Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Adventure! But not here...

As may be evident to anybody who stumbles onto this blog, I haven't been posting here for quite some time. But fear not! I have moved onto adventure in other arenas, most notably with the storied League of Gentlemen Adventurers.

>>Check out posts by me on the LGA weblog.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Les Claypool plus Gogol Bordello plus Tom Waits Songs

Equals sheer freakin' awesomeness. I stumbled on some crappy cell phone videos of Les Claypool and Gogol Bordello playing together at Bonnaroo in 2008 -- an entire set of Tom Waits songs. A little more poking around turned up a much better quality (free, downloadable) audio recording of the entire concert at!

Kirk Hammett (of Metallica, highschool friend of Claypool's) shows up at the end, bizarrely. Few of the songs feature Claypool bass pyrotechnics; it's mainly just great music, and totally worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Tom Waits 2008 Road Trip, er, I mean Summer Tour

I think I heard somewhere that Tom Waits is an avid road tripper. (I know that he has been taking pictures of oil stains on driveways all around the country for years.) Now that he has announced tour dates for this summer, it kind of looks like Tom just wanted to take a road trip from Phoenix to Atlanta, and decided to play a few dates along the way.

This schedule is probably going to elicit a bunch of bitching from people who live in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, New York, and, well, every other major city in the country. But I, for one, am starting to look forward to a taking a little trip to Texas, or Tennessee, or Missouri this summer. Maybe I'll take Texas Eagle to El Paso, or St. Louis, or the Sunset Limited to New Orleans, and hop over to Mobile... So many choice. Thanks, Tom, for skipping California!

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Ruins of Palenque & the Curse of the Maya

Laura and I were leaning away from making the 7+ hour bus trip from Veracruz down to Chiapas to see the ruins of Palenque. It was a considerable distance out of our way, and time was limited, plus there was the curse.

Palenque is, you see, where my parents had a fight and broke up on their first trip together. (The got back together, by sheer chance, when they checked into the same hotel weeks later in Merida. Thanks to the gods they did, otherwise there may have been no Jesse to write these blogs for you.) As this is my first trip with Laura, and my parents like her a lot, they warned me against Palenque. But, there we were in Veracruz, earlier than we planned, so we decided to go for it, curse be damned.

We had a couple of small fights there; nothing to write home about, despite the fact that I am; so the curse has apparently worn off in the intervening thirty-some years. The ruins themselves have not noticed those years, of course, aside from an increase in the number of visitors. Here are some photos I took, which I suspect, with a few notable exceptions, will look very familiar to Joan and Bill Keller. What may not look familiar is the Puebla of Palenque, which has become a backpacker town like so many others - it could be Siem Reap, or Khaosan Road, or Pokhara. But this is a subject I indend to blog at a later date, in greater depth. Anyway, here are the photos:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Veracruz, Ver.: Music Nerd Heaven

That's what Veracruz has been for me, a dedicated music nerd. It's one of Mexico's biggest ports, on the Gulf of Mexico; it has great coffee and great cafés; the zócalo hums with activity every night; but for me, the great stand out of my visit to Veracruz has been the fact that, in one night hanging around the zócalo, I was able to hear fine examples of no less than five different (fantastic) Mexican music traditions.

I have to admit that, though I have been an avowed music geek for many years, with tastes ranging from metal to free jazz, by way of afrobeat and indie rock, I did not appreciate the diversity and sheer fun of Mexican music until I took Fermin Herrera's Latin American Music class in my final year at UCLA. That class let me into a whole new world world of great music.

Like most people who live in San Diego, I thought I pretty much got Mexican music. There was Mariachi - schmaltzy music by rhinestone caballeros fancy suits, often played at Mexican restaurants - and then there were Norteñas, the oom-pah accordion music that's all over the Barrio Logan and AM radio.

There were two groups of serenading Mariachis in the Veracruz zócalo, each with at least two trumpets, three violins, guitar, vihuela, and the bass guitarron, and competing for the cafe audiences, there were groups of Norteño singers in cowboy hats, with upright bass, accordion, and attitude. Anytime there was a silence, you could also hear marimba bands - Veracruz's native style - plunking out Carribean rhythms, with three guys to a single marimba, handling the bass, melody, and harmony in their turn.

Then there was folklorico dancing and canned Son Huasteco, my favorite kind of Mexican music, with its violin improvs and quasi-yodel falsetto singing (a shame that this was the only one we didn't hear live), and then more dancing accompanied by the energetic, harp-based style Son Jarocho, the tradition that gave the world the classic Mexican folk song 'La Bamba.'

Thanks, Professor Herrera, for expanding my nerddom to where I could enjoy all that.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Me and Julio Drinkin' Tequila

On our second day in Guadalajara, Laura and I spent the morning soaking in the magnificently creepy Orozco murals in the Hospicio Cabañas, and then spent the afternoon soaking in the eponymous export of a little village outside Guadalajara called Tequila.

