Friday, January 31, 2020

A Work in Progress

For a while I have been watching the construction of an impressive, new, high-rise office building on Patriotismo Avenue, just beyond the borders of Colonia Nápoles, the neighborhood where I stay.  A couple trips ago I noticed signs at the site saying "Suspensión"... the government had suspended construction due to some violation.  A couple days ago I walked by the site. The signs are gone, and work on the project has resumed.  

The exterior of the building appears to have been completed.  

The X formation of the beams is supposed to provide buildings with better resilience to earthquakes.  I see them being used a lot down here.

Gardens, including rose bushes, have already been planted around the building.  A gardener was out there trimming and watering.

I could see through the ground floor windows however that the interior has a long, long way to go.  The inside appears to be just empty space. There were piles of construction materials within, and construction workers were outside the rear entrance on their lunch break. 

Before they start renting to tenants they better hire some window washers to clean the accumulated grime off of the windows. 😀

Never Noticed This Before

I have written before about the "tianguis", the weekly, open-air markets of Mexico, a tradition that goes back to pre-Hispanic times.  Here in Mexico City there are more than 1000 tianguis.  These street markets sell fruits and vegetables, meats, clothing, shoes, cosmetics, household goods... just about everything imaginable. Each "colonia" or neighborhood usually has one of more of them.  In the Colonia Nápoles every Sunday there is a very large "tianguis" that stretches the entire length of Filadelfia Street, just around the corner from my apartment.  On Thursdays there is a smaller "tianguis" that is set up along the periphery of the neighborhood park.  There are also a couple of small, specialized, outdoor markets selling organic products which I suppose could be classified as "tianguis".

On Wednesday as I was walking around Nápoles, I discovered yet another one that I had not seen before.  It stretched for about a block down the street behind the shopping mall near my apartment.

This "tianguis" was comprised mainly of makeshift restaurants catering to the working folks looking for an inexpensive afternoon meal. 

They say that street food is the tastiest and cheapest that you can find in Mexico.  Still, I remain paranoid about eating at places that do not have refrigeration.

This vendor was selling pork rinds, potato chips, French fries, and something that I had not heard of... "salchipulpos".  It turns out that those are little sausages (salchichas) cut so that they look like octopus (pulpos).

There were a few stalls selling fresh produce, one selling soccer shirts, and another selling cosmetics.  

Thursday, January 30, 2020

A New Place for Lunch

As I have mentioned previously, the main meal of the day in Mexico is the afternoon dinner, or "comida".  There are countless little restaurants which are only open in the afternoon and which offer a low cost "comida" for people taking a break from work.  The meal usually includes beverage, bread, soup, and dessert, as well as one of several main courses from which to choose.  These "comidas" are not fine gourmet cuisine, but at some places they are tastier than at others.

As I was wandering around my neighborhood of Nápoles I came across a little restaurant that I had not noticed before.

The place is called "Deleite 124"  ("Deleite" means delight, and the numbers refer to its street address on Filadelfia Street.)  The sign says that it serves " fine home cooking".  It looked like a pleasant place, and even though it was still a bit early for "comida", quite a few of the tables were already occupied.  A good sign. So, I went in for lunch.

I took a table, and I was brought a pitcher of "agua fresca"... in this case water flavored with guava... a basket of rather flavorless bread, and a small plate of spaghetti.

The spaghetti is what in Mexico is called a "sopa seca" (dry soup), a rice or pasta dish, instead of a "sopa aguada" (wet soup), what we think of as soup.  Although that plate of spaghetti looks quite naked and bland, it actually was surprisingly tasty.  It was lightly covered with a slightly spicy green sauce and grated cheese.

I looked at the blackboard with the choices for my main dish.  I was torn between the enchiladas and the most expensive dish, salmon with a coating of three chiles.  I asked the waiter if the salmon was very "picante".  He said that it was a little spicy.  I know that means that it is probably too spicy for the palate of many "gringos", but within my range of tolerance.  So I ordered the salmon.

The salmon was served with sides of rice and spinach.  (I had never seen spinach served as a side.  It may look like an unappetizing, green blob, but it was quite tasty.)  From its regular shape, I assume that the fish was from a bag of frozen salmon steaks.  It tasted good, however, and the coating of chiles was nicely spicy.

My meal cost 125 pesos... less than $7 U.S.  I would say that it was a notch above other restaurants of its type, and I would return again.

