snapshots of mexico, literal and figurative

Lucha Libre
November 5, 2016, 10:49 pm
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I was back in DF for about a week in May for a friend’s wedding, and had a chance to stop by to check out a classic piece of Mexican culture (really!) – Lucha Libre.  The masks, acrobatics, people throwing coins, over-the-top soap operatic acting, card girls, and some sweaty dudes putting each other in headlocks made for a very entertaining evening.



First Impressions of the Hospital
January 22, 2011, 1:27 pm
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Somehow I’ve managed to spend a week here without getting around to a posting, some photography, or even making it as far as el Centro (although finally made it as far as Condesa for the first time this AM).  This isn’t to say I haven’t been living the Mexican life; it’s just been inside a hospital for the most part.

While I’ve spent plenty of time down here studying public health and the medical system, until now I’ve spent relatively little time seeing the actual provision of health care in Mexico, and never in an academic setting like I am currently.  It’s been an interesting experience so far.  The hospital where I’m spending my time is a mid-sized private hospital, with essentially the same technology and capabilities as any well equipped community hospital in the US.  There is a cath lab, CT, MR, electronic charting, doctors in all major specialties, an ICU and step-down unit, a number of operating rooms, and a helipad for critical transports.  The doctors who give lectures are some of the best teachers I’ve seen anywhere.  I’ve been impressed with the knowledge base of the students I’m working with, most of whom have only just begun inpatient rotations (although it’s hard to compare directly to US students in the same situation as the medical education system is quite different).

On the other hand, while the didactic teaching is excellent, the experiential learning—at least as far as I’ve seen—seems lacking, at least compared to what I’ve come to expect in the US.  As the patients are all private, outside doctors come in, round on their patients, and make all treatment decisions.  The role of students is essentially limited to seeing 8-10 assigned patients on their own, writing basic progress notes, and instead of formulating any sort of diagnostic/treatment plan write “treatment as indicated by the patient’s doctor”.  The only feedback they seem to receive is a chiding on not working quickly enough or disapproval of their physical exam notation.  The actual process of medical decision making is left out all together, except for a pair of mornings a week when the physician in charge of education discusses an admission from the previous night’s call (which while admittedly excellent does’t seem like an adequate replacement for actual daily teaching rounds).  What’s more, the case mix seems to be more determined by the patients’ ability to pay than any real medical need—not exactly a case mix with high educational value.  Probably 75% of the patients I’ve seen in the hospital would never have been admitted to the hospital, much less kept several days.  Without exaggeration I’d say half of the patients I’ve seen have been admitted for minor bumps and bruises following car accidents of one type or another–the sort of thing patients might not even come to the hospital for in the US.

I’m looking forward to getting a change to rotate through several different services over the next 7 weeks—hopefully I’ll be spending a few weeks in both the ER and ICU in addition to the time on the general wards.  If nothing else, I’ll learn a ton of medical terminology in Spanish—who hasn’t wanted to know how to say “angiotensin-II receptor blocker”, “endoscopic retrograde cholangiopancreatography” or “amyotrophic lateral sclerosis” in Spanish?

Winding Down, Looking Back
May 13, 2009, 10:00 am
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Somehow the year has gone flying by, and I find myself with only a few weeks left before I head back to my other home, Chicago.  While I haven’t quite left yet, the nostalgia is already kicking in, big-time…

Partial list of things I’m going to miss about living in Mexico City:

1)      My Mexican family (if they don’t kidnap me to make me stay, as they often threaten)


4)      The weather.  As much as bad weather doesn’t bother me, I’m going to miss knowing that every day the weather will be perfect.


7)  My neighborhood taco stand, and the sweet, sweet tacos campechanos it serves up.


15)    Neighborhood fruit stands (and other markets of all types).  The Chicago farmers markets are great, but once or twice a week in summer doesn’t quite match every day all year, and low low prices.  Plus, there’s no mangos or dominicos in Chicago.


22)    Guanajuato, Acapulco, Jalapa, and countless other cool cities to visit within a 5 hour bus ride.


37)    Bugambilia, Jacarandas, and all the other flowers that are everywhere in the DF year-round.


