Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Open at Last!

I have been waiting for two years for "Restaurante El Cardenal" to open its new branch just down the street from my apartment... ever since I saw the big sign at the shopping center saying, "Coming soon!"  It took forever for "soon" to arrive, but yesterday was finally the grand opening of the restaurant.  I made a point to go there for breakfast.  I arrived only a half hour after opening time, but there was already a crowd.  I waited about twenty minutes for a table.  When I left there was an even bigger crowd in the waiting area.

The two story, modern restaurant lacks the old-fashioned charm of the original location in the Centro Histórico and the glitz of the branch in the Hilton Hotel.

However, the food is just as good, and the service was super-attentive.  Staff was scurrying all over the place... not just waiters and busboys, but fellows with pitchers of Mexican hot chocolate, others with trays of freshly baked "pan dulce", and management going around and asking if everything was good.

I started out with a cup of hot chocolate and a very yummy pastry that was somewhat like a cheese Danish.

I then had a plate of four enchiladas with "carnitas" (chunks of braised pork).  It would probably be too spicy for some people's palates, but it was delicious.

The restaurant opened too late for me to take Gail and Annette there... too late for Alejandro and I to have a weekend breakfast there on this trip... BUT it will definitely be at the top of my list of neighborhood breakfast places for the next time I have visitors in Mexico City!

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

"Navidad" is on its Way

The Mexican Revolution began on November 20th in 1910.  But Revolution Day, a legal holiday, is now celebratedon  on the third Monday of November, creating one of those three-day weekends that Mexicans refer to as a "puente" (bridge).  There was, I suppose, a military parade downtown to mark the occasion.  However most people here were probably more interested in the fact that Revolution Day weekend is also the "Buen Fin", the weekend that is the equivalent of Black Friday north of the border.  All of the stores were offering big sales and extended hours.  Christmas decorations and advertisements started to appear as soon as Day of the Dead was over, but the "Buen Fin" is the official beginning of the Christmas shopping season.  

 An impressive, although artificial, Christmas tree was set up in "Reforma 222", a shopping mall along the Paseo de la Reforma.

A smaller (and also artificial) tree was set up in the shopping center down the street from my apartment.

The "Buen Fin" was begun in 2011 as a way to boost the economy with increased  consumption, but critics state that it has led to increased credit card debt among the Mexican people. 

After the Ballet

After the ballet on Sunday morning, I wanted to show Gail and Annette the mural paintings which are on display on the upper floors of the Palace of Fine Arts.  Admission to the murals is free, but we had to go outside and join a long line waiting to see the murals.  I had never seen a line like that before.  It must have been because it was a holiday weekend (Monday was the observance of Revolution Day), and there were many Mexican tourists visiting the capital as well as residents seeing the sights in their city.

While we were waiting in line, a young boy (probably in elementary school) and his parents asked if I would mind being interviewed.  The student had an assignment from his English teacher to ask questions of an English-speaking visitor.  While he interviewed me, his mother recorded the conversation on her cell phone.  This has happened to me several times on my trips to Mexico.  As a former Spanish teacher, I am more than happy to cooperate with their assignment.  

The line moved fairly quickly, and we went upstairs to see the mural paintings by some of Mexico's best-known artists.  The most famous mural is "Man, Controller of the Universe" by Diego Rivera.  In 1932 Rivera was commissioned to paint a mural for the lobby of  Rockefeller Center in New York City.  Nelson Rockefeller objected to the portrait of Lenin which was included in the painting, and when Rivera refused to remove it, Rivera was paid for his work, and the mural was plastered over.  Rivera returned to Mexico and using photographs of his original painting, did another version in the Palace of Fine Arts.

   In this portion of the painting you can see Lenin to the right.

From the Palace of Fine Arts we walked a short distance to the National Museum of Art.  On Plaza Tolsá, in front of the museum, local groups who are dedicated to preserving pre-Hispanic traditions were gathered there as they are every weekend.

In the museum, we concentrated on the newly renovated galleries of 20th century Mexican art since I knew that Annette's interest is in modern and contemporary art.

This painting by Gerardo Murillo (who went by the name of Dr. Atl) is called "The Shadow of Popo".  Murillo was obsessed with painting volcanoes, and this interesting picture shows the shadow of the volcano Popocatépetl stretching across the landscape.

An early painting by Diego Rivera

A canvas by Rufino Tamayo

We then walked over to a branch of "El Cardenal" located in the Hilton Hotel.  The original restaurant, located near the Cathedral, is in a lovely old building, but there is always a long wait on weekends for a table.  At the Hilton, we were seated immediately.  

This was Gail and Annette's last dinner in Mexico City, so I wanted to take them to one of my favorite places.  "El Cardenal" serves very good traditional Mexican cuisine.

Gail had a beef "Milanesa"... a breaded cutlet.

Annette had something more uniquely Mexican... "mixiote"... meat baked within a bag made from a leaf of the agave plant.

I had a dish which I had never ordered before on my many previous visits to "El Cardenal"... a pepper stuffed with pork and covered with a "mole" known as "coloradito".  It was delicious.

After dinner it was time to head back so that Gail and Annette could pack their bags for their flight home the next day.

Monday, November 18, 2019

Ballet in the Morning

On Sunday morning my cousin Gail, her friend Annette, my friend Alejandro, and I went to a performance of the Ballet Folklórico at Mexico City's Palace of Fine Arts.

I had purchased the tickets earlier this month, and we had excellent seats in the center section just a few rows back from the stage.  The gentleman at the ticket window had said "The best seats in the house", and he was certainly correct.

