Thursday, February 28, 2019

Biennial of Watercolors

As I mentioned in my last post, there was a special exhibition on display at the National Watercolor Museum in Mexico City.  They were holding their 13th Watercolor Biennial.  This show has grown over the years to now include 200 artists from 29 countries.  It has outgrown the exhibition space, so the Biennial must now be shown in three separate parts.  The final exhibit was going on when I was there.

Here is a sampling of the artwork from all over the world...

"Question of Faith" by Aníbal Oblitas, Peru

"Light" by José Barreiros, Portugal

"Owl" by Roman Kharevsky, Czech Republic

"Return from the Stroll" by Nina Diakova, Russia

"Circus" by Milos Sibinovic, Serbia

"Sunset over the Maldonado Brook" by Roberto Weigel, Uruguay

"Birds in a Tree" by Irving René Lamparero, Panama

"Ballet" by Thu Huowg Nguyen, Vietnam

"They Call Me Chubasco" by Victoria Pareja, Mexico

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

One of Mexico City's Small Gems

Mexico City has around 150 museums.  At the end of my latest trip I visited one of its lesser known museums, the National Watercolor Museum.  It was founded by Mexican watercolorist Alfredo Guati Rojo (1918-2003).   Guati Rojo devoted his life to the promotion of water color paintings by Mexican and international artists.  When the Mexican government turned down his request for the creation of a museum dedicated to water colors, the painter and his wife founded a museum without government assistance. It was originally housed in a building in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City, but when that building was destroyed in the 1985 earthquake, the collection was relocated to a house in Coyoacán, a district in southern Mexico City.

The first gallery in the museum contains reproductions of pre-Hispanic murals and codices.  Since those early civilizations used water based paints, it could be stated that history of water colors in Mexico goes all the way back to that era.

The next room contains Mexican works from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

"Xochimilco" by Ignacion Rosas, 1912

"Alegory" by Saturnino Herrán, 1915
Herrán is the only artist in the museum with whom I was already familiar.
There was an exhibit of his work at the Palace of Fine Arts last year.

The next room has a collection of some of the founder Alfredo Guati Rojo's works.

"The Church at Chimalistac"

"White Soul"

Heading upstairs there is a gallery devoted to 20th century Mexican watercolorists.

"Market at Taxco" by Roberto Cueva del Río, 1975

 "Interior of a Streetcar" by Luis Serrano, 1930

 "Reading Quixote" by Erasto León Zurita, 1971

"Tepoztlán" by Irene Gevuzzo Gérard, 1988

Some of the paintings are in a more abstract style.

"Metamorphosis of a Frog" by Juan Antonio Madrid Vargas, 1995

"Watermelon" by María Eugenia Anduga

"Rhythm of Jazz" by Angel Mauro Rodríguez,1967

The final room of the museum is devoted to international artists.

"Oiled Paper Umbrellas" by Zhou Tianya, China

"Venice" by Mario Cooper, U.S.A.

"Traditional Fiesta" by Galina Sheetikoff, Brazil

Next to the museum is a separate building where special exhibit are shown.  In my next entry I will write about the impressive show that was going on when I was there.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Mexican Direction

(Image taken from the web)

Last night I watched the Academy Awards, and, of course, I was rooting for "Roma".  On my recent trip I had seen the critically acclaimed motion picture at a small cinema in the Roma neighborhood of Mexico City just a couple of blocks from the street and house where much of the movie was shot.  I loved the movie.  Even the first part, which some people complained was boring, to me was a beautiful evocation of Mexican life in that era.  I found the climactic scenes toward the end to be incredibly powerful.

"Roma" did not win the Oscar for Best Picture, but it did win three important awards:  Best Foreign Film, Best Cinematography, and Best Director.  Director Alfonso Cuarón appeared on stage all three times to receive the awards.  (Cuarón not only directed, but was also in charge of the movie's cinematography.  He is the first person to ever win Oscars in both categories for the same movie.)  On his third trip up to the stage, he quipped, "Being here doesn't get old."

It is also interesting that in recent years, Mexican directors have dominated the category at the Academy Awards...

2013 - Alfonso Cuarón won for "Gravity"
2014 - Alejandro Iñárritu for "Birdman"
2015 - Alejandro Iñárritu for "Revanant"
2017 - Guillermo del Toro for "The Shape of Water"
...and now Cuarón's win for "Roma" means that Mexican directors have won the Best Director award for five of the last six years.   

Sunday, February 24, 2019

The Garden Plaza

For as long as I can remember, Mexico City's main plaza, the Zócalo, has been a vast paved area.  But in the late 19th century and the first half of the 20th century it was a garden with trees, grassy areas and flowers.

