Breathing in Mexico City

Mexico City     My family loves Mexico, especially Mexico City, one of the absolutely great cities of the world.  Christmas time often finds us here or somewhere in Mexico.  It’s a great place for the holidays.  When we drive or fly here, we feel we are part of a caravan from Estados Unidos, as millions cross the border loaded with presents for family and friends.  People in Mexico like this holiday, and we like being in Mexico with them for the same reasons.

We often debate owning a place in Mexico City.  Maybe going in with some friends?  Who knows?  We debate that less, because the pleasures and excitement of the city are offset by the fact that too many of our tribe have trouble breathing and all of our eyes burn.

I know the feeling well.  This used to happen to me in Denver in the 1970s when we opened our office there.  Then it would take several days each trip to balance being at a mile-high altitude and the impact of the inversion that trapped the pollution mainly from automobile exhaust in the area below the mountains.  Mexico City, founded in the valley created by volcanoes, has the same issues on steroids with 75% of the pollution experts say created by the vehicles that burn fuel less purely in combustion engines given the roughly mile-high altitude here as well creating more ozone and carbon monoxide. This is multiplied by 20 million people in Mexico City, dwarfing Denver more than 40 years ago and now.

Mexico City has made progress.  When we were last here a couple of years ago, cars were only allowed to drive into the city on alternate days based on whether their licenses were odd or even, and later were banned on Saturdays completely.  It made a difference, but we learn now that subsequent studies have found that the Saturday ban had no impact on pollution.

What has most impressed me is the improvement in the bus transportation system since our last visit.  There are separate lanes.  They have built more stops and are running triple accordion-like buses that are packed to the gills, supplementing the always crowded subway system.  Fuel standards for trucks and heavy vehicles have been increased.  The newly elected President was a former mayor of Mexico City when many of these reforms were introduced and styles himself as an environmentalist in addition to being a populist on the left, so there’s great hope there as well.

But cars continue to the be the problem and progress has slowed according to most reports in recent years.  As one reporter wrote, “The potential impact on public health is hard to overstate: Recently, researchers identified a higher risk of Alzheimer’s disease and suicide in people exposed daily to high concentrations of ozone and fine particulate matter.”

We soldier on with our love for the city, walking miles and miles along bustling streets and beautiful avenues.  We don’t live here and can’t.  We worry about those who do.

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Art and Tourism in Mexico City

Golub from Tamayo

Golub from Tamayo

Mexico City    Family travel is a whole different experience than travel for work, as it should be. My crew has a variety of objectives. For some it’s art. For others it’s about fun and something going on all the time. For others it’s about rest and relaxation. Shopping in local markets is high on the list for some and nowhere for others. For all, it’s about negotiating compromises, finding balance, and searching for middle ground: good luck with that!

Golub from Tamayo

Golub from Tamayo

Usually when I’ve visited Mexico City in recent years, it has to do with the Neza where we organize or our remittance campaign or several years ago a meeting of our international staff or various conferences with Enlace or others. My first experiences in Mexico City though were as a tourist over Thanksgiving in 1974, more than 40 years ago. We stayed in the Zona Rosa then, rather than a neighborhood like Colonia Roma Sur now. There was no Airbnb or Uber. We took a bus to see the pyramids not far out of town one day and a bus to Taxco, the famous silver mining town, another day. Our biggest adventure involved my father and I taking several buses to Coyoacan, a city suburb of sorts then, but now one of the thoroughly integrated sixteen boroughs of the DF, the Federal District. We visited the home where Frieda Kahlo and Diego Rivera lived and then walked nearby to visit the house where Leon Trotsky lived and was assassinated in exile from Russia after the internecine conflicts of the Russian Revolution. In both homes, we had the run of the place, and were virtually the only visitors. Now, when some of my crew visited and even though they had bought tickets online they were on the street for 45 minutes, walked through the house cheek to jowl with many others, and could not get near many areas of the house that my father and I had enjoyed with free rein.

from Anthropology

from Anthropology

That is not to say that Mexico City has gone from exotic to banal. Mexico City it a great place to visit in many ways because of its size and immense diversity and possibility of all kinds. A visit to the Instituto Nacional de Antropologia Historica in Chapultepec Park is mandatory for example, and having been there many times, I still feel like I have never seen the whole museum. In more modern art museums, I like the political art. The displays of work by Golub in the Museo Tamayo, the modern art museum not far away from the Anthropology museum, was powerful, and like all political art, disturbing. For the first time I visited the Museo Dolores Olmedo in Xochimilco this trip. The peacocks and hairless Mexican dogs in beautiful grounds almost trumped the rest of the displays, but even in this setting of opulent wealth it was hard to strip out Kahlo and Rivera’s hard line politics or pretend that Rivera’s almost cartoonish paintings from his visit to Russia did not spring from his commitment to Communism. The museum had also wisely leavened the iconic displays there with dramatic folk art and intricate religious sculptures. It is impossible not to forgive most of these institutions for charging a special fare to foreigners.

 

street art

street art

DSCN1081

DSCN1088

Truth to tell, I had never been on a flatboat, poled along the canals of Xochimilco, that millions of tourists count as a treat, and we got a kick out of that as well, even knowing full well we were being skinned alive on the price. But, hey, everyone has to make a living!

It’s the small things. You can even find art and expression in the markets and everywhere on the streets of the city. Avoid the water, don’t eat salads, get used to the altitude at a mile high, and ignore the pollution if you can, and Mexico City is always a special treat.

rivera-like picture

rivera-like

DSCN1078 DSCN1083 DSCN1094 DSCN1087 DSCN1107 DSCN1098

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail