Tuesday, December 15, 2015

The Cross Border Xpress

Tijuana’s airport is unique.  Located only feet from the U.S. border, its runway parallels the border itself. At one time there was hope of creating a bi-national international airport complex on this ideal site.  That dream died in the early 1990’s. 

For decades Carlos Laviada, a prominent Mexican businessman, made frequent trips to California.  One day in 2005 he looked out of the Tijuana airport control tower and noticed the land on the U.S. side of the border was still undeveloped.  With long-term vision and lots of optimism he bought 55 acres, formed an investment consortium, and began to plan for a direct border-crossing from Tijuana’s airport to the United States.

This year Christmas came early for Charlie’s Digs’ collaborator Carol Hopkins and her dog Amigo.  Last Wednesday they were among the first southbound beneficiaries of Laviada’s vision.

Carol regularly commutes from San Diego to Cuernavaca.  She almost always uses the Tijuana airport.  “Fares are more competitive and make the difficulties of crossing the world’s busiest border worth the effort.

“It was particularly easy when there were flights from Tijuana directly to Cuernavaca.  Aeromexico had that route for several years.  I could leave my home in San Diego, cross the border, catch a plane and be in Cuernavaca in less than six hours.  I don’t know why there is no longer a domestic carrier at Cuernavaca’s airport.  Flights were always full and the terminal itself was recently remodeled.”

Some years ago Carol heard rumors there would be a new bridge from the San Diego side of the border directly into Tijuana’s terminal.  Rumors became stronger; three years ago she was delighted to see the beginnings of construction. 

“I guess I really didn’t believe it would actually happen.  Whatever I thought, I still wasn’t prepared for the reality of Cross Border Express (CBX) -- the grand new airport facility that opened December 9.”

The 390’ (120 meters) bridge crosses the border and six-lane Via de la Juventud Highway in Tijuana. The skybridge was pre-fabricated in six 75-ton sections which were crane-lifted into place.  Once the last section was lowered into position workers on both sides of the border opened the door and were able to greet and congratulate one another.

Talking about an airport so close to an international border, Architect of Record Stanis Smith said, “It’s an amazing accident of geography.  It could never happen again.”

CBX is an architectural masterpiece and the last design of award-winning Mexican architect Ricardo Legoretta (1931-2011).  Although Legoretta didn’t live to see the finished project, his stamp on the design and lighting and his use of color -- particularly purple -- is a feast for the eyes.

With Legoretta’s plans in hand, Carlos Laviada, against odds, succeeded in getting all the necessary permits and made this masterpiece a reality.

On December 7, Carol enjoyed a behind-the-scenes tour of the facility escorted by Stephanie Sathoff, spokesperson for CBX as well as Jacqueline Wasiluk, and Angelica De Cima from U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

“We’re as excited about this as you are,” emoted the two security officials.  “Don’t think we enjoy keeping people waiting for hours at the border.  We believe this crossing will alleviate some of the pressure on us and be good for business on both sides of the border while maintaining security.”

“Although elements of CBX are present in some other airports, we believe this international bridge crossing terminal is unique in the entire world,” said Sathoff.

Elizabeth Brown, CBX’s Chief Commercial Officer, told Carol, “The U.S. is the destination for approximately 2.6 million passengers flying into Tijuana each year.  We can facilitate their travel.  Tijuana’s airport has direct flights to 34 Mexican destinations, a thrice weekly direct flight to Shanghai and the capacity for many more international routes.”

Passengers using CBX’s bridge undergo exactly the same security screening as they would at any U.S./Mexico border crossing.  To use the bridge one must have a confirmed, ticketed flight.

There must have been many compromises along the way.  CBX will affect Tijuana cabdrivers and could encourage travelers to choose Tijuana’s airport instead of San Diego’s over-crowded Lindbergh Field.

Traveling southbound, you can use the CBX 24 hours before flight time.  This allows passengers to cross the bridge and spend the night at a hotel or just go to one of Tijuana’s many new exciting restaurants before catching a flight.  Northbound the bridge is only open to you for 2 hours after landing.

In time CBX plans to open its own hotel on the U.S. side of the border.  The hotel, parking, and yet to be opened duty free shops and car rentals will provide CBX’s profit.  Bridge crossing fees, US$18 with a 20% discount for seniors, will pay the salaries of U.S. Border Patrol and Immigration Officers working in partnership with CBX.

