Sunday, May 19, 2019

Van Gogh in Mexico

Along pedestrianized Madero Street in the historic heart of Mexico City there are lots of street performers.  Last Sunday while Alejandro and I were walking down the street, I noticed one that I had not seen before.   A fellow was made up as a painted portrait of Vincent Van Gogh.  He stood within a frame, and the backdrop was based on the artist's famous painting "The Starry Night".

I put a coin in the basket to take a picture of him.  I should have known that there would be more to his act than simply posing.

He proceeded to take out a sheet of paper and do a stick figure caricature of me.

(photo taken by Alejandro)

(photo taken by Alejandro)

So now I can say that I have an original "Van Gogh"!

Saturday, May 18, 2019

A City that Dances (Part Two)

Yesterday I wrote about the dance festival that Alejandro and I saw in downtown Mexico City last Sunday.  After seeing a wide variety of dances at the Alameda Park, we wandered around the "Centro Histórico" for a while and then had dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, El Cardenal.  By the time we were done with dinner, it was around 6:00 P.M., and we were going to head back to my condo where Alejandro had parked his car.  We were trying to decide whether to take the subway or to walk on past the Monument to the Revolution to Insurgentes Avenue where we could take the Metrobus directly to my neighborhood.  Fortuitously we decide to walk, because as we approached the monument, we could tell that something was going on.  A stage had been set up on the large esplanade in front of the monument, and even from a distance I could tell that a group was performing dances from the state of Yucatán.

The closing event of the dance festival was a performance of Mexican dances by a very talented folklore group.  We arrived at the stage in time to see the conclusion of the Yucatán segment… the well known dance in which the dancers have trays with glasses of water on their heads.

Fortunately that was not the end of the show.  It continued with dances from another region of Mexico.  Neither Alejandro nor I were certain as to which part of the country they were from, although Alejandro thought that the dances might be from the state of Michoacán.

Next were a series of lively dances from the country´s north… Mexico´s cowboy country.  You might say that these were the Mexican equivalent of a country-western hoe-down.

The final series of dances... Alejandro thinks that they were from the state of Jalisco... obviously represented a wedding celebration.  No sedate wedding waltzes here; this was wild fiesta.

It was sorry to see the show come to an end.  It was a great ending to my last weekend in Mexico City

Friday, May 17, 2019

A City that Dances (Part One)

Last Sunday Alejandro and I went downtown, unaware that, due to the wildfires in the forested fringes of the city, the government had issued an air quality advisory.  We were also unaware the conclusion of a dance festival was being celebrated that day.  The air quality was certainly not stopping the performers from dancing with gusto.

Mexico - City that Dances

In the Alameda Park there were several groups performing Mexican folk dances.

It was a hot day, and the men must have been sweltering in their heavy costumes.

A short distance away another group was performing... of all things... Polynesian dances.

At one end of the Alameda, next to the Palace of Fine Arts, a tent and stage had been set up.  A group was performing on African drums.

 Next on the stage was another group performing Mexican folk dances.

Next a couple performed Spanish flamenco.  I am not an expert on flamenco, but we both thought that they were very good; better than some that I have seen.  The man's footwork was especially impressive.

After the flamenco there was a modern dance group that gave a truly bizarre performance that I christened the "dance of the zombie prostitutes".   At that point we left and wandered around the "Centro Histórico".  Before the day was over, however, we encountered more dancing.  But that will wait for the next post.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

Concert in the Park

Last Saturday... my last weekend in Mexico City... Alejandro and I took the Metrobus and the subway to a city park that I had not seen before, "Parque de los Venados" (Park of the Deer).

The place gets its name from a couple of statues that grace the park.

There is also a large monument to Revolution hero Pancho Villa.

It is a very pleasant park, and on a Saturday afternoon there were a lot of families there.  

There were a lot of vendors...

… and a lot of activities for the children.

Toy cars to rent

Art activities

A very nice playground

There was even a section of kiddie rides.

As pleasant as the park is, there was another reason why we came here.  That afternoon there was a charity concert organized by various organizations of exiled Venezuelans.  They were raising money to feed malnourished children in that beleaguered nation.

There were volunteers collecting money.

Alejandro and I both made donations and received stickers to wear on our chest and ribbons for our wrist.

The concert was held on the stage of a pavilion in the park. 

The musical groups were mostly comprised of Venezuelans living in Mexico.

