Feb. 25 – 28: Mexico City – Friends, Art and Politics

Reunions around delicious meals

Despite its monstrous size and population (20 million), Mexico City, DF, offered us intimate connections with old friends. For each of the three nights during our whistle stop visit there, we had heart-warming dinners with people who are woven into our respective histories.

Barrón family (1 of 1)

Soon after arriving at the home of Antonieta Barrón, Deborah’s research collaborator for over 20 years, we sat down for a family dinner of “cochinita pebil”, a Yucantan-style pulled pork slow cooked by Luis, her son-in-law. Antonieta is recovering from surgery, but remains active as a teacher/researcher and matriarch/nurturer of a large extended family. The next day, John’s son Tim got to reconnect with her 4-year-old grandson Emiliano whom he had charmed when we stayed there two years ago.

cochinita cooking (1 of 1)  dinner at Antonieta's (1 of 1)

That night we had dinner downtown with Julieta and the Arturos, both senior and junior, at a fancy Mexican restaurant in the upscale Polanco neighbourhood. Arturo was Elizabeth’s good friend during her first visit to Mexico in the late 60″s. John had suggested that we find a good place to talk and catch up on family news so was a bit dismayed when we got out of the car and heard the roar of  the very trendy crowded  restaurant. We had to shout a bit but had a good time…! The food  was good – although these sort of places seem to specialize in small servings on big plates.  Tim stayed with the younger Arturo and they certainly seemed  to be having a great time, sharing smokes and a lot of tequila.   I urged Arturo to visit us in Canada and he suggested they would come next year.

dinner with Velasquez family (1 of 1)

Tim and Arturo Jr. (1 of 1)   small serving (1 of 1)

Our third and final night in Mexico City, we had a homemade meal of chicken tostados in the home of Sara San Martin and Daniel Ponce, popular educators who Deborah worked with in the 1990s through the Mexican Institute for Community Development in Guadalajara. Daniel now works with the National Commission Against Discrimination and Sara is director of the Ecumenical Centre that works for human rights with groups around the country. It was also fun to catch up with their two kids (Josh hung out with them as a teenager): Sarita doing a residency in gynecology and Danielito, a drummer, most recently accompanying a Lila Downs tour.

Deb photographing Sara and Daniel

Inextricable art and politics

 The one day we ventured to the Centro (maneuvering three different lines of the immense subway system), we met up with John’s son Tim in Chalputepec park. Tim was in the city for a week to attend a huge electronic dance musical festival of 50,000. He got backstage pass benefits and plans to be involved in their festivals across Canada this summer.

The three of us went to the Museo de Arte Moderna to see a joint exhibit of the photographs of Tina Modotti & Edward Weston, focusing on their production in the late 1920s during their affair in Mexico. Tina was very involved with the famous Mexican political artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo in 1930s period, the Mexican Communist party, and volunteered in the Spanish civil wars. WE saw a play about her life in San Miguel (in Spanish of which we only partially understood) and had seen a one woman play about her in Toronto almost two years ago.

After the museum closed early because of a planned demonstration about the 43 murdered student protesters, we walked down the beautiful wide Reforma Boulevard admiring the new very stylish modern high rise office buildings and the purple flowering Jacaranda trees and gardens to find a restaurant for  a late lunch. We noticed two sitting  women  with placards protesting the disappearance of a relative. They explained the manifestation would start a bit later further east at the Angel monument. The plaza in front of them had metal plaques on the stone pavement explaining, in the first person ” my name is…and I was murdered/ disappeared  while …” .

John with relatives of disappeared (1 of 1)  Missing student plaque

We spent the rest of the afternoon watching the noisy demonstration of thousands of students and  other political groups (very much tending to la izquierda- the left) marching down the now closed Reforma. Deborah acquired a large cardboard placard with pictures of the murdered students and John made a small donation into a demonstrators  cup and so also obtained a small banner: ” Nos faltan 43!”.   Quite a powerful reminder of the continuing problems the people of Mexico still face despite the veneer of modernity, democracy and economical development.

For a glimpse of the massive march, see our vimeo link: https://vimeo.com/121893065

The next day we returned to a favourite plaza, in Coyoacan, and discovered an amazing array of “catrinas” painted on the wall of an art school. To satisfy Deborah’s fascination and collection of these images reflecting Mexican perspectives on death, John followed the long wall and around the corner to capture these on video (below).


Ongoing love-hate relationship with technology

 We continued to both relish what our electronic tools offered us (Skype conversations with family, cell phones to reach Mexican friends, our beloved cameras, and this blog!), while also facing periodic small (and large) crises which tried our patience. We left our Mexican cellphone in San Miguel, so John found two (at $10 each), but we’ve yet to figure out how they work (desbloquear, elegir, añadir contactos..?.) John’s computer quite regularly disengaged from the Internet and his Nokia phone/camera went suddenly black and couldn’t be revived. As he mourned the loss of a lot of good pictures, it somehow came back to life, while showing the date to be May 2014….! Deborah’s laptop started displaying erratic lines and then wouldn’t boot up (4 days after the warranty expired); the local Apple doctor concluded the hard drive was finished and suggested either a $1,500 repair job or a new laptop at $5,000. Nonethless, he massaged it and suddenly it came on again, seemingly repairing itself and revived for another round…J

maps and devices (1 of 1)

Our ambiguous relationship with these devices was epitomized by our attempts to leave Mexico City to head south to Oaxaca, using no fewer than 5 tools: a screen shot of google maps on a computer, GPS on a phone, two Mexico city maps – one street map, one from an atlas, and a map of the country. There were major contradictions among them and none could help us as much as asking the locals (though some could also send us on wild goose chases). It took us two hours to get out of the city….and we were rewarded with spectacular mountain views as we passed through the state of Puebla and into Oaxaca state.

DF to Oaxaca mt views


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