Zocalo

Zocalo

Monday, February 28, 2022

Negativo

Tomorrow I return home to Ohio.  I am back at Alejandro's house, and, of course, the main order of business today was to get a COVID antigen test so that I will be allowed on my flight back to the U.S.

As in my previous trips I went to the Laboratorio Jenner which is not far from Alejandro's house.


There were more people at the lab than on my previous visits.  There were no parking spaces, so Alejandro stayed in the car, parked (perhaps illegally) on the street.  I had to wait my turn to go up to the counter.  Fortunately I was still in their computer system from earlier visits, so they already had my information.  The lady said that I would be called in about thirty minutes, which is longer than I have had to wait in the past.  I went out to the car and told Alejandro that it would be a while.  However, I doubt that ten minutes passed before my name was called.  I went into a small room and the lab worker stuck the swab up my nose.  (It tickled more than hurt.)

I am always a bit nervous awaiting the results, but within an hour I received an e-mail that said that I tested negative.  


So, I am clear to fly home tomorrow.  Alejandro printed out my test results.  I have a couple more documents to fill out... one from the Mexican Secretariat of Health, and the other from the CDC in the United States,  I will have to present all of those at the airline desk tomorrow morning.  

By this time tomorrow I will be in Houston waiting for my flight home to Cleveland.

Sunday, February 27, 2022

After All These Years

 I had to take a photo of this hotel, Hotel El Salvador, located in the Historic Center.  Back in 1973, when I was studying in Mexico, I stayed at this hotel a couple of times.  It's still there! 


When I studied at the University of the Americas in Cholula, just outside of Puebla, we did not have classes on Fridays.  So, practically every weekend I jumped on a bus and traveled somewhere.  As a student, I was, of course, on a budget, and the hotels where I stayed were very basic.  At least one that I remember was quite grim.  

Another student had recommended the Hotel El Salvador, so I stayed there on a couple of weekends in Mexico City.  I remember that it was extremely cheap, and yet the room was very modern and clean, the bathroom was sparkling.  It was probably the nicest place I stayed during that trip.   The street, República de El Salvador, was not especially attractive, but it was a short walk to all of the downtown attractions.

I looked up the hotel on Trip Advisor, and the place is still very inexpensive (about 35 U.S. dollars per night), and the rooms still look nice in the photos.  The reviews of the place were generally not bad.  The most common complaint was poor Wi-Fi service.  Of course, that was not an issue back in 1973! 


Saturday, February 26, 2022

A Colorful Library

I made a special trip to the Historic Center just to see the Miguel Lerdo de Tejada Library.  It is a government sponsored research library specializing in economics.  Sounds pretty boring, right?  But in fact the Lerdo de Tejada Library is a very unique place.  I had heard of it.  I had even walked by it on some of my many explorations of the Historic Center, but I had never gone inside.  Recently I read the novel "American Dirt", and there is a scene which takes place in the library.  I decided it was time to pay it a visit.

The library is located in the former church of San Felipe Neri which was constructed between 1751 and 1770.  The building was the Mexico City home of the Congregation of the Oratory of St. Philip Neri, a society of priests and lay brothers who live a contemplative life.  The Congregation later moved, and the church fell into decline.  Between 1857 and 1954 it was a theater, and saw such performers as Enrico Caruso.  In the late 1960s, the government undertook a restoration of the building, and the library opened here in 1970.

The façade of the former church is an excellent example of Baroque architecture.


When you enter the library you are amazed to see that the walls of the reading room are covered with colorful, abstract murals.



The paintings cover more than 21,000 square feet, and are the work of Russian émigré Vladimir Viktorovich Kibalchich Rusakov, commonly known as Vlady.  Vlady left the Soviet Union during the Stalin era and eventually came to Mexico in 1943.  Mexico was his home until his death in 2005.  The murals took ten years to complete.  They are entitled "La Revolución y los Elementos".  The paintings are not exactly my cup of tea, and I do not pretend to understand them.  However, there is no denying that they are a remarkable work of art.






Friday, February 25, 2022

More Construction

In spite of the recession and the flat real estate market, I continue to be amazed by the number of construction projects that are underway in Mexico City.  When I went downtown last week, I saw this skyscraper being built between the Paseo de la Reforma and the Monument to the Revolution.


