All work and no play make Leo a dull boy. This week I have been working alongside my new client to get myself trained up and writing in the voice and style they like. This entails a lot of writing, editing, and one-to-one meetings to talk about how they like things to be done. Not exactly the most thrilling way to spend a day. I find myself sitting in my windowless room for far too many hours in a day going back and forth about 300 words. At this rate I’ll actually end up working a regular day’s work, god forbid.
It hasn’t all been boredom and work though, I make sure to keep myself doing things out and about every day. My current fixation is a new camera and Pulque. The former is a case of the extortionate amount both the bodies and lenses cost. I want a Fujifilm X-T2 but the justification for spending the money when my income isn’t as high as usual is hard to make.
Honestly, I was hoping for a really cheap black market when it came to things like cameras. If the crime rate and tourist robbing are as bad as the western media makes out, surely there should be hundreds of ripped-off cameras on Facebook every day? I haven’t seen them and the only crime committed against me so far was being charged about four times too much for a meal. Thankfully the soup was absolutely delicious. I hope they used giant panda in it with the price I paid
I was genuinely angry when I got home and realized how much I had been overcharged. It wasn’t anything close to the £20 you get charged for rubbery beef, watery Bisto, and a few floppy carrots that pubs pass for a roast these days. But for CDMX’s usual fare, the waitress must have struggled to mask her laughter. I messaged someone in indignation, they calmly pointed out that at least it was going to someone who had less than me. That helped a bit but I’ve canceled all my onlyfans subscriptions. I’ve done enough charity this month.
At the start of this week, I had finally had enough of using the absolute disgrace of a knife in the Airbnb. In an effort to become more familiar with the flavors of the country, I have taken to cooking for myself at home. The ingredients, as I am sure I have mentioned, are sublime. The problem lies with the kitchenware you’re so often supplied within the caliber of Airbnb I stay in.
Cutlery is always mismatched, this one even has plastic stuff alongside the metal. You usually get one pan and one frying pan, rust is common but not always guaranteed. A working hob is a blessing, I’ve been to some without. And when it comes to actual kitchen utensils, get used to using your fingers for fucking everything. This Airbnb isn’t the worst. It has one pan and one frying pan, it also has a hot plate with a lid. But the knives are a joke.
I decided to see what the markets of Mexico city could offer me. There seemed to be one dedicated to pretty much anything you could ever dream of; I am referring of course to my last trip to a market that turned up USB porn and a stall devoted to poppers. A quick ask around provided me with the name Mercado La Mercad which promised to have an entire area dedicated to kitchenware.
The district was pretty sketchy in all honesty. It’s a funny thing with the city, you can be in a relatively touristy place like Centro and only have to walk a block or two to be right in the middle of it all. It’s easy to miss until you are wandering amongst solo, listless women in short skirts and too much makeup. My innocence always pings up with, ‘I wonder which nightclub they’re heading into at this time of the day’. It usually takes the appearance of a hotel that offers price by the night and price by the hour for me to realize the error of my judgment.
The market was organized chaos to put it lightly. As usual, it was sprawling. The markets of Mexico City put the riads of Marrakech to shame; they’re pleasantly laid out Ikea pathways in comparison. The trinkets and baubles of each stall encroach on the already narrow walkways leaving just enough room for one person to duck through. A vague grid system does seem to be in place, but the markets so often spread around pre-existing buildings, they commonly divert or result in dead ends. The pathways break off like capillaries, organically molding around whatever used to lie beneath the endless growth of the market. Once you’re in there, you just have to be moved around the various arteries of the place until you spot the area you need.
These markets, despite being sprawling and seemingly endless, do have an order to them. Each one around the city will have a pocket dedicated to something that they do particularly well. It took me about 10 minutes of floating through the river of bodies before I spotted shiny things hanging from the roof and walls. I had found the kitchen district.
As far as the eye can see, which isn’t that far in the smog-filled labyrinth of the market, are pans, knives, entire kitchen sets, hobs, stoves, microwaves, and anything else you could possibly want to set up an entire industrial kitchen. I had found second-hand kitchen mecca. Before I bought a new knife, I needed to do some research.
Ducking under 8-foot wide suadero pans and sliding past unsheathed cleavers as long as my arm, I started finding myself some good-looking second-hand knives. My plan was to buy something of decent quality but in ill repair and bring it back to its former glory, as you can with well-made steel. I wasn’t disappointed.
Stacks and stacks of knives lay in every cluttered stall. Being careful not to slice my fingers on tetanus-seasoned kitchen blades, I dug through, getting a gauge on what was there. Unsurprisingly, there was a vast quantity of old taco knives. There were the enormous Al Pastor knives that look like slim, curved machetes, and there was a lot of taco knives that look like cleavers with a curved nose. I was in the market for something along the lines of the latter. I wanted something like the Japanese Bunka or Nakiri style, they seem to work best for most things I enjoy doing with a knife.
The taco knives are like kitchen axes, good for slicing, but equally good for absolutely blasting through a bone. They’re not delicate. I managed to pick one up with a two-sided whetstone after a little haggling for $250 pesos; about £10. This was ideal, it needed a little care but had no serious nicks in it. I took it home, gave it some TLC, and now it drifts like a breath through tomatoes and pineapples alike. That should keep me going over my travels. I can also use it to chop up unpleasant Airbnb hosts.
