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10 random things about Mexico City

1. Mexico City is sinking

Mexico City's Cathedral has been sinking unevenly.

When it was founded by the Aztecs in 1325, the city, then called Tenochtitlán, was built on an island in the middle of a lake. Then the Spaniards arrived on the scene, conquered the Aztecs in 1521 and started draining the lake to control the floods. One flood in 1629 left the city underwater for five years! Since then the waters of the lake have more or less disappeared and the reservoirs underground providing water for modern-day Mexico City are constantly being depleted as the population continues to expand. As a result, the city is sinking down into the soft former lake bed at a rate of between 8-37 cm (5-14 inches) a year.

If you thought Venice was sinking fast, Mexico City está hundiendo even faster. Between 1950 and 1980, it sank down 5 metres (16 feet). When the famous monument, the Ángel de la Independencia, was built in 1910, it only had 9 steps at the base but another 14 have been added since then as the ground around it has sunk down. As you walk around the old parts of the city, you can see colonial buildings visibly leaning over or well below road level, balconies at odd angles and cracked walls or pavements. The Metropolitan Cathedral still looks askew despite the restoration project undertaken. By 1989, the heavier bell-tower end had sunk almost 3 metres (8 ft) deeper than the rear part and the eastern tower had subsided 1 metre (3 ft) more than the western one. Inch by inch and year by year, engineers repositioned a church that weighs more than 127,000 tons and is more than 400 feet long. Since excavation work began in 1993, the entire cathedral has been ratcheted more than 1 metre (3 ft) toward level, nearly half the distance it had settled askew

2. It has more museums than any other city in the world

Tickets to some of Mexico City's museums

There are more than 160 museums in Mexico City, ranging from the enormous Museo Nacional de Antropología to some very tiny or obscure ones, including museums dedicated to Caricatures, Mexican Medicines or Telephony. In Chapultepec Park alone, you can visit 9 of them. Tickets cost 51 pesos per adult (about US$ 4 or €3) in the official ones which are free on Sundays for all Mexicans and residents. If you want to enjoy the museums without crowds, Sunday is a day to avoid, as is Monday when they are closed. Perhaps one of the strangest museum buildings is the one built by Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, to house his personal collection of artifacts and paintings. Located in Plaza Carso in Polanco, it resembles a twisted tin can and is free of charge to everyone.

3. The city changes colour in March and April

Purple jacaranda trees

Sometime in March, the city starts undergoing a startling transformation when thousands of jacaranda trees begin blooming in the streets, covering the megalopolis in a beautiful purple cloak. At the height of the jacaranda season, if you stand still, you can hear the purple flowers drop off all around you and could be forgiven for thinking you're in the middle of a purple snowfall.

4. It is a massive city with millions of vehicles and NO driving test

Millions of vehicles but no driving test is needed

Unbelievable as it may seem, the only thing new drivers have to do to launch themselves into the hazardous, chaotic traffic of this city, joining another 4 million vehicles on the roads, is to buy a driving licence. There is NO driving test involved, neither a written one or a practical one. Except for 15-17 year olds, the vast majority of drivers have had no formal training in how to drive their vehicle or how to share the road correctly with other users. Authorities in the capital eliminated the driving test in the early 1990s in a bid to reduce corruption but anyone visiting Mexico City today will see that this has only created a different set of problems. Sigh!

5. The Aztec language lives on

A cultural centre where you can learn indigenous languages, including náhuatl

Náhuatl, the language of the Aztecs, has been spoken in Central Mexico since the 7th Century AD. There are still 1.45 million people who speak it today mainly in the Valle de Mexico and it is considered a lengua nacional. You may be surprised to find that some of their words have made their way into the English language via Spanish. These include "tomato" (tomatl in náhuatl), "avocado" (ahuácatl) and "chocolate" (chocolatl or xocolatl).

6. The best time of year to drive in Mexico City

Lovely empty roads!