44)    The Metrobus.  Having to wait more than 30 seconds for a bus to come is going to be a rough reminder of US public transportation.


102)    Boing de Guayaba, the startlingly addictive bright pink guava drink available at taco stands and convenience stores everywhere.


1,345—1,347) (Tie)  Toss up between mosquito bites, air pollution, and lack of Ethiopian food as what I will miss least

Fun Mexican Word:  Tapaboca – Literally “cover mouth”, the tapabocas craze kicked off several weeks ago when swine flu hit the news.  While their use has dropped since the end of April—perhaps because people calmed down about the “pandemic”, perhaps because pharmacies and hospitals ran out of them—they still are a fairly common site on the street in Mexico City.

Picture:  La Granada waterfall.  I’ve already posted several pictures of this, but as it was one of the coolest things I’ve done in Mexico up to this point (or maybe just the coolest thing I’ve done recently, but whatever) I think it’s earned the right to show up multiple times on the blog.

La Grabada

La Granada

Something I miss (aside from all of you, of course):  Oak Street Beach.  I expect to be playing Frisbee there the evening after I return.  June 2, you know who you are.

Something I like about DF:  The lizards that I see every day scampering away as I walk by their sunning spots.  (If you’re interested, that’s #256 on the list from above)


See you Chicagoans soon,


To taco or not to taco, there is no question
March 31, 2009, 12:00 pm
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It’s all been building up to this point, and it hasn’t been easy. Months spent acclimating to the city, making contacts, identifying locations, and becoming familiar with the necessary materials is all about to come together into the ultimate accomplishment of my time in Mexico. No, I’m not talking about my Fulbright project. I’m talking about “Taco Week”.

Yes, the humble taco, a tiny pair of tortillas, some meat, and a little chopped onion and cilantro, will be the focus of my attention for an entire week as I search high and low for the Perfect Taco. Will it be suadero in Del Valle? Pastor in Condesa? Tripa in Xochimilco? Carnitas in el Centro? There is only one way for me to truly find out.

My friends, I plan to eat a full 100 tacos in 7 days… and enjoy every last one. That’s more than 14 a day—easily two meals; a taco practically every hour and a half; enough corn flour, animal parts, and salsa to kill a weaker man. Stay tuned: I’ll post my notes and totals online from this epic challenge against fullness, intestinal parasites, and future coronary artery disease.

Ambitious? Yes. Delicious? Clearly. Completely and utterly disgusting? Absolutely.

“Taco Week” is simply a working title, by the way, so please, send some creative suggestions as to what I should call this timeless pursuit of glory…

I know it’s been a long time since I actually updated you all on what I’ve been doing, so here’s the last month and a half in abridged form: I finally made it to Michoacan for my project, and had a very productive interview with the director of Seguro Popular (the program I’m studying). After that, I took a couple days after that to travel around the state, enjoying both the historic, Spanish-influenced capital and the heavily indigenous island-village of Janitzio in mystical Lake Patzcuaro. Our midterm Fulbright reunion was towards the end of February, complete with each of us giving a presentation on our research (and other experiences). I spent about a week earlier this month back in Chicago, partly to take care of taxes/financial aid/a haircut, but mostly just as a birthday visit. The past few weeks have involved a few short trips, one hell of a soccer game, the same contacting-of-interviewees-problems on my project as before, many coffee shop hours spent relearning medicine, and, of course, many, many delicious tacos.

Fun Mexican Word: Porra – The serious fans at soccer games, as well as the cheers they do. A-mer-i-ca! AGUILAS! A-mer-i-ca! RAH RAH RAH! (not that I’d ever cheer for the NY Yankees of Mexican Soccer…)

Picture: Unfortunately, some fool left his camera in a cab at O’Hare when flying back to Mexico City. Lucky, that fool’s sister and girlfriend rescued the camera, though it remains in Chicago.

