San Juan de Dios

San Juan de Dios

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Now This Is a Diner!

You may remember that a couple weeks ago Alejandro and I ate at an American style diner that was absolutely terrible.  Alejandro said that there was a similar place not far from where he lives that is much, much better.  I told him that I would like to go there, so last Sunday, when I was at his house, we took a short walk to the "Cafetería Retro Acetato".

The decor is 1950s - 1960s rock 'n roll with a dose of Star Wars thrown in for good measure.

I ordered a chocolate malted and Alejandro had an amaretto milkshake in a towering glass.

We ordered different kinds of hamburgers.  They were hand-made from good quality meat, not mass-produced frozen patties thrown on the grill.  I have to say that it was the best hamburger that I have ever had in a restaurant... so much better than McDonald's or Burger King, and far superior to (and cheaper than) the dreadful burgers that we had at that other diner.

Who would have thought that Alejandro's thoroughly non-touristy, working-class neighborhood would have such a gem!  I want to go back!

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

Another Month Passes

You may recall that each year I make a calendar featuring photos that I have taken.  The theme of this year's calendar is the Cleveland Museum of Art.  For February there is another snowy picture, a winter landscape by Rockwell Kent entitled "Maine Coast".

Rockwell Kent (1882 - 1971) was an American painter who found inspiration in the stark beauty of the wilderness.  His travels took him to remote places such as Newfoundland, Alaska, Tierra del Fuego and Greenland.

Since I do not return to Ohio until March, I am keeping my fingers crossed that I will have missed most of that winter white stuff.

A Flavorful Exhibit

After I had shown Alejandro the underground archaeological site at the Spanish Cultural Center, he then showed me something downtown which I had never seen.  Just a block away is the "Colegio Nacional".

The "Colegio Nacional" is not a college, but an honorary academy with an exclusive membership composed of the country's leading scientists, writers and artists.  I have passed by the building numerous times, and never realized that it was open to the public.

The building dates back to the 18th century and was originally the Convent of La Enseñanza.

The "colegio" sponsors periodic exhibitions.  At this time there is show relating to Mexican cuisine.  Here are some of the items on display in the exhibit.

This lid to an incense burner in the shape of an ear of corn comes from Teotihuacan and is around 1500 years old.


A small figurine, 2000 years old, shows a woman grinding corn on a stone "metate".

This ceramic vessel in the shape of a pumpkin comes from the west coast state of Colima and dates from between AD 100 and 400.

A 19th century painting of a food vendor

In Nativity scenes, Bethlehem is transported to Mexico with figures of villagers in traditional attire bringing food to the Baby Jesus.

Many Mexican recipes had their origens in convent kitchens.  In this miniature scene, the nuns are making candy.

A 19th century painting of a kitchen in Puebla

Another kitchen painting shows the "aguador", the water vendor who would come daily with large clay jugs of water.

After viewing the exhibit, it was time for us to go eat.

Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Underground Revisited

When Alejandro and I were downtown last Saturday, there was someplace that he had never seen, a small, underground archaeological site.  I had been there several years ago, and I wrote a blog entry about it.  But I was happy to pay another visit so that Alejandro could see it.

Behind the Cathedral is a colonial era house which is now a cultural center operated by the government of Spain.

Some years ago, when the Spanish Cultural Center expanded, taking over a parking lot behind it, an archaeological discovery was made.  Under the lot were the foundations of an Aztec building.  (The center of Mexico City, of course, is built upon the site of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.  Whenever there is any excavation for construction work, pre-Hispanic remains are likely to be found.)  The cultural center incorporated the discovery into its expansion and now has a small museum / archaeological site in its basement.

It is thought that the foundations part of the "calmécac", the school for the sons of Aztec nobles.  A model shows what archaeologists think the school looked like.

Although the little that remains is not especially impressive, it is fascinating to think that all of central Mexico City rests upon Aztec foundations such as these.

On the photo of the model above, you can see that the roofline had decorations somewhat like battlements.  These architectural elements, called "almenas" were in the stylized form of a seashell.  The seashell was associated with Ehécatl, the god of wind and was a symbol of fertility.  The archaeologists discovered five of these "almenas" carefully buried under the flagstones in front of the foundation.  Two of them are on display here.  The other three are in the nearby Museum of the Templo Mayor.

