Thursday, November 24, 2011

Antiquariana: Old Sioux

...owing to the paucity of the old Lakota vocabulary, it is often necessary to express widely varying concepts by the same word or phrase, the comprehension of the concept depending on the association of correct ideas with the expression. The phrases were conventional, but not fixed, for they could be modified by the addition, subtraction, or interjection of words. When the white people heard these phrases they assumed that they were words and wrote them as such. In translating English into Lakota, there was often no Lakota word  equivalent to the English word and in such cases a Lakota word was used to express a concept that was foreign to it. Thus, in written Lakota, the phrases became fixed as words and insusceptible to modification so that many words were given new meanings. Thus was brought about a marked transition of the language, both in structure and meaning, so that there are now both old and modern forms of speech.

J.R. Walker, The Sun Dance and Other Ceremonies of the Oglala Division of the Teton Dakota, 1917

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

On the Street: Mexican Steak

Mexican steaks tend to be flat, thin and dry. Mexicans seem averse to anything that resembles a rare filet mignon, and for a time this worried the meat eater in me. But happily I came upon a restaurant just a few blocks from my apartment where American values are clearly championed in the carnivorous department. Two large, red neon signs in the window glowingly advertise Sirlone and T-boin.

The Vampire Thing Never Dies: Sunblock

Real Panama hats come from Ecuador. When the Spanish first arrived there, the material in the natives' straw headgear appeared so fine to them, they mistook it for vampire skin.

Monday, October 10, 2011

hey duck man can i get two ducks man

Friday, September 30, 2011

Funny Things about Serious People: Declaratively Hemingway

Buying paperback editions of Hemingway is funny because inevitably the back of the book has a statement that says something to the effect of "Hemingway wrote in short, declarative sentences" (that's a direct quotation) and then on page 18 you find a sentence like He knew about that, about motor cycles—that was earliest—about motor cars, about duck-shooting, about fishing, trout salmon and big-sea, about sex in books, many books, too many books, about all court games, about dogs, not much about horses, about hanging on to his money, about most of the other things his world dealt in, and about his wife not leaving him.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes/ Adventures in Rhythm—Folkloric Violins

Last night I went to the Ballet Folklorico for the first time. The violins were out of tune there too, just like they are everywhere else I've heard in Mexico. Throughout the two-hour performance I kept trying to decide if this was done to be "authentic," or if for some reason in Mexico any two given violins are incapable of being in tune with one another. I could not decide.

One expert offers an explanation:
"Stanford (1984)...stresses the devastating effect the inclusion of the trumpet initially had on traditional ensembles, particularly in causing the role of the violin to atrophy. According to Stanford, the violin players in the first modern mariachi groups (after the inclusion of the trumpet) subsequently viewed their instrument as less important, and began to play out of tune and with less care. In small mariachi ensembles, the violin was retained only to complete the overall visual image."

Monday, September 5, 2011

Adventures in Rhythm: Music for Maniacs

For other fans of weird music: enjoy Music for Maniacs. You can download things there and learn things like the fact that Neil Young and Rick James were in a band together in 1966 (but didn't make very weird music) and who Frank Pahl is (hint: he makes weird music).

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Marvelous Returns: El Changoleón in VICE

My article on Changoleón, the drunk, formerly homeless, rumored-to-be-dead Mexican reality TV star is now out in the August issue of VICE. What started out as a simple story about a famous alcoholic turned into a kind of interesting look at Mexican television and D.F. social tensions.

Some of you may remember the picture I snapped of the Monkey-Lion back on Halloween. It took another few months to track him down, one more to translate the interview with him, and another two or so to find him in Acapulco and get some professional pictures. But then again, it was almost as hard to get an interview with the producers of the TV shows Changoleon was on as it was to find him. I guess that's Mexico.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Friday, August 5, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes—Mexican Yoga

Mexico City is: a car with its car alarm going off, parked in the middle of the crosswalk, in front of the Buddhist Center.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Vampire Thing Never Dies: Catatonic Music

