Monday, April 14, 2008

High profile Viva La Gente

The craziest thing about changing from Up with People to Viva La Gente when we come to Mexico is the name recognition and serious clout we get just for being us! Lots of media attention in the form of newspaper and magazine articles, radio interviews, live TV performances on news shows and talk shows, and best of all, audiences with some high profile people.

Last week we toured the grounds of Los Pinos, which is the presidential complex with seven houses, equivalent to visiting the white house. During our tour we met with the First Lady, Margarita Zavala, and we performed two songs for her, acoustic style. She sang along!

Apparently the Spanish version of Up with People is a song that every child learns in school or camp… its just in their repertoire, like “Old McDonald”. So most every taxi driver I’ve had or person I meet, when I mention Viva La Gente, begins to sing.

On Thursday we were guests at the Department of Foreign Relations. We spoke with two advisors to the Secretary of Foreign Relations, Patricia Espinoza, who answered our questions on Mexican foreign policy. We were supposed to meet with the secretary herself… she was an honored guest in the box seats at our show, and was unfortunately delayed at a meeting with the president. We waited for her, and she spoke to the cast briefly at the end of our session. I was proud of the cast, of the articulate and thoughtful questions they asked, and for how much they valued this experience in the foreign relations offices.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

the way things work

I'm learning quite a bit about the way things work here in Mexico...

After being told for weeks that our semi-trailer truck full of show equipment could drive to the center of the city and drop everything off, we learned only two days before that it couldn’t enter the city center, so we’d need a new way to get our sound and lights to the theatre. So, on Saturday Scottie & I got up at 5:30am to join a small crew at the place where our big semi-truck was parked.
The reason: we went and cross-loaded equipment from the large semi-trailer to two small U-Haul shaped trucks. It was like playing Tetris with tech boxes, bars of lights, costume bags, and risers. So, we shifted everything around to fit in the small trucks that could drive to the theatre, and we still had to bribe the police to allow those trucks to drive in.

What I’m learning about bribing though is that it doesn’t feel corrupt here the way it sounds, it is just how things are done. Its like paying for the service… we give the police money to let our trucks in the city center, then they escort us in and provide security service during the unloading. It’s a give and take.

So by 9:30am we were back home and in bed for a few more hours, before enjoying our first of two host family days here in MXC.

In the afternoon, we went to this beautiful old monastery called Museo del Carmen, which was full of somber art, cool old furniture, and a neat orchard courtyard. The biggest draw to the monastery though is the naturally preserved bodies that were descovered in the crypt of the monastery. They are believed to be benefactors of the church that are at least 300 years old. The crazy part was these mummified bodies still had skin, fingernails, and Spanish-style clothing-- nothing special was done to preserve them... its believed to be the result of the dry, salty, atmosphere of the crypt. The coffins are glass-topped and not sealed very well, and are leaning so the people are basically standing on their heels. Each had a different expression, and they were so fascinating, creepy, and drew you in in the way that you didn't want to look, but couldn't look away either.

We also explored some local arts markets, and went out to dinner with some future sponsors of Mexican tours of UWP. Lastly, we got to lose another hour of sleep to daylight savings... Mexico did not shift theirs earlier like the United States, so Cast A got to lose two hours of sleep this spring, two weeks apart!

mucho traffico

We’ve been in enormous Mexico City for a week, and I think that the honeymoon stage of being in Mexico may wear off soon. Not that MXC is a bad place—I was actually surprised at how clean the city is! I know the pollution is something else, but the streets are pretty clean and there is a lot of beautiful architecture in the colonial old town.

The only downside of Mexico City is the amount of time we spend in traffic. We sit for hours—literally hours and hours every day. For example, last week I went to an environmental preserve called Xochitla, which was aways across town from where I live. I left my house at 6:45am. We arrived at the park by 9:30am. We left a little after 5:00pm, and I wasn’t home again until almost 9:00pm!! If you do the math, that is 6 hours on the bus to be at the park for 7.5 hours. That’s the extreme… fun days, and lots of time to nap on the bus, but exhausting all the same.

