Category Archives: November 2020
By Jane Bauer
“To be an artist means: not to calculate and count; to grow and ripen like a tree which does not hurry the flow of its sap and stands at ease in the spring gales without fearing that no summer may follow. It will come. But it comes only to those who are patient, who are simply there in their vast, quiet tranquility, as if eternity lay before them. It is a lesson I learn every day amid hardships I am thankful for: patience is all!”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Mexico is a palette of vibrant colours and emotive energy that make even the smallest moments in the day feel like a living canvas. Perhaps that is why it produces so many accomplished artists.
What is the thing that propels someone to pursue art? To want to capture a feeling, a thought or a moment and make it static so others can experience it as well. Most of us were first introduced to drawing and painting as children to help us make sense of the world around us … “Draw a house, a family, your dreams, your summer vacation.” Somewhere along the way, when it became clear we weren’t going to be the next Claude Monet or Mark Rothko, we put down our pencils and brushes and moved on to the next thing.
This has been a difficult time for almost everyone I know: health concerns, financial insecurity, fear, loneliness due to self-isolation and a general sense of dealing with the uncertainty of the future. After all, a year ago we would never have been able to predict where we are right now.
Art and creative pursuits are more important than ever to help us make sense of the world. Art is born out of conflict and struggle – it will be interesting to see what is produced during these times. To understand the world around you, look at the art that people are creating.
Rilke writes of the quiet tranquility where you become an artist. Turn off the TV, put down your phone, close your computer and just listen to the hum of your refrigerator. Feel your heart beating in your chest, look at the tree outside your window … What is going on in your life? If you could capture one moment or feeling or thought and share it with the world or even just one person, what would it be? Maybe you don’t know … maybe you think that you have nothing to say.
Pick up the pencils and paintbrushes you discarded long ago and be patient. It will come and I can’t wait to see what you come up with.
See you next month,
The Muralists of Huatulco
By Julie Etra
Most of us are familiar with the most well-known Mexican muralists of the 1920s, and the associated political movements: Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. But here in Huatulco there are murals everywhere, on public and private spaces, for example the market Tres de Mayo as you drive into La Crucecita on Guamuchil. Those of us who frequent Xipol, a popular corner restaurant and bar on the zócalo in La Crucecita, or even just pass by, can’t help but notice the outstanding murals by Irving Cano depicting Mexican women of all ages. Another well-known excellent local artist, although not strictly a muralist since he also works in other media, is Hergon Hernandez Gonzalez, known as Heriberto.
Our good friends Doreen and Larry Woelfel commissioned local artists to paint the dome at their residence in Conejos with native birds common to the area, and what a wonderful job they did. I was lucky enough to contact one of the muralists, Marco Daniel Galguera Perez, known as Daniel, and learn a little bit about him and his subjects.
Daniel reminds me that “My artist name is ‘Xants,’ in reference to my village in the mother language of my people. I am from the community of [Santiago] Xanika in the Sierra Madre Sur de Oaxaca. I am 22 years old, and began my studies as an artist at age 15.
“I had a somewhat limited life in art as a younger person, for family reasons, as they did not appreciate that I was passionate about art. It was why I left home at that age, the teacher who mentored me was José Ángel Del Signó, he gave me direction in art. Then the Colectivo Tilcoatle opened, where I developed a bit artistically, and lived in Huatulco for three years. Before starting to live as an artist, I worked with a monitoring network of professionals monitoring medium and large mammals in the Sierra Madre Sur.
“At age 19 the doors opened for me to study at the university in Huatulco [UMAR], but where I only studied for 2-and-a-half years, since for economic reasons I could not continue, but there I worked on what is known as screen printing, plastic arts [in Spanish, the “plastic arts” can refer to all the visual arts], graphics. I specialized in el huecograbado [in which an image is engraved into the printing plate or cylinder], and began developing the skills of mural painting and handmade paper.
“I recently completed a mural at the Laguna Manialtepec [west of Puerto Escondido]). Now I’m traveling along the coast leaving large format paintings (murals) in public spaces. About a month ago I started murals documenting customs and social groups in the Mixtec region of Oaxaca.”
Those of us lucky enough to have a surface worthy of their work should consider supporting these local artists by commissioning a personal work of art.
Body Art: Mexican Tattoos
By Marcia Chaiken and Jan Chaiken
Many tourists in Mexico shop for art in tattoo parlors rather than in galleries. Instead of buying a Frida Kahlo poster, or a painting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, or a clay reproduction of an Aztec or Mayan museum piece, they have sketches of these art works indelibly inked into their skin on various parts of their anatomy. Flowers, fish and aphorisms in Spanish are etched into shoulders, backs, hands, breasts and derrieres. Those with a penchant for the Gothic, after more than a few margaritas, may opt for an inking that turns their face into a permanent day-of-the-dead mask. Given the ubiquitous tattoo artists in Mexico and their creativity, the possibilities for transforming human hide into artistic canvasses are virtually endless.
