Thursday was my day to play Don Vasco.
You remember him. The good don did his best to resolve the plight of the Purépecha who had been badly abused by Nuño de Guzmán -- one of the true villains in Mexican history.
Even though the Spanish had submitted to the authority of the Spanish king in the hopes of preserving their culture, Guzmán was not placated. He wanted gold. And he would -- and did -- do almost anything to get it.
In the process, he tortured and burned the Purepécha chief to death. Leaderless and with a destroyed culture, the tribe scattered into the mountains to survive as best they could. Thousands died.
Don Vasco, bishop of Michoacán, was not going to let a degenerate like Guzmán destroy Cortés’s dream of incorporating the tribes into the new social order.
Cortés was not certain how it would be done. Don Vasco, being the humanitarian imperialist that he was, had some very specific ideas that he had lifted from Sir Thomas More.
He would use kindness to lure the Purépecha out of the hills. He would then train them in peasant crafts with one specialty in each village. The Purépecha would be Hispanicized as part of Spain’s new imperial possession.
The vestige of that system still exists. My little drive through the country took me to the furniture-building village of Cuanajo and the copper village of Santa Clara del Cobre.
As fascinating as the old craft villages are, I was more enthralled with the wild flowers that grow right up to travel lane on the back roads. It was like driving through a florist shop -- without the associated liability issues.
And taking the photographs was like signing an admission form to the emergency room.
My primary purpose for the trip to the country was to stop at the little church in Tupátaro. I visited twice last year to admire its ceiling covered with colonial paintings.
I had intended to compare the ceiling paintings with the ceiling of the sanctuary at Atotonilco. However, there is a “no camera” policy in the Tupátaro church that seems to be erratically enforced. On Thursday, no cameras were allowed at all. The lack of a flash was not even a consideration.
When I get back to Melaque, I will try to cobble a post together. The comparison is worth making. Here is a little sample from last year.
But my day with churches was not over. Thursday night’s concert was not in the theater. It was in the basilica.
The performers were the Chamber Orchestra of Tócuaro -- a small village northwest of Pátzcuaro. Seven musicians. Two violins, a viola, a cello, a clarinet, a keyboard, and a saxophone. The inclusion of the last two instruments is an indication that this was not your grandfather’s chamber orchestra.
They played a selection of European standards. Brahms. Strauss. Verdi. Beethoven. Mozart. Offenbach. The type of music you would expect to be played for a popular audience. And they did a fine job.
But they really hit their stride with a medley of Mexican Revolution sings. Followed by several joyously fun dance pieces. A pair of waltzes. A polka. And one of my favorite tangos (Por una Cabeza).
In the glamorous surroundings of the basilica, it felt as we were at a ball in Saint Petersburg. Simply waiting for the czar’s appearance.
It would not have felt out of place if an evening gown-white tie couple came gliding by on the marble.
They then played a series of local folk tunes that had the crowd -- and me -- on our feet in an ovation. Because the orchestra did what music should do. It fed our souls and added pure joy to a very fine day.
I suspect Don Vasco in his crypt in the back of the church would have enjoyed the day as much as I did.