Sunday, January 18, 2015

Mexico City, Day 4: Frida Be You and Me

Today I spent a good deal of money to enjoy the company of a young Mexican woman for several hours.

And she showed me things I wouldn't have seen otherwise.

Sure, if I tried I probably could've gotten to the Frida Kahlo Museum--a.k.a. La Casa Azul, where she was born, grew up, lived many years with Diego Rivera and died--via the subway and walking a good ways in unfamiliar territory.

And I certainly could've taken a cab from the hotel to the museum in Coyoacan, about a half hour south, and most likely found one that would've got me back without incident.

I also could have asked the hotel to arrange for a cabbie to take me to the museum, wait for me, perhaps show me around a few other places and bring me back.

Actually this is what I did, but paid a premium in requesting an English-speaking driver who might tell me about what I was seeing.

The cost still wound up being something I could readily live with, and similar to private driver/custom tour guide experiences I've had in San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro, being able to talk to someone who really knew the city added a great deal to my overall experience.

I didn't ask for nor was expecting a woman, but my driver turned out to be a nice young Mexican City native named Norma, who normally drives small bus tours around the central area for an outfit I believe is called Brisa Tours.

So beyond rote "look over there" conversation, she was able to help me better understand Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Leon Trotsky, the history of Mexico City and Coyoacan, while also showing me a church, park and vibrant public squares that I really enjoyed seeing for the sense I was seeing locals, not tourists.

As I discussed with Norma, my perception is that in the United States, Frida is probably more famous, certainly more iconic and likely more artistically revered than Diego.

Norma, who has never been to the U.S., concurred that that is likely the case, but conveyed that in Mexico, both during the artists' lifetimes and now, Frida is seen for having gotten famous because she was Diego's wife, and that Rivera is considered the far greater painter, but in subject matter and output.

I am fascinated enough by Frida's legacy to be enthralled by seeing her longtime home, including the rooms in which she was born, painted and died. And though there were several paintings by her, nothing was as famous as "The Two Fridas," which I saw at the Museum of Modern Art here.

I like Kahlo's paintings, but not only was Rivera's art much more dominant in terms of what I saw in Mexico City, but even at the Frida Kahlo Museum, in terms of hanging works I think my favorites were examples of Rivero's Cubism period.

It's easy to forget that Diego was hanging out in Montmarte with Picasso, Modigliani, etc. long before he met Frida.

I'm not saying my driver/guide convinced me that Frida Kahlo is overrated--nor even tried to--but I can see in terms of artistic legacies that Diego Rivera probably outranks her.

Further illustration of that was provided at the Palacio de Bellas Artes--Norma and I parted ways there--where two massive Rivera murals hang, including one that he re-created after having it commission and then decommissioned for New York's Rockefeller Center. 

The beautiful building also has multiple murals by Siqueiros, Tamayo and other notables. 

After a nice stroll through Alameda Park and an early dinner at a homey place called El Torreo, I went to the Diego Rivera Mural Museum.

This holds just one of his murals, albeit a huge and great one, and unbeknownst to me before I arrived, I got to hear a highly enjoyable concert by a Latin jazz(ish) band called El Kato Club.

They played right in front of the mural and it was a treat to be able to soak in the art accompanied by great music.

This evening I went to a performance by the Ballet Folklorico in the ornate theater within the Palacio de Bellas Artes.

While probably a bit longer than I needed, this was impressive in every way as a variety of Mexican folk dance and musical styles were deftly demonstrated.

My flight home tomorrow (Monday) is at 2:19pm and I'll probably leave for the airport at 11 at the latest. It'd be perfect if the National Palace re-opened to the public, but word is that they won't until February.

I was considering going to the La Merced market, but think I'll just stick to strolling around the Zocalo, if even that.

It's been a really good 4 days. I've had a lot of fun and enlightenment, with no problems. 

Obviously, there are worthwhile places I didn't get to--besides the National Palace murals--but I saw most of what I really wanted to see and enjoyed everything I did.

And the weather was beautiful; once again, no rain. 

