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Jun 9, 2014

I remember why I love Mexico

LA PARTIDA, Mexico -- Yesterday, less than a half hour after I got to my hotel in Mexico City, someone got shot 25 steps away from me. I heard the gun blast and the screaming and saw the man sprawled out by his car, blood pooling on the concrete, and I watched his wife and daughter kneel by his side and wait for the ambulance to arrive.

Mexico can be a terrifying place, just hopeless, and that was how my translator and I felt this morning, riding through the predawn blackness toward the airport. We landed not long after sunrise in Torreon, a northern town, to write a story that you'll read in a few days about Mexican star Oribe Peralta. He's from a little village outside of the city, and while interviewing friends and family, we came across the outdoor grill manned by Umberto Contreras, a 55 year old guy who's been cooking food for many years, as he told us.

They made one thing: gorditas, grilled, and filled with pork, or cheese and beans, or steak. We watched him slather the specially made bread in a mixture of butter and red chiles, and then serve the gorditas on small Styrofoam trays with a side of homemade fresh salsa. Men and women stopped by mid-morning and took away big orders wrapped up for lunch. They cost 50 cents apiece. I sat down and ate two, and on a bench, in this little town, I remembered why I loved Mexico, and why the random shooting can never completely shroud the many perfect moments.

I've used this phrase before in relation to other places but it remains true here: In Mexico, the prose is hopelessly broken, but the poems remain intact. Sitting on that bench, I felt as content as I've felt in a long time. I really do hope that everyone reading this gets to land in Torreon and find their way to a black metal grill sending off waves of shimmering heat from hot, gray-white coals.

Before leaving, we asked Umberto for the salsa recipe. He said yes.

Oribe Peralta's hometown salsa

1. Boil six pounds of red jalapenos.

2. When they are soft, blend them.

3. Chop and add one bunch of cilantro

4. Chop and add one white onion.

5. Serve.