Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Dancing in the Streets, Zacatecas style

We went to Zacatecas for a long weekend , 3 of the 4 day's break for Day of the Dead (1st and 2nd November) here. It is a beautifully restored colonial city, very hilly, with lots of building facades in pink stone and many hidden plazas and charming tiny streets to explore. Its rapid development and richness in its heyday was due to the discovery of silver, as Melbourne's was to gold. Among the other tourist delights there is a tour available to a former silver mine. There is also a discotheque/ nightclub in this mine - given our aversion to very loud noise and smoking, we decided to give it a miss. The tour is interesting but I struggled a bit to make out the Spanish of our guide against the noise of other groups, not helped by wearing the obligatory hard hat. (There are currently major works going on in our neighbourhood as they replace all the major drains, digging up the cobbled streets. There are a few machines and a lot of manual labourers, but I have barely seen one in a hard hat, let alone a pair of Blunnies or other decent protective foot gear, ear muffs, safety harnesses when climbing poles or descending into pits, any kind of appliance to stop the ingestion of the vast amounts of dust and worse, etc. I am sure their work is more dangerous than our mine tour was, but I guess the local government is not worried that a hurt worker might sue!)

There are quite a lot of Huichol people in the region, and one of the most enjoyable museums has a large display of the ethnography of these not very easily colonised people, who still follow the traditional lifestyle, including a kind of pilgrimage to search for peyote, which is used in their rituals. The photo below does not do justice to the huge beaded work that hangs in the entrance hall, which contains many million beads and tells some important stories.
Their artesanias are particularly colourful and beautiful. Beading in very tiny glass beads and spectacular yarn pictures are traditional, and the techniques are now used by many Huichol people to supply the market with gorgeous beaded earrings, bracelets, necklaces, bags and belts. There are also wonderful animals, real, totemic, or fantastic, beaded all over. I know we have too much stuff, and I try not to buy anything these days unless I can get rid of something I already have to make space for it. This gets to be a problem as I am quite attached to all the Mexican artifacts we already have! I was unable to resist buying a very small beaded bowl, made from a gourd, in the museum shop, however.

There is a large collection of ethnographic research, including a collection of photos by European and US anthropologists from the early 20th Century who revisited many years later, and some of their original informants. Obviously funded by some US foundation, the information about the people and their customs has been well translated into English, and I found it very informative and totally fascinating. There is also a large collection of embroidery showing all the traditional themes, some of it from the late 19th Century . The work is not quite symmetric, there seems often to be an unfinished area or a piece or corner which looks very different from the rest, clearly not accidental. One of these days I might look up some of this stuff and find out what part of their belief system leads to this style of work.

There is another museum we visited which is especially renowned for its collection of masks. This is located in a partially ruined, partially restored ex-convent, whose original building materials have been looted over time to construct housing or streets or whatever they were needed for at the time. The parts being used as galleries have been restored, and the displays were very well curated. As well as the enormous collection of masks, pottery, etc, there was also an interesting collection of puppets and costumes from traditional street theatre companies from the 18th through early 20th Century which I found tremendously evocative, and a collection of some of Diego Rivera's collection of pre-columbian artefacts, donated by his daughter. I think the founder of the museum , an artist or sculptor himself, was also Rivera's son-in-law.
As in most museums, no flash photography is allowed (though this is largely ignored by the Mexican public). As I am not much of a photographer and don't know how to take photos other than point and click, I don't know how to suppress the automatic flash so usually only even try to take a photo where there is lots of natural light. So apologies for the lack of good photos!

One of the magic things about beautiful Zacatecas is the Callejoneada: literally, dancing in the laneways. I did not know what to expect at all, but when we came back to the hotel after sightseeing on our first day there, I saw some very colourful local dancers performing in the square near the hotel (see photo), and wondered if this was it.
It certainly wasn't! I have video but I can't upload it with the software I have available, so one of these days will post it on a website and you can look at it there!

I saved a bit of a draft about Zacatecas ages ago to start this entry, and was quite sure I had written about the callejoneada, but when I finally got around to work on the draft, there was nothing there about it at all. But then I remembered, I had actually written it up as my Spanish homework one day, as part of an exercise to write a letter home. So just to show you I can, I am going to post the Spanish version right now for the Spanish speakers on my distribution list (with apologies for the deficiencies in my Spanish prose), and then will roughly rewrite and expand on it in English.

Aquí en México, seguimos siendo turistas los fines de semana. Recientemente, fuimos a Zacatecas, una ciudad preciosa con una herencia colonial. Le han renovado bien las calles , las fachadas y muchos de los edificios – ¡que buenas son las vistas! Hay una tradición muy pintoresca en Zacatecas ¡todo el mundo baila en las calles por la noche! Hay orquestas que tocan y los bailadores, ciudadanos y visitantes, se juntan y van detrás de los músicos mientras caminan por las callecitas, bailando. El fenómeno se llama la callejoneada.

Hay muchas placitas coloniales lindas en Zacatecas, y las bandas se paran para tocar un poco en cada una, y donde hay más espacio, los participantes bailan más, y más espectadores y participantes siguen reuniendo con el grupo durante la noche.
Estuvimos en una callejoneada con un grupo de turistas y residentes – muchos fueron de una familia que habían venido para una reunión familiar, porque era Día de Muertos.

