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Local Artisans Specialize in Hand-Rolled Cigars

Monday, January 14th, 2013

Hand-rolling cigars in downtown PueblaSo, you’ve had a few shots of homemade liquor at La Pasita in Los Sapos, and now you’re craving a smoke, one that’s on par with the artisanal drinks. Legendaria Fábrica de Puros (Cigar Factory) may have just what you’re looking for. The tiny shop, just a stumble up 5 Oriente toward the zócalo from the bar, specializes in hand-rolled cigars made with whole leaf Mexican tobacco. Although much of the product comes from San Andrés Tuxtla, Veracruz, the cigars are crafted exclusively on-site, by hand. Like most premium puros, Legendaria’s cigars often feature different varieties of tobacco (Mexican and Cuban) for the filler and the wrapper; one even bears a wrapper soaked in rum. They also come in various shapes and sizes, including Churchill, Corona, Lancero, and Robusto. Prices start around 40 pesos each. Legendaria Fábrica de Puros is located at 5 Oriente #207 in the city’s historic center. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Posadas in Puebla, from Traditional to “Punk Rock”

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

Piñata and sparklersLas posadas are a long-running Christmas tradition in Mexico, where they were introduced by Spanish Catholics some 400 years ago. In the strictest sense, the events re-enact Joseph and Mary’s search for shelter in the days leading up to the birth of Jesus on Dec. 25. The religious celebrations often involve a procession and the construction of a manger.

“The nine nights of posadas leading up to Christmas are said to represent the nine months that Jesus spent in Mary’s womb, or alternatively, to represent nine days journey to Bethlehem,” notes Suzanne Barbezat of Discover Oaxaca Tours.

Posada literally means “inn” or “shelter” in Spanish. However, in modern-day Puebla, the word is often used as a synonym for “holiday party” featuring carols, piñatas, sparklers, hot beverages like ponche or atole, and the distribution of aguinaldos (“bonuses,” in this case gift bags filled with cookies, candies, nuts, and fruit). We attended a “punk rock posada” last night that involved many of those things but catered to an alternative crowd and thus featured mezcal and indie music. And, although we filled the piñatas with traditional ingredients — sugar cane, mandarin oranges, whole peanuts, tejocotes, guavas, and baby jicamas — one of them was a traditional star and the other was a caricature of the Yo Soy 132 movement.

Interested in attending a posada? The Museo Amparo hosts one tonight at 6, for 80 pesos per person.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Puebla Marks 25 Years as a UNESCO Heritage Site

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Sunset over the city of Puebla's main cathedral, © 2012 Rebecca Smith Hurd“What do you tell people who have never been to Mexico?” the hosts of yesterday’s #MexChat, a monthly travel discussion on Twitter, asked participants. My reply: “I tell people … that they’re missing one of most culturally rich, delicious destinations on planet.” I was, as always, largely referring to the city of Puebla, which today celebrates its 25th anniversary as UNESCO World Heritage Site. On this day in 1987, the U.N. added the city’s historic downtown to its prestigious World Heritage List. The list today comprises 962 sites worldwide (about 30 in Mexico) that form part of the cultural and natural heritage UNESCO “considers as having outstanding universal value.”

The powers-that-be cited Puebla’s abundance—more than 2,600 Colonial-era buildings—of “new aesthetic concepts” that resulted from the blending of European, Arabic, and American architectural styles in the 16th and 17th centuries. UNESCO also praised the preservation of “great religious structures” and “fine buildings like the old archbishop’s palace, as well as a host of houses with walls covered in tiles.”

To commemorate this auspicious occasion, the city plans to release a new guide chronicling important religious sites in Puebla, such as the Puebla Cathedral (pictured), ex-Convento de Santa Mónica, La Capilla del Rosario, and Casa del Deán (of which this site donated a photograph). Look for the booklet in the tourism office in the near future. In the meantime, ¡Felicidades, Puebla!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Expats Create a Sense of ‘Home’ in Puebla

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Art Open House at Galeria Bayro and INNI Innovo InstituteBeing an “expat”—or at least living outside your native culture and functioning in another language—isn’t always easy. Feeling frustrated, lonely, and homesick from time to time is inevitable, especially in a city like Puebla, where the locals have a reputation for being exceedingly kind to strangers yet glacially slow to add anyone new to their social circles. Thus, it can be helpful to connect with other foreign residents to form friendships, share resources, support one another, and build community.

