In the heart of Mexico City’s La Merced neighborhood, at #25 Manzanares (on the corner with the the Manzanares callejon or alleyway in English), there is a house with a wooden door that looks completely inconspicuous. Vendors amble past with their wares, drunks take a nap in the shade out front and devoted Catholics make their way to the city’s smallest church just down the street. This is the city’s oldest house, the only still standing from the 16th century.
If you walk the Merced neighborhood’s Alhondiga street north to its end, on your righthand side you will see a small bridge. Water no longer runs beneath its cement surface, its canal is now filled with homeless people and the supplies of nearby street vendors. But this point in the system of canals in pre-hispanic Mexico City was where vendors from outside farms and regions of the city would come to sell within the city’s borders, and the building in front of the bridge is the old city’s grainery.
Above what is now a restuarant with typical Mexican dishes and snacks, is the apartment where beatnik writer William S. Burroughs killed his wife Joan Vollmer in a game of William Tell – with a pistol. Rumors have always spread about whether it was intentional or accidental, the only thing for sure is that Burroughs said it changed his life forever and he would have never become a writer if it hadn’t been for Joan and her death. The restuarant below used to house the Bounty Bar, a popular hang out with ex-pats of the era and the apartment upstairs was rented by a few foreigners.
Part of the now dry hydralic system built in the 50s to receive the water of the Lerma River and distribute it to Mexico City, the Cárcamo de Dolores is home to the Diego Rivera mural, “Water, origin of life” – thought to be submerged in the water that arrived at the Cárcamo. This incredible piece of poluar art can now been seen in the second section of the Chuapultepec park but is hardly ever seen by tourists, unaware of its existence.
Some Mexicans are born here and some are made. Remedios Varo was adopted as a native daughter by many and created the bulk of her more mature work in Mexico City, where she lived out the last days of her short life. Her tiny apartment at #76 Alvaro Obregon street in Colonia Roma still stands – the remaining crumbling building between newer apartments and shops. There is no plaque to mark her ever existing there, but her truest fans know this where they can come and pay homage, imagining her sitting at her studio window all the way at the top, visible from the street.
Discovered during the excavation for the Pino Suarez metro, this tiny pyramid was a pre-hispanic shrine to Ehécatl, the Mexican god of the wind. These days, millions of commuters pass the small ruins every day on their way past. The work on its excavation was begun in 1967 and what was uncovered were many offerings inside this shrine, including the famous “La Monita” a carved figure, painted in red and black, with the Ehecatl mouth mask. There are two serpents are part of the sculpture, one coiled at the base and the other that becomes the tail. Because of its location in one of the world’s busiest metros, this archeological site is one of the most visited in Mexico – even if its visitors barely give it a second glance.
If you get off the CDMX metro at the Popotla stop on line 2, walk a few blocks north to the Parque Cañitas, on the Calzada México-Tacuba you will see a church and if you cross the street you will come upon what is left of the Arbol de la Noche Triste (The tree of the night of sadness). This tree, which vandals tried to burn down one night in the 1908s, was, according to legend, the place where Cortez sat and wept in the middle of the night when half his forces where killed by Aztecs fighters as he fled from the Mexica Capital on the 30th of June, 1520.
Another unmarked home in Colonia Roma, Leonora Carrington lived out a very long life in this Mexico City neighborhood, dying in 2011. She was an exceptional surrealist artist in her own right, as well as supporting other local artists in their pursuits, in particular Remedios Varo and Kati Horna, her two dear friends. Whispers have been heard about turning Chihuahua 194 into a cultural center, but if you pass it these days you will see that the construction flurry of the Roma has caught up this property as well and it will most likely be turned into condos with its resident never knowing about the amazing woman who once lived there.
For true fanatics of this surrealist legend, visiting her gravesite might be an incredibly important pilgrimage to make – and yet, they may have already made it. Turns out that Kahlo’s ashes reside in an urn in her Blue House, now a musuem to her life in the leafy streets of Coyoacan. Her famous ashes now reside in a pre-hispanic clay pot in her room, shaped like a toad, which she was fond of called Diego Rivera, like her partner.
Tucked away in the Colonia San Rafael, the Cine Opera was the stage for some of the most incredible debuts of Mexican film in its golden era. The theater was closed in the 2000s and has remained so as the building crumbles around itself. The interior of this theater that was once the height of Art Deco decadance is now littered with trash and trees that have fought their way in through the cracks in the door.
In Mexico City’s Colonia Tabacalera, at #49 Emparan street, you will find a small plaque commemorating the meeting of two great characters in the history of Latin America – Che Guevara and Fidel Castro. In apartment C, Raul Castro introduced his younger brother Fidel to Ernesto “Che” Guevara for the first time in 1955. They proceeded to talk for 10 hours straight and by the end of the conversation the men were bound in a friendship that would last a lifetime and the beginning of a revolution was taking root.