A Trip to the Bakery

In Mexico the afternoon dinner is the main meal of the day.  Supper is usually a late and light meal.  At Alejandro's house supper usually consists of some "pan dulce" (pastry) and a mug of hot milk with some instant coffee or powdered chocolate.  So when I am staying at Alejandro's house, he and I usually make an evening trip to the bakery, usually to "Azteca", which is a short walk from his house.

After walking through the turnstile, you pick up a metal tray and a pair of tongs, and pick out what you want.

I have read that Mexico has more kinds of bread and pastry than any other country in the world.  Even in a relatively small bakery such as this there is a huge variety from which to chose.

Many of the names of the breads and pastries are imaginative.  In the photo above I can make out signs that translate as "wrapped child", "Berlin balls", and "ring of St. Isadore."  Other common types of "pan dulce" include "conchas" (shells), "colchones" (cushions), "bigotes" (mustaches), and "ojos de buey" (ox eyes).  In addition to the pastries, Alejandro always gets some "bolillos", the crusty on the outside, soft on the inside rolls that are a shorter version of the French baguette.

After making his selections, Alejandro then takes the tray to the counter where an employee puts the bread and pastries in a bag and rings up the price.  He then takes the slip to a window at the exit where he pays for his purchase.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Sax and Opera

Avenue 16th of September is in the heart of the Historic Center of Mexico City just a block south of pedestrianized Madero Street.  

The avenue seems to be the favorite spot for street musicians.  Every time I am there I see two or three people performing.  Last week when I went downtown was no exception.

First there was this fellow playing his saxophone.

Less than a block away was this would-be opera singer.  His sign says that he is saving up to go back to school.

(Yes, I know, "Funiculi, Funicula" is not from an opera, but some of his other selections were operatic.)

At the Movies

This past weekend Alejandro and I went to the movies and saw a couple more films that have received Academy Award nominations.  We headed to the Cinemex (one of two major movie theater chains in Mexico) that is located in the Mexico City World Trade Center just a five minute walk from the apartment that I rent.

On Saturday we went to see "Mujercitas"... "Little Women" which has been nominated for Best Picture of the Year.   Believe it or not, I have never read the novel by Louisa May Alcott, nor have I seen any of the previous film versions of the book.  Probably because of that, I found the movie very confusing.  The director, Greta Gerwig, is constantly jumping back and forth chronologically in time.  The acting is very well done, and it was nice to see a movie without a single cuss word, but I don't think that it deserves the Oscar.  My choice is still "1917".

On Sunday we saw "Judy", a biopic about Judy Garland.  Renee Zellweger has been nominated as Best Actress.

In spite of her talent, I have never been a big fan of Judy Garland.  Her boozing and pill-popping were a turn-off for me.  However, this movie certainly provides insight into her tragic life.  Zellweger's performance is electrifying, and, in my opinion, deserving of the Oscar.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Parque La Mexicana

As you climb into the mountains at the western edge of Mexico City, you pass through a district called Santa Fe.  The original Pueblo Santa Fe dates back to colonial times, and today is a fairly poor and somewhat unsafe neighborhood.  The area beyond the "pueblo" were used for the excavation of sand, and the mining activity left a deep trench that was more than two miles long and a mile wide.  By 1960s the area had been sold to the city, and it was used as a landfill where millions of tons of trash were dumped.

In the 1990s plans were made to convert the area into an exclusive development of high rise buildings.  The building boom continues to this day, and today Santa Fe (separate from the old "pueblo") is like a metropolis distinct from the rest of Mexico City.  The ultramodern buildings house offices for international companies and very expensive condominiums.  Santa Fe has Latin America's largest shopping mall and some of Mexico's most expensive private schools.  

The district is not without controversy.  Being built on an old landfill means that there have been environmental and infrastructure concerns.  Only one main highway connects Santa Fe with the rest of the city, resulting in traffic nightmares, and there are no public transportation links by subway or Metrobus.  When I look at some of the buildings perched on cliffs or built beneath carved out mountainsides, they simply do not look safe to me.

In spite of its glitzy architecture I have never had a desire to visit Santa Fe.  I have only seen it passing through on the highway west out of the Mexico City.  To me it is a sterile bubble of affluence where snobs can pretend to live apart from the city's problems. 

However, there was one place in Santa Fe that I was interested in seeing... a large park called "Parque La Mexicana" which was opened in 2017.  On Saturday, Alejandro and I drove to Santa Fe to visit the park.

The park provides a nice setting to view part of the district's skyline.

