Category Archives: Cultural Commentary

Viva Mexico! Viva la Independencia! September 16 Independence Day

On September 16 each year, Mexican Independence Day, the president of Mexico stands on the balcony above the entrance to the National Palace in Mexico City facing the huge Zocalo filled with people.  He recreates Father Miguel Hidalgo’s famous shout Viva Mexico!  Viva la Independencia! that Hidalgo made from the church in the town of Dolores in the state of Guanajuato, on September 15, 1810.

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Thus began Mexico’s war of independence from Spain which was not fully realized until 1821.

Known as El Grito de Dolores, the cry is the most important symbol of Independence Day.  Each year at eleven o’clock in the morning, mayors and governors of cities and states throughout Mexico echo it as citizens gather to join the shout.

 

Some think that Cinco de Mayo is Mexican independence day.  It is not.

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Mexico’s General Iturbide rode into Mexico City in 1821 to decidedly end the War of Independence. The Puebla nuns, also known for their mole poblano, created the red, white and green  Chiles en Nogada in his honor. He’s the man who designed the Mexican flag.

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The other Mexican revolution started on November 20, 1910. Also known as the Mexican Civil War, the ten-year conflict succeeded in ousting the thirty-year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz.

Travel every city, town and village in Mexico and you will see streets named for the revolutionary heroes and the dates of independence.

Viva Mexico! Viva la Independencia! Give a shout out!

Sunrise From New Mexico and California Berries

On a pre-dawn Wednesday this week, I was on a plane from Albuquerque to Denver with a connection to San Francisco. It was dark at take-off. The lights of the city sparkled against the black desert that met obscure sky. On the vast horizon I could see shapes of mountains and the lights of Santa Fe.

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Then, the eastern sky began to explode in color after the first sliver of orange cast a magic glow on the clouds. I realized I was grateful for the three-thirty morning wake-up so I could get to see this.

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Mexico is ever-present in New Mexico. The tales of conquest, weaving culture, adobe homesteads, Native American art and crafts, and blue corn are integrated into the physical and historical landscape. It is easy to transition from one place to the other. Both are conducive to a more relaxed lifestyle and many of my Santa Fe friends spent lots of time in Oaxaca, especially in winter.

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I’m here in Santa Cruz, California, now for one of my regular visits with my 98-year-old mother, sister and brother-in-law. California is another place where Spanish and then Mexican life prevailed before becoming a U.S. territory then state.

As Barbara and I approached and drove beyond San Juan Bautista and the historic mission yesterday, we passed fields of farm workers tending the fruit and vegetables we eat. Are they undocumented?  Likely. They harvest Driscoll strawberries, raspberries, blackberries and other brands we know from our supermarket shelves.

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Acres of red and green lettuces, and chard are laid out like a Mondrian painting. The workers kneel toward earth as if in prayer, just like in Mexico.  Their heads are covered, their bodies shielded from sun by long sleeve shirts. Some rise, stretch arms skyward, taking a break from back-breaking picking. Here the land is more fertile and the pay is better.  Eight thousand dollars a year is a lot in Mexico. Signs along the California 156 shout out Trabajo Disponible — work available. This is not a job for sissies.

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We were on our way to see Dr. Paul, an orthopedic surgeon, to examine my bad right knee, hurting since early July when I did too many dancing twists at a Best of the Beatles party in Teotitlan del Valle. Difficult for sustained walking. No broken bones, but after a cortisone injection and not much relief,  I’m considering a postponement of a year-in-the-planning trip to Barcelona with a September 16 departure.

Should I go it alone now or wait until spring and travel with my sister?  What do you think? And, why?

Mexican Muralist Orozco’s Prometheus at Pomona College, California

Last week while I was visiting my son in Southern California, I decided to make a pilgrimage to see Jose Clemente Orozco’s famed mural at Pomona College. Orozco, along with Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siquieros, is one of the Three Grand Masters of Mexican Muralism.  Like a three-legged stool, the study of one balances and informs the work of the others as they shaped and reflected post-revolutionary (1910-1920) Mexico art and politics.

