Desdenada Gazette 09/05/18: Failure to Launch

There are two kinds of rockets, and only one of them is the vehicle for nuclear holocaust.

On Monday’s Real Talk, I talked about starting an openly biased news column. Today I carry out that threat, I mean, promise. This is a highly experimental concept and the format is subject to change, but for this first issue of the Desdenada Gazette I’ll give my stained glass perspective on three stories that caught my eye today. They were selected fairly randomly, but happen to be connected by a sort of theme: rockets and aircraft. Yay, destiny!

North Korea Frees Americans, Trump Takes Credit

North Korea
Story: Washington Post

 

What better way to christen my new column than to jump right into some of the most controversial and delicate politics of the day? Joking aside, the point of this experiment is to give unfiltered, gleefully biased takes, so I warn you: if you strongly like OR strongly dislike Trump my takes are going to wind you up.

First off, I’m glad these men are free and get to go home. That’s a good thing that happened. Full stop. New thought.

I’ve been fascinated by Trump’s relationship with the North Korea situation since the beginning, and it’s only gotten more interesting. This is mostly because most of the people I know and most of the communities I’m involved with swing pretty liberal (it’s not my fault, I went to university in Vancouver). Watching their reactions to each twist and turn has been a crash course in cognitive dissonance.

This story is a small step in what will surely be among one of the most historic events in my lifetime: the end of the Korean War. Under other circumstances, I imagine this would be THE story, but I feel like I’m seeing more coverage of how much credit Trump should get. Partisanship is nothing new, but in the age of social media it’s at least louder, if not actually stronger.

I think the infamous “Rocket Man” phase of this narrative encapsulates it well. Many people I knew were experiencing various levels of gleeful, vindictive terror. To some extent, they believed Trump’s tactics might result in a nuclear holocaust and the agonizing death of themselves and their loved ones. The only idea more horrifying was that Trump might actually know what he was doing. That a reality TV star might be able to use twitter threats to solve a situation none of the great leaders of our time have been able to solve. Whether consciously or not, they had to cling to the belief that death was inevitable, because the only hope lay in Trump’s success.

Now Trump is succeeding. Let me clarify: I’m not claiming that Trump actually solved the North Korean situation. Personally, I think Kim Jong-Un’s sudden change of heart comes down to the fact that a hydrogen bomb accidentally went off in his nuclear processing plant, annihilating his only leverage. The point is, Trump said he was going to bring Kim to the table, he stuck to his guns when people questioned his topics, and Kim came to the table. It may not be fair, but the default assumption now is that Trump solved the problem, and the burden of proof is on those who want to show that he didn’t. Not to say it cam’t be done, but it’s an uphill battle.

Is that the battle liberals should be fighting right now? Does it feel unfair to give Trump a Nobel Prize? Sure (although when you study the history of the prize and realize its creation was part of a Machiavellian move by a country that wanted to gain political and cultural relevance, it does lose some of its weight). Is that more important than the fact we might be able to get help to the oppressed and starving population of North Korea? I don’t think so.

Take it from someone who grew up with three siblings: sometimes the best approach is to let people take credit for everything and just move on.

Mexico Attempts to Build Awesome Airport, Future President Intervenes

Story: Bloomberg

Our next story is a little closer to home for me. Literally: I live about 20 minutes from Mexico City’s current airport. For those who haven’t heard, the government is constructing a new airport just outside the city, set to be completed in 2020. When finished, it will be the biggest and most advanced airport in North America.

International readers (read: gringos) will probably be surprised by that. Mexico definitely has an unfounded stereotype for being behind the times and having terrible quality of life. Having spent a decade in the States and a decade in Canada before moving here, Mexico is easily my favorite place to live, but that could the topic of a whole other post. The point is that we’re constructing a world-class airport which will give a huge boost to the economy and attract foreign business. It will also be an international symbol of Mexican innovation and success, which is a pretty shallow reason for wanting it built, but I admit it plays into my viewpoint.

Unfortunately, our presidential frontrunner, the populist communist Andrés Manuel López Obrador, wants to scrap it. We’ve basically known for months that AMLO’s victory is guaranteed, which doesn’t bode well for the new airport. In case you don’t follow Mexican politics, AMLO is batshit. In the last debate, one of the other candidates insisted on bringing back the Medieval practices of chopping of thieves’ hands, and AMLO still came off as by far the crazy one.

