A Travellerspoint blog

The surreal, unreal vision of the brilliant Edward James

sunny 35 °C

Salvador Dali said of Mexico - "I will not go again to a country that is even more surreal than my paintings". The more we travel through Mexico, the more we understand Dali's sentiment. We drove to Xilitla to see the famous gardens of the late eccentric Edward James. To get there, we drove for eight hours through the high Sierra mountains; a trek that put the "odd" in odyssey.

We drove through many small towns. This one was having a fiesta, complete with an intriguing choice of rides.

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A group of 100 or so cyclists were taking part in a Ride for Jesus (rough translation) - as a lead-up to Easter. We wondered why such an event would be staged on twisty mountain roads with no shoulders - certainly passing cars and trucks showed no concern for their welfare. Further along we noticed Jesus on a cross, strapped a little unsteadily in the back of this van.

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Parts of the mountain roads were in such bad shape that we marvelled at the ability of big buses and service trucks to maneuver - our little car was able to easily switch lanes to avoid massive potholes. This colectivo was in front of us for a while - jammed to the rafters with passengers. Mexicans are so uncomplaining and accepting of inconveniences - we followed them for miles and never saw one of the men shift or move or look impatient.

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Finally, we arrived in Xilitla, (he-leet-la) and we were shocked by the town. Run-down, dirty, not one redeeming feature - not even a passable zocalo and cathedral. Our hearts sank. We had booked at the Hotel Dolores, which was painted a lurid orange, smelled of cleaning fluids and was run by a trio of thugs. One of the them grudgingly showed us a room the size of a high school locker and about as appealing. We fled.

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We discovered the Paraiso Encantado, just out of town and up the road from Las Pozas. Built on a hill, almost eaten up by vegetation, this hotel exactly matched our expectations for the area. The charming owner Mario led us past a large pool, up several stone steps to our unit, with a sweeping deck overlooking the jungle. We think we were the only ones there. It was electric - we were enveloped in jungle sounds - a steady thrum of insects, birds, and other mysterious jungle noises. Hummingbirds, chacalacas, parrots, and the shriek-y calls of a tropical bird with a red beak and yellow tail feathers. Butterflies of every colour and size.

Years ago I read about the mad world of Edward James and his surrealist sculptures in this remote corner of Mexico, and hoped one day we would find our way here. Nothing prepared us for the Heart of Darkness, acid-trip creation that greeted us the next morning at the Los Pozas entrance:

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Edward James was born in Scotland in 1907 to an American railroad magnate and a British aristocrat. He studied at Oxford, and immersed himself in a bohemian world where he became a patron to Salvador Dali, Leonora Carrington and Rene Magritte. He inherited a fortune and found himself in Mexico. After a chance meeting with a local man, Plutarco Gastelum, James moved to Xilitla, bought a plot of land, and the two men began the decades-long construction of the Sculpture Garden of Las Pozas. James (or Don Eduardo as he was known by his Mexican friends) employed over 150 locals to build walls, create paths, plant gardens, and fashion the sculptures. He paid all of them double wages, and gave some of the families free homes. Needless to say, he was much beloved by the locals. We found out all of this from Miguel, one of the Gastelum family members who grew up on the property and knew Edward James. He was watering the garden as we walked in, and stopped to talk at length about Edward James' life, including his love of animals. He told us stories of how Don Eduardo would walk around the property with an ocelot, flamingos or a boa constrictor. If you Google Edward James, you will find a wealth of information about him.

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We spent hours wandering the grounds - every path leads to another fantastic sight, and you have to pay attention so as not to miss any details. Las Pozas mean "the pools". A waterfall leads into a series of aquamarine pools that ring around one side of the property, and visitors are invited to swim. The pools are embellished with stairways leading nowhere, urns, columns and stone walls.

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We met up with a Mexican family who had jumped into the cold water, right under the waterfall - fully clothed - and were having a whale of a time. They tried to convince us to join them, but we just waded in.

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Many of the paths are Britain-inspired - narrow, with high stone walls.