The park includes jogging and bike paths, a children's playground and a dog park.

There is a large "gourmet terrace" of restaurants.  Most of the restaurants are very upscale places.

We stopped for a snack at a branch of Mexico City's best known chain of "churrerías", El Moro. ("Churros" are long tubes of deep fried dough, dipped in sugar and/or cinnamon... the Hispanic world's version of doughnuts.)

The is a large lake in the middle of the park.  The water is dyed blue.

In the middle of the upper part of the lake, there is a stage.  However, the park's website does not make mention of any performances scheduled there.

We had perfect weather to enjoy the park, and we walked its entire length.  I'm glad that we visited Parque La Mexicana, but now that I have seen it, I have no need to return to Santa Fe,

Dramatic Sky

An early evening sky in Colonia Nápoles, Mexico City

Monday, January 27, 2020

Happy Year of the Rat

Saturday marked the Chinese New Year, and the beginning of a new cycle of the Chinese zodiac with the Year of the Rat.  The Year of the Rat is supposed to be auspicious year filled with positive change.  (If you have read my occasional political rants, you know what change I am hoping for this year.)

On Thursday I went to Mexico City's tiny "Barrio Chino" (Chinatown) where the celebration was underway.

Just across the street from the Alameda park downtown, a Chinese gate invites visitors to continue down Dolores Street to the few blocks that comprise the Barrio Chino.

There was a crowded street market with stands selling gaudy trinkets.

Most of the stands were selling figurines of rats, although some of the rats looked more like Mickey Mouse.

There was lots of Chinese street food.  I suspect it was as authentic as what is passed off as Chinese food in the United States.

Eating at a "Popular" Place

After my not-so-exciting visit to the Perfume Museum on Thursday, I then went for lunch at a place that I had read about.  In the heart of the Historic Center of Mexico City, on Cinco de Mayo Avenue, is a restaurant called Café el Popular.  It's been here since 1948, it's open 24 hours a day, and it's like a North American diner... if that diner served traditional Mexican food.

It is indeed very popular.  Often there is a line outside waiting to get in, but I was lucky and was seated at the counter immediately.

They have menus in English, but signs by the cashier state that they accept cash only, and that they do not accept dollars.

To drink I had "café con leche" (served in a glass as it is supposed to be served).  It's something that you no longer see at many restaurants.   It started with "caldo tlalpeño" which, next to tortilla soup, is perhaps the best known Mexican soup.  You can't see it in the photo, but the broth was thick with shredded chicken, vegetables, garbanzos, and chile peppers.

My main dish was "enchiladas potosinas"... enchiladas filled with potatoes.  They were excellent.  Along with the enchiladas was "carne asada", grilled meat.  The beef was rather chewy, but had a good flavor... and it was even better with some "salsa verde".

The food was not gourmet. I wasn't expecting it to be.  It was just basic Mexican cooking at a reasonable price.  I would come back here again.  The breakfasts sound good too, although I usually don't make it downtown that early in the morning.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Speaking of Perfume

In Mexico City's Historic Center it is common to find stores selling one kind of product to be clustered together on one street.  I suppose it's rather convenient for the shopper, because it you don't find what you want in one shop, or if you want to compare prices, you can go from one store to another.

On Thursday, as I was walking down Tacuba Street on my way to the Perfume Museum, I noticed the concentration of perfume shops.

The biggest chain of perfume shops that you will see all over Mexico City is Fraiche.

Fraiche sells imitations of designer perfumes.  I have a bottle of fake Paco Rabanne cologne that I bought at a Fraiche shop not too far from my apartment.  I don't think it really smells like Paco Rabanne, but it is a nice fragrance.  When I finish it, I can return the bottle, and they will refill it for a cheaper price.

What struck me was that there was not just one Fraiche shop along "perfume row" of Tacuba Street, but one after another, large and small.

There was even what sounded like a fancier offshoot of Fraiche called "Mystic Prestige".

I counted at least eight Fraiche stores along a few blocks of Tacuba Street.  It seems like overkill... you are competing against yourself.

Fraiche's main competitor is Perfumes Europeos which also sells imitation designer scents.

There were several Perfumes Europeos shops, and one of them was right next door to, you guessed it, a Fraiche shop.

As I got closer to the Perfume Museum there were other independent perfume shops.

This one is called "Alchemy"

I like the art deco façade of this store that has been there since 1932.

Of course if you want to buy genuine designer perfumes, just as in the U.S., all you have to do is to walk into any department store.