University of Oxford

Oxford is, in a word, breathtaking.

 

The town itself is adorable and plays host to a variety of lovely shops. At the time, it was only the third place I’d visited in Britain (after London and Canterbury) and is definitely the most charming. If you’re fortunate enough to be in town or on campus on a clear day during the golden hour, you are in for a treat.

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Radcliffe Camera

I should probably back up a bit and explain that D and I spent a day in Oxford while we were across the pond for a work trip (mine– he tagged along!).

No one can give an exact date of the college’s founding, so scholars say that ‘teaching took place’ as early as the 11th century. It is older than Cambridge, the rival school that forms the latter half of the portmanteau Oxbridge. These years and years of history translate to a gorgeous campus and top-notch academics.

As a result… scouts chose it as one of the filming locations for Harry Potter! Various Oxford sites appear in the films, particularly Sorcerer’s Stone and Goblet of Fire. My heart was a-flutter during the whole campus tour, led by a witty guide who made sure to point out HP-related places to me (as I was the only one to raise a hand when he asked who was a fan.)

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Exterior view of Christ Church College

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The inspiration for the Great Hall! Filming here– the dining hall for Christ Church College– would have been disruptive and costly, so it was recreated at Warner Bros. Studio in Leavesden, north of London.

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Location of the scene in which the Gryffindors learn how to dance for the Yule Ball. “Now, place your right hand on my waist.” “Where?!”

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Spartans at Oxford!

At the end of the tour, our guide– I think his name was Robert– made a quick plug for the books he’s written about the town, including one about ghosts. What I regret not asking was why Oxford is referred to as both the University of Oxford and Oxford University. Google couldn’t give me an answer, and I’m still stumped.

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This sunset view made me think awfully hard about applying to Oxford for a PhD…

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Intellectual graffiti

En fin, this was a 10/10 trip. I’d recommend visiting outside of the high season, like we did, for fewer crowds. Oxford is an enchanting little place and a nice escape from the busyness of London.

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5 Things I’ve learned in Mexico: Part 3

Hello, internet! Sorry that it’s taken me so long to update. Here are five more items I’ve learned during my 14 months in Mexique.

#1: Never rely on the consistency of services like water, gas, electricity, or internet. I’ve experienced outages of all of these at one point or another, sometimes simultaneously. Once before a job interview, the water went out (due to the lack of know-how of our new building supervisor), and I ended up showering at our gym! It must have been good luck, though, since I landed the position and have been happily working since August.

The silver lining here is the constant excuse to try out new coffee places and restaurants when I need wifi for my freelance work. At this very moment, I’m sitting in the lovely MexCafé across the street from my apartment.

#2: “Me dueles, México.” I love this phrase but try to employ it sparingly because I’m not actually from here and don’t want to overstep. Literally, it means “you hurt me, Mexico,” and it’s used when something goes wrong in a Murphy’s Law kind of way. Whether it’s an especially inopportune robbery, failure of utilities (see #1), or a glaring example of corruption, this sentence works and evokes empathy. An equivalent might be saying “third-world problems.”

#3: 95% of the time, baristas automatically ask what kind of milk you’d like in your drink. Many Mexicans prefer to drink lactose-free milk (the shelf-stable kind…) because it’s easier on the stomach and stays fresher for longer, so long as it’s still sealed. I always go for leche entera (whole milk) because life is short.

#4: When the rain stops, the smog begins. The temperature here in CDMX generally stays within the 45-80*F range all year; what varies is the precipitation. From about May through September, we get rain at least every other day, typically around 6:00 pm. This cleansing rain keeps the smog down– something to do with the droplets clinging to the nasty little particles. Once it disappears in the late fall, the smog returns with a vengeance.

#5: On a more positive note, many medications are incredibly cheap. To combat my smog-induced (and pollen-induced) respiratory issues, 10 tablets of Loratadine cost about $1.50 US, or under $5 a month to keep me sneeze-free. Antibiotics are also marvelously inexpensive and usually available without a prescription.

This wasn’t a shock to me, of course: expat blogs, TV shows, and news coverage (even my snowbird grandma!) all discuss the priciness of US drugs compared to Mexico. But to experience such cheapness in real life is a joy.

Street art in CDMX

Using the word “graffiti” would be pushing it a bit– most of these pictures are clearly of sanctioned street art.

