Tuesday, December 30, 2014

alan shepard goes to colima

I feel like a Mercury astronaut.

Dan, Patty, and I have just returned from an overnight shakedown cruise to Colima, which I had visited, and Comala, which I had not.  Based on that outing, we are now set to head south.

But it was more than just a shakedown.  Going a few miles east from the beach, tropical Mexico turns into colonial Mexico.  Or, at least, the transition to colonial Mexico.

Not much remains of colonial Mexico in Colima.  But, the signs on the surviving colonial structures, remind the reader that Cortés was there in the 1530s -- mere years after pulling down the Aztecs.  Obviously, he built none of the structures,  but they were soon put in place by his successors in the Spanish empire.

For those of us from the beach, Colima is a different world.  Just a bit exotic.  Even though, what is there can be seen in a short stay.

Dan and Patty loved the place.  Colima was still dressed in its Christmas finery with gaudy street decorations (the type of geegaws that Babs tells me would never be erected in San Miguel de Allende).

The town square, in front of our hotel, was surrounded by former and current government buildings.  A visitor can easily imagine being in royal Mexico.  Admittedly, a bit on the cheap.

But Colima does not warrant a long stay.  Knowing that, we decided to make a trip to the village of Comala.  Everybody who has told me about the place has bragged about it.  The recurring word has always been “quaint.”

”Quaint” is one of those words that raises my analytical defenses.  It is right up there with “family farm”  A term that inevitably clouds fiscal and social policy with the gauze of nostalgia.  Think France.  Japan.  The United States.  Or, even, Mexico.

Well, quaint it is.  Comala, that is.  A village that could be confused with countless of its cousins throughout the highlands.  Pocket-sized town square.  An indifferently-decorated church.  And lots of restaurants.

We ended up in one of the restaurants watching the Christmas-New Year tourist mob pass by our table.  What ended up on the table was a series of tantalizing botanos with more food than I eat regularly at a full meal.  That did not stop us from having our lunch.

Despite what we anticipated (a bill based on tourist prices), the cost ran about $12 (US) for one of the best afternoons we have yet spent in Mexico.  I can’t think of a single establishment in Melaque where I could have eaten anything as good as what we ate for the price we were charged.

Yesterday, we abandoned the semblance of urbanity to head out into the rural hinterlands of Colima – starting with the  Alejandro Rangel Hidalgo museum.

Let me make a confession.  I had never heard Rangel, a regular contributor to UNESCO Christmas cards.  After seeing his paintings, I am not certain I have missed much.

There is no doubt that he was a skilled painter.  His technique and composition are well-executed;. the details in his figures are perfect.  The museum provides magnifying glasses to appreciate just how fine his brush points are.  All three of us were duly impressed.

It is his subject matter I find lacking.  Adult characters re-figured as children.  Far too sentimental  and representational for my taste.  They fall just short of being the doe-eyed waifs of Margaret Keane.

Rangel’s property was filled with all sorts of buried Indian artifacts -- artifacts that were uncovered during a period when people believed they had no value.  (There was a period when Mexican liberals idealized the Indian myth, but despised the presence of actual Indians.)  Those artifacts are now housed in a small wing of the museum.

The Indians in western Mexico were not monumental builders.  Their legacy is shaft tombs filled with ceramics.  In the area of the Rangel property, the tombs cover a wide time range -- from 500 BC to 600 AD. 

What I have always found fascinating about the shaft tomb culture is its obvious humanity.  There is a full case of ceramic figurines showing Down's syndrome, dwarfism, a hunchback (in aristocratic wear, doing his Richard III impresson), and a hair-lip.  Not your usual subjects of honor.

Because we do not know much about them, anthropologists have simply made up a lot of stuff.  The Maya were once crowned by anthropologists as the "Athenians of the New World."  It appears the shaft tomb culture has been granted that honor, since we have discovered the Maya were as blood-thirsty as the Aztec.

"The refinement and originality of these pieces are a reflection of the spiritual values, respect and love for life and nature."  So says one gushing plaque.  Just before coming to this display of rather bewildered warriors.

At least, the displays are far more telling than the attached commentaries.  Something a wag might say of my own efforts.

Having completed our shakedown, we headed down the mountains to Barra de Navidad to assess what we needed to add to our kit for our longer trip south.  Fortunately, we will not need much.

Already I am feeling the frustration of writing essays while traveling.  In our two days around Colima, I have noted at least seven corollary topics I would like to write about.  But most of those will need to await my return to Barra de Navidad.  For those inevitable slow news days.

Alan Shepard stands down.  John Glenn climbs into the capsule.


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