In 2011, IBM conducted their aptly-titled Commuter Pain Study around the world and guess which city grabbed first place? Yes, Mexico City which scored three times worse than New York. Of course, it came as no surprise to those of us who live here. The traffic snarls and congestion are notoriously bad. Yet there are a few times of the year when it can be positively pleasant to drive around the city: a few days during the Christmas holidays, at Easter and to a lesser extent, July. Why? That's when thousands of people leave the metropolis for Acapulco or other places and leave the streets empty. The only problem is... that's when we want to go away too!

7. Baking cakes is hit and miss

A successful cake baked by my kids...

Baking Brownies or cakes can be a real struggle here. Nothing to do with different flour varieties or anything like that. No, it's the high-altitude factor which forces you to re-think all your normal recipes. At over 2300 m (7000 ft), you need to make adjustments such as higher oven temperatures, less baking powder, more liquid, less sugar and who know what else. It's a case of hit and miss and experimenting. So if you have successfully baked a cake or your Brownies haven't turned out like volcanic rock while living in Mexico City, you can be very proud of yourself!

8. Blankets are needed

Colourful Mexican blankets, ideal for those chilly nights

Mostly, when you say the word "Mexico" to people, they are already imagining tropical beaches and warm climes. And when you say "Mexico City" they think the same, but add a huge city to the scene. However, the weather is Mexico City is influenced by its location in a high-altitude "bowl" surrounded by mountains. This means it is COOL all year round, except for a couple of months. As many houses don't have central heating, it often gets chilly at night, especially in January and February when temperatures can drop to as low as -4 °C and chances are you may need one of those typical Mexican blankets on your bed to keep you warm. Ironically, many of us during the winter wear our jackets inside the house and take them off when we go outside.

9. Mexico City is relatively safe

Army truck patrolling in the Centro Histórico

Statistics show that the capital is becoming a refuge for people fleeing from other areas around the country which have seen an increase in violence and crime. In general, Mexico City is safe as long as you take certain precautions... like in any other big cities in the world. Some say the drug cartels have left it alone because this is where their families live, although we have had some grisly episodes recently not too far from us. Others say that the Federal Police in DF are better paid and therefore less corrupt than in other states. Who knows?

10. The city has floating gardens and canals

Canals and trajineras in Xochimilco

Down in the south of Mexico City is an area called Xochimilco, famous for its chinampas and canals. Here the Aztecs created chinampas, or floating gardens, on the shallow waters of the lake, Lago Texcoco. They did this by making rafts of juniper branches and heaping soil and mud from the lakebed on top of them. They then tied these rafts to juniper trees and used them as vegetable plots. Today, there are still around 200 of these islands which are used to grow flowers and other crops and they are part of the Xochimilco World Heritage site. You can go for rides along the canals in colourful, flat-bottomed boats called trajineras.

Posted by margaretm 13:29 Archived in Mexico Tagged traffic museums canals driving mexico_city climate safety cakes xochimilco jacarandas baking sinking lakebed aztecs spaniards floating_gardens Comments (0)

Exploring Cuernavaca, "City of Eternal Spring"

Chapel of the Tercera Orden


One of the places I'd been hoping to visit one day was Cuernavaca, a city 85 kms (53 miles) south of Mexico City, so when I heard Lynda Martinez was organising a trip there, I signed up straightaway. A comment of hers got me raring to go: "You are going to go crazy with your camera there!" And that's exactly what happened.... I'll let my photos tell the story of our day out.

We drove to Cuernavaca along the excellent D-95 highway, passing lots of wooded areas. The original name of the city in Nahuatl was Cuauhnáhuac (which looks a mouthful but is more or less pronounced "Kwownáwac") meaning "surrounded by or close to trees", but since the Spanish conquistadores couldn't pronounce it, they named the city Cuernavaca. The volcano Popocatépetl lies quite close too.

At this point, we passed into the State of Morelos. Cuernavaca is the capital and largest city of Morelos and now has a population of more than 600,000.

