The Streets of Guanajuato - May 2004
The streets of the City of Guanajuato in Mexico´s Bajio, 177 miles northwest of Mexico City, are filled with stories of revolution and romance; through the winding alleyways and cavernous tunnels, in the green plazas and sculpted buildings, dashing trumpet runs, thick aromas and sweet flavors emanate with stories of mines glistening with gold and silver, of lovers capturing a moment of passion before it is ripped away, of a Mexico arising from the ashes of persecution to resurrect its native culture.
That native culture, in all its many forms, dances around every corner of the city's stone-paved streets, passed old men playing guitars on door steps of colorful stuccoed buildings, in the scent of hot tacos and the energy of feathered dancers performing in the Mercado Hidalgo. Whether you're buying cups of chilled papaya from vendors on Avenida Benito Juarez, yellow mums or gladiolus from flower sellers, or following mandolin and guitar players on the callejonadas through narrow passageways, Guanajuato's culture lives, spreading the passion of its stories throughout Mexico.
Perhaps this is what brings so many Americans here. I see them everywhere, most of them college students in their late teens or 20s attending one of the town's numerous Spanish language schools, but I also see a few older Americans seeking release in a place that offers liberation of the soul.
Guanajuato was founded in 1554 after two major strikes of gold and silver; people quickly became wealthy on the mining industry here. Later, in the mid-1760s, came the discovery of the biggest silver lode in history at the time. Flooding of the three rivers running through the city became a problem, and tunnels were dug underneath to provide more adequate drainage. Today these tunnels serve as major roadways, where cars and pedestrians both venture through the serpentine thoroughfares, evoking the city's many legends of phantoms, lost gold, and thievery.
Casa de las Leyendas brings these stories to life with holograms and animatronics similar to those found at Disneyland. Hidden amid damp caves, the displays show the spirits of dead miners still searching for silver. Visitors find poor, desperate miners attempting to steal buried treasure but, alas, the skeleton protecting the treasure is pulling him back in. But there's an element of familiarity here, too, in the town's thirst for self-determination much like that of Mexico’s northern neighbor; the first victory of Mexico's War of Independence took place in Guanajuato. Although the wars of independence in the United States and Mexico differed in many ways, they share common ground in their decision to find their own destinies independent of outside interference. This was, of course, a bold experiment, a sort of forbidden love, because throughout history the wealthy and the powerful have always insisted on their right to govern the masses.
I find myself drawn to this passion for the impossible, the danger of independence, and the celebration of life that is the by-product of free will. And lingering somewhere in this city's storied streets is a moment of truth that I long to touch, at least for just a breath or two, to draw on the passion and the fortitude of past centuries.
Mexico's War of Independence began in the early morning hours of Sept. 16, 1810. Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costillas and his fellow patriots had planned to launch the movement at a later date. However, he learned that the plot had been discovered, and he called an early mass in the nearby town of Dolores where he told parishioners the time had come.
"God Bless Our Lady of Guadalupe!" he shouted. "Death to the Gachupines!" (a slang term for Spanish-born people who ruled Mexico.)
They had their first victory only 12 days later when Hidalgo's troops laid siege to the Alhondiga de Granaditas, a newly-constructed granary in Guanajuato where troops loyal to the Spanish crown withdrew after the town´s residents rose against them. Popular folklore tells the story of a young miner, El Pipila, who strapped a stone slab to his back to shield him from loyalist bullets while he rushed to the wooden doors and set them ablaze. This allowed the rebels to enter the alhondiga and gain victory over the troops in a bloody battle.
The independence movement continued for more than a decade. Yet out of that Independence came more suppression many years later, when Porfirio Diaz became dictator and tried to turn Mexico into another Europe by erasing native culture.
The Mexican Revolution of the early 1900s brought this suppression to an end, and Diego Rivera (a native son of Guanajuato), along with a number of other artists, set out to create a national art which celebrated Mexican culture. The granary battle, El Pipila, and Diego Rivera were moments of passion, a stolen kiss, a forbidden love of identity, and that act of courage still rings true today in the winding streets and callejon alleyways of this fine city. Diego Rivera was born here and the house where he spent the first six years of his life is filled with his work which chronicles the Mexico he helped create.
DIEGO RIVERA HOUSE
I enter the Diego Rivera House and Museum on Calle Positas and venture through the first floor filled with furniture from the time he was a child. I´m intrigued that a few are actual pieces that belonged to the Riveras. The family´s brass canopy bed lies in repose in one room, its twisting rods holding up small lace curtains; a white quilt covers the mattress. A roll-top bureau desk and rocking chair with webbed backing, although not part of the original household, add authenticity to the room, and a table with an old oil lantern sits next to the bed. Most intriguing of all is the cloth cradle hung on a brass frame in which the baby Diego lay in infancy.
The original dining table sits in another room, covered with a lace table cloth. Six high-backed wooden chairs with black leather seats sit at the table. I can see the young Diego here, perhaps toying with his food, dangling his young legs from his chair, fidgeting beneath the cloud of adult conversation.
My ponderings about this unique artist race ahead many years as I go up a winding cement staircase to the second floor. No longer is the young Diego playing with his food or fidgeting in his chair. Instead, I find a lithograph on yellow paper titled Tehuantepec Market revealing outlines of a woman with a basket on her head.
Although I’ve read some material on Rivera’s life and work, I have purposely avoided reading up on the works in the museum; I want to find my own interpretation. I wonder what the woman in the lithograph is carrying in the basket. Is it laundry? Is she on her way to a nearby river? Or perhaps she's finished and is now returning home. Perhaps it is not laundry at all. She stands next to a group of other women with baskets – maybe she’s stopped for conversation with friends, which is a staple of life in Mexico, even today. Perhaps she carries bread or pastries, or bags of tortillas she spent the early morning hours rolling and baking, and now she's taking them to market. She could be carrying anything; nopalitos for Lent, mangoes, bananas, prickly pear tunas, or woven garments.
Another lithograph shows a woman teaching peasant children while an armed mounted soldier watches nearby. In the distance, farmers plow their fields. Perhaps Diego Rivera is showing the empowerment of Mexico's native population and the need to safeguard that empowerment.
One thing is certain: I like the way Diego tells a story with his work and, at the same time, lets me create my own dream. I can go so many places and walk so many trails through his work, it's like a portal through which to enter his dreams to get to mine.
