Archive for May, 2010

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Hipster Hangout: Cholula’s Container City

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

As the name suggests, Container City is built entirely of recycled shipping containers.Recycling is not yet a big part of Mexican culture, but repurposing certainly is, and clever developers in San Andrés Cholula have taken the concept to its extreme: Gabriel Esper Caram and his partner built an entire city of salvaged shipping containers, many of which are adorned with reused materials, from bottle caps to plastic tubing.

Container City, frequently referred to as simply los containers, isn’t really a city, of course. It’s a roughly 50,000-square-foot strip mall for hipsters that houses boutique clothing stores, restaurants, bars and clubs, a dry cleaner, a tattoo parlor, and a bus depot.

“The creation of a type of Soho or Palermo or Condesa was a fundamental objective, realized with high regard for the needs of the tenants and the magnificent location [near the pyramid],” the developers, who also wanted to build something sustainable, explain on their website. “If you love all things on the vanguard, urban design, or following the latest design and style trends, you should come get to know this project.”

Like almost everything else in Cholula, Container City caters to students from the nearby university (UDLAP), which means its businesses change themes, names, and hands fairly regularly. But the overall laid-back nature of the place, enhanced by the whimsically painted shipping containers, makes it a pleasant spot for patrons of any age to enjoy a leisurely breakfast, an afternoon cup of tea, or a rock & roll nightcap.

“There’s plenty of outdoor space to sit around and hang out, and there are events and bands scheduled all the time,” Bridgette Meinhold noted earlier this year on the Inhabitat design blog.

Our favorite spot is Taxi bar, which hosts live music most evenings. Note that, if you’re enjoying a beer at Taxi and get hungry, you can order food (tacos, sushi, doner kebab) from the neighboring restaurants; look for wait staff wandering around with menus. La Martina next door serves sinfully good deep-fried cecina (salt-cured beef).

The Container City is located at the corner of 12 Oriente and 2 Norte in San Andrés Cholula. Hours vary wildly, but you’ll find most businesses open daily in the late afternoon.

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Jogging Paths in Puebla

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

The primary jogging path in Parque del Arte is a metric mile.Finding safe places to run in unfamiliar city can be challenging, particularly if you dislike treadmills and don’t want to wear neon or stop every few blocks to consult a map. Visitors to Puebla may find themselves further frustrated by the uneven, often nonexistent sidewalks and by unsympathetic drivers who generally disregard pedestrian traffic. Forget to look both ways before crossing a street and you might get run over. Fortunately, the area offers several secure, well-maintained public places to jog, or power walk, or do that half-marathon training that you swore you’d somehow manage to fit in while on vacation.

Ecoparque Metropolitano. Vía Atlixcáyotl, next to the Tec de Monterrey campus, San Andrés Cholula. This urban respite provides access to a cushy new 5.2-kilometer jogging trail made from recycled tires that runs alongside the Atoyac River between boulevards Niño Poblano and De Las Torres. You may have to share the park’s main paths with bicycles in some areas. Ecoparque Metropolitano is also dog-friendly (for owners who keep their pooches on a leash and pick up after them). Parking costs MX$10.

Jardín del Arte. Boulevard del Niño Poblano at Sirio. This recently updgraded 32-acre park near the Siglo XXI cultural complex is frequented by active folks who live and work on the west side of town. Jardín del Arte has two soft soil running paths, the longer of which (1 metric mile) circles the perimeter of the park, and a standard track. Soccer fields attract local teams, and a manmade lagoon lures ducks and other fowl, including a pair of peacocks. On-site parking costs MX$15, or you may access the area via the elevated Parque Lineal.

Parque Ecologico Revolución Mexicana. 19 Oriente at 24 Sur. Located just east of downtown, Parque Ecologico is probably the most convenient running destination if you’re staying downtown. The 143-acre ecological park features a 3-kilometer path of soft soil, plus a soccer field and volleyball and basketball courts. Post-workout, visitors may also want to check out the aviary (home to 50 species of birds), take the kids to the jungle gym, or go for a boat ride on the lake. Parking costs MX$10.

Cholula pyramid. 3 Norte at 4 Poniente, San Andrés Cholula. For shorter training sessions, such as speed intervals and hill work, head for the 400-meter track next to the archaeological site in Cholula and the path leading up to the pyramid. “For any athlete, it’s a challenging climb to the top,” notes Camilo Aguilera in Intolerancia magazine, which recommends it as one of the best places in the area to run. The track is open from roughly 7 a.m. to noon and 4 to 7 p.m. daily. Admission is free.

