Thursday, August 31, 2017

Sculpture Boulevard

On Tuesday I was going to visit the Anthropology Museum, but before reaching my destination, I saw that there was a display of bronze sculptures along the Paseo de la Reforma, the boulevard that runs past the museum.  A few months ago there was an outdoor exhibit of sculptures by Salvador Dalí in this same place.  This time the display is of the work of another surrealistic artist, Leonora Carrington.

Carrington was a painter, sculptor and novelist.  She was born in England, but spent most of her adult life in Mexico.  She died in 2011 at the age of 94 and was one of the last surviving members of the surrealistic movement.

I find her work to be bizarre (isn't surrealism by its very definition bizarre?) but very interesting.  The display of her sculptures is an appropriate follow-up to the earlier Dalí exhibit.  Here are a few of her creations sitting right along the boulevard.

Sleepless Hours

(Image from the web)

No, the photo above is not from Houston, but from Mexico City last night.  Although it cannot begin to compare to the death and destruction left by Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Mexico City is suffering the effects of Tropical Storm Lidia off Mexico's Pacific coast.

Yesterday was a gray, dreary day all day long with intermittent rain and drizzle.  Although it did not rain that much here at the apartment, late afternoon saw heavy downpours in some parts of the city.  When Alejandro left the office, traffic was worse than usual, and there was standing water on many of the streets.  He arrived here at the apartment, and we had a late supper. 

Around 9:00 PM he got a phone call from home.  One of his aunts has been visiting from out of town.  Due to a family emergency, she wanted to get home as soon as possible, and she wanted Alejandro to drive her to the bus terminal.  Alejandro asked me if I wanted to come along, and I said yes.  Within a few minutes we were in his car.  Although it was no longer raining, very quickly we found that traffic everywhere was still moving at a snail's pace.  What we did not know at that point was that many major arteries, including the "circuito interior", that passes by the airport, were closed due to flooding.  The "circuito interior" was the route that we needed to take to get to his parents' home.  

Alejandro tried to use his GPS to find us another route.  Even side streets were jammed with traffic since everyone else was trying to find a way around the flooding.  At one point I think we spent a half hour just to travel a couple blocks.  In many places the water on the streets was so deep that I was afraid that we would not get through.  In other places the roads were closed, and we had to detour again.  We were traveling streets that even Alejandro did not know, and going through neighborhoods that were not the best part of town.  We finally arrived at his parents' house at 1:00 AM after four hours of driving!

His aunt was waiting for us.  Fortunately the bus station was not too far away, and the streets were not bad in that area (although we saw that the "Gran Canal" had overflowed its banks, and that Gran Canal Avenue was impassable.  We got to the bus station in good time, but we found out that the next bus to take his aunt home did not leave until 5:30 AM.  She bought her ticket and said that we could just leave her there, but there was no way that we were going to leave her by herself at the bus station.  So we all drove back to his parents' house and caught a couple hours of sleep before taking her back to catch her bus.

We saw his aunt off, and then headed to the apartment.  By this time the morning rush hour had begun, and it was slow going in some spots.  We finally arrived at the apartment around 7 AM, ten hours after we left.

The flooding had not only closed many roads.  The airport was shut down, several subway lines were closed, and in a few areas there were flooded buildings.  It is fortunate that we had never reached the "circuito interior".  We heard on the radio as we were heading back to the apartment that the drivers that got stuck on that thoroughfare were still stranded there.  

As I write this, the skies are still cloudy, but it is not raining.  However, the forecast calls for more heavy rains this afternoon.  Rush hour will once again be a nightmare. 

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Tourist Trap

Wax Museums are invariably tourist traps...  even Madame Tussauds Wax Museum in London, the most famous of them all.  Nevertheless, last week I went to Mexico City's Wax Museum.  Many, many years ago, I visited it with the purpose of taking pictures of famous people from Mexico's history to use in the classroom.  I figured that I would check it out again.  At least the admission price of 100 pesos isn't going to break the bank.

The museum is still located in an old mansion not far from the Paseo de la Reforma.

There were some figures that were amazingly lifelike, but the majority looked like... well, wax figures.  It also seemed that many of the figures were not very good likenesses, at least judging by pictures that I have seen of the people.  Perhaps half of the figures are of famous Mexicans, and would not be of much interest to the average tourist from the U.S.

Here's a quick review of Mexican history through photos I took in the museum...

Father Miguel Hidalgo was a parish priest who in 1810 began Mexico's war for independence from Spain.

José María Morelos continued the struggle for independence after 
the death of Father Hidalgo.

Antonio López de Santa Anna (known to us "gringos" as simply Santa Anna) was 
a strongman who dominated the early years of Mexico's independent history,
and who lost half of his country's territory in the Texas War
and the Mexican-American War.

Benito Juárez is Mexico's most revered President.
He brought liberal reforms to the country and fought against the French invasion.

Porfirio Díaz was dictator of Mexico for three and a half decades
until he was finally overthrown in the Mexican Revolution.

Francisco Madero's opposition to the dictatorship of Díaz led to the Mexican Revolution.
He was elected President, but was then murdered in a coupe-d'état.

Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa were two major figures during the chaotic years
of the Mexican Revolution.

Here are some other famous Mexican celebrities...

Carlos Slim is the richest man in Mexico, and one of the richest in the world.

From the world of art here are...

Diego Rivera and his wife Frida Kahlo.