A painting called The Forge, dated 1908, catches my attention. The painting shows a darkened work area beneath a shelter of rafters. The shelter has no wall; instead, it opens into an open area where sunlight falls on a white-washed building with windows.
Inside the shelter, a man grips a cable, muscles in his arms bristling. He leans toward a brightly-lit fire whose red, orange, and yellow flames contrast well with the dark umber of the work area. Diego has balanced the power of the beams and rafters overhead with the power of the man´s muscular frame; a heavy anvil and sledge hammer lay in the foreground. Perhaps the man is gazing into the fire of hope for liberation from the Porfiriato regime. Perhaps this is the forge of a resurrected Mexico.
In another room, the lithograph Emiliano Zapata shows Zapata as the forge: he's a soldier gripping a horse and behind him are peasants with sickles and farm tools. A dead soldier lies at his feet.
In the totality of his work, we can see Diego Rivera's intense versatility. In one piece, he´s making pencil drawings, the next watercolor, and then oil on canvas. We know that art is who he is, just as passion is the essence of the Guanajuato experience.
In the next room, we see his experiments with cubism as he struggles to understand the essential forms of his subjects. Figure of a Man and Bertha Kritoser, both drawings, show the geometrically round curves of legs, arms and heads, and the straight lines of square shoulders. The Kritoser drawing was made in 1915. The following year, Diego painted her with a rectangular trunk in burnt sienna, plus square shoulders and a long black rectangular neck.
The drawing Nude of Frida Kahlo shows his love for the woman and even the passionate emotions of Frida herself. In this lithograph/pencil she sits nude on the edge of a bed with her hands behind her head, elbows out; she looks down pensively, eyes closed, a moment of eternal beauty frozen for all to see.
Next to her hangs an oil on canvas called Swimmer of Tehuantepec. It's in subdued colors of green and blue; an Indian in a white skirt and deep bronze skin leans over blue green lilies, her voluptuous breasts falling beneath her as she runs her hands through her hair. Her face is hidden; she´s unaware of anyone watching, which makes the passion authentic and vacant of pretense.
On the next floor I find a painting called Post-War which speaks volumes. In the painting, a tree rises from the Earth, but you can see the trunk beginning to form legs. There´s the brief suggestion of a woman´s breasts, and two large branches are reaching into the sky - two crooks becoming elbows - and five twisting smaller branches at the end of each, reaching upward like five arthritic, gnarled fingers. They seem to be struggling to free themselves from their arthritic slavery, to release their humanity from the servitude of the Earth.
Another branch leans back, suggesting a neck whose face is hidden by one of the branches. I´m reminded here of Michelangelo´s St. Matthew trying to free himself from the marble, of a song releasing itself through the keyboard.
The stairs and rooms of this many-storied home wander about in different directions, and it´s easy to suggest this is where the young Diego first developed a sense of pattern and rhythm.
I can imagine how the young Diego's mind explored many things in this home, dashing across the glazed tiles, hiding beneath the furniture. I can see him whipping around the stone fountain, escaping upstairs, up the winding narrow concrete steps through the different floors, leading to double doors of dark weathered wood that opened to big rooms. Perhaps he stopped at the iron railing around the central opening and gazed down at the rooms below before rushing upstairs toward the light, discovering the infinity of his own imagination and the world beyond. Perhaps he stopped in the upper level courtyard, now filled with Boston ferns, philodendron and crotons, and looked up into the sun roof, then ran onto the top floor walkway and gazed across the world he would some day conquer.
The story of Diego, like the story of every person, began many years before his birth. People are always shaped by the events that precede them, and Rivera's quest for a national identity started just a few blocks down the road at the Alhondiga de Granaditas.
Alhondiga de Granaditas
I leave the Diego Rivera House and Museum and go down the street to the Alhondiga de Granaditas, a tall, square, forbidding structure with monolithic stone walls. Patches of plaster have fallen away, revealing weathered purplish brown stone and decaying brick.
Work on the alhondiga began in 1797 and was completed in 1809 to serve as a granary. However, its seemingly impenetrable walls provided sanctuary in September 1810 for the terrified gentry and Spanish troops who sought refuge from the angry mobs as the War of Independence spread.
A bronze sculpture of Father Miguel Hidalgo stands across the street from the main entrance, pointing in the direction of people lined up along the walkway selling jewelry, books, and other items. However, Hidalgo is directing El Pipila toward the imposing wooden doors which the young miner set on fire almost 200 years ago. It is the same doorway, flanked by smooth stone columns, where the insurgents, armed with sticks and shovels, stormed inside and defeated the troops and town folk loyal to the Spanish crown.
I'd like to get inside, to see where the horrific battle took place, and so I go around the corner to another set of doors where I pay my 30 pesos to enter. As I walk into the vestibule, I immediately get a sense of the power and significance of this place. Tall walls and a high ceiling stand like sentinels over a broad walkway paved with large concrete blocks.
I enter a large courtyard surrounded by a two-story colonnade. The columns hold up panels of simple pink stone, and hour-glass shaped banisters line the second floor.
The absence of a fountain, benches or planters in the courtyard accentuates the intensity of the place; this is hallowed ground. Any intrusion would break the spell and detract from the beauty of the structure. In this case, less is more.
I step into a room to my left called the Recinto de los Heroes. In the darkness, I can only make out a broad path, then an elevated area. As my eyes adjust, I see a huge bronze face of Independence leader Jose Maria Morelos Y Pavon and another of Hidalgo. The passage of time has covered them with a green hue, accentuating the timelessness of their cause. Between them stands the shield of Mexico, a Mexican flag, and a large pool with a single flame in the middle. Hidalgo´s sad eyes stare into empty space, conjuring the memory of his unfortunate fate; he and three of his closest allies were later executed. However, Morelos´s stern and watchful gaze reminds us of the eventual success of the Independence movement.
In adjoining rooms, partitioned by rough stone, the bronze faces of Ignacio de Allende, Jose Jimenez, and Vicente Guerrero sit in the dim light, with brass plaques engraved with their signatures. All three were leaders in the war for independence. Allende, Jimenez, and another insurgent named Juan Aldama were executed July 30, 1811 in Chihuahua City along with Hidalgo. Guerrero was the last of the Insurgents who survived the initial thrust for independence and later aided Augustin Iturbide in the 1820s when the Revolution was renewed. Mexico did win its independence from Spain, and the country in 1824 adopted a constitution, elected a president, and chose a congress and court system. However, after Guerrero was elected president in 1828, he staged a rebellion. He was executed by firing squad on Feb. 13, 1831.
