Archive for the ‘Travels – I Has Them’ Category

The Victorian Era is so much.

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

The last time I was in Cape May I went to the Emlen Physick Estate. Aside from having a real interesting name it is a Victorian home open to the public for tours. So sure enough I went on a tour. I thought I was ready. I was not ready. I had an inkling about Victorian design but I had not anticipated the depth and breadth (and width and length) of the design elements and the layering. i will clarify.

I own this book called Artistic Printing. I was intrigued by the variety of patterns all crammed on one postcard. It’s pretty intense.

But here’s the key: It’s an small printed object. Your eye can move off the image and look at nice simple things in your environment like, I don’t know, a clean white towel. When you’re in a room and every surface looks like this it is, honestly, it’s upsetting. You get a little motion sickness.

First, the outside of the mansion. Not bad at all.


As you arrive you find yourself in a little foyer where you remove your coat and hat. There’s cool embossed wallpaper made from wood pulp so it holds its shape. That’s fine.

You step forward into the first hallway and oh dear. The bottom part of the wall is one complicated pattern. The top part is another. Going up the stairs? Another. And then on the ceiling there’s like four more wallpapers. I’m not kidding. We haven’t even added in the furniture which is also ornate. Off at the end of the hall? A patterned stained glass window. It’s an assault on the senses.

I didn’t hate everything about this space. Check out the light fixture made of whatever the hell was lying around.

We went through all the rooms on the ground floor. They were all various versions of mismatched chaos. Here’s the ceiling of the parlor.

I had never seen this before: Instead of the house being wired with electricity, it had gas tubes going through all the walls so you could carry a lamp from room to room, plug it in and it would stay lit for as long as you wanted because the gas kept flowing.

There was definitely an Asian aesthetic in many of the rooms because about the time the house was being decorated Asia was really in vogue. So there’s a lot of Oriental (you can use that word when describing decor) decor.

The upstairs is just as bad. The one thing I loved was the tiling around the fireplace. I collect art nouveau tiles from 1895 – 1910 and seeing them in their natural habitat is always a treat. I patted some of them. The other people on the tour were probably weirded out. I did not care.

Here’s another light fixture made from whatever was lying around.

And here’s a light fixture with the exact design shapes from the Artistic Printing book. Scroll back up and you’ll see what I mean.

Finally, my favorite thing on the tour: According to the tour guide celery was hard to come by during the Victorian era so well-to-do folk would place a glass of celery on the table to be like, “Bask, bask in my wealth. By adoring this celery.”

Mexico 2019 Part 9.

Saturday, September 19th, 2020

Alebrijes! The main purpose of my visit! But first, other stuff.

I heard low bok-bok-boking at the airport ticket counter and discovered people transporting chickens.

On the flight home, more chickens.

When the Spanish came to Mexico they could not pronounce the “tl” sound at the end of many words so the word “Xocolatl” became “Chocolate” and the word “Tomatl” became “Tomato.” I had no problem saying it, I think the Spaniards were just being lazy.

A stained glass window. I’ve mentioned a bunch of times that it is extremely difficult to get a good shade of purple with glass. It comes out light and muted. So I was impressed with the purple in this window. Strong color, very clear.

Two-toned VW Beetle.

Okay, alebriges. Quick recap:

The first alebrijes, along with invention of the term, originated with Mexico City cartonero Pedro Linares. Linares often told that in the 1930s, he fell very ill, and while he was in bed, unconscious, he dreamt of a strange place resembling a forest. There, he saw trees, animals, rocks, clouds that suddenly turned into something strange, some kind of animals, but, unknown animals. He saw a donkey with butterfly wings, a rooster with bull horns, a lion with an eagle head, and all of them were shouting one word, “¡Alebrijes!, ¡Alebrijes!”. Upon recovery, he began recreating the creatures he saw in cartonería, a papercraft consisting of strips of paper and glue on an armature.

Summary: A guy had a fever dream where he saw animals and made sculptures of them. Now a town outside of Oaxaca specializes in them. I had a guide take us to the town and I acquired about seven of them, from small inexpensive ones to two pricey collector’s item.

Several notable facts you should know: Alebrijes tend to be covered in symbols belonging to the indigenous people. All the shapes and patterns you see, those all have significance. Often they are painted with natural paints found in plants and rocks. And they are all painted freehand. No one draws the patterns on first. It takes years of training to become a painter. The skill level is unreal.

The first studio we went to was Jacobo and Maria Angeles. They’re the most famous of the alebrije artists. Their work was the inspiration in Pixar’s Coco. Here are some photos I found on the internet showing their work.

One of the things I like is that the artists are constantly incorporating new elements into their work. The Angeles workshop is bringing in gold leaf:

Stones, shells and fossils:

And the coolest thing, masks. The masks are removable so you can see the painted faces underneath but it enhances the fantastical quality of the pieces.

