Mexico City with Kevin Sharp, Part One

It had been nearly twenty-five years since I visited Mexico, and neither of us had ever seen its capital. We arrived in Mexico City, Erin and me, on a sunny (if hazy) Sunday afternoon; we gathered our bags, cleared customs, and located the shuttle that would take us to where we were staying in the Colonia Centro, just west of the Zocalo neighborhood.     

Most of the way from the airport to the Centro, our friendly driver chirped away about the sights we were seeing and the city's formidable traffic, which he almost seemed proud of as we weaved from lane to lane searching for a competitive advantage. He warned us that most of the Centro was closed for the day to automobiles and buses, a welcome monthly vacation from exhaust fumes for locals and travelers alike, but it meant traffic just outside the district would be more congested than usual.  He was right; as we approached the Centro, we slowed to a crawl.  The driver got us as near to the Avenida Juarez as he dared, which was not close at all, and our first unguided glimpse of the city was from within wave after wave of pedestrians out on Sunday strolls.     

Mexico City is huge, nearly 22,000,000 people are packed into its many colonias, and a healthy percentage were in the Centro that day.  I was there for the Association of Art Museum Directors' (AAMD) meeting, and looked forward to seeing friends and colleagues. We arrived too late to join the sightseeing excursion that had been arranged for the afternoon, so, we plunged into the Alameda Central, the oldest park in Mexico City. Alameda Central is filled with fountains and statues, and of course people, enjoying the beautiful day and each other's company.  At the west end, vendors under bright red canopies sell candy or grilled meats or toys or brightly colored running shoes. It is crowded with sights and smells, vivid, colorful, and beautiful in its unguarded candor.  We got in step with other strollers in the park, their pace slower than ours, less urgent; they had seen it all before, they would see it again, why hurry?  We walked past old men with their arms crossed, sitting on long, curved limestone benches, in sometimes heated discussions with their neighbors, while just inches away, lovers kiss passionately, untroubled by all the talk around them.  We examined the gleaming white Hemicycle Benito Juarez, while young skateboarders zipped around it and tourists (like us) snapped photos with their phones.  Later, we stared confounded at monuments to two Germans, Alexander von Humboldt (the naturalist, explorer, and author) and his near contemporary, Ludwig van Beethoven, at either end of the park.  There must surely be a reason for their presence, and there is, but they are completely unrelated. Humboldt spent nearly a year in Mexico (March 1803-March 1804) during his famous explorations of Latin America. The bronze sculpture commemorating the 200th anniversary of the start of this epic journey was only dedicated in 1999.  The monument to Beethoven was a 1921 gift of German expatriates living in Mexico City to the citizens of the capital.      

  

 

At the east end of the Alameda Central, just beyond the Beethoven monument, we came upon the magnificent Palacio de Bellas Artes.  It is the national theater, a museum, and one of the most beautiful buildings in the world.  It is a hybrid of sorts, begun in 1904, as Art Nouveau was taking hold of the popular imagination, but not completed until 1934, the age of Art Deco. In between, the building project was kept from completion by more than a few engineering challenges, political turmoil, and of course the Mexican Revolution.  As the evening light began to give way, the great Palacio's exterior illumination came on and the Carrara marble and glowing glass domes were just that much more striking and beautiful for it.

 

 

Posted by Chantal Drake at 10:46 AM
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