Monday, October 9, 2017

My Other Life

For those of you who know me only through this blog or my guide book to Mexico City, it may be a surprise that all this has just been a sideline--although one that took me on quite a long and varied journey.

My first, and longer, career is as a visual artist.

After a brief and stultifying stint as an office worker in New York City in my early 20's, I began my professional life as an artist selling pottery at street fairs. Later I branched out into painting, sculpture, industrial and furniture design, and printmaking. I've also worked as an amateur architect and have designed a dozen houses.

Since moving to Mexico City almost twelve years ago my writing has vied for attention with my art. I have continued to work in a quieter way, having completed a few private commissions, but not showing publicly. So, for the first time in more than ten years I've cleaned up the studio and freshly painted all the walls white, and hung up my recent work to exhibit.

The studio will be open to the public on Saturday, October 14 from 11am to 6pm (or by appointment until November 1-- call 044-55-5966-5945). I hope you can visit.

You can see more recent work on my FB page: ESTUDIO TONALÁ
(please LIKE to page to receive updates)
Previous work can be seen on my website:  www.jimjohnstonart.com 

 

After November first I will be in India for two months working on a writing project.



Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Seismic changes

I was on a train in Massachusetts, noticiing the first signs of autumn color, when I got the text from my partner Nick in Mexico City: "Another earthquake!"
I was travelling to Keene, New Hampshire, where my father lives, to celebrate his 97th birthday. He wanted Chinese food. Between bites of Mu Shu pork and General Tzo's chicken I kept checking my phone. As the horriffic images kept piling up on Facebook, I realized the tragedy that was unfolding back home. The urge to jump on the next plane was mixed with relief that I did not have to be a witness to death and destruction.
As I watched the vast outpouring of aid offered by my fellow Mexicans, I felt some relief at not being part of the rescue efforts. But as I observed and spoke to my father over the next 24 hours, I realized I was part of another kind of rescue mission: dad had reached the point where he could no longer take care of himself.
He had been in the same apartment building for almost 40 years, and aside from a few isolated episodes (he broke his shoulder last summer and had meals-on-wheels delivered for a few months),
he'd led a fiercely independent life. He did all his shopping, cooking, cleaning and laundry. And he still drives. My sister had managed to get him to hire a home aide a while back, but after a few months he fired her. "I don't need her. I like doing my own laundry," he told me.
Over the past 6 months, however, I'd noticed a slow but steady decline in his physical powers, especially walking. And when he admitted it, I knew it must be serious. When a stoic complains, it's time to listen.
The process of convincing him to move into an assisted living facility--something he swore he would never do--was not easy. But I wasn't captain of my high school debate team for nothing.
Within four days I had packed, given away, or thrown out all of his possessions, moved what was left to his new place, and set it up to look like home. While dad is definitely not 'happy' yet in his new abode, I have no doubt that he will be soon. And all of us who love him are left with the security that he is well taken care of.
For my newly homeless friends in Mexico City (I count 8 so far) the future is less certain. I returned Sunday night and spent yesterday walking around Condesa and Roma, surprised at how 'normal' everything seemed--until it wasn't. Most buildings appear unscathed, but suddenly the sight of cracked concrete, broken windows, a wall of plywood where a building once stood yanked the breath of of me. Groups of rescue workers in yellow vests and hard hats pass by, ambulance and police sirens screech, and helicopters rush overhead. These are the pain filled moments that mix with the beauty of life, which still abounds here. I've had wonderful encounters with neighbors I formerly only nodded hello to, everyone eager to share--and hopefully disperse--the fear and anxiety that overcame them all as the earth moved below their feet. The most uplifting thing I saw yesterday was a group of city workers planting flowers along the sidewalk on a traffic-clogged street in La Roma.
We are living in an alternative universe where sleep is evasive and emotions ride the waves. Who knows how long it will take for before the echo of tragedy fades away? Whatever the case, September 19, 2017 will remain one of those before/after dates for generations to come. 






Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Are You Moving to Mexico City? (part 1)

As September approaches, I thought it a good time to re-post this blog. I've been adding to this post as I find new information, and welcome readers suggestions for anything they think should be included.   