It is possible to commission a piece from them. Every year has an animal associated with it and it cycles, very similar to the Chinese calendar. You can say, “I would like a piece representing my family. I am a jaguar and my oldest child is a turtle and my youngest child is a eagle and we like the color red.” Then a piece would be made for you that looks something like this, with the parent being the big animal and the children being small animals attached.

They’re also exploring only black and white alebrijes. Look at this bear. Look at it.

When we got to the studio they showed how they made their all-natural paints. This one tree, the male has one kind of bark and the female has another which gives them two colors right there.

They have their small selection of colors but they’ve figured out if they mix it with lime juice (acid) or a specific powdered rock (base) a whole new realm of colors emerge.

There was a shrine off to the side that emphasized the importance of corn. It is the staple of all the cuisine.

And please note the dead armadillo on the right.

I bought a piece and their coffee table book just as the owner Jacobo was walking by so we hugged (hugging is a big deal down there and I ain’t mad about it) and he signed my book and we took a picture. It was pretty great.

There were some xoloitzcuintlis wandering around the property and I am still on the fence about them. They’re so cool and demonic-looking which is why the myth is that they lead you to the afterlife, but they’re so bad at being dogs. The big ones look austere and impressive but the little ones look like they have nasty mange and are on the edge of entering the afterlife themselves. They need sunblock and nose cream, it’s a lot.

After we left the Angeles studio we went to David Hernandez’s studio. While Hernandez is nowhere as famous as Angeles’, Hernandez’ alebrijes. particular the painting, are far superior. I think they need a better agent to share their sculptures with the world because they are an unappreciated treasure. Here are some of their pieces that I found on the web.

I mean, look at the stippling to create the gradient. I can’t even.

Quick reminder: None of these painters at any of the galleries draw on the patterns beforehand. They paint them with no guides. It’s awe-inspiring.


All those were pictures I found on the internet. Here are the pictures I took.

The skills, y’all. Acknowledge the skills.

Sometimes they paint a maroon base when they plan to gold leaf something. It makes the gold richer than painting on the light color of the wood. I love that bun-bun, btw.

This bear. Unreal. The carving, the painting, it’s all there.

Now here are the pieces I bought. I got this howling coyote from the Angeles studio.

I love it. I love the carving, the balance of the elements. And the painting is great. But it pales in comparison to the piece I got at David Hernandez’s studio.

This owl. I am in awe of the incredible workmanship on this little guy. Here is my hand for scale. Keep that in mind for when I zoom in.

Every time I look at this owl I notice something new. The last time I discovered the details along the inside of the wings.

And I love that it’s signed (with a paintbrush, I can’t even fathom) so I can seek out other pieces created by that painter. And I will. Oh, I will.

That ends my trip to Mexico. We will return to our regularly scheduled posting. Get psyched for charts and such.


Mexico 2019 Part 8.

Sunday, August 23rd, 2020

Oaxaca! It’s pronounced wa-HA-ka. I’m diggin’ the last three words of this description:

In present-day Spanish, Oaxaca is pronounced [waxaka] or [wahaka], the latter pronunciation used mostly in dialects of southern Mexico, the Caribbean, much of Central America, some places in South America, and the Canary Islands and western Andalusia in Spain where [x] has become a voiceless glottal fricative ([h]).

Oaxaca is a state in Mexico and it is the home to alebrijes. I’ve spoken about alebrijes before, here and here. My major point of this trip was two-fold: Show The Moomins the famous murals and go to the studios of the top alebriges artists and spend aaaaaall my money.

But first! Oaxaca City. Oaxaca City has a large town square. I asked the hotel concierge what activities happen in the town square and he said, “All of them.” He was not kidding. We woke up out first day there and while eating breakfast in the hotel’s open café several ladies were setting up a baby shower. One of them had made a variety of amigurumi to decorate the diaper cakes and table.

Nice way to start the day. We headed out, walking in and out of churches (that’s where the art is kept). The first church was a big hit for me because it was dedicated to my patron saint, St. Ignatius de Loyola.

Yes, I know I’m Jewish and we don’t have patron saints. I’m saying if I was Catholic this one’s feast day is on my birthday so he’s mine. In concept. Therefore I have a soft spot for him.

Something I was very surprised to discover was how tasteful the churches and cathedrals were. It’s reaaaaall easy to go over-the-top with the decorating if you’re not careful, as referenced here and here and holy crap here. Mexico held back. They showed admirable restraint and it is to be commended. This is the interior of the St. Ignatius church.

Off to one side was a sad reminder of people’s pain and suffering and their hope that God will bring them comfort. A wall of photos, and notes, and occasional locks of hair. I assume these people were missing or dead. I was very moving.

