Russian magic at Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes

Thinking of the name St. Petersburg evokes images of grand palaces, snowy streets and fuzzy wintercoats, but also of worldly museums and elegant dancers. A cultural hotspot for centuries, the city has produced a significant number of ballet ensembles, orchestras and composers.The artists of St. Petersburg undeniably match the city’s architectural grandeur. It has bred preeminent composers such as Igor Stravinsky and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, while also being the home of prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, who headed the Imperial Russian Ballet, now known by the name Mariinsky Ballet after the theatre that houses it.

The Mariinsky orchestra, performing on the 1st of March, 2016, in the Palacio de Bellas Artes

While Russia may seem a little faraway, fortunately a little bit of Russian magic hit Mexico City in its early March days, as the orchestra accompanying the Mariinsky Ballet, aptly named Mariinsky Orchestra, performed for three consecutive days at the Palacio de Bellas Artes. They could not have chosen a better place to perform, as the Bellas Artes is probably the closest thing Mexico City has matching the splendour of St. Petersburg’s palaces. One of the historic center’s landmarks, it is the embodiment of the capital’s early 20th century’s Art Deco and Art Nouveau waves. The palace’s opulent exterior can mostly be characterized as Art Nouveau, while the inside is more influenced by the Art Deco style.

The marble facade of the Palacio de Bellas Artes

This difference in styles can be attributed to the construction history of the Palacio de Bellas Artes. The original design as well as the initial construction period (1910-1913) was entirely lead by Italian architect Adamo Boari, but then put to halt due to engineering complexities relating to the soft subsoil as well as problems brought about by the Mexican Revolution. The subsequent construction and interior design was continued in 1934 by Mexican architect Federico Mariscal, one of the leading architects of his time.  He favoured the Art Deco style, and made use of white Italian Carrara marble, as had done Boari for the facade of the building, which primarily contains Art Nouveau and Neoclassical influences. The extravagant facade includes sculptures of Italian sculptor Leonardo Bistolfi, an enthusiast of Symbolism, as well as sculptures relating to music and inspiration.

The view from above: front-row seats and balcony

Going to the Bellas Artes is worth it for its architectural beauty alone. It stands imposingly on a large plaza bordered by the Alameda central park, and bright colourful lights illuminate it at night. In addition to its magnificent architecture, it also boasts some of Mexico’s most fascinating murals by Mexican legends such as Rufino Tamayo and Diego Rivera. Even the elevators are splendid, as is the main entrance, with its imposing marble stairs. Most importantly however, it also functions as Mexico City’s most prominent podium for the fine and performing arts, hosting art and photo exhibitions as well as being the stage for some of today’s most prestigious international orchestra, and theatre and ballet ensembles.This prestige was indeed also exemplified by the breathtaking show delivered by the internationally acclaimed Mariinsky orchestra, who performed bits of the oeuvre of Shostakóvich and Rajmaninóv. It was a musical delight, to the point that one would have gotten goosebumps had it not been so ridiculously hot inside of the theatre. The fact that they got a seemingly endless standing ovation should say it all.

My beauty of a friend

We had been expecting to see the infamous Russian conductor Valery Gergiev, who is a living legend, and were slightly disappointed when it turned out he would only lead the orchestra on the third performance night. We were all the more (positively!) surprised when we saw the impeccable, only 28-year old Elim Chan lead the orchestra with tireless passion. Born and raised in Hong Kong, she is the first female conductor to have won the Donatella Flick LSO conducting competition. Her young age makes me wonder whether she was also the youngest winner to date, a fact I have not been able to verify. Another positive surprise was Uzbek pianist Behzod Abduraimov, whose approach to playing piano was one of absolute symbiotic power. The interior of the theatre is also absolutely stunning, mostly due to the impacting stage curtain (for lack of a better descriptive word), which consists of a million colourful and iridescent Tiffany’s glass pieces, as well as the beautiful stained glass dome, which boasts depictions of Greek god Apollo and the nine arts muses.

