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!

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Shiny shoes and other party lessons

Alex is excited for lunch but Coco is not convinced

I first realized there was a problem with the shininess of my shoes while seated at a restaurant on a date night with Alex. An immaculately dressed older woman seated next to us glanced down at my well-loved, scuffed-up boots and made a grimace. Then she looked at me with an expression on her face that seemed to suggest I was not a good person, or at least kind of a gross one.

I assumed it was a freak occurrence because who couldn't love my gnarly boots? I also suspected it was my outfit as a whole that offended because I am chronically under-dressed when out on the town in Mexico City. When others wear short fancy designer dresses with sky high heels, I wear my favorite baggy harem pants -- the Aztec printed ones, the ones I wear more often to bed than outside the house -- and my aforementioned scruffy boots.

I didn't really plan to wear pajama pants out on date night. I was just so comfortable in my day clothes I didn't want it to end.

I realized the severity of my shoe situation when shoe shiners began following me down the street on a regular basis, pointing at my boots and begging me to let them shine my shoes, so horrified were they by their appearance. Then Coco's school sent an email reminding us that part of keeping their uniforms clean is keeping their shoes properly shined. What is with these people and shiny shoes?

I suspect the school's shoe message was directed at me because I dug Coco's school shoes out from under the couch and sure enough, they looked like she's never walked in them, only been dragged long distances in them. How does she manage to scuff the tops so terribly? She must be wrestling gators in gravel pits when I'm not looking.

I applied a little spit polish and rubbed them with a washcloth and the shoes marginally improved. I'll be expecting another email from the school soon.

easy on the shoes, girl, you're getting me in trouble

Coco's class put on a circus at her school Friday. The regular homework for the week was scrapped so kids could use their after school time to "make an authentic clown costume, no costume rental nor new purchases permitted, work with what you already have at home."

There's a lot of panic in those instructions, especially for short-timers like us who brought precious few supplies to Mexico City, and definitely none of the clown costume making variety. Coco thankfully has a craft kit full of pom poms so pom poms were promptly glued all over any brightly colored piece of clothing we could find in her closet. It was a pretty lame clown costume but definitely showed we obeyed the "no costume rental nor purchase" instruction.

Coco's clown costume began falling apart before she even left the apartment on the morning of the circus. She left a trail of pom poms all the way out the door of the building. I kissed her at the door with a bright, "You look great, honey, I'll see you at the circus later!" and secretly prayed some other parent had done even less with their clown than my half-assed efforts. Hopefully someone had quarter-assed.

Getting to Coco's circus show was harder than I expected. I had to walk to the school because our driver was still occupied getting Alex through rush hour traffic to his job. No biggie, the school isn't too far and I love walking around the city even on days when pollution is really bad and it burns your eyes.

The problem that morning wasn't pollution, it was crossing Paseo de la Reforma, the main drag through town with four lanes of traffic in either direction. Crossing a street isn't straightforward business here in Mexico. Traffic lights aren't always obeyed and crosswalks are sometimes few and far between. Most people just kind of cross wherever they happen to be and dart around like a real life game of Frogger.

I am not yet that bold. I instead stand by the road for half the day waiting for a "safe" opportunity. When no safe opportunities present themselves willingly, I jog anxiously up and down alongside the road looking for a crosswalk or traffic light. After awhile I reach a breaking point, "Dammit, I've been standing on the side of the road for seven hours, it's time to get serious" and just kind of plunge recklessly into the fray.

It's easier to cross when traffic is heavy because at some point it gets backed up and cars are forced to slow down. Then you make your move, dodging around bumpers as quickly as possible before they pick up speed again.

After I'd successfully crossed the street and made it to school, I witnessed my daughter rock that circus in her very nearly pom pom-less outfit. Her part in the performance was "Coco the Magician." She successfully performed her several magic tricks with confidence and only a few minor (and pretty adorable) hitches.

But I'm suspecting her magician's assistant, Victor, did not listen to the "no costume rental, use stuff you have at home" directive. His clown outfit was straight out of a Ringling Brothers picture book. Regardless of my suspicions, Victor has a place in my heart because he has declared his fervent love for Coco several times and wrote her the funniest love letter for Valentine's Day.

Coco's glorious clown hat. 
 We made that beauty ourselves out of construction paper and scotch tape 
after watching several YouTube tutorials

There aren't just circuses happening around here. There are also parties. We attended three parties over the weekend and I was under-dressed for every single one, trust it.

The first party was a child's birthday party thrown by Alex's co-worker for his two daughters. I couldn't find wrapping paper in our neighborhood so wrapped one of the girl's gifts in the brown paper used as packing material in our recent Amazon order. Then I covered the brown paper with a sheet of Coco's stickers, which upset her but sometimes we are called upon to sacrifice for the family, little girl.

The other daughter's gift was oddly shaped so I stuffed it into the paper bag recently used to bring home our Indian takeout. The bag still smelled pretty tasty. More stickers were applied to the outside. Whatever, let's party.

Children's birthday parties in Mexico City are big productions. There is a lot of entertainment. We were treated to a "My Little Pony" show that lasted an hour and involved smoke machines, singing and dancing. Alex was disturbed by how attracted he was to both Rainbow Dash and Pinkie Pie and wanted to process his feelings about it at great length.

A new fetish may have been born. Please stay away from Coco's actual My Little Ponies, Al, or we're gonna have to put her in therapy way sooner than we planned.

