Tuesday, August 26, 2008


Miguel Covarrubias
(Mexico City 1904-1957) was a painter, illustrator, art historian, and ethnologist. As a young man he went to New York City where he became famous for his caricatures and drawings for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. He was an avid fan of the Harlem jazz scene, and compiled several books of 'negro' drawings. His book on Bali is still in print, and his many illustrated books are now collectors' items (you can find them on ebay).
His series of billboard size maps from a world expo in San Francisco (1940) have been shown in several Mexican museums recently.

The map of Mexico shown here is part of the permanent display in the Museo de Arte Popluar here in el DF. Curiously, I have never seen a reproduction of this image--is there some enterprising publisher out there who wants to promote this as a poster?

Click here to see more images of Covarrubias' work.

Thursday, August 21, 2008



The ‘three cultures’ referred to here are represented by Aztec ruins, a Spanish Colonial church, and a huge apartment complex that was a benchmark of Mexican progress in the 1960’s. For most Mexicans, however, the name Tlatelolco recalls the student uprising on October 2, 1968, which was brutally crushed by the Mexican army, and still hotly discussed today—it's usually referred to as the Tlatelolco massacre.

The ruins are similar to those of the Templo Mayor, but smaller. The recent addition of a new museum, El Centro Cultural Universitario Tlatelolco, is another reason to visit.

Located in a former government building designed in 1966 by Pedro Ramírez Vázquez (architect of the magnificent Museum of Anthropology, among other notable buildings), its exterior is severe, but the interior spaces are grand and inspiring. On the ground floor is a memorial to the events of 1968, a bit didactic (only in Spanish), but full of interesting documentary photos of the period. Upstairs is an art gallery, and also THE BEST VIEWS of the ruins and the church in the plaza. A permanent exhibit, Modern Art in Mexico 1900-1960, features works by masters such as Rivera, Tamayo, Orozco, and Siqueiros (a wierdly kitchy portrait of a girl done in auto enamel), and lesser known (outside of Mexico), but important artists such as Saturnino Herrán, Ángel Zárraga, Raul Anguiano, Olga Costa, and Dr. Atl. The most intersting thing to me was a collection of ‘naive’ paintings from the Escuela de Pintura al Aire Libre (Open Air School of Painting), a government program begun in 1913 which taught painting to children, teens and older working-class people. This does not rank as one of the city’s greatest art collections, but will be of definite interest to anyone seeking to learn more about 20th century Mexican art.

The plaza and museum are located about a mile north of Bellas Artes, at the corner of EJE CENTRAL (also called Lazaro Cardenas--enter ruins here) and RICARDO FLORES MAGON (enter museum here). Metro stops Tlatelolco (no. 3 line) or Garibaldi (no. 8 line) are both a bit of a walk from the site. Taking a pesera north on Reforma to Flores Magon will get you closer. Going back south, you can catch a bus (which runs against the flow of traffic) on Eje Central.

Monday, August 4, 2008


It's harder and harder to find a good conchero dancer these days around the Cathedral, but I found someone from another tribe the other day--meet Max (photo), who was hanging around out front.

Did you know that you can climb up to the roof of the Cathedral? Tours leave every 20 minutes or so--look for the ticket booth with the word CAMPANARIO (bell tower) near the main door--it costs 12 pesos.


One of the defining elements of Mexican culture is its musicality. It's a rare day in Mexico City when you don't hear some form of live music: from the organ grinders of the Centro Histórico, the guitar player/singer in your local market fonda, or the bent over old man playing harmonica on the metro platform, music is an integral part of Mexican life.

I stopped for a cup of coffee in the centro while visiting with family members from St. Louis. We were held in thrall by this young singer/guitarist, José Rodriguez, who just walked in off the street. (You can hire him for your next party--call 044-55-1633-7241).

Mexico City explorer Patrice Wynne sent me this surprising video of a Mexican corrida, a musical form popular during the Revolución, when many corridas were sung to celebrate war heros and to motivate the public--here is an updated version, which wins a special award from me for being (I assume) the world's only song to include the lyrics 'hasta con plan de salud' ('even a health plan!')

Finally, take a look at this video of Mexico's Queen of Ranchera, LOLA BELTRÁN, taken from one of her early movies. She was the acknowledged role model for Linda Ronstadt's excellent 'Canciones de mi Padre' albums. When she died in 1996, her casket was placed in the Palacio de Bellas Artes; thousands of her fans filed by for days. If you don't yet have one of her many albums (available everywhere on CD) go to your nearest music store and buy one today! You don't know Mexico until you know Lola Beltrán.

(A note about youtube: if you find the video stops & starts a lot, click pause and wait until the little arrow reaches the end, then play it.)