Mexico City: 5 Reasons Why

Tell someone you’re planning to vacation in Venice, Italy,  and they “ooh” and “awe” and get all bright-eyed and bushy-tailed over it. Tell them you’re going to Mexico City and they scratch their head, puzzled, and manage only to sputter, “why?”

Why? Because it’s a city where, even in the thick of summer, the high temperature doesn’t scoot an inch above 77 degrees, and where if it doesn’t rain for an hour every afternoon, people are apt to call it a dry season.  In Ciudad de Mexico, a 2-hour lunch break is considered customary and you can drizzle hot sauce and lime juice over everything.  You can marvel at the intricate detail of architecture created in the 1500s or try and count the number of floors on a marble, state-of-the-art sky scrapper that’s younger than you are. Mexico City is a wonder.

Claro, the splendor of Mexico’s capital was practically a mystery to we Texans prior to our arrival. We had heard legendary stories of Tenochtitlan, been vaguely versed as undergrads in the history of the Mexican Revolution, and were fairly confident in the fact that it might be the dwelling place of my our Mexican movie star boyfriend, Gael Garcia Bernal. And yes, for you mothers of the world, we had heard a note or two about some kind of drug war, which we didn’t take too much to heart. For the most part, except for a few trivial factoids, we went to Mexico City as infants.

The purpose of our journey was two-fold. First, we wanted to celebrate two years of liking being married to each other with an exotic vacation (exotic in the sense that you could eat bizarre foods but not spend $1000 on a plane ticket). Second, we wanted to visit newlyweds Alex and Santi* who relocated there a few months earlier. But, for the non-anniversary-celebrating/friend-visiting traveler, why Mexico City?

Food
Promptly upon arriving in Mexico City, before even stepping out of the airport, we were handed a cup of Mango (purchased on the street, no less) sprinkled with chili powder and spritzed with lime juice. Bienvenidos indeed. But the incredibly irresistible combination of lime juice and chili powder (which comes on, if not next to, practically everything you order in the District Federal) is merely a starting point. Throughout the week we ate street tacos for 20 pesos and extravagant ceviche for considerably more—both tasted like meals intended for kings. We savored Oaxaca cheese, nibbled on cups of roasted corn, and delighted in ordering a laundry list of local staples: gorditas, gunabana, flautas, quesadillas, bistek, consommé.  It’s rare, state side, to find any meal that can rival the freshness or flavor of the street food in Mexico City; in fact, I think certain FDA requirements make it impossible. And you can’t touch the price. It’s unlikely, too, to be able to find truly enjoyable menudo (cow intestine), grasshopper guacamole, corn fungus or cucaracha (an entire shrimp deep fried in spicy tempura batter). We found, and happily devoured, each. Journey to Mexico City and you will eat like royalty if not like a god.

Slowly cooking pork for tacos al pastor.

2 a.m., 2 tacos al pastor, $2. Too perfect.

Hot sauce on everything. Chips no exception.

Camaron Cucaracha

Fried kosher quesadillas prepared on the sidewalk in 60 seconds.

A traditional corn-based Mexican breakfast pastry served with creme.

A cart of fresh fruit, ripe for the picking.

Once again, hot sauce served on everything.

The Markets
I don’t think it a stretch to say the promise of collecting a truckload of inexpensive goods at market is a significant, if not the primary, draw for many Americans visiting Mexico’s urban cities. As a collective, the markets were hit or miss. The misses were cheap stands covered in rain drenched tarps and splayed with plastic cell phone cases made in China or bootleg DVDs of bad made-for-tv movies. You are sternly beckoned from the street to take an interest in the tackiest of paraphernalia, and you feel compelled to keep your purse plastered to your side as if it were as dear to you as an arm or other apendage. But the good markets, the hits, are worth risking the misses. There you browse at your leisure through mazes of crisp produce, artisan crafts or festive clothing, and the vendors are friendly rather than forceful. The prices are fair and people watching sublime.

