Making music in Mexico: One lucky PCV

29 10 2012

I’ve had the incredible good fortune to play a lot of music during my service, and last weekend I played what may be my final show with my band, Leones Negros / Atletas Campesinos, at Jardin Guerrero here in Queretaro. This was certainly one of the best parts of my service, and I like to think it contributed in some way to the Peace Corps’ Goal 2 (“Helping promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served”) in addition to leaving me with some great friendships and experiences. Here are a few memories:

  • I was actually in 3 bands here. I met my first band through my host family- my ‘host-aunt’ was friends with the trumpet player. A bunch of guys had gotten together and started a ska band called Raskazon. My host mom and dad weren’t very encouraging about it but I was desperate to find anybody to play with, so I was happy for the opportunity. They were just getting started and they played covers of Mexican ska songs. They were nice guys but it wasn’t musically a great fit. Although I did learn some great songs by latin ska bands like Panteon Rococo and Gondwana.
  • I did play a few shows with them and I’ll never forget the first. It was in a barn about an hour outside of Queretaro and was filled was teenagers. Having played lots of ska shows in the states, this wasn’t that unusual for me, although unlike my previous shows, I was pretty sure I was the only American in the place. And it was the first time I had played a show with cows right outside the door. Fortunately, just like in the states, when the music got going, the crowd started moshing and fighting and I felt pretty much at home.

    Halloween in the barn

  • Shortly after, I got lucky and met my buddy Aldo, a UAQ student and guitar player who invited me to practice with his reggae/ska band. That was my second band here, and I played my first show with them about 2 weeks later out in La Cañada. I also sat in and played with another local band that night. I think I was lucky because there aren’t a lot of slide trombone players here, so I’ve been something of a novelty!

Other memorable times:

  • Breaking down on the side of the highway late to a show in DF when a mechanic happened to stop and see if we needed help. Within 15 minutes, he had gotten under the van, fixed the problem and we were on our way. I was surprised that the mechanic was wearing a Choate Rosemary Hall prep-school sweatshirt.
  • The band had an old 15 passenger van that broke down a lot, and often smelled like gas in the back, where I spent many hours learning Mexican card games. Once we broke down on the side of a small highway a few hours from Puebla with a leaky radiator and spent a few hours trying to find water and fix the leak. It was amazing this didn’t happen more because no one in the band really knew anything about fixing cars.

    The campesina

  • We got stopped at checkpoints innumerable times. I can only imagine what the police thought of our dread-locked driver (and lead singer) and his graffiti’d van full of musicians. But we never had any major problems.
  • After a show in a small town between DF and Puebla, we were put up by the promoter in his family’s house. There were about ten of us, and we took over all the rooms- the family stayed at a neighbor’s house. I felt bad since we kicked all the kids out of their Winnie the Pooh and Barbie rooms for the night. But they treated us like rock stars and insisted on making us a huge breakfast in the morning.
  • A couple times after staying overnight for shows, we’d spend the next day at a hot spring or alberca, relaxing with a carne asada picnic and listening to mariachi or banda bands.

  • We played a couple festivals at Cerro de la Estrella in DF, the park where Mexico’s largest Easter procession finishes. Once the crowd was at least 5 thousand people- the biggest crowd I’ve ever played. Fortunately we were almost finished with our set when the first incoming water bottle hit our trumpet player.
  • We played many shows in little bars in pueblitos with no stage, where once the moshing gets going, the microphone stands don’t stay up for long. But of course the music goes on. Another way Mexico is just like the US!
  • Often playing on a packed stage – the good times were when it was full of musicians or singers from other bands (or fans who wanted to dance!) who would join our sets. Other times it was borrachos who would get past the bouncers and crash the stage. When there were bouncers.

  • Getting spoiled by routinely playing shows with terrific sound engineers and equipment. And often, very elaborate staging and lighting. Even in small towns.
  • Even more than in the states, Mexicans seem to love smoke machines. I hadn’t played with them many times before and I learned that it’s really tough to play a horn that’s full of fake smoke.
  • Playing a quinceañera party, in a little town’s basketball arena. We were treated like guests of honor, had our own table and they brought us cases of beer and tequila, because I guess everyone knows that’s what keeps musicians happy. It was my only quinceañera here, but it was complete with a girl in an amazing, frilly, purple satin dress and her 6 suitors in matching tuxedos with purple ties or something. We played on a stage under the backboard and they had an impressive light show and great sound production. And smoke machines.
  • I was often flattered to be asked to be in pictures with fans or sign autographs. Usually on copies of our records, but sometimes t-shirts, skin or other stuff. A lot more often than in the states!

