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My neighbors – Sr. Ruiz

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When Sr. Ruiz married his wife in 1948 she was only 16. They couldn’t find anyone to perform the service because of her age. People said it wouldn’t last, that they weren’t ready, that they were too young. They ended up being married by a justice of the peace in a small, crowded office located in what is now the Parque Delta mall parking.

That was 67 years ago.

“Married 67 years, that’s a lot to put up with don’t you think?” He asks.

“For her,” I answer and his responding laugh is drown out by the passing semi trucks that barrel down Baja California avenue.

I am standing outside his key shop with another neighbor, bent over trying to catch the words of this 91-year-old locksmith. His voice is low and throaty and when he wants to say something he considers scandalous he lowers it even more. We strain to catch it all but he never notices.

“I don’t know why you want to talk to me,” Sr. Ruiz says, “they already wrote a book three years ago, it’s all in there.” He’s talking about Edgar Tavares Lopez’s book Colonia Roma. Turns out that Lopez interviewed him for that book and then came back a few years later to hear more of his story. He’s quite the long-term Roma resident star, having had his shop in the Roma since he arrived in Mexico City in 1945.

DSCF5176When Sr. Ruiz came to apprentice at a plumbing shop on Medellin street, the street’s famous market didn’t even exist yet. He remembers a fish shop beside where he worked, which I was sure was the same family that has the Miramar Pescadería inside the market, as their son José told me they used to own a shop across the street until the market opened and they moved in there. When I asked José’s father about it later, he told me that Sr. Ruiz taught him how to drive up near Toluca, where they used to go trout fishing. But they are two old men, and I’m not sure who’s memory is correct, according to Sr. Ruiz he doesn’t even know how to drive himself.

On Medellín there was also a shoe repair shop, a barbershop run by a kid about Sr. Ruiz‘s own age at the time, and a billiards bar upstairs that became the workers’ hangout in the afternoon.

When Holiday on Ice came to the Estadio Nacional, located where the lanzador statue and the government offices next to the Lopez Velarde park are now, it was the first ice skating show Mexico City had ever seen. Sr Ruiz built the tubing underneath the rink.

That was back when a lady was a lady.

“The women, they used to wear their skirts to here (he points to just below the DSCF5179knee) and their stockings were perfect. Not like now where you see them on the metro with their skirts up to here and their pants all ripped up.

We used to go the movies or to the Estadio Nacional or to the circus and 12 hours later they looked just as perfect as they looked at the beginning of the day, after getting up and down and even riding the metro….perfect.”

The stadium, he tells me was also used as an office in the Bracero program, a deal struck between presidents Roosevelt and Camacho to send Mexican workers to the United States to stave off the WWII labor shortage. Sr. Ruiz’s uncle went there to get his papers before he left for to work across the border.

Above his workshop door, in a small space between the frame and the doorjamb are several tiny jars with white crystals, a scattering of salt and a few cloves. Beside them, a few pieces of slowly drying garlic. He has more than one kind of protection against mal intent.

“I walk around with my hand like this (he shoves half his hand in the side of his waistband) like I am in pain, but really I’m holding on to my pistol, I have it right here…” he points inside.

“So you think the neighborhood is very dangerous?” I ask. “The whole city,” he replies, eyes raised, like I’m a naive moron.

I opened my mouth to give my opinion but he and Jaime have already moved on to reminiscing about the inauguration of the Plaza de Mexico in Colonia Noche Buena, just a short distance from Colonia Roma. This bullfighting ring is the biggest in the world.

I remember it was a Tuesday, February 5th, 1946, on the bill were Luis Castro Soldado and Manuel Rodriguez, Manuel Rodriguez won it with the second bull.”

The two men bond over sports; Sr. Ruiz remembers the stats of every Mexican baseball player in existence. Jaime comes by the shop to discuss the most recent game, as he’s has been covering Mexican baseball for over forty years. Sr. Ruiz and his wife used to go to all the games… until his wife was hit in the face with a foul ball. She now, rightfully, refuses to go, so he settles for watching the games on TV.

