Tag Archives: Mexico City

In Mexico City: FONART for Folk Art Shopping

FONART is the national fund for promoting arts and crafts in Mexico.  Folk art and crafts of every type from every Mexican state are represented.  Textiles, red and black ceramics, Talavera, carved wood figures, beeswax candles, tinware, etc. The pieces are more collector quality than what you would find in crafts markets like Mercado Cuidadela.  Prices are higher, too, and there is no bargaining.  Some FONART shops have more variety and a wider selection than others.

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The largest and main repository where the pieces come in, are catalogued and priced, is the flagship FONART Galeria Patriotismo, Ave. Patriotismo. No. 691, Colonial Mixcoac, Mexico D.F. Tel. 50-93-60-60 or 50-93-60-61.  I discovered it on my search for a hand-hammered copper vase from Santa Clara del Cobre, Michoacan.

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The trip by taxi from the zocalo/centro historico takes about 30 minutes in moderate traffic.  I went on Saturday morning at 10:30 a.m.  Weekdays are probably longer.  The hotel arranged the driver for me and I paid an astonishing 300 pesos for the round trip that included a 45-minute wait, but I was on a mission.  You could take the Metro or a taxi on the street for far less.

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The next largest FONART store is Galeria Reforma, Avenida Paseo de la Reforma, is closer to the historic center than Galeria Patriotismo, but is not within walking distance.

Galeria Juarez is within walking distance of the Zocalo, but has limited choice and staff helpfulness is variable.  When I returned to buy a copper piece I had seen on my last visit in August, I arrived to find the store dismantled and the copper display decimated.  The clerk told me all the copper was moved to Galeria Patriotismo, which is why I ended up paying 300 pesos to go there.   When I arrived, the staff told me, no, they didn’t have any pieces from Galeria Juarez.  I asked them to call to find out the discrepancy in stories. Seems all the copper had been moved to the Juarez storeroom.  The clerk either didn’t know, didn’t ask, or couldn’t be bothered. So, when I returned, someone else took me to the storeroom where I climbed a 20-foot ladder to find my pot piled up on one of the upper shelves.

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Why a copper pot from Santa Maria del Cobre?  It represents an important pre-Hispanic indigenous craft. Usually, I like to go directly to the source and find the artisan who creates the most outstanding work.  But, Michoacan is one of those places where the drug cartels have established a foothold.  Because of that, it is not someplace I plan to visit soon.  And, these pieces are incredibly beautiful.

Allan Gurganus wrote a piece in last week’s New York Times about why he collects, the passion and the psychology.  I understand.  I struggle with my desire to live a simpler life and have it surrounded by artfully made beauty in support of artists and crafts people whom I admire.  How to reconcile this?  I don’t know.

No photos allowed.  No exceptions.  Bags are checked at the door.  A guard watches over the treasures.  Still, with the obstacles, the best place for folk art shopping.

FONARTAt Remigio’s, an indigenous textile clothing shop at Isabel la Catolica #30, Centro Historico, Mexico City, I found this antique hand-woven Triqui maize basket.  I asked my friend Lupe to model so I could show it to you.

In Mexico City: Looking for Diego Rivera

Frida Kahlo, iconic painter, called him The Frog and married him twice.  They count her as his third and fourth wife.  We know Diego Rivera as a communist, socialist, painter, bad boy of 1930′s Mexico who snubbed Nelson Rockefeller by refusing to eliminate Lenin’s portrait from the infamous Rockefeller Center mural.  Fired and his mural destroyed, Rivera retreated from New York to Mexico City to reproduce his vision of humanity, Man at the Crossroads, on the walls of the Palacio de Bellas Artes.  Look for Rockefeller in this mural.

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All the photos in this blog post are of murals at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP) in Mexico City.

As I write this, I am traveling on a six-and-a-half hour ADO GL bus south toward Oaxaca.  There is the promise of torrential hurricane force rains along the way.  A good time to reflect on the four days I spent in Mexico City to look for Diego Rivera.

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I love his paintings but not his personal behavior: his violent temper and many infidelities.  I can understand it but don’t admire it.  Is behavior a reflection of character and how can you separate one from the other?  Must one accept the totality of the artist to love his or her work?

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In 2012, a distant friend told me that she, too, loved Diego Rivera.  I questioned her because she had just declared her intention to vote for Mitt Romney — the antithesis of Rivera and his political passion. I replied: To love Diego Rivera is to respect, support, and admire his political stand.  You can’t separate the man from his work.  She disagreed.  What do you think?

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Rivera’s paintings are iconic and symbolic. They express his political and social empathy for Mexico’s indigenous, her revolutionaries, intellectuals, reformers, and anti-capitalists, and his disdain for the church and oppressors of any ilk.  Rivera’s murals are a riveting, visceral history of human rights violations beginning with the invasion of Cortes, the Inquisition in New Spain, the Porfiriato and exploding power of Fascism.  

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In sweeping fashion, Rivera captures all that accompanies political power seekers: corruption, greed, debauchery, dictatorship, and assassination.  His imagery depicts the rise of industrialization and its dehumanizing forces, the tensions of machinery vs. man, the movement from rural life to the crush of cities where personal identity is lost or stolen.  He speaks to us of the soul of humanity and our purest impulses for compassion and forgiveness.

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There is a strong message in the beauty he created.  Support of the proletarian revolution is the guiding theme among them all.

The paintings speak to Mexican life and specific people Rivera singled out populate them, like Emiliano Zapata and Otillio Montaño.  He manages to insert himself with self-portraits throughout his works, too. 

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In a 1928 fresco at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP) a red-ribbon banner painted above In the Arsenal holds these words (interpreted and paraphrased):

Here will be the proletarian revolution.

Voices will open to loudly proclaim throughout the land

The sad, sordid but pure story

That many suffered

Were maligned and oppressed.

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Do you see Rivera’s self-portrait here?

Rivera is a storyteller.  The three floors of paintings at SEP are remarkable expressions of his early period, 1923-1928.  This is also where he met Frida Kahlo, the seventeen-year-old student who came to him while he was on a scaffold to ask his opinion of her work.

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At SEP, I was fortunate enough to be able to trail a group of teachers on a guided tour through areas usually restricted to the public.  Afterward, I lingered and revisited favorites.  In 1928, Rivera painted Death of Capitalism, The Orgy, and Wall Street Banquet, a cynical prediction of the 1929 stock market crash.   His pre-Hispanic images of rural indigenous life are compelling:  Dia de los Muertos, Fiesta of the Dance of the Deer, El Tianguis (the market), The Weavers, The Dyers, and Paradise

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I spent three hours at SEP and want to go back.  It could be my favorite place to look for Diego Rivera.  I know the man and his art are one, and for that reason I have gained a new admiration and respect for him from this visit.

Looking for Diego Rivera in Mexico City 

  1. Secretaria de Educacion Publica, Ave. Republica de Argentina #28, weekdays only.  Walk from Zocalo. Three floors of exquisite murals, 1923-1928.
  2. Museo Mural Diego Rivera, corner of Avenidas Balderas & Colon, facing Av. Juarez at the end of the Alameda Central.  Mural restored after 1989 (check date) earthquake and relocated.  An amazing journey through Mexico’s political, social history from 1521 to mid-20th century (check date)
  3. Palacio Nacional on the Zocalo
  4. Palacio de Bellas Artes, on Av. Juarez
  5. Municipal Water Pumping Station, Rivera sculpture of rain god Tlaloc

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Now, perhaps on to Detroit and San Francisco to continue the search.

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Footnotes:  SEP was created in 1921 and the building where it is housed is a former convent, a magnificent colonial structure, appropriated by the state when the church was banned from holding land.  I met Miriam, educated in art restoration at the Instituto Bottcelli in Cuernavaca, who is one of an eight-person team who work year-round to restore and preserve the murals.

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In Mexico City: Lunch at Mercado Abelardo L. Rodriguez

Down the street from Santo Domingo Plaza and the museum of the Inquisition in New Spain is Mercado Abelardo L. Rodriguez, a historic neighborhood market filled with lunch stalls, fruit and vegetable stands, and puestos selling cooking staples..  It is known for housing extraordinary murals by students of Diego Rivera, though most visitors to Mexico City are unaware of this landmark.

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This is a people’s market, very different from the Mercado San Juan, the upscale, exotic, European-style food court near Palacio Bellas Artes.

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Hungarian photographer Agnes Behari sent me there.  I met her on the steps of the Santo Domingo Church while I was shooting the texture of the door.  She asked about my camera, told me she is an MFA student in documentary photography at the Academy of San Carlos, part of UNAM, and as we were talking the doors to the chapel closed and I never got in.  Time for lunch.

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Agnes said there are murals by Diego Rivera inside.  Not exactly!  The murals are by his students who painted them under his supervision.  However, once I got there, I was so overwhelmed by market activity and making a decision about which stall to sit down at, I totally forgot about the murals.  Something for the next visit!

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Food and art.  Art and food.  What is more important?  At the moment, food.  And where to eat it.  Choosing where to eat can be tricky.  Rule of thumb:  Look around. Take your time. Determine which place has the most clients with butts in seats.  I did this in small rural villages in China fifteen years ago and never got sick.

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Antojitos Mexicanos Yucely was packed and people were waiting to take their place on a plastic stool and elbow up to the bar.  The daily two-course special — soup and entrée with two sides — was 40 pesos.  Add 10 pesos for a bottle of Coca Cola. The 50 pesos total equals about $4. USD in today’s exchange rate.

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I ordered a filet of huachinango (red snapper) battered in corn meal, crispy fried with a sweet, perfectly cooked center.  I asked for a side of the yummiest potatoes on the planet seasoned with oil, vinegar, onion and jalapeño peppers with just enough bite to make it interesting, plus perfectly steamed vegetable medley of squash, carrots, broccoli and cauliflower, and a taste of marinated, sautéed mushrooms.  I joined the multitudes with smiles on their faces.

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My camera makes for a great conversation piece and before long, people were asking me to take their photos, which I promised to send them via email or Facebook.  After lunch became a market portrait session.

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Ah, and did I mention that I’m a single woman traveler in Mexico City?  Walking everywhere by myself, even as night falls!

In Mexico City: Where to Buy a Bus Ticket to Oaxaca

Where to buy a bus ticket to Oaxaca in Mexico City’s historic center? This has been a dilemma and frustrating for foreign travelers for many years.  We cannot use non-Mexican credit cards to buy an ADO bus ticket to Oaxaca (or anywhere ADO operates) online.  Heretofore, the only solution was to go to Mexico TAPO (the regional bus station) to buy an advance ticket (45-minute taxi ride one-way) or show up on the day you want to leave and hope there is a seat.

Don't blink! You might miss it.

Don’t blink! You might miss it.

After a frustrating hour on my computer and then again with the concierge at my otherwise absolutely wonderful and affordable Hotel Catedral, I accepted that I could not change the system.  They suggested I might buy a ticket at OXXO (the convenience store).  Not wanting to waste another moment, I went on to spend three wonderful hours at the Secretaria de Educacion Publica (SEP) to view and review 1923-1928 Diego Rivera murals.  My hope was that sometime later, aka mañana, perhaps I would source a ticket location.

I went in search of OXXO.  No OXXO where it was supposed to be.  Then, I went into a hostel to ask and was directed to a street but no address.  I kept walking, hoping I could find the Hotel Majestic where someone else said there was a travel agency.  Instead, I found myself in front of the Holiday Inn Zocalo and entered, hoping they could sell me a ticket.  The bell captain, in reply to my query, said, Oh, someone was here last week saying an ADO ticket office just opened around the corner.  Go out, turn right and then turn left at the first street.  It’s down there somewhere. Not far.  I was skeptical, yet decided to trust.  This is important in Mexico.  Trust takes you to many places and then eventually to the right one.  (By the way, did I say I’m traveling alone, sola?)

So, I followed his instructions, but I crossed Calle Monte Piedad from 5 de Mayo to walk on the Zocalo side turning left and heading away from the Cathedral as instructed.  No store where the bell captain said there should be one.  Exasperated, I pivoted.  Un milagro! 

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Don’t blink!  You might miss it: A teeny, weeny sign hung high above and to the side of an arcade entryway leading to restaurants and artisan collectibles on the upper floors.  I was deluged by eager young people promoting said establishments and in the obscurity of the arched tunnel could not see the small, portable stand with signage facing the opposite wall promoting bus ticket sales.  So, again, after seeing the street sign, I said, Where is the bus ticket office?  There, they said, pointing about five feet away.

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Now, here’s what you’ve been patiently waiting for:

MultiMarca ticket stand, Ave. Monte Piedad #11, between 5 de Mayo and Francisco I. Madero, across from the Zocalo and next door to McDonald’s soft serve. Open daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.  Cash only if you are a foreigner!  One-way, 6-hour bus ticket to Oaxaca on ADO GL is $584 pesos.  No phone.  They use wide-band Telcel USB to connect to the Internet and process tickets.

In case you forgot, this is the landmark!

In case you forgot, this is the landmark!

How safe is Mexico City for a single female traveler?

This question just came in: How safe is Mexico City for a single female traveler?

This is my experience.  I have been flying from the USA directly to Mexico City for the last several years. I do this to know Mexico better.  Usually I travel solo, alone, single, without a companion.  The Mexico City airport is very safe and secure.  I always buy a taxi ticket from the Taxi Seguro ticket stand in the airport after you exit from baggage claim.  This secure taxi service is licensed and registered by the Distrito Federal (D.F.) officials.  The cost from the airport to the historic center is about 200 pesos.

Mexico City is filled with culture, art treasures, stunning architecture, great restaurants and street food.  It is where Diego Rivera murals adorn public spaces to visually convey the history of Mexico from pre-Conquest to the socialist ideals of Communism.  It is filled with energy and beauty.  It is clean and overall safe. Definitely worth a stopover, in my opinion.

In the historic center I walk everywhere with my BIG Nikon camera and small purse (long straps crisscrossed over the my body) — to FONART, to Palacio Bellas Artes, to Mercado de San Juan, to Museo de Arte Popular, and to Palacio Nacional.  You need a taxi to the anthropology museum in Chapultepec Park.

If I’m there on the weekend, I will call a friend to go with me to Lagunilla flea market.  This is an all-day adventure.  There is a Saturday and Sunday Plaza del Angel antiques market in the Zona Rosa that is safe and accessible, and perfect for solo traveling.

I have taken the Metro with friends, but not yet solo.  Taxis are reasonable and plentiful.  Your hotel can call you a taxi they know to be secure and safe.  One Australian friend who has lived in D.F. for four years says to only take the white radio taxis that are available at marked corner stands.  I’ve used red and gold city taxis with no problem.

On past visits, I have asked my hotels or B&Bs to arrange a car and driver for a full day of sightseeing at about 100-120 pesos an hour.  We’ve gone to Casa Azul, the Dolores Olmeda Pineda Museum, and Xochimilco. The driver stays with us.

Two nights in Mexico City only gives you one full day, so I recommend at least three nights minimum to really get a flavor for the city.

As with all travel anywhere — in the USA or any foreign country — be mindful of your surroundings, only take cash out of an ATM during the day, keep your camera slung across your chest, don’t walk and use your SmartPhone at the same time (someone can easily grab it), check the taxi seat and floor before departing to make sure you don’t leave anything behind, stay alert, move away from people you think are suspicious.  I always carry my Passport with me for identification, but I’ve heard advice to the contrary.

I’m in Chicago this weekend and a platoon of policemen were heading toward Water Tower Place on the Magnificent Mile this morning for patrol duty.  Locals say there are a lot of iPhone thefts in that neighborhood, so there you go!

What else would you like to know?