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Volcano Attack! – Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Mexico City

Volcano Attack! – Puebla, Tlaxcala, and Mexico City

Mar 9th, 2019, 04:42 AM
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Coming up: trips to the doctor, wandering Condesa, and a “Roma” pilgrimage

By the time we arrived at our beloved Red Tree House, we were really feeling bad, and DH was feeling seriously unwell. Long story short: on the hotel’s advice, we went to an impressively professional and efficient pharmacy-doctor-laboratory complex four blocks away for three daily visits. They quickly put us on the road to good health. The fee? Get ready, you estadounidenses who are accustomed to quixotic and expensive health care…US$2.50 for visit #1, US$1.00 for #2, and US$0.50 for visit #3. That includes three unrushed discussions with the doctor, three lab checks of blood pressure, and one prescription.

Moving on…following our doc’s advice, we rested a lot the first two days, took slow walks around the Condesa neighborhood, admiring the people, the dogs, the tree-lined avenues, the Art Deco architecture. Mornings we enjoyed the hotel's comfort food breakfasts in one of the beautiful courtyards.

One of our first evenings we had an energy boost from a wonderful dinner at a new restaurant on the edge of the Condesa district, Meroma, which I mentioned at the beginning of this TR. I know I've already said how good my dinner was, but I'm going to go even deeper into detail, if you're not a foodie you can skip this! Reference the photo below. At the upper right, the remains of my outstanding mezcal margarita. I love the way that mezcal gives a sharp smoky taste to a margarita, which I usually find too sweet and cloying. And center stage: lamb, roasted perfectly, with a little braised huazontle on top. This is a slightly bitter green, sort of like chard but sharper. The lamb is resting on a mild chipotle broth with chickpeas and a little melted white cheese. On the upper left: a glass of J2 cabernet from Baja California. Outstanding!

Now it was time for my “Roma” pilgrimage. I loved one of Alfonso Cuaron’s early films, “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” a wild, funny, crazy, Rabelaisian, heart-breakingly sad story. I was thunderstruck by his new film, “Roma”, named after the district which borders Condesa. DH and many friends, in contrast, had not like the film. Too slow, in their opinion, too ordinary, too full of unrealistic violence in the last half.

Ahem. It is true there are no car crashes, no visits by alien spacecraft. However, let’s point out that the violence that erupts (I won’t describe the details so as not to spoil the movie for those who have not yet seen it), the main violent event, is firmly historical, the brutal attack by the thugs of the Echeverria government in the early 1970s. Cuaron lived through all of this. The movie is deeply autobiographical and the central character, portrayed in an extraordinary performance by Yalitza Aparicio, is a representation of his family’s maid, Libo Rodriguez, a Mixtec woman from Oaxaca (Aparicio is Mixtec-Triqui from Oaxaca).

Alfonso Cuaron and Libo Rodriguez, photo by Peter Hapak/Netflix

Cuaron grew up in a house at 21 Tepeji street. He used the house across the street, 22 Tepeji, for the movie. I walked eight blocks from the Red Tree House, arriving at the house in the early morning.

I was the only person there and the street was quiet. Along came a young couple, Hispanic, from Washington, D.C. We started exchanging our favorite details from the movie. I took their picture, they took mine. More people arrived. In a few minutes there were a dozen people clustering around the house all chatting about the film, an impromptu "Roma" fan club!

Next up: Diego and Frida and the Carmelites in San Angel
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Mar 12th, 2019, 05:15 PM
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San Angel

One day we allocated to San Angel. We have seen a lot of the major sites in and around the historic centro in the past few years so now we tried to venture out a bit. We’ve been to Coyoacan but never to San Angel. This was a very worthwhile trip, good for an entire day. We went on a Sunday, not Saturday so we did not see the Sabado market, but on Sunday the village was pleasant but not crowded.

We Uber’d to Diego and Frida’s houses and studios. These houses were designed by their architect friend Juan O’Gorman. O’Gorman first built his house and then the houses for Diego and Frida in the early 1930s. They are the first modernist structures in Mexico, strongly influence by Le Corbusier and the Bauhaus. O’Gorman’s is beautiful, severe, graph-paper perfect (you can walk around the house but not enter, it is still a private residence).

Juan O'Gorman's house, San Angel

The houses for Diego and Frida seem livelier, perhaps because their legends are so strong and colorful. Plus, the intense reds and blues of their exterior walls give warmth to these cubical structures.

Diego Rivera's house, San Angel, entry stairway

Friday Kahlo's house, San Angel, and bridge upper left to Diego's house

The two houses are linked by a bridge. We are told that Frida often provided lunch to Diego, crossing this bridge, although we wonder how in the world she did that considering the injuries to her spine and legs which she had endured.

