Mexico City is like an anthill. Yet with more than 21 million people living in the greater metropolitan area, could it be otherwise?
Jorge and I stayed for a week at the Metropol Hotel, located close by many of the attractions we like to visit – the Zocalo, Bellas Artes, Templo Mayor, galleries, shops, restaurants and so on. But of course, this area is also the heart of the business, governmental, and public services district.
On our last morning, just two blocks from the Metropol, we found ourselves in the midst of a crowd queuing-up on the ground level esplanade of a tall administrative complex that houses the Foreign Affairs Department, Mexico City’s Appellate Courthouse, and who knows how many other ultra-chaotic offices. Literally thousands of people clutching manila folders waited their turn to gain entry through the security controlled access points. The parking lot could not possibly handle the volume of vehicles, and frenzied drivers circled round and round, their eyes keen to pick out someone just leaving their spot. If those waiting in the lines moved over at all, they would be surely be mowed over.
Our eyes scanned the distance for the quickest path out of the bedlam, but then I saw the shoes. Just the kind I needed – colourful, comfortable, and well made – so I stopped. Jorge rolled his eyes and tried to keep me moving, but a blouse festooned with iridescent dragonflies caught my eye, and then I spied more leather goods; backpacks, purses and totes, hanging from a pegboard. Tables of jewellery sparkled in a sunbeam that had somehow filtered into the dim cavern. How could this delightful island of high-quality, handmade treasure be here? “Wait a minute. Look at these,” I said, holding out a pair of green striped flats for him to admire. Jorge is a sage husband; he knows when the Imelda Marcos in me will not be denied. “They are beautiful,” he said.
The shoemaker had come with his family from Leon, the footwear capital of the country. His young daughter gazed at me with her big brown eyes and swept her small hand over the array her family hoped to sell. “Have you seen the movie, Coco,” I impulsively asked. “Oh yes, and I am not like that boy who wanted to be a singer. I like the shoe business,” she replied. What a little charmer! I bought the green striped shoes – how could I not – as well as the blouse and a T-shirt. As I was leaving, the charmer’s father gave me a small amulet hanging from a leather lace. “God’s peace be with you,” he said.
I felt so touched by his gesture that I worried I’d start crying. The ten minutes Jorge and I spent with vendors had reaffirmed what I know to be true:
The talent of the Mexican people, their eye for colour and design, is surpassed only by their resourcefulness and kindness.
I feel grateful that Jorge and I ended our Mexico City experience on the periphery of that sooty, stuffy parking lot. Tangible and non-tangible treasure is found in the most unexpected places, isn’t it?