Saturday, May 29, 2010

Odyssey to Zacatlán de las Manzanas: Part 1

Parrochia de San Pedro y San Pablo, one of two large churches overlooking Zacatlán's El Centro plaza. The Parrochia was built in the period overlapping the 17th and 18th centuries. A couple of months ago, a fellow named Dick Davis left a message on the comments section of this blog expressing his appreciation of my various postings featuring Mexico's indigenous people. Dick offered to coordinate my visit to the small city of Zacatlán de las Manzanas for the Crown of Flowers Festival, or Ilhuitl Cuaxochitl as it is known by the Náhuatl-speaking indigenous people of the area. What made the offer irresistible was not just the promise of a colorful fiesta full of people in their native dress. Our hostess, Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo, was formerly the local tourism director. She was offering to put us up in her own home and act as our personal tour guide for an area reported to have spectacular scenery. My only responsibility would be to enjoy myself, take lots of photos, and write up the experience in this blog. It was an offer I couldn't refuse. Remarkably, the entire transaction with Dick to set all this up has taken place over the internet. While I have never met him or even spoken with him directly, I can't thank him enough for providing this opportunity.

Zacatlán sits on a rolling plateau that ends abruptly at the edge of a huge canyon. The city of Zacatlán has a bit less than 29,000 people, with a total of about 63,000 scattered in small villages and farms throughout the mountainous municipality (equivalent to a US county). Zacatlán is about a 1.5 hour drive northeast of Puebla, and about 2.5 hours from Mexico City. For a map, click here. From Lake Chapala, the total drive time is about 10.5 hours, which I broke into two half-day drives. Nearly all of the distance was on fast, smooth, toll roads called cuotas. The city is surrounded by large and very steep pine-clad mountains which drop down into deep, narrow canyons with rushing streams and cascading waterfalls. In the photo above, the line where the city appears to meet the mountains is actually the lip of a cliff falling into the vast Jilguero Gorge. In the course of my visit, I took over 1500 photos of the festival, the scenery, and fascinating local villages. After winnowing this number down to the few which best tell the story, I will have material for perhaps 9 more postings following this one. Fasten your blog-reading seat belts!

Zacatlán from the east, looking across the gorge. This telephoto shot gives you a sense of the abruptness with which the city ends at the lip of the Jilguero Gorge. "Jilguero" refers to the species of finch which abounds in the thick canyon forests. The gorge drops off precipitously for a couple of hundred more feet below what you can see in the photo. In the center of the photo are the steeples of the two churches that face onto the plaza. I took the photo that is previous to the one above from the slopes of the mountains you can see in the background. Zacatlán de las Manzanas got its Náhuatl name from the presence of grassy pastures ("zacate," a type of grass, and tlan "the place of"), and Spanish name from its reputation as apple-growing capital of Mexico (manzanas is Spanish for apples). The plateau on which the city rests is at 2010 meters (6594 feet) with a mean temperature of 18 degrees C. (64 F.). The area reminded me a lot of the Cascade foothills in Oregon, both in geography and cool moist climate.

Breakfast at Mary Carmen's home for the visiting dignitaries. I had invited my friend Christopher English (left, above), a well-known local artist, photographer, and writer who has been published in several local magazines. Christopher also has a fairly decent command of Spanish, a skill I am still developing. I have known Christopher as a fellow hiker for 3 years, and he turned out to be an excellent companion on the adventure. While traveling around Zacatlán, we were invariably introduced by our hostess as "visiting reporters from the United States," and treated by those we met as special dignitaries, as if we were from the New York Times or 60 Minutes. While this may have been the simplest way to describe us, at times we felt a little like imposters. Neither us us tends toward an inflated self-opinion. However, I suppose that since my blog is viewed by about 6,500 people from around the world each month (totaling 105,000 since I launched it 3 years ago), I qualify as an on-line magazine photojournalist, albeit unpaid and self-published. Christopher has been published in print magazines, so he slips under the qualification wire too. Photo by Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo.

Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo, our hostess and guide. She was wonderful in both roles, even though her beloved father had died only a few days before our arrival. She constantly had to juggle the traditional mourning period activities with her commitments to us. We would have understood if she had simply cancelled, but that's not Mary Carmen's style. She is a person who appears happiest when she has half a dozen balls juggled in the air at once. She virtually buzzes with upbeat energy, and regularly left us exhausted and recuperating at her home at the end of a long day while she raced off to some other commitment. She also told us that being with us raised her spirits and kept her mind off her grief. Above, she is dressed in the traditional style of the indigenous women in the area. Under her lacy shawl, Mary Carmen wears a beautiful white blouse called a huipil, which is colorfully embroidered with plant and animal designs. The local Náhuatl name for the garment is Quexquemetl (pronounced Queshquemetl). She wore her hair in two braids, although they were considerably shorter than those usually worn by the indigenous women. You will learn more about Mary Carmen and her extensive family as this series unfolds.

Templo y ex-Convento Franciscano. This church and former monastery was founded by the Franciscan order in 1562 and the church was completed in 1567. It is the oldest church in the State of Puebla and the fourth oldest in the Americas. The Templo is considered a jewel of the Vice-regal style. I was not able to take any pictures inside, because every time I had an opportunity they were holding a Mass. According to written accounts, when it was under restoration, architects found murals with jaguars, snakes, bees and other animals sacred to the beliefs of the original indigenous people. Additionally there were murals of huts with straw roofs in the ancient style and both indigenous and Spanish people going about their daily activities. The church is considered unique in that it still carries on all of its traditional activities after 440 years.

Indigenous woman uses modern and traditional style carrying methods. Some of her burden she carries in the unfortunately-ubiquitous plastic bag, while the remainder she totes in a hand-made wicker basket held up by a tump-line across her forehead. The use of the tump-line goes back thousands of years. Her hair is held in two long braids down her back which are attached to colorfully embroidered strips of cloth called cintas ending in rainbow-hued fringes at the bottom.

A closer look at braid decoration. This young woman wears her hair braided in almost the identical style as the older woman in the previous photo. Out of view at the bottom are the colorful fringes that end the decoration. The cintas are black and embroidered in the design of cabbages. Also typical are the two large flowers entwined in her hair at the beginning of the braid. The designs vary both according to the taste of the person who did the embroidery, and the traditions of the village from which she came. The shoulders and neck of her huipil are also embroidered. The ankle-length skirt is made of black wool, and is held up by a black and white embroidered belt. The overall effect is elegant.

Palacio Municipal faces onto the Plaza de Armas where two days of festival dances occurred. This was constructed between 1876 and 1896, during the heyday of dictator Porfirio Diaz. The style is neoclassical, using gray cantera. The columns are Tuscan style.

A most unusual clock. In the center of the plaza are two clocks facing in opposite directions, but gently inclining to meet at their tops. Both are run by the same clock mechanism. One of the most unusual aspects of the clocks are that the faces of both clocks are flower gardens. Only the numbers and the clock arms are non-living.

Closeup of the clock face. The closer you look, the more beautiful the clock face becomes, with a wide variety of plants set in concentric circles. This clock was designed and constructed by Mary Carmen's father, the person who had died a week before. He was the second of three generations who founded and built and are still running an internationally-known clock business based in Zacatlán. This is the only double-faced garden clock in Mexico, and perhaps the world, where both clocks are run by the same mechanism. In another posting of this series, I will take you on a visit to the clock factory, and its very unusual display.

The game of balero looks easy, but isn't. While wandering through the plaza, I encountered this young man at a small table full of traditional hand-carved wooden toys. He cleverly caught my attention by casually flipping the solid wooden cylinder up in the air and catching it on the wooden nipple extending above the handle in his hand. This is the game of balero, or "bullet mold." The wooden cylinder is generally made of cedar, willow or poplar. The bottom of the cylinder end facing him has a small hole into which the nipple fits. He did it so easily and casually that he was able to persuade me to take a try. Needless to say, I failed abysmally, even after numerous attempts. Generally there are several players, and they bet on how many successful tosses they will have out of a given number of tries. The game is widely played in Latin America, and comes with a variety of different moves including "the double, the vertical, the mariquita, the stab, the Buenosairean, etc." My thanks to Mary Carmen for emailing me this information.

El Balcon restaurant lives up to its name. El Balcon, which means "the balcony," sits at the end of a narrow spur of land that extends out into the Jilguero Gorge. The restaurant is the building you can see just above center in in the photo. The black rectangular section running along its front is a cantilevered, glassed-in balcony with tinted windows. The result is a spectacular 180 degree view of the deep gorge separating El Balcon from Zacatlán on the opposite side.

