Dodging rain drops and automobiles, you weave towards Mexico City’s Condesa neighborhood. Over the scarred concrete walkways—which invariably disintegrate randomly to dirt before building back—and around murky puddles lapping past the dysfunctional (or perhaps non-existent) storm drains, you make your way.
Hunger is rising, a consequence of having not eaten all day. Another giant puddle has formed by a lively restaurant, the employees trying to divert the liquids away. You hadn’t even bothered to check the weather forecast, oblivious to Mexico City’s potential for schizophrenic weather.
The food is fresh and colourful, the cold squeezed juice combating the beads of sweat that have built up on the long walk. The sauces have dance masterfully between savory and spice. With the tacos eliminated, you wish for more things to sweep the leftover sauces from its resting place, perhaps tortilla chips or even bread. But alas, your atrocious Spanish will not get you too far and you must push on anyways, abandoning the volcanic stone vessels of happiness.
Little shops are tucked down alleys which split off from the tree lined streets. The rain has stopped for the time being. The Condesa neighborhood is like a red crow in a flock of black, totally sticking out from much of the city while somehow belonging all the same.
You continue forward, past the trendy shops and well-groomed pedestrians dotted about. The smooth, refined look quickly transforms into the textured grit of the more typical Mexico City, with a film of haze covering the paint-peeled walls and rundown walkways.
Machine gun fire rings out, pelting the metal roof. It starts as single shots, but like heated popcorn, quickly advances into a flurry. The booms are echoing while straggling customers are pawing through bananas and flowers. No one seems to notice.
You look outside. The street is white. The sweat from the muggy air still glistens, yet the ice is raining down in the form of large hailstones. They slam into the asphalt from above, bounce upon impact and settle. The hail turns to rain instantaneously and the white streets turn black. Minutes later, the hail returns and again coats the street white.
The newsstand vendor is outside with a broom and leather loafers, pushing the white piles away, towards a drain, so that when they melt, they don’t flood his stand. The two old ladies stand patiently with their recently purchased produce under the protection of an overhand, waiting for the sky borne artillery to stop.
The Golden Hour
Under dim golden light, the clatter of ice in a shaker interrupts the soft music in the background. The agave-based elixir is garnished and makes its way to a palette. In a location approximately ten minutes away on foot, red lights illuminate large glass vessels filled with a wide array of mezcal, all with different stories and production methods, one having been hand-crushed in dugout canoes catches your eye. From Oaxaca’s mezcal to Puebla’s Ancho Reyes, Mexico City is a hub for the burgeoning resurgence of liquid Mexican magic.
It’s time to flee—a quick visit, the first hit of many to come. The online fear mongers say not to use the metro to the airport. They say the neighborhood is too dangerous. Take a taxi. Maybe they have gold-tipped hair dryers to protect.
Your eyes dart from face to face. You’ve seen all these faces before—New York, Buenos Aires, Budapest—the blank stare with a slight haze peppered with fatigue from a sleep too short the night before. The old metal container jerks along the tracks with its catch of worn out workers heading in for another day. The intermittent light outages flutter.
You step off. It is a giant, semi-paralyzed mob—reminiscent of your time in Manila—inching forward to get the trains bound for downtown. It must take forever to clear all these bodies. You make a mental note that the subway is indeed a terrible idea if you are going in the direction of the rush hour swarms.
The “dangerous” neighborhood, full of hot breakfast cuisine and upbeat faces, provides a wonderful morning walk towards the airport terminal. It seems the happiness is sitting on an upside bucket cooking over a fire with a bright smile and warm eyes in the area “they” warned you about.
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