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Sunday in the Park (Fun Things To Do When Your Broke)

22 November 2003

November days are clear – a little brisk, sunny and the pollution is nowhere near what I read in the guidebooks. I’ve been working on some projects at home, and this is the time of the month where I’m always financially challenged (like most foreign teachers, I’m paid the middle of the subsequent month… and after paying the rent, laying in supplies, etc., there isn’t a lot of mad spree money – or even relatively sane mild amusement money — until the 15th). There’s a limit to how long one can spend hunched up over the laptop, and consulting books. And the parrot is no conversationalist.

I needed a break for a couple of hours and was reminded of exactly why I live in Mexico City. I know some of our correspondents from the campo have other ways to kill a few hours, but here’s what I do in the city. On the ten-minute walk to the Metro, I greeted the neighbors, admired my neighbor’s 1962 Chrysler Imperial and discussed dogs with the human companion of Polverón, a friendly, well-behaved Golden Retriever of my acquaintance.

My Metro line (Santa Anita – Martin Carrera) is an elevated line down the east side of the city. I have a choice of views – the mountains (including Popocatépetl) — or the city skyline. At Candalaria, I read the newspaper headlines while walking to the Observatorio – Pantitlan line. None of the Sunday papers especially enticed me, and I really didn’t want to hole up reading a newspaper anyway.

Aguila o sol? Observatorio. I’d done my monthly pilgrimage to Merced (the station always smells of onions – but then, it is right in the middle of a market large enough to include its own parish church). And, I wasn’t carrying the money for grocery shopping (nor my shopping bag). Pino Suarez? I’m not looking for clothing or computer software, nor am I interested in visiting Cortés’ grave today. Zocalo? Endlessly fascinating, but not today. Hidalgo? The parks, the squares and… the best hamburgesas on the planet can wait a while. Balderas? My knee has been bothering me: I can walk but dancing with the old ladies at Parque Morelos might be tempting fate. Cuauhtémoc? Some of my favorite “art deco” architecture, and a favorite Cuban café, but feeling a bit unimaginative, I got off at Insurgentes for the Zona Rosa.

Not carrying much money is sometimes the best idea. The book fair at Insurgentes Station had some “Crazy” temptations. Patsy Cline’s Greatest Hits (not pirata!) for only 30 pesos! Should I ever want to get in touch with my inner bubba, I know the sound track is available. The jazz ensemble and the dance troupe’s performances were free. I ran into a friend of mine on calle Genova, and settled in at an outdoor café to enjoy either the first or second-best floor show in Mexico (I have never decided if calle Genova or the Zocalo is the more entertaining. Genova may lose a point or two for being so self-consciously flamboyant). My friend is addicted to the news from north of the border, so, after hearing the unpleasant details of life in the old country, my sense that moving to Mexico was the right decision was renewed.

One café americano and an hour or so conversation with an American friend, and the new Mexican friends who couldn’t find a table, was enough of the Zona Rosa. Too much time on calle Genova can give you “hip-ititis” (terminal trendiness), and the sight of an overweight, late middle-aged man waddling down Genova in tight, tight, tight white bicycle shorts is enough to convince me it was time to move on to more aesthetically-pleasant surroundings!

A much more pleasant sight – one of those extraordinary ordinary bits of life – was the policewoman with a big teddy bear strapped to her back. I strolled down Reforma towards the Alameda. Contrary to popular belief, it wasn’t Maximilliano who laid out this route. His much more intelligent horse blazed the trail, and the much more competent Porfirio Diaz decided to make it an elegant paseo. The present city administration has been sprucing it up recently, and has done a great job. The plantings, sidewalks, shop windows, monuments and architecture (from Porfiriate to post-modern) merit a leisurely stroll. And there are the sculpted nopales: a long-term temporary show of every possible (and some improbable) variations on a theme. I’m not sure how the present city government managed the feat (perhaps it’s the uniforms), but even the police officers along Reforma are better looking than before.

