I seem to have overlooked the music of Bruce Springsteen – I dont know how, but it just never appealed to me or never came my way, so it was a real pleasant surprise to see this sweet film by Gurinder Chadha about a British teen of Pakistani descent growing up in 1987 Luton. Amidst the racial and economic turmoil of the times, Javed writes poetry as a means to escape the pressures and demands of his traditional father. his life changes when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Springsteen, and Javed sees parallels to his working-class life in the powerful lyrics; the more he listens to the music and understand the words, the more he applies them to his own life and starts to express himself honestly even though it means going against his family’s rules and wishes. it really is a growing of age film, harkening back to Bend it like Beckham; its based on a true story and is an easy light film to watch.
I caught up on a few films on the plane journey to Mexico, all of them passed the time away and kept me entertained; I particularly cried at Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody – I am not even a Queen fan, but its made me realise that you dont necessary have to be a fan to watch a film entirely about Queen. Mary Queen of Scots was historically intriguing but I forgot how violent times were.
I have been to secret cinema once with Robert and this is a fun thing to do with a few friends. I see that Casino Royale is coming up soon.
another venue that shows classic films is wilton’s music hall its an experience not to be missed.
if you are stuck for a gift for older teenagers, university students, or grumpy old men, then do what i just did – buy them a membership at the bfi – they get to see a free film screening each month, reduced fees for entry with a couple of their friends and you are helping to support them in their support of film.
I have always collected bits of stationary – notebooks, interesting paper, pens, cards – just about everything from all corners of the world. wherever I travel to, stationary shops are the most appealing to me. my favourite shop in london has to be choosing keeping – it used to be a small shop on Columbia road, but is now a beautiful showroom in Covent Garden. everything is so beautiful, a perfect gift for any occasion – I find myself searching for reasons to buy this and that….. beautiful boxes of pastels are in cabinets like museum pieces – but there is something for everyone from a couple of pounds.
we returned to Mexico city for one more day before our flight home; partly as I remember on our last visit (over 10 years ago) we nearly missed our connection due to our internal flight being overbooked. this time our flight couldn’t land and circled the city, so we were again an hour late. be warned Mexico airport is a major busy airport that does not separate incoming and outgoing passengers, so you end up walking over 20 mins through a crowded airport to reclaim your baggage.
this time we chose to stay in Polanco – an upmarket district where most of the hotels seem to be situated; by the way we booked our hotels either through booking.com under their offers or directly with the hotels who all seem to have advanced offers that are similar to booking.com. you can definitely pay much less than their listed prices. we stayed at hotel las Alcobas, a contrast to our last hotel, very modern, super efficient with amazing personal service. we were also situated a close walk from the big Chapultepec Park, on which borders the amazing Antropologia museum and lovely local districts for art and restaurants. Mexico is so big, traffic is so bad, that its essential to pick areas to stay where you intend to visit, or else you spend a long time on the roads getting from a to b.
we tried to go to the Luis Barragan studio, but we didn’t book early enough; however the hotel suggested Casa Gilardi, the last private house that you can visit, conveniently a half hour walk from the hotel through the park. the owners’ son meets you and explains how his father at 26 commissioned the house to be built and still lives there. its a beautiful play of colours and space for what is a domestic size house. the most stunning part of the house is the dining/swimming pool area and the hallway leading to it. the windows are simply painted in yellow paint to project the colour onto the white walls. it really amazed me how much the Mexicans embrace design and especially in the 1960’s onwards – when you stroll round the area, you see so many interesting buildings; of course the city is a mish mash of styles, but it makes for a unique place. nearby is an interesting independent gallery – Kurimanzutto, which is in a street full of trendy restaurants and coffee bars.
the big Anthropology museum – designed by Pedro Ramirez Vazquez borders Cahpultepec park and is one of the best designed museums that I have seen; not only a spectacular display of relics telling the history and beginnings of Mexico, but also surrounded by gardens with replica installations of how each era looked. you can definitely spend half a day here; there is a pleasant cafe/restaurant area to enjoy a drink and snack.
next to the museum there is always a free show of the dance of los Voladores. Five individuals climb to the top of a pole more than 100 feet tall. one man, known as the caporal, stands in the middle on a small, wooden platform playing the flute and drum. There is nothing to support him. There are no safety nets to catch him. One misstep and he falls to his death. the other four participants are positioned around him suspended by ropes, they launch themselves from the top of the pole, twisting like acrobats. Like birds soaring through the air, they spiral majestically 13 times as they descend to the bottom of the pole. They are the “voladores,” and this is their dance. The Danza de los Voladores, or the Dance of the Flyers, is a tradition dating back centuries. Once practiced by the indigenous peoples of Mexico, Guatemala, Nicaragua and El Salvador as a way to connect with their gods, the tradition was partially lost after the Spanish conquest.
we also popped into the Soumaya gallery, which we passed by – the richest man in Mexico’s personal collection of art, housed in a super modern stucture; it was a strange interior, strange collection, though the top floor with its 20C art was the best.
we ate in La Unica, a big bustling restaurant with a large courtyard – very good food, simple grilled fish and meat, especially for those who have had enough of spicy sauces. Dulce Patria restaurant has 2 women chefs, fine cuisine at normal prices – a definite subtle taste, beautifully presented and worth visiting. our last meal was at Entremar, again near to the hotel – a family seafood restaurant, not dissimilar to a Spanish restaurant, but of course with the Mexican twist. the first floor overlooked the local square. on the other side of the square is a lovely gift shop – Onora, on Miguel Hidalgo, selling high end crafts, ceramics, basket wear and textiles. good job that we brought an empty bag to carry all our purchases home in! it was a great place to celebrate a special birthday and although we didn’t get to a beach, it made for a very informative, interesting and relaxing week.
