January 11, 2015 The first day of my 15 months of travel.
I arrived in Mexico City yesterday afternoon. Here’s a tip for getting a taxi at the bus station to your destination; always buy a taxi ticket/boleto in the station, or when you go to pay the taxi driver, otherwise your taxi costs double.
I’m staying at the Quaker House, which is especially spartan after the beautiful house for which I was caring in San Miguel de Allende. The Quaker House is in a working class area, near the center of town. My room is so small that I can barely fit in with my two suitcases, which contain most of what I own in the world.
I will have breakfast with the folks here this morning, attend the Quaker service and then walk to the Zocalo (main plaza) to find information on the Turibuses, which are red, double-decker buses, that you can take to different areas of the city to see the sights. They have recorded information and headphones. You can leave the tour at any point to spend time at a interesting location. I will start touring tomorrow. I look forward to walking and taking the excellent public transportation in this city of 20 million people.
I will look for dancing in the plaza this afternoon and see the beauty that surrounds it. I need to find a good, vegetarian restaurant. I haven’t had a meal since Friday lunch in San Miguel.
More about the Quaker House and their mission tomorrow….
The Quaker meeting yesterday was lovely, filled with peace and the realization that I am surrounded by people who have the same values, ethics and focus that I have in my life. We sat in perfect silence, as we sit in my Ascension Meditation gatherings, feeling the best in ourselves rise to the fore, feeling the security of being in a tribe, who want beauty and equality in the world for ourselves, each other and all human beings.
I then embarked on my first day of walking the streets of Mexico City. I headed for the Zocalo, the main plaza, which I knew would be crowded with thousands of Mexico City residents. I enjoyed listening to Spanish, watching the extended families smiling and laughing on their day together. Unlike in San Miguel de Allende, I heard virtually no English spoken. I welcomed the opportunity to be in a city that is not as tourist-controlled.
I walked for miles, visiting the Zocalo, where, unfortunately, there was no live music and dancing, roller skating rules. I ate lunch at a vegetarian, Indian restaurant, which was pricey due to its proximity to the Zocalo.
The museums are free on Sundays. There were many Mexican families taking advantage of this, bringing their children to the gloriously beautiful Belles Artes, with its stunning murals. I sat on a bench for many long minutes in front of Diego Rivera’s revolution mural. It was so meaningful in our ongoing fight for freedom. It balanced out for me Diego’s betrayal of Frieda with her own sister, and I managed to forgive him and appreciate his work.
I kept walking and visited the Museum of San Carlos, which has European work, including a sculpture by Rodin and many magnificent paintings by lesser known European artists, mostly of the 19th century.
My feet were getting sore as I headed back to the Casa de los Amigos (Quaker House), passing by prostitutes on a few street corners, even though it was only mid-afternoon. Of the five I saw, there was a lot of variety to choose from; one was old, one was fat, and, I believe, one was a man.
However I forgot my sore feet when I heard drums beating a few blocks from my temporary home. I sprinted across the street just as the young drummer stopped his music and started asking for money. I engaged him in conversation and walked with him and his friend for a few blocks, asking about possible nearby dance clubs, with drumming music. He professed to know something about this but it turned it he just wanted to sell me “Juanita”. No thanks, buddy.
He continued walking, and I detoured to the Monument of the Revolution and the large plaza there, where mostly young, alternative Mexicans congregate. I found a drummer and some dancers, who were dancing the Aztec dances and watched them for a while. During a break, I asked the drummers about nearby dancing clubs, but she didn’t know of any that had the music I wanted to enjoy.
I kept exploring and found a group of young Mexicans with a drum, who were willing to drum for me so I could get some dancing in; gotta dance, y’all. Two of them beat on the drum, and I danced for a bit, before heading for home, and a Quaker potluck.
It was a successful first day in Mexico City. I went to bed early and was up at 5:00 am; you can take the girl off the farm but she’s still an early bird. Today I plan to find the Turibus and explore more of Mexico City.
