Don Vasco succeeded beyond his fondest dreams.
He wanted to create a P'urhépecha society where the Indians could support themselves. If he could walk the morning streets of Pátzcuaro these days, his Jesuit lawyer heart would swell.
It seems as if everyone in Pátzcuaro is selling something. Fruits. Vegetables. Fish. Chicken. Things I have never seen before and I have no idea what I would do with.
Don Vasco did not succeed in creating More's Utopia, but he came awfully close to forming a branch of the Adam Smith in Action Club.
And I almost missed all of it.
We pulled into Pátzcuaro in the afternoon and jumped into a brief walking tour of the town's historical highlights.
The historical area is quite compact. There are two plazas. The largest (Plaza Grande) is presided over by a statue of Don Vasco. The smaller square (Plaza Gertrudis Bocanegra) is named in honor of a local independence heroine.
Both plazas give the town a sense of Spanish order and tranquility. Even though they each have their individual personalities, they were filled with people living their lives.
No bustle like Morelia. No self-important preening like Guanajuato. Just country folk getting on with the day.
Pátzcuaro, like every Mexican town, has its usual array of churches. And there is nothing special about any of them (with one exception). What is unusual in Pátzcuaro is that there are no churches on the main plaza. Most Mexican towns place their major church in a place of prominence on the town square.
Not Pátzcuaro. Apparently, that was another Don Vasco innovation. He wanted the church to be somewhere other than near the secular power of the city to draw a line between his work and the evil of Nuño de Guzman.
That sounds very romantic. But I have doubts about its accuracy. After all, the same Don Vasco ordered a chapel to be built where the last leader of the P'urhépecha knelt in humiliation to the Spanish conquerors.
But, it does have its stories. One of the most romantic is the story of Gertrudis Bocanegra. She was one of those heroines who pop up in national histories. Joan of Arc. Boudica. Molly Pitcher.
As a supporter of independence from Spain, she provided two sons to the effort who died in the cause. She continued to support the movement until a friend betrayed her efforts to the Spanish, who then shot her in the Plaza Grande, and left her body to the flies for a full day.
Instead of acting as a warning to others, her bravery inspired the rebels. Proving that arrogance cannot trump liberty.
All of that was interesting. But it still did not give me a feel for Pátzcuaro's soul. I had a good feel for what the town had been, but not what it was today.
I got up early the next morning to climb up to a viewpoint, recommended by our guide, to watch the sun rise over the town.
A fellow blogger often writes about the light of Pátzcuaro. And he is correct to do so. Watching the dawn creep over the town bit by bit was better than a Broadway show.
Those building plans never quite worked out the way he wanted. The bishopric was moved to Morelia, and the church in Pátzcuaro was left with only one nave. But it is surrounded by Don Vasco's labors -- stalls where Indians sell their handicrafts.
I attended mass out of curiosity, and then walked down the hill. I had noticed a church at the end of the street that I wanted to see. But I never got inside the doors. Because I discovered what I had been looking for -- the soul of Pátzcuaro.
Just outside the church gate were the merchants I mentioned at the start of this post. The market stretched for blocks and was crowded with early morning shoppers.
Those of you who live in the Mexican highlands are accustomed to this kind of thing. We coastal yokels have nothing like it.
I came to Pátzcuaro thinking it might be a good place to spend part of my summer. After all, it was near the top of my list for places to live in Mexico.
If I had any doubts they disappeared when I had cafecitos with the light-poet of Pátzcuaro, "Felipe Zapata."
For all of his protestations of not being a very social fellow, "Felipe" is the type of company you look for to share a cup of Joe. Well-read. Better-spoken, And intelligently frank. He managed to put up with my ramblings.
When I decided to move to Mexico, I made the amateur mistake of wasting my time looking only for climate and infrastructure that would please me. "Felipe" and Jennifer Rose have reminded me that nothing trumps relationships -- relationships with the soul of a town and with its inhabitants.
And I think I could have a summer fling relationship with Pátzcuaro.
Note -- The photograph at the top of the post is not mine. It is the work of my pal Kim G. of Boston, a frequent commenter on these pages, and found its way here through the good graces of Felipe Zapata.