Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Underground Revisited

When Alejandro and I were downtown last Saturday, there was someplace that he had never seen, a small, underground archaeological site.  I had been there several years ago, and I wrote a blog entry about it.  But I was happy to pay another visit so that Alejandro could see it.

Behind the Cathedral is a colonial era house which is now a cultural center operated by the government of Spain.

Some years ago, when the Spanish Cultural Center expanded, taking over a parking lot behind it, an archaeological discovery was made.  Under the lot were the foundations of an Aztec building.  (The center of Mexico City, of course, is built upon the site of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan.  Whenever there is any excavation for construction work, pre-Hispanic remains are likely to be found.)  The cultural center incorporated the discovery into its expansion and now has a small museum / archaeological site in its basement.

It is thought that the foundations part of the "calmécac", the school for the sons of Aztec nobles.  A model shows what archaeologists think the school looked like.

Although the little that remains is not especially impressive, it is fascinating to think that all of central Mexico City rests upon Aztec foundations such as these.

On the photo of the model above, you can see that the roofline had decorations somewhat like battlements.  These architectural elements, called "almenas" were in the stylized form of a seashell.  The seashell was associated with Ehécatl, the god of wind and was a symbol of fertility.  The archaeologists discovered five of these "almenas" carefully buried under the flagstones in front of the foundation.  Two of them are on display here.  The other three are in the nearby Museum of the Templo Mayor.

Perhaps when the Aztecs remodeled the "calmécac", they buried these "almenas" as an offering.

Numerous other artifacts were found during the excavation and are on display in this small museum.  This statue of Ehécatl still has some of its original paint.

 Many fragments of Aztec pottery were found.

Several other discoveries beneath the heart of Mexico City have been made in recent years.  It would be really cool if eventually all of them would be open to the public.



Discovery in the Dome

Mexico City's Metropolitan Cathedral suffered moderate damage in the 2017 earthquake, and since 2019 workers have been doing repair work.  On my previous trip to Mexico, the facade, bell towers and dome were all covered with scaffolding.  Visitors had to enter the Cathedral through a side door.  Work is nearing completion.  When Alejandro and I went downtown last Saturday, most of the scaffolding had been removed, and the front entrance was open.  However, work was continuing on the dome. 

If you look closely, you might be able to workers on the scaffolding.

The Cathedral was built over the course of 240 years, beginning in 1573 and completed in 1813.  The dome, which was designed by the Spanish-born architect and sculptor Manuel Tolsá, was one of the last portions of the Cathedral to be constructed.

Last December workers made an interesting discovery while repairing the dome.  A tile inside had come loose, revealing a niche which contained a small lead box. Within the box was a painting of a Bible scene on parchment.  Workers then discovered 22 more boxes, each one containing prayers, paintings or crosses.

(image taken from the internet)

One of the pieces of parchment bore the date of 1810.  It is believed that the boxes were placed in the dome in a ritual to offer protection to the building.  Some of the objects were in good condition; others were damaged by humidity.  After all of the objects have been analyzed, they will be placed in the boxes once again.  The boxes will be covered in protective coverings and returned to their original location within the dome.   

Monday, January 30, 2023

Sunrise, Sunset

Here are a couple of photos of fiery skies that I took...

Sunrise from the roof of Alejandro's house...

and sunset from near my apartment.

All About Corn

Last Thursday I returned to Chapultepec Park, one of the largest and most visited urban parks in the world.

I walked to the opposite side of the first section of the park to an historic building called "Molino del Rey" (the King's Mill).  

The structure was part of a complex of buildings dating back to the 16th century used for the milling of wheat.  In 1847 one of the last battles of the Mexican American War was fought here, and this is the only building which survived the bombardment.

Mexico City now has around 170 museums, making it second only to London.  The "Molino del Rey" is the site of one of the newest museums... "Cencalli" (The House of Corn).

I certainly would not rank this new museum as one of the "must-see" sights of Mexico City.  But I did learn quite a bit about corn, a crop which was first domesticated in Mexico around 8000 years ago.

