Guitars as Works of Art

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text by Fernando Daniel Martínez
photos by Infobaja staff

In a workshop in the Colonia 20 de Noviembre neighborhood of Tijuana filled with Canadian and German spruces, Indian rosewood, Honduran cedar, African ebony, and other rare woods, masterpieces renowned as some of the finest classical guitars in Mexico are being made. They carry the name of Fructuoso Zalapa.

Zalapa comes from four generations of luthiers in Paracho, Michoacán. He has spent his life building guitars that are now commissioned by professional guitarists who demand the unique acoustical properties and fine craftsmanship that his work is known for.

After his life took him down several paths – among which he studied to be a classical guitarist and a teacher – he settled four years ago in Tijuana because this city allows him to build outstanding guitars thanks to the select woods available across the border. “For this work,” Zalapa comments, “excellent materials are essential even though they cost ten times more than ordinary materials.”

During an interview with Infobaja magazine, this maker of fine instruments and characteristic acoustics talked about his craft, with which he has achieved international fame.

Tijuana 1950 as described by Fernando Jordán

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Fernando Jordán Juárez (1920–1956) was trained as an anthropologist and worked as a journalist. In 1949, the magazine Impacto asked him to write a series of articles on the entire Baja California peninsula. That work was later collected into two books, still in print today and well worth reading.

Jordán was captivated by the anthropology, sociology, and history that he found throughout the peninsula but, when he got to Tijuana, the culture of tourism then present caught him off-guard. His horrified reaction, copied and caricatured by generations of chilangos since, is reflected in El otro México: Biografía de Baja California, in which the chapter on our fair city is entitled “This is going to annoy some Tijuanans”.

 “While noisy, Avenida Revolución has always seemed to me to be childish. It is unpleasant but not sordid” he wrote. “The Americans are simple-minded and very clean even when drunken. At daybreak they end their binges by cheering and by taking photos of themselves on little mobile stages of ‘Mexican’ scenes drawn by white burros painted with black stripes – ‘Mexican burros’ (!) – found at every street corner. The sailors climb onto these stages and arrange themselves among the cardboard cactuses, exchanging their sailor caps for charro sombreros, and smile for the photographer. The burros are impassive, enduring all manner of abuse: they are the philosophers of the carnival.”

In that same annoying chapter, Jordán has left us an early poetical approximation of our special form of bilingualism, which he addressed to his Spanish-speaking readership. To show that modern-day Tijuana holds him no rencor, we would honor his memory with a side-by-side semitranslation to accommodate our English-speaking readership.

Tijuana cardiologist honored for innovative stem-cell therapy

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Dr Juan José Parcero Valdés 

by Moisés Márquez

An eighty-year-old woman from the United States was able to keep her leg thanks to a team of doctors from the Tijuana Institute for Regenerative Medicine who successfully introduced stem cells into an incurable lesion left by radiation therapy.

The patient was treated last year at Hospital Ángeles Tijuana as part of a stem-cell study begun in 2010. Dr Juan José Parcero Valdés, a local cardiologist and the primary investigator of that study, was honored by the National Cardiology Association of Mexico for his work on that case. The CADECI Nacional award, presented to Parcero on 24 February 2012 at the association’s annual convention in Guadalajara, recognizes the country’s best research.

Stem cells are unspecialized cells of the body that change into the specialized cells of various tissues. They can be implanted into different parts of the body and onto damaged or sick tissues, transforming themselves into that type of tissue and functioning as such.

History of the Cervecería de Mexicali

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This company was founded in 1924 and has installed its factory and cellars in a large, attractive building made of wood faced with American cement, which gives it an appearance exactly like granite.

The latest advances in industrial chemistry and sterilzation have been incorporated into the manufacturing process of this beer, the raw materials of which are barley malt from the United States, hops from Bohemia, and rice from Mexico.

On the fourth floor of the brewery is a Columbia mill that crushes the rice and sends it to a blender. On the same floor is a machine that separates the chaff from the malted barley. The rice and barley grists are turned into a cauldron in which they are cooked briefly before being sent to another cauldron where they get a more thorough cooking; this mixture receives the hops, which are first cleaned by a Muller Improved machine. From the second cauldron the cooking is continued in a third, after which the liquid passes through a copper sieve in order to remove the suspended solids. Then the wort is pumped into a cooler also on the fourth [scil., third] floor. There the wort's temperature is lowered so that it can be sent to the fermentation tanks. The beer doesn't leave these tanks until it's been matured for four months.

