Archive for May, 2011

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The Palafox Library: A Bishop’s Legacy in Puebla

Monday, May 30th, 2011

Juan de Palafox y MendozaIt’s been a long road to beatification for Juan de Palafox y Mendoza. The Catholic priest, who served as bishop of Puebla from 1640 to 1655, became a candidate for the church’s official blessing shortly after his death some 350 years ago. But due to one roadblock after another — mostly opposition from Jesuits who argued that honoring Palafox would discredit them (because he’d policed misconduct in their ranks) — confirmation stalled for centuries. It will finally happen this Sunday, June 5, at a ceremony in Osma, Spain, the last place that he ministered to the faithful.

Palafox is known for being a prolific writer, a political thinker, a defender of the Mexico’s indigenous people during Colonial times, and a fair yet deeply religious man. “Historians highlight Palafox’s intelligence, integrity, activity, intellectual preparation and will, defining him as ‘one of the most brilliant men of his generation,’” says Jorge Fernández Díaz, third vice president of the Congress of Deputies, the lower house of Spain’s legislature.

“[Palafox is] probably the most interesting and maybe the most important figure in the whole history of 17th century Mexico.”

In Puebla, Palafox made his mark in both church and state affairs. He established the Dominican convent of St. Agnes, the colleges of St. Peter and St. Paul, and the girls school Immaculate Conception. He pushed for administrative reform within the diocese and for the completion of the city’s Cathedral, which was dedicated 1649. He also held several political offices, including that of the viceroy of New Spain in 1642.

“He was a superior man for his century, a classic in our language [Spanish] whose numerous texts were written with an elegant and eloquent style and have resulted in twelve thick volumes,” notes University of Salamanca researcher Águeda Rodríguez Cruz in a 2010 bulletin for the International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean. Quoting her colleague, professor Antonio Heredia, she adds: “[Palafox] was robust in his work, although of a sensitive condition; a spender, but mean with it; legalistic, while with an ascetic of sensitive piety; an expert and executor in law and politics, while at a mystic at the same time; a man of war and noise, while pacific and fond of silence; active, while contemplative; indebted, while punctual with his duties … a man of great contrasts, like life itself.”

His greatest legacy is a secular one: the Palafox Library in Puebla. Founded in 1646, the Biblioteca Palafoxiana was the first public library established in the Americas. Located inside what was once the seminary of St. John’s College — now home to Puebla’s cultural center — the library preserves 45,058 volumes dating from just before until just after the Colonial era. Many of its works are of global importance. These include original copies of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle (1493), which charts human history according to the Bible in words and more than 2,000 illustrations; Andreas Vesalius’s On the Fabric of the Human Body (1555), a seven-volume tome that revolutionized the study of anatomy with detailed diagrams based on actual observation and dissection; and books printed in Mexico before 1600, including Alonso Molina’s Vocabulary in Castilian and Mexican, essentially the earliest New World dictionary.

The bookshelves consist of finely carved cedar, wild sunflower, and white pine.The library is also noteworthy for its sheer beauty. The bookshelves, commissioned by Bishop Francisco Fabián y Fuero in 1773 (and expanded to include a third level in the 1800s), consist of finely carved cedar, wild sunflower, and ayacahuite, a native white pine. A three-story gold altar at the far end of the room features an oil painting of Virgen of Trapani, which is believed to be modeled after the 14th-century sculpture attributed to Italian sculptor Nino Pisano.

In 1981, the Mexican government declared the library a historic monument. In 2005, UNESCO added the Biblioteca Palafoxiana to the Memory of the World list, formally recognizing its international significance. In 2010, after five years of work by 30 specialists, the first digital catalog of the library’s complete contents was released; some 3,000 copies of the interactive disk were distributed to other libraries, universities, and research institutions. At the time, Elvia Carrillo Velázquez, a director for ADABI, the national book-preservation group that helped to create the archive, told El Universal newspaper that the interactive disc “provides access to culture and, above all, makes public knowledge part of the history of the printed word.”

This seems to be exactly what Palafox intended. A sign at the library’s entrance bears his words from 1646: “He who finds himself benefiting without books finds himself in solitude without comfort, on a mountaintop without company, on a path without a walking stick, in the darkness without a guide. This gave me the desire to leave the library of books I’ve collected since I served his majesty the King, which is one of the best I’ve seen in Spain, ancillary to those of the church and in part and in public form, so that it may be used by all professions and people.”

The Biblioteca Palafoxiana is located on the second floor of the Casa de la Cultura, 5 Oriente #5, in the city’s historic center. Hours: Monday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Image credits: Bicentenario México/Wikipedia Commons (portrait) and Agencia Enfoque (library interior)

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Posted in Arts + Culture, Do, Featured, Museums, Politics + Religion | 3 Comments »

Where to Wet Your Whistle in Cholula

Friday, May 20th, 2011

Bar Reforma’s decor includes silk flowers hanging from the ceiling.When it comes to nightlife, the Puebla capital has a reputation for being, well, a bit boring. This is largely because major concert acts and theater productions frequently pass it by for the more cosmopolitan and populous Mexico City nearby. But the greater Puebla area nonetheless offers an abundant supply of lively bars, dance clubs, and music venues where locals and tourists alike can get their drink, their groove, or their air guitar on.