On my way back from the market I thought I’d just take my time and walk back. It was only a few miles and it went through Centro, a place I hadn’t spent much time so far. I wanted to take it in and treat myself to a drink for finding such a good deal. The evening was settling in and the air was finally starting to cool down, it got me in the mood for my new favorite gut liner: Pulque.
I was only about half an hour from a pulqueria someone had mentioned before, so I made my way over there. It was closed, or like a lot of places in the city, invisible. The city has a habit of having bars on second floors and the entrance is just an inconspicuous door, often closed. I looked around for somewhere else.
Despite being very close to Centro, the area seemed very cool. A lot of small bars were tucked away in little squares surrounding churches and old buildings. The tree-covered spaces hosted clusters of tables and the bars seemed to serve everything from tall liter bottles of beer. The familiar smell of weed and the relaxed hum of laughter and chat that usually accompanies beers and spliff serenaded the setting sun.
Around a few corners, as if by magic, one of these tiny bars advertised itself as a pulqueria, so I decided to quench my current obsession and ducked right in. The walls were covered in huge Mexican murals, from the ground all the way to the high ceilings. The room was only about four tables wide and had a small bar at the far end. I made my way over and said my hellos to the bar lady. I asked for the menu and she pointed at the far wall and recited the flavors.
They sold two different beers, the usual ones of the city, XX and Tecate I think. The real list was the pulque. It was $30 pesos a liter for the unflavoured and $55 pesos for the blended stuff. The guy beside me in the bar recommended the natural, he said it was the best in the city, by far. I got one in.
This guy was a genuine, real-life, fair-haired ginger. Curly hair, light skin, freckles, and light eyes. He could have been one of my own family, but he was as Mexican as they get. He came from Monterey and immediately invited me to sit with him. He was an interior designer and had a beautiful accent. He is a regular in the bar, having given up beer and switched almost entirely to the sweet nectar from the heart of the Agave plant. He told me all about it and sang the praises of the bar we were in, it was easy to see why he loved it, besides the price of course.
The drink itself was sublime. It was perfectly chilled, it had the slightest twang, only made more so by the sparkling feel on the tongue. The natural flavor was much more herby than the flavored and blended version, but not in a bad way: in the same way that a good mezcal still carries the flavor of the plant or a good gin does too, I guess. The texture was amazing, thick but not viscous. It was significantly better than the last stuff.
I had one, then I had another with my new friend, Emilio. Then a swede turned up. He worked there and ran an English immersion class in the evening. He asked if we would join. I had nothing else going on so I was happy to sit in as the resident expert.
We all talked around the table, using prompts to keep conversation going. I was excellent at it and regularly let the rest of them know they were speaking my language wrong with boos and open-mouthed laughter. The host liked to keep things Swedish and encouraged people to do the deaf people clap when they heard something they liked. Its where you waggle your hands around near your head. If you were deaf I don’t think you would be in an English-speaking immersion class. I’m all for inclusivity and all but know your audience. Clapping is sick, don’t take that away.
I didn’t stay too long, Emilio grabbed a pulque roady and we set off. I kept him company to his metro station and bade him farewell. I had a very fulfilling day and was happy to call it there. I got a burger and clericot and headed home.
A few days later I found myself on one particular street called Donceles. This is the street with the second-hand camera shops. If I was going to find myself a lens or the body I wanted, it would be here. I was planning to take a look around and then see what else Centro had to offer. It was a Wednesday night so I wasn’t expecting the world, but it’s a huge city.
I had arrived too late for the shops. My day had been a long one, writing articles for the new site, and by the time I had finished and stretched my aching bones out in the gym, it was gone six. Some remained open, but I could see that they had already clocked off by the beer cans on the tills. I instead took my time to enjoy the evening, the street art, and maybe find some live music.
I ducked into a doorway to avoid a pavement moped and noticed the door I lent against was open. It led up some stairs and I could hear music pouring out. It seemed like a sign, and who am I to argue with fate? At the top of the stairs, the whole room opened up. It was huge and full of wooden tables and chairs with a dark hardwood floor and floor-to-ceiling windows on the outside wall. The ceiling was adorned with colorful paper decorations and the makeshift bar kept the place looking rough around the edges. It was not a place with pretension. A stage was being sound-checked and I could spot a corner seat that was calling my name. I looked around to see what the menu and deal with ordering were until something familiar caught my eye.
Pulque is served in clay pots, usually decorated with pretty paintings. They were on every table, this was another pulqueria. I went to the bar and got myself a jug of natural.
This was not good pulque. As I took the jar from my mouth the liquid clung to my mustache in two sticky strings drooling back to the jar. It was too sharp and too bitter, and it had the kind of sparkle you get from old orange juice rather than that of Vino Verde. I had a liter to get through so opened my book and cracked on. I’ve drunk most of Bristol’s microbrewery IPAs, I can get through this. I’m no stranger to a pint of penny-flavored shit.