As The Moomins and I headed towards the front of the church we came upon a family baptism off in one of the arms of the cross (the floorplan of many Catholic churches look like crosses).

We lurked in the shadows and watched that for a while. We tried to not be creepy. We probably failed.

It looks like the columns are built with cinder blocks but that’s just the way the stone and adhesive ends up. I kinda want to see columns built with actual cinder blocks, it’s cool.

As The Moomins and I trotted down the main drag we saw a gallery with people milling in it. We decided to check it out. Turns out it was the opening of the exhibition at a small museum. There was a press photographer there so it’s totally possible that we’re in press photos. We met the artist. This is the only picture I took of his art.

As is required by all Mexican art, it’s a little odd and dreamlike. Bonus points because it includes bugs. It’s clearly very important that all Mexican art have an element of LSD in them.

On our continued journey to the town square I got to see another aspect of Oaxaca I had been looking forward to. Many of the buildings are built with lava stone and the lava stone is green-colored. It’s particularly lovely at sunset.

Finally we arrived at the town square. The hotel concierge was right, a whole lot was going on. There were the tourist buses passing by.

The Moomins and were doing a lap around the perimeter when we heard music that could best be described as “enthusiastic.” Then the giant lady puppet heading towards us. And all of a sudden there was festival happening all around us.

Here, a video of… whatever the hell it was.

That went on for fifteen minutes. Still don’t know what was being celebrated. As soon as that wrapped up The Moomins and I completed our All The Churches In Oaxaca Tour with the cathedral. That was more of what I had expected. Lots of detail.

An important thing you need to know about Mexico is everyone is constantly protesting. There are camps set up all over the towns that look like homeless colonies but they’re people camping and waiting for their protest. We exited the cathedral to a protest.

We got dinner around the town square (it was mediocre except for the Mexican hot chocolate which has changed my life) and what appeared to be another festival parade showed up. But it was not. It was a protest. And it was completely identical to the parade. It was around this time I started to feel like I was losing my sense of reality.

Video for comparison.

But wait! There’s more! On one side of the square was the protest with the music and the people yelling into megaphones and on the other side of the square was a concert of choirs singing Christmas music. It was bananas. Epic cacophany. I live-texted the whole thing to Snorth.

And thereby ended Day 1 in Oaxaca City. It was a bonkers experience that the Oaxacans go through every day. I can’t even imagine.

Mexico 2019, Part 7.

Friday, June 26th, 2020

Mexican craftpeople! But first, an oxymoron.


Mexican crafts. Moomins and I came across a state-funded exhibition of all the styles of art Mexicans make and there was no way we were going to pass that up. I’m so glad we didn’t because I had no idea. The different materials and the variety of creative outlets, it was mind-boggling. As you well know I like details, the smaller and more complicated the better. And I was not disappointed. Look at these free-handed ceramics.


To give you an idea of how much The Moomins and I differ in our artistic taste, I got soooo excited to see the work of Jacobo y Maria Angeles. Look at the carving, the painting. So precise.

Moomins was disinterested. The one that catches her eye? This.

So, you know, different. Going back to bananas intricacy: candles. Ever thought your wax candles were unexciting? How about making lace and flowers from dripped and carved wax to jazz up those blandles?

Those figures are also made of wax which I totally understand because wax is slightly translucent and therefore looks a great deal like skin. But I hope all these artists live in cool climates because on a hot day all this awesomeness is going to gently slump to the ground.

I was introduced to an art style I never knew existed which is unusual and really neat. See this tapestry? It’s a village scene. Not big, maybe 2′ x 3′. Whatevs.

But wait. It’s made by attaching small pieces of black and white feathers in a meticulous manner. Suddenly every line and section is far more impressive. It’s a very old art in Mexico. Here’s a section of antique featherwork.

You can see the labor put into that. I was impressed as hell.

Something I’ve always enjoyed about Mexican art is how relaxed they are about how animals are represented. Is that a bird? Who knows. Maybe it’s a jaguar? Your guess is as good as mine. Here are some of the better examples of that with what I think the animal might be. Feel free to disagree, we each are probably right and / or wrong.

Fish and deer. That one’s easy.

Lions. With back scales.

Fox owl hybrids.

Crocodiles. Or horses. Definitely crocodiles or horses. Maybe.

Okay, I see a frog off to the left, a bird wearing a hat playing a saxophone off to the right, a cat (?) wearing a hat playing something small near its mouth and a lizard (??) with a horn fused to its snoot (???).



Other art forms represented: Sheet metal sculpture using things like soda cans.



There was a model of a cathedral made of corn husks that I forgot to take a picture of. There was silver jewelry and complex weaving and embroidery art, it was insane. I was blown away. Unrelated to anything, I liked these doves and leaves on this chair.

Coming up next: The beginning of Oaxaca.

Mexico 2019 Part 6.