The dome of the principal theatre room, depicting Apollo and his nine muses

I would like to end with a small, rather amusing sidenote: Before entering the palace, my friends and I were stopped by two young blokes who were looking to earn an extra few pesos. We politely declined, not having the spare coins we thought they were requesting but the kids were surprisingly tenacious in wanting to display their musical talents. One of the boys, they assured us, was the king of beatboxing. Hesitant at first, we ultimately agreed to the boy (named Fabian) giving us a little beatboxing show. And heck, he was amazing! We witnessed his entire musical repertoire, from rap to electronic music. If you happen to run into this kid, I recommend you stop for a minute or two and give him the coins we were unable to provide him with. I swear the kid was at least as good as this dude.

The beatbox gang, with on the far right Fabian the beatboxing genius

All in all, the Mexican architectural beauty with a hint of Russian magic made for an for a somewhat different, but unforgettable and highly recommendable weeknight. Ah, and for those of you who wonder why the Mariinsky orchestra received a standing ovation, please check out the link at the bottom of this page. I profess to being incredibly unsavvy when it comes to all things related to tech, explaining why I did not manage embedding the youtube video into this post, haha.

The link: Prokofiev – Symphony No 5 – Gergiev


© All text and pictures by Alexandra Brandt Corstius unless mentioned otherwise

Zona Maco 2016: Art fair impressions

Last weekend I had the privilege to attend Mexico City’s number 1 art event, the Zona Maco art fair, which took place between the 3rd and 7th of February. As usual, the art platform took place in the Banamex Convention Centre, now occupying the entirety of its exhibition hall, an astounding 13,000-squared meters. Despite being a relative newbie to the Mexico and Latin American art scene, I have been able to witness the art fair’s recent development. While last year’s edition was a fun event to attend with a mishmash of good and less qualitative art, this year’s managed to more than positively surprise me. Zelika Garcia, the art fair’s director and her 4-person team, as well as the galleries, delivered a well-organized, clean-cut and visually appealing spectacle. Or could it be due to the hiring of Daniel Garza Usabiaga, chief curator of the Museo del Arte Moderno? Who knows.


The words can be spoken out loud: Zona Maco is quickly consolidating its reputation as Latin America’s prime spot for high quality contemporary art. Yes, it is a low-cost (provided nothing is bought) podium for the capital’s showy high society, but it also displays the continent’s wealth of artistic talent. While the presence of foreign galleries was notable, Mexico’s many art galleries were equally well represented, with stands of the prestigious Galeria de Arte Mexicano (GAM), Galeria OMR, Labor, Luis Adelantado, Kurimanzutto and a good number of less established but qualitative galleries. From the foreign galleries, Paul Kasmin (New York) had a few particularly eye-catching artworks, while Gagosian Gallery (also from the Big Apple) impressed with works by some of its most reputed artists.

Art by Mexican legend Diego Rivera at Galería de Arte Mexicano

Zona Maco is not a platform for the shocking, the absurd and the truly unconventional – although the 2016 edition for the first time dedicated one area (“nuevas propuestas”) to emerging artists. As any art fair, it caters to those that can afford to buy art that is in-demand. It is a place where gallery owners, art collectors, curators, artists and socialites mingle with the common art-lover. Art fair regulars such as Damien “Butterfly” Hirst and Anish Kapoor were obviously well represented, but there nonetheless were a number of interesting proposals among the 123 galleries from 25 different countries, and the overall quality had massively improved from the previous year.


Here’s a small selection of the art pieces that stood out:


1. El Excusado (the Soumaya Toilet, 2016) by Santiago Sierra and Yoshua Okon: the only truly satirical piece. Offers an introspective look at Mexico’s relationship with art, and of course, with money. Poor Carlos Slim and Fernando Romero. (Photo courtesy of E-ter Magazine)


2. Sad Smiley (2012) by Jan Peter Hammer: a neon pop-art interpretation of everything that is wrong with society with a touch of Hello Kitty. There were too many people standing in front of it for me to be able to take a better picture of the smiley, so I am afraid that you will have to do with a reflection, or you can check this out.


