Saturday, November 18, 2006

Mi Ultima Noche

A sense of nostalgia and sadness and saudade blind-sided me my final week in Mexico. When I left DC, I felt nothing of the sort. Perhaps because I had years to prepare. But as much as I wanted to leave Mexico, in fact, I wasn't fully aware of how attached to it I had become. Of course it was more being attached to friends, the people and what for me turned out to be a formative experience.

My final week, I contemplated all that had happened; leaving DC behind, dealing with the perennial drama of my house and tenants culminating in its sale during the peak month of the real estate boom. Learning Spanish, Portuguese and developing friendships here and all around the world. Finding friendships with people and places so different than anything I had every known. Finding music, culture and art I had not known before. Thinking about how the world had changed me. How I had become friends with people like Claudia, Peter and more recently Brizia. How I would miss these people and how special and unique my time in Mexico was and how unlike it will be from any of time in my life. I was saddest that I would not be able to have my near-daily cafes and conversations with Claudia.

I packed my stuff. I took Domino and Yuki on a well-behaved trip to the vets to get their pussycat-passports. The cab driver took a liking to them and strangely, ended up being one of the two drivers (yes, I had that much stuff) to take us to the airport early Sunday morning.

Even though the cats usually freak out in the car or at the airport, this, the second time, it didn't seem so bad as the first. In fact, everything work, like clock-work, even though I was expecting the worst based on previous experience. Much of what is hard the first time becomes easy the second time and easier still subsequently. I need to remind myself that next time I embark on doing something entirely new and different for two years of my life.

The last day at work, Friday, the office took me to eat at my favorite Japanese restaurant (I know, not a very Mexican despedida). It was nice that everyone showed up to say goodbye and maybe have a free meal.

At night I went to eat at my favorite restaurant, Rojo Bistro, in the Condesa with friends Claudia, Stefan and Brizia. Later we went to my house and Alex and Peter joined us while we kept the neighborhood up on my roof downing bottle after bottle of tequila. I felt a sense of liberation and felt entirely un-selfconscience about our drunken antics. I finally fell asleep mid-party but that was around 5am.

The next day was a cloud until my actual, formal, despedida Saturday night. Many of the folks from the office showed out in addition to some of my friends from Startbucks (where I was well known in my time!) and the crew from the previous night. It was nice to see so many people come to say goodbye. After the previous night, I was on a strictly tonic water and orange juice drink regimen.

I felt badly, but it was nearly 3am and people were showing no signs of leaving so I politely said goodbye to everyone. I had a plane to catch. Peter and I went back to my place, crashed for an hour and cabbed to the Mexico City airport. We checked in all 11 pieces of luggage and a staggering $500 in excess baggage fees. Domino and Yuki came with us onboard and were super-well behaved for their 4.5 hour direct flight to San Fran. No glitches. No nada.

Arriving in San Francisco, I rented an SUV to drive the all the stuff to my new and empty apartment. Since then, it's been like one big shopping spree. After departing with the majority of my worldly possessions when I sold my house a year earlier, I bought a new bed, sheets, silverware, flatware, pots, pans, a sofa, a coffee table and even a new cyclo-cross bike.

Monday, October 16, 2006

M32 Edge of the Ocean

There's a place I dream about

Where the sun never goes out.
And the sky is deep and blue.
Won't you take me there with you.

Ohhh, we can begin again.
Shed our skin, let the sun shine in.
At the edge of the ocean
We can start over again.
--Ivy "Edge of the Ocean"

The other night, I signed a lease on a flat in San Francisco's the Mission Dolores neighborhood, just a block from the park. My new place is huge, on the top floor and set on a tranquil, block-long street with no through traffic.

If I walk a block south, I am in the heart of the gritty hipster haven, the Mission. A block in the other direction and I am in the 18th Street “gourmet ghetto" with its plethora of cafes (including one I am dubbing "cafe-cutie"), health food stores, bakeries and Michelin-rated restaurants. Together, they have some of the best restaurants I think of. Anywhere. Fortunately, Amoeba Records is at a safe distance, in the Haight, thus I don’t have to factor into my rent what I would spend there. There is not a chain store in spitting distance.

The Mission is the Latino neighborhood should I want use the subjunctive tense in Spanish for giggles. Maybe I will just torture an unsuspecting immigrant with my accent that’s one part Mexican, one part Norte-Americano, one part Brasileiro and the other Argentino. I’ve spoken Spanish every day this week.

