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summer evening at the rodeo

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Summer nights have their own magic and during the time between the 4th of July and Labor Day, when it gets hot and humid (at least in most places across the East Coast), there is probably no better place than a rodeo. And when it comes to rodeos there are few better than the Battle of the Beasts at the J Bar W Ranch in Maryland. Ok, I bet there are rodeos out in Texas, Oklahoma, Montana, Oregon … out west which are just as good, but what makes them special is that they feel like a family is running them — these are not some large corporate events. you can mingle with the cowboys, things only go 100% smoothly (sometimes it will take 10 or more minutes for a bull to be caught but that just adds to the experience. At the end of the day this is a small town get together (with a few city folks like me thrown in), people are having fun, they are being entertained and enjoy the beauty of a summer night with barely a cloud on the sky, the sunset turning redder and redder as the evening turns to night.

 

roller derby

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the skatepark in Venice Beach is a lot of time one of my first stops after arriving in LA. while the rest of Venice Beach can be a bit much the inside of the skatepark provides a view into the California beach life.

last time I was there, a week ago, this group of roller skaters dropped by. it was a bit like a group of aliens had landed. the skaters didn’t really know what to do, but the roller skaters were great and fearless.

Memorial Day

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Memorial Day I usually spend at Arlington National Cemetery. While I go to take photos I have found that I now want to go as much for the people as for the photos. I had a chat with one of the photographers for one of the newsoutlets and he had the same thought. When you start to reach out to the families and friends of those that are there to remembers those that gave their lives for this country you can hear the stories of both. There is the son who died in Afghanistan while saving two of his buddies and who served in the same unit as did his had who sat next to his son’s grave. There is the buddy of a fallen soldier who came back with a stray dog he found in Afghanistan the very day his friend died — and who then wrote about this. and there is the former soldier who served together with his high school buddy, and only one came back from the war. There are tons of stories like these — but what all of these individuals have in common is that they are just happy when they can talk about their lost ones, when there is someone who will listen and who helps them remember their lost ones. Memorial Day is too often unfortunately tagged as the “Official Start of Summer” with people getting out on their boat, kicking off the bbq season, but all along too many of us forget the real reason for this day.

March for Our Lives — the hope of a new generation

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.

A Day at the Salton Sea

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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.

the world is the stage

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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.

Quintonil — The Future of Mexican Food, for now

Cebiche de Nopales

Cebiche de Nopales

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.

Tártara de Aguacate Tatemado

Tártara de Aguacate Tatemado

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.

Mosaico de Pulpo en Salsa de Tomatillo

Mosaico de Pulpo en Salsa de Tomatillo

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.

Bizcocho de Cuitlacoche

Bizcocho de Cuitlacoche

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.

A day at Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe

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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.

San Pedro Atocpan

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Santuario del Señor de las Misericordias, San Pedro Atocpan

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).

the obligatory tourist photo

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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.