Ciudad de México

April 16th, 2010 Comments Off on Ciudad de México

México City has a gritty side. The zócalo, or city square (said to be one of the largest in the world), has a vague down-and-out vibe. It has nothing to do with the fact that its palatial colonial buildings are sinking into the ground–México City used to be a lake. The feeling comes more from a certain indescribable heaviness to the place, despite–or perhaps because of–the odd, carnivalesque music coming from the organ grinders who stand in front of the Cathedral with hats in hand, hoping for a few pesos. Or maybe the feeling is residual energy from the human sacrifices made here, when the city was called Tenochtitlan by the Aztecs, and the zócalo was the location of their temple dedicated to the gods of war and rain.

In between the square, which is located in the historic district where most tourists stay, and the neighborhood where Benjamin and I are staying–Condesa–I see places I would not want to be walking as I look out from the window of the metro. Even the prostitutes look menacing. Our travels around the city are hampered by the fact that getting into a taxi off the street could result in a robbery or kidnapping. Police and ambulance sirens are in abundance, enough to become white noise. There is plenty of information online about the dangers and crime of México City.

But there is also plenty of charm to be found here, in neighborhoods like Condesa, which travel magazines and guide books describe as hip and bohemian. There are placid parks, wide leafy avenues, bars, cafés, and restaurants with roving musicians and ebullient conversation that flows up and down Tamaulipas Avenue, keeping pace with the hectic traffic.

There are neighborhoods like Coyoacán, the location of Frida Khalo’s Blue House (which is now a museum; a glimpse into her home and private life costs less than five dollars). Here, the tranquil, cobblestone streets are punctuated with the electric fuchsia of bougainvillea and the purple spark of jacaranda trees. With its Spanish colonial-style buildings colored ochre, saffron, azure blue, and lavender, it’s easy to feel as if you’ve traveled to another city altogether. Actually, it used to be this part of town was not in México City–it’s 10 km south of downtown–but as the city constantly expands, the sprawl has consumed this once-village and others.

To get there, we walked through the Viveros de Coyoacán, the main nursery for all of México City’s parks and gardens. It’s like a densely forested park itself, but the vegetation here ranges from seedlings to more mature plants and trees, is all labeled with species names, and kept in tidy rows out in the open or in discreet greenhouses. The city virtually disappears the moment you enter the gate.

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