Sunday, September 30, 2012

the bear went ‘round -- not over -- the mountain

Saturday was a photographer's dream day.

For the past few days we have had either rain or overcast skies.  I like shooting some scenes on days like that.  But most sights in Mexico work best with a blue sky setting off the object.  After all, most people come to Mexico for the sun.

And, as a result of the festival events, I have not been spending as much time in the countryside as I usually do. So, I intended to make Saturday another day in the country.

But I first had an act of joy to complete.  Doug and Kathy Butler had invited me to assist them in cooking and serving a meal at El Sagrario -- the kitchen that feeds the needy in Pátzcuaro.

Once a month Kathy cooks a meal with an international flair.  Saturday was Brazil.  I wish I had written down the full menu.  But I can remember a bit. 

A stew of sausage, vegetables, and black beans served over rice.  With a salad made of chayote, parsley, mandarin oranges, garlic, onion, and lime juice.  And several selections of bread.  Topped off by a dessert.

There were just over 30 diners.  Some taking their meal back to their homes.  For many, it is their only meal of the day.

It was a nice way to start the day.  And, no, I did not take any photographs.  This is one of those acts where a camera could only get in the way.

But the camera came out for a few shots on my trip along the southern shore of Lake Pátzcuaro.  I love the drive, and I cannot believe I almost did not get on that highway during the two weeks I was here.

The lake is nearly bisected by a volcano.  The drive is essentially a ring road around the volcano.  And a beautiful drive it is.

The combination of the sun, the lake water, and the mountains was intoxicating enough that I often forgot to take photographs. Last year I imagined what it would be like to live on the volcano watching the lake below.

And I  dreamed it again this year.  It would be a nice place to spend my time in Mexico.

Last year I stopped at a house on the lake between Tzintzuntzan and Quiroga with the wild idea of buying.  It is still on the market.  But it is on the flats.  Not on the volcano.

You can see the lack in the upper left background.  And that is another rub.  Having discovered that mosquitoes are an incredible problem at that end of the lake, the idea will be filed away as another unrealized dream.

Speaking of dreams, how do you like this Coke advertisement? It is supposed to be customized for Pátzcuaro.  But it looks to me as if a Bollywood artist found a new gig.

Tomorrow I will be on my way back to Melaque.  To pick up my beach life where I left off in July.  Or was it June?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

it’s not my party -- but I’ll dance if I want to

It has been quite a birthday party.

But this is Mexico.  The land where celebration is an art form.  Even when the guest of honor is 478 years old.

You know my opinion about cultural events at the beach. I miss having them there.  But I have certainly had aplenty on this trip to the highlands.  Even here in
Pátzcuaro -- a town not known for its cultural offerings.

I managed to miss the jazz trio this afternoon because I was indulging in an another Mexican institution that I admire even more than fiestas -- siestas.

The fact that most of the acts in
Pátzcuaro had a decidedly home-grown improvised patina merely added to the charm of the entertainment.

And nothing screams home town like a local parade.  I have participated in enough of them in The States to know the drill.

Some entries seem to be universal.  Such as the police band.

Or beauty queens draped over expensive vehicles.  The two sole interests of most teen boys.  And both equally unapproachable.

And horses.  With a decidedly Hispanic showiness.  Spain has left a deep brand on the country.

Of course, there were the senior citizens in their royal court duds proving that beauty is not the monopoly of the young.

And marching bands.

Then there are the entries that are pure Mexican.  Starting with the guy who shoots off rockets leading the parade.  The dog showed up whenever fireworks were involved.  She seemed to be fascinated by the explosions.

Or the various governmental offices marching as a hierarchical group.  This is another vestige of Spanish rule.  To have a public position is to have honor.

Or the giant puppets -- mojigangas if I recall correctly.  Did I get it correct this time, Babs?

And the entry from Crefal.  That is a post in itself.  Honoring the Americas.  Or the part that matters to Crefal -- the nations south of the Rio Bravo.

The evening was topped off with with a concert on the plaza grande.  A series of bands with bass that could loosen fillings.  All of them adding their congratulations to The Grand Old Lady on the lake.

And, of course, there were artistic fireworks.  The type of displays that typify celebrations in Mexico.  But there were no rockets fired into the audience.  Melaque does that far better.