The ancestor of corn was a grass called "teocintle".  The early inhabitants of Mexico domesticated it and through breeding developed it into the crop that we now know as corn.

It was a crop which was adaptable to different climates and soils and uses, until today there are thousands of varieties of corn.

For thousands of years corn was ground by hand on a stone known as a "metate.  The hand-held stone is known as a "metlapil".  In rural areas corn is still ground by hand, and even Alejandro remembers when his mother had a "metate".  The "masa" or corn dough would be patted by hand into tortillas.

A decorative "metate" and "metlapil" carved from basalt.  These won an award in a national contrest of popular arts.

In the 20th century, the production of tortillas became industrialized, with machines in "tortillerías" (tortilla stores) mass producing tortillas.

The pre-Hispanic peoples of Mexico developed a process called nixtamalization in which the kernels of corn are soaked and cooked in an alkaline solution of lime water (not the fruit but the mineral) prior to grinding.  This not only makes the corn easier to grind, but it has been discovered that it has many health benefits.

The nixtamalization of corn increases the digestibility and fiber content of the the corn, and increases the calcium, protein, niacin, thiamin and riboflavin which the body can absorb.
The tortilla is better for nutrition and health than any commercial bread.

The importance of a good tortilla

Mexicans consume an average of 8 to 10 tortillas per day, or about 264 pounds of tortillas per year.  Tortillas provide between 50 and 70% of their daily caloric intake, 50% of their calcium and 35% of their protein.  In recent years, the consumption of tortillas has diminished, being substituted by products with refined flour.  This has coincided with increased obesity among the Mexican population.

So, the moral of the story is, eat tortillas instead of bread! 

Sunday, January 29, 2023

Art in the Market

In Mexico City's Historic Center, a few blocks away from the typical tourist track, is the Abelardo L. Rodríguez Market.

The market was built in 1934 and was a model for modern market buildings.  Today it seems rather cramped and antiquated.

What makes this marketplace noteworthy is that there are over 15,000 square meters of mural paintings that were done by students of Diego Rivera.  They are located at the entrances to the market.

I had visited the market briefly some years ago and may have even posted a few photos on this blog.  However last week I returned and took a closer look at the paintings.  Most of the murals are of socialist themes, dealing with the exploitation of workers.

One wall has a series of paintings which show crops being burned to keep the landowners' profits high.  As a result, poor people die of hunger and workers riot.

Although the murals in this market are considered one of the city's outstanding collection of public art, they have suffered damage through the years due to humidity, earthquakes and neglect.  In 2009 work began on the restoration of the murals, but much work remains to be done.

Saturday, January 28, 2023

Early Blooms

 Mexico City is famous for its abundance of jacaranda trees.  The trees bloom in the spring; their peak is March and April.  However, it seems as if they are beginning to bloom earlier and earlier.  Last week when I was downtown, the trees in the Alameda Park had already begun to flower.

Friday, January 27, 2023

A Dead Tree

Mexico City's Paseo de la Reforma is dotted with "glorietas", or roundabouts.  Most of these traffic circles contain monuments or fountains, but one of them has been dominated by a single, towering palm tree for decades.  The roundabout became known as "La Glorieta de la Palma".

(image taken from the internet)

Last year I wrote that the iconic palm tree was infected with a fungus, and that it was necessary to remove it.  A survey was taken in which people could vote for which kind of tree should replace the palm.  Their choice was an "ahuehuete", known in English as a Montezuma cypress.  The tree was considered sacred by the pre-Hispanic peoples of Mexico.  

In June of 2022, a 33-foot-tall cypress from the state of Nuevo Leon was brought to the "glorieta" to be planted.

I was walking along Reforma last week, and, sadly, it appears that the tree is dead.

The city government placed a barricade around the traffic circle to protect the tree.  The families of missing persons used the fence to post photos of the disappeared and asked that the roundabout be renamed "The Glorieta of the Disappeared".  Last November, the government removed the photos, and the barricade was painted with Christmas decorations.  Within a week, activists had painted over the Christmas decorations and again posted photos of the missing.

