It always strikes me as ironic that what is truly beautiful in Mexico is mixed with a legacy
of controversy: the Spanish dons, the Catholic clergy and Porfirio Díaz.
Puebla, Mexico's fourth largest city claims to have been inspired by angels. Truly, Puebla
abounds with architectural masterpieces, and beauty is so commonplace it's taken for
granted by those who live here. It's an outdoor art show. I stare, look up and around, and
I seem to be alone in my astonishment. The map tells me there are over 1200 colonial
and architecturally splendid buildings, tiled and decorated, located in the center of Puebla.
Pedestrians look straight ahead and go about their business. But my senses were dazzled.
Puebla is the home of mole , the tasty specialty at Fonda de Santa Clara, and the China Po-
blana, the traditional outfit Mexican waitresses often wear. Mole (sauce) is a concoction
of chocolate and chili, spicy not sweet. It's a brown sauce generally served on turkey
or chicken, and it is considered Mexico's national dish. The China Poblana, the scooped
neck, bare-shouldered blouse, with a flouncy skirt, is the national costume, counterpart in
Mexican films to the silver-spangled charro outfit.
Puebla's colonial center, founded in 1531, designed and built on a grid, is flat and easy on
the legs, ideal for walking. It has the flavor of a European city. I favor lounging under the
arches, reading a newspaper, sipping coffee, and enjoying the view of the plaza. I listen
to the bullhorn demonstrators protesting a grievance at the Volkswagen plant, yet I come
away with the feeling that Puebla is a city of tranquility.
Across from my strangely named hotel, City Express, is one of the oldest neighborhoods
in Puebla, this most Spanish of all cities in Mexico. The once elegant neighborhood is now
in a state of general decline and advancing barbed wire security precautions. Old houses
reflect an age of Gatsby Baroque and conspicuous display. I felt compelled, as if inspect-
ing tombstones in a cemetery, to walk through the neighborhood just to view the decaying
I took a photo of a Moorish-influenced styled mansion, a bright yellow building with mul-
tiple domes encrusted with tiles and pictures in ceramic, scenes from Don Quixote, which
decorated the sweeping veranda that took up an entire block. The mansion was for rent.
Then I noticed another eye-catching building.
I crossed the street and stood, looking at a fantasy, a pink and red brick castle with a
tall, slender, hexagon turret that was balanced architecturally on the opposite side by a
short, squat tower with a tiled dome. It had Moorish arched windows and a crenellated