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Author Archives: Mexican Museums and Mavens

Beyond Limericks: Phil Linehan’s Clever Wit

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Perhaps it is the Irish blood flowing through her veins, but Phil Linehan’s sweet, demure exterior bears little resemblance to her feisty wit as reflected in her prose. A master of the English language, this petite journalist-author-translator projects a sharp satirical edge to her biting op-eds. Although not in limerick meter, her rhyming observations range from the very timely criticism of Uruguayan soccer player Luis Suarez (who has cultivated the habit of biting his opponents on the soccer field), to more pressing issues related to current events.

Here are a few examples of her humor.

Luis Suarez, Uuguayan soccer player (courtesy Canada.com)

Oh Luis! What Big Teeth You Have

People everywhere are enthralled by sports greatest display

with supporters far and wide intent on making hay.

When their team wins the celebrations become intense

and out of the window flies commonsense.

The World Cup is what causes such a hullabaloo

as fans watch the tele while imbibing their favourite brew.

Players make dramatic dives right into the dirt

hoping the referee will believe they have been hurt.

That might get their opponent a yellow, or even a red card

and who from the game will then be barred.

The referee sometimes is unaware of a real infraction

and is booed by the crowd for his inaction.

A special case is that of Luis Suarez who plays for Uruguay

known to his opponents as a special kind of guy.

He thinks that instead of playing football with his feet

he can better beat them if he uses his teeth.

An Italian opponent suffered his latest attack

as Suarez’s incisors left their imprint on his back.

When Giorgio Chiellini felt the gnaw

He thought he’d been bitten by a macaw.

Now Suarez, for the third time, has been banned,

Against which ruling he and his country have taken a firm stand.

He claims that he simply tripped

And his opponent’s shoulder with his teeth accidentally gripped.

Once out of the Cup he had to leave

And what really happened we shall never perceive.

In Montevideo, where the reaction is seen as a misconception,

He was greeted with a hero’s magnificent reception.

Born in Dublin, Ireland, Linehan boasts an impressive resume with jobs in several international organizations and diverse media (including television and print), globe-trotting from Geneva to India to Yugoslavia to Denmark to Sweden to New York, ending up in Mexico. Nothing escapes her tongue-in-cheek critiques including herself! Here’s another sampling of her cunning take on things.

Twitter, Twitter on the Wall, Who is the Sexiest of them All?

What is it with men in positions of power

who seem to inhabit an ivory tower?

They believe they are kings of their castles

and think of women as their vassals..

Tiger* and Dominique** are names that spring to mind

and there are many others of a similar kind.

Arnold*** of course we should not forget

who, just like the others, his behaviour must now regret.

There’s Governor Mark Sanford who mountains could shift

when he flew off to Argentina to give his soul mate a gift.

When to his wife he became a traitor

he moved the Appalachians south of the Equator.

Then they become indignant and cranky

when someone discovers their sexy hanky panky.

The latest would-be Lothario to be found out

is now seeing his career go down the spout.

Anthony Weiner hoped to become New York’s next big shot

before he got his boxers twisted in a knot.

He didn’t know that Tweeting is a dangerous game

especially when one uses one’s very own name.

What made him think the sight of his underwear’s bulge

would induce women with him in virtual sex to indulge?

A quick glance at the asset of which he is so proud

is enough to confirm he’s not that well endowed.

Any young woman would become dismayed

when seeing the photo of the face he displayed.

There’s no way she would yearn our hero to hug

once she got a good look at his unprepossessing mug.

How come the man who turns out to be such a louse

usually has an intelligent and attractive spouse?

Is it because deep in his heart

he realizes he’s the one who is not that smart?

The moral of this tale is very clear

and I am glad I can repeat it here.

Any man who plans to cheat

must learn how to control his Tweet.

* Woods

** Strauss-Kahn

***Schwarzenegger

Another timely poem, this time making fun of global warming:

And Pigs Will Fly

As the global warming drums are beating

and temperatures go right on heating

not all are scared of climate change

or even weather they admit is strange.

In England, in counties near to France,

wine growers are preparing to seize the chance

to compete with the very best Bordeaux,

perhaps even from a famed chateau.

Though English wine may seem unthinkable

there is such a thing, but it’s quite undrinkable.

Producers welcome the longer, hotter summers on the rise

that will rid them of their permanent grey and leaden skies.

They know they would have much to gain

if they could produce a bubbly like Champagne.

And oh! What joy if they could grow

a grape to compete with a good Margaux.

They long for the day when Canterbury’s bells

will announce the Nouveau Tunbridge Wells

and they can unveil to the world their proudest brew

known as Dover Castle premier cru.

Their dreams are easy to comprehend

as they gloomily taste their inferior blend.

But the odds are their hopes will surely fail

so they would be better advised to stick to ale.

The English flee their soggy shores, cross the pond,

and head for Calais, Paris and beyond.

There they dine on food they consider fine

which, as they put it, is washed down with wine.

That the reverse will occur is hard to believe

for it is improbable that anyone could conceive

of the French enjoying meals that are overdone

and often ending with a sticky bun.

However much English vintners plan and scheme,

sow their grapes and optimistically dream,

they’ll not see the day when their neighbours rush hell bent

to quaff a claret made in Kent.

Things I Will Never Know

So many things leave me in doubt

that I am totally ignorant about,

I fret when I realize of the answers I will never be aware

and end up in the depths of despair.

Among the many things I do not know

is why we call claret the wine that comes from Bordeaux.