Outdoor symphony concert—the first of its kind at the BUAP—to celebrate the Botanical Garden's 25th anniversary.It took me a while to figure out how to do that, because unlike Mexico City, Puebla doesn’t have a Newcomers Club or a U.S. Embassy or any other organization that coordinates events for Americans, Canadians, or folks from elsewhere in the world who speak English and aren’t affiliated with a specific employer, church, or school. (I say “English” because not everyone’s Spanish is perfect or even passable, especially when they first arrive in Mexico.) So, with the help of a few others, I started an “expat” group in September 2009, about six months before launching this website. Through word of mouth, our initial group of five has grown to some 160 people from a dozen different countries.
Fireworks over the pond at the BUAP Botanical Garden

Although “home” is wherever my husband and cat happen to be, having a supportive social network is important, too.

It seems like it took forever, but as a result of the friends and connections I’ve made through the group, this week I finally felt like I was home in Puebla — an insider instead of an outsider. By “insider,” I simply mean my social calendar was filled with events, from a Thanksgiving potluck to a SoHo-worthy art open house and a gala anniversary party to a gourmet dinner at the most contemporary restaurant in town. All four private affairs were hosted by foreign residents and Poblanos (including the dinner, which was organized by All About Puebla). Could it be that we’ve achieved some sort of critical mass, in terms of people, energy, and diversity? A girl can dream, can’t she? In any case, what a privilege it was to be in the presence of such stimulating company, having conversations in English and Spanish!

All About Puebla holiday dinner at Intro RestaurantAll About Puebla holiday dinner at Intro RestaurantThank you, everyone, for your efforts, your invitations, and your contributions to the group. If anyone out there would like to join us in the future, drop me a line and I’ll add you to our emailing list. Happy holidays!

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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Learning to Make Amate Paper in San Pablito

Sunday, November 25th, 2012

A stencil for an Otomí god (who we know is a benevolent spirit because his toes are exposed).The Otomí community of San Pablito has been making papel amate for centuries. Residents of the village, located in a fairly remote region of Puebla’s northwestern mountains, believe that this traditional paper has mystical powers. Their shamans make dolls, or dahi, from it to represent and control spiritual forces, as well as to conduct healings, cleansings, and other ritual ceremonies to protect people. San Pablito is one of the few places in Mexico that continued to make amate paper after the arrival of the Spaniards in the 16th century, and thus its craftspeople have turned the trade to an art. Today their finished works, which often feature intricately woven fibers and detailed paintings, are highly sought-after by connoisseurs of Mexican folk art and artisanal wares.

An elder in the Santos Rojas family wears traditional regional garb and speaks only Otomí.Amate comes from the Nahuatl word amatl, which means “paper,” and it was used by the Aztecs to record the culture’s codices and to decorate shrines, sacred places, and burial sites. The paper is produced from the bark of several trees — wild fig (a ficus), nettle, and mulberry — as well as an aquatic plant (which we suspect is a type of water lily, but the specifics got lost in translation). The different species allow craftspeople to produce varying shades of white and brown papers.

During our visit to San Pablito, members of the Santos Rojas family explained the materials they use, walked us through how to prepare the bark, and then taught us how to make our own amate paper. After squeezing the excess water out of a giant ball of processed bark, we pulled strands of the fibrous white material and laid them in a crosshatch pattern across our own individual squares of plywood. (See photos below.)

We pounded this pulp flat with a pumice-like volcanic stone until it formed a solid sheet. We then squared the edges, tore off any excess bark, and smoothed the paper with the oily side of an orange peel. With stencils and other tools, we added imprints and strips of darker bark (and pounded it into the white background) to achieve the textures and figures of our choosing. After about 24 hours of drying, we had our own finished papel amate designs! —Rebecca Smith Hurd

Soaking tree bark to make amate paperStrands of soaked bark on plywood ready to be pounded into paper.Finishing the edges of a blank canvasMaru and Scott show off their finished artworks.
San Pablito is located about 7 miles from Pahuatlán (when reached via back roads). We recommend that you go with a local Spanish-speaking guide, such as those provided by the tourism office in Pahuatlán. We paid 30 pesos per person for our two-hour tour, and an additional 10 pesos each for the paper workshop. If you need an English-speaking guide, contact Carlos Rivero Tours (and tell him All About Puebla sent you); he can arrange excursions from the Puebla capital.

