My immigration form had unanswerable questions, like 'where are you staying?' But it's ok, the answers don't matter. You'll soon be out on the spicy streets.
My friend lives in Condesa. A hub of cafes and restaurants. We started with tacos, staple and treat. A roasting pineapple is carved with skill. Slivers fly directly into tortilla. Pots of sauces are brought and stand mysteriously on the table, staring unblinking at me. The Tv screams 'goooooooooooooooooooooooaaaaaal'. Sleep is the only way to make sense of it.
The morning is easier on the senses. We take coffee and walk the streets. There's traffic but nobody seems in too much of a hurry. Giant yellow butterflies the size of plates astonish me. We stop to finish our drinks and meet Gonzalo, a frustrated drunken painter. He has a can open and a cigarette burning, forgotten and doomed to expire in his left hand. He smells of drink. 'I painted it for them but they wouldn't pay. Just 200 pesos for a few beers. Are you Scottish?'
Heading for town, the sun asserts its influence. The buildings sag and bend. The next big earthquake will knock the legs out from under this city. We pass the Bimbo brand bread van. In the main square, the largest flag I have ever seen is the anchor for a wealth of activity. Broad faced uniformed angry men wind infernal automatic pipe organs, bellowing claret red words from under their severe military hats. It's like the start of a despotic bagpuss. A school of menu fish chase us across the road, waving adverts for so many restaurants.
As the temperature rises, the bar and cold beer calls. A bar in Mexico City is not an closed space, or a haven from the world, but instead a window on the passing theatre of life. We set up stall outside an unmarked speedbump, scoring points for every exhaust to make contact. A woman appears from a flat and attaches a giant loudhailer to the roof of a pickup with string and sets off to sell a thousand bananas. A cake van knocks a biker off his ride, and they remonstrate in the street, whilst honking traffic pours past them, like a river flowing round a beached tree stump. We eat empanadas, Cornish pasties carried to the Americas by Cornish miners, reinvented, reimagined, and brought forth into the sun. They are a mystery, wild and fanciful, like African animals drawn by artists who've never seen the real thing.
Minds swimming, we descend the subway, square trains and block jowled tunnels a minecraft fantasy. Destinations like Tlahuac and Chapultapec seem to promise not just a different place but a different time. But that's my fantasy. Mexico City is modern and global. You can buy Le Crueset and nespresso machines on the same street as quesadilla stalls and a man selling two foot pencils. Mexico has taken what it wants from the modern world and kept the character it inherited. I bought a calendar. 'Ensalada 2015 - edicion especial'. Everyone thinks I'm weird.
A cool few hours spent in the national museum of Art helped make sense of it all. Imported European artistic doctrine leads off the procession of dogmatic religious propaganda. Room after room of Christs, crucified and broken, each one mute, mouth open, agog and horrified at the colonial outrages being justified in his name. Brown, crude people cower in the dark corners, bedeviled and unchaste, watched with disgust by bright white angels. As the centuries pass, the naked browns submit and the narrative becomes triumphal. What a relief to come to the stunning broad canvasses of Valesco, who painted the landscape and saw people and place, skies and soil. Mexico at last becomes a place rather than a terrible example to the heathen.
Evening comes again and the slow endless flow of people moves into the cool spaces. Cars glow red with night and some are abandoned. The pace is steady. Voices are many but never raised. Steaks cook and bottles open. Every corner is a hungry pool of life. There is nowhere else.