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Sundance Film Festival 2009 — Top 10 Moments

January 25th, 2009 · No Comments

This is my fourth Sundance Film Festival, and Dan’s third. However, this is the first year we came for the entire 10 days of the festival. It was an incredible time. Our friends came for the long Martin Luther King Day weekend and my family came for the second half to celebrate my mom’s big birthday. It’s still my favorite vacation by far, where else can you find such a great combination of world-class skiing, independent film, top-notch restaurants, celebrity spotting, bar hopping, and just hanging out with friends/family in the hot tub after a long day?!

Below are my top 10 Sundance 2009 moments!

Kimberly

For photos of friends, films, and lots of celebrities, click here.

Sundance Film Festival 2009

Kimberly and Dan’s Sundance Film Festival 2009 Top 10

1. Dan almost blinding Robin Williams with our flash, as he couldn’t figure out how to get the camera to take the picture in low light while Robin and I were hugging

2. Seeing Bobcat Goldthwait cry because he was so touched by the audience’s reaction to the premiere of his film, World’s Greatest Dad

3. Having a “moment” with Kevin Spacey (in an auditorium with 1200 other people) when I asked him a question at the premiere of his film Shrink and he responded to me with full eye-contact

4. Feeling Lee Daniels’ excitement at the “white people embracing” his film Precious (originally named Push) at the award screening for it winning the Grand Jury Prize of the festival

5. Watching Jimmy Page, The Edge, and Jack White jam in the documentary, It Might Get Loud

6. Meeting one of the lead prosecutors of the International Criminal Court at a screening of the documentary The Reckoning

7. Bringing Zookie into the Filmmaker Lodge, where industry folks network and talk shop. We were hoping he’d get “noticed” – but not this year.

8. Wearing our Festival Passes around town and feeling important, although we could never come up with a good answer for, “Who are you here with?” Next year, I’m saying, “I’m with a small film called Little White Monster

9. Being approached on Main Street by a legitimate lead actor who thought I was someone I clearly was not…and then being introduced to his film’s producer and chatting for a few minutes

10. Sharing the experience with 20 “Sundance Virgins” – our friends and family are hooked!

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Mexico City: Month Two

August 30th, 2008 · 1 Comment

We are having a great time here in Mexico City! Read below for an attempt to crystallize why. And, many of you have been asking for photos of our neighborhood and apartment, so check out the link attached!

Kimberly

For photos, click here.

From Mexico City — our neighborhood

Month two in Mexico City, and we still love it!

It’s quite surprising how easy it is to live here. I’m being quite serious when I say that our experience has been more positive here than in Paris. Shocking, I know! But we’ve decided it’s driven by a few things: cost, social network, convenience, and hospitality.

It goes without saying that Paris was ridiculously expensive, and Mexico City is quite affordable. Not to say that things are super cheap here (other than taxis, which are!) – but compared to Paris or San Francisco, it’s quite affordable. Going out to eat at the nicest restaurants in the city will cost $80-100 a couple – and I’m talking about top noch places (the former chef of Everest in Chicago opened a great place here called Pujol, which has to be half the price)!

When we lived in Paris, we didn’t have any friends. It was just the three of us (including Zookie, of course!), which was great, but did get lonely. It has been wonderful to have a social network here in Mexico City. Obviously I know a lot of people from Bain – and it certainly helps that there are three other American expats down here working on this project with me: Phil, Matthew, and Ravi. We go out to dinner at least two nights a week with my colleagues and spend time with them on weekends too. Phil and Matthew brought their families down here – even their kids! And Matthew and his wife, Erin, brought their dog, Gunther – so Zookie even has friends here! But, even outside Bain, we have other friends who live here or who we have been introduced to – Max (from Stanford GSB), Julia (a friend of the Schnitzer cousins), and others. While Dan and I love spending time together – we learned in Paris that we get lonely when we don’t have other friends around.

When we lived in Paris, we were really surprised by how difficult it was to get simple things done – stores closed on random days of the week, you had to go to all the specialty stores just to get household items (drugs sold only in pharmacies, birthday cards in papeleries, etc.), even getting our mail was a hassle! Well, in Mexico, we have been shocked by how easy everyday life is! Dan called the other day to ask if the pet store had a 5 pound bag of Zookie’s dog food in stock; they offered to deliver it and arrived in 15 minutes!! A friend of mine recommended a manicurist who will come to our apartment before or after I go to work and give me a mani/pedi – for only $25 USD!