Statue on Janitzio, from the last Mexico set I have

Statue on Janitzio, from the last Mexico set I have

Something I miss (aside from all of you, of course): Vegetarian food. I enjoy meat, and I love Mexican food (after all, why else would I do “Taco Week”?), but various vegetarian meals while home a few weeks ago reminded me how much I love those, too. While it’s not impossible to find the sort of vegetarian foods I like here, it’s definitely not particularly easy, either.

Something I like about DF: Art Deco buildings. They aren’t skyscrapers like most of the cool art deco in Chicago, NYC, Detroit, and other American cities, but smaller residential and commercial buildings stretching from el Centro through Roma, Condesa, and up and down much of central Insurgentes. Less cluttered than the heavily decorated colonial facades, with more character than the sleek modernism of newer buildings, and often painted bright colors, they make for very attractive streetscapes.

Saludos, wish me luck,


When ‘Yes’ Means ‘No
February 17, 2009, 9:00 am
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Mexicans are among the friendliest people in the world. Even in the busy metropolis of Mexico City it’s very common to have a complete stranger tell you “buen provecho” (the local equivalent of bon appetit) at a restaurant, help you with doors, or just greet you on the street. Basically, they want to be liked.

However, there is a downside to the Mexican desire to be seen as helpful and friendly, at least for us non-Mexicans unfamiliar with this custom. While Mexican will gladly tell you ‘yes’ when they are willing and able to help, they will rarely tell you ‘no’ when they are not. One example of this habit often occurs when asking for directions. It is almost certain that you will get detailed directions to your destination. Unfortunately, these directions are often completely fictitious and only serve to further confuse your path. In order to appear helpful, a Mexican would rather make up false directions to your destination than simply tell you they don’t know how to get there.

While providing false information to a stranger is one thing, dealing with friends or business associates is another. Instead of making up information on the spot, a Mexican will instead try to avoid having to provide any information at all.

How to say “no” in Mexican:

Step 1: Say yes.

Step 2: Avoid person who initially asked the question at all costs.

Step 3: If contact is unavoidable, assure the person that their request will be met “ahorita”.

Step 4: Repeat steps 2 and 3 as necessary until the other party gives up.

Where am I going with this? My project, of course. While I like to think of my project as moving along well, I am plagued by the Mexican “no”. There is undoubtedly a number of patients who I have and will interview who try to tell me what they think I want to hear. While frustrating, this is expected in survey research and not an overly grave concern.

The larger problem is instead the “Mexican No” I’m getting from the doctors who I’m looking to for help. I have called a doctor at the state health department of Michoacan nine times since I was initially put in touch with him last Monday, each day, and at different times. I have not been able to get him on the phone once yet, as he has always “just stepped out”. I left my phone number with a secretary Friday morning, but I have a hard time believing I’ll hear from him without making at least a few more calls. If this process has to be repeated with the four other state health departments I hope to meet with, I may go crazy.

Otherwise, the year continues to fly by. I’m starting to get to the point where I have brief moments of panic when I realize how much medical knowledge I’ve forgotten and that I’ll be back in the hospital in a few month’s time. For the most part, though, I’m content to just relax and enjoy Mexico City.

Fun Mexican Word: Maguey – Unlike several of Mexico’s other pre-Columbian agricultural products (corn, chiles, squash) that have become part of so many of the world’s cuisines, the versatile maguey is rarely grown outside of Mexico. Numerous species of maguey are heavily used in landscaping, and the plant’s fibers have long been used for in cloth-making. However, the most important products made from various maguey are all alcoholic—the frothy, fermented pulque; harsh, smoky mescal; and, above all, tequila, Mexico’s gift to the world of booze.

Picture: Eagle carving at the Monument to the Revolution. This fascinating dome was initiated during the dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz, and was originally intended to be the new meeting chambers for the Senate. However, Diaz was forced from power before the building’s completion. Its shell was later repurposed into a monument celebrating the event.

La Aguila

La Aguila

Something I miss (aside from all of you, of course): Ethiopian food. Most food cravings can be at least partially satisfied one way or another in Mexico City. Within a short walk I can find Argentine, Chinese, Polish, Brazilian, and Japanese restaurants, and of course various Mexican options (plus American fast food, if for some inexplicable reason I feel like Subway or a Big Mac). Numerous other options are found throughout the city. While I have one lead on a possible “Indian/Ethiopian/Ghanian restaurant”—quite a combo—I think I’m probably just going to have to wait until I’m back in Chicago to fill this particular craving.