Why did a lake in Chile go out of sight

when it suddenly disappeared overnight?

Cosmologists claim sapient beings exist far away from our Sun,

but if they are intelligent, would they not this planet shun?

Did the geniuses who said the moon is shrinking

make that announcement when their classes were clinking?

Are we to believe life exists far beyond the stars

and there shopping malls on Mars?

One claim I find very hard to swallow

is that the Earth is hollow.

I thought Newton on gravity said the last word

but that, of course, is quite absurd.

It seems Einstein had something to say about gravitation and flat space

and many others have now joined the race.

With no knowledge of this or that esoteric theory

I can tell you that, when on a cold winter morning I lie weary,

there is no greater gravitational pull

than a warm bed covered with blankets made of wool.

Did the universe begin when the Big Bang occurred?

It’s a theory about which some have demurred.

I can’t imagine why they don’t agree.

It’s more impressive than with a whimper it seems to me.

With so many UFO sightings being seen

are the observers drinking too much vodka or caffeine?

As they keep their eyes glued to the sky

could they be charged with the crime of SUI? *

But my real concerns are more mundane

and the ones of which I most complain.

Why can’t airports be prepared for snow,

and why do men wear ties, are the things I really want to know.

* Sighting Under the Influence

Book

Linehan, who continues to work as a freelance translator, is the author of a book entitled Plain Speaking – A Reporter’s Conversations with President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair’s Conversations with Wife Cherie (available on Amazon and Kindle) unlike the versions by Tony Blair, George W. Bush and now Dick Cheney, telling her version of the story of what led us into the Iraq war. Her satirical humor is timely and right on target. Can’t wait until she publishes an entire book full of her fun lines!

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Thanks as always for bringing a smile to my face, Phil!

And lastly, Phil on Phil!

Readings from authors who the English language best wrote

including a mention or two of some witty quote.

There are so many names from which they could choose

and below are mentioned a few they might want to peruse.

There are Synge and O’Flaherty, Behan and Yeats

to name just a very few of the greats.

Another fine author who should not be left out

is Francis Mahoney, aka Father Prout.

If it’s comedy they want they might suggest to their boss

that he allow them to quote the ladies Somerville and Ross.

There are so many others by whose works we are beguiled

such as O´Casey, Jonathan Swift and, of course, Oscar Wilde.

If they decided they would like to air a humorous voice

Oliver Goldsmith would be a most suitable choice.

If they wanted an erudite audience to draw

they could hardly do better than quote Bernard Shaw.

If ballads were needed there would be nothing more sure

than to delve into the romantic works of famed Thomas Moore.

James Joyce of course must not be left out of the mix

as his writings would surely the viewers’ transfix.

Ending on a more contemporary note

there is someone else from whom they could quote.

Phil Linehan’s satiric verses would probably make most listeners smile

although, to be honest, in some others they might produce bile.

****************

The list goes on and on but I now discover I’ve put myself on a spot –

to say that every author mentioned is Irish I simply forgot!

 
2 Comments

Posted by on July 13, 2014 in Mavens

 

Day of the Dead – A True Celebration of Life

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Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities are so unique that the UNESCO declared this holiday “intangible cultural heritage” in 2003 (inscribing it in 2008). A glimpse into this colorful blending of pre-Hispanic ritual with European religion and traditions provides an insight as to how Mexican’s view not only death but also life!

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Dia de los Muertos is a two-day period where Mexican families honor their deceased loved ones. It is a window of opportunity, lasting 24 hours for deceased children on November 1st (actually beginning at midnight on October 31st and referred to as All Saint’s Day), and 24 hours for deceased adults on November 2nd (All Soul’s Day). It is believed that the spirits of the dead return home for a short visit during that time span.

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Personalized altars or ofrendas are prepared with much care, thought and love to welcome relatives and friends back to Earth.

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Among the most common elements placed on these altars is the fragrant cempasuchitl (orange marigold flowers), with the belief that the flower petals combined with copal incense (a natural tree resin which gives off an unmistakably pungent scent) purify the altar and attract the souls through their aroma.

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Candles light the path for the deceased in transit.

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Religious images and crosses incorporate Christian elements.

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Candies and toys are set out for the deceased children, while tequila, beer or mezcal (whatever the favorite libation of the deceased was) and typical foods (such as mole, fruits, tamales) are lovingly provided for more sophisticated adult tastes.

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Water and salt are also prevalent – basic elements for life.

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Photos and/or drawings of the deceased, along with whimsical sugar skulls are combined to make the decoration of each ofrenda unique, be it humble and makeshift or rich and elaborate – all in tribute to those no longer inhabiting the Earth.

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Ancient pre-hispanic tradition blends well with popular culture. Death was an integral part of life in Mesoamerican cultures. There were several festivities reported by Spanish chroniclers on their arrival to the New World. According to Sixteenth-century Spanish Monk Diego de Duran the actual dates the mexicas dedicated to the dead were moved to coincide with the Catholic calendar.

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It is not by chance that Day of the Dead falls at the end of the agricultural cycle. Mexico up until recently has been a predominantly agricultural society, with corn – the main staple of the average Mexican diet – central not only to local cuisine but to the culture itself. Halloween, celebrated one day before Day of the Dead, is rooted in the ancient traditions of the Celtic Druids (Samhain), which also holds that spirits return on this day, marking the start of a fallow period of the soil, when the land is put to rest.

