Category Archives: Arts and Culture

Rolling in D.F.

By David Simmonds 

On my several visits to Amsterdam I have always been struck by several things about the town that I really like. The first three that come to mind are: you can find a Heineken in every shop and bar in town that can be quaffed at room temperature, the people are stunningly attractive (at least the women…I don’t recall the dudes), and thousands of healthy people zip around the canal-lined streets on bicycles. This in a town not known for it’s sunny days or jovial personalities.

Mexico City’s mayor, Marcelo Ebrard, may have made the same observation as he has now proclaimed that he and some staffers would ride bikes to work, hoping to encourage other Chilangos to do the same. The hope is that the air will become cleaner and the streets less jammed with gas guzzling autos as others follow his lead. He had already banned cars from the city’s downtown avenues on Sundays, which by all accounts has been a great success, with the residents jamming around on rollerblades and bikes free from the fear of being run down by a distracted driver.  I like this idea a lot..now if they could just bring back the canals that Cortez found there over 500 years ago. For the complete story, check out this article from the San Diego UnionTribune:

http://www.signonsandiego.com/news/mexico/20070702-9999-1n2bikes.html

July in Teotitlán

Sacred Bean Cafe

The Zapotec community of Teotitlán del Valle holds its annual town fiesta the first week in July. There is an assortment of carnival rides, and on Wednesday, July 4, performances of the famous Danza de la Pluma in which dancers wear elaborate headdresses fashioned from painted feathers.

Lying at the base of the Sierra Juárez, the town is within hiking distance of interesting places such as El Picacho, Cerro Gie Bets, which translates as ‘Stone Brother’ in Zapotec. Tip for visitors – check out weaver-guided tours. New this year will be a Feria de Tamales. Spend some time in the Place of the Gods!

Frida Hits the Century Mark

By Lisa Coleman

Whether or not you care for the art of Frida Kahlo is irrelevant. In terms of art and
artistic expression, she demands respect. I personally like some of her work, while other pieces leave me someplace between bewildered and offended. Nonetheless, she is a Mexican icon and in terms of influence and impact on the artistic world,as well as her significant imprint on feminism, she is a force to be reckoned with.

Her husband (and a favorite of mine) once said…”Frida is the only example in the history of art of an artist who tore open her chest and heart to reveal the biological truth of her feelings…a superior painter and the greatest proof of the renaissance of the art of Mexico.”
 
July 6th marks Frida’s 100th birthday. She was born in Mexico City in 1907. To commemorate this event and to celebrate her legacy, Mexico City is hosting several important events in her honor including an exhibition at Casa Azul, the house Kahlo grew up in, and a retrospective of her artwork in Mexico City.

The retrospective will be taking place in the Fine Arts Palace in Mexico City and will be the largest comprehensive exhibit of Kahlo’s work ever. The most recent international exhibition took place two years ago in London and compiled 87 pieces of her work. The Fine Arts Palace exhibition, however, will display 354 pieces of her works on loan from Detroit, Miami, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Nayoga, Japan. The exhibit, slated to open on June 13 until August 19, will have one-third of her artistic production, manuscripts and 50 letters that have not been previously displayed.

“Frida Kahlo is essential to our Mexican culture and art history,” commented Francisco Lopez Mena, CEO of the Mexico Tourism Board. “Her legacy is carried on worldwide and people from all over the world journey to Mexico to see her work and where she lived,” added Lopez Mena.

Every year thousands of visitors flock to the city to see her artwork and experience first-hand where she lived. Tia Stephanie Tours, (based out of Michigan), will be offering a special “Frida Kahlo Anniversary Tour” in Mexico City from August 10 – 17.  This special itinerary includes visits to the National Museum of Anthropology, the chinampas or Floating Gardens of Xochimilco, a day trip to Puebla and Cholula to see the majolica style Talavera tile and a performance of the Ballet Folklorico. There will also be guided tours of the great murals of Mexican artists Rivera, Orozco, and Siquieros, and dining at some of Mexico City’s top-rated restaurants and eateries.

