from the archive: the pinker side of mexico city (part 2)

The big advantage of shopping the capital city is that you can find goods from all over Mexico, though they’ll be more expensive.  The greatest concentration of tourist shops can be found in the Zona Rosa – pricey leather, jewelry, handicrafts and souvenirs abound.  Plus there is a huge trade in fake designer labels, none of which look remotely genuine. Some good crafts can be found at the government subsidizedFonart shops – a smart place to check prices before you venture into the maelstrom of the markets.

Every area of the city has its markets that stock food and essentials intended for the neighborhood.  In many ways, they are the lifeblood of community in Mexico, kind of like Main Street USA.  They are abundant and well worth the time; just be prepared to haggle a little. La Merced , at  La Merced Metro is the city’s largest market, contained (barely) within a collection of huge modern buildings.  From 6 am – 6 pm daily, you’ll find almost anything you could conceive of finding in a Mexican market..  At the corner of Luis Moya and E. Pugibet, there’s a small daily market that sells nothing but flowers – loose, bushels of petals, in enormous arrangements, even paper and plastic.  There are two interesting markets in Coyacan, just up from the main street north of Plaza Hildalgo:  while the daily market specializes in food, the Sunday market takes over the entire plaza with essential souvenirs such as tipico clothing and the ever-present Mayan Marcos dolls.

A lot of the obvious nightlife in Mexico City is fairly tame, however, modeled on the European version of dimly-lit discotheques.  Two attractions however, stand out for even the most jaded of queens – the mariachi music at the Plaza Garabaldi and the Ballet Folklorico.  Finding other forms of live music can be frustrating and ultimately disappointing:  most places play rock and Latin, while good jazz is impossible to find anywhere.  The nightclubs concentrated in the Zona Rosa tend to mix it up a bit, often offering early- and late-night themes.  There are a few dedicated queer bars, but don’t expect any type of big-city style, they tend to be on the squalid side, aimed at the backroom crowd.  The venerable Dolce Vita seems an exception, catering to the so-called beautiful people, replete with velvet ropes. Mixed clubs are more in abundance and generally offer a happier night out:  try Mekano at Genova 44 or Urano at Hamburgo 123.  Venues may have a relatively high cover charge, but that usually includes a couple of free drinks.

The English-language Mexico City Times generally has good listing of weekly events throughout the city and is available at any newsstand.  The flyer Ser Gay can be found in and around the Zona and offers a local’s guide to the nightlife

The evening gatherings in the Plaza Garabaldi are not for the faint of heart.  Each night you’ll find hundreds of competing mariachi bands, in all their tight, silver-studded charro finery and vast sombreros, to play for anyone among the wandering crowds who’ll pay them.  You may also come across norteno bands from the border areas, or the softer sounds of marimba musicians from the south.  Wander around and get your fill.  Should you want an individual serenade, pick out a likely looking group and negotiate your price.  At the back of the square is a huge market hall with stalls serving simple food, a change of pace from the pricey bars that surround the square.  Ballet Folklorico is an internationally acclaimed compilation of traditional dances from around the country, elaborately choreographed and designed in a style that would fit right in on Broadway.  Seeing the Ballet at the Palacio de Bellas Artes, where the theater is an attraction unto itself, is a treat.  Tickets, however, can be hard to come by.  Book a few days in advance through the box office (512-3633)

Mexico still suffers from a paucity of gay-specific accommodations. What little there is is widely considered “unhygenic”.  However there are a wide variety of mainstream hotels among the thousands that populate this city that you can choose from.  Beware however, that many hotels do not allow you to bring home guests.  Stranger still, many of the larger chains that boast executive floors feature floor guards -  Benecio del Toro in Traffic comes to mind.  The wary should be so, your every move is accounted for by men who seem just the other side of savory.  Hotel Nikko (Campos Eliseos 204, 525-280-1111) is one of those hotels.  But gazing out your 45th floor window into the park you tend to forget such things.  The beautiful Majestic (Madero 73, 521-8600) sits along the Zocalo.  Its seventh floor restaurant makes for a panoramic breakfast view, plus it’s a bit cheaper and more conveniently located than the chi-chi Zona Rosa establishments.  You’ll never go wrong at a Four Seasons and the  hacienda-style building along Reforma is no exception (Reforma 500; 011-525/230-1818) Gillow (Isabel La Catolica – 518-14-40) passes quite nicely for a luxury hotel.  It features large (by Mexican standards) rooms, an in-house travel agency and a great restaurant.

Speaking of food……for anyone raised on a steady diet of Southwestern, Tex-Mex, Cal-Mex or Burritoville, the taste of authentic Mexican food may come as a slap to the face.  The use of corn is abundant, its smell  pervasive, there’s no getting around it.  It may cause more intestinal distress than the water, nevertheless, it is the main attraction.  A meal on the aforementioned Majestic Hotel’s rooftop is a necessity, especially as the ravishing sunset flirts along the parade of colonial buildings that surround the Zocalo; Cafe de Tacuba (Tacuba 28; 512-8482) is home to one of the country’s top bands, hence the eponymous name. Though the excellent food comes at a price, that hasn’t stopped folks who’ve been packing it in since 1912.  Cicero Centenario (Londres 195; 553-3800) was once one of the city’s shining stars on the continental scene; a series of lost chefs have left it severely disabled.  The faded glory of what once was is severely overpriced.  San Angel Inn (Diego Rivera 50 616-0537) is a very popular, upscale restaurant in a beautiful old hacienda.  be sure to call ahead for reservations.  El Tajin (Miguel Angel de Quevedo 687, Coyoacan; 659-4447) features specialties from Veracruz.  Fish dishes such as Huachinango a la Veracruz and Mojarra al Mojo del Ajo make it worth the extra effort in finding the place.from the archive

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from the archive: the pinker side of mexico city (part 1)

It may be smog-choked, even crime ridden in parts, but the lure of Mexico City is irresistible.  The most populated metropolis in the world boasts colonial mansions and excavated pyramids alongside fabulous museums and galleries, all shadowed by the concrete and glass of encroaching NAFTA development.  Above all, the city is alive – exciting, sometimes frightening, always bewildering, but boldly alive.  You cannot avoid it, and if you genuinely want to know anything of Mexico you shouldn’t even try – even if the attraction does sometimes seem to be the same ghoulish fascination that draws onlookers to rubber-neck a car crash.

