I know that it’s blasphemous to talk about any other sport right now other than soccer, but Sunday I went to my first baseball game in Mexico, something I have been hankering for since I moved here. And the game – which when there wasn’t a chile y fruta or michelada vendor in front of me I could completely imagine I was at home watching – made me curious about the love of the game here in my adopted country.
Aquí se dice béisbol
Mexico’s big baseball influence was of course, the United States. Soldiers who were stationed here from the mid to late 1800s played the game and the North American businessmen who came to Mexico to build the first railroads around the same time started up leagues and teams for their workers.
Lots of places – Sinaloa, Monterrey, Nuevo León and others – all claim to be the place baseball was first played on Mexican soil and it seems to have been popular first in the northern Mexican states (where many local teams played against Southern US teams) and in the Caribbean and Southern Mexico with their influence from baseball-crazed Cuba and other Central American countries.
The sport’s popularity has ebbed and flowed over time. In 1904 the Mexican teams established two leagues, the Liga de Verano (Summer League) for amateurs and the Mexican Association of Baseball for semiprofessionals. Charlie Comisky brought the White Sox to play in Mexico in 1906. He came for the good weather and what he thought was a money-making opportunity (charging for exhibition games) but as William Beezley explains in his book, Judas at the Jockey club and Other Episodes of Porfirian Mexico, “The crowds remained small, probably because of the extremely high ticket price of 3.50 a seat. The equivalent of seven pesos was nearly three times the cost of a seat in the sun at the bullring.”
In 1925, the Mexican Baseball League was established and continues today as an AAA minor league. Its founding was followed by a surge in excitement over baseball in Mexico, that petered out in the 40s and came back full swing in the late 1950s. According to MLB.com, the renewed interest was in part because of Mexico’s Monterrey Little league team winning the 1957 Little League World Series and putting the spotlight back on baseball south of the border.
Those Devilish Defeños
The Diablos, Mexico City’s team who were originally called The Reds, got their nickname when they “played like devils” in a 1942 game – coming back from a 13-7 ninth inning to win the game 14-13. The team has won 11 championships since they were founded in 1940 by Salvador Lutteroth and the famous Diablos manager Ernesto Carmona. Their original rival team was the Blues of Veracruz but in later years they have sparred most with Los Tigres of Quintana Roo (the league’s current champion), going up against them in various play-offs and championship games.
On Sunday we saw the Diablos play against the Olmecas from Tabasco. The Foro Sol, where they have been playing since 2000, was filled with noisemakers, doughnut vendors, beer hawkers and kids with tiny baseball mitts looking for a fly ball. It reminded me of the many minor league games I’ve watched the Charleston Riverdogs and the Asheville Tourists play. Although the crowd was small, they were dedicated. The Diablos started out with a run and continued to steadily score in almost every inning, knocking out two home runs, and ended up winning 12 to 7.
There are a handful of things I miss about my home country and summer baseball games is one of them. There is nothing like spending a Sunday summer afternoon watching baseball and having a beer in the sun, but it’s even better with salsa music and tacos. The Diablos made have just made my summer.
By Lydia Carey
In Mexico, anything is possible. Even a drive-up blessing.
During my parents’ recent visit, as a curious ex-Catholic is bound to be, my mother wanted to take a field trip to see the Tilma de Juan Diego with its miraculous image of the Virgin of Guadalupe on it.
I suppose miracles never lose their magic in our minds, especially ones we listen to reverently as children. Spend even a little time in Mexico and you will often hear the story of Juan Diego, so much so that I hesitate to write it down here for fear of overkill. But I will. This is for all of you non-Catholics who have never been to Mexico and have no idea why a star-spangled virgin with a moon at her feet is plastered all over hats, t-shirts, bumper stickers and birthday cakes.
According to the legend, in December of 1531, Juan Diego, a poor peasant, encountered a beautiful woman on the hill of Tepeyac, outside of Mexico City. She spoke to him in Nahuatl (the indigenous language of the Aztecs) and told him to build her a temple on the hill. When poor Juan Diego went to see the archbishop of Mexico City, Father Juan de Zumárraga, and told him about the apparition, the archbishop refused to believe him, asking for a sign if the virgin truly wanted her temple to be built there. When Juan went back to the hill, saw the virgin again and told her what the Father had said, she told him to go to the top of the hill and pick some Castillian roses (out of season and continent) and carry them to the archbishop in his cloak. He followed her instructions and as he lay the roses before the archbishop an image of the Virgin of Guadalupe appear on the front of his cloak.
