Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Halls of Moctezuma and "Ashes and Snow": Two days in Mexico City

The Halls of Moctezuma

We are standing in front of a magnificent building across from the Cathedral in Mexico City, a building we hadn’t really noticed before. The plate next to the portal says this was where Moctezuma (called Montezuma in the US) lived in the sixteenth century when the Spaniards wrested the area form the Aztecs (or according to some, when Moctezuma betrayed them and handed the country over to the enemy.) We can see down the long corridor that runs through the building all of the way to the next block, and realize there are numerous rooms off to each side with interesting architectural details. Over the portal it says Monte de Piedad (mountain—or meadow—of piety). Intrigued, we go inside, and are even more intrigued by what we see there. Some rooms are filled with art objects, a whole room dedicated to the art of Oaxaca, others with showcases of jewelry, one specifically to diamonds. But other rooms are full of people standing in long lines leading to what look like cashiers or ticket windows. And in one room they are sitting in chairs in front of screens like the Arrivals and Departures screens in airports, showing numbers that look like lottery numbers. The walls of all of the rooms are formed of beautiful stone, in various patterns that suggest that they might have been built at different times. Finally, consumed by curiosity, we ask the woman attending the Oaxaca room what is going on. “Empeño”—this is the national pawn shop! Only in Mexico!

“Ashes and Snow”

The Zocalo, or main plaza, of Mexico City, unlike that of Oaxaca and many other cities we have visited, is one big open stoned paved square, surrounded by the Cathedral, the Palacia del Gobierno, and other impressive buildings. A big, totally empty square. Except the day we arrive in Mexico City, it isn’t. Almost half of the plaza, which takes up what would be a very large city block, is occupied by a wondrous building made entirely of bamboo and what look like box car sides. And there are people lined up to get into the building, snaking back and forth, filling the whole rest of the Zocalo and then surrounding the building itself. Even for a Sunday, this is an amazing sight. They are all lined up to get into a photography exhibit by Gregory Colbert, which has been mounted in this magnificent structure called the Nomadic Museum, designed by the Colombian architect Simon Vélez. We can’t begin to adequately describe this exhibit, except to say that the zen like images up to 12 by 20 feet and hung over water in bamboo alcoves in halls that resembled a bamboo cathedral, took our breath away when we saw it the next day. And to judge by what we saw, it had the same effect on the thousands of Mexicans who shared the experience with us. You can see the images at and though it won’t be the same as seeing the images with thousands of others in the bamboo cathedral, you will get the idea. The exhibit is sponsored by Rollex and the Mexican government and free to the public. Only in Mexico!

BTW we first learned of this exhibit through the Ann Arbor Camera Club. We feel incredibly lucky to have been in Mexico City when it was there. It will be in Mexico until the end of April. It’s worth flying down to see it, or if it ever comes to a city near you. . .

Sanctuario El Rosario, Michoacan

ANAYELLI and SOFIA in Maruata, playing in a large clay jar that their mother had made.


We had driven up, up, up over a stone and brick road for 12 miles. Now we were in a large field that serves as a parking lot, facing a steep path lined with wood stalls where women were cooking or arranging souvenirs and memorabilia. As we started up the path, lugging along camera packs and a tripod, an Indian woman with a large bundle of bamboos sticks about four feet long stopped us. "Buy a walking stick," she said. "You'll need it before you reach the top." We were skeptical, but handed over two ten peso coins (about two dollars) and took the sticks. After making it through the rows of booths that traversed the mountain side for about a half mile, slightly out of breath, we reached the entry to the sanctuary, where we paid 35 pesos a piece for entry and were assigned our guide, Jose, a nineteen year old boy. "It's two kilometers from here," he told us, and set off up a series of concrete stairs, broken every dozen or so steps by a rocky path. We were huffing from the altitude and the steepness, so that Jose had to stop often to wait for us. Not too far along, Jim asked him for help carrying the tripod, which he cheerfully agreed to do. After about a half hour climbing the stairs, all 650 of them, Jose turned to us and said, ''This is half way." We could see why the stairs stopped there. From then on the trail was narrow, twisting, and steep. Further on we reached a beautiful open flat spot called the llano de conejos (plain of the rabbits). It was great to catch our breath before we trudged on. Here we started seeing a few Monarchs. Jose pointed out a spot just off the trail where there was a spring. Butterflies carpeted the ground there drinking the water.
We finally made it to the end of the trail, where an area was marked off so that we and other pilgrims could watch the butterflies without doing them too much harm. The monarchs looked like leaves on the surrounding trees, until the sun warms them enough so that the can descend. Soon, with the sun shining through the tall trees, they were fluttering all around us and sometimes landing on us. We watched in wonder at the swarms of color, in awe that it takes 3 or 4 generations for these butterfiles to make the round trip from the Great Lakes and Canada here to Mexico and back.

