Zocalo

Zocalo

Saturday, April 30, 2022

In the Historic Center

You may remember that on my previous trip I discovered a website in Spanish which describes 200 places in Mexico City's "Centro Histórico".  Many of these are places you would pass by without ever knowing their fascinating history.  Once again, I picked out a few of the places on this list which I thought you might find interesting, and took photos of them.

Our first stop is a relatively recent building.  "La Nacional" was built by the life insurance company of the same name.  Construction began in 1928 and was completed in 1932.  The thirteen story structure was the first skyscraper in Mexico City and for five years held the distinction of being the city's tallest building.  It stands across the street from the Palace of Fine Arts on the corner of Lázaro Cárdenas and Juárez Avenues.


It was the first tall structure in a seismically active area.  It was built upon more than 100 concrete piles that go down to bedrock at a depth of 180 feet.  It has survived ten earthquakes, including the 1985 quake which devastated much of Juárez Avenue, without any structural damage.

The building is considered one of the city's most important examples of art deco architecture.


    Today most of the building is occupied by offices of the National Institute of Fine Arts.

In 1947 an annex, which is sometimes referred to as "La Nacional II", was built next to the original.  It today houses the downtown branch of Sears.  ("Sears de México" is very much alive and well, is 100% Mexican owned, and it considered an upscale store.)



Heading down Madero Street, you might not notice this carving of a feline head on one of the street corners.



The sculpture marks the level of the flood waters in the disastrous inundation of 1629.  Because the valley in which the city sits was largely covered with a system of lakes, floods were a frequent problem.  However, in September of 1629 heavy rains fell for 40 hours, and the city was submerged by the lakes.  It was five years before the water receded entirely.  Between the flood itself, and subsequent disease from the water polluted with human waste, around 30,000 people may have died.  Thousands fled the city.  The flood spurred efforts to drain off the lakes.  That prevented floods and provided more land for the city to grow, but it also destroyed the ecosystem which existed here.

On Isabel la Católica Street stands the oldest palace still standing in Mexico City.


In 1690 Alonso Dávolos Bracamonte received from the Spanish crown the title of the Count of Miravalle.  He bought this property and built a sumptuous palace.  After independence the building became the Mexican Atheneum, a literary institution.  In 2012 it was converted into a boutique hotel and restaurant.

A short walk away on the corner of Palma Street and 16 de Septiembre is this building which was once the Hotel de la Bella Unión, which was the oldest hotel in the city.


In 1847, at the end of the Mexican-American War, when the U.S. army occupied the city, the former hotel was used as a barracks, bar and brothel (!) by the occupying troops.

Across the street was a building which is also on the list, a former department store called "El Correo Francés".  


In 1929, Paul Dubois, a French architect who has designed a number of buildings in Mexico City, was commissioned to design a new building for the department store.  When it was completed it was considered one of the most elegant buildings in the city.

It features mosaic decorations of Venetian glass and an extravagant marquee at the entrance.







The department store no longer exists, but the building has been lovingly restored.  The upper floors house business offices, and the ground floor is a Nike store.

Finally, this house on Tacuba Street is associated with the sad story of the widow of the last Viceroy of New Spain.



During the colonial period, Mexico, then known as New Spain, was governed by a Viceroy appointed by the King of Spain.  Juan O'Donojú, a distinguished Spanish military officer of Irish descent, was named as Viceroy in 1821, in the last year of the long war for Mexican independence.  When O'Donojú arrived in Mexico, most of the country was under the control of the rebels under the leadership of Agustín Iturbide.  O'Donojú saw that independence was inevitable, and met with Iturbide to work out the terms of a treaty recognizing the independence of the new nation.

The Spanish king was incensed that O'Donojú had capitulated and declared him a traitor to Spain.  A short time later the last viceroy died under mysterious circumstances, leaving his widow María Josefa in financial straits.  Iturbide, who proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico, promised her a pension, but after he was deposed, his promises were forgotten.  The widow took up residence in this house.  She sold her furniture, her clothing and her jewels to survive.  Finally in 1842, unable to pay the rent, she died a homeless beggar on the street.  

