Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Idealism, harmonicas, electrocution

Lucien's 5th Grade class is holding a mock election. Groups of like-minded students have joined together to form parties based on changes they'd like to see implemented at the school. They are currently campaigning to woo supporters from the lower grades and come election day, one party will emerge triumphant.

I'm not sure what happens for the winners of the election but it must be a big deal because Lucien is taking this more seriously than he takes choosing an ice cream flavor. That's a hefty statement because my kids stand in front of the ice cream counter for an excruciating amount of time, discussing the negatives and comparing the virtues of each flavor, as the line behind them grows and grows and I lurch around the store pulling my hair out and screaming, "OH MY GOD, just get cookies-n-cream and be done with it!!"

Lucien's group has formed "The Earth Party" and is running on environmental issues such as using less plastic at the school and improving the recycling program. The Loosh sits at his computer after school putting together graphic PowerPoint presentations full of whales who've died because of the gigantic wads of plastic bags in their bellies and malformed turtles who've grown up with six-pack rings around their shells.

The Loosh spots a plastic bag floating in the water at Xochimilco.
An enemy of the environment in our midst.
I had to threaten him with bodily injury to keep him from jumping in to retrieve it.

Lucien is pumped about the election and often, while showing me his latest depressing PowerPoint presentation featuring gigantic "garbage islands" floating around in the ocean, says chirpy things like, "We are going to win because this is everybody's future! Everyone wants to be healthy, and everyone loves animals and doesn't want to hurt them! We're gonna get so many votes!"

I tell him yes, he's got an excellent shot at winning but I say it with a sinking feeling in my stomach because I know one of their rival parties is the "Prices Go Down Party" and they are running on a platform of cheaper snacks at the snack bar. The rumor is they are also bribing their young voters with fistfuls of candy at recess. The PGD is not running a clean campaign; it wouldn't surprise me if they have shadowy ties to Russia.

The Earth Party learned of the PGD candy handouts so decided to counter by handing out seed packets kids could take home to plant. That was one of the sweetest things I'd ever heard from my excited smiley-faced son and it made my heart explode but still -- bottom line is it's "less plastic in the oceans" vs. "cheaper snacks" to an electorate of 3rd and 4th graders.

I'm afraid Lucien is about to learn a very harsh lesson about idealism in politics. I hope it strengthens his resolve and doesn't break his little Earth-loving soul. Because we're gonna need him.

Alex's parents and cousin were here recently for a brief but action-packed long weekend visit. One of the first things we did was the mandatory visit to the Frida Kahlo Museum in Coyoacan. We met a man in line there from Portland, Oregon, who had not purchased his ticket in advance -- an unfortunate rookie mistake at the Frida Kahlo museum -- and was bummed to hear he was going to have to leave our short pre-ticketed line to wait in the two-hour non-ticketed line that snaked down the street, around the corner and out of sight. We felt sorry for him and wanted to help him, such a nice guy and our fellow Pacific Northwesterner.

So Alex concocted LIES.

Alex told the ticket taker at the museum entrance that not all of our tickets had printed when we purchased them online but we hadn't realized it until that very moment. We had in our hands only seven tickets, not the rightful eight! As Alex went on and on about his frustration with the unreliability of the online ticketing system, even waving his arms around convincingly for emphasis, the rest of us snuggled up to our new friend, Joe, and attempted to look very familiar with him. The entrance guy let us all in, likely just to stop Alex from talking.

Joe was grateful and stuck with us to chat. Joe is a cool guy, a professional harmonica musician on tour in Mexico City. I didn't know professional harmonica was a thing, either. His specialty is tango harmonica (!) so he travels the world playing tango festivals and doing guest appearances with symphonies. As thanks for saving him two precious hours of his life, Joe says he'll pop by our house someday when he's in Seattle for a gig and treat our friends to a harmonica concert. We exchanged emails and we will take you up on that, new friend Joe.

Frida Kahlo, bringing the people together

P.S. We made a donation to the museum in the amount of Joe's ticket. We would never cheat Frida.
Diego, maybe, but not Frida.

The next family weekend tourist stop was Xochimilco.

Xochimilco is rich, long ago Mexican history but it doesn't look like it. Mexico City was originally built in the middle of a lake back when the Aztecs ran the show -- easy to defend, yo --and was surrounded by canals but then the Spaniards took over and drained most of the water. The canals of Xochimilco are all that's left of the once huge and intricate Aztec canal system.

The grand history of the area is made slightly less epic, perhaps, by the fact Xochimilco is now a place people go to have loud raucous drunken floating parties. It is not a calm contemplative place where you reflect upon your minute and insignificant place in time; it is a boisterous, colorful, obnoxious place where you get a michelada for less than 20 pesos.

Music blares from speakers on most boats. Mariachis play from others. Vendors constantly pull up alongside you offering beer, or cheap trinkets, or roasted ears of corn. Boat collisions are common when the canals get crowded. You must keep a sharp eye out and yell, "Incoming!" so everyone in your boat can grab onto something stationary before they lose footing and get tossed over the side.

No, Xochimilco is not calm nor educational but it is a lot of fun and we love it --

Coco dancing at the back of our boat
 to the tunes of a mariachi band on a nearby boat
and swinging her brand new Slinky
(we are about to get rammed by those boats behind us so hang on, little girl)

Mexico, you are truly something special.

