Postcard from Mexico City: Rivera freed stories from ancient stones

After vanquishing the Aztecs in Mexico City, Hernan Cortes (1485-1547) requisitioned the stones from the destroyed palace of Moctezuma II (1466-1520) to build his home on the same site across the plaza from the Cathedral. While much of this building was devastated in 1692, the stones were incorporated yet again as the building blocks for what is known as the National Palace, the current home of Mexico’s Treasury and Archives departments.

Working on an immense mural on a massive staircase within the governmental building between 1929 and 1935, Diego Rivera (1886-1957) released some of the stories witnessed by those stones. Tackling centuries of the history of Mexico in one composition, he viewed his painting as an opportunity to redefine the national identity. An accompanying set of murals, added between 1940 and 1951 and covering part of the walls on the second floor, traced pre-Hispanic history and the early roots of products of Mexico.

Instead of presenting history through the traditional European descendant lens, an anti-Indian and anti-Mestizo lens, Rivera glorified what it meant to be Mexican. He did not shrink away from presenting the brutal horror of the conquest or the corruption he saw within the clergy or the reign of Porfirio Diaz (1830-1915). Native Americans and those of mixed race were given dignity as the true faces of Mexico.

Diego Rivera belonged to a generation of Mexican muralists who picked up paintbrushes as others would swords. His paintbrush was wielded as a powerful didactic tool for shaping public opinion and affecting political change.

Postcard from Mexico City: Bloomers trumpeting their presence

The promotional banner appears superfluous with birds of paradise pointing the way to the National Museum of Anthropology. A giant agave attracts attention in the midst of the Aztec ruins of the Templo Mayor adjacent to the zocalo. Trumpet flowers flamboyantly tout their beauty profiled against a royal blue wall in the garden of Casa Luis Barragan.

But, on the practical side as our balcony planters age, I want to remember the simple cinder blocks adapted as containers for succulents in the botanical garden in Chapultepec Park.

Postcard from Mexico City: Crazy about dogs

A decade or so ago, most dogs one would see in Mexico were barking rooftop guard dogs or skulking strays. In Mexico City, as in the United States, dogs have moved from that earlier working role to assume positions as cherished members of the household.

Crosswalks don’t feature adults holding children by the hand but show man walking his best friend. People appear to select their dining destinations by seeking the most pet-friendly patios.

Pet pampering is prevalent. As is school. Dog walkers and trainers fill the sidewalks of Parque Mexico in the Condesa neighborhood with their charges. Their canine pupils are required to abide by a strict honor code. Leashes lie on the ground as the dogs fail to break rank by leaping up to chase after even the sassiest of dogs parading by.

The lofty position of dogs actually is rooted deeply in Mexico’s past. The primary proof of this is the xoloitzcuintli, the ancient breed of dog known as Mexican hairless and often referred to as xolos. Clay figures of them were found in ancient tombs of Mayans, Toltecs and Aztecs where they were placed to fulfill their sacred duties of navigating their masters through the threats posed in the treacherous underworld. Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were fond of xolos, and the grounds of the former hacienda of Dolores Olmedo still serve as a breeding preserve for numerous prized xolos who seem eager to socialize with a statue of one.

We think one would have to get to know a xolo well to fall in love with one….