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Published: July 12th 2010
An especially long weekend in honour of 'Cinco de Mayo' meant I finally had the opportunity to visit Mexico City. The Friday before was 'El dia de los ninos' which my students informed me meant I wasn't allowed to make them work in lessons. Even my adult students defended their right to popcorn and DVDs in lesson-time despite the logic that they are paying for English lessons and if they don't want to come one day they are old enough to make the decision to stay at home and put a DVD on themselves. Maybe the lure of free popcorn was too much because nearly all my students attended their lessons and despite my gallent efforts at locating suitable DVDs to offer the choice was unanimous and I had the joy of watching the first half of the new 'Alice in Wonderland' four times in a row! Fortunately I did get a short break and managed two rounds of musical chairs in the courtyard!
I spent most of today on a bus, not willing to take the overnight bus which would have left me alone in Mexico City at 5am, not my favourite time to get up at the best of
times and certainly not alone in a strange city with a reputation for crime. Still, after a good night's sleep in my own bed, and a pleasant enough trip on a first class coach I was feeling pretty confident I could survive a few days in the capital without any mugging or mayhem. My first meetings in Mexico City seemed determined to make me think the worst of the city. As I headed for the secure taxi booth and bought my ticket someone called out 'No senorita, don't go with taxi, it's dangerous'. Already having bought the ticket I ignored the voice and found my taxi. The driver was a friendly old man, but no sooner had I given him my hostel address then he said 'why are you staying here? It's not a good area. People will take your bag and your money. Go somewhere else!' We drove into the city and slowly went around the one-way system twice looking for the right address. Eventually the driver decided to just drop me off telling me I'd only have to walk two blocks! Obviously his anxiety over my safety didn't extend to seeing me to my front door. I found
my hostel easily, checked into my room, located the kitchen, bathrooms and internet and then set off to the Zocolo to form my own opinion about the city.
The Zocalo is the main plaza in the hostoric centre, and for me a bare 5 minutes walk from my front door. The plaza measures approximately 240 square metres maing it one of the largest in the world. As I walked, the streets were crowded with people, tourists and locals alike, while street performers gathered knots of people amongst the milling throngs. The plaza is dominated by a huge Mexican flag while opposite stands the impressive Metropolitan Cathedral. The Metropolitan Cathedral is the largest and oldest cathedral in the Americas and seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico. Situated atop the former Aztec sacred precinct near the Templo Mayor the cathedral was built in sections from 1573 to 1813 around the original church that was constructed soon after the Spanish conquest of Tenochtitlán, eventually replacing it entirely. Spanish architect Claudio de Arciniega planned the construction and its design is a mixture of three architectural styles that predominated during the colonial period, Renaissance, Baroque and Neo-classic.
I was standing in front of
the impressive cathedral, raising my camera when a voice said 'Excuse me? Do you speak English?' Turning to face the teenage girl I confirmed that I did... and received a request for help with her English homework! We were soon reintroducing ourselves in front of the cathedral while her dad hovered with the video camera and I answered questions and listened to a memorised speech about what I should visit during my stay. It wasn't bad for my acting debut and I am now the star of 'Talk to a real live English-speaking person and present to the class on Monday!'
I finally went inside the cathedral, starting with the smaller Tabernacle on the right. It was built by Lorenzo Rodríguez during the height of the Baroque period between 1749 and 1760, to house the archives and vestments of the archbishop. It also functioned and continues to function as a place to receive Eucharist and register parishioners. Constructed from the porus volcanic rock, tezontle and white stone in the shape of a Greek cross its southern facade faces the Zócalo and it is connected to the main cathedral through a chapel.
Moving to the main cathedral the first thing I
saw was the Altar of Forgiveness, the impressive golden altar designed by Spanish architect Jerónimo Balbás which now dominates the central nave. I walk around the interior and at the back saw the even more grandiose Altar of the Kings, also designed by Balbás. The altar is an impressive 25 metres tall and takes its name from the statues of saintly royalty which form part of its decoration, including six female royal saints and six canonized kings.
Back outside the cathedral I found a group of street performers and stopped to watch their energetic dancing, wondering how they could leap about while I was feeling hot from just standing. After returning to the hostel I went in search of the nearest supermarket which proved rather elusive... mainly because I walked four blocks the wrong way to begin with! I had my bag confiscated at the entrance but after explaining it contained my camera (and a few more imaginary valuables) the security guard put the bag away from the others and told me to ask him specifically to get it back. Laden with shopping and my returned bag I trapsed back to the hostel.
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