A Travellerspoint blog

The city of my dreams and nightmares is Mexico City...

Carlos Fuentes

sunny 20 °C

Carlos said it better than I'm about to...Mexico City seduces and repels, and defies description or easy analysis. I could go on about the sickening class divide, the disparity of riches, the magnificence of public spaces, the cultural and historical wealth, the art that spills from every corner, the warmth and pride of its residents, the unbreathable air and the wellspring of creativity that creates that irresistible electricity of a great city. But I won't get it right, so I'll just offer up our observations and impressions, and hope we're lifting the veil a little. However, since our impressions will be those of senior travellers on a budget who do not partake of drugs, nightlife or alternative lifestyles, you won't be reading first-hand accounts of "Down and Out in Mexico City" here.

I'm a sucker for big buildings, impressive architecture, public spaces and over-the-top fountains. Paseo de Reforma is one of Mexico City's main downtown thoroughfares - it has been compared to Champs Elysees in Paris. Right in the middle of 10 or 12 lanes of traffic is a tree-lined pedestrian walkway, lined with benches, fountains, small parks, and trees.


The streets on either side houses some of the biggest hotels, banks, and corporations - with roundabouts every kilometres or so that showcase a fountain or monument, or both. Traffic whirls about in a steady stream, and traffic cops (with the aid of short, urgent blasts on their whistles) keep vehicles moving and pedestrians safe, as 12 lanes enter, exit, and switch lanes in a strangely effective road dance.




Styles blend effortlessly together - rounded art deco and geometric angles each find their place.



Museums and art galleries. There are over 150 museums and who even knows how many private art galleries. There is street art that is international in scope and talent. And that doesn't even touch the Museum of Anthropology, which needs at least two days to cover properly. We extended our one-week booking for a total of 10 days - not nearly enough, but we'll make the most of it. When we were in Mexico City five years ago, we hit a lot of major museums, so this time around, we've put a priority list together and allowing for brain freeze - we hope to cover at least ten. We began with the Museum of Modern Art.


We were drawn there for the exhibition of the late Lee Miller - a beautiful, multi-talented, complicated woman who began her career as a model, was Man Ray's lover, friend of Picasso, multi-married, Vogue fashion photographer and WWII war correspondent. Her life story and body of work was absolutely fascinating - unfortunately, we were not allowed cameras, so I have nothing to show you, but check out this site for some examples of her photos - http://www.leemiller.co.uk


Francisco Toledo Duelo's ceramics exhibition was also powerful - each of his pieces was dark and/or humorous. I've chosen dark:


From the sublime to the ridiculous. We went to the Ruffino Tamayo museum with great anticipation, as he was one of Mexico's most influential 20th century painters, and we were keen to see his work. His museum is in name only - an edifice for contemporary art, with just one Tamayo painting hanging. We saw two exhibitions instead, and at the risk of sounding like philistines - we were profoundly disappointed with both.

The intro (bio) to both of these exhibits is generously dosed with arty jargon - that would be annoying enough, but after standing reflectively and musing upon gobs of cloth and expanses of white plastic, we were no further ahead. Neither was the guard,bored witless, with whom we tried to engage.


The other exhibition was a German photographer. His intro was no less vague, but here is where it fell apart for me. This man has a major exhibition in a major museum in Mexico City, and I want to know why. I have a number of photographer friends - Nanc, Margy, Chris, Ian, Jean, our son Alex, to name a few - who know how to take photos. ANY of them would produce work that is superior to this amateur-hour round-up of garden slugs and socks, for Pete's sake. Argh.....


Tour buses. I used to deride tour buses - the vehicle of the budget traveller - gazing passively out the window, listening to a static-y account of the passing scene; stopping for pee breaks and souvenir-shopping - no thanks. Then, we had an epic tour bus in Puebla, and it all changed. Climbing up the stairs of the double-decker bus, waving at people on the streets, ducking the low-hanging electrical wires and tree branches - now we're talking.
So, the Turibus in Mexico City proved irresistible. The Turibus has a hop-on, hop-off feature that is very handy, but difficult to execute if you are interested in covering three areas in one day. For 140 pesos (about 11 dollars), we had the option of visiting the Centro (historic area), Polanco (swank, upscale area) and South (University, Frida Kahlo's home, plus a huge swath of non-tourist Mexico City. That took us 6 hours, (due in part to constant grid-lock traffic) with just three stops to transfer buses.

First up - Centro Historico. We were joined by a raucous group of 14 multi-generational Mexican-Americans, who have lived in New Jersey for years and are back home to see the Pope. We had a lot of fun with them - they were excited by everything, but especially to see American symbols - Wendy's, Krispy Kreme, and the ubiquitous Starbucks - now everywhere in Mexico. This must surely be their flagship store.


Appealing street art


On to Polanco, one of Mexico City's wealthy neighbourhoods - home to billionaire Carlos Slim's museum, luxury stores and upscale restaurants, and fine homes. We passed by Porshe, Dolce & Gabbana, Max Mara and Cartier, and a deluxe shopping centre. We gawked at the handsome storefronts as our guide blared out that this was "the Rodeo Drive " of Mexico City. Needless to say, Polanco's privileged class was spared having us drive down their residential streets.



On to Coyoacan - the colourful and bohemian neighbourhood of Frida Kahlo and other current artists, musicians, writers and bon vivants. We drove by Frida's famous "Blue House", but this area is also characterized by pretty side streets, colourful homes, shops, cafes and restaurants and lovely parks, which makes for a full day's visit.



The south end of Mexico took us to the University, many museums of note, the Hippodrome, the Stadium - all worth visiting. This route also took us out of the comfort, familiarity and beauty of the standard tourist spots and through many typical Mexico City neighbourhoods. It was an eye-opener - these neighbourhoods are entirely more common than the rarefied small rectangle of land that comprises "tourist" Mexico City. The residents of these neighbourhoods do not have valet parking, and could not even be described as "up-and-coming." They are what they are - poor, disadvantaged, crowded and the reality for the majority.




Still so much to tell you about - I'll try and get these out in shorter, more frequent instalments. See you in a couple of days, but I'll leave you with a photo that has little artistic value - no hope of museum entry.


Posted by millerburr 20:51 Archived in Mexico

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This is great, particularly the bored witless guard with whom you tried to engage. Arty jargon and gobs of cloth! Miss you amigos!

by Alex

Such fun to see your photos and read your comments about D.F. Again, I need to branch out and get back to that amazing, crazy city! Maybe I'll start out there on my next visit to Oaxaca...then "chill" in quiet, charming Oaxaca!

by Marilyn Horn

loving all the photos and stories from you two seniors. That last pic gave a little extra giddy-up to my morning...

by derek

Stunning juxtaposition of a great city. Love the read and your photos! Carol

by Carol Martin

Is that a large bib on the gringo? excuse my voice...I'm a little horse

by Lorne Katz

Where to begin? First up - I would disagree with your last comment - I believe the photo is certainly museum quality although the two of you are much too young to be in a museum! Second - we feel we are right there with you but are equally bored with the cloth and plastic! Third - can hardly wait for more!

by Heather

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