Tuesday, June 16th, 2020

More art! First, the Museum of Modern Art which has an awesome interior if you like mid-modern architecture. The gift shop is in a pit under the stairs for God’s sake. Big fan.

Outside the museum is a sculpture of the beloved Mexican protein source, the grasshopper. I love his buck teeth.

The modern museum has a sweet little cafe in the back and they will give you a picnic basket full of sandwiches and such so you can go eat in the small but lovely sculpture garden. I didn’t get a chance to do that this time but next time for sure.

Alright, more murals by Not-Diego-Rivera. Now we delve into José Clemente Orozco. Here’s a brief description from Wikipedia:

José Clemente Orozco (November 23, 1883 – September 7, 1949) was a Mexican caricaturist and painter, who specialized in political murals that established the Mexican Mural Renaissance together with murals by Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and others. Orozco was the most complex of the Mexican muralists, fond of the theme of human suffering, but less realistic and more fascinated by machines than Rivera. Orozco was known for being a politically committed artist, and he promoted the political causes of peasants and workers.

A truncated version would be, “This dude has STRONG OPINIONS and would like you to know them.” Get ready.

Orozco was commissioned to do a series of murals all around the inside of a courtyard. He started to create them, they were beautiful, they were inspired by Renaissance paintings, etc. And partway through he was like “Too nice! Repaint! Make oppressively depressing!”

Here’s an excellent example. Drunk rich man dancing with Blind Justice who’s blindfold has slipped and who’s wearing fancy shoes, possibly bought by the rich man. Don’t have to look too deep to figure out what Orozco is trying to say with that one.

Workers shaking hands, one of whom has a hammer. Communism? Sure, probably. Wouldn’t surprise me.

This was kind of funny. These beaten workers and folding a flag while Freddy Mercury’s head floats above them. Turns out the head was part of the original Renaissance-style painting and Orozco liked it so he didn’t paint over it, he just left it there.

Say what you want about the grim sentiments of his paintings, Orozco could paint hands. Like, really well.

Upstairs was a painting of God with the fat and rich off to one side wearing halos and on the other side are devils chasing a poor mother carrying her baby.

This was the only painting left from the original painting. It’s supposed to represent motherhood. Isn’t it nice and not a horrifying statement on society? Well, people couldn’t leave it alone. Women were upset because the ladies are naked so Orozco left it to piss those women off. But that’s not all. He said “I’ll make a portrait of you, good upstanding women.” Surprise, it was wildly unflattering.

This mural is called “Motherhood.”

Aaaaaand it’s fat rich women ignoring and stepping on a starving woman in the street. You couldn’t leave well enough alone, could you? You had to antagonize the already angry mural-painter, didn’t you? Nice job. You deserve this.

One more muralist. I can’t remember his name but his story is interesting. The muralist started his mural on one underside of an arch but he kept getting arrested and going to prison for acts of protest so it took him 40 years to finish the mural and you can really see how his work changed and evolved over time by the time he got to the other side.

Here’s a bit of his original style on one side of the stairs.

And the 40-years-later-style on the other side.

Despite the population being literate, murals continue to be a huge part of the Mexican experience. The street art is some of the best I’ve ever seen.

Next, Mexican craftspeople bringing their top-notch skills.

Mexico 2019 Part 5.

Wednesday, April 22nd, 2020

Sorry for the delay. Coronavirus, right? I lost someone very close to the ‘Rona so we all had to deal with that. But I have returned! We’re going to talk about Diego Rivera murals today. But first, other food-related items.

Food. Beautiful food. You’re in trouble if you don’t like beans and corn and peppers and tomatoes but otherwise you’ll be fine. There was this one restaurant near our AirBnB, oh my God, so good. So. Good. I would have eaten there every night.

Look at that plating. Delicious.

Bonus – the restaurant serves the worms I referenced in the last post.

Other breakfast photos. I ate salad and nothing happened. Eat the salads. Definitely drink the fresh-squeezed juice.

One of the cafes had a valiant attempt at wall decor. There was a line painting of a couple sharing hot beverages and, I imagine, canoodling romantically. What it looks like is that they are having the most intense staring contest, so intense that their foreheads are pressed to each other.

Okay, Diego Rivera murals. Now, while Mexico didn’t have a lot of slavery it did have indentured servitude. Families would work on farms and get paid but they were not paid with money, they were paid with slips of paper to use at the stores. The problem with that is that the bosses owned all the stores were the papers were valid so they could charge whatever they wanted. Plus the farm workers were not allowed to read (90% of the population was illiterate) so the painted murals were extremely important in teaching the people the history of the country. This oppression of those not-slaves-but-kinda-slaves led to the Mexican Revolution of 1910.

Diego’s early work had a slightly different style but very similar thematic material. A lot of “Day In The Life” of the typical Mexican citizen.