3. Tuning (2015) by Iván Navarro: six drums, a few mirrors, electricity and LED light. What more do you want?

When discussing Zona Maco, it is hard not to mention the parties. They are at the heart of the event, and this year was no exception. Zona Maco exceeded itself, hosting parties at places such as the once underground club M.N. Roy (named after the legendary Narendra N. Bhattacharya, founder of the Mexican Communist movement), and the recently opened bar of the capital’s fabulous Four Seasons Hotel, Fifty Mills. They were good parties, a little funky and with the right amount of artsy glitter and cool. That the party hosted at M.N. Roy was hosted by Perrier and not one of the art galleries should be momentarily forgone because, well…


An amusing anecdote might be that while I was happily dancing away to those aforementioned funky tunes, I found myself next to a very well-dressed man wearing a… turban! Considering the utter lack of turban-wearing people in Mexico, his presence clearly caught my eye. Three days later, the same turban-wearing man, who I then found out was a kind of famous actor/style icon/designer, become an overnight news sensation when he was denied access to an Aeromexico flight. Turns out the man had several cameos in Wes Anderson movies, and had once starred in a GAP ad. And now he had found his vocation in defending the rights of the world’s plentiful Sikhs who suffer from racism. An undoubtedly worthwhile cause, but I could not help but notice the irony. Zona Maco, having been bred and born in Mexico City, carries that very same element of surrealism the capital also exudes.

Ice-cream interview

And now to the one question that hinges on everyone’s lips: Should one attend the next edition of Zona Maco? My answer to that is a definite yes, whichever the reason. Should that be the only art-event one attends throughout the year, and in particular, during that week? Of course not. The art fair, as fancy and aesthetically pleasing as it may be, only represents one side of the coin. Latin America, and Mexico in particular, have much more to offer in terms of groundbreaking work, and small, alternative artist collectives abound in the city. But Zona Maco has definitely helped setting Mexico City on the art world map, and the impetus it provides to art in general, be it voluntarily or involuntarily, is hard to neglect.

Galería LABOR

© All text and pictures by Alexandra Brandt Corstius unless mentioned otherwise


The Illustrous Mercado Ernesto Pugibet (El Mercado San Juan for beginners)

Mexico City was recently named number 1. destination to visit by the very distinguished New York Times. As one of the main reasons, the paper names the sheer diversity Mexico City offers – its exact words being: ‘some of the world’s best cuisine, museums and forward-thinking design’. That, and a huge (because, let’s face it, everything about this city is about scale and seeming endlessness) array of all kinds of markets. I know I have already mentioned this in previous blogposts, but Mexico City offers some of the world’s most mind-blowing and authentic markets. Also, did I mention that Carlos Slim owns a 16.8% stake in the New York Times, which makes him the No. 1 single investor in the publisher?

Back to the markets.

la catalana carne frias mercado san juan

Arguably, one of the city’s most famous markets when it comes to all food-related things is El Mercado San Juan. Located right in the middle of the bustling historic centre, it is one of the city’s oldest markets, and hence carries a good load of historical value and relevance. That this seems to be an inherent quality to all things DF should momentarily be forgotten for the sake of coherence. Officially named Ernesto Pugibet, the market is better-known by the name Mercado San Juan, at least among commoners such as myself. Food has been delivered, stored and sold on its grounds for over 150 years, and it is notorious for offering food products that are difficult to obtain elsewhere.


‘One cannot claim to know Mexico City without knowing its markets’, goes the famed quote by the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. The man indeed got us a piece of ageless wisdom right there. It is where the city breathes and where its old restless soul resides. Each visit to the Mercado San Juan unveils another facet of itself, and subsequently of the capital. Another taste, another colour, and therefore also another story. It houses peculiar characters such as the bespectacled, 88-years old lady, the friendly butcher and the family whose entire gene pool is to be found in that one single market.