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This foliage puts you back in Mexico - as you walk along clumps of steroid-sized ferns and fronds, there is no mistaking you are in the jungle.

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Staircases feature prominently in Las Pozas. Some are purely ornamental and whimsical, and lead nowhere.

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Others invite a climb, however precarious that might be. We tried to imagine this garden in Canada - it simply would not exist, due to health and safety rules, liability issues, etc. etc. There would be ropes and caution tape and guards and...it would be impossible.

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This woman was about 60 feet from the ground. She walked up those narrow stars without batting an eye.

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We met this young couple, from Joshua Tree, California. We had a chance to chat, shortly after we took this photo of them. They had dreamed of coming to Las Pozas for ten years, and wanted to make their private wedding vows to each other here. As transfixed as they were by the place, they still had time to discuss their mortification over Trump!

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Giant hands - possibly a model of Edward James' hands?

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A rare burst of colour

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This entrance way to the garden is in the shape of a giant engagement ring. When the sun hits it at a certain time of day, it illuminates and the prongs on the top resemble a diamond.

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An entranceway to another part of the garden.

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I'll leave you with a final story about our first dinner at Las Pozas. After we had checked into our hotel, we asked if there was a restaurant close by and our host told us we would find a restaurant at the far end of las Pozas. We drove down a long, bumpy dark road (the garden was closed), and eventually came to a point where we could hear music and see flickering candles. We parked, walked in total darkness down a path to find a restaurant set under a palapa, with jungle noises orchestrated to set off the strange music. A few tables were filled, including one with a young man loudly talking (at length) about the Voyage of the Kon Tiki. It felt like a set from Apocalpyse Now - our very own surreal moment. The food was fantastic, the beer was cold, and that dinner set the stage perfectly for what was to come.

We arrived in Jalpan yesterday - we'll send out another blog in a few days to tell you all about the Franciscan missions and the beauty of the Sierra Gorda mountains.

Posted by millerburr 05:32 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

From love in the ruins to climbing into thin air

sunny 22 °C

Let it be noted that we drove out of Mexico City during rush hour on a Thursday, not only without mishap but without getting lost. Not once did we stop at a gas station, or argue over directions. We simply moved out of our hotel, turned left, turned left again and we were on our way. Avenida Insurgentes took us through the heart of downtown to the outer suburbs with no more fuss than one name change. We just kept driving in the direction of Teotihuacan, (Los Piramides on the road signs), and an hour later, we were there.

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Teotihuacan is an extraordinary and significant site, and unless you are joining the spring equinox bucket-listers, it is large enough to wander past the crowds and imagine what life was like those many, many years ago. This is what we try to do when visiting ruins, until we are accosted by an endless and tireless stream of hawkers selling everything from onyx masks to jaguar cat calls (quite realistic) to cheap jewellery ("I made myself'). At one point, I became so exasperated, a vendor actually apologized. Those annoyances aside (everyone's got to make a living), we found Teotihuacan to be so engrossing - it compares very favourably with the many Yucatan sites.

Ancient Teotihuacan covered over 20 km.,and had a population of up to 65,000 people - a number of the homes are in a semi-intact state, with frescos still visible. The main area open to tourists is just about 2 kilometres, anchored by the Piramid de la Luna (the moon) and the massive Piramid del Sol (the sun) - the world's third-largest pyramid. The main promenade, the Calzada de los Muertos, anchors the two pyramids and connects the many tombs in between.

We began by climbing the smaller of the two - the Piramid de la Luna. This was our practice run for the much larger Piramid de la Sol - access to the top of this pyramid is blocked, but even reaching the second level affords incredible views.

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We were extremely fortunate on the day we went - the sky was clear, the view went for miles, and the temperature was in the low 20s. Even so, we both wore our broad sun hats, drank gallons of water and took it slowly. This was our next challenge - The Piramid de la Sol. The dots on the top are people. The steps (264, according to one jubilant young person) are high and vertical. There are three tableaus to rest, enjoy the view and take photos. That these pyramids and tombs exist at all is incomprehensible - no metal tools, no animals to haul and no wheel to build.

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And this was the view on the way down. Climbing up and down is aided by grabbing onto sturdy cables in the centre, although there were no end of kids running up and down effortlessly (and apparently without vertigo).

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I'm not sure if I'm paying for my sins of neglecting my gym workouts, but the combination of altitude and climbing almost vertical steps took its toll on me very quickly. I became quite winded and dizzy, but carried on.

This couple was my inspiration.

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They began the climb when we did. The wife was in a wheelchair, and while shaky, was able to walk a few steps unaided. We watched while the husband folded and stored the wheelchair, and then hoisted her onto his back, and proceeded to climb the stairs. We assumed they were just going to the first level, which would have been remarkable enough, but they climbed up slowly and steadily, and eventually reached the very top. The husband very tenderly put her down, and gave her a big kiss, with their friends cheering and taking photos. Such a moving example of love and courage and trust; if you have ever climbed up steep inclines with a heavy backpack, you know how easy it is to have weight shift, and struggle for balance. We tried to picture Stephen carrying me 264 steps up the pyramid and back down, but the image wasn't quite happening.

Teotihuacan has two excellent museums - we visited them both. The first was the Museo de los Pinturas -
Teotihuacan was famous for its frescoes and murals.


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The second was more comprehensive, with displays of death artifacts, and skeletons. Many bodies were buried in the fetal position, with their legs bound up to their bodies. This was intended to place them in the "birth" position for entrance to the next world.

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Art imitating life - a scale model of Teotihuacan below - Piramid de la Sol reflected above.

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From Teotihuacan, we drove to Real de Monte in a couple of hours - an old mining town high up in the mountains, and one of two Pueblo Magicos in the area. While this town was the scene of the very first miners strike in the Americas in 1776, it is noteworthy to tourists for the Cornish influence here. In the 19th century, a British company invented a singular boiler, which was used in Mexico. By the mid 20th century, Cornish miners arrived to work the mines and operate the machinery.

One of the innovations they brought as well to this small Mexican town were Cornish pasties ( known as pastes here) to take down into the mines for lunch. Dozens of shops and restaurants sell them, and we can't get enough of them.

Breakfast - meat, potato and onion paste, apple paste, and fresh cinnamon coffee. Dad - you would love these. We were given a tour of the restaurant's kitchen - they produce a massive number of pastes each day - about 15 sweet and savoury varieties - for $1 a piece.

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If ever I was considering a career in mining, this visit to Mina Acosta put an end to that idea. We piggybacked onto a school tour, which made it way more fun - forty 15-year-olds screamed and giggled through the whole tour. We began with some above-ground explanations from our excellent guide (he worked the mines for 5 years), and a solid overview of the machines, the working conditions and the depths the men descended to - five levels up to 500 metres

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And then we put on hard hats and entered the tunnel.

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Once inside, we walked through tunnels barely high enough for average-sized people. Dark. Damp. Claustrophobic. And we were only at the first level - we did not descend down to the level where the miners worked. Our guide talked about accidents and deaths and the plague of silicosis. He turned off the lights so we were in utter blackness (hence the screaming teenagers) - it was a very convincing impression of what a miner's day would entail.

We were mightily relieved to see daylight again, and explore the rest of Real del Monte. It is a small, compact town - not a lot to do here, but the streets were twisty and narrow and fun to wander through.

A view of the town from the upper level lookout

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Street scenes

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Today, we drove a short distance to El Chico National Park and the small town of Mineral del Chico. El Chico is a 3000-hectare park, with great hiking trails, pine trees and crisp, fresh air. If it wasn't for the cactus and agave plants, we might have been in British Columbia.

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We walked along for about 40 minutes, with gradually increasing incline and viewpoints.

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And then we ran into this little fellow. Matted and thin, but confident on the trails, he is not lost, but lives here. He was wary of us, but did drink water out of my hand. This is the very first little Mexican dog that has stolen my heart, but he was not interested in coming along with us. Somehow, he has found a home in the mountains.