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The main difference between these two holidays, both entrenched in ancient native agricultural societies, is that Halloween is laced with fear and concern over the returning malevolent spirits (which is why children were dressed in costumes – to confuse the spirits and protect the kids), while Dia de los Muertos is a joyful celebration, viewed more as a family get-together with transitory spirits.

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The focus of Dia de los Muertos is not solemn or gloomy. Actually, the bright colors, whimsical decorations and fragrant aromas set the scene for what is considered a serious yet festive occasion, all of these elements contributing to guide the deceased relatives and loved ones home or back to the cemetery where they were laid to rest. That is why cemeteries become the site of overnight vigils and partying. It is common, particularly in rural Mexico, that families spend the night at the graveside, on the watch for the visits spirits. At this time of year, it is common to see groups picnicking, dinner may be served with alcohol, while reminiscing to the backdrop of local music or mariachi serenades. Without a doubt, the annual gathering is one of joy and happiness rather than sadness and sorrow.

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The teeming metropolis of Mexico City, where Halloween-influenced decorations of pumpkins, witches, ghosts and spiders have become more and more prevalent every year, may seem far removed from rural and indigenous communities, yet there has been a revival of this vivid holiday. There are noticeable variations depending on the region

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There is much to do and see in the capital as well as around the country. Try the pan de muerto, a special sweet bun of sorts, topped with a cross-bone motif. Taste a calavera sugar skull (a reflection a fusion of cultures, since although human skulls abound in prehispanic cultures, sugar was brought to the New World by the Spaniards, making for an all inclusive and whimsical invention) or its more recently invented chocolate or amaranth cousins. The whimsical sugar skulls can be purchased at virtually any local market or even supermarket. Many vendors are happy to label them, upon request, with the names of your friends and family members! Buy the vibrant hand (or machine) cut tissue paper banners complete with images of friendly skeletal couples. Check out the altars that abound everywhere – literally on the street, in office vestibules, museums, supermarkets, malls and even in churches.

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This holiday has melded into an amalgamation of cultural as well as religious festivity, expressing the spirit of life as much as that of death. Where else can you experience the blending of prehispanic customs with Christian nuances, fused together to applaud life?

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NOTE:  All of the photos included in this blog were taken by me this 2013 Day of the Dead holiday.

If you would like to use them, feel free but please give me due credit.

 

 

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Anita Brenner: A Bridge Between Nations and Religions

Anita Brenner was a woman who straddled many worlds. She was multi-cultural before the word was invented. In fact, her footprint is deeply embedded in Mexican art, literature, world history, the muralist movement, tourism and politics. So, you wonder, why have you never heard her name before? If it weren’t for Susannah Glusker, I too, would be unfamiliar with this influential woman, who was way ahead of her times.

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The late Susannah Glusker has published two books on Anita Brenner: Anita Brenner: A Mind of Her Own and the more recent Avant-Garde Art and Artists in Mexico: Anita Brenner’s Journals of the Roaring Twenties, redeeming the historical role of this activist-author, while simultaneously providing a fascinating glimpse into a Mexico of another era — the effervescent 20s, touching on the role of women living in a post-revolutionary Mexico.

Brenner was the daughter of Latvian immigrants who moved to Mexico seeking a better life. They settled in the city of Aguascalientes in the late nineteenth century due to a mining boom which created a pole of attraction. She was born in 1905 and raised there until the age of 11 when the family moved to Texas given the threat of ongoing revolts which eventually gave way to the Mexican Revolution.

Brenner became a noteworthy intellectual of her time, freely moving between many circles both in the U.S. and Mexico. Her influx of ideas, her exceptionally lucid, eloquent and versatile writing style which ranged from art reviews, travel reports and children’s stories allowed her to entertain while educating, bridging the gap among people of different backgrounds. Her prodigious passion for explaining Mexico to an English-speaking public gave her an edge during tumultuous times for Mexico and the world, making her so much more than a simple journalist or political activist.

glusker with hammock

Her interests crossed many boundaries – art, Mexican traditions, Jewish issues in Mexico, human rights – making her hard to pigeonhole. Writer Malcolm Gladwell would consider her a “connector,” based on his Tipping Point classification, i.e., part of “a community who know(s) large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions … They usually know people across an array of social, cultural, professional, and economic circles, and make a habit of introducing people who work or live in different circles.”

Brenner Aguascalientes Book

She hobnobbed with people whose names are easily recognizable today, including artists Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Frida Kahlo, Francisco Goitia, Carlos Merida, Jean Charlot, Miguel Covarrubias, William Spratling, Henry Moore, Isamu Noguchi, Edward Weston and Tina Modotti, as well as intellectuals of her times such as Frances Toor, Alma Reed and Carlos Fuentes. As a journalist for the Sunday New York Times and The Nation, she interviewed major figures such as Leon Trotsky and Miguel de Unamuno to name a few!

In fact, Brenner was instrumental in bringing Trotsky to Mexico. Although she never formally adhered to any political party or ideology, being too much of a free-thinker to fall into one specific group, she actively participated in the International Committee for Political Prisoners and other radical groups. After interviewing Trotsky in Paris, she was contacted to help get him political asylum since his life was endangered in Europe. Cabling Diego Rivera, they worked the appropriate channels to get Trotsky sanctuary in Mexico.

