” Las canciones de mi suelo todas saben a tequila , tienen filo del machete y sabores de un amor ” Pedro Infante
I was still just a child when, after having walked all day through sprawling Mexico City, my father took me in the evening to visit the plaza where the mariachis sing. The place back then seemed gigantic to me, and the mariachis instilled an almost reverential respect in me. That night and the gigantic square remained etched in my memory, and it was decades before I was able to return to Mexico City as an adult and experience the Plaza Garibaldi again.
In September 2019, returning from Merida, my plane was delayed and we landed in Mexico City at 9 pm, with my connecting flight leaving in the morning. As I dropped off my luggage at the hotel, I recalled how the bad weather the week before had kept me near the hotel in Reforma, and that I had not yet visited the Plaza Garibaldi on this Mexico trip.
I did not waste a moment. It was Monday and the Zocalo, illuminated with the colors of the Mexican flag in tribute to the anniversary of the revolution, was deserted. When I got to the plaza however, the ambiance was quite different. Plaza Garibaldi pulsated with activity. As I was getting out, my driver advised me to be careful, and was surprised when I told him that I had already been there many times before. What I did not know however, was that exactly a year before, armed gunmen dressed as mariachis had burst onto the plaza, killing six people and injuring others in an act of vindication against the arrest of the leader of the Union de Trepito cartel, named after a neighborhood where the plaza is located.
It was the second time I had visited Plaza Garibaldi since the massacre, unaware of this event. I had been blissfully oblivious to the world of the cartels, much like I imagine many of the musicians there were too, people yearning only to play music every night and bring joy with their songs and serenades.
Plaza Garibaldi Mexico city has been the home of the mariachi in Mexico City since the 1920s. Back then there were small shops, a market, a pulque (an alcoholic beverage made from fermented agave) store and a cantina called Tenampa (now a legendary establishment) owned by Juan Hernández Ibarra, a merchant originally from the town of Cocula, Jalisco. It was here that the ensemble Mariachi Coculense performed for the first time. From then on, the Plaza Garibaldi became known as a lively place to hear folk groups, especially mariachis, and to taste the typical cuisine of Jalisco and the Valley of Mexico.
Today, Plaza Garibaldi Mexico city is still the gathering place for mariachi bands dressed in their elegant suits with silver decorations. Mariachis blow their trumpets and tune their guitars until someone approaches them to pay for a song. White-clad “son jarocho” groups, hailing from Veracruz, and “norteño” combos, who bang out northern-style folk tunes can also be found roaming the square.
At the entrance to the plaza on the Eje Central, at all hours of the day, mariachis wait for someone to come hire them to sing at a private party. This part of Garibaldi Plaza near the Eje Central is the part I like the most, because it is the most authentic, and where I have always found the most interesting mariachis. That September night, despite the late hour, the mariachis were there at the entrance, waiting for someone to hire them to sing. And that was how, in the midst of one of these groups, I came across my old friend Alvaro, whom I had photographed in Tenampa the year before, and who recognized me and greeted me affectionately.
The iconic restaurant where Pedro Infante and Chabela Vargas once sang was closed that night, and the only alternative was to walk over to the statue where Pedro Infante unfolds his hat and try to get a table in Guadalajara de Noche. It was a little after midnight when I entered the place to find a hushed atmosphere. There were only a few people in the Guadalajara, and the folk show had a cozy, intimate quality to it. The dance ended as I was enjoying some enchiladas, and when I looked up I saw that I was almost alone there with the mariachis, who were serenading a couple seated at the only other table occupied besides mine. I decided to get up and join the musicians, who were not bothered by my presence, and who graciously allowed me the chance to feel what it’s like to be a mariachi for a little while.
The next morning I flew off to Santiago in Chile, ending a long series of journeys to Mexico.
Pablo Munini , © Milan , May 2020
Pulque: An alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of the Maguey agave.
Enchilada: A flat piece of bread called a tortilla wrapped around a filling of meat or vegetables and served hot, usually with a sauce.