I love Mexico City. What a fantastic city, an amazing cultural center, an architectural delight, a constant surprise, a treasure of history and cosmopolitan adventures.
Art is everywhere in Mexico City. It often in the form of murals, like the Siquerios Mural located in Coayacan, or the Botero sculptures outside of the Palace of Fine Arts. Every museum is open free to the public on Sunday, so all across the city, rich or poor, the citizenry has the option of spending the day in the huge Chapultpec Park or the various museums that dot the city. It’s this access to culture and the pressure of transit that made me believe Mexico City residents are smarter than other general populations in Mexico. Exposure and necessity make the difference.
The Palace of Fine Arts is a fantastic Art-Deco building located within a few blocks of the center of Mexico City, the Zocalo. Whatever the exhibition, visit the museum. It is a wonder of art deco design and finishings. While I was there I saw a comprehensive retrospective of 180 Fernando Botero (Columbian artist who recently celebrated his 80th birthday) paintings and sculptures and I was truly inspired. The paintings of Abu Ghraib were devastating, the rest of the exhibit like a Fellini movie. Open everyday but Monday.
The Bosque Chapultepec is a huge, varied and incredibly intriguing city park on the scale of Central Park in NYC. Major museums on the grounds include the world-class Museum of Anthropology, and the Museum of Modern Art. Do not miss either. Plenty of food and drink and people watching especially on Sunday when it seems half of Mexico City shows up. Plenty of room for everyone though.
The pyramids of Teotihuacan are a unique experience. Relatively easy to get to, the difficult part is climbing the steep steps to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun. From there you can see all the special Zona Arcquelogico including the clean adjacent town of San Martin de los Pyramides…(where by the way I had one of the best meals ever at the El Portorn restaurant). The Pyramid of the Moon is an easier climb, you are only allowed half way up but once you reach the center platform all the layout of the grounds harmonizes and makes sense. The Avenue of the Dead, the Pyramid of the Sun, various smaller outbuildings and came into focus and by god I felt a vibration through out my entire being. What a place this would be to visit on Dec. 21st 2012, the predicted day for the end of the world via the Mayan Calendar. To get there take the Metro to the North Bus Station, where you take a public bus to the gates of the pyramid, total time from the station about 1 hour.
The Basillica of the Virgen de Gujadalupe is near the end of the Metro line 6 (3 pesos), at the Basilica stop.
Catholic tradition and beliefs holds that on December 9, 1531, Juan Diego, a recently converted Aztec peasant had a vision of a young woman on a Tepeyac desert hill on the way to Holy Mass. The lady in the vision asked him to build a church where they stood on the hill. Upon informing Bishop Juan de Zumárraga of the apparition, Juan’s request was denied and the bishop asked for proof. Juan Diego later crossed the Tepeyac Hill again to visit his sick uncle when the lady appeared again. The lady had reminded Juan Diego of the request, and insisted that his sick uncle was now healed. The lady then instructed Juan Diego to go to the hill-top, where he found. This is the most revered religious artifact in Mexico. The site holds several churches including two from the 1600’s. Plenty of food, drink and chochkiees.
One thing it is not is easy to get around. Out of the city’s eighty-five thousand streets, there are about eight hundred fifty called Juárez, seven hundred fifty named Hidalgo, and seven hundred known as Morelos. Two hundred are called 16 de Septiembre, while a hundred more are called 16 de Septiembre Avenue, Alley, Mews, or Extension…” And I was there during Easter when ½ the population has left for the Easter Holidays. Several times when I took either a bus or the subway I ended up adding 1-2 hours to my agenda. The transportation systems of Mexico City are basically full all the time so making it easier to commute or understand the Metro or the MetroBus doesn’t really matter, they couldn’t get more on board anyway.
A welcome surprise was booking a room through airbnb.com, an online room booking service that is world-wide. My room was in the home of a doctor and lawyer in the Colonia of San Miguel del Chapultepec. Well placed for day trips, affordable at $35 a night which included a large breakfast and laundry service, I became friends with the owners during the 12 days I was a guest in their home. Whatever rough spots existed, the resolution of same felt like a family solution. I strongly recommend this service. Suggested locations would include Roma, Condessa, Coyacoan, and Zona Rosa. All are barrios with plenty to see and do on their own plus they are well-connected to subway and bus for travel to other parts of the city.
I did spend 4 days in a 2 star Hotel in the center of the city, near the Biblioteca. For 22$US a night there was a spacious room, daily maid service, large bath, a cross breeze and a room safe. Big enough that when I return I think I can put a small painting studio in the room.
I never felt unsafe in Mexico City but then I don’t drink so I can’t report on the night life situation. I was generally back to my room for the night by 10PM. There was never too much noise, I was always able to get my sleep. Next time though I will bring a small 4 inch fan to keep the air moving a bit more.
Among the Mexico City highlights was the Saturday art market in Colonia San Angel. This is really 3 public parks adjacent to each other where painters and sculptors, in two parks, and craft artists in a third, meet the public by setting up easels and displays of their wares. Quality varies but I ended up buying a print for 600 pesos and felt I was getting a very good deal. The good artists have been in business for quite a while and have come to depend on this and the Sunday market for their sole income. These artists all had a strong sense of survival, independence and uniqueness and due to this experience and the number of artwork exhibitions I saw throughout my trip I’ve come to believe that self-taught artists are supreme.
Mexico city is dotted with Chinese buffets; go ahead, they are affordable and tasty. Get there early, before 2 pm and pick any table you want. Street food is common, great tacos are to be had for as little as 5 pesos (40 cents). Pastry shops are the size of a small department store, coffee shops are common, the vegetable markets all have tasty food stands, and if needed one can get a bland $10 hamburger at Sanborn’s. Follow your eyes and the locals, the food in Mexico City is very tasty and rarely disappoints.
The Frida Khalo Museum was only a two star moment, the best work is all out of the country in a traveling exhibit. Yet the power of Frida is immense; at the Museum of Diego Rivera Murals the only postcards available were of Frida Khalo artworks.
While I was in Mexico City there were three earthquake alerts. Workers exited buildings and stood in the center of the streets and pedestrian malls for each alert. Thing is I never felt one of them. I said as much to all those who emailed me with questions of alarm. Thing is all earthquake reports seem to originate in Mexico City and the city is built on a dry lake bed. But much has been learned from effects of the devastating 1985 quake. Buildings are safer than ever and the city today is far more ready for civil emergencies than the past. Still in a city of 8 million proper and 20 million in the metropolitan zone, life goes on as it must. No room for slackers, much graffiti or many beggars. In Mexico City, whether in a suit or peasant pants, one must be smart and stay alert, anything else and you get left behind making for a long walk home.
Title Quote: Diego Rivera, legendary Mexican artist.