Enjoy!

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An add for Comex paint in Polanco

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On the wall of IFAL, the French Institute of Latin America

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Near the British Embassy in Cuauhtémoc

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Faces on bills (from top to bottom: $20 – Benito Juárez, $500 – Diego Rivera, $10 – Emiliano Zapata (no longer in circulation; replaced by handy coins similar to Canada’s loonies)

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Foliage-esque

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A play on “Estados Unidos Mexicanos,” the official name of the country.

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But I ❤ DF!

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Creepy but with great colors

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Tweet!

Panteón de Dolores

Not knowing what I was getting into, I agree to visited the Panteón de Dolores in Mexico City with my mother-in-law, Cristina. I wasn’t aware that panteón translates not just to “pantheon” but also to “mausoleum.”

Hence, we planned our afternoon visit to a massive park-like area full of mausoleums and vaults and tombs, as well as beautiful sculptures. Below are some of my favorites.

The vertical stone monument, which looks quite unassuming, actually marks the resting place of José Clemente Orozco, the famous Mexican muralist.

At the back of the PdD is the Rotonda de las Personajes Ilustres. Here lie the remains of important Mexican politicians, war heroes, artists, educators, and musicians, such as Clemente Orozco (above), Diego Rivera (below), and Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante” (more about him in my post about San Miguel de Allende).

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RIP, Diego Rivera. I didn’t actually believe this was meant to be him, since he was a rather large man, and this death mask/sculpture looks emaciated.

Despite my feeling a little uneasy in many cemeteries– probably due to getting horribly lost at the walled Recoleta Cemetery in Buenos Aires, where Eva Perón is– I felt comfortable at the Panteón. It’s more of a celebration of those who have gone before us, an homage to the important people who made Mexico what it is today. I expect that this less-grim attitude toward death and burials is related to the prominence of Day of the Dead, which I will be joyfully celebrating at the beginning of November.

5 Things I’ve learned in Mexico: Part 2

#1: It is perfectly acceptable and very common for adults to eat popsicles in public, no matter the season. Paletas— both fruit- and dairy-based– are ubiquitous here. La Michoacana and Santa Clara are popular chains. D’s aunt and uncle own a successful paleta place in the state of Colima that the president visited recently.

#2: Little smog particles have the amazing ability to cling to just about any surface. Case in point: the glass desktop near the living room window. Also any car that parks outside… and the shelves in my kitchen.

#3: Tip your grocery bagger. They are often retired folks who make a little extra income this way. 2 pesos or so (less than a quarter) is pretty standard.

#4: It is next to ESSENTIAL that you say goodbye to everyone individually when you leave a party or gathering– even if there are 20+ people there. I got (politely) called out once for saying goodbye like a gringa, meaning that I just waved and announced my departure to the crowd.

#5: Oxxo is hands-down the best convenience store (or party store, if you’re from Michigan) in the Americas. I will accept no arguments. It’s a better version of 7-Eleven and always has exactly what you’re looking for, except limes (see #1 on 5 Things I’ve learned in Mexico: Part 1).

A friend of mine from college, who is also a connoisseur of all things related to Mexico, shares my love of Oxxo and will fight to the death to prove its superiority.

Lucha libre

Masks. Vulgarity. Stretchers. Slapping. Crotch shots. Spandex. Fake seizures.

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My first experience with lucha libre (freestyle fighting/wrestling) took place at the Arena México when a friend of a friend was visiting from Seattle. It’s a great activity to get a taste of Mexican culture for not too much money.

However, it’s also very violent– even if the fighting is fake. After the first hour of the show, I was exhausted from wincing!

Some background on the sport:

  • It’s been around for over 100 years and was inspired by Greco-Roman wrestling
  • If you’re a masked wrestler, it is imperative that you not let another wrestler pull it off and thus reveal your identity
  • Each fighter is classified as a villain/tough guy (rudo) or a hero/good guy (técnico), who fights more formally and with fewer tricks
  • It’s a very aerial type of wrestling. The luchadores spend a lot of time setting up highly theatrical jumps by using the ropes

Here are the fabulous names of the luchadores we saw that night:

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A few translations: Golden Angel, Brave, Sorcerer, Pegasus, Diamond Prince. My favorite might be Sangre Azteca (Aztec Blood) because of the crazy headdress he wears as he enters the arena:

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And then there’s Vangellys. I loved this guy.