A great party it was.  And I didn’t buy the old girl anything for her birthday.  Of course, I left many a peso in restaurants around town.

Happy birthday, Patzcuaro!

Friday, September 28, 2012

on the road with the don

Thursday was my day to play Don Vasco.

You remember him.  The good don did his best to resolve the plight of the Pur
épecha 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 Purep
écha 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 Pur
épecha 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.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

1810 or 1821?

Happy Mexican Independence Day.

I’ll bet you thought 15-16 September was The Day. And, for most Mexicans, it is.

But, for a small minority of Catholic and crypto-monarchist establishmentarians lighting candles in hidden catacombs, today is independence day.  27 September 1821 to be exact.

Earlier this month I saw a Mexican history magazine at Sanborn’s.  The lead story was the question of whether 1810 or 1821 is the proper date of Mexican independence.  There is a good case for the latter.

So, what is up?  Didn’t Miguel Hidalgo create Mexican independence out of thin air with his grito in 1810?  What about all those bells hanging on governmental balconies?

As we all know, Hidalgo may have started the ball rolling, but there was no independence in 1810.  His inexplicable aborted advance on Mexico City merely ended up with the heads of the independence leadership swinging in the wind on public display in Guanajuato.

True, another renegade warrior-priest, José Maria Morelos, picked up the pieces of the war against Spain.  Until he was executed in 1815.

Supporters of independence deserted the movement in droves and returned to Spanish fealty.  Vicente Guerrero tried to keep the movement alive as a guerrilla war.  But the odds of victory were minimal.

Until history offered up one of those opportunities that the mediocre usually miss.

In 1820, liberals in Spain created a government based on a constitutional monarchy.  There were concerns that Ferdinand VII may be forced to step down.

In one fell swoop, the monarchist forces in Mexico -- the church, the army the establishment -- were put in an awkward position.  To support Spain was to support liberalism  and to oppose monarchy.

Into the midst of these shifting loyalties stepped the man who was to give Mexico its independence.  Agustin de Iturbide was a general in Spain’s Mexican army.  Since 1810, he had ferociously fought the independence forces and was on his way to put Guerrero out of business, when his big chance arose.

Instead of fighting Guerrero, he met with him, talked Guerrero into joining Iturbide’s independence movement from a liberal Spain, and drafted what was to be known as the Three Guarantees.

The Roman Catholic faith would be established as the only faith of Mexico.  All social classes would be equal.  Mexico would be independent as a monarchy -- under an unnamed European royal.

There was something for everyone.  Monarchists.  The church. The conservatives.  The criollos -- who, first and foremost, sought social advancement and position.

But there was nothing for Hidalgo’s indians.  There would be independence, but no social revolution.

And it worked.  The Spanish viceroy signed on.  One day independence was a lost cause.  The next day it was a reality with the stroke of a pen.

Timed for his 38th birthday (27 September 1821), Iturbide entered Mexico City at the head of an armed force to thunderous applause as the father of his country.  Thus, the alternate date for independence.  To honor the man who made independence a reality.

Had the story ended there, 27 September would be a viable candidate to celebrate Mexico’s independence.  That is, if Iturbide had followed the example of George Washington by retiring to his farm.

Instead, when no European prince manned up to claim the Mexican crown, Iturbide decided to play Napoleon, and crowned himself as emperor in the cathedral of Mexico City.  All hail Agustin I.

It all came tumbling down within 10 months.  The Mexican elite tired of his incompetence as a monarch and booted him out of office into exile.  First in Italy.  And then in Britain.

But this was a man of action.  During one of Mexico’s many leadership crises, he returned to Tamaulipas in 1824.  He was cheered.  Then arrested.  Then executed.

His ashes are now on gaudy display in the Mexico City cathedral.  Instead of where it could have been -- with the other heroes in the Monument of Independence.

So, what are the odds for a date change?  Probably about the same as me being elected pope when Benedict vacates his popemobile.

Iburtide’s historical forces died in the Revolution.  And he is a bit of embarrassment to Mexicans who like their martyrs shot by Spaniards -- instead of other Mexicans.  Even PAN pays homage to the Hidalgo myth.