The building, which is called "Be Grand - Downtown Reforma" will be a mixed-used structure, and apartments and offices are already available for "pre-sale".  It is scheduled to be completed later this year, and will be fifty stories tall.  Depending on your source of information, it could tie my neighbor, the Mexico City World Trade Center, as the sixth tallest building in the city. 


An artist's conception, taken from the internet, of what the finished tower will look like.

On Juárez Avenue

Juárez Avenue is a major street in downtown Mexico City.  It heads from the Paseo de la Reforma (the city's most famous boulevard) eastward, past the lovely park known as the Alameda and the Palace of Fine Arts, to the historic center.  The south side of the avenue was long a busy commercial area of stores, cinemas and hotels.  Then the tragic earthquake of 1985 left many of the buildings along the avenue in ruins.  The area became a sad and dangerous area.  Finally, in 2005 the area saw a resurgence with the construction of a complex known as Plaza Juárez.

The centerpiece of the complex is the colonial church of Corpus Christi which survived the quake.  It was built in 1720 and was part of a convent which was the first to allow indigenous women to belong to a religious order.  The former church was restored and now is an historic archives building.


Surrounding the church are modern buildings designed by one of Mexico's leading architects, Ricardo Legoretta.  These include two office towers which house the Secretariat of Foreign Relations and the Superior Tribunal.




Legoretta also designed the adjacent Museum of Memory and Tolerance, a museum which deals with the Holocaust, other genocides, and issues of human rights.


I visited it quite a few years ago, before I started writing this blog, I believe.  It is a sobering and impressive museum.  Perhaps on my next trip I will revisit it and write about it here.

At the entrance to the museum there is a fragment of the Berlin Wall on display.



In front of the museum are busts of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa, and Nelson Mandela.



The courtyard between these buildings includes a number of works of art.  This monumental, abstract sculpture entitled "Bird of Two Faces" was done by a noted Mexican artist, Juan Soriano.



On the far wall of the courtyard is a three-dimensional mural by David Alfaro Siqueiros, one the "big three" of the Mexican muralist movement of the 20th century.  It is entitled "Velocity".



The mural was created in 1953 for the Mexico City Chrysler factory, which no longer exists.  Siqueiros, who experimented with "sculpture-paintings", used tiles and Venetian glass embedded in cement to create a work which would withstand the outdoor elements.  The mural was saved before the factory was torn down and transported to this complex.

Thursday, February 24, 2022

A Taco a Day

While in the car with Alejandro, driving through Puebla, I snapped this photo of a hole-in-the-wall taco joint.


The sign on the awning says, "A taco a day... is the key to happiness!"

Colonial Puebla

Puebla is Mexico's fourth largest city with a population of over three million people.  It is a modern metropolis and a major industrial center. (One of the largest Volkswagen plants in the world is located here.)  Nevertheless, its historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage site with over 5000 buildings of historic significance.  There is an abundance of Baroque architecture from the the 17th and 18th century.

Alejandro and I have made several weekend trips to Puebla, and I have written about the city in a number of entries on this blog.  You can check them out by clicking on "Puebla" under the list of labels on the right.

After we hit the candy shops, we strolled around the colonial center for a bit before returning to Mexico City.  Here are a few photos of Puebla's beautiful architecture...






 




I am sure we will make more trips to this city in the future, because there are still museums and historic sites that we have yet to visit.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

Temperature's Rising

Here in Mexico City we are saying "Adiós" to winter.  I know that my friends in Ohio will have absolutely no sympathy for me, but January here is a chilly month, especially considering that homes do not have central heating.  The low temperatures at night go down into the 40s F, occasionally even down into the 30s.  There have been quite a few days where the high temperature never made it to 70.

But usually as we proceed through February the temperatures warm.  We are now having a bit of a heat wave in which the highs have been in the 80s.  



A light jacket is still required at night or in the early morning, but the days have definitely been short-sleeve weather.  A sure sign that winter is making an exit...  Alejandro's father, who is always bundled up against the cold, even when he's inside the house, was sitting outside in a t-shirt yesterday.

On Candy Street

On Sunday, after we checked out of our hotel, we drove to the historic center of Puebla.  Alejandro's sister had asked him to buy some of the traditional candies for which Puebla is famous.  So we parked the car at a parking lot near the city center and walked to a pedestrian street which is commonly referred to as "Calle de Dulces" (Candy Street).  The street is lined with candy shops.




The stores are filled with an enormous variety of candies and cookies.  Many of the recipes originated in the convents which abounded in Puebla in the colonial era...  most notably the Convent of Santa Clara.




