A couple of weeks ago, Grandma joined us in Mexico City. We had a fun week exploring the city together, and we ate way too much! I think we wore her out with all the walking, but hopefully she enjoyed it as much as we did.
Grandma came armed with treats from home:
We had only been in Mexico City a few days before she arrived, but we had already identified a few favorite places. So the first thing we did was take her to a yummy fish taco joint. Grandma enjoyed the ceviche and shrimp tacos, but didn’t want her picture taken. The identities of the innocent are protected in this photo:
After a yummy lunch we hopped in an Uber and headed over to the Polanco neighborhood for dessert. Polanco is a well-to-do neighborhood in central Mexico City. As Wikipedia describes it:
Polanco is one of the most famous and most exclusive districts in Mexico City. The neighborhood is notable because of its cultural diversity and has been historically preferred by the descendants of Spanish, Ashkenazi Jewish, Lebanese, among others. Some of the wealthiest families in Mexico and Latin America have homes in Polanco, and a very long list of politicians, celebrities, artists and businessmen call the area home.
The neighborhood is also populated with expensive offices, restaurants, museums, luxurious stores and shopping malls. Its Avenida Presidente Masaryk is the highest-priced street and the one with the most upscale boutiques in Latin America. It is compared by some to Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive or New York City’s Fifth Avenue.
The climate of Mexico City is such that it is always nice outside, and like much of the city, Polanco is full of great restaurants and cafes with sidewalk seating. We started our tour of the neighborhood with dessert at Le Pain Quotidien. Yum.
After dessert, we bought some lychees at a local fruit stand, then walked around the neighborhood a bit.
We took a stroll through Lincoln Park. It is a long, narrow park bordered by beautiful old buildings, many of which are now exclusive shops and restaurants. Polanco is very much about conspicuous consumption, and here you’ll see many Porsches, Mercedes, and Bentleys being valet parked.
At the corner of Charles Dickens and Edgar Allen Poe we stopped to peek in the window of a shop that sells beautiful geodes, fossils, petrified wood, and other natural items as objects of home decor. Beautiful but expensive!
While we were there, a woman passed by. She was walking her fashionable chihuahua and wearing an outfit and jewelry that probably cost six figures. She was shadowed by a secret-service-like armed security guard.
I’m highlighting the wealth and luxury of the neighborhood and Mexico City in general because I think that many people who have never visited have the mistaken notion that Mexico City is a giant, chaotic slum. This is not at all true. It is a huge and diverse place.
First, let’s talk about size. With an estimated population of 22 million people , Mexico City is the largest city in the Western Hemisphere.
To help put that in perspective, that means that more people live in the Mexico City metro area than in Nevada, New Mexico, Nebraska, West Virginia, Idaho, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island, Montana, Delaware, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, District of Columbia and Vermont combined!
In this giant city there are areas of great poverty, areas of great wealth, and a whole lot in between. One of the most striking things to us how quiet and relaxed the city is. For a city of this size it is almost shocking how many quiet tree-lined streets there are, how little traffic there is, and how calm and relaxed everything seems to be. For the most part, life on the streets seems to move at a relaxed pace.
So back to some of the highlights of Grandma’ visit…
We went to the Papalote Museo del Nino, a science museum for kids. We saw a couple of 3D IMAX films – one of the National Parks of the US, and another on our galaxy. We played with puzzles and mazes and had a generally good time (and some OK tacos for lunch).
The next morning we walked a few blocks South and caught the Turibus – the big double-decker tourist bus – for a tour of the city.
We also visited the Frida Kahlo Museum, which is the house/compound (known as Casa Azul) that she and her husband Diego Rivera lived in. Both Frida and Diego were artists, and like many of the “intellectuals” of the era, communists. They befriended and entertained the Marxist revolutionary, terrorist, and mass murderer Leon Trotsky during his exile in Mexico City. Their friendship ended when Trotsky was assassinated with an ice pick by a fellow communist of the Stalinist flavor. Nice folks.
The museum doesn’t allow photography (too bourgeois) so we can’t show you much of what we saw there.
After the museum, we walked over to a neighborhood market for a little local color and flavor…
The following day we relaxed in the park at the Plaza Rio de Janeiro where Jette enjoyed playing with the dogs. Dogs are very popular pets in Mexico City, and the Plaza Rio de Janeiro is a popular place for owners and professional dog walkers to bring them. One thing we’ve noticed is that the dogs here are very well trained. I think they are the best behaved dogs anywhere we’ve ever been. And people here love dogs. That’s for sure!
