Friday, July 25, 2008

Arty Michoacán

Twice a year, for Semana Santa and Noche de Muertos, artisans from all over Michoacán display their wares around the perimeter of the main plaza in Pátzcuaro. Photo taken on Plaza Vasco de Quiroga. (T. Novinger)

Gente, Pátzcuaro has been discovered by the New York Times.

The bulk of the New York Times Article is as follows:

Move Over Oaxaca, Arty Michoacán Is Calling

Published: July 20, 2008

It all started with an enormous green ceramic pineapple. Seconds after it caught my eye in the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City, I began to covet it. The label revealed that the piece had been made in Michoacán, a Mexican state along the southwest coast. Oddly enough, over the next hour, almost every time an especially fantastic object caught my attention, the provenance on the label was always the same: Michoacán.

By the time I left the museum’s overpriced gift shop, I had it all mapped out: a crafts safari though the region, foraging for the fanciful animal masks and brightly painted mermaid figurines that caught my eye.
There was one little snag: Michoacán is not only one of

Mexico’s premier crafts centers; until recently, it was also home to some of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpins. Less than a decade ago, its coastal highway was nicknamed Bandito Alley, and the region was overrun with marijuana fields and methamphetamine labs.

But in December 2006, just days after President Felipe Calderón was sworn into office, the government launched Operation Michoacán, sending convoys of troops to bulldoze marijuana fields and chase out gangsters and drug dealers. Drug-related violence has fallen in the last year and despite occasional flare-ups — which have been confined to gang-on-gang violence and government crackdowns — Michoacán is beginning to attract visitors besides backpackers and serious collectors.

A new highway, 37, through Michoacán has also helped, enabling travelers from beach towns like Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo to zip up to the charming colonial center of Michoacán in less than three hours. It used to take as much as eight.

A few months after Operation Michoacán was put into action, my husband, Carsten, and I drove west from Mexico City into Michoacán without incident. The only ambush was the orange-and-black clouds of monarch butterflies, fluttering above our windshield. (In March, the butterflies migrate north across Michoacán’s rolling green hills to lay eggs on the milkweed plants of the United States.) And the only indication of a lingering drug problem was a few soldiers patrolling the highway.

But what is a safari without a little adventure? The region has a reputation for a rebellious citizenry, as well as its wildly natural beauty.
The original inhabitants, the Purépecha Indians, were thought to have developed one of the most advanced pre-Columbian societies in western Mexico. Their achievements included unique T-shaped pyramids and tapestries made from hummingbird feathers. While they succeeded in fending off numerous invaders, including the mighty Aztecs, they were eventually conquered (and almost wiped out) by Spanish rifles and the famously brutal Nuño de Guzmán in the 16th century.

An ideal place to be based is Pátzcuaro, a colonial town set above a large blue lake in central Michoacán. Unlike the endless sprawl that surrounds most Mexican cities, the streets leading to Pátzcuaro are hedged by pine trees and old adobes.

While its colonial architecture hasn’t changed much since the 16th century, its residents have. In the last decade, American retirees have swooped into town and turned its historic center into a booming expat community.
Michoacán is “an undiscovered Oaxaca,” said Victoria Ryan, a 62-year-old artist who arrived from New Mexico in 1992 and now runs an upscale B & B named Casa Encantada with her partner, Cynthia de la Rosa. “I felt like I arrived in Sante Fe in the 1940s.”

Down the street from Casa Encantada is Plaza Don Vasco de Quiroga, a small grassy park with towering ash trees and a stone arcade filled with craft shops and cafes. The square was named after a 16th-century bishop, Vasco de Quiroga, who might be called the patron saint of Michoacán crafts-making

Photo taken in Santa Clara del Cobre. (T. Novinger)

A student of Sir Thomas More’s “Utopia,” Quiroga gathered the ravaged Purépecha Indians into several villages around Lake Pátzcuaro, and encouraged each to adopt a specific craft as a means to survival and self-governance. His utopian vision lives on 400 years later: the village of Santa Clara del Cobre is renowned for its copper products, Capula for its rust-colored pottery and Ihuatzio for its woven baskets and mats.
On the cool evening we arrived in Pátzcuaro, the quiet streets were lined with rickety food carts and whitewashed adobes with red tile roofs and matching base trim. It felt like we were walking through a sepia-toned photograph.

For dinner, we ended up at Plaza Chica, a lively square with a packed taco stand where we feasted on soft tortillas filled with spicy beef, onions and cilantro. Along with glasses of horchata, a cinnamon-spiked rice drink, our sidewalk banquet came to less than 20 pesos — under $2 at 10.5 pesos to the dollar.

The next morning, Kevin Quigley, a guide we had hired, was waiting outside the hotel in a beat-up gray van. A 58-year-old expatriate from San Francisco, Mr. Quigley has been offering crafts tours of Michoacán to tourists and professional buyers for 20 years. The plan was to drive to the village of Capula, known for its colorful ceramics. Actually, we were heading to the home and workshop of Juan Torres, one of Michoacán’s best-known artists.

After bumping along a narrow road that wove past fields of tall grass and wildflowers, we pulled up to an adobe-and-glass complex atop a hill covered with cactuses, blooming trees and gigantic copper sculptures. Mr. Torres, a rugged man in his 60s with a graying mustache, greeted us in the driveway and invited us in.

