Saturday, February 25, 2012

Art and Bulls!

     Feb. 23: The next morning dawns sunny and hot. We have breakfast downstairs, where the ceiling is open up past the second floor. Someone is playing a flute outside and a cool breeze flows in. We tour the square around our hotel with José. The jardin has a beautiful fountain in the middle, surrounded by trees of all kinds and bushes and flowers. People stroll through it at all hours.
     The Ave Maria is a cathedral. Its wooden doors are enormous and ornate; it displays gold engravings everywhere, crystal chandeliers, and beautifully tiled floors.
     Interestingly, all six of us agree that this ostentatious grandeur is sickening when we consider the fact that very poor people contribute to it, even as they are starving and living in mud huts.


The church and its environs took twenty years to build, beginning in 1885. Underneath, we would find adobe brick, which has lasted all this time. The plaster and painted façade, however, has been shaken and refurbished a few times from earthquakes.


 The convent next door is now a government building, the seat of the state governor. There’s a huge open courtyard in the centre, filled with palms and flowering bushes. 

     A painter, whose name is Correra I think), painted a beautiful mural up the wide marble staircase depicting the history of the Mexican people. Justice and Liberty are represented by nubile women. He paints the Spanish conquerors as fierce lions who come in and crush the eagle, since the eagle and the snake are Mexico’s symbols. (The snake represents the lake upon which Mexico City was built.) The Aztecs fighting the Spanish is well drawn, depicting the terrors of war.
     An eleven-year revolution won Mexico’s independence in 1810, but it wasn’t until 1910 that the cruel hacienda system was overthrown. There is a big drawing of Emiliano Zapata in the mural. I instantly recognize him, since Marlon Brando played him in the movie. Vince remembers the story of Pancho Villa, who was Mexico’s Robin Hood.
      A new constitution and the separation of church and state in 1929 completed Mexico’s transformation. José is rightfully proud of     his country. The next President might just be a woman, yay! 

Emiliano Zapata aka Marlon Brando with José

From here, we drive to the Museum of Popular Art. It’s absolutely fascinating. At the door, we’re met by huge models of Magisterio Teresa Pomero and her husband. She was a founder of the museum and a revered art teacher. Traditional masks and dress, huge multi-colored diadems, some with eagle feathers, some depicting good and some evil. Many revel in the concept of death. José tells us that Mexicans celebrate death, since it is inevitable and something everyone will experience, they believe in removing the dread surrounding it. Their Aztec ancestors believed in reincarnation and prepared bodies for their travels in the next world with food and necessary articles.      
     On November 2 every year, they have a huge festival in celebration of death. Some people walk from Manzanillo to Mexico City, and do part of the pilgrimage on their knees. Mexicans still wear masks during festivals.
     There are tapestries with vivid colours and embroidery. A dragon is so exquisite that we gasp, but can’t make out the material that it’s constructed from; perhaps a thin ceramic. One headdress looks like an upside down lampshade. One model shows its entire body painted with symbols. Another is a man on a stick horse. One has a mermaid’s tail. Tigers, jaguars, all kinds of masks with various looks and colors and decorations. The embroidery on the clothing is exquisite. We see traditional stringed instruments, drums, furniture (some of the Hidalgo style), toys, pottery, carvings, dolls, and miniatures. One miniature depicts the voladores de papantla, which we saw in Puerto Vallarta: people climb a pole and then unravel downwards in concentric circles. Beautifully carved horses make me think of Leedalo.
     As we are nearing the exit, Vince spies some artists working in an open courtyard, so we go out to see. Two people are working on papier maché effigies. Two others, an older man and a younger, along with a woman who seems to be in charge of the area, are doing pottery. To our surprise and delight, the older man turns out to be the sculptor of the huge dancing dogs that greet us on our entry into Colima! We get his picture and are able to shake his hand.
     Vince then hears some music coming from a basement, just a few steps down from the courtyard. We ask if we can go in, and the woman gets permission. There are four young men practicing their various instruments, three with different types of guitars (don’t ask me what they are called) and one with a flute. They play us a beautiful traditional song. It’s again one of those moments: just by chance, we are privileged to hear these talented people.
     Afterward, we check out of the hotel but are able to watch the parade from our balconies and drink some lovely cold beer and margaritas. Some of the horses that will participate in the rodeo dance up the street. They’ll head to Alvarez, gathering other riders as they go. Leading the entire group is Mo. Teresa and her hubby! Teachers are revered in Colima.
     We beat them in the van to Alvarez and park beside the bullring. It’s constructed by about a couple of hundred people every year, all families who “own” a section of the ring, everything done by hand, weaved, nailed, and posted. See the pictures to get the idea! 

We “rent” our seats in Section 65. Soon the Pomeros arrive and behind them come the horses of the rodeo: brown, silver, black, white, combinations of colors, every one of them gorgeous, sleek and strong.
     A man on a donkey comes up and mocks us gringoes (we’re not sure what he’s saying). Someone behind us growls at him. José says they are embarrassed by the rider’s behavior, and stated that “you don’t have to study to be a clown”. Everyone else seems pleased to see the gringos in their midst.
The riders are young, old, and in between. The horses dance to the beat of the music, bow, circle, and move precisely as their owners do rope tricks. One man stands on his horse and loops the rope from his head to the ground, in almost invisible circles. 

     We drink cold cervesa, try watermelon with crushed peppers, and guavavilla. Maire, Rosaleen and I take a shot of tequila from the horn of a bull. When the first bull comes into the circle, we are ready!
The first bull is a hefty brown guy who shakes off his rider fairly quickly and immediately gets roped. He goes down in a cloud of dust, his head and legs trussed. They untie him and he heads knowingly for the exit. The second bull is feisty and we cheer for him. He shakes off his rider right away then does several mad runs around the ring before he is finally roped. The third bull heads to the exit at the beginning. This one is smart! He stops, trying to get the rider to slide off the front. He is coaxed back up, but the rider gets off and the bull goes out the exit on his own. The fourth bull, a white one, has some trouble getting his rider off, but finally does. Then he races all around, kicking up dust, avoiding the ropes. Eventually, he goes down right in front of us, the dust in the air flowing over our heads.

The first part of the rodeo is over. They will be off to a big lunch now and the bull fight will happen later - which we are not staying for. The horses dance for us as they exit. One rider comes up to talk. He lives in Fresno, California, and speaks English well. We give him a beer and he shares a bit about his life. He “loves his damned old rodeo” and comes every year. 
Jose´and our Tequila Man

     On the way out, we meet a family with a handicapped son. He must be studying English, because his mother points us out as “English” and he smiles and shakes my hand. It’s an encounter that’s so indicative of the friendliness of the Mexican people.  I know that’s a generalization, but sometimes you get a feeling from an area, or an atmosphere, and that’s what we feel here.
We leave Alvarez and have lunch in a beautiful open-air restaurant near Colima. A mariachi band entertains us with lovely traditional music while we feast on delicious meat and vegetables and beer and margaritas. When we’re finished our meal, we sit and watch the dancers in gorgeous costumes. Then out comes a fabulous singer, whose name is Flor Margarita (stage name?). She keeps us enthralled for a long time and afterward we buy her cd’s.

We’re on the way home feeling thrilled and exhausted, but we would do that trip all over again.

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