Opera! La Bohème

So, why is an opera with a French name (La Bohème) sung in Italian? If Puccini were still around, we could ask him via Twitter. I don’t really care; I just love this opera. Some links below are arias from La Bohème and the full opera on YouTube.

I was looking forward to attending La Bohème at the famously beautiful Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City to compare it to the performance I saw at the Met Opera New York earlier this year. I must say that I had low expectations. I had gone to a performance of folkloric dance at the Bellas Artes courtesy of Fulbright-COMEXUS in August as part of our orientation. The building was stunning, especially the colored lead-glass inlaid around the stage. The space is smaller than the Met, so the acoustics are better (to my untrained ear). The folkloric dancers were amazing! I recommend that you see this staple performance by Amalia Hernández whenever you have a chance to visit Mexico City. What took away from the performance was the openly rude behavior of the audience! I get that the majority are tourists, but must so many be looking at WhatsApp and FaceBook that often? Do they know that the light from their phone is distracting? Ugh.

Despite this foreboding of potentially rude behavior, I gave in to my ambivalence and bought a couple of tickets to go with another Fulbrighter…on election day! It was well-worth it. Nobody was rude and the performance was stellar. The tenor was especially sonorous, but a bit too dramatic for the part during Part I when he emphasized his crescendo on the last note. It was just funny to see that bit of theatricality. I would see it again, but there are only 4 performances total which pretty much comprises the first half of the 2016-17 opera season in Mexico! There might be another one during the second half of opera season in 2017, but I won’t be here.

If you ever have a chance to see an opera at the Met in New York, grab it and relish it.

opera-met-nyc-1

Links to La Bohèhme

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English for Vocations Needed Here

It was not enough just to relax in Zihua. I learned that among the tourist hotels and array of restaurants, an impoverished population serves as the social lubricant that keeps the tourist industry humming.

I learned that there is a disproportionately high population of unwed teen mothers in greater Zihua. Yes, reproductive education could be a solution However, despite the psycho-sociological reasons for this inclination to happen, the fact is there are babies born that need to be fed. Such a baby becomes a burden to raise for the unwed teen mother, the father, and the families that support all three involved!

Eventually, adding up the multiplying families, the number of babies will take a toll on the economic wellbeing of the community because these they will need to go to school. Overcrowding an already over-crowded educational system will force some adolescents to work. If they find work, great. But without having graduated high school (much less university), those who do not continue their education will likely have a baby themselves.

In a tourist location such as Zihuatanejo, English for vocations that see the most tourist may be helpful. The obvious one are hotels, spas, massage therapy places, and restaurants. Along with targeted English vocabulary and situational (experiential) learning, students can concurrently be trained in useful job-specific skills.

Travel Outside of Mexico City

Take a plane for distances farther than 4 hours by bus. This is just my opinion, but even though it’s more expensive by plane, you get more time at your destination albeit a few hours. But that’s enough time to take in a museum!

Aeromexico and Airports

Buy your tickets online on the Aeromexico site. Use the old site because the new site has a bug which will crash at the end, after you find a great price and want to pay! Once you buy your ticket and get a reservation number, you might be prompted to call the Aeromexico office anyway if you pay with a credit card with a U.S.A. billing address. Even with an Amex Platinum card, I have to call the office. Pay with Mexican pesos, otherwise you will be charged US$15 fee paying in US$. If your credit card does not charge a foreign exchange fee, then pay in Mexican pesos.

The flights I plan to take within Mexico will depart from Terminal 2 (domestic flights).  It is very helpful to have access to the Premier Clubs managed by Aeromexico. American Express Platinum is a very convenient card to have if you fly frequently. Wi-fi, snacks and drinks, as well as more comfortable seats and cleaner restrooms. The program through AmEx Platinum is Priority Pass. As more people get a club pass, the less “elite” the access becomes so lounges can become crowded.

Returning to the United States, it has been very helpful to have Global Entry to avoid the often long lines at immigration. The US$100 fee is waived with the AmEx Platinum card.

Bus Travel

Make your reservations online. Choose from the various companies that travel to your destination. Make sure you have access to your ticket barcode on your mobile device to get on the bus and/or access the waiting lounge. Otherwise, you’ll have to wait with the rest of the passengers.

I used the bus terminal at Taxqueña to travel to Cuernavaca. It was a far better trip than I expected. Don’t be put off as I was when you get there via metro and see the parked busses and tarp-covered market stalls. Just follow the one or two signs to the Terminal. You’ll be as surprised as I was to see the ample , new building with ticket counters of different bus companies.

I have taken the tourist buses (Pullman type) to and from CDMX to Cuernavaca, Puebla, and Tlacala with different degrees of comfort as far as bus travel goes.

Car Travel

I haven’t driven myself; only as a passenger with a friend. I don’t recommend driving, but that’s just my opinion. As a driver or a co-driver, the app Waze is really good!

