Thursday, September 30, 2010


For a city with a reputation built on crime, smog, and traffic, Mexico City is amazingly green. Hibiscuses flourish on busy corners and trees cast long shadows over quiet side streets. The juxtaposition of a wild, verdant hardiness with the grime and chaos of the city is striking.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


Twenty-five years and a week ago today, a massive earthquake shook Mexico City, devastating a metropolis constructed on the unstable substrate of a former lake. Old and new neighborhoods alike felt the effects; massive public housing projects built quickly, carelessly, and corruptly, simply collapsed. Many other buildings, also products of the city's exuberant development from 1946 onward, were unable to withstand the shaking. It was as if the facade of the Mexican Miracle itself crumbled away. Ultimately, some 10,000 people would lose their lives.

In the face of the disaster, residents united in rescue brigades to pull neighbors from the rubble. The overwhelming civic response stood in stark contrast to the ineptitude of the government, and the social organizations that emerged from the blossoming civil society were responsible for forcing the democratization of the city's politics.

In Colonia Roma, the quake felled both beautiful old buildings and cheaper, newer structures. Some of these half-toppled husks stand, their suspended decay a mute reminder that the tragedy tore holes in the social fabric that remain unpatched

Text of image #1 reads: Mass in memory of the victims of the earthquake 25 years ago... Come early to provide the name of your family member, friend or neighbor if you would like them to be named. We rely on your help.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010


In the week since the Bicentennial, Mexico City has drifted back toward normalcy. Though the occasional snap of a distant firecracker persisted through the weekend, a hard rain on Friday night washed away any lingering festive sentiment. Yet the tricolor banners still hanging from buildings are a constant reminder that the celebration was intended to last the entire year, even when popular desire to celebrate has fizzled away and life has returned to a grayish normalcy.

Post 4 of 4 on the Bicentennial.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Defending the Patria

The culminating event of the bicentennial celebrations was the traditional military parade on September 16. Easily more popular than the elaborate spectacle of the night before, crowds began filling the sidewalks of Avenida Reforma from the early hours of Thursday morning. By 11, it was impossible to find a spot with a good view, so latecomers climbed trees, stood on upturned paint buckets, assembled perches from unused steel fence-barricades, and purchased homemade cardboard periscopes. The parade featured everything from a brigade of military nurses marching in lockstep to Navy speedboats being towed behind trucks, and column after column of soldiers in both historical uniforms and modern fatigues. Though the few soldiers dressed in the garb of campesino revolutionaries was attempted to recall the battles to preserve national sovereignty and forge a better country, it was the display of modern weaponry that drew the greatest attention. The sheer number of machine guns on offer seemed to suggest national virility: in surveys of Mexicans' trust in institutions, the military has consistently commanded the top ranking, despite its checkered human rights record. Effusive applause for the troops was both a reflection of this esteem and the product of a clear martial fascination.

Of course, the crowds also boisterously cheered the procession of street sweeping trucks trailing behind the parade.

Post 3 of 4 on the Bicentennial.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Touching the Bicentenario

On Wednesday, thousands of people streamed into the center of Mexico City to witness the extravaganza of the Bicentenario. But it was behind the barricades and cordons, away from the security checkpoints and lines of riot police, that the real celebration occurred. Calle Tacuba, blocks from the Zocalo, was a whirlwind of activity as vendors hawked everything from red, white and green wooden noisemakers to cheap plastic toys. On Avenida Reforma, it was impossible to walk 100 feet without being offered a tri-color mohawk headband for 15 pesos. Oversized clip-on Pancho Villa mustaches, historically inappropriate for the occasion, sold like hotcakes. At 6 PM, when the parade began to wind from Chapultepec Park to the Palacio Nacional, the loudest cheers were reserved for the icons of popular culture. "Arriba los nopales!" was the exuberant response to a float of dancers wearing cactus headdresses. Representations of street food vendors, maids, street sweepers, were all received more effusively than independence heroes or revolutionary martyrs. Later, Felipe Calderon would step to the balcony of the Palacio Nacional and, in the traditional "grito", proclaim "vivas" to the canonized figures of Miguel Hidalgo, Jose Maria Morelos, Ignacio Allende, Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez and others, it was the last viva that gave true meaning to the spectacle. ¡Viva Mexico! Mexico: brilliant and resilient, with an effervescently inventive popular culture. Mexico, alive and surviving.