Traveling in Mexico City. I went sight seeing for the last three days, and there is a lot to see in Mexico City. On Monday and Tuesday I sat on the top of the Turibus, which is a red double decker bus. The advantage of this bus is that, with a map, you can acclimate yourself to the city and see the lay of the land. There are several different routes. I took the central one, which contains the Zocalo, the main plaza, and many government buildings, with an unfortunate emphasis on shopping. The Sur (south) tour includes the Frida Kahlo house.
The negatives on these tours is that the recorded information is for the Spanish-speaking tourist, who are greatly in the majority. The English recording was not in sync with the Spanish and started first. I would jam my earplugs in but always missed what they were pointing out. Because of the terrible traffic, we would drive away before I identified the building or site that they were discussing. The traffic also was a major obstacle to hearing the information. The main city streets are, advantageously, built very, very wide, as in some major European cities.
You could get off the bus at a stop, investigate and get back on the next bus, which came in, theoretically, 20 minutes. I only did this at the Frida Kahlo House, which contains many of her works and those of her husband, Diego Rivera. She was an amazing artist and woman, who delighted us with her art despite debilitating pain from a horrendous bus accident.
After this emergence into the city, I started take the regular city buses, which are plentiful, frequent and filled to the doors with Mexicans taking advantage of the great public transportation. I only wish that we had good public transportation in the States, but it’s Profits before People, to our disadvantage. I found that, despite my poor Spanish, a big smile got me all the help that I needed to find my stop. Luckily I can joke around in Spanish, which everyone enjoys.
I visited the sites that interested me most. Yesterday I spent the morning at the fascinating Anthropological Museum, which is not to be missed (I was told this by many people because it is true). Across the street is the huge park, where I visited the zoo (could have skipped it) and looked for the Botanical Garden. It must have been very small because I was disappointed to never find it. I did find several rose bushes with pink, sweet smelling roses about half the size of my head. Those of you who have been to my rose garden parties in WI know how much I enjoyed that!
I eat my breakfast here at the Quaker House, for 30 pesos a meal (slightly more than $2.00), which is very welcome because I’m on a strict budget. I love the family style meals. Eating alone gets lonely.
I walked around last evening with the 7 year old daughter of one of the American volunteers who live at the Quaker House, while her father was in a meeting. She’s a darling, born in Mexico, speaks fluent Spanish and English. We were looking for a grocery store with healthy food. Ha ha. I finally bought her some nuts and a juice flavored water, but I didn’t have my glasses and, fortunately, couldn’t read the ingredients. She said that her mommy and daddy allow her to eat these particular items. I was looking for dates; no dates, only junk food. The poor in Mexican eat almost all carbs and sugar, which accounts for the escalating and terrifying diabetes rate in this country.
I decided that I could afford one Linner out (lunch/dinner eaten in mid-afternoon). There are no good restaurants in my working class ‘hood. When walking through the city in another neighborhood (called Colonias; there are 16 in Mexico City), Colonia Roma Norte, I found a good sushi restaurant and had a satisfying and reasonably priced meal. It was also entertaining because I made friends with Melissa, the manager. She is Mexican, from Guadalajara, but speaks excellent English. Her mother is a teacher in TX. She talked to me through most of my meal, unless duty called.
Melissa told me about a good restaurant in another Colonia, which I will visit tomorrow. Today I will stay at the Casa, helping in the garden and going to Spanish class. I only will leave to walk to Belles Artes to see the stunning Tiffany glass curtain on the stage of the Theatre inside the Museum. They have a guided tour weekdays from 1-1:30, which is free. I don’t want to spend money on any performances in the Theatre, although I would LOVE to see the Ballet Folklorico. Tickets are around $25.
Tomorrow I go to Colonia (Neighborhood) Condesa, which I saw from the Turibus and need to explore.
My 3rd post on Mexico City: I must admit that I am getting tired of being in this huge, dirty, NOISY city. I didn’t live on a farm for 20 years because I like big cities. Austin was different because of the marvelous music and dance scene, the wild women of TX and LA and my darling Grayson.
