Margarita Está Linda la Mar

Margarita está linda la mar,
y el viento,
lleva esencia sutil de azahar;
yo siento
en el alma una alondra cantar;
tu acento:
Margarita, te voy a contar
un cuento:

—-Rubén Darío, A Margarita Debayle

(trans)

Margarita, how beautiful the sea is:
still and blue.
The orange blossom in the breezes
drifting through.
The skylark in its glory
has your accent too:
Here, Margarita, is a story
made for you:

Forty dollars worth of Margaritas, Cozumel, Mexico

Then And Now – The Kids At Cozumel

“His life had been tied to the past. He’d seen himself a point on a moving wavefront, propagating through sterile history—a known past, a projectable future. But she was the breaking of the wave. Suddenly there was a beach, the unpredictable… new life. Past and future stopped at the beach: that was how he’d set it out. But he wanted to believe it too, the same way he loved her, past all words—believe that no matter how bad the time, nothing was fixed, everything could be changed and she could always deny the dark sea at his back, love it away. And (selfishly) that from a somber youth, squarely founded on Death—along for Death’s ride—he might, with her, find his way to life and to joy.”

― Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow

Nick and Lee, Cozumel, 2002

Nick and Lee, Cozumel,2018

 

I was cleaning out and organizing some old files.

We Sail In Leaky Bottoms And On Great And Perilous Waters

“We sail in leaky bottoms and on great and perilous waters; and to take a cue from the dolorous old naval ballad, we have heard the mer-maidens singing, and know that we shall never see dry land any more. Old and young, we are all on our last cruise. If there is a fill of tobacco among the crew, for God’s sake pass it round, and let us have a pipe before we go!”
― Robert Louis Stevenson, Virginibus Puerisque

 

Cozumel, Mexico

A Pretense Of Happiness?

“One night, as I was sleeping, Norman appeared to me and told me to relax, that he was fine. Then, but I’m not sure if this was in the dream or when I woke up shouting, I realized that Norman seemed to be in Mexican heaven, not Jewish heaven, let alone philosophy heaven or Marxist heaven. But what was goddamned Mexican heaven? A pretense of happiness? or what lay behind it? empty gestures? or what was hidden (for reasons of survival) behind them? A little later I started to work at an advertising agency.”
― Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives

Pepper Lamp, Cozumel, Mexico

No Drink Was Strong Enough

“He was in Guanajuato, Mexico, he was a writer, and tonight was the Day of the Dead ceremony. He was in a little room on the second floor of a hotel, a room with wide windows and a balcony that overlooked the plaza where the children ran and yelled each morning. He heard them shouting now. And this was Mexico’s Death Day. There was a smell of death all through Mexico you never got away from, no matter how far you went. No matter what you said or did, not even if you laughed or drank, did you ever get away from death in Mexico. No car went fast enough. No drink was strong enough.”

― Ray Bradbury, The Candy Skull

Cozumel, Mexico

Our Plain Duty To Escape

“Fantasy is escapist, and that is its glory. If a soldier is imprisioned by the enemy, don’t we consider it his duty to escape?. . .If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we’re partisans of liberty, then it’s our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!”
― J.R.R. Tolkien

Cozumel, Mexico

Tex-Mex Food – History and Ingredients

“your body is not a temple, it’s an amusement park. Enjoy the ride.”
― Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly

Tex-Mex – Two enchiladas, rice and black beans.

Oblique Strategy: Look closely at the most embarrassing details and amplify them

I don’t eat Tex-Mex food very often. I’ve lived in Texas so long I’m, well… kinda over it. The only time I eat Tex-Mex is when someone is in from out of town. My son is here for the Dallas Marathon this weekend and he wanted some – so we go.

Every neighborhood in Dallas has its own Tex-Mex spot (and its Pho place, and its Barbeque joint, and its greasy burger dive…) and in ours it’s Amigos. I don’t know if Tex-Mex can be called “comfort food” because you can be pretty uncomfortable if you eat too much of it.

