Mexico City

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Ascendant and transcendent: that’s my take on Mexico City.

We’re recently back from winter break in Mexico City, or just “DF” (Distrito Federale), for those who know the place. From now on, whenever I think of Los Angeles as big, sprawling, complicated and full of raucous energy, I’ll remind myself that Mexico City has all that times ten. And while I’m making comparisons, it’s worth saying that, similar to Los Angeles, just about whatever contradictory adjectives one assigns to Mexico City are simultaneously true: it’s rich/poor, European/American, clean/dirty, innovative/traditional, peaceful/frenetic.

It’s on the rise in a global sort of way, and it pulses with ambition and bravado. For architecture lovers, there are dozens of new buildings with bold shapes and daring structural concepts. My favorite: the new Soumaya museum designed by local boy Fernando Romero. Across the street is the Jumex–another gem, designed by David Chipperfield. Whole sections of the city are being redeveloped (don’t worry, Jane Jacobs–these areas seem to have been previously industrial rather than small-scale residential). They will soon have a spectacular new airport designed by Foster + Partners. This is not a city of architectural understatement. Mexico City is giving China and India a run for their money in terms of ambition.

But in the midst of all of this, my favorite image of the whole trip may have been walking into the Metropolitan Cathedral (the largest cathedral in the Americas) just before midnight on New Year’s Eve. It’s grand and dramatic, even as it leans from centuries of settling into the unstable soil. A solemn mass was underway. Candles flickered, pilgrims shuffled in and out of the shadows. In the quiet of the moment, the melancholy sound of an accordion–far outside on the lonely zocalo–wafted through the open doors and into the space. An ironically transcendent moment in the heart of a city where twenty million people live.

Jenn Shore