Adventures in Squareland

travels and work around the world



May '13 - Feb '16

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    day 1: El Angél to El Zócalo

    Alec Perkins
    May 31, '13 4:04 PM EST

    From the metro station it was a short walk to Paseo de la Reforma. PdlR is the Champs Elysees of Mexico City, a broad boulevard filled with trees, wide sidewalks, stores, and the towers of the city. Art Deco side by side with postmodern next to the bland modernism of subtle curves and too much glass. Some interesting towers too. It’s a string of monuments surrounded by roundabouts, connecting the parc de la chapultapec with center of the city a-la-Hausmann. Along its streets are the US Embassy, the National Lottery, bank headquarters, and the offices of one Tatiana Bilbao.

    I wrote the address down and when we got to the spot I thought it was, we were greeted by a fenced off construction site where a building once stood. Mierda.

    I double checked the address. Oops, next building over, an unobtrusive lowrise tower with glass and a nice looking restaurant in the first floor. The professional entrance was around the back.
    Office: check.

    A friend and (and general practice) told me to start at the Zocaló, the giant square at the center of the city, the site of revolution and the center of the ancient Aztec empire. So we decided to walk, it being a nice day.
    It’s about 6 kilometers to the Zocalo from where we were, so we were pretty tired by the time we got there.

    The walk was very nice and a really interesting view of the city. Smog was not as bad as I was anticipating.
    The tallest, most shiniest buildings are towards the park end of Reforma, towards the downtown, they get progressively smaller and dingier, although they are still scatted through with a few hypermodern edifices such as a new leMeridian.

    Approaching the historic district, we walked through the Alameda Central, a recently renovated public garden with a heavy police presence to keep people from vandalizing, roller skating, etc. Directly at the end of the garden was the Palacio del Belles Artes, a baroque performing arts/museum edifice in the vein of the Garnier Operahouse in Paris. Apparently, the despotic dictator Porfirio Diaz had an interest in the arts, and his 30 year reign showed his interest in bringing a European sensibility to the capital. There is also apparently an architecture museum on the top floor.

    There is a lovely pedestrian street called Moreno that leads from the park to the Zocalo, filled with shops, reastuarnts, and ancient palaces next door to new architecture. Everything is being used. There is a Burger King in the ground floor of one of the 150 year old palazzos. A beautiful house covered with painted tiles.

    The narrow street empties into the Zocalo, a massive void in the city. People congregate in the square, workers either errect or dissassemble a stage which takes up only a tiny part of the square. Groups of people march and sing.

    We cross the giant square to the giant Catedral Metropolitana. The front facade is a beautiful baroque work, blending with the smaller catherdral next door to present a vast baroque face the width of the square.
    Inside is surprisingly bright with sunlight, even though it is filled with people. Tons of windows in the clerestories are all filled with transparent glass. There is no stained glass to be found. The alters are masterworks of baroque carved wood and gilding.

    There is a Christ on a crucifix at the front of the cathedral which is a centerpoint of attention. This christ is slightly shriveled and the wood is nearly black. Church lore tells of the miraculous story:

    Once, a woman fell in love with a member of the clergy. The clergyman, bound to a life of chastity and marriage to the church, could only spurn her advances. This clergyman was also known to kiss the feet of the Christ before retiring for bed. In her anger, the woman spread poison on the feet to kill her unrequited lover. Miraculously, when the clergymen kissed the feet that night, the statue absorbed the poison, saving the life of the clergyman and becoming shriveled and black in the process. The statue is now known as the Lord of the Poison.

    We continued on to find some late lunch. Alejandro took me to the neighborhood where he used to live and finding his favorite restaurant closed, brought me to a nearby enclosed market where we found a giant food stall that had taken over several stalls to create a dining area. We ate chiccharone (fried pork skin) quesadillas (but no cheese), and Huacachas, which are sandal shaped fried tortillas stuffed with beans and topped with various cheeses and meats. Mexican coke to drink, of course. Everything all together was less than ten dollars, including the food Alejandro bought for himself.

    Afterwards, we called it a day since we were exhausted from walking so much and stuffed from lunch. So we took the metro back to his local stop, and he showed me how to find the combi that would take me in the right direction, and how to tell the driver where to let me off.

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Urban and architectural explorations from Mexico City to Stuttgart Germany through the eyes of a iterant architectural designer

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