And then there are other theories.
Mainly that this virgin, with her honey-colored skin and Nahuatl speech was the Catholic church’s peace offering to the indigenous converts of Mexico. The old, “give them their own virgin” ploy to win their loyalty. Historians say the devil is in the details. One hand of the virgin is darker and full, the other paler, clasped together to signify the Europeans and indigenous joining together to form a new race. She is standing on a half moon. The origin of the word Mexico in náhuatl is metz-xic-co, which means “from the navel of the moon,” the virgin is therefore standing, literally in Mexico. Her cloak of stars represents the southern and northern constellations (on the right and left side respectively) which were extremely important to the native peoples of Mexico. I could go on, but you get the idea. She was a virgin people could relate to, one of them.
This miraculous cloak is housed in the Basílica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, just a short metro ride from my house. So naturally, we went to see it.
I didn’t know beforehand, of course, that this would be the ugliest cathedral I would ever set my eyes on. The basílica looks like a giant circus tent, with seventies wood paneling on the inside and a hideous front altar made with what looks like sharp spikes of gold. We wandered into a Mass and didn’t see the Virgin anywhere, so we decided the cloak must be in one of the other, older, more beautiful churches in the Virgin of Guadalupe complex. There are five churches here and one up on the hill, none of which have clear information about them posted anywhere. Is this the temple built to Virgin or to Juan Diego, the parochial offices or the baptismal? The museum sign is nowhere near the museum entrance and two dark staircases announcing comedores were decidedly foreboding in nature.
Maybe a native speaker would have been able to sort it out easier or maybe growing up Mexican your mother or grandmother takes you to the basílica for the first time and explains the layout.
There is an Aztec Calendar in the back part of the courtyard along with a Roman Numeral clock, an astrological clock and a few other clocks thrown in for good measure.
Mexican Catholicism has always been a mix of official and not-so-official imagery and rituals. But an explanation or two would have been nice.
The original basílica (we figured that one out), in contrast to the new version, is gorgeously ancient and slightly off balance. The church is slowly sinking like so many other things in Mexico City, but still has the most charm of all the buildings on the square.
I finally asked a lady selling medals inside the old basílica where the original tilma was because I was pretty sure it wasn’t the one going virtually unnoticed as the midday prayer group chanted their prayers. She confirmed it was in the new basílica but that it was up front in a frame and that’s probably how we had missed it.
So back to the circus tent. By this time the Mass-goers were filtering out and we could get closer to the front altar, where a million miles away we could see a teeny, tiny framed image of the Virgin, who could have been Cher for all your could see of her from that distance. If with my zoom lens I couldn’t get a good shot of the Virg I could only imagine how people were faring with their iphones as they posed in front of the distant virgin for a snapshot souvenir. Suffice it to say, we were all disappointed.
I expected a continuous line of pilgrims slowly passing the virgin, pausing a moment to pray or light a candle, more solemnity, less iphone. This was the coldest expression of faith I had ever seen in Mexico – a place where people reenact the crucifixion, bloody Christ and all. It all seemed a little too hands off.
Regardless of its sterility, this church is one of the most visited Marian sites in the world, and I am sure is number one in Mexico. It was definitely hopping when we were there.
If none of the five churches or a visit to the Virgin fulfill your need for sanctification you can always stop by the blessings booth on the way out, where a priest stands all day long with an extra-long aspergillum and sprinkles visitors with Holy Water. It’s amazingly quick and convenient.
By Lydia Carey
I have three chamorro recipes and I’m still nervous.
Maybe there is something to be said about too many options.
But it’s Erci’s birthday and I need to make sure it’s right. We are both obsessed with the chamorro tacos and clear-your-sinuses salsa at the Serena Gorda in San Miguel de Allende and that’s how delicious I want it to be.
Plus, it’s our first official day on the beach and even though I realize roasting a ham hock in the oven may not be the best idea for an April night on the beach, our friend Gonzalo is allergic to shellfish and I want so desperately to make something that he can eat and that will blow everyone away at the same time.
