Poem 23: Abbotoir Abbot

Hang the Bastards And let the bastards hang In the wheat fields City and country Nation and badge On your right hand The customer is always right handed I am in Wisconsin I am in a wheat field I am smoking wheat in the fields of the time of the war The Nation I am in the city The city of time Do you slaughter your horses where you ride Then I say, Ride on, Gallant of the knights, Gallant of the nights, Ride on, onward

--Eli Fox

Big Land Photo Portrait #1 - Alek in Richmond Hill

 Alek. Originally from Xinjiang, he now lives in a condo in Richmond Hill. Pictured here is the spot where he keeps potted plants and bikes he's collected to fix. 

Big Land Film Review #1: Some thoughts on ‘Parlour Palm’ a short film by Rebeccah Love

(Is capitalism going to take it's lithium today? And not in a coup)

Rebeccah Love’s new short film “Parlour Palm” follows the unravelling mental state of a main character with bipolar disorder (played by an electrifying Sarah Swire), who shares her domestic space with a concerned romantic partner (a part well played by Tyson Coady) who nevertheless has less and less time for her due to his own career and climbing the ladder at a law firm. Her condition worsens amid bleak environmental news and the pressure to have a child in an uncertain world.
As a portrait of a manic episode it's masterful, and draws an effective parallel to the human race equally off it's meds, speeding through the ‘yellow lights’ (to quote her partner’s short-hand phrase for her increased velocity towards collapse) of changing climates and burning rainforests. But while the red lights of the ambulance at the film’s climax hopefully signal some form of help is on the way for the hurt character here, what constitutes help for our human global situation is a question we each need to answer for ourselves. Though the film suggests one particularly novel and incredibly bold answer, 'the asshole song', a wild, vulgar refrain born from the depths of the character's manic episode, and a moment of such searing intensity and originality that it moves the film from being simply a well-delivered biographic portrait or relationship psychodrama to an unsparing excoriation meant to shatter the bourgeoisie self-righteous obliviousness of our colonial, capitalist, white supremacist society. In the full grip of a manic episode she sings to her status and career obsessed boyfriend, “you're an asshole (and I'm an asshole too).”

Her lover, while perhaps reasonably patient and kind, is indeed a member of the wealthy privileged ruling class who are most complicit in holding up the status quo that continues to produce a world in a permanent state of collapse for everyone kept away from their enclaves of comfort. And the medication (lithium, or the element Elon Musk thinks is worth coup-ing Bolivia over) that might save her life will also make her more demure and palatable to her technocratic boyfriend who is a stand-in for society as a whole. The fact that she doesn't want to have a child enter this rigidly codified and commodified order is unsurprising.

The implication of her climactic (and climatic) ‘asshole song’ is that the holders of power in our society need the asshole song sung at them - the people at law firms, museums, corporations, universities, most landlords, bosses and managers, anyone with power over others, and all those who have stood to gain prestige as their institutions have tacitly held up a system that preys on the non-white and the poor and ravages the planet. And more importantly, like a person in the midst of a manic breakdown, they also ironically need the necessary sense of destabilization and self-erasure to throw off false notions of impropriety and “good health” to be able to sing it about themselves - as a beginning mea culpa and renunciation of their power, to heal themselves, others and the planet. That our society is run by those uncomfortable in seeing themselves, their positions, and their institutions as assholes is the truth hidden behind our bureaucratic and techno capitalist order which pushes those with mental illness to the fringes while denying that these power structures themselves suffer from any mania or psychopathy.

And none of this is to posit that the mentally ill are rarefied canaries in the capitalist coal mine, or to suggest that ‘only the mentally ill can truly express what's happening'; that suggestion is not at play in the film. The precise emotional tenor of the asshole song in the film may be precipitated by bipolar disorder, but it is an individual's unique human and artistic expression of a truth in plain view of us all. We should all join the character in singing it - can’t we each accept that the way we are living is unjust? And shouldn’t we each be allowed to breakdown, to be allowed to scream with horror at the world and the human soul?

While she is singing this song she stages a pantomime and breaks the fourth wall, asking us in her imagined audience if we think the world is beautiful. The humiliation of the character’s collapse singing this refrain and asking this question is also her most proudly unsparing moment of truth telling and emotional power - and in the case of this film, artistic triumph - for despite the danger an incredible truth has been sung. We must answer it, and work to break down the way things are.

--David Stokes

A note on the current situation

We see two desires: to return to normal and for normal to never be normal again.

Perversely, the “new” normal as the old normal but with smart technocratic fixes to render it safe (contact tracing! Social distancing! Odd work hours!) - as if the most persuasive way to reify an already alienated-beyond-alienated existence is to make it as intolerable and inhuman as possible. We have been trapped in this normal for so long that even before the pandemic we could not imagine any alternative, seeing only (funhouse?) mirrors when looking for the way out. The normal we knew was never normal to begin with, but there was – and is - no other normal to turn or return to.

These two desires were already there; the current situation just articulates them explicitly. We can’t find a way out, but there is also no way back in. We are left with survival and desire. But both are completely contingent on our ability to separate from the world, a world on which our survival is contingent. Everything is contingent and that contingency is in a constant state of anxiety, which shapes our desire. Do we desire to survive or survive to desire?

And who is the “we” when there is no longer any “we”? Is what the newfangled quarantine man desires, to be “we”, when he desires to be anything but “we” so he may chortle at the “we” who suffer and not suffer himself? The quarantine man suffers to desire that he is not among us, does not share the fate of our survival, but that he may share in our desire. He cannot be human; he can only be normality desiring its personhood. Normal cannot survive, but its desire is all that will be left- and we are its living ruins.

The new normal does not desire at all. It is neither new nor normal. It is the apocalypse and the failure of apocalypse. It is the cave in Egypt where Joseph fell asleep. And he could not dream, because he could read dreams. And what he read was nothing, nothing at all, but the light coming-to-be over the dust; still, all the same, and frightening. Fear alone will never still the waters unless you are a drowning man.

