Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Self-Hating Google

Just how useless is Google+?  This question has haunted many people over the past year or so. I try not to be a hater; I have always had Google's back. I was an early adopter of Gmail (July 2004, thank you). When they wanted their trademark protected? I chastised everyone for turning "Google" into a verb and, god forbid, a generic. Aaaaaaand yes, last year I dutifully signed up for Google+, created a few circles, and then promptly went back to Facebook to see what all my friends were doing.  I usually am reminded of Google+'s existence when I get those little emails in my inbox that say "So-and-so shared with you on Google+"... except... those emails really need to be in my INbox, you see.  But today, while cruising through my spam folder, I found this: 

Right. That would be a notification email from Google+...in my Gmail spam folder.  How incredibly awesome is that? Google+ is so annoying that even Google thinks itself is spam!

This totally made my day.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

Why you sound stupid when you talk about war

I always wonder why people don't realize how absurd they sound when they talk about war, particularly when they glorify soldiers in war. You know, the whole Dulce et decorum est... crowd, which seems to have been updated in the last few decades to "Freedom isn't free."

Freedom isn't free. Pithy, eh? So clever. Well, except for the fact that it IS free. I mean, it easily could be. Freedom just exists. It is not until after someone takes freedom away that there is a cost to get it back. We are all, to get a little sappy-70s-film-song about it, "born free."

But what really gets me about the whole freedom-isn't-free mentality is when these U.S.A. people start talking about their "ancestors" and the Founding Fathers who "sacrificed for our freedoms." I mean, you people do realize that you're talking about fighting England, right? It's freakin' England! The country that now, in all of your modern, racist, immigrant-hating, Iraq-invading, b.s. war-on-terror imperialism, you are constantly allied with! But then you get all gung-ho militaristic and remember the good ol' times when we were even shooting at the English, in order to gain our "freedom"? I see.

And by that, of course, I mean that I don't see at all.

It just so happens that this past 4th of July I was here in Mexico, and I spent the afternoon grilling, watching baseball, and drinking Coca-Cola in our impromptu Independence Day celebration with a few other United Statesians and a few international folk, including a Brit. Of course at some point during the festivities we had the obligatory "Ha, ha, King George, ha, ha, you're just sad you lost, ha ha" conversation, and then we moved on to the next hamburger or whatever.

But I wish that more of my U.S. peeps would take a moment, using the special alliance with their English friends to help them, to realize how goddamn horrible it is to kill anyone based on their nationality OR their taking up arms in "defense" of that nation when you yourself are also taking up arms in "defense" of your nation. Because in a mere 100-200 years, that "enemy" nation might be your new best friend, and you'll kind of look like an asshole jabbering about how blessed and honored and sacred your great-great-great-grandfather was for blowing a bunch of 18-year-olds from that other country to smithereens.

Seriously, people. Stop killing.

Yes, that includes Iranians. Stop ALL of your killing.  

And save the back-and-forth frenemy nonsense for Gossip Girl

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Querétaro Block

I'm in one of those blogging funks, wherein I just don't seem to have that compulsion to share my thoughts with the world, as The Wonder Stuff sing. I hate it when that happens. There is a tiny little part of me that worries it's because sharing pithy comments on Facebook and Twitter gets my venting and ranting out there into the world, leaving no more desire to blog, but as much as I want to push that thought away in a great fit of denial, I truly don't think that's what's behind the blogger's block. I think being in a relationship is the single greatest difference between my current blogging and my blogging as I once did, because in the beginning I was very much a this-is-me-against-the-world blogger, and now I'm not like that. Which is interesting.

There's also the fact, however, that I CAN'T blog about some of the things that are foremost on my mind. I mean, besides the cockroaches. I could blog endlessly about cockroaches. But believe it or not, there are many other things on my mind here in Mexico, despite what James Taylor would have to say about that, and unfortunately I can't put some of them on the web for the world to see and that is annoying to me. I don't like doing things and being in situations that I can't openly blog about. I'm not into secrets like that. (This, in the end, is why I really can't be a politician or work for the government. I'm just not into being secretive about what I'm doing.)