Probably not real soon, but I enjoyed Mexico City enough to want to return and think it's a place many more American travelers should visit.

I'm glad I did.

(See for several iPhonetographs; will alert about a proper photo gallery when I get one done.)

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Mexico City, Day 3: Teotihuacan and the Sounds of the Streets

Know thyself.

It's a pretty good adage for life, and particularly travel.

I know how much I enjoy--and have derived from--journeying to different places, predominantly cities but not just.

And with certain precautions, limitations and sacrifices--or at least trade-offs--I am comfortable and content to travel alone.

I am certainly not the fittest person in the world, and may occasionally need to take respites or find benches where others may not.

But though my legs and feet can grow rather sore, I largely soldier on, and even those who have no trouble taking 10-mile hikes for fun may be challenged to keep up with me on a day like yesterday where I toured 4 museum-type attractions in roughly 6 hours.

If you knew how much walking and climbing was involved in seeing the Diego Rivera murals at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica, the huge Museum of Anthropology, Chapultepec Castle and the Museum of Modern Art, you may more appreciate that I'm not such a wuss when it comes to making the most of my tourist adventures.

But in taking a guided tour today to see the ruins of the ancient city of Teotihuacan--about 30 miles north of Mexico City--unlike several other members of the group, I opted not to climb to the top of the Pyramid of the Sun nor the Pyramid of the Moon.

I make no apologies for this and I don't even regret it. 

First of all, the tour leader didn't climb either. So it wasn't like climbing to the apexes was essential for learning more about the ancient city that existed--if I have it straight--from roughly 100 BC to 750 AD, topping out at a population of 175,000.

Sure I would've taken a few more photos I didn't get a chance to, but particularly in the case of the larger Pyramid of the Sun, I'd have been standing atop the most photograhically impressive structure on the grounds.

So although I've--admittedly in younger years--climbed to the top of the Statue of Liberty, St. Paul's Cathedral, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and Palazzo Vecchio, the effort/risk-to-benefit ratio precluded me from even trying.

I really have doubts I could have made it to the top even if I tried, and getting down would have scared me even more, as these were steep, rocky steps with no railings.

Even on several smaller structures I had to climb, and from the lowest tier of the Pyramid of the Sun, I often opted to butt-slide my way down.

No point risking a heart attack, tumbling down the stairs or even great discomfort--then and later--especially out in the middle of nowhere where there weren't even rest room facilities.

But the tour otherwise--booked through and led locally by Amigo Tours, with an archaeologist named Lise--was quite good and I'm glad I went on it.

Even if I didn't hit the highest heights.

Getting back to my hotel about 3:00, I took a nap and then wandered the streets, which was rather wonderful.

I heard drummers, saw dancers, heard a violinist and watched a damn good jazz band, all out in the streets.

Then I went to the famed Cafe de Tacuba, where I had dinner and heard a Mariachi band for part of it.

I'm back in my room now but feel comfortable enough to walk five minutes to the Zinco Jazz Club in just a bit.

But traveling by myself--other than to New York and London, where theater presents built-in evening plans--I often find myself not doing much with my nights.

Without a categorical for either, I really don't drink or dance, so even if you told me I could get to and fro the hottest club in town--here and elsewhere--without any problems, worries, risks or even undue cost, I still wouldn't go.

And intrepid as I like to be, I've decided trying to get to Plaza Garibaldi, with its many mariachi bands, or the much further Floating Gardens of Xochimilco, isn't worth any theoretical discomfort I may feel.

But there are many undoubtedly enjoyable things prudence--fully justifiable or not--would preclude me from doing even in Chicago.

So I've been having a great time in Mexico City the only way I know how.

By knowing myself.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Mexico City, Day 2: An Exhausting Exploration of Extraordinary Art & History

If you read yesterday's recap, you noted my being a good bit miffed that the National Palace--and its Diego Rivera murals--was closed to tourists, although that this was in response to protesters burning down its front door makes it somewhat understandable.

Today almost began with that chagrin doubled, as the guest services desk at my hotel informed me that the Secretaria de Educacion Publica--with a far more extensive treasure trove of Rivera murals--was also inaccessible today.