Some Mexican tattoo artists proclaim that they are carrying forward the traditional forms of art practiced by their Aztec, Mayan or other indigenous ancestors. To incise the skin and insert dyes, they use natural materials such as sharpened bones or plant spines. Many of their designs are images of artifacts readily visible in the National Museum of Anthropology. The assertion that there has been an unbroken chain of generations of indigenous tattoo artists seems to be as much a romantic story as an archeological fact.
The study of tattoos by archeologists has long been a rather neglected and, at times, disparaged approach. Recently however, as the art of tattooing has become more accepted, the study of tattoos has gained wider respectability. The firmest archeological evidence of the use of tattoos is the appearance of colored incisions on the skin of mummies. The earliest tattooed mummy found so far dates back over 5000 years and was unearthed, or perhaps the better term is un-iced, from under a glacier in the Italian-Austrian Alps. This “iceman” had over 60 tattoos colored with charcoal. However, based on the positions of the incisions, archeologists hypothesize that the tattoos were applied to alleviate pain, much as acupuncture is used, rather than for artistic reasons.
Mummified bodies bearing tattoos have been discovered on virtually every continent, with the exception of Antarctica. In Mexico, a mummy bearing tattoos on her arms was discovered in the state of Oaxaca in 1889, and scientific analysis has found that she lived sometime around 250 AD. Although the tattoos on the earliest dated mummies can be quite complex, anthropologists have postulated that the primary purposes of the tattoos were other than simply artistic decorations. Some appear to denote tribal affiliation, others were used to ward off demonic or other evil powers, and many appear to be symbols of owners who claimed slaves as their property. Seagoing communities seem to have used tattoos, much as relatively more modern sailors, as individually distinctive marks that could be used to identify bodies lost overboard that washed up on near or distant shores.
Another method of studying the use of and regional differences in tattooing is based on the examination of prehistoric or pre-Columbian figurines painted with tattoo-like marks. Anthropomorphic statutes or pots bearing such designs are considered to provide representations of similar designs incised into the skin of people who lived in the communities where the artifacts were produced. Hollow ceramic figurines with extensive tattoo designs have been found in tombs in Mexico that date from 100 BC to 400 AD; the figurines are hypothesized to represent the people with tattoos who were buried in the tombs. These tattoos are thought to be marks portraying status and ideology rather than simply artistic decorations.
During the period of the early European geographic expeditions and colonization, the writings of the explorers paid detailed attention to the tattoos of the indigenous people they encountered. The English word “tattoo” and the Spanish word “tatuaje” are derived from Cook’s descriptions of patterns borne by the South Pacific Islanders he encountered and the Samoan term for how the patterns were created: “tatau,” or “hit” or “strike.” Europeans who first explored Mexico were quite taken by the tattoos used by different cultures and communities. Some were literally impressed with the designs and returned home with tattoos. But indigenous tattooing was almost obliterated in Mexico and around the world by the European usurpers who repressed all native forms of customs and practices as being barbaric and heathen. The repression of tattoos lasted for centuries.
When we were children, tattoos were still rare and exotic. Circus sideshows sometimes had a “tattooed lady” on display; and for 25 cents we could gawk at her inked designs until it was time to move on to the “bearded lady.” Sailors started to return after War World II with anchors or stars tattooed on their biceps. But whether Christian, Muslim or Jew, we were told that tattoos were body mutilation, and therefore, forbidden. It took courage or imprisonment to reject this strong norm and become inked.
Today, tattooing has once again become ubiquitous. There are virtually countless places in Mexico to be tattooed. In the large cities of Mexico there are tattoo conventions and tattoo competitions. But once again the use of tattoos is not always merely decorative. Among drug cartels and other organized criminal subcultures, tattoos are often used to display group affiliation – and the wrong tattoo in the wrong setting can be fatal.
Many people who have opened parlors with the latest technology for producing tattoos consider themselves artists with the creative license to provide a wide spectrum of designs. And their clients are delighted to work with them to find the perfect design for almost every part of their anatomy. But before you head out to find your perfect design you might consider the following.
Tattooing is painful … think about a paper cut and then multiply that sensation for every incision. Tattoos are permanent – the cute little rosebud on a perky young butt often turns into a wilted, wrinkled flower in middle age. In the wrong hands, tattoos can be dangerous; our granddaughter’s unauthorized butterfly tattoo turned into a staph infection. There is still a prejudice against tattoos in some circles and that may be a circle possibly important to you in future years.
If you want to try a tattoo on for size, you might consider the temporary type – also widely available in Mexico. Henna tattoos are offered on many beaches in Mexico and gradually fade away; just be sure you don’t have a henna allergy. And inked paper in many designs can be safely applied and easily washed away. They look so real that we suspected our daughter was having some form of crisis after seeing multicolored flowers circling her wrist, until we realized that, rather than a crisis, she had had an interesting vacation.
By Alvin Starkman M.A., J.D.
It doesn’t matter whether you live in Oaxaca or vacation here on a regular basis. Whether it’s Puerto Escondido, Huatulco, the state capital or elsewhere, if you’ve at all begun to integrate into the local community, eventually you’ll be asked to be a padrino or madrina (godparent) to an ahijado or ahijada (godchild). So you’d better familiarize yourself with compadrazgo, or co-godparenthood. Even if you’ve never been asked, it’s important to learn about compadres, the cornerstone of compadrazgo. You’ll hear the word spoken frequently. Compadres are different from friends, by a long stretch.