We also went to the San Angel Inn for lunch. The San Angel Inn is a popular and very posh restaurant housed in beautiful colonial building that dates back to the 17th century and was once a monastery.
We took a stroll through the Chapultepec Park (Bosque de Chapultepec), and made the long walk up to the Chapultepec Castle on top of the hill (It is a long walk – you’re a trooper Grandma!).
Here’s how Wikipedia describes the Chapultepec Castle:
The name Chapultepec stems from the Nahuatl word chapoltepēc which means “at the grasshopper’s hill”. It is located in the middle of Chapultepec Park in Mexico City at a height of 2,325 meters (7,628 ft) above sea level. The site of the hill was a sacred place for Aztecs, and the buildings atop it have served several purposes during its history, including that of Military Academy, Imperial residence, Presidential home, observatory, and presently, the National Museum of History.
The museum highlights the history of Mexico, beginning with the early Mesoamerican peoples who first populated what is now Mexico.
There was a section of the museum that covered the Secession of Texas and the subsequent Mexican-American War.
As you might expect, the museum gives a slightly different version of history. Here is a rough translation of the text i the photo above. Note that although the Title is Texas Secession 1836, the text describe details from both the Texas Revolution and the subsequent Mexican-American War:
Perhaps the most unfortunate in the first years of independent Mexico event was the loss of Texas. Several players participated in this drama: Mexicans born in Texas; settlers, who had received legal concession in Texas and accepted in part the Mexican law; Texans rebels, many of them newcomers to the region, eager to separate Texas de Coahuila and Mexico, and foreign volunteers, mercenaries from 22 states of the American Union, hooked by agents of the rebels in canteens and New York establishments, Tennessee, Kentucky or New Orleans. It were the “Gray Volunteers”, whose flag was taken at El Alamo.
1853 had accumulated about 80 US claims against Mexico whose payment reached millions of dollars. Pressured by the north country, Mexico had to yield 76.845 km in La Mesilla so Americans could build projected to unite the east and west of the country railway. La Mesilla was the only territory being sold to the United States, as the others were transferred in 1848 as war booty.
While that is no doubt that American expansionism had the U.S. and Mexico on a collision course, this exhibit grossly oversimplified and misrepresented the factors that led to the Texas Revolution. There is no mention of the fact that Santa Anna had recently seized power in Mexico, dismantled the government, trashed the Constitution, and established himself as an all-powerful dictator. The Texas settlers had taken an oath to Spain and later to independent Mexico. They were Mexican citizens. They had taken that oath based on the promises of government, promises which were now being broken. Their call to revolution was to defend their Constitution – THE MEXICAN CONSTITUTION and to fight tyranny.
In the text above Texans are characterized as scofflaws and mercenaries. Remember that the anglo settlers were there at the invitation of Spain and Mexico and were intended to solve the Comanche problem by creating a human buffer between the Comanches, who swept in from the North, and the more settle areas of Mexico to the South. For hundreds of years, the expansion of Spanish missions into Texas had failed. Most of the region was a sparsely settled “no man’s land.” Comanche war bands would regularly swoop down from the plains and attack, stealing horses and decimating the few settlements that existed. The Spanish and Mexicans had proven totally ineffective at fighting the Comanches, and in 1821 General Arredondo approved the idea of creating a buffer of loyalist anglo settlers, and a charter was granted to Moses Austin, Stephen F. Austin’s father. Moses died almost immediately but Stephen brought in the first group of settlers, who swore oaths to Spain and became Spanish/Mexican citizens.
Here is how T.R. Fehrenbach, one of the preeminent scholars of Texas history, describes some of the key events that lead to the Texas Revolution:
Then, in April 1834, Santa Anna took over the government at the capital. Gómez Farías was ousted for the last time. But this was a new Santa Anna, who now thought he knew the heart of Mexico. He repudiated liberalism publicly and dissolved the republican Congress. He dismissed all cabinet ministers but one, and by decree, abolished all local legislatures and ayuntamientos in the nation. The laws confining the clergy were declared void. This was a new Napoleon, indeed. Lorenzo de Zavala fled to Texas. A new and subservient Congress one by one legalized all Santa Anna’s acts. Finally, in October 1835, the Constitution of 1824 was officially voided. Something identical to the old Spanish system of government replaced it. Mexico was declared a centralist state, in which the President and the national Congress held absolute powers. But this was only official recognition of what had already taken place, in 1834— Santa Anna already appointed every governor and official in the land. He was king, and more than a king, since he owed responsibility neither to the people nor God.
