|"Angel of Independence" on Paseo de la Reforma.|
Travel time is about three and half hours, relaxing enough until you get in a cab at the North Bus Station for the run to the hotel. This last leg can last anywhere from 20 to 90 minutes and provide amusement park-style kicks, depending on the temperament or mood of the driver. This past weekend we also found out that the seismic faults running through the city center's mushy subsoil can offer their own thrills.
As you approach the city its size is inescapable, a population mass of about 20 million give or take a million. Except for trolleys, Mexico City has every mode of mass transit known to man: trains underground, at street level and on elevated tracks, double- and triple-car articulated buses running on dedicated lanes, regular buses ranging from deluxe to belching rattletraps, plus some that run on electricity from overhead lines. Neither the abundance of mass transit or the ridiculously low fares, about 30 cents a ride, have an impact on the number of cars jerking in every direction like crazed ants.
Over the past decade air quality has either improved or that in competing cities like Beijing and Shanghai has worsened so much that Mexico City's looks pretty good by comparison. City officials say that the capital is no longer on the top ten of most polluted metropolises in the world. Residents add that on a really clear day you can actually make out the mountains that encircle the city, though I doubt it'll look anything like the Swiss Alps.
For its size, however, Mexico City lacks the ethnic and cultural variety so typical in places like Toronto, New York, Chicago, London and other large urban centers. No matter where you go, Mexico City seems and feels all-Mexican. In the streets, subways and buses you won't spot saris, turbans, Hasidic felt hats, or Muslim women wrapped in chadors like you see in Chicago or London, hear foreign languages or for that matter--except for tourists--see many African or Asian skin tones.
|Lovers' altar on a park tree.|
Stew and I haven't even begun to explore all the different areas of the city but glimpses from the bus or the air tell us that La Reforma, Polanco or Lomas de Chapultepec are but tiny samples of a much vaster, almost impenetrable, urban expanse.
As you walk around the city constantly teases you. There's a neat little altar mounted on a tree on a park, with a spotless white lace cloth and a blue vase with flowers and the etching: "Juliana y Mauricio, 19 June 2003". A wedding memento? Did they die here? Who keeps this personal monument neat and tidy? Abandoned mansions, sooty and ominous yet still fabulous are also sprinkled on Reforma and the side streets. What happened to the rich people who lived here? Why were these mini palaces abandoned?
|Jogger stretches on a street sculpture depicting|
four electric chairs.
|In front of the stock exchange, Mexico City's version |
of the Occupy Wall Street protests.
During dinner on Saturday night, right about the time my flan con cajeta arrived, Mexico City pulled one of its scariest stunts: A 6.8 earth tremor that lasted for 40 seconds. Everyone at the restaurant dropped what they were doing and dashed for the door, with our Mexican dinner guest and the two of us not far behind. My last sight on the way to the parking lot was the Christmas tree in the lobby, decorated with garish blue lights, merrily swaying back and forth.
After ten minutes of nervous chatter and giggling on the spot in the parking lot designated as a gathering place in case of an earthquake, we headed back inside. We vacuumed our desserts and asked for the check right away.
Next day's Milenio newspaper reported a minor artistic panic at the Bellas Artes theater, a performing arts palace near the colonial center. A pianist was playing Chopin's Piano Sonata No. 2, specifically the third movement titled "Funeral March." As the ground started to shake, the performer fled the stage and the audience headed for the doors. Tremors and funeral marches: That's a scary mix.