Probably about half of the audience was made up of Venezuelan exiles.  I was probably the only "gringo" in the crowd.  The concert lasted from 2:00 until 9:00 in the evening.  Obviously we did not stay for the entire event.  We listened to a couple acts, then strolled again through the park, and then returned to the apartment.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

The Rest of the Way Home

I arrived home in Cleveland yesterday at 6:00 P.M., about a half hour ahead of schedule.  My flight from Houston was on an Embraer jet, one of those little planes that I refer to as "puddle-jumpers".  The one thing that I don't like about those small planes is that my larger carry-on bag does not fit in the overhead bins, and I have to check it as I board the plane.  However, as I got on the jet, there was no one checking luggage.  Lo and behold, the overhead bins were big enough for my suitcase.  Before we took off, the flight attendant announced that we were on the newest model of Embraer jets, and one of the improvements is larger bins.

I had a window seat, and I took some photos as we began our descent for Cleveland.

   Flying over the farmlands of Ohio

We reach the western suburbs of Cleveland.
The highway crossing the lower portion of the photo is the Ohio Turnpike.
At the top, you see the shoreline of Lake Erie.

We passed right by Cleveland International Airport...

...continued eastward toward downtown Cleveland...

...before turning back toward the airport.

I'm home.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Half Way Home

I am writing this at Houston airport while I wait for my flight to Cleveland.

Yesterday the heat in Mexico City continued as well as the forest fires and brush fires.  The air had a strange quality to it... different from the city's usual air pollution.  The city outlawed any firecrackers or fireworks due to the danger of more fires, and yet last night there were plenty of firecrackers going off in observance of some religious feast day.  "What idiots!" Alejandro complained.

This morning when my 7:00 A.M. flight departed from Mexico City the air was extremely hazy.  I don't think that it was morning mist, but smoke from the fires.

My flight went smoothly.  We arrived a half hour early to Houston.  From the time that I got off the plane, to the time I went through customs could not have been more than fifteen minutes.  There was no line at all at immigration, I didn't have any checked luggage to pick up, and I walked through customs with no questions asked.

Later today I will be home where the high today will be a refreshing 62 degrees.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Time to Say Good Bye

Another month (or actually five weeks) in Mexico City has flown by once again.  Tomorrow I fly home to Ohio.  I have been spending the day doing last minute chores... going to the bank to pay the water bill for the apartment, wrapping my breakable purchases in bubble wrap, packing up what I need to take home.  I will not be returning until October, and the owners of the condo may be coming down here in August, so I also wanted to get some of my stuff out of the way.

This evening Alejandro will pick me up on his way home from work.  I will spend my last night at his house since it is closer to the airport.

Spring is always the warmest season here, but this year has been especially hot.  Almost every day since I arrived here it has been in the 80s.  That may not seem exceptional, but for a city at an altitude of over 7000 feet above sea level it has been an unusual spring.  I think this might be the first time that I have never needed to wear a light jacket when I go out in the evening.  It has been short sleeve shirt weather all the way, any time of day.  There have been some nights when it has been uncomfortable warm in the apartment, and I have had to turn on the fan.  (Most homes in Mexico City do not have air conditioning.)

Although there has been some rain, the rainy season does not begin until mid-June.  Many plants are looking very stressed from the heat and lack of water.  Throughout the country there have been forest and brush fires.  Even within the boundaries of Mexico City there are fires on some of the mountains.  The air is very hazy... more than the usual air pollution.

So, soon I will be back up north where I am told there has been plenty of rain.  

I still have more to write about this trip, so be sure to come back and read more.

More Construction

About a week ago I wrote about some of the construction projects along the Paseo de la Reforma.   I passed  by a couple more sites where major skyscrapers are going to go up.

An ambitious project is underway near the Monument to Christopher Columbus (Cristóbal Colón).

Across the boulevard is large, empty parcel of land which will be the site of the Torre Colón.

The tower is supposed to be completed by 2021, although I find that optimistic given the fact that construction has barely begun.  When finished it will have 65 stories and will be the tallest building in Spanish America.  Plans call for it to eventually be surrounded by four other towers.

(artist's conception of the project; image taken from the web)

A short walk down the Reforma leads to another monument, the Monument to Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor.

Nearby is one of the elegant old mansions that once lined the entire boulevard.  It now houses the University Club, a private club.

Right behind the University Club construction has begun on another high-rise, University Tower.

The 57 floor tower will contain and a hotel and luxury condominiums.  It is scheduled to be completed in 2022.

(artist's conception of the project; image taken from the web)

I have to say that I worry that the building boom in Mexico City is a bubble that is going to burst.  Some economists say that Mexico is already entering a period of recession.  The President, López Obrador, dismisses such worries, but the statistics for the first quarter of 2019 were not good, and the Mexican stock market has been on a downward track in recent weeks.  If the recession is in the near future, I wonder how many of these projects are going to be completed.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Architectural Details

The Palace of Fine Arts, Mexico City's premier cultural center, was begun in 1904.  The exterior was designed by an Italian architect in the Art Nouveau style that was popular at the time.  The interior was not finished until the 1930s. It is done in Art Deco style with a number of pre-Hispanic elements such as light panels in the form of the Mayan god Chac.  The exterior, however, is very European and would be at home in Paris.

