Las Luchas! — Mexico’s “Professional” Wrestlers

Last Friday night, I went to see the fights at Arena México. Built to house boxing matches for the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, the arena is now used as a venue for “professional” wrestling, or las luchas. My memories of watching wrestling on TV when I was younger helped to prepare me for the experience, with the overstylized drama, elaborate costumes, bizarre plot lines, acrobatic moves, and fake fighting. And, of course, Mexican wrestling is also notorious for “those guys with the funny masks.” (Apologies on the lack of photos! …The arena officials ban cameras.)

But las luchas in Mexico is more than just entertainment, it’s a cultural phenomenon and a window into part of the national psyche. The masks, for example, serve the dual role of both anonymyzing a fighter as well as being exploited by his opponents in order to emasculate him. To really get my head around the experience and figure out what it all means, I’ll probably need to go back… it was, in many senses, overwhelming. Perhaps exceeding the spectacle in the ring is that of watching the fans, groups of which who wore matching costumes, brought bicycle pumps to drive air horns(!), and looked as if they have been attending las luchas as religiously as they do church on Sundays.

Each of the fights we saw featured six luchadores, divided into two teams of three, that would fight in the ring. I had expected the fights to be a bit more structured, with the “official” wrestling only between two luchadores at a time. However, the organization of these fights would quickly deteriorate into a free-for-all, with all six wrestlers performing combo moves in the ring. In one of the early bouts, a very little man accompanied one of the teams out to ringside. I don’t know what the socially accepted term is these days, so I’ll just refer to him as the “little man” or the “wee luchador;” he was about 3′ tall… and dressed in a blue, hairy gorilla suit. I must admit, it was a strange sight….

During the middle of the fight, the wrestlers on the other team grabbed the little guy, pulled him into the ring, and began to “beat” on him. I honestly can’t remember how the crowd reacted, my attention was completely fixated on the post-body-slam motionless body, blue ape suit and all, lying prone in the center of the ring. To heighten the drama of the moment, one of the arena’s medical staff came out, lifted the little man, and carried him out, laid flat in his arms.

Some may say it’s exploitation. But to me it’s no more exploitative than everything else about las luchas, the bikini-clad ladies, stereotypified wrestlers, Mexican-good-ol’-boy announcers, and the fanatics who pay upwards of 300 pesos to watch. In that moment, I could do nothing but stare, gape, and break down into laughter.

México, D.F.

Vainilla, Carteles, y Drogas

The building next door to our apartment, and just outside my window is one of the many grammar schools in our neighborhood.  I usually leave my window open at night for the fresh air, and in the morning, I’ll wake to the sound of children arriving for their school day.  Most of the time, the morning white noise is just part of the routine and, in a strange sense, appreciated.

Today, however, it seems that the school was hosting a small conference… a parents day, I imagine.  (Come to think of it, it might have been registration day.)  Someone set up a microphone, and from about 7:30 AM onwards, I could hear the amplified voice of a man broadcasting information.  He seemed to have a regular speech, which would last about 30 seconds and be repeated every minute.

In my morning haze, both before and after rising, I let the most of the words enter my mind without paying any attention to what they meant.  But, as the speaker would finish, all of a sudden, my mind would grab on to the words… “cappuccino de vainilla, canela, y chocolate” (or “…vanilla, cinnamon, and chocolate”).  In all seriousness, I heard these words perhaps a hundred times in the hour and a half it took me to complete the morning routine.

Many times, the man spoke these words, but, in the semi-focused state of the morning, distracted by my oatmeal and the aquarium, I would often hear something different, such as losing the end of “chocolate” to hear only “choco.”  However, sometimes these syllabatic translations would transduce the words into bizarre and fantastical meanings.  Like a dream, many of the details now escape me, except for one, which, I swear I heard: “…de vanilla, carteles, y drogas.”  That couldn’t be right, could it?

 

México, D.F.

A Curious Trip to the Movies

Late yesterday, on my way home, I ran into my roommate, a conversation which ended with my turning around to head out to see a movie.  

On Wednesday night, movies in Mexico City are half-off, which is convenient given my stubbornness about not paying exorbitant prices in the U.S. to sit on my behind.  Here, it cost 32 pesos… a whopping $2.50.  Given the price, I never bothered to ask which movie we were seeing until we were seated in the theater (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button).   I’ll leave the reviews to the “critics,” only to say that the movie (plus commercials, trailers, and a little “problem”) lasted nearly three hours — that’s a conservative $1/hour for entertainment!

Perhaps the most interesting point in the movie occurred more than half-way through.  In a mildly amorous scene in Murmansk, there was a strange warped sound, like someone scratching on a record, and the picture began to bubble and melt away, as if there was a problem with the reel.  At first, I thought it was merely a visual effect intended to be part of the movie.  The only time I’ve seen the projector “melt” the film was during a Quentin Tarantino flick… in which case it actually was a visual effect.  But, here, an error with the projector really did burn through the film; the screen went dark, the music stopped, and the lights came on.

I must admit, I would have thought that, in this day and age, all movies are projected digitally, without the need of  physical reel.  Movie theaters are big business in Mexico and appear just as modern, if not more so, as their counterparts up north.  Perhaps, then, this was really only a rare opportunity to see such a gilded and notorious malfunction.  

The solution was much simpler than I had imagined; instead of using a back-up reel (if they even had one!), the technician simply cut out the ruined section of film and spliced them together.  They restarted the film about 30 seconds before the incident and played through it; however, this time, we missed a key detail: the love scene ended as nothing more than a quick peck!

 

México, D.F.