To me, San Francisco is paradise. I am a ten-minute bike ride to work. Just 20 to get over the Golden Gate Bridge and into Marin. 15 to the Marina. A few less to Pac Heights or Russian Hill. 5 to SOMA and my new favorite restaurant on the planet, the all vegan, Gratitude. If I want to be at work by 9, I can leave just fifteen minutes earlier on the BART subway or the beautifully restored, colorful 1920's trams that run along Market and Church Streets.

The people are smart, cool, progressive, friendly and healthy. They work hard and have good careers, but know how to play equally hard. I am impressed with how nice people are and how they talk to me everywhere I am.

I have a feeling it's not going to be as hard as, say, moving to a country where I didn't know the language or even a single person. But I won't make any predictions, I am sure they'd just come back and bite me on the ass.

As psyched as I am to be in SF, I am sad to leave el DF. This is my last week here and I am feeling some serious saudade. The hardest part is leaving friends behind. But, as the one whom I will miss the most, Claudia, reminded me today, we’ll always be in contact and San Francisco is a just quick flight 4.5 hour flight to Mexico City.

In the same way I am about to reconnect with San Francisco friends Doug, Cynthia, Mary, Josh, Dylan, Dave, Becky and Doutschan, I know one day, when I least expect it or plan it, I will reconnect with my friends here.

My friends have shown me not only the best of their countries, but they also shown me what I consider to be the best of the world. I hope I showed them that there are Norte-Americanos who didn't vote for Jorge Arbusto, who don't support the US current administration and who are actually enthralled by other countries, cultures and languages.

Moreover, people in general and my friends in particular, showed me patience when I was lacking it. They showed me understanding and tolerance of cultural differences and in doing so taught me to be more empathetic and tolerant. They showed me there are different ways to do things and to think about things. They showed me how things can work out without forcing them.

Without them, I’d have a lot of photographs, but few experiences and nothing to tie me back to the rest of the world. I wouldn't feel changed.

I am thankful to have had the opportunity to step further outside myself than I thought was possible. Mexico City wasn’t exactly the best place on the planet for the outdoors, biking and healthy lifestyles. But two years hence, I've grown in ways I couldn't have imagined before - even if I don't ride as quickly as I once did. I can speak Spanish and even Portuguese especially when aided by my favorite type of beer in the world, Brazilian schopp. I’ve discovered my love for other countries and cultures and someone else paid me to do it.

I feel like I have come full circle. Like the kid in "The Alchemist", Santiago. He sets out to find a hidden treasure and travels in search of his dream. At first the universe conspires to help him but he has to over come many obstacles to get where he wants to go. When he gets there - it's not where he thought it was. (I don't want to give away then of the story). He survives by keeping his dream alive and listening to his heart.

It might have taken me two years to admit, but I miss home. I miss soy sausages. I miss riding. I miss bikram. I miss my friends. I miss normality. I miss healthy-lifestyle culture. I miss clean air. I miss green. I miss my snowboard. I miss snow. I miss 20 brands of cat litter. I miss having my own furniture. I miss halloween. I miss speaking English. I miss convenience.

And I will miss Mexico.

It doesn't seem to make sense to send musings from Mexico if I am in San Francisco. So other than posting a few laggard trip reports, I will retire this blog, but it will remain online.

Who knows what SF brings? Most likely not what I expect. At least it will make a good story for a future blog or yet-to-be-invented medium.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

M31 Dos Anos Despues

I've now been in Mexico exactly two years and one more than planned! My Spanish has improved greatly, though is far from perfect.

It’s been a while since I wrote a mass-email, so I thought I’d send a quick update. From November through April, I led a major project for my company at a large bank. That consumed most of my time and I fell out of the habit of writing my regular emails.

I skipped Thanksgiving and then only made it to Boston in the nick of time for Christmas, though failed to write my usual holiday cards. The life of Brian as a work-aholic. I am now in recovery.

My blog, however, is up to date.

After my project, I took some time off and went to the Yucatan. Photos here:

Then the excitement was the World Cup. Alas, each of my four teams lost, USA, Mexico and Brazil and then finally France fell to Italy. It was fun to be in a country where soccer is taken seriously and during the matches everything stops. My company purchased a TV and cable subscription solely for the purpose of watching the games.

As the cup wound down, the next competition heated up, the Mexican presidential elections pitting the center-right PAN candidate, Filippe Calderon against former Mexico City Mayor and the not –so-center-left PRD, Adreas Manuel Lopez Obredor (AMLO). There were three other candidates, but the race came down to these two with a .05% victory for Calderon of 241,000 votes of 43,000,000 cast.

