias....and don't be shy! I hope you may experience this one day. I sure am in love with cantinas, and am returning as soon as I can.

Viva México! Y viva la cantina Mexicana...Donde se llora, ríe, grita, baila, con una combinación de amargura y dulzura. En donde los amigos se reencuentran, en donde los enemigos se perdonan, y donde el tequila y la cerveza brindan por lo bueno y lo malo, por la vida que a veces no vale nada y por los que extrañamos con todo nuestro corazón.

Friday, 4 December 2009

E-mail nightmare...

Have you ever sent a million applications and become completely brain dead suddenly? Well friends it happened to me. Today. Not for the first time, but it happened. In a Royal manner. I was sending an e-mail to a friend of my cousin in Mexico City who works for one of the largest magazine companies in the country. The email was: j(followed by the surname) and for some reason I assumed that their first name was Julián. Why? I do NOT KNOW! I wrote the email to Julian. I sent it. Then I freaked out, realizing that I am a nincompoop. Why Julián?? WHY! I googled this person and realized that not only is their name NOT Julian, but it is not even a man, it is a woman, by the name of Jazmín. Now Julián could have been a José, and I may have been forgiven, but no no. It had to be Jazmín, quite different from Julián. In a panic I wrote another e-mail, begging forgiveness, and wishing this Jazmín a Merry Christmas. I then even added a smiley face. Oh boy. Did I make it worse? Perhaps. Hopefully Jazmín has a great sense of humour. If it was me, I probably wouldn’t give someone an internship based on the poor research skills I just exhibited. How upsetting! Oh well...what can I do now? Wait and see I suppose. I admit that this has made me laugh whilst bang my head against the wall. I imagine that many people have stories like this, perhaps not quite as silly, perhaps more.

Anyways that is my latest observation on life, that I am a fool, and e-mailing can be lethal.

Nighty night,


Thursday, 3 December 2009

Champagne....Yes please!

After a lovely Argentinean meaty lunch, or what in effect is dinner here in Mexico, I was invited by a very lovely young wine maker to a champagne tasting event. Now, it is not every day that such an invitation comes my way, so I enthusiastically agreed to come along. The location? The Intercontinental Presidente Hotel in Mexico City. Time? Eight. It actually started at around nine, as we Mexicans like to say an hour, whilst actually meaning an hour later.

I arrived with my father’s best friend, and his nephew (who was the wine maker and whose family owns a winery in Ensenada). I was not expecting the event to be as formal as it was, and upon entering a private room and seeing that we were to sit at a conference table, each placemat surrounded by glasses, I couldn’t help but giggle. (As did my father’s friend). At first the conversation revolved around wines, and of course champagne. Everyone was putting their two cents forward. Gestures were made, hands poised to underline the high level of exquisite wine they had just tasted God knows where, murmurs of agreement bounding about the room. The scene reminded me of something one would see in a Woody Allen. One of the gentleman present may or may not have had Botox injected into, his entire face, one lady had a fur coat so big she seemed to be drowning in it, another man was reminiscent of the slithering Mr. Collins from Pride and Prejudice. There you go, the evening was complete with a hodge podge of characters, each one encompassing some form of social stereotype, each one seemingly snobby.

I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find that the wise saying of "don't judge a book by its cover" was indeed very true (in this case) and as we imbibed our champagne, everyone at the table, loosened up, and eventually truly let go. The descriptions of the champagnes from their colour, amount of bubbles, smell, finally to its glorious taste were a plenty, and although hesitant to voice my opinion at first, I soon acquired what they call "Dutch courage" and voiced my views as I slurped away eagerly.

What on earth did you drink? You may wonder. Here is the list:
1) Ruinary Blanc de Blancs
2) Taittinger Prelude Grand Cru Brut
3) Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque 2000, Cuvee de Prestige
4) Louis Roederer Cristal 2002, Civee de Prestige
5) Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle, Cuvee de Prestige
6) Laurent-Perrier Rose Brut

My favourite? Number five, unfortunately it costs 3,680 pesos, about $286 big bucks. At the end of the tasting, we all had to say which we preferred, and most importantly why. As each person eloquently described their most and least favourites, my heart started to beat rapidly. I admit, I was nervous. What on earth was I to say? At a loss, I said what I felt, and avoided any attempt to pontificate upon the liquids before me. I stood up, smiled, and cheerfully admitted that the most expensive champagne was my favourite. Why? Because it incorporated everything I wished for in champagne, it was fresh, a beautiful shimmering gold colour, and its bubbles raced to the top of the glass, the champagne swilled in my mouth and tantalized every taste bud, and it made me smile! I also added that due to the price, I probably could never afford it on a regular basis, so I also liked number one, (a more realistic choice price wise). I got a giggle from the others present, and felt an incredible sense of happiness when I sat down. Probably from the champagne but also from the thrill of having just spoken my mind ( I wasn't as detailed as I was here) and from seeing how unpretentious everyone really was. All these people were doing was sharing an appreciation for a beverage, and their respect for all the work that went into creating such a drink. I love that they found it ridiculous that some were so expensive, and we all agreed that of course what you like is personal, and as each palate is so distinct, putting a price on what is the "best" is very difficult.

[Nevertheless, I must add a note here. In a country with such a high level of poverty, there is something incredibly wrong about ssipping champagne whilst people are starving outside. Undoubtedly this happens all over the world. This argument could be applied to how wrong it is that we are privileged to eat three meals a day (some more!) whilst other in the same country, or in other countries starve to death. Awareness of what you have, and appreciation of ones situation in life is pivotal, we all know that, hopefully it can encourage us to be more generous towards those who aren't quite as lucky...I have always found that being in a country in which their are fierce contrasts between rich and poor, makes me more aware, exposed to how unfair the world is, and challenges me continuosly. You can't turn the little children begging for money off whilst you wait for the green light, as you can the television. You can't turn the page on the slums you pass everyday. It is there, very present, a reminder of how much work has to be done, and how important it is to participate in bringing about change....Nuff said.]

We all agreed that number three, the Belle Epoque was off; however, the sommelier was a tad bit proud and didn't concede this obvious fact until the end. Oh well. I suppose some sommelier's take it very personally. The fact is, that it is not the sommelier's fault if a bottle is bad. It is the process that makes a bottle off, the bottling, the care, the winery's "fault". As with all nature and organic products, some go bad. C'est la vie. The sommelier on our champagne night, sadly, became defensive, and unnecessarily insistent on how the champagne was fine. To each their own...To each their own...

After this glorious tasting we ate at a very fancy restaurant called Le pied du Couchon. Wowza! We had our own room, and glass doors that opened by pressing a green button (it was reminiscent of doors in a star trek or wars film). The delicacy of this place was a fried pigs hoof. At one in the morning I just could not stomach this (nor at any other time of day really..) so I had a soup. A delicious soup.
After many hours of talking, finally, at four in the morning I was driven home through an empty Mexico. Mexico City is never empty, except for in the early hours, and a journey that would normally take half an hour, took only fifteen minutes.

Home at last....into bed. Time to dream of champagne and pigs...Botox...and just how bizarre an evening I just had.