Friday, October 24, 2008

Pictures from Mexico City: First batch

As promised, here are some initial pictures of places we went, courtesy of the Mrs. She's played around with the color on some of these, you'll note; also, some of these are dark because, about half the time we were there, the day was exceedingly overcast and, at times, drizzly.

Click the images to enlarge them.

Monument to the Revolution of 1910. This Art Deco structure is a block away from the hotel where we stayed. It has a hulking rather than triumphant feel to it, but that's just me. Anyway, it is a rather odd coincidence that Mexico's war for independence from Spain and its proto-Socialist revolution occurred 100 years apart from each other; thus, in 2010 it will be celebrating both a bicentennial and a centennial. This structure and its grounds take up a city block but because it is near but not on a major street, its space lends itself well to large-ish gatherings of people; just in the five days we were there, it was the location for three such gatherings: a rally for breast cancer awareness, a gathering of striking teachers, and a government-sponsored function of some sort that was being set up during our last night there.

Atrium, National Palace. The National Palace, located on the Zócalo (the city's enormous main plaza), houses Mexico's legislative bodies and so is the equivalent of our U.S. Capitol. This structure has an exceedingly complex history, but it suffices to say by way of summary that some sort of structure housing a ruler or ruling body has stood on its site since at least the time of Montezuma, if not before--in fact, much of its building material was originally part of Montezuma's own palace. This atrium is noteworthy because, along two of its second-story sides are some extraordinary murals depicting Mexican history painted by Diego Rivera (some panels are here (you'll need to scroll down a bit to find them)). Beyond this atrium is another atrium which contains a botanical garden with examples of plants from throughout Mexico--from the deserts to the tropics. The Mrs. took some pictures of some of its extraordinary cacti; I hope they turned out.

Two more pictures below the fold.

Carlota's View. This view is from the balcony of the Castillo de Chapultepec, looking to the northeast, up the Paseo de la Reforma. Despite the gloomy light, the air was exceedingly clear that day: it was possible to see, about three miles distant, the corner of the Alameda that Reforma grazes before continuing on. This is a big deal; on a couple of past trips there, the smog was so bad that it was hard to see the Monument to Independence, a gleaming golden angel atop a 200-ft.-high column on Reforma just a mile away from Chapultepec.

In a city full of spots that in their essence serve as microcosms of the nation's history in miniature, Chapultepec is one of the most prominent ones. During the Aztecs' rule, they built an aqueduct to bring spring water from the hill to Tenochtitlan (though built on an island in a lake, the water was shallow and brackish). After Mexico's war for independence, a military academy was built on its summit; it was this structure that U.S. Marines sought to capture ("From the halls of Montezuma . . . ") in the final, decisive battle in the U.S.-Mexican War--and it was on that occasion that this place became a national shrine honoring the sacrifice of the Niños Héroes (whom I've mentioned recently). The six columns in the foreground comprise a monument to them, at the base of which is a tomb containing their remains. As a teaser to a future post: René told us something very intriguing about their story which I hadn't known before. For us in the U.S., the Castillo is perhaps best known as the residence of Maximilian and his wife Carlota during their rather quixotic 2-year reign as king and queen of Mexico. The story is that Carlota had Reforma constructed so that she could watch her husband return from the National Palace each afternoon (hence the title of this picture: Carlota's bedroom opens on to the balcony where the Mrs. stood to take this picture). Maximilian's odd, naïve arrogance is well-known: Mexico was its usual mid-19th-century basket-case of warring factions, thanks to the ubiquitous, insufferable Santa Anna, but in no way wanted a king; Napoleon III, though, believed it not only wanted but needed one, and Maximilian was foolish enough to believe it. Carlota, though, did her best to educate herself on the history and popular culture of Mexico--to her credit and, I learned on this trip, the annoyance of the society women she sought this information from. The story is that she went mad. At any rate, after their execution in 1867, the Castillo later became the official residence of Mexico's presidents until 1939, when Lázaro Cárdenas, unquestionably Mexico's most-revered President, declared it a National Museum of History.

Tlatelolco. This site is officially known as the Plaza de las Tres Culturas ("Plaza of the Three Cultures"), and this picture reveals why: in the foreground you see the remains of the pyramids and other structures that comprised Tlatelolco, which served as the Aztecs' central market prior to the Spaniards' arrival; in the middle ground are, from the left, the sanctuary and convent of Santiago Tlatelolco, built in the years immediately after the defeat of the Aztecs; and in the background (and surrounding the entire site) are government buildings and housing projects representative of the third culture, the Mexican. Considerably less-officially (though our guide that day is my source for this--as many times as I'd visited this place, I'd not head it before), this place is also known as the Plaza de los Tres Desastres ("Plaza of the Three Disasters"): It was here that the final battle for control of Tenocbtitlan was fought in 1521; on this same site occurred in 1968 the Tlatelolco Massacre, an event that still resonates in the Mexican psyche by a couple of orders of magnitude greater than the way the Kennedy assassination used to for us in this country; and in the massive earthquake of 1985, several large buildings in the area were destroyed, killing many of their occupants. I'll be honest: even knowing all this as I do, I can't imagine what visiting this place must be like for a Mexican given to prolonged thinking about his/her nation and its history. I'll have more to say about that as well in the above-mentioned future post.

In many more ways than the obvious, Mexico City is far away from, say, Cozumel.

More pictures and commentary to come.


R. Sherman said...

Very cool. Thanks for bringing us along.


John B. said...

A belated "You're welcome," Randall. More to come (the Mrs. is particular about her pictures' quality).