Monday, November 30, 2015

Art in Chapultepec Castle

On my recent trip to Mexico City I revisited Chapultepec Castle, the historic building which is today the National Museum of History.

More than a year ago I wrote a post about this museum, detailing the history of the castle and showing some of its displays.  Chapultepec Castle is also a showcase of art.  Not only does it contain many historic paintings, but some of Mexico's greatest 20th century artists were commissioned to adorn the walls with murals portraying the nation's historic events. So today I will show you some of the art within Mexico's premier history museum.

As you enter the museum, be sure to look up.  The ceiling of the entrance is covered with this dramatic mural.  I posted a photo of this painting before, but it is so stunning that I will show it again.  Unfortunately, I do not know the name of the artist who painted it.  So if any of my readers know his name, let me know.

UPDATE:  Kim, the author of the blog "El Gringo Suelto" told me that the artist who painted the mural was Gabriel Flores (1930-1993), a well known painter from Guadalajara.  ¡Gracias, Kim!

As I have written before, Chapultepec Castle was once the location of Mexico's military academy and was the scene of one of the last battles of the Mexican-American War.  According to legend, one of the young cadets at the academy wrapped himself in the Mexican flag and jumped to his death rather than surrender to the U.S. army.

Another dramatic mural was painted by Jorge González Camarena.  It represents the conquest of the Aztec Empire by the Spanish.  In this painting an Aztec warrior, dressed in the uniform of the Order of Eagles, is killed as he attacks a Spanish soldier on horseback.


Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a 17th century nun who is regarded as the greatest poet of Mexico's colonial period, as well as a precursor of feminism.  This famous portrait of her was painted by Miguel Cabrera, the greatest painter of colonial Mexico.

A noted 20th century artist from Mexico was Juan O'Gorman.  (He is best known for having designed the mosaic murals on the walls of the library of the University of Mexico.)  O'Gorman was commissioned to paint a large mural depicting Mexico's War of Independence from Spain.  A cast of thousands (well, at least of hundreds) of historical figures from the era are portrayed.  This is just a portion of the painting.  In the center is Miguel Hidalgo, the "Father of Mexican Independence".  

I don't know the name of the painter, but I liked this canvas which shows the Cathedral of Mexico as it appeared in the early 19th century.

Mexico's national hero is Benito Juarez, the Zapotec Indian who became President of the nation, and who led the fight against the French invaders in the 1860s.  This mural by José Clemente Orozco celebrates the triumph of Juarez over the French imperialists.

Juan O'Gorman painted another mural depicting the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz and his overthrow in the Mexican Revolution of 1910.  Díaz ruled Mexico with an iron hand for over thirty years.

Although Díaz modernized the country and gave it a much need period of stability, the poor were oppressed at the expense of the upper class and foreign investors.  In the countryside the peasants were little better than slaves.

The Revolution of 1910 deposed Díaz and Francisco Madero was elected President.

Madero is shown arriving in Mexico City in triumph.  However, forces were at work to undermine Madero's victory.  The two men at the left in top hats are U.S. ambassador Henry Lane Wilson and Mexican General Victoriano Huerta.  The two plotted a counter-revolution.  President Madero was arrested and murdered, and Huerta took control.  However Huerta was unable to bottle up the forces of revolution, and the country was to endure years of chaos.

This is only a sample of what is to be seen at Chapultepec Castle.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Changing City

One day during my recent trip to Mexico City, I took a walk from my apartment and photographed some of the changes which are occurring in the city.

Just a short distance away in the neighborhood of Roma Norte is the Plaza Madrid.  In the center of this traffic circle at the intersection of several streets is an exact replica of the Cibeles Fountain of Madrid, Spain.  The fountain was built in 1980 as a gift from Spanish immigrants in Mexico.  In recent visits to Mexico City, I have seen that the plaza has been undergoing a renovation.  That work is now complete.  The fountain's sculptures have been restored, the traffic circle has been repaved and the green space around fountain has been beautified.

Just a few blocks away is Chapultepec Avenue.  This busy thoroughfare follows the route of an aqueduct which in Aztec times and later in the colonial era carried water from Chapultepec Hill into the city.  A small portion of the colonial aqueduct still stands in the middle of the avenue.

The multi-lane street carries heavy traffic and for pedestrians is a pain to cross.  Plans have been unveiled to create the Chapultepec Corridor. The project would move vehicular traffic to one side, have dedicated bus lanes, create pedestrian green spaces, and even have an elevated pedestrian walkway.
(image taken from the web)
Artist's conception of the proposed Chapultepec Corridor

It remains to be seen whether or not this project will get off the ground.  There have been charges of corruption (big surprise), and criticism that the money should be spent on neighborhoods that are in greater need of development.
A short walk beyond Chapultepec Avenue is the city's most famous boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma.  On previous trips I have reported on the construction of new skyscrapers along that street.
The Torre Diana appears to be nearing completion.