Out in the courtyard, I find a few of the many reasons the heroes fought to the death: a swallow lands on a lamppost, screeching and chirping. Two young men upstairs lean against the railing, talking amongst themselves while a girl next to them crosses her hands and looks away impassively; workers replacing sections of block on the walkway send a high-pitched ring into the air as they hammer stone, and two small boys in jeans with their arms across their shoulders walk briskly across the courtyard, disappearing into a room just as large raindrops begin falling "splat-splat-splat" on the concrete from gray clouds overhead. It is this rhythm of everyday life, unfettered by oppression, which justifies the price of freedom.
The ringing of hammers and rhythmic falling of water seem to usher in an echo of history. Spanish soldiers and loyalists once hid here in fear and loathing. Perhaps a wealthy miner hid behind that column over there where the two boys just ran by. Perhaps an aging couple, hiding a few handfuls of gold and silver in their pockets, cringed behind the banisters where the school children lean against a rail. Perhaps the two wealthy refugees watched in horror as the insurgents busted through the door; they tried to stop their ears as the soldiers cut down the insurgents with bullets, only to be overwhelmed by the mob. It is here where the smoke from the frenzied battle drifted into the skies, where desperate townsfolk tossed coins over walls to appease angry Indians.
But there would be no appeasement this day. Only the women and children were spared, the rest killed.
Murals by Chavez Morado at both stairways leading to the second floor illustrate the reasons for the insurgents' savagery. Indians and peasants, faces leaning back and grimacing, surge forward with spears, pickaxes and hoes, and men in white hoods point at burning books beneath a figure cloaked in shadowy purple. A woman and a man beneath a stone arch, perhaps a tunnel, cower from the cloaked figure, their terrified faces peering up at him. A skeleton in black leather boots flees from them.
Hidalgo tenderly holds terrified gray-faced Indians in his arms, their chains dangling while a kneeling figure holds his arms straight out, as if beseeching someone for liberation or mercy. A priest and a knight with a treacherous boxer dog wearing a spiked collar look on with diabolical faces, knights rush out of the painting on phantom-like horses.
A huge image of Hidalgo's head with darkened eyes stares out of a cage, foreshadowing the fate awaiting Hidalgo. After he, Allende, Jimenez and Aldama were executed, their heads were taken to Guanajuato, placed in metal barred cages and hung from hooks at each corner of the alhondiga.
Schoolchildren have been roaming through the different exhibits upstairs. They keep their daypacks slung over their shoulders as they take notes – evidently for a class assignment – about Indians, Mesoamerican art, colonial times, the independence movement. There are pictures of the insurgent leaders, then displays of flintlock rifles, a machete, a knife, a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. But the exhibit that catches my attention the most is that of two replicas of the cages where the insurgents' heads were placed; the bent metal bars, rough black bottoms and rusted fastenings illustrate the callousness of the Spanish Government.
The heads remained there, hanging from the hooks outside the alhondiga for 10 years as a warning to rebellious locals. After Mexico won her independence in the 1820s, the heads were taken down and buried, and the four men were declared national heroes.
I am not the only one intrigued by these displays. Three boys lean in to look at the knives, talking excitedly amongst themselves, while a girl in a blue sweater gazes thoughtfully at the weapons and cages.
More displays have exhibits of the Porfiriato regime, mining operations, and photo galleries. A teenage girl dressed in black looks into an old metal pot while her two companions scribble away in front of another display of an old harness, whips and spurs. One of the girls, dressed in a white sweater and wearing her jet black hair tied back, holds her head to her side as she looks at a display of tools and glazed ceramics; she silently mouths the words of the text panels, then walks away clicking her pen rapidly.
It´s almost 2 p.m. and museum workers begin shutting the doors. The place will open again at 4 p.m. but it will be too late for these girls. They hesitate at the door, suddenly writing feverishly on their note pads until the worker tells them they have to leave. They continue taking notes as they walk away, stopping on the stairs where they are surrounded by the frenetic energy of the revolutionary paintings as they continue scribbling.
I step outside the alhondiga and look to my left. High up on the corner, the hook that held Hidalgo's caged head still juts out like wretched fingers from the harsh stone, grim reminders of persecution's treachery.
I need a break from this walk through history. Although the alhondiga, by the very nature of its powerful presence, seems to be the hub of a wheel around which so much history has revolved, the essence of this city – and its significance – still lingers farther into town.
I leave the alhondiga and walk downhill to the Mercado Hidalgo, a huge domed structure with a T at one end. Outside the Mercado, a long row of giant ficus spreads its branches over people shining shoes and selling pastries, cloth dolls, fresh flowers, nopales, tapestries, and serapes.
Schoolchildren exit a pedestrian tunnel amid the growling of cars, the smell of exhaust and grilling meat, past vendors selling cups of fresh fruit. An older man and a woman with a black shawl over her shoulder approach a newsstand and glance at the headlines of Correa, El Sol del Bajio, El Sol de Irapuato, and other newspapers. The man walks hesitantly to the newsstand and pulls out a paper, pays for it, then walks with the woman across the street toward a continuous line of hotels, cafes, and music stores in bright colors of blaze orange, verdant green, canary yellow and purple.
A man stands in a doorway next to a vertical broiler, chopping away at slivers of meat that fall onto a smoking tray. A man in another doorway serves plastic bags of lime, coconut, and tamarindo agua fresca (sweet water with fruit juice and ice) out of large glass jugs to passersby. One customer purchases the cool drink from a fourth jug with a mixture of pineapple, orange and mango juice, then walks away drinking it through a straw.
Back across the street, a woman with eyes bearing the resignation of age cuts nopales into a bucket, another slices papaya into a cup, and a third woman with a humorless face stops to buy corn on the cob from two men roasting the pale yellow ears. She eats silently amidst the scraping of plastic buckets and leather shoes across stone walkways and the swishing of a broom. A little boy with a rolled up blue tarp under his arm walks by.
I pass the shoeshiners and the man selling packages of sweets – round cakes covered with nuts, packages of cacahuates and pistachios, and long candy rolls – and enter the Mercado Hidalgo. Down the middle aisle stand shelves of sweets and pastries: cajeta, a sweet spread similar in taste and consistency to the filling of a snickers bar, palaquetes with cacahuates and honey and coconut, lollipops with a rainbow of green, yellow and red swirls, tamarindo with chili, and Las Glorias (milk candy with nuts). Stalls on each side sell leather bags, flowered dresses, shoes, leather belts, and shirts stamped with ¨Guanajuato,¨ ¨Tequila¨ and ¨Cervantina¨. – referring to a yearly fall festival.
