Monday, April 20, 2009
There have been two full moons since we arrived in Guanajuato, Mexico. We’ve been here now for just over seven weeks.
The most notable physical things about this beautiful place are the altitude, around seven thousand feet at the casita where we are living, and the incredible dryness of the air, - el tiempo está muy seco. Neither Alice nor I have been able to get used to either of these conditions. We “run out of breath” –oxygen- frequently and we go to sleep early. At night I am having vivid fantastical Mexican dreams. The dryness is very tough on our skin and noses. We are both having lots of nose bleeding.
So there, the bad stuff is out of the way.
This city, Guanajuato, is in many ways similar to Raleigh, North Carolina, our home for many years. The population is largely well educated and by Mexican standards middle class. The local economy is well spread out. The city of Guanajuato is the capital of the State of Guanajuato and it is the center of state government. The prestigious University of Guanajuato is smack in the middle of the city with a law school, architecture school, mining school, language schools, symphony orchestra, etc. etc. There are many other schools here. There are private schools for all levels of education, language schools and trade schools with very specific missions, for example, metal work.
Because of its beauty, its monuments, and it importance in Mexican history; Guanajuato was declared a "World Heritage Site" by UNESCO (Patrimonia de la Humanidad) in 1988. There are some structures and buildings in this city that were built in the 1500’s and 1600’s. And, it is fairly common to see buildings constructed in the 1700’s.
There are a number of large still productive gold and silver mines here. Some of these have been producing at high levels since the 1500’s. In fact, mines in this city, beginning with the Rayas and the Mellado mines which opened in 1558, literally carried the largest share of Spain’s enormous financial burden during its period of greatest power and influence.
An important point of Mexican history is that this city is considered to be “the cradle” of the First Mexican Revolution, the break away from Spain. Large numbers of Mexican tourists come here for that reason. A large statue of El Pípila, the Indian miner who was among those who first openly challenged Spain’s authority, stands overlooking the city. Juan José de los Reyes Martínez was Pípila’s real name. Pípila, as the story goes, was a young man born with defects both mental and physical. His physical deformities caused him to walk in a fashion not unlike the hen turkey and he was an object of ridicule. The nickname given to him, Pípila, is the Spanish/Mexican word for a hen turkey. Pípila was immortalized by his act of bravery when he crawled up to the wooden the doors of the Alhondiga, a fortress like granary. The Spanish were “holed up” there. Pípila braved the Spanish musket fire repelling it using a large flat stone strapped on his back. Then, he smeared tar on the wooden door and set the door afire. The door burned allowing the rebellious Mexicans to enter the building and kill the Spanish. Horrible acts of retribution by the Spanish followed, but the revolution was “on”.
The city is and has been an important art center. Great artists were born here and worked here including Diego Rivera and Chavez Morado. Among the many museums here are museums celebrating the works of both of these twentieth century artists who interpreted much of Mexico’s history in their art.
The city is FULL of beautiful public parks and they are loved and used. You would hardly know that television set exists here. Every night in the parks individual guitar player/singers, mariachi groups, renaissance lute groups, all kinds of bands and more are filling the nights with music. People are strolling around the Jardin Union listening to competing music, eating great food and kissing. Yes, kissing. Guanajuato is the city of the kiss, el beso. Aside from being a frequent pastime for people, there is a street named for kissing, Callejon del Beso (the little street or alley of the kiss). This little callejon is so narrow that you are kissing if you pass someone there. And, Besame Mucho is popular with lots of singers.
Guanajuato has a wonderful Symphony Orchestra. We were surprised when we went to hear their first concert of the season which included Leonard Bernstein’s Candide Overture, a Mendelssohn violin set with virtuoso violinist, Suliman Takalli, and a portion of Mendelssohn’s 5th Symphony, the Reform, which was written to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the Lutheran church and reflects sounds of Martin Luther’s A Mighty Fortress. The guest conductor, Albert Moehring, was from the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra in North Carolina.
Drinking is also popular. There are all kinds of great tequilas available, good wine, beer, and local mescals of exotic “curados”.
There are most unusual and delicious fruit drinks, waters (aguas) and juices (jugos) sold on the streets and in restaurants. We have tried and have delighted in such unusual and, to me, unlikely choices as cumber (pepino) juice or mango/strawberry.