Mexico City’s Museo Nacional de Antropología gets kudos from just about every corner. Every person I have ever spoken to about Mexico City puts it way up on their list of things to see. And they do have an amazing collection of items. Their Maya collection in particular is incredible. The experience of being confronted with the quality and art of the physical artifacts leaves one mouth agape at many points. There is far too much in this museum to be able to explore in one day, so I didn’t even try. After about 3 and a half hours, I left well enough alone for another day. It was a great experience. And yet… I do have a few complaints about the exhibits:
– At many points the artifacts are seriously lacking any specifics about where they came from. They are all grouped together in the same room with a giant label like “Pre-Classic Period 2800BC to 100AC”. In addition, they often have no label at all to identify them.
– Often it is not obvious which items are real and which are reproductions.
– Between exhibits, quality varies a lot. The Maya exhibit seemed the best by far to me.
– For a museum that strives to be international, the English translations are pretty lame and minimal.
– Clear time lines and relationships between cultures are thin. Greater emphasis on these would be a huge benefit. Graphics representing these would be most welcome.
Hm. Maybe I should become a museum curator or exhibit designer?
Julio, Mauricio (Julio’s bf) and I spent the day exploring a small corner of Mexico City’s centro historico, one of the oldest parts of the city. It is filled with older buildings dating as far back as the 1500’s. This part of DF had been the city of the Aztecs, Tenochtitlan, but Cortés and his buddies just bulldozed over and built their New Spain capital right on top of it. The effects of this building spree, and the fact that Mexico City is all built on top of a filled-in lake, makes for less than stable foundations. A ton of the buildings in the historic center are literally sinking, with many of them tilting this way or that. This seems to give the area a kind of tragic, romantic flair, and many of the buildings are incredibly beautiful to behold.
Truth to be told, I haven’t felt completely right for the last week. I have been suffering from a mild but steady case of altitude sickness (or for those of you who are linguistically inclined, mal de altura). This seems strange to me, for I don’t remember the altitude affecting me this way the last time I was here. Then again, I didn’t go mountain hiking the first day of my last trip here either. But over the last week, I have had all the classic symptoms: headache, shortness of breath, slight dizziness, no energy, disturbed sleep pattern and lack of appetite. I am happy to say that these now seem to finally be subsiding, and while I don’t feel one hundred percent, I am feeling better with each day. The sooner this is completely gone the better, as I haven’t ventured very far from my apartment for getting tired so easily.
Language just fascinates the hell out of me.
Ojalá is a Spanish word that means “hopefully”. Someone may be describing something like possibly getting a promotion next week and then say “ojalá”. I have just recently become aware of this word and it puzzled me the first time I saw it. I couldn’t figure out its root or context clearly, so I looked it up on the internet. It is derived from the Arabic “Insha’Allah”, meaning “if God wills it”. This is one of many words that came to the Spanish language at the time of the Muslim rule of the Iberian Peninsula from the 8th to the 15th centuries. In fact, Spanish (and Portuguese, for that matter) has been changed rather dramatically in ways that other romance languages were not because of this history.
There is a really lovely mix of architecture, tree-lined streets and parks in the neighborhood.
It seems that just about everyone has a horror story about how dangerous Mexico City is. People are trying to warn me to be careful, and that is good, but I have now heard several too many stories. A couple of years ago, my friend Cristina had her purse snatched at knifepoint here. Then George told me about his ex-bf Jesus who was almost killed by some guy he had picked up. Then Julio tells me about his friend Rocco being drugged in some bar and having everything stolen from him (waking up to an empty apartment), his brother-in-law being kidnapped and ransomed, and finally how he himself had been carjacked at gunpoint. Finally Jorge (a friend of Jesus who I met last night for coffee) tells me his own express kidnapping story.
I get it, I get it. The world is a dangerous place. I’ll try to watch my back (and front, and side). Now can we please all talk about something else, like kittens and rainbows?
– Maybe it is just the time of the year. Maybe it is again relative to where I was last year. But the much discussed horrible air pollution of Mexico City is, well, missing. The air is MUCH cleaner than cities of comparable or smaller size I have been to in the past year. I’m thinking of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangkok, Xian, and even Paris just to name a few that have much more polluted air. Maybe this will change as Summer approaches, but for now it is pretty clean and the skies are definitely blue.
– I just went to drop of a couple pairs of pants for alterations and had reverse sticker shock (the good kind). Two hem jobs and new buttons on a pair of pants will set me back roughly 5 dollars. I suspect this would have been more in Neuva York (although now that I think about it, less in India).
– I think the altitude takes a little more adjusting to that I had expected. I seem to get out of breath easily here.
– My neighborhood is full of nice buildings, both new and old. It definitely seems like the place to be.
Today I am waiting for a bed to be delivered. I have been looking into all the mundane things that one looks into when one moves to a new place, except that in a different culture, these things don’t seem mundane at all to me. Yesterday I took a walk around the neighborhood, got a haircut, bought a SIM chip for my phone, checked out a local gym and had a meal with my roommate. Here are a few of the things I have noticed:
– Mexican mobile phone rates are ridiculous. In fact, they are the highest I have seen anywhere in the world. This seems mostly due to the fact of a near monopoly by Carlos Slim. There is also a highly confusing system of dialing between mobiles and land lines, and for dialing in and out of the country. It is also the case that sometimes the receiving party on a mobile will pay part of the cost of the call. Whew.
– I was noticing that there is a ton of beautification work going on in my neighborhood with respect to parks and walkways. When I asked Julio about it, he told me that the current mayor of Mexico City lives in this neighborhood. Aha.
– My ability to express myself in Spanish and to understand others fluctuates a lot during the course of any one day. Some people are a lot easier to understand than others. Pues, poco a poco.
I’ve only been in Mexico for three days, but already I notice a bunch of things that are different in my perception from the last time I was here. I can’t help comparing Mexico to India of course, since that is where I spent most of the last year. But what is shocking to me is how amazingly developed Mexico seems to me compared to my visit a couple of years ago. I remember visiting Mexico city when I was still living in LA and while loving it, feeling a vague sense of unease from the differences in infrastructure and culture. This time around, and after a year in India, Mexico so far seems calming, recognizable and culturally very much more familiar. The infrastructure here (roads, sidewalks, metros, public parks, toilets, etc) seems very much taken care of and solid. That sense of chaos and unease is totally gone. The extremes represented by India seem to have erased my previous perceptions. Sure, there are tons of cultural differences, and these are what I have come to explore, from the language to the food to the history. But it feels so much more welcoming than before, so much more familiar. I guess it really is all relative.