The Aquarium Project

One of the projects that I’ve been working on, other than my research and job applications (and finding awesome tacos), has been to set up an aquarium in our living room.  Although fish tanks are usually longer term investments than the six months I have left in México, seemingly random projects are great ways to learn about a new city; learning new vocabulary, exploring strange markets, and figuring out how to troubleshoot.  Plus, since costs in México are relatively low, setting up the tank (and fixing any mistakes) hasn’t cost much!

So far, so good!

So far, so good!

Inasmuch as this blog is a record (for me) of my experience here, I wanted to post a few pictures of the process.

 

Washington, D.C.

Buying Duty-Free

On my way up north for the holidays, I stopped by a “duty-free” store in the Guadalajara airport.  “Duty free” is in quotes because I find that their prices, often given in dollars, are usually higher than what you can find at places in town after including taxes.  I would have preferred a non-stop flight home, but the stopover proved to be fortunate, as this particular shop had a few bottles of the tequila that I like, which was already sold out (forever!) in stores in Mexico City.  After haggling for a minute (yes, they’ll sometimes cut you a discount if you ask), I chose to purchase a few bottles.  

While paying, the cashier offered me the choice of pesos or dollars, a choice that would have otherwise been completely innocuous except that prices were in dollars and they offered an exchange rate that was much better (or worse, depending on your view) to the official bank rate.  For example, they offered me 11.9 pesos to the dollar if I paid for the $88 tequila, discounted to $80, in pesos.  My credit card company, however, gives me (almost) the bank rate, which, at the time, was nearly 13.25 pesos to the dollar.  Something seemed really amiss about this, but I made them show me the math: they multiplied $80 by 11.9 to find the price in pesos.  Then I divided by 13.25 to find what my bank would charge me… and found that I could get the $88 “duty-free” tequila for $71.  It would be cheaper to pay in pesos!

I didn’t believe that this was possible, but I chose to pay in pesos just to try it out.  After signing the receipt, I realized that they had run the transaction in dollars ($80).  And when I pointed this out, the cashier apologized and said that the error couldn’t be reversed.  They also said that it’s better to pay in dollars because my “bank rate could change at any time.”  Their attempt at logic failed; however, I was also running late for my flight.  I can only assume that the cashier was lazy, not competent, had explained the system to me incorrectly, or believed that if I were to pay in pesos it would lower their commission.  Ah, well!

So, lessons for the next time I buy duty-free:

  • Ask for an additional discount… one never knows!
  • Look up the bank rate and learn what the credit card will charge
  • If the offered price is dollars, consider asking to pay in the local currency
  • Be better at math than the cashier
  • Check the receipt before signing!

That said, it also helps to do a little shopping before you go to the airport… as prices in town (with duty) may be lower than “duty-free” and you may also have the opportunity to refund the VAT/IVA.

 

San Francisco, CA

Got Lost the Other Day…

Christmas Day evening, we got lost on the way to a birthday party in the southern part of the city.  It’s amazing how quickly nice areas here en el D.F., with gardens and wide, planted, recently-repaved avenues can turn into the poorer, dusty, unkept, graffitied housing tracks that are sprinkled throughout the city.  While much of Mexico City could be described as blue-collar, with small, adjacent houses and plodding public services, the desolation and widespread graffiti of this part of Calle Diez Sur Pedro Henríquez Ureña (map) (which seems to be alternately described as the neighborhoods of Fraccionamiento Pedregal de San Francisco, Colonia Pedregal de Santo Domingo, and Fraccionamiento Copilco Universidad) was striking.

Perhaps my impression was promoted by the holiday, in which so few other people were out, and perhaps it was only along the very wide (and presumably very busy) thoroughfare of  Diez Sur and isn’t indicative of the inside of these neighborhoods.  For example, I can attest that other parts of Colonia Pedregal de Santo Domingo, are much more well-cared for.  The sharp contrast, however, between the wealth along Miguel Angel de Quevedo, a boulevard just to the north, the prim, quaint order of San Angel to the west, and the university-minded collective of Copilco was startling.  That said, despite the down-trodden nature, it didn’t feel unsafe, only desolate and uncared-for.  Perhaps any other night I might have felt different, but on this particular evening, I was given the fortune of seeing part of the world I would never otherwise experience.

Mexico City is both a good city to get lost in and a bad city to get lost in.  It’s fear of the latter that keeps many away, sadly, though a little common sense, the company of a few friends, and an inquisitive nature, will help ensure the former.

 

México, D.F.

 


This might also be a good time to point out the new map feature that’s been added to the blog.  Look up!  It’s hard to miss.  The map is focused on Colonia Escandón, but you can zoom/move to find quippets and links to entries about the places in Mexico City I’ve mentioned in this blog, plus a few others.

Tried as hard as he could, but Godzilla could never be a puppy

Last month my roommate, on impulse, purchased a small green lizard, or lagartijo.  I think it might have been an iguana, but, you know, I’m no expert on these things.  From the very beginning, however, this little guy and my roommate were clearly a match that would not last.  From the first day, she (the roommate, I have no idea of the gender of the lagatijo) had difficulty hiding her disappointment.  This lizard, as they so often do, was prone to spending large amounts of time doing, well, nothing.  They get cold, they sleep.  I think she had wanted a puppy, one of those fuzzy, furry, fake-love and utter-dedication-balls-of-energy to cuddle with.  This lizard wasn’t quite matching up to expectations.

A day into the adventure, the lizard still hadn’t been christened with an official name, although the rest of us began referring to it as Godzilla.  It seemed an appropriate a name as anything.  My roommate would worry that Godzilla, which was still doing, well, nothing, was depressed.  Do lizards get depressed?

The next day, Godzilla was given to a girl at the pet shop down the street. 

 

He tried, but Godzilla could never be a puppy.

He tried, but Godzilla could never be a puppy.

 

México, D.F.