A sign seen as we came down into the city. This place is famous for its Revolutionary fighters, especially Emiliano Zapata who was born in Morelos, but was also where the Aztec Emperors and Spanish rulers had their summer palaces. Wealthy residents of Mexico City built mansions here due to the pleasant climate. Today many foreigners come here to learn Spanish.

Our first stop was at the fortified Palacio de Cortés, built by the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés in 1526 on the site of a former Aztec pyramid, to be used as his residence and administrative offices. It is the oldest civil building still standing in New Spain, with battlements and thick walls. Apparently it has also been a warehouse, a prison, military barracks and a State Government Palace. Today it is a museum recounting the history of the Sate of Morelos and Mexico.

Lynda giving us a few explanations before we went in. It was a beautiful sunny day and there were very few people around.

Arches at the back and front of the museum give wonderful views of the surrounding city.

Some of the pre-Hispanic exhibits

When the Spanish arrived in Mexico, among other animals, they brought the horse.

In the inner courtyard you can see some of the pre-Hispanic remains

An Aztec codex with the names of different towns and villages using symbols.

View of Cuernavaca Cathedral from the museum

The Palacio de Cortés also has some interesting murals painted by Diego Rivera which narrate the history of the Conquest and the Revolution.

Section of the mural - on the left you can see the sugar cane production at the haciendas, set up by the Spanish.

Looking down over the square outside. As it was mid-week, it was very quiet. Weekends are particularly busy when many people come from Mexico City to enjoy clear skies and a smaller city!

Our coffee stop where Lynda began to tell us a bit of background information about the next place we were about to visit.

As we walked to the next place, we saw colourful buildings and trees everywhere.

A peppermint green building

With its sunny tropical climate, Cuernavaca is famous for its luxuriant vegetation and flora.

Our second visit was to the Robert Brady Museum, a real feast for the eyes!

Robert Brady was an American artist from Iowa, who settled here in Cuernavaca in 1962. He spent his life collecting art and other artifacts from all around the world and when he died in 1986, he bequeathed his house to the city as long as they didn't change anything.

The entrance to the museum-house, Casa de la Torre, left exactly as when Brady lived in it.

The colours, decoration and collections are exquisite... you can tell he was an artist!

The house and its grounds were originally part of the Franciscan monastery and back onto the walled Cathedral.

Lynda, our guide, in pink and the other five girls on the tour

A tastefully-decorated sitting room

Brady had bright cushions everywhere in the house

One of his collections of masks

The beautiful garden and pool

A shady porch area seen from the dining room

The bright cheerful kitchen

Brady's bedroom

A yellow-coloured sitting room with an original painting by Frida Kahlo on the walls

The so-called "Oriental Room" for guests

A group picture outside in the gardens

View of the street outside with brightly coloured buildings

We passed a school where there were lots of vendors waiting to sell food to the children when they came out

A big red building opposite the Cathedral

Our third visit was to Cuernava's Cathedral complex, a fortified walled compound enclosing the main Cathedral and three other chapels, one at each corner. In the middle of the atrium are beautiful gardens and shady walkways.

Sign which reads: "Cathedral of Cuernavaca. Founded by Franciscan monks in the 16th Century. Begun in 1529. Finished in 1552. Named "La Asunción de Maria". The frescos on the side walls of the nave depict the martyrdom of the Mexican saint Philip of Jesus. It became the Cathedral Of Cuernavaca in 1891."

Beautiful flowering trees in the gardens

The Cathedral, once the Monastery of La Asunción, was the fifth monastery/church in New Spain. It was built by Hernán Cortés to double up as a fortress.

Getting some interesting perspectives!

Lynda telling our group about the Cathedral at the bottom of the tower

An unusual feature is the "Open Chapel" or Capilla Abierta, one of the oldest parts, where they could say mass for hundreds of natives who were accustomed to worshipping outdoors, never inside.

The enormous buttresses of the "Open Chapel"

The top part of the tower was rebuilt after being toppled by an earthquake in 1882.

