Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Halls of Moctezuma and "Ashes and Snow": Two days in Mexico City

The Halls of Moctezuma

We are standing in front of a magnificent building across from the Cathedral in Mexico City, a building we hadn’t really noticed before. The plate next to the portal says this was where Moctezuma (called Montezuma in the US) lived in the sixteenth century when the Spaniards wrested the area form the Aztecs (or according to some, when Moctezuma betrayed them and handed the country over to the enemy.) We can see down the long corridor that runs through the building all of the way to the next block, and realize there are numerous rooms off to each side with interesting architectural details. Over the portal it says Monte de Piedad (mountain—or meadow—of piety). Intrigued, we go inside, and are even more intrigued by what we see there. Some rooms are filled with art objects, a whole room dedicated to the art of Oaxaca, others with showcases of jewelry, one specifically to diamonds. But other rooms are full of people standing in long lines leading to what look like cashiers or ticket windows. And in one room they are sitting in chairs in front of screens like the Arrivals and Departures screens in airports, showing numbers that look like lottery numbers. The walls of all of the rooms are formed of beautiful stone, in various patterns that suggest that they might have been built at different times. Finally, consumed by curiosity, we ask the woman attending the Oaxaca room what is going on. “Empeño”—this is the national pawn shop! Only in Mexico!

“Ashes and Snow”

The Zocalo, or main plaza, of Mexico City, unlike that of Oaxaca and many other cities we have visited, is one big open stoned paved square, surrounded by the Cathedral, the Palacia del Gobierno, and other impressive buildings. A big, totally empty square. Except the day we arrive in Mexico City, it isn’t. Almost half of the plaza, which takes up what would be a very large city block, is occupied by a wondrous building made entirely of bamboo and what look like box car sides. And there are people lined up to get into the building, snaking back and forth, filling the whole rest of the Zocalo and then surrounding the building itself. Even for a Sunday, this is an amazing sight. They are all lined up to get into a photography exhibit by Gregory Colbert, which has been mounted in this magnificent structure called the Nomadic Museum, designed by the Colombian architect Simon Vélez. We can’t begin to adequately describe this exhibit, except to say that the zen like images up to 12 by 20 feet and hung over water in bamboo alcoves in halls that resembled a bamboo cathedral, took our breath away when we saw it the next day. And to judge by what we saw, it had the same effect on the thousands of Mexicans who shared the experience with us. You can see the images at and though it won’t be the same as seeing the images with thousands of others in the bamboo cathedral, you will get the idea. The exhibit is sponsored by Rollex and the Mexican government and free to the public. Only in Mexico!

BTW we first learned of this exhibit through the Ann Arbor Camera Club. We feel incredibly lucky to have been in Mexico City when it was there. It will be in Mexico until the end of April. It’s worth flying down to see it, or if it ever comes to a city near you. . .

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