Diligent readers of this blog know that when I am not a writer, I am what is known as a mitigation specialist. I do investigations for lawyers who defend clients — principally Mexicans — who are facing the death penalty in the U.S. Among the defendants’ families, friends, colleagues, classmates, teachers, doctors, priests and nuns, I look for mitigating circumstances, in the hope that these details will help spare their lives.
Sometimes in the course of the investigations I find myself in sections of towns where some of the bottom fishers of the legal professions operate. These two photos were taken near the intersection of Tulane Avenue and Broad Street in New Orleans, where Central Lockup, the city’s holding prison, is located. And where, when I was 20 years old, I spent a fateful night, charged with, according to the arresting officer, “aggravated stupidity.” But that’s another story.
I like this restaurant so much that I have hesitated to write about it. Because it is one of the few places I know in Mexico City that is reliably quiet, intimate and rarely crowded — and I wish it would stay that way. It is called El Racó and it is on Avenida Sonora across the street from Parque México. The chef, Alonso, and the manager, Héctor, are terrific people. Best of all, they turn out excellent preparations of Catalan food. In a city where the temptation to eat heavily is hard to resist, I am grateful for the lighter options they offer — salads, vegetables, and some knockout fish, particularly the house specialty, huachinango (red snapper) baked in salt.
As anyone knows who has been approached by a Chiclet salesman barely out of his diapers on the streets of Mexico City, this is not a country that is scrupulous in its observation of child labor laws. But the above photo suggests that this laxity may be taken too far at times. The image was captured at the bus station in a small town in Guanajuato not long ago. Would you have climbed aboard that vehicle?
Photo by Ana Hop
Few readers will need me to recommend the Bar Zinco, a jazz joint in the centro histórico located in what used to be the basement vaults of a bank. With red velvet curtains, black walls and exposed brick, it is a little like a jazz club from an old movie, and far cooler than most such places in New York.
The Zinco Big Band, composed of seventeen of Mexico City’s best musicians, only plays once in a blue moon. If you are lucky enough to notice that they are doing a gig, don’t think twice, just go. You’re bound to enjoy their recreations of arrangements by Count Basie, Nelson Riddle, Charles Mingus and Thad Jones.
Here they are on a recent night with a New York singer named J.D. Walter, who performed a couple of sets of Sinatra numbers, punctuated by his continuous remarks that he doesn’t regularly sing Sinatra numbers. Walter wore an earring in each ear, a look that, combined with a shaven head, suggested the words, “stronger than dirt.”
Photo by Ana Hop
The band is conducted by Eugenio Elias, the gentleman in the dinner jacket central in the above photo. The caballero with the moustache at the extreme right of the picture is Don Roberto González Barrera, who owns Maseca, the corn flour from which most of Mexico’s tortillas are made, as well as Banorte, one of the country’s most prominent banks. He regularly appears on the lists of staggeringly wealthy people published by Forbes magazine. According to one of the owners, he shows up at the Zinco frequently.
Apparently, one way that Don Roberto stays so rich is by bringing his own liquor to bars — he and his blonde companion arrived at Zinco with a bottle of Aniversario, a Venezuelan rum that is exquisite as cognac and not so easy to find in Mexico. Sadly, they diluted that good liquor with Coca Cola.
Click here to see more work by Ana Hop, the lovely and talented photographer responsible for the above photos.
I like San Miguel de Allende. It’s one of the prettiest towns in central Mexico, and if there isn’t all that much to do there, it is one of the nicest places I know to do nothing. Those people — you know who you are — who bitch about the retired gringos seem cranky and petulant to me. Still, when I saw this gentleman roaming the streets on horseback there on a recent afternoon, gussied up as the Mexican revolutionary hero Jose María Morelos, I had a sinking feeling. It was as if I were walking around in the Mexican pavilion of Disneyland, or some kind of a welcome-to-Mexico theme park. When I stopped to take his picture, I didn’t think to ask him if it was a year-round gig, or if he was marching around preparatory to the Independence Day celebrations on September 15. ¡Viva!