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Mexico Travel - Sights Around The Alameda
( Originally Published 1939 - Presented For Historical Purpose )
THE ALAMEDA IS TO ONE SECTION OF THE BUSINESS AND shopping district of Mexico City what the Zocalo is to the other. It is a charming little park with beautiful old trees and an exquisite rose garden. When you stroll through, be sure to observe the tile-covered benches and the elaborate marble-and-gold MONUMENT TO JUAREZ. At the end of the park, opposite the Palace of Fine Arts, you will find several pergolas, originally designed to hold the flower market, but never used for this purpose.
The Flower Market
The FLOWER MARKET, which is only a block or so away from the Alameda, in the San Juan market, is one of the choice sights of Mexico City. The best time to see it, of course, is in the morning. Standing beside a quaint little park, it has an attractive appearance and the most fragrant odors imaginable. The prices are fairly inexpensive, and for 50 centavos a day, or a peso at the most, you can keep your rooms looking like a conservatory during your entire stay in Mexico City.
On the other side of the Alameda, between two churches of no great distinction, is a market that you must see, even though you probably won't want to buy anything there. It 1S the FUNERAL WREATH MARKET, stocked with hundreds and thousands of wreaths made of wire and beads. It should be a gruesome display, but somehow it isn't.
One of the skyscrapers in Mexico City fronts on the Alameda. It is a modern building, not unattractive. Although it is only twelve stories high, the Mexicans choose to refer to it as the highest skyscraper in the world, because, despite its mere twelve stories, the roof of the building is 8,00o feet above sea level.
The Palace of Fine Arts
At the east end of the Alameda is the great PALACE OF FINE ARTS. I think the building was probably misnamed, because actually it is used as the opera house of Mexico City. Originally designed by an Italian, Amado Boari, the construction on it was begun in 1 goo. When the revolution broke out in 1900, the building was only partly finished, and the interior remained uncompleted for years. Then, when Mexico became peaceful again, the interior was finished by a Mexican architect, Federico Mariscal.
There is no greater contrast than that between the exterior and the interior of this building. The exterior is of pure white marble, in the most ornate Italian opera house style and, while beautiful, seems somehow a little out of place in Mexico City.
The Palace of Fine Arts is a massive structure, built on soft ground, and consequently some five feet lower than it was when first constructed. Innumerable tons of liquid concrete have been pumped under the building in an attempt to provide a firm foundation, and it is believed that this protection has checked any further sinkage.
To see one of the great glories of the building, you will have to witness a performance in the theater. Otherwise, you may never see the famous GLASS CURTAIN. This curtain was built by the Tiffany studios and represents the volcanoes of Popocatepetl and Ixtaccihuatl. By an extraordinary system of lighting the volcanoes are shown as they appear at different times of the day and under varying atmospheric conditions.
The interior of the building is modern; rich, but not oppressive. The marbles are particularly fine. The STAIRCASE IS beautifully proportioned, and the frescoes are uniformly good. Notice the small concert hall, known as the Green Hall, and opposite it on the same floor, an identical hall, except for the color, which is orange. The great BALLROOM on the second floor extends across the front of the building and in its decoration resembles to some extent a museum of native woods. There is a permanent exhibit of paintings in the building originally coming from the collection of the San Carlos Academy. On the top floor are some more frescoes of Orozco and Rivera. The FRESCO BY OROZCO is a powerful representation of the chaos of our present-day world.
Facing this fresco, on the other side of the staircase, is a reproduction of the mural which was to have been in Rockefeller Center in New York. You probably remember the story in connection with this very provocative work of art. The sponsors of the project at Rockefeller Center objected to some of the leading figures in the mural, and when Rivera refused to change his design, they promptly ordered the removal of the whole mural.
An entrance on the side of the building facing the post office leads to the MUSEUM OF POPULAR ARTS, certainly one of the most interesting in all Mexico. The exhibits were collected and arranged by Roberto Montenegro.
The Arch of the Revolution
If you arrive in Mexico City by rail, the first great sight that you are almost sure to pass on your way from the railroad station to the hotel will be the enormous ARCH OF THE REVOLUTION, built in 1938 to commemorate the revolutionary period of 1917 to 1929.
It is a simple square structure, magnificently placed. The Avenida Juarez has been extended, and the center line of the avenue passes under the arch. The structure is colossal. Four huge columns of stone tower high into the air, supporting round arches and a round dome. The arches on the four sides of the monument are of equal size, and the corners are decorated with modern sculpture. The artists responsible for the work were Oliverio Martinez, the sculptor, and Carlos Obregon Santacilia, the architect.
There is much disagreement in Mexico City as to whether the Arch of the Revolution is or is not a good structure. I personally liked it. I found it simple and impressive and dignified by its very size, but since many art lovers criticize it unfavorably, I hardly dare venture an opinion. I can only recommend that you look at it and decide for yourself.
While I was there, I heard an irreverent but amusing story about the Arch of the Revolution. A tourist from the States is said to have been driving past the arch on his way from the station, and as he passed it, gazed in awe and admiration at its bulk. He looked it up; he looked it down. He craned his neck in an endeavor to see the towering top, and then, when he had fully recovered his breath, remarked, "My Godl That's the biggest filling station I ever saw."