Compadrazgo is a web of mutual rights and obligations of monumental importance throughout Mexico (and elsewhere), both in urban centers and rural communities. It permeates virtually all socio-economic strata. It’s more important in Oaxaca than in many other states, in part because of both economics and the strength of interpersonal relationships. One chooses who will be his or her lifetime compadres.
If someone is asked to be a padrino of a child upon baptism, it creates a new bond between two families, solidified by the creation of compadres. The parents and grandparents of the child become compadres to the padrinos. While family members are frequently asked to be padrinos, often friends, neighbors and business acquaintances are selected, as a means of strengthening existing ties. Academic writings, confirmed in my personal experiences here in Oaxaca over the past quarter century, suggest that while as a godparent you have lifelong obligations to your godchild, which may never be called upon, it’s the ties between compadres that can come into play on a regular basis.
Let’s examine occasions aside from baptism when you might find yourself asked to be a godparent, obligations which may fall upon you, and finally how your new status as a compadre manifests itself and keeps on ticking. Why you and not someone else? To understand we must look at the pool of prospective choices from which you may be selected. My perspective may appear cynical, but, using a functionalism model, is fact based and proven.
Godparents are selected for both religious and secular rites of passage, for godchildren ranging from infant to adult. In Oaxaca the most common events where custom dictates godparents be chosen are marriages, school graduations, a girl’s 15th-birthday celebrations (fiesta de quince años), confirmations, first communions and baptisms. Sometimes but not always, there may be a financial commitment involved, where for example as padrinos of a wedding or quiñce anos, a couple may be asked or simply volunteer to contribute to the cost of the affair. But don’t worry, financial obligations may be shared amongst several godparents.
A case in point involved my wife and me. When asked to be godparents at the wedding of the son of then mere acquaintances, our mouths dropped, whereupon after a pregnant pause the request was concluded with “of the rings.” This meant that we were responsible for buying the wedding bands, whereas another couple was being honored with being the primary padrinos of the newlyweds. In fact you can be asked to be godparents of (for purchasing) the cake, liquor, flowers, party favors, and the list goes on, often depending upon the financial ability of the people throwing the function. In the case of individuals with resources, they typically simply want to bestow a special honor to an existing relationship.
You may be asked to make a speech, give a blessing, dance with the bride/groom or quinceañera, almost always being an active participant depending on circumstances. If you’re not Catholic and don’t take communion or kneel, let your soon-to-be compadres know, even if it appears there won’t be a religious component to the proceedings. There will likely be a priest involved. For example, on occasion one finds padrinos chosen within the context of the opening of a new business. As part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the man-of-the-cloth may be in attendance to give and direct blessings. Personally, as a Jew, I don’t object to having a little holy water splashed on me by the padre…as long as it’s as a result of inadvertence.
Padrinos are almost always selected from people of the same or a higher socio-economic class. For example, a factory worker may select the supervisor of her department to be her daughter’s padrino at a baptism, but the supervisor would rarely select a worker. A maker of handicrafts in a small Oaxacan village may ask a wealthy patron or shop-owner from Mexico City to be godmother to her daughter and future son-in-law at their wedding, but the opposite would likely be out of the question. And you may be similarly asked, by a Mexican friend/neighbor, a perhaps perceived equal, but for different reasons. Functions regarding the foregoing three examples? Bonds of friendship are acknowledged and strengthened for future utility; a patron-customer relationship is affirmed with comfort in now knowing that it will continue ad infinitum; and there will be the perception that a boss won’t fire a compadre.
Your status as a compadre begins immediately, and you may never again be referred to by your name, but rather compadre. You’ll experience the metamorphosis of your status, and will be treated differently. Otherwise an extranjero, or foreigner, you may feel as though you’ve come of age in your new hometown. Compadres give and receive more invitations to events. Favors may be asked of you more readily, and of a different type. There’s an expectation of compliance, if not the most careful consideration: borrowing your truck, lending money, housing a relative temporarily, providing counsel in trying times. By the end of our first year of permanent residency in Oaxaca, all the foregoing requests had been made of us. But remember, requests for assistance can go the other way as well, so keep that in mind.
In Western society the number of kinship ties you have is relatively finite, and usually beyond your control. In contrast, with compadrazgo, for as many life stages and changes as may arise, one’s immediate family has the opportunity to extend non-relative or “fictive” kinship ties through deliberate selection. One is able to build and nurture through mutual requests and compliance innumerable economic and social alliances.
Here in Mexico no one ever utters the adage “You can pick your friends but not your family.” The strategies and decision-making processes involved in determining who would make appropriate compadres for a family, and why, are absolutely fascinating. I’ve touched upon only some of the dynamics. The internet and traditional anthropological literature are exhaustive, and should be consulted by those interested in or thrust into the system.
A permanent resident of Oaxaca, Alvin Starkman operates Mezcal Educational Excursions of Oaxaca (www.mezcaleducationaltours.com).