Best of all, they have Costco! I LOVE Costco – and Costco here is just like Costco in the U.S., but better! They have all the same things: bagels, pita chips, chocolate chip cookies, cashmere sweaters) ….and more! Mini cinnamon donuts, arrachera, Chihuahua cheese – and the prepared food section is amazing: empanadas, paella, crepes con cajeta (caramel)… And the best part is that Costco is open every day until 9pm – even Sunday! (compare that to Paris, where everything is closed on Sunday…)

[Yes, I did just dedicate a whole paragraph to my love of Costco – my mom will be so proud!]

Lastly, Mexicans are some of the friendliest, most welcoming people we have met in all our travels. Typically, people are not especially friendly in large cities – so we didn’t expect much in Mexico City. We have been completely surprised! Whereas we never knew our neighbors before (in Chicago, San Francisco, or Paris) – here we talk with most of them. (This is partly due to an incident involving Dan getting locked out of the apartment with Zookie and our friend’s dog, Gunther running around the building…but that’s another story for another blog. ) When we lived in Paris, we always waited for people to ask where we were from, why we were there – but no one cared. Here, in Mexico, everyone is very curious about our story and eager to talk with us. And, surprisingly, I feel more linguistically comfortable here (even though my Spanish is limited to “Donde esta el bano?” or “Dos tacos, por favor.”) than I did in France (even though I’m close to fluent in French!) The Mexicans are so honored that a foreigner is trying to speak their language, they help you out. The French are so insulted that everyone is not completely fluent in their language, they are horrified at your mistakes!

I think that part of the hospitality culture is driven by Mexicans having a very different culture than Americans in the sense that leisure time is spent in public places. On weekends in the U.S. most people spend time at home or in their own backyards – with a closed group of family or friends. On weekends in Mexico, everyone goes out to the parks and squares and enjoys the days together. Vendors fill the parks and streets selling all kinds of tasty food: fresh fruit, boiled elote (corn), cotton candy, tacos, and more. In addition to the food are the ubiquitous balloon sellers, the stands where kids can rent toy cars and bikes, the clowns and performers…even people dressed in costumes as cartoon characters! After living here for a while, we realized that Mexicans have just decided to take the theme park environment and make it completely accessible to the public. Everything we’d see on the weekends would be completely normal in the U.S. – but only inside Disneyland, Sea World, or Six Flags. Here, in Mexico, they have just kept the party atmosphere everywhere!

→ 1 CommentTags: America · Mexico · North America

Oaxaca

August 21st, 2008 · No Comments

Part II of the Haimsohn family roadtrip was to Oaxaca. This beautiful city is a destination in itself – but the handicraft villages and ruins in the mountains nearby make it a must-see spot in Mexico.

Kimberly

For photos, click here: Oaxaca, Villages

Oaxaca Villages around Oaxaca

After a six hour drive from Puebla, we finally reached the city of Oaxaca. This region of the country is well known for its strong indigenous culture, authentic handicrafts, and incredible ruins. It’s a land of mountains and valleys checkered with cornfields, just stunning in August, which is during the rainy season and when the corn is green. We stayed in the city of Oaxaca, but split our time between exploring its museums, churches, and pedestrian streets and the nearby towns and ruins.

Oaxaca City

In Oaxaca city, we visited the Iglesia de Santo Domingo. Started in the 1550s by Dominican friars and finished a century later, it contains the work of all the best artists of that period. Ornate plaster statues and flowers cover the extravagantly gilded walls and ceiling. On the ceiling above the entrance there is an elaborate genealogical tree of the Dominican order, which starts with don Domingo de Guzmán, Saint Dominic himself.

Next to the church is the Museo Regional de Oaxaca, occupying what used to be one of the greatest Dominican convents of colonial Mexico. The museum is an ambitious project that displays the course of human development in the Oaxaca valley from earliest times to the 20th century.

A number of the museum’s rooms are dedicated to the nearby ruins of Monte Alban (which we visited during our trip), with the most famous display being the artifacts from Monte Albán’s Tomb 7, which were discovered in 1932. The tomb contained 12 to 14 corpses and some 500 pieces of jewelry and art, making use of almost 8 pounds of gold and turquoise, conch shell, amber, and obsidian. The museum also had several other interesting exhibits, including much from the colonial times all the way through the present day.

