Monday, September 22, 2008


Juana inscribes colorful flowers into her guanengo.

Juana, right, and her daughter-in-law Prudenciana shuck corn.



A tragic incident occurred in Morelia the night of Sept. 15, 2008, during the Mexican Independence Day celebration. Assailants threwtwo grenades into crowds of families celebrating the event, killing eight people and injuring more than 100.

A large section of Avenida Madero through the historical downtown area had been blocked off for the festivities, and the grenades exploded at opposite ends of the celebration. This may have been done to create a stampede, which fortunately didn't happen.

One of the grenades exploded in Plaza Melchor Ocampo on the east side of the Cathedral of Morelia and directly in front of the balcony where Michoacan Gov. Leonel Godoy gave the grito. "Viva la Independencia!" he shouted. "Viva Hidalgo! Viva Morelos! Viva Michoacan!" to which the crowd responded "Viva!" after each phrase. The grenade ripped into the crowd at the very moment the grito took place; another was tossed several blocks away in front of Templo La Merced.

I had planned to stand at the location in front of the balcony for the grito, but I later changed my mind and went about two blocks up the street to Sanborn's where I browsed the book section and became very engrossed in a National Geographic article about the 43,000-year-old remains of some red-headed Neanderthals. The remains were discovered in a Spanish cave where they had been cannibalized; scientists were able to retrieve enough DNA to learn that, not only did they possibly have red hair, they may also have had the capacity for speech. The article captivated me so much I didn't want to put it down, and I finally stepped outside about five minutes before the grito at 11 p.m., which I watched on a screen across the street from Sanborns.

Possibly because of all the revelry and shouting and exploding fireworks I didn't hear anything, and I didn't notice any panic or other disturbance. I did see some ambulances as I was leaving but I didn't think anything of it because ambulances are a common occurrence at events like this as a precautionary measure. I didn't even know there had been an actual attack until the next day. The whole city was furious and deeply saddened. This had never happened before in Morelia, an elegant Spanish colonial city, and she had lost her innocence.

The coffee shops, restaurants, dining tables, and living rooms around the city were rife with rumors and allegations, but many people seemed to feel the narco-traffickers were retaliating against the government for its crackdown. One friend suggested a separate group bent simply on creating disorder. A couple of days later, the U.S.government handed down indictments against several hundred members of a major drug cartel, and news sources suggested the narco-traffickers would retaliate against U.S. for this move.

The gravity of what had happened didn't occur to me right away, and I remained firm in my resolve to continue with my project. However, as I drove alone into western Michoacan the following Thursday to finish up some interviews in the village of Cocucho, I wondered if I was being foolish, if I were heading toward my own death, if I should just pack up and head home. I drove along the rural roads wondering if a cluster of cars would appear from nowhere, cut me off, and take me hostage in retaliation for the US indictments, but I safely arrived in Paracho without incident.

The next morning I drove along more isolated rural roads to Cocucho, again with no problem, and I spent the afternoon with Juana. I had planned to meet with her son David to help me translate an interview with his mother. Although my Spanish had improved during the past few months, people in the rural areas sometimes use speech patterns and pronunciations with which I was as yet unfamiliar.

I had already been to Cocucho a couple of times and had only a few questions I needed answered, and by this time I had become so unnerved by the grenade attacks that I wanted merely to finish the interview and rush back to Morelia. When I arrived in Cocucho, however, I discovered David had left to cut wood for his cook fires and would not return until much later in the afternoon. This change in plans provided me with a wonderful opportunity to spend more time with Juana, a glorious serendipity.

Juana had just fired some of her clay pots when I arrived at her door, and she now sat on a stool outside her cooking area working on some needlepoint. She said when she and her family heard about the attacks in Morelia, they and other residents of Cocucho met at Templo de San Bartolomeo up the street and said prayers for us. I found this solidarity for the Morelianos, the victims, and their families deeply touching. Morelia herself had become very much a part of me, and I felt powerfully moved by Juana's endearments toward us.

After she had worked on her needlepoint for awhile, she and her two daughters-in-law, Gloria and Prudenciana, got in my car and we went out to a corn field collectively owned by the three of them just off the road to Paracho. They bailed out with their burlap bags and went into the field to pick corn. I stayed with my car and absorbed the sunshine; rich purple blossoms, known locally as San Miguel, and more popularly called mirasoles, lined the dirt roads winding through the corn fields. Mesmerizing sunlight poured across the low hills bounding away in every directions, lifting my spirits.

However, I realized as I stood there that I was in the middle of nowhere. I wondered if someone would suddenly appear and kidnap me to make a political statement. As this thought intruded into the sunny afternoon, two trucks full of people ambled down the road. The drivers and passengers gave me a passing glance, then continued down the road before stopping. The occupants climbed out and went into the field to pick corn.

Juana momentarily appeared with three corn stalks for me to chew. These are a very popular local favorite, dreadfully fibrous but refreshingly sweet. On one of the corn plants, she had also found a mushroom-like growth called cuacaduchi that she collected for use in a stew. They are apparently good for lung health and are very tasty.

She returned to the field, and a young man with two smaller boys appeared from their plot of corn a few minutes later with loads of the juicy ears. They moved past me down the road and out of sight. Soon, Juana and her daughters-in-law returned to the car with loads of corn and arm fulls of San Miguel flowers, plus corn leaves for making corundas, a type of tamale.

We returned to Juana's home where she peeled several ears of corn, called tirhiapu in the Purepecha language, and put them in a pot of water to boil over the fogon, the cooking area built into the middle of the concrete floor inside the wooden cooking shelter. She sat down outside and peeled more corn ears, and soon some other relatives brought me a plate of five ears of corn to eat with salsa, salt, and some delicious local cheese. The corn, being freshly picked, was delicious. I tried stopping at the fourth one but Juana insisted on my consuming them all, so I was quite stuffed with her gracious hospitality.

Once she finished peeling the ears of corn, Prudenciana sat with us and they began shucking corn to make huchepos, another type of tamale. I asked if I could try to shuck some corn and they smiled and said of course, and they gave me a few tips to get me started. At the same time I asked for a few more Purepecha words to add to my vocabulary. I learned that the Purepecha word for shucking corn is Piiyuuni (phonetic spelling), and the leaves of the corn are called xarakata.

David finally returned to town about 5 p.m., announcing his presence with several blasts of his horn as he passed his mother's house on the way home. I drove to his house. He was exhausted. After a three-day round of festive drinking in celebration of Mexican Independence Day, he'd spent a whole day cutting wood, and huge blocks sat now in the back of his truck. He pulled one out and reduced it to thin shreds with an ax, then stoked the fire in the cooking area where his wife Lydia prepared beans and eggs and blue corn tortillas. It was a delicious meal, and I would have liked seconds, but I was already stuffed from the corn on the cob I'd devoured at Juana's house.