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Finding ‘Old Mexico’ in Pahuatlán de Valle

Sunday, November 11th, 2012

Driving along the Arco Norte reminds me of California. The highway, which cuts across Tlaxcala, Estado de Mexico, and Hidalgo so that traffic headed northwest from Puebla can bypass Mexico City, could easily be mistaken for Interstate 5. Miles and miles of open road are flanked by golden fields of dry grass, perhaps wheat or hay, that stretch toward greener mountains at their distant edges. Wildflowers add splashes of color in the foreground. Soil-tilling farmers and grazing livestock occasionally add to the scenery, but they quickly disappear as we whip by at 75 mph.

If it weren’t for the abundance of prickly pear and an absence of In-N-Out Burgers, I might—just might—forget where I am for a moment. But I don’t want to. It’s absolutely gorgeous here. However, as we veer off the Arco Norte and head east, past Tulancingo, onto Route 106 in Puebla’s northern sierra, I try to stop thinking about the road, which gets quite narrow and windy. My focus shifts to our destination, Pahuatlán de Valle.

A bird's-eye view of the church steeple and town market in Pahuatlán.Pahuatlán was founded in 1532 by Augustinian monks who built a monastery on a steep mountainside near both Nahua and Otomí communities. Until earlier this year, when the Mexico Tourism Board added Pahuatlán to its “pueblo mágico” program, the only reason most outsiders visited the region was to buy artisanal paper made from amate bark. In fact, the primary purpose of our weekend trip is to take our friend Sandra, an artist who works with textiles, to buy papel amate in nearby San Pablito. The Pahuatlán area is also known for thick-skinned avocados (“place of the fruit trees” in Nahuatl), small coffee plantations, and a 100-foot-long suspension bridge, which enables foot traffic between the towns of Pahuatlán and Xolotla.

About 3 1/2 hours after leaving the state capital, we pull up in front of Hotel San Carlos, our home away from home for the next 36 hours. It’s a multilevel, Colonial-style building with a restaurant, a swimming pool, lots of stairs and a lookout tower that guests can climb to enjoy sweeping views of the surrounding area. What the hotel lacks in luxury, it makes up for in folkloric flair: Lamps, headboards, and artwork in our rooms are made of amate paper. That said, we didn’t come all this way to hole up in our hotel. We head out to find lunch and explore the town square (a couple of blocks away from the hotel).

“I feel like I’m back in 1950s Mexico,” says Sandra, an avid traveler who now lives in Puebla.

Pahuatlán greets us with the sights, sounds, and smells of a bustling small town. Vendors line the sidewalks of the main drag—a dusty cobblestone street—selling snacks and amate paper, beaded jewelry, embroidered blouses, pottery, and more. The zócalo is a hub of activity and a work in progress, we suspect thanks to new federal tourism funds. A group of young men plays basketball in the recently revitalized square’s concrete surface. A newly inaugurated gazebo is surrounded by shade trees and shrubbery that spells out “Pahuatlán: Pueblo Mágico.” A historic home’s facade is propped up by wood beams where the street is torn up for laying infrastructure. A series of Day of the Dead altars lines the front of the municipal building, where the public clock chimes to a different tune, such as “Que Chula Es Puebla,” every three hours. Many local señores carry machetes at their hips, lending an air of authenticity and scene of danger to the scene.

After fortifying ourselves with a hearty comida at Fonda Güina (Hidalgo #5), which makes lovely cecina (salt-cured beef) and itacates (corn cakes stuffed with garbanzo beans), we set about exploring the rest of the area. Here are a few highlights:

My first attempt at making papel amate (with expert tutelage) in San Pablito.The Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla suspension connects the communities of Pahuatlan and Xolotla.An assortment of freshly baked pan dulce from Panadería M&C in Pahuatlán.Atmosphere at Café Pahuatlán

Amate Paper Workshop

At the top of our must-do list was a trip to the Otomí community of San Pablito to learn about amate paper. My friends Scott and Maru, who along with my hubby completed our party of five, had arranged for a guide from the tourism office to give us a tour. Armando, a local college student, hopped into our van and led us on a 25-minute drive to a workshop run by the Santos Rojas family. Three generations of artisans explained the materials and walked us through the process—and then, to our surprise, taught us how to make our own (for 10 pesos each). We also had an opportunity to admire and purchase their beautiful wares, from bookmarks to wall hangings.