So, apart from the annoyances that have to stay under wraps (and apart from the cockroaches) Querétaro is actually all right!  Festive red, white and green decorations have stated popping up around the Centro, and I am getting excited about the upcoming Independence Day celebrations. (We've been over this, but for those of you who have forgotten: no, Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico's Independence Day; rather, it's Sept. 15-16.)  The rainy season seems to have sort of stopped, but we still get occasional rains, and rain in Querétaro tends to be a torrential downpour of biblical proportions that can really cramp your style for a fewhours. Brian and I have been enjoying our weekends in town by hitting up restaurants, plazas, and so on here in the historic Centro area where we live. I've pretty much become comfortable and even occasionally rather zen about driving the stick shift. Also, I've been running. The first few weeks here I was not at all into running because even when walking around the neighborhood in shorts listening to my MP3 player I did not like the looks and comments I got from men, all machismo-ed out and reminding me of the Latin-male catcalling in Brooklyn when I ran, only worse. But Brian discovered a great path on which to run to the big Alameda (park) just over a mile from our place, and now that I have that running route it's all good and I can do my running thing without being bothered. There's a Querétaro marathon (and half marathon and 10K and 5K) coming up in a little over a month, and I'm pretty sure I'll run the 10K.

All I want to do is read and have more time to read and write. I was actually supposed to have more time to read and write here in Mexico, but that's one of the annoyances actually - I don't have as much time for those things as I thought I would. However, I am reading cool stuff, when I have time to do so, and even sort of regularly updating my Literary Supplement with my book thoughts, most recently Grover Cleveland, and now I'm in the middle of a Salman Rushdie book.

We've met interesting people here in Mexico, including a couple of people who are currently in the midst of a bicycle trip through Mexico. Bicycles! On the highways! Isn't that so totally awesome and fearless?

But time marches on, summer has come to an end, my nephews and nieces have started school back in Phoenix (not that I ever get updates from them or my sister, but I know that they have), kids have started back to school here in Mexico, food here is delicious, the prices of eggs are in crisis because of a strain of avian flu in some Mexican state or other, I more or less get to keep up with all the batshit insane politics back home in the states (and the shocking level of ignorance about basic human biology that passes for acceptable in our elected officials), and there's still so much to see and do and learn in the world!

One very interesting thing I came across recently was a man named Xokonoschtletl.  He was speaking to a small crowd in Mexico City, near the Zocalo, about Tenochitlan and the destruction by Spain/Cortes etc. of the Aztec civilization, and how Montezuma's crown/headpiece is still in Austria, and how good-but-ignorant so many modern-day people are, and how people buy hook line and sinker the propaganda of the powerful, continuing hundreds of years of imperialist terrorism. I could have listened to this guy forever. Later, I looked him up (based on his book, Juicio a Espana) and discovered that he is in fact a somewhat known activist and speaker and whatnot. He should be even better known; he's awesome. You can watch him on YouTube or visit his web site. I'm so glad I randomly came across him. I loved Mexico City, p.s. I love learning about Mexico and its past.

Because really, the best thing about being in Mexico has been learning more about Mexican history, and the indigenous struggle, and the pre-Hispanic civilizations, and the continuing traditions, and all of that. I mean, don't get me wrong, I REALLY like the food here. But the food has been exported. I really think this historical cultural knowledge has not been exported at all. Even in neighboring Arizona, where we think we have so much experience with Mexico/Mexicans, we are missing so much of the story.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Ciudad de México

Finally, finally, finally, we spent a couple days in Mexico City.  Two thumbs up!

Isn't it the worst when you've had a layover someplace, a place that actually comes up in conversation and people actually ask about, but for years and years and years after your layover you don't actually visit the city so then whenever it comes up, which seems to be, like, all the time, you have to say, "No, I haven't been there. I had a layover..." and then you just sound like an idiot who actually thinks having a layover equals visiting a place, which, no, you don't think that at all but you just want to somehow convey that you have passed through that space on the globe and...it's just the worst. My Mexico City layover was in 1997. (Even longer ago than Tokyo-Narita, which gave me five years of fits every time someone asked if I had been to Japan, and which I remedied during 2011 by traveling for reals twice to Japan, which, by the way, is the greatest country in the world.)