To Americans, the choice seems a bit silly.  After all, when America declared its independence, it was ours.  Right then.  We simply had to kick out the bothersome British -- who refused to leave despite our pretty language in the Declaration of Independence.

We do not celebrate the date we booted them out.  I doubt many Americans even know the month the Treaty of Paris was signed.  Let alone the date or year.  (It was 3 September 1783).

But we can give credit where credit is due.

Happy 190th birthday, General Iturbide.  And thank you for the very nice gift you gave to Mexico.  Sorry the relationship did not work out for you.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

sorrow in cuba -- joy in miami?

I started this morning on the roof.

I was not looking for Saint Nick.  Just a little water that needed tending.

While up there, I noticed that the neighbor who flies the Cuban flag -- for who knows what reason -- apparently was flying it at half mast.  Had Fidel finally gone to settle accounts with God?  Or Raul?  Or perhaps Cuba’s benefactor, Hugo Chavez, had shuffled off to his final election in the sky.

A quick check on Wikipedia -- because I can now do that quickly with my handy Samsung telephone as long as there is a telephone signal -- informed me that all three were currently with the rest of us struggling mortals. 

Then why the mourning banner?

If you look closely, the problem is my perception.  What I thought was the staff is a pipe.  The staff is behind the pipe.  And the flag is at full staff.

And I got my juices running for no reason at all.

Other than to get to ROMEO (retired old men eating out).  I wrote about the group last year (
dancing through life).  Just some expatriate guys who get together once a week to eat breakfast and share tales and lies.

I always enjoy meeting with them.  As I said last year, they always welcome me as if I were a regular.  It is one of the things I enjoy about this town.

Before long, it was time for my nightly festival concert.  But, let me tell you about Monday night’s performance first.

I know very little about classical guitar.  Either the instrument or the music played on it.

But it is easy to recognize a master.  And Italian guitarist Eduardo Catemario is that.

There was no program, so I am not certain of the composers of the pieces he played.  But it was a nice mixture.

Some very traditional guitar pieces.  And a very contemporary atonal piece.  All performed with exquisite technique.

Of course, his instrument compares to the guitars played in the plaza in the same way that a thoroughbred horse is the same as an Indian pony.

He played without amplification giving the audience the opportunity to hear his instrument sing.  It was almost as if he had a chamber orchestra inside his guitar.

The challenge was to hear the music over late arrivals, squeaky bathroom doors, a vacuum in the hallway, spilled trays, cell phones, teenage chatters, what sounded like someone wrapping her dry cleaning, running children, and street noise.

He chuckled a few times at the interruptions, but he played on like a true professional.  And the rest of us ignored the distractions in favor of the beauty of his music.

Tuesday night’s performance was not quite up to that standard.

This was the first performance where admission was charged.  The others were free.  That is, if you can call $50 (Mx) an admission charge -- about $3.88 (US).

The charge seemed to change the audience’s attentiveness, though.  Most of the distractions were eliminated.

The concert was performed by a Spanish pianist -- Ricardo Peñalver Valverde.  His credentials were impeccable.  His choice of music and his execution were not.

Instead of a mixture of familiar and challenging music, we got Ferrante without Teicher.  Selections from Beethoven, Liszt Rachmaninoff, Albeniz, Debussy, and Chopin.  The type of program you would hear at a student piano recital.

And our Spanish friend performed most of the pieces at about the level one would anticipate from a student.  There were exceptions.  He nailed two pieces.

But he indulged in the performance narcissism that is endemic amongst Hispanic pianists.  Lots of flash that ends up scrambling the music.

His arpeggios were too rushed.  That was evident in the number of wrong notes struck.  His grace notes were often sloppy.  And where subtle would have been better, he opted for peacock fingering.

But I was one of the few people in the theater who did not appreciate his style.  Most of my fellow audience members jumped to their feet and gave him a thundering ovation.  Which he repaid with no encore.

Maybe the audience members are so starved for any music that smacks of class, they are willing to press it to their collective cultural bosom.

I like piano music.  I know piano music.  And this performance was just not what it could have been.

But, so far, it has been the only slightly disappointing concert in this festival.

Maybe it was that false half-mast flag that brought out my grumpy critic side.

Tomorrow has to be better.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

what is wagner in spanish?