The thing is that Mexico goes by the popular vote system that all my liberal gringo friends suddenly want the States to use. That means the entire presidential race is based on appealing to Estado de Mexico, a small state surrounding Mexico City. With a population of over 16 million, this tiny rural area has half the population of Canada, 10% of the total population of Mexico, twice the population of Mexico City, and more people than the 10 lowest-population Mexican states combined.

The system is problematic for a number of reasons. For example, ethnic minorities like the Maya and Nahuatl are concentrated in low-population states like Oaxaca and Campeche, so they essentially have no voice. Cartel-ravaged states like Sonora and Chihuahua are also low-population. One of AMLO’s popular propositions has been to cut back on the war with Narcos. Residents of Estado de Mexico benefit from spending less money protecting the northern states, and said northern states don’t really get a say, either.

Let’s get back to our main story, though. Estado de Mexico is a poor state, and lies in stark contrast to its rich neighbor, Mexico City. Many residents of Estado de Mexico have never been on a plane before. Scrapping the project plays well there because, as AMLO claims, the new airport will only benefit the rich, and the budget to build it should be spent on projects that benefit the poor.

It’s definitely a conflict of interest for me, since I would definitely use the new airport. That said, I think AMLO is oversimplifying it. Even if only middle to upper class citizens actually use it, the benefits of a project like this trickle down to everyone. What’s good for the economy, what’s good for business, and what’s good for foreign investment, is good for everyone.

Not to throw too much shade at Estado de Mexico, but I think this is a decision being made out of spite. AMLO hasn’t really made it clear how he would use the extra money, not to mention reversing the project now will cost a large portion of what it took to build in the first place. Sometimes it feels people are more interested in other people not getting something than what they themselves might get out of the deal.

This leads directly into our next story.

SpaceX Continues to Be Awesome, Nobody Can Stop Them

Story: The Verge

This post is already longer than intended so I’ll keep this final story short and sweet. If you’re not excited about SpaceX’s increasingly reusable, increasingly cost-effective spacecraft, you should be.

The applications go way beyond putting people on Mars, although that is of course one goal. I’m particularly excited about travel. A rocket that blasts straight up, hangs in orbit while the Earth rotates beneath it, then falls back down and lands could make the trip from California to China in about twenty minutes.

That’s exciting, except maybe if you’re poor. Traveling like this will definitely cost a premium–at first. Most of us will still be standing in line in airport security while smug billionaires jaunt across the world in the time it takes us find our luggage. If governments decide to support or invest in this technology, it might be hard for the common man to swallow.

Don’t fall into this trap. Like I discussed in the last story, you’d only be hurting yourself by protesting these developments. Although Elon Musk has shown he is willing to take a hit to his own finances to complete his projects, technology iterates far faster when it makes a profit. The sooner billionaires can buy tickets for these rocket jumps, the sooner corporations will dedicate resources to making them more affordable, the sooner millionaires, then hundred-thousandaires, then everyone will be able to afford these trips.

There are two sides to this issue, and one is the side of progress. Don’t be on the other side.

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The Return of Real Talk: 26 March 2018

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Celebrating my birthday at a pretty hacienda in Hidalgo with my girlfriend and Desdenada co-conspirator Venezia.

Before I realized the only chance I had of blogging regularly was by being super lazy and just talking about Skyrim all the time, I had a different column for each day of the week. Mondays were Real Talk, which was my cool name for just rambling about my life. You know, like how blogs were originally envisioned.

The funny thing is, it’s not that different from my Ridiculously Slow Let’s Play Posts: instead of talking about the weird thoughts and ideas I have while gaming, I talk about the weird thoughts and ideas I have while living in the real world. The thoughts and ideas are pretty identical; it’s just the delivery system that varies.

Of course, that’s by design. In addition to letting me be super lazy, replacing all seven columns with just one about Skyrim doesn’t really change the ideas I’m communicating here. I just had seven different ways of communicating the same core theme. We’ll dig deeper into that as I reintroduce the columns. For now, keep in mind that Real Talk and the Ridiculously Slow Let’s Play are parallel: learning to excel in a game is the same as learning to excel in life, and you can gain a lot of insight about life and about yourself by playing a game.

