The ‘D.F.’ (proounced dayeffay), El Distrito Federal – or as it’s known to English speakers, Mexico City. ‘Tis a strange one. ‘Tis a big one. Words like crowded, busy, noisy: whilst accurate, they don’t really get at the incredible sway of the place, the interminable processions, brush of bodies, the loiterers clasping filled tortillas in beaked hands at a thousand outdoor frying counters. I’ve been staying with my English-teacher friend and erstwhile Madrid flatmate Clive in the (relatively) central suburb of La Condesa which is a little bit of a refuge from the madness with its European-style cafes and smart sushi restaurants, its Starbucks and expensive delicatessens, the hint of a breeze in the Parque de Mexico. Here, where well-dressed ex-pats and office types go for their evening jog, commuters stride down the pavements to gated terraces, students whirl past on city rental bikes looking a bit like those Barcelona ones, yoga mats dangling off a shoulder. It still bears the marks of its city, though – most notably in the multiple lanes of traffic roaring through the grid of streets and on both sides of the tree-lined walkways on Amsterdam street. You can never let your guard down with the drivers – they zoom around pretty fast. So, despite its European aspirations, no quiet cobblestone reverie to your morning breakfast here I’m afraid.

I’ve been rushing around following the recommendations from my Lonely Planet Mexico 2004 to help me with the sheer weight of museums. I like to think my second-hand LP was published at a time before the series reached its most obnoxious and overbearing, though in reality it’s still packed with some pretty cliche stuff. I can’t find any examples at the moment, but it’s there. Like, Mexico City, a seething megalopolis to love and loathe …  Having said that, I probably have to call myself on banality. According to Clive, when quizzed about anything, I’ve been constantly replying, with a thoughtful stroke of the beard “it’s a land of contradictions” – a statement he thinks could be applied to any city, anty country around the world!

Last week, at various locations, I managed to see a number of these famous murals, from the Mexican tradition of public wall-painting that goes back to the 1920s post-revolution government. It was amazing to see such stirring and risque art decorating the courtyard of an old jesuit college in the centre of the city, and in the Palace of Fine Arts, an impressive art nouveau pile dominating one end of the Alameda, the central park. Diego Rivera’s Man, Controller of the Universe of 1934 is a sprawling, seething testimony to a  crossroads of ideologies. The piece is divided into an American capitalist part of decadance, squabbling, poverty and legions of tanks massing, and a socialist part of dialogue, equality and solidarity amongst the crowds. Meanwhile an astronaut-like figure at the centre seems to be piloting the world, surrounded by grotesque factory machinery. He’s part in control, part beholden to the mechanics: with a look of pure nausea, tiredness and anxiety. Projecting out from him, two crossed elipses fugure a huge elemental tension with moons and planetary swirls, and an organic gloop of cells. Along an adjacent wall up there on the second floor, David Siqueiros’ Liberty features an anguished goddess figure epicly struggling to break her binds.

My favourite piece, alongide that was Humanity Frees Itself by Jorge Gonzalez Camarena which also images a breaking free. It’s divided into sections of the human being as a slave, the breaking of the shackles, and the free person. It’s imbued with a great mysticism, in the strange hooded figure and hyroglyphic tattoos on the slave which call to mind pre-hispanic cultures. This, also in the harmony of body, flow of energy and kind of transcendence dispalyed in the freedom part. The colours are great – with the huge pink monster throwing off his ropes sided by splintering wood beams of cerulean. It’s almost like a Mexican Incredible Hulk.

I spent a Sunday down in the southern barrio of Coyoacan which was a fine thing to do. This part of town has more of an enclosed, communal feel and a couple of buzzing village-style plazas leading off the Paroquia de San Juan Bautista. I think this would be the area to live if I was planning to live here, which I ain’t! There’s a heaving craft market where people are painting, making cards and jewellery, kids are getting tattoos and buying hevay metal t-shirts and pipas, tourists are browsing the garish patterns of carpets and ponchos, wallets and floral shirts.  In the morning, I found the southern encampment of Occupy Mexico City down here, a bit bigger than the group outside the stock exchange with maybe 20-30 tents. After being in Madrid for the start of the 15-M movement this year, and seeing first-hand the placards, the parties, the forums and the meditation tent at Occupy LA, it’s interesting to see how the movement is interpreted in different places. There was a lot of art here, and some great poetry too.

^ a famous street leading off the Zocalo, Mexico City’s enormous central plaza. Madrid colours but not a Madrid noise!

^ Graffiti-covered street in Colonia Roma (district next to Condesa), with kids playing arcade machines and guys playing cards

^ typical pictures at your corner news-stand in the D.F.  There’s a legion of sensationalist papers like this, often featuring a knicker-clad woman on one half of the page, slumped bodies on the other.  The headline reads they murder four!

^ the indignados of Coyoacán

^ artwork at the Why Occupy? encampent in Coyoacán

^ poem from the same, it reads:

to die is to wake up from a dream

after day comes night

after life, death

we’re part of the essence of the past, the future and the present.

Dying is being reborn, it’s living in the minds and hearts of the people who have loved us

^ Sunday dancing at the art market opposte the Mercado Central  in Coyoacán

^ Sunday afternoon on the Plaza del Centenario, Coyoacán

^ Market stall at the craft market in Coyoacán

^ A general warning to the residents of Mexico City: your English tuition is in the hands of these men.