Mex2010 Blog 6 Monterrey

Mex2010        Blog 6: Monterrey                                                     22 November 2010

 We stopped for two nights in Monterrey (population nearly 4M) because we wanted to revisit, after many years, its phenomenal modern architecture and browse the two premier museums of the north. The spaces, city and museums, interior and exterior, exceeded our expectations in every way. Monterrey gives the lie to the claim that modern architecture is a monotonous parade of glass and steel cubes, all right angles and shiny surfaces so far beyond human scale that it reduces us to ants. In truth only 99% of it is, and some of the best of the remaining 1% is in Monterrey. A couple of decades ago the city cleared twenty or thirty run-down blocks between the bustling downtown and the 19-th century old town and invited the world’s best architects to design banks and office buildings and government centers and museums.

When we last saw it, the central Great Mall was as flat and bare as the Washington Mall, but the buildings on both sides were soaring tours-de-force of light, color, intersecting angles, varied surfaces, bridges and columns angled rooflines that reflected both the vastness of Mexico’s north and the dizzyingly varied peaks of the mountains that surround the town. Now the Mall is done. Promenades and performance spaces on three levels, sculpture —abstract and representational— that harmonizes with the buildings around it, fountains and watercourses. Walking to the museums from our hotel was a sensual treat.

The museum exhibits? Interesting, spectacularly presented, and worth an hour or two. As opposed to their counterparts in Mexico City, where

we can lose ourselves for a week and still only scratch the surface.

 We hoped, too, to renew acquaintance with another member of the Ehrsam clan, Alberto and Ximena and their kids, but we caught them at a particularly busy moment and had to be content with phone chat.

 Still, Monterrey was our first stop in Mexico this year, and Mexico always surprises. We went to dinner at El Rey del Cabrito (The King of Goat), a ten minute walk from our hotel. Although the entrance is capped with a glittering jeweled crown, we could tell it wasn’t a Burger King by the racks of splayed young goats roasting over a charcoal fire in the window. In colonial times, before Monterrey became Mexico’s sprawling industrial capital, the arid countryside wasn’t good for much besides pasturing goats, and nowadays, goat is a regional culinary specialty, el Rey del Cabrito its most famous purveyor. (This is probably not the place repeat the anecdote about the time the honorary Israeli consul in Monterrey told me that most of the city’s inhabitants are crypto-Jews because they eat a lot of goat, and goat is a biblical animal. So I won’t.)

 The restaurant’s ambiance is, well, eclectic. Dark carved wooden panels repeat the restaurant’s name ad satiatum. Framed pictures of old Monterrey in illuminated frames hang from the ceiling. An altar-shrine in an elaborate niche sits against one wall. These are common in Mexico: in order of frequency they honor the Virgin of Guadalupe, the Holy Child of Atocha, Saint Martin dividing his cloak, and, occasionally, Frieda Kahlo or Emiliano Zapata. From our table we could see that this one honored the Rey del Cabrito because the crown on the bronze statue was the obvious model of the crown on the roof. On closer examination, though, the elephant trunk gave the enthroned king away: Ganesh, the Hindu god of good fortune. Go figure. From the opposite wall stuffed wild animal heads, deer mostly, survey the diners serenely. Nothing implacable, though, about the lions in the jungle tableau at the far end of the dining area: two of them, larger than I thought lions were, rear up and claw at each other, fangs barred, projecting as much menace as stuffed animals can muster. While we ate, parades of giggling children and young couples trooped by our table to snap cell phone pictures of themselves between the lions.

 The roast goat, of course, was delicious. As were the grilled mollejas (sweetbreads), a alleged appetizer generous enough to feed a family of four. The carrot cake, in a five-tiered slab monumental enough to have been placed on the Great Mall, was scrumptious.

 Hearing music as we slowly eased our bulk back to the hotel, we made for the performance space under the Social Security Building. A 20-piece orchestra was belting out dance tunes, and fifty or sixty couples, most of them our age, were swirling and tapping and hopping to the various beats. Most dancers were dressed casual, but a few of the more ancient couples showed off glittering regional costumes. Linda and I danced for a bit —as much as our

overstuffed condition and the fact that between us we have three left feet would permit— and then called it a night.

PS : If someone can tell (me) Linda how to convert my downloaded cellphone photos -- which are in an unknown .tn format -- to jpgs, then I can post a picture of the lions eating David's head.