--Eli Fox

Poem 22: 'Select a dark night'

Select a dark night and
A single star
Sit in your backyard
Smoke cigarettes
Dream of oriental carpets,
Junk stores, mangy bears
w blood-covered lips.
Expect nothing from your life.
Wander an empty courtyard.
Wait in a deserted cafe.
Lie down, looking at nothing, in bed.
Hear your breath...  for what?
Stand alone, pacing.
Be among worlds, amid glimmers.
Find a black revolver
In a big empty ballroom.
Hide beneath a blanket
Eating an onion.

--David Stokes

Poem 21: American Wheels

I met David Berman in a dream last night.

He gave me a lift
and we went for a drink.

We had a good conversation and got along well.

He said he could only stay for one more drink. He had to leave early
because he had a show the next day.

Afterwards I tried to explain to everyone
that I talked to David Berman,
and we had become fast friends.
But everyone told me he was dead.

I could no longer remember whether we talked
before or after he was dead,
or anything else that he had said.
I think he drove a black Lincoln.

--Eli Fox 

Poem 20: Percy Allen Jackson

Pictures at the
Old Timey gangbang
never come out
so vividly

As the forest
in a phonograph

When we had trucks
we would race them on rails
laughing hysterically

When we had caravans
we would move like soldiers
luscious and careful

They said there was sex in the desert

--Eli Fox


Mexico Department

 moral, lobotomías,
 curo de sueño, orgasmos por teléfono,
 arcoiris portátiles....
             -- Octavio Paz, "Augurios"

One night, while living with my girlfriend in Mexico City, I had a dream. I do not remember the particular circumstances in the dream but when I woke up I remembered that in my dream a series of words had appeared to me. This was the first time I'd ever dreamt words, so I took note of them as I woke up. I turned to my girlfriend who was in the bed beside me waking up along with me, and I told her the words:


Such strange words. I wondered what they meant or if they would signify something, for I had a strange sense that they were prophetic words. For some reason I felt they were words connected to a message from God. I told my girlfriend that maybe that day I would see a rainbow. And all day I scanned the skies, but come afternoon I had seen nothing. It started to rain at around 4pm, as it often does in Mexico City in the spring, and I thought sure enough now I would see one.

But after the rain storm, as we were walking back to her place, I still had not seen one. When we got home, she and I went to the roof of her building, where the cages for the laundry were and where there was a beautiful panoramic view of the city and of the sky. There was a golden patch of sunlight emerging from the clouds, yet alas despite my mad hope, no rainbow appeared. I lingered up there for a while, looking and waiting, till I returned to her room.

Eventually, after driving her crazy since I was repeating the ridiculous words RAINBOW TO HUT SOLO RAINBOW TO HUT SOLO and pacing around the room, I went back down to the street, determined to heed the call of these mysterious words.

I looked at the sky again for about 20 minutes but saw nothing. It was beginning to get dark and I knew that time was running out to see a rainbow. So I thought again about what the words meant. There was a newspaper vendors stall up the street so I thought perhaps that was the 'hut' portion of the message. I examined the entirety of the now shuttered stall but could find no clue for what to do next. So I just stood there looking at the sky. Indeed I remained fixated on the sky, not looking at my phone or replying to the messages from my girlfriend asking me when I'd be back. But all I saw was the sky become darker.

When I had truly run out of any hope, I looked down at the street dejectedly. Some force or God had told me to spend all day looking for a rainbow and I truly believed that I would see one, but now I felt foolish and empty. That's when I noticed there was a parking attendants hut across the street, in front of the fence of a building. And I looked again and noticed there was another parking hut only 20 feet from the first one. TOO HUT meant TWO HUT?

I crossed the street and to my amazement I saw that each parking hut had the words SOLO on them. ("estacionamiento solo para residentes"). I felt a chill run through me and I knew this was the place I needed to be. I began looking at the sky again, sure I would see my rainbow.

But no rainbow appeared, only a darkening sky lit with the last glow of the day, a velvety grey and purple. I thought that perhaps this message in my dream, which I was certain was a message from God, was empty. I despaired of ever believing in it, it just seemed so stupid, here I was hoping at dusk to see a rainbow because of a set of impossibly dumb words in a dream. I think I said something stupid to myself like if I see that rainbow I'll know forever God proof of your existence, and I thought of all the silly and intensely private reasons for why we either believe in god or not.

Anyway, I looked again at the sky and saw nothing. I felt ridiculous. To have both totally but also jokingly place my faith on such a thing, to have spent hours under the spell of some stupid words. I stopped looking at the sky. Standing alone between the two huts, I took my first steps towards home, as a woman walked by, and as she passed I saw in the middle of her fabric grocery bag a single iron-on patch: of a rainbow.

(This occured in April 2017, in Colonia Napoles, on Calle Nuevo York, CDMX, Mexico)

--David Stokes

Poem 19: Heavy Bats (for Taylor)

Spit in my mouth
Spit on my grave
Spit on the lout
who shares all our loves' name

-- Eli Fox 

Poem 18: I put the mysterious compass on the table...

I put the mysterous compass on the table 
the needles were spinning rapidly in both 
because the universe is lost, 
the universe hit its head
and falls whistling through
white hot stars, blind
stars, people, and animals,
all bang their heads
statues of saints slip off the back
of flatbed trucks, tumble endlessly
into the void, they fall frozen in
their tears and prayer-clasped hands
flesh too falls from me, i am ashed out
and dissolved with a whirling spoon
into some black vinegar, put into a vial
a man keeps in his coatpocket, he looks down
drunk, desperate, scratches indecepherable
lines on the muck with a stick
and has no idea where to go,
for the vital human compass, the heart,
with its arterial concert, and small
understanding, is pulsing, spinning,
forever lost in its slow self loathing
and well-regulated movement

--David Stokes

Big Land City Guide: Mexico City

This post is dedicated to the Virgen de Guadalupe, patron saint of Mexico City, who prays over all souls in D.F.  -- Originally written and published 2019. All photos by me.  

A man makes a broom on the street - a typical example of the local skill and casual elegance found everywhere in Mexico City

Mexico City is a stunning city. For the last four years I have lived in the city during the fall and winter months and I am proud to be an honorary chilango. I have written this visitors guide to the city in the hopes that it is a simple and honest account of basic things you should know to make your trip to Mexico City better, and also allow you to begin to really explore this magnificent city. Since my personal interests are centered on the humble, simple, and traditional, as well as the beautiful and the quirky (and I think that all these qualities are allied together in Mexico in a powerful, unique and ingenious way), what I most hope to impart are useful ideas about discovering and championing normal Mexican life, rather than highlighting trendy areas or typical tourist guide things.  

Look out for this unique but also inviting and comfortable chair sculpture by Alejandro Colunga in the Plaza de Santo Domingo, a nice place to sit and read a book

Vendor at a tiangis selling various moles, a savory sauce typically made with both chocolate and chiles, a quirky and genius combination of two divine gifts to the world from the Mexican people  

Note on some language stuff: Mexico City is still often called DF - Distrito Federal, or Federal District - by the locals although CDMX is the new official short-form; when I arrived it was called DF and the name has stuck for me and for many others. But expect to have a lot of people here refer to the city as either DF or CDMX in conversation rather than the full name, Ciudad de Mexico. Even if you don't know much Spanish (fewer people in the city know English than a tourist might initially hope for) the people are so kind and so accustomed to visitors that only a very basic knowledge is needed to feel like you can get by in the city. 

Snapshot of Mexico City 

Mexico's capital is a city of immense energy and a crumbling glamour. Everywhere endless varieties of things are for sale under little stalls (puestos), marching bands wander past even on little residential streets, clowns and fire-breathers stand at street corners, twisting jacaranda trees bloom purple and rain down their confetti of lavender flowers all over parked old Volkswagen Beetles and Mexico City's strangely earthquake-creased sidewalks. Most of the buildings are covered with cracks delightful and worrisome and you can see the volcano Popocatépetl, to the southeast of the city, endlessly breathing out a silhouette of ash.

Everywhere in DF you will feel the differences between the rich, the middle class, and the poor - the indigenous and the colonial - who despite living in very different circumstances, rub shoulders with each other in the city centre. The city constantly brings together different identities and possibilities, where tradition and culture are possessed by the poor and the wealthy alike, mixing moods into new and interesting arrangements. 

A juggler performs during a stoplight in Napoles

And while Mexico City in total is a huge sprawling megalopolis with probably close to 21 million people (making it the tenth largest metro area by population in the world), the city that people visit is merely the inner hub of that huge wheel. So despite a reputation as one of the world's biggest cities, this inner hub of Mexico City isn't really so crowded or overwhelming. In many ways it is quite disconnected from the other vastly less privileged outer ring of the city. In fact it's very often easier for tourists to go from Mexico City to a whole other touristy town than it is for locals to commute from the less wealthy areas to the centre. This hub city encompasses all the quote-unquote 'nice parts' of town, like those we visit in any place we go as tourists or middle class visitors. And this inner hub is very safe, and absolutely overflowing with incredible trees, parks, museums, and pretty buildings - and it's deeply unfortunate and unjust that few of any of those amenities exist in the less privileged areas due to huge inequalities. 

So despite mixing the rich and poor on a daily basis, much of central Mexico City is a sort of bubble kept alive by favoring this sector of the city. This is not to say that the outer areas are uninteresting or unworthy of attention; just that few visitors - and often many locals - ever see them, and that's totally by design of the city government which has underinvested in them for decades. 

There are vast parts of the city that still do not have running water, a fact that most visitors and middle class Mexicans don't need to engage with on a daily basis. But despite the challenges, the outer areas are beautiful and interesting too. I had the pleasure of living for four months in Ajusco - a part of DF but out of the city centre by about an hour and a half of public transit, part of it up dense, urban mountain roads, though not really that deep into the megacity to be honest - and I found life there to be very nice. I paid about $10 CAD a week for a bare bones room; the bathroom was a nearby outhouse, and an additional building held a wonderfully efficient solar shower. The view over the city was incredible. And I could go to the city centre if I wanted, or take a bus by my house to a beautiful rural town (Santo Tomas de Ajusco) about 20 minutes further up the mountain, for hiking and horseback riding. In fact, if you love nature I highly encourage you to go to Ajusco - the pinnacle of the Ajusco mountain is actually higher up than Mt Fuji, and is a lovely hike. Being set amid mountains, Mexico City is one of the cities with the the most stunning natural areas right at its doorstep. [ click this link to read a great New York Times article about this: "Mexico City: Hiking Mecca?"

My simple room in Ajusco.

Great views of the city from my room in Ajusco 
You can see the rest of the city below 

Puppy friends in Ajusco

Just a bit further up the mountain and you are in wilderness basically... pretty incredible.... behind the mountain is the city... 

DF is beautiful and spiritual, but definitely not the easiest place in the world to live, and I think a lot of foreigners who might otherwise be charmed by it's art galleries and historic buildings would find it hard to settle down. The city is also really challenging for the elderly and anyone dealing with mobility issues.

Clown encountering and successfully navigating one of the many random barriers that makes mobility an issue in the city  

Many of the following tips - or rules as I'm referring to them (because they are my rules for myself here) - have to do with making some of the chaotic aspects of the city easier to manage. 

If you are only coming here for a few days and are going to be basically exclusively hanging out in wealthy and somewhat touristy areas like Polanco and Condesa, then you may not even feel much of the need for any of these tips, and my advice may come across just as typical gringo worries. But for anyone who really wants to explore off the tourist path and go to fascinating neighborhoods like Tlalpan, Ajusco, Neza,  Iztapalapa [ interesting NYT article here ], Tepito, among many others, and make themselves at home in this most varied and fascinating place, will be well served by these simple pieces of basic advice. Anyone who stays here long enough soon finds their own way of surviving and thriving in D.F. 

