Day of the Dead may be that most Mexican of holidays. Every year, flowers are taken to the cemetery, the colorful papel picado is festooned over all the altars, and the dead walk again amongst us. Death is just one part of it, of course. There’s food for them, but food for us too. And that’s a huge a part of the reason this Parisian street pulls out all of the stops – for the living and the dead. As Mexican Streets go, this one could happen in a better place than in Paris.
The Mexican take on this particular day has become some well-received, that the season of dead has resonated in lots of different countries. Paris now witnesses the Mexican catrinas, the pan de muerto and the tequila. And the objective is as ever, to celebrate not death but life, as it should be.
The party is centered around a lodge, also called Adrouet. Set amongst distinctive Parisian doors painted red, and fruit stands and some artistic graffiti that gives life to the old architecture, the street is most famous for the filming of Amelie in 2000. Of course, it is among the most bohemian and touristic districts of the French capital, in Montmartre. For four days this picturesque corner of the city changes its name and goes by the pseudonym “Rue du Mexique.”
November in Paris is cold. Still hundreds of people, French and visitors alike, take to the newly christened Mexico Street to don skeletons, catrina get-ups and eventually the mariachis will just have to strike up a song. While the altars to the dead are set up and contemplated, some of the best-loved songs of Mexico will echo around corners and an ocean away, the distance between France and Mexico is that much less.
Stores sell shawls from Jalisco and the local bars toast with tequila and mezcal. Corners street stands sell tacos on fresh tortillas, and even the salsas are distinctly Mexican. Death is the order of the day, but the celebration is decidedly lively and not just a little bit of fun.
Day of the Dead has passed, but La Rue du Mexique is fondly remembered, even as its old name is restored to use. But then, the dead never rest, neither should their day.
Though the internet makes lots more information available to lots more people, Mexico City libraries have simply not been supplanted. Charged with continually re-inventing themselves, and their places in the public imagination, one can still encounter eras gone by and great historical minds in a library as in few other places.
Knowledge, after all, belongs to everyone. Opening a book, reading it at a study, or just meeting in the silence of one these Mexico City libraries enhances concentration, and provides a welcome respite from everything going on out there in the world.
Of all Mexico City libraries, the oldest were part of the church and one or another of its offshoot organizations. Among these was the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco, founded in the 1530s and surviving today as the Biblioteca José María Lafragua. Most of these ecclesiastical libraries were not truly open to the public, and Mexico had to wait for the National Library of Mexico, inaugurated by Benito Juárez in 1867 to enjoy the benefits of a truly public library system.
The list below is intended to let you enjoy some of that system, too.
Opened just ten years ago, in 2006, the Vasconcelos is visited by thousands for the sheer spectacle of its innovative design. Graced by the iconic whale from artist, Gabriel Orozco, it’s always a good library for art and visual spectacle. The facade retains something of a colonial appearance, but for sheer scale, and jaw-dropping space, the interior must be experienced.
We’ve written a lot about it in these pages, but the UNAM library with the Juan O’Gorman murals remains one of the most outstanding of all Mexico City libraries. As a UNESCO site with some 428,000 volumes in the collection, it’s the biggest in Mexico, but lots of folks visit just to see the facade and the surrounding grounds.
Opened by Benito Juárez in 1867, there’s still a good one million books inside, today administered by the folks from UNAM. Originally located in the San Agustín church in the city center, the current building was opened in 1979. Geometric, and massive, it’s an extraordinary place to visit.
Specializing in economic materials, this collection of some 86,350 books and 114,852 journals is administered by the Secretary of Finance and Public Credit. Founded in 1928, it’s one of the cities true public art spectacles. Inside the main nave of the old Oratory of San Felipe Neri “El Nuevo,” the baroque façade outside is just the beginning. Inside, the murals are futuristic, and not to be missed.
One of Centro’s truly outstanding historical buildings, for centuries it was the convent of the Clarisas from the 16th century. Today it’s something like a “Library of Congress” with a stunning collection of publications and artifacts, but also with a lush, deep, dark intellectual interior, that beckons from centuries past.
Address: Tacuba 29, Centro Histórico
Photographs this page: Flickr – Creative Commons
Mexico City’s Tepito neighborhood has for a millennia history offered resistance, rebellion, and hope. Tenochtitlan relegated dissidents to Tepito’s crooked alleys. The “brave neighborhood,” even hundreds of years later, is still marginalized and bent on survival. Somehow residents seem to bear that history in the very DNA.
With a reputation for violence, deprivation, and overcrowding, some of the great characters of Mexican history have come from Tepito. The cradle of Mexican boxing, in the 1970s an important literary movement emerged in Tepito, and the neighborhood has contributed as much to the culture of the city and country as have many, much wealthier places.
Among all the stories of people whose hard work is performed with an enviable dignity, there are thousands of women who carry out similar work for their families. Resident Mayra Valenzuela Rojas remarked, “In Tepito there’s a matriarchy (…) Every woman has her own story. Each of us is a spark, but together we are lighting a candle for Tepito.”
German photographer, Anja Jensen, is currently exhibiting her work in a show called “Ciudadanas-Caminamos a oscuras” (Citizens-We Walk in the Dark). Having spent months in Tepito, she’s documented the women challenging the stereotypes of the neighborhood.
Jensen was assaulted and threatened, but she was also clothed and cared for by the women who opened their stories and lives to her. The result is a series photographs, “Las Cabronas de Tepito,” (Bad Girls of Tepito) a collective portrait of the matriarchy whose fervor makes the neighborhood better and regularly improves the lives of the people living there.
The photographs will be exhibited through February 12, 2017, as part of the Mexico-Germany Dual Year, at the German Pavilion on the Plaza Rio de Janeiro, in Roma Norte.