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Published: January 22nd 2008
Determined to make one more tourist stop before returning to Mexico City, we spent New Year's Eve in Puebla. Given the city’s population of over a million, and its claim to fame as home to - amongst other things - the chocolate-based sauce mole
(pronounced 'moh-lay'), a retired Popemobile, and a local Oktoberfest, we imagined that New Year's Eve would prove a lively date on the calendars of the gastronome, the religious, and the reveller.
We managed to find an establishment on the main square or zócalo
which would provide us with dinner and the 12 grapes that tradition requires be rapidly consumed with each toll of the bell as the new year is rung in. Taking a preprandial ramble, we noticed a large queue spilling out of a Kentucky Fried Chicken and halfway down the street. Shivering and set-jawed in the fast-fading light, those in line grimaced as earlier arrivals jostled their way out the door embracing family-sized buckets of chicken wings. It looked very much as though New Year’s Eve in Puebla is usually spent in the company of The Colonel.
Back at the zócalo
a few hours later, amid the cobbled-together seating arrangements of our venue
for the night, we watched those last-minute stragglers who had been faced with KFC's now-closed doors bustle past with takeout pizzas. Seated on a chilly terrace with a plateful of something masquerading as costilla enchilada
, a ham and pineapple thick crust in the warmth of somebody's sitting room seemed rather tempting. But of course we were there for the city centre atmosphere! Surely any moment now the zócalo
would spring to life! Young and old would gather with candles or sparklers and a bellyful of fried poultry to gleefully cheer in the new year in a suffocating outpouring of goodwill and a riot of colour!... Wouldn't they? A lone balloon-seller traipsed across the square, and, beyond, the vats and pans of fast-food stands catering to a handful of customers belched a greasy fug, shot through with the glare of a fluorescent floodlight, up towards the cathedral’s towers. No one else was coming.
We fiddled with our grapes. It was five to midnight. Three more main courses appeared at the table next to us. Ours was the only one prepared for the countdown - disgruntled diners were snatching their dinner plates from frantic waiters and demanding their 12 uvas
a half-hearted “10… 9… 8…” from the restaurant next door alerted us to the fact that we would just have to start without everyone else. And so 2007 fizzled out. Not to the sound of whizzing fireworks or popping corks, but to the muttered imprecations of dissatisfied patrons. HAPPY 2008!!!!
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