The last time that I was on the Zócalo, about a week ago, there was a photographic exhibit with historic pictures showing the plaza as it use to be.

This undated photograph is a view of Zócalo looking north from the balcony of the city hall toward the Cathedral.

This picture, also undated, looks to the east toward the National Palace.

The Zócalo in 1938

Looking toward the Zócalo from 20 de Noviembre Avenue.
The buildings are illuminated for Independence Day in 1944.

The National Palace illuminated for Independence Day in 1944

The Zócalo in 1954

In most Mexican cities, the main plaza is a pleasant park-like setting.  That would be nice in  Mexico City, but it probably would not work.   The Zócalo is the scene of frequent political rallies and protests as well holiday celebrations.  On such occasions the square can fit a crowd of more the 100,000.  I doubt that a garden would survive such events. 

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Back Home

My return home to Ohio from Mexico City on Thursday went smoothly.  Alejandro drove me to the airport for my morning flight to Houston.  We were at the United Airlines desk about two and a half hours before departure, and there was no line for check-in.  We had plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast before we said farewell and I passed through security to go to the gate.

My flight left on time.  I wish that I had a window seat so that I could have taken some photos.  The morning was exceptionally sunny and clear, and the view of Mexico City as we took off impressive.

It wasn't so sunny in Houston however.  It was a gray, rainy day.

I passed through immigration and customs effortlessly.  The only waiting was at the luggage claim, and that was maybe only fifteen minutes.  Heading back through security was also relatively painless.  There was no line, and for some reason TSA did not require us to take off our shoes or jackets.  I had a long layover in Houston.  One of the perks of my credit card is that I get two passes each year to used the United Club lounge.  I had one pass left, so I spend the time quite comfortably in the lounge and took advantage of the free food and beverages.

My flight to Cleveland was slightly delayed, but arrival was only fifteen minutes late.  Fortunately I did not return to frigid, winter weather.  The high temperatures have been in the 40s, and tomorrow it is forecast to reach 50.  We will certainly have some cold and snow before spring arrives, but hopefully I have missed out on the worst of winter.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

A Parting Shot

One last view of the volcanoes at twilight from the roof of Alejandro's house...

Time Has Passed

Just a month ago I took pictures of the lunar eclipse.  Last night I took of picture of the so-called "super-moon" from the window of my apartment.

I have been in Mexico since January 9th and in Mexico City since January 14th.  The time has come to return to Ohio.  Today I will get everything organized here at the apartment, pack the few things that I need to take home, and then take the Metrobus to Alejandro's house.  I will spend the night there, and early tomorrow morning he will take me to the airport.  

But don't go away... I have more to write about this trip.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lunch in Coyoacán

The last several posts have been quite negative in tone, so let's have a less critical entry.

Today I went the picturesque Mexico City borough of Coyoacán.  After wandering around for a couple of hours I was ready for something to eat.  Facing the shady plaza of Santa Catarina is a little restaurant called Mesón Antiguo Santa Catarina (Old Santa Catarina Inn).

I was taken upstairs to a table on the terrace.  The décor is very colorful and traditional.

I started with an order of "sopecitos", little circles of corn dough piled with frijoles, tomatoes, chicken, shredded lettuce, cheese and cream.

I then had a "chile relleno", a poblano pepper stuffed with Manchego cheese, dipped in batter and fried, and covered with a mild tomato sauce.

The meal was not extraordinary, but it was tasty.  The service was excellent, and the terrace was delightful on a warm afternoon.  I actually enjoyed this meal more than my visit to the pretentious "Azul" last week.  And the bill was about one third of what I paid at "Azul".

All Glitz and no Substance

I enjoy good food, and I don't mind splurging from time to time at an expensive restaurant.  However, frequently the trendy places that the gourmet elite declare to be "oh-so-wonderful" have been big disappointments to me.  There are a couple high-end places in Mexico City that I read about frequently on Trip Advisor.  From the reviews you would think that they are the Holy Grail of dining... and they charge over $100 US per person, a price that only tourists and the wealthy Mexicans could afford.  I look at pictures of their dishes and see BIG plates with a little dollop of food in the center.  And I guess I am just not sophisticated enough to want to try things like grasshoppers or ant eggs.  No thank you!

One restaurant, however, that I did want to try is a place called "Azul".  People rave about its traditional Mexican cuisine featuring regional specialties from different parts of the country.  There are several locations including one in the Centro Histórico, so last week on one of my trips downtown I decided to give it a try.

The restaurant is beautiful, located in the courtyard of a colonial mansion.

I was seated near the ladies that make hand-made tortillas.

I was brought some tortillas... the top one imprinted on a griddle with a picture.

Then I tasted one.  I thought, "What the heck did they put in their dough?"  They barely tasted of corn.  I've had better tortillas cranked off the machine at the supermarket.