Good-bye to the Palm

This past week I took a walk down a portion of the Paseo de la Reforma, Mexico City's famous boulevard.  The Paseo has numerous traffic circles along its length which are called "glorietas".  Most of the "glorietas" feature monuments or fountains, but there was one which was dominated by a single, towering palm tree more than 100 years old.

(image taken from the internet)

Last weekend the palm was chopped down.  It was dying from a fungal disease, and needed to be removed.  It posed a danger if it should fall into the busy intersection.  There was a party held at the "glorieta" to say farewell to the tree.

I didn't attend the party, but I did want to see the now-empty "glorieta" where the palm once stood.



 

All that is left is a stump.  However, there is still a nearby Metrobus stop which is called "La Palma".


The government has put up a website in which people can vote on which kind of tree should be planted in the palm tree's place.  Even if you are not a resident of Mexico City, you are welcome to 
VOTE.  (The voting ends on May 1st.)  Currently in second place, is the choice to plant another "palma canaria".  That kind of palm is not native to Mexico but to the Canary Islands, and it is not really suited to the high-altitude climate of Mexico City.  It is a wonder that the old palm survived for a hundred years.  The leading choice right now, and the tree for which I voted, is the "alhuehuete", known in English as a Montezuma cypress.  It is native to the Mexican highlands, was sacred to some of the pre-Hispanic tribes, and it is the national tree of Mexico.

So, I wonder, if the cypress wins, will the Metrobus stop be changed to "El Alhuehuete"?
 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Hamburgers and Markets

Last Wednesday I went once again to the Historic Center, and my trip included a visit to yet another one of Mexico City's many museums.  This one was the Museum of the Photographic Archives, a museum which I had not been to before.

The museum is located in a structure that was built in the late 16th century.  The façade is covered with plaster design work that is done in the Moorish inspired "mudejar" style of Spain.




  
The archives contain more than two million images of Mexico City that record the development and changes in the city over the last century.  Photos are selected from the archives to display on the two floors of exhibition space.

There are currently two exhibits.  The first one was a rather humorous look at Mexico City residents eating "hamburguesas".







 

The second exhibit deals with Mexico City's public markets.  In the 19th century and early 20th century the markets were often very unsanitary, and many parts of the city had no market buildings at all.  At the beginning of the 1930s there were 35 market buildings in the entire city.  (Remember that this was long before the era of modern supermarkets.)  President Lázaro Cárdenas began a public works project which included the construction of new market buildings.  The Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market, built in 1933, was to be the prototype of the modern facilities.  The boom in the city's population in the 1950s and 60s saw the construction of 160 more public markets.

Here are some of the historic photos of Mexico City's markets...


Outdoor market along the banks of the Viga Canal, 1884
(The canal no longer exists.)



The Alhóndiga Market, circa 1905



Chicken stalls in the San Juan Market, 1928



Fruit vendors in the San Juan Market, 1929



The inauguration of the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market in 1934



El Chorrito Market, 1955



Fruit vendors at the inauguration of the Monte Athos Market, 1955



Florist at the Insurgentes Market, 1955



Stall selling purses at the inauguration of the Tepito Market, 1957



Stalls in the old Xochimilco Market, 1957



Cheese vendor in the old Beethoven Market, 1958


Porters hauling goods to the Merced Market, circa 1960







The museum is small, and is certainly not at the top of the list of museums that a visitor to the city should see.  But I found it interesting to see these images of Mexico City as it was long before I began to travel here.



Buying Stamps

As you may recall, last year I gave Alejandro's nephew Ezra my stamp collection, and from time to time I have been buying stamps to add to it.  Earlier on this trip, when I went downtown, I stopped at the ornate "Palacio Postal", the main post office, and asked if there were any new stamps out.  The clerk only had the set of butterfly stamps which I had already purchased for Ezra.  She said, however, that there was a philatelic store upstairs where I could purchase older issues.  Unfortunately, at that moment it was closed for lunch.

