city at night

city at night

Tuesday, August 31, 2021


After visiting the Franz Mayer Museum I walked around the Historic Center of Mexico City a bit. 

Next door to the museum is the colonial church of San Juan de Dios with its distinctive concave façade.  The church was built in 1727 by the religious order of Juaninos.  The structure is sinking at an angle into the soft soil, and is currently closed for repairs and restoration.


Just across the street is the pleasant "Alameda Central", a park which dates back to the colonial era.

Beyond the "Alameda" are two of the city's most iconic landmarks... the white marble Palace of Fine Arts and the Latin American Tower, which was at one time the tallest skyscraper in Latin America.

From the Latin American Tower pedestrianized Madero Street cuts through the heart of the "Centro Histórico" and leads to the city's main plaza, the "Zócalo'.

The replica of "el Templo Mayor", the main Aztec temple, still stands on the plaza.  As mentioned before, it was built for the commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the fall of the Aztecs to the Spanish this month.

Around one side of the "Zócalo" there were vendors selling their handicrafts.  According to their sign they were member of the union of artisans of the Mazahua people of Mexico City.  The Mazahua are an indigenous tribe that numbers over 100,000.  They live primarily in the neighboring State of Mexico (yes, within the country of Mexico there is a state called Mexico), however there is a sizeable community living in Mexico City.  

Embroidered face masks have become a popular item.

The "Zócalo" has long been a site for protests against government injustices, but now protestors permanently encamp here, setting up tents and hanging banners.


Charting the World

Mexico City claims to have more museums than any other city in the world, and I have visited many of them.  And the museums are constantly holding special exhibits, so that no matter how many times I return, there is always something new to see.

Now, during the pandemic, some museums have remained closed, and most of those that are open have not had special exhibits.  Searching on the internet, however, I did find one museum, the Franz Mayer Museum, with a show that sounded interesting.  

The Franz Mayer Museum has the largest collection of decorative arts in Latin America.  Franz Mayer was a German financier who moved to Mexico in 1905 and eventually became a Mexican citizen.  He amassed an enormous collection of objects with an emphasis on Mexican decorative arts from the colonial era through the 19th century.  He donated his collection to the Mexican people, and in 1986 a museum was opened in an 18th century building which once housed a monastery and hospital.

I have visited the museum before, but looking through my blog archive, I realize that I have never written a post about its permanent collection.  That will have to wait for another time, because this post is about their current special exhibit entitled "Trazar el Mundo"... "Charting the World".

Like most museums, only a fraction of the collection is on permanent display.  This exhibit brings together 66 items from the cartographic collection of antique maps, globes, atlases, compasses, and other instruments which were used to map the world.  It may sound boring to some, but even as a child I loved looking at maps.  I found it fascinating to examine these old maps and see how geographers of centuries past depicted the world.

One of the oldest maps in the exhibit is this one by an unknown cartographer.  Florida, Cuba, the coast of Mexico and the Yucatan Peninsula are all recognizable.  However, the maker of this map was making a wild guess when he connected a river flowing into the Atlantic in Virginia with another river (the Mississippi?) flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.

Abraham Ortellius from Antwerp, Belgium, was the creator of the first modern atlas.  This page from the 1579 edition of his work shows part of the colony of New Spain, present day Mexico.  One clearly identifiable feature is Mexico's largest lake, Lake Chapala, which is labeled in Latin as "Chapalicvm Mare".


This map of the New World is the work of the Dutchman Joan Blaue, one of the most important mapmakers of the 17th century.  This map dates from between 1620 and 1645. Blaue was noted for surrounding his maps with panels of illustrations.  In this case there are images of native peoples along the sides, and along the top drawings of the major cities of the New World.

The cities shown include Cartagena, Colombia; Mexico City; Cuzco, Peru; and Potosí, Bolivia.

This map was published around 1550 in Basel, Switzerland, by the German cartographer Sebastian Munster.  It is based on the maps of the ancient mathematician and astronomer Ptolemy.

The convention of showing faces blowing the winds goes back to the Romans who believed that heads of wind inhabited the sky.

This map of the world, also by Sebastian Munster, shows in its illustrations the belief that the oceans were inhabited by sea monsters.

The Dutch mapmaker Michael Mercator (grandson of Gerardus Mercator, who gave us the Mercator projection often used in maps today) did this map of the New World between 1610 and 1630.  

In this map the southern tip of South America, the island known as Tierra del Fuego, is shown as being connected to the Terra Australis, the unknown southern land.  The concept of Terra Australis was not based on any observation or knowledge of the continent of Antarctica, but in the belief that the land in the Northern Hemisphere should be balanced out by land in the south.

This leather-bound atlas was published in the 1700s in Augsburg, Germany, by Georg Matthaus Seutter.

This map of North America was also done by Seutter.   On the eastern coast, towns of the English colonies such as Jamestown, Philadelphia, New York and Plymouth appear.  Inland, the Ohio River is shown flowing from Pennsylvania to the Mississippi River.  However the west coast is less accurate.  California is shown as an island!  I guess he hypothesized that the Gulf of California that separates Baja California from the Mexican coast extended all the way up.

This map published in Paris in 1808 by Jean-Claude Dezauche approaches modern accuracy.  Recent explorations by Captain James Cook are reflected with the inclusion of places such as Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii and the coast of Antarctica.

Monday, August 30, 2021

Late Bloomer

Mexico City is filled with thousands of jacaranda trees which bloom in late winter through early spring.  At that time the city is awash in purple blossoms.  During my normal travel schedule to Mexico, I will see the trees begin to bloom in February, and I am here again for the end of the season in April.