 "In Mexico City there are thousands of disappeared."
"In Mexico there is no Christmas with more than 107 thousand disappeared."

More than 100,000 people have gone missing in Mexico since 1964.  They are victims of government campaigns against leftists in the 20th century, violence against women, and the drug wars.

Sunday Afternoon in Condesa

Last Sunday Alejandro and I took a long walk to the pleasant Mexico City neighborhood of Condesa.  Our walk ended up at Parque México in the heart of the district.  As always, it was full of activity on a sunny, weekend afternoon.

"La Fuente de los Cántaros"... The Fountain of the Jugs (no snickering please)... was turned on.

I was upset to see that the open-air theater known as "Foro Lindbergh" (Lindbergh Forum) is once again defaced by graffiti after having been cleaned and restored a few years ago.


Condesa is the epicenter of the invasion of "gringos" moving to Mexico City.  The trendy neighborhood has long been popular with foreign visitors.  But now there are more "gringos" than ever before, many of them sticking out like sore thumbs dressed in shorts and loudly speaking English.  I know I sound hypocritical.since I am a "gringo", and I am planning on moving permanently to Mexico City this year.  However, this new wave of residents is largely made up not of retired folks, but of young "digital nomads" who, since the beginning of the pandemic, are working remotely and are no longer tied down to the office.  

Mexico City has become one of the leading destinations in the world for these "nomads". Because of the increased demand for housing, landlords are raising rents, and many Mexicans can no longer afford to live in neighborhoods like Condesa.  Evictions are skyrocketing.  The evicted are moving to less desirable neighborhoods... resulting in rents going up in those areas also.  Some businesses are being forced out, because landlords want to convert their buildings to apartments.

Since many of these "nomads" come from cities like New York or Los Angeles where real estate prices are astronomical, Mexico City still seems like a bargain in spite of the rising rents.

Thank goodness, the owners of the condo where I stay have not raised the rent in the five years that I have been here.  The husband was an airline pilot for Mexicana, and this was his place to stay when flying in and out of Mexico City.  Mexicana went bankrupt in 2010, and the condo was not being used until they agreed to rent it to me.  When I buy this place, I won't be kicking someone out of their home.

Of course, inflation has hit Mexico just as it has in countries throughout the world.  But prices in Condesa seem especially high.  Alejandro and I experienced that when we went out for dinner there.  We went to Maqué, near Parque México.  We have eaten there in the past, and it has always been a mid-range restaurant.  

We started with an order of guacamole to share and soup.  For our main course we had chicken breast in tamarind sauce.  We did not order any wine or cocktails.

We were shocked when we got our bill... over 1200 pesos, about 65 U.S. dollars.  That might not seem exorbitant, but we have never had a restaurant bill that high.  Our food was good, but it was not an extraordinary gourmet meal.  The prices at the restaurant seem to have gone up more than the 14% inflation rate for food in Mexico.  But I guess if the "gringos" are willing to pay that much, the restaurant can get away with it. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Saturday Night at the Movies

Last Saturday evening, Alejandro and I went to the movie theater at a nearby mall to see the latest Tom Hanks movie, "A Man Called Otto".  In Spanish it is called "Un Vecino Gruñón" (A Grumpy Neighbor).

(images taken from the internet)

Previous to going to see the movie, I had watched the trailer online.  I thought to myself that it seemed very familiar.  I did a bit of research and discovered that it is a remake of a Swedish film called "A Man Called Ove".  I had watched that movie on Netflix some time ago.

I also learned that part of the Tom Hanks movie was filmed in Ohio.  The train used in one of the scenes is the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad which runs through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, not far from my home.

I liked the Swedish movie, and I loved the remake.  Tom Hanks does a wonderful job as always, but it is the Mexican actress Mariana Treviño, cast as Otto's new neighbor, who really steals the show.  Some critics called the film overly sentimental.  Yeah, it's a tearjerker.  I admit to crying, and there were others in the audience, both male and female, who were sniffling.  

I highly recommend the film.