The beautiful theater which dates back to the 1930s boasts a Tiffany glass stage curtain with a painting of the snow-covered volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl.

No matter how many times I see the Ballet Folklórico (and the first time was way back in 1971 when I was in college, and the ballet came to Cleveland for a performance) I never fail to enjoy the performance.  It is a spectacular presentation of the folk music, dances, and costumes of the regions of Mexico.


The dances of the "Matachines" harken back to the ceremonies of pre-Hispanic Mexico.

The music of the state of Veracruz, known as "jarocho" music, features harps and has a very distinctive sound.

The well-known folk tune "La Bamba" is a dance from the state of Veracruz.  Watch as the two dancers tie a sash into a bow with their feet.

The ballet always concludes with dances from the state of Jalisco, the birthplace of the "mariachi" music which we think of as quintessentially Mexican.

My visitors Gail and Annette were thoroughly impressed with this joyous celebration of Mexican traditions.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Breakfast in a Palace

Today we had to go downtown for a morning performance of the Ballet Folklórico in the Palace of Fine Arts.  Alejandro was going to join Gail, Annette and me for the ballet, so we all met for breakfast at a restaurant close to the Palace of Fine Arts.  We ate at Sanborns Restaurant in the historic "Casa de Azulejos"... the House of Tiles.

This colonial palace was built in the late 1700s and was the home of the Counts of the Valley of Orizaba.  Later it was lavishly decorated with blue and white tiles, giving it the name by which it is known today.  In 1918 the building was purchased by two brothers from the U.S., the Sanborns.  They already owned a couple of pharmacies with soda fountains and lunch counters, a novelty in Mexico City.  The House of Tiles became the flagship of their chain.  A glass roof was built over the open courtyard of the mansion.  That space was converted into a dining room, and it became one of the most popular restaurants in the city. There are branches of the pharmacy / gift shop / restaurant throughout the city and nation, but none compare to the beautiful House of Tiles.   The chain was eventually sold to Walgreens, and now it is owned by the Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

The courtyard restaurant was already decorated for Christmas with an enormous piñata hanging from the ceiling.

The stairwell has an early mural by the famous painter José Clemente Orozco which was commissioned in 1925 by the Sanborn brothers.


Our breakfasts.

Our waitress was kind enough to take our picture.
In the background you can see a portion of a peacock mural painted by a Romanian painter in 1919.

Most Sanborns Restaurants serve pretty good food, but they certainly do not represent the finest dining in the city.  However there are few places that can match the atmosphere of this colonial palace. 

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Up at the Castle

Today I took my visitors to Chapultepec Castle, a building which today serves as Mexico's National Museum of History. 

The castle was built on Chapultepec Hill during the late colonial period as a summer palace for the Spanish viceroys.  However it was never used for that purpose.  After Mexico won its independence from Spain, the castle became the "Colegio Militar", the nation's military academy.  Located in those days on the outskirts of the capital, it was the scene of one of the final battles of the Mexican-American War as the U.S. forces pushed toward Mexico City.  Six of the teenage cadets from the academy refused to retreat from the castle and were killed in the battle... the celebrated "Niños Héroes" (Boy Heros) who have become a part of the nation's patriotic folklore.  Later, French invaded Mexico and in 1864 installed Maximillian von Hapsburg as the puppet emperor of Mexico.  During their brief and tragic reign, Maximillian and his wife Carlota lived at the elegantly refurbished castle... making Chapultepec the only  royal castle in the Americas.

Much of the museum's artifacts are not of great interest to those who are not knowledgeable about Mexico's history, so for our tour, I concentrated on the royal apartments of Maximillian and Carlota and the mural paintings done by some of Mexico's outstanding 20th century artists.

Maximillian and Carlota's carriage

The dining hall

Empress Carlota's bedroom

Upstairs we saw the roof garden which was planted for Carlota around the castle's watchtower.

Also upstairs is a corridor lined with beautiful stained glass windows.

Perhaps the most dramatic of the numerous murals in the history museum is this painting by Gabriel Flores located on the ceiling of the stairwell.  It depicts the death of one of the "Boy Heroes", Juan Escutia.  According to the legend, Escutia wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and threw himself from the castle to his death rather than surrender to the Americans.  As you look up at the mural you see the image of the young cadet hurtling downward.

The noted painter Juan O'Gorman painted this mural devoted to Mexico's War for Independence.  

This is a small portion of a monumental mural by David Siqueiros depicting the Mexican Revolution.

Gail and Annette enjoyed their visit to the castle and learning a bit about Mexico's history.

At the Museum

Our itinerary for yesterday centered around a visit to the National Museum of Anthropology. 

Before setting off, we had breakfast at a nearby branch of "El Bajío", a chain of restaurants specializing in Mexican food.  Their breakfasts are extremely hearty.  We were all very pleased with the food.  

Notice that we were given bibs to keep the salsas off of our clothes.

An old Mexican adage says, "Full belly, happy heart".  Well, we definitely left the restaurant with a happy heart.

We then took the Metrobus to the Anthropology Museum, the world's greatest collection of artifacts from pre-Hispanic Mexico.

Gail and Annette posing in front of the fountain in the museum courtyard

Posing by one of the enormous stone heads carved by the Olmecs, Mexico's oldest civilization.

I have written many blog entries and posted many blog entries about this impressivie museus.  I will simply say that Gail and Annette both enjoyed their relatively short (perhaps three hours) tour.  It was probably especially interesting for Annette since she studied anthropology in college and considered a career as an archaeologist.