Hilario Peña – Págale al Diablo (Pay the Devil)

zzz Págale al Diablo

I’ve been enjoying Hilario Peña’s novels for several years now. A great fan of such writers as Raymond Chandler and Jim Thompson, he has published a series of highly enjoyable “novelas negras” that bring a distinctive Mexican perspective, and a liberal dose of black humor, to the classic noir genre. My personal favorites are La Mujer de los Hermanos Reyna and Juan Tres Dieciséis.

So many great noir novels have been made into films – films noir – that when I read one, I find the characters, locations and settings easy to visualize. I picture dark streets, heavy shadows, low camera angles, claustrophobic spaces and stressed characters. Peña’s novels are no exception. They tend to be filled with gangsters, crooked politicians, treacherous women, bad cops, tough-talking detectives and clueless victims. But they have always been novels.

When the clerk at Libros Gandhi in Mexico City handed me the slim volume, I thought there was a mistake. But when I saw the graphics, and the artwork inside the book, I realized I was in for a new and fun experience.

The story is pure noir… and pure Peña. It focuses on Telma, a classic femme fatale, and Silverio, the poor schnook who falls under her spell. The plan is that Silverio will kill Telma’s husband, and they’ll use the insurance proceeds to go together to Long Beach. Not the most glamorous plan, but a clear call to action for Silverio. Things go well at first, with Siverio even finding a component of revenge to soothe his largely untroubled conscience. But the complications begin when he hears disturbing things about Telma, and obstacles are thrown in the way of their plan, including blackmail, infidelity and betrayal, gangsters with guns and a boxing match we know is rigged. We just don’t know which way it’s rigged.

As I whistled through the book, I realized I wasn’t getting the sort of descriptive passages or back stories that I’ve come to expect in a novel. Still, I was getting beautiful pictures of the people and action in my head. And of course, the dialog was as hard-boiled as you could hope for. There wasn’t enough art work to consider it a graphic novel, though, and it’s too long to be a short story. Perhaps it’s a novella, but it felt kind of like a screenplay.

He may disagree, but I believe Hilario Peña has written a film noir… and I had a lot of fun with it.

Advertisements

Bowie – Mexico City… Cocina de Humo

IMG_9663-001

When I landed in Colonia Roma, my favorite neighborhood in Mexico City, I was faced with a dilemma. How do you decide where to eat when there are at least 2 cool-looking restaurants on every block? But I had recently seen an article listing restaurants that served marrow bones. Now, I have no interest in marrow bones, but I associate them with high-end restaurants, and figured that any chef who has the confidence to do something creative with them has to be good at a lot things.

That’s how I chose Bowie. I might have been put off by the large portrait of David Bowie, and the fact that they were playing “Let’s Dance” as I arrived (no, in fact, I hadn’t made the obvious connection to the singer), but it’s a lovely room, it was raining out, and I was convinced the food was going to be good. I was right.

IMG_9656-001

I was greeted warmly, and things started well when they brought fresh pita with a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of tasty spices.

IMG_9659-001

A dish I always enjoy in Mexico is called Fideo Seco, a dish that usually just lives up to its name – dry noodles. Bowie’s version is much more elaborate and flavorful than I was expecting, with bright tomato and olive flavors, and a beautiful presentation. Definitely not your grandmother’s fideo seco, and absolutely delicious.

IMG_9661-002

The main course was a tough decision, but I went with the short ribs. I was expecting the usual braised meat falling off the bone, but was pleasantly surprised when I was presented with a huge iron skillet with a large serving of tender, smoky meat (well, the restaurant does describe itself as Cocina de Humo) beautifully assembled with mashed potato and squash, and a lovely beefy sauce.

It was a great experience, and I know I will be returning on my next Mexico City trip.

Here’s the contact info:

Bowie
Cordoba 113, Col. Roma – C.P. 06700, CDMX
Telephone: 5264 2622

Martín Solares – No Manden Flores (Don’t Send Flowers)

zzz

What do you do when you’re rich, your daughter has been kidnapped, and you live in a city on the gulf coast of Mexico? You can’t go to the police or the army, because they may actually be the kidnappers. Anyway, they’ll milk you for cash, regardless of whether they lift a finger to help. You can’t ask any of the 3 gangs that control the region, because if you ask the wrong one, you’ve just made yourself a target to them. And you can’t trust your personal security staff, because they may have facilitated the kidnapping by selling their inside knowledge of your activities.

Martín Solares’ excellent novel, No Manden Flores, takes place in an unnamed city in Southern Tamaulipas that has been devastated by gang wars and corruption. It’s a place where you can’t go out for dinner, because the restaurants close in the evenings due to the gang violence. It’s a place where you can’t get medical assistance after a beating because the medical staff deserts the clinic in fear that the gangsters will come to finish the job. And if you take the wrong bus, you might find yourself hijacked and pressed into slave labor in a criminal compound guarded by a virtual army of thugs.

