From here, the plan was to stop in Puebla, half way to México Ciudad. Our fearless travelers manage to board the midnight bus to the happy town of Puebla (4-5 hours away, inhabitants circa 1 million), and as usual they fall in a deep sleep. At 7 am, the bus enters an urban agglomerate, “mother of god! how far is the bus terminal from the outskirts … here we are now, what does it say on that wall? Bienvenidos a México Districto Federal ?????” 22 million inhabitants, 2000m above sea level, indescribable traffic jams, and a reputation for being a violent and deceitful city, … PANIC!
With rucksacks on the shoulders, the remains of Monteczuma's revenge from the food carousals of Oaxaca and an 'intellectual' Clup guide book 6-7 years old, we head for the Metro (easy, it is signposted), and now, where to? No worries, no damage this time, and we found a nice cheap hotel bang in the city centre, two steps away from the huge Zócalo. México DF is not the monster everybody paints. OK, the atmosphere is nearly unbreathable, between the altitude and the pollution, but the metro runs perfectly and you can travel easily around the city. The centre is always busy, with shops, stalls, the popular Beetle taxis that zoom past the traffic lights and people, a lot of people around the calles, who look like they take life and problems as they come, despite the poverty and the inequality.
On August 13th, two days after our arrival, it is the 480th anniversary of the fall of Tenochtitlán: the last Aztec king, Cuauhtémoc, surrenders to the perfidious Cortés, a massacre which is commemorated in the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, where a sign reminds you that “This was neither a triumph nor a defeat, but the painful birth of our mestizo Nation”, big words, but you try and ask Bartolomé's Indios, the ones with no soul, or the Maya descendants that we met on the way from Yucatan, deprived even of the right to speak their own language! It would seem that in about fifteen years from the arrival of Cortés, the Mexican population
decreased by 5-8 million individuals: more than 'painful birth of our mestizo Nation' I would call this a genocide…. Anyway, in town nobody mentions the celebration and not even the tourists seem excited, and in fact by the time we get to the Plaza de las Tres Culturas we are told that the ceremony (i.e. the deposition of a wreath on the large square in front of the huge catholic church towering on top of the ruins of ancient Tenochtitlán, and on which in turn dominate the government skyscrapers) is over. We waste some more time, and by the time we get back to the city centre we realize that the commemoration had been moved there, but it is obviously about to end: Indios wearing indios gear, including feathery head-dress, relax in the Zócalo after wild dances and incense spreading. Only a small group is still dancing, in front of the immense cathedral, amongst the pink tents of the dispossessed, to the sound of drums and ankle bracelets made of shells: evocative, until it starts raining and we are forced to find shelter in Puerta del Sol, a bar from an older time, with an Hispanic flavour, and a fairly old waiter, wrinkly and tanned, wearing immaculate jacket and apron, who serves us Modelo Especial and meatballs in a green chile sauce: delicious!
It's hard to sum up a city as México D.F. Here is an assorted list, in no particular order, of the places that left an indelible mark in our imagination:
the house-museum that belonged to Frida Kahlo, the charming, as well as mustachioed and unlucky wife to Diego Rivera. The fake cheerfulness and the beauty of these rooms and of the mementos clammed here clash with the sadness and tragedy of her life, and this contrast makes the visit a very moving one. In the same bourgeois neighborhood as Frida's Casa Azul, we visit the last house of León Trotsky, however, this one is quite frugal, as the house of a true communist should be, I suppose… With reference to Rivera, loving but unfaithful husband to the above mentioned Frida, his fantastic murals adorn the walls of the Minister for the Education (a curiosity: on the doors of the various offices here there are posters that prohibit the offering of brown bags to the civil servants – I wonder if they work, and in case, if the idea is exportable …) and of the Palacio Nacional, where the murals summarise the whole history of Mexico, with all the characters placed one upon the another, the good, the ugly and most certainly the bad ones. A few kms from México D.F. lays the archeological site of Teotihuacán, seemingly built some 2000 years ago by an unknown civilization, then revived by the Aztecs. The Spaniards did not manage to destroy these majestic monuments, as by the time they arrived, the site had already been abandoned and subsumed into the jungle. By now, pyramids no longer scare us, but the Sun one is quite high – 63m I believe…. The markets deserve a specific mention: that of the Merced (immense, there is everything, and more), the Sonora (which, amongst plates and glassware, puppets, kittens, and chicks, accommodates exoteric paraphernalia, including powders, perfumes, bubble baths – ! – candles, etc, a remedy for anything: stagnant business, love, health, evil eye, lazy or no longer in love husbands, slack pupils, or more general cures – por un cambio de suerte – or solutions for particularly difficult cases – old beloved Saint Judas Taddeo, with the little flame on his head), and the market de La Lagunilla (this time furniture and all the imaginable gear for weddings, first communions, christenings, 15th birthdays, from a presentation box for the toast, to the dresses for the guests, including the happy couple for the cake – even Barbie and Ken! – and mariachi suits for the kids!).