Mexico City and Victor Manuel

February 22, 2010 in Mexico, North America, Travelogue

Aztec dancers on the zocalo

We must have something stamped on our foreheads, or maybe it’s the children, because it’s happened before.  Last time on a bus in Tunis, it started with giggly college girls offering the kids gum and admiring their jackets.  This time it was on the corner of the Zocalo in Mexico City, right in front of the cathedral where the Aztec dancing is in full swing.  We were painting the kids with sunscreen, and there he was: a sweaty palmed twenty something guy holding his driver’s license and student ID up for us to see.  “I am a student and I am wanting to practice my English.  I’m wanting to see if I can come with you today… for free… and talk with you and show you things and you can practice me… for free… of course.”  Tony gives him the once over with the critical Daddy eye.  He looks sufficiently nervous not to be giving us the shaft, he gives me that “what do you think?” eyebrow.  We take him.

Victor Manuel and the children

Victor Manuel turned out to be an absolutely lovely guy to have around for the day.  He’s 23 and a computer systems analyst… and a database guy, which Tony could relate to.  He took to the kids like a duck to water and Gabe spent most of the day teaching him English while picking his brain for new Spanish words to add to his collection as well.  Stayed with us all day, for free, although I managed to buy him lunch when he wasn’t looking.

Mexico City is one of my favorite places in the world.  Maybe because I have such fond memories of my Dad paying off the security guard at the parking lot of the Museum of Anthropology so that we could camp there for several days when I was a kid.  Josh and I roamed far and wide through Chapultapec park, renting row boats, spending our dollar a day on huge cotton candy twists, foamy lizards on sticks and these bubbles that come in a tube and dry hard after they’ve been blown.  I’ve only seen them in the third world.  They’re probably carcinogenic (they smell like nail polish remover when squeezed out of the tube).  I’ve been back here several times, and I always love it.

Templo Mayor-Tenochtitlan, just behind the cathedral

We couldn’t enter the national cathedral because the boys were wearing shorts.  I forgot about that.  So we watched mass through the open door and peered through the glass tiles on the sidewalk revealing another layer of excavation below street level.  The children watched the Aztec dancers with their huge feathered head dresses with wide eyes as they kindled bowls of incense until great white clouds of sweet smelling smoke filled the air and they raised their hands to the heavens reciting words we did not understand.  Ezra asked Victor, “Are they really praying, or just pretending to pray, do you think?”  “I think they are maybe pretending, but there are some people who still believe in the old ways.”  Ezra considered this as we examined the ruins of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec city that Mexico City is built on top of.  I related the same story to the little boys that my Dad related to me the first time I saw it:  “When the Aztecs completed this temple and they had the inauguration ceremonies, they sacrificed over 10,000 people and it is said that the streets ran with blood.”  This impressed the boys, who are always up for a good story involving blood.

Blue eyed baby

Having Victor along turned out to be a boon for us when we tried to enter the National Palace.  Everyone was being waved right through, not us.  We were “selected” to show our documents and turn out our bags and our pockets.  Until Victor mentioned to the stern faced guards that we were with him, and then we were waved through with smiles.  The interior walls of the second story balcony of the National Palace are painted with floor to ceiling murals of the history of Mexico by Diego Rivera.  They are breathtakingly beautiful.  I never get tired of seeing them and I always find new details.  This time we noticed the Aztec trading party negotiating with another tribe, “Just like in our story, Mom!” announced Elisha (With Cortez in Mexico by G.A. Henty)  Ezra noticed the blood painted running down the steps of Templo Mayor.  I looked for my favorite figure:  and Indian baby with bright blue eyes strapped to his mother’s back, evidence of the beginning of the blending of cultures.

Lunch baby

We bought chips with lime and chile squeezed over the top and ate them, licking our fingers, as we walked to the park in front of Palacio de Bellas Artes where we found our lunch:  chicken quesadillas (with grilled onions) wrapped in tortillas we watched the senora squash herself in a hand press.  We sat on the pavement next to her baby, half covered with a blanket and laying on a black plastic trash bag, and enjoyed every last bite.

Chapultapec park

If you ever make it to Mexico City, visit Chapultapec park on a weekend afternoon.  The whole city turns out to stroll and relax and play.  There are street performers, boats to row in the lake, a zoo, a little amusement park, and long shaded walks lined with vendors of every imaginable novelty.  The children shared HUGE sticks of cotton candy and Ezra turned completely blue.  “He is… how do you say it?” Victor searched for the word while tapping his thumb and fingers together.  “Sticky?” I suggested.  “Yes!  Sticky!  I learn this one from Madonna… she have a “sticky-sweet” tour!”  He announced proudly.  “Well, Ezra is sticky and sweet,” I replied, “But not the same as Madonna!”  I winked.  “Yes, yes!!  I know!” he laughed.  Double entendres are one of the hardest things to get in a foreign language.


Ezra got to see his voladores.  I think he was almost as excited to see the “flying men” again as he was to see the Eiffel Tower, and that’s saying something.  We all love to see these fellows in beautifully embroidered red outfits climb their enormous pole, play a reed flute and drum and then tip off backwards and descend in a spiral toward the ground.  It was originally a ritual performed to the gods, now it is a permanent fixture in front of the Museum of Anthropology and they do it for tips.

In front of the Aztec sun stone, Museum of Anthropology

The bus ride out of the city, back to San Juan Teotihuacan took almost two hours.  We were dropped off on our little zocalo after dark to guitar music being performed live in the square.  “Wow, is Santana over there?” Tony quipped.  They were good.  We ordered 18 tacos (half with pork half with chorizo) and two pepsis (in glass bottles, as they always are) and sat on plastic stools on the street, congratulating ourselves on a twelve dollar dinner.  “I’m sure glad you eventually talked me into eating street food!” said my husband, with dreamy eyes and grease dribbled on his beard.  It took me most of our first trip (eating happily in front of him and not getting sick) to convince him that the food you see cooked is the safest.  The weather is warm.  The music is good.  The food is better.  My Spanish is coming along.  We’re beginning to feel like we’re really here.