Subject: Mexico trip report (looooong)
Dear Ziners,

I just got back from México and had a wonderful experience there. México D.F. for about a week (with sidetrips to coastal towns sprinkled about and some time in Guadalajara at the end) and in terms of sites to visit, I can confirm that Teotihuacan is a must--even if I hate that categorization. I have massive vertigo (it took me forever to get down the pyramid of the sun and i didn't even consider going up the pyramid of the moon) but it is unlike anything I've seen anywhere and beautiful. The day my hostesse was occupied by meetings, I went downtown to traipse about and did a route I thought worked out rather brilliantly: I started at the Museo Antropológico in the morning, which I adored. It's a beautifully curated space, pristine and a joy to be in, as long as you're not trying to power through it in order to see everything. I concentrated on the Oaxaca culture and the Mixtec hall. Besides the jaw-dropping quality of the massive objects (and this after they have suffered much from grave-robbing type abuses and the vagaries of time) I found that the museum gave my historical imagination a real spark.

>From there, heading down to the centro histórico is very easy. Just cross the street (Paseo de la Reforma), and a bus will take you all the way down that main drag for 3 pesos (currently the exchange rate is 11.something pesos for an am. dollar). Keep your eyes peeled for Hidalgo (both the cross street and a metro station)...I always have to ask fellow passengers for help figuring out where my stop is but that orienteering method has never failed me. The corner of Hidalgo and Reforma is the start of la Alameda, a nice little park. Going through it diagonally will place you at Bellas Artes, an interesting plaza--can't speak for the museum itself though. From there, turn onto any of the streets that run towards el Zócalo. I chose Montero, and immediately happened upon the Templo de San Francisco de Asisi, the first Franciscan temple in D.F., founded in 1524. The building that currently stands there is from a 1716 renovation. I assume any other street would yield something equally cool and worth ducking into. Madero and 4 streets parallel to it are bisected by pedestrian malls which have D.F.'s typical high-low combination: relatively expensive clothing storefronts, with destitute women selling chiclets only a few meters away, some cafés and a lot of street food and the sounds of all musical styles: in 2 blocks, I saw a mariachi group, a circle of drummers, and a military style band (trumpets and snare drums). And lots of chilango being spoken. That is both the denomination for D.F.'s inhabitants and the language they speak, an ingenious and constantly changing code that is likely to be (way) out of comprehension's reach for most of us traveling there for just a few days--I needed translations from chilango to spanish. In this district, the high-low conjunction that I found really characteristic of México city is emphasized by the architecture. There are many modern, nondescript buildings in various stages of decay, but on the corners, fancy colonial works, with amazingly ornate detail, especially the wrought-iron balconies. When you finally hit el Zócalo, el Palacio Nacional is across the plaza. The Rivera murals upstairs are mind-blowing. You could teach a course on Mexican history based on them. The gardens on the other side of the courtyard can provide a chill zone if you need that as well.

Otherwise, in D.F., a day in Coyoacán can be very pleasant and interesting. We started at the Frida Kahlo museum/house, which is lovely. From there, if you just walk down Allende for about 5 blocks, you#ll be in the center of Coyoacán, there is a market (artesanía) which is pretty cool and fantastic bookstores (el sótano on allende #38) and the super famous café el jarocho for Mexican hot chocolate (there are no seats, you get it to go) with churros rellenos (get cajeta, which is like caramel, but not) nearby. That#s the corner of allende and cuauhtemoc. We went to a fun bar off of the center plaza, but I had abandoned notetaking at that juncture. The street, which is an enclosed dead-end, is just off your left when coming out of the church. There is café de la selva on that same street and some higher-end artesanía shops as well.

Since I was staying with a friend who lives in Colonia Narvarte (very near the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods) we mostly hung out there. Condesa is especially nice to wander around in, lots of design stores, cultural centers, lovely cafes, tacos al pastor (al El Tizoncito, Tamaulipas and Campeche) and Roma is just as nice.

Patricia and I took a few days to go the beach, Pie de la Cuesta which is the town over from Acapulco, don#t have a lot to say about that. It has serious waves with dangerous undertow which is why it has remained sleepy and is not developed like Acapulco (i.e. no nudie bars to avoid). We napped in hammocks, drank Micheladas (the best description I can give is that it#s a bloody mary with beer as the base alcohol#an acquired taste that I never quite acquired) and tanned. Lovely, lazy, loungy: a beach.

Veracruz, on the other hand, has plenty to offer that is not beach. I went there on my own for an Afro-Caribbean arts festival and loved it. I wished I could pack up the cafés (the most famous are gran café del portal on the corner of independencia and zamora and gran café de la parroquia#get el gran lechero con pan) and the music and bring it back with me. It was hot and sultry, people show a lot more skin than in D.F., and the pace is a lot slower than D.F.#perforce, given the heat. The food is tremendous (mariscos)#I had read recs for la suriana (1799 calle 16 de septiembre#about 20 blocks from the downtown area on the water), and it did not disappoint. For light eaters, share a main dish. I cannot emphasize enough how enormous the portions were. The jarocho (the name for people who are from or living in Veracruz) spirit is really distinctive and fun. Great nightlife: I saw a good Cuban group and some local danzón bands, at 3 different clubs. I left for my hotel (Hotel Sevillana, morelos 359, which at 250 pesos for a single with its own bathroom, clean but basic, was fine for me, but I don#t think it would satisfy most others) at four in the morning and there were still plenty of dancers holding down the floor. And not meat market-like or where you feel like you#re performing if you#re out there, very pleasant and laidback and a real mix of teenagers doing the newest moves and older couples whose bodies know each other so well that they look like a single entity breathing together.

Finally, for Guadalajara, which was my last stop, I would recommend coming on a Wednesay night and leaving Sunday night: Thursday morning is market day at Tonalá, which is a great crafts (ceramics, candles, beaded items, leatherwear, what-have-you) smorgasborg. Sunday is the day to go downtown. Guadalajara has approximate 1 zillion plazas in el centro, and it makes for lovely strolling. Start at 10 in the morning, when, at el Teatro Delgollado the Baile Folklórico group does a free show, very good, then walk down to the other end of la Plaza Tapatía (tapatío is the name for people from Guadalajara#where do they come up with these funky names? I#m sure there#s a historico-linguistic explanation, I#ll inquire#) and go to Las Cabañas, the highlights are some fab Orozco murals (a native son of Jalisco, Guadalajara#s region, and interestingly, from the same town that Juan Rulfo (who wrote a brilliant novel that is paradigmatic for Mexico: Pedro Páramo) is from.). Entrance is free on Sundays. If you head off to your right from there, you#ll find San Juan de Dios, which is an enormous, bewildering covered market, with food (prepared and non), artesanía, and lots and lots of goods that are either pirated (cds, dvds, mp3s, and video games) or priced such that they seem like they must have fallen off the back of a truck# And to finish it off, at 6:30 in the evening, at el kiosko in a Plaza right off of the Cathedral, (I think it#s Libertad, but it could be Independencia, I forget#) free mariachi music. There#s nowhere to sit, but the crowd (multigenerational families out on the town on a Sunday night) is a big part of the fun.

Anyway, México is such a diverse, beautiful country in its geography and culture#I have to make a trip to Oaxaca#and the Maya region#

And now I#m home in San Francisco, trying to get organized for a hard-core year of serious study down in LA, although a Christmas trek to Cuba may be in the works# Best to you all, Jeannine in SF.