Sunday, August 3, 2008

Dreaming of the Alameda Central...

(editor's note: This is a post from Chris! Enjoy!!)

Friday evening I left Matt behind in the hotel room and set out for the Casa de los Azulejos, a colonial-era mansion turned chain restaurant that features a mural by one of Mexico’s “big three” muralists, José Clemente Orozco. Matt had been out all day exploring, and I wanted to get a chance to see something too – a day in the archives doesn’t exactly make for a great story. On my way to seeing the sights, though, I stumbled across one of my favorites about Mexico: families, couples, and groups of teenagers all “de paseo” (literally, out for a stroll, but used more to mean going out to enjoy the day, the evening, whatever time you’ve got) in the Alameda Central.

The Alameda is a park about a ten-minute walk from our hotel, probably as big as Grant Park in Chicago. Unlike Grant Park, it is shaded by trees, and there are broad cobblestone lanes bordered by carefully groomed shrubs. Signs ask visitors not to walk on the grass. Crossroads are adorned with Greek-style fountains and statues.

And in the evening it is packed. There are traveling musicians. There are hot dog sellers advertising three hot dogs (bacon-wrapped!) for $1.50. There are stands shaded with blue tarp blaring pirated CDs, and coin purses and bracelets and t-shirts in makeshift stalls and spread out on the edges of the cobbled lanes. People gather around a magician performing card tricks, and a girl selling umbrellas stands alone, holding her breath in hopes that it will rain tonight. On the shaded benches, young couples make out, oblivious to passers by. An older couple discusses the day, the man listening patiently as his wife complains about a coworker. It is pure magic: all of Mexico City, it seems, is here to enjoy the evening.

Saturday morning, Matt and I headed back toward the Alameda to enjoy breakfast at a café on the edge of the park. Rain-washed, it felt fresh and new, and the vendors were just beginning to set out their wares. Our goal for the day was to check out the Museo Mural Diego Rivera in the park, which housed a famous mural that Rivera had painted of the Alameda Central in the 1930s (or so).

Like many Rivera murals “A Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central” is a historical and a political piece of art, but it’s also a lot of fun. The mural depicts the park, packed with figures from Mexican history. Everyone from conquistador Hernán Cortes to revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata to Rivera’s daughters and grandson is there. Like in last night’s Alameda, vendors circulate with sweets and balloons. Like in this morning’s, a few down-on-their-luck types snooze on benches. In Rivera’s vision (and perhaps in his time, as well), everyone is in their Sunday best at the Alameda, and police are there to see that the riffraff stay out. But in spite of Rivera’s critical eye, his Alameda, with its sea of people and rainbow of bright colors, retains the air of fiesta that I saw last night.

As we emerge in the afternoon drizzle, the magic kindles again, in the old men playing chess, in the toddlers holding hands as they make their way slowly back to their parents, in the drumbeat echoing across the park, and maybe even in us, two foreigners with backpacks making our way through the scene.

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