Monday, May 11, 2015

Onward to Aguascalientes - April 8 - 10, 2015

Back to our two-week circle through central Mexico: Durango - Zacatecas - Aguascalientes - Tlaquepaque/Tonala - Tequila - Tepic - Mazatlan:

The Aguascalientes "Brand"

Aguascalientes is like an Italian Renaissance "city-state" - it is the capital of the tiny (smaller than Delaware) state of Aguascalientes and home to more than half of that state's residents. The city's public relations persona is that of a prosperous, industrial and clean city that, oh yeah, has some museums and colonial architecture. Think: ultramodern car plants: Nissan, Mazda, GM, Honda, and Volkswagen and over 1.2 million inhabitants. It's the type of city that boasts of winning the "Mexico's Cleanest City" award and has tourist literature featuring pictures of its three new shopping malls.  

And while all of that is good, and seems true as far as we can tell, it isn't all that inspiring. To be honest, we mostly visited because we hadn't been there before and it's on the way between  Zacatecas and Guadalajara. But it turns out that Aguascalientes is a nice place to visit even if you're not a guest of the state or city economic development agency. 

For example, what traveler can pass up the opportunity to visit the Museo Nacional de la Muerte (the National Museum of the Dead)?

Museo Nacional de la Muerte 

Hmmmm, we thought. This could be some major kinda kitsch . . . haunted houses, plastic skeletons, perhaps even 3-D pictures. [We were once taken in by the Museum of the Inquisition in Guanajuato, we are embarrassed to admit. Travel Tip: Miss That One. It's not even funny.] 

Happily, this museum was not major or even minor kitsch. It is definitely worth a visit.

By now most people are familiar with the idea that the Mexican culture embraces the concept of "death within life" (that we are all living in the shadow of death) in a way other cultures do not. Some suggest this is due to the influence of its pre-Hispanic cultures (think: Aztec and Maya). For whatever reason, Mexico's art has long embraced the idea of death and this is the museum for anyone interested in appreciating or learning more about that concept.

The museum is appropriately located in Aguascalientes because the city's native son Jose Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) is the printer/artist/satirist credited with creating the now-ubiquitous skeleton figure, Catrina (the feminine of the Spanish word Catrin - a "dandy" or "toff")

Posada's Famous "Catrina"

She is said to remind us that, underneath whatever our worldly finery may be, we are all headed to the same end.

Though Posada was primarily a political satirist, his work is now associated mainly with the Day of the Dead celebrations that have spread across Mexico. It's may be familiar - but it's still fun.

El Jarabe del Ultratumba (The Folk Dance Beyond The Grave)
by Jose Guadalupe Posada

Posada and his Catrina birthed a whole school of satirical art:

CalaveraTapatia (Skull of A Tapatio) 
by Manuel Mantilla
 [FYI: A Tapatio Is Someone From Guadalajara)

The museum first shows death-related artifacts from the pre-Hispanic cultures. Among them is a tiny crystal skull that the museum staff couldn't resist lighting from below. We'll admit that this was the one thing that gave us that "oooo - kitschy" reaction. Blame that reaction on Indiana Jones. 

The museum also has some very good folk art on the death subject.

A Tree of Death

But most interesting was the use of death in political satire. Keep in mind that Mexico has remained open to Cuba:

The US Mob in Cuba

Satire - It Pokes Fun Even At Icons

Anyone who visits Aguascalientes should visit this museum. It's a mind-opening experience which, after all, is what museums are all about, yes?

Hollywood History

The tiny state of Aguascalientes (third smallest state in Mexico - smaller than Delaware) became a state when it was carved out of the state of Zacatecas in 1835. The ruling party in Zacatecas had rebelled against the federal government and that had not gone well for them. And that's where the Aguascalientes story gets Hollywood-worthy: 

While General Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna (remember the Alamo?) was in Aguascalientes resting up from sacking the city of Zacatecas he met Dona Maria Luisa Villa. He begged her for a kiss (at least that's all they tell you about in the museums). Her price was that Aguascalientes be made a separate state (which presumably would be loyal to the federal government). Santa Anna agreed, she complied (with the kiss . . .?) and her husband got to be Governor of the new state. Behind every successful man . . . 

True? Perhaps not - but a good story nonetheless. 

Miscellaneous Acts of Tourism

              Cathedral: Of course there is a cathedral (it's Mexico - it's required). 


It's Even More Beautiful Inside

And in keeping with Aguascalientes' industrial city public persona, it is a High-Tech Cathedral:

Every Seat In The House Ha s A Good View

               Museo Regional de Historia Aguascalientes: The other museum that we had time to visit (remember, we only had two days) was the history museum. Our favorite exhibit was of ex-voto paintings. In general ex-votos are something given to a saint or divinity in fulfillment of a vow (if you cure me I'll . . .). But often they include testimony of a saint's or divinity's assistance. 

Someone Survived A Nasty Fall From A Bus

Bryce Liked This One - He's Sure It Was Hip Surgery

               Hanging Out: We had achieved a state of museum fatigue by the time we arrived in Aguascalientes so much of our time there was spent just walking around, drinking coffee, looking at statues and buildings and watching people go about their daily activities. 

A Celebration of Bulls and Bull Tenders

Did We Mention The Interest In
Death in Aguascalientes?

The International Sign That Tourist Activity Was Afoot

Fabulous Looking Strawberries
15 Pesos Per Kilo (Or 50 Cents A Pound)

Our favorite serendipitous tourist activity was a street-side marionette performance we came across one evening:

The Puppeteer

One Dancing Fellow

The Marionette That Got The Girl

               Escaping The Feria San Marcos: We missed the big annual event in Aguascalientes - The Fair of San Marcos. The fair lasts for three or more weeks and encompasses the day of San Marcos (April 24). There are bull fights and cock fights and charreadas (a competitive event similar to a rodeo) - even a casino that is licensed only for the duration of the fair. 

To put this big event in context: We once met some retired school teachers from Aguascalientes on vacation in Ixtapa for the express purpose of getting out of town during the fair! 

We were warned that there were not likely to be any hotel rooms left for the fair period, and we had other travel plans anyway, so all we saw was the build-up to the fair:  

Only A Week To Go!!!!!

Our hotel (the Fiesta Americana Aguascalientes) was near a pedestrian street that even during non-fair times is lined with gigantic taquerias. We can only assume that the whole area becomes a mob scene during the fair. We base this assumption on the following:

  • The neighborhood OXXO (a mini-mart type store) had more than 14 checkout lines. 
  • One morning we watched the pre-fair beer deliveries to the storehouses located above those taquerias. We assume that this storage arrangement is in anticipation of not being able to make deliveries during the fair due to the press of fair-goers. 

LOTS of Beer

Every Brand Is Represented

We were so intimidated that we might have left town even if we hadn't had plans to travel on!

But we did have plans . . . so on we went to Tlaquepaque (a suburb of Guadalajara) where we learned a lot about Mexican folk art pottery.

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