Cantinflas was Mexico's most famous movie comedian.

Dolores del Río was a famous movie star who also made it big in Hollywood.

Unknown in the United States, María Félix, was Mexico's most glamorous 
movie star, and was sometimes called "the Elizabeth Taylor of Mexico".

Finally, here is an animated figure of Plácido Domingo singing "Granada".

Yes, the wax museum is a tourist trap, but at least I didn't go into the "Ripley's Believe It or Not" museum next door!

Higher and Higher

Those of you who have followed my blog for some time, know that I frequently check on the progress of the skyscrapers being constructed along the Paseo de la Reforma in Mexico City.  Not so many years ago the Torre Mayor was the city's tallest structure.  Then the Bancomer building across the street took first place.  Then I watched the Torre Reforma top them both.

On recent trips, I have been observing another skyscraper, Chapultepec Uno, that is being built right next door to the Torre Mayor.  It is now closing in on the building that was once the tallest. 

I was under the impression that Chapultepec Uno was going to be the tallest of them all.  It will be taller than the Torre Mayor, but, at 58 stories and 790 feet, it will miss being the city's tallest  by just ten feet.

The building should be completed by 2019, and a part of the tower will be occupied by a Ritz Carlton Hotel.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Old Masters

Last week I revisited the National Museum of San Carlos, the city's major collection of European masters.  The small museum is certainly not comparable to the great museums of Europe, but it is worth a visit if only to see the 18th century mansion which houses the collection.

The neo-classical building designed by the architect Manuel Tolsá features an oval courtyard.

I came to the museum to see a special exhibition that is a collaboration between the San Carlos Museum and the Colnaghi Gallery in London, the world's oldest commercial art gallery.  It featured paintings from the Renaissance through the Baroque era.  Although there were no pieces by any of the biggest names...  nothing by DaVinci, Raphael, El Greco, for example... there were a number of artists represented that I have heard of.

The exhibit began with a beautiful altarpiece of late Gothic art from Spain called "The Adoration of the Magi".

Here are a few more of the paintings in the exhibit...

"Judith and Holfernes" by the Italian painter Tintoretto

"Painter in his Studio" by Lorenzo Lotto

"The Alchemist" by Luca Giordano

"Portrait of Frederick of Saxony" by the German painter Lucas Kranach

A large number of the pieces were by artists from Spain.

"The Penitent Magdalene" by Francisco de Zurbaran

"Our Lady of Bethlehem" by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo

Restored and Open to the Public

Just across the street from the Monument to the Revolution is the "Fronton México" which for years was the venue for professional jai alai games*.  The "fronton" closed years ago, and the beautiful Art Deco building, built in 1929, was empty and deteriorating.  Perhaps a year ago I saw that the structure was being restored.  On this trip I noticed that work had been completed, and the building looks great.

Part of the building now houses a casino which is open to the public.  I got into a conversation with the doorman at the casino entrance, and I asked him if jai alai is being played again.  He told me "yes", but the jai alai season does not begin until February.  I have never seen a jai alai game, so when I return to Mexico City next winter that will be on my list of things to do.

* In case you have never heard of jai alai... it is a sport of Basque origin in which a ball is bounced off the wall of the game court using a hand-held instrument called a "cesta" (Spanish for basket).  It is supposedly the fastest sport in the world.

(image from the web)

Monday, August 28, 2017

Exhibit at the Museum of Popular Art

Perhaps my favorite small museum in Mexico City is the Museum of Popular Art.  The museum opened in 2006 in an Art Deco building that used to be the city's chief fire station.  The museum houses a spectacular collection of handicrafts; works that transcend the category of "crafts" and are truly works of art.

I have already been the museum a couple of times, but last week I passed the building and saw a sign advertising a special exhibit that was going on.  It was an exhibit showcasing the popular arts of the southern and southeastern states of Mexico.  

The show had originally been scheduled to run through the 25th of June, but due to its popularity had been extended into August.  The next day I went back to the museum to catch the exhibit before the end of its run.

This region of Mexico, which includes the Yucatan Peninsula and the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca, and others, is the portion of the country that has the largest indigenous population, and is rich in traditional crafts.

Here are just a few items in the exhibit...

Visitors are greeted by this large clay figure of a jaguar from the town of Amatenango del Valle.

A large (probably six feet tall) decorative piece from Oaxaca made from tin.

A beautiful wood carving from the state of Chiapas.  (Wow, I would love to have this for my collection of carvings!)

An embroidered dress from Chiapas, and, in the background, handwoven fabric from Chiapas.

An amber necklace from Chiapas

The famous black pottery from Oaxaca

An example of lacquerware from
the state of Guerrero

The brightly painted wooden carvings of animals from the state of Oaxaca are known as "alebrijes".   The "alebrije" is from the workshop of Jacobo and María Angeles in the village of San Martín Tilcajete.  I have visited their workshop a couple times on trips to Oaxaca, and I have met Jacobo.  I have one of his carvings at home.

Clay figurines from the workshop of the Aguilar sisters in Ocotlán, Oaxaca.  I have visited their workshop also.

The "terno" is the traditional dress of the Yucatan.  In the background are hand woven hammocks from Yucatan.

It was not a part of the exhibit, but I have to include a photo of this Volkswagen which was just inside the entrance to the museum.  The entire automobile is covered with the intricate bead designs of the Huichol tribe.  Truly amazing!