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Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


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Like my brownhouse:
   walk to the Zocalo
Friday, February 23 2024

location: suite 301, Hotel Parque Mexico Boutique, La Condesa, Mexico City

Last night there had been a singer doing Elvis covers in the restaurant immediately upstairs, and these hadn't stopped until something like midnight. After that, the various noises of people and dogs out in the park continued for hours. I can sleep through such things, but Gretchen has more difficulty. This morning, Gretchen and I went up to that restaurant for our complimentary continental breakfast. When he hesitated a moment before deciding what we wanted, the waiter attending us just walked away. This was to be one of several service lapses we would be noticing on our vacation on Mexico City. When we were finally seated, there was absolutely nothing for us except coffee and orange juice. Gretchen asked if there were any milks that were not from a cow and learned that there weren't. This was surprising, given how otherwise vegan-friendly Gretchen knew Mexico City to be. (She showed me a map of all the vegan restaurants just in our neighborhood, and there were dozens.) This was unfortunate, because the restaurant space was gorgeous. It was full of plants and had big glass walls overlooking the Parque Mexico from a floor higher than the three windows in our suite.
We went out into the beautiful morning, where temperatures were already in the mid-70s, and stood at the side of the larger of the two adjacent dog parks to watch the dogs folic. The majority of the dogs looked to be German shepherds or mixes of German shepherds, though there were also a fair number of pit mixes, Australian shepherds, and various poodles. Most of the larger dogs looked to be mutts, though over in the smaller dog park, the smaller dogs were generally purebreds. Interestingly, there were a number of small dogs in the big dog park and a even a few bigger dogs in the small dog park. Lots and lots of people on the street had dogs as well, often walking them off leash. The dog-to-human ration in La Condesa might be the highest I've ever seen.
Today we'd be walking northeast to the Zocalo, the very heart of Mexico City. Along the way, we stopped for lunch at La Pitahaya Vegana, a place Gretchen had found on Happy Cow. We ate outside, with Gretchen ordering a lot of different things. Normally in this situation we'd take the leftovers with us, but there would be no way to do that while walking between cathedrals and museums. So I did my best to eat as much as I could of the various things. Their specialty is pink tortillas, an accidental invention made when beet juice sloshed into the masa. It was all pretty good food, if not perfectly matching my preferred flavor profile. The coffee, though, was disappointing, as the only kind they had had been pre-flavored with cinnamon, a practice I associate with disguising inferior coffee (even when that's not the case). We ended up stuffing some of our leftovers into a nearby bush so it could be enjoyed by passing dogs or wildlife.
By now we were in a less verdant part of Mexico City, in a region where open-air automotive repair seemed to be happening in the sharp-tipped corners of blocks sliced through by angled avenues. Nearby, there would be small machine shops dominated by enormous lathes or milling machines. Often such shops would have a shop dog, sometimes just a puppy on a leash. Theft of all kinds is common throughout Mexico, so dogs provide an important extra set of eyes with a connected alarm system and even a potential physical punishment mechanism. But there are also plenty of electronic ones.
Somewhere along the way, I saw a woman with an ice pick breaking up a bag of ice to be used in the making of raspados. We have an ice pick in one of our cars for use in puncturing the sidewalls of tires of people doing unpleasant things, though I've never seen an ice pick being used for anything, let alone its intended purpose. My main association with the term "ice pick" is with regard to Leon Trotsky, who was famously killed by one of Joseph Stalin's Mexican agents wielding an ice pick in, well, Mexico City.
Eventually we made it to the Zocalo, where a tall flag pole supported an enormous Mexican flag, the first such flag I'd seen. In addition to being the Spanish-style center of all of Mexico (similar to what we'd seen in Salamanca), it's also the heart of the pre-Columbian nation of the Nahuatls (Aztecs). On one side of the Zocalo was a little village of tents pitched by a group protesting some aspect of the Mexican governments policy towards indigenous people. On the other side of the massive square in front of a tourist information kiosk, several people dressed in traditional Nahuatl regalia were performing some sort of ritual on individual American tourists. This involved patting the tourist on the back and shoulders with bundles of smoking herbs. It was such a stereotypical thing for an American to be doing in an exotic land that I found it, well, highly cringe (as the kids say these days).