Though the 10% rule of thumb would peg this city as having 2 1/2 million friends of Dorothy romaing its congested streets, that is simply not the case. Mexico, like Ireland, wears its provinical Catholicism on its sleeve:  any deviation is firmly rooted in centuries of shame. The queer scene may slowly beginning to make itself visible, but it has been a long road.  It doesn’t approach the carnival-like atmosphere found along the Pacific coast citites that have become a gay tourist mecca, the paucity of rainbow flags will attest to that.  You’d be wise not to walk hand in hand down the street with your lover; though the backrooms are nightly filled to capacity with eager flesh — such is the paradox of Mexico City.

Designed to rival the grand thoroughfares of Europe, the Paseo do la Reforma is the most impressive street in Mexico.  It doubled as a ceremonial parade from the palace of Chapultepec to the city’s Zocalo, or central square.  It remains the smart thoroughfare:  ten lanes of traffic, lines of tress and imposing statues at every intersection.

It’s a teeming procession that’s made worse by an onslaught of pedestrian crush and traffic fumes – and don’t forget the altitude.  You’ll be well served by hopping one of the frequent buses, which allow you to jump on and off at will.  The roundabouts at each major intersection feature distinctive statues that provide easy landmarks:  Christopher Columbus at the Glorieta Colon – Plaza d Republica is just to the north; Aztec emperor Cuauhtemoc comes next at the crossing of Insurgentes – a bottleneck for some of the worst city traffic; El Angel, appropriately golden, atop a 50m column is the third to look out for – the place to get off the bus for the aptly named, Zona Rosa, or Pink Area , Mexico City’s version of Greenwich Village-cum-Castro.

You’ll know you’re there by the street names:  Hamburgo, Londres, Liverpool, Roma.  Packed into a tiny area are hundreds of bars, hotels, restaurants and above all else, shops.  Teeming with the city’s highest concentration of beggars, queens and tourists, the Zona has multi-lingual policemen who wander around specifically to help tourists (little flag emblems on their lapels denote languages spoken).  More impressive, however, are the scores of unofficial guides whose only apparent task is to get you into their stores.  While you will want to cruise the constant activity, the street entertainers and the incredible diversity of shops and places to eat and drink – you’ll notice that this is no longer where the premier hotels and shops are located, though the prices in the Zona belie that fact.

On the fringe, there’s the Museo de Cera (Londres 6; 525-546-7670).  A thoroughly tacky wax museum with a chamber of horrors that includes Aztec human sacrifice.  Also here is the Museo de lo Increible (Same address) which displays such kitsch marvels as flea costumes and hair sculpture.  On the other side of Reforma is a much quieter, upscale residential area.  The streets are appropriately  named for rivers; hence the cruisy stream of boys with wedding bands (this is a Catholic country after all) who seem to be looking for more than just a stroll round the neighborhood

Just beyond the area of the Zona, lies Chapultepec Park and a pair of the most spectacular museums in the world. The recently refurbished Museo Nacional de Antropologia (Gandhi, just off Reforma; 525-553-6386; free)is possibly the eighth wonder of the world, packing a civilization’s entire pre-modern archeological history into one coherent building. Virtually next door, the Museo de Arte Moderno (Gandhi, just off Reforma; 525-553-6211; free) offers an equally impressive history of the period that followed.

The vast, paved Zocalo or Plaza de la Constitucion rivals Moscow’s Red Square.  It is the city’s political and religious center as well as its historic downtown and well worth a day of exploration.  It is dominated by the great Baroque Cathedral, dating back to 1573 (M – Sat 11 am – 5 PM; free). The Palacio Nacional, (daily 9 am – 5 pm; free) takes up an entire side of the square, housing the President and standing on the former site of Montezuma’s Palace.

Any visit should include the magnificent Diego Rivera murals that grace the central stairway and courtyard (there are fourteen courtyards in all) with the panorama of Mexican history.

Constantly buzzing with activity, for most of the year the Plaza is spectacularly illuminated in the evenings.  Among the constants, a troop of ceremonial guards marches out from the Palace to strike the giant national flag from its grandiose pole in the center.  The bar of the nearby Hotel Majestic provides a romantic vantage point for the pomp.

Behind the Palcio Nacional is the Museo Nacional de las Culturas (C Moneda 13; T – Sun, 9:30 am- 6 pm; free) a collection devoted to the archaeology of other countries.  Originally the official mint, it has been immaculately restored and is more interesting than you might think.

For all its grandeur, the Zocalo offers a dose of reality as well.  Lines of day laborers queue around the cathedral looking for work, each holding a sign bearing his trade and a few rusted tools at his side.

The area also holds other periods of the country’s history.  This was the heart of Aztec Tenochtitlan, and in the recently excavated Templo Mayor you can see remarkable remains from the temples on this site.  (T – Sun 9 am – 5 pm)  It’s all highly confusing, since a new temple was built over the old at the end of each 52-year cycle.  The result is a whole series of temples stacked inside each other. To make sense of it all, grab a diagram from the ticket office and look at the models in the museum.

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