Mexico City’s ice rink topic of talk

Skaters find winter thrill in 70-degree weather.


For Mexico City residents who sat around their Christmas tables this year with old friends and family members, a novel subject of conversation was certain to elicit a wide variety of viewpoints: The metropolis’ first open-air, public ice skating rink.

On Christmas Eve, I heard a description of the ice rink that was reminiscent of the best of magical realism: Tens of thousands of people gazing at a gargantuan ice rink from the grandstands surrounding it, holding umbrellas to shield themselves from 70-degree weather, while a thousand people, most of whom had never donned skates before, cluttered the oval-shaped rink, fearfully clinging to its rim like flies; others tentatively glided on its surface, experiencing for the first time the thrilling sensation of flying.

We had a good laugh over that. I think it made us feel that Mexico is always full of surprises.

The ice rink, which closes at 10 p.m. daily, is free of charge. It is located in the city’s central square, flanked by colonial buildings, and is powered by 10 truck-size chilling machines and cleaned by two Zamboni machines. It fits upward of 1,000 people at once who enter the ice at 50-minute intervals.

Lines are said to be 45 minutes long and skates are provided to those unmindful of inserting their extremities in footwear used by millions of others.

The subject of the ice rink came up in conversation several times while I was there visiting my brother, Diego, who is in the film industry and lives with his fiancée, Fernanda. Some thought it was a harmless idea while others called it the new mayor’s attempt at raising his approval ratings, which are high. Some accused the left-of-center Marcel Ebrard of populism, others of an attempt to distract the city from its problems, while yet others defended his fun- loving spirit.

I was raised in Mexico City when it was known as the most polluted city in the world and the closest I ever came to seeing snow was when the smog cleared and we could glimpse, in the distance, the white robes of the volcano Popocatepetl. I now enjoy snow skiing, but I’ve tried ice skating only twice.

Ebrard was quoted by the Mexican press as saying that the new ice rink, billed as being the largest in the world at 133 feet by 253 feet, would make the capital’s residents feel “as though we were in Paris or New York, only prettier.” He was also quoted as saying that “we’re going to learn how to ice skate, it’s not complicated at all.”

Ebrard also said that his goal was to provide lower-class residents with the opportunity to practice a sport that until now they could not afford.

My first reaction to Ebrard’s idea was: How much is this thing costing taxpayers; and, in a city where children beg for money at every traffic light, why didn’t he spend that money more wisely? But I was surprised to learn that while the project cost $1.5 million, the money was donated by several large Mexican businesses. (Some believe that the ice rink, which closes Jan. 7, will charge an entry fee next winter.)

Anyway, I decided to go take a look. While I didn’t skate, I did sit in the grandstands and watched the Zamboni machines clean the ice around a shallow pool of water that formed in the middle.

I sat there for about 20 minutes. For a minute, I thought about people’s fascination with ice. A fictional character who, while facing a firing squad, remembers, of all things, the day that his father “took him to discover ice” came to mind.

I also watched two young couples who, like most visitors, only wanted a glimpse or a souvenir of the strange sight. They sat in the bleachers before posing for snapshots in front of the rink.

I must admit I didn’t stay long enough to watch a new group of novices trip and fall in the ice.

It was getting too hot outside.

Staff writer Pablo Ros: