Horses big and small


This bronze equestrian statue of Charles V of Spain was made by Manuel Tolsá between 1796 and 1803. Tolsá, a Spaniard, came to Mexico in 1790 and became professor of sculpture at the San Carlos Academy, which throughout much of Mexican history was the country's most prestigious art school. Tolsá was something of a Renaissance man, briefly in charge of Mexico City's drainage and water supply system, and the replanting of the flora of the Alameda Central.

After Independence, the statue, known as el caballito (the little horse) galloped all over: it moved to the National University, then to the intersection of Paseo de la Reforma and Avenida Juárez, and then to the plaza outside the National Museum on Calle Tacuba, where it is pictured above.


Back at Reforma and Juárez, since 1992, another statue, much larger and semi-abstractly shaped like a steed's cranium, has replaced the little horse. Formally called "The Horse's Head," it is nicknamed el caballote (the big horse). Metallic, a hundred feet tall and painted banana yellow, its author is Enrique Carbajal, aka "Sebastián," whose pieces are in museums in Mexico, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the U.S.

Believe the hype


In First Stop in the New World, in a chapter about eating in Mexico City, I wrote that the best food here is found in stalls on the sidewalk, in markets and cantinas. I still stand behind that statement, although there are exceptions. One of them is Pujol, my favorite white-tablecloth restaurant in town. The young chef, Enrique Olvera, has been written up in food magazines around the world; in my opinion, justifiably so.

For the tenth anniversary of Pujol, Olvera has published a book which includes 100 recipes and various essays, including one by yours truly. For information about how to obtain it, click onto his website and call the restaurant.

The chef tends to dissect and deconstruct time-honored Mexican dishes. For instance, his version of mole de olla -- a traditional soup with meat and vegetables -- is served dry on a plate, its ingredients grilled, sauteed and separated from each other. Squash flowers, instead of being stuffed inside a quesadilla, are served hot and liquefied in a glass, topped with a creamy foam and cinnamon, as "capuccino."

His robalito al pastor is a fancy version of a taco you can find on nearly any street corner for five pesos. The Pujol version is, of course, considerably more expensive. Olvera uses sea bass instead of pork, cured with chile, orange juice, garlic and annato, embellished with a pineapple flavored buerre blanc, and cilantro, chile and lemon ground together in a molcajete.

If you have the money to blow on one expensive meal while you are in Mexico City, this is the place to go. It's at calle Francisco Petrarca, 254, in Polanco.

In the photo above, a bodyguard whose charge is dining inside the restaurant is reticent before the camera.

Stories behind a market


Opened in 1935, the Abelardo Rodríguez market is named after a nearly-forgotten man who served as president of Mexico for two years (and was really a puppet for Plutarco Elías Calles, a former president who remained the power behind the throne).

What little I know about Rodríguez sounds like the stuff of a novel. From the northern state of Sonora, he did not even finish primary school. He worked as a miner, in a hardware store, and as a baseball player before joining up with the Mexican Revolution. His most significant legacy was to lengthen the presidential term from four to six years, even though two were plenty for him.

The market, in the centro on the corner of calles Venezuela and Rodríguez Puebla, is one of the few left in Mexico City that was built before World War II. Some of its walls and ceilings are decorated with Socialist themed murals painted by various young artists who studied under Diego Rivera, including Antonio Pujol, Pablo O'Higgins, Marion Greenwood and Isamu Noguchi.

Noguchi had already established himself in New York and Paris before coming to Mexico, and while working with Rivera, would have a passionate affair with Rivera's wife, Frida Kahlo. His mural is on the upper floor of the market, which was closed at my last visit. Sadly, all the art work has decayed with the passage of the decades, but a process of restoration is in progress.

Museum of murdered matadors


One night not long ago, the manager of a cantina called La Faena in the centro told me the place had been around for 40 years. But even the glasses look older than that. Many cantinas are decorated to reflect a passion for bullfighting but La Faena, at Calle Venustiano Carranza 49, is the bullfight cantina por excelencia.


There are mosaic tiles, clay molding and the coats of arms of various Mexican states in relief. It is huge and there are almost never any clients in evidence, which gives it a solemn, almost funereal air. So it's a good option to meet someone with whom you would prefer not to be seen, or fifty of your closest friends.

What is most fascinating about La Faena is a series of showcases, inside of which are an exhibition of bullfighters' costumes, which belonged to well known matadors (like Juan Belmonte and El Soldado) as well as long-forgotten novices. The suits are so decrepit they appear to me crumbling into dust before your eyes.