Also during the month of August, the Casa Azul, located in the southern Mexico City neighborhood of Coyoacan, and now the Frida Kahlo Museum, will be holding a special exhibit of letters from Diego and a collection of wardrobe items recently found at Casa Azul. Anthropologist and curator, Marta Turok will discuss the importance of indigenous dress in cultural diversity and heritage. For more information on the tour, please go to www.tiastephanietours.com.

In May of last year, Frida Kahlo’s Roots painting made history at a Sotheby’s auction. The painting was sold for US $5,616,000, the highest amount ever paid for a Latin American work of art at an auction. Roots, 1943, oil on metal, one of the most beautifully detailed works from Kahlo’s most celebrated period, had never before appeared on the public market.

The celebrated painter depicted the indigenous Mexican culture in her work by combining surrealism, symbolism and realism, was married to Mexican muralist painter, Diego Rivera, and was an active communist who had a torrid affair with Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik revolutionary and Marxist theorist.

Kahlo’s unique and highly personal artistic expression was largely derived in part from a tragic bus/trolley accident she was involved in and her subsequent physical and mental pain; along with the anguish of her inability to have children. Her tumultuous marriage to Diego Rivera and her overtly bisexual gender also influenced her work.

Kahlo was also known for her extravagant display of rich and colorful indigenous clothing from regions throughout Mexico. She embraced and honored the cultural heritage of her native Mexico by wearing the regional dress from Oaxaca, such as Tehuantepec and Amusgo.

In the last three decades Kahlo has gained admiration from around the world, which resulted in the 2002 movie about her life starring Salma Hayek, which helped to ignite an even stronger interest in the life and work of the artist.

For art lovers, or anyone who wants to see the Mexican culture from the inside out,  Frida’s birthday may be a party worth attending. 

Mexico City – What are you afraid of?

By: Lisa Coleman 

Okay, get ready…. I’m going to write those scary words…. “Mexico City.” I get that 22 million people in a single place is a bit intimidating, but what I don’t get is how a place so magnificent continues to live under a cloud of negativity. It’s just a big city, with all that entails….the good (the great, the unforgettable), the bad(kidnappings, robbery) and the ugly (drug wars,  murder). However, the word “Mexico” seems to be where the problem begins.

Just like New York, London, Los Angeles and others like them, Mexico City is a thriving metropolis. However, because it’s Mexico, the press has had a field day instilling fear in minds of potential visitors, thus keeping them from experiencing one of the most culturally advanced cities in the world.

I would agree it’s an acquired taste… if you love putting on a plastic wrist band and hanging out in Cancun at the all-you-can-drink hotel bar, Mexico City won’t do the trick. On the other hand, if you want to toss out the tourist in your blood and become a traveler, I urge you to open yourself up to the heart and soul of a culture.

I’m stealing from my own article here… to help gain some perspective let me tell you a couple of things about one of the largest cities the planet has ever known. First, Mexico City is a federal district (Distrito Federal), much like our own Washington, D.C. It is almost 700 years old and is the highest city on the North American continent at 7,349 feet. It has been a flourishing cosmopolitan center for nine centuries since its founding as the ancient capital of the Aztec Empire.  It is the oldest continuously inhabited city in the Western Hemisphere and is over 700 square miles in area. Today it is a vibrant cultural and business center well immersed in the high-tech 21st century, yet still retains its brilliant historic and architectural heritage. Mexico City has 10 archeological sites and more museums than any other city in the world, and, after New York, London and Toronto, Mexico City boasts the fourth largest number of theaters.

The geographical points of interests can be found in three main areas, the Historic Center, the Paseo de La Reforma/Chapultepec Park and Southern Mexico City. The Historic Center is made up of a 30-block area housing the Zocalo (the second largest Town Square in the world behind Red Square in Moscow), several fine museums and important historic sites. The influence of the Aztecs and the Spanish can be felt and seen amongst the buildings and their architecture. The center’s Metropolitan Cathedral, started in 1572 and not completed for another 250 years, is the largest church in Latin America.

