18 April 2010

Holas Amigos - Mexico City - Part 3 (or is it 3?)

I began to panic on my third day in Mexico City. I hadn't yet been to the Zocalo - the main square in the city center; nor had I seen the Diego Rivera murals and Frida Khalo's Casa Azul. Holy shit! I told my cousin, Angie, that we had to be disciplined and pack in as much as we could in the next two days. So off we left early Thursday morning, on our own. Metro-ed straight to the Zocalo. It was a scorcher and the square was crowded. We trekked around to take in the great monuments - the Cathedral, the Palacio National (presidential palace), and offices of the federal government. This square is huge. Numerous vendors had colorful crafts diplayed, and there was quite a festive atmosphere (it was the day before Good Friday).
This square was the heart of the Aztec village of Tenochtitlan. And even though it looks impressive today, with elaborate Colonial architecture, I couldn't help feeling bitter about the fact that the Spanish just mercilessly destroyed what the Aztecs had painstakingly built.

(Beside the Cathedral is the Templo Mayor - a recent excavation site with well preserved Aztec artifacts - which we visited the next day.)

We went into the Palacio National (the first palace on this spot was built by Moctezuma II in the 16th century!) to see the famous murals by Diego Rivera. The enormous one on the second floor traces Rivera's view of the history of the Mexican people and depicts preColumbian people in one section. It spans the period from the arrived of the serpent plumed god, Quetzalcoatl, to the 1910 revolution. I believe the Aztec bit was greeted with a lot of controversy.

After drinking in as much as we could of the murals here we made a dash for the Diego Rivera Museum. This meant walking through the very charming and crowded Centro Historico past the ornate Belles Artes and Post Office building, through beautiful Alameda Central Park. This park has gorgeous fountains and sculpture. All sorts of vendors - selling food and crafts were all over the park. Color, vibrancy, festivity filled the air. I was getting hunger pangs so I bought mango sliced and served in a cup. I love the way it is served - with a squeeze of lime juice and a sprinkling of chilli powder. Wow, it was yummy - the sweetness enhanced by the condiments. Adriana had warned us against buying street food, but heck, I couldn't resist this!

Anyway, with my renewed supply of energy we dashed to the museum. I was surprised at the grey, cement, nondescript building. Then, I realized Rivera was a communist - a man after my heart. I adored the simplicity and straightforwardness of a structure built for the sole purpose of displaying the mural called DREAM OF A SUNDAY AFTERNOON IN THE ALAMEDA. The mural was actually made for a fancy hotel which got destroyed in an earthquake. The mural, however survived. Chairs inside the museum are arranged theatre style in front of the enormous painting which depicts many well known people engaged in leisurely activities in the park that we had just walked through. It was pretty cool to see the park as it would have been about 60 years ago with all those big wigs doing their big wig activities in it.

Well, at this point we were ravenous. And we were determined to eat gourmet Mexican food. We consulted my guide book and we found a rave recommendation - El Cardenal. We were determined to eat there regardless of how many metro rides would be needed. Turned out the darned place was just a block from us - at the Hotel Sheraton. Boy, were we thrilled!

When we got to the restaurant there was a long line of people ahead of us waiting to be seated. After a forty five minute wait we finally were seated and scrutinizing the amazing menu. Angie got the mole poblano and I ordered chili relleno. Cold margaritas went very nicely with these extremely well prepared and expertly seasoned dishes. Angie and I were like, we've got to come back here, there are so many more things we have to try out!!

Over lunch we decided we wanted to go to the place that had the mural Rivera painted for Rockefellers. We learned from our guidebook it was at the Belles Artes, so that's where we headed after lunch. But to our great disappointment there was an unending line waiting to enter. so we had to abort that plan. We needed a walk (due to full bellies) so we returned to the Zocalo, weaving our way through thick crowds, and took in more of the atmosphere. The heat and the crowds made us feel quite exhausted so we decided we'd had enough for the day.

The next day we started out bright and early again. Our first stop was the Belles Artes in Alameda Central. This stunning building, made of white marble, is the venue for the fine arts, and it houses some outstanding works of art. Because we were early, we were able to get in without having to wait in line. The interior - modern art decor - was just as gorgeous as the exterior. We went straight to the second floor to see Rivera's MAN, CONTROLLER OF THE UNIVERSE. This painting has such a lekker story - which I'm sure you know. Rockefeller had commissioned Rivera to do a mural but because Rivera included Lenin in the painting and refused to remove him, the mural was destroyed. Rivera recreated the mural and added Marx and Engels to the painting. He also put Rockefeller in one corner of the painting, surrounded by prostitutes and flies circling his head!! Needless to say, the mural is quite stunning. It depicts capitalism and its evils and socialism and its merits.