Rule #1: Always carry extra toilet paper and always carry an emergency 10 peso to access the bathroom

Using the bathroom in Mexico City can be tough because many bathrooms are a bit rough. The thing is that you will most likely be using the bathrooms here a lot, because of the relatively high rate of food poisoning. This is likely a fact of life for many foreigners in Mexico, and in my experience it is the worst aspect of my otherwise charmed life here in Mexico. There's a hilarious Guardian article ("Using public toilets all over Mexico City completely changed the way I viewed it") about this, and I remember reading it before I came and thinking that it was pretty quirky and odd; now, it's all too real, and like reading a page from my own autobiography. 

Typically you need to pay between 4 and 7 pesos to enter a public bathroom; though bathrooms for paying customers in restaurants are free. An attendant will usually hand you a comically small amount of toilet paper. Somehow many people are getting by with what seems like 3 to 4 sheets of paper. But believe me you'll be happy you brought extra. Or, let's say you are visiting a public library or museum, and you go to the bathroom, only to realize while you're in the stall that it doesn't have any paper. Many public buildings often don't have TP or even, sadly, soap (special shout out to the otherwise amazing Biblioteca de Mexico). This is why you need to always have your own TP. And never spend your emergency bathroom 10 pesos. Due to the large denomination bills in Mexico, you will always be running out of change and  No matter how much you want to use that 10 pesos, you will need it. Some washrooms don't have an attendant but a turnstile that requires change; another reason to always have some emergency change. Don't be surprised if a toilet doesn't have a seat; in this case you just sit on the ceramic part and it's just as nice really as a toilet with a seat. These are more common in bus stations and the busiest public baños.

Rule #2: Throw toilet paper into the 'basura', not the toilet; and while not that common, don't be surprised if a toilet has no water to flush

The plumbing in Mexico City (and the rest of Mexico) isn't very robust. Hence it's common practice to throw your used TP into a wastebasket beside the toilet. The women of Mexico have (mostly) mastered the art of throwing their TP used-side down. The men not so much. If a toilet doesn't flush when you press the lever that usually means that they are flushing it by pouring a bucket into the bowl. Ask for water. Often you will wash your hands using water from a bucket too. 

Rule #3: Don't eat the street food? Probably don't eat most of the street food unless you know what you are doing 

Lots of people are worried about the crime in Mexico before they visit. You shouldn't be. But realistically I think visitors should be more worried about food poisoning. This is a more common terror, and it makes Mexico sometimes a land where you live in fear, desperately hoping that that last bite doesn't bring you great agony and destroy your plans for the week. Nothing has caused me more discomfort and despair in Mexico than the food poisoing, which seems in my experience to be an ailment particular to DF (perhaps some aspect of the water supply?) since I've very rarely gotten it elsewhere in Mexico.

The street food is everywhere and looks amazing. I've had delicious, utterly tasty street food. Mexico has the most amazing street food of any place I've been. But regardless of whether I tried to eat it all the time to acclimatize myself to it, or avoided it save for very infrequent, oh-just-this-once nibblings, both strategies have led to terrible food poisoning on occasion - and more frequently here in DF than anywhere else in the world for me, or in the rest of Mexico. 

If you are here for only a short time and illness would totally ruin your stay, then don't eat the street food at all. It's as simple as that. There are so many other things to see and do it would a terrible shame to have this one - admittedly amazing - aspect make you lose out on experiencing so much other incredible things.  

If you do decide to partake, all the normal advice you hear, like how you should only eat at a busy place, and make sure you can see how the food is being prepared and handled, applies, though again be very careful and you are truly better off to avoid it altogether unless you have a guide. I have gotten the most sick from street food, but I've also gotten sick from food from restaurants that offered food prepared not much differently than street food. I've never been sick from any homemade food or food someone has served me in their house. And most of the food that has made me sick has come from places and dishes that weren't truly exceptional looking or tasting; generally the first bite wasn't amazing and I should have just stopped. But one or two times my food poisoning has come from delicious food.

The food poisoning I've had usually has an onset of 2 to 5 hours after the meal. 10 hours after a meal without any effects and I think you are in the clear. I've so far only gotten sick from food with meat in it. The illness is characterized for me by intense abdominal pain and vomiting and diarrhea. The intense pain and repeated vomiting usually passes after one very painful utterly delirious day or night. However, almost worse (and much more disruptive to your life) is the lingering problem of intermittent diarrhea and abdominal pain that can continue for 1 to 3 weeks. This makes even quick trips to the grocery store an exercise in worry, pain, and deep embarrassment. I think it's reasonable to pack a pair of adult diapers. I also always have a plastic bag in my knapsack, in case of sudden vomiting. My Mexican girlfriend laughs at me for this but I don't care. If I am in the midst of the lingering effects of food poisoning and still trying to live my life, I'd rather wear a diaper than have an accident on a public bus. While assuredly many Mexicans also get food poisoning, this does seem to be an aspect of life for a foreigner that is not quite understood by the average local.

Absolutely avoid any risky food if you have any travel plans (bus, plane) in the next day. You do not want to get on a plane or a bus and discover you have diarrhea while on a bumpy 9 hour bus ride in a bus that doesn't have a bathroom and is careening around mountain roads at night in Guerrero. 

So basically, admire the street food. Be envious of the street food. But really, some of it is for Mexicans whose bodies are used to the local microflora. My best advice if you are here for a short time and really want to try some street food is to go on a guided food tour with a knowledgeable guide who can help you find and try delicious stuff safely. Because you do need to try a pambazo. 

Some things that I think are pretty safe are fruit cut-up on the street, where you can see the guy wearing gloves and using a clean-looking knife and cutting board to cut up watermelon or oranges or jicama, etc. Also I've never been sick from orange juice freshly pressed in front of me on the street. The abundance of fruit-based street food is amazing and I tend to stick to this much safer type of street food. Also the hot early morning beverages like 'atole' and the breakfast foods like churros and the chilaquiles seem to be pretty safe. And the elotes, esquites, and the sweets too.

A man in his street-side puesto selling esquites - a cup of corn with broth, mayonnaise, lime, cheese and seasoning - in my experience one of the safest street foods - and one of the most delicious and quinessentially Mexican

A sauted huauzontle quesadilla - huauzontle is a plant native to Mexico and something you will likely only get to try here - perhaps an acquired taste, it shares something flavour-wise with bitter greens like the Italian rapini - vegetarian foods like this are in my opinion some of the safest bets for visitors   

Cricket snacks, chapulines. The typical tourist guides do tell you to try these for the novelty of it. But they really are delicious. About 10 to 20 pesos for a bag. They are not particularly common in Mexico City. Whereas the salted peanuts in bag to the right are available at seemingly every bar.

Rule #4: Pay attention: keep one eye on the uneven ground; keep another looking for low hanging wires and other things

Due to decades of earthquakes, their huge trees, and a general lack of maintenance, Mexico City's sideways are incredibly cracked, creased, upheaved, and riddled with holes. Even in fancy neighborhoods the ground is uneven and you'll need to keep an eye on making sure you don't trip or fall into a hole. Mexico City also has a lot of hanging wires to watch out for, as well as lots of low hanging roofs, especially of street stalls - puestos. If you don't pay attention - such as walking while staring at your phone - you will soon enough walk into a wire, a hole, or the edge of a puesto. 

Rule #5: Be mindful of pickpockets

I don't think you need to be worried about crime very much in Mexico City, with the exception of random pickpocketing in busy locations. I've never been pickpocketed but my friend who had just arrived to see me had his phone stolen on the second day. We were walking in the historic center, a few blocks north of the zocalo, and the sidewalks were crowded. At a street corner while waiting for the light to change a group of short women suddenly mobbed around my friend and then dispersed. His phone was gone with them, lifted from his pants pocket. After that experience and others like it happening to people I know here, to avoid pickpockets I tend to stand directly on the curb at busy streetcorners, walk relatively fast through very busy streets, and I have also attached zippers to my pants pockets, though a safety pin works too. The historic centre and on buses are the places you need to be most mindful of this. 

Rule #6: Avoid Travelling on Public Transit at Rush Hour - depending on your level of comfort with crowded areas 

Mexico City has a very extensive network of buses and subways, and they are incredibly cheap to use - only 6 pesos per ride. But they are crowded. At rush hours (8-10am; 4-7pm) so crowded that you may get carried into a bus or subway by a mass of people pushing and shoving behind you. This becomes especially intense and dangerous the further you are from the wealthy centre of the city; outlying subway stations often have people so packed together that you move as a herd, and will be unable to move forward or back or get out of the crush. My bag was once stripped off my back by the force of the crowd in this manner, and my coat too, which ended up on the subway tracks. But the buses and subways are pretty chill at off peak hours. At all times people go up and down the subways and try to sell stuff, including beggars who often seem to be in serious states of distress. Be generous with your money. 

Outside of rush hours the buses and subways are quite manageable and usually very fast and a fun experience. 

Also note that the metro buses and the subways have special cars at the front of the vehicle exclusively for the use of women, the elderly, the disabled, and children. Often there is a barrier guarded by a police officer making sure only eligible passengers get on, and these cars are often painted pink. 

A woman carries a sculpture of Saint Jude - patron saint of lost causes, 'the saint you call upon when all else fails' - on a packed subway car 

Rule #7: Bring a small umbrella

When it rains in Mexico City (usually in the afternoon, between 3 and 7) it really rains. Sometimes it hails, and a hailstorm here can last for 20-30 minutes.

Street performers near the zocalo after a rain storm


Where to Stay 

I've stayed at a bunch of places all over the city. But perhaps my favourite neighborhood is Escandón. It's close to the trendy neighborhoods of Condesa and Roma but distinct from them and less busy and generally feels more down to earth to me. There are lots of cool apartments here, including some in 'vecindades', a characteristic and historical type of Mexican communal housing complex found all throughout the city.

A man works on painting a mural in a park in Escandón 

San Rafael is a hidden jem of a neighborhood, still very central but for the most part outside of the notice of many tourist hipsters. It's full of beautiful old crumbling buildings and families sitting outside their apartments. I was given a very lovely tour of this neighborhood by Nat, a friend of my girlfriend, who pointed out the cinema where her brother was almost born, and since he was almost born in a cinema (and his mother went to the movies almost everyday when she was pregnant with him) he is called 'cinema man' by people in the neighborhood. This area is filled with beautiful stories. Check out the restaurant 'El Chivito' here for classic old school Mexican food.

Napoles is a nice neighborhood and where I've lived for longest. It's very charming and has a good mix of quiet and stuff to do. It's not really a particularly hip neighborhood but it's very central. Also I think it's epic that in this neighborhood there's a giant bullfighting ring, the second largest in the whole world I believe, in the midst of this rather sedate hood. 

Quirky and cool clock in a Napoles park

Narvarte is a very pleasant neighhorhood of mostly low apartment buildings. Definitely some nice restaurants and cafes. Pretty quiet area. 

Portales is not a popular or particularly central neighborhood but it's very lovely and quiet. It's on two subway lines and it's close to Coyoacán. Really like this area.

The Zona Rosa has a lot of hotels and it's the city's de facto Gay Village and very much a place to party, though very loud at night.

Other places that are cool: Condesa, Roma, Juarez, Polanco, the Centro, among many others. Ajusco and Tlalpan and Xochimilco are very cool if you're more adventurous, and you want to live closer to some nature areas.