That is why I was surprised when I saw a couple of Mexican details on the façade that I had never noticed before.

Above the arches to either side of the central entrance you will find the faces of Aztec warriors.  They are members of the elite Order of Eagles and Order of Jaguars.  Their uniforms resembled those animals, so their faces appear to be emerging from the beak of an eagle and the mouth of a jaguar.  Notice also the serpents which were an animal sacred in pre-Hispanic religion.


Saturday, May 11, 2019


One of Mexico City's most iconic buildings is the Latin American Tower.  When it was completed in 1956 it was the tallest skyscraper in Mexico and in all of Latin American.  Its innovative engineering has enabled it to survive three major earthquakes without damage.

After more than 60 years the tower is showing its age.  For some time there has been talk of giving the building a facelift, although because of its status as an historic monument its exterior look cannot be changed.  On this trip I noticed that a large swath of windows have been replaced.  When the facelift is complete the building should look like new again.

Friday, May 10, 2019

For the Mothers

Today is Mothers' Day in Mexico (here it is always celebrated on May 10th), so I thought that it would be appropriate to visit the Monument to Mother.  The monument is located along Insurgentes Avenue not far from the Paseo de la Reforma.  The plaza in front was recently renovated and a parking lot built beneath it.

The monument was built between 1944 and 1949 in art deco style.  The central statue is of a mother and child.  They both look quite stern and formidable!

Until doing a bit of research on the monument later, I did not know the statue collapsed in the 2017 earthquake.  Using the original pieces it was reconstructed and re-inaugurated last November.

Now the story takes a very sad turn.  I noticed that the plaques on the base of the monument were covered with very professionally printed posters.

The posters read...

"Daughter, son, where are you?
We want to embrace you"

"To the mothers who search for 
their disappeared"

Pasted to the planters, and hanging from ropes across the plaza, are the photos of missing people.

Obviously earlier in the morning there had been a protest march here.  In cities across the nation mothers have marched today demanding that authorities find their missing sons and daughters, or at least find their bodies.  Since the beginning of the "Drug War" in 2006, around 40,000 people have disappeared.

History through the Eyes of Painters

In the late 1800s it became the fashion for Mexican artists to create paintings depicting the nation's early history... legends from the pre-Hispanic era and stories of the Spanish conquest.

Here are a few of those sometimes fanciful paintings that hang in the National Museum of Art.

"The Discovery of Pulque" by José María Obregón 1869

One legend says that the goddess Mayáhuel taught the young princess Xóchitl how to make the alcoholic beverage pulque.  The princess was in love with a commoner, but her father disapproved.  When she presented the pulque as a gift to her father, the king relented and allowed the marriage of his daughter. 

"The Foundation of Mexico City" by José María Jara 1889

According to Aztec legend, their god Huitzilopochtli led the tribe to a swampy island in the middle of Lake Texcoco where they founded their capital of Tenochtitlán, later the site of Mexico City.

"The Senate of Tlaxcala" by Rodrigo Gutiérrez 1875

The tribe known as the Tlaxcaltecas were bitter enemies of the Aztecs.  When the Spanish arrived in Mexico the Tlaxcalteca chieftains debated as to whether or not they should ally themselves with the Spanish against the Aztecs.  They voted to side with the Spanish, but the young prince Xicoténcatl argued vehemently against the alliance.  In the 19th century he became a symbol of resistance against foreign intervention.

"Scenes from the Conquest" by Félix Parra 1877

"The Capture of Cuauhtémoc on Lake Texcoco" by Luis Coto 1881

Cuauhtémoc, the last Aztec emperor, attempted to escape the Spanish siege of Tenochtitlán and continue the resistance against the invaders.  However, his canoe was captured by the Spanish on Lake Texcoco, marking the definitive defeat of the Aztecs.

"The Torture of Cuauhtémoc" by Leandro Izaguirre 1893

The last Aztec emperor, Cuauhtémoc and his cousin were taken prisoners by the Spanish.  The conquerors tortured the two Aztec nobles hoping that they would reveal the location of hidden treasure.  As their feet were placed over flaming braziers, the cousin cried out in pain, while Cuauhtémoc stoically said, "Do you think that I am in a bed of roses?"
This painting was displayed at the Columbian Exposition of 1894 in Chicago and was awarded a gold medal.