  • We played a number of farms and barns, with cows either right behind us or just outside. No idea if they enjoyed the shows or not, sometimes they mooed, usually they kept quiet.

  • I played weekly shows for awhile at Harry’s in Queretaro with a blues band. We had a great time and almost always had a very fun crowd. Unfortunately the management decided we were too loud and fired us.
  • I also played open jams at other local bars including Wicklow’s and Funky Mama’s. I try not to take it personally that the city has since practically outlawed live music on that stretch of 5 de Mayo.

All in all, an incredible part of my service, which I can’t believe is coming to an end in just a couple weeks!

Mom and Dad come to Mexico

31 07 2012

Just before I head to Chiapas, here are finally some pictures from their visit a couple months ago- what a great trip!

I’ve been busy traveling and getting ready to hopefully, finally deliver my course at work. We’ll see..

Also I was home for a busy, successful week… I passed the FSOA up in DC, saw Tom and Cliff and had a good quick trip to the doc.

Also have played a few fun shows recently.. big show down in DF, headlined a festival up in Pozos, and played a fun show in a little town about an hour from Puebla! Despite some logistics issues and a bit of car trouble, good times!


1 02 2012

Had a really good day at work today- finally sat down with my boss and counterpart and hammered out a plan for the course on business planning I’m going to teach. It’s been a work in progress for awhile between Hilda and I, but it looks like they want to move forward with something soon- now I have about a month to get a curriculum together! Given how we managed to pull the taller series together, it should really be plenty of time. I think it will only be 2-3 hours a week for 4 weeks or so. We’ll see.
I think it will also help a lot with the curriculum work I’m doing on a project for Mexican university students, along with some other PCVs (and former) and some students from MIT. We did a week-long seminar a few weeks ago for students here in Queretaro which was very well-received- the idea now is to develop a longer course (probably 5-6 weeks) to be delivered over the summer.
Other than that, played a fun show a couple weeks ago here in town, and have a show coming up this weekend in Irapuato. Unfortunately I had to miss the tour this past weekend in Michoacan. But hopefully we’ll get some shows lined up soon for this new blues band I’m playing with.
And to cap it off, I had a great steak dinner tonight (which I’ve been craving) and caught up with pal Ana!

Música indígena

4 12 2011

Some strange weather here lately.. not to say I miss December NYC weather right now, but its a little tougher to handle low 40s at night after having sun and mid to high 70s during the day.. I think our high altitude (+/-6000 ft) is the reason for the wide swings. And central heating is quite rare here- neither my apartment nor the office are heated so it stays pretty chilly inside this time of year. Thank god for space heaters!

Been laying low this weekend but last weekend was a pretty busy one- we had a fun show last Friday down in DF. It was for this festival of ‘musica resistencia’ which (not surprisingly) basically means resistance music or music of the resistance. Whatever, it was at this big park/hill where they also have the biggest passion play in Mexico every easter, which I coincidentally went to last year. Probably close to 10k people when we arrived, and since we were in the performers’ area, we could go around in front of the stage during the other sets. I stood in front for the show of this big reggae star from Chile and there were grown women right behind me climbing on the fences screaming his name and taking photos all through his set. I thought it must have been a tiny bit like an old Beatles concert or something.
We were the second to last band – right before the headliners, a big Mexican reggae band called Antidoping- but unfortunately, we went on at about 12:30. Since the Mexico City metro shuts at 12, a lot of people had split, although the guys in the band estimated there were still probably about 3 or 4k folks there and that seemed right to me. In any case, it was certainly the biggest show I’ve ever played. A few pretty drunk folks got a little out of hand during our set and started fighting and almost pulled the barricades down, which was amusing. I hate to say it but ever since my days in TSC I always like when stuff like that happens at shows, I feel like it means we’re doing our jobs, we’re putting some strong energy out there or whatever.
Here’s a video, although its not that great. Its from very away, you can’t see the excitement up front unfortunately. But reminds me I came across a bunch of other videos of other shows from the last year recently. They’re below too.

Anyway, good times. I came back that night with a few guys from the band and got back home about 6am. Then Sat night I went to a birthday in a little town about an hour away called San Luis de la Paz. A bunch of PCVs live there and I had been wanting to visit for a long time. Its very close to a major national park area so I definitely need to get back out there at some point for some hiking or fishing maybe.

Also, had a nice Thanksgiving with a few PC folks. We had a very traditional Oaxacan dinner, including some tasty coconut pulque and some exceptional pumpkin pie!

