From Mexico City

Mexico City: Plaza Garibaldi

Another major hot spot we just didn’t manage to get to on our first trip was Plaza Garibaldi, where all the mariachis gather. The symbol on the signs for the metro stop is a guitar.

The plaza had a reputation for seediness, and it’s now being spruced up in that slightly heavy-handed way city planners use when they want to get rid of blight. Lots of LED lights and green glass, and a museum. Presto!

The actual open area was a bit too tidy and unfocused for our tastes, so we hightailed it to Bar Tenampa, which is famous as apparently the first bar on Plaza Garibaldi. Inside, it feels like the party has indeed been going nonstop for the better part of a century.

It’s a big barn of the place with high ceilings and huge murals of great singers, and bright lighting.

Those are jarocho guys, with the harp. Mariachis lurk in every other corner.
Those are jarocho guys, with the harp. Mariachis lurk in every other corner.

Mere words and photos can’t describe the atmosphere of the place. Let’s try a little multimedia experiment instead.

First, pour yourself a drink. We were fond of palomas–tequila and Squirt (say it ‘Esquirt’), with salt around the rim. I can also recommend a ponche de granada, which Tenampa seemed to specialize in, and of which I had never heard. It’s booze and pomegranate juice, aged for a bit, and served with crumbled pecans floating on top. Seriously, dangerously drinkable–good thing I only got around to ordering one on the last round.

What really makes it is the dainty glass!
What really makes it is the dainty glass!

Now, all settled in with your drink? Start this video playing.

That’s just for background, really. What we really care about is the next song. The lyrics are painted on the wall:

Que borracho!
Que borracho!

Maybe best to click on that and open it in another tab, to see the words.

Got that? Now start this next video. Yes, at the same time as the other one.

WHAT?! YOU CAN’T HEAR ME? THAT’S OK. THAT’S NORMAL! JUST RAISE YOUR GLASS AND SING ALONG!!! THAT’S WHAT THE PEOPLE AT THE OTHER TABLES ARE DOING!

If you’re still not feeling the cacophonous, drunken magic, go stick your finger in a light socket.

Because, as an added attraction, in addition to the three separate mariachi groups in the bar, and the jarochos, there are guys walking around selling electric shocks. With, like, jumper cables. Apparently this is a thing in Tijuana and Juarez, and I guess wherever vast amounts of tequila are drunk; I never knew how sheltered I was.

Near the end of the night, one of our party said, “I’m exactly three shots away from doing that.” It seemed like a fair assessment. He’d already done quite a few.

My magic camera that captured the evening just as I saw it.
My magic camera that captured the evening just as I saw it.

Hiring a band (M$120 per song; M$50 for the puny jarochos) was a way of coping, of creating a wall of sound that screened out the others. The bathroom attendant, for her part, wore noise-canceling headphones.

In a way, the noise was so solid that it made everything like a silent film. Far down the end of the room, I watched a small, brief melodrama unfold: two tall, jocky American bros guzzled shots, stood up and jumped around and posed for pictures and danced. I glanced away, then glanced back, and they were already back in their seats, bent over, heads on the table.

I would totally go again. I just want to learn some lyrics first.

Mexico City: Beyond the Palacio Nacional

Peter and I went to Mexico City two years ago. It happened to be the week before Easter, when the city runs at half-speed because everyone’s on vacation. We were too, so we just didn’t wind up doing very much sightseeing.

Oh, why am I making excuses? We never do much sightseeing. It’s just too tedious to make big plans and maps and timetables, and get your heart set on any one thing. (Precise opposite: friend of a friend who planned her family’s trip to Disney World with a spreadsheet, down to the minute.)

Awe-some. Like, really, awe.
Awe-some. Like, really, awe.

The other problem with planning too much is it’s basically admitting you’re never going back to a place. If you have a big checklist, and you check off all the sights, well, then why would you come back?

I know, the world is a big place and we have a limited amount of time here, so I see why people are strategic (especially with only two weeks of vacation a year; the American workplace is savage). But let me dream, OK? I would much rather leave a place with a pang of regret–which may be strong enough to make me go back–than some kind of bucket-list satisfaction.