That has led me here, to the Zihuatanejo market, in the boiling 10am sun to order a leg of ham a little over a kilo and half. It’s frozen, a momentary setback, but it’ll defrost in an hour in the tropical heat. The other items on my list are bay leaf, garlic, onions and white wine. I have no idea about the rest of it. I can feel the anxiety of winging it for my girlfriend’s birthday closing in on me a little, but I gotta keep it together. I am the cook, everyone has placed their faith for dinner in me.
The ocean is blue, the palm trees are green and the chamorro is bright pink.
Back at the bungalow, the kitchen and I meet face to face. There is no thermometer for either the lemon mousse or the pork. The chamorro is just about an inch too big for the pot. There’s no regular salt or pepper which means my tiny ziploc packages of sea salt and peppercorns are going to have to do. The tea pitcher leaks. The oven is rusting in the salty breeze. For some reason I can’t get anything to come to boil. I need another lemon for the mousse and there is no grater for the peel.
But it’s such a damn nice day.
So I attack the lemons with a carrot peeler, send Erci to search the other empty bungalows for pots and pans, crack my peppercorn with my chef’s knife (thank god I brought it) and open myself a beer. Ercilia is looking for yet another chamorro recipe, standing in the only tiny corner of the garden where the internet signal reaches us from the neighbor’s house.
The recipe she finds sounds better. It calls for red wine (got it), a liter of beef stock (I have a mason jar full that I brought from home – is that a liter?), olive oil, sea salt (!) celery (nope, but I hate celery anyway), chile powder ( I have aji from our trip to Argentina in December) carrots (no) tomato (yes) dry chiles (nope again), pork lard (what?). Ok, so it’s getting out of hand.
We’re gonna have to go with what we got. So we rub the chamorro with oil and sea salt and clumsily brown it in a pan that it doesn’t really fit into, holding it up with the grill tongs and a chef’s knife so that it will brown on each side. Then we throw it in a pot stolen from next door, deglaze the pan with a cup of red wine, add the stock and throw in the following: a half an onion, a whole tomato, five bay leaves, thyme from my garden at home that I drug twelve hours in the car wrapped in wet paper towels, two cloves of garlic from the market, cracked black pepper, ground aji, and cracked coriander.
It’s looking good and smelling heavenly when Tamar saunters out, half awake after her afternoon nap and reminds us that Gonzalo is also allergic to red wine. Damn sulfates. So for the next half an hour Tamar wanders around the garden, looking for the wi-fi signal and trying to find out if sulfates burn off when cooked. We find three sources that say yes, so we figure we’re good to go. In goes the Chamorro to simmer in the oven while we sweat beside it.
Three hours later I am frying plantains, making rice and beans and warming tortillas. When the leg of pork finally emerges from the oven it is as smooth as butter and falls off the bone into the green salsa pools that gather in the center of our tortillas. No one gets sick and everyone toasts and the lemon mousse is the peak of perfection. It just goes to show that you don’t need everything in the recipe to make a delicious meal. But if you are hesitant to wing it on your own, here it is:
1.5 kilos of chamorro (leg of pork)
1 liter of Beef Stock
1 1/2 cups of red wine
1 large onion (chopped)
2 large tomatoes (chopped)
3 bay leaves
a few sprigs of fresh thyme
2 carrots (chopped)
ground aji (or chili powder) to taste
cracked black pepper
2 large cloves of garlic
crushed coriander (about a teaspoon)
Brush the chamorro with olive oil and sprinkle with cracked black pepper and sea salt. Place it in a large (enough) pan and brown it on all sides. Take out the chamorro and de-glaze the pan with red wine. Add in everything else, simmer till the tomatoes start to break up. Throw the chamorro back in the pot and put it in the oven for 3-4 hours on medium heat (or until super tender) remembering to continually bast it with the sauce.
Hot tortillas and a good salsa verde (I gotta get Tamar’s recipe) are a must.
By Lydia Carey
Mexico City dares you to try and take it all in.