A Business Owner’s Recap of 2020 in Huatulco
By Brooke Gazer
We began 2020 full of optimism; 2019 had been a good year for our B&B, and January’s bookings indicated this trend would continue. Many guests book months in advance, but about half make their travel decisions four to six weeks ahead. This means that after Christmas, we usually see a lot of requests for late February and into March. When this didn’t happen, I knew we had a problem but had yet to identify it.
People were talking about something called the “corona virus,” but no one seemed to be taking it too seriously. On February 1, one guest took a selfie with a pyramid of empty Corona beer cans. He posted it with the caption, “Recuperating in Mexico from the Corona Virus.” A month later, no one was laughing.
Hindsight is so much clearer, but to be objective, few of us saw this coming, nor could we imagine how rapidly the fabric of our society would be altered. On January 7, Canada’s Chief Public Health Official declared, “There has been no evidence to date that this illness, whatever it’s caused by, is spread easily from person to person; no health care workers caring for the patients have become ill; a positive sign.” Just over two months later, the World Health Organization uttered the dreaded word – “Pandemic.”
On March 14, Canada suggested that anyone abroad should return home; the USA seconded the motion days later, and flocks of snowbirds headed north. With several bookings throughout March and April, we faced a dilemma. My husband has a severe heart condition, putting him into the high-risk category, but on-line booking sites penalize properties for canceling reservations. Most of these were for Mexicans and Mexico had yet to acknowledge the severity of the crisis. Incredibly, Mexico’s President insisted that charms and amulets would protect him. With heavy hearts, on March 18, we began canceling future reservations. A week later, memos from booking sites urged us to waive any cancelation fees due to COVID-19. It seems we were ahead of the curve, but only slightly.
Before long, Mexico started implementing emergency restrictions. In Huatulco, hotels and bars were closed, a few restaurants stayed open but strictly for take-out, many stores and all tourist services shut down, and beaches were declared off limits. Even construction came to a halt.
In a town that exists for tourism, this caused unimaginable hardship. Mexico has no unemployment insurance and a lot of people live from payday to payday. Not working could mean not eating. But this is also a compassionate community, many businesses and individuals donated generously to food banks and soup kitchens. Our Municipal President realized that domestic violence is exacerbated by difficult economic conditions, so he prohibited the sale of alcohol. The section in supermarkets displaying spirits, wine and beer was roped off and Huatulco became a dry community.
As the death toll rose, many rural communities restricted travel to or from their region. Towns and villages without medical facilities erected blockades to restrict access and residents were unable to leave without good cause. Our full-time maid lives in Copalita, about 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Huatulco. In early April, Vicki arrived an hour late, explaining her town was locked down. At the end of the day, I paid her a month’s salary and drove her to the edge of Copalita. When the lock down extended through June, we paid her again; she has been a loyal employee for six years and has a family to support.
Our life changed significantly over the next several months, it was quieter but we’ve adjusted. Our property is open enough that I didn’t feel closed in and for this I feel fortunate. I can’t imagine the stress of many local families sequestered together in small apartments during the hottest months of the year.
Without guests, there was no need to shop daily and we limited our excursions to once a week. Driving through La Crucecita felt eerie, it seemed like a ghost town; most shops were closed, we saw almost no traffic, no street venders, and no one walking along the sidewalks.
Having lived with a daily maid for the past nineteen years, I had to relearn the art of housekeeping. Vicki swept and mopped the floor of our common room twice daily. I bought an industrial sized push broom and moved all the chairs into the entrance. This made sweeping the large area much easier, but I asked myself, ‘Does it really need to be done so frequently’? And I applied the same logic to a number of other household tasks.
I knew I’d need more to fill my time and might have worked on perfecting my Spanish, or taken an internet Master Class in cooking, photography, or writing. Instead I subscribed to Netflix and held marathon sessions of movie viewing.
Gyms were closed but walking through our neighborhood offered a reasonable alternative. I also had the pool all to myself. Enjoying my solitary walk or swim, I sometimes thought about those who had left early. In March and April, much of Canada is either coated in snow or a muddy mess of spring melt.
Throughout the lock down, we may have lamented the lost revenue and we missed the social interaction, but life was not so bad. If we had to be sequestered, there were far worse places to be. We counted our blessings.
Things in Huatulco got a little shaky towards the end of June when the region was hit with an earthquake of 7.4 magnitude. The epicenter was only a thirty-minute drive southwest of the La Crucecita, and for a moment it felt as if we were under attack. The earth roared as our villa swayed, and objects flew across the room as if hurled by angry poltergeists. Fortunately, due to Huatulco’s strict building codes, any damage we experienced was only cosmetic and most buildings in Huatulco also withstood the onslaught. Unfortunately, some homes in U2 were severely damaged and a few older apartment buildings had to be evacuated. Frequent aftershocks continued over the next two months; violent shakes, on top of the financial crisis and social isolation, caused even the most stoic of us to admit to feeling a bit harried.
