Thursday, March 31, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - The International Brotherhood of Jewelry Salesmen

I arrived in Guadalajara after dark. I caught a cab to my hotel from the airport. It took me through some rather desolate areas, a condition I was to see repeated a number of times over the following days, before dropping me off at the 100 plus year old doors of the establishment that was to be my base of operations during my stay. As I entered the lobby and was checking in, working as hard I as could to overcome a language barrier, I noticed a tiny jewelry shop off to one side. After depositing my bags in my room I returned to the lobby. It is, given my profession, difficult for me to pass up a jewelry store, especially since it was after nightfall and I, frankly, had nothing else to do. The proprietor, a smallish gentleman with prematurely silver hair heavily sprayed into place greeted me. He was dressed in jeans, long sleeve shirt and a stripped apron, his uniform of sorts as I saw him wear a variation of it every day I was there. After he greeted me it was ascertained quickly that my Spanish speaking language skills were, to say the least, limited. Fortunately his English was excellent. He was to become my unofficial Guadalajara guide.

I had intended to take public transportation while there. He suggested that, not being fluent in Spanish, this was not my best option. Taxis were cheap, plentiful and much, much safer. After later seeing the neighborhoods I would have had to traverse between my hotel, the zoo and Talqupeque this suggestion proved to be sound advise.

It was after my one of my outings that, upon returning to the hotel, I began to question his sexual orientation. Although I didn't, for various reasons, explore this aspect of Guadalajara, I knew from my research that it has the most active gay community in Mexico. My research also suggested that the epicenter of that community was close by my hotel. Rather tentatively I asked him which, bringing up a listing of gay establishments on my phone, if any, were close by. He knew of a couple, telling me one was a stripper bar where the strippers danced full on naked. It appeared that from his familiarity with the bar he had been there more than once. On a seperate occasion he told me, without prompting, about another bar I had read about. This one had a "back room". He suggested that I might have more "fun" there. Again his knowledge of the venue seemed more that just casual.

I did purchase a tourquise ring from him. The stone is unique in that it contains both the green and blue hues of the semi precious gem. He told me that all the jewelry was made by Mexican artisians. I took him at his word. True or not it does add a bit of romance to the piece.

Prior to leaving I made a point of thanking him for all his assistance and information. He insisted he did nothing special. His grace, humility and kindness left me with only one problem, how was I ever going to be able to pay this forward. Thanks my silver haired amigo.

A number of years ago when we were in Venice we ran into difficulty locating our hotel. Noticing a beauty salon on the street my husband, a hairdresser, exclaimed "The international federation of hairdressers! They'll help us!". Sure enough, despite a language barrier, one of the women led us down the street and pointed through an archway. We found our hotel, tucked away behind two courtyards. On this occasion I put my trust in the International Brotherhood of Jewelry Salesman.  

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - No Cars Allowed

On Sundays Guadalajara, like several other large Mexican cities, closes some of it's streets to vehicular traffic. The population walks, jogs, skateboards and bikes down avenues choked with traffic every other day of the week. In Merida this tradition results in a party air complete with musicians and dancing, literally, in the streets. In Guadalajara it conveys a feeling of the citizens exhibiting an air of freedom of movement, despite them being stopped at corners occasionally so that cross traffic can make it's way past the vast numbers of people enjoying an afternoon of activity untethered by cars and buses. As I walk through the historical core of the city I passed another hotel as venerable as mine, each of it's ground floor windows graced by caged tropical birds. I stopped in a store thinking I might purchase a suit for my new job, coming up empty handed. I took a photo of another stores long entryway. Vivid gowns with 4 foot wide skirts in colors not generally found in nature were displayed on manequins along one wall. One was barebreasted, clad only in a bright green bell shaped skirt. My mind reeled. I posted the photo on Facebook. People streamed past me and churchbells rang as I continued to my hotel to pack and prepare for my trip home.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - A Visit to a Museum - Art

Many people, when they think of museums, think of art, a selection of which can be found at the museum in Guadalajara. One long, narrow room contains religious art dating from the 11th through 18th centuries. In this gallery Jesus is depicted on a cross...repeatedly. One piece attempts to tell the story of the founding of the Carmelite order of nuns. Jesus is in the center, seen suffering through the agony of his crucifixion while in one corner is a group of sisters, all habits and rosaries. Cherubs, their naughty parts creatively draped, fly through the air. On the whole it resembled some overproduced, slightly gory, Broadway musical number gone terribly awry.

It was interesting to see the evolution of both materials and techniques between the older pieces and the more "modern" ones. The 11th century works were crude, their imagery flat and lacking in the concept of perspective, while the 18th century have more dimension. The colors are stronger, perhaps due to improvements in the quality of pigments available. Light reflects off of the draped fabrics and faces in the paintings. Art education is also most likely a factor. 11th century artists worked on almost pure inspiration and devotion to their subject while later artists were able to receive more formal training.

