Yesterday, March 24, 2018, tens of thousands of kids, teenagers, students, parents, and grandparents came together on the streets of DC to protest the inaction on gun violence in this country. “Thoughts and Prayers” are the common response to any large scale shooting (since the killing of just one or two people isn’t even considered news anymore in this country) though “Thoughts and Prayers” have shown to do little to end or even just to reduce gun violence. But when comparing what is happening in the US to pretty much any other wester democracy, where gun violence is a tiny fraction of what it is in the US, it is pretty plain to see that the single difference between those countries and the US is the access to guns. There are video games, movies, crazy people, single parents … you name it in all of those other countries. The difference? People can’t just walk into a store and walk out with a gun (devices that were designed solely to kill, there is no other use case for a gun.) So yesterday this group of amazing people came together (all across the US) to make their voices heard that the time for “Thoughts and Prayers” is over … they demand action. And politicians (and voters) have a choice they can be on the side of the gun lobby, of death and more killings, or they can demand that we finally do something about this self inflicted stupidity that are the US gun laws.
Plagues and Pleasures on the Salton Sea is one of those little treasures that once you watch it open up a whole new world. and once you have watched the movie you really want to see place. Two years ago was my first visit (a stop on my way to Joshua Tree National Park). Two weeks ago while spending two days in Palm Springs I visited again. It is a surreal place. It is the kind of place that makes you think of movies like Mad Max or The Road and realize that reality can sometimes be stranger or at least pretty close to fiction. The Salton Sea was supposed to be the next Palm Springs. A desert oasis with a lake, a place where the upper middle class and the upper class could hang out, go water skiing, and build beautiful houses. And then nature (with a helping hand of humans) turned on this dream. And now you can buy a lot of land for $4999 (cash). Now it is the place where Breaking Bad is not a TV show but reality.
people take way too little time to stop and see what is around them. this scene was really just people turning around, from watching art, to watching the magnificent landscape of LA — which was only made more interested by the clouds that day.
what i like about photography is that it forces me to slow down and to take a look at the world. there is no way to take photos if you are not present in the moment and see what is happening around you. but these days with the constant siren call of the mobile phone most people find it hard to just watch what is going on around them. most walk around cities with their eyes lowered, staring at the screen.
On my first trip to Mexico City, probably close to 10 years ago, I fell in love with the country, mezcal, and Tacos Al Pastor. Then on a follow up trip to Oaxaca I feel in love with Oaxacan food, from mole to chapulines. Then close to two years ago on another trip to Mexico City I fell in love all over again with Mexican Food after going to Pujol. It was a completely different experience. It was clearly Mexican food, but Enrique Olvera brought out flavors of Mexican food and made them stand by themselves — his mole is probably the clearest of those examples where he serves it by itself rather than as a stew. It was a bit of a Steve Jobs experience — a focus on the essentials and a focus on the core. Going back to Pujol this year was still an amazing experience, but I felt that the food at Pujol while still outstanding is falling behind, it was less adventurous and it was less Mexican, it was more global. The reason might be that Olvera after having expanded the restaurant in a new location is trying to appeal to a broader audience — though I hope that he goes back to the Mexican roots that made Pujol in my view.
Until then, I found that Quintonil, a restaurant just a couple of blocks away from Pujol, and led by chef Jorge Vallejo is easily filling the gap that Pujol has left (interesting, and maybe not surprising Vallejo used to work at Pujol). Vallejo creates an experience that clearly rooted in Mexican ingredients and tradition, but with each course he pushes the envelop further. At no point during the 10 course tasting menu did you wonder what food you ate, it was clearly Mexican, starting with the nopales (ceviche), to the clams (that were served with beef tongue that would have any taco proud), to avocado tartar with escamoles, to the first of two deserts which was a frothy cuitlacoche ice cream cake. It was an absolutely amazing tour the force across the Mexican food spectrum, in each course showcasing the flavors of the country, while still surprising the guest. It is no surprise at all to me that Quintonil topped Pujol in the 2016 list of the World’s best Restaurants, it is surprising to me that in the 2017 list Pujol was ranked higher again, because while Pujol’s new location and restaurant is absolutely stunning, the staff and service are outstanding, Quintonil provides right now a more exciting food experience in my view.
One last point in comparing the two restaurants is that while Quintonil’s tasting menu consists of ten courses, Pujol’s consists of six, but at the end of the meal you will be absolutely full at Pujol while Quintonil does an outstanding job in pacing the dinner and the amount, leaving you full but not stuffed at the end of the dinner.
Writing this down was hard, both of the restaurants are world class and are among my favorite restaurants in the world. I love what Olvera did at Pujol. I can’t count how many times I have watched the Chef’s Table episode about him, and I have used the recipes from his excellent cookbook numerous times and learned a lot about Mexican food from it, I was bummed after trying and failing to get tickets for when he was cooking at Trois Mec in Los Angeles, but I feel that the excitement about Mexican food I experienced when I ate at Pujol for the first time, that very excitement I feel is now at display at Quintonil. I hope that this local competition will raise the standard at both places, and I am aware Mexico City has more to offer than just these two restaurants and the competition in broader but I think what these two restaurants have done and are doing for Mexican cuisine is amazing and should be celebrated.
