In 1991 I was hired by the Los Angeles-based magazine The Advocate to do an article about gay and AIDS activism in Mexico City. In those days, the capital was considered a zone of tolerance for homosexuals, compared to the cities of the conservative heartland. At the same time, gay bars were frequently raided. Cops would shake down the patrons, primarily closeted, and threaten them with exposure if they didn’t pay.
For the most part, lesbians didn’t even exist. Not in the open, anyway. They were mostly married women who had affairs with each other in secret, or those academic-librarian types whose sexuality did not appear quite determinate. There was one bar for gay women in the city, but by the time the article hit the stands it had closed down.
Things have changed in Mexico City. Particularly for younger people, who have grown up with the internet, and have access to so much more information than previous generations. On March 21st there was a lesbian parade in the center of the city. The sign at the forefront said, “In every kiss a revolution.”
My friend Federico Gama, who I believe is the best photojournalist in Mexico City, is responsible for many photos on this web site, including the one above. He is up for The Grange Prize this year, which “focuses on the best of Canadian and international photography.” Readers, we can all help him win. Click here if you want to know more about the prize, or click here if you want to go directly to the page where you vote for him. Don’t think about it. Just do it.
In a letter written in 1952, S.J. Perelman described Acapulco as “a dreadful place, the epitome of touristic enterprise: gouging, arrogant mid-Western trippers, diarrhea, heat, and poverty and filth peeping out behind a Miami Beach facade.” If he could see it now, he would surely do headstands in his grave. The Costera, as the boulevard which lines the beach is known, is the nightmare por excelencia of tourist overdevelopment, with every inch of space sold to the highest bidders — principally developers of condo towers; owners of tacky, overpriced restaurants, and the sort of bars where spring breakers of all ages, in any season, drink 3 for 1 margaritas in fish bowls until they either vomit, bungee-jump or do both at once.
High in the hills near the old center of town is an oasis called Hotel Los Flamingos. It is sufficiently far from the chaos of the Costera that no neon lights are visible, and the only sounds are the crash of the waves below and, in the early morning or late afternoon, piercing birdsong. Los Flamingos was built in 1930, but in the 1950s was bought by several Hollywood stars who had fallen in love with Mexico while shooting films here. Among the owners at the time was Johnny Weismuller, who, as Tarzan, actually swung from vines in the Acapulco area.
John Wayne was another Los Flamingos stalwart. The lad in the photo with him, who I imagine is now in his 60s, is the current owner of the hotel and on the premises daily.
From nearly all of the rooms, and the hotel’s bar, pictured here, you can see the most spectacular sunsets.
Tarzan, move over. As Anne Sexton wrote, “The sun of this month cures all.”
The Flamingos, built on cliffs 450 feet above sea level, is nowhere near the beach but has this delightful kidney-shaped pool. You have to be a little insistent if you want them to bring you towels, and also need to exercise patience after ordering something from the bar.
My favorite Mexican writer, Jorge Ibargüengoitia, wrote that “Dentro de lo horrible, Acapulco siempre ha sido maravilloso,” which more or less translates as, “Regardless of how horrible it is, Acapulco has always been marvelous.” This is a view of the sunset from the terrace of my room. Click here to get to the Flamingos’ website.
Longtime readers of this blog know that I sometimes visit a tarot card reader named Carmen María Oca. I have been living in the same apartment for nearly five years, but Carmen María says that I will not be here much longer. (Actually, she has been saying that practically since I moved in.) Just in case I end up moving, I thought I’d write a post about the neighborhood’s most conspicuous monument. See that monolith looming in the near distance? That’s the World Trade Center. Should any terrorists get it into their heads to blow up something in Mexico City, they won’t have to look much farther.
On the ground floor on one side of the building is the entrance to a space where trade fairs are held. On the other side, you’ve got this café, hideously expensive but very pleasant in balmy weather.
Inside, on most of the forty-something floors, there are offices. They make you register at this desk and leave an I.D. if you have an appointment.
On the first few floors of the building all sorts of products and services are offered.
But if I indeed move what I will miss the most is having this 15-screen multiplex in walking distance from my apartment.
(I just saw The Wrestler. I know I’m merely getting on the bandwagon here, but I’d forgotten how awesome an actor Mickey Rourke is.)
Here’s Carmen María, one of the brightest stars of my Mexico City constellation. If anyone wants a tarot reading, write her at firstname.lastname@example.org
Labels: Mexico City
It was not easy to find a good cup of coffee when I arrived in Mexico City in 1990. Although Mexico is a coffee-producing country, to this day, most of the good stuff is exported. Advertising here is insidious: In certain homes, when guests arrive, it is still considered “sophisticated” to bring a jar of Nescafe to the table. Many Mexicans forego coffee altogether, having been convinced that things go better with Coke.
The only reliable places at the time were a few time-honored cafés in the Centro Histórico. Luckily they are still there. You cannot beat the cortados – espresso cut with a drop of steamed milk – at Café Jekemir at the corner of Calles Isabel la Católica and Regina, pictured above. Running a close second is Café Rio, on Calle Donceles, a few doors down from Calle Brasil, pictured below. You may have to work your way around the insufferable intellectuals, like the two mugs at the front table.
But suddenly in the late 1990s and early 2000s, cafés began to spring up one after another, multiplying like a virus.
Who would have ever thought that people in Mexico City would have developed such an urgent jones for caffeine? Most of the new generation of cafés were not particularly prepossessing, like the one pictured above on Avenida Insurgentes.
In 2002 Starbucks was introduced to the Mexico City firmament. Today there over 100 of them in the metropolitan area, and about 250 in the entire country. The mostly younger clientele considers itself chic and cosmopolitan. Some chilangos hate the chain and feel it represents the scourge of globalization. The worst damage I perceive that Starbucks has done is hip the other café owners as to how much they can charge for a cup. After Starbucks’ success, they all raised their prices.
The Café La Selva chain, which has ten stores in Mexico City and three in other parts of the country, serves organic coffee from Chiapas. Their mezcla de la casa (house blend) is delicious. Anyone who stays the night with me gets a cup of it in the morning.