Rivera really disliked the Spanish coming to Mexico and taking over, basically obliterating the religion and culture of the existing Aztecs and Zapotecs. This panel depicting the revolution shows the rich, the church (Rivera was an atheist and a communist) and those land owners as dolls and puppets.

Rivera left a lot of his work up to interpretation. The skulls of the same people as above – rich, church, landowners – are they dead, killed by the native and / or poor people? Do they represent grim reaper-esque characters?

His more famous murals are probably the ones in the House of Parliament. There’s the giant one that covers the stairwell but there also are individual murals surrounding the cloister. I’ve covered these pieces on my last trip but I have additional information I accrued.

Underneath the colored part of the mural was a smaller section painted to resemble carved stone showing ancient peoples doing their typical activities.

This one shows their keen understanding of astronomy.

This one shows how belts other kinds of weaving was done. I saw weavers using this exact technique, it is still popular in this day. Listen, if it works it works.

A huge part of understanding these people are the codexes. A codex is a ancient manuscript in book form. Pictographs, similar to hieroglyphics, we used. When the Spanish arrived they destroyed most of the codexes but about four remained and they are the link to how life was like. Here are people making a codex.

Here is an excellent representation of those man-made islands that were in the lake where Mexico City is now. They would grow crops on the islands.

I believe this represents an important, perhaps a holy, day. You can see the leader being carried in with a sack that most likely contained a person for sacrifice. In the upper left you can see a game being played in some kind of stadium and in the upper right you can see people dressed as birds swinging around a maypole by their feet which seems like a great way to break all the blood vessels in your eye but what do I know.

Okay, so the giant mural that covers the entire stairwell is AWASH in symbolism but I can only remember bits and pieces so that’s what you’re going to get. Here we go.

The eagle in the middle, the symbol of Mexico, why does that snake look so sloppy? One can see the skill level in the other parts of the painting. Well, it turns out that is taken from old indigenous imagery. And the snake wasn’t a snake it was water representing a river that forks at the end.

Now, as you can imagine, there is no way the Spanish could defeat everyone already living in Mexico so they decided to only conquer the Aztecs and Zapotecs. Those groups had other tribes who hated them, so the Spanish convinced those tribes to fight with them and that’s how they won. In this section you can see two tribal members battling each other.

Here is a rubber tree being tapped. There is a tree that secretes the material originally used in chewing gum called chicle. It looks exactly like that. Nowadays they use vinyl.

The leader of Mexico during the Revolution was a man called Porfirio Diaz. He’s somewhere in that mural. He’s all over the place.

I kept internally giggling when I saw or heard his name because there’s a disease called porphyria where your pee turns purple. Couldn’t stop thinking about that.


Next posting: More murals.

Mexico 2019 Part 4.

Thursday, March 12th, 2020

More city center stuff! Before we delve into that, let’s look at a sign that made me feel a variety of emotions simultaneously – rage, despair, confusion, sadness, other ones. Here it is.

Now I spend my entire day creating signage like this so I have trained my eye to catch bad choices. Therefore the epic tragedy of this sign might not be immediately obvious to you. That’s why I made these helpful notes to bring you into my world of sorrow.

Ughhh. I know there are amazing designers in the country, go find one and rectify this.

I also wanted to show you the symbol of Mexico because it pops up periodically. You can see it on the flag. It’s an eagle holding a snake in its claw on top of a cactus with a indigenous thing under the cactus. I’m not being disrespectful. I asked numerous times what the thing was. It looks kind of like a pillow with thick twig branches. No one could tell me except that it was part of the pre-Hispanic era.

I looked on Wikipedia. It says the symbols are:
The eagle, in a combative stance
The snake, held by a talon and the beak of the eagle
The nopal on which the eagle stands; The nopal bears some of its fruits (tunas)
The pedestal, on which the nopal grows, immersed in the Aztec symbol for water
Oak and laurel leaves encircling the eagle cluster; tied together with a ribbon with the Mexican flag’s colors

Okay, so that’s more information than I had before. I still want to get clarification on the details but that’s good for now. Related: Since our tour ended near sunset I got to watch the folding of the giant flag.

CHARCH! We went to the cathedral. Unfortunately, like most places of conquest the cathedral was built on the site of the previous religion’s destroyed house of worship. These were the original steps.

Surprise: The churches and cathedrals, despite being build during the Baroque period which is the most gaudy period in ever, are surprisingly tasteful. I mean there are splashes of WayTooMuch but the whole interior is not bad. The only gold-encrusted excessiveness was the organ and the altar. The organ is very cool, it has organ tubes sticking directly out and it’s double-sided.

Here’s the altar. It’s very Baroque.

But the rest, lovely. Clean. Simple.

