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Mexico City

A recent transplant from Joshua Tree, intrepid writer and art critic, Su Wu, set-up home in Mexico City. Here she shares her unearthed treasures.

Words by Su Wu

Photographs by Su Wu & Sofía Rodríguez Abbud

Mexico City’s overhead is scored by power lines, which twine together the buildings and neighborhoods—these constructions of separate space—into one slack gathering. Which is to say this is a city wired for chance meetings; a place at once haphazard and welcoming, of languorous lunches and rotating company. Before I came, I read a stirring endorsement of staying: that poets here were still willing to call themselves poets, in contrast to most elsewhere, without apology or embarrassment.

The buildings can be romantics, too, and by this I mean not that they are their own reasons for being or even uniformly beautiful, but that they address a central question of a megapolis, and what makes loose histories seem to converge into a unified form. Maybe, in their suggestions on how to live, the architectures are not poems but manifestos—in sinking art nouveau mansions; in warm brutalism flooded with light at the Museo Tamayo; in the floating stacks of Biblioteca Vasconcelos; and in a stone Aztec serpent head in the city center, emerging from the corner of a cathedral that was built to crush it. Look up, this ever-vibrating city insists, but also look over, and be ready to run into someone you always already knew.


If you can only see one Barragan building — The Pritzker Prize-winning architect’s residence is a showcase of his brilliance and neuroses, like the Josef Albers painting he had “redone” to fit the scale of the sitting room. (Also check out the collection of vernacular Mexican objects next door at Archivo Diseño y Arquitectura). But nowhere is Barragan’s monomaniacal approach to color and light more moving than in Capilla de las Chapuchinas, the convent he built in the south of the city. It’s by appointment only (or knock on the wooden door and pray).

Early breakfast — This is not an early city, unless you count the edges of last night, and many places don’t open until the sun is high, and not until 2 p.m. for lunch. But for those who prefer a bit of brisk morning air, Panaderia Rosetta (and its sister cafes Lardo and Nin) are stalwarts for a reason. Get something sweet and baked, from the cardamom bun to the rol de guayaba.

Best place to be struck by the weight of human endeavor — If you are moved by anonymous efforts that have survived war and time and irrelevance, visit the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, and then Anahuacalli, too. The latter is on the same ticket as Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul, but an extra 15-minute car ride is nonetheless enough of a deterrent to thin the crowds. Frida’s husband Diego Rivera built the volcanic stone behemoth with onyx windows but never got to paint there; it now houses his collection of pre-Hispanic artifacts.

For contemporary art — There are the heavy hitters like kurimanzutto and Galeria OMR, which represents James Turrell and Pia Camil. For museums, visit Museo Jumex and MUAC, with its land art masterpiece Espacio Escultórico. But make some time, too, for the tiny space Lulu, which is open Saturday afternoons or by appointment, because the heart still has room for surprises.

Stay at — A renovated 1913 home in Roma Norte, Ignacia Guest House was completed in 2017 and won’t be a secret for long. With only five suites around a leafy courtyard garden, the attention to detail is matched by the level of service, including homemade orange jam at breakfast from trees planted by the hotel’s namesake, the longtime former housekeeper Ignacia.

Food to ruminate over — The scene at Contramar is worth taking in, where politicians, soap opera stars, and visitors like Ai Weiwei or Devendra Banhart might be at the next table over, digging into the whole fish divorciado. Or whet your appetite at the more intimate Maximo Bistrot, fine-dining icon Pujol, or the unmarked Oaxacan restaurant next to Bosforo mezcalaria, with the mussel tamales.

Stock up on — This is a city of markets, many of which have been on the same sites for hundreds of years. Find oversized loofahs at Mercado Jamaica, the flower market (which is also known for its esquites, those styrofoam cups of corn kernels). Or brave Mercado Sonora, the sometimes kitschy witchcraft market, for aromatic copal. Elsewhere, look for woven straw basket purses and volcanic stone mortars (molcajetes), and on good days at least five varieties of mango, like the little egg-sized ones that taste like custard.

What To Pack — An attunement to color, layers that go from mezcal-fueled insight to sudden festivity, a market-ready bag, a light raincoat for afternoon spring storms, big shades for elevation so much closer to the sun, and walking-ready shoes.

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