This week when I returned downtown, my first stop was the post office so I could get to the store before the lunch break.  When I entered, I asked a police officer at the door where the store was located.  She asked me to have a seat, and she called the gentleman who is in charge of the shop.  After a few minutes he came downstairs, and took me up in the elevator to a small store.  


The beautiful "Palacio Postal" as viewed from the second floor

Stamps issued in the last several were available for purchase.  I picked out a number of stamps that looked interesting, and he went to a file cabinet and brought them out.

I really should have purchased more, since they are sold at face value.  My cost was only about eight U.S. dollars.

These are the stamps, all of them issued in 2021, that I bought...


Starting at the upper left hand corner and moving clockwise:

A set of four stamps commemorating the 325th anniversary of the death of the great poetess, Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz

A stamp commemorating the 250th anniversary of the birth of Beethoven

A set of two Christmas stamps, one featuring a piñata and the other the Three Kings

A set of three stamps commemorating the 700th anniversary of the foundation of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan, the 500th anniversary of the Spanish conquest (or as the stamp calls it, the 500th anniversary of indigenous resistance), and the 200th anniversary of the end of the Mexican War of Independence from Spain.  All of these anniversaries fell in 2021.

I hope that I didn't already buy any of these stamps for Ezra.

At the entrance to the post office there was a sign advertising the "Postal Museum".  I asked the gentleman in the shop about it, and he said the museum will open next month.  So I guess on my next trip to Mexico City, I will return to the "Palacio Postal", not only to buy more stamps, but to visit the new museum.


Thursday, April 28, 2022

From the Top of the Mall

It's been a long time... pre-pandemic... since Alejandro have been to a movie theater.  On Sunday we decided to head over to the multiplex at the World Trade Center to see if there was anything good playing.  When we got there we discovered that the "Cinemex" had closed.  Apparently it had not survived the pandemic.  

We decided to walk to "Metrópoli Patriotismo", a shopping mall about eleven minutes away. We went up to the "Cinemex" on the third floor of the mall, but we didn't see any movies that interested us.  We did see, however, a poster advertising the premier of the new "Downton Abbey" movie, so I guess we will return here next Sunday to see that.

We ended up walking around the mall.


Here's Alejandro in front of "Cuidado con el Perro" (Beware of the Dog), a popular chain of clothing stores.


We stopped and had something to drink at "Cassava Roots", a chain that sells a variety of flavored teas.

On our previous visits to this mall, we had never gone up to the roof of the mall.  We discovered that there were a driving range, a miniature golf course, and a climbing wall up there.




From the top of the mall we had a view of the World Trade Center.  Unless you are looking at it from the side at a distance, you never realize how narrow it is in relation to its width.  The circular restaurant almost looks as if it might fall off.



Far to the south, you can see the Torre Mitikah.  Sixty eight stories high, it is now the tallest building in Mexico City.



Saturday in San Angel

Last Saturday Alejandro and I took the Metrobus south down Insurgentes Avenue to the San Angel neighborhood.  San Angel was once a rural town separate from Mexico City.  It was not until the 20th century that it was absorbed into the growing metropolis.  Many of the streets in the heart of San Angel retain the picturesqueness of a colonial town.


 

Alejandro poses with an angel in San Angel.

Our reason for coming to San Angel was to visit the art and handicraft markets that are held here every Saturday.  It had been quite a while since we had been there.

The large art market is held on two different plazas, about one block apart from each other.


A large number of artists displaying their work here every Saturday.  The art runs the gamut from traditional landscapes to modern abstract.  I always enjoy wandering around and looking at all the talent on display.  Just beyond the second plaza there is a third small plaza filled with stalls selling handicrafts.  On this visit we never even made it into the "Bazar Sábado" (Saturday Bazaar), a large building filled with artisans selling rather upscale merchandise.

I did not leave San Angel empty-handed.  I bought two small paintings, one as a birthday present, the other for myself.  I bought this landscape with the volcano Popocatépetl from an artist by the name of Luis Hijar Muñoz.


I still have to hang two pieces that I bought at the Sunday art market at "Jardín Sullivan" on my last trip.  Now I will have to figure out where to hang this one.