The answer to the kidnapping question is that you hire a smart, street-wise detective, a former cop who solved a high-profile murder case a few years ago. And you hope to heck he doesn’t cross paths with the city’s police chief who framed a suspect to collect the reward for that murder case – and has been trying to kill your detective ever since.

The focus of the book is divided equally between the detective and the chief of police, and the irrational, apocalyptic challenges they both face in accomplishing their radically opposite goals and intentions. The author treats us to an abrupt surprise with the structure of the book, which led one reviewer to describe it as 2 books. I’m not convinced. Despite the richly drawn characters and tight plotting, it seems to me that the book is not about the detective and the police chief, or about the kidnapping, as much as it is about the time and place in which the story is set.

The book’s title happens to be the same title as a famous article by author Jorge Ibargüengoitia, written as a bittersweet remembrance of his mother at the time of her passing. I read the book as a commentary on the direction of the gulf Coast, and Mexico itself. Don’t Send Flowers is a stern warning… and a great book.

________________________________________________________________

Desde Amazon:

No manden flores cuenta la historia de Carlos Treviño, un ex policía que se ve obligado a volver al Golfo de México a fin de investigar la desaparición de una rica heredera.

Partiendo del sur de Tamaulipas, cerca de Paracuán, y viajando hasta el centro de la violencia en la frontera norte, Treviño deberá seguir el rastro de la mujer, e indagar entre los grupos criminales que se disputan el control de ciudades y carreteras. En la misma medida, evade la persecución del tenebroso Comandante Margarito, jefe de policía de La Eternidad, que lo busca para matarlo. La rivalidad entre estos dos personajes con perfil de tiburones elevará la tensión durante siete días a niveles nada recomendables.

La crítica ha opinado:

“Una radiografía seca, aguda, del horror en el que vive el Golfo, la red de complicidades, los alcances de la tragedia. Una novela ruda, directa, emocionante, que será de lectura obligada para quien quiera asomarse al infierno en que se ha convertido el Golfo (y México a la vez)” -Antonio Ortuño-

So… What did you eat in Mexico City?

My friends know I’m always on the lookout for great food, so one of their first questions when I return from a trip is “What did you eat?” Here are some highlights from my recent Mexico City trip.

Chiles en Nogada – Cafe Tacuba, Centro

IMG_0259-002

Hotcakes – Sobrinos, Colonia Roma

IMG_9545-001

Pozole – Casa de Toño, Zona Rosa

IMG_0153-001

Tacos al Pastor “Especial” – El Huequito, Centro

IMG_9419-001

Grilled Octopus – Los Danzantes, Coyoacán

IMG_9722-001

Fideo Seco – Bowie, Colonia Roma

IMG_9660-001

Barbacoa – El Hidalguense, Colomia Roma

IMG_9909-001

Birria Jalisqueña – Tacos Frontera, Colonia Roma

IMG_9590-001

Craving Huitlacoche… Again

huitlacoche-corn-smut

One of the more fascinating and addictive Mexican foods is an acquired taste, perhaps because of its dreadful name in english, and its seriously unappealing appearance.

It’s called Corn Smut in english. Or Devil’s Corn. Not very appetizing, until you hear it called Mexican Truffle, or Mexican Caviar. Those names come from people who understand the earthy, fungus flavor with just an underlying hint of corn. The flavor is brought out especially well when served with a warm hand-made tortilla, and a sprinkling of cheese.

IMG_6356-001

Corn smut is considered a disease by American farmers, and they take elaborate pains to eradicate it. Mexicans have been eating it at least since Aztec days, and grow it specifically for consumption.

IMG_6353-001

I had never paid much attention to huitlacoche – it’s a subtle flavor, and can get lost in the company of some of the bolder Mexican dishes. But then I read Miguel Ángel Chávez Díaz de León’s wonderful novel Policia de Ciudad Juarez. A gritty “novela negra” with liberal doses of satire, its main character Comandante Amarillo is addicted to huitlacoche, but finds it hard to come by in Ciudad Juarez. Once I focused on it, I became a bit of an addict myself.

Policia-de-Ciudad-Juarez-270x420[1]

Fortunately, I live in Los Angeles, where huitlacoche is easily available. Today’s travels took me to the Olympic Mercado east of downtown, where food stands pop up on weekends.

IMG_6352-002

Deciphering Mexico City’s Metro Icons

Mexico Affordable Travel

For anyone who has wondered about the strange symbols that mark the subway stops in Mexico City, the answers are finally revealed… I only figured out pyramid symbol at the Pino Suárez station, and the observatory symbol at the Observatorio staton.

Here’s the article from Citylab:

http://www.citylab.com/design/2016/04/deciphering-mexico-citys-metro-icons/479796/?utm_source=SFFB