Rain crashed into the roof as we engaged in small talk and finished the meal, the chilly air warmed by the fire and our own laughter as I turned down some scary-looking chiles, explaining once again that "I still don't have enough callouses on my tongue." The rain slacked off and we went to his mother's house where I finally got the interview I needed.

I asked her where she found the energy and the time to make Cocuchas, do needlepoint, raise fighting roosters, tend her own corn field, make huancipos, prepare meals, Whew! Where does she get it?

"I get it from Jesus," she replied. "Jesus helps me."

Spending the day with Juana and her family reinvigorated my own faith in Michoacan, Morelia, the artisans, and my project. She had indeed performed her own grito, a cry for independence from fear, from alienation, from thedesecration of optimism. The day with Juana reminded me that the violent criminal element in Michoacan is sharply outnumbered by the peaceful citizens of the state. True, the small number of violent criminals can do a great deal of damage, but there was no need to be afraid of every person I met, because the dangerous ones were few and far between. Most people there were busy making clay pots, doing needlepoint, cutting wood, preparing meals, laughing and living and loving their relatives, friends, and strangers. Throwing grenades was the last thing on their minds.

Monday, July 7, 2008

San Jose de Gracia

Hey, everybody!
I had a wonderful weekend. Saturday I went with my friends from the Casa de las Artesanias to plant trees near Lake Zirahuen as part of this state's reforestation efforts. It was wonderful to be able to help contribute to Michoacan's welfare in a more tangible way.
Yesterday I went to a festival in a little village called San Jose de Gracia where they make some beautiful, pineapple-shaped pottery. First they had a crafts contest, then a big dinner at the home of the president of the artisan group which included corundas (a type of tamale), churipu (a traditional stew of meat and vegetables), nopales with onion, tomato and cilantro; and beans and homemade corn tortillas. Afterwards we were showered with confetti, and paired up for a dance. The way this worked, several of us partnered up and ran in a long circle through the streets, each time moving a little further up the street while the band played. We'd stop and dance a few minutes, then run further up the street until we ended up in front of the church.
Then a group of young men gathered in the patio in front of the church and some young ladies through small ceramic pots filled with confetti toward them and they tried to catch them. If they missed, the pots crashed to the patio spilling confetti everywhere. The locals also walked around handing out small gifts of ceramic pottery for which the town is known. the band played again, we partnered up and run to the small plaza where we ran in circles and danced again, even when the rain fell in torrents.
Nothing could diminish the joy of the afternoon, and it was wonderful to be a part of this tradition instead of standing on the sidelines just writing about it. The townspeople eagerly invited me to join in the festivities. I was glad to be the only foreigner there, which meant there was nothing touristy about this at all. It was all very genuine and real.
I shot some video of the event, which I've posted above. I finally figured out how to compress it enough to upload.



Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Visit to Santa Clara del Cobre

Hey, everybody!
I had a wonderful day yesterday in Santa Clara del Cobre where I visited the store and workshop of Juan Jose Paz. His store is filled with beautiful copper pitchers, plates, bowls covered with images of monarch butterflies and calla lilies, showers of colorful blooms, and figures of lizards and turtles. It was fascinating also to see how the artisans in the workshop behind the store fashion these delightful pieces from scrap copper. Anyone can drop by Jose Paz's shop, Taller El Porton, and see the magic for themselves.
Also, Mexico Connect published two stories yesterday that I wrote about Cuanajo and Capula. Just Google Mexico Connect and you'll see the stories and pictures.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Morelia - Expo Feria Artisan Show

MORELIA - David Santos Alonzo's hands briskly massaged the wet clay, healing the battle wounds of its creation, wiping away the cracks with a round stick that left wakes of texture.

Pulling more of the reddish-brown dough from the vacuous interior of the Cocucha (named for the town of his origin), he increased the height of the container that slowly acquired its curving conical shape.

Santos, from the village of Cocucho, was one of 240 artisans showing their wares at the Artisan and Municipal Pavilion at the Morelia Expo Feria 2008. Artisans from throughout the state, from Ocumicho, Cuanajo, Cheran, Santa Clara del Cobre, and Santa Fe De La Laguna had set up their pottery, woodcarvings, copperware, textiles in a martyrdom of the senses, a celebration of a selfless ego in which they released their artistic expressions with complete abandon.

A stall labeled Ciudad Hidalgo sold candied figs, peaches, camote, tejocote; Maria del Rocia Diaz Olivarez sold more of the intriguing tamales like those she'd been selling at the Municipal Food Show. From Lazaro Cardenas came macadamia nuts and coffee liquor, and a stall from Madero offered mezcal, bottled chilis and peaches, and tamarind wine. A man from Santa Clara del Cobre, with thick graying hair and a gray vest over his white shirt created a wool blanket on a loom; a few feet away, an artisan from Tarecuato crafted straw hats on a sewing machine. Dancers performed for delighted audiences on a small stage throughout the two-week affair, winners of the Concurso de Alfareria 2008 were awarded for their entries.

Each trip to the feria's artisan show revealed moments of exhilaration. Earlier in the week, a young boy made a fuss over a palm-sized devil mask the color of burnt pine wood and trimmed in white tic marks, one of many spells cast by Barbara Jimenez Pascual of Ocumicho. Jimenez was away at the moment, but her two granddaughters - carefully eating a bowl of beef soup to avoid any drips from their red tops - watched over the playground of colorful figures: bird-shaped whistles with frozen white eyes and flowers flashing across their breasts that seemed poised to fly away from the feathered devils, strange animals with toothy grins in their wide flat heads, winged serpents and frogs with legs jutting from their heads. Other, more tame objects included gentlemen on horseback and women in flowered dresses. A woman in a blue denim dress with a picture of Che tattooed on her left shoulder stopped with a young girl to
look over the images then moved on. A girl with green streaks in her hair purchased an orange bird whistle.

Purchases, however, had been few and far between, said Jimenez's granddaughter, Julieta Ochoa Pascual, 20.

"We haven't sold much. It's the same all over."

Her grandmother had by now returned.

"It's a new feria," added Jimenez, breaking into a smile with jagged teeth.

"Patzcuaro and Uruapan are better. At Uruapan I sold more. I lot of people go through that feria."

A few days later, Jimenez sat next to her wares but Julieta and the other granddaughter were gone.

"You want to eat some of these?" asked Jimenez, her radiant eyes recessed like finely placed black onyx into her sculpted face as she held out a handful of tortillas she was eating with a bowl of hot beans.

I declined then asked how she learned to make the barro. She started to explain that she learned to make barro from an older woman who had since died, then she stopped and said, "Someone else will be here to help you."