Cross Border Xpress is a contribution to the cultural and business life of both San Diego and Tijuana and a tribute to the ability of people of good will to cut through red tape and make things work.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Lupe Reyes

I like the way the Christmas season in Mexico lasts from mid-December until early January — some might say even until Feb. 2. Almost every day there is some form of celebration and foreigners are almost always welcome to participate.

This festive season was key for early Christian missionaries in their evangelizing efforts. After all, who doesn’t like a fiesta? From the beginning, the Franciscans in particular invited indigenous people to take part in ever-expanding festivities.

It may have been a way of getting people into the churches, but I’m not sure it worked out quite the way the padres intended. Many of these festivities have been enriched by the syncretism with pre-Hispanic indigenous festivals.

Today, the events surrounding this season are so much a part of Mexico’s cultural life that many Mexicans, Catholic or not, would have difficulty explaining their religious significance.

When the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to Juan Diego as a bronze-skinned, pregnant, beautiful woman, it was easy for her to meld into the beloved Tonantzin, the Aztec goddess of fertility, in indigenous peoples’ minds. Millions accepted conversion.

Mexicans commonly refer to the period between Our Lady of Guadalupe’s Day (Lupe) on Dec. 12, and Epiphany, Three Kings Day (Reyes), on Jan. 6, as Lupe Reyes, as if it is a person’s name.
Bracketed by these two major dates are Posadas, Pastorelas, piñatas, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, Day of the Holy Innocents, New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. The Christmas season culminates with Candlemass Day, Feb. 2. Each of these has its own rituals and associated foods. Mexico doesn’t skimp on fiestas.

Roses have already doubled in price as we prepare for the Virgin of Guadalupe’s Day. No other flower will do for the family shrine dedicated to her. Throughout Mexico children dress as indigenous young Juan Diegos and Marias. Rockets (cohetes) may already be going off in your neighborhood. On the night of Dec. 11, neither dogs nor humans will be able to sleep through the night. In the early dawn, the faithful will sing Las Mañanitas to the Virgin and attend Mass before sharing pozole and tamales.

If there is one ubiquitous food throughout this season, it is the lowly tamale. For these six weeks it is in its glory. If you don’t make tamales in your own home, you’ll want to order early from your favorite tamale vendor.

Posadas begin Dec. 16 and continue until Dec. 24. No self-respecting pueblo in Mexico is without a community posada. At dusk,
children and families assemble and walk through the neighborhood seeking shelter (a posada or inn) for Mary and Joseph — usually represented by carved or plaster representations. At various homes the community sings asking for room in the inn
They’re refused until they reach the designated home for the night. Usually there will be liberally filled piñatas for the children and atole, ponche, and pan dulce for all.

The piñata is also part of Christmas in Mexico. Magnificent piñatas are everywhere and you may have already made your pick. Acolman, near Teotihuacan, claims to be where the piñata originated. Legend has it the seven-pointed piñata represents the seven cardinal sins; participants beat the piñata thus defeating evil.

The Pastorela is perhaps the most complicated Mexican Christmas tradition. There is debate as to whether these plays began with the Franciscans in Acolman or in Cuernavaca. Either way Pastorelas are ubiquitous. They can be highly complex or very simple plays designed to tell the story of the Nativity, though they often stray far from the simple facts.

Regardless of how they are written, and whatever their style of costume, the lesson will inevitably be that good always wins. The most elaborate Pastorela I know of is presented for nine nights each year at Tepotzotlan, State of Mexico. Tickets, which include a sit-down dinner in the elegant museum restaurant, always sell out but are still available through Ticketmaster.

Some of the traditional Christmas dishes of Mexico are pavo (turkey), bacalao (cod), and Chiles en Nogada. Poinsettias, which by the way are native to Mexico, have been hybridized and are available in a rainbow of colors.

Roscas are making an early appearance. This special ring of sweet bread is traditionally served on Jan. 6, and you’ll find the baby Jesus or, if you’re lucky, perhaps even the whole Nativity cast hidden within it.

To open the season Cuernavaca has an additional event this year. Maestra Andrea Carr will lead her wonderful Deo Gracias Chorus in “Despertad, la Voz Nos Llama” (“Awaken, the Voice Calls Us”). The concert featuring fine soloists will be offered Friday, Dec. 11, at 7 p.m. at Museo de la Ciudad and Saturday, Dec. 12, at 8 p.m., at Parroquia Maria Madre de la Misericordia Church. More information can be found at www.facebook.com/deograciascuernavaca.

