Tuesday, October 31, 2006


Recyled Treats

"Lack of Creativity" borrowed from Itiohs

Due to a lack of time, energy, enthusiasm, and creativity I am recycling an old post to mark this day. Since there has been a major turnover in my readership, this will be new to most of you (sorry Scott - you are one of the few tested and true readers who still lingers so this will seem a little stale). Without further ado:

[From October 31, 2003]
Trick or Treat
It’s hard to avoid the fact that today is Halloween. Our doorbell is sure to be ringing this evening with children dressed up looking for some sweet treats. I just hope there are some left by this evening to hand out to them. On the other hand, I hope we don’t have too many visitors so that there will be some treats left for me. For you, I offer this treat from my childhood:

Growing up in middle class Mexico, Halloween was always a strange holiday. It was the day leading up to the more traditional Day of the Dead, which is a grotesquely festive day. Mexicans tend to have a morbid fascination with death (I could go on about this here, but I will put that off for a different day). Rather than be mournful and sorrowful, November 1 is a day when one can commune with the spirits of those who have passed away. The festive nature can be seen in the abundant and amply decorated sugar skulls and skeletons. There is also the special bread, el pan de muertos (bread of the dead), which is baked just for this day. The food in general for this day is amazing. Throughout the country, one can see candlelight processions and elaborate flower and gift arrangements taken to graveyards.

Not wanting to pass up an opportunity for a party, many middle class Mexicans have adopted Halloween as well. When I was a child, there generally was a block party from which we made rounds through the neighborhood looking for sweet loot. Some factors made this process particularly amusing.

At the time, Halloween was a new concept in Mexico, so the variety of store-bought costumes was fairly limited. So unless you had creative parents, it was quite likely that your costume would look like someone else's. My mother refused to buy costumes, insisting that she could make it herself. At the time I resented not being able to have a costume that everyone else had. Now I realize that this was actually pretty cool. My favorite costume was when I was the Incredible Hulk. A friend of ours worked in the theater and she gave us some white makeup to which we added crushed green chalk. We ripped some old clothes and the costume was made. Never mind that I was a tall and lanky kid, I still was a cool Hulk.

Pumpkins in Mexico are not orange, but a yellow-green color. They are also hard as a rock. So attempting to carve a jack-o-lantern was always an impossible task.

The catchy phrase “trick or treat” does not exist in Spanish. Instead we had “Queremos Jalouín!” (We want our Halloween!), as though we were entitled to some candy.

Houses in middle class Mexico are surrounded by high gates or walls, which made knocking and demanding our Halloween impossible. So we rang a doorbell and demanded our Halloween through an intercom.

As I mentioned before, Halloween was relatively new and most people did not have any treats for us. So often we got whatever they could scrap up. Among the things I found in my bag were random stale cookies, batteries, clothespins, coins, pocket-sized packs of tissues, fruit, stones, and pens.

Most people just did not give us anything. For these people we carried a piece of chalk with us and wrote “CODOS” (literally elbows, but meaning stingy) on the walls in front of their houses. By the end of the evening, these houses would have a nice display of chalk graffiti.

As I grew older, Halloween grew in popularity and became more institutionalized. It spread into working class neighborhoods as well.

Now looking at it from an academic and anthropological perspective, I have followed the debates on how Halloween is just part of American capitalistic imperialism that is eroding the traditional values of the Day of the Dead. While I do see the consumer-oriented aspect of the day (the need to buy candy, costumes, etc.), I also remember having fun. I cannot speak for current day Mexico because I have not lived there for quite some time. When I was there, though, dressing up was part of the party and going out in search for treats and getting random junk was part of my own tradition. I still enjoyed getting my sugar skull and eating the special bread the next day. One did not replace the other. Each had its own special meaning to me. And these meanings will be different for each individual.

Ok, maybe that wasn’t a treat. I tricked you.

So here is a trick or treat option for you:

Treat: what is your favorite treat?

Trick: what has been the best/worst trick you have ever played or have had played on you?

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Autumnal New Jersey

Unfortunately the colors didn't really come through in these pictures. They are actually quite spectacular. I also like the stange cloud pattern in the sky.

It is strange how the trees around the college are nearly completing their seasonal transformation, yet the trees in New York City, which is only 25 miles away, are just beginning their metamorphisis.

The colors, the change in time, the blustery wind: these are just omens of the impending invernal season.

I wish I could hibernate.

