Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Woman Scorned

Saw NT Live's Medea this evening at the small Lunario theatre tucked behind the massive Auditorio Nacional. (Nice place, reminded me more of a jazz club with its tables and drinks). 
It was brilliant, very intense - even on film - and with an absolutely stellar performance by Helen McCrory. Of all the scary characters in Greek tragedies, Medea is surely the scariest. Having helped Jason get the golden fleece and born him two sons, she is abandoned by the cad for another woman. Her fury knows no bounds and she stalks the stage like a wild woman, dreaming up the most dreadful revenge. There are moments when you think she won't carry it out, that she will see reason, that a mother's love will prevail. But no, she poisons Jason's new bride on her wedding day, then knifes her own children. That showed him. (Good music by Goldfrapp, incidentally). 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lost and Found

Lost, and then found, my iPhone today. It was in the office all the time, but through a series of tragicomic events (picked up by one colleague, passed to another, then on to a security guard, and then to a cupboard under the stairs), it took 9 hours to find its way back to me... in between which someone had switched it off, so I couldn't ring it or trace it online. Anyway, it had a happy ending. It's extraordinary, and a bit pathetic, how helpless I felt without it. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Twin Houses

Having visited Coyoacan last saturday, we went to its neighbour, San Angel, today. They're similar. Both have a bohemian atmosphere, lovely little market squares & cafes, and Rivera-Kahlo connections.
Today we visited Casas Gemelas (Twin Houses) which Rivera built for them both in 1932. His is white, Kahlo's is blue, famously connected by a rooftop bridge, and with a fabulous cactus fence separating them from the street. They were designed by Rivera's friend, Juan O'Gorman, and are probably the first examples of anti-ornamental Functionalism in Latin America. Rivera's studio is 2 storeys tall and full of light. He painted some 3,000 works here, mostly portraits. His bedroom, by contrast, is tiny.
Kahlo's house is smaller, almost claustrophobic. And yet she painted some important works there including Lo que el agua me dio (What the Water Gave Me) which she painted while sitting in the bath, a curious Bosch-like work. The bathtub is still there. 
Can't say I loved Casas Gemelas. A bit too austere. I prefer the other Blue House... to which Kahlo returned after the death of her father in 1941.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Forty-three students went missing in a town called Iguala, just south of Mexico City, today. All very confusing, but seems to involve the police, a crime syndicate, the town's mayor and his wife. Stuff like this does happen here, corruption & cover-ups are endemic, and drugs are often at the bottom of it. But this one is particularly disturbing...

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Interviewing by Candlelight

I picked a bad time to start work here. Our office has been a building site for the last two or three weeks and it looks like remaining so for several more. Rather than move out en masse into temporary office space somewhere, we've attempted to move ourselves around within the building, huddled in serried ranks in the back room, grabbing whatever tables we can find or simply working from home.One colleague has set up office in Starbucks.  
Power cuts are frequent. This morning Lena & I were interviewing for a new post and all the lights went off. First time I've ever interviewed someone in the dark (unless you count Philip Glass in the bowels of London's Colisseum). Not ideal. You can't see the candidate's body language. Still, she took it in her stride.  

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Independence Days

I'm reading Independence Days - the Story of UK Independent Record Labels by Alex Ogg. It's pretty thorough - 600 pages covering everything from Topic Records in the 1930s to the present day, but mainly concentrating on the extraordinary period between the mid-70s and mid-80s (similar in range, then, to Simon Reynolds' excellent Rip It Up). 
So we get Chiswick, Stiff, Rough Trade, IRS, Beggars Banquet, 4AD, Factory, Cherry Red, Mute, Postcard and scores of lesser known labels (but with larger than life owners). Ogg - now there's a name - interviewed over 150 people (count them, they're listed) and it makes for a fascinating read. It was an amazing time. Punk really did change things - if not musically (most bands played what was basically old-fashioned RnB played at double speed), then certainly in terms of setting up a genuinely independent record 'industry', though the term has to be in inverted commas given its wonderfully amateurish methods of operating. I was around at the time, dabbling on the edges of it all and knew some of its key players, and feel privileged to have experienced what was - yes, really - a significant cultural era.
My only slight criticism of the book, published by Cherry Red five years ago, is that it could have benefited from a decent editor. But a minor gripe.   

