Image courtesy of El Museo de la Ciudad de México
When he told the newspaper La Jornada that his work isn’t meant to scandalize, perhaps the painter Daniel Lezama was being disingenuous. It is, after all, laden with Mexican iconography – the flag and its colors, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the most popular soccer teams – interlaced with nudity, implicit incest, blood and violence. The most disturbing aspect of Lezama’s work is how close it mirrors present reality. Here, in a detail from his painting La gran noche mexicana (The Great Mexican Night), he mixes women who protested nude on Paseo de la Reforma, one of Mexico City’s central boulevards, with a concert that pop singer Juan Gabriel gave in the zócalo, the central square.
Lezama is unusual in contemporary Mexican art. For one thing, he not only paints, he actually knows how to paint. (Painting tends to be treated with contempt here, while the installation is all-encompassing.) A provocative and disquieting exhibition of 40 of his works is on view at the Museo de la Ciudad de México (The Mexico City Museum) on Calle Pino Suárez in the centro histórico until the end of May.
Queens of a certain age here are beside themselves because, as part of her world tour, Liza Minnelli will shortly set foot on Mexican soil after a ten-year absence. Among her activities will be a concert at the Auditorio Nacional in Mexico City on April 28. One hopes that the fragile diva, who has been giving it all she’s got for over 40 years, will not collapse and fall off the stage, as she did in Stockholm four months ago.
Then again, presumably the Swedish queens of a certain age who attended that performance will now have a story to tell their grandchildren — or at any rate their grandneices and grandnephews — which they would not have had if the concert had gone off without a hitch.
What I wonder is whether the 70s superstar has any idea that throughout Mexico there is a chain of boutiques that almost, but not quite, bears her name. The stores in Mexico City have been around for as long as I can remember. The clothing that they sell might be considered fashionable, or even glamorous, depending which turnip truck the beholder just climbed out of.
This photo was taken the other night at about three in the morning at a hole-in-the-wall taco stand on calle Bolivar, a street known for its myriad cantinas. Various different meats had been swirling in that deep fat since approximately one in the afternoon. For the uninitiated, they include slabs of suadero (a cut of beef from the lower part of the rib), extensive tubes of longaniza sausage, festively curling tripes and chunks of pork marinated in chile – all sizzling in the same deep grease. After you place your order, the murderous-looking taquero daintily dips the tortillas in the fat before heating them in the center of the grill, chops the corresponding meats with which to fill them, and voila. Before serving, he’ll ask if you want the tacos garnished with “vegetables.” (He’s referring to chopped onion and cilantro.) The traditional accompaniment is a water-based soft drink known as Boing, which comes in various fruit flavors. The one in the photo is mango.
The intrepid reporter in the photo is named Tania Negrete, but her friends address her with the modest moniker Super Tania. The nickname comes in part from her efforts as a journalist, and two exposés she wrote for Chilango magazine about hoteles de paso.
For the uninitiated, an hotel de paso is of the hot-sheet variety, with rooms usually rented to short-timers, such as the errant party to a not-so-holy matrimony, people who live with their families (and hence lack privacy), as well as established couples looking to spice up their routine. Mexico City is crawling with hoteles de paso, and Super Tania tested the mattresses and dipped her pink-and-white body into the Jacuzzis of literally dozens before filing her stories.
In a hotel on the highway to Cuernavaca, she found the plushest room, known as “The Beach,” which included sand poured over the floor, a pool, a hammock and a skylight. This one cost more than $100 U.S. for a few hours, while others, of the bare-bones, cracked-mirror variety, cost as little as $7 or $8. Tania says that in the cheaper hoteles de paso, there is often evidence of the previous tenants – solid, liquid or congealed – as well as carpeting that has “more hills and valleys than the Sierra Madre mountain range,” and shower curtains whose stains suggest a map of the world.
The Hotel Oslo, at Lázaro Cárdenas and the Viaducto (on the fringes of a dodgy neighborhood known as the Colonia Buenos Aires) is where Super Tania suggests one can find – forgive the expression – the best bang for the buck. Spacious, impeccably clean suites with Jacuzzis and mirrored ceilings can be had for a little over $50 (that’s a daily rate, not for three for four hours). Apparently, some actual tourists have been known to stay in the Oslo.
Here, Super Tania is depicted in a watering hole called El Golfo de León, on Calle Velázquez de León in the San Rafael neighborhood. She is once again hard at work, doing investigative research for a story for Chilango about cantinas. Ultimately she will need to produce a guide to 20 or 30 of them. Her research over the last couple of months has been to say the least intoxicating. She promises her editors that, after just a little more diligent exploration, she will be able to file her copy.
Much of public space in Mexico City has been raped. Enormous billboards are not only in your face on the inner-city highways, they hover over the main boulevards, and even in residential neighborhoods are painted on the sides of buildings or hang like banners over balconies and terraces. Others are pasted on walls hastily constructed beside empty lots.
Much of this signage is illegal, but tolerated. From time to time the city government makes a big noise about how it will soon be clamping down, but the efforts are largely limited to the expulsion of hot air. Even more occasionally the Ministry of Urban Development appears to believe that it is doing its civic by taking an action that would surely provide semiotics professors with material for at least a class: They paste large signs over the offending signs that make clear in bold type that they are there unlawfully. Thus, one eyesore partially covers another.
Labels: Mexico City