The house itself was a work of art: the front stoop was a mosaic of cow knuckle bones, and a claw-foot bathtub was surrounded by boulders and ferns. Oversized Day of the Dead-themed paintings, a series he was doing for the Universal Culture Forum in Monterrey, were piled up in his airy studio.

Next, we made our way to the ceramic workshop, where Mr. Torres and his wife, Belia Canals Henríquez, produce and sell their colorful Catrinas, which depict elegantly dressed women as skeletons. For about $100, I couldn’t resist taking a foot-tall Catrina home, carefully wrapped in newspaper like a mummy.

Later that afternoon, Mr. Quigley informed me that my coveted green ceramic pineapples, the inspiration of my trip, were made in San José de Gracia, a small village about two hours north of Pátzcuaro. It would have required a half a day and, unfortunately, we didn’t have time; I had plans to continue to the coast.

So the following day, we drove instead to Santa Clara de Cobre, the copper-making village, about 30 minutes to the south. The atelier-lined streets of this quaint town flashed with glittering copper pans, decorative sinks and enormous cauldrons, like the kind witches use in fairy tales.

We wandered into the small showroom of Ignacio Punzo Angel, where about 10 copper and silver vases were on display, ranging in price from several hundred to several thousand dollars. Mr. Angel was behind the counter. I asked a simple question about the work, and it inspired an hourlong conversation about being a metalsmith.

He took us behind the shop to his workshop — complete with open fire, bellows and sledgehammers — and showed us his latest creation: a gorgeous Art Deco-style silver vase that reminded me of a Jean Arp sculpture. It was so spectacular that for a moment I forgot all about green pineapples...

Thursday, July 24, 2008

One Visitor's Appreciation

Read on a Travelpod post:

"The next few days were filled with the incredible quality art and culture of the area... [Patzcuaro] is one of the typical most beautiful towns of America. Its magnificent constructions of adobe and tile, monumental temples, and the spectacular Vasco de Quiroga Square converts it into one of the main tourist centers of the Mexican Republic."

Pátzcuaro is, in fact, one of Mexico's better kept secrets--a real gem to discover. I greatly appreciate this traveler's appreciation of our mountain pueblo. Nice photos, as well.

Click on link: Live in Patzcuaro

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Graduation Photos on Plaza Grande

11 July 2008 was an important day in Pátzcuaro. The trio of plazas in the center of town were buzzing with more activity than usual. Men and boys in suits and ties and women and girls dressed in their best clothes decorated the streets. Restaurants and hotels were full. Special celebrations were held at the Basílica, watched over by Nuestra Señora de la Salud, patron of health and of Pátzcuaro. Commemorative photos were taken on the Plaza Grande.
It was graduation day for CONALEP, the Colegio Nacional de Educación Profesional Técnica. Founded in 1978 by presidential decree, the school provides technical education and training to students of high school age.
Congratulations to the Class of 2008.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Michoacan Topography Maps

Today a group of three from Patzcuaro drove to Morelia to buy topographical maps of the Patzcuaro region and environs We visited the Instituto Nacional de Estadística y Geografia (INEGI). The office was inviting, we received very attentive and pleasant assistance, and we each purchased several interesting maps which we will use for wandering, hiking and birding. One look at the relief map pictured above will explain why we were interested in topo maps.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Quiroga: Fiesta of Christ's Precious Blood

6 July 2008

On the first Sunday of July, the busy and commercial little town of Quiroga celebrates its patron with the Fiesta de la Sangre Preciosa. The red in the decorations represents the blood. The town spilled over with people.

We ate at the Rey de las Carnitas. One orders the fork-tender pork by weight and by cut. The rib-meat is moist and falls off the bone.

We left around 4:30 pm after our afternoon comida when the festivities were revving up into high gear.

See this list of Festivals and Events of the Patzcuaro Region.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

Digital Kids in Pátzcuaro

Free Computer Classes at Biblioteca Pública Federal Gertrudis Bocanegra, Pátzcuaro ( Pátzcuaro, 3 July 2008)

The Biblioteca (Library) in Pátzcuaro is a rich resource for students. Modest in mien and big in digital talent, the Biblioteca's knowledgeable techie, Hilario Martinez Onofre, teaches summer computer classes to a group of eight- to twelve-year-olds.

Hilario won a 2008 prize for his Módulo de Servicios Digitales de la Biblioteca Pública Gertrudis Bocanegra. He placed first in the State of Michoacán and third at national level in Mexico.

The library is a rich Pátzcuaro resource: It houses an acclaimed Juan O'Gorman mural, has a bank of modern computers with Windows XP and internet access (yes, you can check your e-mail here for a modest cost), and to generate income for the purchase of books and supplies, the library sells a bi-lingual brochure interpreting the mural, a CD with interpretation and photos of the mural, DVDs with photos of Noche de Muertos/Night of the Dead and much more.

The Directora/Librarian, Maestra Gloria Blancas López has dedicated virtually her whole professional life to the library and to students in Pátzcuaro. She has instituted programs to teach young people subjects from computer skills to the arts and crafts that represent the heritage of this region rich in Purhépecha tradition.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Brass Quintet Performs in Pátzcuaro

Metales M5 performed in Pátzcuaro Friday evening, 4 July 2008

The newly formed Asociación Civil Pátzcuaro Cultura scheduled an opening performance at Casa del Refugio, Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra (Plaza Chica). These superb musicians orchestrated an entertaining, humorous, talented performance--a delightful sampler of the versatility of brass instruments. It was a most enjoyable musical performance. More, please.

I am having just too much fun.

Thursday, July 3, 2008