One of the wooden doors

The interior of the Cathedral underwent several restoration and renovation processes

Frescos along the side walls, discovered during the renovation work in the 1960s, depicting the martyrdom of St Philip of Jesus in Japan.

Learning about the history of this Cathedral

Looking out towards the gardens

The interior is now fairly modern

More frescos on the other side wall

The pink and white façade of the Chapel of the Tercera Orden, standing inside the walled compound

Side view of the chapel, with its concave façade, built in 1694.

Detail of the figures on the façade

The very ornate gold altar, quite a surprise for such a small chapel

A quiet place for explanations

Another chapel, the Chapel of Santa Cruz, with a different architectural style, also in the grounds

We had a quick look around the rather bare inside.

Looking out towards the Chapel of the Tercera Orden standing opposite this chapel and right next to the main entrance,

More church buildings can be seen up the street

There are many gardens in the City of Eternal Spring, nickname given to Cuernavaca by Alexander von Humboldt, the German explorer and naturalist in the 19th Century.

Heading back towards Mexico City, along the pine-forested highway.

We went past lots of fields with hay drying in the sun

The open skies are much clearer here, something missing from DF - a picturesque way to end our very interesting tour.

Now I'm looking forward to the next trip to Cuernavaca to discover a bit more about this city and visit its markets!

Posted by margaretm 04:04 Archived in Mexico Tagged churches museums history mexico trips colours colonial cuernavaca pre-hispanic Comments (1)

Trying to understand Mexico's Dia de Muertos (Part 2)




This year, I felt more relaxed about Día de Muertos. Those unnerving grinning skeleton figures or calacas didn't seem so ghoulsome. I was obviously getting a bit more used to seeing them around. Since they were springing up all around the city, in all places, from shopping centres, shops, museums, even restaurants, there was no way I was going to be able to avoid them.

At the end of October, I was wandering around the Centro Histórico when I was beckoned by one of these laughing calacas to enter through an enormous doorway. Curiosity got the best of me and I summoned up courage, having just seen a family with small kids go in. I mean, it couldn't be too horrific if they were taking their tiny offspring in there, could it? I crossed the threshold and found myself in the innards of an old colonial building where I stumbled on a Tianguis de Día de Muertos, a kind of craft fair selling all kinds of items related to the Day of the Dead. The smell of incense clogged the air and colourful tissue-paper decorations fluttered overhead between the stands where skulls (calaveras or calaveritas), joss sticks, catrina figures, candles, papel picado decorations, skeletons and sweets were being made by craftsmen and on sale. All around me were families with young children picking out their calaveritas and other things for the festival. The scene seemed a bit surreal. The stands looked like something you would find in a Mexican Camden Town but the family atmosphere didn't quite fit. On stage in the central courtyard, were three actors and musicians giving a show about life and death. As I emerged into the bright sunlight again, a small tot was bawling out her eyes as her parents were trying to persuade her to touch the skeleton at the door. I was glad to see I wasn't the only one who was reluctant to do so.

A not-so-spooky welcome to the Tianguis de Día de Muertos

Stands at the craft fair

Comical mariachi band and skulls for sale

An outing for all the family

A little further down the road, in a street where the church leans disturbingly sideways, visibly sinking down into the soft ground of the former lakebed, I came across an ofrenda set up in honour of "Cantinflas", Mexico's most famous comedian who was born 100 years ago. With heaps of orangey-gold marigold decorations, candles and comical skeletons, it was proving most fascinating to the two small boys holding their mum's hands. My mind boggled at the sheer number of craniums and calacas staring at me from the ofrenda and placed on each step of a nearby staircase. Counting them would have been an impossible task for the short time I was there. I began to wonder who would want to take their kids into a place like that but was beginning to see that most Mexicans are brought up from a young age to view this as normal. Death is not hidden away but rather is part of life. At this time of the year, it is brought out into the open and assumed. I was thinking about this on my way back to the car when I passed the same cake shop with the small figures I'd seen the previous year. The front window was crowded by a group of teenagers giggling about the funeral scene. That seemed to be the mood of the day.