There is much evidence that the mass of the population, although they did not approve of every whim of the General, breathed easier under the old system than under a federal republic no one could make work, and which only a few imported intellectuals understood. The people of Zacatecas, a state where liberalism had a strong hold, revolted when the regional militias were reduced in favor of the standing army. Santa Anna’s regulars defeated and destroyed a Zacatecan force of 5,000. Then, as he had learned in his days with Arredondo, Santa Anna disdained to be burdened with prisoners and permitted his troops to rape and plunder the state capital. Word of these events reached Texas, but very little of what was happening was understood. Santa Anna still had a good reputation. Much progress had been made during 1833– 34, and the compromising party was now ascendant. The hint of trouble crossed the Rio Grande only in April 1835, when Santa Anna sent an army to reduce Coahuila.
The first bloodshed came for the same reason the shots heard ’round the world were fired at Lexington. Mexican policy was now to seize arms and military stores in Texan hands before real trouble started, and in doing so among a population of this kind, they started it. When Cós took ship from the Rio Bravo to sail to the Texas coast, and from there to march to Béxar, Colonel Ugartechea at San Antonio sent a file of cavalrymen riding south to Gonzales. Green DeWitt’s colony had been issued a small brass cannon, a six-pounder, for defense against Indians some years before.
Andrew Ponton, the Gonzales alcalde, received the order for the surrender of the gun, signed by the political chief at San Antonio. Ponton stalled for time, supported by the citizens. He demanded an order from the political chief of the Department of the Brazos before releasing it. The noncommissioned officer in charge of the Mexican cavalry left his men camped at Gonzales and rode back to Béxar for further instructions. Meanwhile, Ponton buried the cannon, and sent runners to the surrounding area for armed assistance. Messengers reached Bastrop and the plantation of J. H. Moore [Jette’s great-great-great-great grandfather], on the Colorado.
Now, the eighteen men in Gonzales able and willing to fight organized, removed all boats from the Guadalupe River, and hid the ferry in a bayou north of town. The next step was to capture the handful of Mexican soldiers waiting near the town. This was done— but one man got away, and rode hallooing back to Béxar.
On October 1, 1835, Captain Francisco Castañeda arrived from San Antonio with something less than two hundred men. Ugartechea intended a show of force. Casteñeda, blocked by the Guadalupe, demanded the ferry be restored, and the cannon handed over. There was some parleying, a demonstration by the Mexican cavalry near the town, and considerable yelling and taunting by the Texans, who were now steadily being reinforced by a swarm of armed men filtering from the backwoods into town. During this Mexican stand-off, Castañeda’s troopers took no action except to strip a watermelon patch.
Now, John Moore, the big man of the neighborhood, arrived and was elected colonel. Moore decided to attack the Mexicans at daylight. The buried cannon was unearthed and mounted on a wagon. A blacksmith shop busily forged some ammunition— iron scraps and lengths of chain. Some inspired soul made a flag: two yards of white cloth, painted with a cannon and the words come and take it.
Before the dawn, in the morning fog of October 2, Moore’s militia went out to find the Mexicans. They blundered into the Mexican pickets, but in the dark and fog there could be no war. Everyone drew back and waited until daybreak.
Daylight showed both forces drawn up on an open prairie. The Gonzales cannon fired, without doing any damage, and Castañeda immediately requested a parley. He asked why he was being attacked.
Colonel Moore explained that the Captain had demanded a cannon given to the Texans for “the defense of themselves and the constitution and the laws of the country,” while he, Castañeda, “was acting under the orders of the tyrant Santa Anna, who had broken and trampled underfoot all the state and federal constitutions of Mexico, except that of Texas,” which last the Texans were prepared to defend.
Castañeda answered that “he was himself a republican, as were two-thirds of the Mexican nation, but he was a professional officer of the government,” and while that government had indeed undergone certain surprising changes, it was the government, and the people of Texas were bound to submit to it. Castañeda further stated that he was not here to cause a war; if he was refused the cannon, his orders were simply to take up a position nearby and await further instruction.
