Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Cuernavaca - of beauty and ugliness

A couple of weekends ago my dad invited my habib and me to visit in Cuernavaca, a city just an hour or so away from Mexico City. Quite a mix of experiences, as it turned out.

the adventurous cook

My dad's partner has this one quality I adore: she never shies away from experimenting with vegan versions of her dishes for me. There's not a single time she hasn't made sure I can have what everybody else is having, but veganized! And so this time I got to enjoy, for example, vegan "chiles en nogada", which is a very traditional dish (prepared almost exclusively in September) consisting of poblano chilis stuffed with a mixture of minced beef and pork meat, fruits and spices, topped with a walnut-based cream sauce and pomegranate seeds. Not very vegan at all, and the fact that she didn't mind tackling a dish where she had to modify both filling (she used soy meat) and sauce (she used almond and soy milk, I think), and to still end with a tasty dish? Hats off!

Plus, for breakfast the day we left she made a rather simple dish with beans, tortilla and a sauce. But the beans were perfectly spicy, and the sauce she used for the tortilla was made from corn smut (called huitlacoche in Mexico) and it was superb! I had never had a huitlacoche sauce! absolutely delicious! 

So, yeah, food-wise, this trip was a success. I guess the combination of being pampered and good cooking skills is unbeatable, eh?

the city of eternal spring

This was summer, right? Late summer. But flowers were in bloom absolutely everywhere. Cuernavaca has a much milder weather than Mexico City (well, a bit on the warm side, for my taste, but that's weird cold-loving me), so vegetation has an ideal place to grow crazy. In particular, I was fascinated by some flame-orange flowers I had never seen in Mexico City, aptly called flamboyán ("flamboyant", also called flame trees in some places). They were all over the place! And if you see them in spring, like cherry blossoms you get to enjoy trees that are all flowers and no leaves. But even in late summer, surrounded by green leaves, they were beautiful. On top of the sheer exuberance of the place.

a twisted idea of an eco-park

Not surprisingly, not everything was love and beauty and happiness. We visited the Chapultepec Ecological Park (in fact, the photos above were taken there). And I can't figure why in the world anyone would name this place "ecological". The had animals in cages, in small, confining, depressing cages. Eagles trapped in a space equivalent to a two story small apartment. A coati (related to raccoons) pacing obsessively back and forth in a clearly demented state. A xoloitzcuintle dog (also called Mexican hairless dog) sitting, motionless, oblivious to us, unable to socialize, exhibited as an object. Carp in a stagnant lake with plastic bottles and garbage. Plenty of shops, of concrete, of man-made structures. Nothing could be further from ecology and nature. It was a sore thing to see, and pretty much spoiled the beauty I had found in the flamboyán flowers. 

Costco beats cultural heritage

Another nasty surprise was a visit to the place where a famous hotel, the Casino de la Selva, once stood. It used to hold numerous murals, including by famous artist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and its gardens and architecture were appreciated too. Costo bought it in 2001 and, despite an agreement to preserve the cultural and archaeological heritage of the site, the company went ahead and began tearing everything down for its projected mall. Later on, activism managed to put a stop to the wanton destruction. Theoretically.

A part of the building was saved, and a museum built around it, for the murals. We found it very hard to get in because, though the museum was still open for another half hour, the ticket-seller couldn't sell tickets anymore because, well, you know, because ticket sales end half an hour before closing, despite there being no written notice anywhere whatsoever. When I implied I would have to call their office to enquire about their having the ticket-booth open yet refusing to sell tickets, they reconsidered. Then, they sternly warned us that absolutely no photography under any circumstance was allowed in the grounds. Again, no signs anywhere about that, and this was a museum mostly for children, so it seemed weird that parents would not be able to photograph their children participating in the museum's activities. But we wated to get in, so we accepted.

Once inside, we realized why they were so insistent on no photography by us who had no children and were clearly there for the murals: in the ones that remained, there were countless missing chunks and visibly scraped sections. Not a single wall or section was spared from damage. And the Siqueiros murals that were supposed to be in a special hall? Nowhere to be found. Not even the staff had any idea about any murals by Siqueiros. Shame on all the people who allowed this to happen, I hope you're enjoying your frozen enchiladas. Oh, the photos below? Well, where corruption and ignorance reign, sometimes you just need to ask the right person in the right tone with the right wording, and I put on my most charming and innocent act and got a young and sympathetic member of staff to agree that, since there were no signs banning photography, it was allowed. And I quickly snatched plenty of photos before sanybody changed their mind.

All in all, it was a good trip. Yes, despite animal cruelty, pollution, and lack of respect for Mexico's cultural heritage. After all, I was fed lovingly, I saw my dad happy and active and living his life fully, I saw flowers I had never seen, and even the ugly stuff leads to reflection and to broader knowledge.

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