Mexico City

it’s actually my fourth time to Mexico, but as Mexico is so big, there is so much to see without ever getting tired of visiting.  I remember the first time was when I was pregnant with Maude, which must have been over 23 years ago.  Mexico City has definitely changed since then, a thriving city where design and culture just seem to grow with each of my visits. 

Maude had just graduated from Uni with a modern language degree and decided to spend the summer in Mexico;  we had some flight vouchers to use up since 2020 and Covid prevented travel, so we decided to join her for part of her trip.  we arrived in Mexico City late in the evening, staying at Hotel Casa 9.  we didn’t know what to expect – usually we book bigger hotels with all the usual facilities of concierge, restaurants, but this was house in a palacio style old house in the Condessa area.  as Maude had booked an airbnb with a family, it made sense to choose somewhere close to her.  this was a different experience, more like staying in an apartment, but sharing with 3 other people.  there is one large enrrance salon, probably triple height with large windows leading onto a balcony overlooking a beautiful tropical garden.  the rooms were around the courtyard.  it was beautifully designed with retro style furniture and there was a lovely collection of books and an hono bar for coffee and drinks.  breakfast was served on the terrace or in the lovely big room;  it really suited us because the area is made for walking and taking coffees in all the numerous trendy cafes.  

it felt like New York with its juice bars, coffee shops, but the wide boulevard streets were lined with tress and tropical plants – its a suburban area full of locals walking their dogs, so felt very safe.  we had fresh juice in Ojo de Agua  – sitting on the sidewalk watching life go by – its very different to downtown Mexico with is much more tourist driven.  we ate lunch in the Green Corner, which was also a health food shop on Avenida Mazatlan – I was amazed how much stuff you can get in there from the well branded herbal teas, chia seeds, etc…   it was especially great for Maude who is vegan.  i did notice that now most menus offer at least a few vegan options, and several vegetarian too.  i think that worldwide veganism is making its mark, and especially with the younger generation. 

We visited 2 museums, the Gallery Museo Tamayo – a wonderful brutalist designed space showing contemporary art and then the Museo de Arte Moderno, which is set in the nearby Chapultepec Park.   There is some amazing Mexican art in the Modern Art gallery and just nearby is the circular library, which is hosting the diaries of Frida Kahlo at the moment.  You will find that on a sunday, a lot of the museums are free. Palacio de Bellas Artes has some amazing murals, including some famous ones by Diego Rivera. Museo Diego Rivera is a little private gallery that houses the Alameda park mural, which Diego paints 100 characters who represent Mexican society and tells a story of life in the park. All the murals are fascinating to see close up.

We have always visited the Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera house, which is now a museum in Coyoacan, but this time we decided to opt for other things, but I would highly recommend them for first time visitors. we did try to get tickets for Luis Barragan museum, but as the tickets are now sold online a week before the day you require, it is so difficult to get tickets for a particular day. we missed buying them by a few seconds, managed to get them in the basket online, but then by the time we put in the credit card, they were all sold out….. next time…. Trotsky’s house and the Anthropology museum are also high on a must see list. we did do a boat trip on Xochimilcho though as the last time we did it, the children were very little. its very touristy, but its still a fun thing to do. Reminding you that Mexico City was once all built on a series of lakes – until the Spanish drained the canals and lakes in the 16C in their search for gold and treasure. I love that families take the boats to have their family get togethers, taking picnics or gathering their food from the passing boats who are cooking up local specialities. you can be serenaded by boats of mariachis – its a colourful bustling hour of fun. something the kids will definitely like.

what you need to work out is distances – Mexico is so big, it can take up to 45 mins to get to say Frida Kahlo museum – Ubers are very efficient, and are very cheap. the local yellow taxis are not that much more, but seem harder to get and apparently as uber drivers are regulated and you don’t give them any cash, its quite a safe way to get around. some of the Ubers we got cost only £2, and to the airport, we were only paying £3 – it all depends on the time of day, the traffic…… so if you are in a certain area, I would explore that area for food and culture, rather than spend another hour crossing town.

There is also a castle in Chapultepec Park which you can climb to the top and apparently have great views of Mexico City. I have never managed to do this. watching the indigenous peoples dance, and perform their ceremonies is very interesting around the main square Downtown and around the Cathedral – you can also see the ruins from cities and temples that have been discovered – one recent find was a circular wall built of skulls – many skulls, probably those who have been sacrificed in the belief that the next morning wouldn’t appear, unless they appease the gods.

