It started in Mexico City, where my wife, two kids and I spent a month this summer. We rented a great home in the leafy, vibrant and chill Coyoacan neighborhood. My two kids are young, and I had to work a lot, so this travel experiment could be horrible, especially if the location we landed in did not have amenities nearby, like cafes and parks, the sustenance of all life for parents with children under the age of 5. Cafes are a must regardless.
We landed in the perfect area — the cobblestone streets and chaotic Mexico City atmosphere came together well — and complemented the home’s great courtyard; its classic Spanish style played a clear counter rhythm to the lifeburst swirling, sweeping the city’s skies, pooling at the ringing mountains’ crests and sloshing back and forth in the 8,000-foot-elevation basin like an 18-month-old joyously kicking and flailing in a tub.
You could feel the 16th century Spanish colonials pulsing in the streets and architecture and the nondescript front pieces that open to expansive, magic courtyards, jungles in the interior, like a fig, bland on the outside, and a world opening up on the inside.
We walked to Frida’s museum one day. I had last been there 18 years before. The paintings she did on small pieces of tin moved from the walls up the staircase to just a handful tucked behind glass in one of the hallways. What stands out is the rock in her courtyard with a quote from Frida about her lover Diego Rivera (paraphrased) inscribed on a photograph of Diego lounging on a rock: he loved rocks most of all. He would recline on them and soak up their energy. For some reason, that quote emblazons, encompasses the whole experience of the museum for me, the only one in Mexico that you had to reserve a timed entry ahead of time. Diego and that rock. What a life. How do you imbue that spirit of eff you into what you do, and beauty and tropical colors that explode from your mind in that scenario, unadorned life, freedom to fly unbounded by sky.
We convinced my mother to visit us for a week while in Mexico. She took the two-hour flight down from Austin, and emerged, transported into the ether-world of Mexico, land of chaos and color-sparks.
We coordinated a Friday out do the central park area. We took an Uber – my wife and mom hugging our kids to their laps in the back, I in the front – to the park. We went to the playground first. We tried to get Dylan to go on the see-saw – she wouldn’t and then the idea was to walk to the Anthropology Museum, but best museum I’ve ever been to, that chronicles the crazy, flight-life of indigenous history of Mexico. Meso-American cultures fly, the stone, jungle temples everywhere.
The playground worked and then mapping lost us into the museum of modern art, the emptiness of ideas in form. Mannequin clowns in different poses and outfits — including one in startling rainbow sequins — scattered the brutalist spaces.
We left soon and then started walking to the Anthropology museum. On the way there in a park alcove before the entrance five Mayans in traditional garb climbed a 100-foot pole. The pole represents a tree as the ceremony uses traditionally. One of them sat on the pole’s pinnacle beating a drum as the top rotated with four ropes winding from the top of the poll down with each turn. They wrap the tree in 52 wraps slowly and then dive off the end and it goes down. They hang off like dead as they rotate through week by week of a year. Stationary but moving, floating, bodies and minds resigned to life’s brutalities and beauties. Acceptance, hope, life.
Nearby, a fountain alternatively sputtered and exploded as the pressure alternatively released and built up — the explosions delighted Dylan.
Lunch time and nap time, the kids and Jen left, leaving my mother and I on a Friday early afternoon. We walked to the entrance of the museum and debated visiting it or walking to the restaurant good foodie friends insisted we go to. We entered the musuem, peaked into the waterfalling tree in the center, and then walked into the bowels of the entrance, where a museum-intro film played the most spectacular museum film I’ve seen.
In the underground, small stadium seating theater, the film started. We made the English showing. A mix of video, illustration and more played on the film while a narrator picked up the thread. The lights played an integral role in the experience, with projections of colors and shapes and vibes, one time green and shadowy like a jungle as the narrator spoke of the Yucatan Mayans, another time the crisp light of stars when describing Teotihuacan’s astronomical orientation.
In the spaces on left and right of the screen, four quadrants, two level with our eyes and two below, housed sliding doors. They alternatively opened to display a piece of art or a replicated ruin or other artifact representation, as the lights spotlighted them when open. Behind the panels, the artifacts changed — idea of some giant behind-the-scenes wheel was there. On the ground forestage were two more panels that opened the same, which added a beyond-3-D experience of the interior. The ones on the floor popped up above the stage level. The ample stage about 50 feet from seats to back wall served as a host for light and drama from the film and the potentiality of light.
We went upstairs, debated again the prospect of entering the museum and decided to choose simplicity. Always a better choice, if uneasy. We went to the gift shop and started our walk down the European Paseo de La Reforma to the Angel of Independence — where the debatable bones of Mexico revolutionaries lie couched. The broad bike lanes along the avenue a new addition from the last visit.
A 1.5-mile walk to Roma, where the restaurant lives. Mom’s recently-replaced knee requiring rest every so often.
We finally arrive at a humming restaurant with a wait. We try to get on the list, then my Mom says she thinks we have the wrong one. I don’t see how. But then, we see a hole in the wall next door, check the name and it is it.
We walk up and Jesus, in tattered shorts and shirt, long hair and a chill vibe welcomes us. We say we’re hot and I want beer. He says I’ll give you some pulque from a home-cured batch, which you drink alternatively with a shot of mescal. We sat on a bench, slightly in the sun, awaiting space at one of the four communal tables that spilled into the sidewalk, and sipped the pulque and mescal.
More to come …