Por el día, hubo muchas personas en las calles vestido de disfraz, para Halloween o Día de Muertos: unos se juntaron con nosotros, pero hubo orquestas más grandes con mas bailadores que la nuestra en el Zócalo, al lado de la Catedral, donde además hubo un burro con barriles de tequila para atraer las masas. Pero preferí nuestro grupo, con nuestra propia tequila y unas cocas, porque cuando la orquesta terminó a las diez, la familia nos invitó a acompañarla a su hotel, donde Barry y yo también estábamos hospedándonos, para comer tamales y tomar atole, todos hechos en casa, que la familia había preparado para la fiesta.

Por casualidad, encontramos un hombre de la familia cuya esposa (que no estuvo con nosotros debido a una cita con su hijo en una fiesta de su escuela) es Australiana. El es dueño de un hostal en Zacatecas, y una de sus huéspedes también es Australiana, y escribe para la editorial Lonely Planet. Pasamos el día siguiente con ella, pero estas aventuras son para otra carta.

Rough translation and further commentary: we have been going away on weekends, and recently went to Zacatecas, a beautiful city with a strong colonial heritage. They have done a great job on restoring the city centre, many of the facades, streets, and squares, and like many silver towns, it is very hilly and has beautiful views. There is a very colourful tradition called the callejoneada: people join up with a band and follow them, gathering more followers as they dance their way through the streets in the evenings. The many small streets and lanes open up into little squares, often on several levels, where an open plaza is surrounded by beautiful colonial era buildings and where there is more space. The band stops walking and the dancers can let go and fill the space available.

We joined a group just across the road from our hotel, and discovered as the night progressed that many people in the group were from just one extended family living in and around Zacatecas, and had come into town for a family reunion over the holiday weekend. The family included a guy who has lived in the UK and Australia: his Australian wife was at another party with their children. At present he is back in Zacatecas running a back-packers hostel, and one of the other people in the group was one of his guests, Kate, who turned out to be an Australian who writes for Lonely Planet. What are the odds! The photo beside the Spanish text is one taken of our group dancing in one of the small plazas.

Because it was the night of Day of the Dead, which is now a bit mixed up with Halloween (we see syncretism in full swing here, with the traditional skeleton and Catrina costumes very mingled with kids dressed as pumpkins or carrying little pumpkin-shaped containers instead of the traditional skulls) there were many more people out on the streets in fancy dress than one would normally see. Here are some typical folk watching the dancing in the zocalo.

Our band was just one of many. There were many larger bands, including a couple which seemed to be permanently stationed in the zócalo, which had way larger followings than ours. The many onlookers were watching or joining in, and in the zócalo we also enjoyed another traditional feature: a burro bearing large flagons of tequila;

as this was dispensed, the crowds got less bashful and quite a scene developed there beside the Cathedral (a photo of the Cathedral's impressively carved street facade - its less imposing side faces the zócalo - showing some of the sculpture niches, which I took during the day, follows).
But after a while our band moved on and we followed. The hostel owner had bought a small bottle of tequila to share, and we had bought some soft drinks at a local convenience store, so we were well catered for. A group of people joined us from a bar in one of the squares, unfortunately including a very drunk and rather obnoxious fellow who eventually left the group when some police appeared - we were not unhappy to see him go as he kept propositioning the women, none of whom was remotely interested in being propositioned.

The band stopped playing at 10PM. This is a photo of some of the dancers who lasted till then: the drunk is in the front row, left.
I assumed we'd tip them or somehow pay for our entertainment, but they just melted into the night - I still don't know whether the family group had paid for them in advance or they get remunerated some other way. There were then two proposals to continue our evening - a visit to a cantina in the centre of Zacatecas in which the hostel owner has some interest, or a return to our hotel, where many of the family members from out of town were also staying, to eat tamales and drink atole, the traditional foods for Day of the Dead, which the family had waiting and warming in one of their cars. While Barry and Kate wanted to go to the cantina, the family-based low key celebration was all I wanted to do. So we all joined in and had some tamales and atole, and a bit of a chat, then when that party broke up, I went to bed and Barry and Kate went off to the Cantina.

We discovered that one of the women was the mother , and another, the aunt, of a senior official in the local tourism department. These family connections led to us being included in an offer to chauffeur Kate to a couple of destinations within a few hours of Zacatecas on Sunday.
We saw both an archaeological site, La Quemada, whose origins are somewhat mysterious, but it seems more allied to other meso-american sites to the north than to Teotihuacán or Mayan sites I have visited.

After touring this site, we proceeded to another charming town, Jerez, complete with cowboys, where we had lunch and wandered about while Kate did her Lonely Planet research, assisted by a very helpful American woman who lives in Jerez. I took lots of photos of shops full of cowboy boots and hats, but only managed to catch a couple of guys on their horses:

There were some lovely old buildings with wonderful stonework and timber carving, a beautiful church or two, and several lovely squares filled with lots of people making music, meeting their friends, and selling and eating street food. We decided that because it gets quite chilly and is somewhat lacking in cultural activities, Jerez, for all its charm, won't ever be a Mecca for US retirees like San Miguel de Allende.

1 comment:

Nick Ananas said...

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