Today I ate eight tacos al pastor. With yesterday’s two _tortas_, that makes this an all-Mexican street food (and tourism)weekend, which is a good weekend in my book. I just wish the fruit sellers hadn’t closed up shop yesterday before I could get some of that good-looking, fresh mango with chile powder.
h3. Tacos & The _Zocaló_
Today’s first three tacos were eaten at a stand along the street in the _Zocaló_, Mexico City’s historic downtown square. According to who you believe, the _Zocaló_ is either the second- or the third-largest open square in the world, and, let me say, it was plenty large for the political protest that was taking place there.
But I was more interested in what lay around the square. So I got up early — well, mid-morning — and hopped on the Metro. After paying the surprisingly small fare ($0.20), I somehow managed to take two lines in the correct direction, and to handle the transfer in between. I got out of the Metro directly in front of the Cathedral, an immensely large building with a somewhat disjointed architectural style, probably reflecting the long time period over which it was built.
After a quick jaunt through the cathedral, I went to see the Aztec _Templo Mayor_, the great temple of Tenochtitlan — and the source of much of the building material for the Cathedral. The excavated ruins were fascinating: the temple is made up of layers of massive stones and gravel, several generations of temple built over the previous generation, each with new carvings and some even with exquisite painted bas reliefs.
The exit from the _Templo Mayor_ led behind the red brick and stone _Palacio Nacional_. A few MPs, dressed in green uniforms with white braiding and spit-shined black shoes, stood in the entrance of an oaken door set in a maroon-painted wall; I couldn’t resist the colors, but, as soon as I began to set up the shot the soldiers waved me off. So, instead, I walked through the crowded streets behind the _Palacio_ and checked out the food vendors and the stalls selling various unexpected items (who would have thought that a pile of bras and thongs on a blanket in the middle of the road would be swarmed by women?). Slowly, I made my way back to the front of the Cathedral, where I found a taco stand with a big spit of _pastor_, surrounded by happy-looking Mexicans eating plates of tacos with cilantro and onion and salsa. So I ordered three and practically inhaled them, corn tortillas and all.
Suitably re-energized, I made my way into the _Palacio_. There, I was greeted almost immediately by a series of Diego Rivera murals (just like the Orosco mural in the dining hall at Pomona!). The _Palacio_ was free to enter and I was also free to walk around about half of it, seeing interesting exhibits on Mexico’s early constitutions and even good views into the spaces that Mexico’s government formerly used for its business.
Filled with culture and _pastor_, I headed home, only to be foiled by a cruel trick — the Mexicans put stops named “Cuauhetemoc” and “Chapultepec” on the same line. Looking for a stop that started and ended in a “c” I got off at the former, rather than the latter, and spent twenty minutes walking around before I figured out what was wrong. It was a pretty stop, however, and the nice lady at the ticket booth, who was listening to Bon Jovi’s “Living on a Prayer”, sold me a ticket for just $0.10.
h3. Tortas & Chapultepec
The day before, I had successfully made my way around the _Bosque de Chapultepec_, near my hotel in Polanco. I started out by visiting the _Monumento de los Niños Héroes_, a series of tall white columns comemorating the acts of six Mexican army cadets who, rather than surrendering to the invading American forces in 1847, cast themselves from the ramparts of the next place I visited, the _Castillo de Chapultepec_.
The _Castillo_ was originally built as a defensive installation, but was enlarged as a European-style château by that effete popinjay, Mexico’s brief, Austrian-born Emperor Maximilian. The effect is pretty humorous, featuring bright, tiled and plastered hallways leading to dark stone corridors with massive walls. The views, however, show why the location was chosen — you can see the whole city spreading around you from the ramparts/patios. The interior of the castle has fascinating displays, including portraits of all of Mexico’s Governors-General.
Upon leaving the _Castillo_, I discovered I was starving. I walked about a kilometer and a half before finally finding a stand that served something other than candy, chips, and _saladitos_. Loudly advertised by three women who appeared to have been hired for their ability to yell for hours without getting hoarse, this stand featured hot _tortas de milanesa_ served by perhaps the two surliest people I’ve ever seen in the food business. But the _tortas_ were selling fast, and, two of them later, I knew why. I sat and ate my _tortas_ while watching _voladores_, dressed in native clothes, climb to a platform atop a 100-foot-tall pole, tie themeselves to said platform, spin the platform and slowly lower themselves down. They looked like they were in those kids’ spinning carnival rides that feature cars shaped as characters like Dumbo, cars that become airborne as the ride spins, except there were no cars and the men were simply tied about their waists.
The rest of my afternoon was spent in the Museum of Anthropology, a stunningly comprehensive source of information about Native American groups in Mexico and America’s Southwest (and even further north — I learned that Aztlán may have been in present-day Washington). The entire museum was filled with incredible pottery pieces, some fabric, and highly-detailed displays showing native life, and, outside, there were replicas of many different ancient native ruins. I was particularly impressed by some masks, some miniatures of people, and some rather anthropromorphic ceramic animals. To say nothing of child-sized ceramic gods. Trapped in a sudden downpour, I even got a reasonably tolerable _torta_ in the Museum’s restaurant.
So, three _tortas_ and eight _tacos al pastor_ in two days. Plus some sights. Not a bad Mexico trip! Now I must get to bed, in preparation for my ridiculously early flight tomorrow morning.