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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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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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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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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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The Cider ‘Crush’ at Copa de Oro in Cholula

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Sampling cider from an oak barrel at Copa de Oro in Cholula.The Spanish influence in San Pedro Cholula isn’t always quite as evident as it is in the nearby Colonial city of Puebla. Despite an abundance of Catholic churches, including one that crowns the world’s largest pre-Hispanic pyramid, the town maintains its older, distinctly indigenous vibe. However, just a few blocks from the archaeological site, inside a nondescript industrial building, the Castillo-Blanca family is working to preserve a centuries-old tradition from Asturias, Spain, and make it a bona fide Mexican one.

For three generations, its Copa de Oro distillery has produced sidra, or hard cider, from apples cultivated in the state of Puebla. The business began in 1936, when Ramón Blanca Amador started fermenting the regional red fruit into an aguardiente de manzana. He called the drink sidra actiopa, a nod to the Nahautl words atl (water) and teopa (temple) and a suggestion that his liquor was nothing short of divine. Today Copa de Oro produces several varieties of sidra gasificada, or carbonated hard cider, plus non-alcoholic sparkling cider, cider “coolers,” vinegar, applesauce, and more. The company turns out three grades of cider—Palencia, Copa de Oro, and Renetta—which are differentiated by their labels and the amount of time each cider is aged in an oak barrel (up to one, two, or three years, respectively).

Unlike many wines, hard cider doesn’t improve with age: After about two years, it’s properties change and it evolves into vinegar.

“The national palate is sweet,” sales director Mario García Roche explains to me after a tour of the factory. To cater to that taste, most of Copa de Oro’s ciders are on the sugary side, with one important exception: Renetta Reserva Especial, which the company produced for its 75th anniversary last year. “It’s the only cider made in Mexico that’s semi-dry,” García Roche boasts.

Copa de Oro Renetta is “the best cider” my Poblano hubby has ever had.His bragging is justified. The Renetta is, in a word, exquisite. “Wow! It’s the best cider I’ve ever had,” my husband declares after taking a sip of the ice-cold bubbly. Like many Poblanos, he’s accustomed to drinking the sweeter stuff, and mostly at family dinners around Christmastime or New Year’s. It’s said that hard cider became popular in Mexico as a festive yet less expensive alternative to Champagne and sparkling wines like Cava. And, comparatively, it’s a bargain. At 101 pesos (about US $7) per bottle, the Renetta semi-seco is Copa de Oro’s priciest product.

Copa de Oro expects to produce some 800,000 cases of cider in 2012.Copa de Oro is looking for ways to broaden cider’s national appeal by developing new products, such as cider “coolers” in single-serving bottles that come in different flavors and include rum, García Roche says. But its core product remains its amber and rosé ciders (the latter of which is 20 percent Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile). In 2012, the company expects to produce some 800,000 cases of cider, he notes, all of which is made from 100 percent fruit that’s cultivated in Puebla. Most of that will be consumed nationally, but Copa de Oro is working to export more products to the U.S., Colombia, Cuba, and Spain.

The “crush” typically begins in July and lasts for about six months, as tons of apples — of the winter banana, perón, ripio, or panochera variety — arrive from orchards, most of which are located on the skirts of the Popocatépetl volcano or near the Puebla-Veracruz state line in Santa María Coatepec and San Salvador El Seco, García Roche explains. After the apples arrive, they are washed and pressed into juice, which is then fermented, filtered, pasteurized, carbonated, and bottled. Copa de Oro can process up to 30,000 bottles per day (5,000 cases) when operating at full capacity, García Roche says.

Copa de Oro plans to kick off the 2012 season with a “blessing of the apples” and a parade on Saturday, July 21, from 10 to 11 a.m., García Roche says. The route starts and ends at the distillery (3 Sur #904, Col. Centro), passing through downtown San Pedro Cholula. A tasting and cider pairing will follow at Copa de Oro, which also operates a tasting room and “living museum” called La Barrica. The public is invited; expect to pay about 120 pesos per person for the food and drink.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

Free tours of the distillery (in Spanish only) are offered year-round, by reservation only, to groups of 10 people or more. Call +52 (222) 247-1989 for more information.

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7 Free Things to See and Do in Puebla

Monday, June 18th, 2012

As the nation’s fourth-largest metropolis, Puebla isn’t exactly the cheapest place to pass time in Mexico. However, visitors and locals can experience much of what the city has to offer on an extremely modest budget. In fact, you don’t need to spend a single peso (bus or cab fare notwithstanding) to enjoy various sights, sounds, and activities around town. Here are seven free things to see and do in Puebla, year-round.

