Sunday, April 30, 2017

No Desert, No Lions

In the mountain forests to the west of Mexico City there is a national park called "Desierto de los Leones."  Although it actually lies within the city limits, it is far removed from the crowded, bustling metropolis.  The park is named after the centerpiece of this woodland reserve, a colonial monastery which was once a retreat for Carmelite monks.  The word "desierto" does not mean "desert" in this case, but an unpopulated, remote area.  It was a perfect location for the Carmelites to lead a life of meditation, prayer and silence far from the distractions of the city.  "Leones" does not refer to "lions" but was the name of the family who helped the monks acquire the property.

On Saturday, Alejandro and I went to "Desierto de Leones".  We had been there once before, but a friend of Alejandro's was visiting the city, and he had never been there.

With the outbreak of the War of Independence in 1810, the monastery was abandoned, and today its remains, which are partially in ruins, are a museum.  There is not a great deal on display within the monastery, but the gardens surrounding the building and within its courtyards are well maintained.  The cool, clean air and the forests of pine and oak make it a welcome excursion from the city.

Flowers seem to thrive in the cooler, moister environment here.  The monks sought to create of small slice of heaven on earth with the gardens.

It is a holiday weekend (Monday is Mexico's celebration of Labor Day), and many other people had the same idea to escape the city.  But even with more visitors here, it was a beautiful and tranquil getaway.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

A Sad Trip to the Museum

Mexico City is one of the great cities in the world when it comes to art.  People think first of places like Paris or New York, but Mexico City certainly rivals them.  I have already been to two important art exhibits on this trip, and on Thursday I went to a third.  Currently the National Museum of Art is running a show entitled “Melancolía”.  Sounds like a depressing exhibit, but it was an excuse (as if I need any) to revisit one of my favorite museums in the city.

The National Museum of Art is housed in "over-the-top" former Palace of Communications. This lavish structure was built in the early 20th century during the waning days of the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.

The special exhibit consisted of 130 works of Mexican art, ranging from the colonial era to the 20th century, which portray sadness, grief, suffering, and preoccupation with death. 

There were several canvasses by the Baroque, 17th century painter Cristóbal de Villalpando, whose works are currently also on display at the Palace of Iturbide.

Most of the painters were unknown to me.

"Woman Crying" by the famous 20th century muralist David Siqueiros

After all the melancholy, I was ready to spend some time with my favorite landscape painter,
José María Velasco.  The museum contains the world's largest collection of paintings by this 19th century artist.

The realism and luminosity of his canvasses are such that I feel as if I could step into his paintings. I never tire of seeing his works.

Friday, April 28, 2017

In Spanish, Please!

I always find it surprising that there are so many signs and advertisements here in Mexico City that are in English.  I am not talking about places like the airport or establishments in very touristy areas that are patronized mainly by foreigners.  Take a walk down the street, and you will wonder how many residents understand all the English that there is.  I suppose that the businesses think that they are projecting an image of trendiness or providing snob appeal. 

Here are examples that I found during a short walk from my apartment.

First of all there is landmark building just a couple blocks from my apartment... the World Trade Center.  They could have given it a Spanish name such as "Centro Internacional de Comercio", but instead chose to rip off the name of the famous buildings in New York City.

An exposition for the music and entertainment industry going on at the World Trade Center was called "Sound:Check".  (Don't understand the reason for the colon between the words.)

Nearby is this gymnasium.  There is "reason to believe" that their membership fees are outrageously expensive.

OK, Tony, I know that you are a U.S. chain.  But this is Mexico.  Couldn't you put the rest of your sign in Spanish?

Same goes for you, Texas Ribs.

This ad is completely in English!  Oh, wait.  In small print in the lower corner there is a bit of Spanish.

This advertising is for a condominium under construction.  Will the tenants be allowed to use the fitness club, roof garden or kid's club if they don't speak any English?

The owners of this barber shop goofed up on their English.  I assume that they wanted to name their business "Dandy Boy".

I have no idea if this is a U.S. company... but it isn't the type of product that you would associate with an image of trendy sophistication.

