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It's a jungle out there

One interesting aspect of Mexico City is the markets, and I have been told that to understand a people, you must observe their markets. In a city this big (the third biggest urban agglomeration on the Earth, behind Tokyo and New York), there are many, many tianguis (a Mexican word derived from Nahuatl), formal and informal.

The smallest markets are the ones where a guy has thrown a sheet out on the foot path and started selling whatever.

Most every metro station has its own informal collection of stalls, of which the only constants are beaded jewelry and food. At these, you can buy tacos dorados, the fried flute-type tacos, and only true hardshell tacos. A friend of a friend, a Japanese who has been living here for five years, recently had a hefty hospital stay from eating tacos carnitas, made with the vísceras (yep, the internals) of a pig. She got out and went right back to the street food. But, at the metro markets, you can find all manner of random things: model kits, alarm clocks, shoes, drug paraphernalia, tulips, or whatever the vendor has found supply of somewhere.

The larger, more formal markets, tend to have a theme. For example, the Ciudadela, which is in far and away the nicest commercial part of town I have found (it looks akin to the nicer cities north of the border), is the souvenir market. There, you get everything from pyramids made of malachite chips in resin, to prints of famous photos from the 1910 revolution, to t-shirts, nice jewelry and leather goods, and even swords (curse you, Strayan nanny state! I want swords!).

Coyoacán has a good general market attached to a fish and meat market (no, not a sleazy night club), as well as a large artisan market, and San Ángel has a similar Saturday artisan market, but with more of a focus on paintings. The artists sit there and paint while people browse.

However, the king of markets is at Tepito. Since I arrived here, I have been told to stay away, as this is the Barrio Bravo, the rough neighbourhood, and it has been dodgy since before the Spanish arrived. My usual experience is that withing two generations, a suburb goes from bad to good, as the poor die off and their property is sold cheaply to young up-and-comers. Here, a place can remain seedy for over half a millennium. Being that Tepito has the cities largest air market, and a serious criminal element, the saying goes “en Tepito todo se vende menos la dignidad” (in Tepito everything is sold except for dignity).

I had already been to Tepito, without knowing, because this is where the shrine to Santa Muerte is. Pavel, a colleague from the Czech Republic, is obsessed with the worst parts of the city. Thus, when Naomi's bag had vanished on the way back from Cuba, containing my camera charger, Pavel and I decided that obtaining a replacement was a satisfactory excuse to investigate this most suspect of locales.

So, in broad daylight, fully prepared with nothing on our persons except for cash in our socks, not even house keys in our pockets, Pavel and I took the metro to Tepito. We even learnt new Spanish for the occasion: what to say if we had already been robbed and had nothing to give when robbed again. After we left, Naomi asked our flat mate Alex if we were coming back, and his reply was

“..... No”.

The market in Tepito certainly does have much. Starting at the east end, we found electronic goods, appliances, cosmetics and the like. Heading west, these gave way to clothes, and then pirated computer games, and then pirated DVDs, and finally after a couple of kilometers, serious hardcore pirated DVD porno, with midgets and stuff. There were even stalls to sell sleeves and cases to the stalls that sell DVDs. Pavel had done his research, and thus we stayed away, as best we could, from the parts of the market which sell drugs or weapons.

Reaching the end and heading to the metro, we found that, bizarrely, after all that preparation we were slightly disappointed there was no incident. The only thing I found disturbing about the whole thing was that there were children walking past the porn section.

There are certain small sections of society here that view Tepito as a precious and misunderstood place. It does have its own slang and ways, but some people tend to paint it as a precious flower under siege from evil developers and politicians, downplaying or twisting the unchecked crime and corruption there. The type of people who write about this tend to be the worst of humanities types who say things like “Shaped by the formal categories in which I was trained, my questions lacked pertinence” and then tell of their enlightenment when the learn Tepito is a magical land that should not be subjected to the arbitrary rules of The Man. Now, of course I am not an expert, but it seems to me that what they miss is that these evil developers really don't exist in most of the city; there are more buildings than not that aren't fully completed and are in decay. Developers tend to finish things so there is profit.

This lunar cycle

April 2015
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