Also to be found: the typical short-haired and tattooed woman that looks just like the Russian Red from Orange is the New Black, the lost hipster selling exotic juice combinations, and the proud market restaurant owner. Apart from the uncanny characters that inhabit (and frequent) the mercado San Juan, the main spectacle obviously relates to the unmeasurable variety and quantity of food that is on offer. Among others, I was offered Parmesan cheese with providence from Uruguay, creamy goat cheese with maracuya flavour, roasted chapulines (crickets), and an approximately 1.5m (or was it just my imagination?) large rainbow-coloured fish that had been caught the previous day – apparently it is also possible to purchase imported crocodile flesh, although I up to this date have not been able to verify that fact. Next time.


What always astonishes me when I visit markets in – dare I say – developing countries is how well-organized everything is below the chaotic surface. The food is always fresh and above all, tasty, and the setup of the produce is always top-notch, sorted by product type, colour, and god knows what else. It is an ordered, vibrant mess, and that is exactly why I like it. The decoration is also quite striking. Jesus representations are particularly popular, in all their variations, as are vivid piñatas. Christmas decoration is popular all-year round, and plastic sunflowers abound. It is undeniably tacky, so if you are not into that, be warned.


In terms of the stands, one that particularly caught my attention was La Baguette de Manolo. They sell delicacies such as foie gras, French cheese and serrano ham that are otherwise hard or expensive to get, and, as the name says, prepare wonderful baguettes. A family-owned business, they are represented as much as three (!) times, twice with a stand and once with a market restaurant (catch that, Mercado Roma – you’re not as innovative as you pertain to be). Sergio, one of the owners, made us taste the previously-mentioned maracuya cream cheese, which was amazing, and another relative even gave me and my friend a lovely Mexican dessert to take home.


Paradoxically, La Baguette de Manolo is what one would describe as fancy. Their food offering, and red table cloth make for an upscale dining experience, all within market premises. The place is just as worth visiting for the friendliness of their owners as for the delicious food, and seems to have gained a notorious reputation. They have their very own wall of fame, with photographs from the internationally renowned actor Diego Luna to Los Hermanos Almada (legends of old-school Mexican cinema) and a chef called Benjamin, who apparently was responsible for providing the Pope with food during his visits to Mexico. After some exquisite tasting rounds and a little small talk, Sergio, who was all smiles, announced that they were now the proud owners of their own restaurant.


Fearing that we would not find the place by ourselves, one of the market restaurant employees offered to escort us to the place. As absorbed I was by my surroundings and the accompanying opportunities to take photographs, I got lost in the crowds, only to later fnd out I had unknowingly been the cause of a fair amount of panic. Thankfully, we found to each other again, only to be directed up the stairs to the restaurant. It can best be described as a funny experience: you get a 360 degrees view of the market, and while the decoration verges to kitsch, one can see that a lot of heart was put into it. Seeing the endless array of food made us want to take a last walk around the market, before we ventured back outside to the centro historico.


Going to El Mercado San Juan is a feast for the eyes and tastebuds, and every food lover or otherwise curious person who has a little penchant for tackiness should definitely set out to discover it during their stay in the city.


© All text and pictures by Alexandra Brandt Corstius

La Lonja MX – End of the Year Edition

After a little over a year of living in Mexico City, I can say there is one area where the city really shines: markets. There of course are a wealth of traditional markets, such as the famed Mercado de San Juan, or the Mercado de Jamaica, where one can find every kind of flower that possibly exists in Mexico. And then there are the more modern kinds, which are typically called lonja or bazaar.


One such a market is La Lonja MX. The weekend of 12-13 december, La Lonja MX celebrated the end of the year and its 5-year existence in all its glory with a bazaar that showcased the works of over a 120 exhibitors of clothes, design, music, books, furniture, jewellery and last but not least, a mouthwatering selection of drinks (the always-present mezcal, but also cocktails and artisanal beers) and a number of diverse foodstalls. All made in Mexico, as highlighted by the use of the slogan #YoComproMexicano.


Mexican design has lately experienced somewhat of a comeback, with locals taking increasing pride in their heritage, as well as emphasized promotion of the designs of young creatives. La Lonja MX is such a platform: it takes a fresh approach to kickstarting the careers of young Mexican designers, by offering them the space necessary to display their innovative designs. The lonja‘s organisors seem to succeed in their aim. As one friend pointed out, savvy local entrepreneurs and designers indeed are very much aware of the potential impact exhibiting their products at La Lonja MX can have on their brand’s future success.