I saw a pendulum in the middle of the aisle. I’ve seen those before and they’re usually to show the rotation of the earth throughout the year but this one is different. Since the city is slowly sinking into the mud this one shows how much the cathedral is shifting.

The city has a lot of tilting, a lot of sagging. Near the end of the tour we saw a two buildings where they needed to spackle between them because they were ever so slowly sliding away from each other.

Outside the cathedral is the main square. The cathedral is a major center of Catholicism. It may seem obvious but it’s important. Directly in front of the cathedral were people sitting in front of blankets. I assumed they were selling trinkets but no, they had herbs and candles and other objects. And they were practicing pagan rituals taught down throughout the generations from their ancestors. I heard a sound that concerned me, it sounded like a man AGGRESSIVELY vomiting but it was one of the shamans doing a bark / growl combo. He was cleansing a woman of demons because she was possessed. This is real. Did I mention this was happening in front of the cathedral? And is that a child’s skull on that blanket? It was at that time that I left. I did not need that answered.

Time for candy and snacks. We went to a ye olde candy shop that sold traditional Mexican sweets. The interior and signage is intact and unchanged.

The guide Pau pointed out one particular snack, a brick of seeds. She said:

“You know, this was banned when the Spanish got here.”

Me: “?”

Pau: “It is amaranth held together with honey.”

Me: “Sounds nice.”

Pau: “But it used to be held together with human blood.”

Me: “Ok, there it is.”

After that we went past the Palacio de Bellas Artes. It looks like a glorious Europen turn of the century building.

But if you get up close there are smatterings of Mexican imagery. Like the man wearing the jaguar head and the snakes around the doorway.

See? If you’re not looking you could totally miss it.

There were a few other things we saw that were notable. One is the inability of the Mexicans to carve lions in the 1500 – 1600s. They had jaguars. They did great jaguars. Imagine a jaguar with a fluffy mane, right? Nope. Janky dog-monkeys for days.

Coming up next: Murals and craftsmen.

Mexico 2019 Part 3.

Friday, February 21st, 2020

I apologize for the tardiness between posts. My whole family thought my dad was DYING. We were doing the whole bedside vigil thing at the hospital which, as you can imagine, is very time-consuming. Over time we settled on Dying?? and then it turned into straight-up Not Dying and now he’s in a elderly care facility. I still split my time between working and helping my mom and there was no blogging. But now that he’s in a home and stable I can return to my regular activities. I would like to share my favorite picture from this whole ordeal and it’s when they transferred my dad from the hospital to the home.

Uhhh, that doesn’t look right, with the seat belts all higglety-pigglety like that. What is he, Hannibal Lecter? I sent the photo to Cricket who has locked many a person onto a stretcher in the same way and he simply wrote back “All of that is wrong.” I started laughing and couldn’t stop while I took this picture. Look at my father’s face. His expression says “Is this mockery absolutely necessary?” (It was.)

Before we get back to Mexico proper let’s look at some rando pics I have and wish to share.

Art Nouveau stained glass.

Extremely large cactus. The Moomins for scale.

Coffee maker. I had them explain how it works. You put water in the golden container on the right and light the little flame underneath it. The water boils and goes through the tube into the glass container with the coffee grounds in it. Then the flame is extinguished and the vacuum created causes the now coffee-infused water back into the golden container. You open that wee spigot in the front and you’ve got your coffee. I think it’s pretty cool.

Okay, onto the actual topics of the day. We went on a tour of the main part of Mexico City in the morning and then a tour of the murals in the same area. First we explored the center of the city. The guide (who’s name was Pau, she was awesome) said if we take one thing away from this tour it is “Don’t build your city on a lake.” There was originally an island in the center and then the island-dwellers made proto-islands all around that to grow crops and then they became legit islands and then the lake was drained and now everything is on squishy ground and is sinking down in the most inconvenient way. This is a major church in the middle of the city.

The property of the church is a solid four feet below the street level because it is heading on down and they can’t lift it up, churches are very heavy. So now there are stairs and that’s just how it is.

This is the city square. It is the third largest city square in the world: First there’s the one in Moscow, then Tiananmen Square in China and this one.

Off to one side was a section where someone was digging to create a structure and oh look it’s an archeology site and now we can’t dig anymore.

It was very cool. There was a snake, possibly a feathered serpent:

But the thing that I found the most helpful was a 3D map that showed all the islands that the original dwellers made to grow crops.

Hospital! Pau took us to a hospital, the most mundane-looking hospital you can imagine. If I had to describe it I would use the words “unexceptional and satisfactory.” Here’s a picture of a hallway.

I couldn’t fathom why we were there until Pau took us inside. Turns out the bleh hospital was built around a colonial hospital and that was secret-y and beautiful.

You can see a bit of the present hospital built around this courtyard.

Here’s the entry on Wikipedia about the history of this hospital.