Decorated street

Ofrenda in honour of Cantinflas

Teenagers at the cake shop

Miniature funeral figures

The Day of the Dead was approaching and I was stuck in the traffic, listening to the radio, as daylight was fast disappearing on November 1st. I was amused to see an army of miniature pumpkins, catrinas, and other small children in fancy dress costumes, escorted by their parents, making their way up Virreyes, a street lined by exclusive properties with guardias to answer the bell. The older kids knocked at the doors and tiny hands clutched plastic pumpkin or skull bowls to collect sweets and chocolates. Halloween is gaining ground too here in Mexico. On the radio programme, the presenters were extolling the virtues of the Mexican celebration of Día de Muertos over American Halloween. "Es que Halloween no es nuestro, no es tradición en nuestro país," one of the speakers was reiterating. Halloween isn't a Mexican tradition, it doesn't belong to the Mexicans, he was saying. Until one of the ladies on the programme pointed out that Día de Muertos is also a mixture of European All Saints' Day brought over by the Spanish Catholic Church. "And we took it on, we blended it in with our pre-Hispanic traditions. Who knows if the same is happening with Halloween?" she said. True, though at the moment Mexicans regard Halloween as a bit of fun for the children whereas their Day of the Dead is the more serious fiesta, celebrated by everyone. They continued with the programme, asking people to ring in from all over Mexico and share how they celebrate this day in their region. The account given by a listener in Campeche made my hair stand on end. "When people have been dead for more than three years, we dig their skeletons up and give their bones a good clean. If they still have any hair, we brush that and make them look nice before putting them in a box called an osario. After the all-night vigil and celebration on Día de Muertos, we bury them again in the box." Even the presenters were taken back. Left speechless for a few seconds. Then came a comment. "Not sure if I could dig up la Abuelita and do that to her!" Obviously traditions differ a lot from one place to another and some are quite alien to others.

Halloween is also celebrated

A tiny pumpkin tot

So what do Mexicans do on the actual Día de Muertos, 2nd November, when they aren't visiting the cemetry, or having a family reunion attended by live and dead members, I wondered? Graves, tumbas, cemetries, camposantos... I really didn't want to go along there. So I decided to tag along with some friends on the the Newcomers' trip which was going to visit three museums to see the altars set up there. Lynda Martinez del Campo, an expert on most things Mexican, would be delighting us with her knowledgeable explanations. First we went to the Museo Dolores Olmeda in Xochimilco, followed by the Museo de Anahuacalli created by Diego Rivera to house his collection of pre-Hispanic pieces, ending up finally at the Blue House, or Casa Azul as it is known here, which was Frida Kahlo's home in Coyoacán. It was an eye-opening excursion, to say the least. They all not only had riotously coloured altars on display but a whole host of other activities... a play, a children's workshop for decorating their own calaveritas (skulls), craft and food stands and, of course, the museums themselves. And they were teeming with families, young people, older couples. In the midst of the jovial atmosphere, I had to keep pinching myself to remember that this was Day of the Dead and not some summer festival. Although the holiday was associated with "death", there was decidedly more life and colour and festive excitement than I have seen in most places.

MUSEO DOLORES OLMEDA - A museum in an old hacienda in Xochimilco

Part of the old house

Mariachi band

A skeletal Hernán Cortés and his horse

Grotto-like ofrenda in honour of Dolores Olmeda

Actor in the play

MUSEO DE ANAHUACALLI - Set up by Diego Rivera in Coyoacán

The museum building made of black volcanic stone

Altar to Diego Rivera

A typical hanging altar for people who have drowned

White is the colour for those children "in limbo"