Back in Mexico

23 11 2011

Got back the other day from a fun couple weeks in los EEUU. Spent some time in NY and Atl, saw family and a bunch of friends. Good times!
This weekend we’re playing a big festival in DF- supposed to be 15-20,000 folks! The same place (Iztapalapa) where I went to watch the big passion procession during Semana Santa last year… should be a great place to play.
Kinda tricky being back in the office today for the first time in a couple weeks- the Spanish is rustier than usual!

Back in Mexico

6 10 2011

I actually drafted this a couple weeks ago but it didn’t get published! Will write a fresh post soon…

So once again its been quite a while since I last posted… And needless to say a lot has gone on. I am very happy to be back in Mexico after the unexpected time spent in the states and doing my best to get back into the swing of things. Went running today for the first time in fact- can’t say it felt all that great but what can I expect?
But since coming back I’ve played a couple shows, one here in Qro the weekend after I returned, when we played at Jardin Guerrero – on the stage I have wanted to play on since I first saw it! It was really a lot of fun, was a beautiful day and a big crowd. Nortec Collective played later that night – they’re an interesting hybrid of banda and dance music and they put on a good show.

Been feeling pretty good about work lately too. My counterpart Hilda has recently been asking my opinion about a number of different opportunities the center has received and we’ve had several conservations about them, and I’ve also written up some thoughts on them for her. What I’ve been realizing is how much opportunity the center has to learn about the idea of customer value and getting an understanding of their business priorities, rather than just being good order takers. I think she liked some of my ideas as she has continued to ask about a number of other things that have come up. It’s become a very consultative role I’ve dropped into, and I feel like I’m giving them some perspectives or at least ways of looking at situations they aren’t used to. Its pretty cool. I’m not sure exactly how far its going to go, but I figure as long as they keep coming back for more, they must be finding what I’m saying at least somewhat interesting. Some of these things may turn into bigger internal projects, where they want to get time to explore some of these ideas more fully- I’ve been recommending spending some time analyzing past projects done from the perspective of customer value, and spending some time interviewing customers. I’m hoping some of this stuff will actually pan out. But at least I’m feeling like I’m earning my pay.

Ok, now I’m on the road to Cholula where I’ll be for the grito (the shout of Hidalgo) which is tonight, the night before Independence Day. Then we’re going to a beach in Veracruz for a few days tomorrow. Getting an early jump on celebrating my birthday, which is next week. Very excited. I almost missed the bus in Qro actually, because el presidente Calderon made a last-minute surprise trip to Qro for the grito, which royally screwed up traffic- fortunately it not only made my cab late, but the bus too.

And I’m planning a party for my 40th for next weekend. Its my friend Ana’s 27th the following week so we’re trying to put something good together. Was going to be on the roof of a local cafe but they’re unfortunately having problems with their liquor license so it may be at a friend’s house instead. But planning to have the band play among other activities.. Should be a fun way to celebrate Mom giving birth to me all those years ago, and me still being here to enjoy it;)

He regresado

24 06 2011

Sheesh its been a long time since I wrote. Of course lots of stuff has gone by that I didn’t report on.. Things are good and pretty busy. Been playing a fair amount, 2-3 times a month lately. Still enjoying myself and my time here immensely. In fact, the longer I am here, the more I like it. I guess that’s the right direction. I certainly have no regrets and feel lucky that I got sent down here. I like to think my spanish is improving too- I’ve finally started taking lessons again! (happy Lisa?)

Didn’t report on a couple trips to DF, but I was down there back during Semana Santa with a bunch of PCVs, and it was a ton of fun. Really spent time in the cool parts of town I thought, and avoided the touristy bits. Mostly spent time in Condessa, Roma and Coyoacan- although we did get to Teotihuacan, about as touristy as it gets! Thats where the massive pyramids are about an hour outside of town. Very impressive place. But dang, it was a long day of sun, heat, walking, and knick-knack vendors. Lots of vendors. Got a funny story from our guide about what to buy and what to avoid. The ceramic objects they sell- all kinds of things including jewelry, flutes, plates, etc are locally made and support the indigenous artist communities in the estado de Mexico. But unlike in Taxco, all the silver stuff is made in China! Note to self- although Mexico is famous for its silver crafts, its actually tough (and expensive) to get stuff that’s actually made here these days. So if you find silver products here that aren’t wildly expensive, they’re probably as Mexican as moo goo gai pan.
Speaking of which, I actually had decent chinese food last night! My first (and last) time eating it was shortly after I got here, over on Zaragoza, a major commercial street here in Qro. It was kind of a chinese cafeteria. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it was just as horrible as it looked. At the place last night which was in the centro, we had a good meal and an entertaining time trying to figure out the proprietor’s heavily chinese-accented spanish. As he didn’t have a liquor license, we thought he invited us bring our own beers, although he seemed kinda horrified when we picked some up and brought them back. Of course one of the many benefits of being a foreigner (especially American probably) is that you can usually get away with playing dumb, apologizing if necessary, and just doing what you want. I hate to say it but people are pretty likely to treat you like some slightly dim relative who just doesn’t know better. For better or worse, its pretty convenient!