I thought perhaps I had touched on a story that was too painful; later I saw her sitting next to a
younger woman in another stall who was holding her hand and Barbara appeared to be crying; later, she sat alone next to her objects with her head resting in her hand. I waited to speak with her another day when Julieta was with her, and several times as I spoke to her Barbara, Julieta or another friend sitting nearby translated in Purepecha. It occurred to me then that perhaps she wasn't competely comfortable talking without someone to translate my broken Spanish, something with which I could surely relate.

With her friend and granddaughter there, she spoke with unbroken liberation about the craft she first began learning at age 14.

"At first I used molds, but no more. It's all by hand."

She picked up an orange bird whistle.

"I started out making these little birds. Afterwards I made gallinitas, toritos, puerquitos. My favorite objects are Nacimientos, pastorcitos with nino Dios, and angeles."

David Santos Alonzo, who goes by the nickname "El Carajito", has continued the craft passed to him by his mother, Juana Alonzo, a familiar figure around crafts fairs. Her large oval eyes watched with detached interest from above broad cheekbones spreading out over her animated face; her spirited lips chewed on gum while she wove another huancipo. She repeated the same pronouncement shared by Jimenez and her granddaughters.

"We haven't sold much. It's the same all over the fair."

Waves of clay rippled before Santos's hands as they worked back and forth on the Cocucha. Fatigue rose to his face, his light magenta shirt bearing the words "BMG Entertainment" rippling as he made circular motions on the Cocucha.

He stopped and dipped his hands in a cup of water, sprinkling it over the surface, then using his fist to dig clay from the inside, the structure slowly acquiring its distinctive conical shape as he extended the walls ever higher.

A woman joining the crowd of onlookers dipped ice cream from the carved-out half of a pineapple, and three young boys watched anxiously with an older man who wore a restless graying moustache and beard, and danger prowling in his eyes. They moved on. A young boy with blond curls wandered toward Santos with a Spiderman balloon before his mother quickly lead him away.

The sides of the Cocucha quivered and warped as Santos pulled more clay from the bowels of the clay being, which told its story now in the splashes of smeared mud imprinted across his loose white trousers. The sides increased rapidly as they rebelled from the confines of their cloistered existence, swooping into the air to become something greater than themselves, a capsule of enclosed space; Santos was now a sort of mad scientist who performed impromptu surgeries on loose pieces as the need arose, dismissing any blemish that would impoverish the perfection
of his project. He sniffled over his bristly black moustache, his beard remaining stoically where it trailed away from his thick lower lip, then removed clay laying on a black plastic bag and added small pieces to the top.

While sales at least for some of the artisans were disappointing, they seemed to improve as the feria drew to a close. Later in the week, Santos was working on another Cocucha. Joyously inebriated, he declared in English, "I think we will sell all of it," after first announcing that he had sold five large Cocuchas earlier that day to one customer.

"Domingo de Ramos is better. We do sell pretty good."

His mother said she had only made a few sales. Two thick braids of black hair streaked with gray and tied at the ends with black yarn fell over her iridescent blue blouse trimmed in lace. She sat on a small stool in her purple pleated skirt, silver crescent moons dangling from her ears as she plunged a plastic spoon into a carton of chilled strawberries.

Surrounded by her coffee-colored Cocuchas, caressed with flashes of volcanic red and burgundy, and brief flashes of purple bronze, she gestured to a larger one about four feet tall and said she cooked it once in the oven and it was priced at about 35 dollars.

"I learned from my sister-in-law, Dolores Molina," Alonzo said. "I began to do this work when I was 16. It's special, all the time. it's an old tradition."

Her son spoke to her in Purepecha for a moment, and then she conversed with two young men, one with glasses pushed over his head who measured heights of her pieces with a ruler. She came back and said she was just paying them forthe space.

"In Monterrey, I sell a lot, more than Domingo de Ramos and Intermex. I go to Monterrey once a year. There's an exposition."

Domingo de Ramos Crafts Fair

By Travis M. Whitehead
Monitor Staff Writer
URUAPAN – Marsha Burns couldn't get enough of the images surrounding her at the Domingo de Ramos Crafts Fair.

''It's so outstanding! It just makes you feel good. We just love it!''

The 50-year-old Huntington Beach, Calif., resident and her neighbor, Frances Bauer, had stopped in front of some glistening ''pineapple'' pottery produced by an artisan from San Jose de Gracia, but that was just one of the numerous crafts awaiting her discovery at the fair in Plaza Morelos in Uruapan. With the crafts fair, competition, parade of artisans, Purhepecha Food Show, and numerous musical performances, the Domingo de Ramos celebration in Michoacan’s second largest city is reputed to be one of the biggest – if not the biggest – in Latin America; it is Michoacan’s biggest crafts fair and competition, with the Dia de los Muertos fair in Patzcuaro running a close second.

Burns’ enthusiasm for the arts and crafts set up across the plaza was understandable. The images throughout the fair, reflections of fragmented dreams struggling for identity, materialized on clay pots, danced across cotton dresses, and crashed into plates, pitchers, and bowls in a glorious playground of creativity.

There were clay pots from Huancito with Doberman, bulldog and parrots heads; cotton dresses with elaborate needlepoint from Cheran; from Uruapan came the famous maque, or lacquerware, with bright red flowers dancing across black backgrounds; shining vessels from Santa Clara del Cobre forged from discarded scrap copper; toys and wooden trucks from Pamatacuaro.

The crafts fair was an awakening of the senses, a rebirth of identity, a rediscovery of hidden recesses of the soul where the powerful incense of imagination transmitted a wave of tangible passion into the physical world. A color, a stitch of fabric, earth metamorphosed into art, opened doorways where the fragrance of forgotten memory spilled into the sunlight of consciousness; it was a pupated monarch butterfly curled up in the cave of its iridescent chrysalis suddenly released into the Savage Garden of enlightened senses.

Locked away in the shadowy realms of the subconscious, they now became flavors with taste, smells christened with fragrance, pictures radiating with color. The artisans had spent endless hours in their workshops deciphering the language of their souls, and the revelations of their own discoveries revealed a consciousness stripped clean of the illusions of memory, free to explore the boundless ranges of their visual dialect. Now they had gathered to show what they’d learned, and how they’d used that knowledge.

I found myself at once a refugee from the dissipating rages of deliberate action, struggling to unravel my own shifting dreams that yearned for realization. I began to relax as I shook off the burdens of mediocrity, the passion of the crafts fair invading my own worn-out longings, exhausted routines, and spent hopes.

I was delighted to find so many people who also appreciated the intoxicating power of the crafts show, people like Sandie Alden of London who currently lives in nearby Patzcuaro. She had just been looking at the pottery from Ocumicho and was now admiring the goods from Huancito across the aisle.