Outside of the apartment building where I stay there is a jacaranda tree.  The other day I looked out the window, and I saw that there was one cluster of purple flowers that apparently does not know what time of year it is.


Climbing the Stairs Again


A couple weeks ago I wrote that the elevator in the my apartment building was out of order and that I had to use the stairs... four flights of them... every time I would leave the apartment.  After several days the elevator was repaired.

Then last Friday, I returned from a walk to discover that once again the elevator was not working.  Thanks goodness it did not happen earlier last week when workers were painting the steps and walls of the stairwell!

I am now back at Alejandro's house for a couple of days.  We shall see whether or not the elevator has been repaired by the time I return!

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Gifts to Myself

I have purchased a bunch of souvenirs to take home as gifts for others, but I have also bought a couple of things for myself.  Even though my house is full of Mexican handicrafts, I can never resist buying some more.

I found this lacquered gourd in a museum gift shop.  I already have a couple similar to it on the bookshelf in my bedroom.  This one is larger, and will look nice with the other two.

I love woodcarvings, and I have quite a collection from Mexico and other countries.  This carving is of a Mayan man from the town of Chamula in the southern state of Chiapas.  I found it at the FONART store not too far from my apartment.  FONART is a government sponsored agency that promotes Mexican handicrafts.  Their store is a treasure trove of high quality items.  

I think that I am now done with my souvenir shopping.

Well, maybe...

Saturday, August 28, 2021

What's Wrong With This Doll?

Years ago, whenever I would travel somewhere, I would buy a doll from that country for Amy, the daughter of one of my teaching colleagues.  Well, Amy is now all grown up and has two daughters of her own now.  So I am now buying dolls for them.

On one of my trips downtown to the historic center of Mexico City, I was passing Sanborns House of Tiles. (Sanborns is a chain of restaurants / gift shops, and the colonial mansion known as the House of Tiles is their flagship store.)  In one of the windows there was a large display of dolls, and some of them were dressed in the regional outfits of Mexico.  I went inside and purchased this one with the attire of the Huasteca region. 

 It's a charming doll, and I am sure that Amy's older daughter will love it.  But there is something quite wrong with "Little Miss Huasteca".   Look at its white skin, light brown hair and blue eyes.

Of course not every Mexican has brown skin, dark eyes and dark hair.  But if you were to go to the indigenous villages of the Huasteca, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who looks like this little doll.  Although some Mexicans would tell you that racism does not exist in Mexico...after all, the majority of Mexicans are "mestizos" of mixed ancestry... the fact is that the lighter your skin, the better off you are.  If you go into an affluent Mexico City neighborhood, the residents are quite likely to be white, but their servants are brown-skinned.  Look at the models in magazine advertisements, the actors on the TV soap operas, the music videos of the top pop stars... generally they do not represent the complexion of the real Mexico.  And it even extends to the dolls at Sanborns! 

Friday, August 27, 2021

From the Top

As you know, the apartment that I rent is located near the World Trade Center, the sixth tallest building in Mexico City.

A number of times I have eaten in the revolving restaurant near the top of the building.  It which offers panoramic views of the city.  However, recently an observation deck one story above the restaurant has opened.  Last Sunday, Alejandro and I were passing by an information booth outside of the World Trade Center, and since they were offering "two for one" tickets, we decided to go up. 

It's a good thing that we had a discount price, because I was not that impressed with the experience.  A guide was with us the entire time, and she gave us a device like a smart phone with which we could scan symbols that were pasted onto the windows.  The device would then show us pictures of city landmarks. Well, big deal.  I've already visited all those places myself.  I don't need to see Google Maps photos of them.  Furthermore, the view was not that good.  We were actually looking out through two sets of windows... the windows of the observation deck, and the windows of the restaurant which extend up to the floor where we were.  Fortunately, we then went down a couple of floors, and from there we were able to take some decent photos.

To the south we could see the "Torre Mitikah" which is currently under construction.  When it is completed it will be the city's tallest skyscraper. 

Another view to the south
The tall buildings follow the line of Insurgentes Avenue, the city's longest street.

A view to the east
At the upper right you can see the high rise buildings of the ritzy, new Santa Fe district.

Looking straight down
I put in an arrow marking the street where my apartment is located.

My friends Nancy and Fred will recognize the yellow building down there...
the Holiday Inn where they stayed when they visited me a few years ago.

The dark green swath running across the picture is Chapultepec Park.
At the right, the city's four tallest skyscrapers are all clustered together.

The line of taller buildings across the photo marks the route of the Paseo de la Reforma, the city's iconic boulevard.

The oddly shaped building in the foreground was the headquarters of Mexicana Airlines until it went bankrupt.  The structure is now owned by an insurance company.
Residents refer to the building as "la licuadora"... the blender.

Looking to the northeast
The black arrow points to the Latin American Tower. When it was built in the 1950s, it was the tallest skyscraper in all of Latin America.  Just to the right of it is the Historic Center of the city.
The red arrow points to the general vicinity where Alejandro lives.

Two Busts and a Bull

 A trio of photos that I took while walking around the Mexico City neighborhood of Roma Norte...

I doubt if you would ever find a monument to the this fellow in the United States.  Fredrich Engels was the German philosopher and political theorist who co-authored "The Communist Manifesto" with Karl Marx.  This bust was erected on the bicentennial of his birth last year by the Communist Party of Mexico and the Mexican General Assembly of Workers.

One of the parks in Roma Norte is "Jardín Pushkin", named after Alexander Pushkin, the 19th century poet, playwright and novelist who is considered the founder of modern Russian literature.  This bust of the writer is located in the park.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of this bull relaxing on a bench outside of a taco joint along Roma Norte's main boulevard Alvaro Obregón.