Sundays in Guadalajara, Mexico

Text & Photo:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**

A young man shows off his charreria skills.
A young man shows off his charreria skills.

It’s been a busy summer and fall, with back-to-back trips: Hawaii, Catalunya, Belize, and Mexico. After my next trip–Amsterdam and Zurich–it will be time to hibernate for a bit so we can catch up on editing photos, querying story ideas, and writing articles for which pitches have been accepted.

One of those stories will be a guide to Guadalajara, Mexico’s second largest city. I was there for the Pan American Games, but also managed to spend a memorable Sunday enjoying some of the city’s most beloved traditions: charreria (roping) and toreo (bullfighting). Both are alive and well and show no signs of disappearing; respect for tradition alongside the desire to embrace the contemporary is one of the many reasons why I love Mexico.

Where have you been lately, and what have you loved about it?

Are the PanAm Games good for business?

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**
Cities vie to host international events like the PanAm Games and the Olympics because these events are prestigious. “Winning” the role of host is a seal of approval: The world thinks you’re capable enough, developed enough, and safe enough to host an international event.

"Don't you want to smile?" I asked these newspaper vendors.
"Don't you want to smile?" I asked these newspaper vendors.

For “developing” countries and cities, hosting the Games is also a serious financial responsibility. Though Guadalajara, like most hosts before it, has used the Games to create some permanent sport installations that will benefit locals long after the Games end, the cost of doing so has been exorbitant. The final tally of $750 million greatly exceeded the original estimated budget of $250 million. “The Pan American Games could leave [the state of] Jalisco in a complicated economic situation,” concluded the Milenio newspaper.

Event organizers and federal, state, and municipal governments all try to convince local stakeholders that the Games will be a boon. The image of the city, maybe even the country, will improve. And so, importantly, will business.

That’s what they say, anyway.

It’s Saturday night and the restaurant of a boutique hotel in Guadalajara’s Centro Historico is empty, save for the hotel’s owner, the bartender, and myself. “It’s never this dead on Saturday night,” the owner says, the bartender nodding in agreement. “The problem is that people think the traffic is too bad, so they’re staying away from this part of town. And even though there are more than 6,000 athletes here, they’re all staying at hotels [near the PanAm venues]. There are very few tourists.” He shakes his head.

Although the PanAm Games are barely underway, the hotelier’s frustrated observations have been shared by many of the people I’ve talked to “on the ground.” Taxi drivers seem to be universally pissed about the Games. “There are 11,000 of us in Guadalajara,” one driver told me, “and only 3,000 of us got the credential that allows us near the venues.” “So what?” another driver said, when I asked about the credential. “I’ve got one and it doesn’t make a difference. The security checkpoints won’t let me in. The Games have been terrible for business.”

Whether the Games will ultimately benefit small business owners and independent operators in tourism sectors remains to be seen; the Games conclude on October 30.

Pan American Games: Opening Day

Text & Photos:
Julie Schwietert Collazo
**

Guadalajara inaugurates the 2011 Pan American Games
Guadalajara inaugurates the 2011 Pan American Games

“Que tal Guadalajara?” I ask the taxi driver as we leave the airport en route to Del Carmen Concept Hotel, where I’ll be staying for the next three nights. I was last here in 2008, updating a guide to Guadalajara for Gayot, and I’m wondering how the city has changed since then.

“Uuf,” he replies. I wait for elaboration, but it’s slow in coming and vague when it finally arrives. “It’s changed bastante,” he says. I want him to say more, to say how it has changed and to analyze those changes from his place behind the wheel, but he refrains, which may be smart. When your city is hosting an international sporting event in a time when your country is under intense scrutiny, perhaps you can’t afford to be overly free with your opinions. Either that, or he just prefers the quiet.

The taxi driver won’t have much of that this week; today is the opening of the Pan American Games and everything is motion and buzz. Runners are sporting the flame in the traditional relay; as I approach the city, the flame is approaching it, too. The country’s biggest names in music– Vicente Fernandez and Alejandro Fernandez— are surely warming up their vocal cords in preparation for their performances tonight.

