Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Grasshoppers and Crocodile...for Dinner

Outside the wind is blowing as if someone is paying it to blow. It steadily increased its willingness to blow as the day came to a close. On the one hand it takes the edge off a warm day, but it also stirs the white Monterrey dust up into a small frenzy.

Tonight for dinner my colleagues took me to a traditional Mexican cantina, the Botanero Santa Lucia in the Barrio Antigua, the cobbled-stoned, oldest part of Monterrey city. On the menu they had some interesting or what they called exotic, foods. Among the exotic items on the menu were grasshoppers and maguey worms from Oaxaca, one of the southern states of Mexico, where they are known to eat unusual foods. Other menu items were escamoles (black ant larves harvested from the agave plant (from which they make tequila), and crocodile. The other usual stuff like steaks, pork, etc. was of course also on the menu.

Now the whole week I have been struggling with stomach problems. I lay no blame on Mexican food. It is something I could have picked up anywhere or maybe it is a return of Mr. Helicobacter pylori, a baddy that came to visit me back in January of this year too. Nevertheless, someone around the table thought it would be a good idea to expose me to some of the more traditional delicacies of southern Mexico and they ordered the grasshoppers from Oaxaca, to be eaten with guacamole (avocado with spices and onions) in a tortilla. The grasshoppers were fried and it tasted a little bit like carne seca (Mexican dried meat) and a little like dried fish, the kind you get on the west coast of South Africa, called harders. The grasshoppers were not bad at all. Although I had a steak for the main course, I did taste the crocodile too because one of the guys ordered a crocodile kebab. Taste just like chicken.

But it all made for an interesting evening.

The Exotic Foods page of the menu at the restaurant Betanero Sta Lucia.

Additional Income

After all the years of coming to Mexico and driving here I was pull over today for speeding near a school. Not that there were any children around because it was nearly 6 in the evening and the school gates were already closed. The school is near our factory and I always passed it very carefully in the mornings because I know there are always police around, but to see them there in the evening is rare. But I guess it is a good place for them to stand to write up people or to make extra income.

Now it is not your usual “speeding trap” like in America where the police trap you with a laser gun and is willing to show you your speed. No this is just guessing. This policeman, who was far to big for his clothes, which stretched around him like Glad wrap, stood next to the road and judged my speed by eye. Very scientific and accurate, hey!

After he walked over to me and told me in Spanish I was speeding in a school zone, I, of course, told him, no habla Espanol. And he reply he can’t speak any English. Great, we have a good thing going here. After he rambled off more in Spanish he again asked kinda surprisingly, no Espanol? I said no Espanol and he looked into the distance. In the mean time I was telling him how sorry I was and I will not do it again, but he just kept on pointing to his book and say “ticket.”

He explained to me that he has to give me a ticket and I must go and pay at some government office or police station, I am not sure which. He showed me in writing that the ticket will be for $750 Mexican pesos, about US$75. And I tried to look even sorrier than before. He asked for my drivers license in Spanish and never noticed that I pulled it out immediately, thus fully understood what he was asking for. He made an effort to pronounce my name, asked if he did it correctly, looked off in the distance again, probably thinking what he must do next and asked me a third time, no Espanol? And looked quite astonished when I said no Espanol again. What is this? Here he has a gringo, driving around in Mexico on an American driver’s license (which is allowed I think, well, it must be because he never mentioned anything about it) and can’t speak a word Spanish. How does he get around?

Eventually he asked me how much I was willing to pay to get out of this thing. Of course I played dumb again and he repeated what sounded like quanto dinero and pointed to my wallet in my lap. I did not have much in pesos on me because I was planning to stop at the bank on my way to the hotel and withdraw some money, but I had $240 pesos (about US$24) on me. I first showed him the two 20 pesos notes, but he took on a disgusted look and shook his head sideways. Hell I can’t even buy a hamburguesa for my kid with that, he probably thought. I then showed him the $200 pesos note and he bobbed his head up and down like a restless horse who wants to move on instead of standing next to the road. I gave him the money and he gave me my license back and even stopped the traffic so I can pull on to the road and get the hell out of there. Disgusting American gringo that can’t speak Spanish!

And so I contributed my small part to the corruption activities of the Mexican police force. Not that other police forces around the world are not corrupt from time to time, but here in Mexico traffic police regularly pull people over and cash disappear into pockets. Additional income. On the other hand, there was no way I was going to argue with him and spend the night in a Mexican jail. And $200 pesos is much cheaper than $750 pesos. I don’t care where the money goes. I have no say over it in any which way.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Titanic Artifacts Exhibition

As is typical with many artifact exhibitions the drama of the d├ęcor and the music is far more dramatic than the artifacts themselves. The Titanic Artifact Exhibition I visited tonight here in Monterrey, Mexico is no different.