My order was fairly conservative... dishes that I have eaten before so that I could make a comparison.

I began with tortilla soup.

The soup was served in a beautiful bowl that had a cover shaped like a "Catrina".  The waiter pointed out that the soupspoon was gold-plated.  The soup was good, but exceptional only in price.  At 159 pesos (around $8) it was probably the most expensive soup that I have ordered in Mexico.  I guess they have to pay for those gold spoons somehow!

My main course was chicken breast in Oaxacan black mole.

It is garnished with a slice of plantain and squash blossoms.  I pushed the blossoms to the side since I have never particularly cared for them.

The menu said that the dish was prepared following strict Oaxacan traditions.  Well, I have had black mole in Oaxaca, and this pales in comparison.  It was bland and lacking in flavor.

Even though the restaurant was not making a good impression, I went ahead and ordered dessert... a foam of mamey (mamey is one of my favorite tropical fruits from Mexico).

The dessert was just like the restaurant... very pretty presentation, but all fluff with no flavor.  There was barely a hint of the taste of mamey.

My bill came to $34 US.  That may not seem like much, but for Mexico that is a rather expensive, especially considering that I did not order any alcoholic beverages.  So if fancy tableware and gold spoons are important to you, by all means dine at Azul.  Otherwise, there are many restaurants that serve much better Mexican cuisine! 

Monday, February 18, 2019

Losing the Magic

Our tour on Saturday did not end with the butterfly sanctuary.  From there we continued on to the nearby town of Valle de Bravo.

Alejandro and I took a day trip to Valle de Bravo about five years ago.  The town is situated on the shore of Lake Avándaro, a reservoir that was created with the construction of a series of dams between 1938 and 1947.  It has become a popular lakeside resort, and wealthy Mexico City and Toluca families have built weekend homes there.  On the hill above the reservoir the picturesque old town earned Valle de Bravo the designation of "Pueblo Mágico" (Magic Town) from the Secretariat of Tourism.  Alejandro and I found the place to be delightful... one of our favorite "Pueblos Mágicos"

This time, however, we found Valle de Bravo less than magical.  It was more like a nightmare.

Before we reached Valle de Bravo, our bus made a stop a Avándaro, a swanky development on the other side of the lake, to see Cascada Velo de Novia (Bridal Veil Falls).  We had forty minutes, which was just enough time to walk down to the falls, snap a photo at the crowded observation deck, and walk back to the bus.  The falls are pretty, but are no big deal.  We have more impressive waterfalls in Ohio.  But it seems to be a big tourist stop, and the parking lot was full of tour buses.

We then drove to Valle de Bravo.  What should have been a short drive of about four miles was a forty five minute journey.  Most of that time was spent in gridlock on the town's narrow streets which were clogged with insane weekend traffic.  I never thought I would see a place that made Mexico City's congestion look good.  After crawling through town at a snail's pace we were finally let off the bus near the lakefront at 5:00 P.M.  We were given an hour and a half to have dinner.  The tour operator suggested that we eat at one of the floating restaurants at the dock.  We, however, wanted to eat at the restaurant where we ate on our previous visit, a place called La Michoacana, only seven minutes away on foot, But that walk is all uphill.  We considered taking a taxi because of Alejandro's father, but that would have taken forever.   So we trudged up the hill.

The restaurant probably has the best view in town.  To one side are vistas of the lake below.

In the other direction is a view of the towers of the main church in the center of the colonial town.

The restaurant is still a beautiful place, but for some reason the service was dreadful this time, even though the place was not that crowded.  We waited over a half hour for our meals.  It was after 6:00, and we were supposed to return to our bus by 6:30.  We rushed through our meals, and made it to our meeting place at 6:40.

There was no need to have rushed.  Our meeting place was a plaza on the lakefront where all of the tour buses come to pick up their passengers.  There were hundreds of tourists, including our group, waiting there.  Crawling through the traffic, one tour bus after another pulled up.  We kept looking for our bus, and it did not arrive until 7:30.  

Look at all that traffic!  This is what is was like for the entire fifty minutes that we waited.
Not very magical, is it?

So what has happened to Valle de Bravo in the intervening five years since our last visit?  Our previous trip here was on a Saturday also.  The place was busy and there was traffic, but there was no insane gridlock.  I suspect that the culprit is the explosion of tourism to the nearby butterfly sanctuary.  Probably every tour group and even individuals traveling on their own by car head to Valle de Bravo for dinner after seeing the butterflies.  The result is chaos.  Perhaps after the butterflies head north, the town will return to a level of normalcy.  But if this is the new normal... if this is what Valle de Bravo is like every weekend... I will cross it off my list of magical places in Mexico and count it as another place destroyed by mass tourism.