Sunday, January 22, 2017

On a Clear Day...

I doubt that the skies of Mexico City are ever so clear that you could see forever.  However, we have been enjoying some relatively pollution free days.  Usually, during the winter dry season, the pollution is at its worse, but I guess the winds are blowing in just the right direction to blow away the smog.

On Friday I decided to see just how clear the air was, and I went to the observation deck at the top of the Latin American Tower.  This skyscraper was built in 1956, and for many years it was the tallest building in not just Mexico, but in all of Latin America. 

I have been to the top of the tower many times, and I have already posted pictures on this blog.   But I hoped that the view would  perhaps merit another post. 

Looking down at the Palace of Fine Arts

The Alameda Park and Juárez Avenue

 The skyscrapers along the Paseo de la Reforma are not obscured by smog.
You can even make out the distant buildings of the Santa Fe commercial district at the foot of the mountains.

But the real proof is whether or not you can see the volcanoes Iztaccíhuatl and Popocatépetl to the east.  All the times that I have been to the top of the tower, I have never seen the volcanoes.

They are not crystal clear, but, yes, there they are!

You can make out the snow on the peak of Izta...

and Popo appears to be exhaling a puff of smoke.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

A Hidden Spot for Lunch

One of the great things about Mexico City is that, no matter how many times I go there, I always find something new.

On Thursday, after viewing the art exhibit at San Ildefonso, I wandered a bit in the historic center of the city.  On the pedestrianized street right behind San Ildefonso I noticed a colonial house that now belongs to the government of the state of Tlaxcala.  (Tlaxcala is Mexico's smallest state, and is located about two hours to the east of Mexico City.)  

Part of the building was a shop of handicrafts from the state, and another part was a restaurant specializing in the cuisine of Tlaxcala.  The restaurant was tucked away in a rear courtyard.  I was surprised to see that this obscure, little place was fairly busy.  So I decided to give it a try.

 I started with a bowl of "sopa tlaxcalteca", a tasty bean soup with thin strips of tortillas, and served with a plate of garnishes... cheese, avocado, dried chile peppers and "chicharrones" (fried pork rind).

I then had a plate of "tlacoyos", little fried cakes of corn "masa" (dough), filled with frijoles and covered with sauce and cheese.

It was a very good meal, and if I were in the vicinity again at lunchtime, I would return and try one of their main courses.

A historical sidenote:   There is a plaque which says that José Martí once lived in this house.  Martí was a 19th century Cuban poet and freedom fighter who spent a number of years in exile in Mexico.  He is considered one of great Latin American poets, and is revered as one of Cuba's national heroes.  You are probably familiar with his poetry without even knowing it.  The lyrics of the popular song "Guantanamera" are taken from his verses.

Friday, January 20, 2017

China in Mexico

In my previous post I wrote about the mural paintings in the former College of San Ildefonso.  The large colonial building is used for special art exhibits.  I made a special trip to San Ildefonso because I had seen advertisements for a exhibit of masterpieces from the Chinese National Museum of Art.

When I got there, I was disappointed.  I was expecting works from the many dynasties of China's long history.  Instead it was an exhibit of contemporary art.  If you have followed my blog for some time, you know that contemporary art is usually not my cup of tea.  However the works displayed in this exhibit were not "out there" as is the case with so much contemporary stuff that is passed off as art. 

What I found most interesting however were the last three rooms of the show which were devoted to popular arts.

One room displayed masks and costumes used in the Chinese opera.

The following room featured the intricate images used in shadow puppet shows.

Finally there was a display of elaborate, traditional designs made from cut paper.

The Cradle of the Mural Movement

Probably Mexico's greatest contribution to 20th century art was the mural movement.  Beginning in the 1920s artists were given commissions to paint murals in public buildings throughout the nation.  After the upheaval of the Mexican Revolution the government sought to unify the country, to promote the ideals of the revolution, and to instill pride in Mexico's history and indigenous roots through public art.  The "big three" of the movement who gained international fame were Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Siqueiros.

