Friday, January 30, 2009

r train, 8:45pm

"Nigger comes down with just one gat, one bullet, ya feel me? Who he think he is, Nigger James Bond?"

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

rivington street, circa 1980

From an amazing series "Not There Anymore" by Bruce Barone.

Monday, January 26, 2009

why they hate us

Friday, January 23, 2009

happy birthday, nathan!

Thursday, January 22, 2009


Tuesday, January 20, 2009


Monday, January 19, 2009

thirty is the new ten

on Yelp

Friday, January 16, 2009

48 hrs/nyc

My new mini-guide/map of NYC has been released, and fortunately none of the listings have gone out of business yet. If you know any Gotham tourists with tons of stamina, this is the publication for them.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Friday, January 9, 2009

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

leaving yucatan

I have never misplaced a day before, but Skramly and I somehow lost track of the time and had to hustle at the end of our trip.

We asked our waiter in Chetumal for a recommendation and he steered us to Laguna Bacalar. The Mayans called it "Lake of the Seven Colors." A ramshackle town follows the coastline and there's a historical fort (built to ward off pirates).

From there we drove to Mahahual, a coastal resort town. Hurricane Dean walloped it a year ago. A few hotels had reopened, but we couldn't find a place to stay, even on a Sunday night.

At least I had time to snap a glamor shot of our rental car.

The nearest place to stay was a town called Xcalak. It was even more remote than Mahahual, so I figured we stood a chance. The alternative was backtracking over an hour. Most roads in the Yucatan don't feed into other roads. (We got annoyed with the guidebook's crappy little map and replaced it with a full-on road atlas. The atlas provided almost no more detail). There were a couple of peasant huts on the road to Xcalak and one turn off for a lake. Other than that, nothing. The road was straight and unlit through the jungle. We drove twenty miles without having to dim our highbeams. The little tourist center was open and the guy said no problem, there were plenty of rooms that night. We found one innkeeper who looked at us like we were insane and said we'd have to try the guesthouse. Inside the guesthouse a Mexican family ran up and down the hall as rain swept in from the doorway. There was no one to speak with about a room.

We got back on the road. Mexican infrastructure isn't much. Their HOV lanes would have to be HOV 9 to be relevant. Traffic lights are rare. They use speedbumps instead. At every "tope" a little store or canteen springs up. Chickens peck around under the chairs while dubbed American movies blare. We finally made it to a truckstop town, Felipe Carrillo Puerto. It looked sketchy, but we didn't have much choice. We went for chicken tacos on the main square. At 9pm, the place was rocking. Kids shrieked from a moonbounce. Smaller kids circled in battery-powered cars. Adults promenaded around the plaza. The entire town was out.

At the head of the square was the church. It was built by prisoners in 1858. Felipe Carrillo Puerto was once called Chan Santa Cruz, when it was the center of the Caste War, the Yucatan insurrection of the 19th century. The church from the lot behind our hotel:

We went back to the hotel around 11pm, the sounds of the last few children still audible. In the night I was awakened by low Mexican voices, and then it was still. At dawn there was a great commotion, thousands of birds chirping. Then silence again. At 7:30 a brass band played. Maybe it was the town's wakeup call. We went to a canteen for breakfast and the waiter was gay and instantly our friend. So much for truckstop-town preconceptions.

The next day we had to get back to Cancun for our flight. Within thirty seconds of entering the city limits, cops had pulled us over and were shaking us down. We'd spent all our pesos. They led us to an ATM and then parked down the road. My Spanish wasn't good enough for me to feel comfortable doing anything but paying them off. The deskclerk at the hotel chastised me: you should have gotten the badge number of the cop; I would pick up the phone and immediately the police would converge and this bad cop would lose his job.

The next morning the highway to the airport was out in two places. There were no signs. One of the detours went through the fillup lanes of a gas station. It ended on a one-way street. At the airport, finally, Skramly had neglected to save the little sheet of paper they gave us when we flew in. They sent us to immigration. The agents were reading a mass email. One of them turned the monitor to show us starving Africans. They printed something out. It said Skramly had to go to the bank in the other terminal and pay a $40 fine. Our plane was leaving in 15 minutes, we had no time. The agent shrugged. "Okay, then give me a tip. My Coca-Cola money."

I handed over what remained of my ones.

Monday, January 5, 2009

part 2, mayan yucatan

Skramly and I couldn't get over the patronizing tone of our Lonely Planet guide: "Those Mayans sure were some bee's-knees architects!" I wish I was making that up. The remnants speak to the sophistication. (When the Spaniards came to Mexico, the local calenders were precise to the minute; the Europeans were off by eleven days.)




Some of the sites are totally restored, others still half-claimed by jungle. In places you can see the original stucco and some of the coloring.

Mysteries persist.

Were these kernels left by tourists? By believers? The compounds and villages in the surrounding countryside are inhabited by the same people, give or take, who built these cities. The hundreds of souvenir vendors that line the pathways of Chichén-Itzá are clear descendants. The arrangements of their temples and the alignments of the solstices still hold true. How much of this, if any, remains alive?

I guess we'll all find out in 2012.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

yucatan, part I

Before we left my father warned me not to drive at night in Mexico. The roads are unlit, everything is two-lane, many cars are incapable of traveling faster than 35 mph, and people pass at dicey intervals. All of this is true. Somehow, though, it feels safer than America. There aren't many vehicles on the road. You feel like you can set your own rules. Anyways, we'd planned carefully so that we'd be through the airport and up to town with plenty of time before nightfall. Of course, the flight ran late, it took forever at the rental car office, the car they gave us was all but out of gas, and by the time we filled up it was full-on night.

Valladolid turned out to be a very sweet, surprisingly colonial village. My experience with Mexico had been limited to border towns and Cancun. Here I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn't in Spain. Traces of the Roman Empire live on in Yucatan much more than I would have guessed. It's in the language (Latin more prevalent in Spanish than Germanic English), in a certain formality of speech and manner. It's in the arched galleries that hold their stores, in the public plazas, in the centrality of the churches, and in their classical architecture (especially in towns like Campeche and Mérida, below.)

Of course, the same block that holds an old Spanish house can also hold a thatched-roof Mayan hut.

Some towns reminded me of Santa Fe, and New Orleans as well. I'd forgotten that before it was French, the Big Easy was Spanish.

Friday, January 2, 2009

back from mexico