Near the steps, a woman stops to buy some lime sherbet for a little girl clinging to her side. An old man selling the frozen dessert scoops it out of a wooden box and places it in a cup, then hands it to the child. She disappears with her mother into the hollowness of the mercado.
I move deeper into the hollowness of the Mercado, drawn by the hum of activity. Schoolchildren who seem to be on a field trip crowd around a stall selling juices and other drinks; a girl of about 14 takes a plastic bag of chocolate drink and sits at another stall which sells shrimp, octopus and oyster cocktail; a boy in khaki pants vigorously shakes his drink, opens it up and takes a sip, then closes it. He laughs as he shakes it, and a young girl sitting on a stool playfully kicks at him.
I take a seat on the steps leading to the second floor. Two boys approach; one, with inquisitive black eyes and thick, close-cropped hair, hands the other his red soda and takes a picture of the image of Our Lady of Guanajuato at the top of the stairs. An older man and a woman approach the steps and the man says in an American accent, ¨Let´s go up and take a picture,¨ and the woman says, ¨I´m going to¨ while children run past them.
I am at a good vantage point to take in the whole panorama. In front of the seafood stall, people sell ice cream, chewing gum and potato chips. Another stall is stocked with beans, lentils, rice, pecans and piloncillo (compressed sugar). A counter to my left sells sunglasses, matches, key chains with stuffed animals and blow dryers. Behind me, a bin is loaded with tomatoes, chayote squash, cantaloupe, bananas, grapefruit, eggs and onions.
A woman in a flowered apron talks to a man hacking away at cuts of beef. They seem to know each other; she appears to be an employee in the Mercado. He has a bulgy nose, small chin and jowly cheeks, and black eyes with the look of business. Deep, reddish- brown sausages hang from the frame of his stall, whole yellow chickens and skinned fish lay in neat piles behind the glass case; he places the beef on a scale, unrolls some plastic sheeting, then wraps it around the meat for the woman.
Up on the second floor, more vendors sell cups, roses, dresses with appliqued flowers, bronze images of Miguel de Cervantes, glazed ceramic pots, straw tortilla warmers, tote bags with images of Frida Kahlo, jewelry and wind chimes. Stalls spread out below selling carrots, onions, chilies, bananas, grapefruit, straw baskets, caps, and cut flowers. People sit at stalls eating fish soup or drinking licuadas de guayaba. Licuadas, made of blended fruit, milk and sugar, come in a variety of flavors, including strawberry, papaya, and mango. They provide a perfect antidote for a hot afternoon.
At a produce stand, an old man in a gray shirt and blue cap rests his hand against a counter; he leans over, belly hanging out, talking with a man in black-framed glasses amidst the clashing of knives slicing meat on metal tables, the excited voices of children, the clattering of silver on formica, the whistles of cops outside and the screech of car brakes. The man in the gray shirt gestures with his hands, and his friend goes behind the counter to assist a customer.
I step back outside and turn right on Avenida Benito Juarez. An older woman stops in front of a booth selling lottery tickets to speak with a younger woman amid the ringing of church bells and throbbing salsa music while a man walks by with an enormous bundle of white calla lilies over his shoulder. A small boy plays at the feet of a young man holding long rods with rubber bands and balls on the end. The boy gazes in wonder as he pulls down a ball and watches it pop up time after time.
I waIk to a large glass case under the ficus trees where a man sells a multitude of sweet breads, molletes (light bread covered with bands of colored confectionary sugar), donuts, and others I haven't seen in the sweet shops north of the Border. I purchase a sugarcoated tostado and a light flaky campechana for 6 pesos. Both are light and crispy, giving me a mild sugar boost as I continue through the afternoon.
Women beneath the trees make cloth dolls. One old woman with a stony face measures out some lengths of string and places them over the dolls’ heads to make hair. Dolls with black hair, yellow hair, dolls wearing white lace dresses with needlepoint designs and the words, ¨Recuerdos de Guanajuato," tiny dolls, large dolls, medium-sized dolls, dolls with straw hats, and dolls with pink and yellow ribbons in their hair sit smiling at potential buyers.
This area is a carnival of the senses, but more sights, sounds, and flavors await me farther up Avenida Benito Juarez.
Avenida Benito Juarez
The streets of Guanajuato are intensely colorful; a stroll down Avenida Benito Juarez is a perfect example of that. People in flowered dresses and airy guayaberas walk past a shoe store in an emerald green building, a gift shop wrapped in a beige facade, a T-shirt store bathed in marine blue. They stop to smell yellow or violet flowers or buy orange papaya, yellow pineapple and red watermelon from a fruit seller. Surrounded by this color, the parade of people moving by appear as dreamy figures, both audience and actors in the celebration.
I go up Avenida Benito Juarez toward Plaza de la Paz, through a symphony of honking horns from frustrated traffic and the helpless shriek of whistles; heavy bass from obnoxious radios pour into the streets, and a man walks by with a bundle of straw over his back.
I pass Farmacia San Francisco de Asis where a woman of about 20 sits in a corner near the doorway scraping the spines off prickly pear leaves into a gray bucket. She has black avocados, squash and onions spread out before her on a clear plastic sheet. Two women stop to talk with her, one with the rolls of contentment and middle age bulging through an aqua blue top. The young woman keeps cutting as she answers their questions. They buy a package of prickly pear leaves and disappear into the crowd.
The woman's face would have a pretty smile, but she's going about her cutting like it's a chore (wouldn’t anybody?), oblivious to the cars emerging from a tunnel of rough stone walls guarded by green metal fence hung with red and violet flowers in terracotta pots, to the young women walking by in blasted denim, the old women passing in gingham bibs and blue shawls. Three teenage boys in loose shirts speak rapidly amongst themselves, darting into the tunnel to speak with a driver before running back up.
A young couple with a small child walks past Plaza San Roque. They hesitate for a moment, debating whether to go into the small plaza filled with tall tropical trees, palms and a shaded fountain. They seem to reject the temptation, then abruptly turn and disappear into the shade.
I continue up the street, passed a jewelry store, a shoe store, La Michoacana Paleteria and Neveria (this is a chain of ice cream stores), past a break in the buildings where steps lead to one of the tunnels. An old man sits next to the railing, selling rocks and jewelry while traffic below whizzes by him.