The birthday party had it all; there was a bouncy house, arts and crafts, full catering and an open bar for the hundred or so guests, a "candy table" and the biggest damn candles I've ever seen stuck into two gigantic My Little Pony cakes. Those things were more like distress flares than candles; flames shot out of them forcefully at least two feet into the air. One of the distress flares was tossed into the garbage afterwards but it was not yet fully extinguished so the garbage can began to smoke excessively. It was Lucien who first saw it and yelled "Fuego!" which, understandably, alarmed us all until a pitcher of water was dumped into the can as well.

Perhaps most distressing was the My Little Pony pinata that, after being decapitated and losing two legs, was finally broken all the way open by a very strong little girl. The disembowelment immediately sent the smallest of guests into hysterical crying fits and I have to agree with them; it was surprisingly disturbing to watch a smiley My Little Pony get beaten to pieces with a bat.

But I love when the teeniest guests take their turns at the beginning.
It's a real uterus explosion.

The kids who weren't crying over the violent death of Pinkie Pie flew into Wrestlemania XVI on the floor. There was so much candy coming out of that pinata, I was getting cavities just looking at it. So imagine my surprise when the animators of the party brought out MORE bags of candy, ripped them open and dumped the contents onto the floor along with all the pinata candy. More wrestling, more tripping over candy, more bonked heads.

The second party was Saturday at our ex-pat friends' house, Seattle Mom and Bolivia Dad. The occasion was "Spring!" I suppose Spring is something to celebrate in Mexico even though the weather doesn't change much. Monsoon season begins, though, with its brief daily downpours, so that's exciting.

House parties in the DF (that's cool speak for Mexico City) are different from those at home in that parties here are often heavily staffed. There were los animadores keeping the kids entertained with games in the yard, servers walking around replenishing drinks before they were even empty, a man stationed at the pool to make sure no kids drowned, some ladies in the parlor helping kids paint flower pots, and a fully catered gourmet pizza buffet that blessedly included a Nutella dessert pizza topped with strawberries.

Los animadores, the fun men in red.
My kids said "they were way more fun than parents!"
My kids really know how to hurt my feelings.

Alex and Bolivia Dad crashed the kids' sack race.
Alex and Bolivia Dad are similar people.

When we go back home to Seattle, money will not go nearly as far as it does in Mexico. There will be no room in a party budget for staff. I will mix the mimosas myself and turn on a movie for the kids halfway through the party to buy us adults a little more time, as per our usual. And it will be fun and I will be happy but I may miss the people in red shirts and white coats just a little.

Seattle Mom and Bolivia Dad's gorgeous home

Alex and I have been lucky to meet great people wherever we go. How is it possible there are great people everywhere? And do you think there's a place in the world that's full of only shitty people? If there is, I hope we don't get sent there for Al's work because we are really on a roll.

Eight different home countries in this picture alone.
It's the luck of an ex-pat to hang out with the world.

At Spring Party we learned if you start drinking mimosas and cubanas in the sun before noon, you will all be sound asleep by 7:00 p.m.  And speaking of the sun, the sun in Mexico is stronger than you think it is. It's not the same as standing in the sun in Seattle. You can stand in Seattle sun all day long and barely register a pink tinge.

But at Spring Party, when Seattle Mom said, "Why didn't you bring your sunhat?"and Alex said, "Have you applied sunscreen to your shoulders lately?" I said, "Chill, overreactors. I've been standing in the sun only half an hour, I think I'm going to be OK." But I was not OK, I was sunburned and it was still hurting two days later.

The dude tug-o-war took a toll on a few backs
that were also sore two days later.

Is everyone still with me? It's OK if not, this post is a long one.

Our fantastic new party lives weren't over yet, much as we kind of desperately wanted them to be. We were very tired but couldn't turn down the third party of the weekend when the occasion was revealed to be -- meat.

some people are living very well in Mexico City

Alex's co-worker, Mexico Dad, invited us to his big beautiful home out in the suburbs with the invite, "Come for carne asada, I want to make you carne asada, let's eat carne asada." Al and I began referring to it as "the meat party" because 1) that's what it was and 2) it sounds dirty.

Mexico Dad is talkative, jovial, a born entertainer. He also apparently really loves to make carne asada because the amount of meat he grilled was enough to feed fifty people even though we numbered only ten.

The most important thing we learned at the meat party, aside from the fact Mexico Dad likes to grill meat so much I felt compelled to hide the family dog, was don't try to keep up with a Mexican man when it comes to drinking tequila. Alex tried and it didn't end well. It may or may not have resulted in Alex stripping down to his underwear and going for a very cold swim in their pool in the rain. Alex wasn't able to feel cold at that point thanks to tequila's numbing properties but I think I got hypothermia just watching him.

Alex rarely overdoes it on the drinking. He's a man who knows his limits and is just as likely to be drinking mineral water with lemon slices than alcohol. But things get disorienting when your enthusiastic host keeps refilling your glass and insisting "You gotta try this one! You're gonna love it!" Jovial hosts always make tequila sound like a good idea but it's not always true.

As Alex's condition deteriorated before my eyes, I knew I could get him home OK in a taxi and maybe ask the doorman to help me drag him into the building. I also knew I'd made the right decision in not drinking tequila.

To recap, this is what we've learned the past few days in our new party heavy lifestyle:

1.) wear heels. no pjs. shiny shoes.
2.) don't hump My Little Ponies. for the love of god stop, man.
3.) sunscreen and lots of it. the sun is an asshole.
4.) don't drink tequila. tackle your host to the ground to prevent this from happening if you must.

Mario just brought me a baggie of pom poms he found rolling around in the car.
Her costume was awful but my clown was so happy,