Mexico Part 4: Street Scenes and Architecture

September 13th, 2011

The fourth in a series; see also parts 1, 2, and 3.

This post is going to be more a photolog than a narrative, and I apologize in advance for it being a bit disjointed.

I’ve already touched on these themes a bit in the other post, but now it’s time to focus on them. Immediately after leaving the airport, it’s quite clear that things are a little different. Trees are square. People ride around in the backs of pickups — sometimes on top of piles of debris. Left turns are made in front of other lanes of traffic going the same way. But those are just the things obvious from the road. It’s a lot of fun to enjoy the differences. First, the ubiquitous square trees.

They look pretty, and are found all over. I also found carefully-manicured trees in cone shapes, more cylindrical shapes, etc. It seems that tree care is taken seriously in Mexico. It was also not uncommon to see the bottom few feet of a tree painted white. A park in Guanajuato had a whole bunch of trees carefully trimmed.

And from up on the mountain, it still looked impressive (the green area behind the dome).

Driving in Mexico was interesting for a lot of reasons. The highways there aren’t quite as limited access as the freeways in the USA. It was quite common to see bicyclists, walkers, a mule, or some cattle ambling along the side of the road. Roadside taco stands don’t require taking an exit. You just pull off the road because it’s right there.

Some sights were a bit surprising. Cattle in a pickup, with rope, for instance.

Or cattle crossing the highway on the overpass.

Street vendors were everywhere. Stop at a red light and someone might spring from the side of the road and suddenly start washing your windshield (expecting a tip); try to sell you flowers, juice, or bug zappers; or even throw business card-sized advertisements for adult websites into any open windows they can find. One night we saw an incredible fire juggler. I would have tipped him well but he was too far away to do so before the light turned green.

Mexico’s history stretches back into prehistoric times, and we saw the Teuchitlan ruins at Guachimontones one day. It was truly a remarkable feeling to be able to walk down the middle of the ancient ball court, or to climb up one pyramid and see the other from it.

It’s not exactly architecture, but Jacob and Oliver sure enjoyed visiting the hot springs at Bosque de la Primavera. Jacob still remembers that “where the steam is, the water is 200 degrees, and we CAN’T TOUCH IT THERE!”

Back in Guadalajara, here’s a photo from the inside of the grand old cathedral.

Compared to the cathedrals we saw in Europe, this was of a similar general size and design, and perhaps only slightly newer. But one big difference: worshipers outnumbered tourists at every Mexican cathedral I saw, whether in the center of Guadalajara or at a rainy intersection in Guanajuato or a plaza in Tlaquepaque. It made them feel more alive, and perhaps more sacred as well.

One surprise was seeing people sitting on the steps of the cathedral in downtown Guadalajara selling trinkets such as beads. I think the only other place I had seen something like that was in New Orleans.

All of Guadalajara’s Centro was beautiful. Much of it survives from colonial days; I think a person could spend days exploring its museums and buildings. Way too many of my 900 photos were taken in Centro to post on the blog, but just for flavor, here’s one of the less than historic scenes.

Yes, that is a bus shaped like a tequila bottle.

Fountains were beautiful and common across Mexico. A few of them were easily reachable by boys, and ours sure loved those.

There was a lot of public art, including this interesting chair/skeleton/I’m not sure what it is:

And, just for good measure while walking around Centro, they tossed in an apparent Redundant Array of Inexpensive Typewriters.

I don’t know what they were doing, but there were about a dozen guys sitting out in the sun typing on their manual typewriters on their identical tables.

And who can leave Guadalajara without seeing one of North America’s most impressive traffic circles. I’ve got to hand it to the Mexicans for making something that is normally really boring into an interesting work of art.

Over in Guanajuato, a lot of driving takes place in the city’s vast underground tunnel system. Here’s a scene emerging from one of them.

Guanajuato was already getting decorated for Mexican independence day festivities (Sept. 15-16) while we were there.

Here’s a typical Guanajuato street scene.

Many of the streets were closed to traffic — and perhaps not wide enough to handle vehicles anyway. Those streets had a wonderful peaceful and slow feel to them.

I feel that I’ve barely done the trip justice with this post. The feelings of walking down a beautiful Guanajuato street, or stepping into a Spanish cathedral, or even seeing a bunch of guys with typewriters, just can’t be replicated. It’s brimming with history and character, and shouldn’t be missed.

