Category Archives: Mexico City

Post-Earthquake Report for San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas: Rumor or Fact

The 8.2 magnitude earthquake shook southern Oaxaca state and Chiapas a month ago on September 7, 2017. What’s the situation in Chiapas now?

I asked my friends Ann Conway, owner of La Joya Hotel, and Bela Wood, owner of Bela’s B&B, for an on-the-ground report about the state of things in and around San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas.

The best of the best vintage from San Andres Larrainzar, Chiapas

What suffered damage there? I asked. What is closed? What is being repaired? Are tourist sites open and safe? What about visiting villages like Zinacantan, Chamula, Tenejapa, and Magdalenas?

I asked because we have two spaces open for the February 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour, and several inquirers express reluctance to commit right now.  (If you are interested, send me an email and I’ll send you the program description.)

Zinacantan man in tradition traje costume

Seems like there is a US State Department Advisory for the area and a rumor flying that Centro Textiles Mundo Maya is closed.

Here is what  Ann and Bela replied.

Bela Wood says, As far as I know all the villages are okay. In the historic center, two churches are closed pending repairs, and the Palacio Municipal is closed for repair.  Otherwise it’s fine. It feels quite safe. In fact we held up amazingly well for the size of the earthquake.

Ann Conway says, Many of our guests are from Mexico and other countries that don’t give much credence to what the US government has to say about safety here in Chiapas. Most of us who know and live in Mexico agree with this.

Embroidered blouse from Amantenango

Amigos de San Cristobal, an NGO support group, says, Hello Norma, Chiapas was affected by the quake, but the areas with the most damage were on the coast. Some museums are closed but not the Centro Textiles Mundo Maya textile museum.  In the villages of Zinacantán and Chamula all is good. We hope you will come visit us and we look forward to welcoming you. It is safe. 

Centro Textiles Mundo Maya, is the Chiapas textile museum located in the historic center of San Cristobal de las Casas. Here is what they say: We are still standing! We are pleased to share the news that our ex-convent of Santo Domingo was inspected by specialists and is in excellent condition to continue operations. We are waiting for the permits to perform minor repairs and resume our normal activities soon. 

Ex-convent Santo Domingo, Museo Textiles Mundo Maya

As for OAXACA: 

I’ve written before and I’ll say it again, Oaxaca City is safe. There has been very little damage and no loss of life. The same for the tourist destinations of Puerto Escondido and Huatulco. Please do not cancel your visit!

 

Sunday Afternoon on the Last Aztec Lagoon: Xochimilco

We packed it in. After a Sunday morning at Casa Azul followed by seeing the largest private collection of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo paintings at the Museo Dolores Olmedo, we took an UBER (safe, easy, the only way to get around in Mexico City, despite USA negatives) to the Embarcadero de Nativitas in Xochimilco for a boat ride on the last Aztec canals in Mexico City.

Colorful fun. Fake flower crown vendors, Xochimilco.

Sunday is definitely the day to go. You get the full experience of what it is like to party on the trajineras — the flat bottom boat that can hold huge families,

How about some lively mariachi music? A Mexican tradition.

plus an entourage of mariachis playing guitars, trumpets, accordions and violins.

Sunday is the best day to be on the Xochimilco lagoons for people-watching.

It’s almost like riding a gondola in Venice, Italy. Maybe better. Much more colorful.

Dancing the afternoon away, Xochimilco

Sometimes families bring their own cook and the smell and smoke of grilling meats pervades the waterways. Sometimes families bring their own beer and the bottles pile up for the longer rides through the canals.

You can buy a pig en route, just transfer from their boat to yours.

It is festive, relaxing and the quintessential Mexican experience.  Is it touristy? Yes. But, it’s also real because locals do this as part of birthdays, anniversaries, and any other excuse to have a celebration.

Expand the party and tie two boats together

Sometimes, you see two trajineras tethered together, so groups of forty or more can jump between boats, dance, sing and generally carouse. Children find their entertainment, too, relaxing in the sun, playing games, and dancing along with the adults. Just being together.

