Friday, January 23, 2015

this ain't scottsdale

Back during my years as an attorney (when the earth's crust had begun to cool), I would tell people at work I was thinking about retiring to Mexico.

The usual question was: "Oh!  Are you moving to Lake Chapala?  I understand that is where all the Americans go."

It was an interesting question because I never once thought about moving there.  Somewhere along the line in my reading, I had come to the conclusion that Chapala was merely Scottsdale re-located south of Guadalajara.

It was a prejudice.  One I had garnered from reading descriptions of the bountiful life led by retirees beside the lake.  A life filed with morning walks, lunches by the lake with fellow expatriates, ready shopping at big box stores, and the occasional community theater. 

Most of the descriptions were written by real estate agents who made life on the lake sound about as interesting as waiting for death in a doctor's reception room.

So, the answer to the Chapala question was always:  "Not on your life."

Dan asked me yesterday if I was interested in driving to Lake Chapala.  I have done a lot of re-thinking about the place since I moved down.  "Sure," I responded.  But not until we had a chance to see Guadalajara in the daylight.

You may recall Thursday's post that included a photograph of Guadalajara's cathedral at night.  The photograph at the top of this essay is from the same angle in daylight.

Like many buildings, this one looks better at night.  Those steeples (that look disturbingly like a Lady Gaga bra) throw off the proportions of an otherwise architecturally-interesting building.  It should come as no surprise that even though the current cathedral was completed in 1618, the steeples were a later addition following an earthquake in 1849.  In a completely different style than the rest of the building.

The view is from Independence Plaza.  As you might expect from the name, the plaza is dominated by a large statute of one of the early martyrs of the independence movement -- Miguel Hidalgo.

In an attempt to portray Hidalgo as an advocate of independence, artists often leave him looking as if he had just crossed the line from passion into madness.  Or maybe it is his reaction to being reduced to a roost for pigeons.

But there was another reason I wanted Dan and Patty to see the statue.  There is a far more interesting portrayal of Hidalgo in town -- as the central figure of a mural painted in the main stairwell of the Jalisco Governmental Palace.

We have discussed this work before (on the road to guadalajara) -- when Kim and I visited Guadalajara's sights last August.

The painting is by José Clemente Orozco.  One of the giants of the Mexican muralist movement.

He captures Hidalgo as a righteous prophet meting out God's justice on a sinful world.  The portrayal has a nodding resemblance to Hidalgo's historical life and personality.

As interesting as the central Hidalgo figure is, I have always found Orozco's panel to the right of Hidalgo to be far more interesting.

Even though Orozco was a life-time supporter of social justice for workers and peasants, he was saddened by the violence of the Mexican Revolution.  His portrayal of Hidalgo's torch as a harbinger of freedom can just as easily be interpreted as Hidalgo's flame of violence offering succor to the forces of communism and fascism.

Orozco was one of the few artists who was brave enough to argue that fascism and communism are the same evil -- political structures that offer no better hope for the common man.  That is why I find the panel so powerful.  I have seldom seen that truth portrayed as well as it is in the government palace.  (That alone is an ironic layer.)

As interesting as Orozco is, we had other fish to fry -- at Lake Chapala.

Heading south from Guadalajara, the highway starts to climb over hills.  The road gets steeper until the the lake with its restraining mountains unfolds.  All in one view.

From a distance the lake is stunning.  On its shore, it looks a bit like an aging dowager whose makeup no longer covers certain short-comings.  In the case of the lake, its color gives away its less-than-thriving life.

But that is a quibble.  The walk along the lake in the town of Chabala is charming enough.  The big selling point is its claim of year-round spring weather.  It was certainly true during our visit.

From the realtors' propaganda, I expected to be inundated with "active seniors" enjoying the "next chapter of their lives."  We saw no such thing.  There were a few tourists at restaurants along the lake.  But not in the numbers I anticipated.

When Marc Olson and I met in San Miguel de Allende a couple of years ago, he mentioned that he was surprised to hear so little English there -- a town well known for its American "art colony."  I had the same fear in Chapala.

I thought we would be greeted in English in shops and restaurants.  I was wrong.  Everywhere we stopped, Spanish was the currency of commerce.  As well it should be.

The Lake Chapala area offers several things I do not have available in Melaque.  Immediate medical care being the most obvious.

What it does not have is an ocean.  The lake is not really an adequate substitute for me.  But for many, it does quite nicely.

For a number of reasons, we did not see much of our next stop: Ajijic -- where we are staying the night in the second most charming room (for me) of this trip.

We will see what treasures we find on our way down the Sierra Madres Sur later today.

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