Offbeat Mexico

by Ron Mader

No country features more for travellers seeking offbeat, one-of-a-kind diversions than Mexico,” writes David Agren. In his article for the Ottawa Citizen he tracks the shrines erected to folk saints by narcotics traffickers and the high-flying antics of lucha libre. If you are looking for attractions that are off the beaten track, check out his top five list.

Tip – Keep an eye on David’s terrific photo gallery archived on Flickr.

A Very Mexican Breakfast

By Lola

Hello folks! Yes, I’ve been on vacation and blessedly disconnected—though not necessarily by choice. Funny how one has become so completely dependent on technology. Anyway, I’ve been at my mom’s and she has a wireless connection but couldn’t find the password so I couldn’t connect my laptop and I couldn’t upload my photos to her PC (PCs = boo; Macs = yay) and blah blah blah…

ANYWAY, here I am, with a bit of a belated blog about my most wonderful Mexican breakfast in Mexico City, the one I boasted about last week.

This is La Casa de Toño, famous for its pozole and it’s mouthwatering fried quesadillas:La Casa de Toño exterior Interior Casa de Toño

This is a guy who is building an empire on tacos and pozole: he now owns three different locales in Mexico City; the one I went to (housed in four or five different buildings) was in Claverías, a firmly middle class neighborhood, where my cousin resides with her husband and her very active three-year-old, Rodrigo.

They actually live right around the corner from Toño’s, so we walked over around 10 AM. The place was already full—and steadily got seriously packed. This guy has hit upon one of the best combinations known to business-dom: great food, fast service, and a clean, well-lit family atmosphere (as in, no smoking). The waiters race around like worker bees, ensuring no dirty plate loiters too long on a table and no stomach has to suffer a single hunger pang. Not even half a hunger pang. Who knows how they do it, but the guy consistently turned out FRESH, delicious food within minutes of placing the order. I asked for a quesadilla de queso con pollo—kind of an insult when you consider Toño has a list of some 10 different quesadillas on his menu, but hey, so I’m boring, so what. Here’s the plate from heaven that arrived at my table (liberally sprinkled by me with salsa verde): Quesadillas de Pollo Casa de Toño

You think my taste buds would be asleep at this hour, but just seeing this again is making them work overtime.

Here’s the flautas plate my cousin’s husband ordered, and a selection of the fresh salsas they place on your table in sweet anticipation of what’s to come:
Flautas Casa de ToñoSalsas La Casa de Toño

IMHO, the place is a gem. Plus the guy is not only savvy on the ground, he’s also figured out the power of the Internet—you must visit his website, where you’ll find menus, pictures and even, get this, GAMES. Yep, the guy’s got it together.

Let’s hear it for Toño!!!

Fresco Painting Workshops In Alamos, Mexico

MP News Staff

Fresco is a technique used for mural painting. Most of the murals painted by Diego Rivera, for example, were done in fresco. The Maya Indians did fresco paintings in the Pre-Columbian era, as did the inhabitants of  Pompeii.

Now you can learn this ancient technique in a simple, introductory five-day workshop in the beautiful colonial town of Alamos, Sonora.

You will learn every step of the fresco process, including preparing the plaster, plastering a fresco panel, how to grind pigments, and which pigments to use. Each student will paint at least one fresco panel on terracotta, the traditional support for practicing fresco technique. Classes are open to students ages 16 and up. One does not need to be an artist to learn and appreciate the process that Rivera and Orozco used. Location and hours: Workshops will be held Monday thru Friday, from 9 AM to 1 PM at the Casa de Cultura, Loma Guadalupe, in Alamos. Instructor: Daan HoekstraDates: January 14- 18, 2008February 4- 8, 2008March 10- 14, 2008Cost: $250 for the five day workshop, or $125 for Alamos residents. Materials included. Limited to 5 participants per workshop. Proceeds benefit a program to offer workshops to Mexican artists and paint public frescos in Alamos. http://www.hoekstrastudio.com/Workshops

Register:  by email, alamosartist@yahoo.com 
For travel information:
see www.alamosmexico.com
 

Teaching English In Mexico

by David Simmonds

Some retired expats, once they settle into a daily routine of morning coffee at the local café, followed by a trip to the market for fresh produce and bolillos, sliding into the afternoon siesta, a couple of evening ‘tails at sunset, ending the day with a late dinner…well, they start to get a little bored. These are people who have worked hard their entire lives, and now they feel like they should be doing something constructive, and a few extra pesos every month could come in handy.

