Friday, August 26, 2011

A Full Day (Mexico City, Mexico)

Carol and I breakfast at Cafe Rex. She can't eat the soup; she's allergic to seafood, and nobody is sure that leftover paella hasn't been added to the mix. With or without consomme, our morning repast is hearty enough to sustain us throughout a very busy day -- Carol's last in D.F.

We start out by elevating up to almost the top floor of the Torre Latino, where we are treated to an assortment of (glass-enclosed but live) tarantulas and carnivorous plants. Despite the fascination and icky factor inherent in such flora and fauna, the main draw behind our attempt to overcome our fears of height is the 360-degree view of Mexico City and beyond. With some trepidation, we look out at the landscape, noting volcanoes, government and religious buildings, the sports stadium, airport, and lake -- a fantastic panorama which the clear, beautiful day has revealed. I am able to take in the breathtaking views without plastering myself against the interior walls; perhaps I've overcome my phobia, but I'm afraid to find out for sure.

Next stop: the Museo of Artes Populares, one of my favorite museums since my first visit there, not long after its opening. The temporary exhibit of mini-train cars, each one showcasing an important event in Mexican history, is evidence of the incredible talent, imagination, and skill that endear this museum to me. Pancho Villa, Father Hidalgo, Porfirio Diaz, and other people, as well as horses and dogs, are rendered as skeletons in different media: sheet metal, ceramic, tile, papier mache, and more. I love this museum for its stellar examples of Mexican folkloric arts and crafts, from the cigar-smoking skeleton-granny to the fabulous pottery, dolls, miniature instruments, papel amato, and textiles. We spend lots of time oohing and aahing in the galleries, as well as in the on-site gift shop.

Walking along Reforma, taking in the strollers, cyclists, and vendors, we buildup a little bit of an appetite for food that has no nutritional value and will probably precipitate our deaths. I've talked up Mexican junk food enough to entice Carol into buying us a bag of doughy rounds, to which the friendly seller adds chili, lime juice, and salt. Carol finds the orangey circles disgusting, and I am inclined to agree with her assessment that they resemble Styrofoam, in both taste and appearance. (Carol actually compares them to "plasticine" or "Pleistocene" or some other South African term I've never heard of but have taken the liberty of translating into something I can understand. But she also could have meant some kind of Ice Age icky stuff. But you'll just have to take my word -- i.e., Styrofoam -- for it.) She then buys a compensatory bag of chili-coated "crisps" (American-English translation: potato chips), which she finds equally revolting. I eat some of them -- they're salty and spicy and more reminiscent of cardboard than of Styrofoam -- before throwing away the soggy and truly horrible orange thingies and offering the remaining chips to a grateful old man. Carol will never trust my food recommendations again and is probably relieved and eager to be leaving for Acapulco tomorrow.

We're not done yet, however, with our whirlwind tour of some of Mexico City's treasures. At the Palacio de Bellas Artes, we view the magnificent art deco building and its impressive murals by Rivera, Siqueiros, and Orozco, as well as items from the permanent collection. Sculpture, paintings, and photography by some of the most renowned artists from around the world, including Picasso, Louise Nevelson, Dali, and Miro, are on display.

Carol, tired and needing to pack, returns to the hotel. I metro on to Parque de la Ciudadela, for an afternoon of dancing. But first, I stop off in the ladies' room, where my new purple bracelet sails off my wrist and straight into the toilet. I fish it out. Luckily, I'm packing both soap leaves and antibacterial liquid, which I apply liberally to bracelet, arm, and hand.

I'm actually too beat to dance much. Ismael swings me around a bit and an elderly man twirls me with skill and enthusiasm, but my feet hurt, and my left shoe is falling apart. I'm just not up for the challenges my partners present. Instead,I roam around the park, listening to singers interpreting romantic ballads, watching dance lessons, and admiring skilled dance partners as they practice complex patterns. Someone I don't recognize calls out my name.

In the mood for roast chicken, I swing by the 5th de febrero rotisserie. Unfortunately, it's closed. I find a holier than hole in the wall, enter, and -- who would imagine this? -- hit my head on the door frame when I go to wash up. (Being of average height has its downside and dangers.)

I order a taco al pastor and one of cochinita pibil from the tiny taco place (21 pesos for 3). Although they don't help my head, they satisfy my stomach. I get my just desserts at a nearby bakery: a cashew pastry that is crumbly and not too sweet, but absolutely addictive.

When I arrive back at the hotel, Carol is sitting in the lobby. She has a bag for me with "washing powder" (translation: detergent). She's already gifted me a South African woman's magazine, which she says she buys only for the crossword puzzles (which have another name in South Africanish), and a book that looks intriguing, as well as a bunch of cranberry Slim Slabs, which she says are delicious and will give me a jolt of energy. It's unlikely that I will see Carol again -- given the cost of and time involved with travel to and from South Africa -- and I will miss her. I don't give her anything, but I think she'll remember me whenever she comes across packing peanuts or glaciers.

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