On the north side of the Zocalo was the Catedral Metropolitana, a massive high-Romanesque structure built near the site of the Templo Mayor, the holiest site in pre-Columbian Aztec Mexico (back when the Aztec capital was on an island in a now largely-drained lake). We joined the one-way flow of people into the cathedral. Inside, the space was massive and occasionally ornate, though only in select areas. Most of the vaulted ceilings overhead were relatively plain. We wandered into a wing of the cathedral, a place that still functioned in the manner for which it was built, and at the time it had an ongoing service. We were respectfully quiet and rested in the pews. Gretchen whispered to me that she couldn't understand why people would fall for this shit, failing to note that she herself had joyously participated in the singing of ancient songs in synagogues when she was younger. I find such services, at least when conducted in a foreign language (here they were being conducted in Spanish, which isn't quite foreign enough), to have a positive æsthetic quality even though I know their content to be nonsensical.
The great remainder of ther the cathedral seemed to function more as a museum, and it contained a number of impressive artifacts, such as a massive pipe organ and several carved wooden floor-to-ceiling alterpieces richly festooned with saints, angels, crucifixes, and what have you. I turned to Gretchen and asked how she thought such things were planned. Were they planned at all, or did they "grow" to be the way they now are, much like the many details in my laboratory did.
As we were leaving the cathedral, Gretchen suddenly realized she'd left her glasses somewhere. The fact that she now depends on glasses for reading means that she always has to carry a pair, which means she now has to always carry a whole complex of objects: reading glasses, sunglasses, chapstick (her lips are naturally much drier than mine), a wallet, and her phone. She ran back to the part of the cathedral where the services were taking place and managed to find her glasses, but she was lucky they weren't gone forever. I said (only half jokingly) that she should tattoo a checklist of items on her forearm to consult every time she gets up to go.
Next we walked seven or eight blocks west to the Palacio de Bellas Artes, a building principally of the Art Nouveau style (a style Gretchen and I particularly love, though it's one we generally have to leave the United States to see). Inside, it hosts a number of museum galleries. At this point in the day, I was feeling a little too sleepy to be trudging around in a museum, and didn't particularly enjoy the main exhibit containing the works of mostly Mexican artists. But out in the main atrium were a number of spectacular murals, at least two of which had been painted by Diego Rivera. One of these was Man, Controller of the Universe, a re-do of a mural commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller that he (Rockefeller) had destroyed after it was found to be too socialist. It was full of details and could be appreciated at various distances. We could recognize a number of faces, including those of Leon Trotsky, Vladimir Lenin, and Karl Marx. While Gretchen was in the bathroom, I watched a pair of workers replace a lightbulb in a tall multi-bulb Art Decco lamp. The bulb being removed was a compact fluorescent and presumably the new bulb was LED-based. I noticed a fair number of Art Decco details in the Palacio. A series of indoor columns were crowned with stainless steel Art Deco capitals that bore a distinctly Aztec influence.
Gretchen had been craving a jamaica-based beverage, but we were unable to find any actual cafés near the Palacio. There were lots of vendors selling refreshments based on shaved ice (and we saw more icepicks being used to break up bags of ice), but we were nervous to consume any of their products, as Gretchen had read a strict warning somewhere that under no circumstances should we take any Mexico City tap water into our bodies, not even when brushing our teeth.