My press credential for the Pan Am Games
My press credential for the Pan Am Games
Members of the press are rushing to pick up their credentials and to take their posts to report about the Opening Ceremony.

And I’m among them.

For the next three days, I’ll be covering the Pan Am Games for this site, as well as for Matador.

I hope you’ll follow along. I’ll also be on twitter, checking in on foursquare and Gowalla, and posting photos on instagram and flickr.

Have questions about the Games? Please leave them in the comments and I’ll do my best to answer them.

“When I was 31, it was a very good year…”

Text: Julie Schwietert Collazo
Photos: Francisco Collazo & Julie Schwietert Collazo

As the last two weeks of 2008 spin towards history, I find myself in bitingly cold New York City, where I’m wrapped in at least two layers of clothes by day and sleeping under two comforters at night.

New York has been my home since I moved here in 1999 after graduating from college, accepting an internship, and deciding to stay. It’s a city I love for a thousand reasons at least.

But in 2008, I didn’t spend a lot of time here. It was a very good year for travel–the best yet–and now that I’m finally settling down at home for a period of more than a week, I’m sorting through the year’s (and a 250 GB hard drive’s) photos, stories, and memories.

Here are a few I wanted to share with you….

JANUARY, Cuba/South Carolina, Mexico City, Cuernavaca, Puebla, Tijuana, San Diego, Pacific Coast Highway, and San Francisco:
Francisco and I started the new year apart, he with family in Cuba and I with family in South Carolina.

We met up at our part-time home in Mexico City, made quick trips to Cuernavaca and Puebla, crossed the border, and then drove the Pacific Coast Highway before…

FEBRUARY, New York:
We practiced settling for a while in this city where we met each other and where we both feel at home. We saw a Gonzalo Rubalcaba concert, watched old buildings be demolished and observed the new contour of this city begin to take shape.

MARCH, Mexico City & New York:
A split month, half in el DF and half in New York. In DF, I’m working on an assignment. In NYC, I’m a passionate observer of my own neighborhood.

APRIL, New York, Washington, D.C.:

It’s spring in the city, one of the very best times of year for a New Yorker. But I’m getting restless. I organize a trip to Washington, D.C. for my mom’s birthday.

Francisco and I also meet fellow Matador editor and the amazingly talented photographer, Lola Akinmade. Still, there are stories all around, as there always are, no matter where we are.

MAY, Cuba:

I visit Cuba for the first time since Fidel handed power over to his brother, Raul. Of seven or so visits to Cuba since 2005, this is the most special one, filled with incredible moments.

I interview Chinese Cubans, spend hours with a Cuban musicologist, & work on a documentary about Juan Antonio Picasso.

Francisco’s son and I go to Mariel, where Francisco set off from Cuba in 1980. We visit Cojimar and Hemingway’s home. And I celebrate Mother’s Day with Francisco’s mom and the mother of his son.

JUNE, New Orleans:

Francisco and I meet up in New Orleans to volunteer with the Culinary Corps and write about New Orleans. Seeing the state of New Orleans three years after Hurricane Katrina reminds me why traveling and stories are important & why I believe so passionately in both.

JULY, Colombia:

A full month in Colombia, with the bulk of our time spent in Mompox, where we meet the coolest kids in the world and begin making plans for an after-school program for them.

We also visit Cartagena, Santa Marta, Taganga, and Barranquilla.

AUGUST, Guadalajara, Mexico:
Back home in Mexico, we also visit Guadalajara on assignment. Not only does Sally Rangel and the staff of Villa Ganz set a totally new standard for service and hospitality, we discover that Guadalajara is quite possibly the only city where we’ve enjoyed every single meal we’ve eaten in restaurants. We were also fortunate to participate in and interview others who attended the Iluminemos Mexico march for peace.