We had wonderful food at Azul Condessa, Ave Neuvon Leon – fine Mexican style in a traditional setting.  You can watch the tortillas being made at the front of the restaurant.  There is also a branch of Azul Historical Downtown, set in a courtyard. Caracol de mar is a modern Mexican restaurant serving mainly seafood and fish, but all beautifully presented. Again set in a courtyard of a historical building, its a pleasant place to sit and all around are little boutique shops. Churreria El Moro is a noisy busy cafe that sells churros and chocolate. its been going since the 1930’s and its definitely a place that the locals queue for their cinnamon churros (long tubes of doughnuts that they dip in a thick chocolate sauce). Restaurant Tetetlan is housed in a horse stable in Jardines del Pedegral, an elegant suburb on the outskirts of town, restored recently by an art collector who still lives in the original adjoining house, which was originally designed by Luis Barragan – the acclaimed Mexican architect famous for colour, light, shape and form. there are a few private houses that you can go and see, we did see one last time we went, and they are worth the visit.

There are lots of interesting restaurants, from local cafes to high end fine dining – some are just great interiors with atmosphere worth popping into and even just getting a coffee and snack. Sanborns de los Azulejos has a great 50’s style interior, they are like mini department stores, but there are a few in Mexico City. La Opera Bar, which is close to the historical centre and Cathedral is housed in a lovely 19C building.

we were only there for a couple of days, but there is always so much to see and do, but like any city, it can be tiring.

Mexico

I have been to Mexico twice before – both times with kids and the first time pregnant with Maude, which definitely changes the type of trip you experience.  this time we are here to celebrate my husband’s big birthday – but really its any excuse to travel, explore and discover……its a long 10 hour flight, but it really transports you into a very different culture;  from the minute you leave the airport – where shanty living is literally alongside the airport walls, you can feel the life and spirit of Mexican seeping on the streets on the journey into the centre of town. there is so much to write, so I will do a day by day post of what we got up to.

we decided to stay centrally in downtown Mexico – right next to the famous zocalo square – which pre colonial times was the ceremonial aztec city of Tenochtitlan.  usually the more upmarket hotels are in the suburbs, but recently a few more boutique hotels have opened up centrally.  remember Mexico City is a vast sprawling city and with the traffic, it can take a long time to get around from one area to another.  Downtown Mexico is a housed in an old colonial 17C Palacio centred around a large open courtyard, filled with trees which from the first level bedrooms looks like a floor of greenery.  the concrete walled bedrooms are vast and spacious and look out onto the courtyard. there are a few rooms with outside views, and these are what I would go for next.  its a great location for popping in and out of the main central sights and then be able to flop on your bed in-between.  in the main courtyard the restaurant Azul Historico is very good and popular with the locals too;  interesting Mexican food that includes several dishes of grasshoppers, which seems to be their delicacy.  after a while you realise that these specialities are commonplace on most menus.  there is also a roof top bar and terrace and swimming pool to relax by. due to the the time difference of 6 hours, you inevitably wake up at dawn, which is a great time to explore the surrounding area.  walk across to zocalo square, see the ruins of the aztec temples that Mexico was built around ;  pop into the cathedral filled with people on morning mass – they also provided breakfast for the hungry in a courtyard – you will see that there are lots of homeless people, just as there is in London, all lining up waiting to be fed –  watch street life come alive with portable food stalls, buskers turning their organs releasing the wailing sound that was once the popular sound of the city and out of town indigenous Mexicans dressing in their feathers and bells to perform their native dance.  its a busy jostling city……

Mexico is a big sprawling city and traffic is bad, so you need to plan your day with sights and restaurants so that you are not going round in circles.  we continued our walking up to the incredible Bellas Artes Museum, high Art Deco style with its incredible ceiling and murals by some of the great Mexican painters including Diego Rivera.  we also saw a wonderful retrospective of Brassai’s street photography.   Mexico apparently has the highest number of art galleries and museums in one city.

  

walking the streets is a great way to soak up Mexico City – we passed the beautiful old post office, again high Deco in style, beautifully preserved but only functioning for parcels in one section.  one can only imagine how exciting it must have been in Mexico 100 years ago.   next to the museum is the Alemeida Park – full of locals enjoying the sun and green space, children splashing in the fountains, a group of locals dancing on the bandstand.  at the opposite end of the park is the mural museum of Diego Rivera – a small museum especially built to house this mural of Rivera which he had originally made for a hotel and was relocated to this spot.  its stunning and includes people of all ranks and sorts, including a younger self portrait and his wife Friday.

