CAP­I­TAL WON­DERS Mex­ico City for be­gin­ners: Ex­plor­ing the city’s his­tory and vi­brant street life

Hartford Courant (Sunday) - - Living - By Christo­pher Reynolds Los An­ge­les Times

MEX­ICO CITY — Like a lot of Cal­i­for­ni­ans, I’ve made dozens of trips to Mex­ico over the decades — beach re­sorts in Baja, Maya ru­ins in the Yu­catan, colo­nial towns in the in­te­rior. Yet I’d never made time to ex­plore the cap­i­tal’s top mu­se­ums and land­marks, even though their global pop­u­lar­ity has boomed in re­cent years. When I fi­nally gave my­self a good look at Mex­ico City this year, most of those at­trac­tions sur­prised me.

I knew the city’s seis­mic his­tory but didn’t ex­pect it to show up as dra­mat­i­cally in the Met­ro­pol­i­tan Cathe­dral.

I ex­pected vi­brant street life but didn’t an­tic­i­pate jazz mu­si­cians jam­ming on the side­walk.

I knew there would be bright col­ors at Xochim­ilco but didn’t ex­pect to see so many peo­ple hav­ing so much fun.

Here, based on my visit in Fe­bru­ary, is a Mex­ico City cheat sheet for rook­ies. Most of these spots are clus­tered in and around the city’s his­toric core.

The Pala­cio Na­cional, east of the Zocalo, is more than the seat of Mex­ico’s fed­eral govern­ment. It’s also home to Diego Rivera’s vi­sion of Mex­ico. It’s free to see the artist’s epic mu­ral “The His­tory of Mex­ico,” painted 1929-35, cov­er­ing four cen­turies.

If you could see only one mu­ral in Mex­ico, this is it. Take your time — the walls are dense with im­agery, in­clud­ing scenes of pre-colo­nial vil­lage life, the Span­ish in­va­sion, cul­tures and eco­nomic the­o­ries in vi­o­lent con­flict. Look for Frida Kahlo and Karl Marx (on the left, of course).

The Pala­cio de Bel­las Artes is a strange con­fec­tion. Be­gun in 1904 and de­signed by Ital­ian ar­chi­tect Adamo Boari in Art Nou­veau and Neo­clas­si­cal styles, it was not com­pleted un­til 1934 un­der ar­chi­tect Fed­erico Mariscal (which helps ex­plain all the Art Deco de­tails in­side).

Be­sides dance, opera and or­ches­tral pro­grams in its theater, the build­ing’s up­per lev­els in­clude mu­rals by Rivera and oth­ers, along with a mu­seum of ar­chi­tec­ture and a Mu­seum of the Pala­cio de Bel­las Artes.

Cross the street (Eje Cen­tral Lazaro Car­de­nas) to the Pala­cio Postal, an­other won­der de­signed by Boari. It has elab­o­rate iron­work, curv­ing stairs, bronze rail­ings, mar­ble floors, vin­tage el­e­va­tors. It’s free.

An­other good op­tion, es­pe­cially af­ter dark, is to cross Avenida Juarez to the Sears store. Catch the el­e­va­tor to the eighth floor, grab a drink at the small cafe­te­ria (Finca Don Por­firio) and step out­side to the small ter­race, where a jaw-drop­ping ur­ban there are plenty still be­ing dis­cov­ered here. In 2017 ex­ca­va­tors found a tower of more than 650 hu­man skulls from men, women and chil­dren.

WALLY SKALIJ/LOS AN­GE­LES TIMES PHO­TOS

Aztec street per­form­ers en­ter­tain on­look­ers in the Zocalo in Mex­ico City. Even bet­ter peo­ple-watch­ing can be found on a walk along the nearby Avenida Fran­cisco I. Madero.

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