For 91 the man has the energy of someone half his age. He opens his shop every day and sits in its tiny entryway waiting for customers, chatting with the neighbors that pass. But this is an era that he has his complaints about – how kids no longer want to learn trades, but simply type away at their machines and how the days of musical trios is long gone.

“Back when you could get a girl to fall in love with you by serenading her,” he tells me wistfully. Back when the tram rode up and down Baja and our colonia was just a little sleepier, its elegant architecture still with the half shine of a not-so-distant past. Before we leave I promise I’ll be back with some keys I need made, and that then we can talk some more. But he just waves me off and walks inside, mumbling that he has nothing to say.

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Monday in Mexico City

For the next installment of my weekly what to do lists, I’m working on the toughest day of the week. Here’s my list-in-progress for Mondays in Mexico.

Courtesy Christie Pham Photography

Courtesy Christie Pham Photography

Most museums are closed on Mondays so as a tourist it’s a good time to organize an alternative tour (like those from Eat Mexico for exploring street food or Journeys Beyond the Surface for culture and history) or head out to visit one of Federal District’s more far-flung attractions (think the floating gardens of Xochimilco or Teotihuacán’s massive pyramid).

Chocoladetruffels_LindtIf you really can’t kick the museum craving,  MUCHO (the Chocolate Museum – 11am to 5pm) is open Monday to Sunday … and who doesn’t need a little pick-me-up on this first day of the week? Set in a beautifully restored 1909 home in Colonia Juarez, don’t miss the chocolate wallpaper, Willy Wonka- style and the kitschy displays of women grinding cacao on a metate. They also have a small cafe below the museum where you can sample different kinds of chocolate from all over Mexico or buy some to take home with you. It also just happens to be one of my list of six Mexico City museums that won’t make you want to kill yourself.

Almost every day of the week there is a tianguis, or open-air market going on Broka Farmers Marketsomewhere throughout the city. Here’s a list of the markets in the Delegación Benito Juarez for you to take your pick from. On Mondays in the Roma you will find a tiny farmers’ market hidden inside the Broka Bistro on Zacatecas street. The market is small (about a half dozen vendors) but you can buy organic wine, farm fresh eggs, veggies, chutneys, kambucha and lots of other prepared foods. I haven’t been able to get a good fix on what time it starts, but it’s in the afternoon and lasts till about 8pm.

And of course there are all the city’s indoor markets where Monday is a big day for buying and selling. Check out the Merced for a sensory overload or the smaller Mi Mercados scattered throughout the city.

It can be a quiet day for eating and drinking since many places are either closed or lock up early. Avoid Reforma and the Centro and head out into a more neighborhood street scenes such as Alvaro Obregón en La Roma, Tamulipas in La Condesa, Hamburgo and Londres in La Zona Rosa or Torres Adalid in La Navarte. Or take in a show, there’s lots of local theater for Spanish-speaking audiences.

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Sunday in Mexico City

I’ve been challenged by a friend to write a series of guides to the different days of the week in Mexico City. While I freely admit that my insights are limited to a few areas of the city, I thought it might be fun to do. So I’m starting with my favorite day: Sunday.

Coffee at HomeFirst a confession. Most Sundays you’ll find me at home in my pajamas with coffee and the newspaper. I like to venture down to the barbacoa stand on Tehuantepec and only sometimes make it to the bakery for sweet chocolatín. Sunday is the day of rest, after all.

But Sunday is actually an amazing day to be in the city if you can muster the energy to shower and leave the house. Not only does less traffic make the air just a little more breathable, but everyone is out and about — sitting in parks, eating with family, and just generally enjoying the day. It’s a great day to people watch at Río de Janeiro plaza in Roma Norte or stroll through Mexico City’s Chapultepec park.

Sunday Tianguis in Del Valle

Sunday Tianguis in Del Valle

Downtown you’d be remiss in not checking out the weekend Tianguis beside the Jardín the Arte, the small park behind the Monumento de la Madre. La Lagunilla is also a must-visit, with its aisles of antiques,  cheap clothing and overflowing food stands.The farmers’ market Mercado del 100 (9:30am to 2:30pm) sells organic strawberries, sustainably-raised trout and local cheeses at plaza de lanzador in Roma Sur near the Centro Médico metro stop and there’s another small tianguis where Monterrey and Obrero Mundial meet in colonia Narvarte that’s famous for their mixiotes… BUT Sunday in Mexico City is not really complete without barbacoa. On this, the Lord’s day, you will find barbacoa (roasted lamb or goat tacos) stands everywhere you look. The meat is traditionally cooked in an underground pit and covered with agave leaves to seal in the juices, then you slather it with a variety of delicious salsas my favorite being smoky chipotle and wrap it in a blue corn tortilla.

