Saturday, October 30, 2004

M11 Her Name Is Rio

A Report from Rio...

I arrived in Rio on a Friday night after a week trapped in meetings in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I was thrilled to be going to Brazil for work but SP reminded me more of a Mexico City-sized Arlington, Virginia than the Brazil of my imagination.

The closest I ever got to Brazil before last night was the Grille From Impanema Restaurant on Columbia Road NW in Washington, DC. I was so excited on the 12-hour overnight flight from Mexico City down here I couldn’t sleep until I got to my meetings.

When I arrived, I decided to take a stroll along the beach in the Copacabana section of Rio. When I was a kid, I thought Copacabana was “Cocacabana” (for the coconuts) and that it was in Havana, not Rio. I expected Lola, beauty and glamour.

On the beach, the sounds of the waves are drowned out by sounds of automobile traffic. As I made my way down the boardwalk, I decided to stop at a club, “Help” which was listed in my Lonely Planet Guide as the largest discothèque in Latin America. Cool.

Any time I see or hear that word by itself, I automatically think of the following lines in the Beatles song “…I need somebody”.

Just outside it was teaming with beautiful women outnumbering men 7 to 1. The club appeared to be a factory for couples: only singles went in and only couples came out.

I decided to go in to help myself to the music. If you believe that you believe I read playboy for its literary value. I was curious in a prurient kind of way.

Inside, the women all seemed to be checking me out. Now, I’d like to say that I can’t blame them, but there was something strange about this particular sort of attention. Inside, most of the men were dead-ringers for my mind’s image of sex tourists; north of middle aged, fat, gray and balding. The kind of dudes that would be roaming about in trench coats and shorts if we weren’t in the tropics.

Then, I had a sudden realization; these were not ordinary everyday club going Brazilian women and men.

I was surrounded by a club-full of hookers and their prospective Johns. Blonde hookers. Brunette hookers. Redheaded hookers. Slutty looking hookers. Innocent looking hookers. Fat hookers. Thin hookers. Black hookers. White hookers. Beautiful hookers. Ugly hookers. Hooker-looking hookers. Non-hooker looking hookers.

Truth be told, they were probably not all hookers. Or maybe there were. It was hard to tell. The club artfully blurred that line. What a concept. Instead baring the stigma of going to a brothel or strip bar, a John simply goes to this “disco” where it just so happens that there are 7 women for every man. Then a he “meets” a woman and takes it from there. I decided to leave and steer clear of discothèques.

“Help” is a place where you need no help if you need somebody.

Friday, October 29, 2004

M10 Un dia en mi Vida

I love my daily life in Mexico City. In some respects it’s more convenient than my life was in Washington. DC.

Every morning I cook myself a meal with fresh veggies. I purchase all my produce at the local market. It is on the way to and from the subway. Within walking distance, there is a Gigante (pronounce Higante) supermarket and a health food store. Though the health food stores here tend to deal more in the latest magic sex portions than in say, soy. But at least I can buy tofu there.

After the culinary experience with the family I first stayed with, I thought I was going to be poisoned at worst and starved at best. As usual, my fears have come to naught.

I am eating better than ever even though Whole Foods has not (yet) opened here. Un/fortunately, US chains like Starbucks, Target, Costco and every fast food joint you could imagine are slowly and steadily chipping away at the uniqueness of Mexico promising a homogenized, sanitized future as generic as a strip mall in Anytown, USA. A lot of Mexicans, like the family I lived with, are eating it up like a super-sized package of “freedom” fries from McDonalds.

Walmart is opening it’s latest edifice to sprawl on the sacred grounds near Teotihuacán so you can enjoy the 2000 year old temple of the Sun and the Moon and jet in for some cheapie souvenirs, food and detergent in quantities that will let you wait out the apocalypse.

The store sits within the actual grounds of the United Nations World Heritage Site for Teotihuacán. Do you think even Walmart would attempt to put one of its stores in the Grand Canyon or on the National Mall? What must they think about Mexico and Mexicans to do the same here? Such arrogance is astounding.

Walmart construction workers have testified that the company ordered them to hide any archeological artifacts they may find. Isn’t that special?

Read more:

If you’re mad you can sign the online petition:
It only takes a second.

Fortunately, what I love the most about Mexico is it has not been overwhelmed by chains. Rather, the entire Ciudad de Mexico (Mexico City) is one big market consisting of fresh produce markets, stands with bootleg/pirata CD’s and DVD stands, antiques beyond anything I’ve seen in the best flee market or thrift stores back home.

