The DF in the Rearview Mirror: ToM travels to Mexico City Again

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Outside Parque Espana near Condesa DF; it’s like the movie “Big” but you know actually religious

In 1933, the visionary designer Charles Eames absconded from St. Louis to Mexico, in an effort to “[take] stock of and ultimately [change] his approach and situation in life,” notes his grandson Eames Demetrios. Charles spent about ten months traveling in San Luis Potosi and Monterrey, now and then dipping into more rural areas of the Mexican countryside. He got by doing occasional manual labor and selling sketches and painting for sustenance. When he returned, in 1934, he brought with him numerous depictions of churches and vistas, which so impressed his fellow Midwesterners that the St. Louis Museum deployed them as an exhibit; many of his sketches and paintings later appeared in the color rotogravure section of the St. Louis Dispatch. Clearly, as one friend confided, Eames ate up “the visual culture of Mexico, the colors and textures, and all the materials things that one has there to see.” His Mexico trip remains, according to his grandson and biographers, a moment of demarcation in his personal and professional life.[1]

While I would never compare Eames’s apparent Mexican epiphany with my own recent experience in Mexico, a trip to Mexico City can surely inspire even the most quotidian of us.

Five days in Mexico City put myself, to quote Raising Arizona, in “the proverbial catbird seat” of life. The food, the neighborhoods, and the history combined to create a vibrant atmosphere. The walking paths that extend down the middle of Mexico City’s numerous boulevards — populated by joggers, dogwalkers, and others — allow for moonlight strolls and morning constitutionals. Numerous parks dot the city as well. The mix of colonial architecture and hyper post modern monstrosities simultaneously emphasize the city’s history and modernity. It might be sinking several inches a year, but its international esteem seems to only treble annually.

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District Federal (Distrito Federal more accurately), or the DF as Mexico City is often referred, remains one of the truly great cities of North America. I know my co-editor Alex Sayf Cummings compared the DF to New York City; I have to respectfuly disagree and suggest Professor Cummings might be guilty of a touch of East Coast bias. Mexico City reminds this former SoCal resident of Los Angeles. Sure, it’s less racially diverse and has existed as an influential metropole for much longer, but the flora, the spatial layout, and the weather all scream Los Angeles. Besides, L.A.’s preponderance of Latin American residents juxtaposes neatly with the DF’s own brimming reserve of Central and South American citizens.

Parque Espana, across the street from the notorious Condesa DF

Parque Espana, across the street from the notorious Condesa DF

Nor is it all about the now. You can visit pre-Aztec ruins; Teotihuacan is not more than 90 minutes outside the city, where one can climb the intimidatingly tall steps to the top and take in the majesty of what is considered the lesser of ancient ruins located in Mexico. Of course, some of this will depend on your tour guide. Mine believed in numerology and kept trying to convince his skeptical audience that the Mayans and Aztecs predicted Jesus Christ, Hitler, and the atomic bomb.

Still, for an American, the nation’s emphasis on its indigenous heritage offers an insight into the United States’ own shameful history of the same. Granted, most North American Native Americans did not construct the kind of awe inspiring cities that their Meso American counterparts did, but the most indigenous peoples in the U.S. get are the occasional Kevin Costner flick or a film like The Last of the Mohicans in which a white guy adopted by Native Americans serves as the film’s protagonist. Sure, you get the once-in-a-blue-moon Smoke Signals (1998), but even 1992’s Thunderheart featured a very white Val Kilmer as the hero. In any case, I’m getting off the subject. Mexico embraces this history, or at least it does to a much greater extent, which is still miles and miles ahead of its neighbor to the north.

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Teotihuacan, a pre-Aztec Mesoamerican city just outside of the DF

To be fair, this was not always so. When the aforementioned Charles Eames showed up in one Mexican town with a book devoted to pre-Columbian art, the local police locked him up. The book depicted the nation’s “primitive” phase and insulted the general body politic, the police informed him. Things, however, clearly changed over the ensuing decades.

Parque Espana at night; Watch out for PDA it runs rampant in the park after sunset

Parque Espana at night; Watch out for PDA; it runs rampant in the park after sunset

We checked into the very designer oriented Condesa DF and stayed five nights and four days, using it as a central node for exploration of the city. While it had a great rooftop bar (if you happen to be in the DF, definitely check it out for drinks/eats), the rooms were small and apt to bleed noise. One night the room adjacent to ours had an all out drug-induced shindig (or it at least sounded drug-induced; I have no evidence and need none in the game of conjecture).