Fun fact: Brian and I have now been to seven world capitals together! We have also been to one same world capital separately and each of us has been to a few world capitals the other hasn't visited.

In short, Mexico City is awesome and it was really nice to be in a large city again. It reminded me that Querétaro is in fact a small city, which I don't really think about when I'm here in the Q, but which I thought about in comparison. Querétaro has a million people and nearly that many industrial parks and all, but here are a few things the Ciudad de México has that Querétaro doesn't have:

Speaking of seeing the plaza, we had dinner and drinks in a cute and totally not expensive restaurant overlooking it all. I highly recommend that when you are in Mexico City you go to Pura Corazon, on the 6th floor across from the street between the plaza and cathedral entrance. Delicious food, friendly servers, and the view! We had first tried the fancy-schmancy hotel down the street but its terrace restaurant was only serving expensive brunch on Sunday, and I was sad to not be able to have a drink with a view, but then further down we could absolutely have a drink with a view, and it was lovely.

So anyway, the subway. Three pesos. THREE! That's, like, a quarter. Less than a quarter, right now. I was in heaven. I cannot stop marveling at its three-peso-ness.

We stayed in a nice hotel (thanks, Agoda!) in the Zona Rosa area, just a hop skip and jump from Reforma, the wide boulevard dotted with sites and on Sundays filled with bikers and joggers and skaters and dogs. We had lots of wandering time, and we saw Bellas Artes (magnificent), the Bosque de Chapultepec (paddle boats!), and many an old building. We had a Saturday night out in the Coyocán area, all trendy and nightlifey, but not disco-nightlifey, just with throngs and restaurants and bars and snacks and coffee and down-to-earth-ness. My new favorite bar in Mexico is there: El hijo del Cuervo. It's a bar with a cute raven logo (did you know "cuervo" means "raven"? well, now you do) and loads of witty literary quotes on the menu.

The *only* problem (not Mexico City's fault or anything) was that it rained sometimes, although even that wasn't like our recent Querétaro rains wherein the sky opens up for four-hour deluges, but rather, just little sprinkles that would stop after a few minutes, during which time we'd pop into a restaurant for tacos or something. However, I would like to address something: the rainy weather was cool weather. I had to wear layers and never even wore the shorts I brought for our weekend trip. There has also been cold rain of late in Querétaro. Well, I have a problem with this. Mexico, as careful readers will recall from my last post, has cockroaches. Cockroaches that are tormenting me by daring to show up in our apartment occasionally. I have already acknowledged that the dastardly insects/creatures of the devil are the price you pay for tropical paradise (see, e.g., Cuba and Phuket) but tropical paradise is also WARM. Mexico, listen up: you can either have cockroaches or be cold, but you do not get both. Pick a side.

Aaaaaaand, the day we headed from Q to Mexico City was the day Mexico beat Brazil to win the gold medal in men's Olympic soccer, so the streets were even more lively, filled with people and flags and hats and painted faces and horns and cheers and happiness.

Indeed. Viva Mexico!

Thursday, August 09, 2012

"Porque me falta, porque no tengo..."

I suppose the whole cockroaches thing should have been clearer to me sooner. Just think about the music. What is the one song associated with Mexico that everyone in the U.S. knows?  Well, that's true, there's "La Bamba." OK, so what are the two Mexican songs everyone in the U.S. knows?  "La Bamba" and "La Cucaracha." If a song about the godforsaken creatures is (one of) the most famous thing(s) about a place, you can pretty much expect them to be everywhere.But I'm still traumatized, every time. I am just not meant to co-exist with las cucarachas, and I am certainly not meant to cohabit with them!