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If you’re overwhelmed by the street stand choices you can always head to El Hidalguense in Roma Sur, a well-established favorite for barbacoa and pulque curados. Sundays are also great for eating in one of the city’s many indoor markets where you will find families gathered together for Sunday lunch. If you are a pozole lover, check Casa Licha in Colonia Justo Sierra, for some of the city’s best guerrero-style white or green pozole.

Biking Reforma on Sunday afternoon

Biking Reforma on Sunday afternoon

This is definitely a day to take on the city by bike. Reforma is blocked off to vehicular traffic from 8am to 2pm every Sunday and visitors can rent bikes free for three-hour shifts from the handful of bike rental stands you’ll see set up on the sidewalk. You’ll need to bring a passport as a foreigner (that you have to leave with them as a deposit for your bike) or two forms of ID if you are local.  The first Sunday of every month you can join the 55-kilometer ride that takes you all over the city. Here’s a map of the route. 

If you yearn for the chaos of a plaza overrun by clowns, balloon vendors and kids eating ice cream, you will love Coyoacán on a Sunday. Check out one of their many churros and chocolate shops or eat at one of my favorite restaurants, Los Danzantes, with outside seating right on the plaza. This is NOT a day to see Frida’s house, the lines will be down the block and you will regret wasting your precious Sunday hours. The Coyoacán park and nursery Vivero Coyoacán, is a great place for a soccer game or a run, but they don’t allow food into the park, so forget the Sunday picnic. I prefer weekdays in Coyoacán, but lots of people LOVE Sundays.

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Lots of museums are open on Sundays as well, which makes it a great day to get some culture. Also check out the kids in the Monumento de Revolución fountain and have a craft beer at Crisanta right on the plaza (10am to 10pm). It’s a low-key partying night although you can find pockets of activity, mostly outside of downtown in some of the more popular surrounding neighborhoods — enjoy it, Monday craziness is just around the corner.

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Thanks for your help!!

DSCF3423Thanks SO much to John Kramer, Susan Kramer, Emma Butler, Molly Blakemore, Ceil Carey, Monica Carey, Alecs Montes, Erin Johnson, Tamar Hayrikyan, David Hayrikyan, Bob Stone, Fernando Sánchez Cuadros, Fernando Mata Rosas, Anais Martínez, Maria & Chris Anderson, Susan Page, John Lawrence, Jennifer Ungemach, Francisco Peyret, Rose Mcloud, Laura Tillman, Leticia Tejeida, Jeremy Faust, Alicia Willcook, Ana Luiza Moraes Patrão, and Ercilia Sahores for helping me raise money for my new guide, Mexico City Streets: La Roma. I am deeply touched by each of your contributions.

 

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BBQ Fix

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So I think I found my new bbq fix, and it’s only a few blocks away from my house. Porco Rosso opened up on the corner of Zacatecas and Orizaba and then almost as quickly was closed down. They just reopened a month ago and as I have been telling everyone, I’m both happy and sad. Happy that it’s delicious and sad I didn’t start up my own barbeque restaurant years ago when I had the idea (but no more money that I do now).

The wrap up?

Pros:

*picnic-table ambiance

*delicious ribs — crispy on the outside, juicy in the center, they were the star for me

*great pulled pork with bits of fat mixed in for flavor

*magically fried onions (who knows how they make them)

*summery location right on Luis Cabrera park

*Pedro, the uber-friendly owner

*deep-fried Oreos and banana splits for dessert

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Cons:

*Lemon ice tea — I LOVE sweet tea, but all that lemon makes it more like lemonade.

