The air of my little Brisbane flat rumbles with the mariachi music of ‘Trio Águila Hidalguense’ – Violins with folk sensibility, latino-Spanish guitar rhythms, and high toned male choirs that could invoke passion in even the most stone faced stick-in-the mud. This was just one of the many busking bands I encountered during my time in Mexico. Listening to them now as I write, I reflect on the ways Mexico presented itself to me, what Mexico means to me now, and how those ideas may have changed from the ones I had before the trip began.
My first sight of Mexico City was from several hundred feet above the earth. My Aeromexico flight approached the airport and I looked down at the sprawling chaos of slums, industry, and traffic. The general urban industrialisation went as far as the cloud of smog allowed my eyes to see – no earthly horizon perceivable – while the plane’s decent over Mexico City seemed to last for hours. In many ways, Mexican culture illustrates collision between pre-colonial Meso-America, colonial Spain, and contemporary U.S.A. This cultural collide permeated much of Mexico, and certainly Mexico’s architecture. My simple description of Mexico City’s vibe would be gritty European buildings painted with beautifully natural looking colours of all kinds. Mexico City’s financially rich areas, such as Escandon, or the historic downtown district exemplifies the grand and colourful European image. The majority of Mexican buildings however are simple and utilitarian in construction due to economic hardships – yet, despite this, colour was still present. Buildings with bold singular colour diversified the urbanised hill-scapes into complex Jackson Pollock-esk paintings of economic hardship. Despite the certain challenges faced by many Mexican people, their love of earth born colours result in buildings that truly come to life.
Colour is a good segue into the small amount Mexican art I managed to see. Frida Kahlo’s family home an obvious example, and was a ‘must’ on my list. Blue in its simplicity, with a central court lush with tropical trees, a few deep coloured Mesa-American feeling sculptures, and plenty of cats; Freda’s family home had a magical feeling of both historic conservation, and spontaneous abstraction and passion. A particular highlight was seeing the many plaster castes and dresses worn by Kahlo, and seeing the art workshops of Diego and Kahlo. I also visited the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patino. While fantastic works of art are hidden within its walls, the exterior grounds also delight – lush grass fields, bounding hairless Mexican dogs, and many peacocks the perfect accompaniment for the many fantastic works of art.
The Mariachi music on ‘Trio Águila Hidalguense’s’ CD has now come to an end, and I find myself back in Australia. Importantly, the mariachi music, though historically important, is about as informative of modern Mexico as the Bee Gees are of modern Australia. On one hand, many of the Mexicans I met loved rock music and led me to believe a strong, musically diverse scene was present in Mexico City. On the other hand, Spanish influence is in abundance from the street buskers to the night clubs. For instance, while in the city of Puebla I went to a few Latino ‘disco’ dance clubs. Certainly, they played a lot of popular American dance music, yet, there was always a strong mix of Spanish rhythms. To me Mexico was and is a place of warm people, delicious and strange food, amazing artists, and spontaneous moment-to-moment living that (perhaps ironically) also is a landscape and culture of profound historic importance.