Mexico City

Mexico City

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

New in the Neighborhood

When I first started staying in the Nápoles neighborhood a year ago, I noticed that nearby there was a large restaurant that had gone out of business.  On my last trip I saw that major renovation was being done, and I wondered what would be going into the building.  On this trip I had my answer.  A very large and very elegant "cantina" has opened.  This is not some low class bar, but a very ritzy establishment.

On one façade of the building they are in the process of painting a mural which portrays the "cantina" full of Mexican celebrities.

Even Alejandro can't identify all the people in the mural, but some of them are obvious.

The painter Frida Kahlo is partying with the film star Cantinflas, the "Charlie Chaplin of Mexico".

With his big mustache and bigger sombrero, this is the hero of the Mexican Revolution, Emiliano Zapata.

The arched eyebrow is a giveaway that this is the screen actress María Félix, the "Elizabeth Taylor" of Mexico.

Fortunately this new place is a couple blocks away from my condo, so I won't have to listen to all the late night noise on the weekends.

Object of the Object : Presidential Campaigns

Given that Mexico City has over 150 museums, it is not surprising that I have not been to all of them.  Last Friday I added another to the list of museums that I have visited.  I went to the neighborhood of Roma Norte to a place with the odd name of "el Museo del Objeto del Objeto" (the Museum of the Object of the Object).  It has an enormous collection of all sorts of everyday objects with only a small portion displayed at any one time.

The museum is housed in one of the old houses built in the early 20th century when Roma Norte was one of the most fashionable neighborhoods in the city.

This is a presidential election year in Mexico, so it is fitting that the current exhibit is a display of photos, posters, newspaper clippings and memorabilia from over a century of presidential campaigns.  Using some of the items in the exhibit, here is my very simplified presentation on Mexican presidential politics.

The museum exhibit begins with the year 1910.  The aging Mexican dictator, Porfirio Díaz, announced in that year that he was going to run for a seventh term.

As a result, Mexicans of many political persuasions rose up against Díaz, and he was deposed in the Mexican Revolution.  One of the most important precepts of the Revolution was "No reelection".  Today Presidents may serve only one six year term.

However, instead of one man ruling the country for term after term, Mexico got one-party control of the government.   PRI (Partido Revolucionario Institucional - the Institutional Revolutionary Party) governed the country for decades.  There was never any doubt as to who was going to win the presidency.  It was always the PRI candidate who was selected by the outgoing President.  Nevertheless, they still went through all the hoopla of a campaign with posters and buttons and campaign speeches.

 (By the way, the X through the PRI symbol does not mean opposition to PRI.
It is telling voters to mark their ballot for PRI.)

There were other political parties.  They just weren't allowed to win.   The major opposition was from the conservative, largely Catholic, party, PAN (Partido Acción Nacional - National Action Party).  In most Presidential elections PAN was "allowed" to get around 10% of the vote in the official tallies.

PRI's monolithic control of the government began to slip in the 1980s.  People were disgusted with the government's pathetic response to the disastrous Mexico City earthquake of 1985.

In 1988 the PRI candidate was Carlos Salinas de Gotari.

He was opposed by Cuauhtémoc Cárdenas, a politician who had left PRI to lead a left-wing coalition.  He was the son of former President Lázaro Cárdenas, one of the few 20th century Presidents who was genuinely respected.

The official results showed Salinas de Gotari receiving  a scant 50% of the vote against 31% for Cárdenas.  It is widely believed that the election was stolen from Cárdenas, but even if there were no fraud, it was still remarkable that PRI would concede that many votes to the opposition parties.

In 1994 after the assassination of the PRI candidate Luis Donald Colosio, Ernest Zedillo was quickly chosen to run for PRI.

The official results gave PRI a plurality, but not a majority, with only 48% of the vote.  PAN came in second.  Cárdenas ran again but only got 16%.

In the year 2000 it all fell apart for PRI.  The PAN candidate, Vicente Fox won a plurality with 42% of the vote, and his coalition also won Congress.  PRI only got 31%.  Cárdenas gave it another try, but only got 16% again.

