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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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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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The Mexican Revolution Was Started By a Poblana

Sunday, November 10th, 2013

Bullet holes mark the facade of the Serdán House“Ask your friends if they know where the first shot of the Mexican Revolution was fired,” a docent at the Puebla museum that’s dedicated to this historical event instructs me in Spanish. “Go ahead.”

We’re standing on the central patio of what, on November 18, 1910, was the Serdán family’s home on Calle Santa Clara (6 Oriente). I’d just given Greta and Erin, who were visiting from California last week, a quick tour of the site. The museum is open for free on Sundays, so we’d popped in to see its traditional tile kitchen and the mirror cracked by bullets that hangs in the front room (pictured below). We were kind of in a hurry, because my friends had to check out of their hotel in 30 minutes. But I was intrigued by the docent’s question, so I repeated it in English. We all shrugged.

A large mirror in the front sitting room also bear bullet holes from the shootout..“It was Carmen Serdán,” he explains proudly, gesturing toward the staircase to our right. “She was standing there on the steps when Miguel Cabrera, the chief of police, entered the house through that small wooden door over there. Her brothers, Aquiles and Máximo, were busy distributing guns to their compatriots. Carmen told Cabrera not to take another step — or she’d shoot. But, perhaps because she was a woman, he didn’t take her seriously, and he continued walking to right about where you’re standing. She fired.” He paused for a moment while I translated.

Carmen was carrying a very powerful rifle, which knocked her backward when it went off. She missed the police chief, and it hit here,” he says, pointing to a bullet hole in a supporting column. “Cabrera fired back, but he missed, too, because his bullet hit the railing of the staircase.” Greta quickly spots the massive ding — and notes that it seems to have hit one of the stone steps, too.

“Aquiles rushed out,” the docent continues, “and killed the chief of police.” The Revolution had begun, its first shot fired by a Poblana.

A mural at the Serdán house depicts the siblings defending their beliefs (and where each was shot).Why the Serdán house? The family had been publishing propaganda and stockpiling weapons for reformist Francisco Madero, who planned to stage a rebellion against the newly (and unfairly) re-elected government of President Porfirio Díaz. Two days before the uprising was slated to begin, authorities learned of their arsenal. Some 400 soldiers and 100 police officers surrounded the house and, after Cabrera fell, a shootout ensued.

The maderists in the house, three women and 18 men, were grossly outnumbered, but they put up one heck of a fight. In the end, Aquiles and Máximo became among the first Mexicans to sacrifice their lives for the Revolution, which ultimately ended Díaz’s decades-long “dictatorship” (1877-1880, 1884-1911). Carmen survived the onslaught and was arrested. After serving time in La Merced jail, she worked as a nurse in various hospitals and cared for her nieces and nephews. She died in Puebla in 1948. —Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Museo Regional de la Revolución Mexicana, 6 Oriente #206, is open Tuesdays through Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. General admission is 25 pesos (free on Sundays).

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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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Take the Kids to Zoo Parque Loro in Puebla

Sunday, October 20th, 2013

Zoo Parque LoroMany of Puebla’s popular tourist attractions — resplendent churches, art and history museums, archaeological sites, culinary festivals, and antiques fairs — aren’t necessarily ideal places to take young children, especially those with short attention spans, on vacation. Fortunately, the city offers plenty of other activities for kids 12 and under, particularly those who love animals.

We recently had the pleasure of visiting Zoo Parque Loro, a relatively small, engaging zoological park in Tlaxcalancingo, on the outskirts of town. The site started in the 1990s as a ranch for miniature horses and has since evolved into a full-fledged zoo. It currently cares for some 400 animals of 96 different species, including at least 50 that are in danger of extinction. What’s more, the grounds are impeccably kept, can be easily navigated with a stroller, and do not require tons of walking to hit the highlights.