Now, don't go getting all holier-than-thou with me about all creatures great and small or anything like that. I have repeatedly explained my theory that cockroaches are actually miscategorized in the animal kingdom, that one day scientists are going to discover that the suckers are really something else entirely, just like they did with protozoa. (If I'm remembering my 8th-grade biology correctly.)  Or, for the more religiously inclined among you, think of it like this:  be nice to all of God's creatures, right? But cockroaches aren't God's creatures; they're clearly the spawn of the devil.

And don't go getting all traveler-than-thou with me about Mexico's latitude and biodiversity and climate. No. I have spent quality time in the tropics (the Caribbean and Southeast Asia, thank you) and I am well aware that  the price you pay for paradise is insects.  But these roaches currently traumatizing me are nasty urban dwellers that have no need to exist, but because they are evil and horrible, they subsist on crap and junk and garbage and dead cells and dirt, and they make their way through the crowded Centro city streets and old buildings into every crack and cranny and crevice, only to emerge in my living space.  No, thank you.

Spiders? Beetles? The occasional random unidentified six-legger? Brian and I will happily scoop them up in a cup or something and toss them outside. I give cockroaches no quarter. They are evil, horrible invaders that are more virus-like than lifelike. I would happily replace them in the food chain with ten other kinds of insects to make up the difference to the animals that (shudder) eat them.

Speaking of which, does anyone know where I can get a pet bat?

I really want a pet bat. And a frog. I love frogs anyway, and those two things would solve my cockroach problem. But see, this is the thing: my city dwelling is really not a good habitat for frogs or bats. Cockroaches are particularly troublesome because they take themselves out of the food chain and go live somewhere else, far away from their natural predators. And we have three different kinds that have reared their ugly, ugly heads in our kitchen and bathroom. Have I mentioned how evil they are?

A friend suggested bay leaves. We spread bay leaves everywhere, as if in some kind of ritualistic incantation ceremony, and they seemed to reduce the cockroach sightings for a couple of weeks, but in the last few days the demons came back. If they have somehow figured out that the bay leaves aren't actually going to hurt them, I simply won't be long for this world.

By all means, share with me your tips for how to get rid of cockroaches, once and for all!

Friday, August 03, 2012

In which it all makes sense now....

OK, I *loved* Depeche Mode when I was an adolescent. Basically what happened, as I recall, is that I heard the song "Strangelove" one day and I immediately had an epiphany, began buying all their albums (mostly on cassette, p.s.), and learned what it means to have a favorite band and care about music.

But you know what I didn't know when I was 12?  British English. I mean, there I was, growing up in the U.S. of A., and although I bought Smash Hits whenever I could get my hands on it, it would be years before I was the highly educated, well traveled, ESL-teaching, friend-o-Brits that I am today. So back then, sure, I may have known that those English folk said "flat" when they meant "apartment" and stuff, but I didn't know everything. And although these days I have definitely passed a British English quiz or two (these generally involve a bored British friend, beer, or both), I am still surprised every once in a while when I'm teaching English from a textbook full of British vocabulary and I discover in, say, an automobile vocabulary lesson that windscreen is their word for windshield.

I mean, I knew about boot (trunk), and bonnet (hood), and indicator (signal), but...have I heard windscreen used in that context? I mean...that means...a windscreen is....wait! It ALL MAKES SENSE NOW!

"Death is everywhere
There are flies on the windscreen
For a start
Reminding us we could be torn apart

  -- Depeche Mode, "Fly on the Windscreen"

Cripes! Dead bugs on the windshield?! Is that all?  When I was a 12- or 13-year-old listening to this song, by which I of course mean obsessively playing this song over and over in a darkened room while brooding about the meaning of life, the word "screen" meant, you know, a screen. Like a screen door. (Hello, raised in Arizona, land of patios.) Or possibly a screen in a window. So if it was a windscreen, then I guessed it was just, I don't know, some big screen. With flies on it. Flies that were symbolic of evil, the minions of the devil, Beelzebub trying to get into our hearts.  Flies that covered an entire window, like in The Amityville Horror.  But all he was talking about was dead bugs on the windshield? I mean, the song's still really profound and thoughtful and all that, but it's certainly not as creepy or grotesque of an image if it's just a smashed bug or two while you're driving down the highway.

I had no idea.