Has a place ever captivated your imagination?
Growing up in Canada, I did not think too much about México. The United States was too omnipresent – television, music, cars, and vacations. Growing up meant speaking English and learning French. Méxican culture and Spanish were just one step beyond in a horizon that was framed more by the United Kingdom, Europe and the U.S.
After living in the United States for nearly 25 years, México kept its distance – a foreign land of great food, beautiful beaches and warm and friendly people but ironically too close to ever have a sense of urgency to visit. After all, we can always go to México some other time when more distant lands called. And so it went, with trips to Europe and Asia but México eluded me.
One of the joys of life are the serendipities that can happen. For me, it was an email from a person I did not know who one day took the time to write a letter expressing his interest in a cloud-based technology platform that the company where I worked was marketing in the United States. The email had been sent to a colleague and in the course of other priorities remained an opportunity in a note in an inbox.
“an opportunity in a note, in an inbox”
I discovered the letter and it excited and moved me. Here was a successful businessman/entrepreneur who reached across the border to share a vision and an excitement for our technology. The letter must be answered. As some months had transpired since the email was first sent, it took more than one response to the sender to make contact. Contact led quickly to a connection and a shared vision to explore the potential for this technology in México starting in México City.
“the letter must be answered”
For some unexplained reason, México City has always had an allure for me in my relationship with México. Without ever learning much about Distrito Federal, I knew it to be a mega-city, full of life, traffic and culture. More than the beaches of Cancun or Acapulco, when my thoughts did turn to traveling to my neighbor to the south, I was intrigued to explore this urban center. Having lived in Toronto, Hong Kong, Singapore, near Los Angeles and having worked in New York City, large cities mean excitement, energy and possibility. And so it was for me with México City.
My first trip to México City was in November 2012 and my wife and I stayed at the gracious Four Seasons hotel on the Paseo de la Reforma. There is nothing more exciting than parachuting into a culture for the first time and immersing yourself in the sights, sounds and smells. Your senses are amplified incredibly and suddenly you see, hear and smell with superhuman ability.
For the next year, I travelled to México City nearly twice a month – commuting from Los Angeles. I would arrive on the evening flight where my taxi would navigate the labyrinth of streets to my various hotels.
Over the course of my travels, I found a beautiful historic apartment in La Condesa where an outdoor market would grace the nearby street every Tuesday filling my senses once again with a cacophony of colors, tastes and smells. This became my place in México City… my home away from home.
“this became my place in México City…my home away from home”
When my workdays ended or early in the mornings, I would walk the streets of México City sometimes for hours at a time. There is no better to learn a city than by walking. And it was on these many walks that I discovered so many México City treasures. Not the famous museums or the celebrated shops. Not the monuments or the statues. I visited most of these and duly love them all. But for me, what really stole my heart were the moments…the México City Moments….that I stumbled on, sometimes literally, as I walked Roma, La Condesa, Polanco, and other neighborhoods in the center of town.
“what really stole my heart were the moments”
Here are some that have stayed with me.
1. Walking past a bakery in the early morning somewhere in Roma and stopping to see two bakers facing each other kneading dough together framed by the arch of their front door.
2. A bicyclist playing an electric guitar as he peddled sharing his music with an amplifier on his back.
3. Girls in beautiful gowns in a rainbow of colours celebrating their quinceaneras by holding hands around the Angel of Independence
4. A little girl dressed as a clown performing in the street with her father in front of a busy intersection
5. A doorman whom I grew to know at the Hilton who insisted on taking down the name of the taxi driver and the license plate before I took a red taxi one evening
6. The first time seeing the otherworldly beauty of the top floor of the Soumayo museum with its breathtaking collection of sculptures
7. Perusing books en plein air in a library in Bosque Chapultepec that has a tree growing in the middle of it
8. Sitting in a café in Polanco late at night being serenaded by some boisterous diners singing a Pitbull song at the top of their lungs
9. The courtesy of saying “buen día” to people when you leave an elevator
10. Walking the entire Avenida Amsterdam
11. Watching a master chocolatier prepare his treasures through the window along the Avenida Amsterdam
12. Meeting Chef Eduardo Osuna who was gracious to stop for a chat in a hotel lobby after being introduced by a friend
13. Having a new staff member at The Four Seasons Hotel be introduced to me on their first day of work
14. Sitting on a rooftop bar in Polanco as dusk settles in and watching a movie projected on the side of a neighboring building
15. Trying Oaxacan stone soup for the first, second and third times….
16. Tasting pozole at Casa de Antonio and being instructed by my friends on how best to order and eat it
17. Watching the dogs hang out in Parque Espana
18. The upside down fountain at the Camino Real hotel
19. Seeing an old bus turned into a performing art space in La Condesa
20. A young man dressed all in black with his head hung low sitting on a sidewalk with one long-stemmed yellow rose in his hands
21. Being invited to dinner at a family home and being treated like I was part of the family. Afterwards having the entire family stand outside in the rain late at nigh to wave good bye
22. Sitting for endless hours in taxis and witnessing random acts of bravery or craziness navigating through and around traffic
23. Strolling the ponds in Parque Lincoln
24. An unexpected splash of rosa mexicano or other bright color on a wall
25. The beauty and grace of a proffered cheek to kiss hello when being introduced to a lady
26. Seeing a brightly painted bicycle decorated with flowers on a street corner
27. Savoring the beautiful juxtaposition of stylish modern and gracious old architecture side-by-side on so many streets
28. Discovering the history of México as told by Octavio Paz in The Labyrinth of Solitude
29. Throwing a dinner party for my friends in my Condesa apartment
30. Seeing families enjoy the Paseo de la Reforma on bicycle, foot and rollerblade on a Sunday morning and calling my wife excitedly to say “we have to move here!”
I realize these moments are from but a small corner of a very large and diverse city but I have wanted to share my piece of the city ever since my last trip in late 2013. But once again, it was always a case of having something else to do. What has kept these memories alive for me is having written my observations down in a journal during my trips. I am so happy that I did this. And by sharing my love for México City with friends and family when the conversation turns to travel. I hope to return to México City some day, and share a fuerte abrazo with my queridos amigos who call it home, and to share this beautiful, magical place with my family.
Where we will create some new México City moments.
Con fuerte abrazo!
Stephen Armstrong is co-founder of MAPLE Business Council, a non-profit senior executive council focused on promoting trade and investment between Canada and Southern California. Stephen is principal of The 360 Marketer, a marketing consultancy. For more information on MAPLE, please visit www.maplesocal.com.