Thursday, April 17, 2014

The Great Gabby

Gabriel García Márquez, the Mexico City-based Colombian writer who is essentially the Gabriel García Márquez of Mexico, died today, just one day before Jesus Christ himself.  Sadly, this means he will not live to see us finish One Hundred Years of Solitude.  We've always held him responsible for our multiple failed attempts to complete the book - which is perhaps unfair, except for the fact that he wrote the thing in the first place so, y'know.

The eulogizing will go on for several days here, and while we don't question the sincerity of the nation's love for the man, we don't for a second believe more than a tiny fraction of the populace have actually read him.  (We say the same about the Irish and Ulysses, by the way.)  So in tribute to Gabo, here's an encore presentation of a 2007 post on the reading (or, more accurately, non-reading) habits of the Queretanos.

It could be a while before some sort of cafe society takes root here in Querétaro, at least judging by the statistics buried in the appendices of the president's state of the union address.

While literacy in these parts is over 95%, it seems that people really just can't be bothered with it. According to government statistics, people in the central-western region of the country (that's us!) read just 2.3 books per year on average, the lowest in the nation. (The dilettantes down in Mexico City plow thorough an average of 5.5 a year.)

These numbers are averages, and the whole thing is probably stacked against queretanos since it doesn't count pornographic comics as "books." Drilling down a bit, we find that 51.3 percent of queretanos claim to read books - which means an astonishing 48.7 percent are perfectly comfortable telling another adult, "Books? Ha! Never read 'em!" (Of these, 31 percent do acknowledge having read a book at some point - so that's good, right? Only 36 percent of queretano adults have never read a book in their entire lives.) This probably helps explain why the Querétaro Public Library has just 60,000 volumes - about two-thirds the size of the one in Swampscott (population 14,000).

And what are Mexicans reading? Well, our mediocre local paper, a.m., breaks it down for us. For Mexican readers over the age of 55, their favorite book is (Wait, wait! Let us it the Bible?) the Bible! In the 46-55 age group, the top choice is One Hundred Years of Solitude. Among the 18-30 set, it's a three-way tie between The Da Vinci Code, The Little Prince ("Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought Jonathan Livingston Seagull!"), and something called A Desperate Cry, which we'd never heard of, but is listed under both "juvenile" and "spirituality" on Amazon, so it makes sense. The Harry Potter books, collectively, top the list for teens. People between the ages of 31 and 45 apparently don't read anything.

By the way, we're calling bullshit on the 46-55 year-olds.  We tried twice to finish One Hundred Years of Solitude and failed both times - which is hardly a scientific sampling, but still leaves us highly skeptical to see the least-bookish region of the country rank it as their favorite - in between Little Prince and the Bible. This afternoon we plan to stop a dozen random 46-55 year-olds on the street, and will hand our car keys to the first one who can accurately summarize the plot.

2014 Update: No one won the car.

Monday, April 07, 2014


Even though the head of our audio/visual division has been working more or less full time for American PBS, we were unaware that the PBS Newshour sent veteran war correspondent Martin Fletcher to report from the hot zone a few hundred yards from Burro Hall Enterprises World HQ.

We've been accused of pro-Mexican hagiography in the past, but even we find this one exceptionally sunny. (Suffice it to say that, while we don't get a lot of offers to fly on LearJets, we'd probably turn one down as long as the wings are being built in this town.)

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Meanwhile, Back in Querétaro...

From Twitter user @titox_x_ this afternoon.

Mex In the City XXXI

42nd & Eighth

Tuesday, April 01, 2014


We've expended a lot of pixels over the years defending Mexico against the charge that it's the Most Dangerous Place In The World for spring breakers and exchange students - and that's still the case. Still, we kind of laughed out loud when we picked up the papers and saw that Kike Plancarte, leader of the super-crazy Knights Templar drug gang, had been gunned down by the military in the streets of Colón, Querétaro.  Though the lesson here for any American student would be, "try not to take the helm of a super-crazy drug cartel while studying in Mexico, because you may be gunned down by Marines," we'd still hate to be the guy at the Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, who has to explain why the school just broke ground on a multi-million dollar campus in a town where super-crazy drug cartel leaders are being gunned down by the Mexican military.

Recently, we made fun of an ASU student for saying that the school - located in sleepy Colón, not dynamic (okay, less-sleepy) Querétaro - "will be smack dab in the middle of an amazing and exciting city."  Clearly, the experience of spending ones college years in Colón has the potential to be a lot more exciting than we were willing to believe.

Burro Hall regrets the error.  

