12th October 1796. Accompanied by Spanish naval officers Muir and O’Cain were shown the sights of Mexico City, cathedrals, baroque churches, piazzas and arcades. These were the ‘polite attentions’ Muir talks about in his letters home picking out fellow Scot Daniel Sullivan in particular for his thanks. However the pair were also questioned by the authorities about why they entered California and this debriefing would have been firm and, as I’m sure they were conscious, would determine their individual fate. (I can’t find a record of how long they stayed in the capital but it could have been a month or more) During their stay Tom’s status would have dropped from refugee to enemy alien.
Relationship with place
I worked with Jon Bonfiglio in Campeche in 2015. My flight back to Glasgow meant a change of plane in Mexico City. Transferring between flights I found myself walking along an unassuming corridor lined with milky Perspex where I spotted a set of steps leading down to the street. I wasn’t in an immediate rush, so I made my way down without going through any gate or meeting any security guard. I stood looking at the corner shop and a food stand, there I was in my flight socks and hand luggage in a city I’d always hoped to explore. A year later I took another opportunity to work with Jon and the Clipperton Project. This time I got in touch with Abraham Cruzavillegas, an artist I’d exhibited with in Minneapolis in 2003. I didn’t know what to expect but he was a fantastic host with a hacienda style house in the centre of Chapultepec. I remember waking early on the morning on the 17th March and driving with Abraham over to Plaza San Jacinto where I sang for my friend in front of the statue of John Riley, the Irish hero of the Mexican-American War.
By this stage Tom had travelled around the world but still couldn’t fail to be impressed by Mexico City, it must have reminded him of the Roman capital he’d been taught about as a boy. Modern villas built on top of the ruins of a past civilisation. The population a multicultural mix of indigenous Mexicans, Criollo’s and Spanish civil servants all trading on the zocalo, working on the municipal sanitation project or hanging out in the bath house.
16th – 20th March 2016.
Flight from Glasgow – Mexico City: £541
Taxi from the airport to San Miguel Chapultepec: $260 (£10)
Accommodation was free
Living expenses per day: $400 (£15)