Mexico City is everything one would expect from one of the biggest and most populated cities in the world. No matter how much I love and long for nature, there is an undeniable pulse, which only a big city has, toward which I am drawn – like a drug addict seeking his next high. The saturation of culture, the abundance and excess, the variety, the opportunity, the food, the women… a big city seems to have everything, and when you are deep within its cage it is easy to forget, for long periods of time, that you have not taken a deep breath in months. This is particularly true in this sprawling bowl of exhaust which we call Mexico City, where carpets of gray crawl ever higher upon the surrounding hills. Greens and Golds and Browns, all turn to gray with the continuous onslaught of a population which refuses to curb its reproduction for outdated Catholic bans on birth control. Every now and then a bright spot of pink, orange or red, but they are mere blips in the countless miles of gray concrete buildings.
Jorge, a brother of a friend from Ensenada, welcomed me into the frenzy on the very first night, and there we stayed until I left 3 weeks later. Most nights someone was over at his apartment, or we at one of his friends’, and with every gathering came drinking, smoking, singing, dancing and guitar playing. For countless nights we stayed up until the sun came up singing and laughing our hearts out. I have never been so reminded of Russians!
I have noticed this parallel between Russians and Mexicans before, but in Mexico City it was truly solidified. The large presence of communists, past and present, serves to further accentuate the parallel. During the height of Mexican art, in the 20’s, two of its foremost artists – Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo – were staunch supporters of communism (and even sheltered Trotsky in his exile). This means that so much of Mexico’s public art works, particularly murals, are of the Socialist Realism kind. Frida even decorated her corsets with hammers and sickles.
No matter the style, art in general stands at a very high level in Mexico – less for its collection of world masterpieces, and more for what it produces. Few Mexican artists have made it to worldwide fame, even of the 4 great muralists only one is truly known outside his country. But that says nothing of the quality of art found here. From little Ensenada, all the way to Oaxaca, I was constantly impressed by what I saw. Even modern artists in Mexico produce phenomenal work. There was, however, a strange dichotomy: as excellent as the art was, the curation and organization of the museums was generally quite poor. The organization of the pieces often made little sense; the lighting, with few exceptions, was horrible; and the amount of mislabeled and un-labeled pieces, or mistranslated labels, was astounding. This, however, did not stop me going to dozens of museums – all of which were treasure-troves of expression, color, evidence and history.
Some excellent examples of museums which are an absolute must, and not to be missed: Museum of Anthropology, Museum of Modern Art, Frida Kahlo House, Dolores Olmedo Museum, Templo Major, and Teotihuacan.
The enormous pyramids of Teotihuacan are an incredible sight. To walk down the ancient streets is to experience, in part, the grandeur of a society which flourished even before the Mexica (Aztecs). The site museum has excellent artifacts, and they are constantly revealing new buildings. Plaza Major, to the side of the cathedral, is the original center of the Mexica empire, from which pyramids the stones were taken to build the cathedral and plaza. You can literally look through layers of pyramids and see how the culture slowly grew and expanded in magnificence. The museum of Anthropology contains artifacts from the earliest settlers of the country all the way to the conquista. It’s breadth is overwhelming, as it covers every native group to have occupied the territory over the last 10,000 years, and therefore requires at least 2 days. The Dolores Olmedo museum is a treasure of Rivera’s and Kahlo’s smaller works, as well as a plethora of ancient artifacts. The grounds alone are worth a visit as they are beautifully groomed, and teeming with peacocks, geese, ducks, birds, hairless Mexican dogs… and other free roaming animals. The Frida Kahlo museum speaks for itself, and sometimes has special exhibitions of the family’s personal effects which give some insight into this spirited and revolutionary woman.
There was little else I could do besides go to museums as the city is quite expensive (for me). The wide range of fine food was as out of my range as it is for the average Mexican family. Luckily the markets serve delicious meals, and fresh squeezed juices, for around a dollar. The one thing I did splurge on – I could not help myself – was a concert at Bellas Artes – a theater worthy of its position in the capital of New Spain. I knew that it would be a very long time before I heard classical music again, so I had to go – another excellent decision!
For a person so rooted in European culture, big cities are a very real need. Most smaller towns in Central America do not have ballet or opera or art exhibitions or jazz. No matter how much I rather stay in the mountains, I’m inevitably drawn back to cities. I was also curious about one of the biggest Jewish communities in Latin America and decided to make my annual, random, trip to a synagogue. In a rare moment, I was unwelcomed somewhere, and of all places it was a synagogue. You can find the detail here.
I normally do not stay anywhere for too long, but in this case it was fate that I should. Jorge’s aunt was fighting breast cancer, and because I have experience with my mother’s two year battle, I readily offered to help. We spent most of a few days running from store to store looking for all the things she would need to follow the diet that in part cured my mother, and in part allowed her to withstand 2 years of chemo! I translated the diet into English, set her up with the food, and brought her a great book on how to help the fight with your mind (as most cancer is stress related). The whole family got together in the valiant effort to save her. This was all around Christmas – a perfect time to have everyone together, to feel the positive energy from those who care most about you. (For more information on how my mother beat her stage 4, spread throughout her breast, lungs, bones and lungs, cancer, please email me directly)
Christmas in Mexico City was a beautiful, if a little strange, time. The family kept most of the traditions, like the procession, call and response prayer of Mary asking to come into the home, the piñata, the traditional dishes like Bacalao, and of course singing and dancing. What gave it a kick was Jorge’s uncle, a chef who likes to make an occasional foray into producing gay porn films, who decided to stuff the piñata with little penis straws, condoms, lube, a ball-gag… you know, the traditional Christmas piñata stuffing. But the whole family had a blast – surely it was not his first time doing that. His greatest contribution was his artisanal Mezcal. Made from agave that can only grow wild on mountain slopes (all efforts to cultivate it have failed), it was the earthiest, most delicious Mezcal I have ever tasted – and I spent 3 weeks in Oaxaca (where Mezcal comes from) proving it. It was another night which lasted well into the morning, and was full of deliciousness of many kinds. I was truly beginning to feel that I had found another brother in Jorge.
But, inevitably, I was torn away with my need to continue. It is always hard to leave good people, but every once in a while it feels like a tearing apart. I’ve been fortunate enough to have made friends for life on my journey, and unfortunate enough to have had to leave every single one. I only pray the road, or the world, will bring us together again.