I reluctantly left San Miguel de Allende and headed to Guanajuato in the evening. I had hoped to stop in Pozos (a ghost town) and Dolores Hidalgo (the “birthplace” of the Independencia), but I wasn’t able to make it. It’s funny, but many places claim to be the birthplace: San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, and Queretaro, thus far. Each played a role, but the official birthplace is still Dolores Hidalgo. As I was looking for a combi to get to the historical center of Guanajuato, I met an art student who was headed in the same direction. We waited for a bus and she told me about how lucky she was to be one of 30 students accepted into the program. Her parents are both artists in Michoacan. We walked up the 160 steps to La Casa de Dante, me lugging a very heavy backpack and she helping me with a few bags. I got settled and then wandered down to the main town, wandering the callejones (narrow alleys) and marvelling at the lovely architecture. Guanajuato, at peak production of the silver mines in the 1700s (Mina de Rayas, Valenciana) was the largest exporter of silver in the world. The Spanish built the town as they did Toledo – apparently it’s very similar looking. It winds through a long valley and it’s easy to get lost in the center. I ended up walking in a huge circle and was back to where I started that night.
The next day I set out to see a few museums, after updating my blog. It was Monday, so most things were closed, but I went to the Palacio de Gobierno, the main cathedral and other churches. I went to the Mercardo Hidalgo and ate a great seafood soup and licuado (like a smoothie) of guayaba, banana, strawberry, and mango. I wandered past the Alhondigo (built in the 1700s as a giant grainery and seed storage) up into the hills. Had an appointment with my lawyer (re the accident) by phone, and was lugging my computer in order to use Skype. After talking with him, I wandered more, met a really kind mom and daughter who have a cafe. They told me about the cristianero martyrs in the area where they are from, in the hills of Jalisco. It was a movement in the mid 1800s of ardent catholics who were opposed to the separation of church and state (a Mexican president had declared that the church should have less power). According to the mom and daughter, these people were not religious fanatics, but rather devout Christians. I don’t know, but it’s sad that so many were killed. Many were campesinos, and as usual, the poor are sacrificed on the backs of the rich (the church).
I was interested in shadowing the troubadours (a group of about 9 musicians) who play traditional Mexican songs like La LLorona and Enamorado de la Luna. Everyone sings and dances – it’s about $8USD to attend, which doesn’t sound like much, but compared to $16USD for a place to stay, it’s expensive. They have you buy a small ceramic flask of sorts which traditionally held an anise liquor. I don’t know what they served, but people seemed pretty happy. I felt out of place when they separated the women and men, and had the men present flowers to their s.o. and kiss, etc. There were other romantic emphases, which as a “soltera” I found uncomfortable. I met a kind young man who was with his family, who is studying to be a toreodor. Interesting profession. Apparently Pablo Picasso longed to be a toreodor, and as a result painted many bull fighting scenes.
Tuesday I headed to museums in earnest, as I only had one more day here. I first went to Museo de Alondhiga, which had been converted from a grainery to a prison in the 1800s, was involved in various battles (including Independence), and finally was made into a museum in the 1900s. It houses a good summary of the Independence movement, as well as a nice exhibit of artesenal crafts from the entire state of Guanajuato, and an interesting exhibit about the change in the status of women in the time of Pprfiiro Diaz (because of technological advances, in large part). I met a kind old guard who was very excited to tell me about other museums and historical sites. He asked me what California is like, and I did my best to describe it. Not easy, as it is so varied. Then I made my way to the Museo de Pueblo, which mostly harbored an exhibit of paintings from the time of colonialization (religous art) to Busto, the portrait artist/professor at the University of Guanajuato who did amazingly realistic (and expressive) portraits. There was a depressing exhibit of weird modern art with people standing on cars inundated by a flood, searching through garbage, etc. Not my cup of tea. Also looked at some retratos (home made religious talisman art thanking Jesus or Mary for help in alleviating some ailment or problem). Finally headed to the house where Diego Rivera lived from 0-5 years old. Was impressed by the fact that his parents were definitely bougeousie, owning a lot of books, nice furniture, a fountain in the outside patio, etc. Apparently his father was a leftist and interested in issues of inequality. It seems that was a big influence on Diego. What is impressive about the museum is that it houses works from Diego’s early life studying in Escuela de Bellas Artes. He spent time in Europe and was very influenced by the impressionist movement, evident in several of his landscape paintings.
I watched a film about his life, then went to Teatro Juarez to meet a friend. We walked up behind the university to the castle-looking ruins of Minas de Rayas and a nearby mill. Very interesting and edifying. It was dark by the time we reached the Minas, and we continued to walk on a small path next to a sign saying be careful of the dog, to a small stream. Suddenly I spied fireflies, which brought back memories of Italy and my trip across the US (I saw them in Nebraska, Iowa, and Georgia). The more I looked, the more I saw. They seemed to be descending from the hills, and flying down towards the creek. It was as if they were shooting stars, their light drawing pictures against the dark sky. I felt very lucky to witness their flight, and at the same time saw the constellation scorpio and capricorn. I confused the stars for fireflies. A lovely night.
Next day was my last in Guanajuato. I walked with a friend up to the “presa” or dam, which was constructed in the early 1900s. Actually, 2 dams sit at the top of the valley above the historic center and further downstream lie the historical haciendas. They are surrounded by lovely gardens and statues. The entire area below and around the dams looked very much like other public works projects I’ve seen from Porfirio Diaz’ reign. There is a tunnel below the lowest dam to allow the water to escape in case of dam breakage or inundation. Another amazing public works project is the tunnel roads that pass under the historical center of Guanajuato. Apparently they were built in part because of the agua negra that gave the center a less than lovely appeal. Open sewers running through the streets tend to detract from an otherwise lovely town. We started walking toward the city center, then jumped on (and off) a bus when I realized that walking was faster due to a traffic jam.
My friend encouraged me to see the Museo de Mommias, which showcases the well-preserved bodies of Guanajuato residents (now dead) not claimed by relatives. Because of the perfect conditions in the crypt, including humidity and soil, these un mummified bodies are some of the best preserved in the world, supposedly. A few corpses still host hair, and not only on the head. Others still sport the clothing they were buried in, including traditional rebosos and loom-woven linens. One man was still wearing his huaraches, traditional closed toed sandals made of woven strips of leather with a rubber sole. There is a cult of the dead in Mexico. The current fascination with Santa Muerte by some Mexicans (amongst others she has a following with narco trafficantes) is not new. Many of the indigenous tribes in the area that is now Mexico worshipped a diosa or goddess of death, whose name varied depending upon the language spoken. Among other things, she signified the rejuvenating force of death in relation to life. Like Kali, she often was represented with a necklace of hands or skulls, and her visage was sometimes that of a cadaver sporting fangs.