Friday, March 04, 2011

swimming with the fish

I am awash in clichés.

What can be said about Mexico City that does not verge on doggerel?  Bustling.  Massive.  Vibrant.

All true, but what do they convey that is unique from any other big city?

Carl Sandburg could wax poetic about Chicago by turning it into “hog butcher for the world” and “city of the big shoulders.”  Gertrude Stein just gave up on Oakland by describing the “there” that wasn’t.

I have no such poetic allusions for Mexico City.  But I do have some conclusions.

Mexico City will draw me back – if only to spend more time looking at its art and attending its museums.  It offers enough culture to keep me interested for several more short trips.

And those trips will need to be short.  Mexico City is so crowded you can almost feel the adrenalin streaming down your leg into the pavement. 

I suspect one of those ancient Aztec gods is still being nourished with the life blood of tourists.  Maybe that is where all that vibrancy comes from.

All of that access to culture comes at a cost.  And I do not mean ticket prices.  They are quite reasonable for a city this size.  It is the expense of getting to and from the culture.  And living in this city – even for visits.

A middle class existence does not come cheap in Mexico City.  The general estimate is that it costs about 50% to 100% more to live there than in my little fishing village.

But Melaque certainly does not have what Mexico City has on offer.

In the five nights we were there we visited:
  • the huge main plaza (the Zócalo) and the main buildings around it, including the cathedral

  • the Templo Major, the core city’s main Aztec archaeological site and the associated museum

  • a wonder of Art Deco architecture (the Bellas Artes) where we saw a performance of Mexican folk dances

  • what was once the leafy village of Coyoacan, and is now part of greater Mexico City

  • the Frida Kahlo Museum – with her highly-overrated art

  • the canals of Xochimilco – not surprisingly on a boat

  • the Chapultepec castle – home of Mexico’s chief executive from its first post-Independence emperor thorough a series of assassinated presidents to a second emperor and then more presidents until Revolutionary fervor resulted in a less regal home for the current freely-elected heads of state

  • the world-renowned (and deservedly so) anthropological and archaeological museum

  • the still-mysterious ruins of Teotihuacan, that baffled the Aztecs and still tickle the Disney fancy of busloads of tourists

So, hold on to your sombrero, we are about to paint the town red.  Even if that is a bit redundant considering the politics of the city’s mayor.


Don Cuevas said...

"And those trips will need to be short. Mexico City is so crowded you can almost feel the adrenalin streaming down your leg into the pavement."
Great simile, Steve! LOL!

Sounds as if you covered the greater part of the tourist highlights in México City. We pretty much did the same in the '90s on various vacation visits, and now we can simply enjoy the street scenes, parks, shops and, don't forget; the restaurants. Yes; and people watching, which is endlessly fascinating.

Don Cuevas

John said...

Interesting comment on Frida Kahlo. I wonder if you arrived at the critical review before or after seeing her work in the museum? I find her artwork interesting in its emotional content - not so much for her particular artistic talent - speaking more to her life and pain I suppose.

Felipe Zapata said...

Man, you really did paint the town red if you did all that in five days, given the extreme physical difficulty in just moving from Point A to Point B in that metropolis. I've seen all your listed places except Xochimilco, which I doubt I will ever get around to. It's totally on the other side of town from our apartment, plus I read that it is astoundingly touristy.

Felipe Zapata said...

I like Frida more than Diego. But they were both silly (and ignorant) communists, so that kind of takes the sheen off.

Steve Cotton said...

When I go back, my visits will certainly be far more focused than the "if-it'sTuesday-this-must-be-Beligium" schedule of bus tours. But I was happy to see what I did. I now know what to re-visit -- and what to avoid.

Steve Cotton said...

When I first look at an artist's work, I try to ignore what I know about the person. I want to focus on the piece. Does it connect with me artistically -- is the artist's technique successful? I found Frida's work to be severely wanting in this area. And that surprised me knowing she is the very icon of The Suffering Artist. But I will save most of this for an upcoming post. Let's just say, it was an interesting visit, but a bit disappointing.

Steve Cotton said...

As you will soon see, I am not an advocate of the tourist trap boats of Xochimilco.

Steve Cotton said...

Diego was a political hack. What talent he had, he lost by turning himself into little more than a political shill. Frida, on the other hand, had a certain talent for drawing. But an artist she wasn't. Her politics had less of a drain on her talent, but there was less to drain.

tancho said...

You have to consider that for most DF residents, that's a close they ever get to water or a boat...Unlike you who lives in a seaside wonderland of crocodiles and scorpions......
And yes, it is anticlimactic to say the least.

Mcotton said...

You expressed my sentiments completely regarding Frida as an artist.

Steve Cotton said...

It must be genetic.

Steve Cotton said...

There will be more on this topic. Tomorrow, I think.

Jonna said...

I wouldn't be so hard on Frida, her life was her art. In that sense, she fascinates and attracts. I'm also always a bit put off by what seems to be the common thought among Mexicans, that Diego Rivera was twice the artist as Frida Kahlo. Her stuff has been over-reproduced to the point where it is almost comic art, and I think that also colors how she is seen.

I don't have that (rather knee jerk) reaction to communists, I enjoy the murals of the social realists; Rivera, Orozco, and Siqueiros. They had a time and a place and they give a face to the political and social themes of their day.

Nita said...

To me, the city is like no other. And certainly the National Museum is like no other. I sort of got the impression that I could never see it all if I stayed several years.

Irene said...

Where you there over a Sunday when Reforma is closed for several hours to automobile traffic and is filled instead with bicyclists, skaters, walkers enjoying the boulevard and not having to dodge traffic.

Kim G said...

I love Mexico City. It's as if you rolled New York City, San Francisco, and Washington DC into one crazed, chaotic megalopolis. Endlessly fascinating.

As for Ebrard, I think he's progressive, not a communist.

But if I'm wrong, and he is a communist, and becomes president in 2012, well then all you expats should love what he'll likely do to the exchange rate.


Kim G
Boston, MA
Which is a mere country outpost in comparison.

Steve Cotton said...

Not all reds are communists. They often come as socialists -- wearing progressive hats.

But the Mexican left long ago learned to dance with market capitalism.

Steve Cotton said...

No. We left early on Sunday for the airport -- on the road where all the displaced automobiles were driving.

Steve Cotton said...

My visit was far too short. But I learned where a lot of the sights are that I want to see in the future.

Steve Cotton said...

This is one of those topics I would like to discuss with you over a long hot afternoon. I am not impressed with Frida's art. But I am far less impressed with Diego. And you will soon see my reasoning in a coming post. As an artist Siqueiros was far superior -- even though his politics were pure Stalinist. Of the group, I respect the work of Tamayo and Orozco. They both managed to see the failings in the Revolution while retaining their artistic eye.

But more on that later in the week.