You may get a local business hire you below the radar, working a few hours a day in a art gallery or a restaurant that caters to gringos. But in general, by law, a foreigner can only do work that a Mexican can’t. Selling time-shares is a popular choice, but it’s intense work, the turnover is great, and your skin has to be thicker than your skull…not something the average retiree is interested in.

One job that is possible in most areas of Mexico is teaching English in a local school. The schools often prefer the classes to be taught by a native English speaker, thereby satisfying the law. This is true for both public and private schools. The downside is that the pay is not going to buy you much. An hourly wage of $4.00 – $6.00 is standard in most places, but can pay as much as $10.00 – $12.00 in the big city. Or you can tutor the kids of the wealthier families. The real reward is working with kids (usually) and knowing that you are making a difference in their lives. And as they learn from you… you will learn much more from them.

Could Mexico be Older than We Thought?

By: MP News Staff

 Ancient Pyramid Found in Mexico City…

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Archeologists have discovered the ruins of an 800-year-old Aztec pyramid in the heart of the Mexican capital that could show the ancient city is at least a century older than previously thought.

Mexican archeologists found the ruins, which are about 36 feet (11 metres) high, in the central Tlatelolco area, once a major religious and political centre for the Aztec elite.Since the discovery of another pyramid at the site 15 years ago, historians have thought Tlatelolco was founded by the Aztecs in 1325, the same year as the twin city of Tenochtitlan nearby, the capital of the Aztec empire, which the Spanish razed in 1521 to found Mexico City, conquering the Aztecs.

The pyramid, found last month as part of an investigation begun in August, could have been built in 1100 or 1200, signalling the Aztecs began to develop their civilization in the mountains of central Mexico earlier than believed.”We have found the stairs of this, much older pyramid. The (Aztec) timeline is going to need to be revised,” archaeologist Patricia Ledesma said at the site on Thursday.

Tlatelolco, visited by thousands of tourists for its pre-Hispanic ruins and colonial-era Spanish church and convent, is also infamous for the 1968 massacre of leftist students by state security forces there, days before Mexico hosted the Olympic Games.Ledesma and the archaeological group’s coordinator, Salvador Guilliem, said they will continue to dig and study the area next year to get a better idea of the pyramid’s size and age.

The archeologists also have detected a sculpture that could be of the Aztec rain god Tlaloc, or of the god of the sky and earth Tezcatlipoca.In addition, the dig has turned up five skulls and a series of rooms near the pyramid that could date from 1431.”What we hope to find soon should tell us much more about the society of Tlatelolco,” said Ledesma.

Mexico City is littered with pre-Hispanic ruins. In August, archeologists in the city’s crime-ridden Iztapalapa district unearthed what they believe may be the main pyramid of Tenochtitlan. The Aztecs, a warlike and religious people who built monumental works and are credited with inventing chocolate, ruled an empire stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific Ocean and encompassing much of modern-day central Mexico.

Why The Musicians Are Getting Whacked

MP News Staff

Thus far, we have been reluctant to say anything about the insanity of some of Mexico’s most popular musicians being brutally killed by organized crime members, seemingly without provocation. It just made no sense and we had yet found a plausible explanation. Some accounts noted that certain groups attach themselves to one of the drug cartels, romanticizing the narco-business in song, which then puts them in the crosshairs of a competing cartel, who massacres the lead singer in a hail of bullets or a slit throat. Or the “adopted” band does something to offend their favored cartel, ending in the same result. This is crazy stuff, but it didn’t really add up. Not that anything involving the drug business necessarily speaks to rational behavior. It’s obviously a very chaotic world that operates outside the rules of a civilized society. Or, more accurately, they write their own rules and then follow them to precision.

That said, this article found at The Washington Post via MSNBC comes as close to explaining this sordid and deadly game better than anything else we have found. The report outlines and describes how entrenched the drug cartels are in the music business and the reasons for it. “It is common knowledge in Mexico’s music industry, but not known to the general public, that drug cartels finance the careers of some budding musicians, then launder money through unregulated concert ticket sales, according to industry sources, musicians and law enforcement”. That quote from the article is the driving motivation. To read the entire piece please click here:

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/22396430  

Who Is Killing Mexico’s Musicians?