Needless to say, sleep was not to be had and much resentment harbored by this writer. The next night they were filming some sort of interview/video and asked that all the floor’s peons hush. That said, very cool layout, solid breakfast and so on. From CDF, we branched out to various sites around the city ranging from Frida Kahlo’s crib to Leon Trotsky’s surprising large abode nearby (judging from the mural pictured below in the photo essay, Trotsky loved big butts on the level of Sir Mix A Lot).

One doubts the historical efficacy here

One doubts the historical efficacy here

In the hipsteresque neighborhood Roma, we visited the Museo del Objeto del Objeto for a pretty great exhibit dedicated to Mexican wrestling.

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I could go on, but I’ll spare you the commentary. As an addendum to ASC’s recent photo essay ToM would like to provide a second opinion on the DF, one that doesn’t stray too widely from ASC’s take but offers some different scenes and commentary from the ancient city.

From the ancient to the colonial to the frighteningly post modern modern 

Relics from the Aztecs appropriately enough under the shadow of a colonial cathedral

Relics from the Aztecs appropriately enough under the shadow of a colonial cathedral; actually located right in the DF

 

Ok outside the city proper, Teotihuacan has several temples, most able to be scaled but admittedly not for the weak of heart. Totally dug Teotihuacan despite the bat#$% crazy tour guide

Okay, outside the city proper: Teotihuacan has several temples, most able to be scaled but admittedly not for the weak of heart. Totally dug Teotihuacan despite the bat#$% crazy tour guide

 

More Teotihucan

More Teotihucan

 

Alright I'll stop with Teotihucan now, but there's a reason it's a UNESCO site

Alright I’ll stop with Teotihucan now, but there’s a reason it’s a UNESCO site

 

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Spain’s influence runs deep through the city

 

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It's cool but what exactly is it?

It’s cool but what exactly is it?

 

It's got boxes

It’s got boxes

Trotsky before the Stalinist ice pick 

Totally checked out Frida Kahlo’s blue house but regrettably they charge money for photos — not that much but my inner miser pretty much always kicks in during those moments. Still, definitely check out her home, very cool part of the city as well, Colonia de Carmen section of Coyoacan.  Plus, it just so happens a certain Soviet exile lived just around the corner.

One forgets Leon Trotsky called Mexico City home while in exile from his beloved Soviet Union

One forgets Leon Trotsky called Mexico City home while in exile from his beloved Soviet Union; you know who didn’t forget? That @#@hole Stalin.

 

Trotsky's home has what one might call ephemera

Trotsky’s home has what one might call ephemera; though this is in the museum section not really the home.

 

One thing you know about Trotsky's story: it has a sad ending

One thing you know about Trotsky’s story: it has a sad ending

The National Museum of Anthropology is pretty dope 

Not much to critique at Mexico's National Museum of Anthropology; I'd be snarky here but it's just a really great museum that lays out the nation's history better than most U.S. counterparts

Not much to critique at Mexico’s National Museum of Anthropology; I’d be snarky here but it’s just a really great museum that lays out the nation’s history better than most U.S. counterparts

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If that's not the goofiest smile in the pre-colombian world I'm not sure what is

If that’s not the goofiest smile in the pre-Columbian world I’m not sure what is

 

The museum goes out of its way to recreate architecture of the pre-Columbian period; it's appreciated

The museum goes out of its way to recreate architecture of the pre-Columbian period; it’s appreciated

 

Remnants of the "ball game"; a truly frightening sport played in the ancient world but one that one finds represented in the Museum and at Chichen Itza

Remnants of the “ball game”; a truly frightening sport played in the ancient world but one that one finds represented at the Museum and at Chichen Itza in Cancun (see later in the photo essay)

 

The museum runs up to the present day and includes more modern works of art like this example and a second one pictured below

The museum runs up to the present day and includes more modern works of art like this example and a second one pictured below

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La Lucha Libre in Roma 

If you’ve ever seen Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, the film once thought to be a satire now seems disturbingly prescient. A former porn star and pro-wrestler, Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Camacho serves as commander in chief. Released in 2006, the film is celebrating its 10th anniversary and, considering the current political climate in the U.S., the film appears more documentary than fiction as Etan Cohen noted this past February.  So Mexico’s long tradition of wrestling and the promise of future political leadership rising from such ranks meant I had to visit the “La Lucha Libre De Todos Los Dias” exhibit in Roma.

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It kind of explains itself doesn’t it?

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Half wrestler, half porn star, Love Machine! Coming to a U.S. presidential campaign near you!

 

I could totally fit into that

I could totally fit into that

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The Battle Royale to end all Battle Royales

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The best of the rest 

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[1] Eames Demetrios, An Eames Primer, (New York: Universe Publishing, 2013), 77-78.

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