A young boy taps on a drum from a second-floor balcony above a soda fountain which sells French fries and fruit juices, right across the street from a pizza shop and a store selling sports wear. I pass La Carreta with its open storefront bearing a huge brick oven with spits full of whole chickens rotating over a blazing fire and dripping their sizzling juices.
I pass a pedestrian walkway with more vendors selling cut fruit and agua fresca. The walkway leads to Plazuela de San Fernando with fine restaurants and outdoor dining beneath tall trees; I continue on until the street swings sharply to the left at Plazuela de Los Angeles, a small round plaza with semicircular steps resembling an amphitheater.
Art students on the steps are drawing the colorful buildings around the plazuela - Guanajuato is very artist friendly.
One young woman in loose jeans and a T-shirt, with her hair streaked purple, shades in her drawing of a blue building across the street. A young man behind her, in sunglasses and a thin Don Johnson beard, keeps drawing as he takes a call on his cell phone.
´I´m at Plaza de Los Angeles,¨ he says in Spanish, and I can´t make out the rest of it. He´s shading in the fountain, but then the girl shades in her fountain and I like her drawing better – it has more character, more personality, more subtle shades of shadow. The girl next to her holds a pencil up to measure proportions, then goes back to drawing.
I move farther down Juarez, past another tunnel entrance. In front of a jewelry store, a young man in his thirties with a small ponytail plays a guitar while an old woman with gray hair tied back, looking down, sings in a shrill, almost metallic voice. There´s a quality here, by the very lack of quality, that makes it even more festive and authentic. She´s in a flowered dress and squinting through heavy eye pockets, with gray stubble piercing through her chin as her tiny mouth sings. She holds out a tin cup as her leather shoes move slowly toward Plazuela de Los Angeles.
A man walks by with a load of bricks over his back amid the faint jingling of an organ grinder. The music sails through the trees past black iron balconies; it races upward, hangs suspended for a moment, then descends again and breaks into a frolicking melody. A woman walks by with a bundle of white mums in one arm and a sack of bananas in the other. A teenage boy carries a large tray of dark red churros on his head, through the sounds of car alarms and chopping from nearby cafes and the scent of cooking corn tortillas and grilling onions and fresh avocado. This celebration of the senses is suddenly awakened from its stupor as a boy with palsy, lying with head back and mouth wide open, is pushed along the street in a green chair custom-fitted with wheels, while a man and a woman on a motorcycle speed by to make a “Domino’s Pizza” delivery.
The Domino’s Pizza does a brisk business at La Plaza de la Paz, across the street from the Basilica de Nuestra Señora de Guanajuato.
La Plaza de la Paz
I come into full view of Plaza de la Paz, - Plaza of Peace, set against the backdrop of the beautiful Basilica de Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato. Well-manicured gardens and a bronze statue complete the picture. Diners recline beneath umbrellas outside fashionable restaurants while a man with one eye closed pushes an ice cream cart downhill, its huge wheels rolling over fresh cobblestone past a store selling balloons, giftwrapping paper, wooden picture frames and photos of old Guanajuato.
I'm a bit saddened to learn that the streets are regularly re-paved with fresh stone. I would like to think I'm walking across the same ancient stone once traveled by the old viceroys, the miners who discovered the gold and silver lodes almost 500 years ago, and the insurgents of the independence movement. However, Juvenal Mendez at the tourism office says the stone is regularly replaced – they don't use asphalt because it would detract from the town's unique character – and I imagine they want to ensure we get to see what the city looked like centuries ago, not a street full of holes and safety hazards. The city leaders are obviously putting a lot of work into making a traveler's stay a pleasant one.
The Plaza De La Paz seems to draw people here, more so than I realize until later in the afternoon when I get a delightful surprise. The plaza wraps around several gardens with low green fences, hedges and young manicured evergreen trees, plus red, pink and white geraniums; a bronze statue of a woman wearing a gown and holding acanthus leaves rises up from the gardens. She stands on a white sphere with two children at the base; these are located on a platform above a scroll, beneath which sits a man in a helmet and a cloak. The lines of the cloak and the woman´s gown, the pierced edges of the acanthus leaves, and one of the children reaching up around the woman´s feet creates the feeling of great energy and movement.
Two young American women and a young man stroll by. The brunette wears tight jeans and a pink top, tosses back her straight black hair, laughing and looking around. In front of Papeleria Roma, a man and a woman each have yellow tarps spread out on the pedestrian walkway where they sell rubber lizards, frogs, scorpions, colored Slinkys, toy trucks, decks of cards, yo-yos, toy phones, and plastic guns. The man sits on a bench reading a comic book behind a wooden tray of dried fish. An old woman behind him sits on a porch, her ancient square face looking out vacantly, her brown hand laying open on the faded flowered bib on her lap, asking for money.
I wonder what draws the vendors here; slowly, more and more are setting up shop. Vendors have been set up all day in other parts of town, but here they seem to be planning for something. A woman pours ketchup over potato chips in a clear plastic bag and hands it to a customer, a man sets up a hot dog stand, a woman a few feet away fans the flames on a small white grill. Other vendors sell potato chips on a stick, French fries, Ramen noodles, gum, lollipops, cacahuates, roasted peanuts. Behind me the heat of a pizza warmer presses itself into the afternoon breeze, bringing with it the aroma of grilling bacon and pineapple and awakening my hunger.
But I can have pizza anytime; I'm more interested by a cart in front of me where a woman uses a spatula to stir grilling meat in a shallow bowl. Chunks of potatoes and carrots cook next to the meat, stacks of greasy chicken flautas, tacos stuffed with potato, and tortas sit on the foil-covered ledge. Trays of chicken, pork, and beef wait at the side in anticipation of hungry locals and travelers destined to pass by.
I walk up intending only to get a taco or a torta.
¨Enchiladas con pollo?¨ asks the young woman, her face amiable. I nod. The woman behind her, shorter and more serious, begins preparing a Styrofoam plate.
The woman at the grill takes four small corn tortillas, dips them into a red sauce, then drops them in the pan, placing bits of chicken inside before folding them over. She pushes them around in the red sauce and hot oil, the grease popping, bubbling, as the enchiladas becoming a deep fervent red, releasing a tease of the flavor into the air.
