Sometimes I like to pretend that I am a 17th Century Marquise. Unlike my disreputable house in the Oregon Coast Range, Zacatecas is a good place to practice this delusion.
More specifically, the Hotel Casa Santa Lucia really fosters delusions of grandeur. After two nights in cheap-ass accommodations (180 pesos and 60 pesos respectively) we decided we could afford to splurge on a little colonial luxury.
Located in downtown Zacatecas, The Hotel Casa Sta. Lucia features the perquisite wrought iron balcony overlooking the street and stone walls that must be about four feet thick. With thirty-foot ceilings, a chandelier, and pillows that (unlike every other Mexican hotel room pillow I have ever encountered) do not in any way resemble bags of cement, our room was pretty much a dream come true. Comfortable, but with enough Mexican flavor to keep me entertained. I will not tell you how much we paid for the room (because my sainted mother and el Codo might faint), but I will say that it was significantly cheaper than the cost of your typical stateside Best Western.
The hotel room was so nice that I almost missed the rest of Zacatecas–I spent a good portion of our stay lolling around in the room drinking wine and ordering my imaginary servants about. (This is how I imagine a 17th C. marquise would spend her time. Probably also a lot of needlework or something, but I decided to skip that. Imaginary needlework is so boring.)
But we did get out and wander around. Downtown Zacatecas is ancient, and notable for its pristine pastel facades, its baroque cathedrals, its abundance of fine restaurants, its excellent coffee shops, and its startling lack of foreigners. The city is cosmopolitan, elegant, and wonderfully Mexican.
I drank my morning coffee at the historic Cafe Acropolis, where the city’s elite have been gathering since the 1940s to hash out political decisions, brainstorm artistic movements, and gnaw on fancy pastries. (Being a marquise, I felt right at home, of course.) We then spent the better part of the day wandering the city.
We figured we’d stumble across an appropriate museum and get edified, but instead we ended up taking a tour of the hokey yet entertaining Museo Casa del Inquisidor, where a cute teenage girl with a sweet voice showed us around fake dungeons and detailed the uses of an impressive selection of wrought iron torture implements. (Note: Last time we were in Zacatecas we spent hours in the Museo Rafael Coronel, which houses one of the world’s largest collections of Mexican masks, and is well worth your time.)
For dinner we strolled until we found a likely looking place, a basement level Italian joint called Trattoria Il Goloso. I liked the eclectic decor, the reasonable prices, the friendly hostess, and the fact that the dining room was pretty full even though it was barely six–always a good sign, especially in a Mexican city, when dinner is usually served either in the afternoon or rather late at night. I felt a little guilty eating Italian food only three days into Mexico, but I shrugged it off. We’d already agreed Zacatecas would be the fancy part of our trip and then we’d happily return to our usual diet of tortas and trailer parques.
I ordered the Spaghetti Carbonara, which was quite good, but Rich ordered Stefano’s Special, which was exquisite: penne in a bath of saffron cream, scattered with prawns. I kept stealing from his plate. We also shared a large salad–crunchy romaine and lush tomatoes in a bright vinaigrette.
This was one of my favorite days ever, and it ended with an appropriate flourish. We retired to our room after dinner so that Rich could watch the play-offs and I could flounce around in a diadem and mock my dwarves and courtiers. I was startled out of my reverie by the sound of a brass band. From my stone balcony I could see a whole procession: a marching band followed by a hundred revelers, who seemed to be, by and large, middle class middle aged Mexicans happily drinking Modelo in the street. Apparently this was just for hell of it, as it wasn’t a holiday. I was just thinking, “Man, do I love Mexico,” when the trumpet player spotted me on the balcony, stopped marching, and began to serenade me. In moments the rest of the band joined him. A hundred revelers crowded around, laughing and waving up at me. As though my delusions of grandeur needed any encouragement….