Mexico City’s Mini World’s Fair: Fiestas del Mundo

Whats New — By gnunes on May 28, 2011 at 6:18 pm

Mexico City’s Fiestas del Mundo, or Festivals of the World, is attracting hordes of delighted fair-goers of all nationalities to Paseo de la Reforma from May 14-29, 2011.

The capital city has always been a place where locals have sampled the wares of merchants from far-flung regions. The Aztec market at Tlatelolco was famed for the riches and variety of its merchandise. Later, Spanish traders speculated on lavish silks and spices brought from Asia via the naos – clipper ships that made a single, lucrative annual passage from Manila to Acapulco.

In 2009, Mexico City started its own mini-world’s fair, subtitled the Feria de las Culturas Amigas, which translates rather clumsily as the Fair of Friendly Cultures. Rows of white canvas pavilions line broad Reforma, extending from Chapultepec Park past the La Diana and El Angel traffic circles, ending at the one known simply as La Palma.

Big smiles on the faces of Haiti's representatives

The celebration, now in its third year, aims to present the positive in international relations. India and Pakistan, next-door neighbors here as on the Asian subcontinent, seem chummy despite their long history of animosity. Judging from the distance between their booths, though, it would appear that someone is keeping Israel and Palestine far apart from each other.

Crowds cluster around displays of eye-catching souvenirs: vibrantly colored paintings from Haiti, drums from Cuba, beaded bracelets from Guatemala, red-tasseled wind chimes from China, mirrored fabric lanterns from India, spaghetti-strap dresses from Senegal, hookahs from Lebanon, and jangly scarves heavy with coins from Egypt, which also shows sculptures of the ancient dog god, Anubis.

Kebbe charola and other Lebanese treats

But it is the food that draws office workers on lunch break from the Torre Mayor, HSBC, and the other tall buildings along Reforma. Thailand serves pad thai or jasmine rice with a choice of three stews, peanut chicken and pork with zucchini among them. At Lebanon’s pavilion, hungry diners choose from kebbe charola (a savory pie of minced beef and pine nuts), hummus, and cigarette-slim stuffed grape leaves.

Who knew that Saudi Arabia prepares a cold chocolate drink? But it does, and the one served here is rich and cool. Talk about hubris, though: bringing the Aztec emperor’s favorite drink to the former Tenochtitlan! The Germans and Belgians offer strong beers and the South Africans, wine from Stellenbosch and Franschhoek.

Each day, performances, lectures, demonstrations, and readings fill the Foro Artistico (Artistic Forum) and other spaces…from the bagpipes of the San Patricio Battalion, a Mexican-Irish group, to the Samulnori dance company from South Korea. US culture is delightfully represented by the Ajusco Mountain Boys, which bills itself as “the hardest working bluegrass band in show business in Central America.”

Photo op at the Saudi Arabia booth

One heart-warming nod to caring about our brothers: Mexico City’s booth, which features a donation box bearing a sign that says, “Solidarity with the Japanese People,” with contributions designated for victims of the earthquake and tsunami.

My vote for Savviest Countries goes to Saudi Arabia and Algeria. Both of them erected stage sets where you can dress yourself in native costumes and have your picture taken. I’m curious, though, what the writing means on the poster of the flag-waving boy that is the backdrop in Saudi Arabia’s photo booth. Something peaceful, I hope!

If you would like to attend the 2012 Fiestas del Mundo, watch for information at Mexico City’s official website.

Fiestas del Mundo booths along Paseo de la Reforma

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