Travel Thursday: A Day in Mexico City

For the third Thursday in a row I’ll be gone all day with no chance to post when it should be posted, so here ya go with Travel Thursday on Wednesday night, a strange tradition.

Right after breakfast I hopped into a taxi to the university cultural center, where I bought a ticket for the flamenco show that night; with a borrowed student I.D., I got it at half price. Just to show you how huge UNAM–the university in question–is, I had to take a minibus to get to University Metro Station on the other side of it. Even then I had to climb up and down a lot of stairs to get to the actual subway, trying to have fun with the figures that name the stations, being more than occasionally puzzled when there was no rhyme or reason to it. The streets are even worse: northwest of Chapultepec Park I ran into Avenida Moliere, if you can believe that. It helps if you try to make fun of them.

Finally transferred to Line 2 to get to Insurgentes, where I’m on known turf again. This area is called the Zone Rosa–Pink Zone–not because it’s almost like a red light district, but because. . . I don’t know why. It’s the ritziest shopping place in the city, and I’ve never seen streetwalkers or window-dwellers there, so you’ll have to ask someone else. Walking up Geneva, I of course had to stop off at McD’s for a large fries–haven’t had them in so long!–which ruined my appetite later. From there I walked along Reforma for a while, taking in the statues until I came to a tremendously tall, reflective, skinny building that simply begged me to shoot, even though I had to lie on the sidewalk to get the whole thing. I’d never had vertigo lying down before, and it was not an experience I’d like to repeat.

(You’ve seen this building in frequent postings of Ailsa’s travel themes.)

Wandering a bit aimlessly along the back streets, I eventually arrived at Sullivan Park, where the weekly art show was in full swing. The Unicorn lady was still there after all these years, and she was still doing unicorns, so all was right with the world. And not only was Miniature Guy there, he remembered me! He told me that a VP or board member of Mercedes in Stuttgart had over 500 of his paintings, so I’m shocked he’d remember someone who only commissioned one, but I’ll take it. How he can draw lifelike figures about the size of a fingernail is beyond me, but it’s awesome. I still have it, even if it’s of an old girlfriend. . .

Since I wasn’t in a buying mood, I soon took off west, a very long walk just to get to the edge of Chapultepec Park, and then a long walk to the lake, to buy my ticket for the Swan Lake spectacular they have in the middle of said lake. Noticed in the coming attractions that Ottmar Leibert would be playing, but not until long after I was gone, so shucks on that, as well as the Swan seats being sold out. Dammit!
Feeling more than a little aggrieved, as well as hungry, I took a taxi to Embers, my favorite eatery in the city, which is unfortunately far off the subway lines. With a fun-looking exterior and an open, cheery inside, I quickly ordered my usual and munched on the fantastic bread pieces–so good you might fill up before the burger arrives–and sipped a delicious naranjada while I looked around. No one was behind the keyboard in the corner, probably a good thing right now, because as always the first thing that draws my attention is the sign over the door that says “All our burgers are made from genuine 100% beef.” I don’t know if that’s supposed to make me feel better or just a joke, because underneath is a photo or drawing of two horses laughing! I wish I had a picture of it, but I couldn’t find the one I took.
On the menu are numerous types of burgers, but I always have the same one; as I told the waiter, in Spanish obviously, “I like my burgers like my models: nude.” In case you can’t figure that out on your own, that means I only want the bread, cheese, and meat. {Recently some wise guy insisted a nude burger would be without cheese, so I’ve had to change this to “lingerie burger,” but only when he’s around.} As a fun aside, on a later trip I took a couple of young female relatives along; one ordered the mushroom special, which I prefer not to even contemplate, but the other ordered the Roquefort, which is marinated in champagne. For a girl who had never drunk alcohol in her life, it made for some interesting and very amusing viewing.
So on to the important stuff, right? Not only was it the best burger I’ve ever had in Mexico–whole country–it was one of the best in the world. Yes, the search ended right there. While it’s technically possible that there’s a better burger in town, these are so good I’m not going to bother searching further; I may not be the same kind of connoisseur of burgers as I am of corn, but I feel very comfortable saying that. And every subsequent visit has been just as good. And if you’re feeling up to it, there’s one burger on the menu that is so big it comes out on a butcher’s block. Go ahead, seriously, I dare you. . .
As always I went off to the arcade a block over, for some Galaga and looking for someone to play air hockey against while the rest of my body worked on digestion. Then another pescero–minibus–took me to metro station Normal, which I rode all the way to Tasqueña at the end of Line 2, but that trip took so long I instantly needed another taxi to get to the flamenco at the U.

