Whatever is fueling it----the unseating of the institutional Revolutionary party, perhaps--Mexico City is having a Moment. In some respects the world's third-largest city is still chaotic and hard to penetrate, but it's not difficult to find signs of transformation. It is most readily visible, not to mention edible, in the gently proliferating restaurants, hotels and shops of two leafy, fashionable neighborhoods, or colonias: Polanco and Condesa. If these changes suggest an ominous blanding of the culture, let me reassure you. From the byzantine bloodthirsty-god networks of the Mexicas (the correct term for the Aztecs) to the national cult of the Virgin of Guadalupe (Mexicans rich or poor, religious or not, call themselves Guadalupanos), from colonization to revolution, Mexico City's culture is potent enough to overwhelm a hundred Starbucks coffee bars (the first is opening soon) and Gaps (no sign yet).
When you're about to go to Mexico City--known in Mexico simply as D.F. (dey EFF-ey), from Distrito Federal--people tend to overreact. They usually say one of two things: either "But isn't it dangerous and polluted?" or "That's my favorite city! You must go to [insert long list of obscure tacquerias]." There is very little in between. However, based on the evidence I've been collecting, I predict that the first, fearful camp is heading for extinction. Pollution is at an all-time low, and crime, well, crime is discussed much like bad weather or losing sports teams are here--with exasperation and a proprietorial air. Everyone knows someone who was a victim of a minor heist, but you, the visitor, are going to be fine. Just don't hail a taxi. The swarms of parrot green VW Bug taxis conceal some rogues, and safety dictates that you call instead for a taxi de sitio. Better still, hire a guide to drive you around during your stay. He can not only fight the traffic for you but also decode some of the city's potent culture.
Polanco and Condesa are separated by the Bosque de Chapultepec, which anchors any Mexico City experience. This 262-acre park contains lakes, an excellent zoo and seven museums. They include the essential Museo Nacional de Antropología; the Museo de Arte Moderno, an eighteenth-century castle; and the Mexican White House, Los Pinos. Like New York City's Central Park, Chapultepec is important for the mental health of the city's residents. For visitors, it has become the starting gate for the brand-new Corridores Turísticos, a government initiative, which by year's end promises to deliver double-decker hop-on, hop-off buses, verdant plantings and 700 special multilingual police down Paseo de la Reforma to the central square, the zócalo, and the freshly scrubbed centro historico. When you think Mexico City, friendly cops and blossoming jacarandas may not spring to mind, but then neither do Asian-fusion cuisine, Adam Tihanydesigned restaurants, Gucci, Fendi and bistro-traiteurs, but you'd better get used to it--they're here.