Also in this building were breathtaking works by Tamayo, Siquiero, and Orozco - all of making strong socio-political statements. This is the stuff I love - everyone of these works telling stories that make you think and examine your life.

Before leaving the building we noticed there was a special Magritte exhibition - so we quickly looked at them. I enjoyed seeing them - mostly surreal - very reminiscent of Salvador Dali.

From teh Belles Artes we metro-ed to the Zocalo and went to the Templo Mayor. Again, we didn't have to wait too long before getting our tickets. The sun beat down brutally on us. We weren't allowed to take water, so we drained our bottles and stepped bravely onto the site. Back when Tenochtitlan still existed this was the site of the most sacred temple. While building tunnels for the metro system the ruins of the temple were uncovered and now it's reconstructed. A well laid out path takes you through the ruins. A museum on the site houses sculptures and other stuff that was excavated. Archeologists have been piecing together all these findings and now a whole lot more is known about the Aztecs and their civilization.

Two big museums down. Now for Casa Azul. We hopped on the metro and headed south to Coyocan. Took a taxi to the Frida Khalo museum and eagerly joined the line of people waiting to buy their tickets. The blueness of the house would be shocking except that it is exactly what you are expecting to see. Only an artist could get away with such a bright color for the whole entire exterior of a huge house! An attendant came out and informed us that there was a power outage. Angies's face fell. "Oh no, not again! When I was last here with Fergus, the place was closed for renovation. Please don't tell me I'm out of luck again."
Secretly, I was relieved. I wanted to eat - my tummy was rumbling like an angry tornado. And a power outage didn't alarm me. I felt sure we'd be fine later in the afternoon.

We decided to go to the Trotsky Museum which was in the neighborhood and then seek out lunch. We trudged up six blocks in the blistering heat, only to find that the Trotsky Museum was closed! Obviously life isn't perfect! Btw Trotsky lived in Mexico City for a few years when Stalin came into power. He befriended Diego Rivera and Frida and lived with them for a short time. Then, when Frida and Trotsky became lovers, he moved out (his wife was with him the whole time).

We were now two hot, hungry, and tired souls. We headed into the central Coyocan area and found it to be crowded (it was Good Friday). All the good restaurants recommended in the guide were closed. We ended up at an Italian place (uber-disappointing) and I scrutinized the menu for something Mexican and vegetarian (a mega challenge). The waiter could see my desperation and prepared me some cheese enchiladas. Angie and I were delighted to be seated in a cool place and when our icy cold beer (Corona) arrived our spirits soared. Fromt eh restaurant we had a view of the festivities down on the streets - vendors, crowds, food, etc.
The enchiladas were quite bad - but my energy was up again.
After lunch we walked up the cobbled road back to Casa Azul. Power was back and we got in quite easily. The first thing you see is the beautiful garden and courtyard. What a peaceful place. And all around there is such a lot of color. The spirit of Frida Khalo feels very present. We spent about two hours here wandering through the rooms in which Frida and Diego made history.

Around 6:00 Angie and I decided we were done! We returned to the metro station and made our way back to Satelite. We wanted to spend a laid back evening - sipping cold beer and eating homemade Mexican food. Adriana took us to the grocery store (huge and so much like the ones we have in Calif.) where we bought beer, wine, tortillas, beans, salsa, avocadoes, cilantro, mangoes and papaya.

Back home I made California style quesadillas - with cheese, tomatoes, cilantro and beans. Everyone was fascinated - which of course, fascinated me. "This is our idea of Mexican food," I told them. They politely raved about it!
We had slices of mango and papaya for dessert.
It was my last evening and what a great time we had sitting around the table and chatting and eating.

12 April 2010

Mexico City - Take 2!

In my last blog I listed a hasty summary of my highlights. Today, another rushed version, but hopefully with a few more details. First, let me give you my overall impressions. Before landing in Mexico City I had no idea what to expect. I knew it was crowded and polluted and so I thought it might be a bit like a major Indian City. But to my surprise I found Mexico City to be quite elegant and clean and much wealthier than I expected. On the roads the cars looked new and on the streets people were well dressed and appeared pretty middle class. I stayed with friends in a suburb called Satelite, which looked quite wealthy. Beautiful houses and gardens and quiet, well maintained roads. I never felt unsafe in my five days in Mexico City. The metro system was quite impressive - clean, efficient, safe, and got you wherever you wanted to go. What I loved the most about the city was the art. This was the birthplace of the muralist movement and there were many museums displaying gorgeous murals by Diego Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. Tamayo was another great artist and although I was fortunate enough to see some of his stuff at the Belle Artes, unfotunately I didn't make it to the Tamayo Museum. There are so many terrific museums in this city, but because I had only 5 days I had to narrow down my options a lot.

