Magical Mexico

(Photo by: Jami Buck-Vance)

ATTN: A full-length book collection of travel writing by Han Vance is to be published in 2018.

Magical Mexico – originally for hanvance.com

A day removed from a pit of Mexican fire in my stomach, which burned bright with tequila and salt, I comfortably reflect on Zona Polanco in the Federal District of Mexico, DF, for short. Think of our DC, meets NYC.

Polanco, in effect the Beverly Hills of Mexico, from Burberry to Gucci to my favorite, the eclectic Common People 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 red background of worsening 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 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 finest shopping, the restaurants where I found so many friendly tables.

Past the biggest flag I’ve ever seen, one Zona over is the giant park, with the public lake where families and couples cruise on peddled boats, the museums and street food vendors. On a Sunday afternoon, we strolled amongst thousands, one street vendor saying, “Wow,” at the significant beauty of my lady, as the sugar of the churros stuck to our hands.

We stopped in for a tangy margarita at a swank spot playing NFL games and then were given a free ride back to our hotel in their comfy courtesy van…the big city night still awaiting us.

Fitting that I’d just bought a souvenir folk art miniature Mexican cantina in Cuernavaca, I thought later, as we explored the nightlife in Mexico City, with somewhat mixed results. Our credit card stopped working and required a phone call to rev back up at what could have been an inopportune moment, and the tequila eventually hit me too hard.

Before all 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. 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 below the border, a shrine to all that is good about Mexico, and there really is so much.

The smell of steaming tamales removed from foil and banana leaves, for breakfast. The memories flood through me, of Texas relatives whom loved the culture. The feel of being seated outside under a temperate sky and consuming cold Mexican beer with 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, pink, hot pink, red, 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 state of Morelos, which filled the largest walls in the main public building in Cuernavaca’s downtown.

To-and-fro Cuernavaca, we traveled by luxury bus, from the airport in DF, where we shared our first Mexican meal, a delicious bistec torta (steak sandwich). The city is mammoth from the air and feels enormous while navigated by auto. 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 nation of Mexico. Coming into Cuernavaca, we felt the energy rise again. And life did pulse there, with the same Mexican fire that we felt of the biggest city in the world, 100 years after the revolution, 200 years after declaring independence from Spain.

Students flock to Cuernavaca to study Spanish; while Capitalinos (as residents of DF are known) retreat the short distance to Cuernavaca for cleaner air and relative calm. Mariachi players wait near the Zocalo in full uniform ready to be rented to play. And a raucous mid-day 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.

The silver town of Taxco that we visited on a day trip was 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 restaurant/hotel.

Our last night in Cuernavaca, fireworks bombastically filled the sky from the club next door, as we finished with fine dining in a gorgeous open-air restaurant. The Mexican night air felt so perfect to us, under the candle and lamplight. And we anticipated the frenetic energy of the megalopolis of DF, which was again on our agenda.

Back inside the mansion that night, we settled in to fall asleep and then were at one point 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 as they exited our view, the magic of Mexico plainly evident to us.

VANCE for Atlanta INtown Paper

Links to my transportation and greenspace articles for Atlanta INtown paper:

1. Profile of Atlanta BeltLine volunteer and activist, Angel Poventud:

Hero of The BeltLine: Angel Poventud’s ongoing mission

2. Profile of Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. CEO and President, Brian Leary:

Behind the BeltLine: CEO Brian Leary

3. Profile of the visionary behind the belt line concept for Atlanta, Ryan Gravel:

Catching up with BeltLine visionary Ryan Gravel

4. Park Pride Parks and Greenspace Conference (Transportation Theme):

Parks and transit in bloom at Park Pride Conference

5. The Transportation Initiative for Greater Metro Atlanta:

Transit tax vote set for July 31

The BeltLine Is Our Destiny

What The BeltLine

Brings To Mind

Is Integration

Segregation In ATL

Is History, Ancient

And Reality, Present

The Interconnection

Of Distinct Urban Neighborhoods

Makes A Good

City, A Great City

The Perimeter Highway

285, Created The Hive

The Boom Of Growth

That Equated To My Atlanta

Once Being Dubbed:

The Fastest Growing

Civilization In

The History Of Mankind

A Wall Exists, Un-great

OTP/ITP

Outside The Perimeter Versus

Inside The Perimeter. State Versus City

Everything Out Is Suburb, Exurb

Everything In Is In-town

Downtown, Midtown, Buckhead

Remain Three Jewels

Running Up Peachtree

Peachtree Intersects

With Ponce, Representing

Another Wall

Dividing Blacks And Whites

Refuse Flows Downstream

So As In Many Cities

Landlocked Old Atlanta

Was Divided, Still Is Some

Whites North Of Ponce

Blacks South Of Ponce

Streets Change Names

There, Socioeconomics

Here Sits The Quagmire

The City Too Busy To Hate

Has Poor Infrastructure

And Some Of The Most

Stagnating Traffic

In This Great Nation

End The Racial Division

Women And Men In Full

Great Atlantans All

Must Lead Us Out Together

Of This Heart Of Darkness

Rise To The Greatest Greatness

We Can Be A Paris

A Vancouver, An NYC

Or A Birmingham

The Choice Is Obvious

Drop What Divides Us

Build The Beautiful BeltLine

Connect The Conscious Citizenry

Educate The Less Conscious

We Are Better Than

Our Current State

That’s What’s So Great

And Always Was

About Atlanta

A City Built On An Idea

That Idea Being

Movement Of The People

As Those Rocket Ship Buildings

Suggest – Striving, Ascending

Being All We Can Be

The BeltLine Is Our Destiny

(Photo by: Han Vance)

Volcano (Park) – from “Hawaii triptych”

Volcano (Park) (C) 2010:

A:

Almost canyon-like,

the great crater we

walked through under a blazing

Hawaiian sun, after the rain

forest. After  the volcano, another

stretch of rainforest, a lava

tube. Songbirds don’t live in resort

areas or near cities, and

neither have we – we – have been

Holualoa-Inn and the lodge named

for the volcano, in the

Village of Volcano.

And the jacuzzi

is set to

104

(Photo by: Han Vance)

B:

Next up is old downtown

Hilo, more dark sand. On the

drive to Volcano, from

Holualoa, we stopped at the

black sand beach & a few

observation points: Hawaii

is everything. Big. Life.

When I see a color, that

color tends to be vivid; when

I taste a fruit, that fruit

tends to be succulent and

sweet. And the fish is good,

the people are very good and

my travel companion is great

Happily Floating In Big Blue America,

Han

One of my favorite spots

(Hanish inside Anish Kapoor piece at High Museum of Art in Atlanta)

Atop The 17th Bridge

Facing South On

A Rush Hour Friday

Urbanism-Urbanism

And I Just Counted

Twenty Lanes Of Traffic

Below Me

I’m Up Above It

Walking In Rockports

With Sneaker Inserts

Never Tell Me This

City Can’t Or Ain’t

Because I Will And Do

And So Does This

Butterfly Becoming

More Than A Rap Song

About Getting Money

More Than A Punchline

For Soft-Thought Yankees

To Spew

This Town Has As Much

Energy, Almost As Much

Energy…As Me

Play it forward

Today is National Pay it Forward Day. So, I helped a temporarily homeless new friend with an application this morning before heading to the park for a shoot-around. I have hoops fever and am back to my old hard-court and gym rat ways, suddenly. Game last night netted a loss to the 6-time defending league champions and a reality check in terms of the team length required to compete in competitive basketball. My box score was this as 6th man and player/coach: 3 of 7 shooting, 2 of 3 on free throw attempts, 8 points, 3 hard fouls, 2 steals, 6 rebounds and 4 assists. I could have played better, of course, but if you extrapolate that out to a full game where the clock actually stops, I’d have had some seriously awesome stats. I actually shot a bit worse than that looks, but I was fouled on 2 of my shots (1 of which I converted into a sweet 3-point play). When you’re fouled on a shot it doesn’t count as an attempt. First time I’ve played in a league in 7 years.

I slightly sprained my ankle before the game while practicing a running behind the back pass. Notes to self: showboating is bad. Sportsmanship and the sporting life are good. Speaking of that: I saw the great poet Jon B. Goode today. Ever since UGA had a good season and made the NCAA Tourney and I went to the Hawks playoff win with my lady, I’ve been on geek for playing ball, and then my season finally started. I wanted to play again today, so I backpacked and biked it over to the park and shot a few, a few like hundred jumpers, free throws, hook shots.

I was set to leave and then decided to clean all the trash from the park. As I did, a car rolled up full of some of the top poets in the ATL – making them some of the top American poets, period. Jon and Xpj and Tommy Bottoms from the hot scene at Urban Grind and then some other good folks I believed I was meeting for the first time. I may have met that gorgeous Tasha before, or just wished I had. Anyway, Jon is getting married. I’m getting married. Life is moving forward. Pay it forward today, y’all.

My 1st Critical Mass

I used to be a super-sharp dressing and fast-talking parking and transportation regional operations manager, planner and staff writer. Did that relatively obscure mess for eight long years, until I suddenly walked the F out and then wandered Cali for half a summer and wrote a book about it.

I came to know and love trains in that former line of business and had always envisioned myself as this New York-San Francisco-type urbanist, who had never lived outside of the Southern United States of America and lived periodically in suburbs, country, small cities. I’d always liked the notion of not driving everywhere, never drove until I was around 25, and don’t drive now again and am simply much happier and calmer because of it. I guess you could say that I dance to the beat of a different drummer than most of y’all around here, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

When I moved to the Classic City of Athens, GA for school in 1990, I finally found a society where I could fully thrive without getting rides. I walked or rode my bike everywhere I went, and I was constantly on the go and in the know, you know. I managed the Tate Student Center Set-Up Crew, threw epic parties, played basketball everyday, ate at T-stand, lived off campus, watched the Dawgs, met a few cute girls and Michael Stipe, made some new friends I’d always cherish, even studied some. More than anything, I had fun.

At age 40, I’ve finally seen my ATL gain some ground on the rest of the world in terms of becoming a bike-able city. I recently purchased a new-used bike myself, and on my first free Friday in, like, years, I joined up with my dear buddies Angel Poventud and Jason Jarrett and a cast of hundreds at Downtown’s Woodruff Park for my first ever Critical Mass.

My bike’s back wheel didn’t hold up as well as my rickety-old-still-an-athlete body did, as we rode long and far and saw nearly every neighborhood this urbanity has to offer. Beautiful homes, rundown shacks, smiling faces, confused stares, honks, children greeting us warmly and feeling a part of something big while watching from their yards. Happy Friday is the call and the response is universally pretty good, though some people did want us out of their always SUV automobilized wrong of way. Even that’s okay; they are getting an education at least. We are here. We care. We ride. Happy Friday, indeed.