Onward and Upward: Four Years of Blogging

November has, thus far, been rife with disappointment. On a personal level, I have slowly been making peace with my mother’s passing, less than two months ago, while weathering a relationship break-up that felt like a sucker punch. Regarding the former, it took several weeks to even register the fact that my mom was gone. As for the latter, I’ve been trying to assess what I must have done wrong, but am slowly coming to the conclusion that I will never know for sure. All I can say is that I haven’t been sleeping well.

On the world stage – and for the second occurrence in my lifetime – the better candidate for the United States Presidency won the popular vote but lost the election. And the other day, I logged onto social media to learn that one of my favorite mood poets, Leonard Cohen, had passed away at age 82.

At times like these, I tend towards the melancholy. I spent much of yesterday doing some archiving and came across a few blog posts from 2013. I realized that it was Election Day, 2012, when I moved to Mexico City and established gringopotpourri.com. My blog has changed a lot over the years. For one thing, the writing is better now than it was then. Darker, perhaps, but also better. The regionality of the content has also shifted from being mostly Mexico-focused to being largely Tennessee-focused.

To “celebrate” my blog’s four-year anniversary, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite posts for you, along with comments on how those posts either came to be or how they hold up today. And as always: Thanks for reading!

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Barrios Bravos: Santa María la Ribera

The barrio bravo, or “tough neighborhood,” of Santa María la Ribera is a place in transition. It is located far enough west of Greater Tepito, and close enough to prosperous Reforma, to be in the “safety zone,” but it also abuts Buenavista Train Station, which connects Mexico City’s Distrito Federal with a dozen cities and towns in adjacent, sprawling Estado de México.

Santa María la Ribera is most famous as being the new, permanent home of the Kiosco Morisco, or Moorish Kiosk. The reddish kiosk/pavilion was originally built by Mexican engineer José Ramón Ibarrola for the 1884 World’s Fair in New Orleans. Post-exposition, it was moved to the Alameda Central (Central Park of Poplars) on the western fringe of the Centro Histórico. The kiosk was eventually relocated to Santa María’s own Alameda de Santa María during the presidency of Porfirio Díaz, who ordered the building of a monument to Benito Juárez in its place at the Alameda Central. Residents of Santa María beamed with civic pride, and volunteered to look after the kiosk. At that time, their neighborhood was one of Mexico City’s wealthiest.

Alameda de Santa Maria la Ribera 4

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Barrios Bravos: Doctores

The next Barrio Bravo that I have decided to revisit digitally is south/southwest of the Centro Histórico. Although the “tough neighborhood” in question is neither as sprawling as Iztapalapa, nor as dense as Tepito, nor as jam-packed with history as Tlatelolco, it houses several hundred thousand Chilangos and has just enough points of interest to merit a few paragraphs in this blog series.

Doctores is so named because several of its streets are named after various doctors of some renown. Dr. Olvera, for example, was an 18th-century forensic scientist. Roughly speaking, the large colonia stretches runs from Arcos de Belén in the north to Viaducto in the south, and from Avenida Cuauhtémoc in the west to Eje Central in the east. The entirety of Doctores lies within Cuauhtémoc delegación (borough), which also governs the always-bustling Centro Histórico.

Eje Central 6

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Barrios Bravos: Tlatelolco

I recently re-read my September post entitled “Barrios Bravos: Iztapalapa,” about the largest delegación (borough) in Mexico City and the dangerous reputations held by its various barrios (neighborhoods). I am especially proud of that entry, as I think it contains some of the best writing I’ve yet done for this blog. More than that, though, it reminded me that I still have more to say about Mexico City and its “tough neighborhoods.”

Tlatelolco (try saying that three times fast) is a hard word to pronounce and a hard barrio in which to live. Roughly speaking, it sits northwest of the Centro Histórico, between Tepito and Buenavista Train Station. During the heyday of the Aztec empire, Tlatelolco was a separate community from nearby Tenochtitlan, and it is said that Tlatelolco’s residents looked down on those from the larger Tenochtitlan. Vendors from Tepito, the market serving Tenochtitlan, were not allowed to trade with those from Tlatelolco. This segregation exists several centuries later, despite the fact that both “barrios bravos” are part of the same administrative district. The main street separating Tlatelolco from Greater Tepito, Paseo de la Reforma, can be like an invisible wall between two countries, although this divide isn’t necessarily visible to casual wanderers. (More on this rivalry later.)

Around Tlatelolco 2

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Barrios Bravos: Iztapalapa

It has been three months since my first post about Mexico City’s “barrios bravos” (“tough” or “brave” neighborhoods). In that entry, I listed the “rules” that one should follow for a safe visit, and then blogged about my experiences in Tepito, the most notorious barrio bravo in the Mexican capital. During my time as an honorary Chilango, I also had the opportunity to explore – and fall in love with – another much-maligned neighborhood, this one a proper delegación (borough): Iztapalapa.

Iztapalapa is more than just a collection of barrios bravos – it is the most-populous borough in Mexico City. It is also the poorest, hence its reputation. My first visit to Iztapalapa occurred when I was assigned English classes in the district. I learned that my students worked for a laboratory in the industrial Canal de San Juan/Periférico Oriente section of Iztapalapa. I was nervous – doubly so, since my arrival would be at the pre-dawn time of 7 a.m. But Google Earth showed me the way, and, after three bus transfers, I arrived without incident. This section of Iztapalapa is on the east side of the city, directly across the road from the Federal Police headquarters. The area is a manufacturing hub for numerous firms, so it’s low on charm but high on security. I felt safe, and by my third week I was walking back from class and stopping off for tacos campechanos at the city’s best street taquería.

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Barrios Bravos: Greater Tepito

It has been just over one week since my last blog post. That one, about my decision to leave Mexico City, was my most-read post since I’ve been doing this blog. Judging by the number of views, likes, and comments, it caught many of you by surprise. To borrow an old expression, I’ve been busier than a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest this past month, and these final days will offer no respite.

That said, I plan to continue this blog, more or less in its current form. I still have a thousand other stories to tell. With the “end” in sight, memories of my time here have come flooding into my mind, most of them good, not bad.

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Mexico City has its share of bad neighborhoods. It seems that every delegación (borough) has at least one. Cinder block houses, corrugated sheet metal roofs, stray dogs, reggaetón music blasting at all hours of the day or night….Often, these “barrios bravos” (“tough” or “brave” neighborhoods) are located along Periférico, the ring road that circles the city and is a proper high-speed highway for much of its length. Other times, they descend steeply down into canyons. Green city buses that ply the adjacent streets are subject to frequent robberies. Sometimes, police are afraid to enter. Many times, all that separates one of these barrios bravos from an upscale, gated community is a busy street.

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