Also spent a few days in DF when Kirsten came down from NYC- we had fun, and we made it to Xochimilcho- the canal area south of town. I’d heard a lot about it – its slightly cheesy but basically very interesting and worth doing. And we got to stay with a friend from the embassy in her beautiful apartment in Polanco, which was hella nicer (not to mention cheaper) than a hotel somewhere. I’m just bummed because she and her husband have just moved on to their next posting! Kirsten and I also hit Guanajuato for a few days, and all in all a fun week away from work.

Tomorrow I’m going up to Pachuca for the weekend- the Junior World Cup is happening in cities all around the country and we’re going to catch a couple games, including USA vs. New Zealand! Also, the US is playing Mexico in the finals of the Gold Cup, which I had never heard of, but has got people really excited down here. I actually hope Mexico wins, just because they’ll actually care, and will probably go crazy if they do. Somehow I don’t think the Times Square vendors will be working overtime on Monday selling Gold Cup tshirts if the US wins.
Couple other interesting things recently: played a show a couple weeks ago in a little pueblito about an hour from here called Colon. Turns out it was this girl’s 18th birthday party. People said it was basically the same as a quincinera, which are of course a big deal down here. Apparently sometimes girls will delay their party until they turn 18.  Anyway we got there around 4pm and it was in the town auditorium, basically like a big gym. Lots of tables set up and all her family and friends were there I guess. They served us lunch, and everybody was kind of staring at us, like we were the freak musicians. Nobody was drinking but they went out and brought us some cases of beer and a bottle of tequila. I guess cause everyone knows musicians need booze!

Just like quincinieras, the girl was all dolled up in a really fancy but sort of ridiculous dress, big and poofy and purple with a black leather corset. I thought she kind of looked like cinderalla if she was into S&M.
After dark, the actual party got started and i think practically the whole town was there. The girl had like 8 dudes wearing tuxes who seemed like her attendants or something, and they did this kinda weird performance with classical music and r&b songs. She kind of danced with each one for a few mins, and it was kinda strange- they all had glasses and were served their first ‘official’ drinks apparently. They also did all these moves like you might see a bride and groom doing at a wedding. But while they were all dancing she also kind of played the guys off each other. It was maybe like the bachelorette if it was performance art instead of a tv show.

Anyway, at about 10 we finally went on, played for almost 2 hours. It was a pretty good show, with a really fancy stage set up, spotlights, even fog machines. Although no monitors so kinda tough to keep track of the music and how we were playing. But the huge crowd of kids was pretty into it, dancing etc. I was exhausted by the end, and didnt get home til close to 3. Long day out in the campo, but fun to see another slice of culture down here.

Will try to put some pics up sometime soon..

Viajando, trabajando, capacitacion, etc

19 04 2011

Another busy month, I wish it hadn’t been so long since I’m finally sitting down to write a bit! But things still going well down here. Some progress with the job, more on that in a minute. But have been pretty busy, until last weekend, I was away every weekend the previous month. First, visited Pachuca and El Chico national park, where a few vols live, and as it happened, a bunch more were visiting for the weekend. So we had kind of a camping weekend, courtesy of Lindsey, Becca, and Mindy. We stayed in some cabins up in the park, did some hiking, had a campfire, smores, the whole bit. And oh yeah some wine and a beer or two. Actually, along with PCV Debbie I discovered my new favorite beer in Mexico- Jaguar, made up in state of Hidalgo I believe. They call it a pale ale and it really is- not quite as hoppy as an IPA but damn good. Especially compared to the alternatives down here. Other than getting sick as a dog on the tail end of the trip it was really a lot of fun and great to also see Jai-Jean and Ana, Cole and Jason.

And then Puerta Vallarta. Hard to describe that weekend. Just terrific. Chason came down with Andrea and were staying at his parent’s place there for a week, and he invited me to come out. I was only able to spend 3 days there but was well worth the 11 hours it takes to get there! I took an overnight bus Fri night which arrived early Sat morning, which was surprisingly pleasant. I sprung for the ETN bus, which is a step above my usual Primera Plus- ETN has wifi and most important, only 3 seats per row and only 8 rows. So the seats really recline and you get a lot more space than on the other buses down here. So I managed to sleep most of the trip and when I rolled into PV Sat a.m, I was pretty well rested. Then spent the next few days with Chason, his folks and Andrea, in their condo that is really nothing short of breathtaking. Just a beautiful 2 story penthouse with huge windows, its own roof deck and private pool. I’ve stayed in nice places before, but especially in my current life as a PCV, it was just bomb. We hung out by the pool, ate, played poker, hit the beach etc. A great weekend with some great friends from back home.

