Saturday, November 17, 2007

My evening in downtown Mexico City

Mexico City is an assault on the ears. My hotel room wasn't even facing the street and I could hear traffic down below. On Saturday evening I ventured downtown. Constant horns, police blowing whistles, shops blasting music, and the worst street musicians ever filled the air. At first it was cute. When the novelty wore off it seemed ridiculous.

Metropolitan Cathedral in the Zocalo.

I started my visit at La Plaza de la Constitucion, also known as the Zocalo. It is a huge public square surrounded by the Metropolitan Cathedral, ruins of the Templo Mayor, the National Palace and other historic buildings.

Statue of Pope John Paul II.

The statue is made of small keys.

As I walked around the cathedral I noticed a statue that looked like it has been carved from a boulder. It looked like a man who was walking out of the stone. As I got closer, however, I realized that what looked like unsculpted rock was actually thousands of small keys.

Mexicans are not easily amused.

Near the statue I noticed a large group of people gathered, laughing. It was some sort of street comedy show involving taping an audience member up and coming after her with machetes.

The ruins of Templo Mayor are now a museum.

I continued walking around the Zocalo until I came to the ruins of the Templo Mayor, or Great Pyramid. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in Mexico City in the 1500's the area had been the Aztec capital city for 200 years.

A street concert at the Zocalo.

The Zocalo was a great place to walk around and people watch. There were various entertainers performing (intentionally and not).

Indigenous dress and dance.

There were several groups of indigenous people dancing and playing music. They had displays of fruits and vegetables out, and often has children bopping around with them.

Not-so-indigenous dress.

Mexico City is a huge city, but it does not seem to have the diversity of large US cities, but there were still all sorts of interesting people to watch. And what city is complete without Goths?

I ate dinner outdoors at La Casa de las Sirenas, which was recommended to me by Francisco, one of the people in my class. He said they have very traditional, high quality food at a good price.

Chicken with mole, rice and a tamale.

I ordered The mole had a definite spicy-chocolate flavor. Not being a big chocolate aficionado, this isn't my favorite flavor. The more of the meal I ate the more I liked it. It is not something I would want to eat every day, but it was a meal.

The streets of historic district at dusk.

After dinner I started walking to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, the Palace of Fine Arts. It was about 5 blocks through small streets crowded with people walking and talking. Bakeries, shops and restaurants lined the streets.

Palacio de Bellas Artes

The Palacio de Bellas Artes is a magnificent stone building. It is not a huge building, but it is beautiful.

Inside the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

On the outside, anyway. The inside reminded me of something from the mind of Donald Trump. I am not a fan of the red marble.

When I left the Palace of Fine Arts it was dark outside. Across the street there is a park, which looked a bit like a typical New York City park (walking paths that wind through trees and grass, but the trees and grass are fenced off. In front of the park a street market had set up. I could see its lights so I decided to investigate.

People were selling cotton candy and various other snacks, clothes, wallets, etc. A couple of booths were selling grilled corn, which looked very good. As I walked around I considered whether or not I would try some of the food.

The street food that lined Boulevard Adolfo Ruiz Cortines, the street on which my hotel was located, remained a temptation the whole time I was in Mexico City. Everyone I talked to back in the US told me I should go ahead and try it. When I asked the people in my class they didn't hesitate for a moment to advise me against eating it. By midweek I had decided that I wouldn't eat the street food being sold outside my hotel.

I noticed a woman grilling corn. She had a large bowl filled with corn she had cut off the cob. The corn was mixed with pieces of red chili peppers. I was able to convince myself that I would be safe eating corn with peppers, because the peppers would kill anything that might make me sick. Obviously no scientist, I.


I put my cowardice aside and used my best sign language to indicate I wanted to try what she was making. I was able to ask her how much it cost and I was able to understand her answer ($13). Then she asked me if I wanted to add lime and a couple of other things. I didn't understand her, but I told her to add the ingredients.

This turned out to be esquites, and it was topped with cheese and mayonnaise. It was very good, but I could only eat a few bites of it. I had already eaten dinner and the food was so rich, being covered in mayonnaise.

It was getting late and I wanted to get back to the hotel. Kelley asked me to find her some Mexican chocolate since this is the part of the world where chocolate first came from. I got the names of a couple of stores in the mall across the street from my hotel where I might be able to find some.

Figuring I could find a cab at one of the tourist hotels, I started to walk back to the Zocalo. Almost immediately I noticed some sort of street market (I think it was on the street Eje Central Lazaro Cardenas). I decided to take a quick look.

What a find! I've heard of street markets like this but I had never seen one. Baby dolls were for sale directly next to DVDs of Man Juice 2, Back for Seconds and Hot Beaver. There were clothes, shoes, electronics, every kind of DVD and music you could think of...

It was like what I think people expect New York's Chinatown to be. Chinatown is full of stores packed with junk. This market had its share of junk, but there was a lot of stuff there that was interesting.

Alas, I didn't buy much more than a pair of sunglasses for $10 (approximately $1 in US dollars). My shopping instincts are not well refined. I immediately called Kelley to report the find. She suggested I buy more than 1 pair. Great idea! Too bad I couldn't find that booth again.

I was talking to Kelley when I noticed a CD carrying case that was shaped like a hamburger. It was like a combination stuffed toy and CD case. I thought it was really cute. I asked the man how much it was: $40.

As I reached into my wallet Kelley suggested I barter. All I had in my wallet were $20 bills, so I took one out and said that was all I had. The man took the burger back. I walked away, hoping I would find someone else selling the hamburger so I could buy it. I never did.

This market went on and on and on. I walked for at least 12 blocks and there was no end in sight. Eventually I left because I really wanted to try to find chocolate for Kelley.

Finding a taxi back to the hotel was not a very easy thing. The first cab I hailed on the street told me no, traffic was too bad going in that direction. I decided to find the Holiday Inn, figuring there would be taxis lined up in front.

Locating the Holiday Inn wasn't so easy. I must have walked by it 5 or 6 times that day so far, but it was on a side street that I didn't even notice. I walked in circles for 45 minutes trying to find the hotel.

Eventually I found the hotel. Unfortunately there were no cabs lined up. The hotel was not the sort of hotel where cabs can even line up if they wanted to. I stood around for 10 minutes until finally a cab came by.

He turned out to be a very nice guy. He really wanted to talk to me, but he spoke only slightly more English than I speak Spanish. The 45 minute ride back to the hotel was like trying to have a conversation with a dentist as he works on your teeth.

Eventually I made it back to the hotel at 8:30 pm. Since the mall closed at 9:00 pm, I ran there and found store where I could buy some chocolate.

The chocolate I bought for Kelley.

Again, the language barrier prevented me from getting what I wanted. Since I do not like chocolate that much, I wanted to get a variety for Kelley to make sure she got to try some different things and to be sure I got her at least some things she liked. Instead I had to settle for 6 pieces of one type.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

So here I am in my hotel in Mexico City, having just arrived for a week long stay with my wife and kids, and I'm google searching on stuff do to in the evening (it's 7:30pm local time) and I stumble upon this blog entry... I enjoyed the story line and the great photos, and then I look at who wrote it, and whaddyaknow it's someone i KNOW!!!! Small World!

Got any other tips on Mexico City?