Sunday, March 30, 2014

El Quinceañero

On any given day, at any given hour, the perro (seen here on a random day in January 2014), can be found sprawled out on the sofa of a house in the historic Centro of Santiago de Querétaro, Mexico.

And you may ask yourself, "well, how did I get here?"

This was by no means inevitable.

More than a decade and a half ago, in Kennebunkport, Maine, Ch. Ritter's Northern Traveler, a four-year-old show pug - a champion, like both his parents before him, and all four of his grandparents before them - got himself into a bit of trouble with a four-year-old bitch-in-heat named Harley Davidson Cooper. Harley Davidson came from a long line of non-champions (colloquially known as 'losers'), and we can only imagine how tense the shotgun wedding must have been, as the groom's mother, Ch. Ritter's Country Place, forced herself to make small talk with the bride's golddigging dam, China Doll.  Or the moment when the sire of the groom, Ch. Ritter's Busy Beaver - who likely spent the hours before the wedding in the office of his attorney, sheltering assets - first met the brides grandparents (we swear to God we're not making these names up), Bonnie & Clyde.  We can assume with some certainty that the ceremony was brief and the reception was open bar.

Weeks (or, more likely, days) later, on March 30, 1999, a puppy was born: Apple Valley's Northern Star.  With his paternal championship bloodline diluted and/or polluted by his maternal legacy of grifters, con-men and fornicators, Northern Star was never going to be show dog material.  But if he couldn't succeed in his father's line of work, well, there was always his mother's. And so he began the life of a breeding stud, which meant his only responsibilities in the world would be eating and fucking.

Amazingly (though, in retrospect, after watching him piss on his own feet for a number of years, not that amazingly), he managed to screw it up, and by the summer of 2000, Apple Valley's Northern Star had a "for sale" sticker on his head, and his fancy four-word moniker had been replaced on his pedigree papers with a hastily handwritten "HENRY." The loser spawn of a drunken union of nobility and criminals could be had for just $600, travel crate not included. Castration $100 extra. Cash only. Some housebreaking required.

Around that time, we were in the market for a canine sidekick, and decided pugs looked pretty cool. (We hadn't actually met one, but there was a tv commercial for [we think] Moviefone that featured one, and always made us laugh.) This was back in the pre-internet days, but we asked a friend who knew someone who knew someone who knew of this place in Maine, and we dutifully dispatched our own mother to drive up from Boston and do the deal.

And that's how we came to have our best friend.

In October 2000 we moved him to Brooklyn and changed his name from Henry to Jesús, which we chose just because we thought it was as funny as he was. Six years later, we decided "hey, let's move to a country where many people, including God, actually are named Jesús!" and so changed his now less-funny name briefly back to Henry, which then became Enrique, until we decided to rent a house from a man named Enrique and so we changed it once again to "Chucho," the diminutive form of Jesús. But whatever the hell you call him, today is his quinceañero. We celebrated last week with a gala, catered cocktail party on the roof of Burro Hall Headquarters.  This being Mexico, there were of course fireworks.

The earliest draft of this essay had here a long meditation about getting old, falling apart, and slouching towards the afterlife - all things that are impossible to ignore when our most precious amigo is the human equivalent of 105;  impossible to ignore when our own septuagenarian parents are racking up the health problems once exclusive to our grandparents; impossible to ignore when we look back at the list of his canine friends - JD, Lucky, Porfirio, Gala, Nellie, Tony, Candy - who are no longer with us; when he wakes us up at 3AM because he's feeble enough to have crapped his bed, but still sensible enough to be upset about it; or when we find ourselves reluctant to take a job in New York because we don't think he could handle the move back to the land of icy winters.  We told everyone we were using his quinceañero as just a silly excuse to throw a cocktail party, but mostly we went over the top because, really, who knows if there'll be a 16th?

But upon rereading, we deleted those paragraphs and fired the intern who wrote them. Animals don't contemplate their own mortality, so why should we?  The perro has lain waste to the actuarial tables - who's to say he won't outlive us all?  Here's a reason to believe it: To get from the sofa to his food bowl, the ol' man's got to climb a single step - not much of a challenge, but it's almost as high as he is tall, and with an age-induced condition called degenerative myelopathy gradually weakening his hind legs, this tiny tope is, for the perro, like crossing the Himalayas.