23 and Me

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My second birthday since moving to Mexico.

I turned twenty-three a handful of days ago. Though I’ve never been one for big parties on my birthday, I love birthdays all the same, for the same reason I love New Year’s: each year of my life has been the best year of my life so far. I get to double dip on that possibility: In January I get to reflect on how “2017 was so great, and it’s almost certain 2018 will be even better!” Then in March: “my 22nd year was so great, and it’s almost certain my 23rd will be even better!”

Part of this is taking time to be grateful for how lucky I am. Part is reaffirming how hard I need to work in the year to come if I want to keep the streak going. The final part is recognizing that it’s always worked out so far, so while reflecting on the past and planning for the future each have their place, I should focus most of my time on just enjoying the moment. On New Year’s I think about bigger defining events, like “I moved to Mexico last year” or “I want to start a new job this year”. On my birthday I think on a more personal scale: “I’m a lot less anxious today than I was last year” or “I want to practice being more patient this year”.

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Let the real party begin.

On the day of my birthday I got to go to an hacienda in Hidalgo with my girlfriend’s family, which was nice. The other day we had my “celebration”, throwing all our responsibilities and good sense aside for a day and playing a marathon session of World of Warcraft, just the two of us. I normally advocate moderation and balance, but now that I’ve achieved some amount of balance, the reward is that I can sometimes do something ridiculous like this without any negative impact on my workload, health, and so on. If you’re disciplined the rest of the time, you can go all-out with your celebrations.

New Job Who Dis

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Don’t have any photos related to my new job, so here’s a macaroni and french fry pizza I had earlier.

The other big development in my life is that, as of today, I’m working a new job. I’m still ghostwriting and still writing my own book, but now in addition I’m working in social media marketing. In other words, getting paid to like and comment on photos on instagram (using a business’s account). I’m saving for an apartment so it’s nice to have the extra cash, but it still might seem like a weird move: I’m already doing my dream job of writing, so why take another job?

Mainly, it’s a way to build skills that could be useful later. I never really got into social media, and while that’s a blessing in many ways, it does have its uses. When I’m ready to publish my own novel, having a social media presence would be really helpful. If you don’t have your dream job yet, you can still think abut how the work you’re doing now (or the work you could be doing now) will ultimately get you closer to your dream.

Desdenada Is….Ridiculously Slow

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Success is taking the time to enjoy life.

As promised, I present to you the first Desdenada Core Principle:

Ridiculous slowness.

This is of course the principle behind the Ridiculously Slow Let’s Play. By practicing slowing down in game, where the stakes are much lower, I can get better at slowing down in life.

Speed is somewhat of a virtue in modern culture, at least in North American countries. There are cases where you need to get things done quickly, but speed for the sake of speed is becoming a problem. We feel pressure to rush around and be busy because that’s what we think success looks like, so we run in circles without a clear destination in mind.

Ironically, the most successful people are never busy. Rather, they have full schedules, but they never say, “I want to X but I’m too busy.” If you can force yourself to slow down, you’ll probably find you don’t have time for everything you do now…and be forced to reevaluate what you really need to do, and what you really want to do.

More to the point, you’ll actually experience and enjoy each thing you do.

One Night in Taxco: Hotel de La Llorona

This is the first post in a biased two-part discussion of the paranormal, religion, skepticism, and spirituality. Discretion is advised.

View of Taxco and surrounding landscape
For those who haven’t been, Taxco is a beautiful example of a colonial pueblo in modern Mexico.

Last weekend, Venezia took me (Evaric) to Taxco de Alarcón for her cousin’s quinceañera. The beautifully bizarre celebration that is the quinceañera is a whole other discussion, but this post is about the hotel I stayed in overnight: Hotel Victoria, a charming little bungalow on the edge of town which nobody told me was haunted until we arrived. That was fine, since I don’t believe in ghosts.

Alone in the Dark

Arched hallway in Hotel Victoria in Taxco
Seems ghosts appreciate a tasteful interior as much as the rest of us.