These women only moved their equipment here earlier this afternoon; apparently they set up here everyday, but you would think it was a permanent fixture on the plaza. Behind the cart sits a bucket of whole grilled chickens and another bucket of cheese, plus plastic bags of Styrofoam cartons and jugs of tamarindo and coconut agua fresca.
People sit at a long line of tables covered with plastic beneath umbrellas providing shade from the afternoon sun. Round yellow trays with partitions filled with onions and radishes, chiles and oregano sit on the tables next to plastic cups of cilantro. A woman with a strong curved nose and full lips, chestnut skin and blond hair with streaks of the natural dark sips her coconut agua fresca and watches people go by.
I'm writing feverishly between mouthfuls of hot enchiladas and a man sitting nearby says, in a heavy accent, ¨Where do you come from?¨
¨Texas,¨ I tell him.
¨Really? What part?¨
¨Weslaco, near the border,¨ I say.
He knows Texas very well, he says. He´s been in San Antonio, Dallas, Austin.
¨I lived in the United States for 18 years,¨ he said. ¨Now, I´m with a travel agency in Cancun. Anything you want to know about Cancun, you let me know.¨
We talk for a few minutes. He gives me his name and phone number and we part company.
I've begun hearing what sounds like fireworks, then as it nears it’s more like cannon fire. A hollow boom erupts somewhere down the winding streets, bouncing off the tall colorful buildings, through the shaded plazas, past the fruit and flower sellers and the newsstands, sending a charge through the vendors and passersby, igniting the excitement that lingers within the soul of this fine city.
Two teenage girls stop in the walkway, laughing, squirting each other with water. A boy rolls downhill on what looks like a skateboard with a steering wheel. A woman walks a small black terrier groomed so its hair sticks out around its sides and its mouth.
¨I´ve never seen a dog like that,¨ says a young American woman standing on the curb.
"I haven't either," says her friend.
As they take pictures, a young man, Hispanic, walks over and kisses each of them on both cheeks. They linger and share a few moments of idle chatter.
Just outside one of the restaurants with outdoor dining – El Canastillo de Flores – two men sing and play guitar and accordion at a table, while a woman in front of the Domino's Pizza next door prepares plastic containers of pink and blue bubble soap. The cannon fire grows louder, I hear the ratchety sound of drums moving up Avenida Benito Juarez, and now the church bells are going crazy.
A waiter at “Canastillos” says a procession is moving up the street, as it does every day in May as part of Feria de las Flores de la Virgen de Guadalupe. However, Juvenal Mendez with the tourism office tells me later it is the festival of the Peregrinos – the Peregrinacion, or pilgrimage – in which a procession with images of La Nuestra Senora de Guanajuato marches up the street. Mendez tells me this daily carnival-like celebration in May is held in honor of different types of merchants. One day it’s consists of taxis, the next day buses, and another day feathered dancers fill the streets.
I can see a marching band now moving slowly up Avenida Benito Juarez toward the church; onlookers crowding both sides of the street watch as boys in blue and white uniforms march by, some pounding drums while others carry brass instruments at their side. Following closely behind, a group of men carry a coffin covered with yellow lilies and white carnations. Green and white taxis covered with flowers and balloons have clogged the streets; some taxis bear images of Our Lady of Guadalupe in a glass case.
One of the more intriguing spectacles is that of about six people dressed in colorful costumes. A young man wearing a devil's mask and an orange jumpsuit cracks a long whip which makes a loud bang at another person wearing a fake cow´s head. He hands the whip off to another person dressed in baggy jeans, plaid shirt, straw hat, and the mask of a farmer who continues cracking the whip.
Two others dressed as women dance by. One of them, in a gray dress with white floral print, wears the mask of a brown-skinned woman with blue eye shadow, white vacant eyes, ruby red smile, dark purple hair and a blood-red lily in her hair. She prances by in black heels, spinning so her gray dress whirls about, while a boy with a red scowling devil´s mask over a bushy black wig now cracks the whip at the cow.
Mendez tells me later the people in the dresses are men. The devil masks and the men in the women´s costumes are a satire, a mixture of Indian and Catholic faiths ridiculing the devil and his seductions.
More bands pass by giving accents of celebration and importance to the passing of images of the Virgin Mary in colorful clothing on people's shoulders. A man blows powerfully into a trumpet, his cheeks puffing out, forcing beads of sweat across his face. Men in desert fatigues beat drums, followed by a group of people bearing an image of the Virgin dressed in a white lace dress and surrounded by white roses and lilies, then another in a violet dress, wearing a gold crown and holding a small child.
More images of virgin, born on people’s shoulders or on tops of cars, appear; one wears a violet dress and is surrounded by lilies and purple flowers. Another is surrounded by flowers and blue and white balloons, then a white van bears a tiny figure of the Virgin surrounded by yellow and white gladioluses and red and pink roses.
The crowds along the street have a serene look in their eyes. They enjoy the celebration, but its hypnotic quality imprinted itself on them long ago. Mothers crowd together with their children amid the pounding of drums, a teenage girl leans against the Banco Internacional with her hands in her pockets, a woman stands close to the man at her side, her arms draped across her waist.
Buses covered with flowers, balloons and more images pass by. Some passengers throw candy to the delight of children. Drummers and trumpet players perform on the steps of the church. After they stop playing, I feel compelled to sneak inside for a moment. Chandeliers hang from the domed ceiling decorated with sky blue, orange and green Earth floral designs on a yellow background.
Outside, the woman in the gray dress has pulled off the mask to reveal a man with a jowly face. No one seems surprised – the crowd gathers as the farmer and the bull dance around to the rasping of drums and a flute. Mothers with young children and teenagers with floppy caps look on and a boy of about 10 holds his sister's hand while they both laugh at the spectacle.
The farmer in baggy jeans and plaid shirt trots around from side to side while the bull leans over, moves back, rolls its horns from side to side. The other devil with the scowling red face cracks the whip but then loses it and the bull comes after him. The devil crouches in his eternal grimace, looking up, defiant. He takes control of the whip again, then passes it to the orange devil. Just a few feet away, the lady in the gray dress steps out, shaking her breasts to the amusement of onlookers – a woman with gray hair and two small children with her watches with a deepening frown. The man in the dress moves on, dancing flirtatiously with the bull and swinging the dress about.
This is a spectacle which seems to have no beginning and no end. It's beginning to lose its punch, however, and I'm anxious to see what lies in store for me farther down the street, toward Jardin de la Union.
