Meet the Neighbors: Guadalajara and Montréal 1
Originally published in Salt Lake magazine

Meet the Neighbors: Guadalajara and Montréal

How many times have you heard—especially lately—that the world is getting smaller? It seems that way sometimes—Americans are familiar with towns like Jalalabad and Karachi, names we’d never heard of until the past decade. So, considering our familiarity with these faraway places, it seems odd that we know so little about our own neighbors, Canada and Mexico, specifically the cities of Guadalajara and Montréal. Seizing several opportunities, the editors of Salt Lake magazine traveled to destinations in these close-by countries and came home wanting to go back. And get to know our neighbors better.

Guadalajara: Secrets of the City

Our guide, Ricardo, was being bossy. Our group of four was inside Palacio de Gobierno, Guadalajara’s governor’s palace, one of the many awesome 17th-century buildings in the city. We’d been through the city’s old neighborhoods of colonial houses, evoking a more gracious and classist era of the city. Most had been replaced by business-like buildings more indicative of Guadalajara’s powerhouse present, but a few remained. Now we were touring official structures, most of them important in the tumultuous history
of Mexico.

Ricardo stopped us in front of the stairs at the entrance to a gallery and ordered, “Look down. Do not look up until you walk up ten steps.”

Obediently, we walked up ten steps, looking at the stone underfoot until he said, “Now! Look up.”

We did. We gasped. Looming over us, glaring straight at us and brandishing a fiery sword, with the scowl of revolution on his face, was Father Hidalgo, Miguel Hidalgo y Castilla, the father of Mexican independence who had inspired the masses to rise up against the oppression of church and state.

The awe-inspiring work was by the one-handed artist Jose Clemente Orozco, one of Mexico’s most famous muralists, and it captures the anger and desperation of Hidalgo’s movement in big modern brushstrokes, bold colors and bolder black and white.

Orozco painted murals all through the Palacio, as well as in the Instituto Cultural Cabañas (Cabañas Cultural Institute), orphange turned museum. The building itself is a marvel but its biggest attraction is the murals that cover the main entrance hall. (Among these murals is “Hombre del Fuego” (Man of Fire), considered to be one of Orozco’s finest works.) Again, Ricardo got bossy, making us walk slowly from one side of the mural to the other, to observe the way the figure in the picture seems to move as you do.

Guadalajara is like this—the apparently commercial and industrial 21st-century city hides a heart of art, culture and cuisine.

We went to quaint Tlaquepaque, once a separate city, now engulfed by Guadalajara. Its central plaza, El Parian, is lined with columned arcades leading to restaurants, bars, shops and studios. Guadalajara is the birthplace of mariachi and there are likely to be groups serenading in the square. Famous for its pottery and blown glass, Tlaquepaque is also home to the gallery of Sergio Bustamante, one of Mexico’s most famous living artists and one whose works you know, you just don’t know they’re his. We ate at sophisticated restaurants like Alcalde, which chef Francisco Ruano has led to worldwide recognition. And we got lost in Mercado Libertad (Mercado de San Juan de Dios), one of the largest traditional markets in Mexico, where you can see an entire and colorful culture for sale. We spent our evenings swimming and drinking margaritas by the rooftop pool. Guadalajara is the second-largest city in Mexico. It’s not a tourist mecca, but it should be.

  • Book a flight Aeromexo offers direct flights to Guadalajara aaeromexico.com
  • Book a Tour Book a private walking tour of Guadaljara’s historic center. visitguadalajara.comdragonfly.pro
  • Book a room The AC Hotel Guadalajara is an excellent business class hotel in the financial district. marriott.com

Trip to Tequila

Got to admit it: I didn’t even know Tequila was a town. I knew tequila had to made in Jalisco, Mexico to merit the name, and I was in Jalisco to see the liquor being made, but that my favorite beverage was named after an actual place—I had no clue. From Guadalajara, the best place to fly into if you are visiting Tequila (Aeromexico now has direct flights from SLC to Guadalajara) our bus passed through miles of Utah-colored scrubland. Then we topped a hill and saw a solid blue vista stretching to the mountains. It looked like a lake, but it was field after field of Weber blue agave, the only kind used to make premium tequila. (It really is blue.)

Agave is an unlikely looking crop—and a scary one. When we met the jimador, he warned us repeatedly about avoiding the plants’ spikes. Armed with his coa, a long flat knife like a machete, he showed us the techniques for pruning agave. The leaves are trimmed every year with a different cut until they mature—eight years or so. He harvested the pina—the pineapple-shaped fruit that weighs around 100 pounds when ripe—and let us taste the raw fruit. It tasted a lot like wood and was about that juicy. It’s hard to see how anyone could envision making a drink out of this dry stuff. But of course they do, after a lot of roasting and mashing and sieving and aging. We sipped lots of tequila flights in Tequila—most of the distilleries offer tours and tastings of everything from silver to anejo to reserve—and came away with an even higher regard for the magic liquid.

