Argentine blues in Mexico City

August 13th, 2014

Photo by Sarah Taylor Cook

Ten years ago, when I was writing for D.F. magazine, a blues club called Ruta 61 opened in Colonia Condesa, and I went to report on it. I confess I was skeptical: I moved to New Orleans at the age of 17 and spent the better part of a couple of years there listening to blues, jazz and r&b in dives around the city. Among the groups being hyped at Ruta 61 in those days was Vieja Estación from Buenos Aires. Before hearing them, I asked myself, What the hell do the Argentines know about blues? Quite a bit, it turned out: maybe a military junta throwing your relatives out of airplanes into the ocean, a steady diet of peso devaluations and too many steak dinners are as good as poverty, discrimination and racism to inspire certain forms of art. In any case, Vieja Estación went back to Argentina a long time ago, but they are back in town and will be playing on Friday and Saturday nights this week, to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Ruta 61. Even if you can’t make it over the weekend, very talented people play there most of the time, on any night from Wednesday (open mike night) to Saturday. This is the closest thing you can get to the juke joint experience in Mexico City. Ruta 61 is on Baja California Sur #281, a stone’s throw from Avenida Nuevo León. You can make a reservation at 5211 7602; it might be crowded this weekend.

Labels: Mexico City

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Burger joint

August 4th, 2014

The joke will be lost on the Spanish-impaired but I thought this was a funny name for a burger joint. On Calle Xola, a few doors down from División Del Norte, Colonia Del Valle.

Labels: Mexico City

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Wise guy in Oaxaca

July 21st, 2014

One of my favorite Mexican expressions is often used to describe someone who thinks extremely highly of himself: él se cree la última Coca-Cola en el desierto (“he thinks he’s the last Coca-Cola in the desert”). Not long ago I was in Oaxaca, and on a very hot afternoon, this enterpising horchata salesman had appropriated the phrase to move some of his wares, a creamy rice-milk drink.

Labels: Mexico City

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Not

July 7th, 2014

It’s a clever come-on but I don’t know how anyone can not be disappointed when it turns out to be an ad looking for people who want jobs as security guards.

Labels: Mexico City

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Big changes

June 23rd, 2014

When Guillermo Osorno realized that he was gay — in the late 1970s, when he was still an adolescent — as far as he could tell, in his world of middle-class Mexico City, homosexuality didn’t exist. He didn’t know anyone else who was gay, and the idea of a gay community was unfathomable. In 1981, when he was 18, he went to Los Angeles and, along Santa Monica Boulevard, found a pre-AIDS openly queer universe which he describes as “effervescent.” When he returned home, determined to find some vestiges of a sympathetic brotherhood, by (as he describes it), walking around the city and “wearing out some shoe leather,” he began to discover a more or less clandestine infraworld of like-minded people.

One of the first stops along the journey was a bar called El Nueve, which was on calle Londres in the Zona Rosa between 1978 and 1989. The publishing house Debate has just brought out Osorno’s history of El Nueve, called Tengo que morir todas las noches: una crónica de los ochenta, el underground y la cultura gay (I Have to Die Every Night: A Chronicle of the Eighties, the Underground and Gay Culture). In those days El Nueve was not only a gay bar but a cultural center that featured everything from rock concerts to art shows to performances and a film society. Osorno says he saw movies by Fassbinder, Gus Van Sant and Almodóvar there. In those much more repressive days, such films did not get commercial releases.

Osorno only writes about himself in the prologue and epilogue of the book, but in a sense, in writing about gay culture in Mexico in the last 30 years, he is writing his autobiography. It is almost unfathomable to consider that, a brief 25 years ago, most gays and lesbians in Mexico City lived in the closet. Gay bars were commonly raided by the police and their patrons were shaken down for extortion money by the very same cops. In the early 90s, gays and AIDS activists were often victims of violence. Today, thanks to legislation fomented by former Mexico City mayor Marcelo Ebrard, same-sex marriage is legal in the city and, at least in certain neighborhoods, seeing same-sex couples holding hands or kissing in the street is completely ordinary.

“The last sentence of the book,” says Osorno (who was my boss when I wrote and edited for Revista DF between 2003 and 2006), “is ‘we’ve gained something and we’ve lost something.’” The gains — acceptance and legislation — are perhaps obvious. The author thinks that gay people have lost a sense of living in a covert and unique culture in the city, a sense of being special and glamorous. He is not trying to take a stance on which is better and which is worse. He just thinks it’s remarkable that, in what in historical terms is just the blink of an eye, things have changed so remarkably.

Labels: Mexico City

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