Sear's advertising campaigns are always in English, although sometimes rather bizarre English.  When the Disney movie "Frozen" first came out, the department stores' Christmas ads said "Happy Frozen Christmas".

Now I am not advocating a "language police" such as they have in Quebec where they fine businesses whose signs are not in French.   But it seems that the amount of English is getting a bit silly.  Perhaps with the Mexicans' distaste for the current administration in Washington, English advertising will begin to seem less "cool". 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

A Baby Pyramid

I recently wrote about the neighborhood of San Pedro de los Pinos which is adjacent to the "colonia" where I am staying.  Later I read on the internet that there is a small pyramid in San Pedro.  Fellow blogger, Scott, the author of Gringopotpourri, is familiar with the neighborhood and told me that the archaeological site was closed to the public when he was there.  Nevertheless, I decided to see for myself.  I looked at Google Maps, and I found the pyramid located on, logically, "Pirámide" Street.  I also noticed that there was a cultural center located next door.  Perhaps access to the pyramid is through the cultural center?

I walked over to San Pedro de los Pinos.  I once again enjoyed its peaceful side streets.  Other than the hectic thoroughfares of Avenida Patriotismo and Avenida Revolución, which I had to cross, the neighborhood is quite tranquil and pleasant. 

I reached the archaeological site which is fenced in.  The pyramid is called Mixcoac after the pre-Hispanic town which once occupied the area.  The term pyramid is a misnomer.  All Mexican pyramids were platforms upon which to build their temples.  The large ones have a somewhat pyramidal shape, but this little one simply looks like a platform.  It was probably built around 1200, and was later used by the Aztecs until the Spanish conquest.  The temple which once stood atop the platform may have been dedicated to the god of the hunt.  San Pedro de los Pinos (of the pine trees) was at one time a forested area and a good hunting ground.

I saw no one within the fenced in zone, but the manicured grounds, the pathways, and the informational signs gave the appearance of a place that welcomed tourists.  I walked over to the cultural center.  I went inside and asked a lady if there was access to the pyramid.  She told me to go down the street and around the corner to where there was a gatehouse.

I did that.  There was a gatehouse, and a gate which was locked shut.  I saw a guard busy talking on his cellphone.  I finally caught his attention, and he came over to me.  I asked him if the site was open to the public.  He said "No."  "Is it ever open?"  "No."

Scott had told me that behind the site there is a street which climbs up toward an elevated expressway.  From there he was able to get pictures of the "pyramid".  So I followed in his footsteps.  Here is my picture of this tiny archaeological zone.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Some Restaurant Reviews

Here are some restaurants in the neighborhood where I have eaten.  Which ones will make it to my list of places to revisit?

1.  Cobá - This is just a short walk from my apartment.  It is part of a chain of modest restaurants serving Yucatecan food.  I love the cuisine of Yucatán, so one day I stopped there for lunch.

I ordered the "sopa de lima"... chicken soup flavored with lime.  It was just so-so.

I then had a "torta de cochinita pibil".  A "torta" is a Mexican sandwich on a thick, crusty roll.  It was filled with "cochinita pibil", a tasty pork dish from the Yucatán.  Again, it was just OK, far from the best that I have had.  (And I was disappointed that they did not serve a bowl of pickled red onions as a garnish for the sandwich.)

The waiter was friendly and the price was reasonable, but I don't think that I will return.

2. Fonda Doña Blanca - This place not far from the apartment is only open in the afternoon for the midday meal.

The waiter was one of the most unfriendly that I have come across in Mexico.  No "Buenas tardes", no "Buen provecho"... he just took my order and brought my food without saying hardly a word.

The first two courses were brought out together.  The tortilla soup and the macaroni in cream were very ordinary.

The main course of chicken fajitas with diced potatoes and strips of poblano peppers and the obligatory serving of beans to the side was quite tasty. 

For the price... 70 pesos or around $3.50 U.S. if I remember correctly... it was not bad, but due to my waiter, "Mr. Personality", I am inclined not to return.

