When art and science collide

Today after work, I joined my roommate at the Centro Nacional de las Artes for a forum on art and science.  I must admit, I didn’t know what to expect, but I was looking forward to a few of the presentations, especially one by Dava Newman from MIT, who happens to be the advisor for several of my friends.  Listed on the ECAM program were several sessions, including Dava’s at 6:30 PM.  

My timing couldn’t have been better and I arrived almost exactly at 6:30 (not so easy in Mexico!), and I found that the first session was just wrapping up, with a very interesting presentation about the geometrical structure of C60, aka buckminsterfullerene (symmetry is beautiful!).  Unfortunately, instead of the second session, the host then invited members of the audience to participate and we began a lengthy Q&A session.  Though, in fairness, many of the “questions” were 10-minute extemporaneous running comments about everything from computer code to Fibonacci numbers to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.  At times, I got the feeling that some members of the audience just wanted to hear themselves talk!

At 7:30, an hour later, we adjourned for cocktails and, well, a “concert” — though, all I can do is describe it: a gentleman placed two bare wires and a small microphone in a jug full of water; he connected a large battery to the wires and brought them close enough so that they arced, creating a brilliant flash and a large stream of bubbles.  The microphone was connected to several large speakers… and out came what I can only describe as the most hideous sound I’ve ever heard, a mix between finger nails on a chalkboard and a loud rumble!  Such is art and science.  Needless to say… we decided to leave.

It was an interesting experience… but I never quite figured out what happened to Dava.  If anyone out there cares to provide an update, please do!


ps… I’ve got a whole bunch of pictures that I am hoping to upload to the blog in the next few days.  Been a bit busy at work, if you can imagine it (seriously!).  Stay tuned.


México, D.F.

Curiosity killed… your liver?

Oh, my!  

Well… sometimes accidents happen.  Speaking hypothetically, of course, what would you do if you were to have, say, 4lbs of mushrooms?  Not the regular ‘ole gringo-white button mushrooms, or something tasty and manageable like portabellas, but 4lbs or random, woody, funky-looking fungi?

One of the hazards of living in another culture and in another language is that misunderstandings happen.  Yesterday, I happened to have one of those “misunderstandings” while shopping for groceries.  I had taken the morning off and gone to La Merced, a massive maze of intertwined warehouses covering many square blocks and forming the largest market in the city.  The market, itself, is the collection of (what may be) thousands of separate vendors, selling everything you can imagine…. from tortillas, to plastic coat hangers, to herbal medicines, to dried chilis, to, well…. fungi.

I had gone to the market to purchase a few random necessities, mostly dry goods (such as a pound of oregano!), but a particular produce vendor caught my eye.  In his small little corner, laid out in a long row of assorted baskets, were a cornucopia of bizarre, foreign, and intriguing mushrooms.  I must admit, I was too curious to not inquire… but similarly I wondered how safe it might be to sample random mushrooms from a stall not too far from a vendor who offered candles designed to “matar a sus enemigos.”  

So… as any keen mushroomologist would do, I asked the vendor, a middle-aged gentleman, for his opinion about a particularly stemmy-looking blob and something that might have been a morel.  His responses, “con pollo” and “para la sopa” were enough to convince me that these might be worth experimenting with in the kitchen.  So, I asked him for 10 pesos of each one (“diez pesos de cada uno”) and, like the distractable gringo that I am, promptly had my attention hijacked by a quesadilla vendor around the corner.  (What?!?  I was hungry!)  

When I turned back to my impending purchase, I saw a massive mound comprised of each of the mushrooms from the many baskets, heaped together on his antique scale.  Not just two, mind you, but at least seven or eight of the varieties!  And the vendor, of course, was reaching for the rest.  Having realized my two errors (both communicative, and then not paying attention), I quickly told him no more….  But looking at the towering stack, I realized it might be a little too late to send those that had already been commingled, back.  They were, after all, mixed together in a massive pile of mushroomness.  I was also, I admit, a little too embarrassed to ask!

So that’s how I happened to acquire a pile of strange mushrooms.  So what would you do?  I ended up making a large batch of soup.  It actually turned out alright… though I had to pick out the stems, and pieces of bark, small insects, an earthworm(!), pine needles…. but it definitely needs a little work.

Of course, after partially enjoying the fruits of my error, I’m now struck with the thought that, if the vendor “misunderstood” my order (either intentionally or not), who is to say that I might also be shopping for a new liver in the near future (a thought I am quickly trying to put out of mind!)?  Well, if I do survive long enough to post again, then perhaps I’ll also try working on another batch of soup.  And perhaps the recipe for the second batch will be good enough to share online.


México, D.F.

Taco Update!

Yeah, yeah, I know!  It’s about time for another taco count update.

Today, my friend Liz (if she blogged, I’d put link here) and I grabbed dinner at El Califa, a “taqueria” in La Condesa.  I put taqueria in quotes because the place is about as Mexican as Chili’s, the B&G back in the states.  Now, don’t get me wrong, the tacos are fanfreakingtactic, but this place is _high_ end (and not 2 pesos each!).  When you get a steak taco… it’s a steak in a tortilla.  Not some piece of nameless cafeteria-style mystery protein that’s been shredded to bitsy pieces — oh, no… this is a full-on-slab-o-cow.  Mooooooo!  Oh, the meaty juiciness…….  Slap on some carmelized onions, a few grilled-to-sweetness cactus paddles, and salsa so dark you feel it’s gravitation from your seat the second they slide it onto the table… and then drench the whole monument to “sabor”iness with the juice of a helpless baby lime.  Oh, it’s that kind of freaking tastic.  I spent $15; now I need a nap.