It has been over seven months since Huatulco rolled up its red carpet. Masks are still mandatory and social distancing is the new norm, but things are gradually beginning to reopen. Beaches, some restaurants, and hotels can function at a limited capacity. It is a relief to have Vicki back, and gradually we are “expanding our bubble,” inviting friends for dinner or meeting for coffee. After being deserted for an extended period, Huatulco beaches are crystal clear with occasional wildlife wandering along the white sand.
We have made some minor changes to our business and hope that eventually things can return to some semblance of normalcy. Huatulco has suffered, but the death toll has remained relatively low compared to some regions. Mexico has weathered many storms, and this too will pass. Sooner or later regular national and international flights will resume and tourists will again flock to our pristine piece of paradise.
Brooke Gazer operates Agua Azul la Villa, an ocean-view bed and breakfast (www.bbaguaazul.com).
Look to the Walls
By Kary Vannice
One of the things you’ll notice when traveling in Latin America is that you don’t have to look far to find out what’s on the minds of the people who live there. All you have to do is read the walls.
By definition, graffiti is “a form of visual communication, usually illegal, involving the unauthorized marking of public space by an individual or group.” But graffiti is more and more becoming understood as an expressive art form as well. And municipalities here in Mexico are using it to send messages of public health and safety, encouragement and acknowledgement during the current global pandemic.
San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, has recently sponsored a movement of young artists to create larger-than-life murals to encourage its citizens to mask up and take precautions in an effort to stop the spread of the deadly coronavirus. The Director of Culture and Traditions invited local street artists between the ages of 14 and 25 to participate in a city-wide muralist workshop. Various buildings and walls were designated in strategic areas throughout San Miguel to serve as their canvas for creating powerful PSAs for the people living near them or passing by.
The workshop featured two well-known and accomplished graffiti artists who designed the murals and then acted as mentors to younger artists who apprenticed under them, perfecting their technique while bringing the designs to life.
Luckily for San Miguel residents, the two have very different artistic styles, which makes the murals distinct and meaningful in their own unique ways. One artist, Juce, focused on honoring the many men and women who have contributed to the safety and well-being of all Mexicans, by featuring health care workers, supply-chain employees carrying boxes of safety equipment and even the general public wearing masks. He named the work “The triumph of society and work over a pandemic.”
The other artist, Persak, choose a more artistic approach, literally, designing three enormous murals of the Mona Lisa, Van Gogh and even Mexico’s own Frida Kahlo, all wearing masks.
San Miguel is not alone in leveraging street art as a public and popular way of encouraging Mexicans to participate in the effort to slow the coronavirus. Recently the news outlet El Universal featured Sergio Morales, known as Applezman, a Mexico City street artist who has also been spraying his visual messages along the city’s metro lines. One huge mural features Capitan America, Iron Man, Batman and Spiderman, all flanking a Mexican female nurse in scrubs and a mask. The tagline above it reads A Las Héroes de Verdad, Gracias (To the real heroes, thank you). It is significant in Spanish that the artist wrote “Las” Héroes and not “Los” Héroes. By using the feminine article (las) he is speaking about women, in this case nurses, as the true heroes of the pandemic here in Mexico.
When asked about the mural, Applezman said, “The image is of the nurse because they are the ones who are protecting us, not the National Guard or the Army; they will do so at their due time, but now, the honor is for these doctors and nurses, and everyone who is fighting.”
When questioned about how he hopes his art is affecting the people of Mexico City, he said, “Sometimes we think seeing is believing, but I only tell them to take care of themselves because sometimes those who don’t believe are the ones who fall. We know that everyone can get infected, ourselves, or our colleagues; that’s why I ask people to follow the rules. There are people who are against the system but that is not a reason to not take care of their own health and their families.”
An interesting message from a graffiti artist, someone many in our society would see as “against the system” himself.
It seems, in the time of coronavirus, factions who would have once stood against each other, municipalities and graffiti artists, have found a way to come together to send a message of hope, encouragement and gratitude. And at the same time made our bleak world more colorful and our outlook for the future a bit brighter.
Quarantining in Mexico, But Still …Places to Go and People to See
By Carole Reedy
For nearly eight months COVID-19 has driven living restrictions in Mexico, as it has elsewhere. As I write, the red/orange/yellow/green semáforo (stoplight) recommendation for quarantine teeters between orange and yellow, depending on the state in which you’re situated.
The state of Campeche is notable for having achieved green status. All of Mexico is given daily updates from our Presidente at 7 am and from our Sub-Secretaria de Salud at 7 pm.
Apart from federal requirements, each state or city has its own way of managing the quarantine. For example, you may find that in San Miguel de Allende, you’re stopped by police for not wearing a mask, whereas in Mexico City this is highly unlikely. The San Miguel mayor is taking particular precautions to protect this “best small city in the world” (Condé Nast Traveler, October 2020). Mexico City has many citizens who work day-to-day, so you’ll see more people on the street than in other places, mostly masked.
If you’re tired of sitting at home, working, or just in need of a diversion, Mexican culture and adventures beckon, albeit with restrictions. Here are some opportunities open to you.