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During our Looking for Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Art History Tour in Mexico City (coming up November 13-17), Orozco and Siquieros figure predominantly in what we see since they all painted frescoes in Mexico City’s public spaces.

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We compare and contrast the styles of these three  to better understand how they interpreted social and political change within the context of their personal beliefs and values.

Orozco’s work is powerful, compelling and monumental. So, I take art historian Valeria’s advice to see this work in Frary Dining Hall at Pomona College.

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It’s summer and I call ahead to make sure of the dining hall hours to be certain I can enter (breakfast is served 8-9:30 p.m. and lunch is 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.), then prepare my route from the beach to the foothills of the San Gabriel Mountains, navigating a series of freeways. This is the land I grew up in and I’m completely at home.

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The trip takes about an hour and I arrive a bit after ten in the morning.  A good time to travel since I am going in the opposite direction from morning rush-hour traffic heading toward downtown Los Angeles.

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Pomona College is private, liberal arts and part of the Claremont Colleges Consortium. The grounds are carefully manicured and the buildings convey the ambience of of classic California architecture, combining southwest colonial Spanish influences with art deco style.

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I loved walking the park-like, tree-lined pedestrian avenues filled with talented young people representing every multicultural mix in the world.

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Orozco painted and completed his mural in 1930, at the start of the Great Depression.  There is an extensive art history discussion of the mural so I won’t go into much detail here, other than to say that Prometheus incurred the wrath of Zeus when he gifted humankind with fire — a symbol of learning, enlightenment and innovation — a perfect metaphor for a relatively new institution of higher education.

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I decided to stay and have brunch in the richly paneled dining hall that students call Hogwarts, bought a meal ticket for $7.50, and settled in for the next hour-and-a-half to take photos, people watch, and gaze at the ironwork, paneled walls, and the play of light on Orozco’s masterpiece.

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Note: If you arrive before or after the scheduled dining hall opening hours, you will be able to view the Orozco mural in natural light.  Incandescent lights illuminate the mural during the hours when the dining hall is open.  In my opinion this distorts the mural and the light casts an unwelcome glare. So, my recommendation is to enter the dining hall either between breakfast and lunch or between lunch and dinner.

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Best time to travel there:  Between 9:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. I left campus at 1:30 p.m. and had an easy return to the south coast, again circumventing Los Angeles’ famed clogged freeways.

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Labor Day and Saludos From Taos, New Mexico

We have this last 3-day holiday weekend of summer, Labor Day to honor the United States of America labor movement and workers around the world.

Taos, New Mexico Sunset

Taos, New Mexico Sunset

As I look out onto  panoramic scene of the Rio Grande River Gorge from my friends’ home on a high mesa outside of Taos, New Mexico, I think about the advocacy and personal risk required to create the child labor laws, safe working conditions and the forty-hour work week.

Hot air balloons over the Rio Grande River gorge.

Hot air balloons over the Rio Grande River gorge.

Today, some of us stretch the Labor Day weekend into perhaps a seven or ten-day holiday to enjoy the last of summer.   Yet, in Oaxaca, we still see young children peddling candy on the streets to make a few pesos long after bedtime and a standard six-day work week, Monday through Saturday, that likely may not include paid vacation time, health benefits or a retirement plan.

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I’m on the road for the next six weeks. The stop in Santa Fe was to visit my met in Oaxaca friends Martha, Sheri and Norma Uno who spend their time between Mexico and the “new” part of it. Mexico’s flavors and influences permeate here, hence Our Lady of Guadalupe images everywhere. As part of my experience, I even slept in a yurt in Norma’s garden outside her adobe casita built in the Pueblo style with modern adaptations.

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After a mighty fine brunch visit at The Tea House cafe in Santa Fe, I hopped on a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-skirts Twin Hearts Express shuttle service to take the two-hour ride to Taos, where my friends Karen and Steve picked me up.

