Monday, February 9, 2009

Tlacotalpan, Veracruz

The weekend before last we spent in Veracruz, in a small village called Tlacotalpan which in fact has been declared world heritage site for its well-preserved characteristic architecture. But we went not only to see the sites but also to attend a music festival that had its 30th anniversary this year. We left for Veracruz city on Friday, where we spent the night. The state of Veracruz is known for its coffee and sugar growing enterprise, but Veracruz the city is in fact a harbor, which used to be very important historically because everybody approaching Mexico via the ocean landed in the Mexican Gulf and in the city's port. But exactly because it was on the water the city has been ravished several times by the Spaniards, French, Americans and pirates. Today it is a quite pretty colonial town, with good seafood, but also quite sleepy. The fortress--San Juan de Ulúa--was my favorite, which we visited on Saturday morning. Because it was built on a little island just off the shore, and although it was in a pretty bad shape, you could walk around freely and roam the yards and towers. Plus it also reminded me of the old fortress we have in my hometown, Nagyvarad, which is also in ruin now because there is no money to fix it. The fort had a certain rustic charm nonetheless. In the gallery we saw pictures of the fort in older days. There we learned that it had been a prison under Porfirio Diaz--a particularly cruel one without latrines.

We arrived to Tlacotalpan on Saturday and stayed until Tuesday morning. The festival was already in full swing, although the concerts started that night. This is also a religious festival called "Candelaria" and it is a special local celebration. There were folks from all around the area just coming for the Candelaria, while the younger hippy like people were more into the music part. Anyways, everyone found what they were looking for. We saw a horse parade, a bull chase (it was quite pathetic, poor bull was obviously lost and he was the one being chased instead him chasing people). We also saw many-many jarana bands playing each night. This traditional folk music from Veracruz is accompanied by singing and dancing as well. The jarana is like a guitar but smaller and it's played very differently. There is also another guitar like instrument in the band called "requinto" which is the solo instrument (the jarana is more about the rhythm). The music is called properly "son jarocho." "Son" is the type of rhythm/genre and perhaps you are familiar with the Cuban sons made popular by Buena Vista Social Club and etc. Sons have been around for a very long time and more than likely have a distant link to African musics and rhythms. This makes sense as Veracruz was probably the area of Mexico most heavily invested in slave-labor during the seventeenth-century. "Jarocho" meanwhile means "from Veracruz."

I really fell in love with the music but also the whole event, I think it was partly nostalgia as well. Those of you who know and remember Homorod, our yearly youth festival that we used to attend religiously will be able to imagine quite well how the Tlacotalpan experience was: lots of tents, lots of young people drinking, doing crafts, singing and dancing, staying up all night and slowly recovering during the day. We stayed in someone's garage, so it was still pretty camp-like for us too.
I think the Veracruz water finally got to us however because all three of us (James, Tod and me) got sick on different day. But we still had lots of fun and even just the scenery that we passed made it worthwhile (sugar canes, coffee plants, palm trees etc). I attached some pictures to give you a sense of the place.

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tlatelolco and a Happy New Year!

We just got back on the 29th from San Antonio where we spent Christmas with James' family and the very same day we arrived he suggested that we visit a place which is historically very interesting and also very close to one of the archives he goes to (of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs). This place is called Tlatelolco and it is north of the center. I knew the name because we saw a documentary earlier about a terrible massacre that happened on this big, empty square in 1968. Lots of people, many of them students died or disappeared in the violent confrontation just a few days before the Olympic games started in Mexico City.

Since the documentary discussed the space and the architecture in detail (the square is surrounded by a sea of high apartment complexes where mostly working and lower middle class people live) I was very curious to see it. What I did not expect is that this very same place is also sight of an Aztec heritage and an incredible colonial church which was built using the bricks of the Aztec pyramids. In the ancient times it was supposed to be the largest market place in Mezoamerica, and we could still see the remains of 7 different layers built on top of each other to produce larger and larger sacrificial pyramids.

The large modern square on the side of the Aztec ruin is called Plaza de las Tres Culturas to signify the coexistence of the Indian, colonial and modern/socialist architectural and cultural heritage. It is all too ironic that all three of them are heavily linked to human sacrifice, murder and bloody violence...

With this last short tale I wish everybody all the best in the coming new year!

Saturday, November 29, 2008

recent stuff 2

We have been to a few exhibitions as well these weeks, one was at the College of San Ildefonso where we have earlier seen the Vik Muniz exhibition. This time we saw two new things: one was called "Viento del Oeste, Viento del Este" which basically comprised of 20th century Spanish art that is in a way or other related to Mexico. They did have one Miro, one Picasso, and one Dali painting which they heavily advertised (of course) but mostly they were unknown artist with a wide variety of styles some of which I really liked, others were pretty schematic. But the other exhibition which we saw by chance only was a very interesting retrospective of Julio Galán, a Mexican artist who lived in New York for awhile. I did not know anything about him before, but I became a fan. It's hard to describe his stuff because it's really complex with lots of influences that melt into a very personal style. He is called a neo-expressionist by critics mixing very subjective, autobiographical motives (a la Frida Kahlo) with surrealist imagery and gay themes full of allegories from fairy tales and childhood fantasy. He used to hang out with Andy Warhol in New York for awhile but I don't think that pop art influenced him much, although his later works use multiple registers and materials. I am posting a picture here to give you a sense of this. Both me and James really liked his stuff, especially the earlier ones.
We also went to the Anthropology Museum for the first time last week (it will need at least 6 or 7 visits). It was pretty amazing, James will write about it soon...

Thursday, November 27, 2008

recent stuff 1

It's not like we stopped doing things on the weekend, it's more like I got a little lazy with writing them up...but here is a brief update.
Two weekends ago we visited the final site of Mexico City that is a major tourist attraction and that we haven't seen yet. It is called Xochimilco and it is on the far south side of the city. Took us over an hour to get there. But it's a very unique place, it shows the original characteristic landscape of the city from the time of the Indians. It is a set of little islands connected by numerous canals. The big attraction, of course is to rent a boat and travel around the canals with many other boats looking at the mainly agricultural landscape. It can be real fun, but I think you need to be a big group of people, because the boast are big for 8 people and up and mostly what everyone does it they have a huge picnic with lots of drinks and food on the boat. Well, we didn't know this, so we were mainly watching as other were having the fun. Although Tod and James did have one huge beer each with lots of chili powder on the side of the cup. James to my great surprise really did not like this "michelada."

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Juice on the weekend

This is something I haven't blogged about yet, even though it's probably my favorite thing in Mexico City so far: the fresh fruit juices all year round. They are sold on the street like everything else, at stands which specialize on juices only. There is a great place right around our corner that Julie told us about so we tried it for the first time about 3 weeks ago...and since then we have to have one every single day! It stared with the "Antigripa" when I was sick (still one of my favorites), which contains guava (super high in Vitamin C), pineapple, orange juice, lemon and honey, but since then we branched out in all different directions: mamey and milk(special fruit here, James' favorite cause it tastes like pumpkin pie by itself), grapefruit, strawberries, banana, the "Vampiro" which is red because of the beets, and the "Verde" which is green because it contains mainly celery and parsley...I won't go into further details, you really have to be here and try it. Oh, and the most expensive mix costs 13 pesos (1dollar)! Sometimes I feel guilty for drinking it every day, but then I cannot resists and console myself saying: "What the heck! I won't ever have anything like that once we leave Mexico..."
Here are some pictures with fruits (mamey and guava) and the Pan de Muerto from last week since I didn't post a pictures of it then.
PS: Tomorrow we are going to Xochimilco, very exiting! Will blog about it later.