Saturday is wedding day in Pátzcuaro.

That should not have surprised me.  After all, Saturday is the traditional wedding day in most western countries where I have lived or visited.

But I ran across this obvious fact by accident.  I trudged up the hill that is crowned by
Pátzcuaro’s basilica -- and was once home to a Purépecha pyramid.

My original plan was to write a post about one of history’s cruel twists.  Nearly as tragic as what Frankie did to Johnny. 

A tale about how the humanitarian imperialist Don Vasco, in the sixteenth century, had hoped P
átzcurao would be the capital of Michoacán.  If he had succeeded his basilica on the hill would have been a cathedral.  A cathedral five times larger than its present size.

Instead, Morelia won the capital marathon.  And P
átzcuaro has a basilica that is the size of a parish church in a respectable village.

What it lacks in size, though, it makes up in honor.  The basilica is the burial place of The Great Man himself.  Along with all of the requisite masonic symbols.

It is also a jewel box of a church.  Enough gold leaf and red paint to titillate a czar.  And to offer a setting for Our Lady of Health.

On Saturday the aisle of that jewel box was decorated with flowers, its center screen was wide open, and its center aisle was red-carpeted for the virginal feet of brides.

There were, of course, the requisite flock of nieces acting as flower girls and getting into practice for their own wedding in the not-too-distant future.

But it wasn’t only the basilica that was dressed up for weddings.

I have always liked this view of P
átzcuaro.  With its almost timeless towers.  At least, towers that represent a timeless faith.

As I was shooting through the arches into the former convent, I caught a bride and groom posing for their wedding photographs.  They are up there at the top of the post.  Even though the bride saw me horning in on her session, she simply beamed.

For almost five centuries, young couples have walked across those stones on their way to join together and raise children in a secure surrounding.  With the help of their God and their family.

I was privileged to be part of that special day with several couples.

I wish them well as they start their lives together.

Monday, September 24, 2012

a weekend in the country

Well, a Sunday afternoon in the country, if not a full weekend.

My week-delayed dinner at the casa de Don y Do
ña Cuevas came together on Sunday afternoon.  Last Tuesday, I was simply too sick to eat anything.  And to waste one of the don’s dinners in that fashion would have been a double felony.

My Sunday started with what I thought was a great discovery.

The state of Michoacán is home to sanctuaries for the migratory monarch butterfly.  In fact, the state took enough pride in that fact that a line of monarchs (the butterfly, not the Bourbons) graced the state’s old license plates.

From what I have read, the return migration of the butterflies should begin in October or so.  That is why I was a bit surprised to find what I thought was a monarch warming itself on the cobblestones of the driveway.

It seemed a little early.  But it could have been one of those impolite northerners who show up for parties on Canadian time.

When I finally got on the internet (and after checking the plates on several parked cars), it appears to be a different species.  But it certainly fooled me.

What did not fool me was Don Cuevas’s dinner.  I have read his blogs (My Mexican Kitchen; Surviving La Vida Buena) enough to know that he has a well-developed palate.  His reviews of restaurants are always well-reasoned.  Even when I disagree with his conclusions.

And his cooking is every bit as good.  We enjoyed a dinner of roasted red pepper and tomato soup, carbonnades, noodles, and spinach.  Along with a Waldorf-like romaine and watercress salad.

You can read about the details on the don's blog.

The conversation is always fascinating.  And Sunday afternoon was no exception.  The three of us have shared enough experiences and know enough people in common that we never ran out of topics.

One of the joys of Mexico is impromptu guests.  We had barely finished dinner, when two additional friends showed up.  They shared our dessert and added a new layer of conversation.  Transatlantic cruises being a recurring theme.

While driving out to the don’s house through the
Cézanne-inspired countryside, I noticed that the fall wildflowers have made a stunning entrance.  Especially, pink wildflowers.

It turns out they are cosmos.  An extremely common staple in American borders.

I am always amazed that a flower, whose blossoms are not very large and whose stems are extremely leggy, can create such a vivid color when clumped together.

There is probably a moral there somewhere.  But I will leave it for some Tony Robbins wannabe to tease it out.

