Sunday, September 30, 2012

Testing of Tequila and Mezcal...

Our next stop was at an arts and crafts centre that specialised in making its own Tequila and Mezcal along with selling many sculptures, jewelry, pottery, onyx, replicas of Teotihuacan masks.

During our visit we were shown some local customs. First was a custom of usage of agava (maguey in Mexico).

Agave nectar - a sweetener derived from the sap, is used as an alternative to sugar in cooking. This is used in Mexico and Mesoamerica in the production of the beverage pulque.

People have found a few other uses of the plant aside from its several uses as food. When dried and cut in slices, the flowering stem forms natural razor strops, and the expressed juice of the leaves will lather in water like soap. The natives of Mexico used agave's to make paper, pens, nails and needles, as well as string to sew and make weavings.

 We got to try three different kinds of Mezcal, one was from cactus and was very sweet, one was a Mezcal with an almond flavor and was also very sweet, and the last was a more traditional smokey flavored strong type. I think this was a good way to relax the customers, in hope they would spend many dollars!

Then they showed us the various symbolic meanings of the obsidian carved statues and masks they had in their shop. They were all very ornate and beautiful. Some of the obsidian had a gold shimmer inside of them. We were shown many kinds of volcanic rocks and appreciated their beauty when they were dipped in water and held up to the sunlight.

The jewellery was beautiful and excellent quality. But very expensive, often you were looking at ?
$1,000 dollars as a starting point. We had been warned by our guide that silver in Mexico was not nearly as cheap as it once was due to the world wide price increase in silver.

Although this place could be described as a complete tourist trap, we really enjoyed the demonstrations, particularly the taste testing! It was nice to escape the crowds of Mexico city and relax - being driven around from place to place. This was also a great way for us to save time as we were on a tight schedule to fit in as much sight seeing as possible in only three days.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe.....

Today we booked a day tour. We were picked up bright and early and headed for The Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Although not far it takes considerable time due to the traffic. It was explained by our guide that wider Mexico cities population each day is 20 million people with another 5 million commuting for work into the city each day.

Our Lady of Guadalupe is an aspect of the Virgin Mary who appeared to St. Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoatzin, an Aztec convert to Roman Catholicism, in 1531. According to the traditional account, Juan Diego was walking between his village and Mexico City on December 12, 1531 when Our Lady of Guadalupe appeared, speaking to him in his native Nahuatl language. She told him to build a church at the site.

When Juan Diego spoke to the Spanish bishop, the bishop did not believe him, asking for a miraculous sign to prove his vision's authenticity. The Virgin appeared to Juan Deigo again and, although it was winter, to him to gather flowers. Miraculously, Spanish roses bloomed right at his feet.

When Juan Diego presented these to the bishop, the roses fell from his apron (the Tilma) and an icon of the Virgin was miraculously imprinted on the cloth. The bishop ordered a church built at once, dedicated to Our Lady of Guadalupe. The shrine of the Virgin of Guadalupe has proved extremely popular in Mexico ever since. Spanish missionaries used the story of her appearance to help convert millions of indigenous people in what had been the Aztec Empire.

Our Lady of Guadalupe still underpins the faith of Catholics in Mexico and the rest of Latin America, and she has been recognized as patron saint of Mexico City since 1737. Her patronage continued to extend until it included all of America by 1946.

On November 14, 1921, a factory worker placed a bomb a few feet away from the apron. The explosion demolished the marble steps of the main altar, blew out the windows of nearby homes and bent a brass crucifix, but the fabric suffered no damage. Since 1993, the apron has been protected by bullet-proof glass.

In 2002, the Pope declared Juan Diego a saint; he was the first Mexican to achieve sainthood.

When arriving at the site we were shocked at the hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of Catholic treasures - I expected to see some souvenir stands but this was something else. We parked and were shown to one of the biggest shops I have been in - it was roughly the size of 4 basketball courts and it only sold Catholic artifacts. You name it, they had it!

Of course the shop had endless rosary beads, jewelry, t-shirts, coffee cups, crucifixes posters, paintings, statues and you could even purchase your own full set of the stations of the cross. However.....

What more could a devout Catholic Cowgirl want?

Some of Our Lady of Guadalupe clothing for your dog!

Perhaps an iPhone cover is more your style?

The original Basilica of Our Lady (the Antigua Basilica) dates from 1536 and still stands. However, the structure weakened over the years and the massive congregation outgrew the modest-sized basilica. The ground is actually sinking and it is expected the church will be closed within the next hundred years.

