Friday, 29 May 2015

¿Dónde está el museo, señor?

¿Dónde está el museo, señor? 
El museo está en todas partes, el museo está dentro de nosotros, y nosotros estamos en el museo. 
Estamos en México.
Where is the museum, sir? The museum is everywhere, the museum is within us, and we are in the museum. We are in Mexico. [my words, D.A. May 2015]

So also I felt in Rome, the more so living there in the end of the 1960s than visiting in 2010 and 2011. The energy and vivacity, the emotion, the colour of Mexico City is greater than Rome. There is the same interweaving of old and new, here with a powerful presence of pre-hispanic and current day multi-ethnicity.

From Calle Bolivar along Av Madero to the Zocalo,
turn left and go up Republica de Brasil
 to the Inquisition turn right and go east on Venezuela
This is Friday morning. We arrived Tuesday morning. We leave Monday midday for Guanajuato. I haven't finished the San Francisco blog. I have 1500 photos or film clips. I have in my head several blog stories but our feet bring us home so full of impressions and delight; we rest. But the story must be told, not lost, the mind is being altered and the reshape needs to be articulated; I do not want to return to life at home and be swallowed back by that. This is told just as my story, no presuming beyond that. Which also seems to be Mexican-minded, a powerful individualism, strength, energy.


I at last got my shoes cleaned  yesterday.

Jorge-Luis, who cleaned my shoes, is 82 years old. He came to D.F. when young, he has four children, he has what is necessary to survive and smile warmly. He is the same age as the governing party:
The governments that ruled Mexico from 1921 to 1933 are known as the Northern Dynasty. The governments of Obregon, Calles, Portes Gil, Rubio and Rodriguez were all from the northern part of Mexico This regime sought to establish order while developing the economy and increasing the internal market by land reform and higher wages.
There was bitter opposition during this period from the clergy, landowners, foreign investors and ambitious generals within their own ranks. The government brutally crushed two military revolts and the Cristero rebellion of Mexico's militant Catholics. The northerners achieved many of their objectives through executions which created political peace and formed a new political party, the PNR (National Revolutionary Party) which unified pro-government forces and destroyed opposition parties.
[from this useful summary history of Mexico]


Within a history of considerable internal ferocity and struggles for ideas, it is a non-judgmental country in its foreign policy, a perspective like the non-aligned movement, but for much longer. A lurch to the right, towards the US in 2000 was not sustained. The US and Australia are push-out states, Mexico and Indonesia have different mental apparatus.
The legacy of that period is NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Area, which brought export industry zones many of which have since fled to China. And a drug war. And anger and debate.

There are lots of smiles. but this is a country with reason for deep distress in current life. Those streets of Mexico City on which we walk may be safe, but the people on them share the life of people in other states of the Mexican federation as well as other parts of this widespread city in the Valle de México, subjected to poverty and death threats and the primary availability of life, work and money sticking with the bad guys. This runs through the heart in the city too.

People as nice as they look
... all photos will be enlarged if you click on one.
These are tertiary students, one of them works in the
Tepito Market. This is not far from here
 at the corner of Madero and Eje Central
but we are advised we would be at great risk going there.
Young people ask us about Australia and then ask us if we know about The Fortythree. 

Please do not come to Mexico without reading the current history by such as Francisco Goldman.

People look at each other, people look at us, talk to us. People are interested in life. And colour...

As Jim Johnston observes in his excellent book, in cafes here people sit beside each other, not opposite. Here people cuddle.

This is not Japan, we here are among Chilangos, as the inhabitants of DF call themselves, not Anglos.

There is a European-ness in the streets stands of newspapers and books,
plus the presence of religious and deep traditional dress-up-ism, even for icons
Compare the bigs, as I see them:
  • Tokyo: people invisibly leave space around each other even when crowded
  • New York: people create space around themselves by invasion of other people's spaces
  • D.F: people cuddle and touch and weave and smile, in utterly individual bright colours and styles.
We continue to be engaged in impromptu English conversation lessons.

The handsome 15 year old high school student 
asking Helen questions wants to study (of course) IT.
His friend records the lesson.
¿Dónde está el museo, señor? 

The three of us in the photo are standing in front of McDonalds (behind the camera), where once stood the house of the conquistador Hernan Cortes. Behind Helen is the Cathedral of Mexico City. Inside the 1580s cathedral hangs a pendulum to show which way it's going as it slowly sinks into the mud. This place used to be an island in the lakes of the crater of the valley of México, when it was the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlan ... until 1521.

Underneath the cathedral are some remains of the original church Cortes built and underneath those ruins are some of the ruins of the palace of the Aztec ruler Moctezuma. When Cortes tore Moctezuma's palace down he used most of the stones to pave the great square in front of the cathedral (and now also the presidential offices) which compares in size with Moscow's Red Square and Beijing's Tiananmen. Building on top of old buildings was a pre-Columbian habit too. Hidden behind the cathedral is the place where men, digging for electric cabling in 1978, unearthed the Aztec Templo Mayor, over which Spaniards had built the city four hundred years before.

El museo está en todas partes, el museo está dentro de nosotros, y nosotros estamos en el museo. 

source wikipedia
North from this place we sought out the Secretaria de Educacion Publica [SEP], the federal public education ministry. In the early 20th century such as the elegant Jose Vasconcelos championed the development of a movement to use murals to tell the wider public the story and principles of the revolutionary nation.