 The Zocalo was once the location of the astonishing Aztec city of Tenochtitlan and the
 ruins of the incredible Templo Mayor (Great Temple) still remain preserved here. The
site captures the genesis of this ancient Aztec masterpiece and allows visitors to walk
the remains of the main ceremonial pyramid. The historic grandeur of the archeology can
be found in the fantastic Templo Mayor Museum where life-size warriors, dramatically displayed artifacts and large-scale city models bring the culture to life. The entire area is
worth a whole day just to walk the streets, see the architecture and absorb the pace of
the city.

The Paseo de La Reforma/Chapultepec Park spans over several miles along the city’s grand east-west, French inspired avenue of the same name. The Reforma District has the look and feel of a European city. The Austrian Archduke Maxmillian, who was emperor of Mexico from 1864 to 1867, modeled the tree-lined Paseo de La Reforma Avenue after the famous Champs Elysees in Paris. And, like its European predecessor, this avenue is also home to incredible shopping and some of the finest hotels in the world.

Chapultepec Park (which dwarfs New York’s Central Park) is also a vast cultural and recreational attraction. Once a hunting ground for the Aztecs, Chapultepec Park has been in existence for more than 500 years. Located in the middle of the city, its 2,100 green, wooded acres are filled with marble statues, playgrounds, manmade lakes, jogging paths, botanical gardens, an amusement park, a zoo and the grand Chapultepec Castle. Mexico was briefly a monarchy and the castle, 200 feet above the park on a hill, was the former home of Emperor Maximillian who converted it into his palace. It now houses the National Museum of History and visitors can take in the spectacular city views, tour the luxurious salons with their extravagant furnishings, and view vibrant murals by famed Mexican painters O’Gorman, Orozco and Siquieros.

The southern part of the city is filled with colonial suburbs and brilliantly maintained
classic architecture. The enchanting boroughs of San Angel and Coyoacan are the most
outstanding. The quaint houses, cobblestone streets, opulent mansions and vivid gardens
 of San Angel give an impression of being back in time. This area is a long time favored
 choice of residence for local prominent artists and writers. This town’s Saturday Bazaar
 is a great place to spend the day shopping for one-of-a-kind local arts and crafts.
  Equally as captivating, the district Coyoacan clings to it Pre-Columbian roots. A
handsomely renovated town plaza is full of shops, street entertainers and restaurants.
 Nearby are several important museums including the house of famed Mexican muralist
Diego Rivera, the house of artist Frida Kahlo.

And this is only the beginning. Here’s a hot tip when it comes to Mexico…. don’t believe everything you hear. This country has 30 centuries of human cultural evolution so give it the credit due. Dig deeper, learn more. Don’t jump on the band wagon about Mexico City. There’s so much more to it than you think.

Michoacan

Michoacán – The Ultimate Union of Beauty and Tradition

by Lisa Coleman

Have you ever heard of Michoacán and it’s magical cities? Morelia? Patzcuaro? Tzintzuntzan? Santa Clara del Cobre? Uruapan? If you’re one of the lucky ones, an enormous smile unconsciously found its way to your face and visions of picturesque landscapes, magnificent architecture, and the unforgettable smiles of the local people began racing through your mind. Unfortunately, most people read the word “Michoacán” over and over again and it simply doesn’t register. To them, it is just another place in Mexico, but to me (and those like me) who have looked into the eyes of the people here and felt the power of their tradition, it is one of the most intriguing and unique places in the entire country.

To simply things, look left and up just a bit from Mexico City on a map and you’ll find the Mexican state of Michoacán. It is a land of intense natural beauty with mountains, rolling hills, crystal blue lakes, deep green valleys, winding rivers, wild flowers and pine trees. It’s unlike any Mexico you have ever imagined in the past. The state has few large cities, but rather an eclectic collection of small villages and towns that have remained locked in time since the 1800s. The Spanish colonial influence is powerful and the indigenous heritage rich and prominent.