I wandered a bit more and came upon a true treat tucked away in a corner. It was a special exhibition of portraits of famed artist Frida Kohelo done by Mexican artists. The paintings filled two rooms. Each work evoked the reverence and respect the artists obviously felt towards her. Done in an array of styles, they each portrayed her and her odd beauty in their own special way. In one she is embraced by a Day of the Dead skeleton, another shows her surrounded by a group of cats. One envisions her on the cover of Vogue. In another she is imagined as a Hollywood screen siren. She wears a bright crown of flowers, rainbow smoke issues from a cigarette she is holding, a hummingbird hovers by her shoulder, I have no idea why.

I had two favorites, although it was difficult to chose among the works. There was an obviously Picasso inspired piece of classic cubism. The image is fragmented, the colors vivid and arbitrary. The other, by contrast, was quiet and subdued. It was a rather large, straight forward. sepia toned portrait. Not only visually lovely it also evoked an emotional response, one characteristic that defines great art. It radiated self confidence and serenity.

I returned to the venerable maze of courtyards and staircases. The dome and spires of the cathedral could be seen above the roof line as the bells pealed calling the faithful to mass.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - A Visit to a Museum - Artifacts

Sunday, my final day in Guadalajara, came in cool and overcast. Whatever I had contracted prior to leaving for Mexico flared up and I had started the cycle of antibiotics I had brought with me the night before. On my first day the museum, for a reason I never did ascertain, wasn't open. As I approached that morning I saw the doors were open and once inside discovered that admission on Sundays is free. I entered the venerable structure, built in 1701, and found myself in the courtyard that I had come to realize over the past week is an integral part of the architecture of the area.

The centerpiece of the museum's collection is a skeleton of a mammoth discovered nearby almost intact. Other prehistoric fossils line the walls. There is a rhino skull estimated to be 7 to 8 million years old, a the molar of a mammoth as large as a man's foot and the skull of a sabre tooth tiger with it's impressive fangs. Drawing on the walls above the bones depict how the animals appeared when alive. This was the only area of the museum where English translations, somewhat garbled, were presented next to the Spanish language ones on the description cards accompanying the artifacts on display. The closing paragraph of the last panel contains a statement that I think might be too controversial to be found in most American museums. It is a discussion regarding the different theories of the cause of the extinction of the creatures whose fossilized remains are housed there. The final paragraph addresses climate change and that man through his disregard for the earth and his rampant consumerism  could cause the next great extinction. It is a message both chilling and thought provoking.

The next galleries focused on artifacts of the indigenous societies of Mexico. The items on display dated from 600 to 1500 a.d., so far as I could tell, the signs were all in Spanish. Case after case contained examples of jewelry, household items and terra cotta figures, all beautifully presented. There was a feeling of respect for not only the items themselves but also for the cultures that had created them. One case centered on music. Clay flutes were shown as well as sculptures depicting people involved in the joyful activity of making music and dancing.

The museum is somewhat of a labyrinth with multiple courtyards ringed by covered walkways on two levels. Some exhibits appeared to not be open, perhaps the reason the museum was completely closed when I first attempted to visit it. In an upstairs gallery I found artifacts from more recent eras. Portraits of important Mexican historical figures, I presume, again the signs were all in Spanish, filled the walls. There were several rather primitive paintings of battle scenes from Mexican wars. In an odd juxtaposition items of finery are also housed here, Elaborate opera glasses, an ivory fan and a delicate cup and saucer graced one case. There were also examples of military garb. Brass buttoned tailcoats and dress helmets decorated with horsetails and feathers. After all, we want to look our best when we go off to war. A mark of a true gentleman is an understanding of appropriate dress for the occasion.

I left the gallery and returned to the maze of walkways, staircases and courtyards.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Talquepaque

In a word, well two words, Talquepaque is a tourist trap. A place to make money off of visitors to Guadalajara. However, when a tourist trap is as lovely as Talquepaque I am willing to be forgiving. It began life and still retains the character of a small historic Mexican town. As has happened with other major cities, as the urban area grew the town was annexed by the city of Guadalajara.

My half hour long, and remarkably inexpensive, cab ride began at my hotel in Guadalajara's Centro Historico. Just a short distance from the 17th century churches across the street from my hotel the scene changes to one of auto shops, abandoned buildings and rolling garage doors buried under layers and layers of graffiti. Closer to my destination the streets narrowed. The buildings which lined them are painted bright colors and although modest in size there seems to be a sense of neighborhood pride in those living there, perhaps because of their proximity to the battered no man's land that lies between them and the center of the city.

