Archive for July, 2008

I wonder how my garden is doing . . .

Posted in Uncategorized on July 31, 2008 by xxxicana

Gee, all this time I’ve been in Mexico my garden has probably been missing me. Tom picked tomatoes under duress . . . and he said he watered . . . once. Somebody might just need some punishment when I get home.

My last day in Mexico City

Posted in Frida Kahlo with tags , , , on July 31, 2008 by xxxicana

In many ways this viaje has seemed too long and too short. Naturally, I am tired from such a hectic schedule of museum hopping (not to mention the altitude); I miss my home and especially my partner Tom (oh, and the kitties, too). But the trip has been too short to really see it all. Pues, Mexico City has thousands of years of history and so much going on around the clock, that there’s no way to do it all. I guess I’ll just have to return again soon.

Today’s excursion included two “museums” – The Ministry of Public Education and the Old College of San Ildefonso (better known as La Prepa). Both places are known for their murals. After the Mexican Revolution, Jose Vasconcelos was appointed the minister of education. Vasconcelos believed in popular education and sponsored many of the artists that would create the Mexican Muralist tradition (including Rivera, Orosco, Siquieros, Tamayo, etc.). Here are some examples:

The Arsenal

Diego Rivera got the exclusive rights to paint the murals at the Ministry of Public Education. Around this time, Diego had become acquainted with Frida Kahlo through their mutual friend Tina Modotti. In the Arsenal, we see Frida and Tina handing out arms. There are many stories about how Diego and Frida first met (the movie Frida should NOT be taken as factual by any account); most seem to have been fabrications by Diego and Frida (both were admitted “mythomaniacs’).

The panels at the Ministry of Public Education extol the virtues of the revolution, workers, peasants, and Indigenous people. Diego was particularly entranced with the women of Tehuana. Here is a panel:

Note that Frida was depicted in the clothes she wore at the time. She had already joined the Mexican Communist Party (before knowing Diego) and dressed accordingly (worker’s shirt, simple skirt, star pin). Sometime after her marriage to Diego, she would begin to wear her iconic Tehuana outfits.

There are so many murals (three floors) . . . I can’t possibly post them all.

One other interesting exhibit at the Ministry was about the colonial period use of the structure (as a convent). Here’s a burial of a nun with a crown and a retablo of what she might have looked like at the time of her burial.

Nun with a crown


I have an aunt that is a nun (ah, but she’s been a hipster nun since the late 60s) –Sister Josie. She took a trip to Mexico City a long time ago and she was pick-pocketed on the subway!

Moving on to “La Prepa” which was the nickname for the National Preparatory School. In the 1920s, the school opened its doors to female students. Frida was in the first class, one of 35 girls. While she was a student, Diego was working on murals at the school — so it is likely that Frida did taunt the artist while he worked.

There are numerous famous murals at the Prepa. Here’s Orozco’s depiction of Cortez and La Malinche:

I mentioned Jose Clemente Orozco in a previous post. This is one of his more famous murals. I know it from critiques — and was surprised at how small it is and its odd location (stairwell). I will write more about this mural at a later date . . . it requires a lengthy discussion.

Here’s another Orozco, called “The Aristocrats.” It is hard to see at this angle, but these wealthy snobs are stepping over a poor woman and child asking for assistance.

This is a fantastic stained glass window that was made in Germany in 1899. I love the motto: Amor Orden y Progreso (Love, Order, and Progress).

The museum also had an exhibit of the works of Julio Galan (1959-2006) which was just outrageously fantastic.

I was unfamiliar with Galan’s work and bought the catalog (yikes! $75.00) — but it was well worth it. Galan’s work has been compared with Frida’s since both relied on self-portraiture. That’s all I’ll say about Galan for the moment. If you want to check out his work, drop on by once I’m back in Lincoln to see the catalog.

One final street scene:

Itinerant craftsmen “set up shop” around the cathedral waiting for “chamba” (a job).

The Zocalo

Posted in Frida Kahlo with tags , , , , on July 29, 2008 by xxxicana

Today I went to the center of Mexico City — which once was the center of Tenochtitlan, capital of the Aztec Empire. I visited the National Palace, National Cathedral, and the Museum of the Templo Mayor (Principle Temple). Phooey . . . my camera battery gave out just as I got to the Templo Mayor. Here are some photos along with a little commentary:

National Palace

The original structure was built by Cortez over one of Montezuma’s palaces. It is now the official seat of the Mexican Government. You know that Marine song about the “Halls of Montezuma”? This is a reference to one of the times the Yankees invaded Mexico (1847) and occupied the National Palace.