The other highlight of Oaxaca city was definitely the market. Oaxaca is famous for its chocolate. (Remember that the Mexicans introduced the rest of the world to chocolate…through hot chocolate.) We enjoyed some tasty cups of hot chocolate here. Dan was tempted by the chapulines (those would be grasshoppers), but he decided to hold out for the restaurant version. As with all markets in developing countries, this was a fascinating place to spend the morning.

Monte Alban

The spectacular ruins of Monte Albán sits on a mountain that rises from the middle of the valley floor — or, rather, divides two valleys. From here you can see all that lies between you and the distant mountains. Around 500 B.C., the Zapotec people began the monumental exercise of leveling the top of a mountain, where they would build their city.

The ruins are centered on the Great Plaza, a man-made area created by flattening the mountaintop. Of the many interesting ruins here, our favorites were the I-shaped ball court (which differs slightly from Maya and Toltec ball courts in that there are no goal rings), the “observatory” (shaped like a ship), and the famous Loz Danzantes. Los Danzantes (which translates to the dancers) is covered with large stone slabs that have distorted naked figures carved into them. The people were originally thought to be dancers – but more careful research pointed out the distorted bodies and pained expressions likely connoted disease. Then, some researchers pointed out that many of the figures had mutilated genitals – so now the theory rests that these are actually depictions of prisoners of war…a far cry from the original happy thought of dancers!

South of Monte Alban: Handicraft villages of San Bartolo Coyotepec and San Martin Tilcajete

San Bartolo is the home of the famous black pottery sold all over Oaxaca. In 1953, a native woman named Doña Rosa invented the technique of smoking the pottery during firing to make it black and rubbing the fired pieces with a piece of quartz to produce a sheen. Although Doña Rosa died in 1979, her son, Valente Nieto Real, carries on the tradition. We were lucky to watch Valente demonstrate his mother’s techniques using only two crude plates (as a potter’s wheel). We picked up a beautiful vase for only $10 – such a steal!

San Martín Tilcajete, another 15km (10 miles) south of San Bartolo, is home to woodcarvers who produce alebrijes — fantastical, brightly painted animals and imaginary beasts. The town is incredibly small, with only a few streets – but many little houses and workshops to visit. We stopped in a few places and watched the process of turning tree stumps into hot-pink cows, fantastical dragons and colorful turtles.

East of Oaxaca: Puzzle-like ruins of Mitla, weaving village of Teotitlán del Valle, and tree of El Tule

We headed out the next day straight east from Oaxaca on a hunt for more authentic village experiences. Our first stop were the geometric ruins of Mitla. The Zapotec settled Mitla around 600 B.C., but it became a Mixtec bastion in the late 10th century. The stone buildings here are inlaid with small cut stones to form geometric patterns. The most common motif is the zigzag pattern, the same one seen repeatedly on Mitla blankets.

Our next stop was Teotitlán, famous for weaving, and now an obviously prosperous town, to judge by all the current development. This is where you’ll want to go for rugs, and you’ll find no shortage of weavers and stores. We made a short visit to the museum, but refrained from purchasing any rugs. We did, however, enjoy a tasty traditional lunch at Restaurant Tlamanalli, cooked by three Zapotec sisters in very authentic style.

On our way back to Oaxaca, we stopped at Santa María del Tule, famous for the immense El Tule Tree, an ahuehuete (Montezuma cypress, akin to the bald cypress) standing in a churchyard just off the main road. It is now over 2,000 years old and is said to have the broadest trunk of any tree in the world.

Casa Cid de Leon
Av. Morelos 602 – Oaxaca
+52 (951) 514-1893
www.casaciddeleon.com
-One of the premier hotels in the city, the Cid de Leon was a nice choice for our stay. Honestly, we were just thrilled that they would take Zookie – and he certainly won over the entire staff (including the maid who was initially terrified of him and was taking him for walks by the end of our stay). The décor was a little much for our tastes (our room had a lot of dolls and stuffed animals in it) – but it was a very comfortable place to stay. We actually rented the El Mio Cid suite, a two bedroom, two story suite – Zookie had a ball running up and down the stairs between our room and my parents’.