John Fahey (regrettably obscure guitarist and composer of large amounts of Americana-derived instrumental collages) called Jerry Garcia (regrettably un-obscure guitarist and composer of large amounts of Americana-derived psych-pop drivel) "a psychic vampire." This is perhaps the only commentary about another musician I've found that gets close to what I was trying to say about Vampire Weekend and Paul Simon way back here.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Funny Things About Serious People: Son House, Skip James, and H.C. Speir

Unlike most bluesmen, Son calls each of the standard tuning keys by their right names, save for C, which he calls F. (Booker White calls E G, C cross-G, and A Ab or Db; Robert Pete Williams, Rubin Lacy and Skip James all refer to E as C natural.) However, in other matters Son approaches the delta blues norm. For instance "minor" means any note or chord on or above the fifth fret, and "major" any note or chord below it. . . . In addition, Son uses a rather vague system of string classification, using soprano, alto, tenor and bass. Skip is more definite; from the sixth string to the first they are 6) bass or subtone, 5) baritone, 4) alto, 3 + 2) tenors, 1) soprano. Skip also refers to triplets, 16th, 32nd, and 64th notes, tonics, subdominants, and 2/4 and 4/4 time, all incorrectly. It turns out he bought an "Exegesis of Musical Knowledge" from H.C. Speir in 1931 and skimmed it.

-as told by Al "Blind Owl" Wilson, 1960s

Friday, June 17, 2011

Something like Something: The Face of Shame

Even people in Mexico City are talking about Anthony Weiner. It might have something to do with his name.

But the incident reminded me of this old post about the face of shame in America. Same face! Is there some Manual of Press Conference Facial Expressions for Modern Political Figures that these guys are all reading? Do they all have the same publicity coach? Is it instinctive? Cultural? Ladies, if your man—employees, if your boss man—people in emergency rooms, if your doctor man—comes to you with this face, prepare for the worst. And try to hack his email account because he's probably still hiding something.

Antiquariana: Mexican Industry

It is almost incredible to speak what some write of Mexico and the cities adjoining to it, no place in the world at their first discovery more populous.... We have the same means, able bodies, pliant wits, matter of all sorts, wool, flax, iron, tin, lead, wood, etc., many excellent subjects to work upon, only industry is wanting.

-Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy, 1621

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes—Mexican Humor

Yesterday I was leaving my building when a neighbor whom I had a met a few times stopped me.

You look very serious, she said in Spanish.

Oh, I said. She was almost middle-aged, which I hadn't noticed before.

Phlegmatic, she said. That's what we say.

That's funny, I said. We don't really say that in English.

About the English, she said. We say they're very phlegmatic.

Actually I'm not English, I said. I'm American. We're happy.

Yes. But we say they're phlegmatic, the English.

Well, I said. I'm not English. Goodbye!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes—Pico de Gallo

At some point during the last month the next-door neighbors acquired a rooster.

He sounds bored.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

On the Street: La decadencia romana

My neighborhood is definitely on the brink of something. Walking home tonight, the grocery store was full of tall foreigners and girls in orange leggings. The unannounced opening at the new Museum of the Object of the Object brought a crowd of young men wearing denim shirts and middle-aged socialites with heavy glasses and pomaded hair, while outside the scent of marijuana smoke wafted picaresquely in the air a block away. And around the corner from my apartment, the only man in Mexico City I have ever seen wearing booty shorts in a non-professional capacity was out in his most sparkly gold pair.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

On the Street: Heart on the Street

My neighborhood is fast on the way up. About every other week I see a new bar or restaurant opening. This trend has been heartily confirmed today: the telenovela Entre el Amor y el Deseo is shooting on my block.

Antiquariana: Memories of the Middle School Library

Just found this entertaining blog. As I've long suspected, ugly and possibly misinformative books have always been in vogue.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes—Red Water

For the last three days the water in the fountains of Mexico City has been running red. At first I thought maybe there was something wrong with the water supply, but then I noticed the water coming out of my shower and sink were normal.

It turns out the fountains of red are the latest manifestation of the "No Mas Sangre" ("No More Blood") campaign, led by Mexico's famous cartoonist, Rius. The campaign has produced a lot of demonstrations, sign waving, and supportive Facebook posts. Its purpose is to protest the violence created by Mexico's drug war, and combat people's indifference to said violence.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Something like Something: Take a Stand

As we know, Hemingway enjoyed claiming: "Writing and travel broaden your ass if not your mind and I like to write standing up."