The tinted-window dining area of El Balcon faces across the gorge toward Zacatlán. Our table was in the corner area you can see in the upper right of the photo. It you look closely, you can see the line of structures on top of the plateau across the Jilguero Gorge. Just below our window were a couple of large, unusually shaped rocks about which there is an indigenous legend. It seems a beautiful maiden fell in love with a young man forbidden to her. When they consumated their love, the gods sent a bolt of lightening, turning them to stone.

Christopher and I enjoy the view...and the food. Often a restaurant with a fabulous view will slack off when it comes to the quality of the food, thinking that the view is enough to draw patrons. Not so with El Balcon. They specialize in beef dishes, while also carrying fish and chicken and other entrees. Mary Carmen recommended the Res Azteca (Aztec Beef). I took her advice, while Christopher tried the filet mignon. Neither of us was disappointed. The beef was unbelievably tender and juicy. If I've had better, I can't remember when. The Res Azteca was covered with an edible black corn fungus called Huitlacoche, a great delicacy. Cheese was melted over the fungus. It sounds kind of odd, but it was delicious. If you visit El Balcon, I strongly recommend it. Photo by Mary Carmen Olvera Trejo.

A view down the gorge, toward...more gorges and more mountains. In a later post you will see some of the villages we visited in the mountains in the far background, including a view of Zacatlán from near their summit. You can get down into these gorges, but the roads are winding, rough, and mostly unpaved. There are also trails down, but the hike back up would be daunting, although the indigenous people continue to use them after thousands of years.

Agapanthus, also known as "Lily of the Nile" is neither a lily nor from the Nile. We found this lovely cluster of Agapanthus africanus along the cliff edge near El Balcon. The local name is Agapanto, or Flores del Amor (Flowers of Love). It originated in South Africa, but is now cultivated throughout the warm areas of the world. It blooms in Spring and Summer, so we were definitely in the right season.

After lunch, I stepped out onto a rock outcropping to try a photo. I moved cautiously because the drop from the edge of the rock to the canyon bottom was a couple of hundred feet straight down. While I photographed the canyon, Mary Carmen shot one of me. Photo by Mary Carmen Olver Trejo.

The bottom of the canyon. Using my telephoto at extreme range, I captured this quiet pool, fed by a small waterfall which originates in the springs a little further up the canyons. This is the beginning of the roaring white water found further down the barranca. In a future posting of this series, we'll check out some of those huge waterfalls.

This concludes Part 1 of my multi-part series about our Oddyssey to Zacatlán. In Part 2, I will show the dancers of the wildly colorful Ilhuitl Cuaxochitl, or Crown of Flowers Festival. This is a fabulous area, definitely worth visiting again, whether or not the festival is happening at the time. Even with a guide, there was much we didn't have time to see over our 5 day visit. For an account of my friend Dick Davis' visit, click here. Anyone who would like to contact Mary Carmen for more information can email her at If you would like to leave a comment, please do so either by using the comments section below, or by emailing me directly. However, if you leave a question in the comments section PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Diego Rivera, Mexico's greatest muralist

Primping for the Prom? Two pre-hispanic nobles prepare for a public occasion in Mexican muralist Diego Rivera's monumental work at the Palacio National (National Palace) at the Zocalo in Mexico City. As part of our Caravan Tour, we visited several sites in Mexico City prior to setting off for Southern Mexico. One of our stops was to see this famous mural, which extends along the walls of several floors of the Palacio National. It is the opus magnum of Rivera's work, an amazing, thickly-peopled display of 3000 years of Mexican history.

Catedral Metropolitana de la Asunción de Maria. Mexico City's Cathedral is the largest and oldest in the Western Hemisphere. It is the headquarters of the Archdiocese of Mexico. After returning from his conquest of Honduras in 1524, Hernan Cortés ordered the construction of a church over the temple of the Aztec war god, Huitzilpochitli, who was their chief deity. This followed the policy of graphically demonstrating Spanish dominance by erecting Christian churches directly on top of pagan temples. Construction on the present Cathedral, which replaced the original church, began in 1573 and continued for over two centuries to 1813. The Cathedral has suffered from floods, sinking earth, and fires, and has been repaired numerous times. Unfortunately, our stay was too short to visit the interior, which has "two bell towers, a central dome, three main portals, five naves, 51 vaults, 74 arches, 40 columns, five large altars, sixteen chapels, and... approximately 150 windows." Next time...