Even compared to the Vatican the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe feels very different. It is not only the Basilica, but there is the Expiatory Temple to Christ The King, there is the Cerrito Chapel, the Basilica Baptistry, and a bunch of other churches and chapels, and between all of those places there are hundreds of people from all over the country coming to see the Lady of Guadalupe. It feels more like a fiesta than going to a church service, but then every now and then there is a pilgrim who is completely focused on his or her journey, or a group of people that brought their statue of the Lady of Guadalupe to have the statue blessed in the church. And then on the opposite end of the big plaza in-front of the Basilica there is a market that connects the basilica space with the surrounding neighborhood. The market seems to be a regular market for people living in the neighborhood but also provides food and snacks for visitors and then it is also the place you can buy all and any items to remember your visit of the Lady of Guadalupe.
When one thinks about mole, the amazing Mexican dish, usually the first place that comes to mind is Oaxaca. That is because probably the most famous version of mole, the mole negro, is from Oaxaca. Oaxacan mole being seen as the home of mole is I assume also the reason why a lot of people think that chocolate is the key ingredient in this dish — which it isn’t. But then you get to San Pedro Atocpan, a smaller town at the southern edges of Mexico City, and you realize that mole is much more than Oaxaca. This town lives mole. Yes, they have an annual mole festival and mole competition, but you only need walk down the main street of the town, Avenida Miguel Hidalgo, to understand the importance of mole to this town — Av. Miguel Hidalgo is lined with store after store not only selling the ingredients of mole from a vast range of chiles to onions, garlic and a range of herbs and nuts, but you will also find canisters of pre-made moles from darker ones, to red moles, to green mole. As you taste them you can understand the different styles, the more fruity ones, the spicier ones, the nuttier ones … each store creating their own version of a range of different moles.
then on top of the mountain overlooking the city there is the imposing church, Santuario del Señor de las Misericordias (see photo).
taking the obligatory tourist photo is always a bit of a doubled edged sword. on the one side you know the same photo exists a million times. but then I don’t just take photos for others. and some of these obligatory photos are obligatory for a reason — they are photos of what is actually beautiful. one way to approach those kind of photos is to maybe try to take them in a different way (and I certainly didn’t do that with the above photo of the painted ladies) but in one way the obligatory tourist photo can, especially for the still learning amateur (a category I would place myself in), be quite interesting. because it provides a situation where you know how a shot should look like and you can then play around to create it. it is in a way like using a recipe of a great chef and cooking it at home. you might have eaten at the chef’s restaurant and know how it should taste, the cookbook might have a photo, so you know how it should look like. but you still have to cook it yourself, and in the process you will likely learn a lot. and I think in a way it is the same with the obligatory tourist photo. look at how some of the better photographers have taken it (what time of day, what angle, what did they include, what did they exclude …) and then practice.
something i love about photography is that at the beginning of your day you never really know what you will come home with. i think that is to a degree true for all kinds of photography, no matter if you do portraits in the studio, landscapes, or dabble in street photography (whatever that means). but as you take photos throughout a session or throughout a day there will be moments when you see something that you like. this photo is nothing special, but at the same time i have come back to it many times. when i was out there in LA, in Korea Town (actually waiting for a table to get ready at my favorite Mexican restauran there, Guelagueza) i came across this car. now the car by itself is already pertty cool, but i loved the rust on the roof, and then the sun beams hitting it where great. so i was wondering how to capture this. i probably took 5 or so photos. this one is the one i came back to over and over. the explosion of sun light in the top right, the detail in the car, it somehow works for me … let me know what you think.
taking a longer vacation trip rarely results in me not bringing the right photo equipment. usually there is time to pack and plan. but this summer i had two back to back work trips coming back from the second of those just 24 hours before leaving for a two week vacation trip to Argentina. on top of this i spent the last three days in bed sick while on the second of those business trips so i didn’t use the camera i brought on that trip at all. packing for the vacation trip, still feeling a bit weak from the stomach bug i just packed my camera, planning to have my 35mm (XCD 3,5/45mm) with me, pretty much the one lens i travel with. i raced to the airport, arrived in Buenos Aires (at the amazing Home Hotel), unpacked, grabbed my camera and went for a walk. as i took the first photo i thought something was off. and on closer inspection, i realized (and at the same time remembered) that i did not have the 35mm lens on the camera body, but rather the much longer XCD 3,2/90mm — which would be an equivalent of 71mm, compared to the 35mm. ok. first i was bummed. then 71mm just didn’t feel right. way to close, not enough in the frame. and so the first day was more or less just lost because of my attitude. over a great dinner at Cucina Paradiso just around the corner from the hotel i recognized there wasn’t any chance to change things, i was stuck with the 71mm lens and better make the most out of it. so starting with the next day i just changed the way i usually approach a new city. usually i look for people and try to capture daily scenes (like this set that i took in Oaxaca at the market), instead now i wanted to focus on little things — capture the parts of the city. while the 71mm is great for portraiture i don’t like it to capture people on the street with it. so i looked for other things — i took at ton of photos of buildings, but then once i got to the La Recoleta cemetery that i where i really started to enjoy the 71mm, actually i was really happy i had this lens rather than the 35mm. and so in the end i didn’t come back with the photos i thought i would take but came back with an appreciation for a whole different way to look at a place.
no trip to LA is really complete for me without a visit of the Venice Beach Skatepark. Venice Beach can be a pain i will admit, but spending time at the Skatepark quickly makes up for it. seeing the talent and the dedication is always inspiring.
during my last trip i headed there directly from the airport, trying to catch the sunset. i was way too early for the sunset, but i did get there to get a lower sun than usually, having softer light and also nice long shadows. i just posted a bunch of the photos from that trip on my portfolio site here: venice beach skatepark.