The following weekend, did a quick band trip down to Toluca, a small town near DF for a reggae festival. The van broke down on the way but amazingly, some dude stopped and after about an hour, managed to get us back on the road. We set up and played in a pretty cool amphitheater type place, which included cows in a paddock behind the stage. Who knows if they were reggae fans, not surprisingly they seemed pretty oblivious to the whole thing. But it was a fun crowd and show.

That same weekend I went up to Leon with Charlie and Juliet, some PCVs here in Qro. Let’s just say its reputation as Mexico’s leather capital is well-earned. In a couple of malls right near the bus station there is an interesting collection of little leather shops and stalls. Everything from $500 cowboy boots to $10 Puma knockoffs. Leon has historically been the center of Mexico’s shoe industry – people down here are worried about what happens when the final tariffs on Chinese shoes are dropped, I think next year. It’s probably not going to be pretty.

The following weekend we played an indigenous culture festival in Lago de Chapala- the largest lake in Mexico. Its really a beautiful place, will have to go back. From Qro its about 4-5 hours, on the way up to GDL.  We were in Ajijic which is super gringo- kind of a funny place for a culture festival I thought. But a sweet stage set-up, pretty good sound and good fun. Fortunately since it was quite a hike we stayed overnight- the first time for me with the band, definitely a good idea and some good times.

Then a couple weekends back in Qro, which was really nice, especially since this past weekend we were traveling again. We were in Cholula on Thursday, back in Qro for work on Fri and up to Leon on Sat.  Both shows were a lot of fun- and it was great to see Jason and Cole up in Cholula! But getting back to Qro at 6:30am on Fri and having to be at work for the taller at 8:30 was not pretty.  Then on Sat we went up to Leon for another gig- and got back again at about 6:30a. It was a little tough to say yes to Julieta’s unexpected invite to go up to Bernal for Mariano’s birthday at noon. But of course it was a lot of fun hanging out with the old anfitriona familia (along with their new PCT Emil, who’s an interesting and fun guy.) The traditional blue corn gorditas up there made me happy, as did our stop at the Cavas Freixnet for some bubbly on the way back. I’ve now been up there twice, and both times it poured! Totally dry all weekend in Qro of course..

Also had an entertaining week a couple weeks back- we were back at the PC office for the week, for our first week of training since we swore in. It was fine and fun to see everyone for a few days but I am sure glad to be out of training, a week back was enough to remind me of that. We also spent a couple days with the new trainees who seem like an interesting bunch- they’re all Tech Transfer so there’s kind of a different and more mature vibe than our mixed up group.

And work has been going pretty well- we have continued on with the taller and its even being extended a couple weeks. Over the last couple weeks I’ve had some good conversations with Hilda workwise and felt like we were communicating pretty well, in spanish no less. Always a good thing with one’s boss. Its funny how some people I feel like I can understand pretty well, while with some people they might as well be talking Russian or Klingon. Mas tiempo yo supongo. We also had a meeting with the new director general, who is the former head of research at the big appliance maker down here Mabe. Along with a lot of other folks I’ve talked with here at Ciateq, I think they made the right choice in bringing in an outsider. Thus far I’m pretty impressed with what I’ve heard from him- I think he recognizes that more of the same isn’t going to work in getting Ciateq to become the kind of innovative research center they want it to be. We’ve got another meeting with him in a couple weeks to present the final results of the taller and hopefully he will be give us the go-ahead for the next phase. I am contemplating that a next step for me may be developing a taller on vigilancia/mkt intelligence and analysis. Its definitely one of my takeaways from the sessions of something that, done right, could be very useful.

And this week is Semana Santa, so I’m planning to meet a few PCVs in DF for a few days. I can’t say I’ve exactly been going stir-crazy in Qro with all the traveling, but I’m looking forward to it!