  

we ate lunch at La Opera – a viennese style restaurant serving typical Mexican food.  opposite is an incredible blue porcelain tiled building Sanbornes – pop in and see the 1970’s style cafe – so many great interiors.  for dinner we went to Maximo bistros in Roma Norte – a more upmarket restaurant that specialises in local grown vegetables and sustainable fish – it was very nice, but definitely attracted more tourists.  Roma is about 20 – 30 mins drive out from the centre, a more affluent suburb, its where people go for a quieter life and seems full of restaurants.  its definitely worth visiting to see the more gentler side of Mexico City.

as we have  done most of the important sightseeing trips before, we tried to see other new things instead and discover different areas.  however a trip to Frida Kahlo’s blue Azul house is always a must – not just to see the beautiful house and gardens that she created, but to appreciate her exquisite taste.  everything that she and Diego collected was of impeccable craftsmanship – from the bowls and pans in the kitchen to the furniture and objets around the house.  sadly in the last 10 years, Frida has become somewhat of a commercial icon for women artists to the point that the saturation of souvenirs with her face emblazoned onto absolutely everything makes you not want to like her – but I still do…..  her art may not be as powerful and iconic as Rivera’s but her personality, individuality and strength against all her pain only makes you admire her all the more.  there are now huge queues to get into the house, so its best to book in advance, which we did, and you still have to queue for at least 20 mins.  fortunately timed tickets makes it not too overcrowded – its still one of my favourite galleries in the world.

walk a few blocks down towards the main square Centenario Maguey Parque passing a couple of garden squares on the way.  one was full of budding artists, the other with organ grinders, stall holders selling balloons, woven bags and rugs, flowers, sweets – absolutely everything. my favourite bit was watching the locals learning to dance, first in couples then in formation – they danced in a small space on the borders of the artists, in the bandstands and in the squares  – its full of life and colour and especially as it was a Sunday, so there were particularly a lot of young families enjoying themselves.

we ate in Corazon de Maguey – just on the edge of plaza centenary – very good local food and more typical delicacies such as cactus fruit and sprouted leaves.   we were actually told to take Ubers around the city, apparently the safest as they are all traceable;  Ubers in london are a dreaded word, but here they are widespread, very efficient and extremely cheap.  we took a taxi to the nearby museum of Diego Rivera, which was a shock/surprise to see – we didn’t know anything about this museum , but think of Aztec pyramids.  it was Frida and Diego’s dream to build a museum dedicated to the origins of Mexico;  it now houses Rivera’s massive collection of Aztec art, sculptures, bowls and the vast first floor studio is dedicated to the drawings for Rivera’s huge murals.    definitely worth seeing.

we then returned to our hotel just in time to catch the 6pm daily ritual of taking the enormous Mexican flag down in zocalo square.  a regiment of soldiers march around the square in unison and then watch them catch the flag and roll it into one long tube – I think it would have been far more exciting watching the 6am daily unrolling and erecting the flag and then seeing it blow in the sky.

anni albers

I love it when a friend comes to visit, it makes you go out and catch up with whats on in town, and there is always so much.

if you love textiles you will love this exhibition at Tate modern– I had never heard of her before, and was really taken by the intricacy of the textiles that she designed and weaved;  particularly the colours and the stitches that she chose.  I think that textile design is hugely underestimated in the art world – if you think back to the beautiful Peruvian textiles with feathers and Kuba textiles of Africa, texture and pattern have been a central starting point to decorative arts from the beginning of time.

I returned to see the Frida Kahlo exhibition again with a friend and although its very crowded, its worth seeing;  it makes you understand what messages her art conveys – the sense of pain and disappointment that inflicted her throughout her life seems only to spur her to make more thought provoking art.  I know that she has been commercialised, but if you manage to get there at a quiet time, its a very poignant exhibition.

Bob Dylan has an exhibition of his drawings alongside his lyrics, which he has handwritten – over 60 of them.  sadly they are very expensive, framed a bit too corporately and even the prints are in massive editions that it makes you feel that he has commercialised his art;  and for someone who doesn’t need any more money, its a strange thing;  if that was me, I would be making my art more unique and special rather than churning them out.  definitely worth seeing though, I rather like the pencil drawings, they have an innocence and sense that is quite charming.

london is an amazing city with always so much to see and do;  you always think I will see that exhibition and before you know it, its finished.  treat yourself to a museum pass, and this will encourage the artistic side to you, and save you lots of money.  definitely a good xmas gift.

