Saturday, January 18, 2020

Visions of Anáhuac

On Friday I went to the Anthropology Museum to see a special exhibition that has been running there since last November.  It is called "Visión de Anáhuac".  Anáhuac is the name in Nahuatl (the Aztec language) for the Valley of Mexico... the valley where Mexico City stands today, and where earlier stood Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital.

The name of the exhibit comes from an essay which was written in 1915 and is the most famous work by Mexican scholar Alfonso Reyes.  The essay has been called "a prose poem, a patriotic invocation, a study in history and an archaeological reconstruction."  Reyes created with words a painting depicting the beauty of the Valley of Mexico and the splendor of the Aztec civilization in the moment when the Spaniards arrived, and the Old World confronted the New.  The exhibit was organized to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the first meeting of Hernán Cortés and Moctezuma (in English we call them Cortez and Montezuma) in November of 1519.

A portrait of Reyes by Mexican master David Alfaro Siqueiros

Reyes' slender tome has gone through many printings since its first publication
and has been translated into several languages.

The show begins with this stunning landscape painting of the Valley of Mexico by artist Jorge Obregón.  The valley is dominated by the snow covered peaks of Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl.  One can imagine how the Spanish were awestruck upon seeing Anáhuac for the first time.

The exhibition gathers together paintings, archaeological artifacts and historic documents.

This is a copy of a map which Hernán Cortés included with one of the letters that he wrote to Emperor Carlos V.  It is the oldest known representation of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán.

According to legend the Aztecs migrated from the north and settled in the Valley of Mexico.  Their gods had told them that they build their city where they saw an eagle perched on a cactus devouring a serpent.  They supposedly saw that omen on an island in the middle of Lake Texcoco which then covered much of the valley.  The legendary founding of Tenochtitlán was the theme of paintings by Mexican artists centuries later.

And the eagle and the serpent became the national emblem of Mexico.

As the Aztecs forged an empire covering most of central Mexico, Tenochtitlán grew into a large and impressive city.

A panorama of Tenochtitlán and the Valley of Mexico by 20th century painter Luis Covarrubias.

A model of the Sacred Precinct in the heart of Tenochtitlán

There are several cases of Aztec artifacts from its twilight years preceding 1519.

A serpent's head from the "Templo Mayor", the main temple

A clay figurine of a woman and child

A clay pitcher, remarkably intact, which was found beneath a street in Mexico City

This nineteenth century painting imagines the moment when Emperor Moctezuma received word from a messenger of the arrival of white-skinned strangers on the coast of Mexico.

Notice on the messenger's parchment the drawing of the strange vessel in which the Spaniards traveled across the water.

An decorative screen from the early 18th century depicts the conquest of the Aztecs by the Spaniards.

Details from that screen...

The reverse side of the screen portrays colonial Mexico City which was built by the Spanish using the rubble of the conquered Tenochtitlán.

The exhibit ended with a gallery filled with landscape paintings by various artists depicting the Valley of Mexico and its surrounding volcanoes.

"The Valley of Mexico" by Luis Covarrubias

"View of Popocatépetl" by Armando García Nuñez

"Valley of Mexico" by Raymundo Martínez

There were several canvasses by Geraldo Murillo the eccentric painter who went by the name of "Dr. Atl" and who was obsessed with painting volcanoes.

And my favorite 19th century landscape painter, José María Velasco, was also represented with his luminous views of Anáhuac.

The exhibit is well worth seeing, and, since it is in the hall off the museum lobby, before passing the ticket desks, it is free of charge.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Being Sensible

I've written a couple of entries here about the wonderful breakfasts that I have had at nearby restaurants on this trip, but let's face it.  I cannot continue to eat breakfasts like that every morning for the next month.

So when I returned to the apartment on Wednesday, I went to the supermarket to pick up some items.  For the last two days my breakfasts have been more sensible.

I bought a bag of something called "tortitas de maíz".  They are like rice cakes except that they are made of corn.  With a dollop of salsa and some cheese on top they are pretty tasty.  I was going to buy some avocados, but the ones in the supermarket were not ripe, and I didn't feel like walking to the market.  (There the vendor will pick out avocados ready for today or ready for tomorrow.)  Instead I got a bunch of bananas.  The containers of yogurt are really good... and you won't find guava-flavored yogurt back home in Ohio!

Cheap Spanish Food

Yesterday afternoon after visiting the city hall, I went to another place on my list of restaurants to try.  "Don Toribio" is a Spanish restaurant (the cuisine of Spain is very different from that of Mexico) located on the third floor of a building on Bolivar Avenue in the heart of the historic center of the city.

It's not a fancy place, although the location of my table near a balcony overlooking the street was very pleasant.

Included with the meal was an entire carafe of "agua fresca" - flavored water.  The flavor of the day was a very refreshing guava.

As an appetizer I ordered Serrano ham croquettes, one of my favorite tapas from Spain.

Honestly they were not that good... certainly not as good as what I have had in Spain.  They were slathered with mayonnaise, and there was not much ham flavor.

Next, I had lentil soup... not bad, but nothing extraordinary.

For my main course I had lemon chicken... a leg and thigh covered in a lemony sauce with onions, olives and roasted potatoes.  Again, not bad, but nothing special.