The office building gets its name from the nearby Diana Fountain, which stands in the middle one of the many "glorietas" (traffic circles) which stud the boulevard.  I noticed that the fountain is also undergoing renovation.
Just down the street, work progresses on the Torre Reforma.  It surpasses its next-door neighbor, the Torre Mayor, which used to be the city's tallest building.

At the base of the Torre Reforma is one of the few remaining mansions which used to grace the boulevard.  It is being incorporated as a part of the entrance to the new office tower.
On the other side of the Torre Mayor, it seems that yet another construction project is underway.
Across the street, the Bancomer Building, the new headquarters of Mexico's largest bank, is finally complete and open for business.  In fact, the inauguration took place while I was down there.  Unfortunately, I didn't know that on opening day the public was allowed to go to the top floor for what must have been a spectacular view of the city.
From the terrace of Chapultepec Castle, you can see the changes in the city's skyline.
I took this photo in 2012.  The Torre Mayor dominates the scene.

I took this picture earlier this month, and, as you can see, the Torre Mayor no longer stands alone.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Visiting the "Snail"

During my recent trip to Mexico City, I revisited one of the city's lesser known museums, the Gallery of History, which is also known as "El Museo del Caracol" (The Museum of the Snail).  It received that unusual name because of its circular construction with the exhibit space forming a spiral like the shell of a snail.  The museum is located in Chapultepec Park along the path which climbs the hill to Chapultepec Castle.

The museum contains dioramas portraying important events in Mexico's history from the War for Independence through the Mexican Revolution.  The last time I visited the museum was in 1975.  At that time I took lots of slides of the dioramas which I then used in the classroom when I would teach the history of Mexico.  Since then, the displays have been nicely spruced up with detailed written descriptions and audio narration. It is a very good review of Mexico's complicated story, but, unfortunately, since everything is in Spanish, it would not be very meaningful to monolingual "gringo" tourists.

Here are a few pictures of the museum...

Miguel Hidalgo is honored as the Father of Mexican Independence.  This village priest began Mexico's struggle for freedom from Spain on September 16th, 1810.

I mentioned the Battle of Chapultepec a while ago in my blog post "The Boy Heroes".  This was one of the last battles of the Mexican-American War before the U.S. army marched victoriously into Mexico City in September of 1847.

Less than twenty years later Mexico was invaded again, this time by the French forces of Napoleon III.  The invaders were temporarily halted at the Battle of Puebla on May 5th, 1862.  (This is the origin of the "Cinco de Mayo" celebration.)

Despite the setback at Puebla, the French took Mexico City.  Napoleon installed the Hapsburg prince Maximilian as Emperor to rule the country as a puppet for the French.  This diorama portrays the entry of Maximilian and his wife Carlota into Mexico City in 1864.  Three years later he was executed before a Mexican firing squad.

One of the heroes of the Mexican Revolution of 1910 was Emiliano Zapata.  Here he is shown organizing the peasants in their quest for "Land and Liberty".

The museum ends with a shrine containing a copy of the Constitution of 1917.  The adoption of the constitution more or less brought an end to the chaos of the Mexican Revolution.

I find it interesting that both this museum and the National Museum of History in Chapultepec Castle end with the Mexican Revolution.  It is as if nothing of importance has happened in the 100 years since then.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Back Home

I arrived home this evening. It was a long day, but things went fairly smoothly.  I was at Mexico City International Airport at 6:30 A.M.   I was upgraded to business class, so I had a comfortable seat, and I was served a second breakfast. (I already had a breakfast at the airport.)  The only snafu of the trip was that departure from Mexico City was delayed by about an hour due to a mechanical problem of sorts.  One of the ceiling panels in the cabin was loose, so a mechanic was called in.  He fixed it by securing the panel with duct tape!!  Since I had a long layover in Houston I wasn't worried, but the situation reinforced my conviction that it's better to have a long layover than to risk missing a connection... as some people on the flight surely did.

At Houston airport everything went very smoothly. I had no long lines at immigration or going through security.  (I had feared that it would be a hassle due to recent events... but it was not.)  I passed through immigration, picked up my suitcase, went through customs, rechecked my suitcase, and passed through security in about twenty minutes.  One of the perks with my credit card is that each year I get a couple passes for the United Club lounge.  So I was able to spend my layover in a more comfortable, quieter environment.

My flight to Cleveland left on time and arrived ten minutes early.

Cleveland from the plane
Now I have a day at home, and then I drive down to Columbus for Thanksgiving with family.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The End of Another Trip

It's hard to believe that my three weeks in Mexico City have nearly come to an end.  Tomorrow I must be at the airport at 7:00 A.M. for my journey home.  It still have more to write about this trip, but for now I will close with some pictures of Mexico City at night.

The Zócalo

The Palace of Fine Arts

The Juárez Monument

At the Independence Monument - photo taken by Alejandro

¡Hasta pronto, México!

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Sunday Downtown

Last weekend was "el Buen Fin", the beginning of the Christmas shopping season and comparable to Black Friday in the U.S.  It was also a three-day holiday weekend, with Revolution Day being observed on Monday.  As a result traffic in the city and heading out of the city was even more chaotic than usual.  So  Alejandro and I decided not to take any excursions.  On Sunday we simply took the "metro" downtown to the city's historic center.