After the indulgence at El C., the total taco consumption count now stands at 75.


México, D.F.

Art in the D.F. Metro

Previous BBC report on art in the Mexico City Metro.  I’ll have more to say later in the year, I’m sure!


New airline security threat

After several failed attempts, I’ve realized that I just don’t have it in me today to write some type of amusing/smarmy comment in regards to this link.  But if you can think of one, please do not hesitate to comment.


Fútbol America

Well, it’s been quite a day… bought some furniture from a guy selling on a nearby street corner and then went to see my first fútbol game!  I feel the need for sleep right now, but I wanted to write a little, even if only to capture my current thoughts….

America (del D.F.) vs. Las Chivas de Guadalajara at Estadio Azteca. Tickets to the game were arranged by the nice folk at Comexus, who are our handlers for this whole Fulbright experience. The short version is that Las Chivas won, 2-1. There were some exciting plays and the game was tremendous fun to watch. Unfortunately, I don’t have any pictures because we were told not to bring cameras.

The longer version? Well, the experience of going to the game really had nothing to do with the outcome. In part, it starts with my impressions of fútbol in México… the ubiquitous jerseys (America, Las Pumas, etc.) and flag that abound on the street and in markets (though I don’t recall ever seeing anything related to fútbol in the professional workplace…..). Before we went, Comexus told us not to wear yellow or red, which are the team colors, or to bring cameras or belts(!). So… I didn’t quite know what to expect from the game, whether it would just be passionate fans, or a less-than-civil war.

Estadio Azteca is very large – over 100k, says Wikipedia.  On our way in, we passed dozens of vendors, selling food, paraphernalia, and offering to guard belongings… such as belts(!).  Inside, we were seated in the corner at the top of the first section of the lower deck and surrounded by a mix of fans, mostly dressed in the yellow and blue of the home-town America, but some in the red of Las Chivas.  The family in front of us were split, the father a Chivas fan and his young sons for America.  (In the top deck of the opposite endzone, there were several large sections of Chiva-red.)  

Also of note, the stadium featured prodigious use or chain link and barbed-wire fencing.  Between our section and the field were not one, but two(!) fences topped in barbed-wire, with a deep, dry moat, in-between.  And to our right, was a section of America fans entirely surrounded by barbed wire fencing and a ring of riot-gear-clad police officers.  We conjectured during the game as to why these fans (in particular) were fenced in… I don’t have an answer, so I’ll leave it up to you.  For what it’s worth, they seemed quite well behaved.

I don’t have much to say about the game (if the other Fulbrighters do, I’ll provide a few links), but mid-way through the second half, the score was tied 1-1.  Darkness had fallen and the stadium was illuminated by lights around upper rim.  Looking up into the Chiva sections on the far side, we noticed that people were lighting bright red flares… I assume the same as those used on freeways… and small ‘roman-candle’ fireworks.  At first, they waved the flares to the rhythm of the chants, but then — and I still can’t believe this happened — they threw the lit flares down into the lower deck, which was full of people.  By the light of these still-burning flares, we could see fans in the lower sections scurrying to put them out.  Perhaps more shocking than this disregard was that the game continued uninterrupted, as, perhaps a dozen, perhaps more, flares rained into the stands.  

The rest of the game was, for the most part, without any such scares.  There were no fights that I could see, nor dangerous crowds, or threatening gestures… which is of note considering the contrast that most of the stadium featured a mix of fans for both teams, including many families.  But it seems clear that the stadium is prepared for violence, and also that the crowds of fans are capable of some seriously poor judgment in regards to the safety of themselves and others.  

I’ll chalk this up as “a great experience” — but I have to admit, that there’s more than just a little voice in the back of my head that wonders whether the view we had today from the stands was of more than the game, whether it was a view into a part of the Mexican psyche.  I wonder just how lucky we were.


México, D.F.

Un poquito crudo…

Wow, our apartment was quite the mess this morning!  I guess that’s what happens when you invite your friends to a party and they invite their friends.  Bottles, cigarette butts, empty cups…. stray pieces of wine-soaked fruit…  But after a stray soldier round-up and a lot of mopping (actually twice!) and the dirt that was ground into the floors by los salseros has come out.  Actually, I’m pretty sure the place is now ten times cleaner than it was when I moved in.

I know this sounds strange (at least to some), but the later I stay up and the more I consume, the earlier I wake up.  One of my favorite things to do in the early morning, especially when the body feels a bit rough, is to clean.  In a sense, cleaning the house compensates for the disarray in my head… and, perhaps, the effort and pain, enhanced by the dull thud that resounds throughout my consciousness, is a bit of atonement for the abuse I put my body through the night before. 

More profoundly, however, I find the act of cleaning after a party to be meditative.  Although repetitive physical activity sometimes helps me to relax my mind, it’s really in that not-quite-hungover-but-definitely-rough state that cleaning becomes such a pleasure.  As I clean, I focus on the slight pain in the temples, but my mind is also devoid of all those random thoughts that usually provide such ample distraction during the day.  In this state, what few thoughts that do emerge out of the mental fog evolve in subtle ways and become more meaningful than they might otherwise.

Today, I thought about a slight regret, that I had not taken any pictures of the party. But as one thought faded into another, I concentrated on a sense of happiness, at the success of a party in which I had the chance to get to know a few more people, and to know a few more people better.  And even now, several hours later, after the mopping is done and the head has cleared and the thoughts and emotions become more diluted, I find that my state of happiness continues, filling the rest of my day.


México, D.F.