The afternoon did cause me to start thinking about where I should be spending my time in Mexico.  I know how I spend my time is far more important than where I spend it.  But the where is still important.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the mild summer weather in the highlands.  And I have had a taste of both urban and suburban life in San Miguel de Allende and Morelia -- as well as the bucolic life in each of my three stops.

For the moment, I will mull the experiences against keeping Melaque as my base of operations for further travel in Mexico.  Knowing full well there is no perfect place.  Just lots of pleasant places.

If I lived next door to Don Cuevas, I know where I would be eating most of my meals.  (Don’t tell him I  said that.)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

smiles and pot pie

Someone once told me Pátzcuaro was not a friendly town.

Of course, someone says that about each town.  Whoever it was, was definitely wrong.

I have always felt part of
Pátzcuaro whenever I visit.  On this trip, I have been greeted by name each day by people I have not seen in well over a year. 

And people on the street are always free with greetings.  Even those who do not want to sell me a woven straw fan.

Today’s celebrations started with a bike race.  Seeing all of those bicycles in one spot felt a little bit odd.  The day before I had noted the complete lack of bicycle traffic in the centro area.  And, considering the erratic traffic, I understand why.

I was merely walking through the waiting cyclists with my camera and several participants started mugging to have their photograph taken.  My favorite was the guy wearing the green shirt at the top of this post.

Saturday seems to be wedding day in
Pátzcuaro.  As it is in many towns.  I ran into several.  But I want to save all that for a post of its own.

Instead, I headed back to the cultural center.  Having discovered the second floor, I wanted to take a look at exhibits I missed last week.

But, even before I got to the door, I found an exhibit of its own on the center’s lawn.

For a moment, I thought a road show of Hair was passing through town.  I think this group is attempting to perform a Purépecha ceremony.  Even though their rhythm abilities were distinctly Andover white boy.

Before I headed upstairs, I visited the mask exhibit again.  They fascinate me.  Probably because it touches that primordial human urge to have the power to remake oneself merely by donning a magic mask.  Even though it didn’t work very well for Don Juan.

I like to give the masks nicknames.  This one is Pinocchio meets Ziggy.

As for this guy, I will let you guess what Steve Cotton may call him.  I can be discreet in my writing.  At times.

It turns out there is a large exhibition room for local paintings.  Unfortunately, they are all covered with glass, and the room is ablaze with sunlight.  As a result, it is impossible to view any of the paintings in their totality.

The reason the lighting does not complement the art is easy to deduce.  This center probably runs on an annual budget less than the daily lighting bill for one room in the Louvre.  If that.

I was just happy to see that good art is available to the public in this small town.

The festival had scheduled three traditional dances in various plazas in the afternoon.  Even though I could not avoid stopping to see to watch the very essence of touristy stops in town -- the old men dance.  The contrast between the young dressed as the old entertaining the young and beautiful summed up how my day was going.

Having partially filled my festival tank, I decided to play cultural hooky and headed off to a late lunch at a restaurant that was highly recommended  by Felipe.  He told me the chicken pot pie was excellent.

And he was correct.  Esquina del Sol is not easy to find.  Without being driven there on my first day here, I probably would have wandered astray.

And that would have been a shame.  The chicken pot pie was the best I have ever eaten.

It is baked fresh in a bowl with a paper thin crust on top.  The gravy was rich and creamy.  With a mixture of diced vegetables -– each with a small burst of flavor freshness that makes you wonder why frozen vegetables exist.

The pot pie came with a choice of lentil or chicken soup.  I had the chicken.  It was perfectly light.  Again with barely crisp fresh vegetables.

The owner (from Arkansas) and a local couple from Nicaragua (by way of San Francisco, Miami,and Mexico City) easily met the local friendliness standard.  We cosmopolitan four spent our time chatting and laughing as if we had known one another for years.  So much for unfriendly

I could have ended the day right there.  But there was another concert tonight.  This time a trio.  A pianist.  A violinist.  And a soprano.  From Zamora.

There was nothing folkloric about them.  Their ballads were as sophisticated as a Cole Porter house party. 

It was the type of latino music that you imagine being performed in a 1950s Manhattan night club.  With Chanel-draped and
Fabergé-bejeweled socialites syncopating their way across the dance floor.

Happily, there was no amplification to interfere with the performance.  Merely pure voice, piano, and violin.  Melting the soul on an avenue through the mind.