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We talked to this lovely family from Queretaro who were here for the weekend to hike in the mountains. One of the daughters spoke perfect English (learned in her high school), and they led the way to the summit.

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Our reward for the climb. Unfortunately, there was some cloud cover, so our view was not as far-reaching as it might have been,
but spectacular nonetheless.

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There was this cross planted at the top of the summit. We don't know if this gentleman died up here, or if it is a commemorative cross
to mark a place he loved to visit while alive.

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We had to traverse a bit - facing front, on our backsides, going backwards -
whatever worked - until we hit the stairs again.

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After our climb down, we headed 10 km. into the very picturesque little mining village - Mineral Del Chico, for lunch.

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Yet another Pueblo Magico, this sweet little town offers refuge for city-weary tourists. This is the low season - but from April on, the cars stream out of Mexico City northward for a dose of fresh mountain air and outdoor recreation. Their motto is "Pueblo chico, gente grande" (Small town, great people) - which we found to be true. There are a number of cabins for rent and small fishing lodges; we also saw a number of mountain bikers setting out. The twisty hairpin road in to the village would be pure adrenaline on a motorcycle.

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We leave tomorrow for Xilitla, about 5 hours north - to discover the Heart of Darkness garden visions of a mad English eccentric who hung out with Salvador Dali. See you again in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 17:46 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

No more museums, please - you're killing us

sunny 24 °C

We have hit the museum tipping point in Mexico City. For over a week we have set out, map in hand, to discover as much of the city as possible, and much of that discovery has been through museums. Every day has felt like a perfect treasure hunt - the old, the new, the people, the dogs, the parks, the art, the food...the Pope! Today, we set out to Chapultepec Park (home of many museums) to visit the Castillo de Chapultepec, which houses the National Museum of History, and it may have been the endless portraits and gilded furniture, but we hit a wall. Stephen had to go outside and sit down.

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Let me back up to a couple of days ago when we visited the renowned Museum of Anthropology, set in Chapultepec Park. If you are in Mexico City for 36 hours - this is the one you don't miss. We had been there five years ago, but couldn't wait to revisit - you simply cannot see it all in one day. The entrance grounds and setting are spectacular - cut stone, a centre waterfall feature and a wide pond filled with grasses and a handful of fat and lazy koi. (it is so much fun watch the excitement a dozen fish can elicit among small children and their parents.)

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Waterfall feature outside museum

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The museum is divided into two sides on two floors, and the displays are in both Spanish and English. The first floor begins with pre-Hispanic Mexico, at its evolutionary stage, and follows around to show the transition to agricultural communities, Teotihuacan, and how the people of Oaxaca, the Gulf Coast, the Mayas, the west and the north influenced those regions. The corresponding upper floors illustrate how contemporary indigenous cultures developed and are practised today. Hunting, gathering, domestic life, warfare, music, art, costumes, and many other artifacts are presented in a logical, chronological and easy-to-follow format.

We began at the beginning:

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The serpent pyramid, where victims were sacrificed (their skeletons are displayed in the back)

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Great Big Head (Olmec, from the Veracruz area)

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Burial shafts. The deceased were buried with artifacts, significant to them and to helping them enter the next world.

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Jewel-encrusted teeth - a sign of wealth and status. So there, Kanye - nothing new about the grill.

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Small children praying for family members. In some indigenous communities, the church floors are covered in grasses or pine needles. Different candles indicate varying degrees of illness.

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This display shows the clothing and toys typical of this indigenous group. I just love the face on this beautiful child.

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Five hours later, and we left the museum, wanting more...but not at that time. Lucky Mexico City residents who can pop in (for free) on Sundays and spend an hour or two at their leisure. On the subject of museum admission costs in Mexico - they are often free to nationals on Sundays, and many have no charge at all. We have gained free entrance to a number of lesser museums by showing our passports (to prove our senior status), but even a major museum like this one is just 60 pesos - less than five dollars. Another of Mexico's delightful contradictions - the water is undrinkable, but the art is for everyone.