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The cool aspects of lucha libre include:

  • Listening to people yell vulgar but very creative things at the fighters and the scantily-clad ladies who “dance” in the background
  • Checking out the wrestlers’ crazy costumes and unique personalities
  • Eating and drinking all kinds of delicious things. Interestingly, Cup O’ Noodles is sold at many sporting events in Mexico City, along with cueritos (chewy, pickled, gelatinous pig skin).
  • Cheap tacos in front of the arena. Just don’t let them put the super spicy sauce on it.

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All in all, it was a neat experience, but not one that I’m keen to repeat for a while.

Flight of the [monarch] butterflies

Back in February, D and I hopped in the car and headed to the El Rosario monarch butterfly preserve in Michoacán, the largest in the world.

Long story short, these delicate little insects migrate thousands of miles from southern Canada and northern parts of the US (including my home state, the Mitten) to spend the winter in sunny Mexico.

There are so many of them that they completely cover the trees in the preserve! It’s a marvelous sight to behold.

It should be noted that the food around the entrance to the preserve is to DIE for and made the hike worth it. We had mushroom quesadillas that were out of this world, then fresh strawberries with cream for dessert. (Michoacán is famous for its berries!)

Additionally, buying a walking stick is basically an essential ritual here.

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Monarchs have always been my favorite

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Nope, not leaves: this is how the butterflies cluster along the pine boughs

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This view left me yearning for a proper camera!

 

 

5 Things I’ve learned in Mexico: Part 1

#1: EVERYTHING (except ground beef and certain desserts) is supposedly better with limón– what we would refer to as lime in the US, even though it’s technically different. It’s not that I beg to differ regarding the deliciousness of this little green fruit; I simply do not see the need for an overdose of lime juice on everything I consume.

[Update, as recommended by a US friend who has spent time in Mexico: at sushi restaurants, the norm is soy sauce WITH LIME. The mayonnaise in my fridge also has “a touch of lime.” Limón is a national obsession.]

#2: Mexicans can sometimes come across as not trusting of others– but there is a reason for this. Given the frequency of political corruption and sketchy activities like the “cloning” of credit cards, people who live in Mexico have very valid reasons for being cautious.

This often translates to requesting that your server bring the credit card reader directly to the table, rather than running the transaction somewhere in the back of the restaurant, out of sight.

#3: Political campaigns and PSAs like to capitalize on the importance of family as a persuasion technique. For example, signs along the highway say things like, “Maneje con precaución. Su familia lo espera,” which means something like “Drive with caution. Your family is waiting for you.”

In one of my favorite books, Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie, the highways and bus stations also feature a similar type of weird little reminder. One that comes to mind is: “If you try to rush or zoom, you are sure to meet your doom.”

#4: An intentionally bad accent in Spanish is the perfect schtick and will always make Uber drivers laugh.

#5: There are roughly a million different noises that vendors/merchants use to get your attention. Here is a sampling:

  • The people who buy used metal and resell it drive around in a pickup truck, usually stacked high with mattresses, and blare a recording on a loop: se compran colchones, tambores, refrigeradores, estufas, lavadoras, microondas, o algo de fierro viejo que vendaaaaaan. (Translation: we buy mattresses, drums, refrigerators, stoves, washers, microwaves, or any old iron you’re selliiiiiing.) A friend of mine has a t-shirt with these words written on it in the shape of an oval. And fun fact: the little girl who did the recording is now an adult and a professional clown.
  • The guy who sells tamales: another recording. Acerqueseee y pidaaa sus ricooos tamaleees oaxaqueñooos. (Step right up and order your delicious Oaxacan tamales.) But what’s great is that the guy’s voice is the most comically nasal one I’ve ever heard outside of a cartoon.
  • THE STEAM WHISTLE. OH MY GOD. The poor man who sells camotes (hot yam-ish things) in my neighborhood must be deaf– truly– from the most high-pitched and ear-splitting whistling noise I’ve heard in my entire life. He pushes around a cart that looks like a miniature steam locomotive. I’d love to try the camotes, but the instinct to preserve my hearing trumps my curiosity.
  • The trash collector guys ring a hand-held bell– like a much larger version of the ones that rich folks in period pieces use to ring for their servants. It’s actually quite pleasant but VERY loud.