Holiday travelers take note. The long-awaited, innovative new border-crossing pedestrian bridge at Tijuana’s airport opens tomorrow, Dec. 9. Charlie’s Digs collaborator Carol Hopkins will be among the first travelers across and will share her experience next week. For those of you seeking low-cost, time- saving, travel to the United States this is certain to become a preferred gateway.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Symbols of the Presidency

Three years ago today Enrique Peña Nieto was sworn in as president of Mexico. In photos of that event, many of which will be re-printed today, he’ll be shown with the presidential sash (banda presidencial) worn over his suit coat.

Law dictates that the sash is green, white and red and has the national seal embroidered on it. It also defines how the president wears the sash — over his right shoulder, with the red on top.

It is to be worn under his suit coat unless it’s his first or last day in office — on those days he shares it with his predecessor or successor. Transfer of power is symbolically represented by the outgoing president handing the sash to his successor.

Though Mexico’s president may wear the sash at his discretion, there are days on which law specifies he must wear it. He wears it when giving the president’s annual report to Congress, he wears it on the night of the 15th of September when presiding over the commemoration of the Grito de Dolores (the Shout of Independence), and he must wear it when he receives letters of credence from foreign ambassadors.

The sash is one of two political emblems in Mexico that are synonymous to the presidency. The other is a chair.

The President’s high backed armchair is probably the grandest chair in Mexico. Referred to as La Silla Presidencial (The Presidential Chair), it has the eagle from the shield of Mexico at the top of its arched backrest.

The official photograph of President Peña Nieto that hangs in all federal government offices shows him sitting in the Presidential Chair wearing the sash.

The most famous photograph of the chair is probably one taken when it was occupied during the Revolution, fleetingly, by one who was never president — Pancho Villa. Emiliano Zapata sits beside him in a much simpler chair.

Photography historian John Mraz refers to this photograph as one of three iconic photos of the Mexican Revolution. Another is the full-figure portrait of Emiliano Zapata, leader of the Liberating Army of the South, wearing what appears to be a presidential sash – but isn’t.

The third iconic photo of the Revolution has neither a sash nor a chair. It’s an unposed and stunning photo of a woman leaning out of a train car with a rifle over her shoulder.

In 1914, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata converged on Mexico City with their respective armies. They occupied the National Palace and posed for a photo with their officers. There was only one Presidential Chair but two leaders of two armies — Villa’s División del Norte and Zapata’s, Ejercito Libertador del Sur.

The oft-repeated story is that Villa offered Zapata the Presidential Chair. Zapata refused saying he didn’t want to sit in the chair so recently vacated by Porfirio Diaz. “It’s too tainted by corruption.”
Not only did Zapata refuse to sit in the Presidential Chair but he is reputed to have said he did not aspire to the presidency. Yet, his bestknown photographic portrait — a black and white photograph taken in 1911 — shows a dapper Zapata dressed as a charro, wearing a five-striped sash draped over his left shoulder. Diego Rivera copied from that photo when he portrayed Zapata in his murals in Cuernavaca’s Cortez Palace.

However, Rivera added color. He gave the photographed five-striped sash the presidential colors. He painted Zapata’s sash with red stripes at the top and bottom, a green stripe in the middle and white stripes between. The presidential sash has only three stripes.

From John Mraz, I learned Zapata was actually wearing a state of Morelos sash. By wearing it, Zapata was indicating he was the authority in the state with the right to appoint government officials.
The sash is no longer used in Morelos and I haven’t been able to determine what colors were on it, but even if they were the same as the national green, white, and red, when Zapata wore them they were state colors — hence it was not a presidential sash.

According to Mraz, the sash is the one worn by Revolutionary General Manuel D. Asúnsulo when he, with Emiliano Zapata at his side, peacefully entered and occupied Cuernavaca in 1911. After General Asunsolo’s death Zapata assumed the sash.

Though General Asúnsulo was photographed with the sash over his right shoulder, Zapata wears it over his left shoulder in his famous portrait.

Did Zapata not think that was a matter of importance? Or did he put on the sash while looking at himself in a mirror thinking he was wearing it just as General Asúnsulo had? Or is the photograph reversed left to right?

I like tradition. Today would be a good day for President Peña Nieto to wear the sash – on the third anniversary of his inauguration. Under his suit coat, of course.