It’s a perfect way to enjoy the family, just 45 minutes from city center

The rate is fixed per boat: 350 pesos per hour. We went out for two hours and the next time, I think being out on a four-hour excursion would be better.

Doll island. Some say its haunted.

Then, we could get into the more remote areas where birds and flowers are more prevalent than people.

I had fresh roasted native corn on the cob. Valeria chose esquites.

Hungry? A small boat will pull up and entrepreneurial vendors will sell you grilled corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, chili and lime juice. Thirsty? Beer and soft drinks are delivered the same way.

How about a pulque? Fermented agave sap for Aztec power.

Want a souvenir? Buy a fake flower crown in any color of the rainbow. Need a pit stop? Clean facilities offer service for five pesos.

Buy a synthetic shawl or a plastic doll. Cheap fun.

On the return trip to the docking area, we had a traffic jam.  Boats jammed up against each other, unable to move.

Moving the boat along. You can even buy plants from passing gondolas.

The gondoliers doing a ballet of pushing the long stick into the muck and against the next boat to jockey into a clear passageway.

Straining to move the boats on the last leg of our voyage.

Sometimes, they jumped boats to help each other out.  Muscles straining, taut. Bodies at forty-five degree angles to the water.

The push-pull of getting out of the traffic jam.

I never heard a curse, only the sound of laughter and music from the party-goers, only too happy to spend extra time on the water as the boatmen sorted it out.

A jumble of color at the docking station.

Xochimilco is the last remaining vestige of what the lake region looked like during the Aztec period, pre-Conquest 1521.

Local emptying, then anchoring his launch.

This is how people got around from one island to the next. The people who live here still do. They are gardeners, growers of fruits and vegetables. It used to be that not too long ago the boats were covered in fresh flowers. Today, they are adorned with painted wood.

A remote waterway off-the-beaten path, like a jungle.

The next time you are in Mexico City, allow yourself at least a half-day to enjoy this respite from city life. Perhaps I’ll spend my next birthday here, hire a mariachi band and dance the afternoon away.

A serenade from shore on an island by the lagoon

For now, I’m at my other home in North Carolina, enjoying August heat and humidity, and the comfort of friends.

Norma Lupita, followed by Mexico Lindo. Porsupuesto.

 

Details, Another View of Frida Kahlo at Casa Azul

In the last three years, I’ve probably visited Casa Azul, where Frida Kahlo was born and lived with Diego Rivera, over ten times. I come because I organize the art history study tour, Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera.

Frida Kahlo Calderon, daughter of Jewish Hungarian father and Oaxaquena mother

Can you get to Mexico City next weekend?

On this latest visit last Friday with a group from Australia and New Zealand, I served as a consultant for their leader who wanted a one-day quick immersion into Frida’s life for her group.

Frida’s father and mother, her portrait of them

I wondered: How do I continue to take photos of the same iconographic details of Frida and Diego’s life?  The paint brushes. The photographs. The furniture. The folk art collection.

Detail of studio paint brushes, her strokes became weaker at the end

The pre-Hispanic ceramics and lava rock sculpture. The clothing. The frog urn that contains her ashes. The paintings she created out of pain. Reverence. Disappointment. Courage. Commitment to love and family. Passion.

Watermelons. Celebration of Life. Finished just before death.

Go to the details, I told myself. Captures the parts, not the whole. Focus on the brush strokes. The lace. The color. The shadows and reflections. The images of the men and women she loved.

Colored oil crayons, still neatly boxed, waiting. Ready.

Go to the details. Find the ribbons. Find the ribs of the plant leaves. The shape of flowers. The accoutrements of the corsets and built-up shoes to hide her deformities. The textures and reflections.

Palm ribs in the expansive garden, Casa Azul

She put such a strong, uplifting face to the world despite her injuries — physical and emotional.

She called Diego “Toad” and “Panza” — ashes contained within the frog jug.

