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Bolero in Toluca…

29 March 2014

Probably nowhere the music and setting go together better:

Bottles and stars

29 March 2014

Texan Jesus Chairez, who has been living on and off in Mexico City (and noting — with good humor — the differences between Mexican-American and Mexican), posted this photo on his Facebook page:


His question — “Can anyone tell me what this Brujeria [witchcraft] is for??? To ward off what evil?” — was one several of us could answer. The “evil” supposedly warded off by pop bottles full of water  is dogs peeing on your plants (or, here, on your wall).

Of course, it’s “brujería” — sympathetic magic to be precise — and completely irrational to assume water bottles keep dogs from peeing… and most commentators said as much.

But a much more interesting comment was this one:

Well i live in mexico and i never see nothing like this but i have a feeling thats a cheap cleaning product and the person is just lazy to collect money or he is in a weelchair may not be right who knows.

It’s interesting not because the commentator tries to offer a reasonable explanation for what’s in the photo, but because he’s unfamiliar with the custom.

And therein is today’s lesson for us writers (and ‘spainers and wannabe pundits) of Mexicana. I’ve been immersed in Mexican studies for most of the last 15 years; have an extensive library of Mexican studies; have written three books on Mexico and contributed to a few others, as well as written on Mexican culture for several years; and am considered knowledgeable on such matters, even by those with much more academic training than myself.

But, although I have been throughout the country (everywhere except the Baja), I have only really lived in a few places: Mexico City being one of them. The comments about not being familiar with bottle-magic made me realize that I’d never seen this in Monterrey or Mazatlán.

I’ve sometimes criticized my fellow foreigners for assuming the opposite: that something unremarkable in most of the world, but not done in the U.S. or Canada, is “unique”. One of my favorite examples is found in the stained glass windows of our local cathedral. Not a particularly venerable or imposing example of ecclesiastical architecture (Mazatlán has only been a Diocese since 1958, and the last quarter of the 19th century parish church was expanded… with cinderblock walls), I guess it seems “old” if you come from Saskatoon or Altoona, and there are some nice stained glass windows… with six-pointed stars at the top.

Ask any child who lives somewhere between Tierra del Fuego and the Rio Grande to draw a star and she’ll draw two equilateral triangles, one with the point at the top, one with the point at the bottom. North of the Rio Grande, you’re more likely to get a five-pointed star. Unless, of course, the kid is attending Yeshiva. So…

… I’ve heard some silly “only in Mazatlán” stories (even from tourist guides) with usually some variation on a theme: Jews. The usual variation is something along the lines of Jews paid for the Cathedral windows for some reason.

With the water bottle magic, I could be falling into this error myself: assuming that because I’m only familiar with it from one place, it’s unique to that place.

Or perhaps not. Perhaps the Mexican commentator — a guy in his early 20s — just hasn’t run across it outside what might be a narrow frame of reference — his own community, his own region. It’s easy to make that mistake too. Although Mazatlán is a seaport on the Pacific coast, not known for leather-work, nor are we anywhere near any Mayan cultural centers, but Mexico is known for leather-work… and Mayans. So… of course we have businesses specializing in leather-work… and “Mayan” crafts. One can’t complain about giving the tourists what they want, nor about any possible misconceptions they might leave with, but it’s like selling maple syrup in Arizona, or Navaho jewelry in Boston. Or Tlingat masks in Montreál, or French-Canadian hooked rugs in Vancouver. You very well might, but would you find Navaho traditions in Boston, and — while there may very well be French-Canadians in Vancouver (and maybe even hooking rungs), would you necessarily be aware of their folk customs?

We all tend to forget that all the north American nations are huge geographical masses, with a multi-cultural population. Even in a homogenized society, like the U.S. and Canada, we expect some folk customs to survive, often things we don’t think about. That Mexico was, and is, both less homogenized than its northern neighbors, and at the same ime, more “international” than “exceptional” is something of a conundrum.

I enjoy the privilege of the outsider in noticing the oddities of my neighbors, but whether it is just my own frame of reference as one who grew up with “American exceptionalism” or a genuine artifact of the Many Mexicos which coexist on all levels is one of those questions I intend to keep asking, and have no expectation of every fully answering.

Here comes the sun…

28 March 2014

Via Fox News Latino:

  • solar panel.jpg

Latin America’s largest solar power plant, a facility with 39 MW of generating capacity, has gone online in the northwestern Mexican state of Baja California Sur.

The Aura Solar I photovoltaic power plant was inaugurated by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto on Wednesday and will supply electricity to the city of La Paz.

The energy industry reforms implemented last December will help lead to “more energy generation, cleaner energy and, above all, cheaper energy to help make Mexico a more competitive country,” Peña Nieto said.

