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Antonio Sersale's Two Days in Mexico City

Mexico City

Having lived four years, from the age of 5 to 9 on a ranch in Taxco, Guerrero, I was happy to return to Mexico for a business trip allowing me two extra days to visit tow museums of contemporary art and take a day trip to Taxco.

Walking out of the airport I was met by the familiar faces of Mexicans speaking their own form of Spanish which I loved. For my hotel, I  made a reservation at Las Alcobas, a luxury boutique property perfectly situated near fashionable shops and great restaurants in the chic Polanco neighborhood. As soon as I walked in I was struck the elegant atmosphere. The lobby was small intimate and very well designed.  Behind the counters the staff welcomed me warmly with big smiles.

The room was spacious with great views of Polanco. My back was hurting, so I decided to treat myself to a massage in their small yet well-organized spa. Soon the able hands of a therapist were relaxing every muscle in my body while the aroma of Bergamot was lulling me into a state of semi consciousness.

A quick shower before walking next door to meet an old friend for dinner at Dulce Patria, one of the finest restaurants of Mexican cuisine to be found in Mexico City.  To set me back on my feet, I immediately ordered a Tamarindo Margherita (Tamarind is best described as sweet and sour and high in tartaric acid) from their impressive Tequila and Mescal list.  It’s tangy and sweet flavor brought back memories of my beloved tamarind water, a sweet drink I drank constantly to quench my thirst during the dry and dusty months while waiting impatiently for the arrival of the rainy season—which never seemed to arrive!

After glancing at their menu I ordered a duck in Black Mole, one of the great Mexican specialties.  Mole is a sauce made with spices, cinnamon and chocolate that combined create an intricate and delicious companion to duck or chicken.  How could I forget to mention the perfect guacamole, served on the side, just the right texture, neither to chunky nor fine, made with lime, cilantro and jalapeno.  Conversation flows easily as my friend and I discussed the bubbling contemporary art scene flourishing in Mexico together with its booming economy.  Wish I could say the same for my own country Italy!

Next morning I awake to a delicious “pan dulce” sweet bread, a Mexican specialty best dipped in a steaming hot chocolate, however beware of the ensuing sugar rush.  A car and driver take me to the “Rufino Tamayo” Museum located just a few moments away in the Chapultepec Park. A colorful morning fistfight between two rowdy drivers adds spice and adrenalin to the morning, fortunately both decide to return to their vehicles and move on before the furious onlookers to join in.

The Rufino Tamayo museum, built in the 1970, is a perfect example of the simple minimalist and functional architecture of that epoch that is still current today.  The exhibit of Matt Millican, A Californian artist born 1951, particularly engrosses me. His retrospective includes more than 60 works that cover his four decades of production. Vivid colors, magnificent drawings, videos and giant flags of inexistent countries make for engrossing journey. Not to be missed the exhibit Costruyenedo Tamayo, 1922-1937, which explores selected topics related to Rufino Tamayo’s artistic production in the 1920’s and 1930’s.

I rush back to my car and head for the Jumex Museum, inaugurated just a few months ago and designed by the British Architect David Chipperfield with clean white lines and a perfect glass roof allowing natural light to illuminate the astounding private collection.  Patrick Charpentier, the museums chief curator, kindly shows me around.  Patrick is a charming and incredibly knowledgeable young Mexican, with the ability to bring to life each and every work of art with just a few words.  As we are walking around the permanent collection a young Mexican girl approaches us and shyly asks “would you mind if I join you,  I am new to the art world and you seem so knowledgeable.”  Patrick’s face lights up and kindly proceeds to give her his condensed interpretation of modern art that leaves her speechless. We move on and I am fascinated by the exibit Las ideas de Gamboa, who was considered one of the great Mexican Art curators, who worked assiduously at professionalizing the study and practice of museography in Mexico.

The museums astounding permanent exhibit has a selection of works on show with an interesting mix of well known artists such as Cy Twombly, Damian Hirst, Alexander Calder, together with some lesser known Mexican artists such as Gabriel Orozco.

By now I am ready to meet my friends at the Contramar, a wonderful and sophisticated Mexican eatery open only for lunch serving the best fish in town.  We have a large table in the center of the restaurant where the five of us sit, stopping each and every waiter passing by with an order.  Soon, mescal, tacos, enchiladas, pulpo a la grilla, frijoles, camrones and tamales, start arriving in waves, each more delicious that the previous. Conversation stops each time mostly to encourage each other that the time to drink one more glass of Mescal has arrived. 

Soon the whole restaurant turns into a party, friends are saluting each other across tables, beautiful women are chasing children through the tables, phones are ringing wildly… more Mescal is ordered “cold cold cold” shouts Jaime ensuring all the glasses are full …by 7:30 I am struggling to remember my name and where I am.  People are starting to stumble out of the restaurant ready to continue the merry making elsewhere… I am wondering how I will make it to my dinner party by 8.30?

The next morning, suffering from a sever hangover, I join my driver waiting to take me to Taxco in Guerrero. The three-hour drive rushes by as I search for familiar sights.  Sadly the Iguana and Armandillo merchants who held up iguanas tied by their tail to passing cars are gone.  However once the highway is behind us, time seemed to have stopped.  The barren hills with just as few scattered houses and brave cactus have remained the same.  The windy road that would make any motorcycle aficionado happy is just as tortuous and narrow as before.

Taxco, my beloved Taxco, seemed unchanged.  The charming narrow cobbled streets had remained just as the beautiful with silver shops lining either side.  The baroque church of Santa Prisca had remained unscathed through the years.  I immediately went to my favorite bar “Paco” in the centre of the “Zocalo” just in front of the cathedral. While sipping a cold beer. I wondered back once again to my school days.  Days spent learning Mexican history geography and history while waiting to return to my favorite pastime playing marbles “Canicas” with my friends.

Antonio Sersale is the owner of La Sirenuse Hotel on Italy's Amalfi Coast.

Photo by Luis García

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