The Palacio National fills the whole west side of the huge Zocalo. The Zocalo, or main plaza of Mexico City, was mobbed that day, although for all I know, it may be mobbed every day. This is a huge city. Mexico City itself had a population in 2009 of 8.84 million people, but the total metropolitan area is 21.2 million, making it the 3rd largest metropolitan area in the world. Like so much of the rest of the Mexico, the Palacio National is built on the ruins of the past. When this was the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, the Emperor Moctezuma built his palace, called the "New Homes," on this site. The palace was destroyed by the Spanish in the taking of Tenochtitlan, and Cortés ordered his own palace to be built in the same location. Later, Cortés sold his palace to King Phillip II and it became the seat of the Spanish Viceroys. In the 18th Century, the current Palacio was built to house them. After the War of Independence from Spain, the Palacio housed all the presidential, legislative, and supreme court functions of the national government. Today, it houses the offices of the President and several of the national ministries, including Finance and Public Credit.

Keeping watch. This handsome young military policeman guarded the main gate through which the tourists pass to view the interior of the Palacio. More military police guarded the interior gateways, and we had to open all bags and backpacks for inspection.
Central courtyard and portales of the Palacio. The Palacio was built in classic Spanish colonial style. The area of the huge building which we visited contained a central courtyard and fountain surrounded by three tiers of open-air, arched walkways. Behind the arches on the 2nd floor, and surrounding the main staircase, are vast murals by Diego Rivera who covered the walls from floor to ceiling with the entire, complex history of Mexico. The scenes, painted between 1929 and 1951, are jammed with people. Many of these are historical figures, while many others are nameless peasants and workers from pre-hispanic to modern times. The scenes are not the tame, sanitized, civics-class historical images that US and Canadian citizens may be used to seeing on their public buildings. Rivera had strong political views, and created his mural in the years following the Mexican Revolution. He was also powerfully influenced by the Russian Revolution and the struggle against fascism and nazism during the 1930s and 40s.

A meeting of equals. Two pre-hispanic nobles meet, backed by their richly clothed retinues. From their dress and adornment they are clearly from different empires or kingdoms. Rivera shows them in animated discussion, possibly of trade issues or border transgressions. Notice the small hairless dog at the heels of the noble on the left. He is probably a xolotzcuintli, a dog raised for both religious and culinary reasons. The setting is the ancient city of Tajin, capital of the Totonacs, north of present-day Vera Cruz. From the design on his shield, the figure on the left may be an Aztec emissary, while the figure on the right is probably a Totonac lord. The Totonacs had been conquered by the Aztecs and were paying them regular tribute at the time Cortés arrived.

Tajin, the great capital of the Totonacs. This painting closely follows the actual structure of the ruins at Tajin. Their temples were noted for the upturned, almost Asian cornices, and the lines of niches built into each level of the temple. The civilization which built Tajin flourished between 600 and 1200 AD, and its influence stretched all the way down the Gulf Coast into Maya territory. Tajin gained prominence after the decline and fall of Teotihuacan Empire in Central Mexico.

Danza de los Voladores. Above you see Rivera's rendering of the Dance of the Flyers, an extremely ancient ritual which may have originated in the mountainous areas of present-day Vera Cruz State, and then spread widely, in this case to the ancient Totonacs of Tajin. These rituals are still carried out throughout Mexico. Carole and I saw them in Chapultepec Park in Mexico City, and later at Puerto Vallarta on the Pacific Coast. The dancers ascend the poles, which are 30 meters (98 feet) high, and then four of them begin whirling about the pole, upside down with their feet tied to the end of the ropes, as the ropes are gradually extended further and further out. While they are whirling, the fifth of the troupe stays on top, beating a drum and blowing a flute. The ritual was meant to appeal to the gods to end drought. However, today it is mainly performed as a tourist attraction, a different sort of "rainmaking."

Doing it the old-fashioned way. Grains have been ground world-wide in this fashion since stone-age times. The roller is called a mano, and the tray is a metate. You can still find a mano and metate set in most hardware stores where I live. They are sold as kitchen equipment, not as tourist souvenirs. In this case, the woman is preparing maiz (corn) for tortillas, seen on the griddle behind her. Tortillas are also extremely ancient in origin, and still ubiquitous in Mexico. The panel where this appears illustrates the Huastec civilization, which existed in the coastal area north of present-day Vera Cruz. Their language is related to the Maya language and the Huastec may have been a segment of Maya culture cut off from the main area in the south by historical migrations. The Huastec built cities and had a high level of culture, especially music. Although the woman above is partially clothed, the Huastecs wore no clothes until the Spanish Church authorities finally forced them.

