Friday, May 17, 2024

On Argentina Street

Many of the streets in Mexico City's historic center are named after countries of Latin America.  One such street is "República de Argentina".  It runs north from behind the Cathedral.  After a couple of blocks, you reach the Secretariat of Public Education (the building to the left).

The building is of interest to tourists because in the courtyard there are two floors of mural paintings by Diego Rivera, many more than in the better-known National Palace.  I have been there a couple of times, and I have written about the murals on the blog.  Unfortunately, the building is indefinitely closed to visitors.  The rumor is that they are converting a portion of the building into a museum.

Right across the street is a building that is more than 400 years old, the former church of Santa Catalina de Siena.

The church dates back to 1623.  Oddly, it is now a Presbyterian church.

In just one block, the street suddenly changes in character.  It is lined with the stalls of street vendors selling cheap merchandise, and pedestrians, cars and motorcycles all vie for use of the pavement. (I actually snapped this photo at a less chaotic moment.)

I suppose that most tourists would find this street suddenly intimidating, perhaps even scary.  I found it daunting, not so much because I felt unsafe, but because of the congestion and traffic.  (However, I would advise against continuing much farther north along Argentina Street since it eventually ends up in Tepito, one of the city's most notorious neighborhoods for crime.)

So, what brought me here?  I stumbled upon an article on the internet saying that this street, this block in particular, was one of the best places in the city to buy silver jewelry.  Mexico is the world's leading producer of silver, and all jewelry must by law be stamped ".925", meaning that it is sterling.  It is interesting that this street should be dedicated to the sale of silver since the word "Argentina" comes from the Latin word "argentum" meaning silver.

The street is lined with jewelry shops specializing in silver.  (They also had a lot of stainless-steel jewelry for body piercings.)  Most of these shops are "Centros Joyeros" (Jewelry Centers) which are sort of like mini-malls with different merchants selling their wares.  According to the article, along this block there are more than 120 businesses selling silver.  (You will also find many "Centros Joyeros" along more elegant Madero Street, but those jewelers mainly sell gold.)

With all the vendors lining the street it was a bit of an effort just to get to the sidewalk and enter the jewelry stores.  I ventured inside three or four of them, and the stores were just as crowded and chaotic as the street.  According to the article, many people come here to buy large quantities of jewelry wholesale in order to sell them for a profit.  I did not even try to take any pictures inside since I knew that I would probably be yelled at for doing so.

I wanted to buy some silver earrings for myself. I did not see anything in the way of unique designs, but I did end up buying three simple pairs at three different shops.  As the article said, the prices were very cheap... which is fine, since I don't wear expensive jewelry.

There isn't much silver content by weight to the earrings, but they are all sterling.  The two with black stones are actually enamel, and the blue stones are zirconium.  The earrings to the left were the most expensive... they cost 89 pesos (a little over 5 U.S. dollars).  They have a fairly thick silver backing in which the enamel is mounted. The middle pair was 18 pesos ($1.08 US) and the blue zirconium earrings cost 39 pesos ($2.34 US).

In spite of the super-low prices, I am not sure that I would return to Argentina Street to buy more jewelry.  It was, however, a bit of an adventure.

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