So we headed back in the general direction of our hotel, about two and a half miles to the southwest. Along the way, we entered a district where nearly all the stores were selling lighting (bulbs, fixtures, or both). At first we thought this was an example of agglomeration, that is, businesses clustering together that sell the same product (which, paradoxically, causes them all to do better). But the district where lighting was the chief product went on for many blocks, much larger than even a city of Mexico City's population would seem to be able to support. Here and there we saw stores selling other things, and we'd think we were about to enter another district. But then the lighting stores would reappear and crowd out all others. Interestingly, we passed a number of stores selling products you'd have a very hard time finding in the United States except on, say, eBay. Several such stores sold things like washing machine parts. There were displays featuring different agitators, for example. One store even had a number of controller boards for household appliances behind glass near the front door. There is almost no market for such things in the United States, where even someone as resourceful and thrifty as me is predisposed to just replacing a washing machine when it breaks. In Mexico, though, it seems as if people actually repair their appliances. And if they themselves can't do it, perhaps there is someone in their social network who can.
By now Gretchen as leading us to a vegan restaurant, a place where we could have a light lupper after our big breakfast and all the miles of walking we'd done. There were still a few lighting stores nearby when we finally arrived at Vegamo. Gretchen ordered us a plate of enchiladas and I even found an IPA (Hercules Macanuda) on the menu (it was okay). When Gretchen took a bite out of the enchiladas, she recoiled as if in horror. There was something very wrong with it. She tore it apart and found it contained mostly chunks of eggplant, one of her biggest food aversions. I can eat eggplant just fine, but I couldn't really eat the enchiladas either. The flavor was bland but also just too, well, eggplanty.
Eventually we made it back to our hotel, where we showered and climbed into bed as if compelled by an unseen force to take a siesta. [REDACTED]
This evening, we took a gypsy cab (arranged for us by the hotel concierge) to Taco Santo Vegano, a restaurant not far from where we'd had breakfast and lupper. We were let out into a massive throng of drunk young people at crowded restaurant that we were happy to discover was not our destination. TSV was across the street. It didn't have a dining room and depended on tables out on the sidewalk for that. When we arrived, all those tables were occupied, so we elected to wait, as two or three of those tables seemed to be finishing up. Normally when a restaurant is full and there is a line of people waiting to get a table, the polite thing to do if you're done eating is to pay your tab and leave. It's what Gretchen and I would do, particularly if it's a small restaurant we want to support. But none of the people at these tables showed any sign of urgency. After the last of their beers was drunk, one of the people at a table of young adults ordered a water, one of the few free things on the menu. The waitress and Gretchen formed a quick friendship over this issue, giving each other knowing looks and exchanging words of thinly-veiled contempt in Spanish. After a half hour of this, eventually people at another table started to get up, and even before they were gone, Gretchen asked them (in Spanish) if they were done and if so, could she take their chairs? They always said yes, and this allowed Gretchen to move the chairs to a chair-less table, where we could finally take our seats. Gretchen then proceeded to order a large number of dishes, including Sopa Azteca (a chunky tomato soup), a taco filled with corn smut (that is, corn infected with a fungus), and elotes made with baby ears of corn. I also ordered a cocktail containing mezcal. The food all ended up being a bit weird for us. The soup had a strange flavor that Gretchen didn't like, while the elotes had a flavor I didn't like. And the corn smut, considered a delicacy well before the arrival of the conquistadors, was hard to each just because I knew what it was (though the flavor was relatively mild). Also, absolutely everything required salt. We ended up taking a big bag of leftovers home with us, though I had my doubts I'd want to eat it later once it had reached refrigerator temperature (our hotel room had a refrigerator but no microwave).
After that meal, we thought we could benefit from some exercise. So we walked all the way back to our hotel, about a mile away.

Looking into the larger of Parque Mexico's two dog parks. Click to enlarge.

The huge Mexican flag in the Zocalo with the Catedral Metropolitana in the background. Click to enlarge.

A gringo submits to some Aztec ritual on the edge of the Zocalo. Click to enlarge.

A massive wooden altar in the Catedral Metropolitana. Click to enlarge.

Most the Diego Rivera mural at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Click to enlarge.

A detail of the Diego Rivera mural. Click to enlarge.

An Art Deco column with an Aztec motiff in the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Sorry; it's somewhat cut off at the top. Click to enlarge.

Washing machine parts for sale in a shop in Mexico City's massive lighting district south of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. Click to enlarge.

A modern building not too far from our hotel. Click to enlarge.

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