Friday, October 27, 2006

What is your ecological footprint?
One of my lectures today was on the environment. One of the topics was the concept of the environmental footprint. I had some students take the online quiz (it is handy having internet access and projection capabilities in the classroom) to find out.

You can also ake the quiz and tell me what your footprint is.

My results:

FOOD .................................... 3.5
MOBILITY ................................ 1
SHELTER ................................. 4
GOODS/SERVICES ................. 3.5
TOTAL FOOTPRINT .............. 12




Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NYC Observations

Despite the reservations I had last spring, I like living in New York so far. We have not been able to explore as much as I would have liked, but we have been able to visit a few things. I think I am slowly getting over my culture shock and learning how things are done here. Inwood is a pretty funky neighborhood with a strange brew of nationalities and peoples.

Our building in particular is a living cultural archaeological site with the different strata of cultures from the different historical habitation patterns of the neighborhood. There are some old Eastern European Jews that have been here for a long time, then there are some Dominican families who probably moved in sometime later, and now there is the influx of young artistic (there is a concert pianist that lives above us - I quite enjoy his/her playing) and professional couples. Yes, I am contributing to the gentrification of the building and the neighborhood.

Sara asked if it is still gentrification even though I am Mexican. Sadly, I think the answer is still yes.
Instant Rejection

I sent off my first job application of the season today (via email and snail mail) and I got my first rejection on the same day. The application deadline was last week, but I have sent in applications late before (announcements usually say Due: Month/Day or until position is filled).

Today's application got a quick reply via email:
I am very sorry, but legally we cannot accept applications received
after the Oct. 16 deadline.

Many good wishes,

The whole legality issue is bogus. I can accept that they would not consider my application past the deadline, but to come up with some trumped up reason...

What a way to start off the week.

Oh well...on to the next one.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

I have been scarce around here lately. I am sure some of you probably thought that the people in the white coats did end up taking me away.

Yes, things are busy around here so I am going to limit myself to some quick hits:
  • I just realized that my first "hit" ended up being a bad pun. Why? Because I was going to encourage you to go over and read Oso's account of being the victim of crime in Venezuela. Crime of all kinds sucks, but what is worse is when there is a crowd of bystanders who could help prevent or contain it but fails to act in any way. It is this apathy that leads to an evironment where crime is tolerated and thus catalyzed.
Ironically, it is the Oso doing the mugging in this picture -
he is probably trying to get his computer and iPod from that pinche guey!
  • On a lighter note, the other day as I was walking to my office on campus I saw a large fuzzy ball hide behind a tree. The campus is in a wooded semi-rural area in Northern New Jersey. Squirrels and chipmunks are abundant (much to Zeus' dismay, however, dogs are not allowed on campus). This was much larger than any of those critters. As I made my way along the path and could glimpse behind the tree, I saw a groundhog in person for the first time. Yesterday I saw many of them gorging themselves (true to their porcine moniker) on the grassy areas of campus. It is no wonder that they gain such large girth. I just wonder how the avoid become a nasty tasty smorgasbord for some ravenous carnivorous mammal or a bird of prey.

  • I am off to DC today for a busy conference. I have yet to pack and the shuttle will be outside my door in couple of hours, so I better quit this nonsense and get to it...

Monday, October 16, 2006

Visual NYC: The Cloisters

Visual NYC: The Cloisters

Taken from Inwood Hill Park.

We live ridiculously close to both the Cloisters and IHP. We hear the bell ring, which is never on the hour; rather it is somewhere between 5 and 18 minutes after.

Soon all the green you see here will be gone.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Strange Days

Strange Days
I thought I had enough of a story with yesterday's events that were related to my dermatology appointment. Today I see that only a few blocks from where the doctor's office is located, a plane flew into a building.

It happened around the same time that I had my appointment yesterday.

I was 24 hours removed from an even more bizarre story.

And perhaps from talking about how something like this

nearly fell on my head. Now that would have definitely made my day worse.

I feel for the people whose apartment that plane flew into. Imagine, you are settling in after a hectic day and BAM! in comes a plane into your living room. I feel bad for the baseball player/pilot, but if you fly one of those things, you are aware of the risks. I don't think anyone living in a building ever loses much sleep thinking about an unwanted arial intruder dropping in.

What is next? I am a bit edgy about my appointment tomorrow now. Good thing it is with the psychiatrist...or maybe not. If you don't hear from me again, maybe the men in white coats took me away.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Wishful Thinking

I would like to go to see a doctor and not have a story to tell. Today was the dermatologist.