The Church and Hospital are supposedly located at the spot where Hernán Cortés and Moctezuma II met for the first time in 1519, which was then the beginning of the causeway leading to Iztapalapa. Cortés ordered the hospital built to tend to Aztec soldiers wounded fighting with the Spanish.

In his last will, Cortés states that he wanted the hospital to be built for the sons of the Aztec warriors who had perished in battle during the Conquest of Tenochtitlan. This was not an institution for wounded Spanish soldiers.

In 1646, the hospital was the site of the first autopsies performed on the American continent, performed to teach anatomy to medical students of the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico. In 1715, the hospital published the Regia Academia Mariana Practica Medica to promote more professional practices in the field of medicine in New Spain. The building today continues to function as a hospital.

On the second level a class was being taught to the hospital staff. Did you know nurses still wear those WWII origami hats? I did not.

I was delighted to see that someone built anatomy models out of clay as opposed to buying fancy plastic ones. Crafts! For science!

Now, I came with The Moomins to Mexico City to see the murals by all the famous artists (there will be a post about them later). I am ashamed to say my favorite murals were the ones surrounding the outer edge of this courtyard painted in the 1970s by no one of note. I thought they were so smooth and magical, like a combination of Rousseau and Where The Wild Things Are. I found a photo of the panel representing the meeting of Cortés and Moctezuma.

The Wikipedia entry says that the strip above the mural is original from the 1600s and I’d like to believe that, but Wikipedia also says these murals were painted by the famous Mexican artist Orozco and that is definitely wrong. This is the mural.

And this is a typical example of Orozco’s work.

Yeah, no. I don’t care who you are, you can see that. So the entire second floor has this mural representing the typical life of  pre-Colonial and a bit of post-Colonial societies. There is symbolism everywhere. For example, the reason the little kid is holding a bunny near the moon is because the bunny represents the moon. I found that so cool because Japan has the same folklore. It’s amazing how distant cultures have the same mythologies.

This is a wedding. The bride and groom tied their garments together during the ceremony which Mexicans still do but on a smaller scale like tying handkerchiefs together. The elders on either side are whispering wisdom to each other and those marks coming out of their mouths represent talking. It’s so cool that they look like our speech bubbles but the pictograms were created hundreds of years ago and were translated when the Aztec Codexes were found. People have always been people.

This panel represents magic and occurrences that foretold the future. That’s what the comet represents as well as the conjoined twin.

In addition to corn, squash and beans, the food staples of the indigenous people, insects were and are a big part of the diet (as mentioned in an earlier post). The two big edible bug groups are grasshoppers and maguey worms. The woman is covered in maguey worms and no one knows what the artist was going for but the common theory is that she is the spirit and source of the vital protein.

Once outside again we saw a cornerstone of a Spanish building. When Cortés ‘n’ Crew arrived they wanted to convert everyone to Catholicism so the Spanish knocked down all the existing temples and scattered the stones so the temples could not be reassembled. After a substantial amount of time Catholicism was the official religion and the Spanish could ease up on the oppression of the local belief system. Someone found this cool stone and used it as the cornerstone, probably not realizing it is the head of the most important god of the original Mexicans, Quetzalcoatl the Feathered Serpent.

Coming up next: More Mexico City tour with Cathedral.

Mexico 2019 Part 2.

Tuesday, January 21st, 2020

We’re going to talk about Gods and Death, big day, but first – eatin’ bugs.

Mexico is not afraid to talk about their penchant for insect consumption and that’s how we stumbled on this exhibition:

What enticed us in were the very large wicker ants gracing the foyer and balcony.

The actual exhibit had photos of local insects with recipes which I neglected to copy down so now we will never know the proper way to prepare moth stew or whatever.

And I was delighted by the print of an anthropomorphic beetle reading an important document to a rapt audience of winged critters.

Unrelated but still on the topic of food: I had no idea that Lebanese cuisine had such an influence in Mexico. But I saw shwarma stands all over the place.

I learned that shwarma is a Lebanese influence. Mexico has a whole bunch of different influences. From Wikipedia:

During the 19th century, Mexico experienced an influx of various immigrants, including French, Lebanese, German, Chinese and Italian, which have had some effect on the food. During the French intervention in Mexico, French food became popular with the upper classes. An influence on these new trends came from chef Tudor, who was brought to Mexico by the Emperor Maximilian of Habsburg. One lasting evidence of this is the variety of breads and sweet breads, such as bolillos, conchas and much more, which can be found in Mexican bakeries. The Germans brought beer brewing techniques and the Chinese added their cuisine to certain areas of the country. This led to Mexico characterizing its cuisine more by its relation to popular traditions rather than on particular cooking techniques.