But there’s more to Tequila than tequila, though everything from murals to motorcycles bears the emblem of the agave. The town—founded in 1530—is built around a central plaza anchored by the 18th century church, Our Lady of the Purísima Concepción, whose bell rings every evening. The tiny cobbled streets wind past open doors of shops, bars and restaurants as the day begins to cool. The costumed voladores set up their pole and perform the ancient Mayan dance to appease the raingods, a ritual now preserved as Intangible Cultural Heritage by UNESCO.

In fact, the whole town of Tequila is designated a World Heritage site by UNESCO. That doesn’t mean it’s lacking in modern luxury—the Relais & Chateaux Hotel Solar de las Animas, built in traditional colonial style around a courtyard, has an antique charm but the beautiful pool, serene rooms and excellent food are completely 21st century.

Not far out of town is evidence of the ancient culture that first settled the area and, perhaps, made pulque from the wild agave. Rediscovered in the 1970s, the site wasn’t excavated until the 90s, Los Guachimontones, circular stepped pyramids arranged in a circle, were made by the Teuchitlan people around  200–300 C.E.. The weird mounds are believed to be cosmograms—mythological maps of the universe. In a hole at the apex, worshipers erected a pole and performed rituals much like the voladores do today.

Who knew? Again, I didn’t. Like most norteamericanas, I know more about the kings of England than I do about the history of our neighboring country. I came home from Tequila with two goals: 1) Learn more about Mexico. 2) Drink more tequila.

  • Book a Train Take the luxury train to Tequila operated by Jose Cuervo. mundocuervo.com
  • Book a Tour Tour the Jose Cuervo Agave fields and book a tasting and tour at the distillery. mundocuervo.com
  • Book a room AC Guadalajara Old Mexico charm with
    five-star service plus  a killer rooftop pool. hotelsolardelasanimas.com

Montréal Invites Wonder

The bikes are pink. Our bike tour guide, Dany Spade of Spade-Palacio tours (spadeandpalacio.com), explains his outfit gets the bikes from Rebicycle, giving discarded bikes new life and color Danny is one of those infectious personalities, he and his partner Anne-Marie built their hipster tour company essentially on his enthusiasm for the city he loves, Montréal. We climb aboard our pink bikes and off he goes, with a constant over-the-shoulder patter as we zoom around La Plateau, one of Montréal’s most bourgeois boheme hoods.

Seeing a city from the saddle of the bike is a liberating experience and Montréal is a city best seen by bike. Danny cheekily explains that Montréalers are famously cheap and would rather ride bikes, rain or shine, than pay for care and upkeep on cars. This low-rent demand from its citizens means the city is well-served by bike lanes and segregated paths that former Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker—the bike mayor—probably dreams of every night. Becker would swipe right on Montréal’s bike network, for sure.

Montréal is a city that makes one wonder: Why can’t our city be more like this? Salt Lake City, as hip as it is, could take a page from Montréal’s playbook. Like SLC, Montréal is a city with a rich culture and it is celebrated proudly throughout the town in fabulously creative, progressive and enthusiastic ways. Danny takes us down the green alleys of La Plateau, where the city has urged residents to take over side streets and alley ways to plant gardens and beautiful green installations. We zip around the waterfront spying kayakers and stop at an open-air plant and food market for green papaya salad and beers.

After our tour, Danny directs us to the Cité Mémoire installations (Montréalenhistoires.com/en/cite-memoire/), that’s French for memories of the city, and in true Montréal fashion, is a blend of old and cutting-edge new. The Cité Mémoire is a collection of yellow signs dotted around the historic old town. Scan the code on the sign with your phone and it launches a projection onto a blank building wall nearby. The projections are short films that explain important moments in the city’s history and we stroll from sign to sign, lighting up each tale on demand.

Finally, we find our way to a water front view of the Jacques Cartier Bridge, a suspension bridge spanning the Saint Lawrence River where the Moment Factory (momentfactory.com), a Montréal-based public art design firm, created a responsive light show on the iron beams of the bridge. The show, which is different every night, changes based on the mood of the city. Yes, the mood. When citizens tweet using several Montréal-related hashtags, the tweet is captured by one of the bridge’s towers and let loose as a point of light onto the bridge’s outer skin. And, on the day gay marriage rights were announced in Canada, the bridge was—you guessed it—bright pink in response to the outpouring of joy on social media. They have that and we have Donald Trump’s tweets. Go figure. And that was just one day.

  • Book a flight Delta flies through Detroit or Toronto and partners with Canadian regional airline WestJet. Delta.com
  • Book a Tour Custom bike and walking tours by Spade-Palacio spadeandpalacio.com
  • Book a room Inexpensive business class in the city Center: Hotel Monville  hotelmonville.com