“I don’t believe in ghosts” is something I like to say when I’m at home in the daytime, surrounded by familiar comforts and faces. It’s easy for us skeptics to laugh at supposed accounts of the paranormal: unlike those who experience strange events, we have the luxury of responding only with reason, rather than emotion.

A funny thing happens to reason when you find yourself alone in the dark. Let’s back up, though. Leading up to that night, everything was aligning just right to make me feel I was living in a poorly-written horror movie. Entering the Hotel Victoria, Venezia recounted the stories of family members who had seen and heard strange things while staying there. We noticed crude crosses nailed to the front gate; the hotel’s proprietor unironically explained that La Llorona, a popular Mexican folk, had been coming by the past few nights and he was trying to ward her off. As I settled into my room, I noticed I had lost cell service.

Pool surrounded by plants in Hotel Victoria in Taxco
Beautiful, in a haunted sort of way.

A storm rolled in during the party, and when I returned to my room the lightning was so close that the walls literally shook with the thunder. The hotel is up on a hill a little outside of town, and being an old-school rural pueblo, Taxco gets dark at night in a way even small-town Americans aren’t used to. The second-to-last thing I noticed before turning out the light (and plunging myself into pitch darkness) was a cockroach half the size of my hand crawl out of the wall. I wish I’d gotten a picture – didn’t seem a priority at the time.

What I did get a picture of was the last thing I noticed: the little square hole cut in the blanket of the bed beside mine. I’d already made myself antsy by imagining waking up in the middle of the night to see someone else in the other bed looking back at me, but usually I’m a little too old for under-the-bed nonsense. I didn’t have any explanation why someone would cut a window in the blanket, though, or why when the bed was made it just happened to fall to the level where something could peer out at me from a hidden spot beneath the bed.

A square hole cut in the blanket of a bed
It opens its eyes when you close yours.

The Cold Light of Reality

Sun setting behind a mountain over Taxco
I didn’t take any pictures of the sunrise so this is actually a sunset. But shhh, don’t tell anyone.

I had a brief scare when I woke up. Before going to bed, I’d closed all the curtains and the door leading to the other room. I was awoken by light streaming in through the cracks in that door. For a horrible minute I was convinced something else was in there with me – something had to have turned on the light in the other room. It turned out that the sunrise was in fact so brilliant that it shone bright enough through a curtain and a door to wake me up. I laughed at myself and went back to sleep.

My experience didn’t make me a believer. Nothing happened that I couldn’t explain, and if nobody had told me the place was haunted, it would never have crossed my mind. Only with that in mind did I begin to form a narrative out of ambiance and coincidences.

I did rethink the way I look at believers. If anything even slightly spooky had happened that night (and I had survived the ensuing heart attack), I doubt logic would hold much sway over how I interpreted things.

I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Venezia, who has earned most of a degree in Molecular Biology, is one of the smartest and most rational people I know, and didn’t even experience staying the night in the hotel, admitted she was nervous about leaving me alone there. There we were, two highly-educated people raised in an age of science and reason, still ruled by the same primal fears as our caveman ancestors, ten-thousand years ago.

Science and Scienceability

Family attending Catholic Mass during a quinceañera
The quinceañera that afternoon involved attending Catholic Mass at a local church. Maybe that saved my life?

Inspired by this experience, Venezia and I sat down to discuss our perspectives on science and religion, skepticism and the paranormal. The conversation was full of surprises: not only did we not know everything each other believed in, we each believe in concepts that the other had never even considered. We both came away with at least small changes to our worldview.

We’ll share our discussion next week – stay tuned. In the meantime, we would love to hear from you in the comments. Are you a believer, and have you had any experiences, paranormal or otherwise, that shook your deeply-held beliefs?

Camp NaNoWriMo and the Mexican Influence

This is the third post in a month-long series on Camp NaNoWriMo, in which Evaric and Venezia share with you the process of writing a book in a month. Last time we talked about writing really really fast (or not).

Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, Estado de Mexico.
It’s no secret where I get my inspiration from.

The Mexican Influence

Since moving to Mexico City just over three months ago, every story I write has taken a turn for the Mexican. At the time I was writing a thriller set in an unspecified American city, but it took less than a week for me to realize it would be far more exciting if it were set here. Now for Camp NaNoWriMo I’m writing a fantasy adventure, set in what is essentially a medieval fantasy version of Mexico.

