Friday, August 27, 2004

M5 El Marcardo Negro: Why Rent when You Can Buy?

It’s our next to last night in town and Florian, my new German friend, and I have some shopping to do before we meet up with his wife at Las Mananitas (the little hands), one of Mexico’s finest restaurants located here in Cuernavaca.

It’s famous because the food is fabulous and it has lush gardens that are patrolled by colorful giant peacocks that will take a bite of your food if you give them the opportunity.

Sounds a little bit like the Mexican Police – but that’s another story.

I had learned about “el Marcado Negro” at dinnertime over hushed voices the first night I was in town. Bill, a fellow house guest made the Black Market seem like it was some forbidden place that was difficult to find unless you were in the know as he apparently was. Apparently, he couldn’t recall the intricate directions to the market.

I would just have to find it on my own.

The truth of the matter, I was to find out, is it’s hard not to find the black market. Markets are everywhere and they resemble “flea markets” in the USA except they sell new bootleg stuff known as “piratas”.

Stuff like CD’s for a dollar and DVD’s for half what you would pay to rent them at Blockbuster (which is here as well). Would you go to Blockbuster if you lived near the black market?

Why rent, when you can buy?

If you like Diesel jeans, like I do, they’re yours for $11. Next time I decide to blow upwards of $200 on jeans from Diesel’s unadvertised Denim Lab in SOHO, I’ll think twice, save my money for a plane ticket and then I’ll come back with a suit case of Diesel clothing.

Now, if you’ve just moved to Mexico and are worried that you are going be without “American” culture for a year, fret not, the black market is your kind of place. You won’t miss any movies – not even ones that are just hitting stateside cinemas right now.

Want to see Will Smith in “I, Robot” – it’s here but it’s called “Yo, Robot”. YO ROBOT!!! But don’t worry, it’s still in English because the film is so new, they haven’t even had time to dub it. Most of the films are in English with Spanish subtitles. We were hoping the DVD technology would allow us to listen in Spanish with English subtitles, but alas the DVD’s are not quite what they are back home.

What do you expect for the price of a grande frappucino?

In fact, most of the DVD’s are actually “VCD’s”. Other than knowing that stands for “Video CD”, I don’t know what the hell one of these things is. All I know is it doesn’t play on my computer, but I witnessed it being played on the vendadora’s (seller’s) DVD test station.

Yes, you may test drive before you buy here. If, for some absurd reason, you thought for a moment that you were about to purchase an inferior quality product, you may test the DVD/VCD of your choice in the vendor’s DVD player to prove such spurious assumptions false.

Florian had a whole list of films he wanted to buy. I had a general idea, knowing that I wanted mostly films with a Mexican or Spanish theme. We decided to go in together and purchase a whole slew and then share, but not first without making sure we were getting the best possible quality for our $4.00USD.

We ask for a screening of a Mexican film I haven’t heard of. She slides it into the DVD player which swallows the disk whole. She presses play and when we inquire in Spanish as to whether we can listen in Spanish and read subtitles in English. She absolves herself of all responsibility for such technical questions and in a symbolic gesture, she hands me the remote control.

I mess around with the menu settings and Florian and I have a conversation as I fumble with the controls that went something like this:

Florian “It looks kind of blurry, is this a ‘50’s porn flick?”
Brian “No dude, that’s a special effect, yes, it’s grainy and blue, that’s the idea”
Florian “Why is it flickering?”
Brian in a moment of realization “Oh, it’s been filmed on a camcorder inside a theatre”.
Florian “You’re right”
Brian and Florian - laughter

We toss that one back and she hands us “7 Mujeres (women), un Homosexual y (and) Carlos”. We decline to screen that one.

But we did manage to get good copies of “Farenheit 911”, “Y Tu Mama Tambien” and “Frida”.

Interestingly, while most Mexican-themed films were featured prominently in the stalls, Frida was nowhere to be found. Well, she could be found everywhere on postcards, handbags, balloons and just about anything else, but not on DVD. Maybe they have a conscience and feel badly about bootlegging their national heroine.