Two hours later, down at the bottom, we saw the woman selling cane walking sticks. "You were right," we said."We needed them." Coming down we saw many climbers who had only made it half way and gave up. We were proud and thrilled to have witnessed this spectacular scene. Angie had the bright idea to ask the stick woman if she would buy our sticks back for half price. She seemed stunned--no one had ever asked her that before--but then agreed and gave us 10 pesos for the two sticks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Paradise on the Pacific: 2008 edition

"Maruata: Paradise on the Pacific"

On January 6, The Day of the Kings in Mexico (El Dia de los Reyes) and the last day of Navidad, we sat eating fish with Warry (see the archive from 2006) under our awning decorated with the green battery operated Christmas lights that Mary, our friend, house sitter and cat nanny, gifted us with before we left Ann Arbor. We were listening to the PKO Ensemble playing Christmas music through the iPod and van radio. The frequency the transmitter chose to broadcast on was 89.1 fm, WEMU! (Sherry was off seeing ex-officio daughter-in-law and grandson off on a plane from Guadalajara.)

We are camped underneath an almond tree, and every once in a while one of the fruits, a little bigger than a golf ball, will hit the ground or bounce off the roof of the van and startle us. Good thing they're not coconuts! We are surrounded by four huge coco trees, which give us lots of shade and keep La Gitana cool. Earlier this year Warry paid some of the local kids fifty pesos (about five bucks) to scale the trees and knock down all of the coconuts that might be a problem. They didn't get them all, but the van is parked so hopefully any that fall won't hit us.

Maruata's "resort area" is a collection of slab-sided cabañas and palm thatched palapas scattered along three beaches and connected by a meandering maze of trails and dirt two tracks. A creek which at this time of the year can be easily forded, separates the beach area from the main village, which is made up of similar huts and outbuildings with a few cement block tiendas arranged around the town plaza and extending up to the highway. Thirty years aso there was no highway here, and electricity only arrived 12 years ago.

Horses, burros, chickens, and pigs wander more or less freely around the village, along with the buzzards, egrets and other exotic fauna. A few years ago the "presidente" of the village decreed that the pigs were a nuisance and stay on the village side of the creek, but evidently someone forgot to tell the pigs.

Don Elodio, our host, is 89 years old. His horse died, so he no longer mounts ever day to go manage his herd of a dozen or so cattle. In fact, Warry says he does almost nothing, but he guesses when he gets to be 89 he probably won't do much either. As it is, Warry, former commercial fisnerman, steelworker, restauranteur, with one armed paralyzed, goes fishing every day, with mask, snorkel and wet suit, often far out to sea, and almost always returns with two or more fish. He gives most of it away to the villagers, and in return they stop by with baked goods and other local commodities. Warry came in two days ago with a giant Dorado, one of the biggest he's ever gotten. The local kids call him Neptuno.

Another resident of our campsite.

Maruata is considered a "special spot" by Mexican hippies and new agers. One night we climbed "sunset rock" to see the sunset, and were lucky enough to see a whale lleisurely swimming by, obviously feeding because he was blowing and trumpeting frequently, all the while accompanied by this flute player.

Every time we visit Maruata, we stay a little longer and it's a little harder to leave. If we ever drop entirely out of sight, you will know where to look for us.

El Dedo of Dios (The finger, or as Warry claims, the toe, of God).

Love to you all from the Fotogypsies!