Monday, September 22, 2014


I'm here on a visa run. Mexican Immigration finally gave me accreditation, but it now means I have to leave the country, get my visa changed at a nearby Mexican Consulate, and come back in again. It could have been anywhere, but Bogota was as good a choice as any, and it gave me the chance to visit its British Council office.
Nice dinner with David C, at Central Cevicheria, a fish restaurant downtown. I had patacones which are essentially flat (traditionally stamped-on!) plantain patties with sour cream for starters, and cherna (a fish - wreckfish it says here - from Colombia's Pacific coast) with plantain, coconut & ginger.  

Sunday, September 21, 2014


With apologies to Mexico, but today was perhaps even more personally momentous than our arrival in MC a month ago. Today, for the first time in my life, I set foot on South American soil. It has been a long time coming. I ought to have had opportunities with work in the '80s and '90s but for some reason it never happened. 
South America has always seemed exotic, colourful, distant, different. Unlike any other continent, there's been very little connection with the UK. Aside from Guyana, no colonies and very little English spoken.  
So here I am in Bogota, smack in the middle of Colombia. It feels strangely European - the people, buildings, the slightly chilly air (weird given its proximity to the equator but, at 2,600m, it's higher than Mexico City). The city has a beautiful setting, nestled in a long north-south ribbon below the Monseratte and Guadalupe hills. Oh and it doesn't feel dangerous or even edgy, though I'm not kidding myself. So South America, nice to meet you. Finally.  

Saturday, September 20, 2014

The Blue House

Latter day F&D
Beautiful day, which made a trip to Coyaocan all the more pleasant. Coyaocan (which means 'place of the coyotes') is in the south of the city and has a laid-back, bohemian vibe. Until this century it was essentially a small town but has since been swallowed up by the metropolis. Its USP, though, is probably that fact that Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Leon Trotsky lived there in the first half of the 20th Century. 
We visited Kahlo's Blue House in which she was born (in 1907), lived in for many years, and died in 1954. It's now a museum. I have a love/hate relationship with Kahlo. Well, 'hate' is way too strong a word. I love her work and she had a fascinating and famously tough life, but I have a problem with her egotism. A third of all her works were self portraits. Me me me. Perhaps if I'd had all the hardships she'd ended (polio, severe injuries in tram crash, 30+ operations, constant physical pain and the emotional trauma of being married to Rivera), then I'd be a bit self-obsessed.
Anyway, beautiful house (bigger than I was expecting), part gallery, part full of her everyday items, and a lovely big garden.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Logo (Not)

After weeks, nay months, of negotiation, we have a logo for the UK in Mexico / Mexico in UK year-long festival - and it isn't this one!  Can't publicise the official one just yet, so here's one that was rejected, though actually I like it almost as much. It's a mix of Gill and a Mayan-style font, which carries on into a whole alphabet. It may not be McDonald's, Apple, Coca-Cola, Google, VW, Nike or a host of other instantly recognisable brands (yet!), but we'll put it about as much as possible.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Mexico Metro

Beginning to explore the Mexico City Metro system. The first line opened in 1969, a year after the Olympics and a year before the World Cup. Forty-fve years later, there are now 195 stations (127 of which are underground). 
It's pretty good. A bit 'basic looking' but efficient, dominated by orange trains & grey tunnels, very little advertising and dead cheap - 5 pesos (30p) for any distance. There are stories that it's dangerous to ride at night, but I've found it fine. No more dangerous than the NY subway probably. You just have to be sensible.
In addition to the name, each station has an icon, representing an important landmark or activity associated with the neighbourhood. They - and the M logo - were created by the American designer Lance Wyman, mainly to help illiterate passengers. He also, incidentally, designed the 1968 Mexico Olympics logo.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

El Ultimo Grito

Today is Mexican Independence Day. It actually commemorates the first (official) act of insurgence against the Spanish in 1810 rather than Independence itself which came 11 years later. 
The act was a grito (cry) of freedom by a priest called Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla in the town of Dolores. Each year, on the night of 15th September, the President rings the bell of the National Palace which overlooks the Zocalo and repeats the now almost mythical cry of Padre Hidalgo. 
It was too late for us to join the massive throng last night (and with children we were advised against it), but we enjoyed the day off today with friends in the western hills.

