Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Xochimilco and the UNAM murals

On Monday, all the museums in Mexico City are closed. It was a lovely day so it seemed a good idea to visit the floating gardens at Xochimilco, easily accessible by light rail from our place. There is a kind of reed which the indigenous inhabitants discovered could be woven into a structure to hold soil and thus make beds for growing vegetables and flowers (these are called chinampas) way back when Mexico City was still a lake, and the many canals of Xochimilco are the remnants of the far southern tip of that lake. There are several different docks from which decorated boats carry sightseers on trips through the canals. The boats are called trajineras and are propelled by a boatman using a long pole, a bit like a gondolier. There are boats with musicians, whether Mariachis, marimba bands or simple guitar groups like the one who serenaded us, and other boats with food of all kinds, as well as peddlers offering all the usual stuff, rugs, jewellery, pottery, and lots of balloons and children's toys. On Sundays the waterways are choked with large boats with family groups out having as good time, but on this Monday it was very quiet.

Again, I am having no end of trouble posting a video. Here is a photo of the band who serenaded us (La Bamba) as I can't post the video I took .

The waterways are very pretty, with nurseries and houses, churches, small workshops etc. on either side. I saw some cows on a plot of land and this seemed such a rare sight in Mexico City that I took a photo. There are tantalising paths leading off to who knows what. Also we saw lots of school kids being rowed across the canals to get home from school at lunchtime, and our very handsome boatman even gave a lift to a local woman whose husband had left their boat on the other side and needed to get across. Music and and peddlers assailed us constantly. I guess we fell into a couple of classic tourist traps. First, we hadn't figured out the cost of the boat in advance (but we negotiated this before setting off). Then, while on the water, after refusing many offers, we didn't ascertain the price when we ordered what we expected to be a snack of 3 quesadillas. What we got was three entire meals (comida corrida style) , each with 3 quesadillas, rice, frijoles, and tortillas (see photos). I didn't have much trouble polishing off the lot, despite it being a bit heavier on the oil than I prefer, and a lot dearer than such a meal would have been on dry land. But Judy is a lot less fond of Mexican food and didn't eat much, and nor did Bev. Here is a picture of the meal!

Bev bought some silver earrings very similar to ones I bought in Taxco a couple of years ago. I thought the price we negotiated was pretty good, but when I looked up what I had paid in Taxco, mine were much cheaper. But most jewellery I have bought at markets in Mexico ends up a lot dearer than Taxco, and they were still less than half of what they'd cost in Melbourne, and cheaper than a similar pair I have seen recently in a local store. And they look great on her, which is the main thing!

After our couple of hours on the boat, we decided to go to the University (UNAM, where I am currently studying Spanish) to look at the murals on some of the major buildings. The most spectacular is the library, which is a tower building entirely covered with a mosaic mural by Juan O'Gorman. Each piece of coloured stone in the mosaic comes from Mexico, the many colours used coming from different regions, and for me the knowledge of the geology of the country, and the logistic and engineering feats the mural embodies add to the sense of wonder engendered by the stories the mural tells. There are elements representing science and religion, within both indigenous and Hispanic cultures and world views. I am becoming more familiar with figures like Tlaloc (the rain god) and Quetzalcoatl (Cortes's conquest was made easier because he was seen by some of the indigenous peoples as a reincarnation or return of this legendary ruler). On various other buildings there are other murals: I will persist with trying to post my own photos. But in the meantime, I googled "UNAM murals" and found the following link to much better photos on the web than mine. I have not used flickr before but have heard it recommended: I suggest you check it out, I managed to see the photos without being a member.

The Wikipedia entry on UNAM also has lots of information about the campus and the murals, which have UNESCO World Heritage listing. It is a huge campus and we only toured a very small part of it, following what I remembered from the guided tour I had last time I was here as part of my course. I really wanted Bev and Judy to get some sense of where I would be studying, and didn't even get to show them the wonderful pool!

I am now going to try once again to post a few photos from UNAM, and then I will post this entry, which I have been drafting for weeks, on the blog. One of these days, when I am less busy with my Spanish homework or have more computer access, I will figure out a way to get my videos up on a website somewhere!

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