Mexico! Part II: Museos Nacionales

Reading this week:

  • Tippu Tip and the East African Slave Trade by Leda Farrant

What with the red-eye flight we took to get to Mexico we had collapsed asleep in the beautiful apartment we were staying at and therefore arose on our first full day peppy and ready to absorb some culture. The plan for the day was to explore the environs of Chapultepec Park. We had a leisurely morning, ate pastries for breakfast, and set out walking to see the sights of the day.

We entered the park via the Estela de Luz. It was Sunday, and despite the relatively early hour the park was already filling with people. One thing we had noticed right away is that Mexico City, at least in the neighborhood we were staying, is very much a dog town. There were tons of people walking their well-behaved off-leash dogs in the gorgeous early morning air and people already strolling the paths of the park. Our first destination was the Museo Nacional de Antropología, and as we made our way there we watched the many, many vendors that line the paths set up their many, many booths. I regret not buying for my brother a t-shirt that featured Darth Vader in as a stylized Aztec god.

We got to the anthropology museum fairly early but it was quickly brimming with people. After the entryway it opens up into a massive sunny courtyard anchored by a gigantic fountain, though with the water spilling from above the effect was (for the better) more mountain waterfall or perpetual rain. The place was fairly overwhelming, a sense which was ameliorated by the fact we couldn’t read most of the signs. It separates itself into different sections based around separate cultures, and we were glad to see a whole section on Teotihuacán, which we had planned to visit the next day. The museum is really well put together, and you can weave inside and outside the building to see artifacts and recreations of temples and sights. That made these cultures feel more alive than if it was just pots in display cases. The museum is also where you will find some of the more famous icons of Mexican culture, as experienced from the United States anyway.

I like museums best when they can really give you a sense of what life was actually like for the people they are telling you about. The monumental is cool but I try to focus on the objects that feel touched by people. Throughout our trip to Mexico City we saw a great number of ancient pottery stamps (below), which I hadn’t seen before in any anthropology museum. That speaks to people making sure the everyday was still beautiful. And although I just poo-poo’d the monumental, some of the most stunning displays were full-sized recreations of what some of the temples would have looked like in their heyday (as you can see above), with their decorations intact and new-looking. Extremely cool to see!

We had lunch in the museum’s excellent and airy café and then exited via the gift shop. An observation on the gift shop culture we witnessed in Mexico City: I collect lapel pins and my super amazing wife collects bookmarks. In the places we’ve been to in the United States, we are far more likely to find a lapel pin than a bookmark. However in Mexico she was deluged with bookmarks while the lapel pins available left me very much wanting. We also saw throughout our trip a veritable riot of bookstores, which leads me to conclude the Chilangos are a much more bookish culture than anywhere I’ve seen back home. If only I read Spanish.

A sunny Sunday in Chapultepec park.

After the anthropology museum we were off to Chapultepec Castle, home of the Museo Nacional de Historia. It is perched on the top of the tallest hill in the park, which caused me to comment to my super amazing wife about how it is always men that want to live on top of hills because they don’t do all the work of hauling water and food up there every day. She has heard me say this many times before and is slightly tired of it. But what the site lacks in practically it rewards with views in spades. It was mid-afternoon by this point, so we were a bit hot and flustered as we trudged up to the castle, but it was awfully pretty. It was also very crowded, as admission is free for residents on Sundays, but I like it when public spaces are full of the public. The park itself was full to the brim as we made our way to the castle and I wasn’t quite sure how the place fit all the people we saw walking up the hill. The castle itself has been home to various Mexican presidents and emperors, and much of the museum is sumptuous rooms where these autocrats/democrats slept and/or held meetings. On the roof was a very tidy garden. It’s good to be king I suppose (until the firing squad gets to you).

Finally the day was wrapping up and to refresh ourselves we went to a Cafebrería. There I had a flotado which consisted of lime ice cream in coke and has a fair shot of being the original recipe for ambrosia. That night, fortified with a shower, we went to Taquería Orinoco for dinner and tried to eat everything. We got most of the way to everything and had to burn it off with a rousing game of Scrabble when we returned to the apartment. Exhausted, we once again collapsed asleep dreaming of even greater adventure the next day.