By Nikki (in italics) and Neil
05.05.2017 - 24.05.2017 30 °C
Frida with Picasso earrings (Nicholas Murray)
Neil asked me to open this blog by talking about Frida Kahlo and why she, and her art, are so important to me. When thinking about female role models, Frida stands out both as a woman who I admire and an acclaimed female international artist, of which there are too few (‘acclaimed female international artist’, not highly talented and underappreciated female artists, of course). Frida was an incredibly strong and independent woman. She was a feminist, political activist, sexual libertarian and refused to be held back by social mores of the day.
Marxism will give health to the sick (Frida Kahlo - 1954) – Frida Kahlo Museum, Mexico City
Frida knew her own mind, lived it and painted it. She suffered from significant emotional and physical trauma throughout her life, including polio that left one leg shorter than the other, a horrendous motor accident which required years of rehabilitation and left her in pain for her entire life and prevented her from having children and a tumultuous relationship with her twice husband Diego Rivera. She was a prolific artist and her strength lay in her ability to lay her raw emotions on canvas. She did not view them as weaknesses to be hidden, but the reality of her life which she expressed with heartrending honesty, particularly in her self-portraits.
Frida Kahlo Museum – Mexico City
The first time I saw an original Frida painting, I cried. And it was no different going to see her house and studio in Mexico City. It was quite emotional. Most of Casa Azul has been left exactly as when Frida died in 1954, including her bedroom, where she spent much time recuperating from her accident and many operations, her studio and kitchen. In her bedroom is the four poster bed with a mirror on the roof that she used to paint her self-portraits, along with her body casts that she wore to straighten her spine, painted in her own hand. There are disappointingly few of Frida’s original works in the museum as many of them are in private collections or in touring exhibits. However, spending time in the beautiful house that was such an important part of her life, including looking through her and Diego’s library, was a very special insight into her life.
Frida’s studio, with her original easel, wheelchair, mirror and paints. Her library and extensive collection of prehispanic art where also a part of the collection.
Frida in her studio (Fritz Henle- 1943)
Frida and Diego’s kitchen
Frida’s four post bed surrounded by her personal belongings. Her death mask lays upon the bed and her ashes in a toad shaped (for Diego) urn on the dressing table. Frida was 47 when she died.
The ancient cultures and original inhabitants of Mexico
In 1517, it is estimated that there were 25 million Mayan, Aztec and other indigenous cultures living in Mexico. 100 years after the Spanish arrived in 1519, this had dropped by 96% to only 1 million due to a mixture of disease, starvation, and war. These were sophisticated cultures whose power and control over central, eastern and southern Mexico had ebbed and flowed for thousands of years.
The level of civilisation that the Aztecs/Mayans achieved between 900 BC and around 1600 AD was amazing; the architecture, the engineering, the astrology.
We started our exploration of indigenous cultures in Mexico in Tulum on the east coast of the Yucatan peninsula.
Tulum has a stunning setting on the coast.
Photos of Tulum, Mexico
Tulum is believed to be an important site for the Diving or Descending God.
Temple of the Descending God
On the way to Tulum we stopped off at Bacalar which deserves much more than the 12 hours that we stayed there.
Bacalar, Mexico is very beautiful.
After Cuba, we moved west to Merida, stopping at the Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Kabah along the way. Chichen Itza is by far the most iconic and visited ruins in Mexico. Initially settled as pure Mayan site, overtime there was a slow infiltration of the Toltec culture which resulted in its famous and unique architecture. It is a large complex with the central El Castillo temple that has appeared in numerous movies, adverts and calendars…
El Castilla at Chichen Itza
Australia Man at Chichen Itza
Although Chichen Itza was very grand, the hawkers, volume of tourists and state of many of the minor ruins meant that it was not easy to get a connection with significance of the site. Uxmal on the other hand was much quieter and in extraordinary condition. We were free to wander in among the structures, climbing up for the view of the surrounding forest. It is estimated that only 20% of the total site has been excavated and that the rolling hills seen from on high are further temples currently hidden under the foliage. First settled in 600AD, Uxmal was abandoned in 900AD, supposedly due to extreme drought conditions. The unusual oval Casa Adivino (constructed of 5 separate layers), the strangely named but incredibly well preserved Nun’s Quadrangle and the Palacio de Gobernador were all highlights.