The History
Every nation has its story, but tales of the people that lived and the events that unfolded in Mexico City seem to be exceptionally compelling. There are the familiar, but still intriguing, tales of dictators erecting ornate monuments in their own honor, destructive and widespread colonization, and brave native heroes. And then there are the slightly more unique bits of Mexican folklore. Indigenous lords sacrificed losers of sporting events to the gods; leader Porfirio Diaz had a quirky affinity for painting himself white; Frida Kahlo showed a bizarre talent for depicting pain; and jilted presidential candidate Andrés Manuel López Obrador led a 3-month civil resistance campaign in Zócalo—the heart of Mexico City—after losing an election by half a percent. The stories are wild, and with more museums to its name than any other destination on the planet, you can fill up on them in Mexico City.

Heath in front of the Museo Nacional de Antropología

At the museum, Heath stands next to Lucy, the world’s oldest person.

Chapultepec Castle

Heath poses in front of a mural in Chapultepec Castle

This mural is painted on the ceiling of Chapultapec Castle and depicts the story of 17-year-old Juan Escutia who, wrapped in the Mexican flag, jumped from the top of Castle to his death during the Battle of Chapultapec to evade capture.

Heath stands before the ruins of Pyramid of the Moon in Teotihuacan, a city established in 100 BC and that flourished up until the 7th or 8th centuries when an internal uprising is thought to have caused its demise.

Taking a breather on top of the Pyramid of the Moon

Heath practices his moves on the ancient ball court.

Alex gives us a history lesson on the Pyramid of the Sun.

The architecture in Zocalo was very impressive, but as Santi said, “a democracy could never have built this.” Dictators certainly know how to make their mark on history.

Santi gets Heath up to date on some of the history of Zocalo.

The haunting Diego Rivera museum was exceptionally weird. The eccentric artist had it built to house his private collection of more than 5,000 indigenous artifacts.

The view from the top of the museum allowed for a contemplative view of the city.

Frida Kahlo’s house was little more my speed, with its lively color and tropical courtyards.

Frida Kahlo’s House

Frida and Diego’s Courtyard

The Architecture
Many of the city’s historic buildings and plazas were designed and modeled after some of the greatest cities in Europe, which gives many facades an intricate, ornate and Gothic texture. Simultaneously, there are are an abundance of structures that take on very modern characteristics. Clean lines, flat surfaces and exceptional use of light give many spaces  an airy and minimalistic quality. The Santa Fe neighborhood boasts sky scrappers of marble, geometric in design. Some structures there more closely resemble futuristic  washing machines than a usable public space. And intermingled with them all are mansions made of mosaic tile and modest clay dwellings painted like Easter eggs. The city is wildly eclectic and homes and buildings vary in style from house-to-house, neighborhood-to-neighborhood. No matter your personal preference in architectural styles, there’s something to love on the skyline.

Chapultepec Park and Castle were all about structures adorned in intricate details and bold shapes.

The old neighborhood of Coyoacan was mainly populated with bright red, blue and yellow homes and cafes.

While still very grand, the church in the old Coyoacan neighborhood was very modest compared to the stuff of Zocalo.

The Polanco Neighborhood was much more modern. Most homes had walls of windows and terraces with tropical gardens.

The style downtown is traditional, European and stately.


The architecture on the campus of the National Autonomous University of Mexico resembled Modern Art as much as it did collegiate buildings.

The skyline as seen from the Anthropology Museum

The People
The culture of Mexico City is baroque through and through. The food is made more flavorful with liberal use of citrus and pepper. The colors on the streets and in the people’s art are explosive, and the history is gruesome and romantic, tragic and complex. But all of those elements are so because of the people who created them. There is no other country where I have been received so warmly as in Mexico. Strangers kiss you on the cheek on first introductions and mariachis serenade you on the streets and in bars. Mexicans will debate you when they disagree and praise you when they are in good company. They are bound to their indigenous roots while  welcoming foreign ideas. They value loyalty and family and friendship and are the reason why this city is so enchanting.

Our week-long adventure in the city was more gratifying than I could have imagined. Of course, the city is not without it’s flaws. The lack of access to safe drinking water took its toll on us after we made our 2438243 purchase of bottled water, and the people’s wild driving habits were chaotic if not comical. From above, I imagine the city’s traffic patterns more closely resemble ants running frantically from a squashed mound than an organized system of transit in one of the world’s largest urban centers. Here, lanes–where they exist–are viewed more as arbitrary suggestions than actual guidelines. There were some public areas which charged for use of their restrooms (a practice that, to me, seemed simultaneously criminal but genius), and sometimes when walking the city’s cobblestone streets you can get whiffs of some offensive odor in the right wind, which urged Alex to tell us that Mexico City seems to always smell like either lime or garbage. Some areas are plagued with devastating poverty and parts of the political system are horrendously corrupt. It’s not a perfect city and there is room for much improvement.