One of the most famous aspects of the National Palace is the epic mural painted by Diego Rivera (he worked on it off and on between 1929 and 1951).

Frida and her sister in the mural

Diego had an affair with Frida’s younger sister Christina. In the mural Diego portrayed Frida as a comrade teaching the masses to read. Christina was painted with the glazed over eyes Diego used for women he was lusting after (the two children are Christina’s).

Here are a few other shots of the mural The images are so complex and there are so many historical figures that one practically needs a Ph.D. in Mexican history to know all the references!


One of the Aztec myths focuses on a man/deity called Quetzalcoatl who after sinning left the people going into the east and promising to return again. Many people have repeated this myth to suggest that the Aztecs prophesized the arrival of the Europeans (Quetzalcoatl was supposedly white). More recent and critical readings of this myth indicate that the myth was rescripted by the Spaniards themselves.

Trade between the Totonac and Maya

Mesoamerican peoples traded extensively . . . from what is now the US Southwest (for turquoise) to Panama (for gold). In this scene we see a Totanac noble (left) exchanging with a Maya noble (right) at the city of El Tajin (also anachronistically used in the movie “From Dusk till Dawn” . . . Don’t even get me started on this topic . . . I LOVE THIS MOVIE and it showcases one of my favorite Chicano bands “Tito and Tarantula“).

Moving on to the National Cathedral . . . . if you have ever wondered where all that gold from the New world went . . . well some of it was used to decorate the Catholic cathedral. This massive edifice took more than two centuries to complete. Some of the blocks came from the disassembled pyramids of Tenochtitlan.

Inside the cathedral there are numerous side chapels dedicated to various Santos and Altar pieces that are so ornate that it is virtually impossible to see all detail.

Another Altar

and, my favorite . . . El Sagrado Corazon de Jesus

now, this is a weird one for me . . . Catholics actually revere Jesus’ heart ALL BY ITSELF! I wear a sacred heart charm that I got at Chimayo (and I’ve been an atheist since I was 17 . . . but once a Catholic ALWAYS a Catholic). I checked on this . . . the sacred heart represents the love Jesus has for all humankind. I guess that it is a fitting symbol for me as an anthropologist.

Aztec Dancers in front of the Cathedral

It was a little strange to me to see all these people lined up to be purified by the Aztec dancers . . . double dipping probably isn’t such a bad idea.

Behind the Cathedral is Goth central . . .

Yes, Virginia, there are GOTHS in Mexico (darn, I forgot to bring my Doc Martens).

Well, that’s all for today, folks. I’ll post more tomorrow.

Blue Monday

Posted in Frida Kahlo with tags , , on July 28, 2008 by xxxicana

Museums are closed today — so I’ve stayed in all day to work on the computer. Taking a little break, I’ll upload some photos from the Anthropology Museum (the largest museum in Latin America). One of the greatest results that came out of the Mexican Revolution (1910-20) was a real dedication to public art and education. The National museums are free every Sunday and relative to other Latin American countries I’ve visited, books are inexpensive. Anyway, here are some photos.

Courtyard of the Anthropology Museum:

The lower floor is dedicated to archaeological cultures from the various regions of Mexico. I took a few photos, but there is just too much stuff!

Aztec culture

When the Aztecs arrived in the Valley of Mexico, the area was already settled by competing city states. The Aztecs came in as mercenaries and were given the worst piece of real estate left — a small, snake infested, rocky island. Here’s an artists view of what the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlan, might have looked like:

Over time, the Aztecs conquered all the other cities through military tactics, strategic alliances, and diplomacy. Ooops! sorry, I’m falling into lecture mode! I always do that . . .

The goddess Coatlicue (Mother of the Gods)

Offerings found at the Templo Mayor

Maya Culture

Here’s a ceramic Iguana . . . . reminds of our pet Iguana, Spike (RIP)

This photo is for my friend Mary Willis, Dental Anthropologist

If I weren’t so freaked by going to the dentist, I think I would have jewels put in my teeth!

Here’s a real cutie!

Musical Instruments:

Conch Shell Trumpet

Ceramic Drum


Modern Ceramic Piece

There are too many things to post!! I’ll have to stop here.

Has it already been 6 days?