Casa Adivino - Uxmal
Palacio de Gobernardo - Uxmal
I would say that my favourite of all of the Mayan sites in Mexico was Palenque. This site is hidden away in the rainforest of south eastern Chiapas, in surroundings not unlike Tikal in Guatemala. The site was fist inhabited around 100BC until 700AD. Neil had a cold for our stay in Palenque and I caught a minibus out to the ruins by myself and spent 4 wonderful hours wandering through the rainforest, constantly amazed each new temple or secluded forest grove that I happened upon. The site was lush and green, with howler monkeys serenading from the forest (if you have ever heard a howler monkey, you’ll know how peaceful that is!). It was absolutely beautiful.
Palenque – wandering through the rainforest, this is the first sight that you have of the ruins in the morning sun…
The Plaza of the Cross – Palenque
The main temple at Palenque
Lastly, and maybe most interestingly is the Templo Mayor site right in the centre of Mexico City. Templo Mayor was a part of the sacred area of the Aztec city of Tenochtitlan. After the city was decimated by the Spanish, it was largely forgotten as modern Mexico City began to sprawl over the area. It was not until 1978 when amazing Aztec carvings were uncovered by electricity workers, that efforts were made to excavate the site. The temple is only one of perhaps 75-80 buildings which included other pyramids, ornamental walls, gathering places and shops that sit under central Mexico City. To stand in the middle of a bustling city with a population greater than Australia, looking over Aztec ruins is quite astounding! The attached Templo Mayor museum gives a great overview of the history of the Tenochtitlan.
The archaeological site of Templo Mayor in the middle of Mexico City
The major museum in Mexico City is certainly the world class Museum of Anthropologia. In this striking building is the most comprehensive collection of Aztec, Mayan and other artefacts in the country, including from all of the sites that we had visited. With amazing reconstructions of the temples we had visited it was the first time we could really appreciate what those site would have looked like and provided a real appreciation for these complex cultures. The museum is an absolute must if you ever have the opportunity.
Museo Antropologia – Mexico City.
An Olmec Head – the oldest known prehispanic culture known in Mexico.
Expat Mexicans, the Wall, and Trump
The USA has a population of about 322 million people. Of these, about 56.5 million people are of Latino/ Hispanic descent (17.5%). 2/3rds (35.8 million people) of the Latino/ Hispanic people can be classified as Mexican Americans. That’s a lot ! Particularly when you consider that the present population of Mexico is 122 million people. Whilst Mexican Americans make up 11% of the US population, they do not live uniformly across the US. They are concentrated in the lands that were, until about 1848 were part of Mexico, ie California (31% of Californians are Mexican Americans), Arizona (26%), New Mexico (29%), and Texas (32%).
Part of the story that makes this particularly interesting to me is the US relatives of my sons; Alex and Michael are part of the 20.7 million Americans of Latino/ Hispanic descent from their Guatemalan grandmother.
The other part that, as a political junkie, I find very interesting, is, of the 56.5 million “Latino’s” in the US, how many of them are citizens ? ie, how many can vote ? Well, it’s about 45 million. So the Latino voting block in the US is massive. And if the undocumented Latino’s were made citizens, this could change the political landscape in the US. Interestingly, the addressing of the issue of undocumented citizens is not, of course, a new issue. Ronald Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act 1986 which granted citizenship to Mexican nationals living and working in the US without documentation was just one of the attempts at moving forward.
Of course, there were lots of comments made by the present President against Mexico during the election campaign. Mainly in connection with illegal Mexicans in the USA, the wall, and NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement).
If one looks at tactics used by politicians to gain or maintain power, one of the most significant and often used, is Create an Enemy or Create a Scapegoat/ Someone to blame. The present President used this tactic very effectively during his campaign. All of Americas problems are due to the Mexicans/ Chinese/ Free Trade/ Health Care/ etc, etc.
It is interesting how the President has backtracked on NAFTA.
With the wall, it appeared the now President used the comment by Mark Twain. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story”. Let’s look at the facts about the wall and illegal immigration.
First of all what is the estimation of people illegally crossing the border ? It is estimated that in 2015 the number crossing the Mexican American land border was 674,000. By the way, the estimate of people entering legally by air or sea and overstaying their visas is 527,000.
So of course, the President made it appear that this problem was massive, and nothing has already been done.
The existing wall between the USA and Mexico – 650 miles of 1,989 miles
So, the “Wall” story is really just a load of Hogwash.
