Tag Archives: Mexico City

Is Mexico Safe? My Experience

Is Mexico safe? I just got back to Oaxaca after traveling for three weeks in Mexico City, Estado de Mexico and Michoacan. In Michoacan there is a U.S. State Department Travel Advisory, (I include this link to safety vs. sensationalism.)

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I went to Morelia, Patzcuaro and rural villages. I traveled far out into the countryside in a car with two other women and walked gorgeous colonial towns. How safe was it? Was I scared?

Map of Mexico

The day I returned, a must read tongue-in-cheek post came in about safety in the Distrito Federal (D.F.), the nation’s capitol, from Jim Johnston who writes Mexico City: An Opinionated Guide for the Curious Traveler.  It triggered my wanting to tell you about my journey. Is Mexico safe?

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Me and Mary Anne (from the San Francisco Bay Area) teamed up to take this trip together. Yes, two women of some maturity and a modicum of wisdom traveling independently via bus, taxi, collectivo and sometimes, on foot!


We met up in Mexico City where we walked from our hotel to historic center destinations, often at night. Yes, it was dark. Did I feel threatened or at risk? No. I stayed on well-lit streets with good sidewalks and lots of pedestrians. Mexicans love to meander with their families at night, eating an ice cream cone or nibbling on a torta, pushing a stroller or walking arm-in-arm.

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We took a taxi, arranged by our hotel, to the regional bus station at Observatorio, and bought same day tickets on the Caminante bus line to Toluca. We were the only gringas on the bus. At the Toluca bus station, MA watched the bags and I bought a Taxi Seguro (secure taxi) ticket from the clearly marked stand inside the terminal to Tenancingo de Degollado. The worry was how we were going to get our five suitcases (three of them huge) into a small taxi rather than any safety issues.

Map of Estado de Mexico

Most of our trips in Tenancingo were via group van. But, when we/I (either together or separately) wanted to go to town, we went out to the front of our hotel and hailed a private taxi or jumped into a collectivo, sharing a ride with strangers.

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When we left Tenancingo, our next destination was Morelia, capital of Michoacan. So, we returned to the Toluca bus station and bought tickets on another bus line — Autovias — that serves that part of Mexico. Again, we were the only gringas on the bus (of either gender). It’s almost a four-hour bus ride to Morelia, whose tarnished reputation for being a drug cartel area has had a negative impact on tourism, even though it is safe by strict U.S. State Department standards.

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I don’t know if this is true or not. It didn’t seem like it. I did ask MA, when we were planning this trip, is it safe? Just once. She researched it and reported that the only possible dangerous areas were rural far from where we would be.

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I’ve never been to a cleaner, more pristine city than Morelia. It has an incredible Zocalo, classical music, great restaurants, 16th century colonial architecture, outstanding gardens, churches, universities, libraries, a comprehensive Casa de las Artesanias folk art gallery and is gateway to some of Mexico’s most amazing folk art. No one hassled us. In fact, everyone was warm and welcoming. Did I feel unsafe or threatened? Not for a minute. Neither does Guns N’ Roses!

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Nacho (Ignacio), our pre-arranged taxi driver, picked us up in Morelia and drove us to Patzcuaro, with a stop along the way to Capula, one of the craft villages.  I have friends from the USA who now live full-time in Patzcuaro. We hung out together during the time we weren’t going out to explore the Purepecha villages around the lake, and met the small, but mighty Patzcuaro ex-pat community, including photographer Flo Leyret (link to her photos below).

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Map of Michoacan

We spent the day poking around Santa Clara del Cobre — the copper mining village about thirty minutes beyond Patzcuaro where Purepecha people have been working the material with hand-forging and hammering since the 13th century.


Then, I got invited to go along to a concurso (juried folk art competition) in the village of Ahuiran, an hour-and-a-half north of Patzcuaro, where talented women weave rebozos on back-strap looms. Six of us, all women, drove in two cars over Michoacan countryside, through small villages, across rich farmland planted with corn and potatoes. At the entrance and exit to some villages there were guard posts and community-designated sentries asking us where we were going. It seems the villagers are protecting their territory and this is typical for rural Mexico where there can be land disputes or disagreements. Nothing to be afraid of.

Michoacan Artisans, Photographs by Florence Leyret Jeune

Patzcuaro 188-79 PatzLakeArtisans-16  [Above left is Purepecha ceramic artist Nicolas Fabian Fermin, from Santa Fe de Laguna, who I met this summer at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market, with his wife. Above right is Teofila Servin Barriga, another award-winning Purepecha artist whose embroidery has won many international awards. She will be at Lake Chapala, Guadalajara, for the annual folk art market. This rebozo she is wearing will sell for 15,000 pesos.]

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In Ahuiran, we were the only visitors and the best potential customers for these stunning hand-made shawls that started at 2,000 pesos. The elaborate feather fringed rebozos (photos are still in my camera) were commanding a 5,000 pesos price tag, more than most of the local women could afford. But, then, they could weave their own or buy from a relative!

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Why go to Michoacan? For the folk art, of course, and then, there’s the landscape, and the people, the history  ….

On my return to Oaxaca, I took a taxi from Morelia center to the regional bus terminal and bought my ticket the same day. It was a five-hour bus ride to Mexico City Norte terminal. I was the only foreigner on the bus. MA flew direct from Morelia to Oakland, CA on a non-stop Volaris flight. Lucky her. I, on the other hand, got into a secure taxi for the 30-minute ride to the airport to board the Interjet flight to Oaxaca ($116 USD round-trip).

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Okay, so that’s the story. Or at least skimming it. Mexico is a treasure trove of history, archeology, folk art, contemporary art, intellectual discourse and culture. Her cities are beautiful. Yes, some parts are not safe. Most parts are. Some have reputations for being unsafe that have never been true and/or might have been true two or three or four years ago, like Morelia. Morelia is safe now. It is gorgeous. I’d go back in a heartbeat.

Map of Oaxaca

Oaxaca has always been safe.

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Join us February 3-11, 2016 for Mexico Textiles and Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More. 4 Spaces Left!

El Rebozo Made in Mexico Exhibit, Franz Mayer Museum, Mexico City

Getting to see this exhibit El Rebozo Made in Mexico before it closes Sunday, August 30, 2015, has been a priority for me since I first heard about the planning for it several years ago from British fashion designer-textile artist Hilary Simon. I scheduled this Mexico City stopover of two days before returning to the U.S. just for this purpose.

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The rebozo, or shawl, is a symbol of Mexico’s cultural identity. Textile regions throughout the country have designed and woven these rebozos according to local custom. Some are woven on a back strap loom, others on a pedal loom by women and men who learned at the feet of their parents and grandparents.

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Some are finished off with elaborate macrame hand-tied fringes that can be as longs as twelve or eighteen inches. Some are plain weave and others are Mexican ikat or jaspe from the Tenancingo in the State of Mexico or Santa Maria del Rio in the State of San Luis Potosi. The one above is hand embroidered from the Isthmus of Tehuantepec.

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Fibers vary, too. There is silk, a mix of silk and cotton, rayon or artecel that is called “seda” (silk) here in Mexico, plus wool. The type of material, gauge of the thread and density of weave depends on the climate in each location.

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In pre-Columbian times, indigenous people cultivated coyuchi or wild cotton that is a beautiful caramel color, using it to weave garments, including rebozos. In the mountains above Oaxaca in a village called San Pedro Cajonos, they cultivate a wild silk the color of straw from a local worm, spinning it with a drop spindle. Below is the red silk rebozo dyed with cochineal by Moises Martinez, part of Lila Downs‘ collection.

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Local dyes were derived from indigo, wild marigold, nuts, mosses, tree bark. They used the caracol purpura snail found along the southern coast of Oaxaca to dye purple and the miniscule cochineal beetle, a parasite that lives on the prickly pear cactus paddle, for an intense, color-fast red.  Feathers dyed red with cochineal were often woven into the fibers for embellishments.

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All these techniques and materials are still used today and are part of the exhibition.

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The State of Oaxaca is well-represented in this exhibit. Many of the rebozos on display are part of the personal collections of Oaxaqueños and its institutions: Remigio Mestas Revilla, Mauricio Cervantes, Lila Downs, Trine Ellitsgaaard, Maddalena Forcella and The Museo Textil de Oaxaca.

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A black scented burial rebozo (above) woven in Tenancingo, part of Maurico Cervantes’ collection, displays an ancient Mexican tradition that is at risk of extinction because it is so labor intensive to make. Western fashion is dominating the tastes driven by a young, hip population.

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It is a completely manual process that takes months to complete. When you think of the rarity of the raw materials and the time commitment involved to complete a piece, it is no wonder that many command prices of up to $2,000 USD each.

Rebozo Franz Mayer 53-16 Rebozo Franz Mayer 53-18                 No Mexican exhibition would be complete without a reference to beloved Frida Kahlo. Above, left, is a photograph of a rebozo from her personal collection taken at Casa Azul by Pablo Aguinaco. To the right is a photographic portrait from 1951, just three years before her death at age 47.

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Other iconic images in the exhibition are this Diego Rivera painting, Vendadora de Flores, painted in 1934 (above), and this compelling photograph (below) by Pedro Valtiera taken in Oaxaca, 1974.

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I wanted to see the best of the best in preparation for a textile trip I’m taking to Tenancingo in September to the rebozo fair. Going to the exhibit is part of my continuing education to know even more about Mexico’s textile culture and the importance of garment for cultural identity and continuity.

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In addition to the textiles, the exhibit integrates old and new photographs, paintings, mixed media art work, memorabilia and related folk art.

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Above left is the felted wool and silk rebozo with cochineal stripe by Maddalena Forcella, titled Rebozo de Sangre, made in 2014. Above right is a handmade paper rebozo designed and constructed by Oaxaca textile artist Trine Ellitsgaard.

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Photographer Tom Feher, who lives in Oaxaca with his wife Jo-Ann during the winter months, is represented with photos he took of the Miramar, Oaxaca women’s cooperative (above) for his book, Weaving Cultures, Weaving Lives: A Circle of Women. Oaxaca photographers Antonio Turok and Mari Seder also have pieces in the show.

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I loved Hilary Simon‘s Mi Altar Mexicano (above) and a series of watercolors (below) that Christopher Corr painted in 2000, all capturing the rebozo and the women who wear them.

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Rebozos have so many uses. They carry babies and bundles. They are wrapped like a crown to balance a basket filled with fruit or tamales or flowers. They are folded and put atop the head for sun protection. They protect shoulders from the evening chill. They cover the breast as baby takes nourishment. They are the embodiment of Mexican life.

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El Rebozo Made in Mexico is at the Franz Mayer Museum, Hidalgo 45, Cuauhtemoc, Centrol Historico in Mexico City. Tel: 55 5518 2266. Open daily, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Monday. Hours can change, so call ahead to make sure they are open when you can be there.

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Frida Kahlo Mania: See Her in the USA

Our iconic Frida Kahlo, her life, art, clothing, jewelry, pain, sorrow, tragedies, affairs and everything else worth examining about her is featured in 2015 exhibitions around the United States of America.

Frida Kahlo: Art, Garden, Life is an exhibition at the New York Botanical Garden featuring the plants that Frida loved to wear and had in her Mexico City gardens.

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Several famous paintings shown include one of Luther Burbank who she and Rivera admired, and “Self-Portrait with Thorn Necklace and Hummingbird” (1940), a parting gift to Nicholas Muray, Hungarian photographer and lover.

The Burbank portrait, which I have seen many times as part of our Looking for Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Tour, is on loan from the Dolores Olmedo Museum.

The blockbuster Detroit Institute of Arts exhibition featuring Kahlo and Rivera will run until July 12, 2015. I know many who have bought plane tickets to go see it.

The New Yorker magazine says, “The exhibition is nothing if not an event, which is fitting, given how much of a moment Kahlo is having this year (see The Striking Absence in the Detroit Intitute of Arts’s Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo Blockbuster and Frida Kahlo Love Letters Sell For $137,000—That’s Over $1,000 Per Page!).

For about the same price to travel to Detroit or New York, why not come to Mexico City for our art history tour that will take you to Frida’s paintings, Diego’s murals, Casa Azul and the Dolores Olmedo Museum where you can see it all (except those pieces out on loan!)

We have offered Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Tour multiple times a year since early 2014 to rave reviews.

Plus, you will see the amazing gardens and the endangered xoloitzcuintle, too.


Diego Rivera Murals in San Francisco: Critical Guide for Visiting

There are three Diego Rivera frescoes in San Francisco, California. To get in to see them all is not easy, but it is well worth the effort. It was an incredible treat to be able to see these frescoes up close and personal. A word of advice: it’s very important to plan and confirm your visits in advance.

In Mexico, Rivera intended his murals to be accessible to the public. That was an important social and political premise of the Mexican Muralist Movement — art for and of the people. All are filled with consistent Rivera themes: the worker, the common soldier, the peasant farmer and industry. These murals mirror those in Mexico City of the same era (like Man, Controller of the Universe) and I recognize similar scenes and characters.

Looking for Diego Rivera + Frida Kahlo in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour

These are the three murals in order of their creation:

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Pan American Unity, left half

Pan American Unity, left half

Pan American Unity, right side

Pan American Unity, right half

These are the three murals in order of accessibility:

San Francisco Art Institute

The most accessible fresco is The Making of a Fresco Showing the Building of a City at the San Francisco Art Institute, open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. This is a private, degree-granting university. Doors are open to students and to the public Monday through Friday. Check for weekend hours. The challenge is to find parking around the steep Cow Hollow hills. But if you are in a taxi or take UBER, no worries.


The mural is at the end of a student exhibition gallery space on the main level to the left of the entry courtyard. We followed good directional signs to get there. Once inside, the floor to ceiling wall art dominates the space.

This is a painting within a painting. Rivera included himself (back to viewer, with his ample frame centered on the scaffolding) with helpers making a fresco. His patrons who financed the project are part of the set. It reminds me of the caricature portraits we see at the Palacio Nacional depicting the history of Mexico that Rivera started in 1929 at about the same time. In fact, this Mexico City mural was not completed for another ten years because of commissions like this one in the U.S. It is very Rivera with a bold figures, the central one wearing a red star. You will see a lot of similarities here if you are familiar with his style.

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There is a small donation box in front suggesting support for mural preservation. We didn’t find hand-out information, art history notes or guestbook. The best descriptions are online, which I suggest you read before visiting.

800 Chestnut Street (between Jones and Leavenworth), San Francisco, CA 94133. Phone: 415-771-7020

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Looking for Diego Rivera + Frida Kahlo in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour

City College of San Francisco

Located in the Sunset on a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean, City College of San Francisco boasts a comprehensive historical reference mural to The Marriage of the Artistic Expression of the North and the South on this Continent.  Informally called The Pan American Unity Mural, Rivera painted it in 1940 for the Golden Gate International Exposition on Treasure Island.

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He was invited by civic and arts leaders to participate in the Exposition’s “Art in Action” program, joining other prominent artists. Fair-goers watched while Rivera and his assistants painted!

Frida Kahlo, who marries Rivera for the second time in San Francisco in 1940, stands front and center, while Rivera, his back to the viewer, holds the hand of actress Paulette Goddard. This mural is the most political of the three San Francisco pieces and is parallel in style to the Palacio Nacional mural of the same era, each featuring the founding fathers of Mexico and the USA.


Because of state funding cuts, visiting hours at SFCC are limited. Please consult the website to see when there is a volunteer faculty/staff member scheduled to open the Diego Rivera Theatre where the mural can be seen.

This important mural is housed in a very cramped space. I was told that for years the intent has been to build a larger gallery to view it. But … the college depends on designated private gifts to realize project goals. A small donation box sits in front of the mural. We gave more than requested for a beautiful, thorough art history brochure with color photo. Thanks to the college for providing this!


Notes: Be sure to walk upstairs to a small balcony (don’t trip, it’s also used for storage) to get the most expansive view of the mural. From above, the center view is obstructed by a large carved wood sculpture that obstructs the experience. Free street parking available.

50 Phelan Avenue, San Francisco, CA 94112. Viewing Hours are posted on the website. Phone only goes to voicemail: 415-452-5313

The City Club of San Francisco


Rivera asked Olympic swimmer Helen Willis to model.

Our experience at The City Club of San Francisco, an exclusive, members only space on the 10th floor of the former Pacific Stock Exchange, proved that you can’t always trust what you read online, even from USA Today. We read the mural was open for viewing from 3 to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. Not exactly true.

We found out the hard way that you can only gain entrance to see the mural if you make an appointment in advance with a City Club staffer. Denied entry and after repeated phone calls from the lobby that all went to voicemail, we finally connected with a live person. When I introduced myself and requested a visit, I got a harsh scolding about not having an appointment, a tirade about this being a private club, a rant about not to trust internet information, then a reluctant agreement to allow us upstairs to see the mural for ten minutes. We were shocked by staff behavior because of the club’s great reputation for hospitality.

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As we emerged from the elevator, the staffer hid a candy jar from her desktop where she sits sentry on the landing in front of the mural. Seems other riffraff before us dipped into the candy dish and she is keeping a watchful eye.

Lobby, Stock Exchange Tower Building, Art Deco

Lobby, Stock Exchange Tower

The staffer we met is definitely the gatekeeper. You need to call in advance, make an appointment and purr. I wouldn’t say you know me.

Do you think Diego would roll over in his grave?

Stock Exchange Tower, 155 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94104. Phone: 415-362-2480




  • Call in advance to each site to confirm opening times.
  • Make an advance appointment directly with The City Club to see the mural there.
  • Educate yourself. Read about each mural in advance since only the City College of San Francisco may publish an art history description.
  • Devote a half-day for visiting the three murals. They are in different parts of the city and traffic can be difficult.
  • Be ready to pay at least $16 per hour to park near the City Club if you are driving a car. Park farther out and use UBER.
  • Be prepared to be disappointed. You may not get in to all venues.

View from the rooftop terrace, SF Art Institute with Alcatraz.

Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: Art History Tour

Suggested Visiting Route:

  • 11 a.m. — San Francisco Art Institute (open 9 a.m.-7 p.m.)
  • 1 p.m. — City College of San Francisco (open 1-3 p.m.)
  • 3:30 p.m. City Club of San Francisco (by appointment only — call 415-362-2480 well in advance. Purr when you talk to staff.)

A BIG thank you to East Bay friend Mary Ann for organizing this day and driving to all parts of The City.

Coit Tower from the SF Art Institute rooftop terrace.

Coit Tower from the SF Art Institute rooftop terrace. See the Bay Bridge?


Iconic Frida Kahlo: A Look Inside Her Closet

Frida Kahlo is iconic. I have described her as the 20th century’s Virgin of Guadalupe. Her legend endures. The Huffington Post has just published a photographic essay by Ishiuchi Miyako of her personal belongings, along with letters and photographs, first revealed decades after her death.

These clothes and other life’s artifacts — letters, corsets, altered shoes to correct the leg length difference of childhood polio, family photographs — are part of a temporary show at Casa Azul where Frida and Diego shared a life together.  So popular, it will continue and you will see it as part of our fall 2015 educational arts programming.

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Looking for Frida Kahlo + Diego Rivera in Mexico City: 3-Day Art History Tour. Click this link for complete program itinerary. This weekend walking tour also includes visits to Casa Azul and Museo Dolores Olmedo with transportation.

Choose Your Dates:

  1. September 24-27, 2015.
  2. October 22-25, 2015.
  3. November 12-15, 2015.
  4. December 3-6, 2015.

Come solo, with a partner or friend. Norma Hawthorne Shafer accompanies all programs.

Visit for the weekend. Make it a getaway. Make this trip part of your Mexico City travel plans. Stop here with us and then go on to other parts of Mexico or wrap up your Mexico trip and explore Mexico City with us before returning home. This is a great orientation to Mexico’s art, history and culture, and to become more familiar with Mexico City .

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