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Greetings from Mexico! I´ve been in Mexico City for nearly a week and tomorrow I´m flying to Campeche, up in the Yucatan peninsular. So here are a few words about what I´ve been up to here.
What are your preconceptions about this enormous city? Air pollution, crime, poverty? Well none of those have particularly struck me. True I did go up to the 42nd floor of the Torre Latinamerican and you couldn´t see very far from the top, but how many people have had no view from the Eiffel Tower or the London Eye? And there are certainly no more beggars here than you would find in London or Manchester. In all it´s a very bustling place with things going on all the time.
The place is crawling with police. I mean literally dozens on each street corner, with different coloured uniforms with different amounts of braid and many of them heavily armed. I don´t know if this is normal, but it just makes me think "if each of those salaries could be going to a teacher or a doctoer".
I´ve been lucky to come when I have. The 15th September is Independence Day, and they´ve been having an extended fiesta for a week already. I´m staying right next to the Zocalo, the main square in the historic centre, and on Saturday night they had Mexico´s answer to Frank Sinatra (or maybe Tom Jones) crooning away all evening. During the day the square is full of stalls, including huge marquees full of handicrafts. Quite a spectacle.
Most of the obvious things-to-see here are the pre-conquest archaeological remains. I took a bus out to Teotihuacan (quite an adventure in itself - but at least there is a bus); this is the famous place with pyramids built by the Aztecs (or should that be the Mexaca - not too sure about those two). Very impressive, but infuriatingly full of hawkers trying to sell plastic pyramids and similar tat. Also, I realised after a while that it had all been quite substantially reconstructed in the early 1900s. They don't make that very clear - but today I went to the national art museum and a 19th century painting of the site that made it quite clear how much it had been restored. They now think that the restoration added one more step to the pyramid than it should have had!
Teotihuacan is about 40km from the city centre and was relatively undamaged during the conquest. But a similar temple complex existed here in what is now the centre of Mexico City, and that got flattened (and much of the stone used to build the impressive and wobbly cathedral). They started digging it up in 1978, and thanks to the conquistador´s flattening the seven stages of construction have been revealed - periodically they built a new pyramid and temple over the top of the old one, and the altar of the bottom one is now visible. Very impressive, though it helps to see the cut-away model in the museum before looking at the rocks! These pictures are of a "Chac-Mool" figure (their rain god) on the exposed bottom-layer altar, and a stone thing with skulls carved in it; it would have had the real skulls of their sacrificial victims stacked on top.
So for a bit of variety I went to see Trotsky´s house, where he lived in exile in the late thirties and early forties, until he was assasinated (Stalin had condemened him to death in abcentia). Having just read Animal Farm it was all very fresh in my mind! It's a fascinating little place, and quite an oasis of calm in this very busy city: I saw my first humming-bird among the flowers.
Trotsky was invited to Mexico by a group of left-wing artists including Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Rivera is famous for his huge murals, and it was worth the security checks getting into the presidential palace to see his work there. He painted a huge wall above a staircase depicting the history of Mexico, and some smaller pieces including "what the Mexicans have given the world" (Chillies, rubber etc.). There are some pics at http://www.diegorivera.com/murals/ but they look more impressive full-size.
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