The goal is to turn Mexico into “a country that attracts greater investment for the development and creation of jobs,” the president said.

Some 25 percent of Mexico’s electricity is currently generated using clean energy sources

Reversable error

28 March 2014

Even purveyors of pedo-porn get the protection of the courts in Mexico.. presuming they can afford to hire lawyers to pursue the case.

Jean Succar Kuri was a  Lebanese born U.S.-Mexican multi-millionaire with several successful businesses in Cancún… among them renting out little girls to sex tourists and distributing kiddy-porn.  He is the central figure in Lydia Cacho’s 2005 expose of the Cancún sex-tourism industry, “Demons of Eden”.   Kuri fled to the United States, but was extradited the next year.

He was initially sentenced to 112 years in prison, but successfully appealed the sentence on the grounds that it was excessive,  The then 67 year old’s sentence was reduce to a mere 70 years.  He has since appealed again, and again successfully.  When the reduced sentence was pronounced, on 30 August 2011, the clerk of the court did not sign the court order as a witness to the judge’s signature.

About as much of an outing as he'll ever get. (Photo:  Cuartoscuro)

About as much of an outing as he’ll ever get.
(Photo: Cuartoscuro)

I suppose it is justice that the courts upheld Kuri’s appeal and that there is admission that a “technical error” would vacate the sentence.  Not that Kuri’s trip to court is going to do him much good other than giving him a change of scenery for the afternoon.  The appeals judge ordered the original judge to reissue a 70 year sentencing order, and make sure this time, the clerk does witness and sign the document.

I just wonder if the clerk also signed the order fining the other clerk 100 times the minimum wage fine for failing to perform his duty properly, or if it will be appealed.

US vice president promises to forgive Venezuela if it goes away

28 March 2014


Every administration since at least Woodrow Wilson’s has been pretty much the same when it comes to Latin America.

Originally posted on News From Somewhere:

BACKYARD (Rooters agency) – In a move widely applauded by those who know which side their bread is buttered on, the US vice president today attacked the Venezuelan government over its stubborn refusal to get out of the way for the good of the hemisphere.

The vice president, who is visiting Backyard for some reason, in an interview with one of its newspapers, dismissed as the invention of “totally false and outlandish conspiracies” the idea that the various political organizations given millions of dollars by the US over the last decade might have some connection with the recent demonstrations in Venezuela.

“That is nonsense”, the VP declared. “We always told them not to demonstrate. But those people love us and would demonstrate even if we didn’t pay their leaders.

“Instead of making such charges, that pretend president of theirs should listen to the Venezuelan people – those we have appointed…

View original 244 more words

OOPS! When the tax-man cometh… you no goeth

26 March 2014

From Cuenca Ecuador (not much different from Ajijic or other gringo ghettos  here in Mexico) an object lesson for expats :  if your business model is working with gringos, you have to play by gringo rules.  And if you’re a gringo depending on gringos in foreign countries, make sure your provider is playing by the rules.

Cuenca Digest:

Two Cuenca expat couples have been denied a return trip to Ecuador due to alleged tax violations in the indexU.S. In both cases, IRS attorneys were granted a writ of Ne Exeat Republica by the courts, an order that requires those served to turn over their passports and to remain in the U.S. until legal settlements are reached.

U.S. Marshals stopped Alan and Teresa Anderson at the Miami airport March 2 as they prepared to board a LAN flight to Quito. According to court documents, the Andersons are charged with falsifying tax returns and evading more than $350,000 in taxes…


Alan Anderson, a former CPA from Denver, operated Cuenca Gringo Tax Service, advising expats on U.S. tax issues. …

The poet in your pocket

26 March 2014

Despite Robert Graves’ quip (“There is no money in poetry, nor any poetry in money”), The Guardian seemed to be of the opinion that there is something new and different in honoring a Nobel Literature Prize laureate on their coinage.  Canada’s commemorative five dollar coin (not meant for general circulation) honoring Alice Monro is certainly not the first currency in the Americas to honor either a Nobel literature laureate, nor a woman writer.

Au contraire, as they say in some parts of Canada… Mexico had not just a portrait of a poet, but a line of poetry on its regularly circulating 20 peso coin 14 years ago:


The lines are from Paz’ 1950 poem, Fuente:

Todo es presencia, todos los siglos son este presente

(All is presence, all centuries are present)


As to women writers on currency (like Jane Austen on the new British 10 £ note), Mexico has been ahead of the curve for a very long time.

Sor Juana has graced Mexican banknotes since 1980, first on the old 1000 pesos bill, and after 1993 introduction of the new peso, on the 200 peso note.





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