Apart from lying on a sunny beach under a blue sky, sipping a margarita on the Pacific Coast or the Yucatán, the pyramids of Teotihuacán, just a half-hour outside Mexico City, are a main attraction of this historically rich country. After being closed for six months, they’re now open to the public. Normally 6,000 visitors a day would visit the site on weekends, but the number has been cut to 30% occupancy.
Also note you will not be able to climb the Pyramids of the Sun or the Moon, and the museum remains closed. As with all other tourist attractions, museums, stores, and restaurants in the country, your temperature will be taken and your hands sanitized before you enter. You’ll be asked to wear a mask and honor social distancing of 1.5 meters (about 5 feet). Hours of operation also have been shortened. The site is now open 9 am to 3 pm every day of the week, and still free on Sundays.
(The archeological sites of the Yucatán, including the famous Chichen-Itza and Tulum, are also open with restrictions similar to those at Teotihuacán.)
Museums in Mexico City as well as other parts of the country are open with the restrictions stated above. A wonderful surprise is the re-opening and extensión of the multimedia Van Gogh Alive exhibit, sharing space on the plaza Monumento de la Madre at Insurgentes and Reforma streets. The exhibit will be held over for viewing through January. You can make a reservation through Superboletos.
Another notable exhibit is the The Paris of Modigliani and His Contemporaries at the white marble Museo Bellas Artes, one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, located in the centro histórico, Juarez and Lázaro Cárdenas streets. Open 11 am to 5 pm Tuesday thru Sunday, with COVID-19 restrictions.
Museo Soumaya, with its curving facade inspired by Auguste Rodin’s sculptures, houses more than 60,000 pieces of art, including works by Salvador Dali, Pablo Picasso, and Vincent van Gogh. Carlos Slim’s gift to the city is free to all and open every day of the year. Currently, just 30 percent occupancy is permitted along with other COVID-19 precautions. The Museo is located in the classy Polanco Colonia. It is quite airy and open with its high ceilings and lovely circular staircase.
Your other favorite museums are open too, but be sure to look online for shortened hours and to see if you need to reserve a place in advance. All require the strictest of Covid regulations.
A favorite pastime of visitors and residents alike is flaneuring through the streets and colonias of the city. Most parks are open, including Parque México and Parque España in Condesa.
Roaming the Avenida Reforma is a pleasure not only for the sculptures dotting the walkways, but for the people watching and window shopping. Yes, most stores are open and even offering discounts.
In Colonia Roma you can enjoy street art in the Romita section and then stroll along Álvaro Obregón where there are a number of outdoor restaurants offering everything from fine dining to street tacos. Here you will also find used and new bookstores as well as eclectic shops.
The Bajio region includes parts of the states of Aguascalientes, Jalisco, Guanajuato, and Querétaro, located to the north and west of Mexico City. Go for the natural wonders in the midst of small colonial cities.
Tesquisquiapan Wine and Cheese Tours
Charming Pueblo Mágico (Magical Town) Tequisquiapan is known as La Ruta del Arte, Queso y Vino; it’s also famous for its mineral spas as well as its hand-woven crafts. The climate is perfect year-round, and it’s the jumping off point for the wine and cheese tours of the region. From Mexico City it will take about three hours by car or bus (from Mexico Norte bus station). It sits a mere 52 kilometers from Querétaro, the capital of the area, another interesting, but larger, colonial city.
Most of us think of the fine Mexican wines as those from Enseñada, Baja California, but this region boasts several excellent wineries: Ezequiel Montes, Freixenet, and Viñedos Azteca. Take your own car or join a tour from Tequisquiapan.
Speaking of wines, I’d like to mention my favorite Mexican wine, though it is from the state of Coahuila, not the Bajio region. The winery is Casa Madero, the oldest in Mexico. The wine is Casa Madero 3V, a dry, fruity, full-bodied red. Another favorite is the Casa Madero Chardonnay, a dry crisp white. Tours of the winery take place in Parras, Coahuila. Put it on your list!
A short drive from Tequisquiapan is yet another Pueblo Mágico, Santiago de Bernal. The highlight for most travelers is the hike up the Peña de Bernal, the third largest monolith in the world. At night, you can see the dancing fountains at the foot of the monolith.
There are places to get shamanic cleanses or detoxing temazcal steam baths in the area. It is also a good place to purchase hand-made and loom-woven textiles.
Consider, too, exploring the San Antonio de Cal community behind the Peña de Bernal. Otomí-Chichimeca customs remain intact within this community, which is why UNESCO named the region a World Heritage Site.
San Miguel de Allende
Not only have readers of Traveler magazine repeatedly named San Miguel the “best,” but they’ve also given top marks to some hotels, including #1 status to The Rosewood. Even if your budget doesn’t allow for a sleepover at this deluxe inn, go for sunset drinks on the terrace.
San Miguel is a shopper’s and artisan’s delight. Just roaming the cobblestone streets is a delightful adventure (watch your step and wear sturdy shoes!) and good exercise. The Jardín (garden) in front of the Parroquia (main cathedral) is a popular meeting place and the center of Sunday meetings, dances in the evenings, and other entertainment.