Jardin de la Union
I move on down to Jardin de la Union, - Union Garden, a triangle-shaped park with tall trees, a gazebo and a fountain; elegant restaurants, outdoor dining and clusters of mariachi and conjunto musicians complete the picture of a festive relaxing nightlife. This is a popular gathering place for young American students studying Spanish at one of the local schools; tourists and locals also congregate here. Clusters of people mingle on the broad walkway between the Jardin and the Templo de San Diego or sit talking on the steps of Teatro Juarez nearby. Men stand on a curb in front of Templo de San Diego selling flowers.
I begin walking down the shaded walkway on the left side of the park; conjunto players dressed in red shirts and straw hats play guitar and accordion at a table beneath an umbrella at Van Gogh Restaurant Bar Cafe. They compete for air space with a mariachi band dressed in maroon garb nearby. At Bar Luna, about 50 feet away, another mariachi band performs, the players' violin bows rising and falling as night falls.
Many of the tables outside have covered candles that create a sweet ambience beneath the trees along with the deepening shadows, the joyful conversation, and the music. A woman in a green sleeveless top rubs her face and sips a pina colada while three men at her table exclude her from conversation. An older man in the group, with a thick graying moustache and bushy receding hair, nods emphatically as he speaks to the others, then they erupt into laughter.
There`s a menagerie of noises, disembodied strains of trumpet, guitar, drums, accordion, and orphaned vocals floating everywhere. Nearby, some mariachi players in gray attire gather around a green bench to practice. A girl comes by sweeping, two young women work slowly on ice cream pops. A young couple sits silently on a bench, she sucking a lollipop, he leaning forward with his hands clasped.
A group of mariachis gather at the table where the woman with the pina colada sits; her drink is still about halfway full. Playful trumpets dash into the air, toying with the “pluck-pluck-pluck” of a guitarist. People crowd benches speaking among themselves, guitar cases lean against green iron benches. Two young American women take pictures from the gazebo.
I'm hoping to catch the callejonadas, the troubadours who lead groups of tourists into the alleyways while singing the stories of the city. They leave from the front of Templo de San Diego, so I make my way back to the pedestrian walkway that runs past the church. People gather in small groups on the walkway, others sit on the curb or the steps of Teatro Juarez. A young woman walks tiredly by with a child wrapped in a black shawl, a young man leading a large dog meets up with two friends who continue walking with him.
Two young women keep watch over a small blanket on the curb where they have been selling necklaces. One of them speaks in loud, rapid Spanish, her bushy brown hair held back by a red bandana, a small child playing around her legs. She kneels down to speak to the other woman who rolls up the blanket and slings her cloth bag over her shoulder. They disappear into the night.
A man with tattoos across the right side of his face and jewelry in his nose and lower lip, hair tied back, strolls by with a rack of necklaces. A young couple strolls by with cloth bags strapped over their shoulders and hanging below their waists.
The troubadours have gathered in front of the church, dressed in leotards and black vests with puffy shoulders and gold trim, one of them with yellow, orange and green streamers across his back. They wander about, warming up on their tambourines, mandolins, guitars and bass, drawing interest from the crowd which gathers on the steps, mostly children. Two boys toss a football, a little girl runs by with a plastic wand spreading a stream of soap bubbles.
The troubadours begin to play, and an old woman dances back and forth next to them, shaking her hips; a tall young man with wavy blond hair and black-framed glasses gets up and dances with her, grasping her hands, kicking his feet out, then bursting into a jitterbug to the delight of the children.
We follow the troubadours through long narrow alleyways, past rough stone walls, steep inclines, tall buildings in bright shades of orange and blue with lamps that cast shadows through iron balconies onto the dreamy walkways.
Several adults join hands to guide the children forward, and I hear at least two of them speaking American English. This is where I meet up with Juvenal Mendez from the tourism office. He tells me the children are from Mexico City and this was a specially organized event. I wonder if I'm intruding, but it's too late. My curiosity gets the best of me, however, and I ask a harried woman if they are a school for American children in Mexico City.
Her eyes and her hesitance tell me she´d rather not be bothered. Her hands are already full.
¨We´re a bilingual school,¨ she says. ¨Most of the kids are Mexican.¨
The winding alleyway suddenly opens up into the pleasant Plazuela de San Cayetano and the troubadours lead the children in a playful song called Yo No Fui which the kids find delightfully funny; they begin dancing, clapping, arms across shoulders, jumping, kicking, laughing, joining hands to form trains as they prance about the small plaza. The troubadours immediately break into another song, Vibora de la Mar and the children snake around beneath bridges of clasped hands, then another song called Mi Querido Capitan, and they wind around the ranks of the singers.
Of course, no music hour would be complete without the familiar Macarena. The children stop and throw their arms straight out, bobbing up and down, shaking heads back and forth, palms up, then down, then across the shoulders. Now in an even more joyous mood, we leave the small plazuela and go through more narrow alleys, rising and falling like the music, then we stop at a series of steps where a young boy the same age as the children tells the story of Callejon del Beso – alleyway of the kiss.
The young boy speaks clearly and quickly, but some parts go by me, and I'm glad I already know the story of a very wealthy and stubborn Spanish aristocrat and his young and beautiful daughter, Carmen, who fell in love with a commoner named Don Luis. The woman's father forbade her to see him, and so the two young lovers met on opposite balconies over one of the narrow alleyways to discuss their situation.
The balconies were just inches apart. As Don Luis leaned over to kiss Carmen, her father appeared from the darkness and thrust a dagger into her heart. Local legend says Don Luis spent the rest of his days composing poetry to his lost love.
At one point the children erupt with a loud ¨Oooooooooh!¨ I ask another of the American women, who appears to be about 25, what the boy said to send such a charge through the children.
¨He said if they do kiss on the third step, the red step, it´s painted red, they will have 15 years of good luck, and if they don´t, they have seven years bad luck,¨ she tells me.
A sudden rush of embarrassed laughter runs through the kids now, and the woman tells me, ¨He said if the girls don´t have a partner he would be glad to kiss them.¨
The group goes around the corner and there, directly before us, is the Callejon del Beso, the lights casting bright shadows through the flowers and iron railings onto the walkway.
This is what I've been looking for: the place of the stolen kiss. In my opinion, this epitomizes the essence of the independence wars in both the United States and Mexico. Certainly, the revolutions were drastically different in so many ways, but in both instances they involved a leap of faith by people who believed in the impossible, that they could govern their own lives. This passion for self governance has always been a forbidden love, because the wealthy and the powerful have too often insisted on their divine right to determine the destinies of the masses.