(To read more about our experience, check out this post about San Pablito.)

Nature Hike (with Coffee and Pan Dulce)

The tourism office also offers walking tours in Pahuatlán, so on Sunday morning we met Armando in the zócalo for guided visits to a local bakery, a coffee producer, and the suspension bridge. First stop: Panadería M&J (Calle Vicente Guerrero), which turns out some 1,000 pieces of sweet rolls a day. Its specialties, baked in a wood-fired brick oven, include cigar-shaped puros, cookie-ringed bisnagas, and buttery, sugar-coated buches. We purchased one of each and two conchas to pair with the coffee at Casa Hernández (Camino Barrio Unido) a short, hilly stroll away. Casa Hernández cultivates, picks, hulls, separates, sun-dries, and roasts its own beans in small batches to make two products: 100% natural and coffee with 30% sugar. Much of the work is done entirely by manual labor.

Next up: Armando takes us on adventurous hike to the Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla suspension bridge and Pahuatiltla River. We head down a steep residential road and onto a dirt trail that runs through the forest. We’re soon surrounded by trees, grass, wildflowers, butterflies. We start to understand why someone might want to carry a machete in these parts, for practical purposes. Along the way, Armando points out the hanging birds’ nests and poisonous plants, which he asks us kindly not to touch. We stop to take pictures of the suspension bridge below in the distance. The pedestrian river crossing was built in the 1950s, and it looks as if it hasn’t been repaired since: The steel cables appear a bit rusty and a half dozen wooden planks are missing, several—but not all—of which have been replaced by young tree trunks. During Easter Week, people bungee-jump off the bridge, Armando notes. It’s a 200-foot drop to the river below.

I am not afraid of heights, yet my heart is racing. I decide that if I die, at least I will plunge to my death doing something interesting. So, I grab my husband’s hand, take a deep breath, and go for it. We survive. When we get down to the river, we are surrounded by more butterflies and the sounds of rushing water. We take a break before heading back the way we came, a strenuous 45 minutes uphill. But we all make it back to town, safe and sound. We pay Armando 60 pesos each for his trouble.

Happy Hour at Café Pahuatlán

It is surprisingly difficult to find a drinking establishment open at 6:30 p.m. on a Saturday. We wander around a bit before stumbling upon Café Pahuatlán on Calle 5 de Mayo. Run by a couple from Querétaro who recently inherited the property, the bar-café occupies the partially renovated stables of an old mansion. It pairs old-world kitsch with new-world chic. We order beers and tequila shots and Scott inquires about snacks. “Te voy a traer algo que te va a encantar” (“I’ll bring you something you’ve going to love.”), the owner informs us, and a while later reappears carrying a platter of chicken tenders sautéed with chile peppers.

We order another round of drinks, and the owner returns to pitch us his special Red Bull-esque coffee drink, which involves some sort of beans with a “bellybutton.” (Thanks, but maybe not with tequila…) Next, he presents us with a strange green gourd that looks like a certain lady part, or a Klingon. He breaks another one open and offers us his Nahuatl dictionary. Turns out, this tlalayotli is a wild squash whose tiny seeds can be toasted and eaten. Interesting. But we’re hungry. It’s now 8:30 p.m., the bar is packed, and its staff a bit overwhelmed by the rush. So, we ask for the check and walk back to our hotel for quesadillas and a nightcap.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Pahuatlán is located about 125 miles north of the Puebla capital. It’s easiest to reach via toll road by car. If you go by bus, plan to spend the whole day traveling. Atah offers service from CAPU to Tulancingo; Estrella Blanca will take you the rest of the way. Guided tours (in Spanish) are available through the tourism office for 30 pesos per person.