My cab driver, in an odd coincidence the same one that had driven me back from the zoo the day before, drops me off at the edge of the district. A building along a pedestrian walkway with an arched arcade is filled with restaurants and shops. At that fairly early hour, 10 a.m., the stalls hawking wares one finds in such places throughout Mexico, are just beginning to come to life. I crossed the main plaza with it's ubiquitous bandstand, every town seems to have one, and visited the two nearby churches. Construction began on both in the 17th century but neither was completed until the 19th century. The San Pedro Apostal Church, the smaller of the two, resembled several of the others I had seen on this trip. The other, The Sanctuary of the Virgin Mary, was a different story. It features a stunningly beautiful interior of carved wood and stone and is filled with natural light which streams in from the windows around it's dome.

I wandered the narrow streets, many restricted to pedestrians only, lined by beautiful historic buildings. The lush courtyards of mansions were visible behind iron gates. The goods in the stores ranged from souvenir kitsch to massive chandeliers and heavy wooden furniture. Colorful textiles were stacked in high piles. Cheap bead and plastic jewelry was juxtaposed against more pricey silver pieces. Sculptures dotted the tiny lanes. Some examples in this public art display were realistic and representative, some more abstract. I stopped in one shop to purchase a Christmas ornament, a small terra cotta pinata. Showing the young men helping me a photo on my phone of our heavily laden Christmas tree he grinned and said "one more!"

A cool breeze broke the warmth of the afternoon sun as I began to make my way back to the main square to hail a taxi to return me to my hotel with the fair number of bags I had collected during my shopping expedition. I stopped in my tracks and almost shrieked like a girl when I realized that 5 men were preparing to perform the Danza de los Valadores. I had seen this performed once before in Mexico City. An American couple nearby were speaking with each other wondering what was going on as the men climbed the tall pole one by one. I told them it was worth waiting for. 4 of the men launch themselves off of a wheel at the top of the pole operated with his feet by the fifth man. Ropes tied to both their feet and the wheel hold them upside down as the wheel spins and they are lowered slowly to the ground going around and around as the ropes wrapped around the wheel unwind. There is a video on YouTube that will give you some idea of the spectacle but nothing can compare with seeing it performed in person.

Did I behave like a tourist? Yes, unashamedly! Sometimes you just have to.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Guadalajara Zoo by Foot

A multitude of birds sang in the trees as I made my way down the shaded pathways. I soon encountered on of several innovative exhibitions at the zoo. In one area wire mesh tunnels, similar to hamster trails, run along an cross over the pathways. They are inhabited by some of the monkeys that, if they could talk, would call the zoo home. One peered down at me as another scampered along carrying her tiny baby on her back, something we were lucky enough to see in the wild when we visited Costa Rica. A peacock, indigenous to Mexico, roamed uncaged. I sought out the Bengal tiger. The black and white cat is one of the most beautiful creatures I have ever seen. It appeared confident and self assured of it's magnificent presence as it lazed in the sun.

The animals seemed to be healthy and well cared for. Herd animals, deer and sheep for instance, had young of varying ages among their numbers. Toucans and Macaws also reminded me of Costa Rica. A black swan stepped over a low fence at the edge of it's pond and came after me, letting me know without mistake that I had overstayed my welcome while photographing it's mate. A goose sent me a similar message in an aviary. Geese, native to the Midwest, can be aggressive and downright mean, I guess swans are quick learners.

The crowds grew as the day wore on. 2 young Mexican couples joked and laughed as they strolled the grounds. A number of tiny school children, some hand in hand, ran through in their uniforms accompanied by harried adults attempting to keep them together. In the back of the zoo there were less people and I was able to quietly admire the vista of the river gorge before me. Ranges of mountains lined up one after another as far as the eye could see. The most far off appeared as mere suggestions of their shapes. A river, unable to be seen from my vantage point, over almost unimaginable years has cut the deep clefts that separate them. The area is a national park. Anywhere in the world it would be considered a national treasure. Tables and benches are located there so that the stunning beauty of this place can be appreciated over a picnic lunch. If I had children it would be the type of place I would take them so they could learn about and appreciate the magic and majesty of nature.

There are two other special enclosures at the zoo. In one you can enter a cage and find yourself face to face with a troop of small monkeys. They walk along the rails of the bridge that spans the floor of the cage. They swing from ropes over your head and climb down them to the small pile of rocks where their food tray is located. Their rapid and constant movements makes taking photos of them as they move about the cage a challenge. They might frighten very young children but older children and at least this adult found the interaction as fun as well, a barrel of monkeys.

A similar experience is to be had with the kangaroos and emus in the zoos menagerie. A path runs through that enclosure. All that separates you from the marsupials is a wooden log railing. In the heat of the afternoon all they seemed to be interested in was napping. They did acknowledge me by slightly raising their heads and wiggling their ears before returning to their former somnolent positions.