At the produce market, blocks from my house, I buy things in small quantities so my food is always fresh. I now make a mean guacamole! The first time I went, I thought I was getting a bargain when one of the produce sellers told me the price was 70 pesos ($7US). I misheard him, it was 7 pesos or roughly 7 cents for fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, mangos, bananas and oranges.

I revel in the irony that when I was staying with a Mexican family I ate the food they cooked me from Costco while now that I am on my own I eat my own homemade Guacamole and Salsas that are fresh and fabulous and locally grown!

I was down to my last cup of Peet’s Coffee and I thought I might have to resort to getting my fix at Starbucks in Polanco or Condesa. One night I was walking to the Zocalo and I smelled coffee.

There was a small corner shop on Calle Lopez with a giant ancient roasting machine. I stopped in. It was straight out of 1910. It even had a wooden and brass phone (still in use). I wish I had had my camera. Hell, I wish I had a camera! They were roasting coffee as I purchased a half-kilo (just over a pound) for about $5US.

That night I went to sleep dreaming about the coffee I would drink the next morning.

When I woke, I went straight to my grinder and coffee maker to made my coffee. It was as almost as good as Peet’s and definitely better than Starbucks.

My commute is 20 minutes round-trip door to door. That includes two stops on the efficient, but crowded Mexico City Subway. One day I had to wait for four cars before feeling comfortable enough to enter one. That being said, the subway feels safe. I get interesting looks when I wear a suit, though I don’t ever feel threatened. Mexico is homogenous enough that it’s impossible not to stand out if you are not from here. I have become accustomed to it and quite enjoy the fact that it seems to throw locals off that I live here.

My new house and landlord are fabulous. Thus far, she has bought me a new radiator, comforter, corkscrew, coffee table and has offered to get me a DVD player. And I never asked for anything. My house is equipped with every appliance, hi-speed internet, 1000-channel cable and twice weekly maid service which includes washing, drying and, best of all, folding of my laundry. It’s a huge improvement over my last situation and one that has allowed me to relax, enjoy and savor my time here in the world’s largest city.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

M9 Viva La Nacion

Have you ever wanted something to happen your entire life that you thought would never happen?

I have. My family has. My hometown has. So many lived there entire lives without seeing it happen. Like my grandfather who died three and a half years shy of it happening.

Once it finally happened it was a bit anti-climatic. Don’t get me wrong, I was psyched, but the most incredible moments actually took place just prior to it happening.

After 86 years (the last time they won the world series) of bad news, those of us in Red Sox Nation are used to disappointments. They have come so close, so many times only to let us let Boston and the entire Red Sox Diaspora down.

Like in ’67 against the Reds.

While I wasn’t alive yet, Massachusetts school children like myself begin the process of life-long Red Sox conditioning early by being shown films of past Sox debacles starting in kindergarten.

I can vividly remember the ’75 World Series as a 6-year old. I can still see in my mind’s eye the cafeteria in the elementary school with its white tiled ceiling, brown faux-wood tables and the green 16mm projector where we watched it. I can hear the clicking noise of the projector.

Then there was ’78 American League Championships (ALSC) against the Yankees. In ’86, I watched raptly sharing telephone commentary with my high school girlfriend, Karen as the Sox were one strike away from winning only to miss a ball on an easy play allowing the Mets to come back and win the series.

Then there was last year’s ALCS also against the Yankees. I traded text urgent messages with the girl I was interested in at the time, Sarah, a fellow New Englander, echoing my phone calls with Karen back in ’86.

It was obvious to any good Boston sports fan that coach Grady Little should have pulled pitcher Pedro Martinez out after the 7th inning. Instead, he left him in allowing the Yankees to score against a fatigued Pedro. Everyone knows Pedro goes downhill after the 100th pitch, right?

But just as the Sox lost then and things went sour with Karen thereafter, the Sox lost in last and things went sour with Sarah shortly thereafter.

Fate doesn’t change unless you believe.

All this year I followed intently as the Sox took an early season lead in their division only to let it whither then plunge to a 10 1/2 game deficit against the Yankees as recently as August 16th.

Miraculous, they staged stunning comeback to be within 2 1/2 games of the Yankees at the end of the post season. Kevin Brown, the Yankees star $40m pitcher threw a hissy fit after losing in a 3-game shut out to the Sox at Yankee Stadium, slamming his hand into the clubhouse wall and breaking it into pieces.

I guess at $40m a year you buy a pitcher smart enough to punch a wall with his non-pitching hand.

I watched the Sox crush the Anaheim Angels three games to none to clinch the post-season wildcard slot as I watched the Yankees flounder.

Just as it appeared the Yanks were done-for, I wondered, as many did, would it be the same matter if the Red Sox got to the World Series without vanquishing their long time foe on their way there?