''Because I live here, I have an idea of what will be here,'' she said, explaining that she, her Mexican husband, and several other Patzcuaro residents endeavour to support local artisans.''We look for quality,'' she said. ''There's something from Ocumicho I quite like, which is a dragon with a mermaid on the top.''She looked over the goods from Huancito, with its distinctive red clay appearance, and smiled.''I like these very much,'' she said. ''I love straightforward barro.''

Carlos Magana Lorenzo, one of the Huancito artisans, looked intently at a clay vase as he gently ran a brush over its surface, the stroke exuding a treasure of sparkling maroon that took the form of an apple. His wife Juana Aparicio Cipriano, 24, worked on another piece beside him, stopping occasionally to cradle their infant who lolled about her lap in a blue jumper; the 25-year-old Magana, his short black hair looking as though it were spiked, daubed his magic wand into a bowl of yellow and showered golden leaves onto the vase around a cluster of grapes poised between two watermelon slices; they joined the juicy mangoes and strawberries in the cornucopia of fruit parading across the piece.

He grasped the neck of the pitcher a moment and scratched his head before setting the piece aside, then removed the paint-stained shirt he used for a rag to protect his black slacks. He picked up a cup and began painting again, leaning carefully over as he became more absorbed in his work, his loose-fitting blue shirt well clear of the danger.

''I have been doing this since I was 10 years old,” he said. “I can make six in one day. My grandparents taught me. I like everything about it.''

Carlos said he and his wife heat their pots between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m.

''We take them out and clean them, check them to make sure they don't have any defects.''

Surprisingly, Carlos didn’t really know how hot he heated his kiln. ''I just keep putting more wood until it's hot enough,'' he says. ''I can just tell when it's hot enough.''

At the end of the aisle from where Carlos and Juan worked, Florentina Rafael, of Ocumicho, and her family had set up their own creations on a tarp near the busy street; red and blue devil masks with delirious eyes and piercing horns stared at the passing crowds, along with birds, men on horseback and a two-tailed mermaid in a basket.

Nearby, the sound of a scraper slicing shards of ice for cold drinks cut through the wet sound of rubber chewing on asphalt. Vendors throughout the plaza sold nance fruit, garbanzos, mame fruit, and macadamia nuts, while children rushed up to sell “palmas” the woven palm leaves so popular on Palm Sunday. A man in a beige guayabera bought potato chips from a young woman pushing a blue cart. She also sold twisting slices of chicharrones and curling snaky charritos, while a row of men do a brisk business shining shoes.

Florentina's daughter, Antonia, leaned her head against her hands and spoke to her mother, her droopy eyes revealing a moment of fatigue while her son sat in Florentina's lap playing a video game, the grandmother’s finger’s interlocked about his waist. Antonia's teenage daughter, Lupita Estrella, sat nearby doing homework, knocking her knuckles against her head before suddenly knodding emphatically and writing a stubborn answer on paper.

Florentina seemed to be at an admirable peace as she watched the crowds go by. She sat beside the clay images of maidens in flowered dresses, black-faced birds, images of the Virgin Mary, crucifixes, and devils driving cars her family have created.

Sitting directly in front of a red devil – with teeth bared and pink tongue hanging viciously out while riding a delirious elephant – was a depiction of The Last Supper. Only in this particular account, the twelve disciples were topless mermaids, each holding a banana. The Christ figure was also a topless mermaid but wore a crown and held a cup.

Antonia said it took her two days to mold the entire work.
“The hardest part was the bodies around the table. We made the base first.”
The charge was about $35.

The smells of grilling chicken, bistek, and nopalitos emanated from a vendor a few feet away, floated down the alley past Carlos Magana, and collided with the eggs and steaming menudo emboldened with chile ancho, onions and garlic prepared by Jaime Leon and his family.

Jaime and his family own and operate a café a couple of blocks away; however, he frequently turns the business over to a his sister-in-law and moves his wife Sylvia Lepe, and their two boys, Marvin and Matthew, frequently to California where he works in a factory building air conditioning systems.

They had set up their operations this morning next to a small stall where the family of Angel Cuin Juarez of Cuanajo sold colorful hand-carved furniture. Cuin wasn’t there, but his two daughters were manning the station, and Marvin, 9, jumped in to translate at every opportunity. He exhibited an infectious enthusiasm for language, as well as for the chance to spend time with the two girls, Blanca Margarita, 12, and Cintia Hiridion, 9.

Blanca Margarita, with a complexion of deep roasted coffee beans burned into her skin by the sun of her heritage, had busied herself around her station. She had already stepped around the corner to the Leons’ food stand to purchase a bowl of menudo in a Styrofoam cup. Taking her sat back at her small station, she’d leaned over to scoop a spoonful into her mouth, then rolled up a tortilla, dipped it into the watery, spicy mixture, then bit off a mouthful. She’d looked frequently at the 3 or four year old lingering nearby before finally handing him a tortilla.

Now Blanca was finished eating, and with Marvin’s eager help she explained that she had painted many of the items for sale.

''It was hard to paint this because it has a lot of little things,'' he translated for her as she pointed to a colgador of cantaloupe, papaya, and grapes spilling from a basket.

But this was just one of many treasures waiting to pass on a delightful new personality to any home. More colgadores depicted sunflowers rushing from a basket and kissing parrots, and napkin holders – servilleteras – were aptly carved with images of apples and watermelons. The wood had been caressed into an image of polished stone worn smooth by hours of relentless labor. A sun, with bold unblinking eyes, creeped out of the face of a demure, unblinking moon, its thick yellow rays, speckled with faint suggestions of orange, radiating toward a ribbon of moonlight wrapping itself around the image like a protective embrace.

These pieces combining art and utility covered a carved table I couldn’t see, but the chairs lingering around the table gave me a good idea of its appearance; a captivating cobalt blue glistens on the frames, and a woman’s sweeping curves cast waves that echo through the cluster of calla lilies rising like a fountain, the red and yellow stamens lit like a fire against the snow white blooms. The woman sits with her back to the viewer, her braids falling across a blouse whose striking blue matches the frames.

''This is a lot easier, it takes like an hour,'' she said, referring to the napkin holders. Pointing to another piece, this time of a parrot with bold red head and tranquil splashes of deep blue across its shoulders, with fleeting streamers of red, green and blue cascading toward the ground, she said, ''I like this the best. It has bigger things.''

Blanca's nine-year-old niece, Cintia Hiridian, had left for a moment, and now returned with a red-eared turtle she'd bought at a nearby market. All three children and the youngster from the next stall over made quite a fuss over the turtle. Cintia brought a cup of water to replace the plastic bag. The girls' father, Juan, came by a little later and said his son did most of the carving work.

''Juan carved just about everything here, and she painted it,” said Juan Sr., a short, stocky powerful man with a severe jaw line and sharp features, looking at Blanca who sat with quiet reservation in a chair. He knodded enthusiastically, speaking with a biting energy as he spoke about his children's work. Cintia has also been getting involved in the activity, painting some of the napkin holders.