This trip to Casa Azul was different for me and I used the experience to examine the infinite, small parts of life that we often scan over to take in the big picture.

Visceral, the insides of a gourd, like a fertile womb ready to give seed. But she couldn’t.

If you want to join me in Mexico City, Thursday, July 29, for a July 30 morning start to a three-day immersion into the murals, paintings and lives of Friday and Diego, there is a space for you. It’s so easy to fly in and out!

Lover, sculptor Isamu Noguchi, in Mexico

Why is Frida Kahlo an icon? Perhaps you would like to help me answer this question.

Supported by a frame, a corset, exposed, bare and barren.

What does she represent for women who aspire to be independent, strong, feminine and vulnerable?

Painting from a wheel chair, Casa Azul

She hid her misshapen body beneath glorious hand-woven and embroidered dresses, put her best foot and face forward. Persevered and thrived.

Loved by photographer Nicolas Murry. She was devoted to Diego.

Today, she is more famous, more revered than Diego Rivera because she exposed herself and revealed the internal, damaged self.

Frida refused to let her polio define her, though she wore a brace, sturdy shoes.

Andre Breton called her Mexico’s surrealist painter. She is more than that. Surrealism conjures up Salvador Dali and the distortions he saw in life. Frida reflected on her own distortions and created beauty from them.

Saludos, Norma

On the bus, a fateful day of destruction and a lifetime of reconstruction

Would Frida have become the painter she did without having suffered the trolley car accident that sent a metal spear through her uterus?

Frida Kahlo, 1907-1954

Self-portrait, through Frida Kahlo’s looking glass

Sometimes courage requires that we each put one foot in front of the other to move forward, despite set-backs. We love Frida Kahlo because through her story she teaches us that life requires risk, innovation, and that being afraid is part of our existence.

Painted gourd adorns kitchen table in Casa Azul

When Frida died, Diego Rivera wanted to establish a museum to honor her. She was not yet recognized. He convinced his friend, Dolores Olmedo, to invest in purchasing Frida’s paintings and Casa Azul.

Closet where Frida’s belongings were sealed for 50 years

But, he made her promise not to open the green closet door, where clothing, diaries and photos remained secreted for fifty years.

In 2006, the closet was opened and art history was rewritten.

The garden at Casa Azul

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Study Tour, July 27-30, 2017

This may be the only Frida-Diego Tour this year! Our art historian has limited availability. Take advantage of the special offering.

Arrive Thursday, July 27 and depart Monday, July 30, 2017

Cost is $645 per person. (Does not include lodging)

Come to Mexico City to explore the lives of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera through their art. This is in-depth art history education at its best! We offer you a narrated, leisurely cultural immersion that you can miss if you visit on your own. Our expert guide is a bi-lingual Mexican art historian! Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Schafer participates in all programs. Small group size limited to 8 people for quality experience.

We will send you the zocalo area meeting location after you register.

 

Arrive by 4 p.m. and meet for a group dinner on Thursday at 7 p.m. We will have a long weekend — three full days —  to learn about Diego Rivera‘s stunning Mexico City murals, visit Casa Azul where Diego and Frida Kahlo lived, and see the largest private collection of their work at the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

Man Controller of the Universe mimics destroyed Rockefeller Center mural

Through their eyes, you will better understand Mexico’s political, cultural and social history, and their personal lives together. Theirs is a story of Mexico’s development as a post-revolutionary modern nation.

If you want to register, send me an email.

A few little nips

A few little nips — Frida painted this after Rivera’s affair with her sister

This is an incredible experience! The Rivera murals at the Secretary of Public Education building were like nothing I expected. The scale, the intensity, the variation of themes, the continual flow of connecting  vignettes – just mind blowing! It isn’t just an art tour. It is an intense immersion into the beginning of an art movement, a cultural movement, and a culmination of historic events that come alive. — Christine Bouton, North Carolina

 

Our expert guide is a noted art historian who holds a master’s degree in art history. She will soon begin a doctoral program. She shares her passion for the Mexican Muralists, narrates the expedition, and leads us through these spaces to give you the most meaningful educational experience:

  • Palacio Nacional
  • Palacio Bellas Artes
  • Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera
  • Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP)
  • San Ildefonso National Preparatory School
  • Abelardo Rodriguez market
  • Casa Azul — the home of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo
  • Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño

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Yes, you can visit these places independently. But it’s not likely you will get the same in-depth knowledge, insights, and perspectives we offer.

 

She called him toad. He was 20 years older. They were passionate about life, politics, each other. They shaped the world of modern art and she became an icon in her own right, creating an independent identity that serves as a role model for women. They were twice married and unfaithful, the subjects of books and film, and art retrospectives around the world.

Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park mural covers 500 years of Mexican history

Rivera’s Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park

 

Rivera’s mural at the Palacio Nacional (National Palace) covers detailed Mexican history, from pre-Hispanic America to the Spanish Conquest through industrialization, including the French and U.S. invasions, from 1521 to 1930.

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival, painted this mural at Palacio Bellas Artes

David Alfaro Sequieros, Rivera rival;  Palacio Bellas Artes mural

Plus, you will have lots of options for independent exploration: shop for outstanding folk art, and eat at local markets, historic and fine contemporary and traditional restaurants! Visit the Anthropology Museum.

Lunch at the gourmet Mercado San Juan

Lunch at the gourmet market, Mercado San Juan

See our reviews on Trip Advisor!

Base Trip Includes:

  • welcome dinner at renown restaurant Azul Historico
  • guided discussions by an expert, bilingual art historian educated at UNAM and graduate Southern Methodist University
  • introduction to Norma’s favorite restaurants (meals not included) and folk art galleries
  • transportation to Casa Azul and Dolores Olmedo Museum
  • complete travel packet and readings sent in advance via email

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Preliminary Itinerary

  • Day 1, Thursday:  Meet for group dinner at 7 p.m. at an excellent zocalo area. Dinner included in your tour cost. Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Day 2, Friday: guided visit to SEP, Colegio de San Idlefonso, where Diego met Frida, and the Abelardo Rodriguez market where Rivera’s students, including Pablo O’Higgins, painted. Lunch and dinner on your own. Includes museum admission fees. Overnight in Mexico City.

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28

One of 125 Rivera painted at SEP, 1923-28, this one mocking the bourgeoisie

  • Day 3, Saturday: guided visit to Palacio Bellas Artes and Museo Mural de Diego Rivera. Optional folk art shopping or visit to Anthropology Museum. Lunch and dinner on your own. Includes museum admission fees. Overnight in Mexico City.

Palacio Bellas Artes built during Porfirio Diaz presidency

Palacio Bellas Artes built during the 30-year Porfirio Diaz presidency

  • Day 4, Sunday:  guided visit to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño. Includes transportation, admission fees. Lunch included.
  •  Overnight in Mexico City.
  • Depart on Monday for home.

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional

The oldest street in Mexico next to the Palacio Nacional looks like Europe

Be ready to WALK and then, walk some more!  Don’t forget to bring an extra suitcase to pack treasures you pick up along the way.

  • Cost is $645 per person for the tour package.
  • Cost DOES NOT include lodging
  • Includes all city transportation, museum admission fees, selected meals as specified in the itinerary

Please make your own lodging arrangements, reserve and pay your hotel directly. You are asked to book your hotel in the Historic Center of Mexico City within walking distance to the Zocalo. We recommend Hotel Catedral or Chill Out Flat or El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico. 

Tiffany glass ceiling at El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

Tiffany ceiling, El Gran Hotel Ciudad de Mexico

What the cost does not  include:

  • hotel accommodations/lodging
  • meals except noted in itinerary, alcoholic beverages
  • transportation to/from Mexico City
  • mandatory international health/accident insurance
  • tips for hotels, meals and other services

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You might like to arrive early to stay later to discover Mexico City and her incredible museums and restaurants. We will give you a list  of recommendations to explore on your own.