Monday, September 15, 2014


View from the Pyramid of the Moon down the Avenue of the Dead
Took the day off and went to the Mayan ruins of Teotihuacan ('the place where men become gods'), 50kms north-east of DF. 
Between around 150-650 AD it was the largest city in the Americas, before being destroyed, possibly by its own people. 
Pyramid of the Sun
Later, the Aztecs revered, but didn't occupy, it, and over time it became covered in vegetation. So much so that when the Spaniards came in the 1500s, they didn't even notice it - which seems incredible given the scale of the place. It wasn't until the mid-1800s that archaeologists began uncovering it. Again, incredible. How do you 'uncover' two massive pyramids?
Anyway, we had a good time walking around the massive site, dominated by two huge pyramids: the Pyramid of the Sun (which you can climb to the top) and the Pyramid of the Moon (which you can climb halfway up), plus the more intimate surroundings of the Temple of Quetzacoatl and the Palace of Quetzalpapolotl.
Plenty more temples to see in Mexico, but this was a good start.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

City of Books

Bade farewell to the posse of publishers at La Ciudadela, a sprawling and recently renovated colonial building which used to be a tobacco warehouse, barracks, prison, school and then the Biblioteca de Mexico. It's no longer the National Library - that's now in an even more stupendous building elsewhere in the city; rather it now focusses on displaying the personal libraries of famous Mexican authors and publishers such as Jaime Garcia Terres (pictured) and Antonio Castra Leal (whose 16,000 collection was the largest of the lot). Each library is beautifully designed by different Mexican architects. An appropriate venue for the send-off. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Mexican Architecture

It became clear just how big Mexico City is when my taxi took an hour & a half to get to the Centro Nacional de las Artes in the south of the city this evening - for a concert by the Philharmonia. Arriving late for the first part of the programme, it gave me the opportunity to take in the architecture of the place, a multi-purpose arts centre, designed by several Mexican architects. The concert hall was designed by Teodoro Gonzalez de Leon and Ernesto Betancourt in the mid-90s. Rough orange walls contrast with smooth grey flooring. 
The only two Mexican architects I'd heard of before were modernists Luis Barragan and Ricardo Legoreta (whose most famous building, the Camino Real Hotel, we nearly ended up staying in instead of our serviced apartment). But there are so many beautiful buildings, both new and old and newly-renovated old. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Cultured Quarter

Today we moved into our new home, a nice spacious apartment in Polanco, eight minutes' walk from the office. For the first time the girls have their own separate rooms, end of an era, beginning of another... in A's case, teenagerdom. But we'll be rattling around in it for some time.
One of the many interesting things about Polanco is its street names. Of its 50 or so streets, they're all named after writers and philosophers. So in our immediate neighbourhood we have Aristoteles, Archimedes, Temistoceles and Socrates while a few blocks away are Schiller and Hegel. Over in the west are French writers Moliere, Dumas, Verne and Musset, while lining the south are Byron, Wilde, Shaw and George Elliot. Americans Tennyson, Poe and Emerson fill in some gaps, while Spain is represented by Pedro Calderon de la Barca and  Lope de Vega (where our office is). Oddly there are none named after Mexican writers, but no worries - they're everywhere else (and also 634 Juarez Streets throughout the City).
Actually, there are a few non-writers who are on the map. Isaac Newton cuts a diagonal swathe, while Polanco's broad central avenue is named after Czech president Tomas Garrigue Masaryk, a statue of whom is marooned in a roundabout otherwise taken over by diggers and sewage pipes. 
The only street whose origins I don't know are, ironically, Polanco. Answers on a postcard please.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Great Dane

Hamlet, Hans Christian Anderson, Kierkegaard, Allan Simonsen, Lars von Trier, Whigfield... all great Danes. And here's another: Zeus, the world's tallest dog, who died today, just shy of his 6th birthday. On his hind legs he stood 7 ft 3  ins tall. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Jose Maria Velasco

Valle de Mexico
This evening I attended the opening of a biggish Jose Maria Velasco exhibition at the MUNAL museum. Velasco is famous for his landscapes - big sweeping vistas of 19th century Mexico which have since found their way into guidebooks, maps and all sorts, never mind galleries. 
It was my first experience of an opening event, and it was a positive one. Five people stood on a platform but only two spoke, the Director and the Ministry of Culture, both without notes. It was in between formal & informal, just right. The exhibition was professionally hung, and there were grapefruit-flavoured tequilas afterwards. Who could ask for more?