CDMX: A Zócalo Walkabout

Standing here, in the Zócalo, the heart of Mexico City, I can see the city’s entire cultural history laid out. Layers of history spanning thousands of years. I can see it and I can touch it, all from this vantage point.

Physically, the Zócalo itself is nothing more than a large central plaza, a stone-paved platform for events, sacred and profane, bureaucratic and royal. It is the city’s place to protest or celebrate. It is the place where its people come to be seen and to be heard.

It is also the centre of the colonial-era city, a legacy best represented by the Cathedral Metropolitana, a vast heap of Baroque and Neo-Classical stonework dominating an entire side of the square. Construction started in 1524, just as the invading Spaniards began redefining Mexico City in their likeness.

Yet, just off to the right side of the Cathedral, tucked between it and a ring of Hispanic buildings, is the site of an earlier civilization, the one demolished in order to establish the Mexico City we see today.  Continue reading

CDMX: Night of the Dead

One of Mexico City’s sixteen boroughs, Xochimilco is, in some respects, the heart of the city. The vast lake that once covered the Valley of Mexico—including the entire site of today’s Mexico City—was tamed 1,000 years ago with a network of canals defined by artificial islands, called chinampas. Canals were once the main mode of transportation throughout the valley. Since colonization, that vast network has shrunk to what remains in Xochimilco. Today, it’s not more than a remnant, an endangered World Heritage Site. Yet what is left is a remarkable, enchanting place.

Today, Xochimilco is best known as a playground. This is where Mexicans come on Sundays and tourists come at all times for an entertaining afternoon ride along the canals on colourful trajinera boats. 

But, for Gail and me, the goals for our journey to Xochimilco have been deliciously disrupted. This is November 1, the first of two Days of the Dead.  Continue reading

CDMX: Marigolds for the Dead

November 1. Day of the Dead in Mexico City. We are in Mercado Jamaica, in the Venustiano Carranza neighbourhood, about 5 kilometres southeast of our hotel. It is here, in this bustling flower and food market, that families come to buy marigolds with the hope that their vivid colour and floral scent will guide their dead ancestors to altars (ofrendas) they will set up this evening.

Our guide for the next few hours is Ariane Ruiz from Eat Mexico tour company. Her knowledge is invaluable, helping our small group of anglophones comprehend the Mexican concept of death and the role of ofrendas on Dia de Muertos. Of no less importance, she guides us in an  exploration of street food found in and around the market.

I will let the pictures do the talking as we navigate the aisles of Mercado Jamaica. Continue reading

CDMX: Arrival

It hits us as soon as we leave the hotel. The blur of senses. Cars and trucks merge with walkers in a dangerous dance as we make our way east on Avenida Indepencia. Crowded sidewalks, shared with vendors under makeshift poly sheds, ply belts and plastic gizmos. A chef, high on a step ladder, slices spiced meat for tacos al pastor. Thin beef sizzles on a street-side grill. A cross street announces the city’s Chinatown, with red lanterns and stone lions. Further on, oval shaped cornmeal-and-bean huaraches cook on a street side grill. An intoxicating concoction of steam, smoke, spice, meat and corn fills the air. 

A few blocks on, Gail and I turn the corner and head for Churrería El Moro. Tucked behind an inconspicuous storefront is a charming old world cafeteria resplendent with blue trim and yellow formica. Here is the early afternoon treat we have been anticipating since leaving our frigid Winnipeg home. Here is the motherlode, the best churros in the world. Crisply fried sticks of warm dough, generously sprinkled with sugar for dipping into a cup of thick hot chocolate.

We have arrived in Mexico City. Continue reading