From the Torre Latinoamericana
I swear that this is the view that made me fall in love with the place where I live. I know that for some those lights crawling up the surrounding mountainside may signify sprawl and population explosion but all I can see are streetlights I want to stand under and neighborhoods I want to explore. There is nothing like having a drink and looking down at the constant motion that lies just below the Torre’s 44 floors.
By Leandro’s World Tour [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
From Inside Chapultepec Park
Looking at the skyline from inside the park, it’s as though the whole city is filled with greenery that sprouts skyscrapers and antennae. If only that were true. Still, I like the edges of the park framed by the city, it makes me breathe a little easier.
From the air, on a night flight
Mexico City never seems so big as when you are flying over it. I remember when I first started traveling I felt that coming home and seeing the lights of the Lakeshore was awe-inspiring, but Chicago has nothing on Mexico City. Like a mighty star in the desert, it never ceases to overwhelm me with its brilliance.
From a restaurant terrace on the Zócalo
As you look down onto the Mexico City Zócalo, day or night, it’s impossible not to think of all its reincarnations. The once center of a marshy lake is now home to temples, government buildings, commerce, protestors, cyclists, taxi drivers, indigenous dancers, politicians, rock stars, beggars and thieves. It’s a cliche stop on your tour of Mexico City, but necessary for getting under the city’s skin.
The View from the Sidewalk
The mass of human bodies that daily navigate this city makes me feel like plankton in the ocean, swimming and bobbing alongside all the other sea life. We naturally weave and swerve to avoid and accommodate each other and fill the city’s veins with its human blood.
My dream vistas:
- From a hot air balloon
- Traveling by canal, 300 years ago
- From the bell tower of the Metropolitan Cathedral
I’m adding the MAP to my list of museums you can see under an hour and not want to kill yourself. There are four rooms, Art and the Sacred, The Essence of Art, Art in the everyday, and the Art and the Fantastic. In the center of the museum is a stunning display of massive paper kites and as you ride the glass elevator up through them, it feels like a dream.
When we moved here a year and a half ago, I used to always see the same woman, our neighbor, out walking her two Basenjis (“They’re a wild African breed,” she tells me). Then after awhile I would hear her call their names from a distance as she waddled behind them with her pregnant belly. Then for months I only saw her husband in the park. And today I saw her walking her dogs again, this time with a baby carriage. It’s so nice to watch the neighborhood grow.
By Lydia Carey
My girlfriend is eating the honey and achiote glazed short rib with jicama, chile serrano and sorrel slices and melon. I’m trying the turkey steak with hoja de santa pesto on top of sweet potato puree and pickled carrots. We’re drinking Antolia’s house red from Baja California at a tiny corner table near the street.
We weren’t even going to stop, but René Cremieux is a persuasive guy and when he went so far as to pull out his iphone to show us photos of Antolia’s food AND told us we could bring the dogs inside if we sat at the corner table, we knew that this man was either passionate about his restaurant or in desperate need of our patronage.
Turns out it was the latter. In the past two months, Antolia restaurant, on the corner of Zacatecas and Tonalá, has been drawing a crowd, despite the fact that our first time eating there was just last week. It might be the chill atmosphere or the eclectic art that graces its walls, but I’m betting it’s more the quirky and delicious flavors.
René and his partner started converting the space on Zacatecas into a tiny dining room and bar months ago. Dan, his partner, still lives upstairs, where his family has lived for years. Right across from Maximo Bistro, I sensed plans for a mini culinary corridor, but Rene shrugged off my conjecturing.
“For me Maximo is neither competition nor advantage, we’re doing something completely different here. I started this restaurant because I like to eat well, and what better way to get to taste everything for free than to run your own place?” he smiles.
Still, you have to admit that the foodies get excited when good restaurants start popping up in their neighborhoods — like this foodie for example. That takes us to the topic of the Roma. René spent a lot of time here as a kid, and he says it still feels very much like home, even though now he rides his bike in everyday from Coyoacán. What does he think is going to happen to the neighborhood in the next five years?
“Hopefully nothing.” he says. “This neighborhood is just like a zoo with all its biodiversity. I wouldn’t want it to change.”
A rambling entrepreneur, René has worked in music, art, publicity and production and this, his newest project has obviously got him fired up. He waxes poetic about the food, the art on the walls and the heavily Mexican wine list.
