There can’t be many places in the world where you can visit a cactus garden, learn the history of indigenous Mexico, see an exhibition of semi-religious satirical prints, and all on the grounds of a turn of the century Irish merchant family’s country house, in the middle of a city. Museo Francisco Cossio in San Luis Potosi, Mexico is one (possibly the only one) of those.
A country house in the heart of the city
The building and grounds themselves are worth the price of admittance (10.00 MXN/0.57 USD). From the architecture to the immaculate lawns dotted with sculptures ranging from classical to modern (don’t hold me to those, I know nothing about the various artistic styles or eras, maybe they are mock-classical and made out of papier-maché. Either way, they look good). The ground floor is dedicated to portraits and artefacts belonging to the Irish emigres who built the house nearly a century ago, like one of a young girl on a tricycle mounted on the wall behind the tricycle itself. There’s a morbid reminder of your mortality for you; one day someone’s painting you on your trike, the next all that’s left of you is the painting and the trike.
The exhibitions housed upstairs vary over time. On this visit, one gallery is full of photos of Havana street life, on display to welcome the arrival of the Cuban embassy, and another is full of the works of Julio Ruelas, a printmaker in the mould of Goya though slightly more surreal, if such a thing is possible. Influenced by German romanticism and a leading figure in Mexican surrealism, his pieces mix the fantastical with the satirical. The works are freaky, to say the least.
Mayans, Aztecs and everything in between
Another permanent display is a collection of pre-hispanic artefacts assembled by Captain Francisco Ortiz Vilchis, some kind of action man who joined the US army, fought in World War 2 and, having survived that, managed to ‘conquer’ every mountain in the world and go down every cave before old age got him. Meantime he collected objects spanning various indigenous groups, from the Mayans to the Aztecs to a couple I can’t remember the name of. The objects include the usual obligatory phallic images (fertility, okay?), an enormous stone leopard, pieces of art and kitchen utensils and shells that you use to listen to Ik, the Huastecan god of the wind.
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Mexico has proved pretty disappointing on the sombrero front. The only ones you’ll see are the stacks vendors sell to tourists. Cactus-wise, however, San Luis is stereotypically bursting at the seams with cactuses that look like they’re waving at you. Which is good. Cactuses are cool.
In the back garden of the museum is a small but diverse cactus garden. Apparently it is really bad luck to keep them inside the house … and, I imagine, they like the sun. The specimens on display include the San Pedro cactus, which seems as prolific as weeds around here, the mammillaria (apparently from ‘mammilla’, meaning 'nipple’, which kind of makes sense when you see them … kind of) and the little pink flowers that grow at intervals between their spines and white, almost fluffy looking ones that look like you could stroke them. Only don’t.
Next to the cactus garden is a small café. It wasn’t open on this occasion but, if that should remain the case, the museum is surrounded by bars, pizzerias, cafes and restaurants, so you have a selection of places for food and drink all within a minute’s walk.
Events for all the family
The museum is open 10 am to 5 pm every day except Monday. There is always something to see but, if you should check the Facebook page, you will see the location is also used for various events, concerts, showings of films and plays, and workshops to name a few of the things that are on the line up this month. It is located a twenty-minute walk from the centre of the city and easily accessible by bus or taxi (buses, many follow the route from the centre past the museum, cost 8.00 MXN/0.46 USD, and a taxi the same distance will not be more than 20.00 MXN/1.14 USD).
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