One big knock on Tex-Mex is that it isn’t authentic Mexican food. Well, of course it isn’t. Have you ever even been to Mexico? It’s a big, diverse place – there’s no reason that food from the high Sonoran desert would even resemble the seafood from the Yucatan. Mexico’s culinary style and history is more like France’s – very complex and diverse.

Tex-Mex is a regional American cuisine… which happens to be inspired by some of the cooking that came across the Rio Grande.

You can tell you are eating Tex-Mex by the ingredients – stuff that isn’t (or wasn’t) very common in Mexico. These ingredients are: beef, yellow cheese (like cheddar), wheat flour, black beans, canned vegetables (especially tomatoes), and cumin.

Cumin – the main and essential ingredient in Chili Powder – is an interesting example. It’s not a traditional Mexican spice – it’s Indian. Canary Islanders were brought to San Antonio by the Spanish to try to expand the colonization of Texas. The Canary Islanders brought with them a Berber flavor signature — Moroccan food. There was a lot of cumin, garlic and chili, and those flavors, which are really dominant in chili con carne, became the flavor signature of Tex-Mex. It’s very different from Mexican food. Food Critic Diana Kennedy is prone to say that Tex-Mex includes way too much cumin. But if you compare it to Arab food, you suddenly understand where that flavor signature comes from.

The greatest epic Tex-Mex feast ever photographed. From the gatefold of the ZZ Top, Tres Hombres album
(click to enlarge)

ESSENTIAL TEX-MEX FOODS

NACHOS

Nachos might’ve been invented in Mexico by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, but it was only because a bunch of Texan ladies flocked to his restaurant after-hours and asked for a snack. The versions you see around the country today, frequently doused with molten, yellow cheese, are very American.

CHILI CON CARNE

Considered by many to be the quintessential Tex-Mex dish, this tomatoey stew of ground or cubed beef, beans (if you’re not a tried-and-true Texan), spices, chili peppers, and other accoutrements is very much a gringo invention, created by Texan settlers out of widely available ingredients. Actually, it’s based on Northern Native American recipes. Not Mexican.

FAJITAS

Derived from the Spanish word “faja” — meaning “strip” (which refers to the cut of beef they used) — fajitas are wholly a US creation (first mentioned in print in 1971) inspired and informed by the ingredients of Mexico, but not usually found in that country.

PRETTY MUCH ANY “MEXICAN” RESTAURANT FOOD IN AMERICA

Queso dip, chimichangas, the enchilada as we know it… you name it, it’s been Americanized. But that’s not to say that it isn’t still delicious.

THREE CITIES, THREE HISTORIES

When you look at the modern history of Tex-Mex, you get completely different stories from Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio. Each one, of course, claims to be the place where Tex-Mex was invented, perfected, and popularized. They are all three right, and all three wrong.

San Antonio is the closest city to the border and the area that contributed the “Mex” part of the cuisine. It also added the “Combination Plate” to the menu.
An Illustrated History of Tex-Mex

How chili queens from San Antonio and the rise of the combo plate shaped Mexican food’s evolution across the border.

The cuisine grew out of the Rio Grande Valley but came into its own in San Antonio. “In the 1870s, chili queens in San Antonio started becoming nationally and internationally famous. That’s when Tex-Mex started getting on the map of Americans in earnest. From then on, every decade has had a monument to Tex-Mex.”

Tracing the History of Tex-Mex

The growing fame of the chili queens helped San Antonio establish its enduring reputation as the capital of Tex-Mex cuisine.

Dallas seems to be the birthplace of the kings of Tex-Mex restaurant empires. Tex-Mex is primarily a restaurant cuisine, seldom made at home. Everyone in Dallas knows El Fenix, El Chico, and, more recently Mi Concina.

History of El Fenix

Miguel Martinez opened the first Mexican restaurant in Dallas, in 1918. When he opens “Martinez Café” (now El Fenix) he offers only Anglo-American dishes. He develops a new style integrating Mexican flare and offers these dishes to guests, asking for their feedback. Their input was instrumental in perfecting his culinary experimentation and Tex-Mex was born.

