Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Goodbye Mexico City

So today we left Mexico City and have moved on to Puebla, a lovely, quaint little town a few hours to the SE.

Since we last posted, we've been to some of the most incredible museums.

On Saturday we went to the National Museum of Anthropology in Chapultepec Park, which documents the history of essentially all the people of Mexico over the last few thousand years - how the lived and live today, their customs, culture, music, food and architecture to name but a few aspects. The place is massive beyond belief. While obviously the most visually stunning works were the recovered and recreated works of the earliest cultures - those of the Aztecs and the (unknown) people of Teotihuacan, the depth and breadth of culture of the people of mexico is just astounding. While nearly all of them suffered serious shifts when the Spanish conquered Mexico, it was fascinating to see how each group co-opted some parts while retaining aspects of their previous cultures to create these marvellous hybrids.

Sadly we cut out time there short to get over to the Museum of Natural History, which turned out to be a major disappointment. Clearly built around the early 80's, it doesn't seem to have been updated or upgraded essentially at all in that time. If you find yourself in Mexico City and have a choice between this and somewhere else, go somewhere else.

Sunday was another day of museums, but this time much more narrow in focus.

First off we stopped in at the National Palace to see a series of murals Diego Rivera did documenting the history of the Mexican people:
It turns out that this mural is actually one of a series, and each is as stunning as the next. This one certainly takes the cake though. A truly epic work, absolutely worth the detour on our busy day to see in person.

Next it was on to the Museum of Frida Kahlo, which is situated in "the blue house", where she was born, lived much of her life including much of her time with Diego, returned to often, and finally died in. It featured a great number of her paintings, as well as those of Diego and others who inspired her and were inspired by her, but mostly just gave a really good look into her person and her life. A personal favourite of the paintings shown was the (slightly blury, sorry) "Marxism will heal the sick":

The house itself is truly stunning, having been modified by Frida and Diego during their years of living there to turn it into a living piece of history, even before it was officially turned into a museum. The place was absolutely packed, mostly with locals who clearly love her a great deal.

From there it was a quick walk around the corner to the house in which Leon Trotsky and family lived out their last years of exile. The house today is a fortress, having been built up while he lived there to protect him from the various assassination plots (imagined and real) against him. While nowhere near as busy as the Frida Kahlo museum, the house turned museum was by no means empty, which was quite heartwarming to someone who has a deep respect for the ideals Trotsky lived and furthered. The museum had a great collection of the belongings of the family which remained in the house after "Lev" was killed, but also an awesome collection of pictures of his life both inside and outside of Mexico. The energy, passion and vitality which are described so often in books about his person and life are readily visible in almost every picture, whether he be working at his desk, talking to guests, carrying cactuses back to his garden from his strolls in the surrounding countryside or feeding his rabbits and chickens.
It was almost spooky to stand in the same room where he was killed, but I was deeply moved to stand in his garden in front of the memorial/mortuary where his cremated remains lie to this day, along with those of his long-suffering wife, Natalia.

From there we though we were going to the house the Diego and Frida built, a few kms west of Casa Verde (the blue house), but instead we were taken to the great studio/museum that Diego Reviera designed and built to house his great collection of pre-hispanic artifacts, Anahuacalli.
This behemoth of a building exists on a scale almost beyond comprehension:
It's a little hard to tell from this picture due to the lack of relative scale and the fact that the whole house is in proportion to itself, but the lowest "pedestal" row of stone came about to my shoulder (5 feet or so), making the whole building .... well, honestly, I don't know how big and google doesn't seem to know either which is a bit surprising. Anyway, it's big, built of massive chunks of volcanic rock dug out of the surrounding grounds. The interior is divided into 3 floors - the lowest was designed to be unlit, respresenting the prehispanic underworld; the middle floor representing the earth and housing his cavernous studio space complete with half finished drafts of some of his more famous murals, and the top floor was the heavens. Roof access really did give the impression of standing on the edge of the sky.
The ceiling of most rooms were decorated with murals, and each had dozens of repositories for the artifacts collected over Diego's decades of life.
While it was an unexpected visit, it was certainly a rewarding one.

On Monday we took a tour out to Teotihuacan, an ancient city located 45 minutes north of Mexico City. Believed to have been founded around 100BC, it was discovered by the Aztecs centuries later who gave it the name we use today, "the place where men become gods", as they believed that to be the only reason such a huge city would have been abandoned. Stargate, anyone? 2000 years does a fair bit of damage to a city, even one made of slabs of volcanic rock, but over the last 100 years the Mexican state has funded a massive restoration effort, based on descriptions by Cortez and the anthropological evidence found during excavation. To be honest though, it was mostly just Hot. Stunning, and on a scale - again - almost beyond comprehension, but HOT, and filled with hawkers trying to sell their wares to tourists in numbers which almost matched those of the tourists.
We did make it to the top of the Temple of the Sun, and as far up the Temple of the Moon as you can get, which made for some pretty spectacular pics:

Us at the top of the Temple of the Sun

[click to enlarge]
The temple of Quetzalcoatl and surrounding minor temples. Pay no attention to the disembodied limbs - no one else seemed concerned by them at the time, so I ignored them.

And that was our last few days in Mexico City! Today we bused into Puebla, which is similar to M.C. except it's smaller, friendlier, prettier and the drivers are less homicidal, which pretty much amounts to "Come to Puebla: Mexico City, but pleasant". The bus was really comfortable and the 2 hours passed almost without us realising. Upon arriving we checked into a great hostel (Casona Poblana, for any interested tourists-to-be) and found dinner at a really good vegetarian place (not so great for vegans sadly, but Mexico isn't exactly vegan friendly at the best of times), checked out a local museum celebrating some of the participants in the Mexican Revolution and have crashed early for more uber-long blog posting. It's seriously hard to find the time to do this! However, we will continue to make time, so long as people indicate they are actually reading, so post comments!

Next stop, Oaxaca, home of Chocolate (!) and then on to the beach wonderland of Puerto Escondido. Check back soon.

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