Ancient women preparing cotton cloth. Cortés and his men remarked on the extremely fine cotton clothing among the indigenous people they encountered on the way to conquering the Aztecs. Above, Rivera has used his own face for the woman on the right with the round face and bulging eyes. He often used his own face or the face of wives, or lovers, or friends in his murals.

Scene from the tianguis, or central market, of Tenochtitlan, the Aztec capital. Cortés and his men expressed their amazement at the thousands of people who participated in this market. Available in the tianguis were every sort of food or other product imaginable, including the services of a prostitute exhibiting her wares, and a recently butchered human arm, both shown above. The Aztecs engaged in ritual cannibalism. Some archaeologists postulate that the cannibalism was also for dietary reasons, because their food system--while innovative--was not sufficient to provide all the protein they needed. Rivera, while he sympathized with the native inhabitants whose brilliant civilizations were destroyed by the Spanish, did not sugarcoat some of the grim realities.

An ancient workshop creates beautiful gold jewelry. A mixed group of men and women work to smelt, mould, and shape ornaments to be worn by indigenous nobles and others rich enough to possess them. While preparing this photo, I noticed the oven being used to smelt the gold. The old baker who makes my bread in a tiny shop at the back of his house uses an oven virtually identical to the one Rivera painted above. Another ancient technology lives on in the age of space travel and the internet.

Cortés and the Spanish fight for their lives. Contrary to popular belief, the Conquest was not a "walk in the park" with the Indians fleeing Spanish guns and horses. The Aztecs fought bitterly and with such bravery, skill and ingenuity that it aroused the admiration of the Spanish themselves. The battle for Tenochtitlan lasted many weeks, with ferocious combat virtually every day. In order to overcome the Aztec defenses, the Spanish had to tear down the city, stone by stone. They expressed some regrets at this since they considered it to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world. In addition, Cortés and his men would almost certainly have been defeated and ended up on Aztec sacrificial altars without the assistance of tens of thousands of indigenous allies. These allies had been enemies of the Aztecs, or were in some cases subject peoples who saw a chance for freedom from Aztec domination. In the end, they traded subjugation to the Aztecs for a much more brutal and thorough-going subjugation under the Spanish.

What it was all about. The Spanish cloaked their Conquest under the mantle of Christianity and spreading civilization to the barbarians, the usual excuses of imperialists down to modern times. As always, the real driving motivation was greed, well expressed by Rivera in this vignette of Spanish traders in Vera Cruz. The rather gray and pasty-looking fellow on the left was modeled on a friend of Rivera. The first things the Spanish sought were gold and silver and precious jewels. Mining was the favored activity for centuries, with Mexico producing 2/3 of the world's silver supply at one point. Hundreds of thousands of Indians died digging it out.

Welcome to New Spain. Above, an African slave is held tightly in preparation for his branding, while another waits apathetically in the background. The Spanish imported Africans because the indigenous people were dying like flies in the face of European diseases and extreme overwork. The music of Vera Cruz, where this scene takes place, still reflects African influences. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of Cortés young lieutenants, wrote rather matter-of-factly about the wholesale branding of indigenous slaves, including men, women, and children so that they could be properly allotted to the conquistadors. There was constant grumbling among Cortés men about his tendency to keep the best of everything, including good-looking women (properly branded, of course).

The role of the Church was to teach the indigenous people the value of cooperation. Rivera shows a priest with a cross urging on a straining group of Indian workers. Since much of the work in the early years revolved around the construction of great religious edifices, and the clearing and tilling of vast lands to support the Church's needs, the Church leaders had a common interest in helping the conquistadors and their hacienda-owning successors to subjugate the population.

Another, somewhat lesser role. Some priests, and even the occasional bishop, protested the most brutal extremes practiced against the indigenous people. Diego Rivera acknowledges this in the scene above. The priest with the cross confronts an arrogant Spaniard while desperate Indians clutch at his robes. Between the priest and the Spaniard lies a dead man, killed by one of the Spaniards. Behind the priest on the left, other Church officials eagerly accept offerings from members of their flock, greed glittering in their eyes. Some of the Spanish atrocities would have made Heinrich Himmler blush. These tended to cause the local people to flee into the mountains, making it difficult to raise a workforce. Thus the positive actions of some members of the Church may have resulted from mixed motives.