Why Mexico City? It’s a city of beauty, one that feels like it was built inside a garden. In engaging with its citizens, dining on its cuisine and absorbing the beauty of its environment we were filled with wonder and curiosity and life.

Boats of Xochimilco

*It is imperative we note how influential Alex, Santi and his sister Maria Ines were during our Mexico City tenure. This remarkable trio listened with patience to our insufferable Spanish, provided thoughtful responses and insight to our endless barrage of questions about Mexican culture and showed us an intimate view of the city. Without their thoughtful guidance and kind hearted nature, we would not have experienced the city with nearly the same gusto. 


Heath visits The Big Apple

Heath turned another year older this month, and to commemorate the epic day that was his birth, he packed his bags and headed to NYC to visit his bff Eric. It was his first trip to NY, NY but he came back all smiles and, frankly, twitterpated over his long weekend in the city.

Behold: the city as seen through his iPhone.

The Architecture
 

 

 

 
The Nightlife

 

The Parks
 

The Subway



The Gardens
 

 


 

The Skyline

The Museums




 

And, of course, the people.

Thanks for showing Heath a good time.

Next stop, Mexico City!

 


And with that, wedding season has come to a close.

This spring/summer has been very wedding-centric for we two, but alas it has come to a close (at least until September), and we made a point to go out with a bang. For the season finale, we attended the nuptials of Dan and Destiny who paired traditional elements with some pretty off-the-wall ones. I thought I had seen the coup de grâce of wacky wedding fare after Eric and Lisa tied the knot last September; their big day featured a midnight snack of breakfast tacos, a venue named after a haircut, multiple live music performances and iPod parting gifts. This event didn’t incorporate those elements, but there was badminton, snow cones and a wedding reception held at a swimming hole.

The Town
D & D got hitched on her family’s land out in Ingram, Texas (which is near Kerville, which is near nothing). The location is one Destiny had always singled out as her future wedding day destination long before Dan even came into the picture. Lucky for Dan (and for us), she chose well. Ingram was a treat to behold.

Getting to Ingram from Austin entails a 3-hour drive though some of Texas’ smaller towns, but it’s a pretty one that winds through Texas’ version of wine country and passes through historical landmarks, like Johnson City (birthplace of LBJ). So getting to the wedding festivities was actually half the fun.

The Ceremony
Dan and Destiny, or Danstiny as I shall call them for the remainder of this post, were lucky to have family with astonishingly beautiful hill country property. But getting all the guests from their respective lodging accommodations to a hilltop located smack dab in the middle of a 700 acre sprawl is not an easy feat. Guests met at a bunk house located at the foot of the hill and were then transported via limousine party bus to the ceremony site. The drive was windy and rugged, and with zebra and deer roaming the country side to the left and right of the bus, the whole event seemed more the stuff of an African safari than a Texas girl’s wedding. The combination of Beyonce songs being blasted from limousine speakers along with sightings of families of deer made for an interesting juxtaposition.

The hilltop where the couple said “I do” was remarkable and benefited from a breeze that kept guests from sweating through their britches. The couple wrote their own vows and kept the whole affair short and sweet.

The Reception
After the ceremony, guests were shuttled to the family swimming hole. And though her family titled it as such, the spot was less like a “hole” (which made me expect to find a muddy mess that perhaps was once a lake, but in these times of drought would more closely resemble a puddle) and more like the private swimming quarters of Texas royalty. Beautiful stonework surrounded a pristine blue pool that overlooked garden lights, green lawn and beautiful native terrain.

The couple were received with splashes of lavender seeds which sent an aroma through the air that lingered throughout the reception, and they celebrated with Texas BBQ and hill country wine. Wedding cake flavored snow cones were served to children and jars of homemade jellies and preserves were passed out to guests as they arrived (Heath and I snatched some Apple Butter to enjoy at home). Those who wanted to, swam, and those who preferred to stay dry hung out in the biergarten where Danstiny had arranged to entertain friends and family with a bean bag toss, card games, Chinese Checkers and badminton (which allowed Heath to say the word “shuttlecock” more times than I would have preferred).

The affair was personal and romantic and perfectly picturesque.  I will remember it fondly and file it away as one of the more unique and inspiring celebrations of love I have been privileged to witness.

Fare thee well spring wedding season, and onward with summer vacation!


Movie Night

There are few rituals Health and I abide by religiously: one is watching every game of Heath’s favorite sports team The Dallas Cowboys, one is playing foosball to decompress after work, and one is attending a weekly ceremony appropriately known as Movie Night.

Movie night started as Mad Men Mondays–a time when friends would come together to mooch off each other’s cable television and watch the previous night’s episode of Mad Men. But then the show went on an extensive hiatus and we were still itching for some way to pass the time with dinner and TV. (No books of course. A book club would be way to classy for the likes of us.) Thus, Movie Night was born.

Movie Night has become a staple for we doodlers for several reasons. First and foremost, it gets us out of the house and prevents us from being weird anti-social hermit crabs. (This is extremely important as Heath and I can often get sucked into home improvement projects and forget the rest of the world exists. We even bailed on SXSW this year to redo our kitchen, so it’s sort of a problem.) Second, it’s a terrific way to see films I probably never would have known existed, much less watched, on my own. Third, like watching an episode of Lost, we get some pretty good backstories on our friends. Selected movies are usually given some context for why they were chosen—whether it was a Christmas-time family tradition, a film that had an impact, changed someones way of thinking, etc. You can learn a lot about someone based on their movie choice for this most precious of traditions.

As you may have presumed, Movie Night operates as follows:

  • A different person volunteers to host each week
  • A specialized cuisine is prepared by the host (sometimes related to the film, sometimes not)
  • A film is selected, screened, and discussed.

One truly enjoyable aspect of the ritual, is there are virtually no limitations or parameters set for what type of film can be screened. We’ve viewed everything from Ding-a-ling-Less, the part-comical, part-bizarre story of a fictional man who is, well, minus one ding-a-ling, to Waltz with Bashiran astonishingly original animated documentary about the 1982 Lebanon war. (And oddly enough, both were chosen by the same Movie Night Patron.) Having no guidelines, no theme, no confines from which to operate within has allowed for some wonderful cinematic experiences that have been eye opening, contemplative, riotous, thoughtful and other diverse but intriguing adjectives.

I’ve started to view movie night as more than just a weekly social gathering. On paper, I suppose that’s the gist of it, but for me personally it has taken on a greater role. While not a totally original concept (I know, dinner-and-a-movie is a classic date-nightish staple in American culture), this weekly gathering of friends, communal cooking, humorous reflections and fresh cinematic experiences will forever be engrained in my memory as unique custom specific to a truly remarkable stage of my life. Most of us are existing in a weird, post-college transitional stage where we’ve all disembarked, in one form or another, from our own families and family customs but have yet to create our own. So in a sense, Movie Night is my family’s Saturday trip to the public library, my after-school ballet rehearsal, my summer trips to my grandparents’ house. It’s a custom I take great joy in experiencing, but know–like my ballet rehearsals—will eventually come to a close. I aim to cherish it while it’s  here.


Happy Blogiversary!

Today marks two years of blogging from the doodle house!

Documenting our lives and sharing the things that have entertained and inspired us has been tremendously rewarding. The blog has been a place where I can be creative and goofy and honest, and I’m so happy to have found such joy in this little hobby.

Some highlights of what we’ve done and seen in the last two years…

We added chickens to our family….

And we took some chickens away…

We got married!

And honeymooned…

We got our feet wet with gardening…

We bought a new house!

We traveled…

And traveled…

And traveled a little more…

It’s been a thoroughly eventful two years. There’s no telling what the next two will hold.


A truly Texas wedding

I’ve posted briefly about my beautiful friend Courtney’s pre-wedding festivities, but I’d really be doing a disservice by not gushing about the big day itself, as it was the epitome of a truly Texas wedding*.