Perhaps when the Aztecs remodeled the "calmécac", they buried these "almenas" as an offering.

Numerous other artifacts were found during the excavation and are on display in this small museum.  This statue of Ehécatl still has some of its original paint.

 Many fragments of Aztec pottery were found.

Several other discoveries beneath the heart of Mexico City have been made in recent years.  It would be really cool if eventually all of them would be open to the public.



Discovery in the Dome

Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral suffered moderate damage in the 2017 earthquake, and since 2019 workers have been doing repair work.  On my previous trip to Mexico, the facade, bell towers and dome were all covered with scaffolding.  Visitors had to enter the Cathedral through a side door.  Work is nearing completion.  When Alejandro and I went downtown last Saturday, most of the scaffolding had been removed, and the front entrance was open.  However, work was continuing on the dome. 

If you look closely, you might be able to workers on the scaffolding.

The Cathedral was built over the course of 240 years, beginning in 1573 and completed in 1813.  The dome, which was designed by the Spanish-born architect and sculptor Manuel Tolsá, was one of the last portions of the Cathedral to be constructed.

Last December workers made an interesting discovery while repairing the dome.  A tile inside had come loose, revealing a niche which contained a small lead box. Within the box was a painting of a Bible scene on parchment.  Workers then discovered 22 more boxes, each one containing prayers, paintings or crosses.

(image taken from the internet)

One of the pieces of parchment bore the date of 1810.  It is believed that the boxes were placed in the dome in a ritual to offer protection to the building.  Some of the objects were in good condition; others were damaged by humidity.  After all of the objects have been analyzed, they will be placed in the boxes once again.  The boxes will be covered in protective coverings and returned to their original location within the dome.   

Monday, January 30, 2023

Sunrise, Sunset

Here are a couple of photos of fiery skies that I took...

Sunrise from the roof of Alejandro's house...

and sunset from near my apartment.

All About Corn

Last Thursday I returned to Chapultepec Park, one of the largest and most visited urban parks in the world.

I walked to the opposite side of the first section of the park to an historic building called "Molino del Rey" (the King's Mill).  

The structure was part of a complex of buildings dating back to the 16th century used for the milling of wheat.  In 1847 one of the last battles of the Mexican American War was fought here, and this is the only building which survived the bombardment.

Mexico City now has around 170 museums, making it second only to London.  The "Molino del Rey" is the site of one of the newest museums... "Cencalli" (The House of Corn).

I certainly would not rank this new museum as one of the "must-see" sights of Mexico City.  But I did learn quite a bit about corn, a crop which was first domesticated in Mexico around 8000 years ago.

The ancestor of corn was a grass called "teocintle".  The early inhabitants of Mexico domesticated it and through breeding developed it into the crop that we now know as corn.

It was a crop which was adaptable to different climates and soils and uses, until today there are thousands of varieties of corn.

For thousands of years corn was ground by hand on a stone known as a "metate.  The hand-held stone is known as a "metlapil".  In rural areas corn is still ground by hand, and even Alejandro remembers when his mother had a "metate".  The "masa" or corn dough would be patted by hand into tortillas.

A decorative "metate" and "metlapil" carved from basalt.  These won an award in a national contrest of popular arts.

In the 20th century, the production of tortillas became industrialized, with machines in "tortillerías" (tortilla stores) mass producing tortillas.

The pre-Hispanic peoples of Mexico developed a process called nixtamalization in which the kernels of corn are soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution of lime water (not the fruit but the mineral) prior to grinding.  This not only makes the corn easier to grind, but it has been discovered that it has many health benefits.

The nixtamalization of corn increases the digestibility and fiber content of the the corn, and increases the calcium, protein, niacin, thiamin and riboflavin which the body can absorb.
The tortilla is better for nutrition and health than any commercial bread.

The importance of a good tortilla

Mexicans consume an average of 8 to 10 tortillas per day, or about 264 pounds of tortillas per year.  Tortillas provide between 50 and 70% of their daily caloric intake, 50% of their calcium and 35% of their protein.  In recent years, the consumption of tortillas has diminished, being substituted by products with refined flour.  This has coincided with increased obesity among the Mexican population.

So, the moral of the story is, eat tortillas instead of bread!