1. Visit a museum. Museo Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Mexicanos is open for free on Sundays.As in most major cities, Puebla’s art galleries and history museums tend to charge general admission, but at least one day a week and one night per month, you can get in free. Most sites here are closed on Mondays and waive ticket requirements on either Sundays or Tuesdays; one important exception is Museo Amparo, which is free on Mondays and closed on Tuesdays. Free on Sundays: Casa del Deán, Museo Nacional de los Ferrocarriles Mexicanos, Ex-Convento de Santa Mónica, and Museo de Antropología e Historia, among others. Free on Tuesdays: Museo de la Revolución Mexicana, Biblioteca Palafoxiana, and San Pedro Museo de Arte Virreynal, among others. (Note: Sometimes the INAH-run museums will require you to show proof of Mexico residency to waive the ticket price, but they usually don’t.) Meanwhile, the city’s tourism office organizes Noches de Museos (Museum Nights), during which anyone can visit participating sites between 5 and 9 p.m. without paying. The remaining dates in 2012 are July 21, Aug. 10, Sept. 14, Oct. 12, Nov. 1-2, Nov. 17-18, and Dec. 28; participating sites include Museo Amparo, Casa de Alfeñique, Museo Taller Erasto Cortés Juárez, Museo José Luis Bello y González, Museo del Tecnológico de Monterrey, Galería del Palacio, and Museo Viviente, among others.

The murals in Barrio Xanenetla depict the neighborhood’s cultural identity. 2. Check out the murals in Barrio Xanenetla. Colectivo Tomate—a group of creatives working to beautify the city through a project called Puebla Ciudad Mural—spent more than a year collaborating with residents and volunteers to revitalize Xanenetla, one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods. The result of their efforts: 55 thought-provoking murals that depict the barrio’s cultural identity. The paintings celebrate its history, its traditions, its storied former residents, and its current inhabitants’ hopes and fears. Start your walking tour at the corner of Boulevard Heroés del 5 de Mayo and 4 Norte and then follow 4 Norte until you reach Plaza Santa Inés. (Click here to download a map of the murals’ locations.)

Couples turn a covered walkway in the zócalo into a dancefloor.3. People-watch in Paseo Bravo or the zócalo. Whether it’s a trova concert, a Mexican wrestling match, a clown performance, a kid chasing pigeons, a flash mob, or a bunch of guys breakdancing, there’s almost always something happening in these two popular city squares. Paseo Bravo (13 Sur between Avenida Reforma and 11 Poniente) has undergone many transformations through the years, serving as the site of a gallows to a military practice field. The public park that exists today took root sometime after 1850, when a statute of its namesake soldier and statesman Nicolás Bravo was erected. The zócalo, or main square (3 Oriente at 2 Sur), was the first city block built by the city’s Spanish settlers and remains the heart of the historic center. It’s a place where people gather for social outings, political protests, and cultural events; you’ll frequently encounter a stage or vendor stalls set up on the Cathedral side of the square. Looking for a quieter experience? Head for the beautifully landscaped park in Paseo San Francisco (10 Norte, next to the Purificadora hotel), which features art sculptures and the archaeological ruins of mills and tanneries that once operated there. The people-watching opportunities abound: The site, which once served as a set for Mexico’s Next Top Model, is so lovely that brides and quinceañeras like to have formal photos taken there.

Part of a Day of the Dead altar at the Casa de Cultura.4. See what’s on at the Casa de Cultura. Puebla’s cultural center (5 Oriente #5) houses several small art galleries, the Palafox library and museum (see above), and the Cinemateca Luis Buñuel, which regularly shows art films. It also frequently hosts musical performances on its central patio and, in late October, a Day of the Dead altar-building competition. Admission to nearly everything is free, and the current schedule of events is posted at the security/reception desk near the front door. Tip: Las Noches Poblanas, the folkloric dance presentations that used to happen here every Saturday at 7 p.m., now take place at the Instituto Cultural Poblano, Sala Francisco Xavier Clavijero (Avenida Reforma #1305) near Paseo Bravo.

On weekends, Los Sapos hosts an antiques bazaar and flea market.5. Browse the open-air markets. Every weekend, you’ll find tianguis, or street vendors, set up outdoors in Los Sapos plaza and in the Analco neighborhood a few blocks away. Start your browsing at the corner of 3 Oriente and 4 Sur, making sure to pass through the pedestrian area between Edificio Carolino and the BUAP’s psychology building, where artists often display hand-crafted jewelry. When you reach Callejon de los Sapos, turn right. Wander a block down the street to Plazuela de los Sapos, where on Saturdays and Sundays, you’ll find an antiques bazaar and flea market. When you’ve finished checking out the woodwork, coins, books, and other curiosities, head west on 5 Oriente, crossing Héroes del 5 de Mayo, to Analco. At the Analco Market (8 Sur at 5 Oriente), you’ll find vendors of artisanal goods, street food, plants, household wares, and a host of other items. Want to see more? El Parian (6 Norte between 2 and 4 Oriente), houses scores of vendors who stock every kind of souvenir imaginable, from traditional candies and (mostly imitation) talavera pottery to post cards, T-shirts, and refrigerator magnets.

