What We Think of When We Hear the Word Ice in Mexico

By Carole Reedy

“Is it safe?” is the first thought that pops to mind when I hear the word ice, because every person who has visited me in Mexico over the past 21 years has asked that question. In 1997 I would have advised them to avoid it at all costs. Today I say that in most restaurants and bars ice is perfectly safe. Just look to be sure it’s in the form of the quadrangular cubes that come from large commercial bags. Ice from street vendors is probably not safe. Stick to bottled water for drinking.

Ices, or slurpies, have joined ice cream as a favorite refreshing treat on a hot day. Ices come in all flavors and, especially in Mexico, you can try unusual ones like chile and tamarind. The same precaution for ice cubes applies to ices. Avoid buying them from street vendors even when the relentless Mexican sun tempts you. Best to look for a specialty store or tienda and avoid Montezuma’s revenge.

Ice skating evokes a memory from my childhood growing up on the South Side of Chicago, ice skating at the public park in my neighborhood. No fancy ice rink. Just water scattered over a grassy area and left to freeze in sub-zero temperatures. The day always ended with hot chocolate and cookies.

These days ice skating conjures up anticipation for the Christmas holidays in Mexico City’s zocalo, with a classy ice rink in its center, hugged by the grand buildings surrounding it: the cathedral built by the Spaniards, the National Palace and the nearby Templo Mayor, home of the Aztecs before being destroyed by the conquistadors, but rediscovered in 1978 when electrical workers found relics while digging.

From the beginning of December until January 7, chilangos and visitors alike enjoy the grand ice rink at no cost. Most skaters are beginners, clinging to the bannisters that surround the rink, while the few experienced skaters dance gracefully in the center. Other snow and ice activities pepper the zocalo throughout the December holiday, although the temperature never dips below or even close to freezing. It’s a wonderful way to enjoy winter activities without the wind and cold of the northern regions. A bit of advice: it is practically impossible to do business in Mexico at this time until after January 6. Just enjoy the activities, concerts, exhibitions, and music.

Icebergs are a natural progression when thinking about ice. Certainly for most of us, icebergs aren’t something we see regularly, but the iceberg is a daunting phenomenon. One of my vivid childhood memories is the 1958 movie “A Night to Remember,” a tale of the Titanic, the ship that would never sink, that ends with the men on board singing “Nearer My God to Thee” as the ship glides and sinks head-first into the sea. The ship had provided only half the number of lifeboats needed for the passengers aboard. This was my first exposure to icebergs. Younger moviegoers will remember the 1997 version of the story starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Icebergs are back in the news due to climate change and the melting of Earth’s icecaps.

Ice as a threat. For many world citizens, ice is the bane of their existence during winter months. Ice covers streets, sidewalks, gardens, and parks, making walking and driving a nightmare. Here in Mexico City we are spared that. Foreign news stations often report snow and ice in Mexico, but that occurs only in the north, especially in Chihuahua, and on the mountains. The side-by-side volcanoes Popocatepetl and Iztaccihuatl in Puebla form a picture postcard when seen from Mexico City, snow often capping their peaks.

A thousand-word article can cover just the tip of the iceberg on the topic of ice. Better to read the scientific experts and especially the novelists and historians who so majestically relate the human side of any subject. Two novels by Beryl Bainbridge tell stories about Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition to the South Pole and of the sinking of the Titanic.

The Birthday Boys. Five participants, each with his own chapter, tell the story of the ill-fated polar expedition as they experienced it. If you’re looking for the technical aspects of the voyage and sea, this is not the book to read. Bainbridge, as always, homes in on the complex feelings and emotions of the men and the issues of class on that final polar trek.   One reader tells us, “It is some of the most powerful prose I’ve read anywhere. Short, but intense, rather like the lives of some of the men depicted.”

Every Man for Himself. This is Bainbridge’s version of the Titanic’s voyage, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won a Whitbread Book Award (now the Costa Book Awards) in 1996. “Bainbridge’s ability to distill, and almost disguise, major ideas in brisk and seamless prose allows her to tell the story of the Titanic in fewer than two hundred pages.” Once again, class comes to the forefront as Bainbridge takes us into the world of the first-class passengers. The New York Times wrote, “It is difficult to imagine a more engrossing account of the famous shipwreck than this one.”

 

A final note on ice. Say the word “ice” to most Mexicans today and most will recognize it as the acronym for US Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency removing Mexicans from the US.

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