That’s not much of a stretch since Mexico is almost a fantasy setting already. Ancient pyramids rise from the desert, and in their shadow prowl creatures which could fell a man with a single bite or sting. Mexican history is a collection of desperate uprisings, unlikely alliances, and prophecies that came true.

Today we’re going to talk about how we, and all writers, can take advantage of where we come from and where we travel to create richer, fuller stories.

Ancient Inspirations

Statue of the rain god Tlaloc in Teotihuacan.
I don’t write fantasy. I live fantasy.

I’ve always been a sucker for pyramids. The first place my mind went when concocting the setting for A Memory in Indigo was pre-Hispanic Mesoamerica and the amazing societies that ruled it. My gringo compatriots probably think, as I used to, that the Aztecs and Mayans were the only real players before the Spanish came. Some of the most impressive pyramids in Mexico – like the one above – were built nearly 1500 years before the Aztecs existed. Here’s a fact that sends shivers down my spine: the time between the disappearance of the Teotihuacan (who built the aforementioned pyramid) and the rise of the Aztecs is over three centuries greater than the time between the fall of the Aztecs and the present day.

When something inspires you, it’s helpful to dig deeper and find out why. I know that pyramids make me happy, but if I just throw a pyramid in my story for no reason it will fall flat. After some reflection, I realized the appeal for me comes from the inherent, beautiful irony. Thousands of years before we were born, people created something we still find impressive today, but in the end it didn’t do them any good. Their society became dust, and all that remains of them are these structures that have long outlived their usefulness. Now that’s something I can tell a story about.

Mexico City at Night

View of Mexico City from a plane at night
I might have teared up a little when I saw it. Sue me.

I was a little disappointed when I first moved that I wasn’t able to pull off an insane Vancouver to Mexico City road trip and had to fly. Venezia told me the view of Mexico City at night would make up for it. She wasn’t kidding. Since that beautiful first impression, Ciudad de Mexico has continued to take my breath away at every turn.

When I started writing this month I didn’t think anything to do with CDMX would make it into the story. After all, it’s a medieval fantasy set in a fairly small town on a backwater archipelago, not a sprawling urban metropolis. Then, as I had with the pyramids, I thought deeper.

My first glimpse of the city was inspiring because each of the hundred million points of light (probably not even an exaggeration) represented some new experience or opportunity for me. The main setting of my story, the City of Fuscia, may be tiny by modern standards, but my main character wouldn’t see it that way. He comes from a fishing village with a population south of 20. To him, the modest harbors and ramshackle taverns of Fuscia are a whole new world.

Just this morning, as I was walking to the cafe where I’m writing this, I had another thought. An interesting quirk of this city is that each self-contained neighborhood is well-planned out, organized, and aesthetically coherent, but the way these neighborhoods are laid out in relation to each other is sheer nonsense. The result is a diverse and beautifully chaotic patchwork of a city.

My fictional city of Fuscia is constructed across a scattering of small islands linked together by bridges. With borders clearly defined by water, the city is unable to expand outward and new neighborhoods are literally stacked on top of old ones: second stories are added to houses and shops, linked together by catwalks. It seems blindingly obvious in hindsight, but until now I’d never thought about how the design would affect the feel of different neighborhoods. Now my mind is reeling with possibilities: you cross a bridge from a harbor neighborhood, packed with bustling sailors and fish markets, and after walking all of ten feet come to a somber island full of ancient government buildings, a neighborhood that has stood for thousands of years. Climbing a ladder up the side of one of these structures, you find yourself again in an entirely different neighborhood, a recently constructed residential neighborhood of wooden shacks strung with colorful banners where the air is full of laughter and music.

You can find inspiration anywhere. The old adage “write what you know” is both true and not true. You can certainly write about places you’ve never been, jobs you’ve never done, and experiences you’ve never had, but drawing from your own experience lends truth and depth to your story. I don’t know what it’s like to live in a medieval city ruled by pirates and smugglers, but I do know what it’s like to move to a new place and feel your life has suddenly begun.

Venezia has been very busy applying to and interviewing for universities so was not around to share her thoughts this time, but fear not! There is plenty more to come.

 

¿Y Tú Tambien?

What about you? How have the places you’ve lived or traveled shaped your creative works?