''I am very proud they are carrying on the tradition,'' he said.

They all work together in a small shop at the family home in Cuanajo, and he remembered with precision how long each child spent on a piece. ''It took Juan five hours to carve the calla lilies in the basket,” he said. “It took her (Blanca) four hours to paint it. It took me four days to carve the table, and it took her five days to paint the table. It took her one day to paint each chair.''

I found Florentina later sitting in a chair doing needlepoint. Her thick fingers carefully pushed the needle into the cloth, then pulled the thread out and away. She looked down at her work, heavy eye pockets shadowing her eyes as her heavy lips slowly opened and then closed.

Meanwhile, a little girl stopped, knelt down and gazed in wonder at a clay girl hanging from the mouth of a horned oxen, a brown smiling devil herding sheep, and the clay lizards on the ground. Florentina got up, put the chair away and placed some cardboard on the ground where she sat back down, carefully folding the green dresses and butterscotch apron around her before continuing with her needlepoint. She leaned over and her face broke into a big smile, the thin wrinkles playing a hidden melody as she spoke in Purepecha to her daughter and granddaughter. I asked if she’d sold much.

She shrugged as she broke into a huge smile and said, ''Sometimes yes, sometimes no.''

Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Maria Tulais Lopez and her husband Bruno package some of their wares they have just sold at the Domingo de Ramos Crafts Fair in Uruapan, March 2008.

Lucina Tulais Lopez's husband, Bruno Ramirez, works on a jicaro made from a gourd.

Wooden fruit in a frutero, all made in the maque technique by Lucina Tulais Lopez and her family.

A gourd decorated by Lucina Tulais Lopez and her family.

Sunday, April 27, 2008


Lucina Tulais Lopez brought out a scalloped crown fashioned from a gourd and decorated with images of flowers. Delicate stems with “florecitas de campesinos” flew like carefree butterflies from roses energized with soft shadows; light spilled from those shadows, caressing the petals with a soft suggestion of life. Tulais, dressed in jeans and black shirt shrill with the white outlines of leaves and flowers, had been applying the flowers of the crown in a process called maque.

Uruapan, Michoacan’s second largest city, is famous for its maque, a form of lacquer ware in which successive layers of color are applied using earth, aje, and linseed oil. Each time the artisan applies a color, it must be allowed to dry for four or five days before applying the next color. Aje is an animal fat obtained from the female coccus axin, an insect found in the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacan.

The crucible in which Lucina, her husband Bruno, and sisters Rosa Maria and Margarita performed their magic was the workshop behind their home beneath an open air shelter made of corrugated tin supported by course timbers and a wall of brick and concrete. Sunlight slung shreds of shadow across the wall and fell into a scorched stain from a brick and stone hearth where the family prepares rice and mole con pollo for visitors during Paseo de la Magdalena in late June. There was certainly a powerful flavor in the family’s artistic creations. The crown Lucina would soon complete was intended to be worn by the Queen of the Fiesta de la Magdalena when a parade passes through Colonia Magdalena where the Tulais family has lived for generations. Just up the street from where Lucina and Bruno lived sat a corner house where Dona Francisca, her father, and grandfather were all born. Her father later purchased the property where Lucina now lives.

Against the wall leaned a paddle used for removing bread from another, much larger, round horno powered by a wood fire – the family spends its Sundays preparing bread for sale to visitors. Across the yard next to the house, vegetables and carne were being cooked over a gas fire. Lucina, who revealed her age only as “50-something,” said she prefers cooking the family meals outside to avoid the heat and save on the light bill.

Lucina and her two sisters, Rosa Maria and Margarita (who come to Lucina and Bruno’s home to work during the day), learned how to make maque from their aunt, Dona Francisca Tulais, who had no children and therefore viewed her nieces as her own children. Dona Francisca’s picture appeared with a New York Times article in the 1990s and was featured in several books for her talent; she died in 2007, but her presence was clearly felt at Lucina’s stall at the Domingo de Ramos Crafts Fair, where Lucina’s visual language had obviously carried on the spirit of her aunt.

Wood, paint, and aje had come together to create works of art transmitted from a river of wild abandon through Lucina’s talented hands onto her pieces. There were large pizza-sized bateas decorated with vines twisting and turning around flowers like red and yellow flames, bulbous purple blooms, lavender spades, aqua blue birds poised in mid-landing on chartreuse petals. There were gourds with scalloped lids and decorated with delicate flower spikes in canary yellow and mauve that zoomed across the black sky.
''I feel very good because we protect the artisans,'' said Lucina as her husband Bruno, 62, translated during a break between visitors to her post.
''We don't want to lose the tradition. I just want the art to go around everywhere, to know what we do in this city. Artesania, you can see maque in the U.S., but you don't know who does it. This is like the fifth generation that's been doing this, for many, many years. My aunt passed away last year. She learned from her father and grandfather, and I learned from my aunt.''

Back at the shop behind their house a few days after the crafts fair, Rosa Maria, who won an award in the Domingo de Ramos Crafts Contest, said she was grateful to have learned so much from her Dona Francisca.
“It’s something you feel really good to remember all the things she taught us. We’re not going to forget either.”

She had to leave at this point to pick up her six-year-old grandson from school, who along with his two brothers ages 3 and 5 is also picking up the technique. The two younger boys, with short cropped hair framing toothy grins and eager black eyes, had been gallivanting around the yard with sticks that had become horses and shrill voices that had were shouts of challenge and victory. Their play collapsed beneath a towering avocado tree into the speckled shade on the grassless ground stiffened by years of activity.

They would become the next generation of artisans. Lucina was about their age when she began learning the maque trade. She didn’t know for sure at what age she began learning the craft – she saw Dona Francisca working at it everyday and picked it up naturally. First she learned to apply the black foundation, which is created by mixing black ashes (in her case from the ashes they retrieve from the horno after baking the Sunday bread) with earth and then ground together on a metate. Then a mixture of aje and linseed oil is applied, followed by the spreading of the ash and earth mixture. After she learned that basic step, she learned to apply colors, then draw the image and etch in the profiles.

The steps of the actual process are different; the artisan still applies the black maque first, but then she draws the image, etches in the areas to be painted and puts in the colors.

“For many people, the most difficult is drawing,” said Bruno, who began learning the technique from Lucina about 15 years ago when they married. “But the designs, for us nothing is difficult. Many people know how to do maque but don’t know how to draw. Some people know how to put the maque, but they really don’t know how to draw the picture. They have to go somewhere else and have somebody do it.”