“I used to think, who am I to say something tastes good or tastes bad, but now I realize, maybe what I like is more common than I thought because people seem to like we’re doing.”
What does he recommend for newcomers to Antolia? Boquerones with watermelon.
“The flavor of that dish is brutal. It’s everything that is this restaurant on one plate.” – a little French, a little Spanish, a touch of Italian, always a hint of Mexican, seasonal ingredients and an ever-changing menu so no one gets bored, including René.
By Lydia Carey
We didn’t get lost. The dog may have gotten sick and shit in the car and it may have rained almost the whole way home and I may have eaten so many M&Ms that I gave myself a stomach ache, BUT we didn’t get lost. And that pure act of god has now made Puebla my favorite day trip out of Mexico City.
Puebla is 1 hour 40 minutes by car, more like 2 and half if you have a ’98 Chevy S10, and only a two hour bus ride from Mexico City. Highway 150d spits you out of the city smog and sprawl into a broccoli–green forest and takes you all the way to Puebla in one shot.
The city itself, according to guide Rebecca Smith Hurd (and Wikipedia, I checked), is the fourth largest city in Mexico with 2 million people, but its colonial downtown and main zocalo make it feel about a fourth that size.
I wouldn’t choose to live there — I’d never want to live in a place who’s downtown is abandoned after 10pm — but still, it has its charm.
Former home of the revolutionary Serdán brothers (and their sister Carmen who was also a bad ass but is often forgotten), birthplace of mole poblano and (reportedly) tacos árabes and home of the owner of the Italian Coffee Company (“Why did he use that stupid English name then?” Erci asks), Puebla has a little bit of everything — gastronomy, history and kitsch.
While we were there they were practicing for the Cinco de Mayo celebration, that for those of you with no knowledge of Mexican history is the day of the Battle of Puebla when the Mexicans held off Napoleon’s army, who never succeeded in their supposed original plan — to make it to the southern U.S. to support the confederacy. Think of that today as you drink your salted margarita and eat your nachos with fake cheese.
This being only the second time we’ve been in Puebla (the first was for a baptism) we decided, of course, do to exactly what we liked doing the first time and go to the sapos market, an antique flee market in the sapos neighborhood, named such because of the flooding it used to receive when the San Francisco river cut through Puebla once upon a time. (Sapo means frog).
This little tidbit, along with many others, came from Rebecca, who I met up with in the morning to do a Eat Mexico tour through Puebla with another couple from Omaha. She led us a around trying cemitas, pelonas and other Puebla delicacies while explaining a little about the city’s history and how she came to love it.
Walking around the city’s historic center is a lot like walking around San Miguel de Allende, except instead of most of the tourists being foreigners, most are Mexican. There are decidedly more churches and some incredible colonial architecture (especially nice is the Serdáns’ house riddled with bullet holes).
The city, unlike others in Mexico, wasn’t built on top of an ancient indigenous metropolis, but from the ground up by the Spanish. The Spanish filled the place with dozens of churches and nuns and monks, in turn, filled the place with lots of food. They are credited for creating mole poblano and many of Puebla’s famous candies, according to Rebekah. The best thing on the tour was definitely cemitas de milanesa with chipotle and papalo — a cilantro-y herb that grows wild here.
Erci and I met up after my tour at the market. It takes over a plaza downtown every Saturday and Sunday and extends to include the antique stores tucked into the alleyways that surround it. There are aisles of old coins, china tea sets, video game consoles and vinyl records. We found and purchased a beat-up clay bud vase and a pair of old lady earrings. It was like La Lagunilla but quainter (and cleaner), and no one cared that I took their picture.
When it started to rain and the vendors scrambled for their plastic tarps, hurrying to protect their vintage books, the pitter patter on the cobblestone took on its own enchantment.
We drove through the rain almost all the way home, but for a few moments the clouds cleared and we could see Popocatépetl in the distance, regal and snow-covered… AND we didn’t get lost. So I’d call that a perfect day.
By Lydia Carey
This morning we saw these four in the Río de Janiero park. Some members of a band called the Oaxaca brothers within a quartet that they just formed this morning. If you can get past the kid yelling at the beginning and my shoddy camera work you will really enjoy it. Next I am going to have them play on my rooftop.