Or maybe not. On our last and final attempt we finally found her.

The disks themselves are obviously unique, one of-a-kind creations. They’re hand-labeled with sharpies “Disk 1” and “Disk 2”.

During a screening of the new Tom Cruise flick, the bottom half of the screen was emblazoned with the text “If you are watching this film and have not received the DVD from an authorized source, please contact 1-800-555-1234. Your call will remain strictly anonymous”.

Do you think they’ll pick up the international cellular roaming fees? My guess is no. The warning disappears shortly thereafter.

DVD’s are not under any system of organization. I had to laugh when next to Disney’s “Mulan” I saw a film entitled “XXX: Tons of Tits”.

Some times I wonder; where is the sense of irony? But that what is nice about Mexico. Completely unselfconscious. Completely devoid of irony.

Completely fabulous.

Monday, August 23, 2004

M4 Butterflies In the Stomach

This morning while I was brushing my teeth there was a sudden and furious flapping in the bathroom startling me out of my standing slumber.

Duck, BAT!

When I looked, it was a friendly mariposa (butterfly), a cousin, no doubt, of the one I encountered last week. He was completely frightened and I thought he would die bouncing off the walls like a pinball in his panic to escape.

There was something to his panic that was a natural reaction.

There was also something more in deadly in his panic than in the actual danger.

In my own life, I can only liken it to one thing. Mountain biking. I have been in situations where, speed and technical conditions suddenly overtook my riding ability and I was caught riding way outside my comfort zone and my self-presumed ability.

In this situation, I have never panicked. I have also never crashed. (Knock wood!) I was comfortable with my extreme discomfort and that’s what saved me. Had I reacted, even slightly, I would have gone down and the results would have been terrible.

I also learned that I had more ability than I imagined. When the occasion arose, I was able to operate outside my self-imposed limitations.

Fear is as real as you want it to be.

Fear may be an alarm, but usually it’s a false one.

If you always react as if the alarm is real, the fear becomes reality. If you acknowledge fear as fear and not reality, fear does not have to become fate.

My immediate concern is quelling the fear of a terrified mariposa. He wouldn’t stay still long enough for me to catch him, but I was determined to save him.

Think. Quickly.

I turn off the lights. He stops fluttering, calms down and perches himself on the side of the mirror.

I capture him with a cup by covering the top with a towel. Then, I carefully transfer my live cargo to the balcony where I set him free!

It felt great that this one would be able to fly about the garden and spread the happiness that seems to go along with these most fabulous creatures.

This morning, fear did not become fate.

This mariposa was brown like wood and had wings about as big as my hand. He’s cleverly disguised, not that this guy stood still long enough for me to tell, but I have seen his type before. If you view him from the side, he looks like he has eyes on his wings to discourage would-be predators fearful of a large mammal. I guess in his own way he’s playing off the fear of potential predators to protect himself. I can’t say I blame him.

It’s hard to think of mariposas (I like the Spanish word better than the English) as insects. These creatures are among natures’ most colorful, free and symbolic. When I was in Costa Rica I went to a “Jardin Mariposa” (Butterfly Garden) and learned about their life cycle.

They start life as lowly caterpillars and seemingly dead, wind up as ugly, boring, cocoons. I wonder if cocoons know they will be transformed into some of natures’ most beautiful, inspiring and transformative creatures?

I wonder if they would feel better knowing their destiny as fabulous Mariposas?

I had always heard that the Monarch Butterflies flew to Mexico from the United States. It’s great to be here with them.

The animals are following me. After my first night here, I hoped to get a closer look at the cat on the archway.

My wish has come true.

The other night I returned home and sat outside writing as I am now. I had just left my wallet on the bed and I thought I saw it falling off the bed. Then I thought I saw something move.

Couldn’t be. Could it? El gato?