AMLO immediately demanded a re-count and has staged increasingly large protests to complain of alleged fraud, robbing him of the election. Sound familiar? Only when it happened in the USA, to my knowledge, neither Bush nor Gore stood up and declared himself president stating he would disregard the ruling of the supreme court. For the past three weeks, there has been a PRD-subidized sit-in of sorts on Mexico City’s main avenue, Paseo de la Reforma. It spans 12 kilometers, including the one block on which my office sits.

Mexico City is not the most commuter-friendly city in the world to begin with and my non-cycle-commuting colleagues have seen their one-way commute times double to two hours.

I am all for protesting and I agreed with AMLO there should be a recount. Though de disregarded the Federal Election Institute's findings and in doing so undermined a critical and functioning democratic institution that was crucial in helping to usher-in the first democratically elected president in 79 years, Vicente Fox.

AMLO’s critics have likened him to Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez fearing he will stop at nothing shy of a government take-over. Some of his supporters openly call for revolution. I was skeptical of these claims, but his actions are proving this out.

Clearly he is tapping into a valid undercurrent in the population. There are many poor and disenfranchised people in Mexico who view the government as out of touch or in cahoots with the rich elite that has run Mexico throughout its history. I don’t question that sentiment. However, my concern for Mexico is that he may be pursuing semi-legitimate means (threats, confrontations) to achieve his goals thus undermining the democracy he claims he supports.

His supporters in front of my office every day are doing anything but protesting; they're playing football, chess, doing aerobics, being fed and housed in tents courtesy of the PRD campaign and the Mexico City government whose mayor is an AMLO ally. The local police, aligned with the mayor, won’t move them. Now we're on week three and counting.

It all makes for lively theatre, but we’ll see what happens on Independence Day in September. That is the day that Mexicans gather at the central square or Zocalo to celebrate their independence from Spain. This sets the stage for a possible confrontation with the military. Already, there have been minor injuries and it’s hard not to see how one side might provoke the other into an escalation of tensions leading to violence and political instability. AMLO's supporters have threatened to close the international airport as well as other targets. The military has been brought in to deflect prostesters from closing the airport and the other targets.

For the Calderon side:

and for the AMLO side:

I just returned from trips to Chile, Argentina and Tulum. I am gearing up for another trip to Argentina as well as vacation in German and Portugal the first two weeks of September.

That’s about it to report for now!

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Futbol vs. Soccer

Video Musing #3

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Bike Commute

Video Musing #2
Meet Las Gatas de la Casa

Video Musing #1

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

M30 The Museum of My Childhood Colonia Doctores

Jardin Dr. Ignacio Chavez is a park that stradles Avenida Cuauhtemoc on the fringe of what is reputed to be one of Mexico City's shadiest neighborhoods, Colonia Doctores. Doctores, for short, is known as a place to find cheapest rents and to avoid stopping your car if you like your hubcaps and gold fillings.

But to me, it is home of one of my favorite markets in Mexico City: the Museum of My Childhood. While a fraction of the size of a typical flea market, it more than makes up in quality what it lacks in size.

If it was thrown away somewhere else, you can bet that they've saved it here. And if they had went out and tried to put together a place with more pieces of my past, they couldn't have done a better job than what has been randomly assembled here.

Like most of the best finds, I stumbled upon it while riding my bike. At first I thought it was an ordinary market. But on closer inspection, it turned out to be the motherlode of antique markets. I have never seen anything like. Not in a flea market or store. I suspect eBay is the only thing that could actually rival it.

While I can't claim to have ever owned a "Continental Transistor Radio-Phono", I am pretty sure it was the Ipod of its day. Sleak in its faux-gold package, it contains a still working radio and portable record player that I have yet to test. Its single speaker still picks up radio and lends a low-fi charm and authenticity to the Cuban music I pick up from my dining room.

There is something about its sound that is real and reminds me of the truth that those who love music the most are not necessarily those blessed with the best equipment. That music can be enjoyed by the poorest among us. It even came with batteries to boot.

My parents probably threw this find out two decades ago. Though it is possible Mattel Football 2 dwells somewhere in the recesses of our basement, which is something of a museum itself. However, I wasn't going to take any chances on reclaiming this piece of my past and certainly not for $5US Dollars - batteries included.

My younger brother, Justin, and I passed many a Saturday night playing Football 2 and ogling the Solid Gold Dancers while sucking down cokes and eating cheese Doritos.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

M29 Bodas Mexicanas (Mexican Weddings)

Someone asked me if all my friends were married. Come to think of it, all but one is. I myself am still working on the girlfriend thing.

