MEXICO CITY: Is it art?

I need this outfit.

Lethargy will catch up with me someday, and I’ll regret all the procrastination I’ve procrastinated. I’ll wish I had been more productive. I’ll wish I had all that time back I spent napping. Someday long distant, though, when I’m on my death bed in a hundred years or so. Maybe then I’ll reflect bitterly on delicious naps, decadent scrolls through the Internet, countless idle hours in parks. I rather doubt I’ll regret it. In the heady early summer of Mexico City, this kind of living felt just right. 

In cultures with a strong Latin heritage, there is this gorgeous acceptance of inconsistent time. Nothing outside of official obligations is so important that you can’t spend a little extra time on breakfast or with your family or something that is important to you. If you show up a little late, it’s not the end of the world. In America, the way we conceptualize time is so unnecessarily complex. Every moment of our waking lives needs to be accounted for and we must always have something productive to show off if we have any free time. I don’t like this ideology much, so when I’ve found its opposite in Egypt and Mexico and France, I find myself falling more and more in love with these place and their culture. 

I’ve clearly granted myself permission to be lazy and I’ll go out of my way to justify it to you. In reality, though, my American mentality still dominates and I wish that I could be endlessly productive, bouncing from one task to the next with increased determination to present the results of my labors. But I’m not. And I don’t accept that in myself no matter how much I preach about it. I suppose we’re all a bunch of contradictions. I am.

My plans for the day were to visit a new barrio of the city and find a smaller annex of the Museo Soumaya. That massive place was filled to the brim, but Carlos Slim had more to show off still. I had enjoyed the first museum so much that I couldn’t wait to explore this extension. 

Mexico City is so huge that it’s hard to really understand where you are sometimes. This is different from Paris, even though Paris is a big city. When you’re in Paris, and maybe it’s just me, but it’s fairly easy to know where you are. You can expect a Metro to pop up out of the earth with regularity allowing you to recalibrate your internal GPS. The skyline is fairy low, so if you have a clear view of the Eiffel Tower — which isn’t too hard to come by, though from the prices of apartments with an Eiffel Tower view you’d think it was incredibly rare — you can figure out where you are. Mexico City is the complete opposite of this. It is a sprawl that seems to write its own rules and has a logic all its own. I would absolutely abhor being a taxi driver in that huge city. I would never know how to find anything. And don’t get me started on the streets that have two-way traffic, but are so narrow one car can hardly squeeze down the calle. It’s wonderful. 

And so, when I exited the Metro, I was in an entirely new world and had to rely on my phone to guide me to the museum. I had a wonderful walk. Every district of the city is so unique, which is really different from a lot of other cities I’ve been too. They have their own unique vibe and quirks. This area, for whatever reason, reminded me of London. Don’t ask me why, but it had the same energy as Regent Street. 

I walked and I walked and I walked and I daringly crossed traffic without getting squished — I’m fairly good at that unless I’m in Las Vegas or particularly West Hollywood…don’t ask — and before too much longer, I found myself at an outdoor mall. Rather an odd place for a museum housing exceptional pieces of art and history, but I love a mall, so I scurried through the entrance. [God, don’t you miss the mall?]

I was delighted by all the stores and determined to shop in several of them after my time in the museum. I didn’t have any trouble finding the place, but I had misgivings about what I was going to expect. It didn’t look like a traditional museum — though a museum can be defined as so many things — and I worried that I was going into some kind of art gallery. I’m fairly proud of my Spanish, but I wasn’t sure I had the linguistic capabilities to discuss art with a dealer who assumed I wanted to splurge. I wondered if perhaps Carlos Slim sold some of the excess artwork in his collection here? Turns out no. 

There are two wings to the museum and I chose the one that was filled with paintings done by Mexican artists in the last couple centuries. I found the images gorgeous and was rather stunned by the garish color used in the paintings. Garish has negative connotations, but I don’t mean that here in the slightest. I’m accustomed to moody oils in the Louvre, but these were riots of the colors of Mexico. Mexico, like Egypt, has colors that are different. I mean, they’re literally the same color as they are everywhere else, but for whatever reason, perhaps the sun or the culture, they have a particular vibrancy that I find complex and riveting. Examples of this kind of art have been shown throughout this post above.

I can’t say that I was filled with rapture by this gallery, so after a leisurely study, I crossed the hall and entered the second half of the museum. This one, reader, was absolutely wonderful.

There were maps and books and letters and older paintings. Unsure of what would be revealed to me, I was shocked to discover letters signed by Christopher Columbus and records from early Spanish explorers. I never knew such things still existed. I was held particularly rapt by the presentation of a handwritten letter from Queen Isabella (you know, the one that finally agreed to send Columbus off on his genocide? Don’t get me started. Actually, due to the current political and social situation, there’s never been a better time to discuss that dumb-ass Columbus and the devastation he wrought on generations of humans that continue to suffer in anguish, but this isn’t the place. I’ve made my thoughts on this clear in the past and I’ll happily discuss this in the comments if necessary!) that discussed the New World. 

Nearby was a journal written by one of the contemporaries of Hernan Cortes. These are all real people, of course, but it is so unusual to find yourself inches from objects they had touched and contemplated. Cortes was a steaming pile of shit, but his impact on the world is undeniable. Hitler’s is undeniable as well for much the same reason.

Again, I am enraged by this part of history. These people I’m admonishing were unaware of the lingering consequences of their actions, I know, much the way we would all be astonished by our own actions half a millennium from now, but what on earth compelled them to burn the writings of the Aztecs? To pillage, rape, murder, and melt down brilliant works of art in the name of god and glory and gold? Treasure hunters, like racists, make me nauseous. 