This is all a very roundabout justification for my own laziness and the fact that, on our first visit, we didn’t even manage to see the Diego Rivera murals in the Palacio Nacional. They were, what, five blocks from our hotel?

This time, we were three blocks closer. No excuse.

I could load you up with photos, but I’d seen the photos before, and I didn’t understand how powerful the murals are. While we were in Puebla, Peter and I were in awe of the buildings–like, how was it the Spanish were building such amazing things just 40 years after they discovered the place, and the English couldn’t even keep a colony of settlers alive?

The answer is in the last of the murals.

If you answered 'slave labor,' you win a prize.
If you answered ‘slave labor,’ you win a prize.

After that, we cheered ourselves up with ice cream.

Colors of the Mexican flag, no coincidence.
Colors of the Mexican flag, no coincidence.

And some tacos–grilled beef and cactus.

Gorgeous.
Gorgeous.

That were grilled in this contraption:

See that? Next trend in food trucks. Mark my words.
See that? Next trend in food trucks. Mark my words.

Not sightseeing rewarded us with those tacos, and several other neat things.

Crazy bottles of booze.
Crazy bottles of booze.
The pinafore store--for all your street-vendor-uniform needs.
The pinafore store–for all your street-vendor-uniform needs.
The Mercado de Dulces...which really was the candy market.
The Mercado de Dulces…which really was the candy market.
Funny fonts. It's like they saw the 'circ' and thought 'circus'.
Funny fonts. It’s like they saw the ‘circ’ and thought ‘circus’.
Shrimp 'cocktel'.
Shrimp ‘cocktel’.
A perfectly nice art deco warehouse.
A perfectly nice art deco warehouse.

Wait, you’re saying, that’s just not interesting at all. No–look closer!

Hello, plaintains, ripening like hams in the Alpujarras!
Hello, plaintains, ripening like hams in the Alpujarras!

The most trivial thing we did in our post-Palacio walk was stop for many long minutes to watch a street vendor make a perfectly round pancake, without the aid of a mold. While we were sitting, playing it cool, waiting for him to pour the batter, I realized why you can’t always travel like this, planless.

People! Other people! What a pain they are.

No, seriously, we love our friends we went to Mexico City with, and we would have happily spent all of our time with them. But they’d gone off to Trotsky’s house, which is amazing, but we weren’t sure we needed to see again.

Practically speaking, you can’t stop a group of four or six people and say, “Hey, guys, check out that pancake maker. Let’s watch him for a while.” At least not if you want to make it through the day alive.

Hell, you can’t even do this with one other person, if that other person isn’t totally on your travel wavelength.

I feel incredibly lucky that Peter is. Sure, sometimes I wish he’d wake up maybe a little earlier, but he’s totally open to the ‘Wait, stop, let’s…’ and ‘Take a pic of that weird thing’ (most of the photos here are his, at my prodding) and ‘[Chortling at some incredibly immature thing]’.

The fundamental similarity that makes it all possible, though, is that we don’t care if we miss some big sights. We get so many little ones instead.

Mexico City #8: Xochimilco Market

Probably just as good as Xochimilco itself is the market in the neighborhood. It was the first one we stopped into on our trip, so we just assumed it was normal. Turned out it is a slightly cooler than usual market, and man, was it bustin’ out with the food.

xochi market

fillings

serving up

While Peter was buying snacks from ladies in sparkling aprons, I took a spin around the place. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such luscious-looking lard.

lard

As I said in an earlier post, chicharron here is better than I’ve ever seen. I wish I’d taken photos of the normal display technique: propping it up vertically inside a glass case, with a light behind, so it glows orange (paging Matthew Barney).

Instead, here’s some more prosaic chicharron for sale, still certainly flaky and delicious:

chicharron

I haven’t seen such a variety of moles before either–in the Yucatan, there’s a smaller number of recados (spice pastes) on offer. This market sold them both as dry powders and as pastes, with almonds, with shrimp, with walnuts, with pine nuts….

moles

But this is my favorite photo from the market, and perhaps from our whole trip. How fresh is food in Mexico? It’s this fresh!

chicken butt

OK, chicken butts–this concludes our Mexico City photo tour. Thanks a million for looking.