Travel Apps

Air travel

Skyscanner

On the Fly

Delta

Transportation

Uber and Taxi’s. (Link to a post about how I feel about Uber)

Accommodations

Hotel.com

Destination Description

TripAdvisor

Credit Card

American Express Platinum + Priority Pass + Global Entry

Note: Visa credit cards are more accepted than AmEx. MasterCard is in between.

Onboard Entertainment

LAN Entertainment works on LAN flights (e.g. to Lima, Peru)

Gogo Entertainment is useless on Aeromexico flight.

 

 

Study-Break Beagle to My Rescue

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Maya is a 2 1/2 year old beagle who is a great hound to have around when I need a study-break! I finally got the final bits of information I needed to complete the scope and sequence and unit plans for my inquiry project this week. So, wasting no time I got it done and sent it off for approval. I didn’t even plan any weekend trips for you to read. Instead, I enjoyed Maya’s funny dog antics on the roof-top terrace. Can you believe that for a dog she’s such a ham?

First “Sad” Day

I feel sad for my co-teacher, Lucia, who had a minor fender-bender right after school today! She offered to give me a lift to a metro station closer to my home since it was pouring down rain. I accepted to reciprocate her thoughtful hospitality. Roads were congested due to flooding, which blocked traffic flow. At one point she changed lanes, but a livery truck passed too closely on the driver’s side and took off her front bumper! It was a case of hit-and-run since the truck driver sped away.

We were stranded there in the middle of four lanes of angry road, in the flooding rain. We could not move the car out of the way with the left headlight and the fender on the ground. The rain came down in torrents while I was trying to pick up the detached headlight and fender so that she could maneuver the car into the parking lot across the road. But it was just better to stay put and wait for help in the car with the hazard lights flashing.

In the car she called her husband and the insurance company. By the 45th minute, she followed up. Rain poured relentlessly for another 30 minutes. As soon as her husband approached and the rain let up, it was the best time for me to head back to the nearest metro station while they waited for the insurance company and tow truck.

Three hours later, I texted her to find out whether they made it home safely. They were still waiting in the car, in the dark, in the middle of the road with traffic streaming past them! This was sad enough, but the saddest and most distressing was that Lucy remarked that no passer-by came to check whether she needed help or if she was physically harmed. In all that time not even the police showed up. Is this a cultural thing, or just sad? I vote sad and aggravating!

As an antidote, I watched some uplifting TEDx Talks videos that recalibrate my “hope for humanity” scale:

Maysoon Sayid “I got 99 problems…palsy is just one”

Louie Schwartzberg “Beauty. Nature. Gratitude.”

Green Grocers Rule

Near my apartment, on my way to and from the metro station, I pass a green grocer who rotates an appetizing selection of seasonal fruits that can be irresistible, along with the staples needed for breakfast or a snack.

The Staples

I suggest getting fresh(er) eggs at the green grocers rather than the supermarket. They just taste better. I will miss the avocados, which I can barely afford to eat daily in New York City when you get 3 small ones at Trader Joe’s for about US$4.00. Ugh. Here, they are about US$0.25 each. You might get better pricing from the supermarket, but knowing the small staff over the counter at the grocer’s is worth it.

The Seasonal Fruits

I am usually waited on by Marco, who is always excited to alert me to the fruit in season. I mentioned to him early on that I am interested to eat every new fruit in Mexico. They round out a  great breakfast as well as being packed with vitamins. Mostly, they are delicious. As my adventure unfolds, I will add to the blogpost when I encounter fruits that I consider exotic.

Chirimoya

Mango

Black Zapote

Grenadine

 

 

Weather in Mexico

Rain rain go away. And it often does! But when it pours, get ready to either stay indoors or wear rain-appropriate gear because water can come at you from all sides.

September and October are reliably sunny. I enjoyed stepping out in the neighborhood for errands with just a polo shirt and chinos. For weeks! When it does rain, it can be a quick downpour. When it rains all day, that’s when it’s borderline depressing.

In November and December I am prepared with a light windbreaker that folds up and can be packed in my Fulbright-issued book bag. 🙂 It beats having to carry around an umbrella. Again, when it rains all day, then it’s no fun.

The temps in the morning have been a constant 55 degrees F. (13 C.), which is great since it’s fresh, but not too cold (for me) to have a run at the Alberca Olimpica two blocks away. By mid afternoon, the mercury rises about 15 degrees F. (21 C.), so it’s all good!

Cheaper Eats in Mexico

Mexican cuisine is award-winning. It is considered a UNESCO world heritage and cultural patrimony, par excellence, which means “they beat us!” in French.

You don’t have to go to the very best restaurant to get excellent Mexican food. I found excellent home-style dishes for lunch at neighborhood “hole in the wall” places in Mexico City called “comida corrida”. This literally means “running food”, but it actually means something like prixe fixe meal that includes a soup, rice, entree, maybe dessert, and endless refills on the fruit juice of the day. I have paid from MX$ 55 up to MX$ 70 and got to taste the various dishes that exists on the home-cooked level.

