Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Ciudad de México

The food is good, and cheap. This is one of the only reasons a person would visit Mexico City. There are many different Mexican regional cuisines that are worth knowing, and they are all available here since like any capital city it draws people from the provinces. CDMX is close to both coasts and gets good seafood. There's a notable international food scene: Italian, Japanese, Israeli for example. The famous restaurant Pujol is a ridiculous $175pp for the taco tasting menu and it’s hard to even get in. It's located by the foreign embassies and Fortune 500 offices in Pulanco so it must be expense account dining. Saw Contramar mentioned in Bon Appétit magazine, the food is good and service is excellent. It was full of rich locals, not so many tourists as other places. A meal (or something like a latte) costs about half of what it would in U.S. Note that the massive Mexican diaspora in the southwest has fully recreated its cuisines so you can eat about as well in the Hispanic parts of Los Angeles or Phoenix.

Great climate. People aren't aware of the vastly superior climates of high altitude Latin American cities. The record high in CDMX is 93 degrees. The afternoon is hot but mornings and evenings are cool. There's no air conditioning in older buildings - people leave their windows open. The air is still pretty smoggy. You can just barely make out the 4000 meter (13,000 foot) peaks that are 10-15 miles away. Back when the air was worse, it must have been unbreathable.

Off the radar. Don’t see many tourists. Not like going to Barcelona or Iceland. There may just not be enough here for the city to make it as a major tourist destination. This despite the proximity, closer than people realize. Seattle is closer to Mexico City than New York City. Is Mexico City in some sense the emerging capital of the American West? (Note that Hispanics in Florida, the NYC metro, and Chicago are not Mexican - only the West has Mexican Hispanics.) Mexico City shows a possible future, or at least tendencies and trends, for some parts of the U.S.

As far as I could tell, there is not one good bookstore in the best neighborhoods of the metro area of 20 million. (The biggest in the western hemisphere.) At the few mediocre bookstores, the books are shrinkwrapped so that you can't page through them. The quality of retail merchandise in general was low, like a former Communist country. No wonder rich Mexicans come to the U.S. for all of their big shopping runs.

Noisy. In Muslim lands they have the call to prayer; in Mexico they have the call to tamales. There are trucks that drive around looking for metal to recycle, and they blast a recording of a child listing names of metal appliances. Trash pickup is done in a peculiar way: the trash truck parks on your street, one of the trash men walks around ringing a handbell, and you (or probably your doorman) brings out trash and the trash men sort it.

Very shabby: buildings are dirty and decaying, and everything looks gritty. Building foundations are crumbling. Sidewalks buckle and heave unbelievably - don't try walking if you have poor vision or are elderly. (You don't see any old people out in public though.) The road infrastructure is very dated. It seemed like they might be consuming capital - not keeping up with deferred maintenance. They would probably reset to an even lower standard of living without oil or without remittances. Sailer's theory is that the shabbiness is an anti-gentrification measure, keeping gringos out by making them uncomfortable. However, they are actually eager to have tourism and trade. They are very friendly to visitors. I think this level of development and maintenance is just what they are able to maintain with their human capital. The neighborhood of La Condesa has impressive Art Deco apartment buildings (from the 1930s) in admirable quantity. There are neighborhoods in Nashville and Seattle that have more cranes than the entire CDMX city center.

Cheap labor. Businesses are much more heavily staffed. Hard to believe the number of people working at small cafes and restaurants, or at department stores. Street vending is ubiquitous. Sidewalks and park boulevards are lined with people in tents selling things like snacks and newspapers, or street food. Far more of them than you would think the market could sustain. People walking into traffic jams trying to sell snacks or cigarettes. Organ grinders looking for donations. People playing music outside restaurants looking for donations. Overall there is just a glut of Mexicans - and that's after having sent so many people north via the population safety valve.

They are firm believers in walls and fences! It was controversial when some razor wire was rolled out on the US border, but I have never seen so much razor wire as down there in my life. Houses and apartment buildings in the best neighborhoods will have 10 foot tall fences topped with spikes and the spikes will be crowned with razor wire. Sometimes above the razor wire there are four or five strands of electric fencing too. Schools and government buildings are fortified with fences like this, and sometimes sandbags in front, the way military bases in Afghanistan and Iraq are set up. Everywhere the buildings present a totally armored face to the street.

At the same time that private spaces are so unwelcoming, the parks are very pleasant. In nice neighborhoods, streets are lined with tall trees and the understories in the parks are planted with trees and flowers. The jacaranda is popular, and colors like the color of the jacaranda flower are popular colors for buildings. 

Whatever is causing the abundance of passive security measures also leads to active ones: heavily armed guards. Office Depot and Radio Shack had guards with 12 gauge shotguns. A department store along the lines of Macy’s had armed police at every entrance, the parking entrance, and the loading dock. One was carrying a submachine gun. Watching a cash pickup from a small business, the armored car had three carriers who all went into the store. When returning, one of them walked point with a 12 gauge shotgun.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

My grandpa was a socialist activist in Nicaragua, and eventually moved to the United States as a diplomat. When my dad was growing up, my grandpa told him the Beatles' were emblematic of capitalist Western culture, causing my dad to be indoctrinated in hatred of them for no reason at all, and my dad later passed on his dislike of the Beatles to me.

Consequently, I hated the Beatles even before I'd heard any of their music. My first exposure to them was actually watching "The Yellow Submarine" sometime in elementary school, and I was totally repulsed by it: insipid, meaningless lyrics and haphazard storylines and plot that I could identify as drug-fueled even then.