For centuries there has been an argument between two parties on different sides of the fence, quarrelling over which is better: quantity or quality. Some say, the more the merrier and others believe good things come in small packages – think of gourmet restaurant portions. When it comes to Mexico City, both of these worlds walk harmoniously hand in hand down Reforma and strut together around town. I am actually surprised how such a humongous city in terms of its urban sprawl and overall population can run smoother than Toronto, that is not even a quarter of its size. Sure there are shady areas as in most cities, but some of the posh neighbouroods there would make little miss Rosedale or elegant madam Fifth Avenue blush. A shopper’s paradise if you can afford it! I had the pleasure of visiting and enjoying some of these parts of the city while working at the Canadian Embassy a few summers ago during my undergraduate days.
|My friends from work in Mexico|
When it comes to the food in this city, it is a true glutton’s refuge. The locals keep their traditional dishes and love to cook, cherishing mealtime with friends and family as a chance to catch up. Everyone is welcome around the table, even a friend of a friend of a friend who no one really knows. In terms of restaurant suggestions, as a friendly hefty Mexican once told me in that classic cheesy Western movie accent: “Never ask a skinny guy where to eat, amigo!” These are wise words coming from an experienced belly indeed. During my time in Polanco, an upscale, European-style neighbourhood, I was invited on numerous occasions to several different restaurants for work lunches and dinners. From tacos to steaks, sushi to chistorra, there is everything to cater to any imaginable taste and cooked from scratch – unlike our countries where everything seems to be reheated from those huge Costco boxes. It is no wonder why most Mexicans have a bit of a pancita. Eating is truly a pleasure and a normal social thing. Nobody eats alone. However, I am still amazed I managed to return to Ottawa lighter than when I left. I must have been chewing on pure magical chilango hospitality – OK maybe I’m taking this too far, but man the food is good.
This city is magnificent for those who are interested in history, especially the pre-Colombian blend. There are several outstanding museums, and pyramids that still stand the test of time showing us inferior tourist proof that the great Aztecs were indeed master engineers and builders. The most spectacular ruins can be visited slightly on the outskirts of the city, in gorgeous Teotihuacan. Of course, bottleneck traffic is a daily challenge – even worse during protests, soccer games, or any other reason for popular gatherings, which are more and more frequent as more people pile in to the city limits to make this place their home – and outings must be planned accordingly. I once spent seven hours in a traffic jam because some Cruz Azul was playing a Copa Libertadores match against Rosario Central. I will never forget that dreadful day, not because the Argentines lost – I watched the results on Fox Sports Noticias – but because of the time I lost and would never get back. On the bright side, at least I got to see Jesús Silva-Herzog, a candidate for mayor, having the snooze of the century next to his patient driver. True story! I could almost hear the guy snoring away to the tune of his persistent engine while a fly zig zagged in and out of his large mouth at every breath. His campaign slogan was “We have to bring order to this city.” If he had managed to become mayor, he would have lost major ‘power nap’ time. Anyway, do plan your outings according to the traffic patterns.
My responsibilities at the embassy led me to various Mexican universities to assist senior staff in academic presentations and organizing conferences. This was a fantastic and unique experience. I sat in Canadian studies classes in some very iconic buildings at the UNAM, one of the first universities established in the New World. Who would have imagined hundreds of years ago, that a bunch of young, intellectual Mexican students would be learning facts about my birth country? I rapidly built a strong rapport with many of the academics, staff and students, exchanging thoughts on NAFTA and the potential future of bilateral relations between our countries. They were particularly interested in our progressive and transparent legislation in Canada, hoping to bring some of these ideas into democratizing a country that had been under the rule of one party for about 70 years. It was interesting to notice that for those knowledgeable students – they were my own age, and most of my peers in Canada knew less about Mexico that they did about Canada - we were not just all a bunch of gringos in one gringo basket, North of the Rio Grande. They envisioned their estranged hockey-loving cousin as a viable partner and a potential ally at the negotiation table against the ambitious common neighbour that made our life so sweet in more ways than one. Surely, it does not take too much time for a Canadian and a Mexican to find something in common they dislike about US policies. Sorry, Uncle Sam but you make this way too easy for the rest of us. We hope you change your ways eventually.
|Alejandro and I in the courtyard of the National Palace|
If there was only one place I had to recommend people to visit, an absolutely MUST see area of the city, is the Zócalo – the main downtown square. From this heart of the city, you will immediately be captivated by some incredible architecture and you will see what I have been rambling about in previous blog entries about the military mentality the Spaniards had in establishing their major settlements. The National Palace is perhaps one of the more breathtaking colonial buildings and there is a great story behind its construction. Apparently, the Spaniards had mixed up the building designs of the Mexican National Palace and the main Peruvian prison, which can be noticed in the curiously small offices in the National Palace. Inside this palace, there are several murals depicting only some of the very talented local artists, such as the world renowned Diego Rivera. Next door, you will find the National Cathedral and some of the ruins of old Tenotchtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. This is without a doubt, a city where ancient history coexists gracefully with the new.