The bridge connecting Frida's house to Diego's

Diego’s house has his large, light-filled studio, full of Judases, big papier-mache statues which he created. These are traditionally burned in Mexican villages during Easter.

Diego's studio, with Judases

His brushes and paints still fill shelves on the studio. His small bedroom, where he died, still has the rough corduroy curtains on the windows. Frida’s house is even smaller and simpler. It is very moving to walk through these rooms, touching the original door handles, going from one house to the other across the bridge, thinking “Aha, Diego touched this, so did Frida.” Corny, yes, but still…

Next: lunch and the Convento del Carmen, San Angel
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Mar 15th, 2019, 04:41 AM
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San Angel, continued…lunch, and Convento de El Carmen

After Diego and Frida’s houses and studios we wandered down Santisimo, a beautiful winding alleyway to Plaza San Jacinto...

Walking down Santisimo to Plaza San Jacinto

...there are some very luxurious homes lurking here behind these old doorways.

Doorway on Santisimo

There was a small market on the Plaza (this was Sunday, this was not the big Saturday market) and we bought more gifts for the grandkids. Then to lunch at the Barbacoa de San Angel, a pleasant dog-friendly café facing the Plaza.

Customers at the Barbacoa de San Angel

After lunch we went to the Convento de El Carmen. This is a large monastery complex founded by the Carmelites in 1615. I had never heard of this order before. It has an exotic history, going back to the 12th century in Palestine. But it clearly was rich and powerful in this part of Mexico. The monastery complex has several wings, courtyards, even an aqueduct bringing water from the springs in nearby Coyoacan.

The monastery includes the monks’ cells, gardens...

...a small chapel with another gilded baroque altarpiece....

The monks' chapel

...a crypt with...mummies ( ! – however, archeologists believe that these are the remains of villagers who used the crypt after the monastery was closed by the government in the 19th century)...

...and yet another extraordinarily beautiful church with yet another gilded baroque altarpiece.

The main church of the El Carmen monastery

We were getting altar-weary at this point but we were still struck by the extravagance of church architecture in this period.

Next: Churubusco and the Centro Nacional de las Artes
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Mar 18th, 2019, 12:16 PM
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Enjoying & waiting semi-patiently.
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Mar 19th, 2019, 03:46 AM
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One day, Saturday I think it was (this is not a chronological TR, clearly), we went out to the Churubusco district to visit CENART. We had never heard of this thing but visitors at the Red Tree House told us it was worth the trip so we decided to go. Churubusco has a fascinating history. It was an Aztec city with an enormous temple, then an important Franciscan settlement after the Conquest, site of a major battle during the American invasion of Mexico City, home of the most important Mexican film studio in the 1940s and 1950s, and site of the Museo de las Intervenciones, which is not too far from Trotsky's house and Frida's blue house in neighboring Coyoacan.

CENART was created in the early 1990s. It is the Centro Nacional de las Artes, a sizeable investment by the Mexican government to create a "culture campus" for painting, sculpture, engraving, dance, music and the theater. I don't recall seeing or reading anything like this in any other country. It's hard to imagine the U.S. government creating this kind of thing; it doesn't have the official klutzy feeling of government projects like the Kennedy Center, for example.

A model of the CENART campus at the information desk

The firm of Ricardo Legorreta was chosen as the lead architects of the campus. They in turn selected several other architects to produce specific buildings. Legorreta himself designed what is called "the spine," a long, low structure which is sort of a visual magnet pulling together the other buildings, pools, plazas, lawns, and wooded areas.

One section of "the spine" building...it's very long and zigzag, this is just a small part

An especially striking structure is the violet-purple Torre de Investigacion, offices for the administration and studios. It is painted a brilliant color, sort of violet or lavender. At the base of the tower is a beautiful garden area with jacaranda trees. They were blooming when we visited and voila! the color of the tower is exactly the same as the color of the flowering jacarandas. Genius!

A closeup of the Torre de Investigacion

The Torre de Investigacion peeping over other buildings on campus, with flowering jacarandas

At one end of the "spine" is an open courtyard with a large reflecting pool with dozens of small fountains, on one side of which is a tall building, the Aula Magna or great hall for performances; the exterior is covered with a blue, orange, and yellow mosaic by Vicente Rojo.

The cafe area and the Aula Magna

The mosaic on the Aula Magna by Vicente Rojo

There is a wonderful atmosphere of liveliness in this entire campus. A cafe and umbrella tables line the other side of the pool. We had a snack, enjoying the play of the water fountains and the spontaneous "Coke bottle ballet" of the little kid on the other side of the fountain....

Spontaneous ballet!

Across from the main complex is the Escuela Nacional de la Danza, designed by the architect Luis Vicente Flores, very different from the main building but it fits in very well with the ebullient spirit of the place.

Looking out from the "spine" to the Escuela Nacional de la Danza

Okay, time for a break and more photo editing. To be continued...
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