And, for me, the best part of the concert was the fact that all of the songs were new to me with the exception of B
ésame Mucho and Granada.  Two standards everyone knows.

I realize
Pátzcuaro is in the middle of one of its big festivals.  But I think I could enjoy spending more time here.  A town that has retained some of its Indian heritage mixed with Midwestern congeniality. 

And culture that is accessible.

Not a bad mix.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

federico -- you are needed on the set

My hosts -- formal and informal -- reminded me yesterday how lucky I have been with the weather in Pátzcuaro.

They are correct.  The weather has been perfect.  Delightfully cool mornings.  And days are warm with just enough sun.  Best of all, there has been no rain.

Just perfect for spending leisurely lunches at Lupita’s.  Enchiladas (with a subtle salsa verde) and internet.  For me, that is paradise.

Earlier in the day, I took a walk through the second floor of the cultural center.  I had never been up there.  The walls are lined with a series of pictures depicting Indian life.

This is a detail from one of my favorites.

It shows an aristocrat sitting down to a nice bowl of ceremonial pozole -- containing the original meat ingredient.  Parts of sacrificed warriors.  What the south islanders call “long pork.”

I chuckled while I ate my enchiladas.  Hoping that the chicken was simply unusually tender.
Pátzcuaro continues to celebrate its birthday.  Today it was two concerts.

I knew the first would be small because it was in the auditorium of the cultural center.  A very unforgiving acoustical room.  Tile floors.  Concrete walls.  Wooden seats.  Long and very narrow.

But it turned out to be more unusual than I expected.  The quartet of younger women (flute, guitar, piano, and French horn) call themselves Petitie Mousse-ik.  I initially missed that little pun.

And not until I arrived did I notice the concert was “para tod@s l@s ni
ñ@s” --  including those playful little vowel movements.

A children’s concert it was.  Centering around a story-teller dressed as a goat.  And no children’s concert would be worth its strings and bows if it did not include long descriptions from each of the players concerning their respective instruments.

But most of all, it was just fun.  The pan acted as a foil to keep the children interested.  Pulling them up on stage.  Leading them in dances.  Mugging when the musicians crossed the border into the Land of Boredom.

The music was nothing great.  Excerpts from mainly-familiar Baroque, Classical, and Romantic pieces played a bit indifferently by the musicians.  But it was exactly what it was supposed to be -- a children’s concert.  What did I expect Phillip Glass?

With the exception of one little boy, who sat in front of me and seemed to know more about music than Leonard Bernstein, everyone seemed to have a pleasant two hours of diversion.

And then I was off to my second concert.  Hold onto your sombreros.  It was billed as Mexican FOLKLORIC dance.  That word again.

But this time I had a new tool of interest.  The group performed primarily Mexican frontier dances.

An American can easily identify with the steps and costumes.  It is basically a combination of square dancing and hoe-down.  Agnes De Mille would have been thrilled.  For all I know, these dances may have been the inspiration for her Oklahoma work.

And it was a frontier tradition Americans and Mexicans celebrated as being the best part of their respective countries.  That is, until a large number of Americans decided it was better to be a European carbon copy than a frontier original.

I recently discovered what we consider to be the American cowboy culture was incubated in northern Mexico.  And that culture is probably what saved Mexico from an early social collapse in the mid-eighteenth century. 

The frontier needed men.  Mestizos and Indians,who could not find work in the core of New Spain, drifted north to the horse and cattle culture of the Mexican frontier.

Not only were they allowed to ride horses and carry weapons (something forbidden to mestizos and Indians in New Spain), some of the mestizos actually became land owners.  Again, something that was forbidden in New Spain.

These dances celebrate that way of life.  A lifestyle that was to seep north across the border into John Ford movies.

I have to confess, though, after about an hour and a half, my historical context waned and tedium set in. 
That is, until the stage was suddenly overtaken by Jalisco women, Durango cowboys, calypso dancers, two clowns, a couple of young Aztecs, two harem girls, and a Disney princess.  I suspect the choreographer sketched this out based on a nightmare after too much pozole.

It was almost as if Fellini was filming my day -- based on a Kafka script.

And that was just fine with me.  It is why I moved to Mexico.