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We have been gorge-gazing, eating, cooking, shopping and other sundry activities all weekend.  The scene reminds me of Oaxaca — big vistas, high mountains, lots of scrub oak and mesquite, grazing sheep and neighbors who are very fun.

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There are more cowboys and cowboy wannabes here. Snakeskin boots, Navajo bolo ties, turquoise and silver abound.  At the organic Saturday farmers’ market on the plaza  we foraged for wild golden chanterelle mushrooms picked by a retired French couple who live here. Turns out they know people in Toulouse, France, where I’m heading in two weeks to visit Brigitte and Ivan. And, look at that native corn. Perhaps genetically similar to the Oaxaca corn I know and love.

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Last night we went to a house party for an intimate soiree by Susan Gibson, formerly of the Dixie Chicks.  The night before found us on another mesa eating grilled lamb chops and drinking a some delicious red wine. Yum, yum. Our hostess concocted a great sautee of fresh corn and squash New Mexico style, which she says is her favorite mainstay.

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Perhaps the most satisfying part of this leg of my trip is spending it with friends whom I have known for almost forty years. Our lives have turned in different directions yet the camaraderie and bond are constant.

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So, from Mexico to New Mexico, I find myself in the bosom of a shared culture, in a landscape that is familiar yet different, among a concurrent history of conquest, weaving, food and art.  I wish you all a satisfying and joyous weekend as I prepare to return to Northern California to visit my ninety-eight year old mother on Tuesday.

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at the Harwood Museum, Taos, New Mexico with Day of the Dead overtones

 

Masterpiece of Mexican Cuisine and Symbol of Independence: Chile en Nogada

It’s a Chile en Nogada kind of day here in Puebla, Mexico, where it was first prepared by Augustinian nuns, so they say, to honor the birthday of General Augustin Iturbide on August 28, 1821, who orchestrated Mexico’s independence from Spain on the same date.

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I ate one Chile en Nogada today here at El Mural de Los Poblanos. One s not enough. But, lo, I won’t be here long enough, gone by the time you read this! No second day for a second helping.

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History notes that it took Iturbide less than a year to secure independence after he put together a three-part coalition of liberal insurgents, landed nobility and the church who had been in-fighting for ten years. He formulated The Three Guarantees: Freedom from Spain, Religion (Catholicism only) and  Union (all Mexicans treated as equals).

Iturbide translated The Three Guarantees into the Tri-Color Mexican flag — green, red and white —  and added the Aztec symbol of the eagle perched on a cactus to build upon the past. The city is decorated to honor the occasion and the Chile en Nogada season.

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The nuns created the Chile en Nogada to honor the man who created the first Mexican independence.  The dish is tri-color:  A beautiful poblano chile stuffed with minced pork, fresh fruit, pine nuts and savory spices (green), topped with a fresh walnut and cream sauce (white) and garnished with fresh pomegranate seeds (red).

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Today, chile en nogada is THE seasonal dish in Puebla. It is a culinary masterpiece along with the other masterpiece of Puebla origins, mole poblano. Every restaurant tries to capitalize on the popularity of this famous dish.

Chile en Nogada is available fresh only from July to September when pomegranates are ripe, peaches and apples are in season, and mild poblano peppers are prolific.

No restaurant does it better than El Mural de Los Poblanos.  I’ve been coming here for years and the preparation, presentation and taste never wavers from excellent. Paired with Casa Madero 3V red wine from Coahuila, Mexico, this meal was cien percento (one hundred percent) Mexicano.

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Chef Lisette Galicia’s Chile en Nogada is stuffed with a picadillo of pears, apples, pine nuts, raisins and ground pork, seasoned with hints of North African spices that point to Spain’s Moorish history. It is a perfect combination of sweet and savory.  The version here is a sweeter nogada sauce, a counter-point to what I tasted the week before at Mexico City’s Azul Historico, where two sauce versions, one sweet, the other savory, were available on the menu.

Now, it’s off to El Norte for a while. Hasta pronto. I’ll be dreaming of you, Mexico.

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