I whined to the one lady vehemently enough--while assuring I wasn't vexed at her--that she called the National Palace, which verified it remains closed until February.

But her partner took it on herself to call the Secretaria de Educacion Publica and learned that it actually was open, right then. This was quite pleasing, even before I went there, because I knew it wouldn't be open on the  weekend and wasn't sure if getting there Monday morning before my flight would be feasible.

But boy am I glad I got to see it. With Rivera murals wrapping around all doorways on two floors of the courtyard building plus some works on a third, it was one of the most impressive displays of art at a single location by a single artist I've ever seen. Really mind-blowing stuff.

So were all the amazing artifacts at the National Museum of Anthropology.

I'm kinda running on fumes here and so is my phone, so I think I'll cut this short.

Also seen today:

Chapultepec Castle
Museum of Modern Art

Dinner at Puyol, supposedly the best restaurant in Mexico. It was excellent, if not quite as good--but also not quite as expensive--as Chicago's Alinea or Las Vegas' Picasso, to which it might compare.

Off to Teotihuacan bright and early tomorrow.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Mexico City: Day 1 - A Fine Start Despite the Missing Jetbridge Driver and Other Minor Inconveniences

Whenever one travels, you have to almost plan to encounter a few "Oh, darn!" moments while hoping to avoid the "Oh, damn!" and even "Oh, fuck!" variety.

Illness, injury and theft would probably find most feeling a bit damned, and I won't even surmise episodes of the even worse kind.

But things like getting somewhat lost if not desperately so, finding world-famous structures sheathed in scaffolding and discovering a museum you really wanted to visit closed for renovations are the types of things travelers can find really annoying but far from disastrous.

Five non-inflight or at-the-airport hours into my Mexico City trip, I have had one "Oh, darn!" moment and a couple of "Hmm, that's odd" ones, but really enjoyed my initial impressions nonetheless.

My flight out of O'Hare was on time and really smooth, right until we pulled up to the gate and found that there was no jet bridge waiting to allow us to deplane.

This wasn't even an "Oh, darn!" moment just a minor annoyance that turned almost comical as the pilot announced--during what became a 20-minute delay--that he could see workers on the jet bridge but was being told they had to find the guy who could drive it. I guess eventually they did.

I got through passport control with no problem but it took an oddly long time for my suitcase to come 'round the baggage carousel. But again, no real problem as was the gridlocked traffic jam my taxi became ensnarled in.

My hotel, Zocalo Central, seems perfectly situated and rather nice.

But the first thing I wanted to do in Mexico City--see Diego Rivera murals at the National Palace--became "Oh, darn," as I learned that Mexico's principal government building is now closed to the public indefinitely due to some recently rather charged protests on the Zocalo square.

I'll check if anything is different tomorrow or Monday but though I still plan on seeing many Rivera murals--at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica and elsewhere--I would somewhat rue not seeing the glorious ones that adorn the palace.

But that's life, even on vacation.

And it's not like my day was really ruined, as I really enjoyed seeing the Templo Mayor--the excavated ruins of an Aztec temple in the heart of Mexico City--and many striking artifacts in its accompanying museum.

I took a good gander--and tons photographs--within the huge old Metropolitan Cathedral that's on the Zocalo just steps from my hotel.

And after getting to the point of truly starving after having only had a croissant this morning at O'Hare, I found my way to a restaurant I had read about called Azul Historico.

It was really outstanding, and not even that expensive. I had a fish dish I can't exactly describe but it was terrific as was a preceding soup and a following chocolate tamale.

Now I'm back at my hotel, a little sheepish to be in for the night so early but feeling it probably for the best. The hotel staff has assured me this area is very safe and I should have no problem if I want to walk a few blocks to a jazz club.

Maybe tomorrow as the performers listed tonight don't seem worth getting out of bed for. And there doesn't seem much point wandering the streets aimlessly as much as I enjoy it.

So good night and I look forward to checking in again tomorrow. I did put up some pictures you can find at