Sunday, January 1, 2017

LXXXIX. Nuestro Viaje a México, Primer Día

Our Trip to Mexico City, First Day

Coming out of Alameda Park with Palacio de Bellas Artes straight ahead. 
Day 1 - We get up at 3AM to get picked up by the senior Señor Miramontes (his five sons join him in the business) an hour and a half later. We need to make an early flight northeast to Monterrey. We’re flying 500 miles out of our way this morning to eventually get to Mexico City—the background story for that peccadillo relates to the chicanery of a cheap airline. It’s mid-afternoon before we glide over miles of hills and flats crowded with buildings as we descend to the Aeropuerto Internacional de la Ciudad de México. My wife is not feeling so well, perhaps just an upset stomach.

Center court of Palacio de Bellas Artes
There’s the usual nervous insecurity of negotiating for a taxi in a bustling foreign airport. On the ride to our hotel I imagine the gruff driver is taking us instead to some tacky, nondescript suburb where we’ll be robbed and stranded. If we’re lucky. Instead, he manages a smile before dropping us off on the busy street in front of a Fiesta Inn located in a biggish building above a mid-scale downtown mall in the Centro Histórico. After a cool reception it feels good to be warmly welcomed by Salvador, our bellhop. We unpack, rest a bit, and go for a walk.

Carefully crossing busy Avenida Juarez we enter large Alameda Park. It’s a diamond grid-work of wide, shaded paths between low and mannered plantings. At most pathway intersections there is a large fountain, often with a verdigris statue rising over the splashing water—the one of Neptune is especially impressive. Lots of people strolling, couples and families, mostly. Youngsters playing in the water. 

The original title of this Rivera mural was "Man at the
Crossroads" The artist's theme continues, "...Looking With
Hope and High Vision to the Choosing of a New and Better
Future".  Notice Lenin, center right.
Ambling through the park, along with hundreds of Chilangos*, we eventually make our way to the Palacio de Bellas Artes—a massive wedding cake of a building—all art nouveau and neoclassical, with a touch of deco on the inside. Once the elevator dowager is satisfied with our credentials, we are given a glacial ascent to the second floor where famous murals decorate the portico walls looking out to an expansive atrium. The beauty of the building and energy of the artworks are breathtaking.

Orozco's "La Katharsis". Machines turn to sinewy flesh,
guns and sex. Suffering. Destruction. 
The massive mural, “Man, the Controller of the Universe” by Diego Rivera faces Jose Orozco's “La Katharsis" across four stories of the Palacio’s open central court. More Riveras and several large pieces by David Siqueiros are on the flanking walls. All of the work I’ve seen from this artistic cohort is informed by intensely left-wing—"Workers of the World, Unite!"ideology. 

The original version of “Man, the Controller…” was painted in the mid-1930s for New York City’s Rockefeller Center. Its sympathetic portrayal of communism aroused such Yankee furor the murals were first covered and later destroyed. It says something about the stubborn strength of Rivera’s beliefs that he saw fit to paint it all over again—based on an assistant’s photo of the original—but in this work I find his symbolism sophomoric and esthetically unappealing. I much prefer Orozco’s gutsy “La Katharsis”.

Looking up the covered center court of the Palacio de Correos
After the Palacio we cross busy Lázaro Cárdenas along with a tidal wave of fellow pedestrians and pay a quick visit to the Palacio de Correos (main post office). 107 years old, destroyed in the ’85 quake and now completely restored, it’s a mishmash of baroque, nouveau and revival styles that somehow work great together. 

Tired from a long day of travel, contending with the 7000 foot altitude and especially the unending throngs of people, we make our way back to the hotel, stopping at locally popular Taqueria Caifán for an económica and above pedestrian dinner. We hope to sleep well.

* Chilango is a slang term denoting a Mexico City resident. Sometimes considered derogatory, it’s also used pridefully. To native Mexicans, in the country, it’s enough to simply say you’re going to México (MEH-hee-ko); “city” or “ciudad” is superfluous.

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