Back home in Atlanta a full day removed from a pit of Mexican fire in my stomach, which burned brightly with salt and tequila aftereffects, I sip a soda water and comfortably reflect on Zona Polanco, of the Federal District of Mexico, or D.F., for short. Think of our D.C. meets N.Y.C.
It’s pronounced day ef ay, by the way. Way on into the middle of the Mexican peninsula. Bright lights big city daydream for me of the real Mexico, where my paternal grandparents had honeymooned. I’d always wanted to experience more of it than the airport and astounding urban aerial display, from when I’d changed planes there on past trips.
Polanco, in effect the Beverly Hills of Mexico, from Burberry to Gucci to my favorite, the eclectic Common People boutique where we bought beautiful soaps and bath salts and a brightly-colored magnet of the Lady of Guadalupe, radiant against a red background. That’s Mexico for you these days: radiant and resiliently shining always, yet against a well-publicized red background of worsening “narco” drug violence. We didn’t see many other Americans during the trip but generally felt fairly safe.
Mexico City boasts more density than New York City, while it is vaster than sprawling North American land giant Los Angeles, with a total population roughly equal to both of those biggest of United States cities combined. Thirty million people hived around us seeing about their day, while the affluence of Zona Polanco was perhaps most striking. The pedigreed pooches in sweaters and bows, with well-coiffed and attired owners in tow, themselves with expensive sweaters tied around their necks, so Euro. The rolling tree-canopied park and the fine shopping I mentioned, tasty restaurants where I found so many friendly tables.
Past the biggest flag I’ve ever seen, one Zona over is the giant park, with a public lake where families and couples cruise on peddled boats. There were several impressive full-scale museums and lots of street food vendors. On a Sunday afternoon, we strolled amongst thousands, one street vendor saying, “Wow,” at the significant beauty of my special lady in her flowing teal dress, as the sugar of the churros stuck to our hands.
We eventually stopped in for a tangy margarita at a swank spot playing NFL games, in Spanish of course, and then were given a free ride back to our hotel in their comfy courtesy van…the excitement of a big city night still awaiting us.
Fitting that we’d bought a souvenir folk art miniature Mexican cantina in Cuernavaca, I thought a little later, as we explored the decadent nightlife in Mexico City, with somewhat mixed results. Our credit card stopped working and required a phone call to rev it back up at what felt like could have been an inopportune moment. When I felt the local tequila wisk my wits away, I was ready for a quick taxi back to our Zona, a soft hotel bed.
Before this, was the mansion once owned by the lovely Hollywood actress Brigitte Bardot in Cuernavaca, Land of Eternal Spring, where we stayed in the guest quarters of a friend. Cuernavaca is a city of around one million, an escape from Mexico City, a city behind gated walls, which opened to reveal large homes with majestic gardens and outdoor spaces.
The place we stayed was cobalt and white and flowing and as majestic in taste and decoration as any I’ve seen on many trips below the border, a shrine to all that’s good about Mexico, and there really is so much “there there,” to admire and enjoy, rough reputation aside.
The smell of steaming tamales removed from foil and banana leaves, for an authentic breakfast. The memories flooded through, of Texas relatives like my beloved Nanny who loved the culture. The luxurious feel of being seated outside by a glimmering pool under a temperate azure blue with tufts of gray sky, consuming cold crisp Mexican beer with fresh limes sliced sideways, with the woman I truly love.
The thronging Zocalo and the reverence and spectacle of Mexico’s churches, the taste of piquant salsa verde and wholesome handmade tortillas. The art and color – yellow, cobalt blue, galaxy blue, Aztec blue, pale pink, hot pink, several shades of red and orange, all popping against the expected browns and tans. My single favorite art piece I saw was the Diego Rivera mural depicting the history of the people of the state of Morelos. It filled the largest walls in the main public building in Cuernavaca’s historic downtown.
To-and-fro Cuernavaca, we traveled by luxury bus, from the airport in D.F., where we’d shared our first Mexican meal, a delicious bistec torta (steak sandwich). The country’s main city is mammoth from the air and feels just as enormous while navigated by autobus. Housing packed on top of shallow stores and restaurants selling food and goods to the multitudinous masses. Soccer facilities and parks along the graffiti-splashed Metro train line, as we bounced in the bus through the crush of traffic.
Followed by the rurality of mountains and fields of hay that is most of the land in the great nation of Mexico. Coming into Cuernavaca, we felt the energy rise again. And life did pulse there, with sparks of that same Mexican fire that we felt off the biggest city in the world, 100 years after revolution, 200 years after declaring independence from Spain.
Students flock to Cuernavaca to study Spanish; while Capitalinos (as residents of D.F. are known) retreat the relatively short distance to Cuernavaca for cleaner air and a comparatively calm culture. There are differences between huge and smaller-sized cities, but here the contrasts felt more palpable, even though Cuernavaca is no small place.
Mariachi players wait near the Zocalo in full uniform ready to be rented to play for you. And a raucous midday celebration once swept us up, a tipsy local painted as an Indian for the festivities putting his arm around me as he introduced himself and his less than pleased date, while we charged down the cobblestone street with them. He told me I should have been out there at 10 a.m.
I liked so much that he’d included us, that I loved the whole wide world more.
We visited the silver town of Taxco on a day trip and found it brimming with humanity – flooding narrow city streets, full of pedestrians and vehicles and thousands of shops, every structure white with only black-lettered signage. There, I prayed in the most ornate church I’ve ever seen and then had a drink at the rooftop bar across the plaza. Next, dinner included chicken enchiladas and a hilltop view of the entire village from a large hotel’s restaurant. The charming town on view across the way, jammed in along a sloping crest.
Our last night in Cuernavaca, fireworks bombastically filled the sky from the nightclub next door, as we finished with fine dining in a gorgeous open-air restaurant. The food was spicy and cheesy, plainly delightful. Mexican night air felt so perfect to us all, under the candle and lamplight, as my lady and I were bidding our most gracious hosts a long, fond farewell. A true city boy at heart, part of me silently anticipated and even yearned for the frenetic energy of the megalopolis of D.F., which was again on our travel agenda.
Back inside the mansion that night, we settled in together to fall asleep and then were suddenly awakened to noises on the tiled ceiling. We moved to the kitchen, and two curious creatures called coatis glanced at us through a window from atop the property’s wall, before one bounded over the other playfully as they exited our view, the magic of Mexico plainly evident to us.
After a final sweet honeydew melon and medium roast Mexican Chiapas coffee breakfast, we departed the great gated Cuernavaca compound bound for another luxury bus trip, hardly such a thing even in existence in the United States. Life here had similarities, sure, but was remarkably different from ours.
And Mexico City, again, was next.