Karen, a friend who I met in Calgary, Alberta, while doing my Masters in Visual Arts, spent a few years in Truro, Nova Scotia after we graduated, with her husband and son. They then went off to the Philippines for six years; although I always meant to visit I received an email one day that said they were moving to Mexico. I could have kicked myself and did scold myself for days for missing the opportunity to visit the Philippines while knowing someone in the country. So of course I vowed to visit Karen in Mexico. Three years later I received an email from her telling me that she and her husband were moving to Ithaca, New York, in a month. That same day I booked a flight to Mexico and a week later I found myself in Texcoco, a city and municipality located 25 km northeast of Mexico City. Karen and Gary lived in La Purificacion right next to San Miguel Tlaixpán.
The most gracious of hosts, Karen took me on a tour of the area. We visited the Universidad Autonoma de Chapingo which is an agricultural college that is federally funded (and therefore a public institution). We set off on a Saturday to see the campus chapel whose doors and inside murals (click on the mural link and hit the forward arrow to see more photos of the mural on pages, 11-14, too) were created by Diego Rivera between 1925 and 1927. It was our bad luck that the person who opens the chapel to the public did not show up to work that day. I had to remain content with the doors which were powerful and magnificent bas reliefs, the public sculpture, and the grounds.
That same day we went to the Chapingo Market, a wet market that Karen frequented. We had lunch there and did some food shopping for the coming days.
The Teotihuacan Pyramids are located 30 miles northeast of Mexico City. It seems that no one knows who hand built Teotihuacan – even though it was one of the largest urban centres in the ancient world, over a thousand years ago. in the National Geographic article, “Who Built the Great City of Teotihuacan?” George Cowgill notes, “It was the largest city anywhere in the Western Hemisphere before the 1400s. […] It had thousands of residential compounds and scores of pyramid-temples and was comparable to the largest pyramids of Egypt.”
Near San Miguel Tlaixpán is the town of Tepetlaoxtoc de Hidalgo. We wandered the streets there and ate a typical lunch of grilled chicken with churros and coffee for dessert.
The final few days of my short stint in Mexico took me to Mexico City where I wandered Zona Rosa and Juáre; Centro Historica; Condesa and Hipodromo; and the Bosque de Chapultepec. The latter area is large, a one- thousand acre park in the centre that is divided into three sections. Not having the time to explore the whole park I walked through the first section and visited one of the three museums housed there, the contemporary art museum Rufino Tamayo. The main road that goes through the park, to get to this museum is home to changing contemporary outdoor art. Contemporary public art is seen everywhere in the centre of Mexico City. If only the greater metropolitan area of Boston could be as open and adventurous. Sadly, Boston leans toward the “traditional” rather than being adventurous and supportive of the contemporary arts. Fortunately, this is slowly changing.
While in Mexico City I visited three markets: Mercado La Lagunilla – a street market filled with goods such as crafts, clothing, food vendors, and toys; Mercado sobre Ruedas in Condesa (a large wet and dry market with fresh produce, meat, fish, and food vendors as well as clothing, toys, kitchen ware, and more) which kept me occupied one morning and lunch-time; and the Mercado de la Ciudadela – an indoor artisanal craft market.
As I walked through the historic streets of the Centro Historica, on the Plaza de la Soledad (in front of the Iglesia de Santa Cruz y le Soledad) I was stopped by highschool students who were asking tourists, in English (this was a requirement) where they were from, why they were visiting Mexico, what they liked about Mexico, and other such questions. Part of their assignment was to tape the conversation and take a photo of the person they’d interviewed. It appears I was the first person to ask to take a photo of them, in return. Hard to believe!
Mexico City is a bustling and dense place with over twenty million people. The neighbourhoods I meandered through varied from flashy / trendy to laid-back to touristy to warm and welcoming. But, as I arrived and left the city it was difficult not to notice that the Mexico City is quite impoverished outside the centre and is surrounded by squalor and slums.