Mexico City Journal, Part II

Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City (Photo: Jesús Eloy Ramos Lara/
Notes on a southern capital

Editor’s Note: This journal began yesterday, here. It will conclude today.

He is a fierce-lookin’ hombre, with a poetic name: José María Morelos y Pavón. In his right hand is a sword (shortish but surely deadly). His dates are 1765 to 1815. He was a priest and a rebel — a revolutionary leader. Here, he is called “Servant of the Nation.” That is a high designation.

I’m looking at a statue, just below Chapultepec Castle.

‐The castle is high on a hill, and, when up high, you notice something: Mexico City is surrounded by mountains.

‐The castle houses the National Museum of History. It is a fine museum. But the real treat is the building — the castle. Its porticos, its arches, its stained-glass windows, its gardens, its tiles. Its general beauty and grace.

Can you imagine living here?

Have a peek:

Have another peek:

‐The signs in the museum are untranslated. They are Spanish-only. I find this in restaurants too, and elsewhere. Interesting.

‐All over the world, bored children in museums have the same look, don’t they?

‐The guards here are bored too, scoping out the women, brazenly.

‐Outdoors, there are bird-watchers, rushing to trees with their binocs, looking up, seeing what’s what.

‐Once, in Guatemala, I said, “Everything grows here. It’s hard to imagine the thing — the plant, the flower, the fruit — that doesn’t grow here. It’s like the whole country is coated with Miracle-Gro.” I have a similar impression of Mexico City.

‐The Bosque de Chapultepec is an immense park, almost 1,700 acres. It’s like Central Park in New York, with this difference: Chapultepec is lousy with commerce, whereas there is very little in Central Park — just a few scattered food carts. In Chapultepec, you have stand after stand after stand, with their hawks.

‐The sounds from the zoo are kind of thrilling — wild. The squirrels seem utterly oblivious. They’ve heard it all …

‐One female guard is going off to get some food, and she asks another female guard whether she wants anything — calling her “compañera.” I find this somewhat touching.

‐I see by the signs outside the Auditorio Nacional that operas from the Met in New York are broadcast here. You sit and watch them on a big screen. I also notice the Spanish form of “Cinderella”: “La Cenicienta.” In Italian, it’s “Cenerentola” (as in the Rossini opera), and in French it’s “Cendrillon” (as in the Massenet).

I also see, outside the Auditorio Nacional, that the Vienna Philharmonic will be here, under the baton of Gustavo Dudamel. There is a big, big picture of the Philharmonic — and I recognize many of them, after years of working at the Salzburg Festival.

Dudamel is the music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic and a Venezuelan. He is a big star in Latin America, as elsewhere, of course. (The Vienna orchestra and Dudamel will appear in Carnegie Hall in a couple of weeks.)

‐Mexico City features an Avenida Presidente Masaryk — an avenue named for Tomas Masaryk, the Czech founding father (1850–1937). There is also a handsome statue of Masaryk. Have a look:


Masaryk’s son Jan, as you know, became foreign minister, and was murdered by the Communists (defenestrated).

‐This neighborhood, Polanco, has street names that honor writers, scientists, and others. Let me list some street names: Emerson, Hegel, Tennyson, Dumas, Anatole France, La Fontaine, Edgar Allan Poe, Eliot, Galileo, Lord Byron, Isaac Newton, Eugenio Sue.

Who? I look it up: Eugène Sue, a French novelist of the first half of the 19th century. I also love the name “Julio Verne.”

‐In Parque Lincoln, there is, of course, Abraham Lincoln, our greatest president (greatest statesman in modern history?).

Also in Lincoln Park, there is Martin Luther King.

‐Pujol is one of the best restaurants in the world — ranked in the top 20. It is hidden away from the street, with guards outside. Nearby are signs that protest the restaurant: accusing it of being complicit in corruption.


‐Girls and young women in Polanco — and throughout Mexico City — seem to be competing in a Tightest Jeans Contest.

‐I’m glad to see Jehovah’s Witnesses on the street, doing what they do. They are banned in Putin’s Russia.

‐You can see “family values” before your eyes. There are big families here, as there used to be in America when I was growing up. Four or five children. And that wasn’t all that big, once upon a time.

Remember when Italians were known for having large families? Remember the stereotype of the large Italian family, enjoying a big Sunday dinner, for example? Suddenly, the Italians stopped having children. Odd.

In the Bosque de Chapultepec, there are many families of three generations — even four — having an outing. They seem to be enjoying one another’s company, mirabile dictu. (How many Americans can barely get through Christmas?)

It is especially inspiring to me to see young parents: men and women in their mid-twenties, with toddlers in tow. I can’t tell you why exactly I find it inspiring. Somehow, it is.