Typical scene in a park - Mexicans absolutely love dogs

A woman selling little lamps by the subway in Napoles



Note on Earthquakes 

Mexico City sits near a fault line and most of it's central downtown areas are built on top of very soggy soil that increases the amount of energy transferred into buildings during earthquakes. The famous 1985 earthquake killed untold thousands. Thankfully, after that disaster, the city is one of only two major cities in the world to have installed an earthquake early warning system. The alarms will go off if an earthquake's seismic wave is heading towards the city. When an alarm goes off you have between 20 and 60 seconds to get out of your building and find safety in the street. The alarm is a loud tone followed by the words 'Alerta Sismica Alerta Sismica'. 

In general, for people who want to avoid earthquakes at all costs, the buildings built on hillsides and on rocky highland and volcanic soils tend to be barely affected (many of these areas are to the south of the city). The worst affected areas are those near the old city, Centro, Roma, Condesa, and others, which were built on the old lakebed. 

A large example of Mexico City's plentiful and beautiful public art, this piece is in the south of the city - note the ground here, made of volcanic rock, makes it far less prone to damage from earthquakes 

Damage from earthquakes can be seen on many buildings and often remains unrepaired for considerable time, such as on this church near Roma Sur, not currently in use, which was damaged about half a year ago before the photo was taken, in a relatively minor tremor  

 Note on Police Corruption and Bribes

If you do anything at all out of the ordinary in your environment you might have trouble with the police. The police once gave me trouble one night in one of the fanciest and wealthiest neighborhoods, Condesa. If you see them touching their handcuffs on their belt it's apparently a sign that you may need to bribe them. Just give them your money. There is however a tourist police phone line that can assist you; I suggest you look it up and have it ready to go on your phone. Pay attention to the faces and names of the police officers who bother you. 

Note on Sexism and Street Harassment 

An unfortunate reality of life in DF is the behavior of many men in the city towards women. Leering and wolf whistling is common. I have seen many a taxi cab driver slow my ride down just so he can keep ogling a woman on the street. Some men go further and either grope women while in the perennially crowded buses or daytime streets. My girlfriend chooses to avoid wearing skirts or revealing clothing in the city due to all these behaviors. Obviously people who do wear those clothes are not looking for those behaviors or responsible in any way for them. But this is just a head's up about the situation here.

Note on D.F. Fashion 

It's my personal observation that nobody but tourists wear shorts in DF, but otherwise the city is very diverse in it's style. Here's some stream of consciousness description of fashion I noted in a short stretch of my day: A guy passes on a motorbike with a t-shirt that says A.C.I.D.  Many diverse cholo-inspired looks, here's one cute cholo guy wearing a paisely patterned sweater and a purple ska plaid hat. A man in a t-shirt that reads BLACK and has small text in English explaining the virtues of the color, how it signifies night and mourning and hiddenness and the powerful obscurity of feelings. A guy on the subway is wearing totally normal clothing except for one hand is in a black glove covered with large silver spikes. 

I'd say you can get away with wearing any combination of patterns and fabrics and logos on your clothes and look stylish and not out of place. But don't wear shorts.

Observation on Love in DF (i.e. PDA) 

Everyone, young, and especially, old, couples make out in public in DF. Be ready to see teenagers making out, young couples making out, and again, especially, older couples, making out, on buses, in parks, in the subway, etc. It's a lovely sight and I hope you get into the spirit of this when you visit with someone you love.

Note on People and Children Who Come Into Restaurants and Try and Sell You Stuff 

Most likely this happens all over the world, but in DF it's very common and don't be surprised if a very young child comes up to your table at a restaurant, even very late at night, and wants to sell you some candy, galetas, or other sweets. D.F. is also a city where if you want to buy a cigarette you may find yourself buying one from a child. 


An organ grinder across from the Alameda 

A Few of My Favorite Things To Do In DF

1. One of my favorite things to do here is to go for a walk quite early in the morning, as Mexico City is a morning city, indeed a giantess awakening from 5am to 11am, and there are stunning views of the sun rising behind the volcano Popocatépetl and lots of street vendors selling delicious atole from metal carts and young boys selling churros from baskets. 

I'd say that walking through the city at any time of the day is my number one recommendation for what to do. My favourite aspects of Mexico City are seeing the unpretentious beauty of people going about their day, often carrying on trades and traditions from generations ago. In the Centro look out for the organ grinders in their distinctive tan uniforms, or listen for the many different sounds that the local vendors make as they go around a neighborhood and ply their trade - such as the haunting, ear-piercing whistle of a camote cart (you really must try a warm camote fresh from the cart, covered in sweetened condensed milk).    

A camote cart - resembling a locomotive and with the most distinctive and ear-piercing whistle, this is mobile street food at its most charming and delicious 

2. Xochimilco (pronounced like 'Sochi - milco') is one of the coolest places on the planet and you must check it out if you are in DF. Everyone needs to try the colorful trajinero boat trips through Xochimilco, but I also recommend the parts of this area that you can access via bridges (such as here: https://goo.gl/maps/hP2qcHkEpwVNHpCS7 and then past where the google map shows, the satellite view is useful) and absolutely cool is one of the many remaining hand-ferries (elsewhere in Mexico I've heard these called 'un chalán'that you can take across the canals for a few pesos (there's a cool one here: https://goo.gl/maps/6ST2wzxMiLemkZPNA ). There are many tour guides who can help you discover the living human and ecological miracle that is Xochimilco. This is what the majority of what we call 'Mexico City' looked like before the Spaniards - and this way of life will certainly outlast our current, environmentally destructive, culture.    


typical scenes in the sublime and less well known parts of Xochimilco - it's hard to believe this ancient world survives in the middle of the modern city

The dotted line indicated here is passable via a hand ferry - a beautiful tradition with a pragmatic function that exemplifies the power of Xochimilco 

3. The Biblioteca de Mexico and the surrounding parks/squares and streets are some of my favourite in the city. This beautiful library in an old colonial building is one of the most stunning and perfect places to spend an afternoon. The library houses the personal book collections of many of Mexico's greatest writers and poets. Just outside the library is a beautiful park filled with food stalls, and you can have an amazing pambazo (a crema, lettuce, and potato sandwhich with an achiote sauce on the bread) here. You really need to have a pambazo in Mexico City, they are addictive. Many of the settings in Roberto Bolaño's 'Savage Detectives' are modelled after places nearby this area. Check out the Cerveceria Vizcaya for a very interesting drinking establishment (thanks to Hamish for showing me this place!). 

