When overseas you learn more about your own country, than you do the place you’re visiting.Clint Borgen
Jan 10-18 2017
Back north of the equator, I headed solo to Mexico City, while Maggie returned to the San Francisco Bay Area to check in with her work. It would be my first time internationally by myself (not counting Canada- which I grew up just a few miles across the border from), which is pretty amazing considering all the travel I had done earlier in my life and career.
I had been to some of the northern Mexico border towns, and to the resort areas of Cancun and Cozumel, bot very different, so I wasn’t really sure what to expect from the Mexican capital and largest city in North America. What I found was a place full of culture, a vibrant young energy, and areas that could rival the nicest cities in the United States. I would best describe it as a combination of Buenos Aires, Santiago, and Lima- with a little bit of New York City thrown in. It has the layout and architecture of Buenos Aires, the friendliness and modernity of Santiago, the food and culture of Lima, and the size and crowds of New York City. Getting around was easy, either by walking or using the extensive metro system, which includes both subway and dedicated bus lanes. Neighborhoods were diverse, from the historic and chaotic Centro, the hipster and youthful Roma and Condensa, the wealthy and modern Polanco, and everything in between. I quickly learned that Mexico City has more museums then any other city on earth, with over 150 I was sure to not get bored.
I had originally set out to find one of my favorite artists works, Diego Rivera. Having been born in Detroit and introduced to his work at the Detroit Institute of Art, I had always been fascinated with his murals telling the struggle and accomplishments of the working class. I was able to find his art in numerous places, the obvious being Museo Mural Diego Rivera, housing one of his murals that was rescued from a destroyed hotel following the 1985 earthquake; and the Palacio National, home to his mural portraying and titled the History of Mexico. Less obvious places included the Mexican Secretariat of Public Education, a building with a large courtyard surrounded by 3 floors of works by Rivera; and the Museo Dolores Olmedo, which has the largest collection of non-mural works by the artist found anywhere. The Palacio de Bellas Artes housed my favorite mural of his in the city, Man the Controller of the Universe, as well as murals by two of the other leaders of the Mexican Muralist Movement, Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. I also made the obligatory visit to Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, designed by famous architect Juan O’Gorman, and used as the homes and studios for both Diego and Frida.
I visited a few of the contemporary art museums while in Mexico City as well, since they always have interesting exhibitions that often portray the emerging ideas of a country, and are usually housed in architecturally stunning places. The first was the Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporáneo, located on the grounds of Latin Americas largest university, the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Next was the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, located in the Bosque de Chapultepec (Mexico City’s Central Park). Lastly was the Museo Jumex, located in the wealthy Polanco district.
Other museums that I went to was the fascinating Leon Trotsky Musem, which includes his last residence and place where he was assassinated (with an ice axe) and buried; the Soumaya Museum, which houses billionaire Carlos Slims art collection (and is an architectural masterpiece in itself); and the Museo Memoria y Tolerancia, a touching account of the major genocides to have occurred during the 20th century (including the Holocaust, Armenia, Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Cambodia, and Darfur).
Besides the museums, the city has impressive monuments such as the El Ángel de la Independencia and Monument of the Revolution; public squares like Garibaldi (with mariachi bands performing everywhere), Zócalo (the main square and third largest in the world) and the traditional squares of Central Coyoacán; and parks such as the massive Bosque de Chapultepec, the forest like Vivero Coyoacán and Panteón de Dolores where over 1,000,000 people are buried (including national heroes in the Rotunda of Illustrious Persons- multiple presidents; the muralists Rivera and Siqueiros; and Ricardo Flores Magón, the father of anarchy in Mexico).
Also being the former site of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire, there are many archaeological sites throughout the city too, with one of the most complete being the Templo Mayor. Mexico City is also home to the Castillo de Chapultepec, the only castle in North America that was actually used as a residence by a sovereign, the Mexican Emperor Maximilian I. The castle sits on a prominent hill that was a sacred place of the Aztecs, and offers impressive views of the surrounding city.
Of course the best things about the city were the people and the food. I stayed in a great AirBnb where the host was nice enough to invite me out for his friends birthday party, dancing and hanging out until early in the morning. People on the street were also friendly and helpful, always wondering how my stay was, where I was from, and never asking for anything in return (which can often be the case when people are overly friendly). As far as the food, it was cheap and delicious, my favorites being chicharron con queso and the tacos, especially with skirt steak, pastor or shrimp. Lots of michelada cubanas and michelada clamatos were also consumed.
There’s still so much more to see and do that I didn’t get to, the obvious ones (especially if you’ve visited yourself) being the Museo Nacional de Antropología and nearby Teotihuacan and the Pyramid of the Sun. Maggie wanted me to leave some things for when we return together, so I figured I’d leave some of the most popular and often rated the best. I look forward to returning, not only to Mexico City but also to explore other areas of the country, such as Oaxaca, Yucatan, and Chiapas.