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Where to Celebrate Day of the Dead in Puebla

Thursday, October 25th, 2012

A Day of the Dead altar in Huaquechula, Puebla.Few traditions in Mexico rival Day of the Dead in their mixing of ancient and modern beliefs. The national holiday, which is celebrated in Puebla in late October and early November, honors lost loved ones by paying tribute to — and praying for — their spirits. Day of the Dead’s origins can be traced to pre-Hispanic times, when the Aztecs held a month-long ritual for the goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. These days, many families set up altars in their homes or businesses to remember people who’ve passed away, often during the preceding year. The notion is that, by doing so, they welcome, nourish, guide, and otherwise assist the souls in their journey after death.

“This holiday is a perfect example of the complex heritage of the Mexican people,” observes Judy King of MexicoConnect. “The beliefs today are based on the complicated blended cultures of his ancestors, the Aztec and Maya and Spanish invaders, layered with Catholicism.” (In Puebla, there’s been at least one ofrenda dedicated to Pope John Paul II in recent years.)

Day of the Dead altars range from modest displays of the deceased’s favorite foods and objects to costly and elaborate monuments of affection. In some places, such as the town of Huaquechula, families welcome visitors into their homes to appreciate their altars and to share a cup of hot chocolate or atole and a slice sweet bread or a homemade tamal. Note: It is customary to leave a few coins in the offering or add a votive candle to the altar if you do.

If you’re in Puebla for Day of the Dead in 2012, here’s where to see altars and participate in other holiday-related activities.

Puebla

Looking for places to see traditional altars in the city of Puebla? Head to the historic center. The IMACP plans to show off the semifinalists in its 42nd annual altar-building contest at the Galería del Palacio Municpal (Portal Hidalgo #12, Col. Centro) from Nov. 1 to 4, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Just across the zócalo, on the other side of the Cathedral, the Casa de Cultura (5 Oriente #5) hosts its own colorful competition, as well artists selling Day of the Dead jewelry, figurines, and snacks. Both events typically draw a spectacular array of altars, or ofrendas, in styles varying from indigenous to innovative.

Meanwhile, the Museo Amparo hosts a Fandango de Muertos on Nov. 1 and 2 at the museum (2 Sur #708). The family-oriented events feature a marionette show about Day of the Dead at 6 p.m., followed by the traditional musical stylings of Poblano folk group Reyes Son at 7:30 p.m. The Amparo is also participating in the city-sponsored Museum Nights on the same days. Admission to the Amparo, as well as eight other galleries, is free after 5 p.m. or so (hours vary at different locations). For complete details and participating sites, click here [PDF].

Other scheduled events in Puebla’s 2012 La Muerte Es Un Sueño festival include: “Living statues” in the Pasaje de Ayuntamiento (the enclosed walkway next to the Palacio Municipal), Nov. 1 through 4, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.; various performances of pre-Hispanic music and dance by Grupo Azteca Tonatiuh, Nov. 1, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the zócalo; a grand parade of traditional calaveras, from Paseo Bravo (corner of Reforma and 11 Norte) to the zócalo, Nov. 2 at 6 p.m.; and a concert by the Huapango trio Descendencia Huasteca, the “pre-Hispanic and electronic” band Rockercoátl, and cabaret singer Regina Orozco, Nov. 3, starting at 6 p.m.

Cholula

The Complejo Cultural de la BUAP (Vía Atlixcáyotl # 2499, San Andrés Cholula) brings Halloween and Day of the Dead together in a single celebration, Vive Muertos. Starting at noon on Oct. 31, the university campus will offer various musical, theatrical, and dance performances, including a re-enactment of Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” (6:30 p.m.). Visitors can also view altars, taste typical foods, make their own sugar skulls, and watch open-air movie screenings.

Cholula en Bici is also merging All Hallows’ Eve with All Saints’ Day on Oct. 31 with a bicycle tour of cemeteries around town that leaves the main square of San Pedro Cholula (Avenida Morelos at Miguel Alemán) at 8 p.m. Participants in the two-wheeled rodada panteonera are invited to decorate their bikes and bring food or drink to share.

Atlixco

The city of Atlixco has assembled a massive floral carpet for Day of the Dead, which is on public display in its zócalo through at least Nov. 10. It features a Catarina modeled after the post cards of cartoonist José Guadalupe Posadas — comprising some 150,000 marigolds, chrysanthemums, and amaranth and coleus plants. Meanwhile, a giant altar erected by city employees is on display inside El Palacio Municipal. Atlixco also plans to host a desfile de calaveras, or skull parade, downtown on Nov. 2.

