Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Protest in Mexico City

I am sure that there have been larger protest marches in Mexico City, but the demonstration today was the biggest that I have ever seen here or anywhere.  Thousands of Mexicans took to the streets to display their displeasure with:  1.) the government of Mexican President Peña Nieto (his approval rating currently stands around 12%),  2.) the increase in the price of gasoline (yet another "gasolinazo" is scheduled to go into effect on Friday), and 3.) the policies of Trump.  There were a large number of political groups, unions and other organizations represented.

Around 11:00 this morning I walked to the Paseo de la Reforma, the broad boulevard which is the scene of many demonstrations in Mexico City.  It was soon evident that the march would take place here because I saw people standing around with banners and flags.

I continued walking up the boulevard.  Across the street was the United States embassy, and a group had gathered there.  Behind the ugly metal fences which surround the embassy was a small army of policemen.

Several of the banners were directed at Trump.

Trump... The Mexicans say to you... "Ch**** a tu madre!" (a common Mexican expletive).

I continued northward along Reforma.  At the monument to Christopher Columbus there was a group of perhaps a couple hundred who were members of Mexico's Communist Party.  (There were many people from left-leaning organizations who had red flags, but these banners had the yellow hammer and sickle of the communists.)

I cut over to the "Plaza de la República", where the Monument to the Mexican Revolution is located.  Here there was a massive gathering of people.  It stretched several blocks from the Monument back to the Paseo de la Reforma.

One speaker was ripping into Trump.  "Let him build a wall.  Let him build a wall all around the United States so that the world is protected from his imperialism."  Another speaker said, "Out with Peña Nieto.  Let him go to the United States to his friend Trump."

It's not surprising that there were enterprising food vendors selling their wares to the hungry protesters.

The crowd began to move.  They headed back down the boulevard in the direction from which I had come.   They took up one half of the street.  I followed on the other side of the street.

 The march came to a halt at the intersection with Insurgentes Avenue, one of the busiest intersections in the city.  I waited for a while, but they were not moving.  I continued down Reforma, and traffic was running normally on both sides of the boulevard.

Then a couple small groups came from the opposite direction along the sidewalk where I was.  I suppose that they were headed to join the main group.

By this time I was back by the U.S. Embassy again.  The marchers were on the move once again.  I went to stand in the median strip of the boulevard, and from there I had an excellent view.  

"No, to the gasoline increase!"

The memory of the Mexican Revolution hero, Emiliano Zapata, was frequently invoked.  The marchers chanted, "¡Zapata vive, la lucha sigue!" (Zapata lives, the fight continues!")

The words of Zapata:  "If there is no justice for the people, let there be no peace for the government."

I then went farther down Reforma to the Monument to Mexican Independence which stands in the middle of the boulevard.  From the steps of the monument I had a great view.  Even though many of the marchers had already passed by, one side of the boulevard was still filled with protesters for as far as the eye could see.  Up there with me were numerous professional photographers.  Perhaps their photos will appear in tomorrow's newspapers.

The marchers circled the monument and filled Río Tiber Street to the north side.

Then they started filling in the other side of Reforma so that the boulevard was now completely blocked to traffic.

I figured that I should leave before the crowds had filled in every side around the Monument where I stood.  It was not that I was afraid.  The demonstration was completely peaceful.  In fact it was quite exhilarating to be a witness to this protest march.

A Saturday Outing

Last Saturday, Alejandro and I took a pleasant excursion out of the city.  We went to a town called Villa del Carbón which is located about forty miles to the north of Mexico City.  It was about a two hour drive... much of which was spent leaving the urban sprawl of the city.  When we had finally left the metropolitan area, the road began to wind its way up into the forest covered mountains.

We knew that we were light years away from Mexico City.  When we reached Villa del Carbón, the public parking lot where we left the car shared space with a flock of sheep!

Villa del Carbón is a town of around 8,000 people.  The area was originally home to the Otomí tribe.  By the late 16th century the Spanish had occupied the region, and the town was formally established in the early 1700s.  It was called Villa del Carbón (village of charcoal) because the surrounding woodlands were used in the production of charcoal.  Recently the town was named a "Pueblo Mágico", a designation given by the tourist board to picturesque towns of historical and cultural note.

The center of town is quite pretty and is characterized by white buildings with clay tile roofs.

Like most Mexican towns, Villa del Carbón is built around a central plaza.

Nearby is the colonial church dating from the early 18th century.

We had lunch at a restaurant with a balcony overlooking the town center.

 Alejandro had mushroom soup...

...and I had "sopa azteca" which is similar to tortilla soup.

We got a chuckle from the sign behind me.  "In case of emergency: pay the bill, jump from the balcony, and run like crazy."

We also shared plates of "quesadillas" and "sopes".  "Sopes" are flat cakes of corn dough with toppings.  It was a very good meal.

I was surprised to find that the center of town was filled with shops selling leather goods.  We visited a number of them, and I had my eye on a nice leather jacket.  Before leaving the town, we went back to the shop, and I bought it.

 The buttery-soft lambskin jacket is made in Mexico, and only cost $85 US.  A great bargain!

Monday, January 30, 2017

Shopping with an Ulterior Motive

Today I went to the Insurgentes Market and did a bit more shopping.  I found a couple small items as gifts for friends.  But my main purpose in going to the market was to buy a couple t-shirts.  Now I really do not need any more t-shirts, but I figure that if I wear them back home I might tick off some rabid Trump supporters.

