market at Parque Alameda Central

The extraordinary Palacio de Bellas Artes (see “sights”) abuts the oldest park in the city, the Parque Alameda Central, originally an Aztec marketplace, and now, one of Mexico City’s most popular hangouts.  The large sprawling park is somewhat confusing because its crisscrossing paths intersect at locations that all look the same!  Viceroy Don Luis de Velasco established the Alameda park in 1590 on the site of the old Aztec market, and named it after the poplar trees which resided there.  A brief stroll through Parque Alameda Central will show you that it has never lost its mojo for shopping!

We can highly recommend this destination if you are in the market for antique books, vintage clothing (including 1970’s crocheted ponchos), or even weird customized baby dolls turned into small demon children!  Doug happened to pick up a great enameled belt buckle of a Mexican wrestler that is the envy of all of his friends back home!   Of course, the park is also dotted with vendors selling less desirable items, everything from plain old socks to bootlegged DVD's to mounds of "mole poblano.”  You want a deal on dried fruits, sides of cow tongue, or gum drops?  Then Parque Alameda Central is certainly the place to be!  One enterprising market man sold his cans of ice cold Coca-Cola direct from a block of ice in the middle of winter!  Gotta love it.
We returned to the Parque Alameda Central's vendor carts at night and were blown away by the cavalcade of food carts jockeying for attention! We could not decide if it was time for some pancakes with jelly or a wad of "algodón azucarado," traditional cotton candy made in a steel barrel that resembles a garbage can! We almost took a chance on the roasted corn with lime, but ultimately settled on the fresh churros filled with delicious creams of choice!

Parque Alameda Central       marketplace - Centro, Ciudad de  México, Distrito Federal, México

El Bazaar Sábado (San Ángel)

On Saturday it was time to check out the much-publicized "El Bazaar Sábado" in the picturesque southern neighborhood of San Ángel.  A festive and bountiful shopping experience, El Bazaar Sábado is held each week along the triangular Plaza de San Jacinto, which even in the middle of winter, was draped in lovely foliage.  The street bazaar is full of artisans selling their pottery, masks, paintings, clothes... really just about anything you can imagine!  The difference though for this market, as compared to the one at Parque Alameda Central (see above), was that the stuff here was really quite unique and of much higher quality.  We purchased some really cool vintage-looking tin Christmas ornaments that featured depictions of skulls, snakes, and the devil (?), while our friend Michele opted for some cool bracelets and a series of gorgeous hand-made puppets for friends and family back home.

One of my favorite stalls featured day-glo mirrors, magnets, jewelry boxes and other household items constructed out of tin cans and wooden shutters.  The unique items were then decopauged with famous images of Mexican folklore, post past and present.  If you are looking for that truly unique “Frida Kahlo” art piece that is not some mass-produced screen-print satchel or bookmark, this is the place to look!

Food stalls alternate amongst the others selling more cultural wares, so if you are hungry you shall not want for very long.  (Fresh pineapple on a stick seems to ring a bell.)  Oh, and there is “groove-spotting” to be done at El Bazaar Sábado, you can be assured!  While waiting for our friends to complete their browsing, we spotted "Beads and Baubles Groove” and "Calico Heidi Groove" all within a matter of minutes!

Set of Drifters tip:  Make sure to look all around before you start dropping those pesos!  There are two section to the market.  The first, lining the plaza’s triangular courtyard, features the larger, more artisanal items like paintings and masks.  The other section, covered with white tents and positioned off to the back of the plaza, is more compact and therefore also more crowded.  (You will know you are in the right place when you find yourselves situated between a couple of gorgeous mansion walled-off compounds.) 

El Bazaar Sábado - San Jacinto 11, San Ángel, Álvaro Obregón, Mexico City, Distrito Federal, 011 (52) 5616 0082

Artesanías Poncho (Teotihuacán)

One of the highlights of our trip to Mexico City was visiting Teotihuacán’s famous pyramids.   Of course there is no shortage of tours leading you to this “Top 10” destination, and while we are usually annoyed by pocketed side trips that are thrown in to appease some booking agent, a jaunt to Artesanías Poncho actually ended up being a nice surprise. 

The complex featured a number of verrrrry large maguey plants in which visitors from around the world had inscribed their names or places of origin.  A guide at the complex showed us the many uses of the maguey plant.  Doug was presented with some of the fiber strands that were ripped off from the leaves.  These strands are known as "pita" and have been used throughout the ages for making rope, matting, or cloth.   Natives even used to use the "pita" as dental floss.  (We all tried this technique to varying degrees of success.)    When the flower stem of the maguey plant is cut without flowering, a sweet liquid called "agua miel" (honey water) gathers in the heart of the plant.  This liquid can then be fermented to produce the drink called "pulque.”

The artisan's store featured a heaping dose of various statuary and jewelry, all of which incorporated the various gemstones mined in the area.  The tour guide must have made some deal with the devil to bring us here as the product here was rather expensive.   Nonetheless, the quality was unlike anything we were to see before or after in Mexico!  The obsidian pieces with gold sheen were dazzling but certainly not in our budget!   Many of the statues were impressive while others were stinkers.  Still, we would imagine that it is a pretty limited market; any large souvenir sold here actually has to be displayed in your house!   What if "large Olmec head" doesn't fit into your design scheme?
What was cool about this place is that you could see the statuary sculptors at work!  Using a little super glue here and there, the artisans fashioned their artifacts and masks from pieces of onyx, mother of pearl, and turquoise.   It was amazing to see how the large sanding belts could produce end results that were so delicate and refined.  If you have a little dough to spend on some fantastic silver rings, bracelets, and necklaces, all with a variety of stone settings, Artesanías Poncho at Teotihuacán is a treat!  This is not the crap that people will be trying to sell you on the street, or along the "Avenue of the Dead" inside the temple complex.   If you have a chance to stop and look, it will definitely be worth your while, and you might even learn something in the process!  You can visit Artesanías Poncho every day from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM.

Artesanías Poncho - Av. Belén No. 5, Sta. María Coatlán, México, 011 (52) 956 0277

TocaMadera (San Ángel)

While shopping in the San Ángel district, make sure to check out the fabulous store Toca Madera!   We could have gone absolutely crazy in here, spending our hard-earned dinero on the amazing artisan objects, one-of-a-king wood-worked furniture pieces and quirky home accessories.  Instead, we used will power.   (Set of Drifter Brady relegated himself to just one nice art book about Surrealist artist Remedios Varo, who spent much of her career in Mexico City.)

TocaMadera will ship to your home if you end up buying something larger than you can place in your roll-on case!  Added bonus?  The shopkeeper of the chic Toca Madera art/ design store was really sweet, and certainly proud of her store.  Take some time to chat with her if you have the time.  For more on shopping in San Ángel, see above. 

TocaMadera - Plaza San Jacinto núm. 15, San Ángel, Mexico City, Distrito Federal,      011 (52) 5616 4748