The Family Who Sold Tex-Mex to America

In 1928, Adelaida “Mama” Cuellar opened Cuellar’s Cafe in Kaufman. Four of her sons moved to Dallas in 1940 and opened the first El Chico. These two families laid the foundation for Dallas’ flavor profile.

The Elevation of Tex-Mex, Mico Rodriguez

Lard-laden combination plates changed forever once Mico Rodriguez and his partners opened the first Mi Cocina in the Preston Forest Shopping Center in 1991. Rodriguez refined the Tex-Mex experience by using quality ingredients such as expensive cheddar cheese and fresh jalapeños and cilantro.

Houston has an equal claim, including Ninfa’s and the development of the fajita.
The Houston Version of Things:
A six part series – a different history of Tex-Mex…

Pralines and Pushcarts
Combination Plates
Mama’s Got a Brand-new Bag
The Authenticity Myth
The French Connection
Brave Nuevo World

Short Story Day Twenty-One – Mexican Manifesto

21. Mexican Manifesto
Roberto Bolaño
http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2013/04/22/130422fi_fiction_bolano

This is day Twenty-one of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.

Illustration from the New Yorker

Roberto Bolaño considered himself primarily a poet. For most of his life he was a bohemian vagabond poet, working odd low-end jobs by day and writing poetry by night. Good work if you can get it.

He married in Europe and in 1990 his son was born. At that point he felt responsible for his family and began writing fiction to help pay the bills. Over a short period of time he produced a series of acclaimed novels, collections of short stories, and his magnum opus – 2666, which was published posthumously.

I haven’t read any Bolaño up to this point. I did buy a hardback copy of 2666 – the huge novel (900 pages) sits on the bottom row of my book shelf like a leaden lump of wood pulp; a mysterious Pandora’s box of secret promises, putative wisdom, and unknown wonders locked tight between its covers – only to be opened and released by masses of time, long sleepless evenings, and painful eye strain.

Maybe I should read The Savage Detectives or even the novella By Night in Chile first.

Today’s story Mexican Manifesto, was first published this year in the New Yorker. Since Bolaño passed away a decade ago – I assume this story was found in his papers or computer files.

It is a hazy memory of the narrator, thinking about his youth and the adventures he had with a woman as the two of them explored the world of public bathhouses in Mexico City. He talks about the bathhouses in general and the denizens of the rooms, corridors, and steam. He elaborates on a strange encounter when he and the woman hire a trio – an old man with filthy underwear and two young boys – to provide them with a sexual performance. It doesn’t work out right. Due to his leaky memory, the ethereal nature of the bathhouse, and the clouds of steam that conceal and confuse – it isn’t clear exactly what happened.

The story is a dream or a dreamlike memory or a dream of a memory, or a memory of a dream… or maybe just a half-forgotten recollection mixed up with a fantasy of something that might have happened a long time ago. Youthful adventures tend to warp as time goes by – they become like wisps of steam leaking into the outer chamber of a bathhouse, ghosts of time – they become what they weren’t.

Maybe they never were.

I’ll have to read the story again, and think more about its secrets. I think a key might be the mural described in the first paragraph. It’s in the foyer of their first and favorite public bath, Montezuma’s Gym. I want to figure out what the king sees.

Laura and I did not make love that afternoon. In truth, we gave it a shot, but it just didn’t happen. Or, at least, that’s what I thought at the time. Now I’m not so sure. We probably did make love. That’s what Laura said, and while we were at it she introduced me to the world of public baths, which from then on, and for a very long time, I would associate with pleasure and play. The first one was, without a doubt, the best. It was called Montezuma’s Gym, and in the foyer some unknown artist had done a mural where you could see the Aztec emperor neck-deep in a pool. Around the edges, close to the monarch but much smaller, smiling men and women bathe. Everyone seems carefree except the king, who looks fixedly out of the mural, as if searching for the improbable spectator, with dark, wide-open eyes in which I often thought I glimpsed terror. The water in the pool is green. The stones are gray. In the background, you can see mountains and storm clouds.
—-Mexican Manifesto, by Roberto Bolaño