This spring weddings have been sprouting up like flowers. I was honored to attend two weddings of my closest Mexican friends; Claudia's wedding to Stefan and Fernando's wedding to Loary.

When it comes to weddings, Mexicans go for broke. They rent out giant haciendas (huge farms with castle-like buildings, moats and walls) have massive white dinner tents the size of football fields, multiple dinners, bands, dj's, mariachi performances, lucha libre masks and even mock bull-fights. And to top that off, so to speak, alcohol that flows like the Amazon er El Rio Grande.

Even the most extravagent American wedding would look austere by comparision.

As formal as Mexican weddings are, they are often characterized by the kind of improvision at which Mexicans thrive and us gringos cringe.

Just prior the ceremony, Claudia asked me if I would pass her "lucky coins" during the ceremony. This is a symbolic ritual presumably meant to signify luck and prosperity.

It would mean that I would have to be onstage, suddenly cast into the limelight as a member of the wedding party. I practically blushed with honor. I didn't quite understand what was going on, but it turned out her childhood best friend was supposed to do this and no one had heard from him. Plan B for Brian.

About 10 minutes before the actual ceremony, he showed up. So much for my fifteen minutes, but I had another fifteen coming.

Claudia and Stefan invited me to make a two-hour Bossa-Nova mix for the dinner. The plan, however simple, like many things in Mexico, worked out to be complicated.

Give the sound man the CD, insert it into CD player, press play. Voila! We would then we'd be entreated to some of the nicest romantic Brazilian Bossa-Nova this side of my favorite country.

Instead, I arrived underneath the wedding tent, to my ear-stabbing horror, to a Muzak version of "Dust In the Wind". For a funeral, maybe, but a wedding?!?! That right that there would have been enough to ruin mine.

I went to the head table. Claudia implored us to "Do Something" in Spanish. I went over to the mixing board and tried to explain to them the should play the Bossa-Nova CD's. They said there was a problem, so I proffered my Ipod. But aparently they were missing the cord to connect it to the mixing board, even though Claudia had asked for that.

The missing cord then suddenly materialized, but that didn't solve the drama. Then they couldn't figure out (after reassuring me they had taken Ipod 101) that you had to tweak the volume to get the right sound. So it sounded like were were listening inside a tin can.

For some reason they thought they should make their talents known by mixing tracks between the Ipod and the CD's. That wouldn't have been such a disaster on its own, if they hadn't kept playing all the songs twice. EQ'ing forget it. For the most part, my fastidious ears were the only ones that really noticed. I was flattered to receive compliments about my playlist.

After a delicious gourmet meal, dessert and more drinks than I care to or probably could remember, the dancing started. They hired a band which played mostly covers of wedding and Mexican pop standards. They got eveyone dancing their asses off. It's probably the only time in my life I will hear the Village People's "YMCA" played right after Daddy Yankee's regaeton anthem "Dame mas gasolina". I was absolutely delighted when they covered Belanova , my favorite Mexican pop group.

But it worked and it was 100% unselfconscience fun. As if the music wasn't enough, we celebrated their wedding while conducting mini-celebrations for carnival, mardi-gras, the running of the bulls and luche-libre. The later is Mexican "free fighting" which is basically this country's masked equivalent to our WWF wrestling. Though luche-libre has more culture poignance due to its link to the use of masks in pre-colombian Mexico - but that's another story.

The handed out feathers, hats, long ballons and even a picture frame. By the time the band ended, it was time for another dinner. Then the garter toss which was hillarious as Stefan pulled from underneath Clau's dress an enormous gag bra and garter belt before tossing the real thing to a gaggle of solteras (single women). Shortly after the mariachis entered and played for seemingly hours.

While they played, there was a mock bull fight with Stefan as the madator. After all that, the mariachis left and we switched venues to what appeared to be a Mexican beer hall to dance the rest of the night to a DJ. By my watch, the wedding began at 1pm and ended around 5am without a minute's pause.

More photos here: Photography by Brian Kemler

Selected tracks from Claudia and Stefan's playlist:
Track - Artist
1 A Ra - Joao Donato
2 Diz a Ela - Lisa Ono
3 ¿gua de Beber/¿guas de Marco - T.Jobim-V.deMorais/T.Jobim
4 Samba de Verao - Marcos Valle
5 Carta Ao Tom 74 (Toquinho E VinÌcius De Moraes) - VinÌcius De Moraes
6 Chega De Saudade - Tom Jobim
7 The Girl From Ipanema - 45 Rpm Issue - Stan Getz & Joao Gilberto
8 Cinnamon & Clove II - Balanco
9 Disse Me Disse - Manoel Da Concricao
10 Ela e Carioca - Marcos Valle
11 Bossa 31 - Rosalia De Souza
12 Falsa Baiana (Jo O Gilberto) - Various Artists
13 Mas, Que Nada! - Jorge Ben
14 Monsieur Binot - Joyce

Thursday, May 11, 2006

No Worries

The other day I had a small, but interesting, realization about to worry. If I worry about a future event, I suffer one more time than I may need to.

