Monday, January 31, 2022

Commentaries on the Times

Here are a few more pictures sent to me by my cousin Gail that are sad commentaries on this time of pandemic...

Street Scenes

Mexico City's "Centro Histórico" is an area of more than 600 blocks in the heart of the city.  It contains more than 1500 buildings which have been declared to be of historical importance.  Beyond the tourist attractions, it is a work-a-day district in which the ground floor of a colonial mansion may be occupied by everyday shops; an architectural jumble in which buildings from the 18th through the twentieth centuries stand next to each other.  It is not always a beautiful area, but it is always an interesting and busy part of the city.

Here are a few random photos of street scenes in the "Centro Histórico" which I took a couple weeks ago...

Street food dining on the sidewalk

One of the district's street being torn up and repaved

The top of the Latin American Tower, a mid-twentieth century skyscraper that was once the city's tallest, peaks above the buildings of the "Centro Histórico".

Sunday, January 30, 2022

Twenty Pesos

The smallest denomination of Mexican currency is the twenty peso bill.  Given the current exchange rate, it would be the equivalent of the one dollar bill in the United States.  The government has been insisting for some time that they are replacing the twenty peso bill with a coin.  I have only been in possession of one of those coins.  However, shortly after my arrival on this trip, I received a commemorative bill which was issued late last year, and which is supposedly going to be the last twenty peso bill to be printed.

The front of the bill commemorates the end of Mexico's struggle for independence from Spain.  It shows the "Army of the Three Guarantees" (religion, independence and unity) marching triumphantly into Mexico City on September 27th, 1821. 

The back of the bill continues the theme of other new banknotes with an illustration representing one of Mexico's ecosystems... in this case the mangroves of the Caribbean coast.

I am still receiving the old twenty peso notes with the visage of President Benito Juárez (I have four of them in my wallet this moment), but nary a twenty peso coin.  I wonder if the whole plan will fizzle out just as the plan to replace the U.S. dollar bill with a coin flopped.  Remember the Susan B. Anthony and Sacagawea coins?

Saturday, January 29, 2022

Birthday Cake

As I mentioned in my last post, Alejandro's father celebrated his birthday on Friday.  After breakfast, Alejandro and I drove to a "pastelería" (pastry shop) to buy a cake for his dad.  There are plenty of "pastelerías" throughout the city, including several within walking distance of their house.   However, the family really likes a chain of bakeries called "La Universal".  They discovered it because there is one close to where Alejandro's sister Sandra works.  So, even though it is a half hour drive from the house, that is where they usually buy birthday cakes.

The last several times that they bought a cakes there, they bought something called "mil hojas" (literally "thousand leaves") which is something similar to strudel.  Even though it is very good, Sandra suggested that Alejandro buy something different this time.

There were a variety of cakes to choose from, but the clerk recommended the "rompope" cake.  ("Rompope is Mexico's version of eggnog.)

So, "rompope" it was.  After dinner, Alejandro brought the cake out to the table.

Of course, there was the singing of "Las Mañanitas", the traditional Mexican birthday song (accompanied, it would seem, by the family's dogs) and the blowing out of the candles.  The pandemic has brought an end (at least for the time being) of pushing the birthday boy's face into the cake. 


The cake was very good, perhaps even better than "mil hojas"!

Birthday Tamales

Yesterday was the birthday of Alejandro's father.  Tamales are a traditional dish for birthdays, so Sandra, Alejandro's sister, went out and bought a couple bags of tamales from a local vendor for our breakfast.

She bought three different kinds of tamales... "rajas" (strips of poblano peppers), "verdes" (chicken in green sauce), and sweet.   I had two of the "verde" tamales, and they were yummy.  The birthday celebration was to continue later in the day.

Friday, January 28, 2022

More Rivera Murals

As I said this morning, if you climb the stairs of the Secretariat of Public Education building, you will find still more murals painted by Diego Rivera in the 1920s.  There is no mistaking Rivera's political beliefs from these murals.  The bloody Mexican Revolution had recently come to an end, but to Rivera, a member of the Communist Party, the revolution would not be over until capitalism was destroyed and a proletariat paradise was established.  If it were not for Rivera's artistic talents, this series of mural could be viewed as pure political propaganda.

Emiliano Zapata

The revolutionary hero Zapata fought for the distribution of land to the peasants and was assassinated by his opponents.
Here, dressed in robes, surrounded by a halo-like aura, and flanked kneeling worshippers, the martyr takes on a saint-like quality.

Felipe Carrillo Puerto

Carrillo Puerto was the socialist governor of the state of Yucatán.  He also was assassinated by right-wing opponents just four years before this mural was painted.  Rivera gives him a similar saintly treatment.