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Katharsis, 1934 mural by Jose Clemente Orozco, Palacio Bellas Artes

Reservations and Cancellations.  Full payment is requested to reserve. Payment shall be made by PayPal.  We will send you an itemized PayPal invoice.

If you cancel on or before July 1, 2017, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

Frida died July 12, 1954 not long after she painted these watermelons

Frida died July 13, 1954, at age 47, soon after she painted these watermelons

Required–Travel Health/Accident Insurance:  We require that you carry international accident/health/emergency evacuation insurance.  Proof of insurance must be sent at least two weeks before departure.  If you do not wish to do this, we ask you email a PDF of a signed and witnessed waiver of liability, holding harmless Norma Hawthorne Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. Unforeseen circumstances happen!

 

To register, email us at norma.schafer@icloud.com. We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

Frida’s sketchbook & journal; notice the deformed leg from childhood polio.

This workshop is produced by Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to adjust the itinerary and substitute leaders without notice.

A note to Frida from Diego two years after her death … “you live in my heart.”

Paint brushes in Frida’s studio at Casa Azul, exactly as she left them

Mexico City Architecture: Luis Barragan House Photo Essay

True Confession: In all the years I’ve been visiting Mexico City, I never made it to the Casa Luis Barragan in Colonia Condesa. One of the benefits of staying in this neighborhood is to make a pilgrimage to the home where this disciple of Corbusier lived. You MUST make a reservation in advance to visit. Only small groups go through the house and studio with a guide.

Textured and adjoining smooth walls add drama

Luis Barragan, winner of the Pritzker Prize, is one of Mexico’s most famed architects who influenced an entire generation of architects, including Ricardo Legorretta, has volumes written about him. His work is documented with great photography. I hope you read more.

What fascinates me is how he uses space — sometimes spare, sometimes cluttered, always calculated. His brilliant and punctuated use of color is incorporated into serene, cloistered rooms. I am surprised to move from small, intimate spaces into large living areas with high ceilings, walls, partitions, bringing the outdoors into the interior. There are design lessons to be learned here for how to live with a few, very meaningful objects.

Center piece. Lots of tables and niches and nooks to settle into throughout the house.

Twenty foot ceilings make small rooms larger.

Photo of Barragan, exceptionally tall, posing on floating staircase

The Miguelito Chair, designed by Barragan

Floating staircase leads to small study on second floor from library

Intimate, small library, cozy, comfortable

Painting by friend Mathias Goeritz is like a mirror

Color, louvered doors accentuates space transition

Rooftop terrace at Casa Luis Barragan

Stunning hot pink wall is backdrop to blooming vines

Mexican flowering vine Copa de Oro

Tonala, Guadalajara hand-blown glass globes reflect in every room

Luscious color in entry way, detail

One small lamp illuminates Barragan’s private dining room

Barragan, a very private man, loved his solitude. His small, dark, private dining room is like a cloister. Extremely tall, very religious, he designed spaces with small door frames and low ceilings, requiring him to bend as if in prayer, as he moved through his home and studio.

Reflection from inside to out, bringing the spaces together.

Collection of old ceramic mezcal jars are focal point of small patio

Patios have small water features, either fountains or large lava rock or ceramic bowls to collect water, that reflects nature.

Hot pink door opens to verdant green space.

My sister Barbara in the living room through the glass.

Warm colors of studio — he painted skylights and windows yellow

Outside a neighbor’s house, a whimsical sculpture

I love these globes. You can buy them in patio shops throughout the USA.

Sister Barbara in silhouette. Large windows bring green to interior.

Studio space is used as a gallery for featured shows now.

Where we are staying: In a penthouse apartment owned by Nai, with a terrace overlooking the treetops and rooftops of this walkable neighborhood. I highly recommend this location. See it on Air BnB.

We are getting around using UBER. Most rides are under $4 USD. Safe, on-time, dependable, secure.