frida kahlo

I am not going to say much about this show, but I really felt moved and inspired;  I know that Frida Kahlo has become more commercially visible amongst the wider public, but really this show is about the determination and strength of a young woman who lived with pain, disability and courage to establish herself as one of the most moving and talented artists of the last century.   her impeccable style, which she never failed to uphold is a lasting  legacy ;  this exhibition just strengthens her iconic style  – her adoption of typical and traditional dress was always customised by herself, either by adding layers of lace, petticoats, making her own jewellery,  braiding her hair with fabric and flowers, wrapping beautiful scarves and shawls – her sense of dress is highlighted by the presence of her personal artefacts and clothes.   admittedly there are not enough of her paintings, but this collection and curation is more about her life and her courage and an insight into the pain she always` had to endure.

the exhibition is busy and tickets sell out, so you must book, or if you are a member of the v & a or the museums association, then you can just join the queue.  worth going to see and I notice even young children were fascinated.  it really makes me want to go back to Mexico – not been for a few years, but remember the visit to Kahlo’s house as being one of the highlights of the trip.

the beauty of books

always love going to broadway market on a saturday and especially to donlon books – there are always so many books that i want to buy from there – the owner has an exceptional eye and has a great selection – its a good place to go if you are stuck for gifts.  on my list is the beeautiful photography book Frida by Ishiuchi Miyako, which documents the dresses and personal belongings of Frida Kahlo – its an intuitive way of telling the life of Frida through her possessions.  the photos are simply beautiful.  it also reminds me of our visit to mexico with the kids 6 years ago – a wonderful cultural experience that still remains with me.

other interesting books are ‘The Biba Years 1963-1975′ and Edmund de Waal, a retrospective publication devoted to his ceramics.

incidentally I have just found out that my book stolen glimpses has just been shortlisted in the photographic monograph section of the British book design awards this year.

I can only thank all the people who encouraged me to do this book, my husband, my brother who spent hours designing the book,  and especially Frances, Peta and Pip, who all sat there with me for weeks on end, editing to make a book that I thought would just be distributed amongst my friends, so I am more than happy that its been noticed amongst the industry – a precious industry that needs to be supported.  how sad if books just disappear and we only have words that can be deleted on a screen…..

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frida kahlo book

always love going to broadway market on a saturday and especially to donlon books – there are always so many books that i want to buy from there – the owner has an exceptional eye and has a great selection – its a good place to go if you are stuck for gifts.  on my list is the beeautiful photography book Frida by Ishiuchi Miyako, which documents the dresses and personal belongings of Frida Kahlo – its an intuitive way of telling the life of Frida through her possessions.  the photos are simply beautiful.  it also reminds me of our visit to mexico with the kids 6 years ago – a wonderful cultural experience that still remains with me.

other interesting books are ‘The Biba Years 1963-1975′ and Edmund de Waal, a retrospective publication devoted to his ceramics.

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majorelle blue

the Majorelle gardens are painted with this amazing blue – it reminds me of the lovely  casa polopa hotel  with its beautiful stencilled walls and also of the frida kahlo house.   you can try the majorelle blue paint from bristol paints – it would indeed be a bold statement to paint one of your walls or your garden this intense shade of blue.

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For an offbeat travel experience in the Mexico City area, you really must consider this visit to the Museo Frida Kahlo in Coyoacan. Hidden behind high cobalt blue walls at the corner of Londres and Allende in this charming southwestern suburb, the museo is where the surrealist artist Frida Kahlo was born, grew up and later lived with her muralist husband Diego Rivera, from 1941 until her death at age 47 in 1954. Fascinating not only for the collections and personal effects of the two great artists it contains, the museum also affords a window on the lifestyles of affluent Mexican bohemians during the first half of this century.

frida kahlo

missed the programme perspectives which was about how frida kahlo inspires the musician emile sandie – its an interesting and colourful documentary and makes me want to go back to mexico again;  watch it on itv i player.

i am sure lots of females throughout the world admire and aspire to frida – her determination through pain to  produce such heartfelt  art is a great inspiration for us all.
For an offbeat travel experience in the Mexico City area,  you really must consider this visit to the Museo Frida Kahlo in Coyoacan. Hidden behind high cobalt blue walls at the corner of Londres and Allende in this charming southwestern suburb, the museo is where the surrealist artist Frida Kahlo was born, grew up and later lived with her muralist husband Diego Rivera, from 1941 until her death at age 47 in 1954. Fascinating not only for the collections and personal effects of the two great artists it contains, the museum also affords a window on the lifestyles of affluent Mexican bohemians during the first half of this century.