Now the question is: When can I go back? And what should we do next time?

See previous posts:
Mexico City #1: End of the Line
Mexico City #2: Things Organized Neatly
Mexico City #3: Street Food Tour
Mexico City #4: Union Power
Mexico City #5: Color Me Impressed
Mexico City #6: Simply Signage
Mexico City #7: Xochimilco

Mexico City #7: Xochimilco

Years ago, when I lived by 36th Avenue in Astoria, there was a restaurant down there called Xochimilco. It was slightly upscale Mexican (which I now realize is just normal Mexican), and even though I couldn’t pronounce the name, I did know it was this beautiful network of canals in Mexico City.

It didn’t seem to go with the restaurant, exactly, as it sat under the rumbling N-train tracks, but it seemed even more improbable to me that there was this lush area of gardens and canals in Mexico City, which in my mind was nothing but concrete and traffic and smog.

But now I’ve been there, and I can tell you it’s true. But it still seems like a dream.

We took the metro and then the nifty little tram. Here’s the boss’s office at the tram terminal:

That looks so calm and normal, right? No indication of what lay ahead… On the tram, Peter and I are the only non-Mexicans, and then I see a guy with stubble and a Sonic Youth shirt get on, and he comes walking toward us. Sigh–must Brooklynites follow us wherever we go?

He and his girlfriend stand near us, and proceed to start speaking…in Greek. So Peter joins in, and it turns out they live in Belgium and a very cool and nice. And good thing we meet them, as once we get to the boat docks, a short walk from the tram stop, it’s clear that we would’ve been a little sad and lonely, just me and Peter on a boat. Because these boats are big, built for giant family outings.

Nothing’s really going on at the dock, and we feel a bit sad, as we’d thought we could maybe share a boat with some Mexicans, and now we feel like we’ll be missing out, on our lonely, only-four-people boat.

Our captain says, No, don’t worry–there will be plenty of party for us. And he gets us a cooler full of giant beers, and we set off. Slowly. These boats have no motors–they’re just punted, gondola-style.

After a little bit, we turn out and onto a canal, and I think we all privately must’ve laughed to ourselves about feeling lonesome and like we were missing out. Because this is what we see.

xochimilco boats

Soon we’re up in the fray, which miraculously never turns into total gridlock, and our boat just glides between parties.

dancing on boats

What’s great is that the boats are so big, and the families so big, is that there’s enough room for kids to split off on their own. I saw one boat with sullen teens flopped on one end, texting, while their grandmothers gossiped on the chairs nearby. These kids were taking a breather:

kids on boat

And we’d also stupidly worried we should’ve brought food. What was I thinking? You never have to bring your own food in Mexico. Of course there was someone–on a boat–ready to make us lunch:

boat kitchen

Lunch service, on our own boat, included the festive checked tablecloth:

lunch on boat

We glided around a bit more, got off and walked through a greenhouse, and spied this odd guy:

dog

All this time, I haven’t mentioned the music. Boats full of freelance mariachis glided through, latching on to host boats to sing a few songs, then carrying on. We’d been mooching off of everyone else’s ambience, so near the end of our two-hour tour, we flagged down our own guys.

“Sing us songs that will make us cry!” we said. Not that we needed to specify–they could be singing about rainbows and kittens, and all we have to hear is those trumpets and that full-throated voice, and we’d be weeping.

mariachis

That’s our Greek fellow passenger in the foreground. Thumbs up for Xochimilco. I think I want to go back and have my birthday there. Or your birthday. Or anyone’s, really.

See previous posts:
Mexico City #1: End of the Line
Mexico City #2: Things Organized Neatly
Mexico City #3: Street Food Tour
Mexico City #4: Union Power
Mexico City #5: Color Me Impressed
Mexico City #6: Simply Signage