Visitors can see Zoo Parque Loro’s impressive array of birds (loro is a Spanish word for “parrot”), monkeys, and big cats in about two hours. Or stay longer for special activities, such as recycled-art projects and personal visits with the animals, which sometimes cost extra. For 1 peso, children of all ages can buy a handful of pellets or sunflower seeds to feed the resident rabbits, squirrels, guinea pigs, and more. On the weekends, visitors may also handle and have their pictures taken with the zoo’s friendlier creatures, too. Tip: If you plan to go in the next few weeks, be sure to ask about the white lion cubs that were born on-site this summer. (We cuddled with one of them, thanks to strategic-development manager Adolfo Lazzari, who gave us free passes and asked on-site veterinarian Hector, who’s pictured on the homepage, to show us around.)

Zoo Parque Loro recently renewed its accreditation with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums of Mexico and is in the process of updating its habitats with colorful wildlife- and Mexico-themed murals by Poblano artist Batik Díaz Conti.

Zoo Parque LoroZoo Parque LoroWhite lion cubs at Parque Loro.Want more? Check out Africam’s expansive drive-thru safari, Museo Viviente’s vast collection of reptiles, amphibians, and insects, and Acuario de Puebla’s marine life.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Zoo Parque Loro is located just off the old highway to Atlixco (kilometer 8.5) in Tlaxcalancingo, between San Andrés Cholula and Chipilo. Hours: 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., seven days a week. Admission: 99 MXP for adults and 89 MXP for children. Photographs with the animals cost 110 MXP.

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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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Our Spin on Puebla’s Latest Tourist Attraction

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Puebla's Rueda de ObservacionIt was heralded as the world’s largest ferris wheel, a giant rotating lookout that would rejuvenate Paseo Bravo and give locals and visitors a new perspective on the city’s historic center.

But the INAH nixed the downtown location, due largely to the plaza’s UNESCO status, and — two proposed sites later — Puebla’s latest tourist attraction now sits smack-dab in the middle of suburbia. Nonetheless, officials hope that the Estrella de Puebla will draw the ticket-buying masses to Angelopolis.

The enormous wheel, which is slated for inauguration on July 22, is indeed a sight to behold, particularly when it’s lit up after dark. Built by a German company, the 750-ton structure reportedly stretches 80 meters (about 260 feet, or 24 stories) skyward, towering over the three shopping centers that surround it in San Andrés Cholula. Its 54 gondolas will accommodate up to eight passengers each for a maximum of 432 riders at once. Tickets will reportedly cost $30 MXP per person (or $50 in a VIP gondola). Despite its location outside the heavily trafficked tourist areas of Puebla and Cholula, visitors who make the trek — a projected 1 million per year — at sunset are likely to be treated to some truly spectacular views of the Popocatépetl volcano.

The Estrella de Puebla loosely resembles the popular Eye in London. And, although the poblano version may be the largest transportable wheel on the planet, it’s significantly smaller than its British counterpart. The Eye is 135 meters (about 443 feet) tall and weighs 2,100 tons. An even bigger, heavier observation wheel will be inaugurated on a manmade island in Dubai in 2015.

Puebla’s $400 million peso project includes the construction of a plaza with a fountain, a 256-space on-site parking lot, and a 1.5-kilometer elevated path for pedestrians and cyclists. This urban byway will provide access to both Parque del Arte and 1,200 overflow parking spaces at the state government’s new offices on Vía Atlixcáyotl.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Estrella de Puebla is located on the access road to Angelopolis between Niño Poblano and Vía Atlixcáyotl boulevards. (To get to the site by bus, take any route that drops passengers at Angelopolis, La Isla, or Plaza Milenium shopping malls.) Daily operating hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. (11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays), starting July 29.

Post updated July 24, 2013.

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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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History Runs Deep in and Around Cuauhtinchán

Sunday, May 26th, 2013

Cuauhtinchán may be the most important indigenous and religious site in Mexico you’ve never heard of.

Granted, the small agrarian town, located about 20 miles southeast of the Puebla capital, isn’t much to look at, particularly at the end of the dry season. Even its most remarkable building, the monolithic Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista, is strikingly staid: The two Tuscan columns that flank the main entrance provide its only notable detail, save for the left bell tower, which upon being hit by lightning some years ago partially collapsed into the courtyard. The resulting pile of rubble still sits where it fell.