Morelia, the capital city, stands as the centerpiece of the state. Founded in 1541, after centuries of Spanish rule, it is known as the “Aristocrat of the Colonial Cities.” It is the quintessence of 17th and 18th century Spanish colonial style and proudly displays its regal cathedrals and its masterfully restored downtown area. The feeling is distinctly European. Morelia’s wide boulevards and cozy squares are lined with chic cafes filled with students, artists and a community of retired Americans who have come to enjoy the cities educational and cultural centers. Accommodations are plentiful but not prolific. Your best bet will be to stay at local inns or small luxury resorts. (The Villa Monta a is one of the most gorgeous and impressive hotel properties I have found anywhere.) Rent a car or hire a guide from the hotel to help you explore the surrounding towns and villages.

An hour or so outside of Morelia is the amazing town of Patzcuaro. Resting 7,250 feet in elevation in the foothills of the Sierra Madre on the tranquil shores of Lake Patzcuaro (one of the highest lakes in the world), this was the 16th century capital of Michoacán and is still home to the Purepécha Indians. Frozen in time, the local Indians still fish, farm and present their crafts in vibrant markets just as they have for centuries. Jumbled, narrow cobblestone streets frame colorful town squares and single story white washed houses with red tile roofs. It has a magic all its own.

Venturing about ten miles northeast of Patzcuaro, you’ll encounter the subtle charisma of Tzintzuntzan (tseen-TSOON-tzahn). Located on a terrace overlooking the eastern shore of the lake, this is the ancient capital of the Purepécha kingdom. It’s worth a visit to this simple yet interesting archeological site to see how carefully fitted stone blocks support the ruins of five “yachts” or temples. Tzintzuntzan is also well known for its straw and ceramic handicrafts made by the Purepécha.

Not much further up the road, you’ll be serenaded by the somehow melodic sound of hammers pounding copper in the crisp mountain air. Santa Maria del Cobre has been a center for the copper arts since before the conquest. The town square is incredible by itself and holds its own as a “must see” even you don’t want to buy copper. Though the mines of that existed during the pre-Conquest times are long gone, the local artisans continue to create each magnificent piece of art by hand.

Almost forty miles beyond Patzcuaro is the verdant town of Uruapan (oo-roo-AH-pan). Its Spanish founder believed it to be “the most beautiful spot in all of New Spain,” and once you see it, you’ll find it a difficult point to argue. “Urupan” is the Purepécha word meaning “where the flowers bloom,” and the vivid colors of the vegetation are the perfect compliment to the colonial mansions and scenic squares. Visit the craft market; it’s one of the best in Mexico. And try the avocados, Uruapan is famous for them.

And finally, don’t forget that over 100 million monarch butterflies migrate from the US and Canada to spend the winter in the easternmost part of Michoacán. Between November and March, El Rosario Monarch Butterfly Sanctuary is a total sensory experience. The trees come to life in black and orange as the millions of wings pulsate in harmony.

Michoacán is a real treasure. It may not be for everyone, but if you have a bit of adventure in your heart and a yearning for tradition in your soul, it will impact you forever. Both America West Airlines and AeroMexico fly daily to Mexico City. AeroMexico connects from there to Morelia. Town and Country Tours can assist with your packaging. Contact your travel agent for details.

The Basics – Mexico 101

The Basics – Mexico 101

by Lisa Coleman

Mexico, a land of extraordinary contrasts, is filled with mystery and magic. Travelers are able to embrace the depth of its enthralling past, touch the unspoiled beauty of its unique landscapes, and discover the endless variety of choices that lie at the heart of the Mexican experience. There are few places in the world that offer as much diversity and possibility as this remarkable country. So whether it’s history and culture, archeology, golf, adventure, shopping or simple romance, there’s a Mexico for everyone.

A vast 3,000-year history has left an indelible impression and an unforgettable look into human and cultural evolution. A showcase of preserved historical treasures and colonial architecture make up the framework of a thriving modern day lifestyle. From intimate, remote villages to exciting sophisticated cities, Mexico is brimming with intrigue and passion.