It was one trial after another. I am too tired to explain, but it involved bleeding, subways, and getting lost.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Visual New York: Inwood Wetlands

Visual New York: Inwood Wetlands

These are some of the few of the wetlands that remain around the island of Manhattan. They are on the northern tip of the island (and a few blocks from where we live). If you look carefully in the middle of the picture you can see a crane enjoying lunch.

The "river" behind the mudflats is the Harlem River and behind that is the Bronx.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Hard on the Eyes

Today I had another medical appointment: the opthamologist. I am on a health-kick; next week it's a double whammy: the dermatologist and the psychiatrist.

All I can say, it is very nice to have good health insurance for once and access to medical doctors.

In any case, at the opthamologist, I had my eyes dilated so they could check my lovely retinas. You may be pleased to know that everything looked good.

My challenge was leaving the office in Midtown New York and making my way around with pupils that resembled those of an owl. Moreover, Sara had asked me to pick up a small gift for a shower she is going to. I knew there was a nice set of stores nearby that included a bookstore. Getting around was not easy. You know how your eyes are sensitive when you come out of a early showing of a movie? Well, multiply that by five (I was going to write ten, but that would be too melodramatic). Moreover, my vision was blurry, especially if I tried to look at anything nearby.

I did find my way to the bookstore. Inside I welcomed the lack of windows and sunshine (for once!). I located a gift fairly quickly, but then I began to stall - I did not want to go back outside. I wanted to look around, but not being able to see things clearly nor read makes browsing in a bookstore a bit of a chore. After some time I think I began to freak people out. I would hold things in various angles trying to read them, then I would turn and look at them with enormous dilated eyes. It was at this point that they would slowly back away and make for a quick exit.

I left the bookstore only to be greeted by beams of sunshine pouring in through the massive glass walls that encircled this particular galleria. I grabbed a free cup of espresso being doled out by Illy (the wealthy patrons of these shops certainly don't need the free coffee yet they are the one's who get it) and took refuge in the Whole Foods located in the basement of building. I thought to myself, now I have an idea of what vampires feel like.

I finally braved the trek to the subway stop, squinting my way along. In the subway there were hoards of people going to the Yankees game decked out in their silly regalia. I hate the Yankees (I felt this way even before I lived in Boston). Coupled with my wide pupils, my glares kept even the rowdiest fans far away from me.

I did make it home, but I was unable to be productive because I could not read nor work at the computer. So I watched a documentary I had recorded on the Mexican American War.

Let's see what fun tale I have next week after the pimple-popper and the shrink...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

New Flatmates

In all the excitement of the chaotic life we are leading and the wildness of living through the tetanus booster gone bad, I have not had a chance to write about our new flatmates [aren't I posh using the British term?]. Frankie's recent post about her experiences with her new neighbors reminded me that I should share ours.

Sara was the first to meet one of them in the kitchen. She was quite surprised and did not know what to make of this stranger standing there partaking of our food ... or rather the crumbs that were left on the counter. Sr. Cucaracha was not all that friendly and he tried to scurry off without even a hello. Finding this rude, Sara reached for some dish soap to slow his pace. She then proceeded to squish him with a papertowel - all in one swift swoop.

[sidenote: you definitely do not want to snub Sara if you are an insect, especially if you are eating our food]

I got to meet our other new roommate, Srta. Ratoncita, early one morning. She is very shy and quickly ran and hid under our stove. Our paths crossed a few days later in the evening. I went to get a cup from the drying rack when something behind it moved. It was her. I yelped because I did not expect anyone there. She freaked and ran behind the stove.

I don't want to sound rude or anything, but between the two dogs, Sara, and me, the place is already fairly crowded and I rather not share it it with anyone else. I have asked Srta. Ratoncita and the friends and family of Sr. Cucaracha to move out. Moreover, I have attempted to be a poor host and failed to leave crumbs on the counter and floors. Srta. Ratoncita has obliged to my request and has not been seen round these parts anymore. In a moment of fatigued weakness, I failed to clean the kitchen last night and this morning I was greeted by Sr. Cucaracha II in the kitchen.

I am not afraid of the critters. Where I grew up, giant cucarachas, mice, and rats were ubiquitous. I also know that living in a city and in a neighborhood where cleanliness is not a high priority, these visitors will be a part of life. I do want to contain their visits, but I want to do it without really having to resort to using pesticides and insecticides (now those do scare me). I have set up roach traps and semi-humane mousetraps. But I thinking keeping the place clean is the best line of defense. We'll see. There may be more chapters in this saga/telenovela.