Jun 22, 2007

Catemaco Olmec Art

This certainly looks like Mayan or Olmec art.
Actually my neighbors kid did the outline to promote the local hop, skip & jump routine.
Or maybe it was just another neighborhoods kid scribbling on stone with a hammer and chisel, or maybe one of his country cousins trying to sell museum quality pieces to supposedly “rich” but not stupid Catemaco gringos at New York art gallery prices.
Picking up a little archaeological gift is easy in Mexico. Most any farmer plowing his land will find small ornaments. The bigger good stuff has already mostly been stolen and resides in foreign Museums.
But if you like, I will sell you a properly aged copy of an original piece at substantially less than what all those original art galleries charge.
Custom antique pieces will be charged extra, especially if you want something certifiably George Bush from the 8th century BC.

Jun 16, 2007

Drunk in Catemaco

Below the belt of most Mexican rural towns, including beautiful Catemaco, Veracruz, dangles a pair of culture threatening problems, drunkenness and spouse abuse. The two are closely related to each other and form a basis for the extraordinarily high incidence of murders, mutilations and roadkills in the country.

At present federal Mexico does not tax alcohol, aside from the 15% tax added to most consumer products. The concept of sin taxes is not absent in Mexico. The booze manufacturers have just been able to excert their political prowess more than the tobacco companies which are heavily taxed.

Especially at night, the prevalence of public drunks is pernicious in most of downtown Catemaco, as well as many other communities, especially on the weekends and on the highways, despite the efforts of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) which is hyperactive here as well as in the rest of Mexico, providing 9 local refuges in this town of 20,000, and more than 22 in neighboring San Andrés Tuxtla.
Not helping is the cheap availability of rot gut "aguardiente" (firewater, distilled from sugarcane) at the equivalent of a short quart (26oz) of 72 proof liquor for 12 pesos. Even cheaper is the purchase of distilled alcohol from many grocery stores in any amount as long as you bring your own container. If you see a "wino" waving along the street clutching a plastic bag, containing what seems to be water, that will not be his goldfish, but a "churrito" or "boli" of brandless alcohol.
Firewater is the preferred choice of hard core drunks. The most problematic choice, though, is beer.
Mexico has a well deserved reputation for excellent beer quality and was able to fool the US public by exporting a third rate beer to the US market, where it rapidly cornered the "most imported " beer status and drove up the price of limes, Corona.

Corona and a few other breweries in the tightly controlled Mexican economy offer their most popular serving in "caguama" size bottles, (940ml, roughly a quart) for 14 pesos which compares to a similar bottle of Miller's "low life" for US 1.65 which is after the alleged 44% taxes which US alcohol consumes. Obviously Mexican drinkers are being ripped off by their compatriots controlling distribution channels.

The beer companies, aside from almost monopolistic Coca Cola, and Nestle are possibly the best marketers in Mexico and make it possible for any Jose or Juana to open a cantina on shoe strings, receiving free chairs, tables, refrigerators, decor and paint as long as they stick to selling one brewery's products.

The partial benefactors are the county governments (municipios) which charge a relatively high rate for liquor licenses, but not anywhere the huge sums that these licenses cost in the US.
The mayhem, roadkill and spouse abuse are additional benefits which are not included in the license fees and usually get picked up by state and federal funds.

The Mexican government, which is statistics happy, has made substantial studies of the drinking problem in urban areas, but seems to be avoiding the rural areas, where the problem is much more prevalent.

One final comment, which is not an endorsement, is to say that I have remarkably found those public drunks in Catemaco to be generally courteous and non-intrusive compared to many others I have encountered in my travels in other countries.

Jun 13, 2007

Worming Catemaco

My dogs fairly regularly produce feces with wiggly things and we rush them to the veterinarian.
My Popoluca regularly deworms herself and is incredulous that I prefer not to do so, and she thinks it is an outright lie when I tell her I have never been de-wormed in my adult life.
Since she also knows a few gringos, we have compared notes. Now she is convinced that Mexican worms do not like gringos.
Beautiful small town Catemaco is not that far removed from the days when shoes where a luxury, and topless bathing in the laguna was the norm. And a trip into the higher surrounding sierras will reveal that to still be the norm in many riverside communities.
Parasite infection is a serious problem in rural children in Mexico and the Mexican health system has serious preventative and control measures in place. But apparently the message that once you took all those preventative measures and reached adulthood, that ritual practice of de-worming became unnecessary, has not filtered down. And the drug producers are happy.
Or maybe I have worms and don´t know it.

Jun 7, 2007

Mystic Catemaco

Today was one of the annual 10 to 15 magnificent photographic days in beautiful downtown Catemaco.

Usually the laguna and surrounding hills are clothed in what visitors call mysticism, and local photographers call anything else when on their best behavior.

A friend, foolishly living on the side of one of the latent volcanoes, called me this morning to advise me he could actually see clearly to the other side of the laguna.
Previously we had made arrangements to hire a 75 miles away pilot to fly us over the area, but unfortunately his phone had the usual TELMEX message of "afuera de servicio (out of service)".
So I trucked to some of the places which the Veracruz government should declare state treasured views and loaded my digital camera, which promptly went CLONCK in multiple languages.

To see more of Catemaco, visit http://www.catemaco.info/media/: and to fly over it. Keep digging! There really is a slideshow of a flight over the Santa Marta's.