The mural movement had its birth in a 18th century building in the heart of historic Mexico City.

The College of San Ildefonso was established in 1588 by the Jesuit Order.  It became one of the most prestigious educational institutions in colonial Mexico, and in 1749 the building was expanded to become the structure that we see today.  After the Jesuits were expelled from Spain and its colonies in 1767 the school declined.  In the 1860s the Mexican government took over the building and established the National Preparatory School here. 

In 1921, José Vasconcelos was appointed Secretary of Public Education, and it was he who decided to begin a government sponsored mural program to promote the ideals of the Revolution.  The very first project was to decorate the walls of the courtyard of San Ildefonso in 1922.


The project was controversial.  Many considered the murals to be a defacement of a gem of colonial architecture.  And although the mural movement resulted in many artistic masterpieces, there is no denying that the government's purpose was propagandist.

The major contributor to the project at San Ildefonso was José Clemente Orozco.  His murals ridicule the upper class and extol the struggle of the common man.  Some of the murals were vandalized by conservative students, and Orozco had to return to the school to restored them.

On the ceiling of the stairwell is one of Orozco's most famous works,  "Cortés y Malinche".

Hernán Cortés (we know him as Cortez in English) was the Spanish conquistador of Mexico.  The native woman Malinche was his translator and mistress.  The painting represents the fact that the Mexico of today is a fusion of the Spanish and indigenous peoples.

In 1994 San Ildefonso became a museum and cultural center.  Visitors may see the place where the Mexican mural movement was born.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Another Protest

I went downtown again today, and as I was passing by the Zócalo, Mexico City's huge central plaza, I saw another protest.  This one was larger than the one I saw a few days ago.  The crowd filled one corner of the plaza in front of the Cathedral.

 It was hard to understand the speakers since their voices were garbled over the microphones.  But I believe one said that there would be a big demonstration at the end of the month.  And one of them mentioned that in less than twenty four hours Trump would be president of the United States.

 The banner says "Meeting! Against the gasoline increases!"
No, I was not that close to the demonstration.  I can thank the zoom on my camera for this photo.

The demonstration, once again, was peaceful, and I didn't even see much police presence.

A Drowned Sandwich

"Casa Churra" is a small restaurant chain (just 3 branches) in Mexico City.  According to the sign, it is a "churrería" and "pozolería"... a place that sells "churros" and "pozole".  "Churros" are tubes of fried dough, a cylindrical version of the doughnut, you might say.  "Pozole" is a thick soup made with white hominy.

Their menu however has a lot more than just "pozole" and "churros".  There are many typical Mexican dishes like tacos, tamales, and quesadillas... not gourmet Mexican cuisine, but the kind of things that you might find at street stands.

I visited the branch of  "Casa Churra" in the historic center on my last trip, and I returned on Tuesday when I was downtown.

Now I'm not saying that the food there is spectacular, but if you want a quick bite to eat "Casa Churra" is a decent option if you are in the neighborhood.

"Tortas" are another choice on the menu.  "Tortas" are a type of Mexican sandwich... a big crusty roll stuffed with any one of a variety of fillings.  They also had "torta ahogada", which is a specialty of Guadalajara.  I've never had it before, so that's what I ordered.  This type of 'torta" is filled with "carnitas" (shredded pork), and is covered with sauce.  That is why it is called "ahogada" which means "drowned".  The sauce may be either spicy or mild.  Here it was fairly mild.

It was tasty.  However, I think I prefer an ordinary "torta".  The bread on the "torta ahogada" gets a bit soggy.

Since I was at "Casa Churra", I had to get "churros y chocolate", a treat that came to Mexico from Spain.