International restaurants abound, as well as great taco places. Here you’ll find Lebanese food (La Fenice, my personal favorite), Peruvian (La Parada, another favorite), and Argentinian beef (Buenos Aires). The best bakery is Petit Four, now also serving a full breakfast in their new digs on Jesus, just around the corner from the Jardín. Do try the chocolate mousse cake. Outdoor terrace dining and drinks are always fun at Azotea, just off the Jardín.
Some of the more popular tours in the city have been canceled due to the virus. Visitors have enjoyed the regular Sunday morning House and Garden Tours as well as the History Tours offered by Patronato, which closed for the pandemic in March, but may be offering private tours or smaller tours (https://historicalwalkingtour.org/, firstname.lastname@example.org./, 415 152 7796). Investigate when you arrive as both tours are informative.
A few hot springs – La Gruta, Escondido, and Taboada – lie just a short drive outside of San Miguel, accessible by car, taxi or bus. Enjoy a day here dipping in the thermal waters and taking in the sun and the fresh air of the countryside away from the dust of the city. Food and drinks are served at some locals.
Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary
The brightly colored Monarch butterflies find their home in the mountains west of Mexico City. Morelia or Pátzcuaro are good bases for the tours, though there are tours out of San Miguel de Allende as well. November through March is the season, with mid-January being peak viewing. Look at the Mexperience.com site for more information about tours and access to this natural wonder.
La Ruta de la Independencia
A few other towns a short distance from San Miguel de Allende – Querétaro, Dolores Hildago, and Guanajuato, among others – are well-known as the Route of Independence because this is the place where Padre Hildago, Ignacio Allende, and others plotted and executed their plan for independence from the Spanish in 1810. It is a bloody, intriguing history and a trip to these well-preserved colonial sites is a must for Mexico travelers.
All of Mexico is vigilant about safety during this pandemic. Although your visit may be impeded somewhat by restrictions, the warmth of the people remains just as strong as ever.
An Artistic Pair
By Eva López García
Mateo López and Chely García are a dynamic and artistic couple who live in Puerto Angel. They have two daughters, one of who is Eva López García (the author of this article). Mateo López is also the grandfather of my daughter Frances. I am a fan of their art work and if you have come to Café Juanita or my cooking school you will have seen some of their work on display. To see more of their paintings and what is available for purchase you can contact their daughter Eva: email@example.com
Mateo López Rodríguez, the seventh son of twelve, was born in Puerto Angel, Oaxaca, on September 21, 1948. His mother was assisted by a Zapotec midwife who cut Mateo’s umbilical cord with a machete.
In the modern world, life developed, but in Puerto Angel there were still no colours for a child with artistic aspirations. He began his first mural at the age of fifteen on a wall of the old house that his father had built. With charcoal chalks from his mother’s fire pit, he drew a compass that his father had taught him so as never to lose his way.
Mateo, who has Mixtec and Kuna ancestors who had sailed the sea; this influenced his identity and his art. He began a life at sea as a diver and has never stopped swimming and exercising. For Mateo painting counts as spiritual and mental exercise. Throughout his life he has collected knowledge and experiences that he captures in his oil painting and writing poetry.
Throughout his career he has produced more than 500 art works. Many of them are in different countries; currently he is trying to collect photographs of the works that he does not possess.
Mateo López has four children. He tries, through art, to give a little of his heart to each of them, either by giving them his portrait or by showing them his lifestyle on the path of painting, as he says “I only had primary education. Only six years of schooling in the small school in the Puerto Angel of 1955, and after that I had the best school – life.”
His forms of expression are writing and painting; his style evinces the patience he imposes in pointillism and his lyrical artistic roots. Mateo describes his painting as the technique of inner awakening; knowing yourself is a full-body window to happiness and the realization of the spirit.
Araceli García García (Chely) was born November 12, 1976, in San Pedro Pochutla, Oaxaca, a market town that served as a distribution center for mountain coffee beans that would be exported from Puerto Angel. She was the eleventh daugther of twelve children; her family comes from the Oaxaca Valley, which has traditions and customs rooted in the cultivation of the land and the harvest. She spent part of her childhood with her family on a coffee plantation in San Pedro el Alto, high in the mountains north of Pluma Hidalgo.
As a child, she had artistic aspirations for painting. Her work today embodies her experience in that beautiful mountain landscape; flowers and exotic fruits with bright colours, the work of harvesting coffee, the horses and all the energy that producing a cup of coffee entails, the expressive faces of women who were the first to awaken each day to prepare the comal, tortillas, salsa, egg and coffee to feed the men who left on the long day of harvest.
Chely now lives facing the sea. She has dedicated herself to observing it very closely and paints it as a magical and mysterious world. Her magical surreal style with bright colours always has the distinct feeling of Mexico as it is lived in Oaxaca, often showing landscapes of small towns. Her work depicts times of sowing, of traditions like Todos Santos, when cempasúchil (marigolds), Saint Teresa and archwood flowers are harvested to elaborate our altars. Women are Chely’s favorite subjects; she captures them with different expressions, according to their memories or feelings. Angels also figure prominently in her works, they are her dreams and longings.