‐It’s 65, 70 degrees — and people are wearing jackets. They always do this in hot climates. (I think of the Arab world, in particular.) People like me wanna be in golf shirts and shorts.

‐I consider this a hallmark of Latin America: boys or young men standing in traffic, selling little goods through windows, hour after hour …

‐At Starbucks, they have a lot more food — a lot more — than they do in the Starbucks near me at home. A big variety of sandwiches, for example.

I’m told that, after the election of Donald Trump in 2016, there was an organized boycott of Starbucks here in Mexico: as an expression of frustration at the United States. It lasted for about a week. The company responded by, for example, pledging to hire deportees from America …

‐On a sidewalk, there is an old woman sitting down, doing some gentle begging. And this causes me to hear a dog not barking: I see relatively few beggars in this city. Many, many fewer than in New York, for example. Perhaps it is the neighborhoods I’m moving in? Or perhaps that’s the way it is?

‐Before customers at outdoor cafés, musicians play — unasked, I gather. A trombonist plays a little set, accompanied by some sort of music box. At another café, a flutist plays (well) (and unaccompanied). When they’re through, they go from table to table, with their hand out. This strikes me as humiliating for the musician (and awkward for the customers). But could be that’s just me …

‐Many years ago, Anthony Daniels, the British writer — who also works under the name “Theodore Dalrymple” — made a point that struck me as thunderingly true: Other cultures have better pop music than our own culture (by which he meant the Anglo-American one).

I certainly think of this point in Mexico, whose pop music strikes me as pleasant. I know that others would damn it as square …

‐The city is certainly wired up — with people in parks and cafés tapping at laptops, tablets, and phones …

‐In a lovely Mexican restaurant — by which I mean a restaurant that specializes in Mexican food — Louis Armstrong comes over the speakers, singing “Georgia.” Incongruous but nice.

‐The chocolate mousse comes … with a stick of crisp bacon in it. Swear.

‐In a “boutique” hotel, breakfast is served from 8 to 11. An 8 o’clock start is late, especially for those with early flights. But 8 to 11 strikes me as eminently civilized …

‐As I see it, Mexico Citians — I wonder what “demonym” to use — are free with the color purple (h/t Alice Walker). There are purple houses, purple buses, purple more …

‐There is also pink — as in pink-and-white taxi cabs.

‐Speaking of pink: Valentine’s Day is coming, advertised here as “El Día de San Valentín.” Interesting that in this culture, they don’t forget the “Saint.”

‐Word to the wise: When a guy asks a tourist or other foreigner what time it is, he doesn’t want to know what time it is — he wants money, in some fashion. Asking what time it is is just a prelude. I have seen this all over the world. It is a universal law.

‐I was going to talk about bougainvillea, and show you a picture or two. But I’ve changed my mind. You’ve seen plenty of bougainvillea. Let me go back to purple — and give you a shot of a house:

Have a little blue, while you’re at it:

‐A woman uses an umbrella for an umbrella’s original purpose: to provide shade from the sun. Normally, I see this in East Asia …

‐You may get a kick out of this: a fish place that sells itself as “the only place that Carlos Slim doesn’t own” (Slim being a great magnate):

‐In Mexico City, they ask you whether you’d like to sit in the smoking section or the non-smoking section. I remember that, from eons ago …

‐I have some mole negro that will bring tears to your eyes — tears of appreciation, wonderment, and joy. I would like to award it every Michelin star in the sky …

‐Who is Bruno Mars? I’m dimly aware. Pop star. The streets are jammed for a concert of his, and people are garbed in Bruno Mars paraphernalia.

Unquestionably cool name …

‐Arriving at the airport with a driver, I say to him, “You must have been here hundreds of times, if not more.” Oh, yes, he says. His parents ran a taxi service. “So I was born here, in a way. I grew up here.”

I think of an old show-biz expression: “born in a trunk.”

‐Ladies and gentlemen, I know that Mexico City, like Mexico at large, has many a problem. Trust me, I spend most of my professional life on the violent, unjust, and tragic, it seems. And, as I mentioned, I have a report coming up on the murder of Mexican journalists. You need not fret that I am some babe in the woods.

But Mexico City offers many gardens of delight. It is an “underrated city,” as my friend Scott Immergut says. He is the master producer of podcasts at Ricochet, and we had a chat about the city. He has been here many times.

Pardon the cliché, but what I most appreciate, I think, is the warmth of the people. I like the way they greet each other, for example. I like the friendly dealings (and, no, I’m not talking about drugs).

Let me give you a closing shot — and thanks again for coming along.


Mexico City Journal, Part I

Don’t Make Mexico Pay for the Wall

E-Verify Would be Better Than a Wall


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