Archive for August, 2012


Cholula Town Fair Mixes Old and New Traditions

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

A vendor sells freshly baked goods at the Feria de San Pedro Cholula (2010)It all started hundreds, quite possibly thousands, of years ago in Cholula, as a means to pay homage to the serpent god Quetzalcoatl. Then Spanish settlers arrived—and turned the Cholullans’ sacred day into a virgin’s feast day (Sept. 8), in an attempt to convert them to Christianity. Fast-forward a few hundred years, and the ancient and colonial beliefs have fused into a single, glorious celebration.

For the past six decades, San Pedro Cholula has commemorated the occasion with a nearly three-week annual fair that fêtes the region’s trade and cultural heritage, from pre-Hispanic practices to modern-day customs. This year, the 62nd Feria de Cholula kicks off Aug. 30, with a massive inaugural dance and the crowning of a festival queen in the town’s main square. Other special events include everything from a traditional trueque—at which some 3,000 vendors are expected to trade goods—on Sept. 8 to a re-enactment of Hidalgo’s cry for independence on Sept. 15. Expect to find live entertainment, street food, sales of artisanal wares, and carnival rides, too.

“Come with your family to enjoy the most colorful and folkloric traditions of San Pedro Cholula. Music, dance, and gastronomy envelope the city for a party that’s full of magic and happiness,” officials say. “It’s an experience you’ll never forget.”

All performances and ceremonies at the Feria de Cholula are free and open to the public.

Officials expect 100,000 visitors between Aug. 30 and Sept. 16. New this year: A 4,000-square-meter dome has been erected in the main square to shelter fair attendees and its 500 vendors and artisans from the elements, rain or shine. In addition, in response to the protests of animal activists, no bullfights or cockfights will be held.

To coincide with the fair, the tunnels that allow people to pass through the Great Pyramid are scheduled to reopen after nearly three years of restoration work; admission will remain free for the duration of the festival.

Schedule of Events

Here’s an overview of the fair’s various events and performances, all of which are free and open to the public.

August 30
Inaugural Dance with performances by Aarón y su Grupo Ilusión, Colmillo Norteño, Sexy Cumbia, and Junior Klan, among others, Plaza de la Concordia (main square), 3 p.m.

August 31
Lantern Procession, Convento de San Gabriel, 2 Norte #4, Colonia Centro, 10 p.m

September 1
La Sonora Dinamita and comedian Ottmar de la Rosa, Teatro de la Ciudad, Recinto Ferial Xelhua, 14 Poniente at 6 Sur (the plaza that’s on the exit side of the pyramid), 6 p.m.

September 2
La Perla Colombiana and Banda MB, Teatro de la Ciudad, Recinto Ferial Xelhua, 14 Poniente at 6 Sur (the plaza that’s on the exit side of the pyramid), 6 p.m.

September 8
Trueque, Plaza de la Concordia (main square), Calle Morelos at Calle Miguel Aleman, starting at 8 a.m.
Quema de Panzón, Iglesia de los Remedios, atop the Great Pyramid, 14 Poniente at 6 Sur, 1 p.m.
Los Terricolas and comedian Jhonatan Casanova, Teatro de la Ciudad, Recinto Ferial Xelhua, 14 Poniente at 6 Sur (the plaza that’s on the exit side of the pyramid), 6 p.m.

September 9
Orquesta la Típica (de Maelo Ruiz) and Orquesta Salsabor, Teatro de la Ciudad, Recinto Ferial Xelhua, 14 Poniente at 6 Sur (the plaza that’s on the exit side of the pyramid), 5:30 p.m.

September 15
Cry of Independence (“El Grito”), Plaza de la Concordia (main square), Calle Morelos at Calle Miguel Aleman, starting at 8 p.m.

September 16
Independence Day Parade, downtown San Pedro Cholula, Calle Morelos at Calle Miguel Aleman, starting at 10 a.m.
Yaguarú and Banda los Angeles, Teatro de la Ciudad, Recinto Ferial Xelhua, 14 Poniente at 6 Sur (the plaza that’s on the exit side of the pyramid), 6 p.m.