Rastafari en DF

23 02 2011

Just had a really amazing weekend. We played a show in DF on Sunday that was something else, don’t really know how to describe it. We went down in the morning and came back that night, a pretty long day- Sunday was the 3rd and final day of a free reggae festival, and we were the last band. Awesome crowd and energy and almost certainly the biggest show I’ve ever played- consensus was around 1000 people at least. The event was under a tent and altogether it covered about a city block, with space for vendors plus the stage. We got there several hours early and checked out a bunch of the earlier bands- there’s a very cool overlap here between indigenous Mexican and rasta culture that feels very authentic- and as with the indigenous culture generally, which is much more prevelent here than in the states, a lot of people down here dig this stuff. Our own Chiquis usually starts our sets with incense and conchero dance.  And the incense down here is very different than what I’ve come across in the states and is much, much cooler- more like a forest fire than pungent pachouli stink.

Anyway, in a building adjacent to the stage, they also had a nice backstage area – gotta say they treat bands down here right! The last couple shows I’ve played with these guys have had a decent place to hang out plus free food, drinks etc. Rarely saw that with TSC!  They even had a big jug of pulque, a fermented maguey drink that I’ve been wanting to try and finally got to! Kind of a sour flavor which I thought was pretty tasty, although an unusual, syrupy consistency- I dug the flavor right away but as is I think its an acquired taste. Since I first heard about it I’ve been toying with this idea to try and start bottling it- I’ve never seen it in the states, maybe the hipsters would dig it… Anyway, by the time we played, it was dark and the crowd had a really good vibe- people dancing, singing etc. And it wasn’t just the usual kind of crowd I’ve played for – lots of families there too, with young kids. They even had proper monitors, so we could hear pretty well and I was told it sounded great in the crowd. And thankfully bassist Ariel’s novia took a bunch of photos for me! Just a terrific show, one of the best times I’ve had since I got down here. Only downer was I left my glasses in the van during the day and at some point they got smushed! Hence my sunglasses in the photos- trying to be a proper PC volunteer so I’ve glued them back together, so far so good…

Also, along with a few people from work, last week we went to a classical music concert. It was up at the local campus of UNAM, which is the largest university in Mexico. Not surprisingly, its mostly in DF, and it has something like 250k-300k students! Easily 2-3x the biggest schools in the states. But here in Qro there is a campus in Juriquilla (a nearby suburb) with a beautiful, brand new campus. The buildings would look at home anywhere in the states. There’s even a strip mall off the exit from the highway with a Carls Jr and an IHOP.  Anyway, we saw this trio who played music from the early renaissance. It was a flautist – or what I would call a recorder player – who is from Mexico, another Mexican dude who played the harpsichord, and an Israeli on viola da gamba. They were quite good, but what was really far out was the outfit of the flautist, Horacio Franco, who was the star of the show.  Pictures don’t really do him justice- tight black leather pants, cowboy boots and a red silk shirt open to practically his waist. Quite a sight. He would have been borderline ridiculous, but fortunately the dude had the skills to back it up. Good times all in all. Thanks to Tere for taking us up to get tix, and driving to the show!

I also reconnected at a party in town Saturday night with some folks I initially met during training, who run a local manufacturing business. After the party, a few of us went and checked out some cuban music at a little club in the centro. There really is a lot of stuff like that going on in this town. Great to bump into them and going to try to stay in touch.

Anyway, that’s about it- got some more shows coming up in the next few weeks, starting this Thurs here in Qro. And I found out I may get to play with Chopper at the stadium for an upcoming Gallos Blancos game- they’re the local football team- should be a fun month!

Valor, toros y mas

14 02 2011

All manner of developments since my last post. First off, my work these days has been mostly on a seminar that we are leading for a group of about 10 engineers from several of the business units at my center. It is really an experience – 8 hours every Friday for almost 3 months. In Spanish. Holy crap. We just had the 4th one this past Friday. The overall point of the seminar is to help the participants develop action plans for reaching their individual business units’ goals- over the long term, these mostly include migrating from being a producer of prototypes and various kinds of technical equipment to being a more value-added partner to help their clients solve bigger technical challenges. But we realized pretty quickly that there were some gaps in understanding business value and the value chain generally, and how our solutions contribute to the client’s business at a high level. So we kind of started there, and that’s a lot of what I’ve developed and presented material on. Not difficult to talk about in English of course, but a pretty different matter to do so in a language you don’t really speak. I have led several parts of the seminars and have actually felt reasonably good about getting across what I’m trying to say – but understanding the comments, questions, etc from the participants is another story. So it is a good challenge..

