From the hangar we headed to Plaza San Jacinto, to browse the plethora of stalls selling handicrafts made by the Nahua peoples indigenous to this region. Silver and leather jewellery abounds, and there are some beautiful designs, often based on classic Aztec patterns. There are also numerous delightful cafes and restaurants such as the one pictured above. Sadly we didn’t get time to eat here, but we did sample some of the fantastic mezcal. It’s a similar drink to tequila but with a smokier flavour, and has a delightfully mellowing effect. I also had a seriously rich and robust double espresso to boost energy and search out some of the earthy Latina flavours I’d been craving. Although there is no mescaline in mezcal, the combination of flavours and effects had me grinning like a Cheshire cat. This is an experience I would highly recommend.
The atmosphere inside this colonnaded square with the sun blazing down was hypnotic, and to a soundtrack of violins playing Mexican ditties and a visual feast of intense colours of fruits and flowers bathed in glorious sunlight, I sipped the last of the espresso to my complete satisfaction. Enraptured, steadfast, for the first time settled in this vast city, it struck me that even the world’s most densely populated zones have their zen spots.
Outside our next port of call, a delightful little family run restaurant by the name of Las Lupitas in the Coyoacan district which has some beautiful homes and architecture, we met this chap who was sat patiently waiting for his owner. Las Lupitas has been a restaurant for many many years, and it would seem the same personnel run it now that opened it back in the day. Service was extremely relaxed and very friendly. The food wasn’t bad but wasn’t anything to write about. However the atmosphere was pleasant and it really is a beautiful spot to lunch in.
At times it’s the little things you notice that remind you more than anything of where you are. A city’s inhabitants have their own unique foibles and quirks, and it is these as much as the historical and civic structures that evoke a sense of place. That and the mezcal…
….and the cerveza.
Our next port of call was La Casa Azul (The Blue House) Frida Kahlo’s former home, now a museum and homage to her life’s work and partnership with Diego Rivera, her twice husband. Yes; twice husband. These arty types, really. It seems he was something of a loud mouthed fellow, with quite a temper on him but I like his legacy because he was a gifted artist and any friend of Modigliani’s is a friend of mine. I’m sure he’ll rest peacefully in that knowledge.
An item of irrelevant interest: Back in 2002 I was working for Ticketmaster in Communications House, Leicester Square. As many of you will know, Leicester Square is London’s red carpet movie premier destination. I was working late one evening up on the second floor, when bursts of white flashing light came from the far corner of the office. Startled, I dashed across to investigate, thinking it may have been a fuse that had caught fire. This turned out to be flashlight coming from outside, bouncing off the walls of the cinema opposite. I peered over the desk to witness the incredibly stunning Salma Hayek in a figure-hugging dress, pouting on the red carpet for the premier of the movie Frida (in which she plays Frida), as a battalion of photographers clambered over one another in wide-eyed appreciation, popping shots at her buxom figure and glowing smile. A golden moment if ever there was one.
Coyoacán is a stunning district. There are 16 districts in Mexico City and from what I could tell, Coyoacán seems to be one of the prettiest. Urban planning is meticulous, houses are grand but not imposing, the streets are wide and clean and lined with all manner of beautiful trees. The district oozes history, which when you consider it pre-dates the Spanish invasion in the 1500’s, makes perfect sense.
Kahlo and Rivera’s home gives an in-depth insight into her life’s works, describing the hardships she endured as a result of a traumatic accident at the age of 18 and which influenced her art. She was also strongly influenced by native Mexican dress, and was something of a political figure, even going so far as to hide Leon Trotsky in her home. I think one can safely say that’s a political act.
Sat in the terraced cafe in Kahlo’s courtyard garden, taking a brief respite from the visual and mental exertion of viewing and absorbing all this wonderful city has to offer, my companions and I began discussing the notion of a doppelganger. It transpired each of us had discovered on our travels that such a person exists: an individual whose appearance is almost identical to that of ourselves. As we marvelled at the coincidence that the three of us had each discovered our own lookalike, storm clouds drew in and enveloped the skies in darkness, whilst the actress playing Kahlo vented on the terrace to an enraptured audience, audible raindrops punctuating the chatter as they landed on the vast tropical leaves spread throughout the garden. A hummingbird made his own guest appearance, gliding in and out of trumpet flowers that climbed out of a pond thick with lilies. What had started as a smattering of raindrops escalated to a full scale downpour, sending the entire audience running for cover in the safety of the building as thunder roared with laughter overhead. It had finally happened: the moment that defines a trip, a seemingly random series of events that somehow fit together to create a distinct atmosphere and finely nuanced range of emotional responses. As we left, rain splashed and exhilarated, I felt sure that Kahlo and Rivera had been expecting us and had staged this drama simply to ensure their audience of travel writers might have some profound thing or other to say about La Casa Azul.
Back at the Sheraton Isabel Maria, we were treated to a meal prepared by the head chef and served in the penthouse apartment with a balcony overlooking The Angel Of Independence. Some sort of street parade was in motion, with all manner of souped-up cars parading along the Paseo de la Reforma, crazy music and fanfares blaring, occasional booty shakers popping out to work their stuff. There is distinct energy about Mexico City, and it’s addictive.