Visitors who are tempted to simply head out the door of their hotel for a jog should do so with caution.

Drivers in Puebla are highly unpredictable (traffic signals are often regarded as mere suggestions), which makes pounding the pavement a risky proposition, especially if you’re trying out a new route or listening to music. “This is not a very running- or cycling-friendly city; car culture is very strong here,” says Oriol Sierra, a long-distance runner who lives downtown. On the bright side, “given its altitude [7,000 ft.], it’s an excellent place to train. There is also a good running community in Puebla, and there are many running events on weekends.”

Sierra, who ran the Puebla half marathon in 2008 and the Mexico City marathon in 2009, graciously provided the links above to a few of his training runs, which include maps, elevation, and other data. To find out about upcoming local races, he recommends checking with AS Deporte and Emocion Deportiva (available only in Spanish).

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated Aug. 4, 2013.

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Culture Vultures Flock to Puebla

Friday, May 21st, 2010

Julieta Venegas performed at the 10th Annual Int'l Festival of Puebla in 2008.Where can you see 170 live performances over ten consecutive days at some 20 participating venues citywide (plus a few more farther afield)? At the International Festival of Puebla, which has rapidly grown into one of the largest, most celebrated events in central Mexico. Designed to promote cultural awareness and appreciation, the festival — previously held in November — begins its 12th annual run today and continues through May 30. More than 300,000 residents and tourists are expected to attend.

The festival brings together artists from all disciplines and corners of the globe to share their talents and, of course, entertain the masses. It offers something for everyone, from children’s storytellers and folkloric ballet to rock concerts and film screenings.

This year’s lineup includes superstars like Grammy-winning American jazz pianist Chick Corea, renowned Spanish flamenco singer Diego “El Cigala,” esteemed Mexican poet José Emilio Pacheco, popular Columbian rockers Aterciopelados, and the French-Canadian circus troupe Les Parfaits Inconnus. Of course, scores of lesser-known acts will perform, too.

“The festival allows poblanos and visitors renew their spirits, enjoy the talents of participating local artists, and admire the artistic sensibilities of creators from other latitudes—all of which enrich the cultural mosaic of Puebla,” Alejandro Montiel Bonilla, the state’s secretary of culture, says on the official website.

The complete roster (available in Spanish only) features local, regional, national, and international artists; listings may be searched by date, type of event, or location. Many of the happenings are free; it’s unclear whether tickets to select events will be sold this year. The major stages are in the zócalo and at the BUAP’s Complejo Cultural, on Vía Atlixcáyotl in San Andrés Cholula.

What’s On in the Zócalo

May 22: Mono Blanco, son jarocho, 6:45pm
May 22: Los Folkloristas, folklore, 8pm
May 23: 5th Element, jazz, 6pm
May 23: Chick Corea, Eddie Gómez, and Antonio Sánchez, jazz, 8pm
May 24: Chucho Valdés, jazz, 8pm
May 25: Cabezas de Cera, progressive rock, 6:30pm
May 25: Stick Men, experimental music, 8pm
May 26: Héctor Talavera and Company, flamenco, 7pm
May 26: Diego “El Cigala,” flamenco, 8pm
May 28: Zapatitos de Gamuza, son cubano, 7pm
May 28: Azúcar Negra, Afro-Cuban music, 8pm
May 30: Mon Dongó, Latin fusion, 6pm
May 30: Sonora Balkanera, Balkan beat, 7pm
May 30: Radaid, world music, 8pm

(Photograph of Chick Corea on home page by Daniele Marcucci/Wikicommons.)

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Puebla’s Take on the Taco

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Pork is carved off the spit at Al Jalifa.The taco árabe, or “Arab-style taco,” is perhaps the most popular fast food in Puebla. Introduced in 1933, the Middle Eastern take on the tortilla-as-delivery system features sliced, spit-roasted pork wrapped in pita-style flatbread. Diners then typically add salt, lime juice, and salsa to taste. “To come to Puebla and not eat a taco árabe — a dish that’s reached its silver anniversary — is like missing out on mole or a cemita,” the magazine La Intolerancia says in a 2008 cover story on the subject. In other words, skipping the experience would be a sacrilege.

Fans may be surprised to discover that, contrary to widespread belief, the first tacos árabes were made by recent arrivals from Iraq, not Lebanon.