Okay, on to the main topic. Day 1 started with a trip to the Anthropological Museum. It is a totally awesome museum, especially in layout. There’s an big open middle plaza between all the buildings that make up the museum. The plaza is covered by cement and it’s supported by an enormous pillar with indigenous symbols. Bonus: It’s also a fountain. Like a giant tree surrounded by a waterfall. It’s great. This is my picture and it’s crappy. However you can get a sense of scale. That small man with his arms up at the bottom? That’s Cricket and he’s 6’2″.

Here are some better pics I found on the web.

As we entered the first exhibition hall we were greeted by this sculpture.

And this display of a necklace made from human teeth.

I was like “Oh, you’re not going to warm me up with an icebreaker? We’re gonna go right into it? Alright, okay.”

I saw this article when I got home and I understood it. Crystal clear. The Pre-Columbian people were not cute. They would eat your children and make a tiara of the leftover phalanges if they felt like it.

One of the best displays was the outdoor temples. Now remember, we’re in the middle of a city with limited space so whoever designed this did a kickass job. The temples are nestled in thick foliage and you really couldn’t hear the cars even though you were right next to the street.

I saw of my favorite exhibition items, like a mummlet (what I call a mummy that’s in the crouching position, bonus points if they’re stuffed in a ceramic urn).

A selection of shrines with offerings.

Some excellent filigree work done with gold.

Clarification of filigree and why it’s so impressive.

That’s tough to do today with modern tools, imagine how difficult it was to do way back then.

Here’s a supremely janky looking snail.

A screaming badger.

This smiling… frog, maybe? We’ll go frog.

There was a recreation of mural (because the original is some cave in the mountains) and I loved how the brown and black elements overlapped and interacted with each other.

There were some tombs with their contents.

What appeared to be a quaint little KKK meeting rendered in clay.

When I first saw this pair of earrings I immediately went “Nazi!! Nazi earrings!!” but when I got closer I realized my error. From farther away they distinctly resemble something Fuhrer-y.

The cafe downstairs had very nice offerings and if I go back I want to get the salad with the grasshoppers.

And I liked the way you donated to the museum. You dropped coins in the mouth of the snake and they zippered their way down to the bottom. Good design.

Mexico 2019 Part 1.

Monday, December 30th, 2019

Mexico! I went a ways back to Mexico City and Puerto Vallarta for the beading intensive with my dream beading artists so I’m not going to cover everything because I did a considerable amount already (see here for the last trip). Anything new I will share aggressively; I accrued a lot. Let’s start with the flight to Mexico City. As we lined up to board I was next to some men that had a really specific look going on. After studying their tattoos (skulls, Satanic pentagrams, skulls with Satanic pentagrams, horned demon faces, flames, upside-down crosses, naked ladies making bad choices, etc.), their black clothing and their guitar cases I came to the (correct) conclusion that these gentlemen were in a band. I did some research when I saw the stickers on their luggage and their name is Belphegor. Belphegor is listed as “blackened death metal” because apparently “death metal” didn’t adequately get the point across. Some of their albums are Blood Magick Necromance, Infernal Live Orgasm and my personal favorite, Bondage Goat Zombie. What was most surprising is they were very nice. I don’t know what I expected, maybe they would eat raw meat or something but they didn’t do any of that. One of them had a neck pillow covered in other band’s names which was rather sweet. The only problem I had was – you know when you’re finding your seat and you’re putting your luggage in the overhead bins and the plane is playing pleasant stuff? The lead singer called in “scheisse musick” and I was like sir, this is Fleetwood Mac’s “Hold Me” and while it is not everyone’s taste it’s a classic, I’m sorry AeroMexico is not blasting some festive number about a cockroach-infused undead woman so settle down with your snotty comments. Drink your beer and eat your snacks and hush.

Please enjoy their logo.

My main purpose for going to Mexico was two-fold: One was to show The Moomins the Diego Rivera murals and Teotihuacan and to go to the studios of the artist who made the alebrijes I saw in Puerto Vallarte. In case you don’t remember I went to a gallery called Peyote People where I was introduced to this exquisite work:

Yeah. I felt a lot of feelings but the pieces were thousands of dollars and that’s more dollars than I have. I did end up buying some small pieces and I was right – going directly to the artists’ studio dropped the prices considerably. An added bonus is watching them work and meeting them in person. That was pretty miraculous.

Here are a few loner images to whet the appetite.

This place was not open so I don’t know what they were selling. I will never know.

I really liked this chandelier with the flame-shaped glass caps over the actual bulbs.

You’re damn right I paid to take a picture with the Mexican Freddy Mercury. That’s not an opportunity you can pass up.

At a church there was this campaign to make items for handicapped people using soda tops. I liked both the idea and the designs.

There were almost no Chinese restaurants which as an American made me feel confused and uncomfortable so when I saw this one I felt compelled to take a picture of it.

The skyline of Mexico City main square at sunset. I like this picture. It’s so black and spiky.

More to come.