The Alameda has been the people’s Zona for the last few hundred years — a great place to just hang out, make out, walk around, kick a futbal around, take a siesta or take in the sites. The tour books would have you believe that gay and lesbian Chillengos are a exotic foreign-introduced species only to be found in the Zona. The world’s first gay rights demonstration was in the Alameda in 1901. It ended tragically. Felix Diaz, the dictator’s nephew (and Mexico City’s police chief) rounded up the demonstrators, sending most to be worked to death in the labor camps of the Valle Nacional. (Porfirio was ahead of his time. Europeans like Stalin and Hitler wouldn’t emulate this method of controlling dissidents for another 30 or more years). It’s fitting the gay working class favors the 1985 Earthquake Survivor’s Memorial.

The Park is for everyone – old ladies sunning themselves, families with babies, morose gangs of teenagers and prostitutes, male, female and transvestite all happily co-exist. The prostitutes aren’t nearly as numerous as they were even a few years ago. Times change, but the Alameda has a long, long tradition for … uh… flaming. Watching the heretics burn was one of the more popular attractions in the 17th century. In the 21st, it looks as if the heretics are back: and the all-woman Baptist-preacher mariachi band I watched (but was not saved by) was hot! Myriad forms of salvation – through Jesus, Buddha, the Virgin, AA, and the Secretariat of Public Education – are sold here every Sunday. Open to self-knowledge myself, I did get weighed (“Su peso por un peso” – how can I resist that sales pitch, and at that price?) I’m a little underweight, which excused splurging on one of those famous Alameda hamburgesas (the usual beef, mustard, mayo, onions, yellow cheese you’d get in any greasy spoon – plus white cheese, chilies, ham, bacon, and avocado – in an ambiance even the classiest greasy spoon could never duplicate). For some reason, I declined a free cholesterol check.

Hearing a few bands and the Word, watching a few magic acts, people watching, a little harmless flirtation, getting a bite to eat and otherwise killing time, I just grabbed the Metro at Hidalgo for the trip home (this time by the underground Universidad-Indios Verdes route). There’s a bus from Portrero station to my house. Even though I take this route almost daily, it still surprises me. Guadalupe Tepayac, another of those neighborhoods not in tour books, is a visual delight. The homes all have well-maintained, colorful facades, lots of wrought-iron and bits of whimsy I’m still discovering. Today’s news: the Virgin recommends Comex paint (or at least her image is included in the local hardware store’s homemade advertising campaign).

There I have it. What would I do in a country town? Take a walk? Drive or take the bus to the local attraction? Talk to the same folks I met last week… and the week before… and the month before that… about whatever we talked about last time? So, I’m a jaded urbanite – and a cheap one. A couple of floor shows interspersed with musical numbers; dinner and a drink (well, a coffee, but that’s me); opportunities for sex and romance had I been so inclined today; a brush with religion; an art tour, a history lesson; and some exercise – cost me 4 pesos in Metro tickets, 10 for coffee, 12 for a hamburger and 2 for the bus… 28 pesos.

One is unlikely to be shocked by white bicycle shorts on a fat butt in the country, and some delicate souls may never recover. Or, like the misguided Aztecs who were off-limits to the Inquisition, they may have received the wrong training and information. Invincible ignorance isn’t just for theologians: there are those misguided “true believers” in the polluted, dirty, dangerous and “unMexican” Mexico City. Charity requires acceptance. Mexico long ago eschewed burning heretics and sending dissidents to the gulags. I suppose in the spirit of tolerance, I can accept those who avoid my city for any number of misguided (or mis-guidebooked) reasons. But to those who post questions like “what do I do in Mexico City for a few hours?” there’s a simple answer – walk around and enjoy yourself. We do.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nancy permalink
    19 May 2010 3:27 am

    wow I really enjoyed reading this article, it send me on a spiritual voyage to Mexico city even though I’ve never been there physically. Thank you.

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