Untitled 3.jpg

Having visited a fair amount of bazaars and markets in Mexico, I can assure you that this one is different. The designs exhibited have been carefully selected by the organisation behind the event, and this has two important effects. The bracelets, skincare products, lingerie, and pillows on display are almost without exception of great craftmanship, rich in details and made out of beautiful, high-quality materials. That all this comes at a high pricetag is – almost – forgiven. Additionally, the space where the event was held was wonderfully decorated, to the finest detail.

I came across many interesting objects, ranging from designs by current students of the CENTRO design school, over daring dessous, to very hipster graphic design pieces, but also traditional handicrafts sold by indigenous women. This is what I love so much about Mexico: that regardless of how hipster, modern or exclusive the event is, there almost always are touches of the original culture to be found, be it the food served, the design details, or the music played.


Among all these appeals to my senses, I did nevertheless find a few brands that in my opinion stood out. One of those was Bacalar Ukeleles, a young brand that produces 100% Mexican ukeleles, each made by hand and out of walnut-coloured and red cedar wood. By naming the brand Bacalar, after the turquoise-water lagoon of the Riviera Maya, the brand aims at honouring the Hawaian origins of the instrument by naming it after a beach (lagoon?) (Facebook: bacalaruke, IG: @bacalar_uke).


Then there was Hua (@hualingerie), which is a sensual yet very different lingerie brand for the contemporary woman, and the Mexican culture-inspired kitchen staples from Hilo y Barro. Another brand that to me really stood out was CORAMODI, which, besides having a lovely owner and almost affordable prices, sells absolutely wonderful textile products. The owner explained me that they work together with a lady that lives in Hidalgo, the state where the textiles originate from, which makes every single piece by hand. CORAMODI‘s designs, which fuse traditional Mexican art with high-quality sewing techniques, have already won several prestigious prices.


After browsing for a good hour, I came across a few items that I thought would make nice christmas presents – which I obviously bought at the very last minute – hence making me feel extremely fulfilled upon leaving the bazaar (insert wink smiley here). The above, coupled with an exceptionally fashion-conscious and interesting public, made for a very well-spent afternoon.

If you do not want to miss out on La Lonja MX’s next edition, be sure to check the following links:

La Lonja MX
Twitter: @lalonjamx
Facebook: lalonjamx
Instagram: @lalonjamx










© All text and pictures by Alexandra Brandt Corstius

La Posada del Sol: The derelict, long-forgotten but newly discovered city hotel

On Calle Niños Heroes 139, in the precarious neighbourhood La Doctores, nestled between unremarkable foodstalls and messy graffiti, one can find one of Mexico City’s perhaps most interesting abandonded buildings. Its name is La Posada del Sol, and it is a monumental mid-20th century building that blends colonial architecture with Art Nouveau, making for an interesting, if bizarre mismatch of styles. A place worthy of the many rumors it has sparked, it has never been put to its original use, nor inhabited for a lengthy period of time, for fear it might be haunted.



All you adventurous souls, let me tell you this (I apologize beforehand for getting your hopes down): No, you cannot simply walk into this place on a bright, sunlit day. Also, breaking in is probably not the smartest idea, considering the 24-hours presence of a number of grumpy policemen who guard the entrance and patrol through the building’s many deserted corridors. In short, it is not easy to enter this place, and that’s the whole fun of it.

Ok, now that that question is out of the way, let me start the actual post.

On a not so sunlit, but somehow crazy bright – as is not unusual in Mexico City – day, I ventured into an area unknown to the average foreigner living in DF. Knowing the prevailing attitude middle-class and wealthy locals usually hold regarding somewhat sketchy areas, it is safe to assume that most locals also stay clear of this neighbourhood.