Posted in Frida Kahlo on July 28, 2008 by xxxicana

To all my concerned friends, family, and readers: Thanks to fervent prayers to ALL the Mexican deities (Christian, Aztec, Mayan, et al.) and the Sopa de Pollo, I have recovered from my short illness. I’m sure it was the soup that did it — chicken soup in any culture/language has been proven to be a powerful curative (plus, a little jalapeno never hurts).

For today’s excursion, I visited el Museo Nacional de Arte . . . now, I figured (and my guide book stated) that ALL the great Mexican Artists are represented — some even that I wanted to see (Dr. Atl, Diego Rivera, J. C. Orozco (although I actually HATE his vision), etc.) — including Frida. The museum is an ornate neo-classical monument to the Mexican nation. Ah, life must be so much easier when one buys into a nationalistic discourse that only provides the thinest gauze of populism to veil the racist foundations of modern Mexico. Need proof? Here’s a quaint painting by Diego Rivera:

What does this small piece tell us? Art historians analyze the use of space to decipher art and in this piece we see one girl seated in the superior position, denoted by her higher placement, apparently teaching the inferior to read? Superior = Espanola/Blanca/ white/lettered and Inferior = India/brown/illiterate.

Dear readers, please bear with me regarding my cynicism (and my tilted photos). The irony of being Mexican-American — is that we are neither — and so view both the US and Mexico through the lens of “not-belongedness.” We are uncomfortable in our relations to both the old and the new since both reject us. The upside is the ability to see through the duplicity of nationalism and racist discourse (ok, some of us try at least).

Back to Frida: can you believe it? The National Museum of Art has no art by Frida Kahlo!!! Que lastima! (what a shame). But, the museum store did have a ton of cheap Frida trinkets to sell the the beguiled. Nevertheless, I saw just truly great art by so many different people (even a Picasso). I was also inspired by a collection of portraits of a single woman who was considered a “muse” in the early 20th century — which got me thinking about the positionality of being subject/object — oops, sorry, I’m getting too post-structuralist here. Anyway, here are a few of the masterpieces to be seen at this museum:

Diego Rivera’s cubist masterpiece: Zapatista Landscape:

Self portrait by Siquieros (who, by the way attempted to assassinate Trotsky – he was a Stalinist)

Jose Clemente Orozco: The small nation (I think Orozco REALLY HATED WOMEN)

Dr. Atl (really, the promoter of Mexicanidad in Mexican Art:

and a religious piece that just has to be dedicated to those suffering migraines (if you can’t tell, she has a nail sticking out of her forehead): Santa Rita de Casia:

Announcing a new cool website

Posted in Musings with tags , , on July 27, 2008 by xxxicana

Ruminant Records has just started up to showcase the music of Tom Martin.

Be sure to listen to the music and read his “scribblings. Tom is a fantastic writer of creative non-fiction. This first posting reflects on the topic of families – the alcoholic, dysfunctional kind and the conscious efforts he took to not replicate the past. But, how do you escape a paradigm of familial violence if you don’t have one to replace it with? Tom Martin’s work is poignant, painful, but not self-pitying; this essay will resonate for anyone that has questioned his or her parenting skills or has worked through the legacy of domestic violence. Much has been written on the subject of women as victims of domestic violence and even adult male survivors of sexual abuse. Yet little attention has been directed towards the complex dynamics of being an adult survivor of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of an alcoholic, psychologically abusive mother and alcoholic, physically abusive father. Tom Martin’s essay bridges this gap of a boy trying to escape in any way that he can.

Here’s the link:

More music can be heard at the link “Tom Martin Music” :

What day is it, I’ve lost count

Posted in Musings on July 26, 2008 by xxxicana

Aye, I’m sick — I’m hoping it is just a 24 hour bug. I ordered sopa de pollo — hijole, they sure know how to make a chicken soup in Mexico. Real broth, real chicken, avocado, onion, tomato, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice. If that doesn’t cure me, nothing will.

I’m thinking that I’ve over done it. Today I ventured to the very southern part of Mexico City — it took more than hour by walking, metro, then light train. I went to the Dolores Olmedo museum — which has the largest collection of Frida Kahlo works. Naturally, I couldn’t take any pictures inside, but I did get photos of the dogs. There’s a sad funny story about the dogs. First, the photo:

Frida had a favorite dog named Senor Xolotl, King of Xilbalba (the Maya underworld). She DOTED on that dog — one time he urinated on one of Diego’s paintings. After chasing the dog around, Diego gave up, and laughed that Xolotl was the best art critic ever. But, I digress. Xolotl was a Mexican hairless dog (Xoloitzcuintle) — a rare breed that predated contact with Europeans. Diego had been involved with Dolores Olmedo (yes, in the biblical sense) for many many years. Once, Diego took Sr. Xolotl over to Dolores’ house for stud purposes . . . and Frida threw a FIT when she found out!

