This week we continue to explore the city of Morelia and the customs and practices of México.

Parks and Squares

One of the reasons that I became very interested in Morelia was its vast number of public parks and squares. The typical Spanish Colonial plan, found all throughout Latin America, centers the city around a large public area. It's sometimes called the Zócalo or Plaza de Armas (plaza of arms/weapons): Morelia uses the latter. In most colonial cities, on one side of the main plaza is the primary cathedral for the city, while another side is taken up by a municipal building (what we would know as City Hall.) A large public market is generally located several blocks away.

Knowing this, it's not too hard to get your bearings when entering any new city with a classic colonial plan. The neat variation that Morelia offers is that the Cathedral is in the middle of the plaza, with park space on either side. This creates, in essence, two very different parks that flank the church.

But beyond this main square lie hundreds of others, and they most often provide fountains, trees, benches, and street vendors from whom you can purchase snacks and drinks (and chewing gum, and maps, and balloons, and more!) Around 7:00 pm, when the heat of the day has started to subside, families come together to the plazas to visit, let the kids run around and burn off energy, and enjoy the beauty of the place. Morelia has so many lovely plazas, and to make sure that I get to visit each one, I geeked out by creating a custom Google Map layer to plot them all.

Here are a couple of favorites so far: the Plaza del Carmen, Plaza Morelos, and the little jewel of Jardín Azteca. I'll share more in the coming weeks. (And just to be clear—these are not sections of the same square...these are plazas and gardens in completely different parts of the city.)

Plaza del Carmen

 

Plaza de Morelos

 

Jardin Azteca

 

Clean Streets

With a population of a little more than 850,000, Morelia is nearly three times the size of the city of Pittsburgh (302,000), And yet, as you walk the streets, you'll notice not a speck of trash anywhere. I've started looking for trash in the gutter or on the sidewalks, and it just isn't there. I would expect such tidiness in the city center, as there are always crews sweeping and tidying. (The city has to maintain its UNESCO World Heritage designation!) But far out from the city center, in more "industrial" areas, I find the same thing...everything is spotless.

Yes, sidewalks are sometimes rutted and anyone using a wheelchair would have some difficult encounters, but I like how tidy everything is. (Most shop keepers—and home owners—sweep their sidewalk every morning.) Pittsburgh, ahem—you could learn something from this!

Main street
More clean streets

 

More Good Eats

Perhaps the one dish that Morelia is known for throughout México is gazpachos. This is not the Spanish tomato and vegetable soup that is served cold; gazpachos in Morelia is a fruit treat, and you can buy gazpachos almost anywhere in the city.

Gazpachos

The traditional version layers chopped pineapple, mango, and jícama with grated cheese and chili powder, and then the cup is filled with orange juice. Even more fruit is piled on top, requiring the plastic bag to catch falling fruit, because it's impossible to tuck into this without spilling. The combination sounds strange, but it's completely delicious and refreshing. (My only complaint is that the serving is way too large—I'm told some vendors sell smaller portions, but I've not found them yet.) The cost for a traditional gazpacho is $2.

 

Political Campaigns

There are state elections happening here on June 6, and the streets are covered in campaign signs, particularly for the Governor's race. But part of every candidate's campaign plan is audio messaging. And by that I mean cars or small vans with a speaker taped to the roof, blaring the candidate's campaign song, as they drive through the city. (Fortunately, by around 6:00 each evening this comes to a close!) Sometimes there will be a group of young people in brightly colored t-shirts at major intersections, and as the traffic stops for the light, they flood out into the intersection, dancing and waving signs for their candidate, all the while the parked truck blares the campaign song. As the light changes, they move to the cross traffic while it's stopped.

Your Vote

Some of the jingles become real earworms, and are impossible to get out of your head. I haven't yet been able to adequately record some, but I'll try that for next week. (And then in a couple of weeks, they'll be gone...until the next election cycle.) 

 

OXXO

In the United States, it sometimes appears that there is a Starbucks store every few blocks. In Morelia, Starbucks is certainly here (just more spread out.) What you will find on nearly every block is OXXO, the national-chain convenience store. OXXO is similar to a 7-Eleven, in that they both sell sodas, snacks, beer and wine, and some prepared food. However, the comparison ends there, as there are, nationwide, over 17,000 OXXO locations compared to just 1,900 for 7-Eleven. And because Mexicans love snacks, OXXO shelves are filled with chips, cookies, candies, and cigarettes. [OXXO locations in Centro]

OXXO Store

What really sets OXXO apart is its payment business. More than 60% of Mexicans don't have a bank account—they are paid in cash and then pay for nearly everything with pesos in hand. OXXO has set up business relationships with every utility company in the country, so you can bring cash to OXXO and quickly and securely pay your electric bill. You can use OXXO to send money to someone else in México—that person just presents themselves at their local OXXO to receive the cash.

Finally (and this is a brilliant move on OXXO's part), when you need to order something online, you can take the cash to OXXO to receive a payment confirmation, which you then enter into the online store to confirm your payment. OXXO has just recently started partnering with Amazon to allow customers to pick up smaller packages at OXXO instead of at home.

 

Baking Up Something Fresh

Even more than salty, crispy snacks that you can grab from OXXO, Mexicans love their baked goods. In a land where corn is consumed at almost every meal, Mexicans don't ignore wheat! Many Mexicans begin their day with a cup of coffee and a concha, the ubiquitous bread with the shell-shaped crusting of sugar. If there is an OXXO on every other corner, the blocks in between each have a bakery (panaderia.) Some are very small mom-and-pop shops, with a small selection of breads and pastries. And then there are the mega-bakeries, which resemble a museum devoted to pastries.

Panoli bakery

My favorite so far, Panoli, has a location just a few blocks from my apartment! Nearly all of the pastries and donuts in the cases cost about 45¢ apiece. Although the variety is staggering, the concha is clearly the favorite.

 

Whatever the Heck This Is

I have no idea what this is. This black truck pulls into the parking lot of my apartment complex every day around 5;00 pm, makes a couple of rounds and then moves on. I can't hear the music enough to catch any idea of what it's for. (It seems that it might be advertising a bakery or panaderia, but not sure.) And while I don't know a lot about marketing, it seems to me it would be more effective if the truck had some sort of signage, advertising what the product is. [Sorry—my camera auto-focused on the screen in the window.]

This still seems strange to me, but very typical of México. (And I find myself humming the tune for an hour after the truck leaves!)

 

That's all for this week!

 

 

Morelia—Week 3