one of the things that are high ‘on my list of things to do’ is the barbara hepworth sculpture park in wakefield; not forgetting the yorkshire sculpture park, which i have visited – apparently they are not far from each other, so you can do both parks in one day.
closer to home, you can also go and see the wonderful sculptures of henry moore in perry green – its a lovely day out.
i ventured to epping a few years ago; i didnt realise that the end of the central line could be so pretty – our lovely friend Lyn (who incidentally sends me so much information on what to do in london – she is a busy cultured soul) – lives in a cute little cottage there and invited us for lunch followed by a scenic drive to Henry Moore in Perry Green. it was so peaceful and pleasurable walking around the grounds seeing all the sculptures and Moore’s workshops
the sculptures are placed all around the estate, some you catch glimpses through holes in the greenery; the sculptures themselves are breathtaking in scale and very tactile. its definitely an interesting day for children, both young and grown up. unfortunately by the time we arrived, the house where he lived was already fully booked, so its a good idea to reserve in advance – it just means that i now have a good reason to come back again.
last Saturday in vejer de la fronterra was the ‘noches de velas’ – an amazing fete of hanging hundreds of candles around the streets of the old town and especially in the main square, plaza espana – accompanied by a group of singers sat in the middle of the candles. its always a splendid sight, though marred by the hundreds of visitors visiting the town to catch the atmosphere – all the street lights will be turned off, so the town will look romantically medieval. its definitely a night to remember- vejer definitely knows how to do a festival!
our next stage of the trip was a one hour internal flight to Oaxaca. neither Robert nor I had been there before, but it came highly recommended. typically our mid morning flight was cancelled and we had to reschedule on another airline – travelling is never easy and this actually happened to us before in Mexico.
we arrived in Oaxaca to peace and calm; the whole town is low rise except for the beautiful churches; and surrounded by mountains. renowned for its arts, crafts, textiles and pottery it really is picture perfect. it also doesn’t feel too touristy, though we were not there for the weekend, which I think makes a difference. we stayed centrally in an old converted convent Quinta Real – which in its time was also a prison, a school and since the late 70’s became a luxury hotel. the rooms are old style, and perfectly fine, but what is stunning are the cloisters, gardens and balconies and courtyards. there is also a beautiful old laundry in one of the courtyards with its old stone bowls.
we would walk down to the main square and through to the mercado, which was full of crafts, spices and locals selling their food and wares. you just have to walk around and soak in the colour and daily life – whats amazing is that locals still seem to be buying and selling amongst themselves; of course there are tourists too, but it really feels like the origins of life – communities coming from the local outlying villages to sell their wares and bring home food for their families. strangely although the streets are busy there is always a calmness and serenity – a haven from the madness of Mexico City.
there are lots of places to eat. we were recommended Origin, La Pitiona (which has a great roof terrace with views all round) and Casa Oaxaca, but these are more led towards tourists and wealthy Mexicans – who also seem to be visiting their own culture. the standard of food is very good, but you still have to be careful as its easy to get an upset tummy. we were pleasantly surprised by the simple and beautiful design of Oaxaca from everything to their architecture, interior design, table wear……… lots of locals still wear their national costumes for everyday wear, not just to attract tourists. its nice to be romantic about this way of living, but in reality most of them are relatively poor, bringing not just their wares, but their young families onto the streets, whilst trying to make a living.
we took a walk up to the the cultural museum, Santa Domingo de Guzman where there is an incredible collection of wares, retelling the history of Oaxaca through its crafts, jewellery and figurines. helped by the discovery of a treasure chest of jewellery found in one of the tombs in the church; its not only interesting, but housed in an incredibly beautiful building overlooking the most exquisite cactus garden. you can visit these wondrous gardens, the Botanical gardens and I highly recommend it; its a guided visit, but so calm and serene in there, with amazing succulent plants.
shopping wise, there are probably too many stalls and workshops to choose from, but you will find some lovely artisan pieces. we brought an empty bag anticipating that we would bring back some things, which we surely did. we found pots in Collective 1050, Tiendita del Barro, which sold the lovely black and terracotta pottery. I bought a lovely embroidered top from Ambar 5 de Mayo 408. woven scarves from la cash de las artesanias, Andrea cruz Bernal. a skirt and baskets from la Plaza Artesanias de Oaxaca Matamoros 103 – you really just have to wander and stroll into the numerous courtyards and workshops.
also worth visiting is the private collection of one family – Museo Belber Jimenez- a beautiful collection of jewellery and clothes housed around a courtyard house. there are so many galleries to wander in and out of. if you have time, which we didn’t manage – there are lots of day trips to the local artisan villages – some making pottery, textiles, wooden carved animals, – choose your route. there are ruins to see too, but I would recommend the ruins outside of Mexico City, Teotihucan.
it became our daily ritual to amble to the main square and see the different activities – on our last day the local school set up stage and gave their own show of singing, performance and playing instruments; I will miss the locals dancing impromptu in the streets, the mariachis waiting to entertain and serenade, the selling of wares and the passing of giggling school children.
the saddest part of Oaxaca is seeing the young girls sat on the sides of the streets with their young babies and children seeing food and money….. it seems hard to escape people living on the streets wherever you visit in the world…..