On the Road Trip

On the Road: Mexico City, Day 1

by Pavia Rosati
Mexico Hanging out in the neighborhood behind the Palacio Nacional.

We're on the road this week. On her first day in Mexico City, Fathom founder Pavia Rosati learns to respect her annoying limits.

MEXICO CITY – While Jeralyn was making her way to the bottom of the earth, I was landing in Mexico City, at an elevation of 7,350 feet. Jeralyn floated in Dead Sea oblivion; I got hammered with a headache that sent me to bed. I tried to explore my fancy Polanco neighborhood for dinner, but lasted five minutes before having to return to the hotel and a bowl of miso soup. Altitude: 1, Pavia: 0.

I awoke the next day feeling fresh and perfect, determined to pack two days into one. I'd been to Mexico City once with my family in 1986, which means I haven't really been to Mexico City. I started in the historic center, and I loved it. First stop off the metro: Palacio de Bellas Artes. White marble Italian neoclassical on the outside, sleek Art Deco on the inside. The thing to see are the murals lining the four-storied atrium, most notably a recreation of El Hombre en el Cruce de Caminos (Man at the Crossroads) which Diego Rivera originally painted for Rockefeller Center in New York City. It's impressive, dense, and totally bombastic. Had I been on the voting committee at the Rock, I would have rejected the mural as inappropriate for my corporate headquarters, too.

On to Palacio Postal. Yes, we here at Fathom HQ have a thing for postcards, but who wouldn't be inspired to send a note if you could deliver it from this ornate, grand, and highly embellished post office? The staircase in the center is an invitation for drama. Someone should stage an opera or let me throw tuxedo-and-ballgown parties here. There's a small and charming exhibit of postal services in Mexico on the ground floor, with old telex machines and a mosaic made of stamps. I wanted to move in. The guards didn't seem to mind.

But I didn't, so I continued my wanderings, stopping to visit Casa de los Azulejos, Metropolitan Cathedral, Templo Mayor, Gallery of Mexican Cuisine. I passed dozens of stalls selling gold necklaces, bracelets, and rosaries; countless vendors hawking ugly scarves and gorgeous tamales around massive Plaza de la Constitucion, the main square that everyone calls Zócalo. Circus performers were hanging in mid-air; political protesters were protesting. It's a dense neighborhood.

Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City
Palacio de Bellas Artes. Splendid.
Mexico City
Hoping for the best at St. Francis.
Catedral Metropolitana, Mexico City
The main altar at Catedral Metropolitana.
Templo Mayor, Mexico City
Just a few of the 240 stone skulls at Templo Mayor.
Old Post Office, Mexico City
The old post office. How can anyone be bored here?
Mural Diego Rivera, Mexico City
Diego Rivera mural, Palacio Nacional. It's Frida Kahlo in the dress.

My highlight was Palacio Nacional, the National Palace. It was a pain to get into — lines and tents and lockers for my personal belongings. The guards asked me if I was carrying a pen. What? Who doesn't have a pen in their bag somewhere? That's ridiculous. Of course I have a pen. I have five.

"No tengo plumas," I lied.

Once inside, I saw Diego Rivera murals (more dense and bombastic awesomeness!) and amazing presidential rooms that are still in use. Too bad I couldn't take photos of the semi-circular elevator and the Moorish pink-tiled lounge. I'll find them online and post them when I do the proper Mexico City guide.  

On a random tip, I wanted to see the food market at La Merced, southwest of the Zócalo, so off I went. Within a few blocks, the neighborhood got less touristy, and it wasn't hard to notice that I was the tallest and the whitest thing around. I stopped to buy some elaborate nail art (kitschy souvenirs) and a few pretty green small cooking pots. Everything was stacked high; everything was very inexpensive.

When I asked a police officer if the teeming market in front of me was La Merced, he nodded yes, looked at my tiny gold necklace and said, "but take that off."

I pointed to my wedding band and said, "can I keep this?"

"Is it gold?" he asked.

"No," I lied.

"Okay then," he said. Pause. "Señora," he said, "it's really dangerous in there."

But, but, but. I wanted to see piles of food. And I'm stubborn and intrepid and a New Yorker. And I beat Mexico City's altitude sickness. And, really, how dangerous could it be? In I went. (My husband hates it when I follow this kind of logic.) 

I darted through dense stalls lined with all manner of cheap tchotchkes and tried to ignore the small TV showing a video of two men wrestling with a woman — serious wrestling, not the lucha libre ironic kind of men-on-woman wrestling. (!!!) I stopped at a corner food stall because it whatever they had cooking in the vats looked terrific. I didn't want a tripe taco, but I did want to photograph it. The shop guys and girls posed and joked and were generally game to hang out with la turista. But my Spanish is good enough to know that I was being heckled by the guys at surrounding stalls. So after a few minutes, I got out of La Merced. Better sage than intrepid, I suppose, though I felt a little disappointed in myself. Still, I had lied to two police officers in two hours in a Catholic country, and I didn't want to tempt the fates.

"You went WHERE?" my Mexican friend asked me over dinner later at Becco, a chic Italian spot in Polanco. "Damn. How about if tomorrow you do something a little nicer, like check out the galleries and shops in Roma?"

Read more Fathom on the Road Mexico City: Day 2 and Day 3

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