I myself had been here once before exactly. The clue as to why can be found in the above disclaimer. You guessed it: I quite unsuccessfully tried to break into La Posada del Sol, a fascinating early 20th century and to be truthful, rather pretentious project from a megalomaniac Spanish no-one that went by the name Fernando Saldaña Galván that was never put to its original use. Due to the recent obsession with all things old, set in motion by the ascension and surprisingly resistant cultural dominance of the hipster, the construction has experienced revived interest in its centennial structure. So, being the faithful trend follower that I am, I decided to break in.


Do. Not. Do. It. For one, you need to be the athletic type. Breaking in involves climbing up a vast, green metal gate that paradoxically consists of small squares, which to the adventurous petty criminal look thoroughly inviting. This promising outlook unfortunately disguises disastrous consequences, which I had the pleasure of experiencing firsthand. As my head peaked at the top of the gate, it caught the attention of a sullen policeman on the other side of the fence.

I expected that a person guarding a decrepit and presumably haunted hotel the size of a palace would welcome any form of entertainment, but I was bitterly disappointed in my naivety. The guard, who was shouting through a mobile phone, gave me a brutally nasty look and ordered me to swiftly get down. ‘Señorita, bájase!’, he snapped. Living in Mexico, you know there is only one rule to respect, that one being: Do not mess with the police. Ever. Unless you are extremely wealthy/have powerful politicians in your near entourage – neither of which apply to me.


And so I found an alternative way to gain access to the place, which led me to La Doctores on that bright but not so sunny day. With my (still drunk from the previous night) bodyguard by my side, my dear fellow crazy person Gonzalo, I felt ready to go on the adventure I had been dreaming about, and bothering others with, for weeks on end. Debating whether we would be kidnapped, or god knows what other horrible things, but singlehandedly agreeing on the fact that this was an absolutely crazy idea, we nervously stood in front of the green gate I had already become briefly acquainted with two weeks before.

A few minutes passed, and a for Mexican standards tall man with glasses welcomed us to step inside, after telling us that visitors are not allowed and that for our own safety (the guards!!!), it was best we pretended to be old friends of his. I don’t know about you, but walking into a strikingly imposing, supposedly haunted abandoned building with a complete stranger and pretending he is the guy you used to build sandcastles with, is slightly unnerving.


He rushed us through the inside patio so as to get out of sight of the eagle-eyed gate guard, and guided us to the inside of La Posada. On our way there, I caught a glimpse of the film set, as well as the improvised lunch area for the film crew. Seeing picnic tables in the middle of a huge, gloomy building carried a rather surreal effect. As we entered the first room, what was most noticeable was the rubble that was spread around. It was dark, and our guide turned on his flashlight. As our eyes adjusted to the unlit environment, we started seeing the details that make this place more than solely an attraction for pretend-ghostbusters.

Its tunnels dark and humid despite it being the middle of the day, the place carries an uneasy feel. My friend and I kept laughing nervously, a nervousness that was significantly aggravated when our guide told us that not only a little girl had found death here, but many more so. In fact, according to him, the eerie chambers we passed along the tunnel we adventured ourselves in, had served as execution chambers for an unfortunate lot. We indeed had heard the haunting stories of an altar that had been erected in one of the tunnel chambers, but until then had been unaware of the further presumable horrors that had taken place on the hotel premises.


It is at that precise moment, that our guide stopped, looked at us and solemny announced that we had reached the room that contained the altar for the little girl. His flashlight beam stroking the walls of the room, it suddenly shone on a brightly coloured altar. There it was. We could not quite believe it, only having read about in on the web, but there it was, in all its splendid, sinister glory. The top of the altar was decorated with a white princess dress, hanging next to the picture of what must depict the little girl, whose ghost now is said to haunt the place, while the table under it was covered in an amalgation of different sweets, and even a few pesos. A bright pink ball with a laughing face lying on the altar table further added to the singularity of the situation.

