Mexico City

Mexico City

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Zócalo Through the Ages

For as long as I remember, under the city in the Zócalo subway station, there have been three models in glass cases portraying what the Zócalo, the city´s main plaza, looked like in different times in history.  I was passing through the station on Thursday, and for some reason the models, which I have passed scores of times, looked better than before.  I took pictures of them, and then saw a sign which said that they had been recently renovated.

The Zócalo in 1521

Just before the Spanish conquest, this is what the magnificent ceremonial center of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán looked like.   The large structure to the rear was the main temple.  There were two shrines atop the pyramid.  The blue one was dedicated to Tlaloc, the rain god; the red one was the shrine of Huitzilopochtli, the god of war.  The excavated foundations of the temple are today next door to the Cathedral of Mexico City.

The Zócalo in 1824

Mexico had just won its independence a few years before, and the Zócalo still looked the same as it did in the colonial period.  The recently completed Cathedral, the largest in the New World is to the left.  Within the circle on the plaza the statue of King Carlos IV of Spain still stood, although that symbol of colonial rule would soon be removed.  A good portion of today's Zócalo was taken up by the Parián Market building (just below the circle).  The long building above the circle had been the Viceroy's Palace during colonial times, and became the National Palace after independence.

The Zócalo in 1900

Mexico entered the 20th century under the dictatorship of Porfirio Díaz.  Díaz wanted to make the capital a modern city.  As you can see trolley cars ran around the Zócalo.  Trees and gardens were planted in the middle of the plaza.

Cleaning Time

When I went to the National Anthropology Museum on Wednesday, I found that a portion of the museum's courtyard was fenced off.

Signs explained that the enormous aluminum canopy, that is the most striking feature of the museum's architecture, is going to undergo a cleaning.

The project is apparently in good hands.  The company in charge has previously cleaned the London Eye, Mount Rushmore, the Colonnade of St. Peter's Square in the Vatican, Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, the Christ of Corcovado in Rio de Janeiro, and the Statue of Liberty.  This should be a fairly easy job in comparison.

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Flower in Mexican Culture

On Wednesday I took the Metrobus (the new Route 7) and got off right in front of the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park.  It's great to be able to reach the museum via public transportation.

Chapultepec in the Aztec language means "Grasshopper Hill", and
the place was represented with this glyph.

My reason for coming here (as if I need a reason to revisit this magnificent museum) was to see a special exhibit which is currently on display... "The Flower in Mexican Culture".

The exhibit gathers together hundreds of archaeological pieces, works of art, and handicrafts to show the importance of flowers in Mexico from pre-Hispanic times to the present.

The pre-Hispanic cultures viewed flowers as precious and associated them with the gods.

Xochiquetzal was the Aztec goddess of flowers, love, and pleasure.
She was responsible for the germination of plants.

Her son Xochipilli (which translates as "Flower Prince") was the god of beauty, art and music.  He is portrayed here holding a bouquet of calla lilies.

A scepter for Xochipilli in the form of a sunflower

The god of agriculture is shown adorned with flowers.

In pre-Hispanic art, flowers are often depicted with four petals to represent the four cardinal directions.

When the Spanish arrived, they brought their own religious iconography in which flowers carried symbolism.

In this colonial painting of the Immaculate Conception, Mary emerges from a white lily, a flower which symbolizes purity and which is associated with the Virgin.

The famous Baroque painter, Cristóbal de Villalpando, used flowers in his painting of ¨The Wedding of the Virgin¨.

Flowers have an important role in the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico´s patron saint.  The Virgin appeared to Juan Diego and told him to pick roses to take to the Bishop.  He carried the roses in his cloak, and when he presented the flowers to the Bishop, the image of the Virgin was imprinted upon his cloak.

This colonial painting is attributed to Miguel Cabrera, another famous painter of colonial Mexico.

St. Joseph is often portrayed holding a flowering staff.

"Christ in the Garden of Delights" - a flowery Paradise

Church vestments hand embroidered with floral motifs

Most early colonial churches have a stone cross in front. 

However, these crosses never have the body of Jesus on them because the priests did not want the native peoples to associate the crucifixion with human sacrifice.

The face of Jesus would be shown in the center of the cross.

And on the arms of the cross, flowers would represent the stigmata.

Flowers are a frequent motif in Mexican decorative arts and handicrafts.

An inlaid wooden box

Hand painted ceramics

In the town of Huamantla in the state of Tlaxcala, the streets are covered with "carpets" made of colored sawdust and flowers each year for the Feast of the Assumption.  The beautiful designs are then trampled underfoot by the religious procession.

If you have read my posts about the Day of the Dead (or if you have seen the movie "Coco") you already know that flowers, especially marigolds, are in important part of that celebration.

Many of the regional outfits of Mexico are vividly decorated with flowers.

The traditional woman's dress from the state of Chiapas

Two traditional outfits from the state of Veracruz:
the woman's "jarocha" dress and men's attire from the Totonac tribe.

The dress worn by the women of the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in the state of Oaxaca

The special exhibit is excellent and well worth a visit.  It will be running through the month of June.

Trying Out the Breakfast Menu

I wrote about the restaurant "El Sabor del Tiempo" where Alejandro and I dined a couple weeks ago.  On Wednesday morning I went back to see what their breakfasts are like.  There is a good chance that I will have friends visiting me in Mexico City later this year, and I want to have a list of nearby places where I can take them for breakfast.

