Mexico Metropolis’s Roma for me has lengthy been a spot of secrets and techniques and spells, the place the boundary between actual and imaginary dances like garments fluttering within the breeze on the barrio’s rooftop washing-lines.

These celestial laundries function in Roma, Alfonso Cuarón’s cinematic memoir, a film that transports its viewers to the then-faded district a few miles to the west of the traditional centre of the huge sprawl that’s Mexico Metropolis. It has already gained 4 Baftas and acquired a rapturous 10 nominations for this yr’s Oscars, together with for greatest director and greatest movie – if it wins the latter subsequent Sunday, it’ll develop into the primary international language movie ever to take action.

A scene from Roma. {Photograph}: AP
What, although, of the true Roma, the place Cuarón was raised half a century in the past? Within the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico Metropolis, Colonia Roma is split into Norte and Sur, north and south, and is in the present day one of many capital’s liveliest and most up-and-coming areas. My introduction to it got here on an autumn day 12 years in the past once I arrived to knock on the door of considered one of its most magical dwellings, that of the surrealist artist Leonora Carrington. She had lived on Calle Chihuahua within the coronary heart of the district because the 1940s, and was amongst its most well-known residents; she was additionally my father’s cousin, lacking from our household since her affair with Max Ernst in 1937. I had come to listen to her story and interview her; I ended up turning into her pal and visiting her twice a yr till her demise 5 years later.

Tree decor … a shrine to the Virgin of Guadalupe. {Photograph}: Andrew Hasson/Getty
Every morning, I might stroll alongside the large, tree-lined boulevard that bisects the district, Avenida Álvaro Obregón, whose central reservation, dotted with fountains, benches and statues, looks like an city park. It’s spring all yr spherical in Mexico Metropolis – largely sunny, nearly all the time heat – and I’ve hardly ever felt extra alive than I did on that every day journey. It appeared as if a vibrant world was waking as much as a wonderful day with thrilling, spontaneous prospects: juice stalls piled excessive with oranges, papaya, melons; suited enterprise individuals breakfasting at pavement cafés; smiley youngsters armed with trays of small toys they have been touting. Guitar and trumpet and pop music curled out of the doorways, accompanied by the scrumptious smells of tortas and tacos, huevos y frijoles (eggs and beans).

Scene from Roma, set in early-1970s Mexico Metropolis, and a recent shot of the identical neighbourhood. {Photograph}: Carlos Somonte/AP (high) and Rodrigo Arangua/AFP/Getty Pictures
I’m nonetheless a daily customer to Roma and the realm hasn’t modified in essence, though it’s a bit extra gentrified every time I’m going. Its improvement hasn’t been a linear story. Roma has a grand hinterland, as its ornate, fin de siècle mansions, with their shuttered French home windows and complicated balconies, counsel. A few of them have been redeveloped, of which the best-known is Casa Lamm, now an upmarket arts centre-cum-restaurant-cum-bookshop. The realm’s heyday was within the first half of the 20th century, when it turned the fascinating neighbourhood for rich Europeans; by the point Leonora and her fellow émigré artists arrived, refugees from the second world warfare, it was starting to fade.
That continued by means of Cuarón’s childhood; maybe the director’s choice to shoot his film in black and white displays it. However the spacious homes have been there, as Roma’s lingering pictures depict: open-plan residing rooms, inner courtyards, Bauhaus-style home windows, open-air iron staircases resulting in the rooftop laundries. Leonora’s home is 5 minutes’ stroll from Cuarón’s; the film was shot on the road the place he grew up, Tepeji, in the home reverse his household’s personal.

Taking a break … the Mercado Roma meals corridor.
{Photograph}: Lindsay Lauckner Gundlock/Alamy
The most important blow to Roma’s fortunes got here all of a sudden and with out warning, 15 years or so after the yr by which the movie is ready, on the morning of 19 September 1985. An 8.1-magnitude earthquake devastated town, killing 5,000, and Roma was one of many barrios that was hardest-hit. The catastrophe’s legacy stays: the churned-up, uneven pavements on some aspect roads; the occasional still-ruined constructing, normally housing stray cats. The realm’s rehabilitation was sluggish, and in some methods it continues, however the run-down atmosphere led to low cost rents and a lifestyle that was inexpensive for a brand new era of artists, and their affect has helped form its present air of bohemianism.

Roma’s cafés and bars are energetic locations. My favourites are Buna on Orizaba simply off the fountain-centred Plaza Rio de Janeiro, nice for people-watching; Borola on Jalapa with its ethereal inside and wide selection of scrumptious coffees; and the tiny roadside shacks, totally different each time I’m going, the place you should buy a beverage to go or linger within the sunshine, ingesting all of it in. For mezcal, go to the candlelit La Clandestina on Obregón with its 40-plus varieties; for tequila (my tipple) Salon Covadonga, on Puebla, can be the realm’s greatest seafood restaurant and unbeatable. I additionally benefit from the upmarket Sobrinos on Obregón: brunch is its best-value meal, though going for dinner means you’ll be able to sit up on the pavement bar, sipping a margarita whilst you wait to your desk.

Road artwork … a mural in Roma Norte. {Photograph}: Alamy
For me it’s the realm’s trendy eclecticism that offers it the sting. Roma appears to have taken the essence of this difficult, busy, gritty, art-fixated, vibrant, musical metropolis and made it its personal: but it surely’s not touristy like Coyoacán, the place Frida Kahlo lived, or high-rise like Polanco, the place American enterprise individuals flock. It’s not costly like ultra-fashionable Condesa, or crowded just like the Zócalo, town’s historic coronary heart. And it’s a correct neighbourhood, the place frequent guests know the bartenders and the baristas, the porters within the resort hallway and the pleasant workers within the native launderette.
It’s additionally protected; or at the least, that’s all the time been my expertise. I should have walked a whole lot of miles round it by myself with out incident (in contrast to in Acapulco, the place somebody was kidnapped from my bus just a few months in the past). For me, the magic is tangible; my favorite late-night cease, as I wend my method again to my resort or house, is the churrería El Moro on Obregon, busy around the clock. Final time I used to be there I discovered myself, at 1am, sharing a desk with a big Mexican household (in all probability fairly like Cuarón’s) and a mariachi musician in full costume. He propped his guitar towards the wall, took a chunk of his cinnamon-drenched churro and a slug of his spicy Oaxacan scorching chocolate, and we smiled at each other to acknowledge the sheer deliciousness of the flavour, and of the second.
Method to go
British Airways flies to Mexico Metropolis from round £750. Resort Marbella has doubles from £60; the Stanza has doubles from £50. For a really feel of Roma’s typical interiors, strive the upmarket Casa Goliana, doubles from £250
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