It was Anita Brenner who introduced Jose Clemente Orozco to Alma Reed. The stormy, taciturn, idiosyncratic artist, today dubbed one of the “Three Great Muralists,” alongside Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, eventually cultivated a long-standing friendship with Reed. Thanks to the connection Brenner established between the two, Orozco found a patroness and anchor who arranged contracts for the painter, which led to commissions at the New School for Social Research, Pomona College and Dartmouth University.

She is also responsible for convinced German-born Jewish artist Mathias Goeritz to stay in Mexico after Diego Rivera bitterly attacked him in the local press. The name Goeritz might not ring a bell, but undoubtedly you have seen his works if you have been to Mexico. He designed the iconic 5 tower abstract sculpture which greet commuters on the Periferico bordering on Ciudad Satelite (along with architect Luis Barragan). He also designed the modern stained glass windows in the Metropolitan Cathedral in downtown Mexico as well as those in the Cuernavaca Cathedral, and participated in creating the Experimental Eco Art Museum, which recently reopened its doors as a gallery. Goeritz participated in several public art projects such the Friendship Route (La Ruta de la Amistad), a series of 18 enormous abstract sculptures which still dot the southern segment of the Mexico City Periferico commemorating the ’68 Olympics.

Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein, director of silent masterpieces such as Battleship Potemkin (1925), October (1927) and several historic epics, was said to have been inspired by Anita’s first book Idols Behind Altars for his non-political work Que Viva México! Unfortunately, due to a series of financial and logistics mishaps, Eisenstein eventually abandoned this ambitious film project before it was finished. Diego and Frida referred to Eisenstein’s work as “moving frescos.”

Idols Behind Altars: Modern Mexican Art and Its Cultural Roots

Idols Behind Altars (Brenner’s first title published in 1929) remains today a fascinating compilation of essays covering the historic, religious and artistic aspects of Mexico spanning pre-Columbian times to what was at the time it was written a burgeoning modern muralist movement.

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Her second book Your Mexican Holiday (1932) was a travel guide published back when travel in Mexico was considered exotic and difficult given a lack of infrastructure. Brenner began sharing her knowledge of the generosity and warmth of Mexico’s people and its impressive sights (pre-Hispanic ruins, amazing countryside landscapes, an emerging world-class artists’ moment and unequaled food) and eventually revived this thread in an English-language monthly magazine Mexico/This Month, as founder, editor, financial backer and writer. Her pioneering efforts in this sector were so outstanding that she was eventually recognized by the Mexican government.

The Wind That Swept Mexico: The History of the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1942

Anita Brenner moved in many circles, comfortable in both the academic world as well as the literary world. With a PhD from Columbia University, she published an ambitious chronicle of Mexico’s complex revolution summarized in 100 pages of text supplemented with 184 photos entitled The Wind that Swept Mexico. This masterpiece remains surprisingly fresh and relevant even today, providing a candid portrayal of the revolution, recognizing its failure from the point of view of the campesino peasant class, the inefficient handling of land tenure, the role of a meddlesome church, etc.

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With one foot in Mexico and another in the US, one foot in a staunch Roman Catholic society and another in a strong Jewish tradition, Brenner never shied away from complex, controversial topics.  She became a spokesperson for the underdog, be it Mexicans bad-mouthed by the American press or the Jewish minority in a predominantly Catholic country. She wrote on touchy subjects such as the expropriation of the Mexican oil industry (in 1938), and William Randolph Hearst’s expansive land holdings in Mexico, as well as his meddling in Mexican politics in hopes of retaining his land by sending journalists to Mexico to write unfavorable reports and distorted information. Her point of view was always clear and consistent, unconcerned with gaining popularity. And her articles and books wielded great impact at the time they were published. It comes as no surprise that her opinionated, feisty personality combined with her bilingual background spurred many a debate.

Brenner Kids Book

With her untimely death in 1974 (caused by a car crash), she left several projects unfinished, including a children’s book on the life of Spanish conquistador Gonzalo Guerrero (who was shipwrecked and lived in the Yucatan peninsula 8 years prior to Hernan Cortes’s arrival), and a novel on Luis de Carvajal (who belonged to a well-known family of marranos or Jews who converted to avoid the persecution of the Holy Inquisition, only to eventually become its victim).

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Brenner was at risk of falling into historical obscurity if it weren’t for the late Susannah Glusker, whose biographical works on her mother has rekindled her historic importance. Thanks to Glusker’s vivid childhood memories of family friends including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, Anthony Quinn and Henry Moore among others she was able produce cogent, well documented books that portray an accurate account of the life of Anita Brenner.

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Unfortunately, Glusker passed away earlier this year, but she achieved her legacy to save Anita Brenner from historical limbo. I have chosen to resume my blog Mexican Museums and Mavens in tribute to my dear friend Susannah Glusker and her remarkable mother Anita Brenner, both role models for me and future generations.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on August 3, 2013 in Mavens

 

Stones from Heaven – Stunning carvings of Jade and Jadite from Ancient Civilizations of Mesoamerica and China

Jade, more correctly – Jadeite,  was prehispanic Mexico’s diamonds. This green stone was no less valuable in Asian cultures. “Stones from Heaven: Civilizations of Jade” offers a glimpse into both the ritual and decorative aspects of what was once, and continues to be, a highly prized stone in both Mesoamerica and China. The 220 pieces on display at this relatively small but highly illustrative exhibit currently on at the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City is one not to be missed.