Moore then suggested to the Captain, if he was a republican, he should join the revolution against tyranny by surrendering his command, which might then fight in the common cause. Captain Castañeda replied stiffly that he would obey his orders. At this, Moore returned to his own lines and ordered the Texans to open fire. There was a brief skirmish, and the Mexican force immediately abandoned the field and rode toward San Antonio. There is no question who fired first in the Texas Revolution.
By now, the word was out that there was shooting at Gonzales; hundreds of men from the Colorado and beyond were pouring in. Calls for a stand went out signed by prominent planters, such as Bryant, Archer, and McNeel. At Brazoria, William H. Wharton distributed a broadside, which began:
Freemen of Texas
TO ARMS!!! TO ARMS!!!
Now’s the day, and now’s the hour!
Communication after communication went out. Most were inflammatory, some repeated gaudy rumors, but all took up the constitutional question. A number were printed in Spanish, for the Mexican population, which was traditionally Republican in Texas. Three hundred men gathered at San Felipe, then went on to Gonzales.
In San Antonio, Colonel Ugartechea received the report of Captain Castañeda grimly. Cós was now at Goliad, having landed earlier at Cópano Bay, and Ugartechea knew he would soon be reinforced by the Commandant General’s army. But he made an attempt to stop the fighting before it got worse. He sent a letter to Stephen F. Austin, appealing to this influential citizen to avoid an irreparable break.
Ugartechea asked for peace, but on the already stated terms: surrender of the cannon, and the proscribed citizens. He also promised something he patently could not deliver: there would be no garrisoning of troops if the colonists subsided. He professed friendship for Austin and the Texans, and asserted he would behave towards them as a gentleman, even though they had not behaved well toward Mexicans. But if the colonists did not submit, he would act militarily, and the dignity of the Mexican nation would be upheld.
This letter was significant, because it showed clearly the attitude of the vast majority of Mexican officials toward the Anglo-Americans, and especially those, like Ugartechea, who were genuinely friendly. Ugartechea himself, and almost every Mexican officer, in recent years had at some time or another taken up arms against one or another Mexican regime, in the name of some constitution. But this was a pastime reserved for ethnic Mexicans. Any attempt at resistance by Anglo-Texans, even though they were full-fledged citizens under the law, was instinctively regarded as a North American plot or an insult to the nation. This of course was an attitude toward alien immigrants peculiar neither to Mexicans nor to that time and place, but it infuriated even the peace party in Texas.
Source: Fehrenbach, T. R. Lone Star: A History of Texas and the Texans.
OK, so enough about Texas history. Since it is part of our family history it is too easy to get carried away!
The museum and its grounds are beautiful, and the site on the top of the hill affords excellent views of the city.
After the museum we took a long walk down the hill, and caught an Uber to nearby Polanco for an early dinner.
The next day we went to Teotihuacan – a MASSIVE pyramid complex just outside Mexico City. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:
The city is thought to have been established around 100 BC, with major monuments continuously under construction until about 250 AD. The city may have lasted until sometime between the 7th and 8th centuries AD, but its major monuments were sacked and systematically burned around 550 AD.
Teotihuacan began as a new religious center in the Mexican Highlands around the first century AD. This city came to be the largest and most populated center in the New World. Teotihuacan was even home to multi-floor apartment compounds built to accommodate this large population. The term Teotihuacan (or Teotihuacano) is also used for the whole civilization and cultural complex associated with the site.
Although it is a subject of debate whether Teotihuacan was the center of a state empire, its influence throughout Mesoamerica is well documented; evidence of Teotihuacano presence can be seen at numerous sites in Veracruz and the Maya region. The later Aztecs saw these magnificent ruins and claimed a common ancestry with the Teotihuacanos, modifying and adopting aspects of their culture. The ethnicity of the inhabitants of Teotihuacan is also a subject of debate. Possible candidates are the Nahua, Otomi, or Totonac ethnic groups. Scholars have also suggested that Teotihuacan was a multi-ethnic state.
The Teotihuacan complex was too big for Grandma to navigate. The distance from the entrance to the Temple of the Sun was 2km! So, she found a bench and waited for us while we did some quick exploration. The sheer scale of the place was amazing and it was interesting to see a type of construction that was very, very different than the structures we had seen in Peru. Even though it was once the largest city in the Americas, there is still very little understood about the pyramids and the culture that built them.
The week with Grandma went by so quickly. We must have been having fun.