We caught a comfortable, slightly rickety bus from Guadalajara's Central Vieja, and were dropped off on the outskirts of the puebla de Tequila. It was about a 15 minute walk from there to the cathedral and town square (every village of even moderate size has a cathedral), and a block off the square is the Mundo Cuervo, where you can see the inner workings, and, of course, sample the products, of the venerable Jose Cuervo company.

Laura and I decided that we weren't quite in the mood for the slick, well-produced, and slightly touristy Mundo Cuervo experience, so we decided to find a smaller distillery tour. This was no problem - as we walked we were quickly approached by a guy with a laminated sheet of paper detailing a two distillery program, with free samples, all for the reasonable price of ten bucks. Since he was the first one who approached us, we told him we'd stroll around, and think about it, and maybe get back to him in a bit. We did stroll for a few more minutes before that same guy came clattering by in a bus that had been stripped down and funkily retrofitted to look like some sort of trolley, and pulled up next to us to say that the tour was leaving now. We thought, what the hell, and hopped on, handing over our hundred pesos.

We were the only gringos on the tour - the rest of the fifteen or so guests were from Guadalajara, Mexico City, and elswhere in Mexico. Entertainment on the bus was provided by Kevin, el Voz de Oro (as it said on his business card), an 8 year old kid in full-on mariachi garb, belting out mariachi favorites. While his technique was a bit... unrefined, he made up for this by being incredibly loud.

At the first distillery, we were paired up with an English-speaking guide, Julio, who had spent some time working in San Francisco, and who began each sentence with, "Okay, checkitout." The informative tour took us step-by-step through the process of making tequila:

"Okay, checkitout. This is where the bring the agave, and cook it. You can taste." Cooked agave tastes, and smells, like sweet potato soaked in honey.

"Okay, checkitout. This is where they press the agave."

And so on for the fermentation, in giant bubbling vats, and the distillation in huge metal tanks. Then Julio opened a hatch on the tank, dipped a big graduated cylinder in, and came out with about a fifth of Tequila Blanco.

"Okay, checkitout. This is Tequila Blanco. If you put it in barrels, one month, Tequila Reposado, one year to three years, Tequila Añejo. You can taste. Give me your hand."

He poured tequila into my hand, and watched with a pleased expression as I drank it. Same routine for Laura, who coughed a bit.

Then it was back to the lobby for samples of the Blanco, Reposado, and Añejo. After essentially four shots in quick succession, Laura and I were starting to feel a little tingle. Then Julio asked which was our favorite, and made us have another of those.

Eventually, the tour group got back on the bus, in a much more convivial spirit than when we had disembarked, and started to roll off towards the next distillery with Kevin el Voz de Oro serenading us.

Then next distillery turned out to be less of a tour, and more of an excuse to sit around at tables and drink lots of tequila. Round after round was brought by, and we were toasted (pardon the pun) repeatedly by a family from Mexico City sitting next to us. By the time the bus came back around, everybody was full of tequila and feeling good, and we rode back towards town talking with a woman across from us, who claimed to be related to nearly everybody on the bus, and who lived in the same Raleigh, North Carolina, suburb as Laura's brother. She was just down visiting family in Jalisco. It's a small world, and it seems smaller when you've been drinking tequila all afternoon.

Monday, March 17, 2008

TJ International and Mexican Budget Carriers

Early Sunday morning, my dad drove Laura and me across the Otay border and dropped us off at the Tijuana airport. As he drove, he cautioned us not to be too put off by the funkiness of the run-down TJ terminals. Yes, it was dirty and run-down, but really, you just had to get used to it. He off-handedly mentioned that a Spanish company had bought a lot of Mexican airports several years ago (though he got out of the travel agency business decades ago, he still closely follows things like that) and he wondered whether they had put any money into spiffing it up.

They have indeed. I was last in the TJ airport 8 years ago for a trip to the Yucatan, and it is significantly spiffier now. It´s certainly smaller than San Diego´s Lindeberg, but the inside is clean, with new signage, and your basic assortment of airport food and duty free shops. I´m guessing that this is in part due to the Spanish buy-out, but also in large part to the profusion of new Mexican budget carriers like Volaris, Viva Aerobus, and Avolar - the airline Laura and I flew to Guadalajara.

These new airlines are run on the no-frills model of the ultra-profitable Ryanair and Easyjet in Europe, and the are making the prices of air travel within Mexico competitive with those of bus travel. The TJ airport was absolutely jammed with people - much busier than I had seen it the last time. And I´m guessing that it has something to do with the new affordability of traveling by plane.

There were a few snags with our flight. First it was delayed, then we got on a different one later, which was routed via Queretaro, not the TJ-Guadalajara direct flight we had originally booked. We arrived in Guadalajara a couple of hours later than planned. But really, when you´re talking travel in Mexico, a couple of hours delay is not that bad. And when the ticket costs just a hundred bucks (including all taxes, etc.), it´s something I am definitely willing to deal with. I´m willing to bet that my dad will be dropping me off at the TJ airport for many future trip like the one I´m beginning today.