And others remembered of him (and his room): "On a shelf by the bed is the Royal portable he uses, typing standing up."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Antiquariana: Have a Sit

A friend from high school who is a science writer recently told me that a study had concluded sitting is toxic.

Everything is toxic, I said. Living is toxic.

Then today I heard this story, which says that we need to program our computers to tell us when to get up and stop looking at our computers. This will keep us from dying.

Friday, April 22, 2011

On the Street: Passover

Was back in New York for about twenty-eight hours. New York is a place where construction workers own iPhones to play Tetris on the subway, and websites deliver soap to your apartment.

Monday, April 18, 2011

On the Street: Nature is In

Hipsters on the seawall in Stratford, Connecticut.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Stranger with You: Outer Space Awaited

Sometimes I think that my roommates are annoyingly weird, but then I remember that I'm a foreigner, I own a typewriter, and I spend all day listening to recordings of Glenn Gould played at high volumes.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spanish Lesson: Drugs or Booze?

In Spanish, "GNC" and "Hennessy" sound the same.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Everyone's a Critic: Spanish or in Spanish?

Yesterday in a small bookstore I came across the latest copy of Granta. It was a collection of stories by "The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists"—the next Llosas and Bolaños, as the back cover put it. Of the twenty or so writers included, eight were from Argentina, six were from Spain, and only one was from Mexico.

It occurred to me that this was the first time I had seen a copy of the literary magazine in Mexico.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Adventures in Rhythm / Something like Something: Dramatic Walls

Glenn Gould playing "Lord Salisbury's Pavan and Galliard," by Orlando Gibbons, filmed 1974.

El Camarón de la Isla singing a Seguiriyas, filmed ca. 1980 (?).

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes—Shady Slim

Today, Forbes magazine announced that the U.S. has the most millionaires of any country in the world, but that the richest man in the world lives in Mexico.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Stranger with You: A Year in Mexico

Today I've been in Mexico for a year. I don't know what happened. Having lived my entire life in temperate climates, I have serious trouble noticing time pass here, because there are basically no seasons.

I had been thinking that this blog should have more entries on "life in Mexico," or something like that. But I prefer the imaginary description of my life in the D.F. that I received in an email from a friend in New York:

...Avi, who is hiding in a bunker while Mexican drug lords shoot there [sic] six shooter revolvers, one in each hand pointed sky high, wearing sombraros [sic] and ponchos.

So I guess this could also be filed in an "Antiquariana" post about ye olde Mexico, which I suppose many people imagine to have looked like this:

Mexico City: Scenes—Digital Pirates

Pirated CDs and DVDs can be bought everywhere in Mexico City: in street markets, on the Metro, in Metro stations, in front of Metro stations, in front of movie theaters. Today, after nearly a year in Mexico, I bought my first pirated DVD—a copy of an Oscar-nominated American film which was released in Mexico as "Spirit of Steel." It cost fifteen pesos, or about $1.25.

Will report back on the quality.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Spanish Lesson: The Royal Lemon

 In a country where basically anything can grow, there are some curious culinary absences. One is yeast. You can't simply find it in the grocery store like you can in the U.S. They only have baking powder and when you try to ask where the yeast is they just bring you back to the baking powder because the word for both items is levadura.

Mexicans love beans but unless you are willing to go to a huge market and find a place with dried beans you only have two options: black beans or brown beans. It took me eight months to finally find a small store near my house that sells garbanzo beans on a regular basis. It was a revelation. People here live in complete ignorance of the spectacular depth and variety of the world of beans. Once, early in my stay here, I was at the grocery with a Mexican friend and was getting frustrated by the endless rows of black and brown beans, whole and re-fried.

"Why do they never have any red beans?" I asked.

"What are red beans?" she said.

That's when I gave up asking people about beans.

But most mysterious of all is the complete lack of lemons. Here it is all limes, all the time. I have not once seen a lemon at a grocery store or a market, and I would wager that I have not even tasted real lemon a single time while in Mexico. Mexicans are unfazed about this. There even seems to be some confusion in Mexico about what a lemon is. This may arise from the fact that in Spain, the word for lemon is limón and the word for lime is lima. But in Mexico the word for lime is limón (so that when you ask people about "lemons" they think you are talking about limes) and the word for lemon is up for debate. Some contend that the correct word is limonero, while others insist on citron, and an American friend who lives here offers yet another option in limón real: "real" or "royal" lime.