Restaurante Los Danzantes
Acala 403 – Oaxaca
+52 (951) 501-1184
www.losdanzantes.com
-A colonial patio transformed into a gourmet, contemporary dining experience. To be honest, we had only an OK meal here. The food was pretty good – but the service was terrible. Perhaps we just came on an off night? We had expected it to be the highlight of our dining experiences in Oaxaca

Casa Oaxaca
Constitucion 104A – Oaxaca
+52 (951) 516-8889
www.casaoaxaca.com.mx
-Often referred to as Oaxacan fusion, this restaurant is a place for a special occasion. We enjoyed a wonderful dinner here. (Dan got his chapulines!) The hotel in town by the same name is connected (and where we would have loved to have stayed, if only Zookie had been welcome). Strangely, the restaurant is not located in the hotel, but a few blocks away.

Temple
Calle Garcia Vigil 409A
+52 (951) 516-8676
www.restaurantetemple.com
-When you’ve had enough Mexican food and need a break, head to dinner at this place. We enjoyed an incredibly tasty meal here of pasta, gourmet sandwiches, and beautiful salads. Highly recommended!

Restaurant Tlamanalli
Av. Juárez 39 – Teotitlan de Valle
+52 (951) 524-4006
-Run by three Zapotec sisters who serve authentic Oaxacan cuisine. It is considered the most authentic food in the country by some. We enjoyed a tasty lunch – but the ambiance and watching the sisters cook was truly the highlight. Note that it’s open only for lunch: Monday through Friday from 1 to 4pm.

Restaurante Tipico La Capilla
Carretera Oaxaca-Zaachila, Km 14 – Zaachila
+52 (951) 528-6115
-This place looks like a tour group tourist trap, but don’t be put off. It was our best lunch in the Oaxaca region! The antojitos (appetizers) were really tasty – and the Oaxacan mole negro chicken was wonderful. If you happen to be traveling with children, this is the place to go! There are animals (birds and monkeys!) and lots of room for the kids to run around and play (even swings)!

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Puebla

August 18th, 2008 · No Comments

My parents came to visit us in Mexico in August – and we took a roadtrip to Puebla and Oaxaca. The beautiful colonial city of Puebla was the first stop on our trip, and we visited a number of the smaller towns in the area, including the giant pyramid of Cholula.

Kimberly

For photos, click here.

Puebla and the road to Oaxaca

After negotiating Mexico City traffic, we finally made it out of the city. I think my parents were a little shocked by the peculiarities of driving in Mexico – and all the interesting things you can purchase out the window of your car while stuck in traffic. Would you like some chicharon? A bubble machine? Toy airplane?…

We arrived in Puebla in time for lunch, and convinced the waiter at Fonda la Mexicana to allow us to bring Zookie into the restaurant, as long as we sat in the corner by the door. Sadly, we weren’t in Puebla long enough to sample all its famous cuisine – but we did try a few of the special regional dishes. Puebla is considered the cradle of Mexican Cuisine, having produced some of the countries classic dishes. Mole Poblano: a spicy sauce with more than 20 ingredients. Pipian: similar to a mole, but based on ground toasted squash seeds. Chiles en Nogada: a poblano chile stuffed with a spicy-sweet filling made of pork and chicken, and served with a walnut crème sauce and pomegranate seeds.

After lunch, we checked out a few of the cities classic sites: the Museo Amparo, with its stunning collection of pre-Columbian pieces and colonial furniture; the Cathedral and Iglesia de Santo Domingo; and the Zocalo. We had to take turns visiting the museums and churches, as we had Zookie with us – and he wasn’t invited inside. Of course Zookie made friends, including another dog who wouldn’t leave him alone…my mom finally found refuge in a store of Talaverna pottery – where she ended up buying some beautiful pieces.

We decided not to stay in Puebla, but rather in the nearby city of Cholula – famous for its pyramid. When Cortes arrived, the local Cholulans planned a secret revolt – but he was tipped off and managed to kill over 6000 Cholulans in just one day. Cortes then vowed to build a church for every day of the year or one on top of every pagan temple (sources vary). He didn’t get quite that far, but did manage to build at least 39…including the most famous one Santuario de Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, on top of the world’s largest pyramid.

The Great Pyramid was built between 1-600 A.D., and was actually built over several times. As power changed hands, interest in the pyramid faded, and it eventually became completely overgrown and unrecognizable. It wasn’t until 1931, when Archaeologists dug tunnels, that it was proved that this was not just a giant hill, but rather a man-made pyramid. And yes, Cortes did build a church on top. In fact, we were lucky enough to happen to be visiting on a festival day, and were able to see the parade and festivities for the saint of the church!