*confused staff — there was some confusion and delay with our order, the waitress didn’t know how to follow them on twitter, the guy working the register couldn’t answer our question about the ribs (someone else helped him out), the ordering/picking system needs a little smoothing out… but hopefully they are still just working out the bugs.

*cramped space — they are waiting on a permit to expand into the rest of their lot, once they do it will be much roomier and pleasant, until then it’s a little tight on space.

*UPDATE: Now that I have been several times to eat here, I have to admit, everything could be a little hotter for my liking.

As you can see the benefits far outweigh the negatives and in my opinion is better than both Pinche Gringo and Los Po’ Boys, the two other barbeque places I have tried in the city.

Got a better place? Send me a comment and I will check it out. Till then I am off to Porco Rosso to get the meat sweats.

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The New Roma Guide — Coming Soon!

Hey Readers,

If you like this blog you will LOVE my upcoming guide to living in the Roma. I need your help to make all these hours of research and writing pay off. Please help me raise money to design, print and publish my new guide! If everyone that follows this guide simply chipped in 10 bucks I could make my goal!

Click on the link below to donate to the campaign!

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My Indiegogo fundraising page!

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The Best of Breakfast – La Roma

IMG_20141010_151914579Now that my guide to living in the Roma is in its final stages of editing, I’ve had several people ask me…. “So what is the best ___ in the Roma?”

I have eaten in so many restaurants, gotten my hair cut at so many salons and meandered through so many boutiques that you might think that much of it became a blur after a while. You’d be right… but there were stand outs.

I thought I would give everyone out there a little preview to what they might find in my guide and talk about some of the “bests” that I’ve encountered. I’m starting with my favorite meal of the day: Breakfast.

Best Pastry – Panaderia Lvsitana, Valladolid 76

I haven’t stickied my fingers at any bakery in the Roma that even compares to this little Portuguese heaven. Brioche, pastel de belem, cornucopias… even the pan de chorizo is stunning. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it’s a treasure trove of deliciousness inside.

pan_comidoBest Cup of Coffee – Pan Comido, Tonala 99

They make it French press and they make it strong. Refreshing in a neighborhood where I haven’t run into that many good cups o’ Joe. Second runners up are Cardinal on Cordoba (yes soy milk, no decaf) and the Colombian coffee stand in Mercado Medellin (no soy milk, yes coffee from every region of Mexico).

Best Chilaquiles – Las Tlayudas, San Luis Potosi 13

Ok, so Alex Montes, the owner, is a friend of mine and he’s the one who originally told me their chilaquiles were the best in the Roma, but I wouldn’t have put them on the list if I hadn’t gone and tested out his claim myself. He’s got pasilla, morita, verde, rojo, tasajo, cecina, chicken, etc. The list is never ending and I’m telling you, while there are others in the Roma I like (and that I mention a few in the guide), these are number one.

Best expensive breakfast – Lalo, Zacatecas 173

While there were one too many waiters hovering over the community table for my liking, it didn’t ruin the food orgasm that was my croque madame. I also like that they fed me as much coffee as I wanted and let me linger over breakfast without being fussy, like some high priced places can be.

Best cheap breakfast – Talcoyo & gordita stand in front of Mercado Medellín

This stand is the one located right by the entrance of the non-food section, in front of the parking lot on the Monterrey side. These ladies have lots of rellenos for quesadillas, perfected condiment-ed tlacoyos and searing hot salsas – the perfect breakfast for under 5 bucks.

Best Outdoor seating – Cachito Mio – Guanajuato 138cachito_mio

The bench that transforms into a picnic table, neatly tucked beneath a tree, the roving white dog, and the over-the-top friendly owners that make you feel like you’ve known them all your life, make Cachito my favorite place to sit outside for breakfast. The spinach quiche and organic juice don’t hurt either.

Busiest Breakfast stop – Rosetta Panaderia, Colima 166

Rosetta’s 10 or so bar stools are in constant rotation all day long. Come for the happening scene and stay for the sweet rolls and the aroma of fresh baked bread drifting from the kitchen. (yes, almond milk!)

DSCF1752Best fresh baked bread – Delirio, Monterrey 116

I hesitate on this one because I also LOVE the bread at De la Silva bakery (in the Mercado Roma on Querétaro street), but I still choose Delirio as number one because I think it’s denser and I like heavy, dense farm-style bread. For something a little lighter, De la Silva is your bakery.