Alejandro bought several kinds of goodies, however he did not buy any of Puebla's most famous candy... "camotes", a confection made from sweet potatoes.  Neither he nor I are big fans of "camotes".


Most of the candy shops also sell typical handicrafts of Puebla, especially the Talavera pottery for which the city is also famous.  I saw something that I did not expect to see this time of year, a clay figurine of the type used in Nativity scenes.  This old shepherd in a wide brimmed hat is seated on a tree trunk (a real piece of wood) and is holding a lamb.  A flock of five sheep is included.  I bought it, and it will be another addition to my traditional Mexican Nativity scene next Christmas.



Tuesday, February 22, 2022

The View from the Seventh Floor

After spending most of Saturday afternoon at the ex-hacienda of Chautla, we drove on to the city of Puebla where we had a hotel room reserved for the night.  The hotel was nothing spectacular nor picturesque... bland, modern accommodations on the outskirts of the city catering more to people visiting Puebla on business rather than tourists.  However it was a part of the chain with which Alejandro has hotel points.  

Our room was on the seventh floor, and from our room and from the windows in the hallway, we had views in three directions.

I knew Puebla very well because on my first trip to Mexico, nearly fifty years ago, I studied at the University of the Americas located in the nearby town of Cholula.  My, how Puebla has changed in those intervening years!  Cholula used to be a rural town, but now it has been absorbed by metropolitan Puebla. 

From a hallway window facing the southeast, we could look toward the center of the city.



None of the skyscrapers on the horizon existed back when I was a student.



The only thing that I would have recognized was the church dome on the hill in the La Paz neighborhood of Puebla.  As a student I could stand on the edge of the campus, look out across the fields and see that dome in the distance.



From a hallway window facing the northeast there was a hazy view of La Malinche, the sixth highest mountain in Mexico.  It too was clearly visible from campus... although back then I didn't even know the name of that peak.



From our room there view was a view of the volcanoes to the southwest... a very, very hazy view of the volcanoes.  It wasn't until later, as the sun dipped behind Popocatépetl that the mountain was seen clearly in silhouette.


 
Even the next morning, the view of the volcanoes was hazy.  It is a sad commentary on our increasingly polluted planet.  I remember the crystal clear views of the mountains every single day when I was a student here.  




Monday, February 21, 2022

An English Castle in Puebla

The main sightseeing destination on our weekend excursion in the state of Puebla was the former hacienda of Chautla.  The estate was granted to the Marquis of Selva Negra in the 1700s.  The property was expropriated following the Mexican Revolution of 1910 and divided among local peasants.  The manor house fell into ruin, but was restored and turned into a resort hotel.  We didn't stay there, but we toured the beautiful grounds.


The gate to the manor house






The hacienda chapel


From the terrace of the house there is a view of the garden.







In the 1820s, Soledad Gutiérrez, the widow of the fourth Marquis of Selva Negra, remarried to an Englishman by the name of Thomas Gillow.  Gillow was a jeweler who had moved to Mexico City and established himself with the local high society.  After marrying the "marquesa" he gave up his jewelry business and devoted himself to the running of the hacienda. He made numerous farming innovations such as the importation of the first metal plough to Mexico.  

When his wife died intestate, Gillow found himself at risk of losing everything, so, in order to maintain ownership of the hacienda, he married his stepdaughter (one of the Soledad's children from her first marriage).  That marriage produced a son, Eulogio Gillow, who inherited the estate upon his father's death in 1877.  

Eulogio was a priest and rose in rank to become the Archbishop of Oaxaca.  However he also followed in his father's footsteps and continued to run the hacienda and to introduce modern agricultural technology.  He built a dam on the property and constructed Latin America's first hydroelectric plant.  He planned to establish an agricultural college, and he built a house in the style of an English castle to serve as a residence for the teachers.  The "castle" is one of the most picturesque, albeit incongruous, sights in the state of Puebla.  It is a popular tourist destination, and has served as a setting for several Mexican soap operas.







 The view from the roof of the "castle"

Eulogio Gillow's plans for an agricultural college never came to pass. With the outbreak of the Mexican Revolution Gillow went into exile in California, and did not return to Mexico until shortly before his death in 1922.

The "castle" and the property around the lake do not belong to the adjacent hotel, but are operated as a cultural and recreational park by the state of Puebla.