Another item for those interested in books and the printed word is to visit the Plaza de Santo Domingo, near the location of the first printing press in the Americas, and still to this day home to a series of stalls run by public scribes and printers operating their small hand-set presses out in the square.

A man using hand-set type to print cards and stationary, working out of a little stall in the Plaza de Santo Domingo, near the location of the very first printing press in the Americas 

4. One fun thing to look out for in Mexico City is to look out for and stop and reflect by the countless little shrines to saints and Jesus placed everywhere all over DF. They all seem to tell a sort of story. One of my absolute favorites of these is 'the Virgin of the Metro'. The story here is this: a subway worker’s child noticed that a water stain on the floor of Mexico City’s bustling Hidalgo Metro station bore a miraculous likeness to the nation’s most powerful religious symbol, the beloved Virgin Mary of Guadalupe. Thousands of Mexico’s faithful then flocked to see the subway tile, jostling with millions of commuters in the modern fluorescence of the downtown station to offer roses and coins, rub the stain for blessings or kneel, gape and weep over it in awe. The scene confounded subway officials, who hired 25 guards to control the crowds, fenced off the spot and pasted up displays declaring, “It is not a miracle.” The portion of the tile with the apparation has since been removed from the floor of the subway and now stands outside in a special shrine.

5. Renting a bicycle with the EcoBici stands all throughout the city is a great way to get around on these cute little red bikes. Also very fun is renting one of the cute little blue and white motor scooters scattered throughout the city through the Econduce app.

6. The Templo Mayor museum and pyramid is a must see. It's right beside the Zocalo and the main cathedral. It is full of amazing pre-Columbian art from that exact site the museum is built on. Go on a rainy afternoon and it's hella dramatic to see the various huge statutes of powerful and fearsome gods as it thunders and rains over the skyline of the city. Look out for the wall made of skulls.


7. Party anywhere - but especially try to go to a party with locals who appreciate Mexican banda or ranchera music, the musical heart and soul of the country, often enjoyed (sung along to!) till the wee hours of the morning. And go visit the Plaza Garibaldi to hear and see the roaming mariachi bands, hirable by the song for a fee. 

8. Check out the amazing Mexican art scene. Jumex is a good place to start, but there are a million galleries and museums. MUAC, Estanquillo, Labor, Casa Barragán, Bellas Artes obviously, the Anthropology museum (check out the live outdoor performance of the Danza de los Voladores here, an incredible display of acrobatics and tradition and sheer bravery and skill), the Toy Museum - and definitely my favorite museum - the Museo de Arte Popular: the works inside represent traditional artforms still being made in communities across Mexico. There's a million art-related things to recommend - this city has art in every possible place. Check out the amazing murals by Diego Rivera's students in the Mercado Abelardo L. Rodriguez, pictured below. 


I would be remiss to not mention the incredible performing arts tradition so easily enjoyed in Mexico City - here a group of dancers performs for free on a stage in a park amid a Sunday tiangis 

9. You need to check out the "witchcraft"  (ie Santa Muerta) market the Mercado de Sonora. Also, nearby in Tepito there's a really intense shrine to Santa Muerta made with a real human body whose hair seems to still be growing. There's runes on the ground and the scene is very interesting, spiritual, and enlightening. Also essential is the nearby Sunday tiangis market in the Lagunilla neighborhood full of quirky antiques and cool junk. You can still buy Posada prints here, and retablo paintings. And the gallery Eugenio is an amazing store here that specializes in selling traditional masks (note that they are closed on Sunday, the day of the tiangis). Make sure you go all the way into the back of the store. It is incredible.
Scenes from the Sunday morning tiangis in Lagunilla 


Some favourite restaurants in Mexico City

#1: "Tortas Al Fuego" (aka 'the Sonora place') - absolutely the number 1 spot in the city for me
Open 24 hours (!!!) 
Located beside Metrobus Sonora

I've never had the tortas here and the name of the restaurant is a bit of a misnomer, since they have a tonne of food options and everything is amazing and the prices are the best in the city. My girlfriend and I have eaten here countless times and it is our favorite place in the city. It's not fancy but it's very clean and the service is good and we usually sit upstairs by the window so don't steal our spot! It's also open 24 hours!

Try an agua de fresa as your drink, the tortilla soup or the chicken soup or the frijoles charros (all are amazing with a bit of lime, really I would often come here and just order like 4 soups as my dinner...this place has mastered these soups), the enchiladas verde or mole (these are served only until 8pm), the costanza de res (a steak, and a bargain at 55 pesos, with chilaquiles! also served only till 8pm), the alambres, and the 33 peso order of 5 tacos al pastor (notice the enormous trumpo of meat roasting outside). These tacos are definitely the cheapest good quality tacos in Mexico. They are iconic tacos and all other tacos you have will be measured against these ones.

The seafood options at the restaurant are really good though not as consistent, and sometimes a little bit bad. I like the ceviche de camaron. Everything here is a bargain.

Pro tip: the sidewalk outside the restaurant has these Mexican pinball gambling games, and somehow, miraculously, they actually pay out serious money... I once put in a 5 peso coin, totally randomly played the pinball and just hit buttons blindly, and the machine began to spit out almost 100 pesos worth of coins! A machine started giving me free money, on the street, in Mexico. I couldn't believe it. That 100 pesos buys a lot of food at Tortas al Fuego. Try your luck.