ARE YOU MOVING TO MEXICO CITY?-- Part I
(For Part 2 click HERE)
This is a compilation of information useful to anyone planning a move to Mexico City. I first posted this in 2011 and have been repeating it every year, with the addition of new information I've found. I invite readers to send any tips they think relevant to the post. 
First, if you don't own a Guia Roji map book of Mexico City, go to Sanborn's and buy one--I use it all the time. You can get the maps on line for free as well at www.guiaroji.com.mx
The website www.mexperience.com has a wealth of information about moving to and living in Mexico.
Finding a place to live: 
Check out the website http://www.airbnb.com/ for short term rentals. You might consider this as you look for something more permanent--that way you can get a feel for the city before making a final decision. 

VRBO (stands for Vacation Rentals BOwner) is a website that has places for rent (short-term) all over the world--a great resource for any traveler.
It's important to consider transportation in your choice of where to live. Being able to walk to work/school, or having a short ride on public transportation, can make a huge difference in your quality of life. A long commute by car will be living hell.  
Living near a park will also improve quality of life. Use google maps to search around for those green spaces.
Visit your chosen area both during the day and at night time--you might find some drastic changes. 
A good way to find an apartment is just to walk the streets in the area you'd like to live. Many apartments are rented/sold directly by owners by putting signs in the window. Listed below are a number of on-line sites for house/apartment hunting.

Check these pages on Facebook for rentals & roommates:  








http://www.metroscubicos.com/ is a Spanish-only website with real estate for sale/rent all over Mexico. You can put an 'alert' on this site and be notified by e-mail of anything new that shows up according to your criteria. It also has a useful chart of 'price-per-square-meter' according to location. Many of the listings are agents, but that's a good way to find one. http://www.vivastreet.com.mx/ is similar. Check out http://vivirenelcentro.com.mx/ for real estate in the centro historico.
are the two Mexico City craigslist sites (English and Spanish--in Spanish look under 'Viviendas'). Keep checking this site as things change constantly. 

 www.inmuebles24.com/ and http://lomelin.com.mx also have listings for Mexico City as well as the entire country.

Another on-line real estate site:  http://www.avisooportuno.mx
http://www.compartodepa.com.mx and http://www.dadaroom.com have listings of shared apartments all over the country
The Hostal Virreyes in the centro draws a hip, young crowd on weekends. They offer cheap rooms by the month--http://www.hostalvirreyes.com.mx/
http://www.homesuiteshome.com/flash_content/index.htm is another site offering furnished rental apartments.
Buy a copy of 'Segundamano' at any newsstand--this weekly paper lists all sorts of things for sale or rent (cars, apartments, houses). Look for real estate agents here, too. You can also find them online at http://www.segundamano.com.mx/

One of my readers wrote to say that she found her apartment by speaking to the doormen (porteros) of various buildings and leaving her number--a little tip will help. 


Miscellany:

This blog post lists average rental prices by delegation:  http://mxcity.mx/2014/08/dime-cuanto-ganas-y-te-dire-donde-rentar/

Less expensive areas of the city:  http://mxcity.mx/2016/06/rentar-barato/ 
This moving company was recommended by a friend: http://www.seymi.com.mx/

http://www.expatoutlet.com is a website for buying and selling all sorts of stuff (like furniture, e.g.)
For renovation work, Alberto and Eduardo Álvarez can be reached at
044-55-2283-9330 or 044-55-2020-3312

Looking for wood furniture? The address is: Insurgentes Sur 100, corner with Camino a Santa Teresa. The market is also called Mercado de Vasco de Quiroga. It's in Tlalpan. Hundreds of skilled carpenters show off their wares. Anything made to order.

http://www.newcomers.org.mx/ is the website for the Mexico City Newcomers Club, which has all sorts of programs for ex-pats.

Angloinfo.com has lots to offer, including this post about how to meet new friends in the city:  http://blogs.angloinfo.com/mexico-city-is-my-home/2015/10/29/how-to-meet-new-friends-in-mexico-city/
Here is the website for a moving company in Ajijic that can help get your stuff across the border. http://www.strommoving.com/ I have no personal experience with this company, but found it recommended on another blog. Check out the comments on this blog for more helpful information on moving household goods into Mexico.
Mexico City's own government website http://www.mexicocity.gob.mx has a wealth of information in over 60 languages, including brief descriptions of each delegation and what there is to see.
http://www.df.gob.mx (Spanish only) is for more purely governmental information.
I add to her comments about the fiador: I rented my first apartment here without a fiador by offering to pay the first year's rent up-front (with a small discount). Since the monthly rent was only 3000 pesos this was possible.