Our guide quickly drew us out of the room, sensing the magnetic pull the altar had on us. Insisting we whisper, he led us up the stairs, to the living room area. The colossal room was mostly empty, except an oddly placed bucket with fresh roses and a huge chimney whose top consisted of bizarre paintings and an inscription in Latin. As I was taking a picture, suddenly a guard appeared out of nowhere, and started reprimanding me for taking photographs. Photographs or filming without paying the daily 100,000 pesos necessary to obtain the filming and photography permit was punishable, he said. Anguish lit up in the eyes of our unofficial guide, and after a quick, apologetic chat with the guard, he rushed us to the upper levels of the building.

As I was happily pressing the shutter release button of my camera on the top terrace of the construction, I was again confronted with an angry guard. At that point, our nervousness had culminated into an unimaginable extent. God knows what our guide told the guard, but he let us go without asking me to delete the photographs. But fear had been planted, and we decided we better leave the premises before somebody might get the idea to take our pictures, or worse, heavily fine us. Our guide’s nervousness had also significantly increased, and we started feeling culpable for getting him into trouble. And so we ventured back to the patio, and the green metal gate where our expedition had begun, crossed the street and took one last picture of the building, still full of adrenaline and in disbelief of what we had just witnessed.
















© All text and pictures by Alexandra Brandt Corstius

A Sunday stroll through Santa María la Ribeira

With over two thousand colonias (the Mexican name for neighbourhood), divided up in 16 boroughs, it should come as no surprise that I haven’t been able to visit each and every one of them. A life lived here I believe even does not suffice in order to see it all. The other side of the coin however is that it gives me the perfect excuse to let my inner nomad out, drag some well-meaning friends along and go explore the lesser well-known corners of the city. Because, let’s be honest, Roma-Condesa feels a little small after a while.

Interior of the juice store

It is in that spirit that I gathered two of my girlfriends and convinced them of the idea to go visit Santa María la Ribeira, a so-called barrio mágico, or magic neighbourhood in English. You guessed it, the concept is the same as that of the pueblos mágicos, but this time adapted to the needs of the Big City. To be fair, each neighbourhood has its very own personality, history and aesthetic (although the latter sometimes is markedly absent), and hence, the nicer ones are in my opinion entirely deserving of their title. Why – despite their title – some of them are still as run-down, for now remains an unsolved mystery.

An ofrenda on a blue house’s window

Santa María la Ribeira is everything I love about Mexico City – minus the lively bars, that is. But the vibe, the energy, the colours… they are all there, as bright and strong as ever. The neighbourhood is located only 10 km away from Roma-Condesa, which, when I realized it while looking at the map, made me feel a little self-conscious for not having visited earlier. Although to be frank, I do not know of a lot of people who have. I tend to not be very concerned about safety issues, and was swiftly (and rightly so) put into my place by our cab driver, who was quick to point out that this is not a safe area. His advice: “Just act normal and nothing will happen to you!”. Umm.. okay then. Whatever that means. The following day I read that it has one of the highest crime rates of the city.

A side street of Santa María de Ribeira

The barrio has a rich history, and extensive list of notable individuals have inhabited it at some point in time – for instance, Chucho el Roto, the Mexican Robin Hood, and Don Facundo, a rat-trainer turned artist. Originally located outside of what once were the city’s borders, the area was developed as to serve the capital’s affluent class. Now mostly catering to the less wealthy, the streets display an idiosyncratic mix of architecture. The most appealing buildings are late 19th-early 20th century mansions built for the aforementioned wealthy. Those have now been complemented by what once must have once been considered modern apartment buildings, as well as social housing developments. The influx of lower-class residents has had the unfortunate consequence that many of the buildings with historical value have been abandoned and are now falling into utter disrepair.

Interesting stairway formation in an apartment building

While this may seem strange to a foreigner – Not caring for one’s architecture, really? – it is all too common here. It is also part of the charm. What may seem as entirely contradicting, in fact effectively captures the peculiar essence of Mexico City. New mixes with old, beautiful with ugly, lively colours with grey tones. They all happily coexist in what sometimes can confuse the European mind, so accustomed to neat streets and planned urban landscapes. An area such as Santa María de Ribeira perfectly showcases the changes that have swept through the city, in all its decrepit glory.