Exactly who deserves the credit remains in dispute, but observers seem to have narrowed it down to the families of two World War I-era immigrants from Iraq: Jorge Tabe, who opened the city’s first taqueria, in front of La Victoria market, and Zayas Galeana Antar, who ran a busy cantina near the Variedades theater. Both expats reportedly borrowed the idea from sandwiches that most Americans would recognize as gyros. After some experimentation and tweaking, the “Arab-style” taco as poblanos know it was born.

“The first tacos árabes were made with mutton (it’s said that ram meat was originally used for optimal results) and the flatbread was made to order by hand (at first the rounds were too hard, like inedible asbestos tiles, but little by little they were made softer) and grilled over a charcoal flame,” writes Claudio de la Lata, a food columnist for Milenio newspapers. Some early cooks dressed the tacos with tahini or yogurt sauce, a practice that has since given way to chipotle and other special salsas to please local palates.

Purists today argue that real tacos árabes are made by layering pork loin and onions on a spit and then slowly roasting everything to perfection in front of hot coals. Variations, no matter how delicious, are just not the same, they say. But most diners have embraced the dish in all of its forms: Some 300 vendors, about 25 of which are considered authentic, now sell their take on the taco in the greater metropolitan area. The Tabe and Galeana families are behind the two largest chains, Antigua Taquería La Oriental and Tacos Tony, respectively. At the center of town, you’ll find La Oriental at 2 Oriente #8 (near 2 Norte) and Tacos Tony at 3 Poniente #149 (near 3 Sur). Smaller but reputable operations include Taquería El Sultan, Taquería Al Jalifa, and Tacos Beyrut. Why not try them all?

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Cholula: More Than Just a Hot Sauce

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

From a distance, the Great Pyramid of Cholula looks like a grassy knoll.It’s one of the longest-inhabited sites in the Americas, home of the world’s largest pyramid, and one of Mexico’s “pueblos mágicos.” Yet more people may recognize Cholula for the popular hot sauce (made in Jalisco, not Puebla) that’s named after it than for the historically significant place it is. Even Mexicans have been known to overlook it. In a 2010 special edition about the country’s “most spectacular” archaeological zones, Dónde Ir de Viaje magazine neglected to even mention Cholula.

“Cholula is not only the oldest continuously occupied ceremonial center in the western hemisphere, but in some respects, one of the most enigmatic,” John Pohl wrote for the Foundation of Advancement of Mesoamerican Studies. “The Acropolis, even larger than Teotihuacán’s Pyramid of the Sun, is a confounding mass of Pre-Classic to Early Post- Classic brick and masonry that defies conventional excavation, while a Late Post-Classic city is buried beneath the ever expanding urban growth of the modern community.”

In fact, it’s quite possible to miss the massive Great Pyramid of Cholula even if you’re staring right at it. The structure, overgrown with natural vegetation for centuries, looks like a grassy knoll from a distance. Archaeologists can’t unearth the monument, which the Guinness Book of World Records calls the largest ever constructed, because Spanish conquerors built a church on top of it in 1594. Today, La Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de los Remedios is both a protected Colonial monument and a destination for Catholic pilgrims. To study the pyramid, whose Nahuatl name is Tlachihualtepetl or “artificial mountain,” archaeologists dug nearly 5 miles of tunnels. Visitors may pass through a portion of them, though anyone prone to claustrophobia should stick to the exterior grounds, which are partially exposed. The MX$30 entry fee also includes admission to the site’s museum, which features a scale model of the pyramid’s multistage construction, reproductions of the two large murals found deep inside the structure, and other artifacts. Most of the signs and descriptions are translated into English. Open daily from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. To get to the museum from the ticket booth, head across the street and down the stairs to the right of the public restrooms.

You can, of course, also go up to the Church of Our Lady of the Remedies, which is a steep but relatively quick climb. On a clear day, the views of the surrounding metropolis and the volcanoes in the distance are breathtaking. If Mass is not being celebrated, visitors may pass through the sanctuary, where you’ll find a collection of dolls representing virgin saints and can peer through the unusual glass-backed altar out into the nave. (Note that flash photography is strictly forbidden.) On weekends, the area behind the pyramid is a hub of activity: Street vendors often set up arts and crafts booths, and a team of voladores regularly treats onlookers to their flying ritual. If you’re in town this weekend, May 15 and 16, don’t miss the hot-air balloon fair, Festival Globo Mágico, which takes place here from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. Admission is MX$35; balloon rides cost MX$200 (a quick lift) to MX$2,000 (hour-long tour).