Many taxis and intercity buses offer regular service between Puebla and Cholula, as does the Tranvía. It’s about a 30-minute ride, depending on traffic. After you arrive, you may find this tourist map helpful.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Additional sources:,

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5 Myths + Misconceptions About Puebla, Debunked

Monday, August 20th, 2012

When I arrived in Puebla in 2007 to study Spanish, I’d never been here before; I’d only taken beach vacations south of the border. In fact, until I began researching my trip, I’d never even heard of Puebla before — or so I thought. I quickly realized that two of Mexico’s best-known cultural exports to the U.S., mole poblano and Cinco de Mayo, were products of Puebla. Right. How could I not have known that?

Mexicophiles of the world, I hear your collective sigh. (Believe me, these days I’m right there with you.) But, in my experience, many foreign travelers have yet to connect those same dots, and those who do too often bungle the information. So, to celebrate my five-year anniversary here this week, I thought I’d try to clear a few things up. Here are five common myths and misconceptions about Puebla, debunked.

Myth 1: “Puebla” is synonymous with “pueblo.”

Given that many nouns in Spanish have both masculine and feminine forms, it’s easy to see how non-native speakers could confuse the two in this case. Puebla’s sister city of Pueblo, Colorado, doesn’t help the matter, either. For the uninitiated, pueblo is a common noun in Spanish that means “village” or “town” or “the people” in general. Puebla is a proper noun, the name of a state in Mexico and its capital city. Although it’s often mistakenly referred to as a “small Colonial city,” Puebla is the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis, with a population of more than 1.5 million people (comparable to Philadelphia). However, Puebla’s quaint and historic downtown — a UNESCO World Heritage Center — often makes this big city feel like a small town.

Myth 2: “Poblano” is a type of mole and chile pepper.

This statement is correct but seems to suggest that the Spanish adjective only applies to food, which is incorrect. Poblano describes any person or thing that comes from Puebla, including mole and chile peppers. My husband is poblano (m.), and Talavera pottery is poblana (f.), respectively. Mole poblano — never pablano — is a popular sweet and savory sauce from Puebla, the recipe for which typically calls for dried Poblano peppers (a.k.a. ancho chiles). It is not the only type of mole made in Mexico. When you visit Puebla, try manchamanteles and pipíanes rojo and verde, too.

Myth 3: Cinco de Mayo celebrates Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Cinco de Mayo’s popularity in the United States and worldwide as a fiesta honoring Mexican, Mexican-American, and Latino pride has caused considerable confusion about the origins of the holiday. By all historical accounts, Cinco de Mayo commemorates Mexico’s brief but heroic victory over France in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Unfortunately, the governor of Puebla — who spent some $62 million in public money to fête Cinco de Mayo’s 150th anniversary this year — now plans to move the state’s official Independence Day celebration to the Cinco de Mayo battle forts this fall. Don’t be fooled: Cinco de Mayo (May 5) is not Independence Day (Sept. 16).

Myth 4: Puebla is a “day trip” from Mexico City.

Some well-known travel guides assert that you can easily see Puebla in a day if you’re staying in Mexico City, just 75 miles away. Do not trust anyone who says this. Yes, it’s true that it only takes about two hours to get here from the DF on the bus — and even less time by car — if there isn’t much traffic in either city. However, as a visiting producer for México Travel Channel told me last week, “We’ve been here for several days now and barely scratched the surface. There’s so much to see.” You need at least a long weekend to explore Puebla and neighboring Cholula, and even more time if you want to visit worthwhile outlying destinations, such as Atlixco and Cacaxtla. Otherwise, you’ll wish you stayed longer.

Myth 5: Puebla and Poblanos are very reserved.