I found myself quite utterly captivated by the old documents. And it reignited memories of old guilty feelings. Before I visited Mexico for the first time, I have to admit that I rarely gave it much thought. I knew the country was below me. I was familiar with the culture. I had a vague grasp of the language. But for some reason, I never once considered it as a destination. Europe and Africa held allure for me because of their distance and the glories of antiquity, and in my younger years, Mexico was just a nation adjoining mine. 

It took my first visit to point out how ethnocentric and stupid I had been. And I had been astonishingly dumb, reader. I had wasted — that’s the wrong word, but the sentiment is right — years of my life ignoring this wonderland. Mexico City in particular meant absolutely nothing to me until I got there. Before I decided to go — for vague reasons that I can’t really remember — I couldn’t tell you a thing about it aside from the old legends of it being the site where ancient Aztecs saw an eagle eat a snake perched upon a cactus. That was about it. 

That first trip blew my mind. You know this already, but I feel the need to rhapsodize. One of the most vivid memories I have from my first thirty years of life is that first night in Mexico City. I didn’t have any expectations. I didn’t know enough to have expectations. I didn’t know anything.

And then it was nighttime and the sky was almost navy blue and looked soft as velvet when the last lingering rays of sunlight vanished. People were everywhere, the streets were alive with music, noise, hustle, the smell of cooking overwhelmed the senses, the variety of new stores and new normals was intoxicating. I followed no particular path and found myself in one of the arcades around the Zocalo. They looked as if they had been shipped in from Turin, Italy, but they were proudly there of their own volition. The broad walkways were illuminated with a warm yellow light that barely filtered to the ground. It was, I realized suddenly, stopping to peer across at the rambling cathedral that dominated the square, heaven. 

And it’s been my haven ever since. I fall deeper in love with Mexico every single day, particularly Mexico City. Something about it fulfills me completely. But I was talking about guilt. I’m ashamed that it took me so long to go. I’m more ashamed that it took me so long to even consider going. I’m just glad that as I move into the future, I will know better than to make the same old mistakes. 

After the documents were historical paintings, and these were wonderful. I enjoyed seeing the way Mexico City progressed in imagery from the great capital of the Aztecs to the modern sprawling metropolis that it is today. Most major cities have fascinating backgrounds, but Mexico City’s history thrills me a bit more than others. It has risen and fallen and spread and spread and spread. It’s simply one of the most fascinating places I’ve ever been, and so the trip out to this odd offshoot of the Museo Soumaya was absolutely worth it. 

Outside in the plaza, I took myself to the shops that had intrigued me. Of course the first was a chocolate shop and while I might not be fluent in the nuances of artistic discussion in Spanish, my repertoire for shopping and eating is on par with my English. That might explain why this was one of the first trips where I gained weight. Oh well. I’ll deny it was the tacos and the tortas and the churros and the peppers stuffed with cheese. And it could not have been the tequila. It certainly had to be a medical condition. Or my metabolism, and that certainly had to be caused by a side effect of medication…not negligence of exercise and a healthy diet. Anyway, I bought a lot of chocolate and they were absolutely divine. 

I thoroughly enjoyed my time window shopping, smelling the fast food joints that were alien to me but as common here as Pizza Hut. My back was aching and it was getting late so I decided I ought to head back and cook myself something instead of going out for dinner once again. 

I strolled leisurely back along the unbelievably busy streets. I joked to myself that if you stopped walking, the kinetic energy of the crowd would probably have carried you along as if you were crowd surfing at a concert. Have you ever done that? An absolutely terrifying experience. Not recommended. That’s one of my rules. No crowd surfing, no Fireball, no carnies, no county fairs, and never touch a ukulele. I assure you I have a good reason for that seemingly incoherent string of restrictions. Again, that’s a tale for another time. Might be the opener to my memoir someday. 

One of the stores caught my eye because it looked like a shop that I’m obsessed with, MUJI. This is a Japanese store that sells slightly unreasonably priced goods that are minimalistic and beautiful. Their stationary is worth a pilgrimage. This was not MUJI but the logo was similar and so was the vibe. Instead, this wonderland was called MINISO and it was an affordable revelation. 

After this first experience, MINISO became a frequent stop. I would go into absolutely any of the shops almost every day. My morning ritual was a trip to get coffee, pick up pastries, pick up something at MINISO, and then hurry home for breakfast. And to my joy and delight, there were quite a few — and I later discovered one of these shops on Hollywood Boulevard, of all places, and to my horror their credit card readers were down and they were only accepting cash, but I shan’t get into that now. I don’t carry cash. It’s gross.

MINISO was my everything. It had everything I never knew I needed like gold eye masks, foot masks, other masks — I was really into masks, reader, and I still am. In addition to this they had the most deliciously perfumed candles and diffusers, adorable bowls and cups, gorgeously cheap cologne, odd little things you never knew you needed, and spectacularly, a portable travel scale that I should never have bought. It’s absurd and I love it and it only tells me my weight in kilograms, which unexpectedly, is a game changer. I’m a smart person, but I don’t understand the Metric system because of my life in the United States. We don’t use it, much to my consternation, and even if I can theoretically understand, it doesn’t make the automatic sense that the nonsense we use here does. Because of that, though, I discovered that I have absolutely no idea what the scale was really telling me and that was a joy. I could see weight go up or down, but the kilograms had no obvious correlation to pounds in my mind. It was a heavenly discovery. 

The train was slow to return to the Centro Historico, but I’ve never much minded. I could have stayed in Mexico City’s subway for years and never been bored. Then again, I may have just been procrastinating doing homework for a linguistics class I was enrolled in. That was really more likely. God I’m glad college is over.


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