But holy shit, does he ever love to eat! So the little geriatric fucker claws his way up with all his might, carving deep scratches in the stone every time he hears the sound of overpriced dog food clanking into a cheap plastic dish. Future archeologists will excavate the ruins of Burro Hall and wonder if this was some kind of altar for ritual sacrifices. No, future archeologists - it's just a monument to the overachieving perro's grit, determination, and lust for life. Apple Valley's Northern Star is, after all, descended from a long line of champions.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Mex In The City XXX

Manhattan-bound 2 Train, 8:38AM

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Tulum Scrapbook

During our recent corporate retreat, we took some time to visit the ancient Mayan walled city of Tulum! A treasury of precious memories:

After drinking in so much touristical beauty, there was really no need to bother with Chichen Itza.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Kill The Head And The Body Will Die

We've been shut down for a couple of weeks because of a massive denial-of-service attack on our servers. By which we mean we attached our Apple iPad to an Apple USB connector and plugged it into our Apple MacBook (which also doubles as the Burro Hall mainframe), at which point the MacBook died an instant, presumably painless death, because Apple products are engineered to crap out in less time than Steve Jobs's pancreas. This happened while we were at the annual Burro Hall investors' conference in Playa del Carmen. Apparently, "all-inclusive" does not include on-site MacBook repair. 

So here's a big BH shout-out to QRO's one and only authorized Mac service center: Multitask Corp. The fact that they call their emergency service desk the "smart bar," rather than the "genius bar" made us lower our expectations in the usual Mexican way, but they fixed it in the most ingenious way possible: by plugging it in and turning it on. Worked just perfectly. They even held onto it for a day and ran every conceivable diagnostic test, only to conclude there was nothing wrong with it.

In other words, Burro Hall has been on psychosomatic sick leave for the past two weeks. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Mexico Grabs White Cocks

No, seriously:

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico's government will take control of first division soccer club Gallos Blancos de Querétaro, whose owner is the chief executive of a company at the center of a money-laundering probe involving Citigroup's Mexican subsidiary, a high-ranking government official said on Tuesday.

Mexican authorities are investigating oil services company Oceanografia after Citigroup said on Friday it had discovered at least $400 million in fraudulent loans at its Mexican subsidiary, Banamex.

Banamex made the loans to Oceanografia on the basis of payments due for services provided to Mexican state-owned oil company Pemex. The Mexican government has said it is investigating Oceanografia for money laundering.

The chief executive of Oceanografia is the owner of the Gallos Blancos.

More detailed backstory on the Oceanografia scandal here. Good times.

Friday, March 07, 2014

And Now For Some Good News...

From Burro Hall Special North-East Centro Correspondent Don Alberto:
Hey, here's a small miracle, Max was returned. I've no idea if Burro Hall's publicity had anything to do with it (and let's not flatter yourselves, readership has been down since your Guadalajara and Tijuana offices folded), but it's a lost-dog-in-Mexico story that ended well, so thanks for the assistance in any case!
Nice job, people.

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Mexico: Land of Miracles

We've relocated to the Yucatán for a few days to deal with some labor issues in the Merida Office - collectively bargain this, pendejos - and were pleased to see the local delegation welcoming us in true Burro Hall style: with a world record-breaking platter of octopus in its own ink.

This being a Mexican newspaper, the coverage has holes big enough for a giant squid to swim through - for instance, we have no idea who, if anyone, held the previous record for World's Largest Plate of Octopus In Its Own Ink - but on Sunday the good people of the Yucatán, include its governor, whipped up a ton and a half of it. We still don't get how these records work. If we got 200 people together and had each of them cook 20 pounds of octopus in its own ink, and collected it all in a big pile, would we break the record? Anyway, the head of the octopus fishing union here says that, with this record "the eyes of the world are on the Yucatán," which is both funny and sad at the same time, which is why it's the perfect Burro hall welcome.

(For what its worth, we do understand that these stupid records are a way of promoting the region's industry; Yucatán also holds the record for the World's Largest Plate of Conchnita Pibil. What puzzles us is how these records are in any way legit, and why Guinness bothers to send actual observers to certify these things.)

The Saga o' the Plate o' Cephalopod story was on pages 1,2 and 3 of the local paper. On page 71, we learn that "Alfonso Cuarón Wins Academy Award." Just a glimpse into local priorites.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Don't Know Much About Geography

In addition to being the most dynamic economy in all of Mexico (according to the propaganda ministry), and the nation's aerospace (assembly) capital, the QRO is movin' up in the world of education, having landed the much-coveted right to call itself the home of the first Mexican campus of Arkansas State University at Jonesboro!