Luckily I was expecting something like that so no disappointment. After all, what can be expected after the artifacts spent 85 years under the freezing seas of the north Atlantic. Among the artifacts were hair brushes, smoking pipes, jewelry, shavers, cups and saucers and plates, coins and money notes (some blackened over the years) all in glass boxes. 300 small artifacts in total.

One of the things that really caught my eye was the old black and white photos, blown up to huge posters. In one, with the Titanic in the background, still being built in the dry dock, the workers were leaving the yard, all of them in black pants and black coats and white shirts. Either a uniform or clothes only came in black and white those days for low paid folks. Another photo was of the engineers pouring over blueprints in a huge sunlit room, also in black and white suits, except in this photo there was an odd engineer with a grey coat on. One of the real surprises was a recovered men’s suit, still in reasonable good condition.

As usual no photo taking was allowed, but that had never stopped me from snapping a few secretly.
Reproduction of the Titanic's Veranda Cafe.

Replica of a 3rd class cabin. At $35 ticket / $620 in today's money, sharing with 3 other occupants that most likely spoke different languages. 1st class tickets were $4,500 / $78,950 in today's money.

Supper bowls of the Titanic as it was found on the seafloor.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Bug Ugly with a 17 year Itch

Imagine living underground for 17 years just to emerge for 4 – 6 weeks during which you have little time to eat just time for sex. Does that sounds like any red-blooded 17 year old male teenager’s dream? I don’t know, but it is the life cycle of the periodical Magicicada insect, which is currently a pest in my garden.

About two weeks ago these long living insects emerged from their long underground life in huge numbers in about 15 Eastern US states. Some places report up to 1.5 million insects per acre. At times their mating “song” is deafening and trying to have a telephone conversion on the back porch is nearly impossible. Although they look frightening with their big red eyes and orange wings they are harmless and don’t attack humans. But they do sometimes fly into us as we walk about the garden. Except for placing nets around small trees and shrubs, there is no real protection for the plants. Pesticides have no effect. In my garden they are mainly in the maple and pear trees, far too big to protect. I can just hope they don’t cause too much damage as the female cut into twigs to lay their eggs.

Although we see them as a “pest”, the Chinese consider them good luck because they signify long life and immortality. Artists have used them as inspiration for jewelry (right.)

Lastly, adventurous eaters make a meal out of them. Reportedly they have a nutty flavor and can be dipped in batter and fried, used in an Asian-style meal with garlic, onion, zucchini and peppers and some use them as meat on a kebab…cicada-babs. Translated to Afrikaans: Gogga-sosaties. Bon appitit!
Heading photo courtesy Photo: by Ruth Jarret

Dinner for two with cicada-babs.
(Photo courtesy of

Students at Ohio University experimented with cicadas as a food supplement. Fried in batter (above) and in an Asian inspired gourmet sauce for rice. (below)

(Photo courtesy

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Adopted Baby in the Backyard

On Thursday afternoon I found a dead Robin chick on my back lawn. I didn’t think much of it. Every year several American robins, Carolina wrens, sparrows and European starlings breed in my backyard. And from time to time I see dead birds.

On Friday afternoon I found another dead robin chick nearly in the same place as Thursday and another chick hopping around near some shrubs, very fortunate that the cat has not yet caught it. Obviously something happened for them to be kicked out of their nest or they may have left it voluntary. And why two dead birds? There was a nest high up in the Aristocrat pear tree near the porch, but it was too high for me to put the chick back. Monica fed it some water and I remembered there was an abandoned nest at the back of the yard in an arbor. I promptly fetched it and put the new nest into a glass water bowl, which is usually frequented by the finches and put the robin chick in the nest. Then we sat back and waited to see if the mother was nearby and whether she would accept the new nest.

So far the chick has stayed put. It survived a thunderstorm and a fierce downpour on Friday evening, swinging in the wind. On Saturday morning I emptied the bowl from the previous evening’s rainwater. Luckily the mother has responded to the new surroundings and has been feeding the chick regularly. We now go and check a couple of times a day to see if it has not jumped the coop and became catfood. Its still too small to fly, but I am sure it will be ready to leave the nest and fend for itself within a week or so. They grow quickly.

The Robin chick seems quite content in its new nest inside a water bowl.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Going Nude for Wine

How far will advertisers and producers take organic farming?
Well Avondale, a winery on the south side of Paarl, in the wine district of Cape Town, South Africa, went au naturel in their advertising.
Or maybe it is nudevertising.

The estate is very innovative in its organic farming practices. They use cover crops, local indigenous species with interesting names like kooigoed, kouterbos, kapokbos, to stabilize and balance their soil instead of fertilizers. And bugs are controlled by ducks and wasps. So to get their message across in marketing they decided to show their “workers” working in the nude. Nudity is universally associated with being natural.
Very clever.

One of the print advertising pages.

Another of the print pages for advertising

Avondale's real workers. Not so au natural.