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Name Droppers in the ‘hood (the news from Lake Texcocobegone)

18 September 2004

A friend of mine was once showing a Finnish tourist around the Zocalo and ran into Finland’s most famous movie star (as opposed to… Finland’s other movie star? Its not a very big country) at el Café Popular. And why not…? It’s probably the world’s best known Mexican Chinese French diner in the world. EVERYBODY goes to the Café Popular sooner or later. Everybody who’s anybody anyway.I USED to go there (for breakfast, not to goggle at film stars speaking an incomprehensible Urgo-Algaric language with too many vowels) but it’s in every tourist guide ever published and priced accordingly. Good tamales (Sino-Franco-Oaxacaño style) though. Besides, Mexico City has about 3 times as many people as all of Finland. And better climate and more sunshine. You’re bound to run into somebody who’s somebody somewhere sooner or later. I used to have my coffee in the same Sanborn’s as Elena Poniatowska (boy, and I though Popocatepetl was hard to spell!). This is THE Sanborn’s (the Casa de Azulejos – a 16th century palace turned into the world headquarters for the International Workers of the World – “Anarchists Unite” – decorated by Jose Clemene Orozco, now the world’s most elegant diner), but we favor the not-so-elegant coffee shop on the side. Less tourists.And Ms. Poniatowsa is a Socialist – maybe those Anarchist murals bother her. At the Café L’Opera (where Pancho Villa put a bullet hole in the ceiling trying to get those snobby waiter’s attention) – not a regular hangout, but I met an ex-cop who wanted to figure out the entry angle for Pancho’s bullethole – Carlos Slim (not as rich as Bill Gates, but up there on the same lists) came strolling in with his very heavily armed bodyguards. I guess it’s a tradeoff. If you’re the richest guy in Latin America, you have to go to L’Opera for a snack and travel in an armored SUV with a lot of scary-looking dudes. If you’re only a novelist, journalist and Polish royalty you go to the café Carlos owns and pay 11.50 for your café Americano like everyone else (free refills though).I don’t even need to buy coffee to see somebody who was somebody. I once saw Jimmy Carter walking into the Palacio de Bellas Artes (Jimmy also ranks an armored SUV and a lot of big, scary, heavily-armed hangers-on). I’m still annoyed the King and Queen of Spain (who I once ran into on the street) didn’t invite me to their son’s wedding… maybe the invitation got lost in the mail. Yesterday, I saw Junichiro Koizumi, drive by… it’s the holiday weekend, and I just happened to be walking up calle Cinco de Mayo when the motorcade came up the street. Mexicans are so laid back, it wasn’t much of an official motorcade — other than a traffic cop holding up the cross street traffic, wasn’t a lot to see — I’ve seen bigger funeral processions. The Prime Minister of Japan was the old hippie in the back of the stretch Toyota (of course). Followed by a vanload of Japanese officials (with cameras — are they surgically attached to all Japanese men over the age of 30?), a vanload of Boinas Negras (“black berets” — who out of uniform are just big, friendly guys, but in uniform look like the machine guns are for decoration — or to pound you into tamale if you fuck with them) and… one lone woman in the back of a Cadillac. Must have been the CIA contact.

I AM JUST SOOOOO JADED… I prefer my own neighborhood. It’s not the oldest neighborhood in the city (only being incorporated within the limits in 1550) and it’s antecedents aren’t exactly grand (it was the Aztec city dump), but it has its charms…. This was a wealthy neighborhood from the turn of the last century up until about WWII and touches of the old elegance still exist. Lots of late Porfieriate and Art Deco buildings, including the very weird Museo Chopo (a transplanted provincial German railway station… originally Porfirio had it brought over to house Tyranosauris Mex … now it’s the U.N.A.M. student art museum).
In the 1920s, Sta. Maria del Ribera was a hotbed of Catholic reactionaries. Don’t ever say that Mexico hasn’t been ahead of the times… or that we are stuck in traditional gender roles. Our very own Osama bin Ladin was Madre Conchita, a former nun (the convents had been closed in 1924) who led weekly prayer services at the Josephine Fathers’ church on calle Sta. Maria del Ribera. The rest of the week, she was busy running guns to the Cristero guerillas (financed by my favorite crazy oil man, William F. Buckley – Senior. Junior’s crazy in his own way, but writes much better) and fomenting one plot against the government after another. She convinced — or inspired (depends whose history you read) one of her congregants to assassinate president (re)-elect Alvaro Obregon in 1929. Torral was tried, executed and buried out of our parish church. As were the the Pro Suarez brothers, who were radical clerics, but probably not terrorists. San Miguel Pro Suarez – he got the “San” in 1992 – is the patron saint of lottery tickets. His last words to the firing squad were “life’s a lottery, and I win a Christian martyrdom”. The site is now… of course… the National Lottery building). The Madre got life without parole on the Tres Marias, gave up on the Buckleys, settled down, married and raised a family (Tres Marias is Mexico’s Devils Island, but with better food. It’s still a penal colony, but the government wants to close it – mostly because its so expensive to maintain a high school for the convict’s children … and Mexicans tend to stay with mom and dad, so you have folks who’ve lived there all their lives, simply because grand-dad was a very bad boy when he was young).What finally got rid of the reactionaries around here was Francisco Franco. All those middle-class Spanish anarchist home-buyers made the area a hotbed of both leftist politics (it’s still a safe PRD district) and the arts. Later refugees, from occupied France (the French lycee faces the park), right-wing dictatorships in Latin America, and recently, Africa and the former Soviet Union, still favor it’s less-expensive, international atmosphere. While not as well known as wealthy areas like Condessa, nor for world-famous artists like Coyoacan, it still has more than it’s share of writers, painters, poets, web designers and “bohemians”. One of my neighbors is Paco Ignacio Taibo II, whose murder mysteries are probably the best books ever written about life in Mexico City (though, no… shootouts around the Angel de Independencia are not regular occurrences). His books are available in English through

Being close to the Normal school, we have a lot of normal people too. Unfortunately, we’re just a tad too close to PRI headquarters. I don’t think it’s an accident that our PRD city council decided the area around the PRI was a zona de tolerencia. The ladies (and gentlemen) of the evening don’t bother the neighbors much… they had their own Independence Day celebration (part of their on-going protest against he new “Ley Civica” – Rudolf Guiliani’s brainchild that infringes on their “legitimate workers’ rights”). Actually, the Campesino’s Union headquarters (down the street) is noiser. Last year, they threw the old leadership out – of the second story window. Anyway, it’s a “live and let live” kind of place – with, best of all… no tourists!

And that’s all the news from Lake Tezcoco-begone, where all the women are strong (except those that are men dressed as women), the men are good looking and the children are… thankfully the little darlings have run out of firecrackers and they’ll all be back in school on Monday.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 6 December 2007 5:14 pm

    I like what you have to say!

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