A Week in Mexico City (part 6)

The Diego Rivera Museum

The Diego Rivera Museum is not a museum of his work but one he designed to house his collection of  50,000 or so pre-hispanic artifacts. Incredible. The building alone is a work of art made of volcanic stone in the shape of a pyramid. Even the floors, ceilings, and entryways to the many rooms are etched with images of the gods of Teotihuacan, the Mayas, and the Aztecs.

These are the artifacts of a culture that helped shape the Mexican heart, the Mexican passion for life. The culture that produced a Diego Rivera, a Frida Kahlo. One that lives with death as if it were synonymous with life. Not merely life’s darker cousin but part of its body. Life is not life when separated from death the way a finger stops being a finger when severed from the body.

Wow! Melodramatic much? The lack of oxygen must be getting to me.

One of the few negatives about CDMX is the poor air quality. That combined with limited air conditioning can make some museums and events uncomfortable. So despite my growing interest in all things pre-hispanic, the museum with its close, cave-like rooms, that get tighter and tighter as you ascend the pyramid, is claustrophobic and at times it’s hard to breathe. Time to head back outside, catch my breath, and get some lunch.

La Hacienda de Cortes

We’re on the hoof, it’s hot, and the air is dirty. There are no storefronts along the sidewalk just high walls and, on the street-side, the press of traffic. I guess it’s my day to be claustrophobic. A friend of a friend recommended La Hacienda de Cortes for lunch so we’re looking for it. Feeling kinda lost we come to a doorway in the unrelenting walls. Is this it? We go in to see.

And here it comes, the reoccurring theme, the dichotomy that is Mexico. The restaurant is a freakin’ garden. And I don’t just mean it has a garden. It is a garden. You walk down a park-like path lined with trees, flowering plants, ferns, and other wild ground cover. It’s cool; the air is fresh. You walk up a small stone staircase, through an archway, and into a large forest-like clearing. Tables are laid beneath the combined canopies of many large trees. The Pollo con Mole is excellent and we are visited by squirrels.

This city is full of oases. Whether it’s La Iglesia del Convento del San Francisco, a peaceful church courtyard of shade trees and chirping birds across the street from Sanborns in Cuauhtémoc, the garden in La Palacio Nacional, or Chapultepec park. No matter how overwhelming the city may get or how overpowering the car exhaust there is always an oasis somewhere. Just duck into the nearest doorway and I’ll bet you’ll find one.

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A Week in Mexico City (part 5)

Day 5

La Casa Azul

I’m a huge fan of artist Frida Kahlo so The Blue House, where she was born, lived, and died is a highlight of the trip for me.  I’m clocking the line at more than 2 hours. But we’re the lucky ones, having arrived early, we’ve got people stacking up behind us like dominoes.

As a girl she was impaled through the pelvis by a metal rod, an injury that caused health issues and pain for her entire life. She was frequently hospitalized and had to wear these medieval, metal, corset-like contraptions, and, despite wanting desperately to have a child, learned a pregnancy could be life threatening.

She was also a deeply passionate person. It was in everything she did from her lush garden, her collections of contemporary and folk art, to her stormy marriage, divorce, and remarriage to Diego Rivera, her many lovers, both male and female, including Josephine Baker and Leon Trotsky.

Her special artistic gift was the ability to express that depth of both pain and passion which can be seen in all her work. Even in the vivid color palette she used with every color representing a specific emotion.

What I love most is her honesty. Everything she went through in her life, every pain and joy is exposed. Sometimes her work contains social commentary, but she never spares herself. If she has a uni-brow she paints herself with a uni-brow, when she miscarries a child she paints herself covered in blood.

The Blue House was converted into a museum after she died in 1954. Everything was preserved – the gardens, her painting studio, kitchen, and library. Because she was so frequently bed ridden she had a day bedroom and an night bedroom.

There’s a quote from one of her letters to Diego Rivera printed in both Spanish and English on the wall in her night bedroom.

“Never in life I will forget your presence. You found me turned apart and you took me back full and complete.”

My friend, Lisa, who reads neither Spanish nor English well, asks me what it means. Maybe I’m just tired, it’s been a long week. Maybe being around Frida’s personal things, seeing her brush strokes, the colors, her clothes, first hand has made me sentimental. I struggle to maintain composure.

When I can’t speak Lisa says, in broken English, that maybe they loved each other too much. That maybe Frida was two people, one broken, the other too alive. This is why I love Frida. Maybe Lisa is just an especially insightful person, but, unable to read the cues designed to lead visitors to the museum to specific conclusions, she still nailed the essence of Frida’s work. Frida’s ability to convey those feeling in images is the definition of the word Artist.

Lessons Learned In Tijuana (Las lecciones aprendidas en Tijuana)

In Tijuana you’ll notice a unique relationship between cars and pedestrians. Whether it’s nearly hitting a guy as he darts across the Internacional or brushing up against a slow motion crowd as you inch your way through one of the ubiquitous neighborhood flea markets, when in Mexico you will encounter the Mexican Pedestrian.

Unlike the schizophrenic American Pedestrian, who waits angrily for the walk signal to turn green, then ventures timidly onto the asphalt, looking both ways, the Mexican Pedestrian exhibits a sort of entitled insouciance with a dash of willful defiance as if to say, “It’s your job to watch out for me because I am King of The Road”. Bottom line? You better pay attention to pedestrians because they are not paying attention to you.

I was driving in the Soler area of Tijuana the other day, looking for a particularly good Birria cart, circling the blocks, avoiding pot holes and motorcyclists, trying to figure out the best way to reach the place while avoiding the flea market. Then opps, crap, wrong turn and straight ahead, no  escape, it’s a tiny neighborhood street teaming with booths and people.