About halfway through the gloop the band started and they were fantastic. It was a trio of women with a fiddle, guitar, and box drum. They belted out Mexican classics with a shouty punk twang. It was full of energy and passion and had the crown shouting for more. The drink was certainly having its effect and the book was fantastic. Pulque doesn’t get you drunk in the usual sense, it’s more of a high. It doesn’t fuck with your eyesight like regular booze and doesn’t make your head unfocused and stupid.
I had to get some food so I dipped out for half an hour, grabbed a plate of meat and tortilla, and came back for the rest of the show.
I mistakenly ordered another pulque and took a seat by the dancefloor. By this time the band had moved to salsa and the floor was full of young people twisting and spinning around. They all danced at different levels but every single one of them was mesmerizing. I have never seen salsa danced like this before. I’m used to salsa danced by a bunch of flat-footed troglodytes in the local vodka revs who treat it as a way to rub their booze-engorged genitals together to the dulcet tones of Pitbull.
The crowd was young and quick on their feet. They span each other, leading and following with a natural grace and understanding. The steps and rhythm came easily, as I guess they will when it is a part of the culture you grow up in. It made me a little sad that as an English we have so little in the way of community tradition. To grow up with dancing would help a lot of people I think. There was no self-consciousness, no crassness despite some of the intimacy, it was encouraged and cheered by the crowd, and people dressed in their finest happily danced and laughed with people in streetwear. I’m not advocating for people to go out and start ballroom dancing or trying to bust out a ceilidh in your local drum and bass gig though. That isn’t cool.
The end of the week saw me visiting a gallery opening. It was a few familiar faces and a nice space until the band started. I didn’t know what to expect and the worst possible outcome occurred. After years of working around open mics, I have a list of songs I can no longer bare. I remember wrapping my head in blue roll behind one particular bar just to shut out the rendition of one certain song that still makes my skin crawl. It’s that fucking half-time, acoustic cover of No Diggity by Blackstreet. I cannot be around it. It’s an amazing song originally, but why do fucking white folks think they are doing anything other than a war crime to half-time and acoustic guitar it. I’ll leave it at that because I could write a novel on my hatred.
They opened with No Diggity. I left. I just stood outside, drank my drinks, and got baked with a guy who told me all about the ecological disaster that is Xochimilco, the place I went boating. He was very interesting and very passionate. Two things that make listening to someone when you’re cooked out of your gourd really enjoyable. It’s like a ted talk.
I almost headed back in but they were playing no woman no cry, so I decided to find somewhere else to be. There is a limit.
I made my way, with a few others, to a bar as a precursor to a bigger party. I became a little less baked and got my feet back on the floor. I wasn’t as drunk as I thought I was, I was just toasted, but now I was better. I think I was ready for whatever was next.
A short walk led us to a square. It was reminiscent of the kinds of crescent you would see in somewhere like Bath or Cheltenham. One of the tall townhouses was host to a loud party. We made our way through an iron door, paid the cover, and weaved our way in.
I’m still not used to these beautiful buildings being used as clubs. Floor after floor is full of people, the building still has rooms that you can still feel the life of a family floating around in. Big bay windows, fireplaces, snugs, and curving staircases betray the real reason the building exists. It will always feel like a house party to me I think. That isn’t to say the party wasn’t great.
The DJ, on the second floor, was placed in the middle of the building. The stairs went up around the outside walls of the room, leaving two floors above to stand and look down on the dancing crowd. From every floor sprouted rooms full of more music, bars, toilets, and in one room, a tattoo studio. The rooms had balconies looking out onto the square, and it was possible to find a little conversation in each new nightclub biome. We wandered the rooms and enjoyed the night’s conversation, it was just the right amount of stimulation to keep my restlessness at bay. I did almost get a tattoo though, simply because it was so stupid.
I finished the night with some more dancing and a walk home. Saturday was a right off but I still got out and about and did a little shopping for fruit. I’m certain I’m overcharged at the fruit markets every time but I insist on shopping there. The fruit makes me feel like I’ve only ever been eating the smell of them until now. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to return to the UK on this case alone.
On Sunday I went to Bellas Artes finally and it was free! It wasn’t supposed to be but the lady in the ticket-selling booth just looked like she couldn’t give a fuck and was wanging out free tickets 100 a minute. The building is stunning and houses some of the most incredible murals I have ever seen.
I was already aware of Riviera but the others in the collection were also incredible. I know large pieces of work are often more impressive, our simple monkey brains love big and bright. So much contemporary art relies on the size as a verification of greatness. Actually, a lot of the time, it’s just shit magnified. This wasn’t the case with this work.
Anguish, turmoil, war, revolution, and fury were displayed over the walls fifteen feet high. Jorge González Camarena, Riviera, and José Clemente Orozco used deep and political imagery to turn the blank walls of the old building into a breathtaking spectacle. Without the faintest idea of what the blurb of each painting said I was able to extract the meaning and emotion of each piece. Harrowing and nightmarish poses of torn bodies, overly toothy mouths of heads thrown back in maniacal laughter, and haggard worn-out faces of oppressed workers told a clear tale.
I would have happily paid to see that.