The streets were bustling with people.

The ugly exhibition which had cluttered up the Zócalo, the main plaza, the week before was now gone.  The vast square was now the way it should always be with unobstructed vistas of the Cathedral and the National Palace.

Near the Zócalo is the former Church of Santa Teresa which was built in the 1600s.  It's not my camera angle... the church's tower is decidedly leaning.  Pisa, Italy, has nothing on Mexico City.  Because the city is built on a former lake bottom, many buildings have settled at crazy angles.

The church is now used as a site for art exhibits.  There was no exhibit going on at the time, but we poked our heads inside to admire the interior.

We also visited a small museum that neither one of us had seen before... the Estanquillo Museum.  It is located on the fourth floor of a 19th century building along Madero Street, the principal street in the historic center.  The museum has changing exhibits from the large collection of photographs, cartoons, paintings, and other objects which belonged to journalist Carlos Monsivals.  Since this is the 30th anniversary of the 1985 earthquake, there was a display of photos and other memorabilia from that tragic event.

Up another floor from the museum is a rooftop terrace with views of the historic center.

We then went to "El Cardenal" for dinner.  This restaurant, located just a block from the Zócalo is one of our favorites for traditional Mexican cuisine.  Unfortunately it is not open at night, but whenever we are downtown on a weekend afternoon, we make it a point to eat there. 

We both started off with a delicious cream of squash soup.

For the main course, Alejandro had lamb in a sauce known as "manchamanteles" (tablecloth stainer)...

...and I had a chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and covered with red "mole".

For dessert we both had a crepe filled with cheese and covered with mango and blackberry sauces.   I honestly think it was the most delicious dessert I have ever had in Mexico!

And to make the whole experience even more delightful, at a nearby table there was a family celebrating the birthday of their little son.  A trio of guitarists were serenading them, singing "Las Mañanitas" (the Mexican birthday tune) and traditional children's songs.

Friday, November 20, 2015

A "Tamalada" of Sorts

The making of tamales is a very laborious task.  I would dare say that it is more difficult than other complex dishes such as "chiles en nogada" or "mole poblano".  For this reason it is traditional for families to have a big get-together known as a "tamalada".  Each person is given a task in a sort of production line of making the tamales.

Last Saturday Alejandro took me to his parents' home to help make tamales.  I don't know if it would be considered a "tamalada" since there were only three of us... Alejandro, his mom, and I.  For me, it was certainly an interesting experience, and I gained a great deal of respect for anyone who makes tamales.

First Alejandro and I went to the neighborhood marketplace.  His mom had made up a list of ingredients that we needed for the fillings for the tamales.  We were going to make three kinds of tamales... chicken in green sauce, strips of poblano pepper with cheese and an herb called "epazote", and sweet tamales with raisins and blackberry marmalade.

We then went to a "molino"... a business which grinds flour, peppers or spices to order.  This place has been in operation for more than forty years, and Alejandro can remember going there as a child.

We had them grind six kilos of the special corn flour that is used to make tamales.

We also purchased there a couple bags of the dried corn husks which are used to wrap the tamales.

Back at the house Alejandro's mother prepared the ingredients for the fillings, while Alejandro began making the "masa" or dough.

First, he emptied a bag of pork lard into a large plastic basin.

He then worked the lard with his hands until it was soft.

Next the corn flour was slowly added and thoroughly mixed with the lard.

His mom then added leavening to the mixture.

At this point a third of the dough was put into a separate bowl for making the sweet tamales.   Chicken broth was added to the big basin for the savory tamales.  I was finally put to work mixing this gooey dough with my hands.  The "masa" has to be thoroughly mixed and aerated.  I think I was working on this for a half hour or more.

When a blob of dough will float in a glass of water, you know that it is finally ready.

Meanwhile, Alejandro was working with the dough for the sweet tamales.  Instead of chicken broth, water was added.  Sugar and raisins were also mixed into the dough.  Food coloring was added so that one could differentiate between the sweet and the savory tamales.

Alejandro's mom took the corn husks and soaked them in a pail of water so that they would be pliable.

With the dough ready and the corn husks soaked, it was finally time to assemble the tamales.
A large dollop of dough is placed on the inside of a corn husk.

Then a spoonful of filling is put on top of the dough.

The corn husk is then wrapped around the dough and filling.  We made dozens and dozens of tamales until we used up all the "masa" and fillings.  Alejandro assembled the sweet tamales, his mom put together those with strips of peppers and cheese, and I assembled the chicken with salsa tamales.  It took me a little while to master the process.

The tamales are then placed in a large special steamer. 

They are steamed for a couple of hours.  It was 10:00 P.M. before the tamales were done.

A couple of things to point out to those who are unfamiliar with tamales...

The singular of "tamales" is "tamal".  There is no such a word as "tamale" in Spanish.

Also, remove the corn husk before eating the "tamal".  You may laugh, but I actually knew someone who tried to eat a "tamal" corn husk and all!