Following the War of Independence, Mexico suffered repeated foreign invasions. One of the most disastrous of these (for Mexico) was the invasion by the United States in 1846, in Rivera's scene above. President James K. Polk, a Virginia slaveholder, determined that the best hope for the survival and extension of slavery as an economic system in the United States was territorial expansion. He began this with the annexation of Texas, which had already been seized from Mexico by slave-holding immigrants primarily from Southern US states who had created the Republic of Texas in 1836. Mexico had abolished slavery shortly after Independence and this was one of the fundamental issues that caused the Southerners who moved there to break away. After the US annexation in 1846, tensions increased. A manufactured "border incident" led to wholesale invasion, and ultimately to the theft at gunpoint of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and California (not to say Texas). The conquest by the United States was so outrageous that even General Zachary Taylor, who led one of the invading armies, felt that it was unjust. A young congressman named Abraham Lincoln protested bitterly, and some of the New England states actually considered secession. Little of this is taught in US schools, although the history is there for all to see, and few Americans have any but the fuzziest understanding of the actions which brought about the current geographical shape of the United States.

"Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss..." Mexico's history following the War of Independence played out like the words of a famous rock song. Many of those in leadership when the Independence War ended had zero interest in social revolution. They just wanted to move up and take over the privileges and riches of the former Spanish overlords. The hacienda system continued, and although there were constant coups and revolts by various generals, the lot of the campesinos changed little. About a decade after the US sundered half the country, a great reformer named Benito Juarez was elected. Remarkably, he was a full-blooded Indian, 150 years before the US elected its first non-white president. He pushed strongly for reforms, and especially sought to break the stranglehold the Church held on Mexican society. The conservatives revolted but Juarez ultimately won the Reform War. Many of these themes are expressed in Diego Rivera's panel above, with Juarez and the reformers on the upper left, and some of their haciendado opponents on the right. In the foreground, a fat friar, a be-ribboned general, and a bishop look on with smug approval as campesinos trudge in front of them, bent over with huge loads.

After the Reforms, treachery and a French invasion. A short time after Juarez' victory in the Reform War, the conservatives struck back, encouraging the French to invade and install an Austrian Duke named Maximilian as Emperor of Mexico. This led to a prolonged war, coinciding with the American Civil War. Juarez finally forced the French to withdraw, and this led to the defeat, capture and execution of Maximilian. Abraham Lincoln strongly supported Juarez, politically and with arms, and at one point sent a US army to the border to encourage the French to depart. Lincoln is remembered fondly in Mexico for his friendship with Juarez and support at a critical moment in Mexico's history. Above, Mexican soldiers blaze away at the French, and others hold Maximilian at gun point after his surrender at Querétaro.

¡Viva la huelga! A worker rouses his mates to la huelga (the strike) against oppressive conditions. Just above the speaker's head, a worker brandishes a hammer and another a sickle. These symbols do not contain the deeply negative connotations in Mexico that they have in the United States. Diego Rivera was a member of the Communist Party of Mexico for many years, and his work is strongly sympathetic to the plight of workers and campesinos, and to the reforms that the Mexican Revolution brought. Rivera was a rather odd communist though, since his clients included Nelson Rockefeller among others. Famously, Rockefeller destroyed the Rivera mural he had commissioned for the Rockefeller Center in New York, because a central figure in the painting was Vladimir Lenin, which Rivera refused to remove or paint over.

Workers educating themselves about Capitalism. Above, two workers cheerfully chat while one holds a copy of Karl Marx' Das Kapital (El Capital in Spanish). Karl Marx himself appears elsewhere in the mural. Having been raised under the extremely narrow range of political viewpoints considered to be "legitimate" in the US, I have found it astonishing to discover portraits of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Che Guevara, and even Ho Chi Minh in prominent, even honored, positions in Mexican government buildings. It is beyond my imagination that such art would survive even moments in my home country, much less to have been commissioned by the government itself.

If you ever have a chance to see Diego Rivera's work, don't hesitate. It is remarkable, stupendous, funny, disturbing, outrageous, and much more. If you would like to leave a comment, you can do so in the comments section below, or by emailing me directly. If you leave a question in the comments section below, PLEASE leave your email address so that I may respond.

Hasta luego, Jim