We also visited two beautiful and unique churches just outside of the town. The church of Tonantzintla is often referred to as Mexico’s most exuberant, with a brightly painted stucco interior in a style referred to as Indian Baroque. And San Francisco Acatepec is famed for its beautiful tiled exterior: decorated with blue, green, and yellow Talavera tiles set in red brick.

Hotel La Quinta Luna
Calle 3 Sur 702 – Cholula
+52 (222) 247-8915 or (1-800-728-9098 from the U.S.)
www.laquintaluna.com
-Small boutique hotel with six rooms off a large courtyard. The owners rescued this single-story colonial house from ruins and clearly have spent a fortune restoring it. We had a wonderful stay and especially enjoyed breakfast in the garden. Highly recommended.

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Cuernavaca

August 3rd, 2008 · No Comments

For our first trip, we decided to explore the nearby city of Cuernavaca. This is a very popular weekend getaway, especially for wealthy Mexico City residents. We relaxed in our posh boutique hotel, explored the ruins of Xochicalco, and visited Cortes’ palace.

Kimberly

For photos, click here

Cuernavaca

Cuernavaca is only an hour or so south of Mexico City (but it usually takes more than an hour just to get out of Mexico City!) so it is a very popular weekend destination for D.F. residents. I had been working very long hours, so we decided to take two days to relax and refresh.

Dan found this wonderful boutique hotel, La Casa Azul – where all the rooms are decorated in styles found in different parts of the country. Our room was from Olinea, which is known for its beautiful lacquered wood work.

On Saturday, we drove to the ruins of Xochicalco. The drive itself was amazing. The countryside around Cuernavaca is extremely lush and almost tropical. This was also our first experience driving around small town Mexico – culture shock! People have stands for all kinds of food on the side of the road: freshly made ice cream, watermelon, tacos and barbacoa. In the middle of the freeway, people have set up stands with towers of roses piled high – and when traffic appears, vendors walk the lanes of the freeway selling anything from cookies to phone cards to bubble makers!

The ruins themselves were really interesting. It was hard to tell how much was original v. reconstruction – but the setting completely made up for that. The hilltop ruin, which dates from ~700 A.D., was once a city populated by at least 10,000 people. The most famous sight here is the Piramide de Quetzalcoatl (Pyramid of the Plumed Serpent), which is marked by intricate geometric patterns and stone reliefs of men and serpents.

Back in Cuernavaca, we explored the town and enjoyed watching all the families spending their afternoon in the main square. We visited the Catedral de Cuernavaca, the Jardin Borda, and the Jardin Juares. Our favorite sight was certainly the Palacio de Cortes, where the conquistador lived in the 1500s. The highlight of the palace are the Diego Rivera murals on the second floor, tracing the history of Cuernavaca from the Spanish invasion to the present.

We enjoyed some great food over this weekend! Cuernavaca has some great restaurants – and other amazing hotels. See below for the details on the places we discovered.

La Casa Azul
Calle Arista 17 – Centro – Cuernavaca
+52 (777) 314-2141
http://hotelcasaazul.com.mx/
-Beautiful new boutique hotel in the heart of Cuernavaca. Rooms are decorated in styles reflective of different parts of the region. Two nice pools and quiet ambiance make it a perfect place to relax.

Casa Hidalgo
Calle Hidalgo 6 – Cuernavaca
+52 (777) 312-2749
www.casahidalgo.com
-This gourmet Mexican restaurant is in a beautifully restored colonial building across from the Palacio de Cortez. Sophisticated and innovative cuisine. We had the mango and tequila soup, duck, fillet hidalgo (breaded and stuffed with Serrano ham and manchego cheese) and crepes con cajeta.

La Manantitas
Ricardo Linares 107 — Cuernavaca
+52 (777) 362-0000 (hotel) +52 (777) 362-0019 (restaurant)
www.lasmananitas.com.mx
-Cuernavaca’s most renowned luxury lodging (part of Relaix & Chateaux) and a popular weekend dining spot for affluent Mexico City residents (a friend just suggested we join them here for Sunday brunch). We did not stay here—but it looked like it’d be a great place to get away from the rush of things. We did enjoy a wonderful dinner here – it was so good that we came back the next day for brunch!

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