Tag Archives: Mexico City

Dudley Althaus and the Mexico City scene

When I moved to Mexico City in 1994, the guy who knew most about the country, had covered it most completely, was Dudley Althaus. He was from Ohio. He moved to Mexico years before for the Houston Chronicle, where he did amazing work. A few years ago, he went on to work for the Wall Street Journal.

Dudley just announced that he’s leaving the Journal and newspaper work. His final story is about a priest who mediates disputes among narco clans, trying to protect communities from their wrath, in the ferocious state of Guerrero.

I arrived in Mexico fresh from a newspaper-reporting job in Seattle that did not fit me. I had gone to Mexico really to study and improve my weak Spanish. Shortly after the assassination of a Mexican presidential candidate, a job opened at an English-language magazine called Mexico Insight that had already purchased a freelance story of mine. I got the job, though it meant a massive cut in pay. I’d always wanted to be a foreign correspondent. I figured this was my chance. I was ardently single. So I happily returned to Seattle, sold all my stuff, and moved permanently to Mexico. Within a year, the magazine went under and I became a freelancer, selling stories to papers and magazines in the states.

I was lucky to spend 10 years in Mexico with an ever-morphing corps of U.S. journalists that were of the highest caliber. I was always amazed at the people who were down there, who came and went over that decade: Jose de Cordoba, Alfredo Corchado, David Luhnow, Elizabeth Malkin, Mary Beth Sheridan, James Smith, Joel Millman, Ginger Thompson, Gerry Hadden, Brendan Case, Geoff Mohan, Phil Davis, Julia Preston, Sam Dillon, Steve Fainaru, Mark Stevenson, Tim Padgett, Tim Weiner, Lynne Walker, Susan Ferriss, Ricardo Sandoval, Alan Zarembo, Anita Snow, Hayes Ferguson, Colin McMahon, and the late Phil True and Paul De la Garza – as well as my freelancing homies Leon Lazaroff, Franc Contreras and Keith Dannemiller. (Pardon if I’m missing a few.)

I believe in the creative power of scenes. I first saw it in the punk rock scene that developed in the late 1970s, when I was at UC Berkeley, where I produced punk shows. An effervescent agglomeration of the similarly intentioned. At UCB, I wrote my senior history thesis on the jazz scene that emerged in Harlem in the 1940s, where hundreds of musicians converged to compete, collaborate, improve, and produced an entirely new form of music – with Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie leading the way.

Scenes – or communities of like-minded people, trained, nearing the peak of their careers, interested in the same things, highly motivated – are where creation takes place. That’s how it felt to be in Mexico City during the decade I was there. It was a great thing for a young reporter to be a part of. I consider myself lucky that it was at a time in my career when I was ready for it, prepared to benefit from the challenges the country posed.

Dudley was the dean of us all, a friendly face, with a generous attitude and great knowledge of the country. The guy who shaped a community, kept us together, organized Friday nights at the Nuevo Leon cantina in the Colonia Condesa, where you could learn a ton about Mexico. I always tried to keep in mind that whatever story I was working on, Dudley had probably already written it a time or two. He was, you could say, the Dizzy Gillespie of Mexico City.

Given U.S. newspaper budgets, it’s hard to imagine that kind of scene emerging today in any foreign country, though the need for it, if anything, is greater than ever.

I left Mexico in 2004 to work for the L.A. Times in Los Angeles – quit that in 2014, and I’m a freelancer again.

Yet I always consider my decision to take that magazine job, and that 95 percent cut in pay, to be among the best I ever made (thanks Mike Zamba and Lonnie Iliff for offering it to me). For it allowed me to spend the next nine years covering a country in complex transition with some of the best reporters our country produced – and at the top of the list was Dudley Althaus.

Photo: Keith Dannemiller (Dudley Althaus, Houston Chronicle reporter, heading upriver to PEMEX installations on the Rio San Pedro y San Pablo in the Mexican state of Tabasco.)


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Keith Dannemiller: A Podcast

Keith Dannemiller, a native of Ohio, has been one of the premier photographers out of Latin America for two decades now. His black and white street shots from Mexico City are strange and dazzling.

Keith and I worked together in Mexico for many years, both of us freelancers. We recorded this conversation a while back when Keith’s first book of photography — Callegrafia – was coming out. It’s sold out, but the chat is interesting – about finding what to shoot, and why, and what got him started on street photography, and how a man devoted to his craft does his job.

