To read about other countries we've visited, just click on the following links:

Iceland, Finland, Estonia, Russia, Mongolia, China, Thailand, Cambodia and South Korea

Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Czech Republic, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Israel, Jordan and Denmark

Hawaii, Australia, Indonesia, Singapore, Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar, Malaysia, Nepal, India and England

Latvia, Lithhuania, Ukraine, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia, Albania, Greece, Egypt, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, U.A.E. and Denmark.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

12/21: A Final Walk Along Mexico City's Paseo Reforma, One of the World's Great Boulevards!

Almost seven months since returning home from our fantastic adventure to South America and a few days in Mexico City at the end, I am finally writing the last post on the trip before doing one recap post! If you had told me so many months ago it would take me this long, I would have definitely poo-pooed you but planning for upcoming trips and volunteering here at home has taken up more of my energies than I would have thought.

After leaving one of the world's great museums, The Museum of Anthropology located in Mexico City's Chapultepec Park or Forest, we headed through the park to Paseo Reforma, the city's grandest boulevard.
At points throughout the trip, Steven and I had been talking about where we wanted to go next on our 'big trip,' i.e. the overseas one lasting several months we have been taking every fall since 2013. We had already visited many of the former Soviet republics but were interested in traveling to more of them. If one ever believed in 'signs' we had had our fair share of them already this trip indicating where we should go. One sign had been when I visited a fortune teller in Lima and asked whether we should visit some of the Stan countries or much of Western Europe that we had not yet been to. After chewing some coca leaves and waving his hands over and praying over more of them, the man had emphatically said the Stan countries were where we should go. Then, when we walked up the oh, so fun Selaron mosaic steps I wrote about in one of the Rio posts, one of the mosaic tiles was from Kazakhstan. Then, to top it all off, here we were in Mexico City and almost the first thing we come across on the Paseo Reforma was this huge sculpted map of Azerbaijan. I think that sealed where we would go in the fall of 2018! 

In just over a month, after our third child gets married in less than a year, we'll be heading to Paris for a few days and then onto Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, several of the Stan countries and then Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands with a few days thrown in in Andorra, Gibraltar and Tangier, Morocco and returning over four months later just before Christmas. I hope you'll enjoy reading some of those far shorter posts!
Back to the Paseo Reforma, a wide avenue that runs diagonally across the heart of Mexico City. It was designed by Ferdinand von Rosenzweig in the 1860s and modeled after the great boulevards of Europe, such as the Ringstrasse in Vienna and the Champs-Élysées in Paris. After the French intervention in Mexico overthrew the constitutional President Benito Juárez, the newly crowned Emperor Maximilian of Hapsburg made his mark on the conquered city. He commissioned a grand avenue linking the city center with his imperial residence, Chapultepec Castle (which we walked up to earlier that day) with the old city center. The street was originally named Paseo de la Emperatriz or Promenade of the Empress in honor of Maximilian's consort and second cousin Empress Carlota. After her return to Europe and Maximilian's subsequent execution, the restored Juárez government renamed the Paseo in honor of the Reform War. 

A 2003 addition to the city's skyline was Torre Mayor, located just outside Bosque de Chapultepec. The earthquake-resistant structure, which soared 225 meters above the capital, was anchored below by 98 seismic shock absorbers as the city is often prone to earthquakes. 

One of the highlights of the Paseo de la Reforma was that it linked a series of monumental and grand traffic circles. The 1942 bronze figure of La Diana Cazadora or Diana the Huntress was once thought to offend public decency. The League of Decency had the sculptor add a loincloth to the buxom figure which was actually meant to represent the Archer of the North Star and it wasn't removed until 1966.

I remember so clearly always being about twenty steps behind Steven as we walked down the stunning boulevard as I paused to take these photos! I would have liked to 'stop and smell the roses' on the Paseo but we were in a time crunch and had to return to our hotel and get our bags before our flight home to Denver so unfortunately we didn't have the time to sit on the attractive benches and watch the world go by.

The Monumento a la Independencia, more commonly known as The Angel, was sculpted for the independence centennial in 1910. I read that inside the monument were the remains of twelve important Mexicans. It would be great to see the gilded Winged Victory when thousands of people descend on the monument for occasional free concerts and victory celebrations following important Mexican soccer matches!
Doesn't this bench look like one of the most unusual and fun benches you've ever seen? I wish I could attest to its comfort but I only had time for a photo. I loved how art doubled as function.

I was pretty sure the girl was celebrating her quinceañera, the Hispanic tradition of celebrating a young girl's coming of age on her 15th birthday. I just read online that the celebrations "embrace religious customs, and the virtues of family and social responsibility." 
Behind the fencing was all we could see of the US Embassy.
I didn't figure out what this was or represented but liked it even so!
The mirror-ball building in front of a futuristic pencil-thin building comprised the city's Bolsa de Valores or Stock Exchange.

Up and down the two mile stretch of Paseo del a Reforma were a series of smaller statues commissioned in the 19th century of prominent Mexicans from each state.

It was troubling seeing all the posters reminding passersby of the 43 students who disappeared on September 26th and 27th, 2014.

I wish I understood the meaning behind the words which translate to "They do not need us to fail. We do not need them to survive."
How tragic it must be for the students' families who had been searching for their loved ones for 1,185 days as of December 21st, 2017.

I wondered again how comfortable these concrete 'sofas' were!
This monument was of José Eduardo de Cárdenas, a priest, theologian, politician, poet and writer. 
The walk down la Reforma was like an architectural event with different styles and periods making it a fun exploration.

One of the busiest intersections was marked by the Monumento a Cuauhtémoc which honored the last Aztec emperor against the Spanish invaders.

I loved the juxtaposition of the old monuments and the new skyscrapers up and down the long avenue.

So much of the architecture was very intriguing.
This was the Congress of the Union, the seat of the federal government of Mexico which consisted of the Senate of the Republic and the Chamber of Deputies.
A few blocks away was the Monumento a Cristóbal Colón or Christoper Columbus as we know him that showed him gesturing toward the horizon.
This is one of my favorite photos of the Paseo, again showing the old and new.

The bar in the Imperial Hotel was known for its Carajillo 43, a classic Spanish cocktail normally made with coffee and brandy that is very popular in Mexico. 

The Loteria Nacional building, completed around 1936, included details of Art Deco craftsmanship.

The El Cabalito was a bright yellow representation of a horse's head which commemorated another horse sculpture that stood in the same spot for 127 years before being moved to the National Art Museum. I was glad I had information about the sculpture as I don't think I'd have known it was a horse's head otherwise!

There was so much to love in our short visit to Mexico City: the fabulous murals of Diego Rivera and his fellow muralists, the sinking Metropolitan Cathedral, the ancient temples and pyramids of Teotihuacan, the engrossing Anthropology Museum, and to top it all off, the very enjoyable stroll along the Paseo. But more than just the sights we saw, the city was a wonderful surprise where so few people smoked, we saw no graffiti in the historic center, only a handful of people were sleeping in the streets and the center was incredibly clean. We so often read of the violence in the city and the rest of the country but for us, we experienced nothing but positives. 

Next post: Some photos of some of our favorite places from our three and a half months in South America - I am NOT looking forward to going through almost 150 posts to find them, mind you! The trip had been absolutely fabulous even with some scary hiccups along the way but in our minds even they contributed to the 'adventure' as we call these long trips.

Posted on July 11th, 2018, from sweltering Littleton, Colorado.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

12/21: Our adventure's last day: MC's Chapultepec Park & Amazing Anthropology Museum

Our last day of the trip, we had the majority of the day to see some more Mexico City sights since our flight home didn't leave until late in the day. We took the metro to the city's largest park, Chapultepec Park, which served as a refuge for the wandering Aztecs before becoming a summer residence for their noble class. I hadn't known that the name translated to Hill of Grasshoppers  even though Boulder, the city up the road from us in the Denver suburbs, has a park by the same name. 
A pair of bronze lions overlooked the main gate.

I was delighted to see a huge display of photos the whole length of the pedestrian bridge entering the park honoring Mexico's close relationship with my native country of Canada and Canada's 150th anniversary as a nation on July 1, 2017.