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A Mexica (central Mexico culture, late post-classical period) rendition of a human heart, carved out out green stone. And remember that the Mexicas  who practiced human sacrifice knew a thing or two about human anatomy!! (24.2 x 20.9 x 14.1 cm) Photo: National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

Called “yu” in Chinese, “chalchihuitl” in Nahuatl, and “ya’ax chin hun” in Mayan, the term “jade” loosely refers to a variety of metamorphic green stones including jadeites and nephrites (a distinction best left for geologists and gemologists to differentiate) – all of which were of great value to early civilizations. Varying in size, craftsmanship and hues, the pieces showcased were hand-picked from hundreds of pieces crafted by the ancient cultures of China and Mexico.

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The Chinese items are on loan from the Forbidden City’s Chinese Imperial Palace Museum (of Beijing) marking the framework of the 40th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Mexico and the People’s Republic of China. The Mexican objects have been culled from collections of the Olmec civilization, Teotihuacan culture, Mexica and Maya zones (borrowed from the National Museum of Anthropology), Teotihuacan, the Regional Museum of Yucatan, the Regional Museum of Campeche, the INAH in Veracruz, the Regional Museum of Tabasco, the Templo Mayor Museum and the Anthropology Museum of Xalapa).

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An elaborate funeral mask of Yuhkno’m Yihch’aak K’ahk’ (translated as Jaguar Claw) Maya Calakmul ruler (from Campeche, classical period). Mosaic work made principally from jadeite, shell and obsidian. Ca. 695 d.C., 28.2 x 21.5 cm. Photo: National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

All are stunning. The displays are divided into five principal themes touching on the characteristics of jade/jadeite and the techniques of working with these stones; the rituals involving jade/jadeite and its aesthetics; jade/jadeite as a symbol of power and the last segment of the exhibit shows evidence of how it was believed that jade/jadeite accompanied people into the after-world, both in Mesoamerican and Chinese cultures. The use of funeral masks in ancient Mexico is illustrated with a spectacular piece from the tomb of Calakmul’s great ruler Jaguar Claw, dating back to the late 7th century.

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Jade Mountain, from the Qing Dynasty (1736-1795), 51 x 51.5 cm. Photo: National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

The oldest item shown is a piece from China – shaped like a ring – calculated to be close to 7,000 years old.

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Prismatic Tube (Cong), carved from grayish-green jade. Liangzhu Culture dating back to the Neolithic Period (3200 BC -2200 BC), 31 x 7.5 x 7.5 cm. Photo: National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City.

The array of carved items, range from utilitarian pieces such as incense burners, arrow heads, musical instruments and jewelry, to sculptures of animals, humans and scenes, provide viewers with an ample selection of styles, uses, materials and symbols. It is fascination how these two unrelated early civilizations showed parallel esteem for this naturally occurring ornamental stone.

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Jadeite treasures from K’inich Hanaab Pakal’s tomb on permanent exhibit at the museum in the Mayan Hall (Maya civilization, classical period). Photo: Lynda Martinez del Campo

Ironically the color green has taken on a renewed relevance today. Whether it be nephrite or jadite from Asia or the Americas, this exhibit curiously reminded me that the color green, symbolizing life and vitality for early agricultural societies, has come full circle. Given our 21st century environmental sensitivities, once again the color green has become not only pertinent but fashionable to our cultural – with people “thinking green,” and activist groups baring names such as Green Peace or Partido Verde (a Mexican political party).  Whether you are an environmentalist or not, be sure to catch this unusual collection which shows how two unrelated civilizations held such a high regard for this rare, natural stone.

The National Museum of Anthropology is in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City. It is open to the public from Tuesday to Sunday, 9 am to 7 pm. General entrance fee is $57 pesos.

 

Awesome On-Site Museum at Tlateloloco (After A 50 Year Wait!)

A sign for the new on-site museum at Tlatelolco, depicting its pre-Hispanic glyph (a mound of sand)

A spectacular on-site museum has just opened in Tlatelolco showcasing the artifacts from the archaeological zone. To be more precise, there are two new museums to be seen – the impressive ground-floor exhibit showcasing the items found during the many phases of excavation at Tlateloco (Mexico-Tenochtitlan’s twin city), plus the extraordinary collection of Kurt and Lore Stavenhagen on the second floor of the CCUT Tower (the Tlatelolco University Cultural Center), a.k.a. the building which used to be the headquarters of Mexico’s Foreign Affairs Ministry. Neither of these sections is your average, run-of-the-mill pre-Hispanic museum. Once again, Mexican creativity is at its museographic best!

A snapshot in time of the architecture of a pre-Hispanic pyramid, an early Spanish Franciscan church and school, and a modern-day apartment building, forming the scenery of the Plaza of the Three Cultures

Stunning architecturally, with the dramatic backdrop of the Plaza of the Three Cultures (given that name because of the three phases making up the rich heritage of the zone: (1) the pre-Columbian ceremonial center, (2) the viceregal church and remains of the first school build for native Indians in New Spain, and (3) the modern-day high-rise apartments, once exemplary architecture, today left in squalid, tenement-like conditions), the displays showcase approximately 350 pieces culled from over 2,500 in total, highlighting the religious, political, social and commercial aspects of the people who inhabited Tlatelolco at its height.

A glimpse of the impressive displays inside the museum which showcases artifacts discovered duirng 50 years of excavations of the site.