This idea of market understanding is something I’ve been thinking about a lot. It really reminds me that Americans for better or worse have raised marketing to an art form. In terms of getting people to buy stuff they don’t necessarily want, but are compelled by the message, or the circumstances or something. Here, it seems like a lot of people in business think about the product first, and how or whether their customers want it, later- certainly there’s a lot of this in the states too.  But I think here its one reason you see people in the centro walking around trying to sell a really random assortment of products – ‘Would you like to buy a change purse’ – ‘Would you like to buy a bonsai tree’ (I took the guy up on that one) ‘Would you like to buy a bedside table’, ‘Would you like to buy a yellow rubber chicken’ no kidding- I took him up on that one too. There are a lot of issues of basic economics wrapped up in this – lack of immediate access to any better retail environment etc. Of course some people get together and have little stalls at the mercado, the alameda, etc. Its interesting what people will do to make money. A different but I think related phenomenon is the similar clusters of stores you see. This certainly happens in the states to some degree (ie NYC the garmet district, the flower district, the former electronics district, but it seems to be going away and I think is pretty rare in other cities.) But here I can’t figure out why the districts have formed the way they have. Like there’s a street with nothing but stores selling used electronic parts – chargers, batteries, cables etc. Or the area with a bunch of musical instrument stores, or auto parts. Why couldn’t those stores be more spread out so they weren’t totally competing with each other? Its interesting.

Last night, I went to a party here in town and met some interesting folks. One Mexican dude who actually lived in Atlanta for 7 years, and just moved back here a couple years ago. Kinda fun comparing Atlanta stories – we agreed we’re both pretty happy to be here in Qro.. Also met an American who is teaching English here who is RPCV Cameroon. He had some good stories about living there, taking monthly trips into the capital 2 hours away for money, supplies, etc. Different from my experience to say the least. He said they had 12 people drop out during training! Including a couple of vegans who apparently thought serving in Africa would be some kind of earth-mother granola eating paradise. Which surprisingly it wasn’t. We didn’t have anyone drop out except Nancy of course, who had a family emergency back home. We do have some PCVs here living in pretty rural, basic situations for sure. But as far as I know, we still haven’t had anyone leave. Anyway, more evidence that there are lots and lots of different PC experiences.

The band is still going well. Finally figured out how to get to practice on the bus, it took 2 buses actually. We’re supposed to have a couple shows next weekend- one near Guadalajara and one in DF. And it looks like we may have some more interesting stuff coming up, maybe a couple tours. Also apparently Amnesty Int’l or somebody is trying to put on a big show up in Bernal with 1000+ people. I think we’ll probably play it if it happens.

Also, a couple weeks ago I went to the bull fights. I went with a few friends and it was quite an experience. At the time, I actually kind of enjoyed it, but have thought about it a lot since and am no longer so bullish on it (sorry.) It is kind of exciting – first, they put up a sign that gives a bit of info about the bull: its name, weight, etc. These things were mostly in the 420-470kg vicinity, about 1000 lbs. So they are big. Then one comes out and tears around the ring. There’s a few guys on foot with little capes who try to attract and rile up the bull, and then they duck behind little barriers when the bull gets close. After a few minutes of this, the bullfighter on horseback comes out to much applause, and he acknowledges the crowd, waves his hat etc. At this event, there were 3 bullfighters and they took turns in the ring. Each one had a different but equally ridiculous outfit on. A couple of them looked like they were refugees from the court of Louis XVI. They all followed the same pattern – they would have a sword which seemed to have a detachable handle. They would then ride their horse close to the bull, stick their sword in its back, and break the handle off. Usually the sword would stay in its back, sometimes it would fall out. They would repeat this about a half dozen times, all while trying to rile up (and hence tire out) the bull, by getting their horse almost within range of the bull’s horns. Of course, these horses can move a heckuva lot faster than any bull, so I don’t think the horses are really in much danger, much less the bullfighters. I can imagine there are accidents where the horses get hurt, but hey, when you’re killing 15 bulls in a day for fun, what’s a couple injured horses? Anyway, after getting a few swords in their back, the bulls are really bleeding and getting tired. The bullfighters then start doing things that seem more and more daring to get the crowd excited. Like circling really close to the bull, stabbing it over their shoulder, putting their elbows on the bull’s nose – no kidding. Finally, they get to their last sword. It seems that one of the tricks is to know when the bull is about to fall over. One guy timed it quite amazingly – stuck in his last sword and jumped off his horse, faced the bull and kind of dared it to attack. But instead it fell over. The bullfighter of course went crazy like it was the most skillful performance ever- it did look a little like he did the jedi mind trick on this bull. But of course the bull was exhausted and bleeding like crazy from half a dozen swords stuck in its back. I guess I sound a bit cynical about the whole thing. At first I kind of liked it, but the more I watched the more lame I found it. First of all, its kind of boring – each of the 3 bullfighters do almost exactly the same thing, over and over again- rile up a bull, stab it, tire it out, kill it. It would have been somewhat better if there was a timer or something that would have made it a competition between the bullfighters or something- like who can kill their bull the fastest, to give them a motivation to take some risks. Or maybe put a couple bulls in the ring at the same time. That might be interesting. But as is, its certainly nothing like a sport – really its a barbaric circus. Unlike fishing or hunting, there is no doubt about the outcome- at the end there will be a dead bull and a showboating bullfighter. It gets old.