This one of the revolutionary Emiliano Zapata might raise some hackles.

 The quotation by Zapata says, "Better to die standing than to live kneeling."

I told the vendor at the market stall my motive for buying the shirts, and she thanked me for my solidarity with Mexico.

Drawing the Lines

On Friday I visited yet another one of Mexico City's small museums.  The Museum of Caricatures is located in a colonial mansion in the heart of the city's historic center.  It contains a collection of caricatures and political cartoons.

The sign board at the entrance is frequently updated with a cartoon reflecting the latest in current events.

Here Mexican President Peña Nieto is portrayed as a shoe shine boy.  He says, "In my relations with Trump, neither submission nor servility."  Then he asks Uncle Sam, "Shine, mister?"  (This was just before he canceled his scheduled meeting with Trump.)

The museum's collection goes back to the 19th century, and includes some drawings by the famous engraver, José Guadalupe Posada, the man who created the "Catrina" figure which became a national icon.


Many of the cartoons of Mexican celebrities and politicians are not very meaningful to the average gringo tourist, but there was much that I found interesting.

 In this 1984 cartoon, the Mexican man asks, "Why did they choose our country as the locale of the "International Population Conference?"

 "Peasants in Flight"
Instead of "going for the gold". he's going for a "bunch of dollars".

 Here is something I have often wondered myself... How do ambulances make it through the insane Mexico City traffic?

The most popular series of Mexican comic books was "La familia Burrón".
Alejandro told me (although I have not been able to verify it) that this series was the inspiration for "The Simpsons".

There was a special exhibit honoring editorial cartoonist, Rogelio Naranjo, who passed away just a couple months ago.  His drawings criticized a society in which the needs of the poor are forgotten.

 This drawing is titled "Leftovers"

A commentary on the building boom which sweeps away entire less affluent neighborhoods.

Of course there are cartoons which deal with the prickly relationship between Mexico and the United States.


The museum has not lost any time in including caricatures of Trump.


In the courtyard of the museum, there are at least a half dozen caricature artists doing drawings of visitors who want a portrait.

I watched this artist, Mateo Villa, do a couple of caricatures, and then sat down for him to do one of me.

My portrait cost only 70 pesos (although I gave him 100 pesos... $5 US).  I think he did a pretty good job.


Sunday, January 29, 2017

A Museum in a Dangerous Neighborhood

In a city filled with all sorts of museums, one of the most unusual (some would say surreal) is the Museum of Old Toys.  I had never been there, but when I read that this private museum might close its doors because the government has denied it funding, I thought that I should perhaps visit it.  It is within walking distance (albeit a long walk) from my apartment.  The only problem was that it is located in the "dangerous" neighborhood of "Doctores".

"Doctores" gets its name from the fact that most of its streets are named after famous doctors.  It borders the "nice" neighborhood of of "Roma Norte", which in turn is next to "Condesa" where my apartment is situated.  I read that most of the crime in infamous "Doctores" was centered around auto theft and "chop shops".   Well, I wasn't intending to drive a car there, and I would be going in broad daylight.  I checked Google Maps and saw that I could walk through "Roma Norte" along Querétaro Street.  Upon reaching the border with "Doctores" the street changes its name to Dr. Olvera... and it is along that street, several blocks into the neighborhood, that the museum is located.

I decided to throw caution to the wind and go to dreaded "Doctores".  I took my credit cards out of my wallet, took off my watch, put my camera into my shoulder bag and sallied forth.  I crossed Cuauhtemoc Avenue, the dividing line between the two neighborhoods.  It was not immediately noticeable, but "Doctores" was indeed seedier than "Roma Norte".  But it didn't look any worse than many neighborhoods that I have visited.  The people on the street did not look disreputable.  There were no gangs of suspicious teenagers loitering on the street corners, and the elderly people, women, and children were not looking fearfully over their shoulders.  I reached the museum without any problem at all. 

The entrance is unlike the entrance to any museum that i have ever seen.  A sign at the narrow door directs you to climb the stairs to the next floor.

The walls surrounding the little parking lot next to the museum were supposedly painted by Mexico City's top graffiti artists.

  Peaking over the pile of toys is a portrait of the museum's founder, Roberto Shimizu.

Shimizu's father immigrated to Mexico from Japan and in 1940 opened a toy store.  Throughout his life the elder Shimizu collected toys.  The son continued to add to the collection, and opened the museum.  Now, the third generation of Shimizus runs the place.  It claims to be the largest toy museum in the world with over 40,000 objects.  The toys come from all over the world, but the collection highlights Mexico's once flourishing toy industry.

The museum covers room after room on four floors in what was once an apartment building.  It looks like a junk store with stuff piled to the ceiling and crammed into showcases.  There is very little organization, and not much identification of the toys.  The place is bizarre. But in spite of that, it is a unique and fascinating place.  It's is a shame that there isn't the money or space to display all of it properly.  A lot of the stuff is perhaps junk, but there are many valuable antiques and collectibles here also.

Forgive the quality of the photos since I was frequently trying to deal with the reflection on the glass showcases. 


Dolls representing the famous Mexican actor, Cantinflás

Apparently, Mexico had its own version of "Barbie".  Her name was Bárbara, her boyfriend was Ricardo, and her best friend was Lili.


There were lots of figures of wrestlers from Mexico's "Lucha Libre".


The motto of the museum is:  "The child who doesn't play is not a child."