MP News Staff

From Time.com

By Ioan Grillo/Mexico City

Since the 1990s, popular Mexican singers have been increasingly crooning about Kalashnikovs and cocaine alongside their traditional ballads of hard work and lost love. Take “Contraband in the Border” by Valentin Elizalde, one of the thousands of drug ballads or narco corridos that are played in cantinas and parties from the mountains of Mexico to the immigrant ghettos of Los Angeles. “There was a big shoot-out/With 14 bullet-filled bodies/And the American government,/took away the marijuana” go the lyrics, as tubas and accordions drone out the melody to the rhythm of a German polka. In November 2006, gunmen ambushed and killed Elizalde and took out his manager and driver while injuring his cousin outside a cockfighting ring in the border city of Reynosa.

Elizalde’s murder is not an isolated incident. Singers have not just been chanting about the bloody drug violence ravaging their country; they have also been among its most prominent victims. At least 13 musicians have been killed — gunned down, burned or suffocated to death — since June 2006. The violence gained international attention earlier this month when three entertainers were killed in a week: a male singer was kidnapped, throttled and dumped on a road; a trumpeter was found with a bag on his head; and a female singer was shot dead in her hospital bed. (She was being treated for bullet wounds from an earlier shooting.)

The Mexican public was particularly shocked by the slaying of singer Sergio Gomez, who founded his band K Paz de la Sierra while he was an immigrant in Chicago. He had scored a recent hit with Pero Te Vas a Repentir, or “But You Will Have Regrets,” a love song so catchy that half the country was humming it. Gomez was abducted after a concert in his native Michoacan state, beaten and burned and then strangled with a plastic cord.

Thousands mourned him at sprawling wakes in Michoacan, Mexico City and Chicago, where he was finally laid to rest. “Being a fan of Gomez, this news really makes me sad,” Mexico City Police Chief Joel Ortega said during the wake here. “These things shouldn’t happen in our country. Whatever the causes were, it is very sad. He was an extraordinary vocalist.”

Investigators have yet to solve any of the 13 musician killings. Nor have they revealed any suspects, although they have said that drug gangs could be responsible. The same murkiness clouds most of the 2,500 slayings in Mexico this year that have been tallied by the leading Mexican newspapers in what they call “execution-meters.” Those killings involve ambushes or abductions and appear to bear to marks of organized crime.

The federal government has held back from giving any hard numbers on drug-related murders. However, President Felipe Calderon insists he is winning the war against the trafficking cartels by making record cocaine seizures, extraditing kingpins to the United States and putting soldiers on the streets of the worst-hit towns and cities.

The slain entertainers all played related styles of music. Hailing from ranches and small towns in northern Mexico, the genre (which includes Banda, Nortena, Grupero and Durangense) combines Mexican folk melodies with the marching band ryhthms of German immigrants. The music has now evolved to include electric guitars and keyboards and is as popular in big Mexican and U.S. cities as it is in the countryside.

The musicians of these styles grew up in communities rife with drug traffickers, who often pay the entertainers to play at their parties and to write songs about them. The singers perform the drug ballads along with their love songs: the narco corridos have been among the biggest-selling records in the country.

The managers, fellow musicians and loved ones of the slain entertainers have been mum about pointing the finger at any suspects or motives. Some have said they fear for their own safety. Elijah Wald, author of a recent book on narco corridos, argues that entertainers are not being specifically targeted. They are just in the same circles as many drug traffickers and are caught up in the jealousies and arguments that afflict everyone in that world. “If you were to drop a bomb on a random party of drug traffickers you would always get a few musicians,” Wald says. “Singers also attract the attention of people’s wives and girlfriends, which could be enough to get them killed. The rising gangsters gain their reputation by proving how much they are cold-blooded psychos.”

The real=life bloodshed has not damaged the posthumous popularity of the entertainers. Sales of Elizalde and Gomez records have rocketed since their deaths. This month, they were both nominated for 2008 Latin Grammys, which will be awarded in February.