Archive for February, 2016

Last week, Ben and I traveled to Mexico City for  a 6 day vacation from San Miguel.  As one long time resident said to me the first year we wintered here:  “San Miguel is like an island:  every so often,  you have to get off!

We have both visited Mexico City a few times in our past, for business and pleasure, but never before as a couple.  Only 3 hours away by car, Mexico City, (or D.F. as it is called by residents),  has a population equivalent to our country of  Canada. It is as dynamic as New York, as cosmopolitan as Paris and as historic as London.  And in large pockets, such as Polanco, Condessa and Roma,  as liveable as any of those fine cities.

But how does one get around in such an incredibly large metropolis, where there are acknowledged threats to your body and your purse? We don’t want to exaggerate the risk,  but we are not naive either:  those security patrols and body guards are everywhere for a reason.  The Metro is cheap and navigable, but we wanted to buy things at the mercado, at the wine store, and at the art fair to bring home to SMA.

We had tried to find a service but nothing met our criteria:  a bilingual driver, available quickly, who would take us from our condo to destinations, day and night, in reasonable comfort and safety. Nothing big or ostentatious.

Our answer was Uber. A friend is an Uber driver in Toronto, and she explained to us how it worked.  I know lots of folks who use it,  but I was worried about managing with my feeble Spanish.   But bilingual navigation skills were not necessary:   it’s all done on the Uber app on your smart phone. A wifi connection is necessary, but that’s the only barrier.

The real revelation was just how polite, no, how accommodating, all of the drivers were.

We entered the car and bottles of water were immediately offered.   I sneezed, and a box of tissues was appeared. The driver was attentive to the road, not to his cell phone or a dispatcher.  Heat or cold was adjusted with just a word or gesture.  It was just like having a private driver, at prices much lower than taxis and with nicer cars.

And then there was the “Rate your Driver” survey that appeared on my cell phone after the ride.  You rate them, and as we knew from our Uber driving friend, they rate you.

It brought to mind an ancient economics lecture on how incentives can work to impact behaviour.   If you provide immediate feedback on the right behaviour with consequences for the wrong behaviour (as in, no one will answer your ping), you are more likely to get the behaviour you want. (Works with dogs too!)

Where else did we experience that immediate and effective feedback loop?  With Air BnB.  Immediately after our stay, we received a survey to rate our hosts, the location and the property itself.  That is expected on say, a Trip Advisor or VRBO rental.

 But our hosts also answered a survey on the quality of Ben and me as guests. And,  I say modestly, we were rated as “perfect”.

What would have been the consequences of discarded stained towels on the bathroom floor, leaving the fridge door open all night, or littering the counter with take out cartons?

The answer is clear:  if you cannot behave like civilized people, respecting other people’s property and basically treating it like you would want yours to be treated, you won’t get the opportunity to rent this place again, or likely any other on Air BnB.   

Ben often says that if you are not happy with something,  you simply vote with your wallet and don’t buy it again.  But in this age of instant gratification, we can go beyond simply walking away. We have the opportunity to express our dissatisfaction  almost as it happens.

But what if all of the providers did it too?  In an earlier time, all kinds of businesses would gently or not so gently discourage certain demanding, ungracious or boorish customers.  So imagine a time where we are all openly rated as customers say by our stylists, our mechanics, or by our care givers.  Imagine how civilizing that would be. (Or you could argue that it might inhibit honest feedback:  you can read “ The Circle” by David Eggers, to see how that would ultimately play out.) 

On a less serious note (thank goodness) here are some of the photos of our fabulous condo in Polanco, owned by the equally fabulous and very nice Canadian couple, Sergio and Renny:


We also wandered through the upmarket retail stores that an affluent neighbourhood like Polanco offers.


And of course, we ate!  Our most memorable meal was at a little tapas bar, where I was immediately transported back to Barcelona with one whiff of the gambas al ajillo (shrimp in garlicky chilli oil). Not a coincidence that the attractive female owner was from that city! And this was the most reasonably priced meal we had during our 6 day stay.

We also ventured to a few cultural icons:  The Cathedral in the Zocola, Belles Artes, The Grand Hotel, and the Museo Soumaya (named for Carlos Slim’s late wife).  This Museo, which is free to all, has been criticized by some for being the questionable product of too little taste and too much money. Most of the paintings still have the Sotheby’s sticker with the estimated hammer price on the back, so yes, that critique may be valid. But as I read later, many private collections are simply amassed over time,(“Ohh look Carlos, another Rodin,  I simply must have it!”) and so have that quality of being  unfocused, not “curated” as the critics would say, no doubt with a dismissing sniff.

And as you can see from the photos below, I have an affection for  Salvador Dali’s  bronzes, even if some of those same critics judge them to be whimsical trifles created at the turn of the century for those of bourgeois taste. Piffle, I say.

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