The colonia’s famed Kiosko Morisco

The building the area may be best known for is its Kiosko Morisco, a colourful iron-and-steel structure reminiscent of moorish architecture, which graces the colonia’s central park. It was built in 1902 by the Mexican engineer José Ramón Ibarrola to be sent to an international exhibition in St. Louis, Missouri. Recently renovated, the kiosk is absolutely beautiful and well worth a visit. Since on weekends it becomes rather busy, I’d recommend visiting during the week (if you have that luxury, that is!). Other notable landmarks include the Museo Universitario del Chopo, which should be visited not for the art exhibitions it houses but much rather for its Jugendstil architecture, which has earned the building the nickname Chrystal Palace, after the famed London one.

The eyes of Santa María la Ribeira

Other reasons to go visit: dirtcheap juices (no sane person would be able to say no to a freshly pressed beetroot, orange, mandarine and grapefruit juice at that price, I assure you!), intriguing old mansions up for sale, a small market for local women to sell their artesanías, a Russian restaurant (Kolobok, on Díaz Mirón No. 87), and its colourful street art. In essence, it is one of those places with soul in which one can aimlessly wander the streets and be sure to find a treasure at every corner.

The inside of a 19th century mansion, now falling apart and – you guessed it – up for sale

© All text and pictures by Alexandra Brandt Corstius


365 days of living in the wondrous, surreal, and overwhelming DF

“Today marks exactly 365 days of me living in Mexico City.”

16-11-2014. 1 year already? Yes, 1 year! This occurred to me while chatting with my French roommate and sorting out photographs I had taken during the long weekend. What better day to post my first blogpost?

Since I have been busy experiencing the city so I actually have something to write about, I, well, haven’t exactly have the time to sit down and write a tremendously inspired and interesting post. Not YET. Yes. Really. The time will come where I will sit down with a hangover-curing or otherwise energizing and cleansing smoothie from Ojo de Agua in the shadow of a violet Jacaranda tree and start typing down all the wonderful stories I have experienced here, believe it or not.

For now, I will share my personal (love)story with Mexico’s capital. After much encouragement from my friends and fellow Mexico City expats (or let’s be honest, mostly wannabe expats that get paid in the steadily devaluating Mexican currency, the peso), and a short stint on The Guardian Cities Witness section, I feel like the time is rife to share my writing and photos with the world. I hope you enjoy it.

A figure of La Catrina, symbol of the Day of the Dead

Dear Mexico City,

It was not love at first sight. The first time I laid eyes on you, all I noticed were your filthy streets, overwhelming smells and screaming sounds. I felt small. To me, you looked like a monster that at any given moment could engulf me into your big chaotic self. Forever lost, I thought. I craved the old, narrow streets of Europe. You felt like a mismatch of different cultures, tastes and values. No, I did not like you. You were not pretty, you were not easy to fall in love with. But you were strong. Your vastness fascinated me.

Unbeknownst to myself, I started noticing your beauty. The ancient crooked market lady with the braids, the little boys kicking balls in the neighbouring street. The freshly pressed, incredibly inexpensive orange juice I began to drink on an almost daily basis. The salty and spicy beers, and the ever-present tacos al pastor at wee hours of the morning or dim evening lights. I grew used to the many intrusive sounds. Even started to sing along to them. And while I sometimes still think about throwing tomatoes, somehow it never happens.

Your wings harbor many feasts, secret and otherwise. Your streets are innumerable, your beauty spread out. You very much are a city that forces its people to be patient. But somehow, your restlesness makes me feel at peace. Where once I felt small, now I feel free. Your constant motion translates to us, makes us all more adaptable. And your culture is rich, oil and paint and glass and stone come together to form the colourful art that graces your streets, your homes and your soul.

You do not fear the dark, you celebrate it. You pride yourself in traditions, in honouring the past. But sometimes you scream, as the burden you carry becomes too heavy. Souls dissapear in the mass you house. Mothers cry and children pray. There are minutes of silence held. Yes, you are a city of contrasts.

But mostly you smile. You laugh. And every single day, I love you a little bit more.

© All text and pictures by Alexandra Brandt Corstius