Sunday, July 29, 2007
Beer and posole, to the accompaniment of the mariachis
Mexico City at night, like so many colonial Latin American cities, is particularly beautiful at night. The grey stone of the buildings and monuments gleams golden around you, and when mariachi bands in tight spangled uniforms walk around asking if you want a serenade, it actually feels like magic. It’s not a quiet, romantic magic at the Plaza Garibaldi, where every taxi seems to be unloading yet another mariachi band with even more elaborate costumes. It’s the kind of magic that’s buoyed by the loud cantinas around the plaza, the men hawking stacks of sombreros twice as tall as themselves, the laughing Mexican and non-Mexican tourists carrying Giant Gulp cups of booze. I saw a teenage girl being bullied by her mother and aunt into standing in the middle of a serenading band, with a sombrero plunked on her head; I saw a woman holding a bouquet of roses and a mylar balloon with tears in her eyes as her personal mariachi band sang to her under her husband’s instructions.
We found the same kind of magical, uncomplicated happiness at Xochimilco two days later, as we floated down the river in a painted barge. Mexico City used to be next to these enormous lakes, now drained. Because there wasn't enough land to grow food, the Xochimilca people planted arificial islands rooted by trees in the lakes, creating a system of canals. Xochimilco means "garden of flowers" in the Aztec language, and is the only part of the city that remains to remind us of the canals that existed before the Spanish came.
It was a sunny day as bright as our boat. Erin and I ended up rolling around in our enormous boat alone, except for 60-year-old Miguel “de los manos,” our punter who suggested that we take photos with him so that he could strenuously pinch us. But nearly every other boat we saw was filled with Mexican families celebrating, dancing or feasting or chasing each other around. We said hello to everyone, everyone said hello to us. Smaller boats drifted by offering cold beers, grilled corn, whole meals with rice and beans, plastic toys, and of course, mariachi and marimba music. For 70 pesos, a boat full of mariachi musicians pulled up to our boat, attached theirs to ours somehow, and then launched into full song. They barely knew the words or tune to “Como fue,” but it was one of those days where nothing could go wrong.
How happy I was, to be drinking beer on a barge in Xochimilco. How lucky I was, to eat posole and spicy, warm birria, or goat stew, next to the Plaza Garibaldi.