Tlatelolco, established around 1337, was an impressive market site, which reached its splendor between 1465 and 1519. Hernan Cortes wrote a descriptive account to the King of Spain, narrating the vast selection of wares traded at the open-air market, as well as the organizational structure, thus we have a good idea of how the locals lived there. Tlatelolco was also the last strong-hold against the Spanish conquistadors, since this is where Cuauhtemoc was taken prisoner in 1521, thereby establishing the official date of Mexico’s conquest (take note that since part of Yucatan wasn’t conquered until the 18th century, 1521 is more of a symbolic, and somewhat arbitrary date, but don’t get me started on that topic). Plus, this is where the Spanish evangelists set up a school for locals, and where the Florentine and Badiano Codices were written. The area was also the site of two more recent tragedies – the student uprisings of 1968 where innumerable innocent people were slaughtered, and the earthquake of 1985, where even more people lost their lives. Tlatelolco is steeped in tragic history!

An anthropomorphic vessel with an unusual head-lid found in a dig at Tlatelolco.

The spick-and-span, state-of-the-art museum reflects changing times – providing lots of interactive displays (Ipads, computers and bar codes for the electronically savvy, who chose to scan signs for information), as well as a computer room.

One of several showcases exhibiting the use of natural dyes, part of the permanent exhibit on the 1st floor of the CCUT - be sure not to miss this fascinating section.

A personal collection of pre-Hispanic ceramics and other artifacts amassed over close to four decades by a prominent immigrant family (1942-1984), the Stavenhagen Collection can be easily skipped over, since it is hidden away on the second floor of the CUUT. This corpus, on public display for the first time ever, is unequaled by anything I have seen (except, obviously, the National Museum of Anthropology).  It is composed of 560 stunning pieces, objects of art, hand-picked from an amazing accumulation of approximately 3 thousand pieces of hand-crafted earthenware and carved stone, dating back thousands of years, evidence of the stupendous workmanship of the Amerindian cultures of Mexico.

An impeccable example of the Teotihuacan symbol for time is emblazoned on this hand-carved stone, part of the Stavenhagen Collection, which is on display to the general public for the first time. Refugees of WWII, the Stavenhagens started collecting pre-Hispanic pieces when they arrived to Mexico. The family recently donated their acquisitions to the UNAM, the country's National University.


Apparently so extensive, the family transferred part of its private repertory to the Museum of Xalapa and to the Museum of Colima years ago. Rodolfo Stavenhagen donated part of the family’s legacy to the UNAM (Mexico’s National University), which have been classified by general topics (rather than by the more conventional geographic and chronological criteria) ranging from daily life, love, maternity, bodily decoration, death, early man’s relationship with animals, etc. Although many of these pieces are unprovenanced, the majority belonging to the Mezcala, Maya, Mexica and Zapotec cultures.

This ceramic hairless (and often toothless) Mexican dog was typically found in ancient funeral offerings, since natives believed it led the deceased on their journey to the underworld. The Xoloitzcuintle recently regained its American Kennel Club recognition, making it a potential dog show breed. The worldwide population of Xolols is estimated to be around 30,000.

The wait for this site was exaggeratedly long –  given that it was originally envisioned for the mid 60s but never materialized.  However, the outcome of the laudable collaborative effort of the two giant Mexican cultural institutions (the UNAM and the INAH – the National Institute of Anthropology and History) is fantastic! Aside from providing a dignified abode for pieces which were in storage for decades, it breathes life into the often overlooked site of Tlatelolco Hopefully more museums of this stature will continue to pop up. This is a new “must” on my list of basic sites for tourists and residents alike! Visit or re-visit Tlatelolco – you won’t be disappointed!

Another spectacular artifact showing the quality craftsmanship of the native populations who inhabited Central Mexico prior to the arrival of the Spaniards. This museum is a must for tourists and residents alike!

Note: The museum is not easy maneuver. The difficulty lies in the fact that there are several exhibits spread between two separate buildings, with an absence of signs  – makes it easy to miss important collections.  Hopefully, this is an oversight that will be remedied with time.

Two images from the Mezcala culture of Mesoamerica. Every item on display has been hand picked and is exceptional in quality.

The Tlatelolco Museum (Museo de Tlatelolco) is open Tuesday through Sunday; 10am to 6pm; entrance fee is $20 pesos; Ricardo Flores Magón 1, Nonoalco-Tlatelolco.

 

King Tut Visiting Downtown Mexico City

The UNAM's Palace of Autonomy hosting the temporary exhibit of King Tutankhamen

King Tutankhamen is visiting Mexico City! Over 200 reproductions of artifacts found in 1922 by British archaeologist Howard Carter are on display in a temporary exhibit entitled “Tutankhamen: The Tomb, The Gold and The Pharaoh’s Curse,” at the Palacio de Autonomia (a UNAM-run museum site tucked away in a well conserved 19th century neo-classical building).

King Tut in all his glory

Copies of original objects housed in the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo aim to duplicate the splendors of King Tut’s tomb. The funeral rituals, process of mummification and customs of ancient Egypt have little in common with pre-Hispanic Mexico. King Tut is believed to have ruled Egypt from 1334 to 1325 B.C. - way before the Mexica’s arrived to the swamplands of downtown Mexico, where the exhibition is housed. The treasures seem foreign, somewhat forced and out-of-place at first, until one passes through the first introductory section and becomes involved in the ambiance of the Pharaoh’s burial setting.

Reproduction of a burial found in King Tut's tomb

Capturing the extravagance of the mortuary chamber of King Tut, located in the Valley of the Kings on the West Bank of Luxor, is no easy task. Although some of the artifacts are noticeable copies, the majority are exceptionally well-crafted, making using the same techniques and material – including gold – as the original ones.