A number of Facebook pages are directed toward ex-pats in Mexico City, e.g.:
Foreigners in DF (Mexico City)
Americans in Mexico City
MEXPAT DF
Roomies D.F

Aztec Explorers Mexico is a FB page that offers interesting tours in and around the city.

http://mexicocity.angloinfo.com offers all kinds of information about events around the city
Part 2 of this blog post offers a brief introduction to some of the more desirable areas to live in the city: http://mexicocitydf.blogspot.mx/2015/07/are-you-moving-to-mexico-city-part-2.html

P.S. Buy my book! It will definitely help unravel the city for you.  http://www.amazon.com/Mexico-CIty-Opinionated-Curious-Traveler/dp/1511448334/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1433442121&sr=8-2&keywords=mexico+city

(The map shown is by Emily Edwards from 1932)

Friday, July 14, 2017

100 AMAZON REVIEWS!

I'm proud to report that my guidebook to Mexico City now has 100 reviews, 91% of which are 4 or 5 stars. Thanks to everyone who has made it Amazon's 'Best Selling Guide to Mexico City'.
I am currently working on an update of the book, and welcome readers' comments and suggestions.

Monday, June 19, 2017

An afternoon stroll through Roma and Condesa

















       
                                                                                                                                                                               

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Art Exhibit at the Palacio de Bellas Artes: Pinta la Revolución


Watercolor sketch for a ballet costume by Diego Rivera (1931)


You only have until May 7 to see the top notch exhibit of art inspired and influenced by the Mexican Revolution, currently on view at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City.
This must-see show includes works by some big names in Mexican art history like Rivera, Kahlo, Tamayo, Orozco and Siquieros (whose early watercolor scenes of brothels are like nothing you've seen of his before), and many other lesser-known artists that you will be glad to know. I highly recommend this show.

Click link below for more information:

 http://www.inba.gob.mx/actividad/1691/pinta-la-revolucion-arte-moderno-mexicano-1910-1950





                                    Manuel Rodriguez Lozano, El Holocausto (1944)




                                          Juan O'Gorman La Ciudad de México (1949, detail)




                                             Maria Izquierdo Altar de Dolores (1949)

Friday, April 21, 2017

Travelling close to home: Hotel Isabel in Mexico City

More than twenty years ago, at the very beginning of my exploration of Mexico City's Centro Histórico, I stayed at the venerable Hotel Isabel. At that time, it seemed remote from the 'action' closer to the Zócalo. The revival of the Centro had not begun, so the walk down deserted streets at night to get back to the hotel was intimidating. The hotel, which opened in 1920, is housed in a former colonial mansion. It's funky charm and low prices attracted a bohemian following--the writer John Ross lived there from 1985 until his death in 2011. 

I've recently begun to update my Mexico City guidebook and decided to stay in the Centro for a few days to work on that section of the book. I was ready for a re-visit to the Isabel. An Uber transported me the 4.8 kilometers from my home in La Condesa to the Centro Histórico, and I spent two wonderful days as a tourist there (more about that in future posts).

Twenty years has not affected Isabel's funkiness, but perhaps has even added to its charm. I loved staying here! The price (500 pesos a night), location, ambience and cleanliness all add up to my idea of a great hotel.

Hotel Isabel
Isabel la Católica 63
Centro Histórico, CDMX
tel. (55) 5518-1213




























            View from my window








Monday, April 17, 2017

An Easter morning stroll through Colonia Condesa

The light was crystalline, the air was clear, and the streets were almost deserted--a perfect morning to stroll through Colonia Condesa. Happy Easter.




















 



























 




















Saturday, March 18, 2017

The Best Baroque Church in Mexico City

Mexico City's most magical baroque church is often overlooked. La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora del Pilar, popularly known as La Enseánza (derived from its former name El Convento de la Enseñanza La Antigua, The Old Convent of the Teaching), is located at Calle Doncelles 104, not far from the ruins of the Aztec's Templo Mayor. Begun in 1737 and finished in 1778, it was originally connected to a convent dedicated to educating young girls from wealthy families.

One of the smaller churches in the Centro, it's interior is an explosion of gilded baroque curves, squiggles and arabesques. The main altar is flanked by 8 side altars, turning the small space into a giant Faberge egg. It is rarely crowded, making it my number once choice for a moment of rest and reflection during a visit to the hectic Centro Histórico.