Wednesday, December 18, 2013

complex Mexico City

This December I was lucky enough to have to go to Mexico City for work, which meant I could have some free time to be with family, to meet new family members, to enjoy things I love about the city, and even to see a new thing or two...


It's a cliché, I guess, but one of the best things about going to Mexico is the food.  And, for me, being vegan, it's certain specific items, mostly local and basic and that are difficult to find in restaurants even in Mexico City.  And I can definitely say this trip was a huge success.  First of all, at a family lunch they prepared an avocado soup with chili and maize strips!  That was SO good! and unexpected!  and perfectly spicy! and naturally fully vegan!   Score!   And next day?  Next day I went with my family to Coyoacán's Market (Coyoacán is this very colonial, nicely preserved part of Mexico City) to have quesadillas (sort of like tacos, I guess) with mushrooms, squash blossom (I love that!) and my favourite, huitlacoche (a maize fungus that is dark and has an earthy flavour), all three smothered in rich, just made, hot sauces.  Superb, man.  Superb.  And to quench my Toronto induced caffeine addiction?  The Mexican equivalent of Starbucks, Cielito Querido, which has surprisingly good espresso, is 100% Mexican, and has plenty of folkloric touches to give it a very distinctive ambiance.   Triple score!  (quadruple, when you take into account my sister's vegan eggplant pizza, of which I ate more than my fair share)  


Additionally, being a city of its size (20 million plus inhabitants?), there's art everywhere.  There's urban art, like a mural I saw at the Insurgentes subway station and which included images of a winged shirtless guy holding two rainbow sticks and numerous peculiar characters.  Or like some gigantic alebrijes (folk art sculptures of fantastical creatures) almost two stories tall on a street in downtown Mexico City.  As well as a shocking and stark exhibition at La Domus del Ausente (The Domus, or Home, of the Missing One)...  

There's a town in Colombia where bodies, or parts of bodies, victims of violence of different sorts, float through, and people from that town "choose" bodies or parts of bodies to make a niche for them, to maybe name them or give them their own surnames, to look after them and their souls, in exchange for favours and miracles.  This tragic effort of remembrance of the unknown ones is photographed by Manuel Echavarría, and the colourful niches only serve as an even cruder contrast with the horror behind them.   

On the other hand, there's Ciudad Juárez, in the north of Mexico, on the US border, where hundreds of women and girls have been murdered since the nineties ("las muertas de Juárez", "Juárez's dead women").  Mayra Martell documents that, through photography and video.  She takes photos of the bedrooms and objects of many of the girls, left intact by their parents in vane hope of their return.  She photographs a "missing person" poster for one of them, and how it deteriorates with time...

It took me a good three long blocks of deep breathing and distracting myself with other thoughts to keep from breaking into tears, I was really distraught by that exhibition.  Not all art can be colourful and happy, can it?      


I had to enjoy my beloved Coyoacán, of course!  Its old cobblestone streets, the old haciendas and churches, the roots of ancient trees breaking through the sidewalk...  I go back there every time I visit the city, and I never get tired of it.  Coyoacán simply rocks.  But I also saw something, in a different part of the city, I had passed by a number of times in that isolating box we call a car, and which I had never stopped to look at: the Chapultepec Aqueduct.  Though the remaining part is colonial, it actually replaced an Aztec one!  Meaning:  very, very, VERY old.

Also, I couldn't skip revisiting our Angel of Independence.  The place where Mexico City goes to celebrate soccer victories, to demonstrate against abuse, to celebrate diversity.  Built for Mexico's first centennial as an independent nation, it remains one of Mexico City's most iconic images, and vastly overshadows the monument for the bicentennial, which is so shamefully nondescript I decided not to post a photo of it.

And, for a nice change of character, right by the Palace of Fine Arts a bronze cast of Louise Bourgeois' Maman, her gigantic spider sculpture.   


Then again, going back to Mexico also means facing one of colonialism's most damaging after-effects:  an impoverished class composed of mostly native and mixed ancestry Mexicans.  Mexico is doing its fair bit to try to revert the oppressing classism and racism that used to prevail, but it's probably too late for most indigenous languages.  Years ago, the government of Mexico City was considering making Nahuatl, the Aztec language, part of Mexico's active culture, giving it new life and having all government officials learn it and learn about indigenous culture.  Big dream, no results.  A real shame.   

By the way, before anybody gets offended (why?) for my choice of MAIZE for this part, please remember that one of the creation myths of mankind in Mexico involves the gods using maize to create humankind...


If the revitalization of indigenous languages has a hard, long road ahead, at least the acceptance of queerness has made incredible strides in Mexico City.  Yes, of course, I expected to see numerous gay bars and clubs, and I was not at all surprised to see young people expressing same-sex affection freely.  But I also spotted older people, 50+, doing the same!   And when talking with straight people, well, it simply seems that non-straights have become quite a non-issue!  I mean, intolerant fascists breed everywhere, but every time I go back to this city I can tell it's become more and more inclusive, so kudos, Mexico City! 


Let me end this post about this great trip (work was gruelling, but also very productive and positive, but this is not a blog about work, ok?) with a video from a religious procession I witnessed on a Sunday.  I believe it was in honour of a Virgin of Coyoacán, though it could have also been a procession on its way to the Guadalupe Basilica, where the Virgin of Guadalupe was going to be revered on December 12th.  Whichever it was, it was colourful, and vibrant, and completely mestizo.   I considered myself extremely lucky to have seen it, as well as to have enjoyed so many beautiful, rich, complex parts of Mēxihco Tenōchtitlan...

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