Guadalajara. Like all good couples, Carlos and I have a slight difference of opinion. I suppose we are a little like Aesop’s City Mouse and Country Mouse. My husband opts for Mexican small towns and I require a dose of big city life every now and then.
Carlos is “de rancho, de campo” – loosely translated – he’s a proud country guy at heart. Coquimatlan, the small town of his birth, is his ideal place. Although he likes Chicago, nothing compares with his beloved Colima. For my husband, the best part of our occasional urban foray is his triumphant return home. Upon which, he gets to kibitz with neighbors and colleagues and delight them with his stories of the crazy city.
I Just Adore A Penthouse View.
On the other hand, I need an occasional fix of cosmopolitan lifestyle. There are times when sopes or tacos will not suffice; there are times when I need to have a pastrami sandwich, buffalo wings or falafel. I love the milieu of people, art, and culture. Carlos hates the crowds, the expense, and the traffic; but thankfully every year he grudgingly relents.
Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest city, always satisfies my urban cravings. Dense and vibrant; all of the delights of modern urban culture exist here. For example, you can safely use Uber in Guadalajara – even UberEats. At the same time, it’s a city of living history, you can touch the past here. Antiquity is found in Guadalajara’s architecture; it’s found in the layers of brick, paint, and dust; and it endures in its cornices, doorways, and steeples. Now that I am retired, I love exploring every little detail.
Carlos has a different perspective. The crush of trucks, taxis, street vendors, bikes, and pedestrians make driving a challenge (insane is probably a better/accurate word). A five-mile taxi ride from the hotel to the old city center can take as long as 45 minutes during la hora pico (rush hour) which occurs three times a day.
Sometimes I do not mind these slow crawls because I have time to enjoy the exquisitely decayed neo-classical buildings and homes. The cobblestone streets here are narrow, crooked and lined with old gaslights. The ironwork and ornamentation are from a time when control of Mexico bounced between the European French Bourbons and Spanish Habsburgs.
Si, Guadalajara Has History, But How Much Does This Taxi Cost?
Carlos’ eyes never leave the meter. At some point, he will insist that we walk. My other half will not pay more than $200 pesos ($12) for a taxi ride. Carlos has a world-famous reputation for being cheap. I love it! I have seen him become physically ill at the site of an expensive bill.
No problem. Walking around the city center is always fun. I like to imagine the past. In days gone by, Guadalajara was along the migration route of herds of elk, bison and Wooly Mammoth. Hunter-gatherers and old civilizations flourished here long before the Spanish arrived. Guadalajara is an old word passed from the conquering moors of Africa to Iberia.
I always find several different translations for the word, Guadalajara, so I have decided it means dry creek/river bed. Nuno de Guzman, an administrator of Pope Charles V, gave the city its moniker in honor of his beloved Spanish city. I don’t think he cared much about tiny fledgling Guadalajara. In fact, while Guzman was stationed in Mexico he didn’t bother to visit his province for first two years of its existence. All of the action was in Mexico City.
Mo’ Money (And Souls) For The Spanish Pope.
Pope Charles, being pleased with the new line of credit, granted an official seal: a pine tree surmounted by two lions in rampant (standing on hind legs and tail raised). You can see it everywhere in Guadalajara. It dates back to the 1500s to the time when the Mona Lisa was new and the wars of the Mali Empire would lead to the West African Slave Trade. The official seal has a crusader helmet and flag in it.
The enormous Cathedral of Guadalajara or Cathedral de la Asunción de María Santísima overshadows the old city core. Its cornerstone was blessed by Bishop Pedro de Ayala, bureaucrat and personal emissary of Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella (Christopher Columbus). In this city, cruel conquistadors, the Catholic Church and the Spanish Renaissance all mixed together. There was enough war and intrigue to last ten lifetimes.
Guadalajara continued steady growth through the 1800s when it became part of the resistance. Through the modern era, it continued to experience the same sort of population growth patterns as Mexico City – rapid industrialization and the movement of millions from the countryside to the city.
Carlos is not impressed. The streets and plazas that form the market of San Juan de Dios are always crowded with people. San Juan de Dios has been here since the 1900s. Tourists, hustlers, vendors, musicians, revolutionaries, thieves and politicians all cross paths here. You can purchase anything here from a parakeet to a rocket launcher. To me, it is an authentic public square; to him it’s a pain. The crowds slow access to dinner. With so many people on the street; it is difficult to determine if La Chata Restaurant is north or south of Juarez Avenue. After walking in a circle (twice), we inevitably have to ask a police officer for directions.
Food Is The Best Way To A Man’s Heart.
Carlos loves La Chata. Knowing that we can have dinner here every night always seals the deal. He’ll tolerate crazy Guadalajara because La Chata is the holy of holies. Consistently delicious and clean; this special place is always worth the wait; which unfortunately can be an hour or more on the weekends (as my roommate Tim recently experienced). I have had expensive dinners in highly-touted Parisian restaurants; my hometown Chicago is a foodie mecca, but I would rank simple La Chata among my top five restaurants. I could eat there every day.
La Chata has been in this spot for 70 years (desde 1942). It’s loud and crowded; the walls have photographs of old Guadalajara. It’s like a newsreel. You can see the layers of change; the arrival of the movie theaters and impact of the automobile – all in black and white. The kitchen is open and you can watch cooks press and cook tortillas; fry flautas and pull strips of pork loin into bowls of pozole.
Of course, for Carlos it’s the pozole. The pig’s feet are always perfect; the salsa, horchata and tostadas are 100. La Chata ranks number three in Carlos’ pantheon of pozoles. His only complaint? The quantity. “It’s too much,” he groans, “If I ate the full bowl, I would explode. My panza (potbelly) would be so big everyone would call me a pozolero .” I smiled and laughed, “I have news for you, Carlitos, it’s too late, your nieces already call you Tio Panzon.”
And What’s Next?
Guadalajara is a Mexican city of the future – a bellwether. Does the future of Guadalajara reside in the gritty barrios of the industrial zone or with the lucky students/intelligentsia who can afford to attend its prestigious universities? It’s a very liberal city with vibrant LGBT and arts communities and at the same time it’s very traditional. There are areas that are ultra-exclusive and remind me of Los Angeles and there are areas where the poor live. In Guadalajara, you have a sense that the country of Mexico is young and emerging from adolescence. It’s entering the learning and growing phase – ready to take on the world – but still a little mischievous. I think it will be interesting to watch. Guadalajara has universities as old as Princeton and I am betting on the young and engaged; I think they will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
I see this on the streets everywhere we walk in Guadalajara. At night the plaza near the Cathedral is packed with people; a mariachi band is playing and the church is illuminated in soft light. Carlos and I sit on a bench and watch the vendors hawk their wares. “I love it here; it’s beautiful,” Carlos looks around the plaza. “Even after all of the crowds and traffic?” He smiles, “Yes, even with the traffic.”