In terms of surface area, Mexico is the 13th largest country in the world with an enormous mixture of peoples and traditions. It has the world’s fourth largest number of World Heritage Sites (20). These sites, considered by the United Nations Educational and Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to be “of outstanding universal value,” range from perfectly preserved colonial cities and Mayan ruins to the whale sanctuaries of the Baja and the 16th Century monasteries on the slopes of the Popocatepetl volcano. And… Mexico is one of the world’s five richest countries in terms of biological diversity. It is a mosaic of ecosystems consisting of deserts in the north, pine forests and snow-capped mountains in the middle, and tropical jungle in the south. With over 6,000 miles of coastline, it is one of the most varied natural landscapes on earth.

There are now over 18 million acres of ecological preserves, including 44 national parks, 24 biosphere reserves, 111 protected areas, and a substantial number of national marine parks. For nature lovers the options are endless. A few of the standouts are the astonishing Monarch Butterfly sanctuary in Michoacán, the Copper Canyon in Chihuahua (a series on interlocking canyons some deeper than the Grand Canyon!), white-water rafting in Veracruz, and mountain climbing near Mexico City. (* Two towering ranges run through eastern and western Mexico. The central plateau between the two is the third highest populated region in the world behind Bolivia and Tibet. A series of volcanoes stand along this plateau and five of them stand taller than any in the continental United States.)

When you get to know the cities, you’ll find them nothing short of astounding as well. After the conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1521, Mexico was the richest and most prized possession for the Spanish Empire. For 300 years Spain not only ruled Mexico, but also worked diligently to model in the image of its European homeland. The result: a Latin country dominated by European ideas, architecture, monuments and art. The modern day Mexico has more standing legacies to this Spanish colonial era than any other country in the world. (In fact, Spanish Catholics built 12,000 churches in Mexico during that time!) This incredible heritage can be experienced in literally hundreds of cities, towns and villages throughout the country. Each is magical, charming and fascinating.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to understanding all Mexico has to offer, but to begin with, let’s take a look at the part of Mexico most Americans find fairly familiar.

Cuernavaca Day Trips

Vibrant colors, Old World style, ornate architecture, cobblestone streets and distinctly locked in time… this is the mystique of Taxco. An hour from Cuernavaca, this is undoubtedly one of the most picturesque towns in all of Mexico. In the early 1500’s, Jose de la Borda (a Frenchman living in Spain) heard of rich mineral deposits in the New World and rushed to Mexico to try his luck. He struck it rich in Taxco. Since then the city has been deemed the “Silver City” and is known worldwide for its pure silver jewelry and handicrafts. Borda developed the city and is credited for the construction of the city masterpiece – the Santa Prisca church. He imported artisans from France and Spain who created the most powerful and elaborate examples of 18th century of baroque architecture. The interior is astounding with twelve intricately carved and gilded altars arranged according to size and religious content. It will rival most any cathedral in the world. There are plenty of cozy eateries surrounding the town the square for a relaxing lunch. Not only will it be the best shopping day of your life (over 150 silver shops), but it will also leave you with a lasting sense of Mexican history and charm.A short 30 minutes from Cuernavaca is the mystical town of Tepoztlán. The legendary birthplace of Quetzalcoatl, (“plumed serpent” of ancient Aztec and Toltec folklore) the area is considered a prominent “energy center.” It very well may be the Sedona of Mexico! The towering vertical cliffs of Tepozteco Mountain frame this inviting Mexican village. Ruins from a 15th century temple can reached after a rather strenuous hike 3,000 feet to the top, but the breathtaking view is well worth the effort. Do some shopping in the marketplace and stop for lunch at Casa Pi ón, the food is fantastic, the view wonderful and they usually have live jazz music in the afternoons. (Av. Revolución, No. 42. – your driver should know the way.)

Just up the road (maybe 25 more minutes), you’ll find the enchanting village of Tlayacapan. Lined with colorful shops, and filled with local handicrafts, you can spend hours exploring and enjoying the kindness and warm smiles of the local people. In the 15th century, Tlayacapan was a passage way between the capital of the Aztec empire and southern Mexico. When the Spanish arrived, they built the San Juan Bautista convent that is still the pride of the community. Incredibly well preserved, with a majestic façade and amazing frescos on the walls, this may very well be one of the most intriguing convents in central Mexico. The marvelous chapel is still in use and the museum inside the convent is astounding.