When I worry, I first suffer in the present and then again if that future event comes true.

Note the word “if”. It may or may not come true.

So if that event doesn't come true, then I suffered unnecessarily by worrying. If it does come true, then I suffered twice; the first time while I worried and the second when it occurred. Note the worry can’t have any material effect on the future, but it can have the profound material effect on the present of making you live in a state of fear.

It makes no rational sense to worry. I will have to remind myself of that next time I am freaking out about something.

BK Brazil

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

El Principio de Final..?

May 2004. My well planned move to Mexico City is only going to last 10 months. I am then going to come back to my house in Washington and in all likelihood get married to my girlfriend.

May 2006. I no longer have a house nor a girlfriend and they're mum on the idea of rolling out.

Will I have to accept a local position at a reduced salary? Is my current position available for me if I want to stay, go back to the States, to Brazil or to Argentina? How will the organizational changes afflicting my company affect my current position?

I thought hard work and setting clear expections would yield the desired outcomes. I have now been asking what my next move is supposed to be since July - the month I was supposed to come back.

Still no word.

In the mean time, I have saved them close to two million dollars single-handedly saving a multi-million dollar account at a global firm where it's safe to say were there Brian, there would also no longer be the aforementioned account.

From November through April, I was the tech lead on an implementations of our company's most complicated and expense solution. I had never taken a training course in this solution and never had a mentor walk me through its implementation. I picked it all up on my own and in the process became a hero as the president of my company watched my work.

I earned the respect of technical support and even eclipsed some of the seasoned and trained specialists in the United States. My work made me a lot of friends and perhaps if not a few enemies, I made some people scared. I gave up weekends, evenings and peace of mind. They gave me a Blackberry.

The harder I work and the more I accomplish, the happier they are keeping me right where I am. And now that they are ready to take up my cause, organizational changes have stymied my plans until they know what the organization is going to look like.

I am getting used to not knowing my fate and in the mean time I am savioring my time in Mexico because I know it is not going to last forever. Truth be told, I could probably hang for another year. However, I really feel like I need a vision of what my future is.

Since my geography is very much tied to my job, I very much need to know what I am going to be doing so I can know where I am going to be living.

In the past month, since my tenure as technical lead on the above mentioned account ended, I have relaxed in a way unknown to me since living here and in the process made me wonder just what the hell had turned me into a work-a-holic in the last year and a half.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Top 10 Tracks of 2005

Moving abroad has broadened my taste in music. And that music, in turn, has greatly improved my comprehension of Spanish and Portuguese language skills. Music is one of the only things in my life that can make me feel at home when I am traveling 50% of the time or more. I don't know what I'd do without it. One of the things that I have most in common both with Mexicans and Brazilians is our mutual love for music.

In 2005, I discovered Mexican pop idols, Belanova and delved deeply into Brazilian Bossa Nova which had already reached its peak of popularity while by the time I was born at the end of the 60's. I fell in love with Ive Mendes and discovered Argentine tango-electronica by random on a three day trip to Buenos Aires. After repeated trips to New York City, I reconnected with some rock that I actually like (Tegan and Sara) after years of all but ignoring the genre as a whole. Washington DC's Theivery Corporation blew me away their latest and best album,The Cosmic Game, all the while making me long for so many bygone evenings at ESL.

All in all, it was a pretty kick-ass year for music. Let's hope '06 brings more good vibes.

I invite you to check out these tracks and these artists.

Track - Artist
1 "Niño" - Belanova
2 "Stay" - Astrud Gilberto
3 "Sur Ton Ile" - Isabelle Antena
4 "Me lastimas" - Belanova
5 "Esta Vez" (Belanova & Juanitoz mix) - Sara Valenzuela
6 "Sol Tapado" (feat. Patrick de Santos) - Thievery Corporation
7 "Natural High" - Ive Mendes
8 "I Think Of You" (K-Klass Mix) - Blaze And Amira
9 "I Won't Be Left" - Tegan & Sara
10 "El Solitario" - Tanghetto

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Paraty Brazil

Two weekend trips in early December to Paraty, Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil.