In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.
Being a bit more involved with Flickr and looking at a lot of photography this year has made me somewhat more intentional and thoughtful about my own efforts in the medium. Because I live with a professional who's so skilled and talented, I've never taken my own photography all that seriously, though it's been a big part of this blog forever. This time in Mexico I was less interested in simply recording what I was seeing - though I did quite a bit of that, of course - and found myself being more experimental about making images, as well as looking for series of things that might make interesting blog posts.
I'm fascinated with surfaces, and complex visual fields. Mexico City offers more visual richness and complexity than any place I've ever been, and I think I was trying to capture that feeling in the images I took. Somewhere around the midpoint of the trip I realized I was making a series of reflected self-portraits; some are more successful than others but I think all of them say something about what was happening there with my eyes, brain, heart. My personal favorite of these is the one at the bottom, taken in the outdoor garden at the Museum of Anthropology. What do you think?
Fruit in a wooden bowl with Mexican kitchen retablo. Fountain pen on paper, 6" x 8.5". 11/6/2014.
The only story behind this drawing is that we found the little folk art retablo at the Saturday craft market in San Angel. The craftswoman had a large display of these shadow boxes hanging in her booth. The wooden exteriors were painted in bright colors - ours is a sunny yellow - and inside, on three shelves, were miniature kitchen objects found in traditional Mexican kitchens, all made of the same materials as in real life. The pots are real ceramic, the straw brushes real straw, baskets are made of woven palm leaf..well, OK, the stacks of tortillas aren't real corn! We were completely captivated and had to bring one home: the only hard part was choosing which one.
The Jumex is a three-month-old contemporary art museum in the Polanco district of Mexico City area, established by Eugenio Lopez, whose family fortune was made through the Jumex fruit juice empire.
Before our recent trip, we had read an excited review of the museum in the New York Times. As longtime readers of this blog will know, modern architecture is an interest of ours, and a big part of why we wanted to see Museo Jumex was to see the building itself and its slightly older neighbor, the art museum of another Mexican billionare, Carlos Slim. Lopez has been collecting since the mid-90s and the Jumex collection now stands at over 2,750 pieces; the museum is the largest contemporary art museum in Latin America and Lopez has said that he intends to eventually donate the building and its contents to Mexico.
Quebec, still mired in nationalistic debates, provincialism, and insecurity about its place in the international cultural scene, might take note of the following:
...[previously] Mexican collectors had mostly stayed within the few socially acceptable categories of pre-Columbian, -Colonial, muralism, and so on, all of which focused on a nationalist past. Lopez instead wanted to position Mexico City to be a part of what he calls “the network,” the intellectual and cultural circuit that connects New York, London, Berlin, Bejing, and other global centers. “I saw an incredible opportunity in doing a collection that was not just Mexican or Latin American,” Lopez says, noting that before him, very few people were doing that. They all had Diego Riveras, Frida Kahlos, but no one bought a Jasper Johns. “I said, ‘I want to do it on an international level.’ ”
A 1997 visit to London’s Saatchi Gallery hatched Lopez’s vision for a Jumex corporate collection that would be open to the public—then, a novel idea in Latin America. The art adviser Patricia Martín, a key mentor, got him to think beyond that trophy mentality to imagine instead a foundation that would not only collect art but also dispense scholarships for arts education, provide grants for young Mexican artists, and fund acquisitions of Mexican art abroad...
When we visited, on a Friday, we were told by a cheerful, laid-back attendant in the sign-less lobby that the museum was free that day. He sat at a table with computer cords snaking away from wall sockets, while the room next door was a sleek, minimalistic black cafe; it seemed either like the lobby was unfinished, or had deliberately avoided the designed-to-impress entrance of so many of its peers.
The entire building is clad in a creamy travertine marble, and the use of that material on the interior floors as well enhances the typical Mexican porosity of indoors vs. outdoors. We rode to the top floor in a sleek elevator and worked our way down; on the top level was a curated show of works from the collection, more memorable to me for the spaces themselves than for the works, although I really liked a Basquiat portrait and a floor-to-ceiling graphite "drawing" by Carlos Amorales on one of the exhibition walls itself.
On the floor below was a very fine show about the work of the late performance artist/sculptor James Lee Byars, co-curated by the Jumex Fundación’s Magalí Arriola and MoMA PS1’s Peter Eleey: a travelling collaboration that may be a good indication of Lopez's intentions for the future.
Much of Byars' art was made of paper, linen, silk and gold-leaf; it had a Zen aesthetic and was provocative, intelligent, and often amusing, while avoiding excessive cerebralism.
The museum's internal staircase is unexpectedly brilliant.
But my favorite physical space was the second-floor wrap-around outdoor "porch" which the architect, David Chipperfield of Britain, uses to frame vistas of nearby architecture and far-away horizons, making statements about the Jumex as both a physical and psychological presence within Mexico City. Beyond that, it was simply beautiful: I stayed out there a long time, while the sun went down, and then we finally exited to take some more photographs of the museum's exterior before leaving Polanco and heading back to our hotel.
If Carlos Slim's astonishing, shining tile-encrusted hourglass is a statement piece set amid Polanco's tall monuments to corporate success and Mexico's future, then the Jumex, with its straight sides and saw-tooth pate, is an understatement. It sits like a slightly smug, self-contained toy block set down amid much snazzier neighbors, but seems quite well-positioned both to stay, and to be heard.
Both last year and this year, we stayed in a hotel in a quiet part of the city called Escandon. It's just south of the trendy Colonia Condesa, but is a regular working-class and mixed-income neighborhood with apartment buildings, shops, schools (a primary school and a Montessori school), pharmacies, repair shops, churches. Instead of fancy restaurants, there are the typical taquerias and comidas, bakeries and ice cream shops, run by a single person or a family, and many street vendors selling Mexican food specialties cooked on the spot, fresh juices, flowers, shoe-shining or repairs, clothes and household goods. There are a lot of car repair shops, and these and the other businesses exhibit a fine degree of specialization, almost unheard of anymore in the U.S. There is also an indoor market, open every day, where you can buy vegetables, fruit, meat, spices, household goods and just about anything else, and a lively outdoor market every Tuesday when many vendors come and set up under tarps and tents. All these activities take place on long, busy commercial streets; parallel to them are quiet tree-lined residential blocks with much less traffic.
One of the things we like so much about Mexico is the emphasis on small, independent family businesses -- franchises do exist but they are much less prevalent, and people seem to patronize the person they know who makes fresh juice, or repairs chairs, or does the laundry: we dropped ours off one morning, the proprietor weighed it, and we picked it up and paid for it at 3:00 pm. Each morning we went to the local panaderia and bought rolls or sweet bread; down the street we bought coffee, and then went to the park to have our breakfast while a woman took an exercise class through their salsa-based paces. It all felt very old-fashioned, in a good way.
I didn't take a lot of pictures on the street because I didn't feel comfortable doing that, especially in a place where we saw the same people every day and often interacted with them. I'm sure if I had asked they would have said yes, but I didn't. So these are more general views of what life is like in Escandon. Add plenty of boom-boxes and music and chatter, along with ever-changing smells, and you'll get the idea!
The local pharmacy, open 24 hours a day.
A small restaurant, fancier than most in this area.
One of the main roads that crosses Escandon. The local streets are smaller than this, with much less traffic, going at a slower speed.
After a five hour flight, made extremely pleasant by AeroMexico, we arrived in Mexico City and took a taxi to our hotel, where we slept and woke to a bright, warm sunrise.
A neighbor was hanging up his laundry on the roof. In another building, pigeons flew in and out of an abandoned apartment on the top floor; they seem to have made a roost near an old water heater. We are staying, as we did last year, in a real neighborhood away from the touristic city center. In themornign at 8:00, we hear the voices of children in a school courtyard calling "Buenas dias!" in response to a teacher speaking through a megaphone; then they all sing the national anthem. Not long after, the calls of the street vendors begin, and we're enticed down onto the streets ourselves.
For these northern eyes, the banquet of color is like a feast for a woman who has just crawled out of the desert. I cannot get enough of it, and fortunately there is more than any one pair of eyes could possibly take in. The jacaranda trees are in full bloom...
...carpeting the streets with violet and adding yet more brilliant color to the rainbow already present.
Palms sprout from the streets like giant pineapples.
But it's the Mexican people who are the real source of the warmth I feel. I never feel more white than I do here, but everywhere we are greeted with smiles and our own desire for connection is met with generosity and mutual attempts to communicate, via our rudimentary Spanish and their occasional bits of English, and lots of sign language and laughter. These two women, a mother and daughter, were making sweet pancake-like cookies cooked on a tortilla grill, and we stopped to talk tot hem and try to ask questions. They gave us samples to taste; the cakes are made of tortilla-flour corn and sugar and other ingredients and are delicious. After some conversation about ingredients, and then about where we were from, the daughter smiled at us and said, in Spanish, "You are in love, aren't you?" We said yes, for more than thirty years. She said, these cakes are special for lovers! and then we noticed that the larger plastic packages wer decorated withhearts. Of course we bought some; a small package of stacked cakes rolled in paper twisted at both ends.
We met them in the mercado, or market, of the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadeloupe, where we spent most of that day, and is a story I'll have to save for another time. Right now we are back in our hotel room, drinking tequila, and looking forward to a shower and sleep. Until tomorrow, then.
Arrival. US Airways terminal, National Airport, Washington, D.C.
Metro tunnel, Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.
Metro Tunnel Entrance/Exit, Dupont Circle
Thus in silence in dreams’ projections, Returning, resuming, I thread my way through the hospitals, The hurt and wounded I pacify with soothing hand, I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young, Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad.
The Green Mountains of Vermont, pretty reddish today.
I'm heading south again, this time to Washington, D.C.. Impeccable timing, wouldn't you say? Even the National Mall is closed...But the flight itself is making up for it. The first leg this morning, from Plattsburgh to Boston, was achingly beautiful, as we flew over my former home terrain: Vermont, the Connecticut River Valley, New Hampshire, and on to the Atlantic coast and Boston, where I'm now sitting in the airport.