Best Vegan/Vegetarian Breakfast – Pan Comido, Tonala 99

Pan Comido wins another category with their vegan and vegetarian breakfast burritos. I also like that you can order organic eggs for 5p extra and that I can end my breakfast with a warm vegan cookie from their bakery next door.

Best Eggs Benedict – Padam, Veracruz 38

These eggs benedict rocked my world – poached eggs with smoked salmon floating padamin a sea of béchamel and sprinkled with dill – what more could you want in a breakfast? I also love the long table out front – makes you feel like you’re holding court at breakfast.

Best Tamales – Doña Emi, Jalapa 278

I know I am going to get lambasted for this since everyone has their favorite tamales, but Doña Emi never disappoints me and there is always enough filling to balance out the overload of corn masa (combined with the atole for a corn-anary) Lomo and olives are my favorite.

pet friendlyMost Pet friendly – Spice Everywhere – Yucatan 147

I have yet to try out the Spice Everywhere new location for American-style weekend brunch, but I did run in to the owner the other day who spent 15 minutes petting my dogs. She told me that they have a huge patio where you can bring pets and every dog gets a sausage. My mutts have been harassing me to go ever since.

Have some breakfast suggestions? Click on the link at the top of this post and send me a message.

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Mapping La Roma

After months working on my guide to living in my neighborhood, I know that mapping La Roma is a project of mammoth proportions. I have been diligently marking down tiendas de abarrotes, drycleaners and internet places for months, in hopes that it will serve the purchasers of my guide — knowing that the closest fruit stand can sometimes change your life.

Mapping a place, even just mentally, helps us to make sense of our surroundings, of our place in the world, helps us to find order in the chaos and noise. In a place like Mexico City, with its 20+ inhabitants and hodgepodge neighborhoods, this task can serve as a way to wrap our minds around the immense metropolis that we find ourselves in.

DSCF2927So this month one of our neighborhood associations, El Consejo Vecinal (COVE), and an independent research center in Mexico, The Center for Geographic and Geomatic Research (Centro GEO), have teamed up to map the entire neighborhood block by block. The project is currently underway and all the information will be uploaded and accessible to the public through a web-based google map by the 15th of March. Centro Geo is a Mexican research and education institution that applies the tools and techniques used in geographic research to social problems.

The way the project works is that teams of 10 volunteers (brigadas) are each detailing 20 of La Roma’s 322 blocks and collecting not only information about what businesses are where but also which areas are well-lit, which are slowly being overrun by trash and where pedestrian mobility is hindered.

In an effort to reduce the subjectivity of the volunteers they have been given a matrix of categories and subcategories into which to place their observations.  The categories are broken down into: Commercial Establishments, Services, Real Estate, Security, Mobility and Trash.

Each category includes subcategories for easy organization (Services: Schools, Real Estate: Abandoned Lot, etc) and volunteers are encouraged to take photos of anything they feel is an exemplary version of the description. Once all of this note-taking is finished, the information will be uploaded into an online map where viewers can filter for the different categories they wish to see.

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The objective, according to COVE, whose mission is to promote collaborative discussion between citizens and authorities, is to give citizens a tool for influencing public policy in their neighborhood. The map will give residents an idea of how many public parking garages there are, for instance, a number that can be cross-referenced with the amount of restaurants, to see if sufficient parking in available for the quantity of restaurants in the Roma.

IMG_0178These kinds of stats touch on some very hot button issues in the Roma, Uso de suelo, zoning in English, —  what kinds of businesses can be where and in what quantity — and available housing and housing prices. The mapping process will record how many new buildings and houses are going up, how many are in disrepair and how many are being renovated into galleries and restaurants. (A separate group of architects will be mapping properties according to which have been designated historical landmarks and in what condition they are in).

The mapping project’s proponents also point out the value of labeling which streets have adequate lighting, broken sidewalks, handicapped ramps — all with the idea that this information will allow residents to pressure the local city government for increased maintenance of its streets.

