Saturday, July 02, 2005

Just Back: Guadalajara, Mexico.

Contre la treatro de Degollado, la vida esta perfecto para un aficionado a la arquitectura come mi. Posted by Picasa

Does anyone know where Guadalajara is?

I had no idea. But a quick google showed up some anwers: the second city of Mexico.

Mexico has been on my mind for a while. I remember the green cabs, the old-school Camino Real Hotel and modern Habita Hotel in a story on Mexico City which appeared in Travel + Leisure some years back. Some months back, I happened to pounce upon a book sale after classes in NUS and saw an old edition of Born To Shop: Mexico—written by the legendary shopperholic, Suzy Gershman—going for a song. It’s part my collection of books at home, and finally, it’s seeing the light of day. Recently the online edition of GQ ran a pictorial celebrating Mexico in all its permutations: soccer, new hip ‘hoods, guacamole and the works. That sealed my love for Mexico but unfortunately was KIV-ed until…

Transiting in Hong Kong and San Francisco (and a quick visit to Market Street on the BART), the lengthy journey (during which I also watched the very apt Spanglish) soon came to an end on a Mexicana Airlines flight to Guadalajara on a Sunday morning. Accompanied by fellow Mexicans on the same flight, a major change of scene was soon to begin.

This first trip to the Latino world proved to be quite eye-opening, pardon the cliché. To my knowledge, Mexican cities are part cities-in-transitions and part historical-treasure-troves. The latter was what I had little expectations of, and I was thrilled to see that in abundance. Making my way through the city’s many iglesia(s), plaza(s), avenida(s) y calle(s), the landscape reminded me of Palermo, a hodgepodge of old structures amid circa-70s concrete. Charming structures and spaces include: the Teatro de Degollado with its strong columns, the Palaccio de Gobierno with its left-of-centre murals by Orozco, Plaza de la Liberacion, Regional Museo de Guadalajara, Plaza Tapatia with its 70s/80s structures, the tren ligero/electrico (subway) of another era…

I have never spoken Español before but this trip demanded me to the moment I arrived at the Aeropuerto Internacional de Guadalajara. Bringing together my four semesters of French, bits and pieces of Italiano and twenty-four years of Ingles, I mustered the courage, at six in the morning, to ask a fellow passenger at the customs queue, “Esta la linea para personages para Ciudad de Mexico?” [Is that the queue for passengers who are MexicoCity-bound?] in a bid to know what’s going on; turns out that some of our fellow passengers were rushing to catch another connecting flight to Mexico City and therefore siphoned to a shorter immigration queue to expedite their transit. Having mastered numbers in Italiano, it was only a matter of taking note of some minor differences when utilizing the Italian language indiscriminatingly in Spanish conversations. Uno, due, tre, quatro, cento became un, dos, tres, cuatro, cientos. Useful words like por, por que, cuando, esta, etc were picked up with great ease because of their relative similarity to per, per che, quando, e in Italiano and pour, pourquoi, quand, est, in French. And let’s not get to the cognates.

Rightfully speaking, the first thing I attacked in Guadalajara wasn’t so much the architectural sights which I love raving about. It’s the food. The Mexican food as we know it is everywhere, in the restaurants, the markets, the streets. Together with Mexicans in their Sunday best, I joined them at La Goda for brunch, where I ordered a torta, a chunky meat sandwich wholly dunked in tomato sauce. I often dropped by at little unremarkable cantina(s) where I would try out quesadilla(s), gringo(s) and the like, pockets of goodness filled with shaved meats. A dash of lime and a generous hand of guacamole are excellent finishing touches. Equally nondescript are its markets, punctuated by bouts of passion emanating from the ceviche (which I forgot to try~!), taco(s), burrito(s)… I had a hearty meat stew at a market stall; myself perched on a high stool by the chef’s kitchen, I went about dressing the delicioso stew up with lime and chopped raw onions and made little pocket salads with tortilla(s). Having had little hindsight, I OD-ed on the carbo-wraps and had little room to try out the other offers. Damn, I gotta visit some mercado some time soon.

On the last day, I scrambled to get some shopping done, seeing that I needed to bring back some tangible memories. Hours later, having ventured into the district of Mina where the real people shop (one that looks like a sunny, dusty, border town), I emerged with a Latino-flavoured off-white cinturón for belting up during this harsh economic slowdown, coin pouches screaming ‘cowboy’, a ‘¡Soy un angel!’ ringer tee which fits and I really like, and a comfy Hecho en Guanatos baby blue tee-short good for those dressed-down longhauls. Shopping was rounded off with a visit to Oriental Bar frquented by locals--which looks straight out fromAl Capone's Prohibition 60s surely.

All in all, I was very captivated by the Latino charm, spirit, hospitality, friendliness, as well as the party spirit, which is a close approximation to the Italian la dolce vita. With more time, I would have made my way to Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, (spring break!) Cancun and Ciudad de Mexico.

On my back via Los Angeles and Narita, I regretted not staying for a few days. I could do with a visit to the beach communities at Santa Monica really. Will take a rain check.


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