Chely has been dedicated to painting for 25 years. Instilling in her family the patience and inspiration that comes with a painter’s lifestyle, she is a disciplined, flexible, loving and sensitive mother. Her motto is “I paint because I feel, I am sensitive, and sensitivity is not a weakness is a gift.”
A Shift Towards Realism: The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood
By Randy Jackson
Having a young son at a certain age when the Ninja Turtles were all the rage meant I knew the Ninja Turtles were named after four Italian Renaissance artists (Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael). Raphael (he was the one with the red eye sash) was the biggest of this group of unlikely superheroes. He was a snapping turtle and the leader of these anthropomorphic crime fighting turtles living in the sewers of New York City.
Until recently, beyond the Ninja Turtle character, I was only vaguely aware of the Renaissance artist Raphael’s contribution to the world of art. That changed when I came across a photo of a certain painting, and not even a painting by Raphael himself, but rather a painting by one of a group of painters trying to resist Raphael’s influence in painting some 400 years after Raphael set brush to canvas.
Raphael – Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483-1520) – is widely considered to be the consummate high Renaissance painter. Following the traditions of Greek and Roman art in which artists sought to portray beauty in the ideal human form, Raphael painted humans with grace and dignity and with backgrounds of an idealized and ordered world. His influence endured for centuries and was particularly revered in the Victorian era in England.
By the mid-19th century, though, a group of young, highly talented artists resisted the historical style of painting practiced by Rafael and others. This group became known as the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The particular painting that caught my roaming attention was one of the Brotherhood’s earlier works portraying sacred subjects in a stark and realistic way. Painted by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, it was titled Ecce Ancilla Domini! (The Annunciation). The Annunciation was the announcement by the Angel Gabriel that the Virgin Mary would bear the son of God in her womb.
Normally paintings of the Annunciation are portrayed as glorious events with a winged Angel Gabriel bathed in golden light towering over a pious Mary who is looking demure and apparently calmly accepting this dramatic world-changing event in which she would be a central figure.
In this painting, however, Mary is a scared, uncertain young girl, still in her sleeping clothes, pulling away against the wall of her tiny room while a draped but otherwise naked, all powerful angel tells her of her role as commanded by God.
This painting was like a gut punch to me, so it was of no surprise to learn of the powerful reaction against the painting in Victorian society of the time.
The painting was considered scandalous and morally shocking. The author Charles Dickens wrote scathing criticisms of the Pre-Raphaelite brotherhood, calling them “odious, repulsive, and revolting.” Dickens articulated the concern that an artist’s search for beauty is inspired by an ideal and not found in the raw reproduction of reality.
In fact, this painting of the Annunciation was not the work that drew the most scorn and criticism of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood. The full weight of condemnation fell upon them with their showing of a painting by John Everett Millais titled Christ in the House of His Parents.
In this painting, a thin timid looking Christ is being comforted after an apparent injury by an old, ordinary looking Mary. A bald, unremarkable Joseph works at his table, while John the Baptist, a half-naked street urchin, appears cowed and subdued with a bowl of baptismal water. This depiction of the sacred family of Jesus with details such as toenails that are broken and dirty shocked Victorian society. It was viewed by many as scandalously sacrilegious. Queen Victoria had this painting brought to her so she could see for herself what all the controversy was about. This left the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood nearly broken by the condemnation.
The challenge by the Brotherhood was to the Renaissance portrait of beauty as an ideal in art. This method of painting was represented by Raphael’s style and artists espoused it centuries. However, the Pre-Raphaelite kerfuffle was not just a reaction against a false ideal of beauty. It needs to be seen in the wider context of the time. Kenneth Clark’s Civilization (a 1969 BBC television series, followed by a history textbook) has a segment/chapter on “The Worship of Nature.” Clark argues that starting in the year 1725, Christianity as a source of creativity markedly declined, especially in England. Over the following hundred years people came to the notion that divinity is expressed in Nature. The artistic shift towards realism portrayed by the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was an expression of this shift away from the artistic notions of the ideal and towards nature as it actually is.
As radical as these early works of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood seemed to be at the time, they were also understood by some as an expression of the concurrent Naturalism Movement. One such person was the highly influential artist, philosopher, patron, and social thinker John Ruskin. Ruskin became a principal defender of the Pre-Raphaelites against their critics. He encouraged all artists to “go to Nature in all singleness of heart rejecting nothing, selecting nothing, and scorning nothing.” Nature, according to Ruskin, should be reflected in art in a realistic way, not an idealized version. What’s more, Ruskin believed truth is reflected in realism.
Ruskin’s view and influence won the day and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood went on to achieve outstanding success in their lifetimes. They became significant contributors to the evolution of art in the western world. The Brotherhood quickly moved beyond the paintings of sacred subjects discussed here. The majority of their subsequent paintings portrayed the stark reality of many aspects of everyday life in the Victorian era; we should note that Charles Dickens, shocked as he might have been by the paintings of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, addressed shocking Victorian social conditions throughout his novels.
Much more information is readily available on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, including:
A BBC Documentary on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood:
Artist Movements on the Art Story Website:
A BBC Drama series on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, “Desperate Romantics”
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