Friday, August 1, 2008

La Ciudad 2

The first impact of Mexico City is physical, immensely physical. Sun, Altitude, Movement, Smells, Noise. And it is inescapable. There is no taking refuge in one more insulating shell, no use sitting in the hotel bedroom fumbling with guide books: It is here, one is in it.
--Sybille Bedford, from The Sudden View, 1953

Thursday morning we awoke early with plans to, er, get things done. We stopped at a panaderia (bakery) for breakfast and ate it at the (cement) park surrounding the massive Monumento de la Revolucion, which happens to be right around the corner from where we’re staying.

Here’s my favorite thing about the Monumento de la Revolucion: It was originally intended as the START of a new legislative building. But then, you know how it goes, a revolution starts up, best laid plans get set aside, and before you know it they bury some revolutionary heroes at the base and presto! It’s now a Monument to the Revolution, and boy is it huge and hulking. If you look closely, or at least zoom in with your camera lens, you can see what Chris calls some seriously Stalinist sculptures at the corners of the monument’s dome.

After breakfast here we set out to find a copy shop/office supply store/pharmacy where Chris can get some things she needs before she goes to the National Archives. But – much like a revolution getting in your way – we stumble upon a political protest/market/fiesta all wrapped up into one, and of course we have to check it out. And then look, you only need to walk a little further after that to get to the Paseo de la Reforma!

The Paseo is Mexico City’s answer to Paris’ Champs-Elysees, originally built by a dictator put in place by – surprise! – the French government in a wild bit of nineteenth century political intrigue. Eventually Maximillian was executed like any nineteenth-century French dictator, and Benito Juarez and co. took over. You can find a picture of Benito Juarez on the Mexican 20 peso bill and a statue of him on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue (west side of the street, just north of the river).

Whoa! Got a little lost in the historical sidetrack/Chica go connection there. Anyway, a hundred and fifty years or so after the Paseo was built, Chris and I walked along it, spotting El Caballito (it’s supposed to look like a stylized horse):

And the National Lottery building:

Then we saw some greenery off ahead, and Chris thought it might be the famed Alameda Central. And it was! The Alameda is an intricately laid out public park that inspired, among other things, Diego Rivera’s mural “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central.” And then, of course, right next to the Alameda Central is the unbelievable Palacio de Bellas Artes.

Here’s a little insider’s tip about the Palacio: the hands-down best view of it is from the sixth floor of the Sears across the street (!). The sixth floor is Menswear, and we discovered this ridiculous view, seen in the photo above, because I needed to buy some socks. The socks were too expensive, but that view…who knew?! Here's a close-up of the Palacio:

As we were standing by the Palacio, I looked down the street and swore I saw the Cathedral of the Zocalo. Well of course, Chris said, I’m sure it is, and then since we could see it from there we just had to walk the few blocks to the Zocalo. And so we did.

There is no way to adequately capture the Zocalo in a photograph from the ground; it’s a 360 degree experience. (I took a video but haven’t been able to get it to upload yet.) I remember the first time I saw the Zocalo on a Mexico City Immersion Course almost two years ago. We came up out of the subway right in the middle of the square and I was blown away; I had never seen anything like it. The scale of it alone just makes you feel like you’re in another world. This time I was prepared, but stumbling into the Zocalo from a side street on a day you didn’t expect to see it is still pretty cool.

We made straight for the Metropolitan Cathedral, which was begun in 1573 and finished in 1813. That’s right, the church took two hundred and fifty years to build. We wandered inside and gazed up the dizzyingly high ceilings. Chris says that when it comes to architecture, Catholics jut get it.

There are too many other things to see in the Zocalo (and Kim Erno tells me I’ll be visiting it at least two more times as part of my various classes this fall) so we decided to head back in the direction we came, finally. We found a farmacia (pharmacy) and copy shop and then discovered our little economical hotel has wireless internet (!!!). So we got some things done. And then headed back out for some coffee on the Paseo. On our way back, we discovered that the political protest/market/fiesta was still going on and actually seemed to have expanded since we had last seen it.

Lots of people crowded under a tent to see traditional dancing and singing all part of this combination political protest/market/fiesta. We enjoyed the free show for awhile, then headed home. The city is here, and we are in it.

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