 The Capitalist Supper

Rivera paints a very unflattering portrait of the upper class while the armed proletariat hovers above them.

Wall Street Banquet
Here the Wall Street elite (some of the figures are portraits of U.S. industrialists) sip champagne and watch the stock market ticker-tape.  Ironically this was painted just a year before the stock market crash of 1929.


Another unflattering portrait of the corruption and decadence of capitalism.  Again the armed revolutionaries hover just above the capitalists.

Our Daily Bread

In contrast, the working-class family gathered at the table is portrayed with dignity.

In the Arsenal

In one of the most famous panels of the series, Rivera's wife, Frida Kahlo, is shown in the center, handing out rifles to the Communist Revolutionaries.

In the Trench

And the workers' revolution begins.

The Death of the Capitalist

Although Rivera remained a supporter of Leninist ideals, the year after completing these murals, he was expelled from the Communist Party for his criticism of Stalinism and his support of Stalin's rival, Leon Trotsky.

Diego Rivera Murals at the Secretariat of Education

Yesterday I wrote about the special exhibit, "The Greatness of Mexico", being held at the headquarters of the Secretariat of Public Education in Mexico City's historic center.  I concluded by saying that the building is also the site of a large series of mural paintings by Diego Rivera.

The Secretariat of Public Education (SEP) is housed in a colonial building that was once one of the largest convents in New Spain.  Between 1923 and 1928 the Secretariat hired artists to paint murals in the two courtyards of the building.  The majority of them were done by Diego Rivera.  

Most tourists to Mexico City see the famous Rivera murals in the National Palace, but the SEP has a much larger collection of his work with 235 panels.  It was also Rivera's first major mural project.  

I had visited the SEP a number of years ago, but, after viewing the special exhibit, I took the time to look at and photograph the Rivera murals once again.  And this time I will share some of those photos with you here on the blog.

The theme of Rivera's paintings on the ground floor of the first courtyard is "Labor".  Here he depicts the many forms of work done by the laborers of Mexico.  Some panels emphasize the harsh working conditions which many have suffered.

The Peasant

The Rural Teacher


Entering the Mine

The miners, carrying tools and wooden beams, evoke images of the Passion of Christ.

Leaving the Mine

The workers are searched lest they try to carry off nuggets of precious ore.

The Potters

The Sugar Mill

The Dyers

The Weavers

The murals on ground floor of the second courtyard deal with Mexican traditions and festivals.

The Market

The Dance of the Ribbons

The Day of the Dead

The Offering

Heading upstairs there are still more murals by Rivera, murals that strongly reflect the painter's political views.  We will take a look at some of those in the next entry.

Thursday, January 27, 2022

The Greatness of Mexico

Last week I made another trip downtown.  I went to the headquarters of the Secretariat of Public Education to see a special exhibit called "La Grandeza de México" (The Greatness of Mexico).  The exhibit is divided between two venues.  One portion is in the National Museum of Anthropology.  Fortunately, I saw that part of the exhibit on my previous trip, because the Anthropology Museum is temporarily closed because of the Omicron wave.  However, the Secretariat of Education is still open, and was able to see the rest of the exhibit.

This portion of the exhibit consists mostly of pre-Hispanic artifacts.  They are displayed in the Pan-American Hall of building.  Admission is free, but, because of the pandemic, only ten people are allowed to enter the hall at a time.  Fortunately I only had to wait a few minutes before I was admitted.

Here are few items from the exhibit...

A fragment of a mural painting from the Mayan city of Calakmul

A limestone carving of a female governor from the Mayan city of Pomoná

The exhibit contains a number of pieces that belonged to collections or museums in the United States and which were returned to Mexico.  This Mayan urn was voluntarily repatriated by Albion College in Michigan.

This Mayan carving was voluntarily returned to Mexico by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2019.

This Aztec carving served as a standard bearer.  A flag pole would have been placed through the hole in its hand.

This is a sculpture of the Aztec god Xipe Totec, the god of agricultural renewal.
In Aztec mythology he flayed himself to feed humanity, symbolic of the way that corn seeds lose their outer skin before germination.

A ceramic figurine from Teotihuacán
The chest opens to reveal the image of a god.

This copper, 18th century baptismal font was returned to Mexico through the efforts of the Arizona Historical Society in Tucson.

A picture done in the 20th century by an artist from the Huichol tribe of western Mexico.  The work was created by gluing colored yarn on a board. 

The Secretariat of Public Education also features one of the largest series of murals by Diego Rivera.  But those will be the subject of a future article.