Kids decorating their own calaveritas

One of the finished works of art

Lady selling gorditas

MUSEO DE FRIDA KAHLO - Also known as the Blue House, in Coyoacán

La Casa Azul

Frida Kahlo and her husband Diego Rivera lived in the Blue House or Casa Azul

The bright colours of Frida's altar

Frida's portrait

Food items making up the ofrenda

COYOACÁN - The festive atmosphere in the town centre

The church in Coyoacán's main square

People everywhere in the square

Eating tostadas

Seen on the front porch of a private house

As a European, I have to admit it takes time to comprehend this festival, to understand how Mexicans seem to feel comfortable with reminders of death around them, how natural it is for them to look at "death" in the eye and make fun of it. We, on the other hand, try to hide it, pretend it isn't there, that it isn't part of life. Maybe Judy King sums it up well in her description:

"The Mexican flatters and woos death, he sings to her, dances with her, lifts his glass to her, he laughs at her. Finally, he challenges her, and in the challenging, death loses her power to intimidate him. Once he knows death intimately, death is no longer wrapped in a cloak of mystery or causes him to fear the darkness. Once the fear of death has been defeated, the clutch she has on the hearts and minds of the living is lessened once and for all. Death's morbid side is buried under music and remembrances, while skeletons laugh and dance and sing as Mexico celebrates life in its embrace of death."

Let's see what I'll be bold enough to do next year. Maybe eat a sugar calaverita with my name on its forehead? Still not sure about that.

Posted by margaretm 13:51 Archived in Mexico Tagged museums colours traditions mexico_city frida_kahlo offerings day-of-the-dead diego_rivera dolores_olmeda Comments (0)

A spectacular new museum

Art and architecture in the Soumaya Museum

With 132 museums to date, Mexico City has found room for yet another one. Two months ago, Carlos Slim, the richest man in the world, inaugurated the Museo Soumaya in Polanco, an enormous building housing his personal collection of art from around the world. Unlike any other building in the city, the Soumaya Museum rises up like a massive, twisted tin can, covered in 16,000 shiny hexagons, and leaves no-one indifferent. Whether you love it or hate it, you have to admit it's bold and spectacular.

The Soumaya Museum is named after Carlos Slim's late wife

An unusual design by the architect Fernando Romero

Looking up

Inside, space and light merge together and provide a tasteful setting for Sr. Slim's 16 collections of European and Latin American art, some 66,000 pieces. These include old coins and banknotes, paintings, sculptures, murals and pre-Hispanic figures. Cézanne, Renoir, Matisse, Van Gogh, Diego Rivera, Rufino Tamayo, Picasso, Miró, José Clemente Orozco and Siqueiros all share the space together.

Mosaic by Diego Rivera - "Bath in the River", 1956

Painting by Renoir - "House of Collette in Cagnes", 1912

Mural by Siqueiros - "The Land, like the Water and the Industry, belong to us", 1959

Pre-Hispanic figures

Standing at the base of the building, you look up at the silver curves towering over you and wonder what it's going to be like inside. (Tip: Don't forget to take your sunglasses as the sun's rays glinting off the mirror-like exterior can leave you blinded.) A flight of concrete steps lead up to a small black entrance which you step through, emerging into a high ceilinged vestibule... wonderfully cool and white, with the lone pensative figure of Rodin's el Pensador welcoming you. A ramp makes its way up the six floors, in a smoothly ascending coil-like movement, until you reach the sala at the top. The museum culminates in a forest of sculptures by Rodin and Salvador Dalí among others.

Steps up to the entrance

Aluminium hexagons which cover the outside and entrance

Bright spacious vestibule

Rodin's sculpture "The Thinker" in the vestibule

Botero sculptures in the foreground

"The Fish", by Juan Soriano (Mexican), 1958-1960

Ramp leading upwards

Painting by Joan Miró, "Specific graphic", 1952

Spiralling up to the top floor

The top floor is full of sculptures

"Profile of Time", Salvador Dalí, 1977

One more thing to note: Carlos Slim has very generously waived any entrance fee. He wants all Mexicans to be able to come free of charge and see international works of art in their very own country.

Posted by margaretm 12:27 Archived in Mexico Tagged art museums architecture paintings mexico city building soumaya Comments (0)

An incredible woman and her collection...

