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Mariachis in Plaza Garibaldi, Mexico City, April 2010

When we first showed up in Mexico CIty, Heidi told me that she went out one evening at a fancy restaurant and they had mariachis there. "SOOO cheesy and touristy!" I said. "Did they serve Coronas there too? And maybe have a chihuahua or two?" It turns out, of course, that the chilangos (i.e., Mexico City-ites) are quite popular of all three. And I love the mariachis now too.

Mariachi music was not invented in Mexico City (rather, in Guanajuato, a 1-hour flight to the west and near the city of Tequila). But in Mexico City, if you want to see the mariachis, the place to go, without question, is Plaza Garibaldi. The square has been here for 100+ years. Langdon, Heidi, Rob, and I went out there last weekend. Every weekend night (at least) it is filled with literally hundreds of mariachis, just kicking around waiting for work -- i.e., waiting for you to give them pesos to play a tune. Some of the guys are individuals, all the way up to 15-pice bands. The plaza's surrounded by a bunch of restaurants and bars, although it seemed like the best winner is the arcade-style set of food stalls off in one corner... literally 30+ restaurants (largely identical in terms of menu, price, service, and decor) arranged off a long corridor.

On the plaza itself we must've had close to a dozen songs through the night, each 30-70 pesos ($2-$6 USD). One guitarist was in a wheelchair. One group of four specialized in drug trafficing songs. One harp player had awesome gold teeth. The pulqueria served strawberry- and mango-flavored pulque, which is a pre-hispanic drink, essentially stage-1 tequila, before the cooking or distillation... just agave juice that's rotted outside for the day, really, and is quite tasty. Garibaldi is a few blocks away from the downtown zocalo, just off Reforma. Easy to get to on the metro, and there's safe taxi stands there too.

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We showed up around 9:30 PM. First stop: food in the arcade.
There's a long long row of restaurants here... I had some birria (goat stew), though it was not nearly as awesome as the birria I had driving back from the Mexican National Observatory outside Tijuana a year ago... that was this super-rich thick & spicy chile stew which was one of the best things I've had here, even if it did have a dead goat in it.
Of course, the mariachis came up to us soon enough.
They did one tune for us here. They wander from table-to-table.
This is the plaza itself. And that's just what is looks like: there were a few hundred people walking around, of which about half were mariachis. The mariachis waiting for work were doing little ditties, or practicing, or listening to iPods, or telling jokes, or reading the paper, and so forth.

Not pictured here were the mariachis on the street. There were literally dozens of guys dressed up in their musician suits standing in the street, waiting for jobs. Got a Friday night party? Just drive your truck down to Plaza Garibaldi, pick up five guys with their instruments, put 'em in the back, drive home, and you're set.

Outside in the plaza, this was the first group we talked with.
Lighting thanks to Special Assistant Heidi.
I had been told about this one ahead of time! A handful of tipos were wandering around with electrical shockers! For 10 pesos, they'd let you test your skills. No FDA regulations here... and for 20 pesos, they'd let you do it as a group: everyone holds hands, electrons go through everyone's heart simultaneously, and the first one to not be able to stand it drops the metal pipes onto the ground. I did not do well here... I scored a 70 out of maximum 120.
Rob fared much better... he almost maxed out but then the guy's machine broke. Note that yes, his electrocuter is all homebrew, and yes, he'll sell you some fine cuban cigars as well if that would help.
Next band: love this guy!
... and his accordian.
Why the assault rifles? 'Los Fiscales' = defense attorneys. So, they are allegedly working on behalf of the narco-traficantes on the border. Who knows what the real connection is. But in reality there have been many many dozens of mariachi deaths in the last year, allegedly for singing the wrong songs backing the wrong cartel.
The bass player of Los Fiscales shows off their endorsement by the 'patron saint' of the narco-traficantes, Jesus Malverde (d. 1909 in Sinaloa). They did one tune about Malverde, and another about 'El Chapo' Guzman, currently the #1 wanted druglord in Mexico.
Los Fiscales technically do not play mariachi music, but corridos -- i.e. histories or ballads, specifically about the drug trade. I highly recommend clicking on this recent story by an independent NY-based TV crew who got themselves parts on a narco cinema movie in Mexico City. Click the link, then watch the movie for the whole story.
Note that these guys are an exception: the drug war on the border is pretty intense, but it's not very openly visible in Mexico City. (Though the link above says otherwise -- they call watching narco cinema a 'national pastime in Mexico. Either they're sensationalist or I'm naive, and it could be either one.) Nevertheless, public recreational use of drugs is essentially non-existent: it's not like these guys (or anyone else on the plaza) was selling joints, or sneaking bong hits between numbers.
At one corner of the plaza is the pulqueria. To make pulque, you take an agave plant (same one as tequila is made from), scoop out the interior flesh from the 100-lb 'heart' of it, and let the juices flow. After they sit outside in the sun for a day or two, they've fermented and you're ready. These pulques here were curados -- i.e., mixed with other flavors (mango, strawberry, oats + cinnamon) as well, which is normal. Pulque is not very strong and is often served in large liter-sized styrofoam cups.
Pulque man and pulque woman. Check out those night-time shades he's got on.
Next door to the pulqueria, more mariachis.
And more hats.
We found one more group to play a few more tunes.
We'd talked with this guy -- Victor -- earlier in the evening. He was very intent on us hiring his services to have a mariachi group at our next party. But at least now we did hire his band for a few songs.
OK, one more group after that even. It's getting late for us (1 AM), though Garibaldi is in full swing. One more song and we head home. How can you resist a nice-looking strolling musician carrying a harp? Which seems like a scene out of Take the Money and Run, except that was Woody Allen, and he was marching with a cello.
Check out those teeth!


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Henry Throop

Last modified Mon Apr 19 23:14:48 2010