All over Mexico City I was surprised to see American chains - Sears, Walmart, Burger King, Dominoes. The big supermarkets look just like American supermarkets. I guess NAFTA has resulted in all of North America looking identical as far as businesses go. C'est dommage! My heart sinks way down when I see America in foreign places.

On my first day I spent most of the day in the Museo Nacional De Antropologia E Historia. It was enormous, with room after room after indigenous Mexican Indian archeological exhibits. I loved the Mayan room best of all. This museum is in the area called Chapultepec where there is a lovely, leafy park with a lake where you can rent boats.
After the museum we went in search of food in the area called the Zona Rosa. We found a place specializing in vegetarian food! The food was excellent, but sadly not Mexican! Afterwards we strolled through the Zona Rosa, a lively place full of restaurants and shops. We got to the Centro Historico and went into The Tile House for margaritas. This building is covered with gorgeous tiles on the outside and the inside is beautiful too. A singer sang sulty Spanish songs, strumming his guitar while Adriana, Angie, and I sipped our margaritas.

On my second day we went to Teotihuacan to see the famous pyramids - third largest in the world. A metro ride and a 45 minute minute bus ride through the outskirts of Mexico City got us to the pyramids. From the bus we could see the shacks which were the homes of many poor Mexicans. So yes, even though Mexico City can give the impression of being wealthy, you don't have to look hard to see that most of the people struggle to survive.

The pyramids were amazing. For me it felt sacred - walking through the ruins of a village built by an ancient civilization. I have to say, though, when I found out that the fossils uncovered revealed human sacrifice, I was extremely disappointed. I so wanted to believe that the preAztec people who lived there were great, extraordinary, and would have laughed off the conquistadors. Oh well!

Climbing up the pyramids in the heat was quite an ordeal. Hundred of people were doing it. We all made it to the top of the Sun Pyramid and we felt proud of our accomplishment. Congratulations Angie! Woohoo!!
On my way back from the pyramids I bought a blanket with designs of the pyramids and the village. Poor guys selling this stuff in the punishing heat to make a living! My heart goes out to tghem. When I showed the blanket to Daryl back home in Santa Barbara, he said I hope you didn't bargain with the vendor!

After the pyramids we had a long, leisurely lunch. I finally got to have real Mexican food - quesadillas, washed down with ice cold Indio beer.
Later in the day when we were back in the city, Adriana suggested going to Plaza Garibaldi to listen to the mariachis. I looked this up in my guide book and found out that while the square itslef was safe, the streets around the square were dicey. Well, we decided to check it out and had a very adventurous walk from the metro to the square. We saw the other side of Mexico City - the part that makes you tense and pray you'll be home safe in bed when it was night time. We made it to the square safely and saw groups of mariachis in their colorful sombreros belting out lively music that puts a smile on your face. We hung out a bit then as the light faded we knew we should get away to safer parts. A brisk half hour walk got us to a most romantic place. A quaint bar with low tables and low chairs (they looked homemade with tree logs), candlelight, and a handsome young man singing Latin songs. We ordered beer and absorbed the wonderful atmosphere. What a great way to end the day.

Well, this was the first two days. I'll do the rest tomorrow. Stay tuned!

05 April 2010

Mexico City

I went to Mexico City for my spring break which was last week. This came about because my sousin from London is traveling in Mexico and invited me to join her. She has friends scattered in various parts of the country so I got to stay with friends of hers whilst there. Here are some highlights of my trip:
1. Getting to know Adriana, Fernanda, Jorge, and Aldo. I stayed at their lovely home in the very middle class suburb of Satelite. They made me feel like a part of their family. It was so wonderful to be in a foreign country and have warm, friendly souls open up their home to you.

2. Practicing my Spanish, which I admit is appalling, but I did enjoy being able to speak it and be understood.

3. Diego Rivera's murals - oh, what a treat, what a sensational experience - to stand in front of the enormous murals - MAN, CONTROLLER OF THE UNIVERSE - and the other famous ones - and to try to absorb them. Also enjoyed seeing Orozco's and Siquiero's murals.

4. The pyramids in Teotihuacan and being able to climb to the top!

5. The Templo Mayor and the Anthropological Museum - where I learned about the Aztecs and Mayans.

6. Frido Kahlo's Casa Azul - that was almost a spiritual experience.

7. The hospitality and friendliness of the Mexican people.

I'll blog more about my trip when I have a little more time!!