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Museo San Pedro Flaunts Neo-Mexican Artwork

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Works by three artists who represent the neo-Mexican movement are on display in “Éxtasis y Abundancia” (Ecstasy and Abundance”), an exhibit that’s part of the 2014 International Cinco de Mayo Festival in Puebla. Now through June 29, visitors may enjoy this feast for the eyes at the San Pedro Museo de Arte just two blocks from the zócalo.

All three featured artists—Antonio Álvarez, Lilliana Amezcua, and Arturo Elizondo—studied at the Universidad de las Américas-Puebla; Álvarez is now an UDLAP professor. Although each artist has a distinct style, observers can find similarities among their pieces. A description of the exhibit speaks of their “figurative large-format painting on stylized themes related to Mexican culture, creating an innovative sense of post-revolutionary nationalism.” This nationalistic spirit is one which delights in re-creating past history and reflecting a mix of Spanish and indigenous elements while also poking fun at religious and social traditions.

"Portrait of Sister Patti Smith," by Antonio Álvarez MoranPerhaps the most prominent painting on display is the detailed mural by Antonio Álvarez dedicated to Cinco de Mayo, on loan from El Mural de los Poblanos restaurant, where it usually hangs in the lobby. The mural depicts various people with historical significance to the Battle of Puebla, including Gen. Ignacio Zaragoza. (A reference map in Spanish identifies those represented.)

Also by Álvarez are riffs on el santo niño, the Christ child figures that are dressed up yearly for Candlemass (Día de la Candelaria, Feb. 2). One is a mason whose clothing is spattered with cement, and another is a tourist with sunglasses who’s gone sight-seeing all over Mexico and has snapshots to show for it! Another unusual series by Álvarez, created for the 100th anniversary of Picasso’s “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon,” reinterprets the cubist painting by superimposing images of Mexican showgirls on those of the original canvas.

Meanwhile, Álvarez’s series of portraits of nuns from centuries past was inspired by the fact that these women rejected the prevailing female role of housewife in their times. In contrast is a tongue-in-cheek painting of punk rocker Patti Smith as a nun, founder of the “Order of Barefoot Punkettes” (pictured at right). Her huge metallic medallion has, instead of saints, images of artists and others who inspired her, including Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Dylan. Having spent a number of years living in the United States, Álvarez describes his recent style as “Gringuismo mágico” (“Magic Gringoism”), in which he elevates the commonalities of American life to a spiritual level.

Lilliana Amezcua, on the other hand, likes to call her style “punk Baroque.” Her series “Patrones” (“Patrons”) involves collages combining recycled items like Barbie shoes and clippings from decades-old women’s magazines with her own painting or embroidery. She provides social commentary on “the perfect homemaker” of the past by mocking the pills and potions advertised for bigger breasts and whiter skin.

Another favorite genre of Amezcua’s is the self-portrait—a la Frida Kahlo—and she sometimes dresses herself as a grande dame while, at the same time, insinuating that she is no such thing. “Dama con Perrito” (“Lady with Doggie,” pictured below) is one fine example of this.

"Dama Con Perrito," by Lilliana AmezcuaAmezcua links past and present as she seeks to continue with the perfume factory and shop her Spanish grandfather started, following the original formulas for soaps, oils, and scents with ingredients like rosemary, coconut, grapes, and garlic; many of her works in “Éxtasis y Abundancia” reveal her family’s history, and one shows her surrounded by the tools and recipes of her trade as if they were a halo.

The project “Anónimo” (“Anonymous”) by the third artist, Arturo Elizondo, stands out for its interactiveness, involving the community and relating to written media as well. He asked volunteers of all ages from different parts of the city of Puebla to read excerpts of literature by Mexican author Juan Rulfo and to draw a picture of a scene. Elizondo then painted the readers with their creations. In addition to the “common man,” celebrities like Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo also appear in his paintings.

The exhibit is well-named, as its riot of color, textures, and images is indeed remarkable for its “ecstatic abundance.” Saints and devils, the profane and the prosaic, politics and history, humor and social comment intersect and delight. —Margie Hord de Méndez

San Pedro Museo de Arte (4 Norte #203, Col. Centro), is open daily except Mondays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is 30 pesos (free on Sundays). “Ecstasy and Abundance” runs through June 29.

Images used with permission from their respective artists.

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Tonantzintla Shop Sells Cholula-Style ‘Talavera’

Monday, March 17th, 2014

AAP-TalaveraTonantzintla2014dThe tiny town of Santa María Tonantzintla, which lies just south of Cholula off the old federal highway to Atlixco, is probably best known to outsiders for its magnificent church. The architectural gem is said to be the rural community’s version of the ostentatious Capilla del Rosario in Puebla, which centuries ago was heralded as the eighth wonder of the world.

Tonantzintla’s 17th-century edifice beckons parishioners and tourists alike with dueling tower bells and intricately laid white and cobalt blue talavera tiles on its facade. Inside, the nave is literally plastered from floor to ceiling with colorful religious symbols, both European and indigenous, that seem to bring the walls to life. It is, in a word, spectacular.

Visitors may not take pictures of the church’s interior without special permission (or a wedding invitation), but they may purchase locally made talavera at a nearby shop. In fact, one of our favorite producers in the entire region is Talavera Tonantzintla. Although its wares aren’t certified by the government, in part because its pottery is lead- and cadmium-free, the craftsmanship of the artists who painstakingly throw and paint every piece by hand is, at its best, exquisite.

Yet the real treasures turned out by this family-run operation are made of cotto, a type of pottery named after the “baked” porcelain and ceramic tiles of Italy. (We suspect that neighboring Chipilo may have had some influence here.) The pieces produced by Talavera Tonantzintla celebrate the area’s pre-Hispanic culture by flaunting one or more of 55 designs from a Cholultecan codex [PDF]. The images, such as the native turkey (pictured below, far right) are chronicled alongside many others in the book Diseño Gráfico en Cerámica Prehispanica Cholulteca. Their reproduction is approved by the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).

AAP-TalaveraTonantzintla2014aAAP-TalaveraTonantzintla2014cAAP-TalaveraTonantzintla2014bShoppers may visit the small factory, which is located inside an unassuming, graffiti-covered building near kilometer 11.5 on the highway. It’s open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. and Saturdays until 3 p.m. However, according to the owners, the best selection of the shop’s work can be found at Tonantzin, Avenida Hidalgo #33 (at Iturbide), in Santa María Tonantzintla. The store is open Wednesday through Monday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Where to Buy Handmade Artisanal Goods in Puebla

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

“Typical Mexican flea market.” “Mostly touristy merchandise.” “The same stuff over and over.” The average reviews of El Parián on TripAdvisor are fairly apt. Although it’s possible to find lovely, regionally made artisanal goods at the popular open-air market, cheap knick-knacks abound. Some of its 112 “local” vendors even sell products from countries other than Mexico. “It’s a pretty place, but you have to be observant because there are Chinese wares mixed in and it’s easy to get confused.”

So, where can visitors buy authentic, high-quality artisanías in the city’s center? Below is a list of our favorite craftspeople. At their workshops and stores, you can find clay pots and talavera, glass and silver, and textiles and cigars — all lovingly made in Puebla.

Mix colors and paint each piece by hand in Talavera Armando's workshop.Hand-sculpted mole pots in the making.Glasswares

Certified Talavera

You can hardly walk a block in the city’s historic center without seeing a building façade adorned with talavera tiles. The art of making the now-signature ceramics was introduced to Puebla in the 16th century by emigrants from Talavera de la Reina, Spain. Many colorful dishes, decorations, and fixtures are still made the old-fashioned way by a handful of certified producers in town, including Talavera Armando and Uriarte Talavera. (Tip: To know whether a piece is certified, look for “D04” painted on the bottom.) Both sites offer tours in Spanish of their factory floors, where visitors can learn more about talavera and see how the process of making it unfolds.
Talavera Armando, 6 Norte #402, Col. Centro (222-232-6468). Hours: 9 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. Tour fee: 25 MXP per person.
Talavera Uriarte, 4 Poniente #911, Col. Centro (222-232-1598). Hours: 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday; closes at 4 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tours: weekdays only, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.; 50 MXP per person.

Clay Pots

The Centro Alfarero del Barrio de la Luz is the only traditional factory still operating in what was once a neighorhood overflowing with pottery makers. Its collective today comprises 15 families, including the Lopez-García clan, which has been working clay into pots, jugs, candlesticks, and other items on the premises for seven generations. People come here from around the state to buy handmade cazuelas for mole — the largest, a campana entera, holds enough to feed 800 people — and other wares made daily from barro. Visitors may also get a glimpse of the giant brick oven in back, where many of the pots are still fired. Juan de Palafox y Mendoza #1403, Barrio de la Luz (222-294-2752). Hours: 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Saturday; closes at 2 p.m. on Sunday.

Handblown Glass

Antigua Fábrica de Vidrio “La Luz” is a retail store and museum dedicated to hand-blown and molded glass. The business was founded in 1935 by Victor Martínez Filoteo, an apprentice of Camilo Ávalos Razo, the Poblano who was once considered to be the master of the craft in Mexico. Although it isn’t the site of the original factory, which was located a few blocks away, it is a wonderful place to learn the history of the trade in Mexico — and to buy glasswares, including traditional items made of vidrio verde colonial, or “Colonial green glass.” 3 Oriente #1018, Barrio de Analco (222-242-5338). Hours: 9:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Tuesday to Friday; closes at 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.

SilversmithTextiles at IquitiHand-rolled cigars

Hand-Rolled Cigars

Although its tobacco and cigar-makers hail from the neighboring state of Veracruz, the smokes churned out by Fábrica de Puros Legendaria are assembled in Puebla. You can watch its artisans in action at its tiny store, located in front of Villa Rosa restaurant. Choose from three types of cigars — regular, Cuban seeds cultivated in Tuxtla, or rum-soaked — in varying lengths and widths. The house recommends the torpedo-sized mulato maduro. 5 Oriente #207, Col. Centro (222-232-5067). Hours: 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday; 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Silver Jewelry

Manos de la Tierra houses the workshop and flagship store of Giovanni Rangel, a Puebla native who makes jewelry from silver, talavera, fossils, and semiprecious stones like amber, jade, turquoise, and obsidian. His exquisite rings, earrings, bracelets, necklaces, and cuff links are all one-of-a-kind pieces, which he carefully sketches out on paper before forging them in different grades of Mexican silver (925, 950 or 999). Gift purchases are wrapped in colored tissue paper and a cloth bag with literature about the artist and his materials. 6 Sur #4, Col. Centro (222-213-7052), with a second location inside the Presidente Intercontinental Hotel. Hours: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week.

Textiles

Weaving has played an important role in Puebla’s history since the city’s earliest days. Although many of handmade items now come from other parts of the state, such as the Sierra Norte and the Mixteca regions, you’ll often find for sale here in the state capital. We recently purchased a beautiful wool shawl decorated with intricate woven patterns at Iquiti, a small boutique that also sells pillows, table runners, dolls, and clothing made by indigenous women and girls from Puebla and elsewhere in Mexico. It’s located next door to a cute café (owned by the same family) that brews Oaxacan coffee.
Iquiti, 5 Sur at 7 Poniente, Col. Centro (222-232-0275). Hours: 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Saturday; closed Sunday.

Of course, the city of Puebla offers many other places to buy artisanal wares. For arts and crafts, visit the pedestrian area next to the Carolino building (3 Oriente between 4 and 6 Sur). For antiques and flea market items, try Los Sapos plaza (6 Sur at 5 Oriente). For household wares, check out the tianguis in Analco park (5 Oriente between 8 and 10 Sur). Do you have a favorite place to share? Leave a reply with your tips below!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Going Off the Beaten Path in La Mixteca of Puebla

Tuesday, November 19th, 2013

Puente de DiosThis is a guest post by Margie Hord de Méndez, a Canadian expat who grew up in Honduras and has lived in Mexico for the past 40 years. She lives and works, as a teacher and a translator, in Puebla.

La Mixteca is a mostly arid zone in the southern part of the state of Puebla, where many communities still speak Mixtec, although Popoloca and Nahuatl are also prevalent. It’s not the kind of place I’d choose to live, because it’s known for scorpions, and at certain times of the year the dry heat can be oppressive. However, my husband’s family is from La Mixteca, and the region — which stretches into Oaxaca and Guerrero — has its own kind of surprising beauty, like the bright pink blossoms of the árboles de cabello (ginkgo biloba trees), with their hanging tresses, in winter. Near the rivers, some of which only have water part of the time, one can find the treasures of mango and other fruit trees.

One seldom sees international tourists in La Mixteca, but there are numerous sites of interest. Acatlán de Osorio is well-known for its pottery, especially figures of the sun and the moon and “trees of life” that represent Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden. Near Tehuacán, the biosphere reserve offers a wealth of ecological diversity; it includes the Jardín Botánico Helia Bravo Hollis, a fascinating garden where one can wander around and learn about the surprising variety of cacti and other desert flora and their medicinal or hallucinogenic properties. There is even a huge, ancient elephant’s foot tree (some 2,500 years old!). The species is considered sacred in Japan, and a Japanese prince is said to have had his ashes deposited here.

In Tepexi de Rodríguez, the Museo Regional Mixteco-Tlayúa displays fossils found in a nearby marble quarry, including marine animals, providing evidence that there was once an ocean in this desert. Previously, the site was known as pie de vaca (cow’s foot) museum, because of preserved footprints similar to those of cows, but experts now know they were left by now-extinct mammals related to camels. Though small and unassuming, this museum is important because of its fish and reptile fossils from the Mesozoic period.

Another sign of long-gone oceans is Zapotitlán Salinas, located in the biosphere, where salt water springs. The water is left to pool until it evaporates and the salt can be harvested. In a shop on the federal highway (125 from Tehuacán), we found artisanal bags of salt with different herbs or flavors, like garlic, added. The store also offered burnished pottery from nearby Los Reyes Metzontla, which is crafted by the Popoloca community using pre-Colombian techniques and has a unique, unadorned style.

ChigmecatitlánOn the way south, along the Puebla-Tepeaca highway (federal 150), is a turn-off that leads to the town of Molcaxac. A few kilometers beyond the town, it’s easy to miss the dilapidated signs indicating the way to the Cola de Caballo (Horsetail) waterfall and the Puente de Dios (God’s Bridge, pictured above), further down the Atoyac River. At the latter, visitors may park and, on foot, begin the long descent down hundreds of steps to the river below. Gradually, the climate seems to change and the heat dissipates, especially once you reach on the banks that flank the chilly currents. Large boulders strewn about make the path rather daunting, but they’re worth navigating to reach the Puente de Dios, a combination of huge arch, cave, and a sort of tunnel through which the river runs. Noisy birds swoop down into the canyon, adding to the magical feeling of a beautiful oasis of icy water in an otherwise arid area.

We also visited the nearby town of Huatlatlauca, where we understood there were still Nahuatl speakers. We came across a very old church, closed up except for the bell tower. It had the simple facade of an earlier Colonial church, but one could see vestiges of painted flowers that seem to have covered it at one point. Our son and his wife ventured up into the bell tower, a great place for photos, and she dared to pull on the bell rope. Ding! Fortunately, there were no repercussions, even though church bells can be used to sound an alarm, and outsiders’ meddling with them is generally unwelcome. This was on a dirt backroad, and we spoke to a middle-aged woman as she passed us. She said that the church was built by Augustinian monks. We asked whether there was a crafts shop in the town. No, people just keep their handicrafts at home and transport them to other towns to sell on special occasions. After we told her we were interested in her family’s creations, she escorted us to her home, where la abuelita (the grandmother, who spoke Nahuatl) worked away at weaving palm fronds into tiny figures.

Miniature figures made by weavers in La MixtecaIn the past, we learned, artisans would go down into holes in the ground to weave, where there was more moisture, as the palm needs to be damp to be worked well. The old woman can no longer sit on the floor to weave petates (mats), as she used to. I purchased a lovely mat that was more beautiful than most because of the special designs in variegated colors that she’d woven into it. They told us that this particular small mat is called petate de chocolate, but they did not know why. Perhaps those mats are used for grinding cocoa in some regions; however, La Mixteca does not offer the tropical climate where cocoa plants flourish.

The Mixtecs are better known for their woven work than the Nahuas. It is a fascinating sight as they trudge along, weaving hats as they walk, hardly glancing down as their hands fly at work. In cities around Mexico, it is easy to identify Mixtecs, as they usually sell all sorts of woven items, now mostly made from colorful artificial fibers, in the streets. Each town seems to have a specialty. Chigmecatitlán has a museum in its main square, where one can appreciate samples of their miniature animals, nativity figures, and jewelry. We were impressed by a large sign made for the patron saint’s festival; upon coming closer, the letters turned out to be made of tiny woven figures. My father-in-law, from a different town, used to weave miniature palm objects such as scorpions, a wonder to behold.

On the way back from Puente de Dios, we pulled over to the roadside to see if we might buy some of the local fruit we saw for sale at little stands. There was no need to leave the car, as immediately—boom!—several women crowded around the windows offering samples of their fruit (chicozapotes, anonas, mamey, granadas chinas). The latter, literally a “Chinese pomegranate,” is an elongated orangey fruit with a sweet, slimy pulp and many seeds that look almost like frog eggs and slide down the throat easily.

This area is not frequented by many tourists, as its attractions are more subtle than elsewhere. Yet, for me, that adds to its appeal: What you see is what you get. There are no facades put up to look quaint or typical or old or native. Traditional markets are more common than craft shops. If you are looking for what’s genuine, not put on for show, you’ll find it in La Mixteca. —Margie Hord de Méndez

Photographs courtesy Esteban Méndez (Puente de Dios) and Refugio Méndez (church, woven figures)

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Birthplace of Mole Poblano Reopens to the Public

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Entrance to the ex-Convent of Santa RosaLovers of Mexican food, rejoice! The kitchen of the former Santa Rosa Convent — the place where legend has it mole poblano was invented — has reopened its doors to the public. Visitors to Puebla may once again feast their eyes on the most spectacular and well-preserved talavera kitchen in the city. What makes it so special, beyond its culinary history? From floor to ceiling, nearly all of the room’s tiles are the restored originals, a docent explained during our visit yesterday.

The nuns’ now-iconic recipe is available to all comers in an adjacent room, where it’s proudly displayed in a cazuela (pictured below, far right) alongside those of other classic Poblano dishes from around the state. Photographs are not permitted inside the building without special permission from the state, but the guard let us snap a few of the recipes for the record.

AAP-StaRosaMoleRecipeAn official snapshot of the kitchen where mole poblano was invented.The site closed a few years ago so that repairs could be made to the entire 17th-century building, which occupies half a city block. (After church property was nationalized in the 1800s by reform laws, the old convent served as a military barracks, a mental hospital, and a housing complex before being converted into a cultural center and museum in the 1970s.) The kitchen reopened temporarily during the Tianguis Turístico event in March 2013 and permanently shortly thereafter without much fanfare. The rest of the building remains closed as restoration work continues. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Ex-Convento de Santa Rosa (Calle 3 Norte #1203, between 12 and 14 Poniente, Col. Centro) is open Tuesdays through Sundays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free.

Photograph of convent kitchen by Presidencia de La República México

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2013 Fall Festivals: Our Favorite Week of the Year

Sunday, October 27th, 2013

Given how often food gets featured on this site, you may find it hard to imagine us setting aside that heaping bowl of mole de caderas — available from only mid-October to mid-November — to write this post. But we were inspired by the recent Mexico chat on Twitter to share two of our (other) favorite fall festivals in Puebla before it’s too late to enjoy them. Both are happening this week, or Oct. 26 to Nov. 3.

We’ve written about Day of the Dead and the National Christmas Tree and Ornament Fair before, but this post contains updated information for 2013. Enjoy!

Day of the Dead

A chalk Catrina decorates Puebla's main square for Day of the Dead.Few traditions in Mexico rival Día de los muertos in their mixing of ancient and modern beliefs. The national holiday, which is celebrated around the state of Puebla from Oct. 28 to Nov. 2, honors lost loved ones by paying tribute to — and praying for — their spirits. Its origins can be traced to pre-Hispanic times, when the Aztecs held a monthlong ritual for the goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. Nowadays, families set up altars in their homes or businesses to remember people who’ve passed away (often during the past year). The notion is that, by doing so, they welcome, nourish, guide, and otherwise assist the souls in their journey after death.

Looking for ofrendas, calaveritas, and the like? The IMACP plans to show off the semifinalists in its annual altar-building contest at the Galería del Palacio Municipal (Portal Hidalgo #12, Col. Centro) on Oct. 31 from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. and Nov. 1, 2 and 3 from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Its elaborate entries, which last year ranged from miniature to life-size, are made of paper and cardboard; admission is free.

Visitors to the city of Puebla who want to take part in the 2013 festivities should head for the historic center.

Next door, in the lobby of the Teatro de la Ciudad, artisans will display and sell their handcrafted wares Oct. 30 to Nov. 2 from noon to 6 p.m.; the theater is also set to host two “catwalk shows” of Catrina costumes on Nov. 2 at 6 and 8 p.m. Elsewhere on the block, the municipal government puts together a monumental altar every year that fills its entire lobby of the Palacio Municipal — which visitors may view from Oct. 28 to Nov. 6 — and offers a free marionette show for kids of all ages, Llegó a Puebla la Catrina, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8 p.m.

Each year, the city of Puebla erects a monumental altar inside the Palacio Municipal.Just across the zócalo, on the opposite side of the Puebla Cathedral, the Casa de Cultura (5 Oriente #5) hosts its own colorful altar-building competition, as well artists selling Day of the Dead jewelry, figurines, and snacks (hello, sugar skulls). It’s open for free to the public Nov. 1 to 3 from roughly 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.; prepare to stand in line.

Other Day of the Dead events in the Puebla capital include a nighttime parade on Nov. 1, which gets under way at 6 p.m. on Avenida Juárez (at 19 Sur) and winds through the city streets to the main square, and a Gran Fandango de Calaveritas at Museo Amparo (2 Sur #708) on Nov. 1 and 2, featuring Poblano folk group Reyes Son, at 8 p.m.

If you have wheels and want to head farther afield this week, the towns of Atlixco and Huaquechula are also colorful places to celebrate Day of the Dead. Atlixco is mounting its sixth giant floral carpet in the main square and a Catrina exposition on the patio of the Palacio Municipal, and Huaquechula invites visitors into 21 local homes to view traditional altars. (See links for additional details.)

National Xmas Tree and Ornament Fair

The town of Chignahuapan aims to sell tens of millions of Christmas ornaments this year during its annual Feria Nacional del Árbol y la Esfera.

Blown-glass ornaments in Chignahuapan, Puebla.The event, which showcases the work of some 3,000 artisans, takes place from Oct. 26 to Nov. 3. The hand-painted, blown-glass ornaments range from quirky to exquisite, and shoppers will find items in varying sizes and prices. (One year, we bought a bunch of holiday earrings to take to the U.S. as gifts.) The ornaments are produced in six major factories and some 200 family workshops, according to local news reports, and primarily sold by vendors on the main drag.

The fair comprises all sorts of events, from a midnight rodeo and Mexican wrestling to a candlelight procession and a massive launch of globos de cantoya. The festivities take place in the Teatro del Pueblo and other locations in and around town; admission prices vary. Click here for the complete schedule [PDF], which is a bit hard to read (but the only one we could find, thanks to Chignahuapan Entertainment’s Facebook page).

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Free App Leads Visitors to Puebla’s Museums

Wednesday, August 21st, 2013

Puebla Ciudad de Museos app (screen shots)A new mobile app released by the city of Puebla’s tourism office aims to help visitors navigate the major museums and art galleries in the greater metropolitan area.

Puebla Ciudad de Museos provides a multilingual directory of the capital’s most noteworthy sites and related information, such as the dates of upcoming “museum nights,” when select locations open their doors for extended hours and offer free admission to all comers.

The app also:

– Maps the specific locations of museums and galleries in Puebla and Cholula
– Provides each site’s regular operating hours and contact information
– Contains a (somewhat limited) calendar of events
– Offers a lovely photo gallery of participating sites
– Connects users to the city tourism office’s via phone, email, and social media

The free app, which was developed by Javier Zuniga Utrilla, is available for iOS and Android smartphones. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

Photo credit: Screen grabs from the iOS app

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Enjoy a Cultural Feast at ‘The House of Crumbs’

Wednesday, June 5th, 2013

Inside the Casa del MendrugoIf the walls at La Casa del Mendrugo could talk, they’d probably tell more tales than most. The house, like many grand structures built in Puebla from the 16th to 19th centuries, is a study in local history. For example, Augustin de Iturbide reportedly stayed here on August 2, 1821. What sets this home apart from the rest is its careful rescue, its public accessibility, and its location above a pre-Hispanic burial site — the first ever discovered in the city’s core.

La Casa del Mendrugo literally translates to “the house of crumbs” or “bread crusts” in English. Mendrugo is also what the Jesuits called the leftover charity from nearby St. Jerome’s College that they used to rebuild the house in the 17th century. The home’s original owner may have been Juan de Salmerón, one of Puebla’s founders, back in 1534. When the Jesuits were expelled from New Spain in 1767, the building fell into the hands of a public commission. A century later, it returned to private ownership and, according to historians, “suffered several interventions which altered its main structures and uses.” One of the last attempts at renovation tried to divide the building into apartments in the 1950s and failed, and the site was abandoned until 2008, when the current owners purchased it. Their entire restoration project was supervised by the INAH, Mexico’s national institute of history and anthropology.

Olmec Remains, Other Artifacts Unearthed

“While excavating in a not previously altered area of the patio, [we found] two layers of Spanish-style brick flooring of different centuries. In the same area, there was also what used to be a water well,” explains the brochure that’s available in English at La Casa del Mendrugo. “The deep hole was filled with dirt and fragments of many utensils, ceramics, and animal bones from the Spanish Colonial times. But outside the well and underneath the flooring, pieces of very old Indian ceramics started to emerge.”

Further digging revealed more artifacts, a pre-Hispanic wall and stone flooring, and a ritual funeral offering that consisted of Olmec-style figures, shell and stone pendants, rock-carving utensils, and other objects. Two sets of human remains, one male and one female (known as “Chuchita”), believed to be from the same Pre-Classic Period (2500 B.C. to 200 A.D.) were also found. The INAH hopes to extract DNA from one of the molars recovered to find out for sure. The bulk of these items, including the skeletons, are now on display in a small private museum on the building’s second floor. They’re accompanied by more modern pieces, including antique talavera pottery and children’s toys from the early days of plastic.

Chuchita: Olmec remainsTapas at La Casa del MendrugoAAP-mendrugo1

Flaunting Puebla’s Cuisine and Culture

Beyond the museum, the three-story building—which we’re told has been restored as much as possible to its original state—also houses an art gallery, a stage for live entertainment, and three main dining areas: a coffeehouse, a fine-dining restaurant, and a tapas bar. The menus, says executive chef Daniel López Aguilar, are designed to celebrate Puebla’s Spanish heritage, with Mexican and international flair. They do. We liked the savory croquetas and the stuffed Poblano pepper so much, we’ve ordered them twice. The cheese plate, featuring products from IPODERAC, is a thing of beauty.

We’ve visited four times already, to check out all aspects of La Casa del Mendrugo. We give just about everything a thumbs-up, particularly the house-made beer, the live jazz on Friday nights, and the art gallery. La Galería Lazcarro is currently exhibiting “Matter Matters,” a mixed-media show by Jorge Juan Moyano, a Poblano painter and a friend of ours. Latin jazz will be featured in the restaurant on Fridays at 9 p.m. through the month of June.

“It is the only venue I know of [downtown] where it’s fun for grown-ups!” says another friend, who’s had a standing reservation since the restaurant opened two months ago. We can think of a couple more but agree it’s one of the few!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

La Casa del Mendrugo is located at 4 Sur #304, one block from the main square, in Puebla’s historic center. The art gallery and museum are open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, and the café and restaurant generally serve breakfast, lunch, or tapas from 9 a.m. to noon, 1 to 6 p.m., and 7 to 11 p.m., respectively. Admission to the museum is 20 pesos. The cover charge on Friday nights is 80 pesos. For more information or reservations (essential on Friday nights), call (222) 232-5148.

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Cinco de Mayo 2013: The Celebrations in Puebla

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Cinco de Mayo has come to represent a lot of things in the United States, from public demonstrations of Mexican-American pride to massive fiestas sponsored by beer and tequila companies. Colorful parades, street fairs, art exhibitions, and margarita-themed bar nights can be found in scores of cities nationwide.

In Mexico, Cinco de Mayo is a lower-key affair, unless you happen to be in Puebla. Here, visitors and locals alike can enjoy a month’s worth of diverse events, starting in mid-April. This includes the huge calendar of activities and performances scheduled as part of the annual Feria de Puebla and the Festival Internacional 5 de Mayo.

For the uninitiated, May 5 is a state holiday that commemorates the triumph of a scrappy band of Mexican soldiers and locals over the French army in the Battle of Puebla in 1862. Although their victory was short-lived, their initial win was arguably one of the more significant events in modern North American history. After all, if Napoleon III’s troops had made it to Texas to support the Confederacy during the U.S. Civil War … well, let’s just be glad they didn’t and thank Mexico for stalling them.

If you’re in the state capital for the 151st anniversary of Cinco de Mayo in 2013, here are a few ways that you can join the celebration.

Festival Internacional 5 de Mayo

Julieta Venegas performing at the Int'l Festival of Puebla in 2008.Expected to draw 1 million visitors to the city of Puebla this year, this 20-day cultural arts festival comprises myriad free events. The concert, dance, and theatrical performances by regional, national, and international talent take place at nine different venues between noon and 10 p.m. through May 5.

A few highlights:
• World-renowned violinist Joshua Bell, April 22, 6 p.m., Puebla Cathedral
Puebla State Symphony Orchestra, April 25, 7 p.m., San Pedro Museo del Arte
• Mexican rockers El Gran Silencio, April 26, 8 p.m., Antigua Fábrica de los Angeles
• Folk singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas, April 26, 8:30 p.m. Foro Artístico, Centro Expositor
• Alternative singer-songwriter Ely Guerra, April 27, 8 p.m., Estadio Cuauhtémoc

Feria de Puebla

Pablo tries to win me a plush toy shooting hoops.The Puebla State Fair, which runs April 13 to May 12, offers the kind of family-oriented fun you’d find at a state or county fair anywhere: arcade games, carnival rides, junk food, beer stands, arts & crafts, flea market goods, and live entertainment. Everything takes place in and around the Centro Expositor that’s situated smack-dab in the middle of the hilltop Cinco de Mayo forts, Loreto and Guadalupe. General admission is 20 pesos (10 pesos for kids); tickets to the evening concerts and bullfights cost extra.

Free shows in the Foro Artístico:
Hermanos Castro and José Feliciano, April 21, 8:30 p.m.
• Grammy-winning rockers Reik, April 27, 8:30 p.m.
• Pop singer-songwriter Paty Cantú, May 1, 8:30 p.m.A float in Puebla’s 2010 Cinco de Mayo parade touts the state’s culinary prowess.

Some notable Palenque performances:
• Norteño superstars Los Tigres del Norte, April 26, 11 p.m., 400 to 1,200 pesos
• Singer-songwriter Espinoza Paz, April 27, 11 p.m., 600 to 1,600 pesos
• Ranchera and pop crooner Alejandro Fernández, May 3 and 4, 11 p.m., 900 to 2,900 pesos
• Grammy-winning mariachi Pepe Aguilar, May 10, 11 p.m., 600 to 1,500 pesos

Cinco de Mayo Parade

Every year, thousands of students, charros, military, and public-safety personnel march — alongside scores of colorful floats — in the state’s annual Cinco de Mayo parade, which this year is slated for 11 a.m. on May 5.

Official details for this year’s event apparently have yet to be announced (and our social media queries to organizers have gone unanswered). The state government appears to be reconsidering its controversial 2012 decision to change the parade route, which worked well for TV cameras but not for the viewing public. We’re hopeful that its original path, which followed 5 de Mayo Blvd., from Plaza Dorada to the hilltop forts, will be restored.

We’ll update this post as parade information becomes available.

April 25 update: This year’s Cinco de Mayo parade is set to follow the traditional path, only in reverse. The 3.5-kilometer route (click here for map) will start at the monument to Gen. Zaragoza on Calzada Zaragoza/2 Norte and follow Blvd. Heroes del 5 de Mayo to Parque Juárez. Final details will be announced Friday, according to a local media report.

April 29 update: The new state tourism secretary tweets that some 29,000 bleacher and other seats will be made available free of charge to parade spectators.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated May 4, 2013.

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An Unexpected Peek at the Patio de los Azulejos

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Patio de los AzulejosSome 482 years into its making, Puebla oozes history. The city’s downtown core is home to more than 2,600 Colonial-era buildings and everything that goes along with them. You can stumble upon intriguing facts, colorful legends, and even unsolved mysteries with minimal effort and a very basic grasp of Spanish. At least, we frequently do. Nearly every trip to the Centro Histórico reveals something new—or old, really, but new to us. It’s one of the reasons I love it here.

Take, for example, a couple of Wednesdays ago, when we were approached by a stranger on Calle 11 Poniente. “Hello!” he shouted at us enthusiastically, running toward us from across the street. “Do you want to see the Patio de los Azulejos?” I shrugged. I had no idea what he was talking about. Neither did my husband, a Poblano. But our friend Antonio, who’d just finished showing us his latest project (some of the city’s first long-term rental suites) nearby, explained that the building was once part of the Nuestra Señora de la Concordia temple. Its patio is a famous example of Puebla Baroque architecture—and it’s gorgeous. OK, I was sold.

We followed our impromptu tour guide through giant wooden doors and down a long, narrow, dimly lit corridor to emerge inside a oddly decorated 17th-century church. It turns out that the once-Catholic nave has been taken over by Freemasons, who’ve pretty much destroyed the interior by painting grotesque pagan imagery on the walls. I wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the sight of their handiwork. (See photos below.) Fortunately, the exquisite central patio of the building remains mostly intact, for now.

Freemasons’ handiworkFreemasons’ handiwork

“The building that houses the most beautiful facade in the historic center today is in ruin due to neglect of state authorities,” complains the local magazine Revista 360. “[The annex] was once part of the retreat house for the Concordia priests of St. Philip Neri. This complex is famous for being the site where the Iguala Plan was printed. It also housed the city’s first newspaper.”

The building’s exterior — at least the part facing the central patio — features a truly spectacular array of inlaid Talavera tiles. It was designed, circa 1676, by architect Carlos García Durango, who was responsible for various religious structures in Puebla. (He finished the north tower of the Cathedral, among other projects.) The Patio de los Azulejos alone is definitely worth a visit; however, it’s unclear whether the site is open to the public or whether we just happened to pass by on a day when the Masons were profiling foreign “tourists” to ask for donations. … We chipped in 70 pesos.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Patio de los Azulejos is located at 11 Poniente #111 (between 3 Sur and 16 de Septiembre) in the historic center of Puebla.

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