Nik and I decided that we wanted to get a better feel for the whole border issue and hence decided to do a land crossing of the Mexico/ USA border. So we went to the biggest of the them all, the crossing at Tijuana. It’s estimated that 1,000,000 people per week cross the border at Tijuana. It’s quite big.
The busiest border crossing in the world; the USA and Mexico at Tijuana. 1 million people per week.
For us, with our backpacks, it was all reasonably painless and took 30 minutes.
Murder rate/ Safety/ Drugs
So the statistics are really bad. In calendar 2016:
- 16,000 people were murdered in Afghanistan
- 17,000 people were murdered in Iraq, but
- 23,000 people were murdered in Mexico.
Oh My God ! That means if you go to Mexico, you’re gonna die ! Er, no.
In Brazil, we needed to be really careful about safety. Don’t carry a bag. Always lock up your money belt. Don’t wear jewellery/ watches. Stick to the tourist areas. Don’t carry much money. Don’t take your phone out, etc. We met people that had been robbed (when they didn’t follow the rules mentioned….).
In Mexico, it’s just not like that. We were careful, but almost always felt safe.
However, the Drug Cartels are engaged in some very bloody wars. But it is localised. The Drug Cartel areas of the Drug towns are dangerous. That murder figure means there is 1 murder for every 5,300 people per year. Honduras was 1 murder for every 1,000 people per year, but the higher population in Mexico means a higher number of people murdered.
So, don’t believe everything you read.
That said, Nikki and I did, in Mexico, make use of “Nikki’s Maxim”, ie “If we’re gonna die, we fly”. The north of Mexico can be a bit hairy, so we flew from Mexico City to Tijuana. Why Tijuana ? See the part above about the wall and the present President.
Ah, you love ‘em ! Tell me you don’t ! Some of those fabulous songs from the 70’s. “All by Myself” by Eric Carmen, “Without You” by Harry Nillson. However, in Central America and Mexico, the people are addicted to them. Just the outfits are fabulous. What about Luis Miguel ?
And his fabulous song “Somos Novios” (“We’re together”) with Amando Manzanero.
And then there are the times when we get the Latino equivalent of this:
Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton who sang that beautiful 1982 song, “Islands in the Stream” with the bizarre second line.
The first line is “Baby when I met you there was peace unknown” (that’s ok)
The Second line is “I set out to get you with a fine tooth comb” (??? What the ? How on earth do “get” a woman with a fine tooth comb ? Do I want to know ? What were the Bee Gees (who wrote the song) thinking ?)
I’ve done a bit of a google and asked our Mexican Amiga and the best I can come up with is Amando Manzanero featuring Lisset with their song “Nada Personal” (“Nothing Personal”). The link is here. And, just look at that moustache. Marvellous.
Talking of outfits, we were taken by our Mexico City Amiga (friend) to see a Mariachi band. What I loved is the guitars.
We have a five string guitar:
Wow ! I need to get me a pair of strides like that ! Plus he’s playing a funky 5 string guitar.
Then a great bass guitar:
And how about this little axe ?
Then there is the whole Mariachi band !
Mariachi Band in Mexico City
But in addition, there are 10 sting mandolins, 12 string mandolins, 6 string acoustics that are like half of a regular 12 string. It’s all very cool.
So, now you have had enough of Neil’s self-indulgence, here are some more photos from our time in Mexico, in case you haven’t seen them on Facebook…
The square at the Dominican Monastery, Oaxaca. The cultural museum and ethnobotanical gardens were the most beautiful we had seen on the trip.
The Ethnobotanical gardens in Oaxaca
The History of Mexico (Diego Rivera) – Palacio National, Mexico City
View of Bellas Artes from Torre LatinoAmericana, Mexico City.
Onto the north.
And so, after 22 weeks, 150 days after we left Australia, we returned to an English speaking country. Well sort of. The Americans still can’t spell colour correctly, or pronounce the letter “Z”, but with a bit of training, I think they can be turned around. Our American friends just need to realise that getting rid of the Monarchy as the Head of State over a disagreement about a cup of tea, was a tad hasty. Look what’s happened now. Surely just a small amendment to the constitution getting rid of the President and reinstating the Queen would be a fine idea.
All we have to do now is get from 32 degrees north, 117 degrees west (Tijuana), to 62 Degrees north and 149 degrees west, at Anchorage in time for the Summer Solstice Festival on 21st June. Sunset will be at 11.43 pm, and sunrise at 4.20 am. Now that is cool.