We stop at one last opening in the buildings, and the troubadours lead the children in Cielito Lindo. This is what the wars of independence were fought for, so the children of those wars, and their children's children, could celebrate their identity and create their own, and it is the children who carry on that dream, that stolen kiss, that forbidden love called self determination.
I step out of my hotel just before 9 a.m. and go into La Rana Loca - The Crazy Frog, (a restaurant) and sit at a table on a long wooden bench beneath a tall ceiling. I've eaten here a couple of times already. They have good quesadillas and molletes, but this morning I order hotcakes.
The large dining room, with its leaf green and yellow walls, fills with the sounds of pancake batter as the woman behind the counter mixes a fresh batch; a narrator on a TV in one corner talks about the movie Troy with scenes of Brad Pitt. A crucifix stands in a niche in the wall near a picture of a mounted Roman soldier behind a flickering candle looking down at a beggar and the image of a saint in green and white.
A man holds a strainer over a large pitcher as he squeezes some fresh orange juice. There's the faint sound of batter spreading across the griddle, and then the woman begins chopping zuccini into a large bowl while the growl of an engine passes outside.
She goes to a refrigerator and retrieves a large container of tomatoes and cauliflower.
A boy comes over to my table and the woman calls, ¨Luis! Sientate! Sientate!¨ Luis moves quickly away, playing and rolling over chairs and under tables.
I finish my breakfast and go down to the Mercado Hidalgo. Outside the mercado, a young woman with three heavy bags waits for traffic to break before crossing the street with an older woman. Sizzling meat behind me fills the air with its aroma. A man in a brown uniform crosses the street with a red crate of cokes on his back.
An older man and a teenage boy set up two round white crates with metal cylinders inside, fill the spaces with ice and begin turning firs the cylinders then stirring with big wooden flat spoons the inside. The man wearing a white apron, pushes the yellow banana ice cream, pushing into it with his shoulder, while the boy struggles with the green lime ice cream. Across the street, an old man strums his guitar.
Suddenly, in font of the mercado, a flute and drum begin playing for six people dancing around with enormous 10-12-foot dummies made of cardboard on top of them: one with a black man´s face with gray hair, another with a black woman with a pink head wrap, then another with a white woman´s face with yellow eyes and a red flower in her hair, and the face of a bearded priest; they parade about with paper hands helplessly flapping. The people beneath the images hop rapidly, turn around, prancing, spinning, pushing the frames up and down, giving a staccato effect to their movement.
The flute and drum pounding into the streets with their rhythmic mantra become crowded by a band of horns, clarinets, trombones, tuba and drums moving out of the mercado. A crowd gathers to watch the six enormous figures, but a woman beneath the ficus trees seems unaffected as she removes dolls from a black plastic bag and places them on the walkway. She stops, smoothes out the hair of one doll and puts it on the ground.
Others also appear used to the festive display; for me it's like cold water in a desert, or clouds parting from the moon, but for them it's a part of their daily lives. One man pulls up on a motorcycle and leaves to do business, a woman presses numbers into a cell phone, and another man loads oranges onto a dolly and wheels them away.
Now a group of feathered dancers appear. They form up in two ranks, with two drummers on one end who begin pounding out their own throbbing beat as the dancers spin around with anklets rattling, colorful costumes whirling, banded feathers shaking, gold and silver tassels glistening. The dancers spin around on one foot, leg crossed, foot touching the walkway for balance, moving in, out, shaking hand pieces of blue or yellow feathers and maracas.
People stop what they are doing, carrying babies, daypacks and bags of food, then the dancers and the crowd applaud, and a Bimbo bread truck pulls in to the side of the mercado.
I continue up Avenida Benito Juarez, pass Plaza de la Paz, Jardin de la Union, and continue up Calle Cantarretas. I climb the steep hill to the statue of El Pipila (an exhausting climb but worth the effort) where I can look out over the city. Vendors sell small souvenirs, and groups of schoolchildren crowd a balcony where they can look out over the city; the alhondiga dwarfs the smaller buildings and the web of meandering streets around it, and the Jardin de la Union is clearly visible. The huge monolithic statue of El Pipila stands guard over the city.
I descend from El Pipila and wander through the streets, passing small plazas with flower sellers, more cafes, and I am intrigued by another set of steps leading down to a street that disappears into a tunnel. I remember my conversation with Sr. Mendez and decide to pay him a visit at his office back on Plaza de la Paz.
I find him standing in the doorway, soaking up the late morning sun. We sit and talk for a few minutes and he tells me three rivers flow through the city; some of them are little more than trickles now, and the path of Rio Guanajuato is now Calle Miguel Hidalgo. It was paved and built with stone walls in the mid-1960s. It's only one of many tunnels beneath the city, and in areas where the tunnel opens up, people have built houses into the walls.
"During the War of Independence, the rich people hid there to escape the insurgents," Mendez says. "Later, when workers began excavating it, they found old gold and silver coins." Other tunnels were built in 1953 and 1972, he says.
Ricardo Barrientos, another tourism officer, walks in and tells me the first tunnel was constructed in 1780. We talk more about the history of the city. He says the Peregrinacion each May began when the bishop in nearby Leon declared May the month of the Virgin of Guanajuato. The conversation is easy and pleasant. We talk again about the war of Independence, and Sr. Mendez says there is even some debate whether El Pipila ever existed at all; it warrants further investigation.
I bid Srs. Barrientes and Mendez goodbye and take dinner at El Canastillo, ordering Paella a la Valenciana as I sit at a square table out on the stone sidewalk. Guitar music with soft percussion pours outside through the windows as I dine on this fine Spanish mixture of land and sea, mixing the earthy taste of pork and chorizo with clam, crab, lobster, oyster, shrimp, octopus and fish fillet. I'm hearing the bursts of cannon fire again as the procession moves toward the plaza, and I reflect on what Sr. Mendez said about El Pipila. I'm not sure it really matters whether he existed or not. What existed was the will to live, to dream, to overcome, and perhaps the embodiment of that will in a single being provides focus.
This embodiment of greatness lives on. Late into the night, the plaza is filled with people, eating, singing and dancing. Musicians perform on a stage; I step into a couple of the many fashionable clubs throughout the center of town and listen to young musicians offering well-polished renditions of contemporary numbers. Outside, music groups perform around every corner, along the streets and alleyways and in the dim-lit plazas, celebrating the legacy of free will.
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