I was just in there – there could be nothing in that room. Then I saw it again and it looked strangely as though a cat were pawing the comforter from underneath the bed. Surely, this is some hallucination, a delusion or dream because I miss my cats.

Sure enough it was moving and I decided to go in and investigate. It could be an iguana or something terrible. I already found a big spider and the school warns us about scorpions. I stood atop the bed and gently lifted the comforter. I slowly peered from above under the bed and there was a small black and white cat.

She has a novio (boyfriend) who comes to the balcony to serenade her at times. He is shy like she is. Not quite feral, not quite your average house cats.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

M3 Espanol

Every night I look forward to coming home and spending an hour or two by myself on the balcony. I sit and enjoy the "eternal spring" weather for which Cuernavca is renown. I listen to and write on my computer. That's a sentence I would never have thought could be written when I was growing up. Now I make my living and am seeing the world thanks to computers.

Tonight, I went into town and had dinner with a colleague from SAS. Bill, a guest in mi casa, recommended Marco Polo to us because it's cheap. He's on a budget. I am on an expense account. I was therefore slightly skeptical, but the place proved to be good and cheap and sports one of the best views I've seen at a restaurant. We ate on a veranda overlooking the cathedral which looks more like a castle than a cathedral. It has a vast verdant garden and is straight out of the 17th century. As the waiter seated us I was awed.

I felt a shot of relaxation and tranquility hit me like I just popped a couple of valiums. I found out my first business trip is going to be to Brazil next month. I am so thrilled I might need to pinch myself.

My Spanish classes are intense. I meet with three teachers throughout the day in one-on-one sessions. I both know a lot more and a lot less Spanish than I thought. It's daunting, for a talker like me, to barely be able to express myself in simple situations. Classes go from 8am to 5:30pm with brief ten minute breaks and an hour for lunch which I must eat at mi casa con mi famlia. If you haven't gotten a long email reply from me you now know why.

My last teacher, Marilu, is my favorite. We actually had a two-hour conversation yesterday in Spanish which I didn't think I was capable of. She is patience, relaxed and en espanol "simpatico". It makes me realize the gifts that teachers, good ones that is, have. They literally have the ability to open or close the minds of students. I had to ask for another instructor to replace the one I have in the morning. My current teacher, Rocio, is slightly overbearing and impatient. She makes me nervous, talks down to me and makes me forget simple verbs like the one for "to speak", hablar. The school is really cool about stuff like this since my company is throwing down to have me in the executive program.

Tuesday night there was a social that I almost didn't attend. I am desperately in need of time to myself but Bill was going and I though I would go too. I was glad I did. I met a German couple who, like me, is moving to Mexico City (aka DF, Mexico) after our classes end. They were really cool to talk to and I am psyched to have potential friends in my new home.

I am glad it is the weekend. My brain can't handle any more information. I haven't decided what my plan is for the weekend. The pacific's only a short hop from here. Cuernavaca is surrounded by mountains and if I can find a mountain bike and someone to take me on a ride, I will be there. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 20, 2004

M2 Mariposa

I am sitting on my balcony with a view of the archway that the neighborhood cats like to crawl over. I've gotten a closer glimpse of the cats and so did a butterfly I found yesterday.

When I was trying to get near the small black and white cat, I came upon him. He didn't fly and I picked him up and placed him on my index finger. His wings were sliced though in such a manner that I though that was the way he was born.

I took some pictures him in my hand (that I will post to my website when I find a get to the nearby wireless internet connection). He was enormous by butterfly standards with wide black wings punctuated by long yellow stripes. Not your typical monarch. He didn't seem to want to get off my finger, but I gently placed him on a nearby flower far from the clutches of el gato.

When I went to class this morning, I looked to see if he was still there. I had hoped he would have flown off or perhaps reversed the course of butterfly life turning into a caterpillar.

When I looked, he was being consumed by hungry ants.

I was struck with more sadness than I thought I could feel for an insect and those feelings were with me most of the day.