Below is the 18th century church that was built between the older two churches. It is a very small but beautiful chapel. The photo is not crooked and you can clearly see the extent the damage the sinking ground is having on this building.

This is the larger 17th Century Church - again it will be forced to close within the next hundred years.

Built in a flamboyant '70s style, the new basilica looks more like a stadium than a church. But here the focus is not the architecture or history of the building, but the holy relic and services held here. it is in a circular shape so that the image of the apron can be seen by everybody inside it.

While we were visiting a large group of girls arrived on a field trip. They were perfectly behaved and sat proudly for their photograph in the church.

The pilgrimage to the Basilica of Guadalupe is extremely popular. Some pilgrims crawl on their knees for miles as they approach the basilica before praying to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Pilgrims arrive year-round but up to five million flock to the shrine on December 12.

Sunday Afternoon Markets in Coyoacán...

After leaving La Casa Azul we headed straight for the famous market at Coyoacán. Coyoacán is most famous for its beautiful town square and Sunday market. The western Jardín del Centenario is surrounded by attractive cafes and centers on a fountain with a coyote sculpture, the symbol of Coyoacán. It’s a popular gathering place for families.

The market was great, selling all kinds of delights. The hand made marzipan looked like little sculptures and much to precious to eat.

But what we were really interested in was looking at some local art - and we weren't disappointed!

We all were entranced with the work of a local etcher. His beautiful aquatints were light and romantic and very reasonable.

So after a few inevitable purchases we were ready for lunch. Susan had some recommendations on where exactly we should eat - grasshopper was going to be on today's menu.

We walked through the centre of town, passing by the beautiful Catholic Church on our way to the restaurant.

Los Danzantes is an award winning restaurant, (it has been reviewed many times as the best restaurant in the city) and it was jam packed with people. We were lucky to get a table upstairs for lunch without a reservation. The building was beautiful and the artwork and colors inside were also striking.

Los Danzantes, (also known as Los Nahuales) is also a mezcal distillery in Oaxaca. Here they produce  a famous line of single village mescals, Alipús, which didn’t yet distribute to the US. Yes, you guessed right - I had to sample the best Margarita they had on offer, this one made with the special mezcal.

Mum and I went with the waiters advice and ordered the speciality of the house - green chill stuffed with pork, drizzled in a cold nut sauce called noganda with crispy pieces of pomegranate. This is a dish I would not normally consider ordering, but I am so glad I did. It was truly divine.

Susan ordered a vegetarian dish with grasshopper. We were unsure how exactly the grasshoppers would be presented - but as with all the dishes at this restaurant everything on the plate looked delicious. The grasshoppers are the crispy red shavings on the right side of the plate. They were enjoyable when used as a garnish - although extremely salty.

Most of the expensive, high end restaurants highlight Oaxacan specialties from grasshoppers to fresh salsa to mezcal, but what makes Los Danzantes different is that they’ve caught on to using a conscious and strict commitment to supporting local farmers and mezcal producers. I loved the wall filled with old mescal bottles and covered with painted glass.

We made the journey back to our hotel with enough time for a half hour siesta before we went to the dining area for a two hour session of cocktails and appetisers. I couldn't dream of a better way to end the day, overdoing it with margaritas and yummy food. We were all exhausted but elated after having such a great day.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

La Casa Azul ....

La Casa Azul or The Blue House, was the place where Frida Kahlo, the most renowned Latin American artist in the world, came into this world, lived, and took her last breath. The building, which dates to 1904, was not a large-scale construction. Today it has an 800 m2 building surrounded by property measuring 1200 m2. Diego and Frida filled it with color, folk art, and pre-Hispanic pieces to show their admiration for the peoples and cultures of Mexico.

The construction underwent two major modifications. When Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived with Diego and Frida in 1937, the property today occupied by the garden was purchased. In 1946 Diego Rivera asked Juan O’Gorman to build Frida’s studio.

The interior of the house has been maintained virtually intact. This was respected by the poet and the couple’s friend, Carlos Pellicer, who designed the museum display for the space after Frida’s death.

It is a truly beautiful house filled with paintings, so many that I had only ever seen previously in books. It was also interesting to see works which were incomplete.

We had the pleasure of wandering in and out of bedrooms, the wonderful studio and amazing kitchen. The kitchen looked like the perfect place to prepare a huge banquet for family and friends.

Even the wonderful gardens contained sculptures and interesting photographic opportunities, see Frida and Diego alias Susan and Gayl below.

This was a truly fabulous way to start the day - Viva La Frida!

"Painting completed my life. ”
- Frida Kahlo