Ruth Lechuga

Tucked away in the leafy, bohemian residential area of Condesa awaits a surprise. Nothing outside prepares you for what's inside. We go through the front door of a once-fashionable 1920’s apartment building, climb up to the second floor and rap at the door with the animal-shaped knocker. It could be your aunt's life-long apartment but it isn't. It belonged to Ruth Lechuga and we are about to find out who this amazing lady was.

The door opens and I stifle a gasp. There's no "auntie" smell of perfume and bath salts, of recent cooking or baking. Instead, it's a faint smell of the past, of items stored for years. As we go through the doorway, we step straight into an Aladdin’s Cave of Mexican folk art. The walls sag under the weight of hundreds of dance masks which Ruth collected throughout her life. Room after room is crammed full of furniture, showcases with nacimientos (nativity scenes), árboles de vida (trees of life), dolls, lacquerware, textiles, basketware and ceramics. We are immersed in the essence of Mexico’s indigenous people, surrounded by native craft traditions.

An Aladdin's Cave of Mexican folk art

An ornamental gourd with a carved bird on top

Ceramic pots hanging up

Our guide around the house, Marta Turok, is herself an exceptional woman – among other things, an anthropologist, a Mexican folk art and textile expert and writer. She knew Ruth Lechuga personally and is the curator of the house-museum, taking care of Ruth’s invaluable legacy. Her lively, interesting explanations bring Ruth and her collection to life.

Marta Turok guiding us around the house

Items made by indigenous people

Typical Huichol artwork

Ruth Lechuga (1920-2004) was born in Vienna, but when the Nazis invaded Austria, she came to live in Mexico in 1939, at the age of 19. She was immediately captivated by the Mexican people, the colours, the traditions, the climate, the coasts and the jungles and decided to make this her permanent home. Her father’s passion was archaeology and Ruth used to accompany him on his visits to different sites, where she was much more fascinated by the local markets and traditional life. During these visits, she would buy something, a small souvenir, and bring it home. Decades later, her collection has swollen to 10,000 items, gradually colonising and taking over the intimate space of these three apartments.

Inside the apartment

Some of the dance masks

Animal masks

The jaguar is a recurring theme

Although she studied Medicine, her real passion was for Mexican folk art. In 1950 she married Carl Lechuga and together they travelled far and wide, often by mule or in small planes, to reach the more isolated indigenous communities. A gifted photographer, she also built up an outstanding collection of 20,000 photographs, creating an important anthropological archive dedicated to the daily life and sacred ceremonies in Mexico.

Some of Ruth's photographs


Figures hanging up

Ceramics and masks

Her special interest in máscaras, dance masks, led her to find out more about the traditions and each item of her collection, whether masks or ceramics or textiles, was bought after meeting the artisano, finding out the story behind it and its purpose and the materials with which it was made. Not only that, she meticulously catalogued most of them, building up an invaluable legacy for us today. As we follow Marta through the apartments, the lights go on in room after room, revealing different aspects of Ruth’s collection. We learn about the multi-coloured artifacts and traditions of the tarahumaras, coras, huicholes, mayas, tlaxcaltecas or purepechas.

Art on a gourd

Huichol dress

Ceramic Tree of Life


The final surprise comes after passing through a small corridor choked with a jungle of basketware and we emerge suddenly into Ruth’s bedroom. Sprouting from the bright pink walls are dozens of white calaveras (skulls), skeletons and other Day of the Dead items. Perhaps not everyone’s cup of tea for decorating their bedroom but entirely in keeping with this pioneering woman’s passion and way of life.

Pink and white bedroom

Skulls and skeletons

Ruth's bed

Bedside photos of Ruth Lechuga

(Note: Marta Turok kindly gave me permission to publish these photos in my blog provided I put a visible watermark on them. Thank you, Marta.)

Posted by margaretm 04:21 Archived in Mexico Tagged museums mexico city crafts Comments (0)

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