I was warned not to walk around Mexico City at night. Yet one evening I decided to wander to the Tequila and Mezcal Museum and watch the sunset from the rooftop bar. I tasted tequilas and mezcals (a hard liquor specific to Mexico and the poorer, rougher, cousin of tequila) while watching a city square known for mariachi bands. At the bottom of one shot glass of smokey mezcal I found a Christian cross imprinted on the bottom. A reminder that religion, warmth with a bite, and the delicious hint of char were woven inextricably together throughout Mexico.
The mariachi bands of four to five musicians would roam around and then, as the sun dipped even lower, couples would come out to stroll and enjoy the evening. Every so often a gentleman would wave over some mariachis and pay them to sing to him and his sweetheart. The music was a driving strum of the guitar, the wail of a singer, and powerful harmonies that demanded your attention on the most important of subjects: Love. Country. Loss.
Eventually, emboldened by the tequila and mezcal, I too made my way down to the square and hired a band to sing to me. Not before flirting with the sweet singer, of course, whose brother musicians watched on and elbowed each other with knowing looks.
By then it was completely dark and I was now fully in the world that most guidebooks discourage Westerners from exploring. Indeed, as I had been walking to the square I had seen at least forty uniformed police officers gathering in another square for the night’s briefing. A show of force that would be shocking back in the US. And yet within my square there were lovers, musicians, and cafes and restaurants preparing for a gentler evening. It was hard to reconcile what I had heard and what I saw. But I took my host’s advice and walked back along the larger, busier roads. Which is how I stumbled across the Palacio de Bella Artes, the primary theater in the city and an extraordinary exterior. Not to mention another popular square for young couples to visit away from their parents’ prying eyes.