Bruno sat on a wooden chair with crumbling white paint working intently on a basket released from the confines of a gourd from his brother’s ranch, scraping away the area surrounded by the outline of a flower. A serrated leaf had gentle variations of green. “The other color has to be stronger than the green, to give more feeling to the leaf,” he said.
The two boys watched Bruno pull the images kicking and screaming from the gloom of the blackness into the percolating luminosity of the workshop. Lucina took the gourd – it was a joint project – and used a needle to show how she brought the subtle flourishes into her pieces. She handed the gourd back to Bruno, then retrieved a wooden plaque with red roses on a blue background.

“These have shadows,” she said. She picked up the crown, which already had the same graceful lines, and said, “this will have the profiles.” She pulled out a small black jewelry box with flowers and said, “This is in profile but with traditional designs.”

She spoke now with the exuberant virtuosity of someone still in the unrestrained throes of youth, light flooding her face, transforming her complexion from a burnished mahogany to a golden caramel. Dona Francisca still powerful presence in Lucina – there was a generous glow in her words, an eagerness that struggled for release from the fetters of mid-afternoon fatigue. But this was a fatigue born entirely of the trivialities of time, not of memory or action, for Dona Francisca’s blessing had opened a portal through which spilled an imperturbable breath of life, removing any chance for premature atrophy. The playful colors, the laughter of the two boys, Bruno’s excited concentration, Lucina’s refreshing delight about her work, and Rosa’s stoic demeanor seemed to cast oblique reflections of the sun even into the shadows around the avocado tree and the gas stove where the heat slowly convinced the mid-day lunch to releasing the flavors it zealously concealed. The energy of their maque, however, couldn’t possibly be restrained, instead pouring out its mesmerizing warmth into the surrounding streets as it as done for generations.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008


Hey, everybody:
Well, I had a fabulous day. I drove out to Uruapan, and what an incredible drive. The rode between Patzcuaro and Uruapan was a twisting, winding road through pine-covered mountains and the view was breathtaking.
In Uruapan, I interviewed Lucina Tulais Lopez, her sister Rosa, and her husband Bruno in their workshop where they make macque, a form of lacquerware. Lucina and Rosa learned the trade from their aunt, Dona Francisca, who has been featured in the New York Times and several books for her skill. Dona Francisca never had children, so she shared all her knowledge with her nieces. Dona Francisca died last year, but Lucina and Rosa proudly continue her tradition.
I'll be posting more about the family later.

Until then,


Friday, April 4, 2008



Hey, everybody:
I took a drive over to Patzcuaro yesterday, and I was surprised at how easy it was to find my way there. On they way, I took a detour through Cuanajo and Tupataro, two quaint attractigve little towns where artisans make handcarved furniture. Then I went on to Patzcuaro; I thought I had been there twice for the Dia de los Muertos two and three years ago, but I realized as I drove through town how little I had seen of it. This is a fascinating colonial town with a number of beautiful plazas and filled with intriguing architecture along narrow winding streets, kind of like Guanajuato. I can't wait to explore the town again.
It's amazing what time can do for your perspective. I wrote a story a couple of years ago about Cupatitzio Gorge National Park in Uruapan, but when I took a stroll through the park again earlier this week I had a whole new range of thoughts.
The moment you enter the park you encounter water rushing from the earth through a fountain where it descends, bounces, crawls its way back down before coming to rest in a quiet pool. An African tulip tree, dotted with flaming orange blossoms and glitters of sun, heaves over the terracotta roof of an office building; light magenta blooms hanging on a thick vine rush up a palms as if to contemplate strangulation, but the tree reaches up to the sky, showing no signs of resignation.
Broad stone pathways, lined by a green wall of ferns, palms, and spindly coffee bushes heavy with dark red fruit, wind their way through the forest, frequently perforated by gazebos selling coffee, cups of fruit, quesadillas with pumpkin flowers, chicken enchiladas, tortas, and cold drinks. The paths are riddled with streams of water that exhale their sweet musty breath as they descend toward the river. The people who constructed the elaborate stone walls and pathways were true artists, harnessing the water into a series of exhibitions: water shoots in tiny loops through a wide series of steps, crashes over rocks, pours gently down walls, rises into elegant fans, rushes, screams, gallivants down narrow corridors.
At a place called Arcoiris, three plumes of water shoot into the air, capturing a wandering rainbow that arches through the thin mist toward the blackberry vines falling over a stone wall. A young girl stops and gazes at the spectacle a moment; she sees the rainbown, the leans forward, hands open in frantic, unrestrained joy, her jet black ponytail whipping about as she rushes to the other side, her wondering nervous black eyes wide and quivering.
Spent with the fatigue of thunderous discovery, she recedes to the security of her mother while her excitement seems to have seeped into the consciousness of another family that crowds around for pictures of the moment.

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Hey, everybody!
Well, I've made it safely to Morelia and have gotten settled into my new place. Seriously, the trip from McAllen, Texas to Morelia went off without a hitch, no problem. I don't know what I was so worried about. I was able to find my way around quite easily, and what a trip! I passed through some incredible countryside between Ciudad Victoria and San Luis Potosi, beautiful mountains and sweeping deserts! I loved it!

I made it all the way to Queretaro the first day, then from Queretaro to Morelia the next day was only two or three hours, and I found the house where I'm staying quite easily.

This is a dream come true for me. I've wanted to be here for so long, and I've finally made it. I've already made friends with employees of the Starbucks right around the corner from where I'm living. Having friends in new places makes the experience so much more pleasant. I'm sooooo looking forward to visiting the artisans I met at the Domingo de Ramos festival in Uruapan. I'll be traveling during the next few months to their homes in communities throughout the state and watching them at work in their shops.

Tomorrow I'm off to Uruapan to work on a story about the town where the Domingo de Ramos festival took place.

Well, that's all for now.

Until next time,


Saturday, March 15, 2008


MARCH 15, 2008

The parade of artisans poured through Uruapan like a current of pure poetry manifested in the flowers splashed across their white cotton dresses glistening in the morning sun. They came from throughout the state, from Santa Fe De La Laguna, Cocucho, San Felipe de los Herreros, Pamaticuaro, and myriad other communites.

Women from San Juan Nuevo wore straw hats covered with colorful papel picado; the green sequins and jeweled flowers covering their red blouses punctuated their movements to the flute music fluttering about the dashing trumpet lines that raced down the street. The pleated red skirts waving about the forms of the Ihuatzio artisans kept time to the rhythm of their feet, while the needlepoint flowers covering their aprons rippled as if tossed onto a quiet pond. The Tzintzintzan artisans, bearing burdensome clay pots with dreamy green flowers, strolled along to the music. One woman wore a blue apron with impressive splashes of yellow flowers; another had magenta flowers that shimmered about her neck.

Everyone seemed captivated by the spectacle.
''Welcome to Uruapan!'' shouted one woman.
A man in a blue denim jacket hugged and kissed a dancer from Ihuatzio, who carried a straw basket as her sandled feet flew about the pavement to the shrill flute music behind her. Purple, magenta and orange flowers awakened the life enshrined in her cotton dress, transforming the morning sunshine into an ecstasy of celebration that rushed into the air, invigorating everyone on the street.