Post 2 of 4 on the Bicentennial:

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


One hundred years ago today, Porfirio Diaz and Mexico City's high society celebrated the centennial of Mexican independence with lavish galas and sumptuous banquets. Beyond the bounds of the capital, however, discontent bubbled, and less than 2 months later Francisco Madero would begin the armed uprising that marked the start of the Mexican Revolution.

A century later, Mexico is not blithely ignorant of its problems. Economic stagnation, political incompetence, and a bloody and unwinnable war against narcotrafficking offer a grim backdrop to this fall's festivities. Yet the government has forged ahead with a bicentennial commemoration most characterized by excess. Over the past weeks, workers have erected massive screens and stages along Paseo La Reforma and converted the city's central plaza, the Zocalo, into an arena ringed with towers and spotlights. Beyond the parades, there will be musical performances ranging from Paulina Rubio to Los Tigres del Norte, and a massive fireworks display. A $54 million dollar bicentenary monument will not be completed until 2011.

The prodigality has provoked predictable resentment. But comments about how the money should have been spent--gratuitously reported in U.S. newspapers--miss the point. Governments everywhere have always invested excessively in such commemorations. Mexico has a particularly lengthy tradition of "nation building," and it was precisely because the first fifty years of independence were so troubled that Diaz--and his P.R.I. successors--invested heavily in didactic public rituals. This is not to say that Paulina Rubio will solve the country's problems, but to observe that this overblown commemoration is part of a lengthy tradition of state obsession. If the spectacle aims to enthrall and inspire, it is in the tens of thousands crowding the plazas where Mexicanness is truly celebrated.

Sunday, September 12, 2010


Away from the frenetic jostling of the markets, Sundays here have a half-speed feeling. There is an almost suffocating stillness, a torpor that reverberates down side streets and around desolate corners.

Sunday, September 5, 2010


Few branding campaigns have succeeded in intertwining the image of product and country as have the long-running efforts of Grupo Modelo to make Corona synonymous with Mexico. That fizzy flavorless lager should become Mexico's most effective foreign ambassador is a testament to that relentless marketing, and the dominance of Grupo Modelo, and its competitor, Cervecería Cuauhtemoc, over the market has made "Mexican beer" equivalent with light, refreshing adjunct lagers.

Unlike the United States, where Prohibition crushed an artisanal brewing industry, there is little evidence that a wide variety of beer styles ever flourished here. The consolidation of Modelo and Cuauhtemoc by mid-century and the absence of a strong consumer market condemned the country to beer purgatory. This dismal situation began to change over the past 15 years, with the founding of The Beer Factory, a "Rock Bottom"-style brewpub, in Mexico City in 1997, and the brief-lived Casta brewing company, a bottled craft beer line.

To say there is now a flourishing craft beer scene in Mexico would be an exaggeration. However, the enthusiasm, diversity, and quality on display at this weekend's Cerveza Mexico artisanal exposition was a heartening demonstration that the nascent movement is gathering momentum. While craft breweries here will continue to struggle against the market hegemony of Modelo and Cuauhtemoc, whose control over distribution and resale agreements can border on suffocating, efforts to organize the industry to lobby against legislation that protects the monopoly are underway. Consumers are increasingly becoming aware of the possibilities as well, as the steady stream of Friday night customers at a small craft beer store in Colonia Roma will attest. The evolution of consumers' palates is also underscored by the decision of Cervecería Cuauhtemoc to purchase Casta, and has offer two of Casta's recipes under the label of Bohemia Trigo (wheat) and Bohemia Oscura (dark). Moreover, the influence of the U.S. craft beer movement has also trickled across the border, as demonstrated by the big, aggressive experimental ales produced by Baja California's Cucapá brewing company.

The slogan for the exposition was: "Alternatives that flow." While Corona may continue to claim the image of Mexico,
lagers with limes are no longer the only option.