Mexico City

Mexico City: a year later

Halfway point of a two-year stay in Mexico City.

Section of the famous Siqueiros mural in Chapultapec Castle

Section of the famous Siqueiros mural in Chapultapec Castle

The aspects of life in Mexico City I liked almost from the beginning, I now like more. The things I disliked about life here, I now dislike less. A certain progress, I suppose. I’m wondering how much of the improvement in my impressions of Mexico City are comparative? I’ve now been to a few other places in central Mexico, including recently, Cuernavaca. It’s a dump. The best thing about Cuernavaca isn’t even in town, it’s a few miles away: the Hotel and Spa Hacienda de Cortes. We didn’t stay there, only went for Sunday Brunch and a walkabout; instead we were ripped off in a $200 a night room in a slum neighborhood that, excepting some nice elements in the facade, managed to barely reach Motel 6 quality. But that’s another story. I was probably dismayed because all I knew about Cuernavaca before came from the 1930s image of the place in Malcolm Lowry’s “Under the Volcano,” a brilliant novel.

I’m not getting “gastric distress” as often. I’ve learned to be a little more careful about what and where I eat. Generally that’s a good thing, but on the other hand, all the weight I lost (over 10% of my body weight) the first few months we were here, is now creeping back. The “Mexico Diet” is the only time in my adult life I have been able to lose a substantial amount of weight and, mostly, keep it off.

It’s impossible to avoid hearing and reading about crime and violence here, but I have had, fortunately, no personal experiences of it. I have felt much more threatened on certain streets in Los Angeles than I ever have here. Of course, we live in Polanco, which is something of a bubble compared with much of the rest of the city. I have been through some of these parts of the city — both in a taxi and on a bus — and one gets the hint that, well, you aren’t in Polanco anymore. Statistics may argue with my impressions, but I don’t think Mexico City is any more dangerous a city than Rome or London or New York. Up north … that’s another story altogether, and even residents of Mexico City fear going anywhere near the border with the US. It’s worth remembering that the Mexico/US border is more than 1000 miles from here.

Popocatépetl volcano's plume, from the window of a airplane departing Mexico City the first week of July.

Popocatépetl volcano’s plume, from the window of a airplane departing Mexico City the first week of July.

This volcano is the source of what is the worst of Mexico City’s air pollution. I’m told by long-term residents that the air quality here has dramatically improved in the last decade, and there is ample evidence of the government’s struggle to continue that improvement. There are skyscrapers with facades completely covered with vegetation, some form of plant with enhanced smog-eating properties; city bicycle stands all over the place, almost every few blocks it seems, where you can hop on a bike, ride to wherever, and leave it in a stand there. They’re trying hard.

They may have some success cleaning the air, but getting clean water appears to be hopeless, and I don’t think the government even tries anymore. If Mexico City had water that could be drunk from the taps … the population would double, because more people from around the world would want to live here.

The weather in Mexico City is one of the best parts of living here. It really is eternal Spring. In the rainy season, it rains a lot. In the dry season, it essentially never rains. Regardless, the temperature range is small, and smack dab in the comfort zone for most people. We have a friend from Puerto Vallarta who thinks it’s cold here. I would find PV hot and muggy. Different strokes. During the rainy season, which generally stretches between June and September, it rains at some point, for a while, most days. Actually, most evenings, since the rain seldom starts before late afternoon, and seldom lasts long into the night. During the dry season, October through May, it is rare to see a cloud. I don’t know if these are the official distinctions of the rain and dry seasons, that’s just the months they were during our year here.

One of the imaginative sculpture displays along Mexico City's "main street," Paseo de la Reforma.

One of the imaginative sculpture displays along Mexico City’s “main street,” Paseo de la Reforma. Notice the large sign on the building behind.

What I expected to like most about living in Mexico City — the food — has turned out to be one of the things I like least. I had thought, after more than three years of the bland cuisine of Argentina, I would be in foodie heaven here. Turns out, I actually don’t like most Mexican cuisine. But that’s just me. I have acquaintances who salivate with delight just looking at the word taco.

So, here’s the list. What I like and what I don’t like after one year living in Mexico City:

Likes:

The urban parks. Some of the most beautiful, well-planned, and useful green spaces I have seen in any city in the world. We live beside the largest urban park in the Americas — Chapultapec, and its presence enhances life here enormously.

The weather. Spring and Autumn are my favorite seasons (I could happily skip Summer and Winter forever), and Mexico City skips heat and cold.

The flagrantly friendly people. The people of Mexico City, at least all the ones I’ve encountered, are exceptionally friendly and helpful, particularly with foreigners.

The abundance of cafés and restaurants. You can’t walk a block around here without coming across something to eat or drink.

The ancient culture, which Mexico supports and sustains better than most governments.

The overt support for the arts, the honoring of creative work — poets and writers, painters and sculptures are revered here.

The architectural style of Mexico City appeals to me — the old, not the new. The new look is pathetic.

The vibrant street scene. I am a fan of cities with a lively street life.

The namesake of my favorite local park: Lincoln.

The namesake of my favorite local park: Lincoln.

Dislikes:

You really can’t drink the water.

Often the air is dirty, you can almost taste it sometimes.

Where crime exists, it is usually horribly and unusually vicious.

The traffic is so obscenely stupid that all one can do (as an onlooker, not a participant) is laugh at how ridiculously people drive here.

I’m not a fan of typical Mexican music, especially mariachis. I can live just fine without hearing another trumpet blaring mariachi tune roaring out of a car window.

Okay, it is a bit crowded.

A small part of the center of Mexico City, looking east from the Diana circle in the direction of the Zocalo.

A small part of the center of Mexico City, looking east from the Diana circle in the direction of the Zocalo. Note, this photo was taken at the end of September last year, the transition between the rainy and dry seasons. The air is clearer after a rain.

There it is. The end of my one-year summary of life in Mexico City. I should say, my life in the bubble within Mexico City.

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1 reply »

  1. That hotel in Cuernavaca wasn’t all that bad, the inner courtyard was pretty, the restaurant all right, and the room, though tiny, showed some attempt to sparkle it up — the problem was the price (and being misled on TripAdvisor). It would have been fair at $75-$80 a night. I haven’t stayed in a $15 or less a night place since getting crabs from the bedsheets in a beach motel on the Pacific side of Costa Rica, back in about 1984.

    Obviously Cuernavaca did not impress me (or Holly, either). No café life, the Zocalo flooded with hawkers — you could barely see the place through the millions of plastic balloons, narrow and dirty sidewalks where people stand in oblivious clumps, requiring you to go into the street to pass (trying not to get clipped by a bus mirror or swiped by an errant taxi.

    If you don’t get behind the walls to see whatever beauty may be hiding there, then it’s still hidden, and all you see is what the street offers. Other places I’ve been, so far, in Mexico, I would go again; not Cuernavaca.

    DF, consider that it contains the largest urban sprawl in the Western Hemisphere, is a workable, often beautiful, and livable place. It easily compares favorable with gigantic North American cities — New York, Chicago, Houston, Atlanta — and is better than just about every other comparable place in all the Americas — excepting Rio and Buenos Aires. If I could drink the water, and if I had a bit more trust in the health care system, yeah, I could live here. For me — can I live there? — is the ultimate question that rates a place.

    Maybe my vision of Mexico City is improving because I got to see some of it through your eyes?