Normally I fly in and out of Leon when I come to Celaya. It’s that city’s closest airport. This time, perhaps because of the sudden collapse of Mexicana Airlines, a ticket to Leon was almost three times as expensive as one to Mexico City. This was a price difference that I couldn’t ignore. A round trip bus ticket from the D.F. to Celaya was only 340 pesos, and I actually love riding buses around Mexico. Having faced this fact, I decided That I might as well stay a few days in the capital on my way home. It had been a few years since I had spent any time there and I’ve always loved it. Depending on who you talk to, it is the biggest, second biggest or certainly among the biggest city in the world, swapping places back and forth with Tokyo. It can be sassy and sophisticated on one block, then look like rural Oaxaca on the next corner. The concentration of art rivals any place I’ve every been.
Coming in overland one encounters a remarkable ring of “favelas” that is creeping up to the very tops of the mountains that surround the city. It’s quite dizzying to see them as you whizz in on the expressway. They seem to be built on impossibly steep ground and at a startling altitude.
I don’t have many friends here, but I do have a lot of favorite places. I always try to make time to visit the pyramids at Teotihuacan. It’s a half an hour north of the city by bus. I went really early to avoid the crowds. The last time I was there, it happened to hit on the spring equinox. We had to park miles away from the site, due to the crowds. I’m sure there were a hundred thousand people there. I had my spirit cleansed by a shaman who dusted me with a bundle of smoldering sage. I probably needed to have that done again but on this morning there was not a brujo, nor hardly anyone else in sight.
I found a jewel of a bed and breakfast in the Colonia San Rafael. This is a great residential neighborhood tucked away just a short walk from Chapultepec and La Reforma. The hotel, el Patio 77, is in a beautifully restored nineteenth century home. The breakfasts are especially good. Always fresh fruit, then something hot and plenty of good coffee. The place is eco-friendly and especially attentive to the city’s looming water crisis. For these reasons it has a solar water heating system, that is not all that effective. I’m used to travelling in Latin America, where you can’t always get a hot shower when you want one, but some may not go for that. I will certainly stay there the next time I’m in town.
The selection of food in this city is endless. As in the rest of this country, a great deal of it has been prepared to be eaten with the hands, while standing or walking, not sitting at a table. Things like tacos don’t do well with a fork at all. I really wonder what percentage of the economy all this street food represents. There is a wonderful covered market in the neighborhood called San Cosme. It sells everything from thread to flowers, and has many food stalls. Again, here the fragrance of the guayaba overides other aromas.
I’ll mention two nice restaurants as well, one simple and delicious and one over the top and delicious. One is near my hotel in the Colonia Santa Maria La Ribera. It’s called La Casa de Tono and I found it in Nicholas Gilman’s food guide to Mexico City. I chose it because I could walk from el Patio 77. It was a good choice. It is an attractive place on a residential street. Its specialty is posole and it’s been in business since 1983. The neighborhood was quiet, but the restaurant was lively. My dinner was squash blossom empanadas and red posole topped with a pile of sliced radishes, a touch I really love. This was the second time this trip that I had red posole with chicken instead of pork. This may be more common than, I think, but in Chapel Hill red posoles seem to always be of pork. My beverage of this trip, other than beer, has been the michelada. This is a beer, served over ice, in a large salted glass. It always has lime juice and something spicy in it and if you get the michelada “preparada” it will have a little soy sauce, or Worcestershire sauce or both. This sounds sort of odd, but I’ve developed quite a craving for them.
My last night in town, I followed the recommendation of my hosts at the hotel and went to a crazy place way out on Insurgentes Sur called El Calendaro. Thank heavens cabs in Mexico City are very cheap. The decor of this place is the Mexican equivalent of High Victorian. Mirrored, guilded, vaulted, ferned etc. The food was equally baroque. Without knowing what I’m talking about, I’d say it represented the tastes of the well to do in the period around Independence. Lot’s of native ingredients with a heavy dose of Spanish formality. Things were sweet where you might not expect it, for example. I started with Crepitas de Huitlacoche, little corn fungus crepes sauced with a bright green polano cream sauce. Then came a Chili en Nogada, a traditional meal for Independence Day, because it is green , white and red, the colors of the Mexican flag. It is a chili stuffed with a complicated mixture of tripe, fruit and nuts, served cold, with walnut sauce sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Readers will be startled to learn that I chose this over the Gusanos de Maguey, the worms of the maguey cactus apparently deep fried.