*To all my non-Texans, let me explain that by a “Texas Wedding” I do not mean that the aisles were filled with Southern ladies with big hair or that men were shooting pistols in the air when the bride and groom said “I do.” She didn’t ride a horse down the aisle or have a Dallas Cowboys themed wedding cake. When I say Texas wedding, I mean it highlighted all the things I love about being from Texas: a picturesque countryside, warm weather, greasy grub, and pride in your family’s roots and rituals. 

From the minute Courtney and David got engaged, Courtney knew the only place she could see herself getting married was in her parents’ backyard. They live on a couple acres of rolling green prairie a few miles outside of our hometown of Denton. I squealed when Courtney told me. In Denton, there are few places prettier than Courtney’s house, and no place more fitting for the strawberry blonde tomboy-turned-tender to tie the knot.

The day she and David became betrothed was indubitably perfect. The breeze was strong enough that it cooled the air and kept mosquitos at bay, but not so strong that it blew our carefully crafted coifs off kilter. A string quartet played traditional wedding hymns as she descended the aisle, and two matching flower girls led the way, leaving silky white rose petals in their path. Truthfully, the ceremony was so perfectly put together, it felt almost like I had been cast in a David’s Bridal commercial. How could a ceremony really be that serene?

Photo by Kelly Kate Photography

As is customary, a reception followed. Courtney’s was beneath a tent, its ceiling festively adorned with lights. The sun set behind them as they shared their first dance, and then guests celebrated with frozen margaritas, beer and barbecue. When it came time to dance, the groomsmen loosened their ties while the the bridesmaids traded their heels for sparkly Tom’s gifted to us by the bride. At the end of the night the bride and groom boarded a limo and rode together to their new home.

Photo by Kelly Kate Photography

On paper, the wedding was very traditional, and I think that’s why I loved it so. Texans are big on tradition and keeping things at a certain status quo, which usually jerks my chain, but not today.

When I got married, there were particular elements I knew I wanted or didn’t want based on what was considered “customary” wedding fair. I made a stink about not wanting a lingerie shower and opted to forgo a bouquet toss in favor of more dance time. I knew I wanted to walk myself down the aisle and I banned country music from being played at my reception. I prided myself on being what I thought was a quirky, outside-the-box, not your average-old-everyday-bride.

But Courtney and David’s wedding made me see “traditional” doesn’t always equal cliche. Their wedding felt truly genuine. Though following old traditions can sometimes feel tired or trite, there’s a place for things that have been handed down. There’s value in reliving the same customs as your mother, grandmother, and so on. It’s not about copying what’s been done before or following a pre-determined path of what’s expected or appropriate. Traditions become traditions for a reason; they can pay tribute while being personal and be inventive while following suit. Sure, cake cuttings and champagne toasts have been done before, but who really wants to toast with fresca and cut into wedding casserole anyway?

The bride with Leah and me…a tight-knit trio of gal pals for 10 years.

Cheers to Courtney and David!


Home on the road

Last week I posted about my mini internal struggle with balancing my desire to nest and create a sense of home with my desire to explore and travel and enjoy new experiences. The debate got me thinking about what “home” is in the first place and what things, thoughts, people, food, etc. make me feel  most at home. Heath, for one. And the doodles. Any place where breakfast tacos are attainable within 5 minutes. Yes. Those things feel pretty homey to me.

And then I thought of Laura and Casey. Two friends who know all too well that home can take on various forms. Most recently “home” has been The White Buffalo, an old school bus converted to run on vegetable oil that the Laura and Casey share with fellow Bloodroots Barter bandmates and their dog Roamona when they are on tour.

The Bloodroots Barter and the White Buffalo

The bus has traveled with them all across the North East and while the window views, the weather, the roads and the people are ever changing, the White Buffalo remains a symbol of home.  There’s no flat screen TV or king-sized bed. There’s no wall of family photos or matching curtains or perfectly coordinating vintage decor. Instead, it’s a place of refuge from the stresses of touring, a familiar nook in a sea of the strange, a place to feel safe and comfortable among friends. There is little I can think of more like home than that.

Boarding the White Buffalo

Roamona on board the White Buffalo

Jamming out on the White Buffalo

Laura behind the wheel

A tight squeeze

While the White Buffalo won’t be home to the BRB forever, it’s been a beautiful symbol of how home is a state of mind.