Baja's Visitor Assistance Hotline

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The state of Baja California comes up with some unusual ways to help its tourists. Toward the end of the twentieth century, it posted bilingual attorneys in the tourist areas to resolve visitors' problems free of charge. In this century it has made use of advances in telephony to give its visitors access to government officials around the clock.

SecTurE, the State Secretariat of Tourism, maintains a line within the three-digit Special Services network of the Mexican telephone system. By dialing 078 from anywhere in the state of Baja California, help in English is available day or night. Any phone will do - a public phone, a private phone, even a cell phone from another country (so long as the subscriber has automatic roaming).

Additionally, whenever the operators of the emergency system receive a call in English, they'll transfer it to 078. This works equally for those who call the U.S. emergency number (911) while in Baja California or the European emergency number (112) or the Mexican emergency number (066). All phones in Mexico allow free access to 066.

The hotline offers reasonable assistance to visitors who need help with such things as directions, language, or cultural differences.

Reclaimed Recipes: Xocoatole

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The Popul Vuh teaches that humans, the gods' creation of the current Long Count cycle, were made from maize. (The creation of the previous great cycle, which was made of wood, spoke without understanding and so was condemned to spend this great cycle as monkeys.) We continue to acknowledge our origin by sustaining ourselves on tortillas, tamales, and atole even to this day, as our own Long Count comes to a close and we ponder our fate.
The historical role of atole as the agua de uso - the liquid taken throughout the day to slake thirst - has been declining as quickly as our farmland, while plastic bottles of brand-named reverse-osmosis city water have taken its place. Too plebeian for the fancy restaurants and too filling for the mainstream ones, atole now tends to be served primarily by aunts and grandmothers in remembrance of their rural childhoods. It is passing into a cultural symbol enshrined by clichés... If you're más viejo que el atole, you are even older than the hills. If you have atole en las venas, you're more unflappable than if you had ice-water in your veins. If you are dando atole con el dedo (serving atole with your finger), you are telling someone a story bit by bit, a sure sign of deceit.

Atole is made principally by boiling masa and water to the consistency of a thin porridge. By tradition it has been drunk instead of plain water, hot or cold, from calabashes throughout the day. It's now served in mugs as a comfort food and is most particularly trotted out for the festivities of First Communion, Christmastide (12 December to 6 January), and Candelaria (2 February). Variations include the addition of plum in Morelos and Guerrero, pineapple or coconut in Veracruz, cacao pod in Uruapan, blackberry in Michoacán; throughout the country strawberry, guava, nance, prune, walnut, capulín (Prunus serotina var. virens), almond, pumpkin, or tamarind might be added. The original recipes involve a lot of time and effort, so modern food science has made the more common atoles available in the instant-drink aisle of every Mexican supermarket. (There's a good chance, however, that people who hold to the powdered stuff will spend the next Long Count as Republicans.)

How to choose a dentist in Baja California

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rana de la Bajaf

You might be disappointed. Our advice is going to be pretty much the same as that for choosing a dentist in Outer Mongolia. On the bright side, our dentists are more plentiful and better trained than what you might encounter in Outer Mongolia.

The first step in both places is to overcome the cultural discomfort of traveling for professional services beyond one’s neighborhood. “What if I pick a bad dentist?” is the greatest fear when you’re in a different town. Well, relax. Bad is very rare these days because of all the quality controls in place. The worst we’ve heard of so far has been an average dentist who charged like he was the best.

After that, we recommend you research your options thoughtfully, whittle your candidates down to a short list of four to six dentists, interview them, and make your decision based on who made the most sense to you.

“My dentist in Los Angeles thought he was a Mercedes mechanic” writes one of our correspondents. “I left him fifteen years ago and have been going to a dentist in Tijuana ever since. Now I’m not afraid to sit in the chair and, even better, my teeth stay fixed.”

Our correspondent is not alone. Because the dentistry in Mexico is of world-class quality while also being relatively inexpensive, you’ll find concentrations of dentists along the border from Tijuana all the way to Matamoros. The Asociación Dental Mexicana counts more than five thousand members in the central part of Tijuana alone.

The ADM didn’t count the many dentists who are not members. Nor does that number include the thousands of ADM members in Tijuana who practice outside of downtown and the Zona Río. It does not include any of the hundreds of ADM dentists in Ensenada, Rosarito or Los Algodones, nor the large numbers in Mexicali and Tecate. Dentistry along this border is very serious business and has been so for some while now.