Keith’s new exposition of his photography is called Luz Translation, opening in the town of San Miguel De Allende, Guanajuato, on February 2. Check it out if you’re down there. It’s at Centro Cultural El Nigromante Bellas Artes, #75 Hernandez Macias and running until April 23.

Find out more about him at his website, www.keithdannemiller.com, including the photo tours he leads of Mexico City.




Photos by Keith Dannemiller


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Mexican clowns swear they didn’t kill Francisco Arellano-Felix

So, the clowns aren’t having it.

At a clown convention in Mexico City, attendees told Milenio.com that they’re sure a real clown did not kill Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix.

“That’s not what clowns do,” said one at the convention that brought together 500 Latin American clowns. “We don’t want violence.”

You’ll remember (or read by scrolling down in this blog a bit) that Mr. Arellano-Felix was shot to death in Los Cabos by a man dressed as a clown a few days ago.

Mr. Arellano-Felix’s family organization — the Arellano-Felix Cartel — ran the Tijuana drug corridor for more than a decade, setting new standards for bloodiness and the corruption of institutions.

Three of his brothers are in US prisons. He and another brother are dead.

The clowns, meanwhile, held a vigil of 15 minutes of laughter against violence in Mexico.

Photo: bonology.com

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Filed under Culture, Drugs, Mexico

The World’s Best Trombonist … from Oaxaca to Pico-Union

Faustino Diaz

The world’s greatest trombonist appeared in a small music studio in the Pico-Union district of Los Angeles this week.

Faustino Diaz, from Oaxaca, won the prestigious Jeju international trombone competition in Korea earlier this month.

Three days later he was back in his village of San Lorenzo Cacaotepec (pop. 7300), playing danzones with the village band he grew up in, directed by his father.

Diaz has a beautiful story, which reminded me of so many Oaxacan immigrants in LA.

In his village, music possibilities were limited. So he left for Mexico City. There he improved, but as time passed he found he was still not the musician he thought he could be, even as he played in the philharmonic of the National Autonomous University (UNAM).

So a few years ago, he left the plum job with the UNAM philharmonic, gambled everything and moved to Rotterdam, Holland to study with Jorgen van Rijen, who remade his sound, tenderized his musical sensibilities that had been stunted by limited exposure to the world’s music and best musicians off in Mexico.IMG_1771

Showing the kind of gumption that has characterized so many immigrants, including his Oaxacan paisanos here in LA, he became a world-class musician himself.

He came in second in the trombone competition a year ago in Italy. But this year, seasoned and ready for his moment, Diaz beat a French and a Japanese competitor, and 46 others.

With hallucinogenic jet lag, he returned to a hero’s welcome back in Oaxaca, with a parade through his village, hordes of journalists to ask him how he did it, and the banda in which he first learned to play — trumpet initially, then trombone — ready to receive him.

Famed Oaxacan painter Francisco Toledo came to town to congratulate him.

Next day, he flew to Mexico City and was mobbed in a press conference there as well.IMG_1773

This week, he’s in the music studios of Estanislao Maqueos , the premier Oaxacan band instructor in Los Angeles. (2142 W. Washington Blvd., just east of Western Avenue)

Diaz plays with an orchestra of children born to Oaxacan parents, and trained by Maqueos, tonight (Thursday) at the Mexican Consulate on 6th Street near MacArthur Park. 7 p.m.

Meanwhile, a few previous posts from True Tales: A Reporters’ Blog:

Narco-mennonites arrested again

A legend of the raspado

Curandero Carlos, Guatemalan Witch Doctor


Filed under California, Culture, Los Angeles, Mexico, Migrants, Uncategorized

MEXICO: Homeless World Cup

Mexico City photographer Keith Dannemiller has some great shots of the Homeless World Cup soccer tournament.

Great idea — forming soccer teams made up of folks who are homeless, or socially/economically marginalized, and bringing them all together to compete in a soccer tournament, this the 10th annual.

On Facebook, Keith writes of some of the people he met:

“Like Ikram Moukhlis, a young Muslim woman who lives in a women’s shelter in Tangiers, Morocco. I know about 5 phrases in Arabic, she speaks no English or Spanish, but somehow we connected and I was proud of the photos I made of her. This trip to Mexico was the first time in her life to be on a plane. And then, Mauva Hunte-Bowlby, playing for England, who has been, until just recently, ‘sofa-surfing’ in London. Ms. Hunte-Bowlby is 52, and a grandmother twice over.”

Great story, fascinating event….check out Keith’s shots.


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Filed under Culture, Global Economy, Mexico