The show was called Entre el Olivo y la Fragua, which basically translates to “Between the Olive Tree and the Forge,” as in blacksmith’s shop {yes, I had to look that up}.
The first dance was called Benamor, a standard flamenco solo with castanets. Patricia Linares is the main babe of the night, looking gorgeous in the typical flamenco way, therefore she looked younger than she had to be. This piece seemed to be an easy warm-up for what was to come.
Next up was La Alegria de Vivir, which is easy enough to translate: “Joy of Living.” This was the highlight, mostly because the music was Rodrigo’s famous Concierto de Aranjuez, along with its companion Fantasia Para Un Gentilhombre, which as everyone knows translates to “Fantasy for a Gentleman.” They’re possibly the most famous musical pieces featuring guitar as main instrument with orchestra, and I could listen to them on repeat all day. Patricia is glowing in a beautiful lavender velvet flamenco dress with a long tail, playing a solitary soul afraid of others. The five backup gals were having fun with flowers–also a typical flamenco motif, the flower dance; Patricia’s innocent character gets one and loves it. But at the end of the second movement of the Concerto, the most famous part–I’m glad I came, just for this!–she’s lying down with the other girls running around her, giving her a headache and trampling her flower. No third movement as she goes to change into a simply white dress, and to begin the Fantasia the girls go into the fan dance. One can’t get hers to open, shakes it at the important points in the music, so I think it’s part of the act. Patricia comes back out and ends up with all the flowers, as a proper diva should. . .
This intermission, like most, didn’t afford me many thoughts, though I did have some funny moments reading the names of the backup dancers and trying to figure out which was which, though of course I had no clue. Not that I imagine any of them would read this, but just for the heck of it I’ll include their names: Monica Villanueva, Alietta Gonzalez, Adriana Santos, Citlali Iglesias, and Pilar Palacios. If one of them leaves a comment I just might keel over. . .
The third dance, a debut like the previous, was Alborada del Alma, which to my surprise–I didn’t know the first word–translates to “Dawn of the Soul.” Nice. Once again Patricia takes the stage alone for this paso doble fantasy world of a girl in a roomful of props, while clad in a head-to-toe form-fitting purple velvet suit that doesn’t quite flatter her body the way it should. She starts by placing a flower in her hair and lipstick where it’ll do the most good, then on to playing with a shawl, and so forth, until she finds the bull head and puts it on, only to enjoy playing a matador more. As a flamenco fan, I found the concept wonderful but the dancing a bit pedestrian, with mostly just the taps, lacking in body movements and arm positions and so on. . . {holy shit, am I actually doing a dance review in this blog? The world is definitely coming to an end. . .}
But not the evening. The fourth piece is Rondeña, wonderful in its simplicity, the most satisfying–to me. It’s pure group flamenco: five ladies in beautiful tight dresses–two purple, one red, one orange, one lime green–doing what flamenco is supposed to be. The short babe in the green–really wish I coulda gotten their names, or at least hers–was the most fun to watch, as she had a constant magnetic smile that would have taken attention away from the main diva, had she been on stage at the time. They started with the shawl dance, each matching their dresses of course, then brought out the castanets, as you would see in every show. . . but then, that’s what makes it special; that’s what I came to see.
On to the final piece, and it’s a doozy: Los Siete Mundos, easily translated to “The Seven Worlds.” By far the strangest thing all night, it was more performance art than straight dance. Our main diva comes out carrying her stool and singing in a not-bad soprano, clad in a simple blue dress. The others, after leaving the main lady alone for a while, join in with their own stools in a semi-circle, draped in flower dresses. Being true women, they pretend to gossip for a while before starting the clapping and dance solos within the circle. The main gal is at the right end, so she’s the one who sees a masked man come on stage from left rear. Already it feels eerie as she goes over to check what he’s about, scared yet obviously unable to help herself, this new thing is too interesting. When she tells the others about him, they find him too hideous to contemplate and pull her back to the group; this part seems a bit of an archetype, from many movies and plays, but they pulled it off. She pleads with them to let her go, but before she can convince them the masked man leaves. This makes her sad–sniff!–and when the girls split off to go home, she says goodbye to one group while pretending to be with the other, only to fool them by staying.
Next came a number of appearances by the masked man in different guises–and I’m reminded of a Benny Hill skit. As a troll, he gives her a lantern, so she can take the already-illuminated path she needs to travel without fear of stepping off. Rain and wind–mimed–appear, until she finally realizes that with the lantern she’s not limited to the path. For some reason there was a lot of ballet in this section, which didn’t work for me, so I concentrated on the story. Each time the masked man appeared, he would toss her a skirt of the same color and style he was wearing, of which I particularly remember the orange Maya-like garment. With a very nice play of lights a flight of steps appears in the back, and the last thing we see before the lights go out is her finally reaching the top. Apparently this dance was based on Egyptian initiation rituals, which I’ve certainly never heard of, but I can see where she’s going with it there at the end.
The gals and the masked man–who’s actually a woman–take their bows with joyful smiles, looking like they’d genuinely enjoyed the performance. Unfortunately main gal Patricia had to play it serious and haughty, which dropped my appreciation of her a bit, even if she was doing what most of those divas do, but as you can tell I enjoyed–and remembered–most of the performance, so two thumbs up. . . up what, I won’t tell you.

After a long walk to a stand, I took my fifth taxi of the day–I hope that’s a record, and it’ll never be broken–to finish off eleven hours of constant on-the-go low-oxygen Mexico City living. . .



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