I did make an amazing and positive discovery, with the help of a guest here at the Casa, Jennifer, who is a college professor from NM. I no longer have a phone contract with Verizon; enough with giving this unscrupulous company $118 a month for phone calls. I have given my camera away but now know that I can take photos on my cell phone and send them to my laptop, as long as I have WiFi available. Yahoo! I will be sending a few to FB, as I travel for 15 months.
The Quaker House has also lost much of its charm. It’s an intentional community with a wonderful anti-war/peace focus; however, this strong emphasis on education of the groups of Quakers and students and other groups who stay here seems that there is much less energy for organization of the Casa, leading to lack of bookkeeping and cleanliness and attention paid to the needs of single, paying guests.
I am looking forward to the silent meeting at the Quaker House today, where I can meditate. I would dearly have loved to attend an Ascension Meditation group here and had made arrangements, but I just couldn’t get the courage to take the Metro at night, for the first time, to the meeting.
I might be a bit crabby because our working class neighborhood doesn’t have a single good restaurant. I eat a nice breakfast at the Casa, then head out for activities. Thursday I went to a tour of the National Theater, in the center of town, with two others travelers from the Casa. We were all excited about seeing the Tiffany glass stage curtain. But 50 minutes of fast Spanish later, the tour ended without a glimpse of the curtain. I asked about it and was told that there is work on the stage so we cannot see the curtain. I left immediately and went to a vegetarian restaurant, which was very disappointing. I had a terrible meal the day before too. Please remember that in Mexico “French” lettuce is iceberg lettuce. Also, “vegetarian”, at a poor restaurant, means just leave off the meat and don’t bother about quality and flavor. Walking home in the earsplitting din of traffic, I decided I would not go to El Centro again.
So two days of lousy food; what is a retired, organic farmer to do to get a good, cheap meal in Mexico City? I goggled vegetarian restaurants and found Falafal King, which is in the neighborhood called Colonial Condesa, a lovely residential area, with much European architecture. After two buses and a taxi (bad directions from two people), I arrived at Falafal King, yay!
I chatted with the waitress and a fellow customer and then was served a delicious, vegetarian, cheap and filling meal. I even took a meal home for the next day. Then I walked to an expensive health food store to buy a few things. I walked through a magnificent park called Parque Mexico on my way back to the Metrobus.
Living in Colonial Condesa are a lot of the Mexican Jews of Mexico City. Falafal King is owned by one. While I was eating, a man and a woman stopped to sample falafal and started talking to me. I don’t believe they were a couple but were both Jewish lawyers. The man hastened to tell me that his brother-in-law owned the restaurant. I thanked him. He invited me to his synagogue for Friday night services. I have not gone out once at night in Mexico City. I don’t have the money or the company and, as a result, the inclination to venture out and wasn’t going to start by going out for organized religion.
So fortified by good food, yesterday I finally DANCED for the first time in Mexico City! I walked to a park with a volunteer from the Quaker House, Cristal, who has a landscaping company in Boston and has been coming to the Quaker House to volunteer for part of every winter for 11 years. I admire the dedication of the volunteers.
There is free dancing every Saturday afternoon and hundreds of people participate. We watched the Danzon for a bit. Danzon is the official musical genre and dance of Cuba. It is also an active musical form in Mexico. It was too tame for us, so we moved onto to Zon, which is like Danzon but with livelier music and much more hip action. For those of you who have seen me dance, it is right up my alley. I was amazed how many men (some actually under 80 years old) asked us to dance. The majority of the dancers are older Mexican folks. I tried not to be too wild on the dance floor, but when I realized that they loved it, I cut loose!
We danced for a few hours and then headed back to the Casa. Cristal told me about the rock and roll dancing, not far from the Casa. I cleaned up and headed over. Again, all Mexicans and me. They were all dancing in couples but I danced alone until a man with crutches and one leg danced a few with me. He probably felt sorry for me because I was dancing alone.
I had my first good night’s sleep last night, in my TINY room, with the very bright bare bulb on the stairs outside my window, which keeps the room lit bright as day. I will be happy to go to Puebla on Tuesday morning. I will be meeting a friend of a friend, who lives there and doing a day on the Turibus (see my first posts for information on the Turibus). Talk to y’all in a few days….