I waited around by the big zocalo in the zona historic, in Mexico City for my tour group.
I was hoping for some hip cats to chat with as we walked around Mexico City looking at the markets. A group of warm and open minded Icelandic women who might want to go out for a tequila sunrise afterwards. Or Germans, Germans would be nice, I guess at a stretch I’d settle for some Brits, though I’d prefer Californian hippies.
We were to meet in from of some museum, just near the big zocalo. It’s my first morning in Mexico City, in all of Mexico in fact, and I can see the place has a bit of an edge. There’s private security guards in front of almost every shop, police with black body armour and riot shields on the back of trucks and soldiers with machine guns and bazookas – they may not have had bazookas, but they still looked ready for war. The shop fronts all have metal shutters to pull down – I’m guessing for when the bazooka battles start and someone misses one of the baddies heads and the shell flies off in the direction of your shoe shop or taqueria.
There’s a little cafe in off the promenade near the entrance to the museum, so I pop in there and grab a cup.
I see a Mexican dude looking around who looks like he might be a tour guide so I make eye contact with him. I feel like a spy at a clandestine meet. He’s on the phone and doesn’t notice me straight away, when he hangs up, he acknowledges me with a raise of the left eyebrow and walks over to me.
“Yes, hello”, he says, he takes a breath, “adventure tours?”
“You’re the only one on the tour today. There was meant to be three young German women but the office just told me that they cancelled this morning. I think they had a big night”.
Curse you god! And I bet they were all single.
“I just ordered a coffee”.
“It’s okay, take your time we can start the tour in a few minutes”.
The coffee arrives and I take a sip and it is as bitter as hell so I add half a cup of sugar and skull it down to avoid having to taste it too much
My guide looks over and raises his eyebrows. He’s a little shorter than me and he’s got black hair and a roundish face. He doesn’t look that Mexican to me, but I don’t really know what Mexicans are meant to look like, they just all have this lovely slightly tanned brown skin, and many are on the plump side, but apart from that, they look ‘normal’. For fashion, there’s the hombres with the odd cowboy hat, outnumbered by the baseball style cap, which my guide wheres, but none wearing those outlandish sombreros. They like their blue jeans, tight, and no one goes around in shorts, there’s the younger women with light cotton tops that you can see their bras through, not in a sexy sort of way, just like it doesn’t matter.
“Okay”, he says, “first I will take you to a market that is not well known by the tourists. It has some lesser known murals than those more popular ones in the city”.
We weave our way through the streets, I recognise the one going down past my hotel, after that, without my guide, I’d be guaranteed to be lost in a minute. The streets are narrow and cobblestoned, lined by clonal style buildings a few stories high. You can’t see the sky for the buildings and the haze.
We head down a street reserved for buses, it is lined by heavily armed policía.
“A few months ago, it was too dangerous to come down this street”, my guide tells me, “it was controlled by the drug dealers. When the police took it back they have to do so in force”.
“Okay”, I say, clutching my Kathmandhu backpack.
It’s early morning, so the markets are still fairly active. They are called the Abelardo L. Rodriguez Markets, which my guide may have told me at the time, but I didn’t pay any attention so I had to google it when I got back to Australia. I can’t even remember what they sold, maybe some meat and pollo, and orangey-red coloured bananas. This was the first of a few mercados I visited that day and they became a bit of a blur. The attraction of this markets was not what was sold but the murales, that were all over the place, on walls behind the meat and pollo vendors, in storage rooms behind bags of corn and on the ceiling.
Mostly, my very informative guide tells me, they depict stories of how the Spanish capitalist imperialists exploited the native Mexicans and got rich off of them. It’s all very revolutionary and socialist, far removed from my everyday bourgeois existence.
“The stall holders have often not really appreciated them and they just throw their meat and vegetables in the rooms with these pictures. They have been damaged over the years as a result. In fact the store holders can get annoyed because the government is now wanting to restore them but they just want to make business like a normal market.”
As I take pictures my guide has to gently pushed me out of the way so the stall holders pushing trolley loads of produce can get by, all the time he is explaining the different elements of the pictures. Which I will try and recall for you.
This one shows the various diseases that corn, or maize/ maíz can get, like corn blight. The rats you may see running around eating the corn and its roots represent, according to my learned guide, the evil Spanish bastardos who are profiting from the port indigenous Mexicans. In the middle of picture is a light, hanging from the ceiling, which is used to help people see in dark times.
This one shows the evil well-fed Spanish capitalist/ imperialists counting all the gold coins they make from exploiting the poor indigenous Mexicans. There’s some indigenous people in the bottom left-hand corner, on the street, starving while all this happens, with a little girl picking up scraps of food she can find off the ground, while a poor Mexican worker in his overalls looks on in despair, with only meagre pickings in his hand and a revolutionary banner in the background that says something in Spanish about how bad imperialism is.
This one shows workers toiling and selling their produce to a guy at a desk, with a fairly substantial sombrero, while again, a poor woman sits in the street hungry.
This one has muchos capitalist imperialists!
This one, I think, might be indigenous labourers clearing trees for capitalists.
I actually don’t know what this one is about. But I can say many of the people who painted these murals were students of very famous mural artists – my guide tells me some names but I forget them. I’m not very cultured. Looks like, in this picture, no one gets to keep the food either, but I can’t spot any capitalists – maybe the Mickey Mouse style head represents the Americano imperialists.
And more starving people, their produce being taken away from them whilst they remain hungry. While my observations are light-hearted, the walls are poignant and thoughtful. Sad. It’s not like the USA, who seem sad, but are comforted in their sadness by the proliferation of sneakers, where capitalism is just accepted and the cafe staff freak out and run after you if you don’t leave a tip for a root beer bomb. They seem smarter in Mexico, more real than their northern neighbours. Being smart doesn’t always seem to get you anywhere.
We’re not there that long, when my guide hurries me along so we can get to the next lot of markets. Along the way we pass a place where a revolutionary once lived. As I’m taking a photo of the sign a hip Mexican guy yells out from a nearby coffee shop.
“Hey, bring him over here to try a real Mexican coffee!” He has a mischievous smile on him.
“Yeah, I feel like a coffee” I say to my guide.
We go in and the man who yelled out, a hip and happy Mexican cat who looks like he’s in his early thirties, smiles again. My guide orders me a coffee, apparently, the hip Mexican dude tells me, they always have with cinnamon. It’s disgusting and I crave my normal chocolate dusting and frothy milk cappuccino type coffee. The hip guy can see I don’t like it that much, which seems to please him.
I smile, “I think it needs more sugar”, I say.
“See, us Mexicans like it strong and bitter”, he walks off with his friends.
That, I think, epitomises the Mexicans for me, they’ve had a tough past, but they don’t shy away from it, they drink it up!
“Ready for more markets?” Asks my guide.
“Sure”, I say, little bleary eyed. “Gracias”, I yell to the man who served my coffee from some cauldron type thing behind the counter. He nods his head, and we are on our way to more mercados.
Part Two: grasshoppers, flowers & witches’ potions