Mexico City and Its Palaces: Worlds Within Worlds

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Mexico Series: Part 1

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A little while ago, I told you I would post excerpts of a talk I gave on Mexico City. Well, here’s numero uno for you armchair travelers.

As you all know, I am not an historian, an archeologist or anthropologist. I’m just a traveler who has had lifelong fascination with Mexico. While it’s true, I studied Mexican History and literature in college, I didn’t major in these subjects, so really, I’m just an educated tourist.

I just read an interview with a writer who was disputing the time-worn dictum to write “what you know.” Rather, she said, you should write what you wonder about.

And that’s pretty much what I did in Palace of the Blue Butterfly. Writing about the city, researching it, traveling there, people watching when I got there, all let me spend thousands of hours in a place I always wondered about, a place I have come to love.

One of the things that always strikes me when I go to Mexico City, a place that has been a seat of power since 1400, is how very complicated its history is, how many layers there are, how, as I overheard someone say in a restaurant — he had obviously just returned from Mexico City — “there are worlds within worlds there”. I later borrowed the line for my book because it’s so true.

When I gave this presentation— “Mexico City and Its Palaces” — at a salon we have up here in our community a few weeks ago, I thought of the talk as more of a tour than a lecture. I thought of it as “Five Days in Mexico City with Jane.” During this time, I hoped to introduce everybody to some of these “worlds within worlds” through Mexico’s iconic architectural treasures. In the end, I hoped everyone would learn enough to be even more curious about the complex and fascinating history, the cultural, historical and political achievements they represent, and about the lives of the people who live there, our neighbors to the south.

First, just a bit about how I was drawn into a love affair with Mexico.

The summer I was seventeen, I was moping around trying to figure out how to survive another hot, boring summer in Charlotte, North Carolina. Charlotte was at that time—before Bank of America came to town and turned it into the Wall Street of the South— a bit like Fresno, California — a trucking and dairy farm hub. In my adolescent angst, I knew I was wasting my life, that there was absolutely NOTHING to do but attend dumb debutante parties and slather myself with Bain de Soleil and iodine while lying in the sun along with the same gaggle of girls. How had such a fate befallen me?

All that was about to change.

I can still remember when my mother came down the stairs and said, “I’ve got an idea. Why don’t we go to Mexico? Why don’t we drive?”

So the next thing I knew, we’d loaded up my mother’s 1967 Buick Elektra, armed ourselves with AAA Triptiks, my high-school Spanish dictionary and we were headed down Mexico Way.

I’d never seen the southwest, California or the Rockies, so four days later when we crossed over from Laredo, Texas — our first destination was the town of Saltillo — I couldn’t believe the grandeur, the huge mountains, the sky.

The next day we drove through the Huasteca, a mountainous region that looks like a cross between Switzerland and Palm beach, up one minute into a rain forest, and then down into sunlit river valleys, then back up again into mountains where the orchid-like flowers of the Pata de Mula tree cascaded over the road and waterfalls spilled from the hillsides into green pools.

To be continued . . .

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