There are so many more– a little horn, a guy yelling something indistinct– that they merit their own post. One day!

San Miguel de Allende

Ahh, the one and only San Miguel de Allende: classic cobblestone streets (that, admittedly, start to lose their charm after jostling us around in a taxi for 20 minutes), bright colors, great views, a well-preserved downtown, and the famous wedding-cake church.

With absolutely zero ulterior motive, I wholly unselfishly planned a two-day trip for D’s birthday to this lovely colonial town. I chose Case Naré as our base, and we ended up with the Pasión room. Though I wouldn’t go so far as to call it minimalist, the room was sparsely decorated, in a very good way.

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I cannot begin to convey how cool the vaulted brick ceilings were. Unfortunately, neither could my camera. And it wasn’t just the ceilings; the choice of furnishings, especially light fixtures, was on point.

After settling in, we headed to what is colloquially known as Bellas Artes but is technically the Centro Cultural Ignacio Ramírez “El Nigromante.” It’s been an important workshop and learning space for creative types for many years. Apparently it enjoyed a surge in popularity when a number of American World War II veterans decided to use their GI bill to study art. Famous Mexican painter Siquieros had a large presence here as a teacher.

Before I get ahead of myself, I mustn’t forget to talk about our barbacoa stop outside of Querétaro en route to our destination. The place was already chock-full of people by 9:00 am, which was explained by its convenient location and delicious food.

On many occasions, I’ve used the word “animal-ish” to describe certain foods that taste gamey or smell like a petting zoo (looking at you, menudo). Barbacoa doesn’t quite cross that line, but it certainly toes it.

Returning to our afternoon in San Miguel: We were so full from breakfast that I had to scratch churros con chocolate and ceviche off the agenda, with a heavy heart. We did, however, explore the (very busy) downtown. The main highlight was the Parroquia de San Miguel Arcángel. In person, it looks much more pink!

We then had drinks at La Azotea, a rooftop bar recommended by my sister-in-law and the innkeeper at Casa Naré.

At that point, we found out that one of D’s friends and his family were in town and met up with them at the most perfect little stoneware/ceramics shop, Trinitate. I bought two little planters with the intention of expanding my collection of succulents.

The family then generously invited us to dinner at their home outside of the city, where we feasted like kings and queens: red wine, San Miguel de Allende beer, ribs, steak, ceviche, aguachile, the most perfect flour tortillas, two types of desserts, plus coffee.

After a fun evening, day two rolled around but got cut short due to the onset of food poisoning that likely came from the salad I’d had two days prior in Mexico City. Maybe it’s a sign that I should stop eating healthy and continue to stuff my face with more sopeshuaraches, and tortas?

Wonder Woman at MUMEDI

The fabulous Museo Mexicano del Diseño (MUMEDI) surpassed my expectations today. It is currently dedicated 100% to Wonder Woman!

Here’s what I mean: through August, they’re hosting an exhibit called “Mujer Maravilla y el Poder de la Creatividad” or “Wonder Woman and the Power of Creativity.” Dozens of Mexican artists created brazaletes inspired by Wonder Woman’s cuffs to represent the strength of women. The proceeds of the sales from the bracelets, some of which are actually wearable, go toward an organization called Epic Queen that is dedicated to empowering Mexican women and girls. Their focus is empowerment through technology education, particularly coding.

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The entrance. Faux-liage is very chic here.

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They even give out temporary tattoos along with your ticket purchase!

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Which one is your favorite?

And now for the brazaletes:

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The ones on the right represents both strength (metal) and fragility (glass).

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Two of the coolest concepts. Right: inspired by corsets, which the artist points out were used as a means of oppression. The silvery one is looser to represent liberation. And the set on the left are meant to resemble the aesthetic of Madonna, the fabulous pop icon who changed the world.

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Way more impressive in person

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The second set from the right are made of zippers!

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Art Nouveau WW!

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Christmas gift for me?

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A little love for Antiope

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According to our tour guide, Adrián, the building was constructed on the foundation of one of Hernán Cortés’s palaces, partially with stones from an Aztec pyramid. Obviously an atrocious decision on the part of the conquistador but cool to see, nonetheless.

All in all, a wonderful afternoon. Thank you, Wonder Woman and MUMEDI!

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❤ ❤ ❤