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.


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