Monday, October 31, 2016

An Afternoon in Celaya

After we checked out of the hotel in Celaya on Sunday morning, Alejandro wanted to explore the "centro histórico" before we headed back to Mexico City.  Our hotel was located on the outskirts of Celaya, so Alejandro set the GPS to give us directions to the center of the city.  I have never really trusted GPS systems...( give me a good road map any day)... and my mistrust was only confirmed that day.  The GPS led us on a wild goose chase, and we ended up on a dirt road far from the city center.  Alejandro was about ready to just find the highway and return to Mexico City, but he asked directions from someone.  We finally made it to downtown Celaya.

Celaya is a busy city with a population of over 300,000.  The historic center is dotted with a number of colonial churches, and the town square is a pleasant plaza lined with sculpted laurel trees.  

Otherwise, I did not find the city to be especially attractive.  But what Celaya lacked in picturesqueness it made up for in its bustling, festive atmosphere on this warm, sunny Sunday afternoon before the Day of the Dead.

On the plaza a band concert was in full swing...

There were several stands where children could have their faces painted for the holiday.

 And children were not the only ones with painted faces.

We walked into the courtyard of the former Augustinian monastery which is now a cultural center.   There the Celaya Youth Band was rehearsing for a concert.  They were playing my favorite contemporary Mexican song, "¿Cómo Te Voy a Olvidar?"

This street performer had a fantastic voice.  She definitely should be on the stage.


These fellows outside of the market were selling caged birds.

This vendor was selling roasted peanuts and garbanzos.

I'm sure that the flower vendors in the market were doing a good business that day.  In fact, see all those empty buckets?  I suspect they were selling out.

The traditional flower for the Day of the Dead is the marigold.  In Mexico it is known by the Aztec name of "cempasúchil".

Before we left Celaya, I stopped in a shop and bought a jar of Celaya's most famous product... "cajeta".  "Cajeta" is a tasty caramel sauce made from goats' milk.  One of my favorite Mexican desserts is crepes with "cajeta".  It is also very good on vanilla ice cream.

It was soon time to leave Celaya and head back to Mexico City. 

A Family Birthday Party

This weekend we left Mexico City and drove north to the state of Guanajuato to attend a birthday party for one of Alejandro's cousins.  Besides Alejandro and me, his mother, his sister, his nephew,  an aunt, and another cousin were going.  Obviously we couldn't all fit in Alejandro's car, so he rented a van for the weekend.

By 9:30 A.M. we were on the road.  We escaped the urban sprawl of Mexico City without too much traffic, and headed northwest along the highway to Querétaro.

From Querétaro  we continued westward to the city of Celaya, Guanajuato, where Alejandro had booked rooms for us at the Holiday Inn.  It was about a four hour drive.

After relaxing at the hotel for a while and changing for the party, we drove to the historic, small town of Salvatierra, located 24 miles to the south of Celaya.  Salvatierra was founded in 1644 and is the oldest town in the state of Guanajuato. 

Alejandro's cousin Gina was celebrating her 18th birthday, and the party was a scaled down version of a "quinceañera", the big birthday bash that Mexican girls have when they turn fifteen.  (Apparently, for some reason, she had not had a proper "quinceañera", so this party was to make up for that.)  Prior to the party a mass was held in one of Salvatierra's seventeenth century churches.

After the mass, we went to Gina's grandmother's house on the edge of town.  A tent was set up outside for the party.

Gina's older sister, who recently graduated from culinary school, prepared the delicious supper and the scrumptious cake.  It was a very pleasant party, but in several respects unlike a typical party in Mexico.  Other than wine, no alcohol was served.   They had rented a jukebox, but, thank goodness, the music was not blasting at full volume.  One was actually able to have a conversation.  And the party started to break up at a reasonable hour.  By 11:00 P.M. we were on the road back to our hotel in Celaya.

In my next post, I will describe the second day of our weekend excursion.

On the Road to Victory

On Friday Alejandro and I went out for supper, and the World Series game was playing on the TV.  I let it be known that I was from Cleveland, and one of the waiters was teasing me that Chicago was going to win.  As it turned out, even though the Cubs had the home field advantage, the Indians eked out a 1-0 win, giving Cleveland a 2 to 1 lead in the series.

Over the weekend Alejandro and I went to a family event near the city of Celaya, so I was unable to watch Saturday night's game.  At the hotel on Sunday morning, I looked at the Celaya newspaper, and read that Indians had won Game 4.

The headline reads, "Indians, one away from winning the World Series."  The article says that Cleveland "conquered before a sad and silent Wrigley Field."

I didn't get back to my apartment in Mexico City until around 10:00 PM on Sunday evening, so I missed that game also.  I found out that Chicago stayed alive and won Game 5.  Next the Series returns to Cleveland, and the Indians need only to win one out of two games to capture the Series in front of the home-town crowd.  