These dogs live at the museum, they may have been Lola’s dogs (she died only a few years ago). They are cute in a hairless kind of way!

Here are two photos of the Metro — it moves something like five million people a day — a ticket costs 2 pesos (about 20 cents). Before and after

Masks in Mexico

Posted in Uncategorized on July 24, 2008 by xxxicana

Day 3 in Mexico City: I did the whirlwind tour of the Museum of Anthropology. Here’s photo of Mexican Masks (ethnographic).

Here’s a photo of masks for sale out in front of the museum:

More later . . I need a nap.

Day 2: Frida Kahlo’s House & Trotsky’s House

Posted in Frida Kahlo on July 23, 2008 by xxxicana

There are a lot of great things about Mexico, not the least of which is its beer. I’m posting and having a Negra Modelo to recuperate from a long day of museum hopping in Coyoacan. I took the metro south, walked and walked and walked — and not in my most sensible shoes (semi-sensible). In my defense, the women of Mexico City are like those of NY or LA — very fashionable — and I didn’t want to look like a total schlub. Anyway, back to Coyoacan. Here’s a photo of the front of Frida’s house, aptly named Casa Azul. I couldn’t take photos inside, but there were some very interesting new things. But, you’ll have to read my book to find out!

Then I was off to see Trotsky’s house. As you may know, Diego Rivera sponsored Trotsky when he was running from Stalin. Frida had an affair with the venerable Revolutionary, but it was ended when Natalia (his wife) caught wind. Oh, Frida was probably tired of the old guy by then anyway. After the affair was over, Frida painted one of her more seductive portraits for Trotsky.

Trotsky’s house is pretty fascinating — he was living in fear that Stalin would have him assassinated (not without reason). The house he lived in at the time of his death is a couple of blocks from the Casa Azul. it has gun turrets, a heavy wall, and Trotsky’s bedroom and office have heavy steel doors.

A day in Mexico City

Posted in Frida Kahlo on July 22, 2008 by xxxicana

Today I visited two museums: Modern Art and the Rufino Tamayo Museum. I wanted to check out the Museum of Modern Art because it is the home of the “The Two Fridas.”

Unfortunately, this painting is on tour 😦

But, there was a new exhibit of Remedios Varo, which was WAY COOL. Here’s a photo of one of her paintings. This one is titled “Useless Science or the Alchemist.” I love this painting.

The quality of my photo isn’t very good since I couldn’t use a flash (of course). But you get the picture . . . (haha, little pun). If you aren’t familiar with Varo, she was a Spaniard, moved to Paris, fled due to the Nazis to Mexico in 1941 until her death in 1963. Unlike Frida Kahlo, Varo admitted that her work was influenced by the surrealists. Her work has a fantastical aspect to it that still resonates today.

I also visited the Rufino Tamayo Museum — very cool interior, but they wouldn’t let me take photos (boo). The exhibits were very unusual — very recent works that were quite interesting, but, you had to have been there — one of them was by an artist that worked in the 70s with things such as toilet paper, shit, urine, blood, trash. He hated the “institutional” art world and its focus on expensive materials that he and Third World people couldn’t/can’t afford. Very political, and entirely ephemeral. He filmed some of his works and had photos taken since you literally had to have been there.
After lunch, I walked over to the Anthropology museum — it’s the Disneyland of Mesoamerican Archaeology. Before I got there I stopped to watch the voladores . . . here’s a photo:

This is an ancient ritual of the Totonac that combines the 5 directions (north, south, east, west, center) and the calendar (4 men make 13 spirals down = 52 weeks of the year).

It is a misnomer that the peoples of the Americas didn’t invent the wheel (I heard this ALL the time growing up) — which always makes it sound like Indigenous people were too stupid to have done so. This is actually false, there are a number of examples of the wheel in Indigenous America — the volador tower is one example of the concept. The difference is, of course, that in the Americas there was no practical use for the wheel for transport (no oxen, horses, mules).

I also observed a group of “Aztec” dancers . . . . yes, the copal was real, the chingchings were real, but the drummer was wearing jeans under his costume! I guess he was too shy to show his legs. The dancers were all pretty young –probably just getting started . . . but they danced well.