Your stay in Mexico City would not be complete without a visit to the bullfight. In arranging this chapter, I found it difficult to decide whether to place this subject under "What to See in Mexico City" or under "What to Do in Mexico City," since it probably belongs in both sections. However, to the American visiting a bullfight for the first time, it is more probably a sight than an amusement, and it is in that light that I shall consider it here.
The GREAT BULL RING stands at the corner of Calle de Salamanca and Calle de Durango. It is the largest bull ring in the world, seating 25,000 people, and ugly beyond description. The exterior is a mass of ironwork, reduced to its bare essentials to hold up the seats, and the interior is profusely decorated with beer, brandy, and cigarette signs. While at least it is a change from our chewing gum and Coca-Cola advertisements, it has about the same degree of beauty.
There are two general classes of seats-the sol, or sunny side, where you will have the sun in your eyes, and the sombra, or shady side, where you have the sun behind you. The bullfights always begin at four o'clock in the afternoon, but it is fun to arrive somewhat early and watch the crowd come in. Even if your seats are in the sombra, you should take the precaution of wearing a hat, for until the sun is well down at about five o'clock, the sombra is far from shady, and the sun is extremely hot on the back of your neck. You will need a cushion, for the concrete seats get very, very hard during the two-hour performance. The usual price for a cushion is 50 centavos.
The entrance to the seats in the sombra is on Calle de Salamanca, and to the sol, on Calle de Durango. The box offices are at the entrance, and at the box office for sombra seats there is an interpreter-policeman who speaks an American English-at least I presume that is the language, because he has the American flag on his arm to indicate the fact. In this the Mexicans differ from the Finns, where in the biggest department store in Helsingfors the English-speaking interpreters wear both the English and American flags.
The best seats for comfort are the fifth row of the section known as the barrera on the shady side. These are called in Spanish barrera 5a fila sombra. Some people advise taking seats farther back on the ground that for a first visit the bullfight is apt to be a little too bloody if you are too close. I do not think you will find these seats too close to the arena, and they do give you a chance to stretch. The bull ring was decidedly not built for the long-legged Anglo-Saxon, and it is very difficult to find room for your feet. This particular row is on the edge of an aisle leading around the ring and will permit you to make room for your feet by the simple process of pushing back-a thing you cannot do in the other rows, because you will be prevented by the knees of the person behind you. Of course, if you push too far back, you run the risk of being kicked by one of the vendors passing by, but in the long run you will find a few black-andblue spots less uncomfortable than a cramped position for two hours.
In season, a bullfight is known as a Corrida.. The season extends from about December to April, and it is during this time that you will see the best toreros (if you value your reputation in any Spanish-speaking country, do not, for heaven's sake, call the torero a toreador, which seems to have been a word invented by Bizet when he wrote "Carmen"). Out of season the bullfight is known as a NOVILLADA. On these you take a chance. The novillada means, literally, novices, and the toreros are young sters who are trying to establish a reputation. However, even out of season, it should, under no circumstances be missed as a spectacle.
An excellent band plays in the bull ring for half an hour or so before the fights begin and finally swings into the music for the procession into the ring. The latter spectacle is one of great interest, but to me of somewhat unconscious humor. I agree that the first sight of the procession, with the toreros and picadores marching in procession in their resplendent gold costumes, is an extremely beautiful one, but as the procession nears its finish, it becomes less and less gold laced, and finally winds up in an anticlimax, with a gentleman trundling a wheelbarrow.
The bullfight of today is far removed from the bloody spectacle it used to be. The horses are now padded, and although the bull still lifts the horse, he rarely succeeds in goring him. This has removed from the fight what, to the Anglo-Saxon, was its most unpleasant feature.
The more bullfights you attend, the more enthusiastic you are likely to become about this sport. Certainly, this is one of the most exciting of sports, requiring infinite skill and courage. Whether or not the bullfight is to be considered a brutal spectacle depends very largely on the point of view. I say it depends on the point of view because the Mexican sees nothing particularly brutal in the bullfight, whereas he is apt to be a little bit horrified by one of our football games. A Mexican friend of mine expressed the feeling very well. He said:
"When I saw my first football game in the States, I was perfectly amazed that anybody would stand it. I didn't know much about the game and was fascinated by it and found it a wonderful thing to watch. Then, all of a sudden, a man got the ball and started running down the field with it. By and by, another man caught him and threw him down. That was all right, but then, to my surprise, about ten or fifteen other men piled themselves up in a big heap on top of him. This seemed to me utterly silly. One man would have been quite sufficient to catch him and hold him, and I thought that would be quite enough. But my surprise turned to consternation when they brought out a stretcher and took him off the field with a broken arm, a broken leg, and two broken ribs. When I explained that I was a little bit horrified by this, and that it seemed to be unnecessarily brutal, the American who was with me blandly explained that he was a very good player indeed, and that naturally it was necessary to get him out of the game. I felt about that football game somewhat the way an American lady feels about her first bullfight, but after I had gone to a few football games, I realized that it was one of the greatest sports in the world, that I didn't care how many people got killed, and now feel about football just the way the same American lady would feel about her third or fourth good bullfight. It's all in what you are used to."