It was the first time that PRI had conceded defeat.  The peaceful transfer of power was a milestone in Mexican politics.

The year 2006 saw PAN continue in power but by the slimmest of pluralities.  PAN candidate Felipe Calderón won 35.91% of the vote against 35.29% for Andrés Manuel López Obrador.  Popularly known as AMLO, López Obrador is a left wing politician who was the popular mayor of Mexico City.  He contested the results, organized protests, and declared himself the legitimate President... all of which weakened his credibility.

2012 saw PRI trying to make a comeback.  Candidate Enrique Peña Nieto said that his party was a new PRI free of the corruption of the past.  AMLO ran once again, and the PAN candidate, Josefina Vázquez was hoping to be Mexico´s first ¨Presidenta

PRI won the election with 38% of the vote.  AMLO got 31%, and once again contested the election on the basis of irregularities.  (PRI was handing out gift cards to one of the major department stores during the campaign. No corruption in the new and improved PRI?  Yeah, right.)  PAN trailed with 25% of the vote.  

Peña Nieto's administration has been plagued with corruption, and his popularity is abysmal.  As a result, PRI is running a distant third in this year´s polls.  Running for a third time is AMLO.  He has created a new party called "Morena", and he is leading in the polls.  It will be interesting to see what happens this year in July´s election.  Most certainly no one will receive a majority since besides the three major candidates there are two independent candidates this year.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Lunch at the Mall... And a Homework Assignment

After my ride on the new Metrobus route, I took refuge from an afternoon rain shower in the Reforma 222 Shopping Mall.  There I had lunch / afternoon dinner at "El Bajío", a chain of restaurants that specializes in traditional Mexican cooking.

I began my meal with what is known as a "sopa seca"... a dry soup... a rice or pasta dish.  I ordered the "fideos al chipotle".

"Fideos" are similar to vermicelli, but cut into smaller pieces.  The noodles are cooked in a tomato sauce flavored with chipotle.  The dish is garnished with avocado, cheese and "crema".  It is my favorite dry soup.

For my main course I ordered chicken breast with "mole almendrado"... a sauce flavored with almonds.

Both dishes were excellent.

I was seated at one of the tables in the mall rather than inside the restaurant.  As I was finishing my meal I noticed a young fellow who was looking at me.  He would turn away and then look at me again.  Finally he approached me and timidly asked if we could talk in English for three minutes.  He was a high school student, and this was an assignment from his English teacher.  The students were supposed to find someone who was a native English speaker and have a short conversation with that person.  He asked me where I was from and why I was in Mexico.  He didn't understand everything I said, and I had to translate a few words to Spanish.  For example, he didn't understand "retired" when I said that "I am a retired Spanish teacher."

As a former language teacher, I was more than happy to help the guy out with his assignment. 

The Green Indians

As I mentioned in the previous post, the northern terminus of the Metrobus Route 7 (as well as the Metrobus Route 1) is called "Indios Verdes" (Green Indians).  The name comes from the two statues of Aztec warrior emperors that stand in a nearby park.  (The bronze acquired a greenish patina with age.)

The statues were cast for the Mexican exhibit at the 1889 World's Fair in Paris but instead were placed along the Paseo de la Reforma.  However, the upper class, white elites objected to the statues of Indians in their neighborhood, and the sculptures were moved to the northern entrance of Mexico City.  For many years they stood astride the Pan American Highway welcoming visitors to the city.  In 2005 they were moved to the nearby park where they are today.

According to what I have read, the neighborhood where the park is located is quite dangerous.  I intended to disembark from the Metrobus and immediately take the next bus south without exploring the area at all.  However, as the bus passed by the park it didn't look intimidating.  It may be dangerous by night, but in broad daylight I saw no suspicious characters lurking around, just ordinary folks, young and old, male and female, going about their business.  So, when I got off the bus, I went to the dusty park across the street to get a closer look at those "Green Indians".

The figures are about twelve feet in height and weigh over 600 pounds each.