#1b: Taqueria Orinoco, in Roma
A really cool and classic place for tacos and amazing soups. I really like the frijoles charros soup here. And the chicaron taco. Amazing salsas on the side.

#2: Potzollcalli
Various locations

I've only had one thing here but it's so good. It's the pozole de Jalisco (Rojo), a truly delicious soup, that also comes in a delicious chilangro verde option. The best part: it's already a good deal at 100 pesos, but on Thursdays this soup is 2 for 1. There's a knack though to getting the full extent of the flavor of this soup, which is sort of the Mexican cousin to Vietnamese pho, which also is all about how you garnish and accrutrament it.

First is too add lots of the onion, radish, lettuce, and lime that they bring each order with on a platter. Then crumble up the chicaron and avocado they bring. Then add the salsa de ajo (the salsa with burnt garlic in it). Then enjoy that perfect soup.

I have no idea if anything else here is any good. One time I had a milkshake here and it was pretty bad. Also the cakes here look really good and they display them like treasures in a glass fridge near the entrance, but whenever I've had them I've been disappointed.

#3: El Turix, in Polanco;
      Cobá, in Napoles

Two different options for amazing Yucatan food.

El Turix is a hole in the wall in Polanco, and it may be the only hole in the wall in tony Polanco. Certainly it's the only cheap food I've ever had in that neighborhood, and it's the only iconic restaurant there. You absolutely must go to this restaurant if you are in Polanco, it's an essential stop.

Coba is a local chain I think and doesn't have the absolutely realness or food quality of El Turix, but the food is pretty good, and they do have more variety. And tables. It's a comfy, cute and casual spot that's always empty. Try a panucho de cochinita, or a panucho de lomitas, which are both really tasty. For fun you can try the panucho of shark, 'cazon', which sounds more exciting than it tastes, since it just tastes like any white fish. Cobá has a 2 for 1 tacos and panuchos deal on Mondays all day. That's the day to go.

#4: Mercado de San Pedro de los Pinos

The stall here with the green chairs is great. It's across from a candy merchant. The only mercado stall I trust for this type of food. Try the tacos de bistec con queso. Or the pambazo de papas con toda (lettuce, onion, and cremá). There's another stall here with a great flan, and another stall with great seafood. Everything else is sorta ok but not nearly as good as the stall with green high top chairs.

I will also here make a special shout out to the pambazo. Try a pambazo. I didn't fall in love on my first pambazo. But I am now in love with pambazos. It will happen.

#5: Dhaka Biriyani 
Calle Kansas 13, Naples, 03810 Mexico City: Closes 9PM

This place is amazing. By far the best Bangledeshi / Indian food I've had in Mexico City. Truly a great restaurant. The prices are fair and reasonable and the portions are very satisfying. The flavors are totally perfect. And the guys who run the restaurant are very nice. I really recommend this place! Can not wait to go back!

#6: Ka Won Seng Jia Wang Cheng 
and Yi Pin Ju

These are the two best Chinese restuarants that I've tried in DF. They are very good. Just make sure you ask the waiter if the meat has bones or not (one thing I ordered was mostly bone : ( the word for bone is hueso). But absolutely amazing food. Avoid going to most Chinese places in DF, and especially avoid the buffet Chinese places. At Yi Pin Ju you can pay with Visa, but only cash at Ka Won Seng.

#7: The various fruit stalls and carts around the city

#8: Tiangias Nuevo York for the mixcote. Try mixcote tacos if you can!

#9: Ojo de Agua 
Various locations

A popular and very posh looking chain with very good juices. My favourite was the agua horchata de coco.

#10: Pasteleria Alcazar Quintana Roo

A comfortable and very simple coffee shop chain in the city. Good coffee, cheap, and elegant surroundings.

#11: La Mascota

This is a bar (a cantina) where they serve botanas - little snacks or small meals - free with your order of beer. The beer is about 70 pesos which is about 50 pesos more than usual but they will serve you tacos or carnitas or stranger offerings of your choice from the daily menu, like pigs feet or soup oxtail soup. A very charming and old world sort of place. Anthony Bourdain came here. You can also pay by Visa. Musicians will come in and out and there's lots of singing.

#12: Cantina la potosina

Another cantina, this one doesnt serve botanas (they will give you peanuts though). Just a very old school and charming spot to have a beer, definitely few tourists come by here. Check out the dueling statues on the corner by the bar: Jesus on one side of the street, Santa Muerta on the other.

#13: Pulqueria La Pirata; 
Pulqueria La Paloma Azul; 
Pulqueria Los Insurgentes 

Three great spots to try pulque, a classic Mexican drink made of fermented agave. The plain version sorta tastes like yogurt, spit, and semen. It's good. But the fruit flavored ones taste like fruit and yogurt. Also good, most people like it like this. Mildly alcoholic. The first two places are the old school type of pulqueria. The last one is a trendy cool pulqueria. But all of them serve the pulque the classic and only way: ladled out of a barrel. Pulquerias usually have poems on the walls outside or inside describing the beauty of being drunk from pulque. A good article on that here: https://degustosyplaceres.wordpress.com/2011/09/08/dichos-y-refranes-de-borrachos-cantinas-y-pulqueria/

#14: Marisqueria La Glorieta
The very very first restaurant I ever ate at in Mexico. I had the very tasty stuffed chile, and a parsely taco. The parsely taco had crispy almost-burnt parsely. It was delicious and I've never seen it anywhere else and I often go back for it. They serve a really tasty crab-and-mayo dip here with crackers before your meal.

#15: El Huequito 
A good chain that specializes in tacos al pastor though everything is good. There is some evidence that this chain's original location was the first to actually create the al pastor style.

One of the ubiquitous pinball-esque gambling machines in DF - I wish you the best of luck in Mexico City! 

A salute to these young men, thank you for taking care of this marvelous city