Huaquechula

The trek to and around Huaquechula during its Feria de Todos los Santos is well worth it. Its unique altars, which can cost tens of thousands of pesos to assemble, are towering structures up to 10 feet tall. These ofrendas are often made of cardboard and covered with white or pastel-colored satin, and the shiny fabric gives the multilevel tributes a distinctive look. As noted above, the townspeople open their doors to the public, including curious tourists who’d like to pay their respects. Nearly 40 altars will be on display from Oct. 28 to Nov. 1 this year. If you go, wear walking shoes and start your tour at 2 p.m. at the cultural center on the town square, which provides a map to homes with altars. You can also follow the trails of marigold petals leading to the ofrendas from the street.

Chignahuapan

A bit further afield, in the town of Chignahuapan, the Festival of Light and Life takes place on Nov. 1. It features a torchlight procession and an artistic representation of the nine levels of Mictlán, the Aztec underworld. The procession, expected to draw some 2,000 people, starts around 6 p.m. and travels from the zócalo to the lake.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Post updated on October 25, 2012. The original version was published on Oct. 18, 2011.

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Art, Music, Film, Dance: CCU BUAP Offers It All

Friday, September 28th, 2012

Complejo Cultural Universitario“Through art and culture, the Complejo Cultural Universitario provides a stage on which we’re able to demonstrate how modern the state of Puebla and the nation of Mexico are and offer a benchmark of modernity in the world,” Enrique Agüera Ibáñez told Alianzatex.com at a recent art opening. Agüera is rector of the Benemerita Universidad Autónoma de Puebla, the state’s oldest and largest public university, and the man ultimately responsible for the auxiliary campus’s construction.

If establishing a “benchmark of modernity” sounds like a tall order, it is. But since its grand opening in 2008, the cultural complex has hosted scores of world-class events, such as the Ciudad de la Ideas conference, concerts by international pop stars (from Enrique Iglesias to Morrissey), major art exhibitions, and live broadcasts of the New York Metropolitan Opera. It’s also mounted diverse national and regional fairs, festivals, and competitions celebrating literature, theater, music, arts and crafts, major holidays, and more. Add to that folkloric dance performances, movie screenings, hands-on workshops for adults and children, a well-stocked bookstore, and several restaurants with valet parking and, at the very least, Agüera seems to be putting his money where his mouth is.

Musicians perform at an artisanal fair at the CCU BUAP.“It’s important to note that, from Río Bravo to Patagonia, no other facility like the Complejo Cultural Universitario exists with the concept of integrating several areas dedicated to art, culture, and academics—much less one created by a public university, as is our case,” the university boasts on its website. To create the space, the BUAP invested some $69 million USD in the 945,900-square-foot facility, sourcing all of its materials in Puebla and creating some 3,000 jobs in the process, the online newspaper Periódico Digital reports.

Ciudad de las Ideas conference at the CCU BUAP, Puebla, Mexico (2010)Although the complex’s architectural design is decidedly minimalistic — its stark white exterior resembles a blank canvas — its devotion the liberal arts and regional culture is anything but. Beyond curating scores of events every month, what truly sets the institution apart from the rest is that many of its festivals, exhibitions, and other activities are free and open to the public, including students, residents, and tourists. The only drawback: You’ll pay about 100 pesos to get there from the historic center of Puebla in a taxi, or you’ll need to figure out how to get there by bus.

What’s On at the CCU BUAP

Here are a half dozen notable events (three of which are free) currently scheduled at the Complejo Cultural Universitario, which is located at Vía Atlixcáyotl #2499 in Zona Angelopolis. For a complete list of activities, visit its website. For other events happening in Puebla, check out our events calendar.

Today through Oct. 21 Renown Zapotec painter and sculptor Alejandro Santiago pays tribute to women of the world in this mixed-media exhibition of 21 works on display in the Galería de Arte, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Free.

Sept. 29 Los Mariacheros, flamenco guitarists Bufón Acústico, singer Itzel Lampallas, and the musical group El Cayuco perform in the Andador Cultural starting at 2 p.m. Free.

Oct. 6 The Canadian punk band Simple Plan rock the auditorium, 8:30 p.m. Tickets cost 270 to 880 pesos, available at eticket.mx.