I wouldn’t have to wonder at all. The Yankees pulled yet another come-from-behind victory for which they are famous.

But I still believed this was the year.

The only problem was, I wouldn’t get to watch much of the most important series of all, the ALCS. I was vacationing in a thatched roof hut with candles doubling for light bulbs on in Tulum on the Caribbean coast of Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

Do I have to write that we didn’t have ESPN? The night we came back was the night of the 6th game.

As soon as we arrived at the airport in Mexico City, I scoured the newsstands looking for a New York Times like a junky looking for a fix.

I found mine, but it didn’t contain the news I wanted.

The Boston Red Sox appeared to be dead in their face-off against the Yanquis (what they’re called in Mexico). The pictures showed it all; the faces of Boston fans looking like the rain-drenched Fenway Park.

Katy asked “what happened” after seeing the look of distress on my face as I read the sports page. In a tone of utter resignation that I’ve had thirty-five years to practice, I said, “Don’t ask slaughter”.

I caught glimpses of results but couldn’t bring myself to read the entire story; lost game one10-7 with Schilling pitching. Lost game two 3-1 with Martinez pitching.

How could that happen?

The weather was appropriately rainy as I drove home in a cab having seen Katy off for her return flight to London.

The next day, assuming the Sox were dead, I read the Mexican daily La Reforma in disbelief. Perhaps the Mexican papers are a day behind. Better check the Miami Herald’s English language paper. The Sox are still alive? Huh?

Was this a dream?

One game had been postponed and the series had been moved out a day due to rain; the Sox were still clinging to life down 3 to 0 in a best of 7 series. No team in the history of baseball had ever come back from losing the first three in a series of seven to go on to win. Never. Ever.

Almost no one believed, except the Red Sox themselves. After game 3, Johnny Damon the Sox’ center fielder told New York Times sports writer George Vecsey without the slightest bit of bravado “that as far as I can recollect the Sox had won four straight games plenty of times”. They had done so 8 times this season alone.

They were staging a slow, but incredible resurrection that still to this moment is giving me goose bumps.

Game 5 was actually underway in Boston as I sat in the cab. The Yanks took an early lead but the Sox managed to hold on driving the game into the 14th inning (that’s 5 extra innings) forcing a Game 6 in New York.

The Sox had teammates such as Curt Shilling who pitched perfectly with a bleeding ankle even though he should have been in the hospital. The team doctor sutured his torn tendon after practicing the delicate procedure on a cadaver in a Boston morgue.

Meanwhile the Yanquis had A-Rod, Alex Rodriguez. He’s an overpaid shortstop and bully the Sox had tried to acquire only to be outdone by their archrivals (and their $200 million payroll - $60 million greater than the Sox’).

It’s helpful to think of the Yankees like spoiled rich kids. They have all the money, the clean-cut looks and they are as accustomed to winning as their fans (parents) are accustomed to having them win.

But when the grungy kids from the other side of the tracks start beating them on their own turf, they start playing like brats they are.

In Game 6 with the Sox ahead A-Rod got on first base driving a run home and tying the game as the Sox dropped the ball. Or so it looked.

It was a classic moment like so many others in the tragic history of the Sox and I thought it would end the same way it always does. But actually, A-Rod had slapped the ball out of Sox pitcher Bronso Arroyo’s hands as he had tried to tag him out – a definite foul.

What’s next, scratching and hair-pulling?

The umpires convened, sent Jeter back to second and called A-Rod out. YES! In an instant, the bad karma had been totally reversed and things were going the way of Red Sox nation again.

They went on to win game six and utterly silence Yankees Stadium as Schilling predicted. They vanquished their foe and advanced for the first time in 18 years to the World Series!

Something was changed. Shifted. Karmically altered.

I could feel it all the way down here in Mexico and now even in Brazil as I write. The karma of the universe is changed and the fate of the Sox had been reversed. And I am not even kidding.

I was so giddy the morning after the triumph; I caught myself pacing up and down the subway platform electrified with glee. The Sox moved on to play St. Louis in the World Series.

Imagine how the Cardinals felt waking up the morning of Game 4. “Okay, we’re down three to none in a best of 7 series. It’s win or be eliminated. Until last week no team in the history of baseball has come back from such a deficit. The team to do it is the team to play it’s the team we’re playing”.

The Sox swept the Cardinals who played honorably last night four games to none setting another post-season record; eight consecutive wins.

The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series. Repeat. The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series. As the Boston Globe put it on their cover: “Pigs Fly”, “Hell Freezes Over” and the Red Sox Win the World Series. I never thought I’d see it in my lifetime.