A sampling of exquisite jewelry which was found in King Tut's tomb in 1922 by Howard Carter

Unlike the previous mega-hits of “Pharaoh: The Sun Cult in Ancient Egypt” Exhibit or “Isis and the Feathered Serpent” both record-breaking expositions housed in the National Museum of Anthropology a few years back – with an obligatory 2-3 hour wait to get in), this exhibit is easily accessible and aims to combine art and entertainment, reproducing not only the wonder of a royal Egyptian burial but fostering mystique which shrouded the discovery itself.

A partial view of the King Tut exhibit on temporary display downtown Mexico City

The legend of the evil spell cast on the early explorers, intertwined with the revelation of the riches of the boy king itself is so deeply embedded in history, that it is a standard scenes in Ripley’s Believe it or Not Museum! Needless to say, there was no curse. Archaeologist Howard Carter, who unearthed the cache, lived till the ripe old age of 65 (in the 20s that was considered old age!), surviving 17 years after his find.

The reproductions were made with painstaking care, using similar materials and techniques as the originals, in attempts to re-create the details of the objects found in King Tut's tomb

Do not expect a dry, scientific, conventional display – this is more of a trip back in time, a-la-Disney, with a play of light and sound to further dramatize the setting and the magic associated with the site. Yet, the exhibit is based on fact, including an explanation of techniques of mummification, and a representative selection of mortuary masks, the sarcophagus, a throne, jewelry, a royal diadem, a funeral Canopus vessel, and much more.

The gilded wall with detailed Egyptian hieroglyphs and decorations

The exhibit is small, divided into four main rooms: the first focuses on religion, funeral rites and the process of mummification used in ancient Egypt; the second highlights several of the most outstanding troves of the tomb including guardian statues, the God Anubis, and a golden casket; the third hall showcases the four monumental gold reliquaries which protected the Pharaoh’s sarcophagus, and the sarcophagus itself; and the last room is a recreation of King Tut’s tomb with a reproduction of the sarcophagus and coffin which housed Tutankhamen’s mummified body.

Life-sized proportions give the exhibit a dramatic, theater-like sense

Somewhat expensive for the average Mexican museum ticket ($80 pesos), this reflects a noticeable trend in ticket price-hikes at UNAM-affiliated exhibits (San Ildefonso is another example of this), which is unfortunate, since it is just one more excuse for people not to visit the many cultural offerings of the city – the ticket costs more that the daily minimum wage in Mexico City – certainly unfordable for the average Mexican household. However, for those who will never have the opportunity to travel to Luxor to see the original tomb or Cairo to witness King Tut’s mask or the treasures of the Pharaoh’s burial, this the second best!

For those who won't have the opportunity to visit the real thing in Egypt, this is the second best!

By the way, the income from ticket sales are earmarked for university scholarships according to Rafael Moreno Valle, chairman of the UNAM Foundation, organizer of the exhibit. The Tutankhamen Exhibit is in the Palace of Autonomy (Palacio de la Autonomia de la UNAM) which is open every day of the week, Monday through Saturday 10am to 6pm, Sunday 10 am to 4 pm; entrance fee to this temporary exhibit is $80 pesos; Lic. Primo de Verdad 2 (next to the Templo Mayor, access from Moneda Street).

King Tut's famous funeral mask, stunningly reproduced

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The Virgencita and the Basilica of Guadalupe (Part II)

A bird's-eye-view of the La Villa shrine in Mexico City, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe

The Basilica of Guadalupe is the second most visited Roman Catholic shrine, following the Vatican.   The grounds surrounding the Basilica of Guadalupe are complex since they are dotted with many buildings of varying ages, some dating back to the 16th century, others yet unfinished, with next to no signs or maps indicating where or how to get to the many sites making up the complex.

No matter how you get here – by public transportation, on foot or by car – the starting point is always the Atrium of the Americas – a brilliant idea conceived by Mexican Architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, mastermind of the project to renovate the Basilica Area, which was inaugurated in 1976.  This expansive plaza is shared by both the Original Basilica and the New Basilica, and has proven to hold up to 50 thousand visitors at the same time. You may wonder why this is important. On December 12th – the Virgin of Guadalupe’s feast day, thousands upon thousands of Roman Catholic pilgrims come from around the country to pay their respects to the Virgencita, as she is affectionately referred to in Spanish, and they need to be accommodated. Not all, but close to 50 thousand fit right on the plaza, aside from the lucky ones who get a seat inside the Basilica! 

The Bell Tower in the Atrium of the Americas, resembling a pre-Hispanic God.

Standing in the Atrium is an ominous bell tower, reminiscent of a pre-Hispanic God, a modern day belfry of sorts, which shows the many ways people reckon time. There is a traditional analog clock, of course the standard fare of bells, a circular carillon, a sun dial, the Aztec calendar (actually a drawing of the Sun Stone currently in the Anthropology Museum), and an astronomic clock showing the Zodiac used by ancient navigators.

The Original Basilica, noticeably tilted since it is sinking unevenly!

The Original Basilica remains standing, thanks to thousands of pesos invested to assure its safety. Construction was initiated shortly after the Virgin appeared before Juan Diego.  It has suffered so many renovations that most of what is standing is from the 18th and 19th century, rather than the 16th and 17th. The big problem is that half the church is anchored onto Tepeyac Hill, while the other half is slowly sinking into the underground swamp land it is floating on, which is slowly pulling apart the building. The Blessed Sacrament (consecrated host) is permanently exposed in this church. For those unfamiliar with Catholic tradition, the permanent exposure of the holy Eucharist is referred to as Perpetual Adoration, which is why this Basilica is so frequented.

