Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Summer in Patzcuaro

It is summer in the highlands of Michoacan in central Mexico. It is the rainy season. Patzcuaro and the surrounding countryside are lush and green. We get a year-round crop of avocados in our garden at La Jacaranda, as well as a multitude of flowers. The temperature will get into the low 70s Fahrenheit this afternoon, wonderful for walking around this colonial pueblo at 7200 feet of altitude. Tonight the temperature will drop to about 58 Fahrenheit, good for cozy sleeping with a light blanket. Most days bring us rain showers, but most days also grace us with sunshine. Life is good.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Violin Makers of Paracho

My cousin JL in Dordogne, France, makes violons--for his own pleasure, not commercially. He has to order the wood from elsewhere in Europe. This made me think of Paracho, located about 60 kms northwest of Patzcuaro in Michoacan, Mexico.
Paracho is known for the manufacture of stringed instruments, primarily but not solely guitars. Every year Paracho holds a festival of string music, usually during the first half of the month of August. People come from Mexico and other countries and one can attend excellent concerts free of charge.

Glen and I drove to Paracho on a search for violin makers. We met a very nice woman who, with her husband, makes and sells guitars. She also had a few violins for sale. La Señora told us that violins are made in a pueblo called Ahuiran just three kilometers away, but that only Purhepecha is spoken there. The violin makers of Ahuiran bring their violins to the stores in Paracho to sell. She also said that there is only one violin maker in Paracho and he went away to study his craft. She told us to go the Guitar Monument, turn left on Calle Amado Nervo and go 1 1/2 blocks. On Amado Nervo we spoke to a store owner who pointed out the house (we thought we were going to his shop) of Pedro Zalapa, also called "Pelochas." Sr. Zalapa received us with great Mexican courtesy although we arrived unannounced on a Sunday afternoon.
Sr. Zalapa makes and repairs violins. His customers come directly to him and, no, he does not have an internet site. He said that there is the same problem of obtaining quality wood in Mexico, and if he imports it then the instruments are generally too expensive for the Mexican market. He showed us a violin he had just made. The body is of encino and the top of oyamel. It sells for ca. US $ 750--Pesos 8,000. There is a need for more inexpensive violins for beginning students.
The woods Sr. Zalapa uses primarily are:
1) Oyamel (Abies religiosa). Sacred fir: A fir native to the mountains of central and southern Mexico; this is the tree where the monarch butterflies hibernate in Michoacan.
2)Cedro rojo (Cedrela odorata). Spanish cedar.
3) Cipres (Cupressus sempervirens). Italian Cypress
4) Encino (genus: Quercus). Some type of oak.
We drove through Ahuiran on leaving Paracho, but we did not see the violin workshops which I would expect to be located behind peoples' homes and not open on Sunday afternoon, in any event.