The Delights of Mexico D.F.

Part of me wished I'd found a job teaching English in Mexico City. It was so different from life back home in England. Being alone was a daunting experience: I lived on hot dogs for about a week because I was too scared to go into a restaurant on my own and order food in Spanish. In the end I stayed in the capital for about ten days. Here's a short story from my time there. 

Must be the biggest flag in the world
Photo by ilya ginzburg
Mexico, D.F. sucked me in. I failed to find a job teaching English, but stayed in the manic capital. I was curious to explore and fell in love with the city’s smells, vibrancy, and surprises.
My hostel was just round the corner from Mexico’s most famous square, the Zocalo; the second biggest square in the world after the Red Square in Moscow. A huge Mexican flag always flapped proudly in the centre, apart from at the evening’s ceremony when the National Guards lowered the giant green, white and red bandera. I always wondered where they kept the enormous symbol at night; did it have a special box? Did anyone ever iron it?  
In the morning was the best time to sit and watch the Zocalo. Business men bustled towards the metro or battled for the green and white Beatle taxis, dodging in and out of each other and tooting their horns for the next punter. Locals set up market stalls and hotdog or taco stands. In the centre talented hair braiders quarrelled over their spots for when gringos turned up. Artists got ready to paint pictures of the surrounding historical buildings.
All day, hordes of tourists admired the cathedral from outside. When the Spanish took over from the Aztecs in the 16th century they knocked down the original cathedral and built a new one with a Spanish Baroque style. They must have used the ethos of ‘Mañana, Mañana’ as well because it took almost two centuries. Inside, the cathedral smelt musky and the coolness reminded me of my local church. Outside, the architecture was magnificent and added to the originality of the Zocalo.
Aztecs dancing in the Zocalo!
Photo by madiko83
The Aztecs were my favourite aspect of the Zocalo. Loud rhythmic drumming often lured me towards their passionate shows. They attracted huge audiences while dancing in wide circles. Sweaty and tired but always happy. The men only wore tiny shorts made from soft leather and the women long colourful dresses. Each had a headdress with various sized and coloured feathers.
“They look like giant peacocks,” said an American man to me one day. Strong toned up Aztec chiefs normally signalled to the others when to change routine or enter the middle to perform a solo dance. The rattle of the beads attached to all their lower legs and smell of incense were hypnotising. Often mini Aztecs stood at the back, shuffling about in rhythm and watching their peers. One day they would be the leaders of the dance.
Coming from London I thought I’d be comfortable on the metro, but the size and complicated system was initially intimidating. I’d promised myself that I would stay away from the metro because it had a reputation for pickpockets, but I’d been wandering round the capital and my calves were tired. It was still two hours before rush hour so I went down into the stuffy, dingy metro. I walked with purpose so as not to attract attention but as I was searching for the Zocalo on a tatty wall map, a small lad carrying a satchel approached.
“Hi, can I help you?” he asked, smiling. He seemed harmless, perhaps a student on his way home.
“Err, yeah, where’s the Zocalo?” I said.   
“You need this line,” he said, pointing to the ‘Zoc’ and trotted off swinging his satchel. Even though it was out of peak time, the carriages were packed. Being a tall, lanky, and lost giant I felt like an easy target. No one had stared at me as intensely since a school assembly when someone puked up sugar puffs on me. The echo of laughter came ringing back as we whizzed through the tunnels. I arrived at the Zocalo unharmed. Eventually I learnt the different lines and felt just as confident as if on the tube in London.
View from my first hostel!
The market stalls down my hostel’s road were intense and unique. Saturday was the busiest day; stalls blasted out music, sellers ordered each other about aggressively, spicy meat sizzled on the barbeques, and bunches of tourists scoured for bargains. At times I felt claustrophobic squeezing through the narrow stalls. Even though I locked my bag, I kept one hand on the strap in case sly thieves roamed.
Like most blokes, I’m not a massive shopper, but trawling round the markets was a novelty in Mexico. Listening to Spanish was intriguing and the risk of getting mugged kept me on my toes. Compared to a cockney market in London, there were no geezers, apples and pears, nor lovely spruced whistles and flutes. Sellers tried to get rid of their abundance of TV’s, videos, and CD players, which would probably fizzle and die when plugged in. Clothes stalls had the normal t-shirts, jeans, and shorts, but also traditional ponchos, sombreros, and scarves. My sisters would have had a field day.
One afternoon, I went into a small outdoors theatre a couple of blocks behind the Zocalo. Flustered parents and noisy children waited to see a Charlie Chaplin show. When he appeared the kids fell silent and parents breathed a sigh of relief. He was the tallest, skinniest, and most modern Chaplin I’d ever seen. His face was covered in white paint and speckled with a black moustache. Instead of the traditional black suit he wore a tight black leotard, yellow waistcoat, and a leather beret, facing backwards. Rather than a wooden cane, he used a yellow hula-hoop to entertain the audience. His dynamic miming and magic tricks mesmerised the parents and kids and he received a standing ovation.
There were other surprises, smells, and moments in Mexico, D.F., but you’ll have to wait for the next post. 

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