SEPTEMBER, Perote and Veracruz, Mexico:

Perote: The town that tourism forgot. Not for long, if we have anything to do with it. Along with our friend, Carmen, we toured the San Carlos prison, visited an ostrich and orchid farm, dreamed about opening a bed and breakfast in an abandoned hacienda in the middle of a corn field at the base of some mountains, and found ancient pottery sherds just littering the side of the road as we drove up into the mountains. We also happened upon a local boxing match.

We drank strong coffee and had my palm read in Veracruz.

OCTOBER, Mexico City & Oaxaca, Mexico; Guantanamo Bay, Cuba:

October was all about connection.

We met Matador member Teresita and her husband, Ibis, at our home in Mexico City, reconnected with my old friend, Arely, and her husband Ivan at an airport restaurant, and visited with weavers at their home and interviewed protesters in Oaxaca.


I also traveled to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba to report about the military detention facility there.

I could have spent weeks there. In any event, I have a notebook full of stories that I’d like to write.

NOVEMBER, NYC, Washington, D.C., Chile:

NYC: To vote. Of course.

Washington, D.C.: To blog live from NPR on election night.

Chile: The press trip of a lifetime: 7 days. Santiago, Valparaiso, Punta Arenas, Torres del Paine. Cordero (lamb). But most of all… incredible people: Roberto, Francisco, Andres, Paloma, Carolina… que buenos son!

DECEMBER, Puerto Rico:
Francisco and I moved to Puerto Rico (shuttling back and forth between the island and NYC) in 2005 and left for good last December. While we had no active plans to return for a visit, our friends Wally and Marina asked us if we wanted to take care of their dogs for a couple weeks while they went on a much-needed and deserved vacation.

It was nice to see the sun every morning, to feel it on my skin, to watch as it penetrated just-rained skies and made light shows with rainbows, and to collect the grapefruit it ripened and scattered the ground with.

As visitors, we also went to places we’d never visited as residents, including the small island of Culebra and the town of Guanica, where the US invaded Puerto Rico during the Spanish-American War 210 years ago.

*

As I write this, I begin to realize that everything important is left out. It’s the people and the stories, and there’s a hundred folks at least. And for every person, a hundred stories.

I haven’t forgotten a single one of them. The stories are on the way….

Cream of Basil Soup Recipe

Text by Francisco Collazo
Photo by Julie Schwietert Collazo
*
With all the excitement of our election night blogging experience at NPR, it’s taken us awhile to follow up on a request from a student in my cooking class to post a recipe for my cream of basil soup.

We first tasted cream of basil soup at the extraordinary Hotel Villa Ganz in Guadalajara, Mexico a couple months ago. At the time, we weren’t sure what the soup was. We spent 10 minutes guessing the ingredients and finally realized that the unexpected flavor of the soup was attributable to basil. An easy soup to make, and one that’s surprising and pleasing to guests because of its uniqueness, I decided to replicate the soup by devising my own recipe…and adding a final flourish.

Ingredients:

2 Tablespoons of olive oil
3 cups of broth (vegetable or chicken)
1 clove of garlic, minced (or in a paste after roasting in the oven, which is even better!)
1 cup of heavy cream
1.5 cups of basil leaves, chopped fine
1 medium onion, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 teaspoon of anise seed (optional)
chile serrano to garnish (1 per serving) (optional)
*
Directions:

1. In a saucepan or soup pot, sautee the minced onion and the garlic in the 2 Tb. of olive oil just until golden.
2. Add basil to the onion and garlic mixture; sautee for two minutes.
3. Add broth to the basil/onion/garlic mixture. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for five minutes then remove from heat and allow to cool.
4. Once the soup is cool, puree in a blender or using an immersion blender.
5. After blending, return the soup to the pot and heat on medium.
6. Add the heavy cream and anise seed. Cook until the soup thickens somewhat; stir continuously during this process.
7. Remove from heat and serve.
8. If you’d like to make the dish slightly more impressive, roast serrano chiles on the stove and garnish each bowl of soup with a single chile (uncut and unseeded).
9. Serve and enjoy!