"Los Indios Verdes" are not the only statues in the park.  Nearby is a monument to "Mestizaje"... the mixing of the indigenous and Spanish blood which created the Mexican people of today.   On either side are statues of a native warrior and a Spanish conquistador.  Atop a pillar between them is a woman who represents the "mestizos" who emerged from those two peoples.

Just beyond that is a fountain, although the water was not turned on.  Surrounding the fountain are three sculptures which portray three of the most famous indigenous dances of Mexico...

the Quetzal dancer from the state of Puebla...

the Feather Dancer from the state of Oaxaca...

and the Deer Dancer of the Yaqui tribe in the deserts of northern Mexico.

Some impressive statuary in a sadly neglected park.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Sky Bus

In February the long-awaited and often controversial Route 7 of Mexico City's Metrobus system was inaugurated.  A fleet of 150 double-decker buses known as "Sky Buses" travel along the city's most famous boulevard, the Paseo de la Reforma, and beyond, all the way to the northern limits of the city.  I was eager to try out the new route, and one day last week I spent a good portion of the day riding the bus back and forth and back again.  

First I took the subway to the National Auditorium station because from there it is just a few steps down Reforma to one of the new Metrobus stops.  The "Auditorio" stop is the second stop on the route, and I figured that at that point the bus would not be too crowded.  I wanted to be able to ride on the upper level, and that is only permitted if there are seats available.  No standing is allowed upstairs or on the stairs.  My plan worked out as I had hoped, and there were plenty of seats.  One word of advice to "gringos" of normal stature... you will need to crouch down a bit as you reach the upper level.  The roof is not very high.

I apologize for the quality of the photos.  Trying to take pictures from a moving bus through a window that is reflecting light and is not perfectly clean is problematic.  Even when the bus stopped there would often be a tree or a lamppost in the middle of my view.  (This is a major reason why I dislike those tourist "hop-on, hop-off" buses that are found so many cities, including Mexico City.)

The bus proceeded along the tree-lined Paseo de la Reforma.

I had a face-to-face view of some of the statues of historic figures that line the boulevard.

As the bus continues northward, we leave the elegant portion of the boulevard well-known to tourists, and pass through less attractive neighborhoods.  We are on the fringes of Tepito, one of the city's most notorious districts.

There were interesting examples of street art on some of the buildings.

Even along this stretch of the boulevard, there are "glorietas" (traffic circles) with monuments such as this one in honor of South American independence hero José de San Martín.

I moved toward the front of the bus where I could get pictures through the front window.  The Paseo de la Reforma changes names and becomes the Calzada de los Misterios.

Misterios leads to the Basilica of Guadalupe.  Along the boulevard there are fifteen shrines at which pilgrims headed to the Basilica recite the rosary.  They were built in the late 1600s although today about half of them of modern reconstructions of the originals.

The bus route passes the Basilica of Guadalupe, which is dedicated to Mexico's patron saint...

...and reaches the end of the line near the northern city limits at the "Indios Verdes" stop.  The stop is named after the two large bronze statues of Aztec warriors which stand in the nearby park.  I will discuss the history of these statues in my next post.

I boarded another bus to go back.  This time I grabbed a seat in the first row to take photos through the front window.

These makeshift tents house homeless families.  Are they victims from last September's earthquake?

We return to the "nice" part of the Paseo de la Reforma with its modern skyscrapers.

From my front row seat I am able to get some better shots of the sights along this stretch of the Paseo de la Reforma.

The Monument to Christopher Columbus...

the Monument to Cuahtémoc, the last Aztec emperor...

jacarandas along Reforma...

the traffic circle which, for obvious reasons, is known as "La Palma" and in the background the Monument to Independence...

a closer view of the Independence Monument...

and the Diana Fountain.

The route nears its end as it passes through Chapultepec Park.

The monolithic statue of Tlaloc, the rain god, stands in front of the National Museum of Anthropology.

The southern terminus of the route is at the Campo Marte, the base for the Presidential Guard and a venue for military and government events.  It is marked by an enormous Mexican flag and a monument commemorating the 100th anniversary of the Mexican army.

At this point it was starting to rain.  So I hopped onto the Metrobus a third time and took it to the Reforma 222 Shopping Mall where I had lunch and waited out the rain.