Something I like about DF: Cantinas, the traditional Mexican drinking hole. Have a few beers, get dinner free! Add dominos, live music, and a soccer game on TV and you are bound to have a good time.



Live and Let Die
January 23, 2009, 9:00 am
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Every Mexican city worth its wait in corn, beans, and chile peppers has witnessed a historic battle, usually a major point of local pride. Puebla had Cinco de Mayo, Zacatecas had the Toma, Guanajuato had the Alhóndiga, Queretaro had the end of Maximilian’s reign, Mexico City had… well, it’s probably had more armies come through than Belgium did during WWII. Such is the history of a country founded on conquest, freed through rebellion, re-conquered and re-freed numerous times for the next hundred years, and eventually overthrown and re-established (through, what else, a decade of battles) less than a century ago. A run down of a few of the ones I’m most familiar with:

Puebla, French invasion of Mexico, 1862. Contrary to popular belief, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day (that would be September 16th). Instead, it celebrates the victory of Mexican forces over the French Army in the defense of the city of Puebla, at that time Mexico’s second city. The victory possibly had more to do with severe diarrhea that had handicapped the French than anything else. What’s more, the French still managed to conquer Mexico within a year. Even so, it’s considered a significant victory in Mexican history.

Guanajuato, Independence Movement, 1810. After Father Hidalgo—Mexico’s George Washington—gave the Shout of Independence on the morning of September 16th in the town of Dolores, he led his rag tag army towards the city of Guanajuato. There, he and his forces laid siege to the Spaniards who had holed up in a large granary. It wasn’t until “El Pípila”, a local miner, tied a stone shield to his back and lit the doors on fire that the Mexican forces were able to overwhelm the Spaniards. Unfortunately, the Spaniards eventually managed to retake the city, and from the corners of the very same granary hung the heads of Hidalgo and three other prominent rebels.

Zacatecas, Mexican Revolution, 1914. Zacatecas, rich with silver, was one of the primary sources of wealth for the Mexican government. As such, the revolutionaries knew its fall would be a major blow for their cause. A large federal force guarded the city, and artillery had been set up on the surrounding hills, making its capture a daunting task. However, thanks to Pancho Villa and his División del Norte, the revolutionaries were victorious, and in cutting off much of the government’s income they broke the back of the ruling regime.

Chapultepec (Mexico City), US invasion of Mexico, 1847. Many people forget about this one in the States, which is interesting as California, New Mexico, and a lot of other territory would otherwise still be Mexican. The culmination of the battle involved the cadets of the Military Academy on Chapultepec Hill desperately fighting the American army before patriotically/idiotically (you choose) wrapping themselves in the Mexican Flag and jumping off a cliff to avoid capture. The Niños Héroes (as the 6 teenage cadets are now known) are remembered in street names and memorials in practically every city in Mexico. 

As for my life in Mexico, all’s well. I spent last week in the northern city of Zacatecas, mostly just hanging out with my friend Zach but also getting some productive interviews done for my project. Additionally, I’ve begun to work on a second part of my project looking at insurance enrollment in a more quantitative fashion that hopefully I’ll be able to write a paper on (or ideally use as my MPH culminating experience).  We’ll see how things go between now and June.

Obama’s inauguration was well celebrated by the ex-pat community here in DF, and several friends ended up being interviewed by multiple TV and print media journalists while watching the ceremony at the US Embassy library. Most exciting part of the night: finding a place that serves excellent bratwurst in Condesa. Hopefully I’ll have more fun stuff to tell you about soon, but until I get my next bank deposit from Fulbright I won’t be doing much.

Fun Mexican Word: Teleférico – Cable car. Not the San Francisco ding ding streetcar type, the gondola-like, dangle from the cable as you go up the side of a mountain type. As far as I know, there are two in Mexico, one in Zacatecas and one in Taxco. My excitement level (and by that I mean “fear of plunging to my death”) in riding Zacatecas’s teleférico was significantly diminished when I found out it was designed and built by a Swiss firm, not a Mexican company.