Even before they began moving toward the crafts fair in Plaza Morelos they impressed those who saw them.
David Scarratt, a tall fellow in a green jacket, watched from a sidewalk as the dancers gathered in front of Parque Nacional Barranca del Cupatitzio.
''I think they are just fantastic, colorful, imaginative,'' said Scarratt, 72, a British expatriot who divdes his time between San Miguel de Allende and Nova Scotia.
''You get sort of lost for words. There's not enough vocabulary to describe the dynamism that exists here, the incredible energy, such incredible variety. So much of it is clearly traditional, but you can see the times have changed in their handwoven hats to manufactured products. Nevertheless, tradition persists. It's very very exciting. The energy is palpable.''

As the dancers made their way through town now, crowds on the sidelines tossed confetti at the dancers who accepted it goodnaturedly. A dancer handed out gifts - one woman gave me a small plastic cup of juice. A man in an Office Depot shirt scanned the dancers with a point-and-shoot camera looking for the perfect shot.

Suddenly, the jagged face of a red devil appeared, his nose soaring in front of his face, horns spiraling into the air, ears flaring back. He strolled down the street wearing a black cape with red and amber sequins, while a masked man with a huge sand-colored roiling beard pouring over his costume spun about pounding his wooden sandles into the pavement. His massive straw hat whirled about, the sinister grass cape rustling with erratic cracks and whistles. He poked the pavement with his cane, as though to keep time, or perhaps to summon the devil who had already appeared. Behind them, a young woman in a pleated dress the color of Christmas waved a white cotton flag slowly and rhythmically. Nearby, a man with the image of a cow mounted on sticks over his head ran about about, the rows of blue, red and yellow tissue paper fluttering as the tiny horns thrashed the air.

A woman from Tzintzuntzan, her shoulders bobbing as she danced, grasped her red pleated skirt and blue apron as she loped about. With her other hand she held a glazed bowl with blue flowers on her shoulder while the sun rushed across its surface. The wide panels of orange and red flowers about her neckline and sleeves seemed a perfect match to the confetti in her hair.

A band in butterscotch corduroy moved down the street. Directly in front of them, a young boy in a white cotton costume and a blood-red sash about his waist took off his hat, stooped over and whirled around, slapping his wooden shoes loudly into the pavement as the crowd erupted with loud clapping.

This was the first time Ken Peterson and Roberta Rich had seen the parade. The Vancouver, Canada couple spends its winters in the nearby Mexican state of Colima, and their friends had strongly recommended they see the parade.
''The display of civic pride is so touching, so wonderful,'' said Roberta Rich. ''They have such interesting faces. They have Indian faces, and you also see some Spanish faces. It's a very interesting variety of facial types.''
Rich observed that Indian faces seemed to get more interesting as they aged.
Ken Peterson cut in, ''You are aging fine, dear. Don't worry.''