I have not tried the street stands, despite the daily probiotics I take. After a serious bout with amebae in Guatemala over a decade ago, of which I have vivid memories of how the amebae almost won, I just have an appetite for street food in Mexico–no matter how much others have raved about it.

I intend to share some examples of what I’ve eaten at comida corridas by updating this blog post. Bon appétit!

 

Travel Inside Mexico City

As a denizen of New York City, I am well accustomed to riding everywhere on the metro. I had no problem adjusting to the subway system of CDMX called the metro.

Metro in Mexico

Useful Commuter Apps

Metro and Metrobus

CityMapper

Rome2Rio

Metro Pros:

  • Much cleaner and newer than NYC subways. I haven’t witnessed anyone littering, but there is always the ubiquitous cleaning people.
  • Being newer means that the passage ways are much wider to accommodate the thousands of commuters.
  • It cost MX$5 (US$0.25), so it’s much cheaper and more frequent. The wait between trains have been about 2 minutes to about 8 minutes.
  • I suggest buying a metro card for MX$10 and fill it up to avail lines to buy paper tokens. Buy the card with 22 rides at MX$ 120 for the first time and refill it for MX$ 99.00 (US$ 4.80).

Metro Cons:

  • You might have to walk farther to find a station (compared to Manhattan).
  • During peak commuter hours in the a.m. and p.m., you might have to wait for a couple of trains to go by before you can squeeze in. You will experience Mexico on several levels while riding on the subway. You can imagine this point.
  • At several key transfer points, be prepared to walk and walk, like for 10 minutes!

Taxis and Über

Authorized Taxis

In the baggage claim area, either just inside or outside the exit doors at airports in Mexico, there is a line of kiosks with uniform attendants of vying taxi companies. They all charge more or less the same MX$ 230 (more or less) from the airport to somewhere in Mexico City. I usually go to the kiosk that looks like it does not attract many customers based on location, etc. Give your “colonia” and address to get your rate. Pay and follow signs to the gate where the taxis are lined up. This is such an efficient system. Much better than the one line outside the Penn Station! I usually tip the driver around 10% depending on driving , conversation (entertainment level and useful tourist information; you’ll be surprised at what they can tell you about a range of topics), and bags in the trunk.

Uber, Uber, über Alles

This is a love-hate topic because Uber can be convenient getting from my apartment to the airport (ranges from MX$85.00 – 145.00!) and for those difficult commuting days, like at a conference in a new city. The drivers have been pretty good, respectful and service-oriented. In conversation with them, only 2 said that they liked being Uber drivers. The majority feel that they are just making ends meet, or not making much. Search videos on the sad truth from many drivers’ points of view. Yet Uber’s market valuation is in the billions. Is this fair? Should it be fair? Is it the law of supply and demand in its purist form? I try to avoid using this service as much as possible.

 

 

Money in Mexico

What’s going on with the exchange rate? The US$ dollar to MX$ peso rate is favorable for those who have dollars. You get about MX$ 18 to 20 pesos for every US$1.00, which can stretch your buying power to experience more of Mexico in every way. Just divide by 20 to get an approximation.

Some examples:

  • a regular lunch at a “comida corrida” = MX$ 55.00 – 70.00 (with tip) ~ US$ 3.00
  • ticket with teacher discount at Cineteca = MX$20.00 ~ US$ 1.00
  • one ride (as long as you want) on the Metro = MX $5.00 ~ US$ 0.25

Compare these to New York City prices for the same things and you will be amazed at how much your quality of life could improve. Granted that you would have to like “comida corrida” (which has always been good in my opinion), like what’s offered at the Cinetea, and like to take the metro. It would be amazing to have a personal chef and a driver, but the Fulbright grant does not cover these.

  • New York restaurant (Flatiron-Grammercy): US$ 60/person ~ MX$ 1,226.00
  • New York movie, limited choices (Flatiron-Union Sq): US$20/ticket ~ MX$ 400.00
  • New York Subway to anywhere on the system (don’t go out): $2.75/ride ~ MX$ 56.00

Denominations

MX$ 20.00 ~ US$ 1.00

MX$ 50.00 ~ US$ 2.50

MX$ 100.00 ~ US$ 5.00

MX$ 200.00 ~ US$ 10.00

MX$ 500.00 ~ US$ 25.00

Coins are handy in MX$ 10 / 5 / 2 / 1 / .50 peso and centavo increments.

Suggestions

  • Get a coin pocket with a zipper; with a keychain you have two functions in one item. Ones with “Mexico” stamped in leather or sewn into the design are great souvenirs.
  • Always have some coins for tips and when the register comes up with the odd cents.
  • Always have bills smaller than MX$ 500 when buying something at a small shop that is less than MX$ 100 because most shops won’t have change for you.
  • Pick your battle when haggling in a handicrafts market over MX$ 50, for example, since it’s US$ 2.50 on the one hand or the price of a lunch on the other. Yes, haggling is expected and you should get into it.

Do you have a money story or a travelers tip for Living in…? Write me in the Contacts tab. Thank you!