We've also learned a little about the rivalry between the north and south-- its kindof like that between Minneapolis & St Paul- everybody thinks their part of town is way better, and that caused more than one debate between our advance team members who were split between being natives of north or south. We've learned for future visits to MXC how not to do it! Next time UWP will focus their energy around one area of town. Live and learn!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Teotihuacan - And so Can You

We had a long and uneventful trip from Monterrey to Mexico City. We are again hosted together and are staying with our good friend, Christine Paluf, and our Director of Latin America, Korey Riggs. Holy Mexico City Batman! This place is huge!!!!! While we got into the city late, the traffic was intense. We did not get back to our host family until about 11:00pm, which as is turns out is when dinner is often served here…so I guess we were right on time ;-)

On our first day we went to Teotihuacan, which is where the pyramids are just outside of Mexico City. People commonly say that the Aztecs were the builders of these pyramids, but the current ideology says that it was the Teotihuacani. This was a truly magical experience that really made you think about the mysteries of the world. How long did it take to build them? What were they hoping to do by building these? Where did the builders go? Why are there so many people selling weird kitsch on the “Street of the Dead”?

What a great way to start our time here in Mexico City and how great to experience such an amazing place as a group. After seeing into the past at Teotihuacan, we then went to the National Museum in downtown Mexico City where we had the chance to see the art of many Mexicans throughout the years. What a great way to end a fantastic day!

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Monterrey Magic

We had a few incredible days in Monterrey:

Friday, March 28th-- our "regional learning" day was full of sightseeing and not seeing. The cast was on a rotation through four sites. Included were a blast furnace and museum that gave the history of Monterrey's steel industry-- we rode to the top display deck, and looked over the city, had a boat ride down Paseo Santa Lucia, which is a river walk with restaurants and fountains-- very beautiful and similar to the famous one in San Antonio, the Mexican History museum where we had a whirlwind tour/ crash course in pre and post-colonial history, and "Dialogo en la Obscuridad." Translated to "Dialogue in the Darkness" this was a hour and 15 minute blind experience. We were in groups of eight, with canes and with a guide named Joaquin who was blind. He led us through simulations of a park, grocery store, crossing the street in a city, a boat ride, and a coffee shop-- all taking place in complete darkness. It was a fascinating experience, and felt like a very safe space to try out walking around in the dark, feeling our way and trying to determine where we were.

I felt very confident in touching things because again, I knew it was a simulation, but I can't imagine running my hand along the trash can at the bus stop, for example, in real life. Also, using a cane was challenging to get used to, along with crouching down right underneath yourself so you didn't lean forward and smack your head on something you couldn't see.

It was especially insightful as I am traveling a second semester with Jessica Rojas, a student in our cast who is blind, and I felt myself moving my body in the way I see her move hers everyday.

And finally, at the end of the day, we visited a social services facility for children called "Ninos de Capullo", which translates to children of the cocoon. It is a transition center where children live and receive care if they are removed from their homes. We spent a few hours there learning about the center, performing a few songs for the children, and having them dance for us. We also had time to play games for a little while before it was time for their dinner. Most of the cast wanted to stay and play longer... (and so did the kids).

And the day ended with an incredible party at Casa Paraiso (Paradise House), which is a house that is owned by an alumna and is rented out for weddings and events. We danced and had fresh-grilled tacos, hosted also in part by CARE (pronounced Car-eh), which is the university student org that was our sponsor in Monterrey. They brought a DJ and invited a Mariachi band who played a few numbers. Host families brought tons of other food, and we danced the night away!

It was also very fun to hang out with Carlos and his parents. Carlos brought us to the party friday night, and we had a relaxing and wonderful afternoon with him and his parents on Saturday. They took us to Chipinque park, which was up in the mountains that overlooked Monterrey. We ate a wonderful late lunch in the restaurant on top, and wandered through the park. We then drove down to a little puebla called Santiago, walked through the main square, peeked into the church where there was a quinceinera ceremony taking place, and then, still full, went to a fabulous little italian restaurant owned by friends of the ORdonez family. It was a lovely day, and helped us catch up on relaxing time, which we often forget to do.