Street art. Photo by author.
While I have done a bit of traveling in the last few years, my trip to Mexico City was, according to the following rules, my first vacation for quite a while: I didn’t go to work, I didn’t go under the obligation of visiting anyone, and I didn’t go with the intention of setting up home.
My choice of vacation spot had not impressed one of the doctors at my work. “Mexico City? That’s not relaxing!” She said. Where some may find relaxation on the beach, I find boredom easily. I travel to not be bored; I travel to find new stuff; to learn, and to collect memories.
These are just a few of my favourites from one week in Mexico.
Casa Azula: Frida Kahlo’s House
Frida Kahlo is all over D.F: the city where she was born and died. And of every place you see her image, none is so significant as that of the Casa Azul, where her life began and ended.
La Casa Azul. Photo by author.
Pre-Columbian sculptures and Communist memorabilia is scattered through the house, as well as items intensely personal — her corset, her bed, her kitchen — and functional — her easel and paintbrushes.
Frida’s paint and paintbrushes. Photo by author.
I felt a special atmosphere here, as if her spirit lingered in her timeless collection of items — of memories left behind. Each of those items tell a story and guided me through the house and through Frida’s life.
Frida’s bookshelf. Photo by author.
I was fortunate to travel to Mexico City with Julie, a writer whose mind, energy and professionalism I admire and envy. Julie had an article commissioned about Martha Ortiz Chapa, owner and executive of Dulce Patria in the Polanco district, and I got to tag along.
Martha delighted me with her talks about her passion for the femininity and sensuality of Mexican cuisine, as well as her love of literature and opera. I adored her. We got to sample Dulce Patria’s current menu — the menu changes monthly, and in September reflected el mes patrio (the patriotic month) — which included chiles en nogada, a traditional dish of poblano chile filled with shredded meat, fruit and spices, and topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Together the chile, cream and pomegranate seeds form the colours of the Mexican flag.
Chiles en nogada. Photo by author.
We had a dessert of rice pudding.
Dessert. Photo by author.
Then after dessert came the alegrías, small Mexican sweets presented on a tray under a spinning wooden airplane toy.
Alegrias. Photo by author.
I can’t miss mentioning the expression of powerful femininity in Dulce Patria’s logo.
Lucha Libre. Photo by author.
I’m not sure whether or not the novelty of la lucha wears off after the first visit or two, so if it does, I am especially grateful to Julie for taking me along to the Arena Mexico on a Tuesday evening to watch grown men in spandex, disguised with masks and ridiculous names, throw each other around and out of a wrestling ring, posture, and kick each other in the balls. I was hugely entertained; by the luchadores as much as the passionate crowd members who screamed and cursed, and by the awkward looking bikini-clad card girls.
Lucha promo. Photo by author.
It was entirely by accident, but I found myself in Mexico City for the Independence Day celebrations of September 15th. The week leading up to the big day had been a treat; seeing flags hung from so many buildings, novelty costumes, hats and Zapata-esque moustaches on sale on every street corner, and bakery window displays stacked high with patriotic cakes.
A couple of days prior, Julie had an interview with Miguel Angel Escobar Ramirez, Food and Beverage Manager of Hotel Camino Real by the airport, for a Fox News Latino article. Escobar shared with us some interesting insight into the depth of preparation involved in putting on an Independence Day party. The three most important ingredients, he told us, are decorations, music and food — as you can see from the photo, he supplied the decorations and food … as well as what must be the fourth: the tequila.
A patriotic lunch at El Camino Real. Photo by author.
And so to the day itself. The number of people in traditional costume or moustaches, or with green, red and white-painted cheeks steadily increased throughout the day and culminated with a gathering of thousands, in the zocalo (main square) in the evening. What a shame to watch as so many beautifully put together outfits, hairstyles, and face paintings got drenched in a torrential downpour that didn’t let up until the early morning. The vendors selling inelegant ponchos, however, had a great night of sales.
Zocalo 15 de septiembre. Photo by author.
We all stood together, in ponchos, squatting under the umbrellas of strangers, in the rain watching Jenni Rivera (a glamorous Mexican-American singer who exuded glamour even while pulling her soaking wet hair off her face and wiping away her running mascara) until at 11 p.m. President Calderon marched to the Palacio Nacional balcony to repeat the “Grito de Dolores,” a call to arms made by Miguel Hidalgo in 1810 that began the struggle for independence from Spain, finally achieved in 1821.
I am no Calderon fan, but his grito (the last of his presidency) gave me goosebumps. As he repeated the names of the heroes of Mexico in a call and response with the crowd crying “Viva!” after each, I choked. It was a heartrending, precious experience I would love to repeat some day.
Zocalo 15 de septiembre. Photo by author.
I fight the dissolution of these memories as I go back to my normal life; I want to hold on to them forever. I take a moment to stop and close my eyes so that I can envision the green, white and red patriotic decorations scattered around the city, hung from balconies and draped across shoulders. I imagine that I can smell chiles, hear the musical pitch of street vendors and taste thick, sweet atole.
Deep underneath the sensations of Latin America is a twisting regret. I could live here, I think to myself and I am reminded of the one year that I did. When I lived in Chile I was young and desperately missed a boyfriend I had left back in London. I had arrived in Valparaiso in August of 2001 and immediately began to count down the days, weeks, months until I would return to London. It is with a knot of shame that I try to avoid acknowledging that my time there was not as well spent as it could have been. I had a head full of London. The rhythm of Latin America, that I now romanticise, was too unchic; it stuttered and started where London’s had effortlessly flowed. I had an eating disorder and planned my days around trips to the gym and stared down the little bites of cookies and chocolates that came, without fail, with my espresso or cortado (cortados only occasionally, though: imagine the calories in the steamed milk!)
I travelled far and wide; from Iquique to Tierra del Fuego to Rio de Janeiro and to Montevideo. I accumulated books, knowledge, friends and modismos. I threw myself deep into the places I only passed through. I was enormously happy when I was moving, yet living in Valparaiso, which was travel without traveling, was a rhythm of which I delayed in catching the groove.
After a while I stopped counting down the days until I left and began to settle into my life in Chile. But, still, I regret that I was never as fully engaged with Chile as I could have, should have been.
Perhaps that is why I hold so tightly on to my memories of my all-too-brief visit to Mexico City.