I prefer the "churros" in Spain.  They are thicker and greasier and tastier (and obviously less healthy) than the ones in Mexico.  However I much prefer Mexican chocolate to what they serve in Spain.  In Spain the chocolate is so thick that after you are finished dunking your "churros" it is next to impossible to drink what remains in your cup.  This chocolate was very dark, made without milk, but was very good. 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

A Nativity Extravaganza

The 18th century Palace of Iturbide is one of the grandest of the colonial mansions in Mexico City's historic center.  

In 1965 the palace was purchased by Banamex (the Bank of Mexico) and later became the headquarters of that bank's cultural foundation.  Temporary exhibits are held here on a regular basis.  I have been to a number of them, and they are generally excellent.  Yesterday, as I was walking along Madero Street in the city's historic heart, I saw that there was a new exhibit... a display of "nacimientos" (Nativity scenes).  When I entered, I was delighted to find out that Banamex has changed its policy, and now allows photography (without flash).

So here are some photos that I took at the show.  If you think that I am posting a lot of pictures, believe me, they represent only a fraction of this impressive exhibit.  The Nativity scene has always been central to the celebration of Christmas in Mexico, and the hundreds of "nacimientos" shown here represent the vast diversity of Mexico's folk art.

As you enter the courtyard of the palace, the first thing that you notice is a display of angels, made from sheet metal and arranged in the shape of a Christmas tree.

All around the courtyard are exhibits of Nativity scenes from all parts of Mexico.

A clay "nacimiento" from the state of Hidalgo.  Notice the women to the right making tortillas.

Colorful, polychrome clay figures from Tlaquepaque, a noted pottery town in the state of Jalisco.

Clay nativity scene from the southern state of Guerrero

 Notice the thatched, Mayan hut in this group from Mérida, Yucatán.

I very much liked the style of this nativity scene from the state of Colima.

 The town of San Bartolo Coyotepec in the state of Oaxaca is famous for its black pottery.  In this scene, the figures are dressed in traditional attire from different parts of the state.

 The three kings are portrayed wearing the costume of the Oaxaca's famous "feather dancers".

The town of Metepec in the State of Mexico is known for its ornate "Tree of Life" sculptures made of clay.  Here there were several "Trees of Life" with a nativity theme.

The town of San Martín Tilcajete in the state of Oaxaca is known for it "albrijes", fanciful wooden carvings of animals.  Here that style is applied to a nativity scene.

In this piece from Izamal, Yucatán, the figures are arranged as if on the altarpiece of a church.

A beautiful wooden carving from Papantla, Veracruz

 In Mexico it is perfectly fine for a nativity scene to be thoroughly whimsical...

Here the nativity figures are out for a ride in a VW bug.

And here they are enjoying a ride on a carrousel.

A nativity chess set from Izamal, Yucatán

These figures are carved from bone.

This scene with the figures grouped outside of a colonial church was created by Guillermina Aguilar, a noted folk artist in the town of Ocotlán, Oaxaca.  (I visited her workshop the last time that I was in Oaxaca.)

 I really like the style of this "nacimioento" from Tonalá, Jalisco, another town famous for its pottery.

 These clay figures are covered with beads in the style of the Huichol tribe of western Mexico.

 These exquisite pieces from Guanajuato are made of cornstalk paste and bark paper dyed with cochineal, and are decorated with gold leaf.

Equally exquisite is this group made of wax.

There were also many framed pictures depicting the Nativity.

This one is made from cut paper.

This is a collage made from metallic paper, fabric, beads, and metallic wire.

This picture is made from seeds glued onto a wooden board.

And this one is made from yarn glued onto wood.

But wait!  There's more!  Just when you thought that you had seen it all, there is a sign saying that the exhibit continues upstairs.  There you find more nativity scenes from Spain, Portugal, and South America.

I especially like this group from Ecuador...

 and this one from Peru.

(Notice that instead of a camel, there is a llama.)

I probably spent at couple hours at this exhibit.  It was one of the best that I have seen at the Palace of Iturbide.  It will be running through February.  If any of my readers should be in Mexico City, do not miss this wonderful display!