The bill came to the equivalent of just over $6 U.S., a very inexpensive price considering the amount of food.   I would recommend the place if you are on a budget, but don't expect gourmet Spanish cooking.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Visiting City Hall

Visitors to Mexico City usually include the Zócalo, the city's main plaza, on their list of sights to see.  They go to the National Palace on the east side of the plaza and the Cathedral on the north side.  Most, however, ignore the twin buildings on the south side which house the offices of the city government.  As you face those twin buildings, the one to your right is the older of the two.  It stands on the site of Mexico City's original city hall, built in 1526.  That building burned down during riots in 1692, and a new city hall, the structure which you see today, was built in 1724.

In 1910 in celebration of the centennial of Mexico's independence, the city hall was remodeled in the ornate style that was popular during the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.

Under the portico of the city hall are tile representations of several historic coats of arms.

Among them is the coat of arms that was granted to Mexico City by Emperor Carlos V in the 16th century.

Recently, a small portion of the building has been opened to the public as a museum.
Although visitors are not allowed to wander freely through the city hall, on their way to the museum, they have a chance to admire some of the interior.

After passing through a hall detailing the history of the city hall, you come to the old council chamber.

A portion of the fresco on the ceiling of the council chamber

From the council chamber you pass through three rooms which contain the portraits of the 62 Viceroys who ruled in the name of the King of Spain during the 300 years that Mexico was a Spanish colony.

Finally you pass through a room with historic pictures of Mexico City.  This painting shows what the Zócalo looked like in colonial times.

To the left is the Cathedral, and to the right is the city hall.  The Viceroy's Palace, today the National Palace, stretches across the rear.  In those days there was a market building in the middle of the plaza.  Also notice that there was canal running in front of the city hall.  The previous Aztec city had been built like Venice with a network of canals.  Many of those canals still existed in colonial times and were used for transporting goods throughout the city.  Also, in those days before air pollution, the snow covered volcanoes were clearly visible east of the city.

The museum is small, but it is a nice addition to the sights to see around the Zócalo.

Walking for Tacos

I always keep a list of new places to eat in Mexico City.  One of the restaurants on my list was a "taquería" called Orinoco. Yesterday afternoon I decided to go there.  It is located about two miles from my apartment, a straight shot up Insurgentes Avenue.  Rather than taking the Metrobus, I figured that I should burn a few calories.  So I walked.  My walk turned out to be a bit of an obstacle course because they are redoing the sidewalks along Insurgentes in the Condesa and Roma neighborhoods.  In some places pedestrians are directed into a cordoned section of the avenue.

After a forty minute walk, I arrived at Orinoco.  Their amusing logo is a dead cow wrapped in a tortilla.  

The place is not fancy.  You place your order at the entrance, you are given a number, and you go sit down at a table.  Fortunately it was late afternoon after the lunch rush.  I read that there are times when the place is very crowded.

There is not a very large selection on the menu.  You can order a taco of beef ("res"), pork from the spit ("trompo") or pork rinds ("chicarrón").  I ordered one of their special, large, grilled beef tacos, and an "agua fresca"... a flavored water.  Accompanying the taco were roasted potatoes and grilled onions.

Their selection may not be big, but my taco was definitely delicious.  I might not walk two miles again for one of their tacos, but if I am in the neighborhood, I would return.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

No Plastic!

What does Mexico City have in common with my home of Cuyahoga County in Ohio?

The sign on this kiosk along Insurgentes Avenue reads...

Did you know that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the sea than fish.

Bags don't disappear.
Fish do.

At the beginning of this year
single use plastic bags
will not be permitted.

In Mexico City we contribute to the environment and the planet.

The same law went into effect in Cuyahoga Country (Cleveland) on January 1st.  I have alway carried a shopping bag when I go to the supermarket, both here and in Ohio.  However, now I will have to remember to take a bag when I go to any type of store.  I am not sure how rigorously the law is being followed here in Mexico City.  The other day when Alejandro and I went to the neighborhood bakery for bread, they gave us a plastic bag.  I'm keeping my fingers crossed that these laws, which are spreading across the planet, will eventually have a positive effect.


On Sunday evening I went back to Alejandro´s house to spend a couple nights.  On Monday I did some cooking.  I prepared "chilaquiles" which is one of the favorite dishes of Alejandro's nephew.  When Alejandro came home from work he was sick.  He went to the neighborhood doctor, and he gave Alejandro some medicines.  Fortunately, he didn't prescribe any antibiotics; Mexican doctors have a tendency to overprescribe antibiotics.

The next morning I woke up feeling not quite right.  I was extremely tired and a bit groggy.  Alejandro was still sick, and stayed home from work.  Rather than going back to my apartment, I stayed on to play nursemaid.  I fixed breakfast, and then I went to the supermarket and bought ingredients to make a big pot of chicken noodle soup.  

By evening, I still felt worn out, and I was very cold.  I took my temperature, and I had a slight fever.  Fortunately, after a good night's sleep I woke up feeling fine this morning.  I am thinking that Alejandro caught a flu bug, but since I had my flu shot last fall it didn't hit me very hard.

Alejandro is still not feeling good, and is back in bed.  I might stay on here at the house for another day. 

UPDATE:  I fixed breakfast for Alejandro, his father and myself.  Alejandro said that he was feeling much better, and decided to go to work.  He dropped me off at a Metrobus stop so that I could return back to the apartment.