3. Bajío - Bajío is a chain of moderately upscale restaurants that specialize in traditional Mexican cooking.  Alejandro and I have been to a couple of them, and the food has been very good.   Looking at Google Maps I discovered that there was a Bajío just a few blocks away on Insurgentes Avenue.  So last Friday, we went there for dinner.

They were out of one of the specials which I wanted, so I went with the chicken breast in mole... a complex Mexican sauce.  (Yes, the waitress puts a bib on you, so that you don't stain your shirt with the sauce.)

(photo taken by Alejandro)

I was not impressed with the mole.  Alejandro, who is a connoisseur of mole, had a taste and said that it was overpowered with too many cloves and too much cumin.

So, even though I like the Bajío chain in general, I would not return to this one.

4.  Fonda Trotamundo - After so much negativity, I will end on a positive note.  This little restaurant across the street from the World Trade Center was crowded, and when I left there were people waiting in line to enter.  Due to its location, it is a popular place with businesspeople working across the street.  The name, by the way, means Globetrotter Inn.

Like most places the restaurant offers an inexpensive (70 pesos) set menu.  I began with cream of carrot soup.  At first taste, it was rather bland, but there was a bowl of very tasty salsa on the table.  I put a dollop in my soup, and that made all the difference in the world.

My second course was white rice.  That certainly sounds boring, but it had been cooked in chicken broth and had a very nice flavor.  I added some more of the salsa, and it was even better.

For the main course I had chicken in a sauce with strips of poblano peppers. (And of course a serving of black beans.) It was very simple, but tasted good. 

The waiter, who was busy with the crowd, still had the time to be courteous.
So Fonda Trotamundos makes it onto my list of places to patronize again.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Sunset in Tlalpujahua

Last Saturday after our exploration of the town of Tlalpujahua, it was early evening before we ate.  We went to a place called "La Terraza", a rooftop restaurant atop the "House of Santa Claus" (see previous post).  There were not a huge number of dining choices here, but I think we ended up at the best place in town.  It certainly was the restaurant with the best view in town.

We started off with a delicious soup called "sopa de la milpa" (soup of the cornfield).  In addition to corn it contained "chayote" (a Mexican vegetable), squash and Swiss chard.

For my main dish I had "cecina", thin slices of beef that has been salted, marinated and dried.  Served with it was a "corunda", a triangular shaped "tamal" that is typical of the state of Michoacán, rice, beans and an "enmolada", a tortilla covered in "mole".

Alejandro had a traditional dish of Michoacán, chunks of pork served with "verdolagas", a green plant which is called purslane in English.

We finished with slices of a cake flavored with "cajeta", Mexican caramel.

We purposely ate our meal in a very leisurely manner because we could see that this would be a good spot from which to view the sunset.  Indeed, it was the perfect ending to a very tasty meal.

Mexico's Frankenmuth

If you have ever traveled in Michigan, you may be familiar with the town of Frankenmuth, the home of Bronner's Christmas Wonderland.  Bronner's promotes itself as the world's largest Christmas store.

In the state of Michoacán (not Michigan) in the town of Tlalpujahua, there is another store where Christmas lives all year long... "La Casa de Santa Claus" (the House of Santa Claus).

The store is owned by the Muñoz family, the same family that introduced the art of glass-blowing to the economically dying town of Tlalpujahua in the 1960s.  In 1965 Joaquín Muñoz established the factory “Adornos Navideños”, which produces hand painted, blown glass Christmas ornaments.  Today there are more than 150 workshops in the town, but “Adornos Navideños” remains the biggest and most important.  It is the largest Christmas ornament factory in Latin America, and among the five largest in the entire world.  The factory employs 500 workers. 

A two story Christmas tree stands within the entrance to the store.

There are other handicrafts for sale besides ornaments... some of them are not even related to Christmas.  However most of the store is filled with bin after bin of glass decorations.

"La Casa de Santa Claus" in Michoacán is small compared to Bronner's in Michigan, but this store in Tlalpujahua has one big advantage over Bronner's.  Nothing is "made in China"; everything is "hecho en México"!