The Area’s Backstory, in Brief

Experts have long disputed the timeline of Cholula’s evolution, but it’s now believed that the area has been inhabited since at least 100 A.D., possibly much earlier. Through the ages, various indigenous groups established Cholula as an important religious, economic, and political center. Between 600 and 700 A.D., the site appears to have grown from a small settlement into a regional hub. Then from 750 to 950 A.D., Cholula expanded rapidly as Olmeca-Xicalanca rulers “exploited a power vacuum created by their fallen rival, Teotihuacán,” Pohl notes. The acropolis thrived, alongside contemporary sites like El Tajín, until the Tolteca-Chichimeca peoples moved into the area and relocated the ceremonial altar around 1100 A.D. “Cholula then became, in the words of one Spanish chronicler, a New World Mecca, the largest pilgrimage center in highland Mesoamerica and the nucleus of a Nahua commercial exchange network that extended from the Basin of México to El Salvador,” Pohl explains.

Between 1150 and 1500 A.D., Cholula emerged as the region’s power center — one so important that Aztec royalty traveled there to be anointed by Cholulan priests. The area’s population had swelled to nearly 100,000, making it the second-largest city outside of the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán, a.k.a. Mexico City. When the Spanish conquerors arrived in 1519, Hernán Cortés and his army (and its indigenous allies, including the Tlaxcaltecans) took over with a bloody massacre, burning much of the city and killing thousands of people.

These days, Cholula comprises three municipalities — San Andrés, San Pedro, and Santa Isabel — which some 200,000 people call home. Over the past decade, the once mostly rural area has developed into the major suburb of Puebla. And, thanks in large part to the 7,000 students from affluent families who attend the University of the Americas Puebla each semester, Cholula also has a vibrant nightlife. Restaurants, cantinas, and nightclubs abound along the main drag, which changes names several times (14 Oriente, 14 Poniente, Morelos) as it stretches from the Periferico highway to the heart of San Pedro Cholula.

In October 2012, Cholula (a zone around the pyramid that encompasses the archaeological site and the main squares of San Andrés and San Pedro) was named a “pueblo mágico” by the federal tourism board.

Post updated on December 23, 2012.

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Living Portraits of Puebla’s Past

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

Painters work in and around their small studios in the Artists Quarter.The gorgeous recent weather in Puebla gives visitors and residents alike a perfect excuse to stroll through the city’s Artists Quarter, or barrio del artista. This one-block area of 6 Norte street, once part of a bustling Colonial-era market, today houses painters’ studios, exhibition halls, and cafes.

The idea for converting the old marketplace into an artsy neighborhood came about in the mid-20th century. Maestro José Márquez Figueroa, while teaching an open-air class at the site, asked his graduating students where they planned to paint in the future. When they couldn’t say, he told them the answer was right in front of them — and challenged them to ask the government for permission to use the old marketplace. “Your homework,” the maestro reportedly said, “is to convince the authorities to give you these spaces to create a Bohemian neighborhood like in other big cities.”

After some persistence, the group — now known as the Unión de Artes Plásticas — scored a meeting with the governor, who liked the concept so much that he convinced the city’s mayor to get onboard, too. The first barrio art show was held in 1941. Nearly 15 years later, the government turned the neighborhood over to the union, which made more improvements. In 1962, a new upstairs gallery opened with an exhibition of major Mexican painters, including Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, and Rufino Tamayo.

Dozens of artists now paint in the barrio del artista, where visitors can observe masters and their students at work and, of course, buy finished pieces.

Maestro Maglorio Moreno Hernandez — who the union describes as “the master of masters in the Artistic Quarter” — works in studios 14 and 15. His colorful oil paintings celebrate Puebla’s history, each one capturing an actual place and often a lost moment in time, such as the view of the Popocatepétl volcano from a nearby garden before the Convention Center was built. “It’s a romantic way of preserving the past,” he said recently, while showing a few of them off.

Beyond painting, the union hosts music, poetry, folk dancing, theater, and other cultural events, mostly in the plaza in front of Café del Artista. This is where writer and director José Recek Saade once staged theatrical productions; he is honored, alongside poet María Sánchez Robredo and barrio founder/painter Márquez, with a bronze bust. A commemorative plaque recognizes musicians Rafael Hernandez Marín and Bernardo San Cristóbal, who penned the beloved and well-covered anthem “Qué chula es Puebla,” which translates to “How Pretty Is Puebla?” To find the answer, all you have to do is look around.

Barrio del Artista, 6 Norte street (between 4 and 6 Oriente), Colonia Centro.

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