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Today, we had two goals in mind - to see the Castillo de Chapultepec, which houses the National Museum of History, and then head over to the Condesa neighbourhood for their Tuesday market. The Castillo has had a few incarnations - set high on a hill, it was a military academy, then home to Emperor Maximilian and Empress Charlotte, and became the presidential residence until it became a museum in 1939. The Castillo and grounds are as grand as you might expect of regal residences, and the panoramic view of Mexico City is worth the climb. First, you have to get there:

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Views of the Castillo, front and back

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The Castillo is surrounded by tiled terraces on one level. This is a view from one of the piazzas.

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A portion of the garden

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The tower in the middle of the Castillo

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Inside the Castillo, one of the main staircases

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The upper-level terrace

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A disturbing painting that combines ancient and modern struggles

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Almost as disturbing to me - the ubiquitous selfie - because there is no sight, natural or man-made, historical or priceless,
that cannot be improved by one's own image

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That first photo we started with, of Stephen having a time out on the bench? That was the end of our time at the Castillo today - he simply could not look at one more portrait or another display case of old swords. I joined him a bit later and we agreed we both had a serious case of museum fatigue. We walked over to the Condesa area, and headed for their Tuesday food market.

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Along with the many stands of unrefrigerated meats and chickens, sitting within spitting distance of passers-by, dogs and flies, we came upon this curious sight. Chopped vegetables were piled up in great mounds, occasionally straightened by the vendor's ungloved hands. Since we've been cautioned to wash all veggies carefully, and avoid strawberries altogether, would we be flirting with Hep A or E coli?

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Our lunch - some delicious concoction created by taking corn tortillas, moving them around on a grill until they are a bit blackened and crispy, topping with mushrooms and grilled vegetables and cheese - so good.

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Our friends Joy and Oscar are also here for a couple of days - on their way home after over five weeks in Puebla. We've met up for dinner and swapped stories. We all share a love of Mexico, and they have been a very welcome connection to home. Tomorrow is our last day in Mexico City - it has been an amazing experience to be here but we're ready to leave the (unbelievably enormous and all-encompassing) big city and switch gears again. On Thursday we'll spend the day in Teotihuacan, and then move onto Real del Monte - an old silver mining town that was largely populated by Cornish miners. There will be hiking and rivers and cold mountain air. See you in a few days.

Posted by millerburr 18:37 Archived in Mexico Comments (5)

Love, hate, anguish,loss and hope

all in the first week in Mexico City

sunny 24 °C

We've been here one week, and experienced every emotion known to humankind. Each day brings brand new experiences and demands a high level of energy to take it all in. What the street life does not provide, the museums offer in abundance - lots to think about. The outstanding Museum of Memory and Tolerance moved us both deeply - it bears permanent witness to the horrors of seven genocides.

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The largest section is devoted to the Holocaust, from the desperation of 30's Germany to HItler's rise to the Nuremberg Trials. The photos, short movie clips and artifacts were extremely difficult to look at - piles of children's shoes, dead bodies thrown into trenches, faded pieces of cloth with yellow stars, bunks filled with starving, dying human beings - all the more painful as that history is so well-known to us. Included is a portion of a box car that took Jews to their deaths. We walked up onto the platform and felt a semblance of something. I could not bring myself to take photos. That portion of the exhibit finished with the words NUNCA MAS! (Never More).

But of course, that was not the case, as we walked through horrifying exhibits with vivid photos outlining the genocides of the former Yugoslavia, Guatemala, Rwanda, Cambodia, Darfur and the 1915 Armenian genocide. The next section of the museum is devoted to Tolerance, and helped to illustrate how we may not even understand our own biases and prejudices - it was quite illuminating. This trip is helping to bust up some of our preconceived notions about Mexico and Mexicans - my impressions have changed a lot, even from last year. I'm losing those easy stereotypes.

Outside the museum is a wish tree, and in the spirit of peace and understanding, is an invitation to post wishes.
There are hundreds of little notes fluttering in the breeze.

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I selfishly and superstitiously used this chance to post my wish for my children.

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In the same museum is a temporary exhibit by Yoko Ono, called Tierra and Esperanza. It was a relief, after the emotional wringer we had been put through for the past three hours. I don't know much about Yoko Ono, and a lot of her exhibit is silly (A ladder with magnifying glass attached points out the word "Yes"). I'm realizing I do not possess the patience for wading through conceptual art, and this provoked a huge discussion with Stephen and me about the meaning of "art" (whole other blog posting, obviously).

While this message seemed counter-intuitive after witnessing the effects of seven genocides, we had to admire her optimism.

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In another part of the city, an outdoor exhibit of a Yoko Ono retrospective included this famous photo
of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's "bed-in."

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With the subject of hate out of the way, let's move on to love. Billionaire Carlos Slim, one of the world's wealthiest men, built a museum as a love letter to his late wife, Soumaya. It houses their extraordinary collection of art, which include coins, paintings, miniatures, and sculptures, including the world's second-largest Rodin collection. The museum design is both striking and controversial, much like its benefactor.

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The interior of the museum follows the same, sinewy curves of the exterior.

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Rodin

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Salvador Dali

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Van Gogh

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Ginny filling a frame

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Slim has donated the Soumaya Museo as a gift to the Mexican people, with free admission and free events and concerts. There is also a glossy magazine ( free of charge) outlining The Carlos Slim Foundation's many charities. It's hard to love a billionaire in a poor country, and as it has been said, "if you have to talk about it, it ain't charity." I don't have the foggiest idea where Carlos Slim fits in the hearts and minds of the average Mexican, but his museum lacked focus and passion, in our humble opinion(s). It felt like a pretty warehouse, filled with pretty things.

Soumaya Museo is in Polanco - an upscale neighbourhood filled with beautiful parks, leafy streets, high-end restaurants and snazzy shops. We stopped for lunch on our way to the museum, grabbed an outside table at the popular Le Pain Quotidien, and enjoyed the people-watching almost as much as the food.

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This park runs the length of three city blocks - a delight on a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon.

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The park was busy with kids, dog-walkers and a bridal shoot.

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The enduring appeal of Tiffany's

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A typical Polanco home

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And finally - ending on a high note - Papa! We are neither Catholic nor religious, but it was hard to resist the massive excitement that the papal visit had on most residents of Mexico City. There were a few protests and some griping about the road closures, but mainly, it was a very big deal. We did not go to the zocalo yesterday for His Holiness' address to the people - it felt way too intimidating to be part of those crowds. Today, our intention was to take part in the Sunday bike ride - we would rent bikes and join the throngs on the Paseo de Reforma (closed to cars every Sunday for five hours.)

As we approached the street, and saw dozens and dozens of police and hundreds of people lined up, we knew something was up. A major highway was closed and everyone was waiting for Papa to arrive up the ramp, onto Reforma, enroute to his afternoon appointment. I took a photo of the highway - probably the one time this year it has looked like this. (check out the smog - it was bad this morning)

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Our timing was perfect! Within fifteen minutes, the radios started crackling, the cops closed in, and we could see the procession coming up the ramp - a motorcycle cop leading the way, with the Popemobile in full view. I can't believe how excited I was - I saw a couple of women crying and I was not that far from shedding a tear myself. Stephen took both Pope photos - we loved this one. Not even the cops are immune to Papa. The police officer who is directly in front of the Popemobile (and presumably supposed to be watching the crowds), is taking a photo!

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With bike riding off the table, we headed over to the unbelievable Museum of Anthropology, and spent five hours there. This will be the next blog - was to much to include here. Well as we were heading home, dang if the Pope was not coming back down the same road, and we had a second chance to see him again. He looked a little tired this time around.

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It will be hard to top this day. See you again in a day or so.

Posted by millerburr 19:44 Archived in Mexico Comments (8)

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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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

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

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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.

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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.....

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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.

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Appealing street art

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Posted by millerburr 20:51 Archived in Mexico Comments (6)

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