Locals joke that there’s a church in Puebla for every Poblano, which suggests that the city is fairly religious. Pardon the cliché, but don’t judge a book by its cover (even if it is the Bible). On any given day, for each Catholic temple you pass you’re likely to spot a shameless and very public display of affection. The oldest cantina in town is mostly open on weekday afternoons. Women who dress rather conservatively during the day wear scandalously little to go out at night. In other words, the upper crust of society may try to “keep up appearances,” but it’s all smoke and mirrors. The reality is that Poblanos are typical urban dwellers who appreciate tradition yet embrace the latest trends. What the city of Puebla lacks, like much of Mexico, is diversity. This seems to be changing, due in part to an influx of residents from other countries and states of the republic and an increasingly vocal LGBT community. It’s also worth noting that in July’s federal elections, the progressive candidate won the majority of votes in Puebla, not the traditional PAN or PRI. Although Puebla isn’t as liberal as San Francisco, my previous home, it isn’t Provo, Utah, either.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

To read more about Puebla, visit The Blog.

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Gold Décor Gives Puebla Chapel a Heavenly Glow

Wednesday, August 1st, 2012

Templo de Sto. DomingoOn April 16, 1690, hundreds of people thronged the flower-strewn streets of downtown Puebla to inaugurate the Capilla del Rosario, or the Chapel of the Rosary. The celebration in and around the chapel lasted a full 10 days. Although the drawn-out festivities may seem somewhat extravagant now, when you consider that the ornate chapel — a shining example of Mexican Baroque architecture — at the time was regarded as the “8th wonder of the world,” the celebration was more than fitting. Today the architectural jewel, resplendent in gilded stucco, is a must-see for any visitor to this UNESCO World Heritage Centre.

The Capilla del Rosario and the larger temple in which it resides, Santo Domingo, were actually built at different times. The construction of the main church began in 1571, and the majority was completed by 1611; the final touches were worked out in 1659. In 1650, friar Juan de Cuenca conceived the chapel to demonstrate the Dominican order’s devotion to the Virgin of the Rosary and to help convert the masses to Catholicism. To achieve this goal, he made sure that the chapel would outshine any other people had seen before. Thus, its use of gold leaf, onyx stone, and talavera tile is, in a word, stunning.

Visitors only need to spend a few moments inside the chapel to realize the master craftsmanship involved in creating it.

Oil paintings also decorate the space. A transplant from Mexico City, José Rodriguez Carnero, painted many of the canvases. His images depict scenes from the birth of Christ, the mysterious joys of the rosary, and the coronation of Mary, in somber tones that neatly contrast the gilded plaster.

The dome of the Capilla del RosarioThe ceiling of the chapel nave features gilded stucco.Artist José Rodriguez Carnero painted many of the canvases in the chapel.The centerpiece of the sanctuary is the altar dedicated to the Virgin Mary, who almost appears to float in midair. The gold canopy surrounding her came from the hands of Lucas Pinto, an Iberian artisan, and the columns were carved of stone from nearby Tecali de Herrera. Multiple saints adorn the walls surrounding the altar: At left are Mary’s husband, St. Joseph, and her cousin St. Elizabeth, who was the mother of St. John the Baptist. At right are her parents, St. Joachim and St. Anne. On the next tier up, you’ll note 16 virgin martyrs, each holding the instrument of her death.

While surveying the grandeur of this chapel, I’ve often pondered how a society that grappled with poverty could invest so much in a house of worship. Yet donations from rich and poor alike paid for the realization of the Capilla del Rosario: People of lesser economic means gave what they could to garner the protection of Mary, while the rich were promised burials within the chapel. (It is unclear how many, if any, are indeed buried here.) In more recent history, thanks to a donation from the Mary Street Jenkins Foundation, a team of restorers rejuvenated the noblest characteristics of the chapel between 1967 and 1971.

During any visit, be sure to examine the chapel carefully, slowly, from front to back, ceiling to floor. Try to gaze at the walls from every angle, from various directions, to see how many details you notice. The best time to visit is in the late afternoon: When the sun comes down through the windows, the gold leaf shines brighter than usual and fills the space with a heavenly glow. It’s a sight you simply should not miss.

—Laura McKelvie

The Templo de Santo Domingo and Capilla del Rosario are located at the corner of 4 Poniente and Calle 5 de Mayo, a short walk from the city’s main square. Hours: 8 a.m.-1 p.m. (2 p.m. on Sundays) and 4-8:30 p.m. daily.

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