Monday, April 14, 2014

the big weekend

My mind is a blank.

For the past hour I have been sitting here staring at a blank screen.  I would like to tell you about our big day in Mexico City -- our last wander-around-the-city-as-a-trio day. 

But, as I told you: my mind is a blank.  I have data.  Just no hook.

The phenomenon is not new.  My friend Patti sent me an email concerning yesterday's exchange about using flash in museums.  She wrote it reminded her "of our Magna Carta experience in Portland."

Now, I have the dim flicker of a memory about the incident, but no details come to mind.  I asked Patti to fill it in for me.  That is one reason to keep old friends.  They store precious memories.

For that reason alone, I should have turned today's post over to Lupe and Alex.  But here is my version of what we did.

We made the mistake yesterday of trying to stuff too many tourist sights into our schedule before we stuffed food in our stomachs.  That was not going to happen again.

We started out where I wanted to have lunch yesterday -- at el café de tacuba -- one of my favorite places to eat in Mexico City.  Because it serves tongue -- an old family favorite.

So, that is what we did, and it is what I had.  Mexico City seemed unusually busy to me for a Sunday.  Everywhere we went there were large crowds and lines.  Including the restaurant.  At least thirty people were standing on the sidewalk waiting to get a table.

Thinking I would get our name on a long waiting list, I approached the hostess and told her there were three of us.  She looked up, smiled, and said: "Right this way."

Instead of taking us to a waiting area, she took us to a private dining room where we were assigned two incredibly attentive waitresses.  It made me wonder if I should have told her that I am not Philip Seymour Hoffman.  But it was certainly the last time in the day when we were afforded special treatment.

At Joanne's suggestion, I surprised Alex with a visit to The Museum of Torture.  Joanne found it almost nauseating what human beings can do to one another.  I found it rather antiseptic and bookish.

The museum consists of various torture devices.  Most of them antique.  But the placards make clear that most of the underlying techniques are commonly used by Third World nations. 

I suspect there are a few First (western) and Second (communist) world nations that use the centuries of research that have gone into torture, if not the same devices.  Cattle prods to control rioters are merely a technical update of crowd rakes.

The photograph is the only one I could shoot because it was in the lobby.  Once you step through the museum's door, cameras are as verboten a they are inside John the Baptist's house in
San Juan Chamula.

Because we have been discussing the use of flash in museums, I asked the guard why cameras were forbidden.  His answer was straightforward.  The museum is small.  If people were using their cameras, they could not keep moving along. 

There may be a second reason.  I noticed the gift shop sold a book with illustrations of the exhibits.  Mammon must be served.

Alex liked it, though.  And that is why we went.

Our next stop was the old post office commissioned by Porfirio Diaz.  Even though it is quite eclectic in its architectural style (as are many buildings in Mexico), all of the pieces come together to produce what I consider to be one of the most eye-pleasing structures in Mexico City.  Inside.

Or out.

There are many people who would disagree with me.  Their list of nominees would probably include el palacio de bellas artes.  Porfirio Diaz (yes, again) commissioned this art nouveau building to be used as a cultural centerpiece of Mexico's independence centennial celebration in 1910.

His plans didn't work out that way.  The exterior of the building was completed a year after the centennial -- not until 1911.  The ongoing revolution stopped further work.

The interior was completed in a completely different style -- art deco -- between 1932 and 1934.  The theater is one of those places that leaves writers hunting for adjectives.

But I can put away my word-finder.  Even though I looked forward to showing the Tamayo mural to Lupe and Alex, the same crowds we would see all day were lined up in front of the building.  We passed on the undoubted mayhem that was brewing inside.

So, we jumped to the next obvious landmark -- el torre latinoamericana -- once the tallest building in Latin America.

Even though it has been surpassed by other buildings in the city, it is still a great place to view the smoggy skyline.  It would be possible to excuse someone for believing the world was flat when looking through the haze darkly.

In this view you can see the sights we visited on Saturday.

I had one last sight for Lupe -- el casa de los azulejos (the house of tiles).  Once an 18th century grand residence, it is now a Sanborns department store.

The tiles are interesting, and Lupe seemed to find it beautiful.  This area of the city is filled with grand, old houses that would not exist had they not been rehabilitated by businesses.  But the mix always strikes me as a bit odd. Like putting pearls on Carlos Slim.

The day was fading and my list still had two choices.  The monument of the Revolution or Chapultepec castle.  We opted for the monument because it was a healthy walk away.

The monument symbolizes Mexican utility.  Porfirio Diaz decided that the federal legislature needed a new building -- instead of letting them exercise any political power.  The laying of the corner stone on 23 September 1910 was not timely.  Seventeen days later, the Revolution broke out.

Only the dome was completed.  And there it sat in a marsh -- unused for over twenty years.  Instead of putting up with another Porfirio Diaz edifice, the surviving heroes of the Revolution turned it into a monument honoring their struggle.  Or, at least their myth of the struggle.  And that is the building we see today.

To my eye, its massive weight speaks more of power than of liberty.  But it is now also a mausoleum -- housing the bodies of several revolutionary heroes: Francisco I. Madero, Venustiano Carranza, Francisco "Pancho" Villa, Plutarco El
ías Calles, and Lázaro Cárdenas.  Several of whom were involved in the deaths of the others.

But it is not now merely another mausoleum honoring the dead -- in Soviet or Chinese style. 

The monument also attracts a tent city of angry leftists sulking like Achilles, who brandish rather crude caricatures of Barak Obama as Hitler and warn passersby that the government is giving Mexico's oil to the gringos (that last rant to Lupe, and directed at me -- leaving her very embarrassed).  All of them reactionaries at heart.

On the other side of the monument -- and reality -- were every-day people who know what it is to enjoy life.  In this case, by running through spouts of water on a hot day in Mexico City.  They are Mexico's future.

I confess: I am exhausted.  But I would not have traded this weekend with Alex and Lupe for my former plan of haunting museum galleries on my own.

Joy is a dish best shared in a private dining room with friends.  And a couple of dedicated waitresses.

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