Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mexico City - Angels and Aztecs

When flying in or out of Mexico City you notice several things. One is the enormous size of the city. It spreads from horizon to horizon without visible end. Then there is El Angel de la Independencia, so imposing it can be seen from the air. It is a gold leaf covered statue which sits on a tall pedestal on the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City's largest street. Another is the look of hardship and poverty in some portions of the city. The deteriorating blocky apartment complexes standing around empty swimming pools or the raw cinder block dwellings that abound in the area around the airport.

Poverty aside, there is an abundance of beauty and history in this ancient city. At first the capital of the Aztec civilization, it was conquered by the Spanish in the 16th century. Many of the structures in the central historical district date from that time.

My guesthouse was in an area of late 19th and 20th century townhouses mixed with newer construction. Luxury high rises were being built nearby during my visit there. A modern mall, with and ATM I found myself using, perhaps more frequently that I had planned on, was just 2 blocks from the hundred year old dwelling I was staying in. On one block not far from me was a group of abandoned buildings, including a graffiti scarred late mid century mid rise, perhaps waiting to be demolished for an urban renewal project. I wondered from the moment I first saw the mid rise how the taggers had managed to do their work so high above the street.

After unpacking I began to explore the nearby area. The large gold statute I had seen from the air towers above the grand Paseo de la Reforma, just a short walk from my guesthouse. The street, inspired by the Champs Elysee in Paris, is a broad 4 lanes with a large median strip in the center. I discover, almost immediately, that the city is much more lush than I had imagined. The median strip along this grand avenue is a tree filled park with benches providing numerous places to rest and enjoy the shade. I also discover after dark the benches provide a place for couples, many of them young gay men, a place to make out under the protective, semi private cover of the trees.

Also close by is Amberes Street. It is a brick pedestrian mall. The trees here are wrapped in tube lights. The luxury residential towers are being built at the foot of this street where it meets the Paseo de la Reforma. Formerly home to a large number of gay bars, there were, during my visit, more bars closed than open. Large banner stickers are affixed to the outside of the closed bars making it appear that the demise of these establishments may have been due to government action.

Every night throngs of people congregate in this area. Extremely young kids, many of them appearing to be barely 18, if not younger, mix with business people, mostly men, from the offices in the area. As the night wears on the number of kids grows larger as the number of business people diminish. I find a restaurant, with an awing covered outdoor seating area, where I take most of my evening meals as it affords me a front row seat to the parade of humanity. I also discover that the word "Margarita" means the same thing in both English and Spanish.

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