Tales of Mexico City

Palacio de Bellas Artes
Palacio de Bellas Artes, Mexico City

Mexico City is surprisingly awesome: from important museum collections, to exciting art galleries and performance centers, to memorable restaurants, shopping and nightlife. Thanks Alexis Swerdloff for this article.

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL. Friday – Sunday, November 5-7, 2010

Magnifico chaos: An insider’s guide to Mexico City

It wouldn’t be surprising if Mexico City’s bad press was being perpetuated by those who want to keep it to themselves. Because once you get over the high-altitude hangover, learn the city’s do’s and don’ts (never hail a cab) and overcome fears of drug-fueled violence (most of it is happening in border towns in the far north), you will discover that Mexico City is one of the most dynamic, mysterious and beautifully chaotic places on the planet.

The first thing to understand about this city is that it’s difficult to understand, mostly because it is ridiculously enormous. Sprawled over 573.4 square miles, the Distrito Federal’s metropolitan area houses nearly 20 million people, making it the third largest urban center in the world.

To orient yourself, start out in the Zocalo, the main square and heart of the city since the Aztecs first staked their claim to it in the early 14th century. Wander any of the cobblestoned streets throughout the Centro Historico, where you’ll find a ragtag sensory overload of booksellers, food vendors and knick-knack purveyors.

For those with more Champagne tastes, there’s Polanco, a tony neighborhood of Maserati and Bentley dealerships, Gucci and Chanel boutiques and guys with pink button-downs and popped collars. In recent years, though, a new kind of sophisticated Mexico City dweller has emerged. Following the earthquake of 1985, many of the city’s wealthiest fled the center for fortress-like compounds in outlying areas. But droves of cosmopolitan types have made their way back—namely to the Roma and Condesa neighborhoods—renovating the grand but neglected French-style mansions and Art Deco buildings, and spawning flourishing art, culinary and design scenes.

This weekend, locals ready for Día de los Muertos (Nov. 1-2), a joyful, family-oriented celebration to remember the lives of those who have passed—by eating plentifully, carousing and creating ofrendas (offerings of the dead’s favorite foods paired with marigolds). Papier-mâché skeletons and skulls rattle through markets and shops, city museums showcase creepy-lovely “altars” and an all-night fiesta takes place in the canal district of Xochimilco.

So once it’s time to head home, tell your friends what a dreadful time you had, and regale them with tales of Mexico City mishaps—then, soon after, head back for more.

—Alexis Swerdloff

Magnifico chaos, an insider's guide to Mexico City
Magnifico chaos, an insiders guide to Mexico City


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