One Mexican guy I met at a party had a different perspective: "Of course we have lemons here. There are some lemon trees growing in my grandmother's garden. We just don't use them. Why would you? Limes are better."

"Better in what way?" I said. "They're different."

"Better in every way!" he said.

Also they have about ten kinds of beers here that all taste like Corona and they don't have any other beers.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

On the Street: The Crowd's Speech

I have been listening to American radio broadcasts covering the uprisings in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya nearly every day. After teaching English in Mexico for nearly ten months, I am repeatedly amazed by these Arabic protesters, shouting into reporters' microphones in sophisticated and eloquent English while they are out on the street protesting.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Spanish Lesson: The Polite Plastic Bag

One way that Mexicans express friendliness or politeness in their speech is by adding diminutive suffixes to words. This makes sense with nouns, and was easy enough to get used to. In giving directions, someone on the street might tell you to pass the "parquecito," or little park, even if it isn't a small park. At the cafe, someone might ask for a "cafecito," even if he wants a large.

Sometimes this habit makes less sense. You come back from the beach and a friend tells you that you are "quemarito"—even if you are extremely burnt. When you order a juice at the corner store, the cashier asks you if you want "el chico o el grandecito"—the little one or the nice little big one. How much does that taco cost? "Diez pesitos." When should I come back? "Treinta minutitos." Of course calling them little minutes doesn't make them go by any faster.

After eleven months here, I still haven't integrated this into my speech, which makes me afraid that I am constantly being impolite because I ask for a "bag" at the 7-Eleven and not a "nice little bag."

Friday, February 25, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes—Se Busca Fido

Mexicans love to carry their dogs. I think this is why they invented the Chihuahua.

On another note: Recently I had been puzzled by the sheer number of lost dog flyers up everywhere in Mexico City. Then I realized this is because Mexicans walk their dogs without leashes (when they are not carrying them).

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Elsewhere in Mexico: Guadalajara and Tequila, September

Mexico City: Scenes—David in the Harem

Recently some friends convinced me to spend Saturday night with them at a place called Bulldog Cafe. It was a strange place because it in no way resembled a cafe, nor was it going in the least for the British pub theme I had expected after seeing the flag outside the  door that featured a British bulldog clad in a suit. Instead the interior was towering and cavernous, one side full of minarets and tiled arches and salt-shaker shaped doorways that made it look like the set for a B movie that takes place in some dusty Arab harem. It was basically a multistory nightclub with an endless bar and Dolce and Gabbana-wearing teenagers and strangely bright lights (seriously, I kept waiting for the lights to dim right up until the moment we left at three in the morning).

The main attraction of the night was a Black Eyed Peas cover band. Don't make me say that again. By the time they came on we had made our way to one of the balconies on the third floor, above stage right. From their we had an excellent view of the five-hundred person crowd and the Fergie impersonator's lyric sheets, which fell off their music stand and scattered themselves over the stage halfway through "My Humps." Then it turned out I had made my way into a "private party" area because a security guard told me I had to leave the private party area, which had been clearly demarcated by a pair of couches and some kids who were wearing nicer clothes than me. Strangely, the two female friends I had been standing next to on the balcony were not similarly threatened.

This was fine because I could content myself with sitting at an empty table in this empty third-floor gallery and, on a large television, watching music videos that did not correspond to the music being played. Every third video featured David Guetta.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Adventures in Rhythm: The National Ear

If you walk around in Mexico City with your ears open, you will discover a great divide in popular musical tastes. The music that you hear on buses, in markets, at gas stations, or anywhere that working-class Mexicans are playing their tunes is usually going to fall into one of two categories. On the one side are cumbia and salsa, two Afro-Caribbean styles that are usually played when people want to dance or think about dancing. On the other side are banda and norteño, both native Mexican styles that initially sound kind of like "mariachi" music played with drums and synthesized trumpets.