TThe 10 a.m. mass on Sundays gives you a glimpse of the Cathedral in its full splendor.6. Celebrate the archbishop’s mass at the Cathedral. Even if you’re not Catholic (and don’t speak Spanish or Latin), attending mass inside this majestic church—built between 1536 and 1768—is worth an hour of your life. The 10 a.m. service on Sundays, usually presided over by Monsignor Víctor Sánchez Espinosa, gives you a glimpse of the Cathedral in its full splendor, with a procession, lighted candles, and music from the monumental pipe organ. The experience is almost like being transported back in time—and, given that 83 percent of Mexico’s population is Catholic, may shed some light on local customs and belief systems. Note that tourism is prohibited during services; if you want to wander around (versus attend mass), you’ll need to visit during the designated hours, which are Mondays through Saturdays, 10:30 a.m. to 5:45 p.m., and Sundays from 2 to 4:45 p.m., unless otherwise posted. All visits, of course, are free.

7. Run, walk, or bike the streets downtown. Most Sundays from 8 a.m. to noon, city officials close certain avenues to vehicle traffic and welcome residents and visitors to enjoy the streets of the historic center on foot or on human-powered wheels. This Gran Vía ReCorre Puebla leads participants from the Fuente de los Frailes (Avenida Juárez at Blvd. Atlixco) to the Teatro Principal (6 Norte at 8 Oriente). See link for complete 2012 schedule and route map. Meanwhile, if you’re looking for a place to exercise outdoors the rest of the week, here are a few options.
—Rebecca Smith Hurd

What’s your favorite free activity in Puebla? Share your suggestions and recommendations with us by replying below.

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Murals Triumph Over Time at Casa del Deán

Friday, November 25th, 2011

Each sibyl in this mural carries a banner depicting a different moment of the final hours of Jesus’ life.Although many of Mexico’s best-known muralists — Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco, Juan O’Gorman — made their marks in the first half of the 20th century, muralism in Mexico began more than a millennium ago. Long before the Spaniards arrived, pre-Hispanic civilizations painted pictures on walls to express their beliefs and rituals: For example, the 180-foot-long mural Bebedores de Pulque inside the Great Pyramid of Cholula depicts masked figures drinking pulque, the fermented nectar of the maguey plant, during a feast or ceremony. During and after the Conquest, murals were used to evangelize Christianity to the natives. Today these paintings provide fine, lasting examples of Colonial art.

Some of the most important murals left behind can be found inside the Casa del Deán in Puebla. Aside from their artistic value, the 400-year-old frescoes are the oldest non-religious murals registered in Mexico.

The Casa del Deán originally belonged to Don Tomás de la Plaza Goes, who was dean of Puebla from 1553 to 1589. As such, Goes was second in command to the bishop — and held the keys to the Cathedral. Having to live close to the church, he built his home right around the corner. The house, which historian Enrique Cordero y Torres classified as the city’s oldest still standing, remained intact until the 1950s, when it was sold and largely converted into a movie theater. During the renovations, however, elaborate murals were uncovered in two outlying rooms and, after much lobbying from artists and intellectuals nationwide, the space was preserved and turned into a museum.

The building, designed by architect Francisco Becerra, features a Renaissance-style façade with a coat of arms above wrought-iron balcony. Inside, a grand stone staircase leads to two rooms decorated with murals. The murals were created by artists called Tlacuilos (a Nahuatl word), whose names are unknown. Their work has been restored twice, most recently in 2009. Before entering the first room, visitors can view a set of photographs that show the murals as they were found and the restoration process, providing a fair before-and-after comparison.

Part of the wrap-around mural in La Sala de las Sibilas at the Casa del Deán.The first room, called La Sala de las Sibilas, contains a wrap-around mural of a parade of sibyls — female prophets from Greek mythology — who narrate the passion of Christ. Each sibyl wears 16th-century clothing and carries a banner depicting a different moment of the final hours of Jesus’ life. “The central scene on each of the four walls is flanked by borders demarcated by a cord, a method that was used to frame the content of murals in Franciscan convents, evoking the habit of St. Francis of Assisi and underscoring the strong influence of the Order and natives in the region,” an INAH sign tells visitors. “Note that the definition of the formal design with a black line is a style that has its origins in pre-Hispanic mural painting techniques.”

The murals in La Sala de los Triunfos narrate Petrarch's poem, “The Triumphs.” Despite its Christian imagery, the mural is considered to be nonreligious because it features heretic themes (i.e., Greek Mythology) and non-Biblical metaphors, even though it was ordered by a Catholic dean. The mural also mixes European symbols with indigenous ones, such as the regional animals, insects, flowers, birds, and fruits that adorn its friezes.

The second room, called La Sala de los Triunfos, could be considered downright blasphemous, given that it narrates “The Triumphs,” a poem written by Italian humanist Petrarch in 1352 and banned by the Church in 1575. The murals depict the nature of human life, proving its weakness in matters of love, chastity, time, death, and fame (or divinity). This room is believed to have been Don Tomás’s bedroom, and the murals were supposedly constant reminders of his mortality. —Vica Amuchastegui

The Casa del Deán is located a short walk from the zócalo at 16 de Septiembre #505. Hours: Tuesdays to Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is 31 pesos.

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