Yet the former monastery — built between 1569 and 1593, with guidance from renown Spanish architect Francisco Becerra — offers an enduring and classic example of the sober Renaissance aesthetic brought to Mexico by Franciscan missionaries in the 16th century.

The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista from a distance.The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista.The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista.








The complex’s interior is a sharp contrast to the stark exterior. Its almost-whimsical flourishes provide a glimpse of how the Franciscans worked to convert their predecessors to Christianity. For example, the archways of the central patio feature numerous “notable sayings” in Spanish that convey conventional or moral wisdom as the monks saw it. (The patio now houses the site’s small museum, which not only describes the arrival of Hernán Cortés, but also chronicles Cuauhtinchán’s pre-Hispanic and prehistoric past. A display case contains mastodon bones found in the area.)

The painted walls of the church, which were obscured by a coat of quicklime in the early 1800s and later uncovered, are surprisingly colorful, too. For us, the nave stands out as the real must-see here . . . unless you happen to get lucky, as we did, and get to climb the winding, multistory staircase of the right bell tower with the site’s devoted caretaker. Don Pedro typically rings the bells for Mass and for afternoon visitors, as he did for us at 3 p.m. on a recent Thursday, thanks to our friend Scott, who organized this trip. From the top, the views of the surrounding countryside are breathtaking; the chimes of the enormous bells, one of which bears the scars of Revolutionary bullets, are ear-splitting yet intoxicating.

Bell tower at ex-Convento de San Juan BautistaAAP-Cuauhtinchan6AAP-Cuauhtinchan4








Back down at ground level, the church’s layout and orientation connect “mystical aspects of indigenous and European cultures” and have “cosmic significance,” according to official signage. On the equinox, a ray of sunlight enters the lower choir and illuminates an image of the Immaculate Conception at the center of the massive altarpiece. This masterpiece, made of polychromed and gilded wood, is the oldest in Mexico and one of the best preserved in Latin America. Its imagery depicts many other Biblical scenes — the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Blessed Virgin, the Adoration of the Magi — and provides an “open book to the teaching of the Christian faith.”

AAP-Cuauhtinchan2Detail of restored paint jobAAP-cuautinchan








Christianity mixed with indigenous symbolism, that is, much like elsewhere in Mexico. Cuauhtinchán precedes the Spanish by more than two millennia. The earliest pre-Hispanic settlement here may date as far back as 1200 B.C., when small groups of warriors and farmers formed villages in the area. But an archaeological site on the edge of town, which is said to contain a 52-foot pyramid, other ceremonial structures, and living quarters, remains unexcavated (and largely unrecognizable to the uninitiated) puts the first settlement closer to 8 A.D. The recovery of various indigenous codices and maps of the area have allowed archaeologists and historians to piece together some of its history, which is predominantly Chichimeca.

The Chichimecas spoke Nahuatl. The name Cuauhtinchán — also spelled Cuautinchán and pronounced “kuhwow-teen-CHAN” — means “eagles’ nest.” It’s unclear when the majestic birds must have lived here, but artistic representations of eagles and nests can be found both at the ex-convento and elsewhere around town, such as the fountain in the main square. The same goes for jaguars, which are equally important in local iconography. That works for us. If we have to face down creatures with functional fangs and talons, we’d rather do it at nearby Africam than in the wild.

—Rebecca Smith Hurd

The Ex-Convento de San Juan Bautista is located on Calle Hidalgo (between Gonzalo Bautista and 2 Poniente) in Cuautinchán, Puebla. The best way get there is by car or taxi via the cities of Puebla or Tepeaca. Visitors are welcome most days between 10 a.m. and 4:30 p.m.; try to avoid holidays and Mass, unless you wish to attend. Town officials recommend that you call ahead to schedule a tour: +52 (224) 271-7170.

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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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