See the World Trade Center in the background peaking through the tree?

The restaurant was fairly busy with businessmen.  They must also get their share of tourists since the waitress asked me if I wanted a menu in English.  The selection is all very traditional Mexican fare... no pancakes or other "gringo" fare to be found.

I ordered something called the "torta poblana".

A "torta" is usually a type of sandwich served on a large, crusty roll.  However, this was obviously something different.  I had to dig a bit underneath the sauce with my fork to see exactly what was there.  At the bottom there was ham and cheese between two tortillas.  On top of that there was a layer of scrambled eggs.  Half of it was covered with "mole poblano" (the most famous of the "mole" sauces) and the other half was covered with a sauce made from poblano peppers.

My only criticism is that my bill was incorrect.  They charged me for a side of "frijoles" which I did not order.  I brought it too the waitress's attention, and she corrected the bill.

My breakfast was very tasty.  I am not sure, however, if it would be a good place to take "gringo" visitors.  For my taste buds the breakfast was not overly spicy.  But after looking over the menu, there do not seem to be many choices for those who cannot tolerate "picante".  Well, I guess we could go to the IHOP at the World Trade Center for pancakes.

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Rest of the Day

We spent several hours visiting the booths of Mexico City's International Fair and watching folk music and dance performances on the Zócalo.  We were both tired, but our day was not over.  The other major venue for the Fair was the nearby Plaza of Santo Domingo.  There they had set up an enormous tent where more than half of the participating countries had stands selling ethnic foods.  We had not eaten since breakfast, so we planned on sampling a variety of international cuisines.

However, when we got to the Plaza and saw the line of people waiting to get into the tent, we decided to eat elsewhere.  

(The Fair runs until April 29th, so on a weekday when there are smaller crowds, I will come back by myself to the food tent.)

We were only a couple blocks away from one of our favorite restaurants, "El Cardenal", so we had our dinner there.  As always, their traditional Mexican food was superb.

We both had pork in a rich, spicy sauce with beans.

Well-fed and rested after our meal, we walked down pedestrianized Madero Street.  We had to stop so that I could have my picture taken with Coco and Miguel, the characters from the popular Disney movie!

(Photo taken by Alejandro)

Look how crowded Madero Street was.  And look at the golden tones in the moments before sunset.

The Palace of Fine Arts

The Latin American Tower

Night was falling by the time we reached the Paseo de la Reforma.

We were planning on calling a Uber to take us back to the condo.  But then we saw that there was something going on farther down the avenue by the Monument to the Revolution.  So we continued walking.  In front of the Monument a stage had been set up, and there was a free jazz concert in progress.  We stopped and listened for a while.

From the stage, different patterns of lights were projected on the Monument to the Revolution.

It was another fantastic day in downtown Mexico City!

Around the World in One Afternoon

Last Saturday, Alejandro and I went downtown to see the 10th annual "Feria Internacional de Culturas Amigas" (International Fair of Friendly Cultures).  Eighty six countries were to be represented, and the center of activity was to be on the Zócalo, the main plaza in the heart of the historic center of the city.

We took the Metrobus and got off near the Monument to the Revolution.

I have no idea if it had anything to do with the Fair, but near the monument we saw this small musical group called the "Mexico City Irish Pipers and Drummers" practicing.

We reached the Alameda Park, and there we found a large tent set up.  We went in check it out.  It had nothing to do with the International Fair, but there were a wide variety of vendors selling traditional Mexican food as well as jewelry, artesanal soaps and handicrafts.

Handicrafts!  We hadn't even reached the Fair yet, and I was already buying stuff!

This couple uses plastic bottles to create flowers and hanging fish decorations.  I thought it was a very clever and unique idea, so I bought one of the fish to put aside for next year's charity auction.

We continued on through the Alameda with its flowering jacaranda trees...

...and down busy Madero Street toward the Zócalo.

The Zócalo was filled with the booths representing the nations of the world.  I am usually upset when they clutter up this grand, historic plaza with special expositions, but I was willing to reserve my judgement for this event.

We first went to the pavilions of a couple Western European countries, and their exhibits consisted of nothing more than pictures and signage describing topics such as urban planning and design and ecological projects.  I thought to myself, "This is boring."

But then when we hit the pavilions of the nations of Latin America, there were colorful handicrafts for sale.  Yes, I bought more stuff until my bag was getting full and my wallet was getting low.

El Salvador

The country is famous for its lace called ñanduti.

Their handicrafts were so tempting!

Did you know that the so-called "Panama hat" originated in Ecuador?

Most of the booths from Asia, the Middle East and Africa were also quite interesting.

A large statue of Buddha in the Sri Lankan booth

Alejandro poses with the Filipino ambassador to Mexico.

A young lady in the Indonesian booth

This lady and gentleman from Mozambique kindly posed for my camera.

By the way the United States booth was rather pathetic.  It basically consisted of a large map that showed the birthplaces of famous musical artists.  That's the best that you could come up with???

There was also a stage set up in front of the National Palace.  Throughout the day folk music and dance from various countries were presented.   We watched performances from Bolivia and Nicaragua.

We visited all of the booths, and we were getting tired, but our day was not over.