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  1. Matt Hellige

    Regarding the typewriters…
    http://echopark.patch.com/articles/the-writer-for-hire

    Reply

  2. Paul Johnson

    Looks like they’re wide enough to handle mopeds, motorcycles, bicycles and scooters, all of which are vehicles.

    Reply

  3. Gunnar

    The typewriter guys are called “evangelists” (not because of religious connotations, but because they were the people that brought the good, and sometimes not-so-good, news — That’s the meaning of “evangelist” in Greek), and are mostly a leftover from simpler times… But yes, they are still active. It’s not only people who cannot read/write who employs their services nowadays (“formal” illiteracy is very low, although functional illiteracy still has a way to go — I mean, basically all people can read and write, IIRC the percentage was clearly above 90%, but for many people the effort in reading and the lack of vocabulary means they still cannot understand what they read or write in a coherent way that makes them be understood), but people who need to take papers to banks or public offices which have to be filled in clearly and cleanly.

    Of course, not all evangelists work on a bench on a square — those are quite prominent, but you might have seen several office supplies stores advertising they are also “escritorio público” (public desk). Of course, their numbers are shrinking as they gradually become internet cafes.

    Oh, FWIW – The square where you will find most old-school evangelists in Mexico City is Plaza de Santo Domingo. They work together with printing workshops (offset, silk-screen, …), and are said to be one of the largest fake paperwork issuers in the country. It is rumored you can buy anything from a block of invoices for which the government has no trace to a fake posgraduate university degree (mockingly, when you doubt somebody’s credentials, you say they are graduates of the Universidad de Santo Domingo). In fact, we had even a Federal Education Secretary, Fausto Calderón Alzati, who had to step down when it was discovered his doctorate was false (and he had only a “licenciatura”, equivalent to a B.Sc.)

    Regarding the bench you took a photo of: I know many foreigners are amazed at the familiarity we have here with skulls and different representations of death in a funny way. No, I won’t repeat the (false IMO) meme that “we Mexicans are friends with death, instead of fearing it, we laugh at it”. Of course we are people, just like anybody, and fear it. But you will find many, many artworks (mainly starting with the great impulse of the late-XIX century engraver José Guadalupe Posada) where death is just one more common visitor. Posada started drawing skulls in order to hide the identity of the politicians he was mocking in a time of strong censorship, and it stuck, and… many of us love it :) Sadly you didn’t stay until closer to November 1st (Día de Muertos, Day of the Dead), which is probably the most beautiful, colorful, joyful parties of our calendar.

    Reply

    John Goerzen Reply:

    Thanks for the typewriter explanation!

    Yep, I was aware of that artistic streak. And in fact had thought we might go see some of the famous murals, but it didn’t work out this time. (Also some of them may not have been appropriate for our children.) On my list for next time ;-)

    Reply

  4. Jordi Gutiérrez Hermoso

    I used to live in Guanajuato. The carefully trimmed trees you mentioned are in Jardín de la Unión. I once wrote more about the whole town:

    http://www.everything2.com/title/Guanajuato

    A friend from Canada recently visited me in Mexico City, and she was really enamoured with our trees. She kept taking pictures of them:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/juilletrain/sets/72157627586875088/

    Reply

  5. JL

    John, of course you are the only one who can discern what is appropriate for your children and not. But I think that you might perceive it to be “non appropriate” because there is an inherit cultural difference in this point. Death as a cartoon character or as a concept, is not perceived in Mexico as it is in the US. In mexico it is perceived as (on my opinion) what it is, the one certainty in life, and accepted as such, and the day of the dead is the day when, according to tradition, our loved ones that have died before us, come for a day to “visit”, and that why it is a Day of celebration, celebration for the opportunity to remember and honor our grandfathers and grand mothers, parents, uncles and aunts and anyone who we have loved and is no longer with us. This in contraposition to its analog in the US is not supposed to be scary or morbid in anyway but happy.

    if you can watch this

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=94Itpne_1Ww&feature=results_main&playnext=1&list=PL07AD1AA82B78873E

    Good Luck and hope this is the first of many visits to our beautiful country.

    Reply

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