You might compare this divide to the country/hip-hop dichotomy in the US. A Mexican friend of mine told me that he doesn't remember so many people listening to banda and norteño until a few years ago, when it exploded in popularity, as a kind of nationalistic expression. A non-Mexican friend told me she was driving with a Mexican couple in their car when some banda came on the radio. "Ugh, change that naco stuff," one of them said, naco being Mexican slang to describe someone low-class or with low-class tastes. Wikipedia says that norteño exploded in popularity starting in the '90s as the Mexican-American population took off.

I don't really know about all that, but this music video kind of sums up the whole situation. It's about a Mexican dude who used to be into cumbia and then switched to banda, with an outfit to match. It's called "Traiter." It's a cumbia, but there's a nice little example of banda at the beginning, and the very end.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Antiquariana: The Ringling Brothers Route Book, 1892

Introducing their astounding Impalement Act, also their beautiful Flageolet and Tambourine Solo, in Romana Compagna Costume. A great feature and astonishing sensation, fit for any Circus or Combination. Princely and magnificent wardrobe. A leading feature with Ringling Brothers’ World’s Greatest Shows. Address care of New York Clipper.

I don't remember how I found this, but it's amazing. It's written by one of the Ringling Bros.' jugglers, who dedicates it thusly:

To my girl, whoever she is, and wherever she may be, this little volume is respectfully dedicated.
P. S.
As my girl has gone clear back on me since writing the above,  I respectfully dedicate this book to “Hey Rube, King of the Sawdust,” Who never went back on a Circus man.

and concludes his introduction with the following words:

No doubt there are lines that might have been blue-penciled, and perhaps, as in case of the man with the second concert announcement, there is “something I forgot to mention.” My business as a circus juggler would hardly require me to juggle the English language, and besides there are spots on the sun and flies on Nancy Hanks.

Good one! Nancy Hanks! I don't know who that is...

Within the Route Book, you can find out about the various circus personnel, including Rhoda Royal, Superintendent of Ring Stock; Charles W. Roy, Superintendent of the Chandelier Department; and C.F. Ryan, Superintendent of Pinkerton Detectives; Fred Ehlers, Tonsorial Artist; and Lawshe, King of Ice-water; the Sleeping Car Department, the Mechanical Department, and all the inhabitants of Car No. 4, "The War Eagle"; the horsetent men, the side show canvasmen, and the ring makers; the four cages of lions, the gnu, the hippopotamus den, and Demon the Hairless Horse; the waiters; the Midnight Lunch Cafe staff; Joseph Levis of the Running Dogs and Two-Horse Act; Signor Arcaris of the Impalement and Musical Acts; John Moncayo, the Boneless Wonder; and C.H. Clark, General Performer; the Leapers and Tumblers, the Four Horse Chariot Drivers, and the Lady Jockeys...the list is nearly endless.

Then comes the circus juggler's journal...

Spanish Lesson: Son of Sand

(Scene: A pair of hammocks in Oaxaca.)

Friend with British accent: How do you say "sand...?" As in "sand of the
Mexican friend:                     Hijo de la chingada.
Friend with British accent: Really?... No, no, "sand." "Sand of the
Mexican friend:                     Sí. Hijo de la chingada... O hijo de puta.
Friend with British accent: No, "sand..." Of the beach...
Mexican friend:                     Sí, es lo que dije, no?
Friend with British accent: That's "son of..." Never mind.
Mexican friend:            entiendo.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mexico City: Scenes—Lost Avocados

Dear Cleaning Lady:

Please stop putting my avocados in the refrigerator. If I had wanted my avocados to be cold and inedible, I would have put them there in the first place. I always thought Mexicans were avocado experts, but you have greatly injured this conviction and proven a disappointment to your country.


Saturday, January 15, 2011

Stranger with You: Permanent Horoscopes

The horoscope on the matchbox tells me that because I am a Scorpio, "Today your thought is unaware and tends to use evasive or misleading tactics in communication." Then again, it said that yesterday too.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Everyone's a Critic: Stars and Criminals

"If I hadn't been an actor, I've often thought I'd have become a con man and wound up in jail."
—Marlon Brando

"They experienced failure after failure after failure, and decided that rather than being a 'nobody,' they wanted to be a 'somebody.' "
—Robert Fein, on people who attempt to assassinate politicians