A Village Fair, Bang in Town

Biking around Mexico City took us around to an ancient village fairground and its patron saint festivity …and delicacies!

 

Sundays are a treat for bikers in Mexico City: all around the city, many streets are closed to create bike-only circuits where you can savor different neighborhoods and their particular way of life at your own pace. Once a month, specifically on the last Sunday each month, many of these circuits are connected to form what we Chilangos call "Ciclotón": a 35 km –or so- long (roughly 22 miles) stroll across the city's neighborhoods, rich and poor, grand or not, many of which we may not have heard before. Case in point: last Sunday of July. The circuit snaked around very central and yet very unknown (for us) places. We have the rule of stopping at every mercado we see along the way and Mercado San Lucas on the southern rim of old town was to be no exception. An inscription on the façade lets you know that the place hasn't been painted or remodeled since '96. Good to know, as it's in an urgent need of a paint job, and then some more. But inside we found colorful stalls, one of which has a very large sculpture of a calavera —our beloved caricaturization of death used for Día de Muertos (Day of the Death), surrounded by piñatas! Look at the pic and judge for yourself, but for me that was well worth the stop! Back on the saddle, the closed roads kept on going south. We rode on a very wide boulevard for what seemed like ages (no landmarks or anything apart from the electricity towers running along the road) until we hit San Andrés Tetepilco, an ancient village-come neighborhood with a strong sense of pride for their 17th century church. Their yearly San Andrés festivity was in full swing! We stopped to see what it all was about. Mexico has this beautiful tradition of mixing catholic and pre-hispanic rites. You see it everywhere but it's never as present as it is on this kind of religious celebrations. What we found in the courtyard was several circles of dancers fully clad in Aztec attire (or –of course- our modern misinterpretation of Aztec ritualistic gear), dancing to pre-Columbian music played on drums, flutes and conch shells. Christian imagery all around. Let's not forget that this is a Catholic church! I have always found this syncretism to be fascinating.

On a culinary note, these popular celebrations always come with yummy treats. Pan de feria or "fair bread" used to be available almost all the time and now is very hard to come by, so I was thrilled to find stalls selling it. The bread is made with a dough to which pulque (an Aztec alcoholic beverage prepared from fermented agave sap) is added "to feed the yeast". It is soft, slightly sweet and very aromatic. It can be topped with anything from sesame seeds to raisins or candied figs to sugary crusts that come in various colors, but the most traditional ones have inscriptions made with dough halfway through baking. The messages say things like "Wish you were here" or "Souvenir of San Andrés". They read like something out of a different era, while the smell and taste of the bread consistently announce that you will, indeed, have fond memories from the fair.

The Ciclotón is not something we always do. Life can get hectic and Sundays are also a big day for seeing friends and family. But every once in a while, it's really grand to get on our bikes and ride to places we didn't know of –like San Adrés Tetepilco, to remind ourselves of the very, very old place that this city is, and how complex and beautiful our traditions can be. And -of course- to stock-up on Pan de Feria!