If one is so inclined there is a small amusement park containing 38 rides adjacent to the zoo. The roller coaster can be seen and the riders screams heard from several spots near the front of the zoo.

Beautiful animals, amusement park rides thrills and spills and wonders of nature. Who could ask for anything more?

Guadalajara 2016 - Guadalajara Zoo - Sky Zoo

I had looked forward to my visit to Guadalajara's zoo, regarded by some as the best in Latin America. I was not disappointed. From the cab windows on my way there I saw ragged, graffiti scarred industrial areas. On my return trip one of the garage doors had been raised revealing a tiny shop dealing exclusively in boxing paraphernalia. Heavy bags were lined up like soldiers, row after row of boxing gloves filled a wall, A bored looking salesperson sat behind a desk looking out at the street

The zoo is an expansive and beautiful space with a park like feel. A water feature stands outside the entrance. Water runs down the length of a tall blue monolith cover with bas relief images of animal faces. Beyond the entrance a long flight of stairs leads down to the zoo. In the center of them water cascades into pools dominated by pillars, the same pale blue as the monolith out front, with statues of monkeys on them. At the bottom a plume of water erupts from the pond surrounding the small island where the flamingos are housed. One final monkey perches on a pale blue pedestal in the water.

I began with the ski lift type attraction called "Sky Zoo". I had read that it was the best way to get an overview of the zoo's layout. My feet grazed treetops as I glided over the grounds below. It was fairly early in the morning, I was one of just a handful of people there at that hour. It was quiet and tranquil. I gazed at the animals beneath me. The wolf ran in circles. It had worn dirt tracks into the grass of it's enclosure. The Bengal tiger lazed in the early morning sun. Ahead of me appeared the breathtaking vista of the river gorge, a national park, visible from the back of the zoo's grounds. Returning to the terminal I alighted, a little clumsily, and began my terra firma exploration.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Guadalajara 2016 - Tequila Tasting in the Desert and a Visit to the Town of the Same Name

We were driven next to a pavilion set in the middle of agave fields. It was an incredible desert landscape. Mountains rose in the distance. One is an extinct volcano, it's dome collapsed, a large outcropping of rock jutting up from one side near it's now vanished peak. The particular blue green of the desert succulent fanned out in all directions. We sampled several varieties of tequila, commenting among ourselves about the tastes and differences of the various types. It helped that several members of the tour spoke English. There was a demonstration of the harvesting of the agave showing how the ball is dug up from the ground. Then the leaves and roots are removed by hand with a sharp round spade like tool. Some members of the tour were allowed to try their hand at removing the leaves. We were treated to a small, chewy piece of the ball. It's taste is indistinct. It is perhaps best described as akin to chewing on a piece of softened wood.

Returning to the bus we continued to the town of Tequila, from which the liquor gets it's name. Legend has it that Gertrude Stein once said of Oakland, California, her home town "There is no there there." With the exception of the small, centuries old town square the same might be said of Tequila. There is nothing wrong with people making their life in such a place. I, in my youth, lived in Oakland for 2 years. Across the plaza from one another stand two churches. One, the chapel of the "Hospital de Indios" dates from the late 16th century, although it was remodeled in the 1940's. It's most unique feature are the mosaics of Mexican tile depicting the crucifixion, one of the 1940's renovations. The 18th century main cathedral boasts a lovely blue and white interior. There is a bandstand in an adjacent plaza as well as several other venerable structures in the town's historic center. The area is lovely and charming but small and were it not for the association with the "devil's brew" not particularly noteworthy.Taken on it's visual merits alone it resembles any number of  Mexican towns of it's size.

Our last stop on the tour was lunch at an outdoor pavilion restaurant. Although the buffet, by Mexican standards, was a little overpriced, the vista of wind carved mountains and the volcano with it's collapsed cone made it worth the price.

In this area the silhouette of the agave is ubiquitous. It appears on signs and buildings. It is worked into the wrought iron designs of fences. It is, after all, the economic life blood of the region. 90 percent of the world's tequila is produced there.

As we came closer to the city we passed neighborhoods of spacious, well cared for, walled homes and residential highrises. It provided a sharp contrast to the decay and poverty I had seen elsewhere. I imagined we would be dropped off at the same dusty parking lot where we had been picked up that morning. Instead members of the tour were delivered to their individual hotels by  the large tour bus. The giant vehicle squeezed through the narrow streets of Guadalajara. I wondered how preposterous it must look from the outside. I was dropped off at the hotel across the small park from mine, Hotel Morales. It was the only name I could conjure up when the tour operators asked where I was staying. The name of my hotel "Hotel Santiago de Compestela" was a mouthful. Throughout the entire trip I had trouble remembering it.