NOTE ON 2 JUNE: I mentioned Vasconceles to two taxi drivers yesterday, both owners of their own taxis both from families long resident in D.F. for generations. Their historical statement was that Vaconceles "established the SEP". Which is a reminder that while Australiam colonies had been establishing public education, shifting education away from churches some time earlier, the establishment of public education was in centre of revolutionary objectives in Mexico.

The courtyard walls and more at higher levels are covered with murals, most by Diego Rivera, some by David Siqueiros. Such artists, of such times. Rivera and Frida Kahlo took in (and embraced) Leon Trotsky. Sequeiros, who embraced politics even more dramatically in his art, was the first to try to assassinate Trotsky.

I read an art history comment that Sequieros allowed himself to be distracted from his art by politics, including the Spanish Civil War. Such a comment is only possible from an art wonk who cannot understand the complex interweaving of politics, philosophy and art in Mexico.

It is perhaps (personal opinion) among the lazy terrors of modernism and beyond that art and life become so separate. Giving rise to the sidelong comment by Glenn Gould ... link to extraordinary Bach performance, interrupted by a please-vote commercial (here, now – far away the ad will be for toothpaste or Tobago) for a local government elections 7 June ... in a documentary about him:
"I can only give you one piece of advice, stay away from the arts crowd."

There is fire in the Mexican belly. Art is engaged.


Um, but back to the walk... to get to the education ministry we had to go past the headquarters of the Inquisition.

I am not quite sure what to think of the fact that the old HQ of the Inquisition now houses the Museum of Mexican Medicine.  Viva las Aztecas?

It's Mexico,
it's Mexico
.. and as foreigners we are supposed, according to the media, to see the armed police and their vehicles arrayed outside the ministry and say:
"Oh Dios, oh Dios, sálvame!"
So ever so politely you approach the guards on duty at the door.

The older guards turn to us and the oldest of the old ones points to the younger guard and announces to me:
"He has a big nose,"
 and they watch, grin... and await my remembering of the password?

From somewhere some instinct grabs me and I exclaim:
"Es muy guapo!" 
and I lift the camera and shoot.

Everyone falls down laughing and we step serenely inside.

Rule 1 of the street: Act like you are fearlessly in charge and full of purpose! :-)
es muy guapo = he's very handsome
The idea of the public entering the courtyards of an education ministry in Australia! The idea of a radical education minister!

La vida no es de nadie, todos somos la vida
–pan de sol para los otros,
los otros todos que nosotros somos.

Life is not no-one's, we are all life's, 
life-bread from the sun for the others,
the all-the-others of which we all are.
We could have spent three day inspecting the murals. Had our Spanish been good, we could have joined one of the tours. We did not go to higher floors, sufficient to walk around the courtyards.

Only later from the Jim Johnston (be honest, hands up those who read the tour guides after) did I realise we had missed seeing Sequieros's murals there too. We did enter the surprising Auditorio Miguel Hidalgo on the ground floor, the door half-heartedly open, the guard deep inside waving us in, one photo below.

In the entry foyer to the ministry, a plaque with a quote from a poem by Octavio Paz. How nice to have in the such a place in the education ministry this quote from a national hero who won the Nobel Prize for literature AND resigned in indignation his post as Mexican ambassador to India when his government murdered and disappeared many students when tidying up for the 1968 Olympic Games.

An expression of national spirit, close to the earth.

One wonders about the debate over what of whom to quote, probably a doctoral thesis for someone.

I venture a translation and would be pleased to have comment and correction from somewhere.

Some photos from inside. These are quick photos in difficult light of murals which are, I think, much faded.

I've just found a commentary here.

"True civilisation will be harmony of man with the earth and of men with each other."

and this is a part of the Auditorio Miguel Hidalgo
My companion makes all this so rewarding


  1. Hello, Mrs Argall
    I'm once of the students, I hope and you remember me.
    I love this blog and I love her point of view to see our country, please don't let to do that, sorry if my English its not good but I try to explain in the best way, I have a recomendation that you going to visit that, is our historic diamond. I let you the web adress to see where is that, this museum is near to Chapultepec
    God bless you.
    Ser you soon! :)

  2. Muchas gracias Alexis.

    It is a wonderful surprise to get your message!

    We were very happy to meet you and your friends.

    We have been delayed for two days but we expect we will leave D.F. for Guanajuato in the morning, Wednesday.

    Thank you for recommending the anthropology museum. We have heard many good reports about it. However we have had such an excellent time in the Centro Historico we have stayed here almost all the time.

    Yesterday we did walk past the anthropology museum after going to the Australian embassy.... but but! But! it is closed on Mondays ... :-(

    So maybe, maybe we will be here again another time and we will visit the anthropology museum.

    Mexico City has made us very happy. If we lived in the United States we would be back soon. Unfortunately we are far away. On 10 June we go to San Francisco for a stop-over before we fly from San Francisco to Sydney on 12 June. 15 hours from San Francisco to Sydney. Then we drive two hours south to home. You can see our home town, a small village by the sea, if you look on google maps for Gerringong NSW Australia.

    We are recommending to our daughter who lives in Seattle that they visit D.F. when they can. These are my daughter's web sites. She is a writer of science fiction and comics:

    Please give our very best wishes also to your friends. We wish you success with your studies... and most important, we wish you very happy lives.

    Best wishes

    Helen and Dennis


Comments welcome but will be moderated. Thanks for writing!!