On any given night of the week, it’s typical to head for one of four zones where clubs cluster: the Centro Histórico/Los Sapos, Avenida Juarez, La Isla by Angelópolis mall, and Cholula. We tend to hang out in Cholula, because it’s both close to home and unparalleled in its diversity of choices. Whatever we’re in the mood for — dinner with a bottle of wine, a game of pool over a few beers, live jazz or rock, dancing till dawn, etc. — we can find it on or just off the main drag that stretches from behind the UDLA to the zócalo of San Pedro. (Note: The street’s name changes from 14 Poniente to 14 Oriente at Avenida Cinco de Mayo and then Avenida Morelos near the pyramid.) In general, Cholula is also more affordable than the so-called fresa establishments in Puebla proper, where well-heeled poblanos often dominate the scene and drive up prices.

A bachelorette party livens up the show at Taxi Bar.We try not to get too attached to any particular place, because even Cholula’s most popular spots seem to change names, motifs, and owners as often as the university welcomes a new freshman class. The students do, after all, provide a significant chunk of their customer base, so catering to fickle sensibilities can attract steady business, at least for a while. That said, we tend to roll with a slightly older crowd (25 and up) and our list of faves below, which currently lacks a dance club, reflects this. All but one of our picks has been around for at least two years.

A few tips for visitors: Although it’s safe enough for single women to go out on their own, if you do you’re unlikely to be left alone, particularly if you look foreign; savvy national gals travel in pairs, if not packs, when unescorted by someone of the opposite sex. Smokers should be aware that it’s illegal to light up indoors, or outside of designated smoking areas, although management at some places may look the other way if no one complains. Cash is always the preferred method of payment and often the only one accepted; carry small bills and pay in exact amounts to avoid long waits for your change. A 10 percent gratuity is appreciated.

Our Favorite Local Watering Holes

Bar Reforma (4 Sur at Avenida Morelos) From the outside, this small cantina connected to a hotel almost looks like a scene from Desperado: Patrons push through swinging saloon doors on a corner of the town’s main drag to enter. Once inside, however, they’re greeted not by gun-slinging outlaws, but by dueling walls of photographs — a collage of Cholula’s 126 churches on the left, a sea of Marilyn Monroe glamour shots on the right. You can ponder whether this is some kind of metaphor for saints and sinners over a glass of the house’s signature sangria. For those who drink a few too many, management has kindly installed talavera basins in both restrooms specifically for vomiting. Open after 5 p.m., every day but Sunday.

La Búrbula (14 Oriente #422, next to Monchis) We have a soft spot in our hearts for this restaurant-meets-lounge because it’s where we went on our first date in 2007. The building’s been remodeled since then, but the tasty menu — mostly appetizers, salads, pizzas, and pastas — and the Polynesia-goes-disco atmosphere remain the same. La Búrbula entices the thirsty with frou-frou cocktails like mango daiquiris and margaritas, but also pours the usual fare (beer, wine, liquor, etc.). It sometimes features DJs and bands in the evenings. Open daily from 2 p.m. on. Update: La Búrbula has moved to 5 de Mayo #407 in the heart of San Pedro Cholula.

Cus Cus Cus (6 Norte #601, between 6 and 8 Oriente) Only a few blocks from the pyramid off Avenida Morelos, Cus Cus Cus occupies a historic home that’s been converted into a shabby-chic restaurant and lounge. Each room is a bit different, beckoning patrons to choose between cozy side rooms or the airier central courtyard. We go for the variety of cocktails — it’s one of the few places that offers drinkable wine by the glass — and snacks, particularly the popcorn chicken and the pizzas, which are piled high with toppings. Open Thursday to Saturday after 7 p.m.

El Salvaje Oeste (Carril a Morillotla #301, a half dozen speed bumps or so from the Carretera Federal a Atlixco.) This neighborhood bar is way off the beaten path, but for those who want to visit an authentic cantina, it’s our favorite. Run by the same family that owns the taco stand, cobbler, and mini mart on the same block, The Wild West has been serving cold beer and tequila since the residential area around it began developing more than 15 years ago. It started as a hole-in-wall with a few bar stools and sawdust-covered floor and has since expanded into a full-fledged dive, replete with vinyl sofas and a big-screen TV. Open most evenings except Sundays.

Jazzatlán (2 Sur #102 at Avenida Morelos) This artsy café and bar hosts live music at least two nights a week. The last time we went there, we not only caught a fantastic local jazz trio, but also took advantage of a sweet dinner special: buy any bottle of wine, get a pizza and salad for free. It’s conveniently located, too, just around the corner from San Pedro’s main square, where there’s a taxi stand and a public parking lot. Cover charge ranges from free to 150 pesos, depending on act booked. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.

RokPub (14 Oriente #616 at 8 Norte) This rock & roll burger joint is part sports bar, part night club, depending on which day of the week you happen to pop in. There’s one crowded pool table downstairs and several more upstairs, where patrons can also play Nintendo Wii — lots of giggles for anyone who’s able to handle a little public humiliation. RokPub also offers live music, happy hour specials, and shows major sporting events on the big-screen. Open daily, 11 a.m. to 3 a.m., except Sunday, 2 p.m. to midnight.

Taxi Bar (12 Oriente at 2 Norte) Located inside Container City, Taxi draws hipsters of all ages with cold beer, funky décor, and DJs/live bands. Expect a loud and festive environment: The bar’s open-air design means that sometimes its music mixes with that of the sustainable strip mall’s other occupants. Although it doesn’t serve food, patrons can often order tacos or döner kebab without leaving their seats, as waiters from adjacent restaurants wander through the crowd. Open most days from early afternoon on.

Is your favorite bar or club missing from the list? Share your top Cholula night spots with us in the comments section below! Find an error? We did our best to verify each bar’s current business hours, which of course are subject to change. If you have updated infomation, please contact us.

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Posted in Featured, Nightlife | 5 Comments »