We asked Mario for a dinner recommendation on the way home from Xochimilco and he said he knew just the place, then picked up the phone and made us a reservation on the spot. We pulled up in front of the restaurant a few hours later and -- holy hell, Mario had perhaps misread our intentions. We wanted a hole-in-the-wall taco joint only locals know about but he instead dropped us off at the San Angel Inn, widely regarded as one of the nicest and fanciest restaurants in Mexico City.

Men in tuxedos, or at the very least crisply tailored suits, and women in gorgeous dresses and high heels dominated the scene. Our post-Xochimilco windblown and sun drenched selves stood out a bit. All of us were wearing shorts or jeans, t-shirts and tank tops, and one of us "may" have been wearing socks with sandals. One woman laughed blatantly in our faces after looking us up and down in wonderment. Screw you, lady, long live the San Angel Inn Rebels.

At least they didn't refuse us entry. You overshot that one, Mario, but you were right, the food was definitely tasty.

Coco is exhausted by the day, she does not care 
we are seated in one of the finest restaurants in the land,
and that we are doing so wearing shorts and sweatshirts.

The next day we took Alex's family to Valle de Bravo, a colonial town a couple hours away from Mexico City by car. We cautiously asked Mario for a breakfast recommendation on the way there, then pointed at ourselves over and over for dress code clarification. He got the second one right, stopped at a small string of restaurants along the highway and led us into a tiny, rough-around-the-edges place with three women at a gigantic stove in the corner of the dining room.

The food, frankly, was better than what we had at the fancy San Angel Inn. It was perfect, cheap, simple, pure homemade Mexican food. The chilaquiles with chorizo are still on my mind and may be forever. Best of all, nobody cared what we looked like.

And most random of all, there was a photo of Hugh Jackman hanging on the wall over my mother-in-law's shoulder. In the photo, he's standing at the very gigantic stove in the very dining room in which we were seated with the very women cooking our breakfast --

That's pretty random, Mexico.
How did Hugh Jackman find it? Does he know Mario, too?

Mario earned his pay that day because Valle de Bravo was a mess given the three-day holiday weekend. Traffic was more "stop" than "go" and more "infuriating" than "not infuriating" because colonial town streets were not meant to hold cars. They were meant to hold people and horses, and not many of them at that.

Valle de Bravo was crowded. And hot. The combo made me slightly mental. We ducked down side streets to avoid clogged main drags and stayed in the shade as much as possible. Also, for whatever reason, fireworks were being set off at random intervals somewhere near the main square, which did not help things. The fireworks were so loud and startling, we all jumped a mile every time one exploded over our heads. I soon became a very twitchy tourist indeed.

But it's true, Valle de Bravo is very pretty. 

We signed up for a private boat tour on the lake in an attempt to escape the chaos. The jostling crowd that formed as all of the waiting people tried to get onto their boats made Parisians look downright civil in their line-waiting capabilities. It was that bad. You often need to embrace the chaos and disorder of Mexico, just go with the flow, but sometimes I am not in the mood to do that. I am ashamed to admit I considered pushing many Mexicans into the water but thankfully I managed to resist the urge.

The kids think it's hilarious to pretend to be asleep.
Kids are weird.

The boat tour was very enjoyable and relaxing until Alex began to feel seasick. He was able to hang in there for the duration but it made the last half of our tour a little more tense; the lake we were on supplies water to Mexico City and we desperately did not want to do anything gross to it.

Before I go, I want to mention a game that is often played late at night in Mexican bars. Alex and I went out with a group of co-workers and assorted friends over the weekend to Plaza Garibaldi, a.k.a. the birthplace of mariachi music. It was a raucous evening involving tequila and mariachi and electrocution.

Shit gets real when you're up until the early morning hours
at the birthplace of mariachi

I don't know why electrocution is a fun thing to try in Mexico, but it is. You sit in a circle with your friends, hold hands, and a guy just electrocutes you all. He starts with a very low current but keeps jacking it up until one of you is in so much pain you let go and break the circuit. Then everybody laughs and howls and makes jokes like "hope nobody has a pacemaker!" and "What's my name again?" -- although that last one may not have been a joke, he seemed legitimately confused.

We are proud (?) to say we all made it until the end, 
the highest current safe to pump into humans for fun.

Weirdest stuff. I just don't even know. But it's true we bonded and had a good laugh over it, even if my right arm is still tingly days later and I can't grasp my toothbrush very well anymore.

Spring Break is coming up starting this weekend so we're heading to Costa Rica for 16 glorious days. I have been meticulously planning this vacation and am very excited. From what I hear, we are never going to want to leave Costa Rica even though we will be near eaten alive by bugs and likely sunburned beyond recognition. That's Costa Rica's inexplicable magic.

Until we meet again, here's our new friend Joe playing the famous "La Cumparsita" tango on his harmonica --

Pura Vida!


  1. As soon as you said you met a professional harmonica player from Portland, I knew exactly who you were talking about. Joe and my husband are good friends and we were at his last show in Portland before he left for Mexico City. Charming, charming guy, that Joe.

    1. What?? Well that's a small damn world right there. Tell Joe the people from Frida said "hi,Joe!" and we hope to see him in the PNW one of these days. That's really bizarre you know him....small, small, weird little world.