The New Basilica in all its glory, designed by Mexican architect Pedro Ramirez Vazquez

A stone’s throw from the Original Basilica is the New Basilica, another brilliant, functional solution of Ramirez Vazquez’s. It is absent of columns – a major architectural feat given that the dome measures 100 meters (330 feet) in diameter, thus allowing for maximum visibility of Cuauhtlatoatzin’s, better known as Juan Diego’s, cape which is emblazoned with the image of the Virgin dating back to 1531, and carefully protected behind bullet-proof glass.  Viewed with equal ease from any spot in the church, church-goers don’t have to compete for a “good” seat since there is nothing to block anyone’s view inside.  By the way, the new Basilica has the capacity to fit over 10,000 worshippers inside on a busy day (the 12th of December)!  Plus, for more private moments, there are 9 chapels, numerous confessionals, and a moving walkway for people to view the shroud up close without stopping, thereby resolving the problem of unruly crowds – yet another ingenious solution of Ramirez Vazquez.

The baroque Chapel of the Well, as lovely inside as outside. This is one of the sites where the Virgin Mary appeared before Indian Juan Diego.

A bit more hidden is The Chapel of the Well, a remarkable baroque structure in the round, constructed by Architect Francisco Guerrero y Torres in the late 1700s to honor the well that sprung up during one of the Virgin’s appearances.  Free-standing, it is in better structural condition than the old Basilica. The blue and white roof tiles are original, as are the pulpit and the paintings illustrating the 4 (actually 5) appearances of the Virgin.  I, personally, find this the most beautiful, spiritual and intimate of all the sites at La Villa.

It may not look very far, but there are a lot of steps to climb to get to the Chapel on the Hill!

Requiring a bit more stamina to visit, Saint Michael’s Chapel (Michael was Mary’s protector) or the Chapel on the Hill is well worth the climb to the top of Tepeyac Hill.  There is nothing left of the original chapel built in 1666, nor of the pre-Hispanic temple which topped the mount prior to the arrival of Hernan Cortes, in honor of the Indian Mexica Mother Goddess Tonantzin. But the top of the hill – where the Virgin left Saint Juan Diego proof of her existence for Archbishop Juan de Zumarraga – provides a magnificent bird’s eye view of the grounds, and the walls of this chapel are lined with well-known artist Fernando Leal’s mural-rendition of the appearances of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

A collapsing adobe wall, part of Saint Juan Diego's humble abode, where he lived and protected the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, as he waited while the temple was being built to permanently house the sacred image on his cape.

Many people walk right by the Indians’ Chapel, which is the oldest surviving structure at La Villa. This is where Juan Diego kept his shroud with the image of the Virgin while he was alive, awaiting completion of the church which was to house it.  An effort has been made to shore up what remains of the the collapsing wall of his modest, adobe home. Much like the Original Basilica, the intrinsic value is not architectural, but rather historical and spiritual.

Two nuns leaving the grounds of the shrine.

 The newest addition to the complex is the Marian Plaza.  Although it was inaugurated on Columbus Day (October 12th, 2011), this mammoth project remains partially unfinished.  Underwritten by Mexican Magnate Carlos Slim, this sorely needed multi-purpose center, when completed, will boast a four segment building with an Evangelical Center, complete with a mega auditorium (seating 858 people) and numerous classrooms, a new interactive museum, a health center, adequate space for retreats, study, and religious meetings, a columbarium (niches for funeral urns), a market, a restaurant and more parking spots. Several street blocks were expropriated by the Mexico City government, which donated the land to make this project a reality, while Slim’s company, Grupo Carso, provided the funds for the design and construction.  In numbers, the new annex covers 29,500 square meters, with construction coming in at a whopping 67.7 thousand square meters!

Only the façade of the Capuchin Convent Temple is original. The inside was destroyed during the wars and internal strife.

Then, there is a Capuchin Parish Temple which also remains standing, but has been gutted inside due to looting during wars, and devastation over the years. 

A statue of Pope John Paul overlooks the Basilica grounds. This Pope was particularly dear to Mexicans' hearts because of his devotion to the Virgin. He also promoted the canonization of Juan Diego.

There is also a small baptistery which was built just to cover the strong demand for baptisms on site. Curiously enough, this modern building is spiral-like inside.

Notice the group of Chamula Indians from San Cristobal de las Casas visiting the Basilica. It is common to see natives dressed in their indigenous garb as they visit from far to pay homage to the Virgin.

And I haven’t even mentioned the many sculptures, gardens, museums, market site and historic cemetery, where General Lopez de Santa Anna and other famous figures are buried.  In brief, there is a lot to see on the 17.7 hectare shrine grounds.

Faith remains vital to the 7 million Mexicans who visit La Villa annually.

Whether you are a believer or not, the vitality of faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe remains palpable here at La Villa. The Virgin of Guadalupe is Patroness of Mexico City, Patroness of Mexico (country), Patroness of Latin America, and was deemed by Pope John Paul II in the year 2000, “the Queen of Mexico and Empress of America.”  It is the sense of unity which the Brown Virgencita gives Mexico that is the greatest of all her miracles!  Again, Happy Feast Day to Saint Mary (which was January 1st) and Happy New Year’s again to you!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2012 in Religious

 
 
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