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For good or bad the project will give a much clearer picture of what’s happening on the streets of La Roma and its residents get to choose how they want to use the information that is revealed and to what end. Click on the comment box above and leave me your thoughts about what you think about this neighborhood initiative. I’ll keep you updated as to when you can access the link online.

 

 

 

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Seven Quiet Corners in the Roma

I find that as much as I love this city, its noise and chaos can get overwhelming. While workingBuddha-little_statue on my upcoming guide to the Roma I have stumbled across some incredibly quiet places, tucked down passageways and off side streets, where it’s easy to work, get your bearings or simply sit in silence for awhile … a rare opportunity in this 28 million + city. Here are my top choices for peace and quiet.

Centro de Meditación Kadampa de México, Jalapa 113, Tues to Sun 9:30 a 8:30pm

On the second floor of this education and meditation center is the World Peace cafe and shop. Smooth wooden floors, minimalistic decoration and an overall zen-like vibe greet you at the door. It’s a great place to work (or meditate) quietly. The cafe and shop are open when classes are not in session (they are located above the meditation room and therefore create noise downstairs), so check the scheduled classes there. Other than that it’s open from 9am to 9pm every day.

Casa Del Poeta, Álvaro Obregón 73 , Tues to Fri 10 to 6pm

On the top floor of the Casa del Poeta, former home of Poet Ramón López IMG_20141105_112504Velarde, between the Salvador Novo and Efraín Huerta libraries is a sunny workspace with long wooden tables and chairs. It’s quiet and almost always empty (unless there is a school group visiting the musuem). It’s a great place to get some work done undisturbed or meander through the literary collections of these three great Mexican poets.

Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia, Puebla 144

This church has long been important to the neighborhood, as its sagrada_family_lydia_careyfirst Catholic house of worship, the church home of counter-revolutionary Padre Pro and an example of the eclectic architectural style popular around the beginning of the twentieth century. Inside are some stunning Art Nouveau stain-glassed windows as well as Gonzalo Carrasco’s paintings of the Sacred Family. The doors are always open for a quick breather and moment of meditation, whomever you believe in.

Goethe Institut, Tonalá 43, Everyday, 8 to 8pm, Library – Tues to Fri 9 to 11am, 4 to 7pm, Sat 10:30 to 2pm, Sun 12 to 2pm

If the city’s chaos (and disorder) gets you down, there is nothing like some German organization to pick you back up again. Besides the tidy peace of the German-language library and small indoor/outdoor cafe, you can also take a German class, see a documentary film or enjoy a concert by Berlin’s philharmonic orchestra.

Patio Aurora, Alvaro Obregón 126, Tue 1-6pm, Wed – Sat 1- 2:30am, Sun 1-6pm

While I can’t guarantee complete silence, the Patio Aurora is a nice place to have a quiet lunch and an intimate conversation. Tucked off the street down a narrow walkway, the restaurant’s outdoor tables are almost always near empty in the afternoon hours. With the sun streaming in and the murmur of the kitchen in the background you will be surprised at how distant you feel from the bustle of the city.

Herder Bookstore, Tehuatepec 50,  Mon to Fri 9 to 6pm, First Saturday of every month

I want to live in Herder. Or at least fill my living room with its Scandinavian- style bookcases, overflowing with titles, stare out big picture windows and have someone serve me a coffee and then leave me to my thoughts. In addition to their good selection of Spanish-language titles is the German-language section, which fills up about half the store (there are no English books here). You will most likely find yourself alone in the shop, perfect for curling up in an armchair and reading a good story.

Aviario de Polanco, Tues to Sun 10 to 4pm

polanco_aviary_mexicocitystreets4I have to mention the aviary, even though it’s not in the Roma, because I stumbled upon it a few months ago and was taken aback by the loveliness and songbird soundtrack. Dozens of colorful birds fly inside what is essentially a human-size cage on one side of Polanco’s Abraham Lincoln park. Visitors walk on the inside boardwalk trying not t0 break the spell of wings and chirps, instead pointing and whispering to each other about the feathered creatures they spot in the limbs of the trees.

 

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“El Feo” made beautiful

So he says to me, “I want you to translate this for them,” pointing to my English-speaking friends.

Then he starts singing this…

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