Friday, March 14, 2008


March 14, 2008
8:26 a.m.
Well, by the time I finished blogging last night, the artisans had already started showing up, hammering their stalls together. The hammering lasted way into the night, and when I got up this morning they were at it again. I can't wait to get over there.
Right now I'm at Cafe Tradicional de Uruapan, just up the street from my hotel and the plaza. The waiter, in a white button-down shirt and black slacks, hands me a menu with tantalizing offers: fruit plates, oatmeal, granola with honey, and a large number of egg dishes: apporreadillo con frijoles (eggs with beef, the Michoacan version of machacado con huevo), huevos tibios, rancheros, estrelladas, a la Mexicana, con jamon, tocino, chorizo or tocino. I settle on the Uruapense breakfast: juice or fruit, chilaquiles con pollo, frijoles, bread, and coffee or milk.
Some cool jazz fills the room, the saxophone rippling about as grumbling engines invade the scene and the whistles of traffic cops shoot their barbs into the air, and inside I can hear the soft whirring of espresso machines.
The breakfast crowd hasn't arrived yet, but there are a few people here. A woman crunches loudly into a chip that she holds gingerly while speaking in hushed tones to a man who is probably her son. She pours sugar into a spoon hovering over her coffee.
A sudden rush of drums and band music crowds the air outside and a brief parade of school children pass by carrying flowers that flutter in the morning light.
The waiter brings a straw basket of toast wrapped in a cloth, along with a saucer with packets of strawberry marmelade and butter. My breakfast arrives, a plate of chips doused in a delicious salsa and generous chunks of chicken, with a side of refried beans. I finish it off eagerly, then
I venture down to the plaza and am delighted to find so many artisans have already set up their wares. Several stalls operated by residents of Pamatacuaro have shelves covered with wooden objects: large spoons, rolling pins, miniature dining sets decorated with red and green hearts, toy trucks with ''BF Goodrich'' written on them and small logs tied on the back, and miniature ironing boards and beds with colorful spreads. A young boy fusses over some toy dump trucks before his mother urges him on.
One woman busily sets up the tarp that will shield her and her stall from the aggravating sun during the next several days. However, she explains that the strange wooden stick with the grooved ball on the end and wooden rings is called a molelillo and is used for stirring chocolate.
I walk farther down and turn to my left, where another aisle is filled with artisans. On the left, people from Huancito have set out their heavy glazed cooking pots with yellow lilies; fat pots with red orange and green flowers exploding across the sides, some with Doberman or bulldog heads poking out the top with a hole in the mouth for pouring water.
Rosalindo Valtasare Espicio carefully paints a pot with green and purple leaves, and a bulgy red birding fluttering ecstatically toward a blue pine tree. He gently brushes over the jar, smoothing out the paint.
Sandie Alden, a London expatriat currently living in Patzcuaro, stops to admire some Huancito pottery. She's already been looking over the treasures from Ocumicho that line the other side of the aisle.
''Because I live here, I have an idea of what will be here,'' she says, explaining that she, her Mexican husband, and several other Patzcuaro residents endeavour to support local artisans.
''We look for quality,'' she says. ''There's something from Ocumicho I quite like, which is a dragon with a mermaid on the top.''
She looks over the goods from Huancito, with its distinctive red clay appearance, and smiles.
''I like these very much,'' she said. ''I love straightforward barro.''
On the right, people from Ocumicho have spread out their clay figures on tarps along the sidewalk. A young boy in jeans and grey jacket arranges red and blue devil masks with delirious eyes and piercing horns on a plastic sheet on the ground next to birds, lizards, men on horseback, and a two-tailed mermaid in a basket. Antonia Cruz Rafael, in a cotton blouse with green needlepoint and an apron with magenta flowers and green leaves, and her mother Florencia Rafael, dressed in a green skirt with brown gingham apron and thick braids about her shoulders, pull more items wrapped in newspaper from a box before setting them out.
A man in a beige guayabera buys potato chips from a young woman pushing a blue cart. She also sells twisting slices of chicharrones and curling charritas, others shave blocks of ice for raspas, and a row of men do a brisk business shining shoes.
Many of the stalls are still in process, shifting structures of peg board, metal and tarps that move in the light breeze. A man sets two boards on a metal frame and hammers them together. A woman with a single thick braid and green gingham bib rocks against loose boards on a wooden frame, talking to several other women. They've been nailing boards on the frame where, I later discover, they'll sell sweets. Across the aisle a group of young men pull shoes from big bags and place them on display.
Mercedes Uribe, 46, of Cheran, prepares to sell the cotton dresses and blouses she's decorated with needlepoint. She hangs them from rails and lines she's set up. She spent long hours making these garments and it shows. When I see her a little later, I ask her if she's sold much.
''Today, no, but tomorrow it begins!'' she says emphatically. ''This is the best craft show at a global level, every year. It's better than Patzcuaro.''
Some of the artisans are all ready for business. Herminia Torres Cervantes, of Capula, has her flower pots decorated with calla lilies and sunflowers, yellow farolas (street lamps) with diamond piercings, and brown trim with red flowers and gren leaves.
Across the aisle, Angelina Ayala Martinez, also of Capula, sells big ollas for cooking.
''You can cook frijoles, soups, rice, salsa, bistek,'' says Ayala, her bright eyes looking out over heavy cheekbones. A middle aged gentleman in a blue striped shirt, accompanied by a young woman stops and speaks to Ayala, then moves on. A woman with a young child stops briefly and passes by. Finally an Indian woman in a light blue blouse and pink skirt stops and purchases two cups.
At another stall, Susan Baker, an American expatriot living in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, purchases a delicate white garment with fringes.
''I just bought a shawl,'' she says. ''But this kind of unbleached muslin-like fabric, they call it manta. It's the same thing.''
What interests her about this garment?
''The fringes,'' she says. ''I like the fringes.''
Her friend, Anne Jones, an expatriot from Harlingen, Texas who also lives in San Miguel, says there are all kinds of things you can do with a garment like this.
''You come up with different ideas to use it for, different uses, and thinking outside the box,'' she says.
However, textiles aren't the only things that interest the two women.
''The most interesting thing here is the green pottery, the pineapples,'' Jones says. ''That's what everybody's buying.''
''I bought about eight big pieces,'' says Baker.
The ''pineapples'' are the exquisite glazed pineapple pottery created by the artisans of San Jose de Gracia. One of the practitioners of this technique are the Madrigals, whom I first met in 2005 at the Day of the Dead crafts fair and competition in Patzcuaro. The Madrigals have won many awards for their work, but they aren't entering anything in the Domingo de Ramos competition this year.
''I didn't bring anything special,'' says the elder Madrigal.
He could have fooled me. He, his wife, and their 18-year-old son Jose, have a whole section of the curved steps filled with glistening pots in shades of a deep earth green, metallic blue and sunset orange. A solid green pot rises from one step, the narrow ribbed leaves flipping out to the side while bigger leaves spew from the top. There are small hand-sized pots with delicate florets or tight starbursts, large round pots with nervous scalloped edges jutting out, candelabras with birds and callie lilies and sunflowers.
Nothing special? I'd like to see one of their contest entries!
A small group stops and one of them asks about some small glazed pumpkins on the ground. The pumpkins each have a slit, presumably for coins.
''That costs 25 pesos,'' said the young Jose as the man picked up one of the pumpkins. He picked up another and Jose said, ''20 pesos.''
They finally leave without making a purchase, but there will be plenty of buyers for the Madrigals.
A family of artisans from Santa Fe de la Laguna have also set up separate areas in close proximity to each other. A woman brings a styrofoam plate of roasted fish to one stall where her husband, Jose Ezekiel Mendez Gaspar, arranges black glazed cups, pink clay pigs with fuzzy green or orange spots and droopy eyes, and small cups decorated with sunflowers. He takes his seat with his meal behind the stall where sacks and crates are filled with balls of newspaper wrapped around still more items.
''These are poncheritas,'' says his wife Maria Carmen, as she takes over for him. She's referring to a clay jar with bronze hooks for several smaller cups.
Later, he explains something about the process.
''This is esmalte sin plomo,'' he says, picking up a black cup. ''I fire it in a gas kiln at over 1,000 degrees for 4 1/2 hours. Those-'' He points to the pigs ''puro barro'' and says, ''I fire for 3 1/2 hours at about 700 or 800 degrees.'' Those he fires in an horno de linea. I need to find out what that is.
He and his brothers and his sister all work together in a workshop behind the temple in Santa Fe de la Laguna. I'm looking forward to visiting them there.
Tomorrow is the first day of the Purhepecha Food Show and there will also be two parades. It promises to be a grand day.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Day's Arrived!!!

Hello, all you Michoacan lovers! The day has finally arrived!!! The Travels with Travis project is now officially launched, March 13, 2008.
I arrived in Uruapan today to cover the Domingo de Ramos Tianguis y Concurso (crafts fair and competition) for my first book, ''Michoacan - Land of the Artisan.'' I'm really excited to be here.
The artisans haven't started setting up their stalls in the Plaza Morelos yet, but the tarps are up and they'll be here soon.
In the next few days we'll meet the artisans from throughout the state selling their wares, and we'll take a look at this year's entries in the contest at Telares Uruapan, a textile factory owned by the Illsleys, two New Yorkers who moved to Mexico in the 1950s. Saturday there will be a big parade through town, in which people from villages throughout the state will wear their colorful traditional costumes. I'll be there with my camera.
Sunday's a big day; contest entries will be judged, and there will also be the annual Purhepecha Food Show where I plan to enjoy some goooooood eatin'! I'll tell you all about it later.
Meanwhile, I'm just getting settled in. I'm glad I made reservations at the Hotel Regis right on the plaza, because they didn't have any more rooms left, and I think it's the same at all the other hotels. I made it in about 10 a.m. but couldn't check in to my room until 1 p.m., which contributed to kind of a yucky situation as I was in the same clothes I'd been in since yesterday morning.
I went over to Cupatitzio park where I hiked around the trails and worked up a sweat (double yuck! - I tried not to get too close to anybody) and took some great pictures. Take a look below. I made it back to my hotel and took a long overdue hot shower, and then when I got out I discovered the whole floor was flooded. I thought something was wrong with the shower stall and that I might have to move to another room until I noticed the plug was lying snugly over the drain.
I got dressed and stepped out into the hallway and told the maid what happened and gave her a big tip to mop it up for me, apologizing profusely. She didn't seem overly distressed by the situation. I think she's seen it all.
Anyway, that's all for tonight folks, and I'll try to check back in with you on Saturday after the parade.

Until then,