I guess there was nothing I could do. But I wish it could have been otherwise,

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

M1 Musing Numero Uno

Musings on Mexico
Musing Numero Uno
Dia 2

I am sitting on the balcony outside my room in a casa grande in Cuernvaca Mexico. The neighborhood doesn't look like much, but behind the foreboding stonewalls and iron clad archway is a beautiful, albeit private, world that the best-to-do Mexicans enjoy. Homes here conceal wealth rather than advertise it. I am a guest here privy to this world as part of my two-week language immersion program sponsored by my company's year abroad program of which I am creator and sole enrollee.

I thought the difficult part of moving to another country was supposed to be acclimating to a new language, culture and home. Thus far the most trying part of my move has been extracting myself from the place I've called home since I was a teenager; Washington, DC.

Everything from my own doubts, to my girlfriend's, to last minute house renting snafus have made the process of leaving more stressful than I could possibly anticipate. Sometimes I was excited when I wasn't worried about renting my house, which is still half vacant, or rented depending upon my mood of optimism. When I was worried, sometimes it would be a low-level of anxiety whilst at other times it would come in a deeply manifested physical pang of fear and regret.

I worried that I would either be totally psyched and then come down from the initial high and be depressed or even worse, just be regretful as soon as I got to Mexico. Truth be told, it's still too early to tell, but at least I am not anticipating anything anymore.

I am here and it feels good.

Yesterday, my driver picked me up at the airport with a placard that said "Brian Kemler" making me feel more important than I actually consider myself to be. We lugged my year's worth of stuff to the garage and waded through rush hour Mexico City traffic for countless hours. Think L.A. with smaller roads and three times the cars. I long ago concluded that not bringing my car was the most fabulous decision I've ever made. The urban planners here are pushing for a "segundo piso" (double decker) highway while they still have yet to invent the concept of HOV lanes here.

We dropped the belongings I won't need for the next two weeks with the familia I will call my own for the next year and then headed toward Cuernavaca in what still seemed to be rush hour though it was approaching 9pm.

Edgar, the driver pulled the car over entirely unfazed as he indicated that there was something wrong with the tire. What could be wrong with a tire other than a flat and wouldn't that be cause for alarm?! Well, he took it in stride and I did too perhaps feeding off his calm, laid back Mexican demeanor.

Rather than change tire with the spare, we pulled into a roadside tire repair joint a quarter the size of the average DC efficiency apartment. How convenient. With haste, the Tire Doctor pulled the tire off the car, filled it with air anew (what's he doing?), and placed it in a giant sink filled with water to determine where the punctures were. With the skill of a surgeon, the Tire Whisperer marked the critical leaks with chalk - there were four. He muttered Spanish to Edgar and then proceeded to repair the tire as though it were a bicycle tire.

But it's a car tire.

He affixed massive tire levers between the tire and the rim just like I do on my bicycle and then pried it off the rim while applying force with his entire body. Once half of the tire was off the rim, he felt up the inside of the tire oh so gently. With his pliers he plucked the offending nails carefully like a dentist removing a rotted tooth and then added it to his collection jar as though the nail fairy was going to come and leave him a peso under his pillow tonight.

Then - most surprisingly of all - he pulled out a tube - yes - an inner tube - for a freaking car tire! He carefully laced it within the tire, put the tire back on the rim, filled it with air, refastened the rim on the car and we were ready to go again! All this, in less than15 minutes for less than $10USD.

Contrast this to my most recent tire repair experience at Costco with the new Michelin tires I bought for my car when I was taking care of all of the fun errands I had to run before I left the country. Of course I only had one flat, but I had to buy four tires due to the intricacies of tread wear on four-wheel drive vehicles. This cost me nearly $600.

After catching some delicious sleep in Edgar's car, I arrived at my home for the next two weeks. The house is massive, has a lush garden filled with songbirds and mariposas (butterflies). The balcony outside my room sports a view of trees and the thick wall that surrounds my house and the archway that is the entrance to this place. Before I went to sleep last night, the silhouette of a cat walked silently over the arch and into the trees…