There’s no way to back out since the car behind me made the same mistake, as did the car ahead. We’re boxed in by pedestrians who are in no hurry. There’s lots of cursing and furrowed brows from the drivers while the pedestrians don’t spare a glance, even as tons of deadly metal  brush against their shirt sleeves.

I wait for the car ahead to realize he can’t back out or turn around. He makes some progress. I nose my car into the crowd, acutely aware that nothing but a layer of dust separates my moving car from toddlers and elderly women. Thirty minutes, and three blocks later, I’m free.

Lesson learned? To the Mexican Pedestrian, a car is just another person in the crowd and it’s every man for himself.

Lesson learned? Don’t go for Birria in the Soler on a Saturday. Stay in Playas and get the tacos.

Shipwrecked

So our intrepid adventurer – “Sailboat Guy” – has been stuck on the beach for 2 weeks now. To recap, while en route to Hawaii, he lost control of his sailboat when the motor died (yes, I guess sailboats do have motors), drifted into Baja, and was shipwrecked on playa de Tijuana complete with a dramatic rescue by local lifeguards. He’s American. He’s been living mostly off-grid for 15 years after personal circumstances drove him from some east coast corporate hustle. He has no money, no passport, no family. What ID he had was looted from the boat the first night be was here.

Early on he repaired the boat and has been waiting for the tide to come up, thinking that would be enough to launch and get back on track to Hawaii. But part of the boat had become lodged in the sand. Locals helped by trying to tow and dig it out with no luck. Then we had a storm that brought the tide in. The boat was thrown against the rock wall that separates the condo from the beach. It shook the whole building. There was a lot of screaming and yelling but no one was hurt.

I took him some food the morning after,  I’m glad to say he is salvaging what he can and abandoning the boat. I doubt he would have made it to Hawaii even before the most recent damage. His self-sufficiency is admirable but man what an awful way to live. I’m way too attached to pesky little things like clean cloths and indoor plumbing, not to mention food and water.

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Oh man Freddy got a job, what a dick! But did he get a SENTRI Pass?

Yup, finally, I got a job. I never thought of myself as a gambler or a risk taker. In fact I lived in my house in Portland from 1997 to 2014. I worked at Freightliner for 12 years for god’s sake. The only risk facing me was sciatica. Maybe not a risk taker so much as the type of person who has to self-destruct (or reconstruct) every once in a while, I quit a good job with a 401K, great health benefits, and profit sharing and moved to Mexico without a new job lined up. Opps! big mistake? Nope, no regrets.

If you’re gonna live in Mexico and work in San Diego you need a Sentri pass. There are 3 types of lanes at the border crossing into the US from Mexico – Standard, Ready, and Sentri. Depending on time of day the standard lane crossing can take anywhere from 30 minutes to 4 hours but all you need is your Passport (and a sense of humor). The Ready lane requires an RFID-enhanced passport card or driver’s license and takes about 30 to 40 minutes. The Sentri lane requires a Sentri pass and takes anywhere from 0 to 30 minutes.

If you qualify, get the Sentri. It takes a while to get approved so start the process about 6 months BEFORE you need it. I started in May 2014 and just got the final approval in November. I made my first crossing with a newly minted card a couple of weeks ago. It only took 10 minutes to cross. Yippie. It did take me about an hour to find the entrance to the Sentri lane… but that’s another story.

Don’t take my word for it, look it up:

Trusted Travel Programs

Border Wait Times

Getting to the Sentri Lane

The Beach is Alive (la playa está vivo)

What you notice when you live at the beach, that you don’t when you just visit, is how it’s constantly changing. I thought I knew beaches because I grew up near the Oregon coast and took many, many trips to Cannon Beach, Lincoln City, or Sea Side every year. As a kid it was long stretches of sand and foamy waves to run in, rocks and dunes to climb, blue sky, or in the case of Oregon, white clouds. There was horseback riding, seafood dinners, and a new best friend to break your heart when summer ended. I remember my sister and I wearing Levi 501 cutoffs and swimming in the cold water. Our fingers were so stiff and frozen we couldn’t unbutton our Levis and had to wear them in the hot shower until our fingers thawed. As an adult the beach became, to me, a place of solitude. Visits to the Oregon coast became boring and a little depressing – just grey sand and white clouds.

But living on the beach is different. Mexico is warm almost all the time but that’s not it. When you live here you have time to observe the topology and it changes from week to week. Where there was a sand dune erosion has constructed a stream. Where there was a rock wall there are now carvings created by an colony of artists living in tents (or homeless people living off tips depending on your perspective).

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In what was once a pristine swath of uninterrupted sand lives a sail boat that was beached when the captain got too close to shore and lost control. We intended to invited him to Thanksgiving Dinner but on closer inspection he hadn’t showered in about a week and seemed a little crazy. So we ended up taking him a box of food and other supplies instead. It looks like he and his boat may become a fixture on the landscape. At least for a while. He’s waiting for the tide to come back up so he can continue on his way to Hawaii. I gave him my compass and wished him luck.

The beach is alive.

The Beach (la playa)

Playas de Tijuana

Playas de Tijuana is both desolate and thriving. Both superficial and deep. Dark and light. The sun white in the sky. The sky light blue, clear, clean, white wisps of cloud here and there. And the ocean blue-black at the horizon, blue-green closer in. The waves white atop it churning the light sand on their approach, roaring as waves do. Surprising the brown speckled, long beaked sandpipers, washing the trails of delicate three toed prints from the wet hard-packed sand. Men throwing their dark bodies against the waves, chests high as if they would beat them in triumph, shouting and laughing instead.