Jun 6, 2007

Catemaco Island Fever

Beautiful isolated downtown Catemaco can get on your nerves after a while and a trip to the "big smoke" becomes a necessity.

Usually it is a daytrip to Veracruz City that stills the hungers of a capitalist heart for blueberry jam, roast beef, bagels and other culinary delights. But actually spending time in another city offering different flavored restaurants, cultural institutions and beehive activity is required to maintain a former city dweller's equilibrium.

So we took off a few days and headed for the major Veracruz cities, Xalapa & Veracruz to visit friends and family. The roads were mostly passable, the traffic, except for isolated spots was tolerable, the weather was beautiful and the return trip to Catemaco evoked many memories.
Most notable was the burgeoning in both cities of major road and other construction, the invasion of major international franchises from Subway to Costco, and the proliferation of political propaganda.

Xalapa was refreshingly cool this time of year. Its restaurants have multiplied and its hotels apparently are competing for most pricey in the state. The usually comfortable Howard Johnson Hotel tried to rip me off for 1300 pesos, that last year cost 850 and 4 years ago, 650, without any improvements in the facility. (They buckled and only raped me for 960 with the usual gorgeous view off the fifth floor).

The Xalapa Museum was still worth it after my fifth trip, the sushi in an unnamed restaurant was mediocre and the mole and trout in Xico were still superb, and we only wasted the usual few hours sightseeing the city while getting lost, as usual. (Take a taxi to get around, they are cheap.)
On the return from Xalapa, we stopped for the first time in La Antigua, an exit almost unmarked before the last toll booth on the Tampico / Veracruz toll road. This is actually the home of the first permanent European residence in the continental US, and an insult to any historian of America's history. Nevertheless it is a pleasant place to lunch in one of the dozens of riverside restaurants and even to take a boat ride.Entering Veracruz from the north was the usual mind reader puzzle along a totally screwed up corridor but placed us safely into downtown where, if you are not familiar, the thousands of superfluous traffic signs along Mexico roads are ABSENT.
Fortunately we found our new hotel, and I am still debating whether to recommend it, both for price and comfort, on my list of 12 hotels that I have stayed at in Veracruz City. Try your own luck.

A giant movie theater still provided us with a treat not available in Los Tuxtlas, and of course, I laughed in the wrong parts, because my companions did not get the joke in the subtitles. (I don´t understand how Mexico can counterfeit movies within 24 hours but not provide translations in 48 hours. Yeah, English is difficult!)

Shopping in the "best" Plaza de las Americas was still FAAAAR from any US shopping mall, but still good enough for me to hesitate to return my Popoluca and our credit card to my favorite Veracruz city. (Catemaco thinks it is a city, actually it qualifies as a town).

If you are familiar with Veracruz, bypass it via the Coatzacoalco exit shortly after the last toll booth and drive about 15 miles along a substandard 2 lane highway to Paso del Toro to Los Tuxtlas. If you are not familiar - VISIT VERACRUZ CITY - it is worth it.

Jun 1, 2007

Catemaco Politics

Have you heard any good jokes lately?
Here is a political one from beautiful downtown Catemaco.
7 years ago the mayor of Catemaco was jailed for alleged rape and malfeasance. A new election was called and elected a mayor from a different party.
The old mayor got out of jail on one of those Monopoly "Get out of jail free" cards. These cards are being distributed on a daily basis by the judicial system in Veracruz to participants in the game who either own or have a relative that owns Boardwalk.
The previously jailed mayor won the next election on behalf of a different party than the one that jailed him. This was similar to US agendas that elected convicted drug lord Barry in Washington, DC, USA.
After being in office for 2 years and spouting innumerable urban renewal programs not funded by the Veracruz government which controls most of the finacial strings of small provincial towns, this latest Catemaco mayor tried to buck the existing power structure by organizing a road block of a federal highway, assisted by some of the internationally famous witch doctors (BRUJOS) of Catemaco.
As predictable by any agnostic observer, the mayor's attempt failed and instead landed his community in the proverbial "shithouse" of places that the state government does not send discretionary funds to.
So this mayor, funded by millions of disappeared pesos for improvement project in Catemaco, which miraculously never improved, temporarily resigned to obtain the designation of candidate for his latest party's commitment in its quest for a piece of the Veracruz government.
The Veracruz government, like all Mexican states, elects most of its state representatives to the state government by direct vote. BUT, approximately 1/3 of the representatives are assigned to the participating parties to bestow as they see fit.
The Catemaco mayor, known as the "Little Prince", among his many other less flattering names, failed to gain his party's indirect nomination, known as plurinominal.
So the "little prince" returned to his job as mayor of Catemaco and spent a few weeks of renewing his ties to his political power base.
As of 1 June 2007 he quit again to pursue the nomination of his party as the uninominal candidate of Los Tuxtlas. That means he wants to get elected on the basis of a direct vote, after his party turned him down for an assigned vote.
There are other contenders. But for "the little prince" a victory is absolutely necessary, otherwise his " Get out of jail card free" card will be cancelled and he will have to face a variety of local, state, and federal lawsuits against him, which by quirky Mexican law have not been enforceable while the "little prince" was an elected official.
That is just he story of one Catemaco official. Do you want to hear about the one who watched heads rolls on his mayorial watch, and ascended to legislative heaven and then got roundly trounced by the "little prince" and consequently switched political allegiance to another party which had been fighting him for a dozen years but now accepts him as a viable candidate?
Or is this enough of a joke?