Okay, okay, you can laugh - we did, too.  The "Harvard of the Ozarks" jokes are really the low-hanging fruit, but that didn't stop us (even though our alma mater, Boston College, isn't even the Harvard of Boston - thanks, actual Harvard).  And the fact that the new school will be known as ASUQ - presumably pronounced "A-SUCK," well, we just can't make up stuff that amusing on our own.

But while it's fun to imagine the Querétaro government getting duped into thinking ASU-Jonesboro is one of America's finest institutions of higher learning, this article about the ASUCK groundbreaking in the ASU Herald leads us to believe the Red Wolves may be the ones who got their pockets picked in this deal.  Specifically:

The campus will cater to local and foreign students, and feature classes taught in English by Arkansas State University-approved faculty members. Querétaro’s cosmopolitan location and thriving outlying community makes it ideal for a multi-national university.

“The campus will actually be located just outside of Querétaro, and has smaller towns on the other side of it so once it is built, the cities will basically grow towards it. Eventually the university will be smack dab in the middle of an amazing and exciting city,” [ASU student Stephanie] Overby said. “There is so much growth and opportunity there that it is the absolute perfect location for our new campus.”

Okay, listen up, amigos:  the ASUQ campus is being built on 2000 acres of land outside the city of Colón, a good 40-50km from Querétaro - an area also known as "way the fuck out there on the other side of the airport."

Class, please open up your geography books to page 53.

That big white splotch on the lower left is Querétaro - not just the cute little Centro, but the entire million-person sprawl, from El Pueblito to Santa Rosa Jáuregui.  That little dot in the upper right? That's Colón.  We've never been there.  We're sure it's nice.  But it's only "an amazing and exciting city" if your point of reference is Jonesboro, Arkansas.

But not to worry!  The plan, as was explained to the visiting delegation from ASU, is that sometime shortly after the campus opens in 2015, Querétaro - already one of Mexico's fastest-growing cities - will increase in size approximately tenfold, sprawling across 50 kilometers of mountainous semidesert, and "eventually" surround the ASUCK campus with its exciting amazingness.  Needless to say, we expect the local:foreign student body ratio to be about 99:1 by 2016.

Still, anytime Americans and Mexicans can get together and learn about each other's countries, that a good thing, in keeping with this blog's stated mission.  Hopefully, the cultural exchange will go both ways, and perhaps a few years from now, no Mexican paper will ever run an article about ASU...

...illustrated with a photo of Little Rock Central High School. And hopefully the first foreign students to enter ASUQ will get a better reception than a certain group of outsiders got at Central High back in 1957.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

What A Fool Believes

Remember about a year ago, when President Obama made a passing reference to Querétaro in a speech, and the whole state starting squealing like Beatles fans inside Ed Sullivan's studio? We made cruel fun of that, of course! And then that other time a few months before that, when the New York Times said some nice things about the town, and it became front page news here, despite the fact that we're well outside the Times's home delivery area? We made fun of that, too. We can't help ourselves.

So of course, right on time (well, right on Mexican time - meaning a mere 8-14 months later), the Government of Querétaro has produced a slick, English-language ad featuring those two earth-shaking events and a half dozen other favorable mentions of the state (half of them from Mexican media). And while probably much of it is even true, the absurdities, frustrations and tragi-comic examples of civic and municipal ineptitude (amply documented by this blog going back almost 8 years) have all been miraculously erased.  (And, through the miracle of what we assume is Photoshop, a black guy has been added! [Not Obama - though his botching of the word "Querétaro" was smoothed over. The other black guy, who supposedly lives in this town.])

Our favorite little moment of accidentally-poignant honesty is when the ad brags that someday Querétaro plans to be the first state in Mexico with electricity, running water and non-dirt floors for all its inhabitants.  We're sure the details of that plan will be filled in later.

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Vanity Fare

We're sure a lot of smarter people than us will be reporting the details of El Chapo's arrest in the coming days, but here's something that probably didn't help him. Check out this photo from the perp walk earlier today:

Lookin' good for a 60-year-old fugitive who's been on the run for a dozen years!  Clearly, like  many drug lords on the lam, Chapo's had a little plastic surgery.  But here's the thing - most narcos who go under the knife do it in order to change their appearance! Chapo, however, appears to have told the. "Make me look 20 years younger. Dye my hair the way it used to look. Make me look exactly like the old photo they use on my Wanted posters."

Kudos to the plastic surgeon for pulling it off under what must have been extraordinarily stressful conditions.

Got Shorty

Pro Tip: If you're the one of the Most Wanted men in the whole world, always - always - wear a shirt.