June 30, 2016
From taking my first shot of alcohol in a restaurant decorated with old books, to listening to a Mexican Opera performance, to admiring and musing over the artful master pieces of Federico Correa with a glass of wine in hand at an invitation-only art exposition, to having my photo taken by the two biggest newspapers in Querétaro with my mejor amigo en Mexico, Alex, and ending the night by finally eating Chapuline tacos, tonight is totally one for the record books!
I met Alex last week at the going away party of my host cousin, Zusel. We had a great time talking and he was great at helping me practice and correct my Spanish. I was so thankful when Alex extended a hand of friendship to me a few days after the party. I don’t think I could have made a better first best friend in Mexico than Alex.
Alex is an awesome local tour guide! He picked the night’s events from start to finish. Our evening began tonight at the Plaza de Armas. Our first stop was at Diktatur, a fun restaurant decorated with many books and featuring an old fountain in the center of the dining area. Alex skimmed the extremely oversized menu that pretty much was the equivalent of a 2 ½ x 1 ½ foot double sided board. He was looking for classically Mexican foods and drinks for me to try. When the waitress came over, he quickly ordered and I waited to excitedly to be surprised.
Not long after, a beer for him and an Agua Fresca (naturally flavored, very refreshing water) arrived along with what appeared to be chicken wings and two shot glasses shaped like super mini beer mugs on a plate with orange slices and a pile of spice. Alex explained that the shot glasses were each full of Mezcal de Pechuga, a very Mexican drink that is quite strong with an alcohol percentage of 60%. I don’t know what proof that works out to be, but I could tell it was very strong as I could smell the alcohol from where the two tiny shot glasses sat in the center of the table.
Alex gave me the instructions that I had to drink the whole shot at once, no matter what, for one does not sip Mezcal. He then picked up an orange slice and rolled it in the spice on the plate. I did the same as he further explained that as soon as we took the shot, we needed to immediately bite into the orange. He then asked if I was ready. With my spicy orange slice in one hand and mini beer mug in the other, I said no, but yes! We said, “¡Salud!” clicked our tiny glasses, and went for it.
I tipped my head back and half way through realized that I really should have exhaled before trying to down the whole shot. (#LiveAndLearn) Nonetheless, I got it down and swiftly bit into my orange slice as my insides flushed ablaze with the Mezcal flame. Laughing and smiling, my face twisted in an instant reflex. Despite this, I much preferred my first shot of Mezcal over the margarita I had last week.
Alex, after suppressing laughter enough to speak, said that we were only going to each have the one shot because they are really strong, but he offered as a bit of wise advice to never exceed more than three Mezcal shots in one night. I recovered from the Mezcal by enjoying the spicy chicken wings that were Mezcal fried, similar to being beer-battered. I was surprised when Alex asked me if it was too spicy. I said no, it just seemed like really good flavor to me. The spice was obviously hitting him, however, which made me laugh as I licked my fingers.
Next, our bill was brought to us on an old book; we paid, and were on our way to the opera! Along the way, we walked past the San Felipe Neri Cathedral de Querétaro and peaked inside. It was also stunning.
The opera performance titled “Música Mexicana del siglo XIX” was held at the Centro de las Artes and featured five singers and three musicians. Although I could only catch a few words here and there, the performances were all incredible. I had never been to any opera performance before. I was surprised one of the singers square his feet and bend his knees a bit at one part of his performance, but the incredible expanse of notes that followed right after explained why.
Now, let’s remember here who I am. Rachel, the one who quite often has something slightly no-so desirable, but always laughable going on. During the opera performance, I happened to reach up to scratch the corner of my eye. Too little too late, I remembered that there very likely was still hot-wing spice on my fingers. My thought was validated as my eye turned into Multnomah Falls. Alex asked if I was okay, and I explained in a hush that it was the hot sauce. He is convinced that it is because all of the songs where about love.
While at the Centro de Artes, we also got to see an impressive display of art sculptures that are called Alebrijes. They are combinations of animals and grand imagination. They are hand painted with very bright and vivid colors. Below I am posing next to one of my favorites that looks very real-life to me. The plaza in the center of the building was also very impressive, as they all are. After spending an hour and a half listening to classical Mexican opera and touring the Alebriges, Alex and I walked to the Múseo de Arte for the opening of a grand art exposition.
Alex is an artist himself and therefore received an invitation to this event. I am so thankful to have been able to accompany him. The art exposition was of the works of Federico Correa, a California born Chicano painter who has become world renowned. After a few opening speeches, the doors were opened and everyone flowed from the stunning plaza towards the striking works of Mr. Correa.
The pieces were all huge, each spanning no less than 8×8 feet. I quickly caught on that when one is admiring art pieces this large, standing close is not the way they are intended to be viewed. Standing in the center of the room was the perfect spot to view the pieces on all four sides. They were quite thought provoking. I really enjoying gathering my own thoughts while Alex mulled over his, and then discussing what we both were seeing through our own eyes. It was very easy to see how much Alex admired the works of Federico Correa, from one artist to another. My favorite piece on display was of the large face, pictured below.
Alex and I walked through both rooms multiple times, each time seeing different things. I was caught up in my own thoughts when Alex tapped my arm and turned me around. A photo was snapped before I fully realized what was going on. A large local newspaper in Querétaro, AM, had just taken our photo and was recording our names. I leaned over to Alex and told him that I thought I blinked. Not long after, I had another chance to not blink as another big newspaper in Querétaro, Noticias, was taking our photo in front of another piece. And promptly after this, Alex and I were speaking to Federico Correa himself! Alex introduced me to several other people at the event so that I could practice my Spanish introductions. With glasses of wine in hand, we admired the plaza and continued to discuss our thoughts on the paintings as Alex shared a bit about his own work.
After our wine, we had one last stop: Maria y Su Bici, a restaurant specializing in food from Oaxaca, a region of Southern Mexico. This is where I finally got to try Chapuline (cricket) tacos! Alex cringed as I rolled the tortilla tight around the crickets to hold them inside. He said that he has hated Chapulines since he was a young boy. I asked if it was because of the taste, texture, or thought of eating bugs and he said all of the above. The taco was alright, Chapulines have a weird flavor. I was super surprised when Alex began to roll his own taco. After his first bite, he did not even try to hide his face. I told him he didn’t have to eat it, but he did, I am convinced to be polite. Now, I always say that new food id my favorite food and I am game to try new foods at least once, and technically this was my second time having Chapulines, but I think it may have also been my last. None the less, I am super stoked to have it checked off on my Food-To-Eat list. It was great getting to share this very cultural food experience with Alex.
Tonight was a whirlwind of local flavors, incredible performances, rubbing elbows with well-known people, and the beginning of a great new friendship! So far, tonight was my favorite night spent in El Centro de Querétaro. I am so thankful to have Alex as a local tour guide, historian, and most of all, friend. I am looking forward to exploring more of Querétaro with him over the next few weeks and I know that tonight will make saying goodbye (for now) to Mexico much harder.
¡Muchas gracias, Alex!