Sunday, May 20, 2012

Mexico City - A Minor Disappointment, A Major Disappointment, A Wonderful Surprise

Mexico City's zoo houses several giant pandas. Rare in captivity, rarer still in North America. Zoo admission is free so I board the Metro and head to the immense Chapultepec Park, where the zoo is located. Also located in the park is the city's Museum Rufino Tamayo, which I had planned to visit after taking a gander at the pandas.

Pandas are nocturnal, so, if you go to see them during the day, the only time the zoo is open, they are sleeping. This is how I found them, in their enclosure, sacked out in the Mexican sun. At least I got to see the face of one of them. Even though it was in a deep sleep it was turned towards the glass front of the enclosure. Slightly disappointed I walked off. I then found out I could not go out the way I had come in. For some reason you have to follow arrows painted on the sidewalk requiring you to go through the entire zoo to exit.

I guess after the pandas the animals of the zoo felt I was owed a treat. On my way out of the zoo I passed the cage housing the California Condors. As I strolled by one rose up on it's perch and displayed it's incredible wingspan. The only other time I have been  lucky enough to see this was on a visit to the San Diego zoo when I was in my mid twenties. It is a truly amazing sight. One that is not easily forgotten.

Leaving the zoo I headed to the Museum Rufino Tamayo. Rufino Tamayo was a reknown Mexican artist. He and his wife donated their collection of more than 300 art works to the city in 1981.
The collection includes works by Dali, Miro, DeKooning, Rothko and Picasso, among others. I will have to take on faith the impressive nature of the collection as, at the time of my visit, the galleries were closed for renovation after a special exhibition. I had been looking forward to viewing the collection for some time. I was extremely disappointed. There was an exhibition of two artists I was not familiar with and frankly not impressed by, as well as a homage to the 1968 Olympics held in the city. I plan to return to Mexico City at some point. Perhaps I should make sure this collection will be on view before I make my travel plans.

After these disappointments I decided to make an attempt to salvage the day so I got on the Metro and headed to the area known as Condesa, notable for it's collection of Art Deco architecture. Stopping at a restaurant for lunch I pulled out my map to plan my next move. I spotted something called El Palacio de Hierro a few blocks away. Thinking it might be a palace, and perhaps of historic interest, after lunch I set off towards it. I discovered, once I got there the it is an upscale department store. Although this is not what I had anticipated my sojourn there resulted in the most pleasant surprise of the trip.

The store is located on Durango Street. It is a beautiful tree shaded avenue. The lush trees line both sides of the street as well as the wide median strip running down it's center. Also located in the parklike median was an open air used book dealer. I have a fondness for antique and vintage books, sometimes collecting them when I travel. The bookseller, whose English was limited, asked if he could help me. I told him I was looking for old books. He did not know the English word old, I did not know the Spanish word for it. I opened a book and pointed to the publishing date, in this case the 1930s. He understood and, with his assistance, I purchased two volumes, one with a beautiful red and black binding.

I continued my stroll down the street enjoying the lush landscape and cool shade. At the end of this delightful avenue stands a fountain. Sprays of water surround a statue, with a beautiful bluegreen patina, of a woman driving a chariot.

This was one of my favorite places in the city, yet it feels like a well kept secret, not mentioned in any of the travel guides I consulted. Coming upon it by surprise made it all the more special to me.

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