On the Monday before Christmas, my husband, Brad, came to Mexico to spend the holidays with me, and we took up residence in an apartment in la Casa de las Brujas, a hundred-and-seven-year-old building in Plaza de Rio de Janeiro in Colonia Roma. Officially, the building is called Edificio Rio de Janerio, but everyone in Mexico City calls it Casa de las Brujas (the Witches’ House) or Castillo de las Brujas (the Witches’ Castle). There are several different explanations for the building’s nicknames.
One is is that the building has a turret that looks a little like a witch.
The other is that a famous witch named Pachita lived inside this building. Legend claims that around the time of the Mexican Revolution, many prominent Mexican politicians visited her frequently, and she did favors for them free of charge. Her spells allegedly led to ghosts and spirits being trapped in this building, and recent residents complain that they have been bothered by these ghosts, hearing odd noises and seeing “strange presences at all hours.” Brad and I haven’t seen any strange presences, though we have been bothered a bit by mosquitoes when we leave the windows open.
This building also has a certain literary fame, having been a “character” in several Mexican novels, among them Carlos Fuentes’s Agua Quemada, as well as the home of many artists and writers in the early 20th century. William S. Burroughs lived in this neighborhood, as did many other writers, and it remains one of the artsiest parts of Mexico City.
At the center of Plaza Rio de Janeiro is a replica of Michelangelo’s David, and surrounding David are trees and cactus gardens (and a very interesting shrine to Santa Muerte, Saint Death). In the days leading up to Christmas, there was a kind of fair in the park involving craft booths and nightly live music. The area around the plaza is overflowing with cafes and restaurants, including Cafe Toscano, which Brad and I were surprised to find open when we went for a walk on Christmas afternoon. We decided to have lunch there, thinking we would be unlikely to find any other restaurants open in the city. (When we continued our walk after lunch we discovered that the city was full of open restaurants.) We enjoyed a thin crust artichoke and green olive pizza and a couple of microbrews and then wandered around Roma for a couple of hours.
Colonia Roma was built during the presidency of Porfirio Diaz, and though the neighborhood was devastated by the 1985 earthquake, it remains a showcase for the architecture of the Porfiriato, as the 35-year reign of Porfirio Diaz is called. It’s also packed with restaurants, parks, theaters, bars, cafes, bakeries, and boutique clothing stores. I’m happy to find that Brad is as enamored with the neighborhood as I am. During our walk, he expressed regret that we’ll be leaving it in a couple of days to do some traveling in other parts of Mexico (though I’m sure he’ll love these other places as much as he loves la Roma).
After our walk, we returned to the Witches’ House and made a big pot of vegetable soup, which we topped with sauteed pepitas (pumpkin seeds) and grated manchego, and ate with delicious bread we had bought at La Puerta Abierta, a nearby bakery, and some smoked salmon from the Superama, a Mexican grocery store chain. It was an untraditional Christmas dinner, but we enjoyed it nonetheless.