Friday, May 13, 2016 | Mexico City
I’VE DONE MY last bit of extended walking in this great city. I’ve bought what I needed to buy, plus a bit more. I’ve seen most of what I wanted to see and, even though I’ve eaten nowhere near what I had hoped to eat, this trip is essentially over. I’ve already arranged for a cab to pick me up for my early-morning flight back to Houston and all I need to do now is pack and get myself down to the hotel lobby in the morning.
It’s a perfect time to my first-ever “Best of” list. Here goes:
BEST MEAL: two ham-and-cheese sandwiches in bolillos (like a baguette but shorter in length) bought from Pastelería Madrid, across the street from my hotel. I had spent my day mostly in Coyoacán, the neighborhood where the Frida Kahlo museum is, and had had nothing to eat except breakfast at the hotel and a flan at the museum restaurant. I really wasn’t hungry most of the day but as I neared my hotel, I realized I was famished, so I decided to stop at the Pastelería to pick up something. I was thinking a Mexican pastry, something to hold me over until I went out for dinner later in the evening, but as I got to the store, it started raining and it look as if it would keep on raining for a while. So I quickly changed plans and opted for a couple of the sandwiches on display near the front of the story. The moment I bit into the first sandwich I knew I was in gustatory heaven. I’ve been in Rome and I’ve been in Paris and I’ve been in Spain, and I’ve had great ham and cheese sandwiches in all those places, but not a single one came close to the utter deliciousness of these 9-peso (about 50 cents) sandwiches.
BEST PASTRIES: Pastelería Madrid (see above) on Calle 5 de Febrero, a couple of blocks south of the Zocalo. The molletes (conchas, pan de huevo, whatever you call them), at the lightest and fluffiest and best tasting I’ve ever had.
BEST ENTERTAINMENT: I came close to selecting the conjunto playing, soulful norteño music in the Zocalo as part of the Día de la Madre festivities. But in in the end, it couldn’t compare to the sound of a sidewalk duo between the Zocalo and my hotel, a father and son. The father looked to be in his late 30s, maybe early 40s, and the kid was no more than 6. The father played the accordion softly as his son held out a little blue plastic pan into which passers-by could drop some coins (not many did). The son looked bored and the father looked as if his mind was somewhere else. Periodically, he would break out into song, a ranchera usually, and within a split second, the son would wake up from whatever dream he was inhabiting and join him, offering a sweet, sweet harmony to his father’s voice. Despite the boy’s bored demeanor, he sang with force and enthusiasm, to the point that at times his voice ventured into a non-harmonic plane, which only served to make it all more endearing.
BEST INTERNSHIP: At the Salto de Agua station on the pink subway line, a man and his son jumped onto my train car seconds before the door shuts. The father was holding a small box in his hands and in that box were small packages of facial tissue, mints and other items. As soon as the train began to roll, the father broke out into a litany of what he had to offer, and for how much, and just how much his fellow passengers needed what he has to offer. Standing next to him, and holding on to his father’s leg, the son joined the litany, uttering word-for-word his father’s spiel. The first-ever two-part harmony sales pitch I’d ever heard.
BEST MERCADO: Mercado Insurgentes, in the Zona Rosa. I came upon this market by accident today on my way back to the hotel after visiting the museums in Chapultepec Park. While it offers many of the same tacky tourist tchotchkes as the other markets, most of the merchants seemed to have gone out of their way to stock items that are different – better quality, more creative – enough from the other stuff sole throughout Mexico.
BEST ENTREPRENEURSHIP: Two young women, each with a child in tow, stationed themselves in the middle of a pedestrian-only street in front of a busy bar, across the street from where I was having dinner. They had something to sell but I couldn’t figure out what it was and I couldn’t imagine how they’d earn any money at that site; the crowd in the bar – youngish, stylish – didn’t appear to be the type that would patronize street salespeople. But soon I started noticing that some of those patrons would exit the bar, alone or in pairs or small groups, and go to the women who would hand them each a cigarette in exchange for a coin or two. A classic supply-and-demand story. Somehow, these women figured out that young people in bars would sooner or later feeling the urge to put a stick of tobacco in their mouths, and that they’d be willing to pay for that.
BEST MUSEUM SHOP: At the Rufino Tamayo Museum. Beautiful, stylish stuff, some of it handcrafted, from Mexico and elsewhere. I could not resist a zippered portfolio (not that I need one), suitable as a sleeve for an 11-inch Macbook, made from recycled cement paper sacks, by a Mexican company called Paper and Grass. I also had to have – had to, I tell you – an Alessi espresso coffee maker I’d never seen before. I’m sure I have at least 15 coffee makers of all kinds, but I had to have this one.
BEST MUSEUM: La Casa Azul, the Frida Kahlo museum. A beautiful home in the Coyoacán district where Frida and Diego lived. Painted a deep, bright blue, it is an enchanting place.
BEST TIME NOT TO VISIT: May. Way too hot.
BEST WAY TO GET AROUND: Walking. Its the best way to get a flavor of the city. Second-best: the subway. Clean and efficient – and cheap (about 30 cents), it’ll get you most everywhere you need to go, or close enough. It is crowded as hell in rush hour and it’s not air-conditioned, but it works. Third-best: tour buses. Sounds hokey, but they offer a good way to get a feel of the city, not just the areas where you’re staying. I took it because I wanted to get a glimpse of the can-you-beat-this? skyscraper architecture that has got to be among the most exciting, daring and innovative in the world. Not quite as daring as what you might find in Beijing, but definitely better than anything the United States has to offer.
BEST BEER: An ice-cold Indio served on a hot afternoon as you sit in the shade outside a restaurant listening to and watching this great city go about its business.