F-you, President James K. Polk!

Memorial to the Niños Héroes. One could think of this white marble memorial in Chapultepec Park as a giant middle finger towards the US in response for its 1847 invasion. Of course, being the understanding, live-and-let-live country we are, we decided to return the favor and build our embassy across from the Monument of Independence to remind them who’s in charge…

Something I miss (aside from all of you, of course): Having a bed I can fit on without lying down diagonal. I guess it’s probably not something most other people would miss here…

Something I like about DF: The availability of tortillas españolas, basically glorified omelets that make a perfect small meal while working in a café.



New Year’s Resolutions
January 3, 2009, 10:00 am
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A list of relatively modest 2009 resolutions for Mexico City:

1) More public trash cans. Disposing a Kleenex, gum wrapper, or cigarette butt practically requires taking it home with you.  Needless to say, there’s a lot of Kleenex, gum wrappers, and cigarette butts on the ground.

2) Better traffic enforcement. Running red lights is more the standard than the exception. Changing lanes randomly is considered a normal part of driving. Hitting a pedestrian in a cross-walk is clearly the pedestrian’s fault. And so on.

3) Sidewalk repair. A chip here or an uneven slab there would be normal. A 4 foot wide hole or a randomly placed knee-high pole should not be.

4) Don’t shut the subway and metrobus at 10 PM on New Year’s Eve (or early on weekends in general). There’s a reason most world cities extend/increase public transit service for a holiday that consists mainly of staying up to drink booze at midnight.

5) Stay cool.

Clearly this ignores a few major goals for Mexico (ending violent war with drug cartels, cleaning up the corrupt police force, narrowing the excessively large income gap, eliminating all-too-common kidnappings, etc) but accomplishing those things over the next year is about as likely as the US paying off the national debt in the same time frame.  Feel free to comment with your own Mexico City resolutions.

The past few weeks here have been busy as tour guide/tourist with my family and later Annie. My family and I managed to cover an admirable amount of Mexico City—Chapultepec Castle, the Anthropology Museum, Zona Rosa, Condesa, the Basilica of Guadalupe, the Centro Historico, Tlalpan, the canals of Xochimilco—as well as celebrated Christmas Eve with my host family and take a trip to wine/cheese/empty water park country (i.e. Tequisquiapan). Annie and I opted to get out of the city and visit Guanajuato state’s twin colonial gems, Guanajuato city and San Miguel de Allende. I’ve got a week to get back onto a normal schedule and complete a few more interviews in Chapultepec park before I head back north to see a friend in Zacatecas, where I’ll continue the project and check out a city I’ve long wanted to visit.

So when are you going to come and visit? Yes you. Do you really want to squander your chance to experience Mexico with a fun and talented tour guide such as myself? I’m here through June 1st

Fun Mexican Word: Moros con Cristianos – Literally meaning “Moors with Christians”, moros con cristianos is beans and rice. I’m guessing this one came over from Spain, as there aren’t many Moors in Mexico and most of the Christians around here aren’t exactly rice-white…


La Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende

La Parroquia, San Miguel de Allende

Easily the most recognizable landmark in the most gringo-infested town in central Mexico. While the main church sanctuary dates to the late 1600s, the distinctive façade is several centuries newer. Its design was based on a postcard of European churches by an indigenous Mexican architect with no formal training. Reportedly, the “blueprints” used to guide construction were drawn on the sandy ground with a stick.

Something I miss (aside from all of you, of course): Bike lanes; I know of maybe 2 in Mexico City, neither of which is very useful for me (assuming I had a bike). Then again, at this time of year the bike lanes in Chicago aren’t really of much use to me, either.

Something I like about DF: Plazas, particularly those that have sidewalk cafes. Mexico City, particularly in its older sections, is chock full of plazas, pocket parks, and pedestrian malls. What’s better than sitting in a plaza drinking cafe con leche?  I mean, other than sitting in a plaza eating dried grasshoppers, of course…

Happy New Year! Hope all is well wherever you are.