Oh Mexico City – or DF, Distrito Federal, as it is known – is no paltry ‘small manageable city’ but one of the world’s greatest in breadth, population and entertainment.
So…in brief, Mexico City is: 23 ish million people (that’s a fairly conservative figure); 8th wealthiest city on the planet; 18 times larger than Hong Kong Island; over 150 significant museums and galleries with Metro tickets 3 pence a go. It turns out Christmas poinsettias are totally Mexican and ubiquitous. The city’s built on a plateau, over fault lines, between volcanoes and still manages to be prone to flooding – good choice Aztecs. BUT it’s a fabulous place – remarkably laid back. A dream for art and architecture lovers, whether you like it really old, a bit old or modern.
We met with the charming David Lida who has lived in DF for upwards of two decades and was just the person to point us in the right direction.
This is what we took in over 5 days…
Graffiti in the wall.
Study harder room spray, also available in the Haitian stall in Brixton Arcade.
In the historic quarter you’ll find street after street devoted to a specialist industry: above, Christmas deco street.
Perfume street – make your own, buy flacons or buy branded perfumes.
Casa de los Azulejos (or Sanborns department store), 1793 – covered head to toe in Pueblan blue and white tiles.
Roma – home to mildly crumbly colonial architecture with numerous good bars and restaurants dotted around the area.
The outstanding anthropology museum – Museo Nacional de Antropologia – surely one of the top three museums of the world. Whether you want to immerse yourself in the pre-Columbian era cultures of the region, or just drift through this 60s dreamboat of a building you’ll be in seventh heaven. I think I spotted Predator’s inspiration, check out the mandibles.
A little 50s gem in the park. Shut for their Christmas lunch all day long. Oh well…let’s hope they enjoyed themselves!
Coyoacán is a laid back neighbourhood where Frida K lived. Beautiful grand buildings such as this sonic museum.
The Palacio de Correos de Mexico – post office building. Classed as a mix of Spanish Renaissance Revival, Elizabethan Gothic, Elizabethan Plateresque and Venetian Gothic Revival. The building also has Moorish, Neoclassical, Baroque and Art Deco elements. Mount Pleasant eat your heart out.
The peachy Palacio de Bellas Artes next door to the ‘post office’.
The sublime Museo Tamayo for contemporary art, opposite Chapultepec Park.
Another few days in town would allow enough time for more art spectacular:
El Eco – contemporary art in Roma Norte.
OMR – more contemporary art in Roma Norte.
Casa Vecina in the Centro Histórico focuses on creative experimentation.
Yautepec Gallery is based in a converted colonial mansion.
Kurimanzutto Gallery – home to Mexican-art giants including Miguel Calderón and Gabriel Orozco.
La Colección Jumex is situated in a juice factory complex just outside of the city and one of the the largest private contemporary art collections in Latin America. It holds over 1,800 works from artists as diverse as Damián Ortega, Jeff Koons, Minerva Cuevas and Andy Warhol.
Museo Ananhuacalli – Diego Riviera’s personal museum of Mesoamerican artefacts.
Dolores Olmedo Museum – this philanthropist and musician created a museum in Xochimilco in the south of the city. Donating her entire collection of art including pre-Hispanic, colonial, folk, modern and contemporary art, the Dolores Olmedo Patiño Museum host the greatest collection of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Angelina Beloff.
Lucha Libre – the one and only Mexican wrestling tete-a-tete.
Mexico’s premier architect Luis Barragan‘s home near Chapultepec Park. That intense pink he made his own is courtesy of the cochineal-giving beetle. His house and office in DF has been frozen in time replete with original thick pile ochre carpets.
Lab Gallery in a deconsecrated church, next to Diego Riviera’s mural. Shows international artists.
And so to Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in the south west neighbourhood of Coyoacán.
Before his death, her loving, but total sod of a husband, fellow artist Diego Rivera established a trust -presided over by his friend and patron, Dolores Olmedo – to protect his own Anahuacalli Gallery and the Frida Kahlo museums. Diego asked Olmedo not to open certain spaces in the Casa Azul for a lapse of fifteen years. During her lifetime, Lola Olmedo respected the will of her friend. However, when she passed away in 2004, the Board of the Trust decided it was time to open the spaces that had remained closed in the Casa Azul. What came to light were more than 28,000 new documents, 5,800 photos, works, drawings, engravings, pieces of printed matter, and personal items, including the stencils of Diego’s first mural and almost 300 garments from Frida’s wardrobe including earrings that Picasso gave Frida.
Kahlo’s unique wardrobe which was chiefly inspired by Mexico’s indigenous Tehuanan women who were famous for their richly embroidered frocks, flowery headpieces and fantastically ornate silver jewellery. But beneath her full skirts, Kahlo hid a body that had been contorted by childhood polio and then pierced through in a bus crash when she was 18. These experiences subjected her to painful operations and long periods of bed rest throughout her life. She passed away at 47 leaving an extraordinary legacy to art, personal style and politics.
The museum worked with a number of international designers including Dai Rees and Gaultier and Rei Kawakubo to create a collection of contemporary pieces inspired by her corsets and exquisitely customised prosthetics.
A 15 minute drive from Casa Azul is the neighbourhood of San Angel, home to Riviera’s and Kahlo’s studios and…the gorgeous San Angel Inn, in a former monastery. I gather this is the best place in town for a margarita but even I couldn’t justify that at 10am. Try an agave salad instead – it’s the father of tequila anyway. If you do arrive at the right time of day, perhaps clear the diary out and stay a while.
The Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera Y Frida Kahlo in San Angel. Who needs railings when you’ve got 3m tall needle sharp cacti?
Angry Birds. Piñatas waiting to be filled to the brim with sweets for kids.
Teotihuacan Where Man Met the Gods. A huge archaeological site in the Basin of Mexico, 2 hours drive northeast of Mexico City.Containing some of the largest pyramidal structures built in Central America. Thought to have been established around 100 BC and inhabited until the 7th or 8th centuries AD. At its zenith, perhaps in the first half of the 1st millennium AD, Teotihuacan was the largest city in the pre-Columbian Americas, with a population c 125,000. But what could be more important and exciting than this feat of architectural design responding to key astronomical moments in the calendar? There are wild guinea pigs that live amongst the ruins. Wow.
EATING & DRINKING
Pujol. Fancy restaurant in the swish part of town. Go. When you’re paying peanuts for lunch it doesn’t matter what the occasional dinner costs. Top tastes.
Do not pass up an opportunity to lunch out at the tostada stalls at Coyoacán Market. What’s with all the fuss about over burritos when you can have this feast for eyes and bouche?
Romita in Roma. No, not a film but a bar perched on the top of a building. A huge greenhouse roof opens up to the skies.
Go to as many cantinas as you can. For beer and tequila and even the odd ‘free’ salty snack to keep you calling for more beers. I read somewhere ‘stay safe and stay out the cantinas’. Really, where do these people get such ideas from?
Too many margaritas. Tamarind margaritas – gimme gimme more.
The table staples.
La Guadalupana, Kahlo’s hang out, 2 Higuera, Coyoacan.
Tio Pepe on the corner of Independencia and Dolore in the in the centro histórico.
La Faena in the centre is populated with a collection of dust gathering display cases housing toppled mannequins decked out as matadors. Fantastic. Venustiana Carranza 49-B, Colonia Centro.
Cafe de Tacuba’s army of waitresses dress impeccably. Yes, they really do look like nurses – feel the love. Tacuba 28, Centro.
El Centenario – a touch trendy for a cantina. But this is in Condesa – 42 Vicente Suarez.
The faded opulence of La Opera offers an altogether different experience. 5 de Mayo 10, Centro.
Also recommended by David – La Mascota at the corner of Bolivar and Mesones in the centro histórico. One for the lads.
We enjoyed the light hospitality and top location of the Downtown Hotel. Though it’d be better to describe the set up as beautiful rooms with a club on top. Put us firmly in ‘if you can’t beat them join them’ mode. Perhaps their sister hotel Condesa DF is quieter though Grupo Habita does appear to have a way with a bar…
The famous Camino Real towards the wealthy Polanco neighbourhood. Enormous. One for the architects out there. Also novelist DBC Pierre’s spiritual home.