Oct. 20-27: 1er Festival Angelopolitano de Danza 2012, the first such conference organized by the CCU BUAP’s Contemporary Dance Company, includes lectures, roundtable discussions, a choreography competition, dance presentations, and more. All day. Free.

Nov. 8-10 Ciudad de las Ideas 2012, a TED-like conference of brilliant minds takes place in the Auditorio, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily. Speakers to include Craig Venter and John Underkoffler. Tickets cost 4,300 pesos, available from the organizers.

Nov. 17 Gloria Trevi, who’s been called the Supreme Diva of Mexican Pop, brings her live show to the Auditorio, 8:29 p.m. Tickets cost 210 to 1,800 pesos at Superboletos.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

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A Botero Sculpture in Our Own Backyard

Wednesday, September 5th, 2012

Botero's sculpture "The Horse" is on display indefinitely at El Triangulo in Col. Las Animas.Fernando Botero is one of the most important artists in Latin America, perhaps best recognized for his bronze sculptures and painting of plump people, animals, and other figures. To celebrate his 80th birthday this spring, the Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City held a major exhibition of 177 pieces representing various periods of his career. In June, shortly after the close of the show, one of its large-scale sculptures, “The Horse,” was installed in the city of Puebla. It’s on display indefinitely at El Triangulo mall at the corner of Circuito Juan Pablo II and Boulevard Atlixco in Colonia Las Animas.

A sculptor, painter, muralist, and illustrator, Botero was born in Medellin, Colombia, in 1932 and has been part of the world art scene for more than 45 years. Botero typically represents universal themes in a figurative way: His work is widely recognized by its exaggerated and disproportionate volumes. Just as Flemish artist Peter Paul Rubens idealized female beauty as a full-figured woman during the Baroque period, which gave rise to the term “Rubenesque,” the women known as “Las Gordas de Botero” (Botero’s Fat Ladies), as they are affectionately called in Spanish, are the maximum expression of “Boterismo.”

“Boterismo” is tough to classify, but it’s generally considered to be part of the Naïve movement, due to the artist’s simple technique and the use of many colors (in his paintings). However, one of the characteristics of Naïve Art — the impression of simplicity — cannot be applied to Botero, because some of his works deal with contemporary or painful issues, such as politics, death, and personal vices, albeit in a satirical and ironic way. For a long time, the Naïve style was considered childish and was not recognized as art, but more recently artists like Botero, Henri Rousseau, Grandma Moses, and Alfred Wallis have become appreciated for their refreshing worldviews.

Today, Fernando Botero has a major influence and presence in Mexico. In addition to “The Horse” sculpture on display in Puebla, other works can be seen at the Museo Soumaya in Mexico City and the Esplanade of Heroes in Monterrey.

This is not the first time a large public art sculpture has toured Puebla: A dozen larger-than-life works by beloved and celebrated Mexican artist Juan Soriano, adorned the zócalo as part of a national tour of his work in 2006; he died that same year. Meanwhile, permanent monumental sculptures include “El Hombre Azul,” by Bolivian artist (and Puebla resident) José Miguel Bayro in Paseo de San Francisco, and “The Guardian Angel,” by Mexican artist Sebastián, which since its installation in 2003 has become a landmark of the city.

—Vica Amuchastegui

El Triangulo, located at 35 Poniente #3515 in Colonia Las Animas, is open from seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. To get there from downtown, take bus route 72-A on Boulevard 5 de Mayo (from the Cathedral side of the street, or opposite the Convention Center).

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Why Poblano Cuisine Is So Divine: Nuns

Monday, July 9th, 2012

The Santa Monica Convent's kitchen, where chiles en nogada were created.Locals often joke that there’s a church in Puebla for every Poblano, and a quick scan of the city’s skyline reveals why: The missionaries who arrived here from Spain in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries claimed considerable real estate, upon which they built myriad temples — churches, chapels, monasteries, and convents — for practicing and proselytizing their Christian beliefs. Given the number of pious people populating Puebla at the time, and their commitment to convincing others to join them in faith, it’s hardly a surprise that the Catholic church heavily influenced the city’s development.

“The Cathedral’s bells marked the rhythm of the day and, as in the rest of the Christian world, the liturgical calendar governed the year and set a festive tone for the devout life,” the National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) notes at the newly refurbished Museo de Arte Religioso (Religious Art Museum). “The church was also responsible for schools, hospitals, orphanages, and the theater, as well as registering marriage, births, and deaths.”

And then, of course, there was its food. Whether by accident, design, or divine intervention, the Catholic church contributed greatly to Puebla’s gastronomy. According to legend and official records, some of the region’s most iconic dishes were created by nuns at one of nearly a dozen conventos (of varied religious orders) in the city center. The sisters mixed European techniques and ingredients with pre-Hispanic ones to produce delicious results, from elaborate entrees like mole poblano and chiles en nogada to sweets like camotes and tortitas de Santa Clara. All of these delicacies remain popular in Puebla today.

Chiles en Nogada: The 2012 Season Begins

The first chile en nogada of the 2012 season at Meson Sacristía.The arrival of the chile en nogada, a seasonal dish prepared from mid-July to early October, is hotly anticipated by Poblanos every year. The 2012 season starts this weekend. The elaborate dish calls for a Poblano chile pepper that’s roasted and stuffed with a picadillo (ground or chopped meat with seasonal fruits such as apples, peaches, and pears), dunked in egg batter and fried, and then topped with a creamy walnut sauce, pomegranate seeds, and parsley leaves. It was originally cooked up by Augustinian Recollect nuns at the Santa Monica Convent to honor Agustín de Iturbide; each plate bore the red, white, and green colors of the new national flag. Iturbide, you may recall, co-wrote the 1821 peace treaties with Spain and later served as Mexico’s emperor; curiously, the fact that the revolutionist and the order of the nuns share the same name is serendipity.

The Santa Monica Convent now houses the Religious Art Museum, and the kitchen that gave birth to the chile en nogada is located just off the main courtyard. Although its decor isn’t as exquisite as that of the Santa Rosa Convent (a.k.a., the birthplace of mole poblano, which is currently closed to the public), the Santa Monica kitchen features a traditional wood-fired stove decorated with Talavera tiles, a wide variety of ceramic jugs and pots typical of the region, and an adjoining pantry that hints at some of their uses. Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff, an art lover, or a fan of anthropology or religious studies, this site is well worth a visit.

The Convent’s History: From Refuge to Museum

According to the INAH’s museum signage, the Santa Monica site began in 1606 as a refuge for married women who’d been widowed or abandoned, but the concept quickly failed. Three years later, authorities decided to instead use the home for the forced confinement of prostitutes. In 1682, the building was converted into a high school for “virgin girls.” Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to turn it into a convent, which, by lottery, was named after St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine of Hippo. Five years later, the convent had the approval of both the king of Spain and the pope and, subsequently, the local powers-that-be found another place, just up the street, to hold those non-virgins.

The residence-like facade of the ex-Convent of Santa Monica in Puebla.For nearly 200 years, the Augustinian Recollect nuns in Puebla practiced austerity and asceticism. They engaged in strict self-denial as a measure of personal and spiritual discipline, often wearing cilices to create discomfort and abstaining from food or drink until they hallucinated. “These visions were considered to be mystical or supernatural experiences, so only the nuns chosen by God were capable of having them,” the INAH notes.

During the War of Reform (1857-61), the nuns were exclaustrated, or sent back into the outside world. A plan was hatched to build a facade that made the building look more like a private residence. From the 1860s to the 1930s, the Augustinian Recollect and other nuns in Mexico were subject to changing laws that forced them out of their convents and eventually allowed them to return only to force them out again. They led much of their lives in hiding until 1934, when new reform laws ended the vicious cycle. In 1935, the former Convent of Santa Monica became the Religious Art Museum and, in 1940, was among the first to join the INAH network.

“The Religious Art Museum at the ex-Convent of Santa Monica is one of the greatest examples of the monastic life of women in Mexico and only one in the state of Puebla,” the INAH says on its website. “It’s archive of sacred art from the 16th to 19th centuries primarily consists of collections from four old convents in the city of Puebla: Santa Mónica (Augustinian Recollects), Santa Catalina (Dominicans), Señor San Joaquín y Santa Ana (Capuchins), and La Soledad (Discalced Carmelites).”
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Museo de Arte Religioso del Ex-Convento de Santa Mónica is located at 18 Poniente #103, between Calle 5 de Mayo and 3 Norte, in the city’s historic center. Hours: Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is 35 pesos.

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