Feeling inspired? Check out our video series Exploring Mexico to see more of this beautiful country.

Exploring Mexico Episode 1!

Trail in a monarch butterfly reserve
Getting to the butterflies is a bit of a trek.

We are very excited to announce the first full episode of our first series, Exploring Mexico!

Chasing Butterflies in Michoacan

You may have seen our earlier post covering our trip to the monarch butterfly reserve in the state of Michoacan. This is the video that came out of that trip. It’s a little late, but we think you’ll enjoy it.

If you have ideas or suggestions about what else we should explore, hit us up in the comments here or on YouTube!

5 Mexican Foods You Need in Your Life

Sabritas Adobadas and Sabritas Limones arranged into a flower
Made this to celebrate the Spring Equinox. It was supposed to be a flower….

If you have not lived or traveled in Mexico, you have not tasted Mexican food. Even if you go to Mexican restaurants (or God forbid, Taco Bell), chances are you have no idea what pastor is and think that burritos are something that actually exist south of the border. You just can’t get the best Mexican foods outside of Mexico, and believe me, you are missing out.

5 Mexican Foods You Need in Your Life

5. Oaxaca Cheese

Fresh ball of Oaxaca cheese
The first thing you need to know about Mexico is that all good things come from Oaxaca.

With the consistency of string cheese and the shape of a soft pretzel, Oaxaca cheese can be a bit confusing at first. Try it, though, and you will find it puts all other quesos to shames. It’s mostly used in cooking, but I find myself eating strings of it raw as a bedtime snack more often than I care to admit.

4. Mexican Junk Food

Sabritas Adobadas and Sabritas Limones
Adobadas are the undisputed champion, but Sabritas Limones are pretty great too

Mexico’s colorful and ancient culinary tradition mixes classic Aztec and Mayan dishes with flavors drawn from all over the world, creating something truly unique and beautiful. Sometimes, though, you’re just not in the mood for unique and beautiful. Mexico has you covered: just head down to the Oxxo on the corner and grab a bag of Sabritas Adobadas (read: Lays but better) and a couple Carlos V’s (read: Hershey’s but better [but actually read: Carlos Quintos]).

Carlos V candy bars
For real though, there is legit an Oxxo on every corner.

3. Flan

Two slices of flan
Mini Spanish lesson: when someone asks “¿Quieres flan?” the correct answer is always “Sí, por favor, lo dame ahora si deseas vivir.”

There was more than one episode of Friends mocking this traditional Mexican dessert, which pretty much confirms none of the cast or crew every tried it. With a consistency somewhere between jello and pudding and a taste somewhere between “I’m happy because I’m eating flan” and “I’m depressed because my flan was so delicious I ate it all already”, this is a unique treat that can’t really be compared to anything.

2. Pastor

Authentic pastor being prepared at a restaurant in Mexico City
Shoutout to Taqueria Los Hornillos for putting up with the weird gringo photographer snapping photos of their kitchen.

What is pastor? Hell if I know. I’m not even sure what type of meat it is – pork, I think? It’s probably the one food on this last you would be hardest pressed to find outside Mexico – some gringo restaurants offer “pastor” on their menu, but if you don’t see a spinning fiery pineapple-topped meat wheel in their kitchen, it is not even close to authentic. There are a million ways to eat pastor, but the best way is no contest….

1. Tacos

Tacos al pastor with limes and salsas
Shoutout to Taqueria Los Hornillos for being absolutely fricken delicious.

Not a lot needs to be said about tacos. If you haven’t been to Mexico, you haven’t had tacos. If you haven’t had tacos al pastor, you haven’t lived.

Bonus: Mezcal

Bottle of Oaxaca mezcal
Not only is it good luck to eat the worm, but it’s so saturated with alcohol it will get you wasted all by itself.

Not technically a food, but this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning authentic Oaxaca mezcal. I’ve known a lot of gringos who like to think of themselves as serious drinkers, but I’d love to see any of them pound back a shot of real mezcal. It’s hard to describe the experience and do it any justice. You know when you take a swig of tequila and get that sudden burn in the back of your throat? Imagine if just as that burn started to go away, it came back again, stronger than before. And then again and again and again. Literally forever. That’s mezcal.