How lucky we were seeing flowers still blooming in the park near the end of December last year. 
In the park was a monument called the Niños Héroes, also known as the Heroic Cadets or Boy Soldiers that honored six Mexican teenage military cadets who died defending Chapultepec Castle from invading U.S. forces in the September 13, 1847 Battle of Chapultepec during the Mexican–American War. According to legend, in an act of bravery, one of the boys wrapped the Mexican flag around his body and jumped from the top of the castle in order to keep it from falling into the enemy's hands. The Niños Héroes are a key part of Mexico's patriotic folklore, commemorated by a national holiday on September 13. However, several modern Mexican historians claim that parts of the story are not factual
As we began our climb up the long path to the Castillo de Chapultepec at the top of the hill, we passed a small museum.
Unfortunately, my knowledge of Spanish wasn't good enough to understand the sign that described the small eagle and serpent sculpture nestled in the cactus.
A reminder of Mexico's bygone aristocracy, the 'castle' atop the hill was begun in 1785 but not completed until after independence when it became a military academy. We didn't have time to tour the former presidential residence, now the current National History Museum, but a guard kindly allowed me to enter a few steps through the beautiful gate to take some photos.

Though it was too early in the day for people to be out enjoying boating activities on the lake, it was especially peaceful away from the crowds that normally thronged the park.
The intricate carved bench looked very attractive but I don't know how comfortable it was to sit on!

The park's smaller lake:
If cities are often defined by their parks, Chapultepec did Mexico City proud. In the best of worlds, it would have been great to have had more time to sit a spell admiring the lakes and meander along the beautiful waking paths, lakes, discover all its museums and the zoo. But we had limited time and needed to be content with the time to enjoy what we could.
I loved seeing the amusing and lighthearted sculptures as we strolled toward the National Museum of Anthropology located at the edge of the park. 

A giant statue of a rain deity, likely Tlaloc, stood near the museum's entrance.
The vast museum, inaugurated in 1964, was the setting for a world-renowned collection of Mexico's pre-Columbian cultures. The entrance was below grade so we went up a gently sloping stairway to a large concrete entrance patio. 
I wondered again about the significance was of the eagle and serpent sculpture.
Entering the building we were greeted by a large, central patio which was almost covered by a long canopy balanced on a 36-foot high pillar/water fountain which had interesting bas reliefs of Europe and ancient Mexican civilizations. The canopy was considered to be the largest concrete structure in the world supported by a single pillar! All the exhibition rooms were off the patio and arranged by the civilizations and eras of Mexican history. We soon discovered each one of the twenty-two galleries was as big as any small town museum! 

The first hall, Populating the Americas, contained a reproduction at almost full size of the Painted Cave from Baja California, one of the most important ceremonial centers featuring cave art in northern Mexico. Its designs showed groups of hundreds of animals associated with special figures and women indicating fertility rites.
Settling the Americas: We knew from our fascinating trip to Ethiopia last year that evidence has shown the human species originated in Africa and then migrated across the globe with America to be the last continent to be populated. The first people to reach the so-called New World were Mongloid groups who ventured from the northeast of Asia across the Bering Strait during the ice ages when sea levels were low.

The continent's first inhabitants based their diet on hunting, plants, fishing and fruit gathering. While following the animals to be hunted, they unknowingly entered a continent that would be discovered in 1492 by Europeans who were unaware of its existence and of its inhabitants.
Scientists could tell from the bones that came to be known as 'Lucy' and found in Ethiopia that the young woman had lived until the age of 22. This exhibit brought back fond memories of seeing replicas of the famous early hominid Lucy in the National Museum in Addis Ababa, the capital. 
Exhibits in the Pre-classic Central Highlands Gallery focused on the period from approximately 2500 BC-100 AD and the transition from a nomadic hunting life to a more settled farming existence in Mexico's central highlands as the population grew. That resulted in the emergence of the earliest stratified societies.
People settled in villages where they based most of their activities and the family constituted the basis of society. The abundance of female figurines indicated the importance farmers gave to the bonds between women's and the soil's fertility. As improved agricultural techniques resulted in greater production, some settlements became towns and there was more interaction with other groups. Though the social differences were due to the variety of activities performed, gradually men began to take command of community activities. 
Bone remains showed great physical diversity among the people and seemed to indicate that groups of the High Plateau had contact with groups from other regions. I learned that figurines created during this period showed different physical types, although they may have been as a result of regional stereotypes. 
Religious concepts among village groups included beliefs regarding the supernatural, life after death and ruling of natural forces by spirits. Certain figurines found among remains have been interpreted by archaeologists as shamans or leaders. 
The Hollow Seated Figure had elements related to the jaguar, an animal which was most associated with the great power and force of the earth. The tag said figurines depicted human forms and represented the sexual union between the jaguar and a woman. 
This piece, made of white clay, represented a stout, masculine figure whose face had flame-like eyebrows, a wide nose and full lips. On his back was the full skin of a fantastic creature with four paws and a wide tail that fell in layers.
The Pyramid of the Feathered Serpent in the Ciudadela area of Teotihuacan where we had been the previous day was probably its most important political and religious center. The pyramid was built in one continuous operation between 150 and 200 AD. Archaeologists have recently discovered numerous examples of sacrificed individuals dressed as warriors inside the pyramid. 

Found in the ruins of an ancient city in Guatemala was a stele: an upright stone slab or column with a commemorative inscription or relief design which often served as a gravestone. This reproduction was known as Tikla 31 Stele.  
The Teotihuacan Gallery displayed objects from the Americas' first great and powerful state. After the city collapsed about 750 AD, it was re-occupied by successive groups with different cultures. Among them were groups who used pottery decorated with wavy, red lines on a reddish brown background. Even as a ruined city, Teotihuacan's fame was recognized by all the people who later visited after its fall. That explained why its pyramids and buildings continued to be visited and revered by the Mexica or Aztec people who, in their legends, made Teotihuacan the place where the fifth sun was created. 

The Toltec Gallery covered cultures from about 650 to 1250 AD.  This serpentine column was one of four basalt warrior columns created by the Tula people who inhabited Teotihuacan site after the city was destroyed.
The exquisite Tula Breastplate dated from 650-900 AD and was made of shells.

The small sculpture represented the God of Water, Tlaloc, in the ancient city of Tula.
All the peoples of ancient Mesoamerica practiced a certain ball game that determined the dangers faced by the sun on its daily journey across the heavens and therefore predicting its fate.

In the Mexica Gallery, I learned that agriculture and trade were pillars of the Mexica Empire and that its social development depended directly on warfare. The ocelot or jaguar was considered a powerful animal of the night as it was a patron of masculinity. This sculpture had a cavity in the back which functioned as a sacred recipient designed to contain blood and hearts of captive warriors!
Some of what I thought were outstanding pieces from the Mexica Culture:

It was interesting to read that one of the most important Mexican contributions to mankind was maize. The extraordinary vegetable, raised by New World farmers, sustained the development and flourishing of all Mesoamerican cultures. Three of the months of the Indian calendar were dedicated to worshiping maize and the sacred foods for all the other months were also always made of maize. The mask of the Goddess of Maize:
Another sculpture about the importance of maize:

The Stone of the Sun was a late Mexica or Aztec sculpture  and considered perhaps the most famous work of Aztec sculpture. This one sculpture, discovered in December, 1790, in the main plaza in Mexico City, identified the Mexicas above all others. Because of its symbolic content, with the signs for the twenty days of the Aztec ritual calendar, it was incorrectly identified as the Aztec Calendar. The prehistoric peoples considered the light and warmth of the Sun to be equal to life itself. Therefore their creation myths saw the need for men to help maintain the Sun as the supreme deity.
In front of the basalt stone sun was a large gladiatorial sacrificial altar which wasn't completed because of a deep crack that ran from one side of the center of the piece at the rear.
In 1519, Spaniard Hernan Cortes and his armies dropped anchor off the coast of Veracruz, which began the process culminating in the conquest of the Mexican Empire.
Baptismal fonts from the Spanish conquest:

Several halls on the museum's first floor had associated outdoor gardens with reproductions of temples and prayer sites from that civilization, something we had never come across before.

The Gulf Coast Archaeology Gallery explained three cultural groups occupied the area that was known in pre-Hispanic times as a place of exceptional abundance and fertility.The first accounts written by 16th century friars called it Tlalocan which meant 'land of riches and earthly paradise.' Despite the fact the entire Gulf Coast was inhabited by so many different groups and they spoke different languages, they still shared the same cultural base and had the same social, political and religious development. Differences were expressed in their architecture, sculpture and other arts.
Throughout all periods, cultural innovations that transformed the life of Mesoamerica radiated out from the Gulf Coast. The first civilization that emerged there were the Olmecs from 1800-100 BC. Later, new religious ideas associated with the most important gods of Mesoamerica arose as did cults, ceremonies and rites, including the ritual ballgame mentioned earlier and offering blood to the earth to express gratitude for its fertility. 

The coast was a crossroads where different groups of people traded cotton, cacao, rubber and other products. But when Spaniard Hernan Cortes and his 508 soldiers landed near the Gulf Coast in 1518, it was to exploit the region and conquer the pre-Hispanic civilization.

Stone carvings in the gallery included two Olmec heads, made of basalt, that weighed almost 20 tons. The heads may have been portraits of high-ranking people.

Once we entered the Maya Gallery I learned that the culture of the groups of Mexico and parts of Central America that spoke the Maya language began to develop approximately 4,000 years ago. The Mayan culture was one of the most brilliant Mesoamerican cultures, especially in science and art. They built large civic and ceremonial centers and cities, with pyramids and temples around squares. They organized themselves into independent states and were powerful warriors. They created their own hieroglyphic writing and a system of counting based on twenties.
I couldn't help but smile when I saw this in the museum all those months ago and again now!

One of the highlights of the gallery were these carved stelae from the Mexican state of Chiapas.

Throughout the history of Mesoamerican people, warfare played a key role in the consolidation of political structures. It is now known with certainty that wars were going on from the beginning of the culture. A 'divine king' governed each kingdom and exercised control over a defined territory that was expanded when he conquered other rulers. Many ceramic vessels and monuments showed a 'divine king' receiving loot from his conquests.

We were pressed for time so made our way upstairs to see a few of the ethnology galleries.

In the Northwest Gallery, I read about the Seri people who still live in two places on the desert coast. They are mainly fishermen, but also carve ironwood, make stone sculptures, weave baskets, and hunt and gather. The economy is in the hands of the family group who work together producing goods for sale and their own use. 
Ceremonies include celebrations around nature and life cycles, the festival of the new moon, the great basket 'saptim' and puberty. The whole community participates with food, games, music, dance and prayers.
The gallery also had exhibits on the Yoremem or Mayo people who combine farming with some fishing and animal raising. 
In the Nahua Ethnology Hall, I found out the Nahuas of today are the most spread out indigenous group in Mexico occupying thirteen states throughout the country. Today, Nahuatl is the mother tongue of more than 1.5 million people and there are many Nahuatl words in the Spanish spoken in Mexico. 

The following photos portray a couple of themes of the Nahua culture: their conversion to Christianity and examples of their crafts.

The Nahuas are a people tied to the earth who have defined their relationship with nature in various ways. Each one of the areas inhabited by the Nahuas has developed its own way of living, dressing, farming and interrelating with the world. Though there are important differences, there are also similarities and coincidences. 

It is impossible to talk about Mexico without referring to its evangelization, Spain's moral justification underlying the Conquest. During the first colonial years the Nahua groups came into contact with the Franciscans, Dominicans and Augustinians who established churches and monasteries. Members of the religious orders learned the language of the Indians to be more effective in their apostolic work. 
However, the conversion to Christianity achieved a radical transition from pagan to Christian life on the surface only. At a deeper level, customs didn't change. The strongest evidence of the survival of customs from pre-Hispanic days may be found in the native elements of modern Indian religious that have survived to this day.
Clothing still distinguishes the indigenous groups of Mexico and even within one group, it tells one village apart from another. Among the Nahuas, each subgroup, each region and even each village had its own way of dressing. Each pattern preserves a tradition, each design is indicative of knowledge maintained over centuries and each form represents a way of viewing the world. 

The Nahuas are skilled craftsmen, working in clay, palm, wool, cotton, paper, gourds and wood to make items for holding, cooking and serving food, sleeping mats and baskets, clothes and textiles for domestic use. In Guerrero, the Nahuas have transferred their traditional pottery designs to paint tree bark and have also gone back to producing painted earthenware, now with new shapes and colors.

Wood is used to make figures of saints and also for masks used in festivals and dances as well as objects for everyday use such as tables, chairs and spoons.
If we had had more time, I could see how the Museum of Anthropology could easily have been been a place to explore for a whole day. Why limit yourself to a visit of Mexico City when you could visit all of the Mexican civilizations in just one place! If we ever return to the city, I hope we will set aside more time to explore the incredible museum and its outdoor gardens with temples and prayer sites as there was far to much to absorb in the time we had.
In a clearing near the entrance, we watched in amazement as indigenous Totonac people performed their spectacular 'flying rite' from a 60 foot pole!

Next post: A wonderful walk along the city's Paseo de la Reforma
before heading home after three and a half months exploring much of South America.

Posted at long last on July 8th from Littleton, Colorado!