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Shopping Day

Yesterday was a cloudy, chilly day... a good day to go shopping.  I hopped on the "Metrobus" and then the subway to go to the Ciudadela Market, one of the city's largest handcraft markets.

Now I will admit that a lot of what you see in this market is pure tourist junk, but amidst the kitsch there are also some nice handicrafts.  

Since we are only a few days away from the Day of the Dead there was a superabundance of "catrinas" and "catrines" (female and male skeleton figures) and "calaveras" (skulls).  Depending on your outlook, you might view them as hideously macabre or as an interesting and amusing aspect of Mexican culture.


After going up and down half the aisles of this large bazaar, I had completed my gift shopping for friends.  There seemed to be more foreign tourists in the market than usual.  I think that the Day of the Dead celebrations are perhaps drawing more international visitors to Mexico City.

It was time for lunch, and I walked a couple blocks to a restaurant that I wanted to try... Café La Habana. 

There is another Café La Habana located in Mérida, Yucatán.  Both were established in 1952, have the same logo, and are even painted the same color.  So I assume that they are under the same ownership.  Since the Café La Habana in Mérida is a frequent breakfast stop for me when I am in the Yucatáñ, I wanted to try out the Mexico City location.  Although the handicraft market is not far away, the restaurant is not in a touristy or particularly attractive part of town.  I was the only gringo there.  It is an old style café.  The menu is not gourmet... the food is ordinary Mexican fare.  I had an order of "molletes" (crusty bread topped with "frijoles" and ham and cheese) and a "café con leche" (Mexico's version of the French "café au lait").  It was nothing special, but it hit the spot.

The place is considered something of an historic landmark.  A plaque at the entrance says that its famous customers include the Nobel Prize winning writers Octavio Paz and Gabriel Garcíá Márquez, and the revolutionaries Fidel Castro and Che Guevara.


Friday, October 28, 2016

Strange Creatures Invade the City!

No, Mexico City has not been taken over by monsters from another planet.  Every year prior to the Day of the Dead, the Museum of Popular Arts in Mexico City sponsors a parade and contest of "Alebrijes Monumentales".  

Those who are familiar with Mexican handicrafts know that an "alebrije" is a brightly painted, wooden carving of a fantastical animal.  They are produced in several villages near the city of Oaxaca, Mexico.   However, what I did not know was that "alebrijes" had their beginning in Mexico City.  An artisan by the name of Pedro Linares started making them from paper mache in the 1930s.  According to the story, Linares was seriously ill, and in his feverish dreams he had visions of bizarre, colorful animals.  They were called "alebrijes", a nonsense word.  After he recovered, Linares began producing "alebrijes" in his workshop.  From Mexico City, the idea spread to Oaxaca which had a long tradition of carving wooden animals.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the "Alebrijes" Parade in Mexico City, and there were more than 200 entrants.  The giant "alebrijes" were paraded through the streets of Mexico City last Saturday, and now they are on display along the Paseo de la Reforma, the city's most elegant boulevard.

Here are a few of the "alebrijes"... 

And finally the most dreadful of all these creatures... "gringo horribilis ohiopithecus".


Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Day of the Dead Is Coming!

You don't need to consult your calendar to know that the Day of the Dead is just around the corner.  A stroll around Mexico City will provide you with plenty of clues that one of Mexico's most unique celebrations is coming up next week.

The Day of the Dead is a time for remembrance of departed loved ones.  But even before it became intertwined with Halloween customs from the U.S., it had its lighthearted side.  The Mexicans have a talent for poking fun of something as serious as death.

Here are some pictures I took while wandering around Mexico City...

Many shop windows are decorated for the holiday.

Most every bakery sells "pan de muerto" (bread of the dead) this time of year, but this shop doesn't want to leave any doubt in your mind that they have the traditional bread... with or without cream filling.

The same bakery has a large selection of "Catrinas" for sale.  "Catrinas" are the elegantly dressed female skeletons that are an integral part of Day of the Dead decorations.  The shop window was filled with small "Catrina" candles and figurines, as well as this large and rather expensive skeleton taking a ride on her bicycle.

These two "Catrinas", accompanied by their skeletal canine friends, welcome patrons to a couple of neighborhood restaurants.

This restaurant went with a gringo-style Halloween decoration of witches... or perhaps they are the Shakespearean witches from "Macbeth"?

"Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble."

The entrance to this home is decorated with plastic jack-o-lanterns and also "papel picado" banners.

"Papel picado" (literally perforated paper) is a traditional Mexican folk art that is popular for holiday decorations.  Elaborate designs are cut into sheets of colored tissue paper.

This stall, along busy Insurgentes Avenue, is selling Halloween costumes.

Trays of sugar skulls (they also have them in chocolate and coconut) are for sale in the candy shops.

Yes, it's beginning to look a lot like the Day of the Dead!