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