The crowd was kind of interesting – definitely a lot of rich folks getting all dolled up. Lots of cigar smoking, gold chains and chest hair. And cowboy hats. I have no data to back this up but I imagined there could have been a lot of narcos in the crowd- it seemed like the kind of spectacle they might go for.

All in all, I thought it was pretty terrible. Boring and brutal- a lot of the worst of humanity in one convenient event. I think it was actually the first element of Mexican culture that has really turned me off. I can’t blame it completely on Mexico as of course its originally Spanish. And some of my Mexican friends have told me how much they dislike it. But its advertised like crazy here and the place was packed (and I don’t think with Spaniards), so Mexicans have definitely seemed to make it their own. I don’t expect I’ll be back.

Finally, here’s a post I wrote a couple weeks ago but never posted, mostly about the holidays- unfortunately without internet at home, I don’t get as many opportunities to post as I would like. But I think this may be good too- it forces me out of the house when I might be inclined to sit home and surf;)

I realize the last time I wrote I was about to head out for Xmas holiday, which was a lot of fun. Went to Guadalajara for a few days, which is Mexico’s second biggest city after DF. Definitely a busy place- the day before Xmas the centro was packed. Stayed with a friend of Rob’s named Memo- a former PCV who decided to stay in GDL and buy a place after he finished his service. He’s got a massive place not far from the centro- probably 7 bedrooms, plus a couple extra, one with ping-pong- I was happy. Anyway, on Xmas eve we bummed around the centro and saw the sights, then had a great Xmas night dinner- the Dyes live right around the corner, and Brian S is not far away either. So it was a big PCV dinner, including the Dyes’ kids who had come down from the states. Played the requisite party games and had a great time. On the way back to Qro, I stopped in Leon and spent the day with Rox and Fa, a couple girls I had met with Ryan and Jake at the Cervantino fest a couple months ago. They were great hostesses for the day and showed me around Leon. Its a town that’s known for its leather products, but unfortunately most all the stores were closed the couple days after Xmas that I was there.

Then spent a pretty chill NYE in Qro with Mel and Manny- the roof of Sumeria (which is seeing some major improvements lately) is a great place for fireworks and tequila…

Other interesting news over the holidays was that I played a couple shows with the new band AC/LN. Had a ton of fun- the first was close to Qro in a little pueblito called La Canada. It was at a sort of community center called El Aquacate (the Avocado) and when all was said and done, there probably were 100 kids of so. Really a lot of fun- before our set I also sat in with the preceding band- a kind of ska/blues thing. Also a good bunch of musicos. A couple weeks later we had another show, back up in the farm town of La Griega- I don’t know how its happened but I’ve now played 2 barns in that town. Probably a couple hundred or so kids and a fun set.

Also a few weeks ago, Sarah, Rob and I cruised down to DF and had a very worthwhile trip. Met with some folks at the US Commerce Dept and got some good ideas about networking within the Mexican govt and companies, and helping the Ciateq crew do the same. Also went out for happy hour with a bunch of folks from the embassy- a nice bunch, who were very friendly to us hippy PCVs! I’m sure I’ll see some of them again when next I’m down in DF. And I learned a bit more about the whole state dept scene- not sure, but could be an interesting next project…

And work has been interesting and busy. Rob managed to get his Performance Improvement Project approved, which started last Friday. Its basically a course for about 12 of Ciateq’s top engineers – officially we’re helping them identify high value technology to commercialize, but at the end of the day its really a course on how to to identify and pursue market opportunities. Last Fri was about 5 hours, and I led about a 90 minute activity on identifying personal and professional successes – in Spanish. Despite a few speedbumps, everything got done and I think it was actually pretty successful. From here on, the course will be 8 hours every Friday for the next 9 weeks- will be interesting to see how it unfolds but so far I think its a good project, and I think I have a few things to say on the subject.

And last weekend a bunch of us went out for Zulema’s bday – she had a big crew over to Wings Army, and then to a Nortena club called La Yunta- a lot more dancing than I really expected but it was some good times. Thanks to Z I think I learned a few things- will have to keep practicing. And there were a few PCVs in town last weekend so it was fun to catch up.

So that’s the latest – hasta la proxima vez..