Outside the entrance to the zoo (and, for that matter, outside the entrance to almost every place a crowd passes through) individual vendors set up stalls and compete with color, noise, calls, and whatever attractions they can think of to sell their goods or services.
The gauntlet at the zoo was very long and particularly creative, offering a everything from the typical, ubiquitous snacks to all sorts of zoo-related paraphanalia, photos with Spiderman and Captain Marvel, fuzzy monkeys that you could wrap around your shoulders or perch on your head, and some of the best face-painting I've ever seen.
We succumbed after half an hour of walking through this; J. bought some old-fashioned cottn candy, spun on the spot in a machine like the ones I remember from county fairs when I was a kid, and I bought a cone of real potato chips. We had had some the day before; the vendor makes them fresh, puts them still warm in a paper cone, squirts on a little chili sauce, and then squeezes a lime over them. Need I say more?
We never figured out what these were -- at first I thought they were fruit leathers, but they're some sort of candy.
Then, amid all the noise and shouting, we came upon a small stall filled with bonsai. In a quiet voice, a Japanese man was explaining to these young people what the plants were and how he cultivated them. It was like a contemplative oasis in the middle of...well... a zoo.
In such a teeming city as this -- a mind-boggling 20 million people in the greater metropolitan area -- the first impression, especially when encountering the traffic or the streets, is of barely-contained chaos. But again and again this week, I've seen scenes like this: little pockets of calmness, quiet, and beauty in which people are alone or with a friend or two. And even in the most crowded places, Mexicans don't seem agitated or numb. They are alert, warm, friendly, helpful, and coping with an urban situation that seems, on the surface, utterly impossible.