Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Day In “El Campo”


I’ve been MIA for a while as far as my blog goes. Sometimes life just seems to get away from me. On Saturday afternoon though, I had a wonderful experience that I’d like to share. A new friend invited us to a “team sorting”. Basically cow-cutting with young bulls, it is a competition where everyone pays to enter and the winners get the spoils.

The event was held at a ranch near Atotonilco, a pueblo about 14 kilometers from San Miguel. Although I have been to San Miguel de Allende many times over the years and have now lived here for close to two years, I have never actually made it out to Atotonilco. Situated between San Miguel and Dolores Hidalgo, the tiny pueblo of Atotonilco is actually a pilgrimage site.

Atotonilco is a word coming from the Nahuatl  language meaning “in hot water”, and it refers to the many hot mineral springs in the area. One such spring is the spa, or “balneario”, La Gruta, which has been covered with an artificial cave and is situated at the entrance to the community of Atotonilco.

I had actually been to La Gruta, but not into the town itself, which has it’s own interesting story. Atotonilco has a very small population but a very large legacy and is formally known as the Santuario de Atotonilco, a World Heritage Site since 2008. The Sanctuary, officially called the “Santuario de Dios y de la Patria” (Sanctuary of God and Country), but is better known as the Sanctuary of Jesús Nazareno de Atotonilco.


Exterior Façade of the Sanctuary


The Sanctuary complex was built in the 18th century by Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro who was preaching at missions in Dorlores Hidalgo. As the story goes, during  a visit to Atotonilco, he was napping under a mesquite tree where the sanctuary is now located, and Jesus, carrying a cross and wearing a crown of thorns came to him in a dream and told him that it was he wished an edifice to be built here as a place for penance and prayer.





And what an edifice it was! Often called the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico”, the Mexican Baroque mural work created by Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre over a period of thirty years is an artistic marvel.


Sanctuary photographs by Wikipedia


The complex was built as a pilgrimage and procession site and is still used for this purpose today. The doctrines of Saint Ignatius of Loyola are clearly reflected in the architecture and design of the sanctuary as a place of penance. It all began in 1765 with Father Neri directing 25 people in the spiritual exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. This included mortification of the flesh through flagellation and fasting.

Today during Holy Week, approximately 5,000 people (about 4 times the population of Atotonilco) visit the “Casa de Ejercicios”  to perform these forms of penance while wearing crowns of thorns. This is only one of 33 weeks out of the year when visitors, mostly from central and northern Mexico, visit the sanctuary.

An image of Jesus, beaten and tied to a column, called  El Señor de la Columna, resides in the Sanctuary and every year since 1812 this icon is carried in a procession, 14 kilometers through the streets to San Miguel de Allende. Originally the image had been requested because of an epidemic that was plaguing San Miguel, so now each year on the Saturday prior to Holy Week, the statue makes it way to San Miguel where it remains until the following Thursday when it is returned to Atotonilco.



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But enough of the history lesson and on to the “team sorting”. Chuck, the generous owner of the ranch had set up a covered area with tables and chairs for spectators right beside the corals. Needless to say it was a dusty day! Not to worry, there were beer and soft drinks available for 10 pesos and hard drinks for 20 pesos and then a little later in the competition pizza arrived from our favourite pizza establishment, Pizza Pig.


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Whole families were there and it seemed that both men and women competed equally in the competition. Incredibly beautiful horses were everywhere, a real treat for a horsewoman such as myself. How I wished I was able to try the sorting! Maybe next year, if I am walking, perhaps I will be able to ride again.


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The young man in the picture above was competing, and may actually have been on the winning team. I am assuming that he rode with his father and they worked together in perfect synchronization. The one in the photo below is a future competitor, but was certainly already at home in the saddle. Notice the spurs!


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This was really the first community event that I had attended since moving to San Miguel. It was lovely how gringos and Mexicans mixed and had such fun together. That sort of thing was a much more common occurrence for us in Patzcuaro and I was pleased to be included here.


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A cowgirl after my own heart!


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Another young cowgirl in the making


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Number 4 was my favourite


I wanted to take him home. Isn’t he pretty?


Thursday, April 18, 2013

Soaking Up Some Culture & History


This past weekend Todd and I went to Guanajuato City. I am completely fascinated by the colonial cities of central Mexico, and this one was on our short list of places where we thought we might like to live when we moved here. The plan, at the time, was to spend a little time in Guanajuato, Zacatecas and Patzcuaro and then decide where we wanted to settle down. We came first to Patzcuaro, and as it turned out, never left. As a matter of fact, 4 days after we had rented a house in Corazon de Durazno we bought a lot.

I think Zacatecas, while beautiful, was a little off the beaten path for us, but every time I return to Guanajuato City, I sort of wonder what happened. I am certainly not lamenting my years spent in Patzcuaro, they were truly wonderful. Still, Guanajuato maintains a certain draw for me. We stayed in a hotel right on the Jardín de la Unión, the main plaza in El Centro.




Jardín de la Unión


Guanajuato City is incredibly picturesque, a valley surrounded by very steep hills, like a bowl whose sides are covered with brightly coloured buildings. Spectacular 17th, 18th and 19th century architecture abounds in the town’s historical center and students of architecture can be seen scurrying from place to place with long tubes full of plans. Being a university town, it has a wonderful feeling of youth and excitement.



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University of Guanajuato


The University was originally a Jesuit school for children called the Hospice of the Holy Trinity, established in 1732. The founding was sponsored by Josefa Teresa de Busto y Moya, who was the sister of the Marquis of San Clemente, and was therefore able to obtain permission from the Spanish Crown to build the school.

In time this learning establishment began to offer high school level and professional courses, and underwent many changes, and many names, over the course of the next 200 years. By 1831, it had been named the College of the Immaculate Conception, and under government supervision, it was offering such programs as mining, architecture, painting and sculpture.

In 1867 yet another name change dubbed the university the National College of Guanajuato and over the next several years it developed a series of technical and research programs. Then in 1945 it was awarded university status and became the University of Guanajuato, and finally was granted autonomy by the state legislature in 1994. Now after 281 years and many contributions in the fields of art, science and technology it is one of the most respected learning facilities in the country.

Right next door to the university is the Temple of the Company of Jesus, also known as the Oratorio de San Felipe. Another striking example of Colonial architecture, it was built in 1746 by José Joaquín Sardaneta y Legazpi. It was finished in 1767, which unfortunately was the same year that the Jesuits were tossed out of New Spain, and the new church stood empty until 1804 when they were allowed to return. In the 19th century a giant cupola of three levels was added by architect Vicente Heredia. Inside the church 180 paintings by Miguel Cabrera, who also designed the main alter, were found and have been recently restored. Some of these can be viewed in various places around the church complex and a gallery area has been added to display the rest.


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Oratorio de San Felipe


The Juarez Theater


Another of my favourite buildings is the Juarez Theater. Somehow I managed not to get a photo during my stay, so the one above is courtesy of Wikipedia. Guanajuato is famous for it’s Festival Cervantino, the Cervantes Festival and the Juarez Theater is one of the main venues for the many events associated with the celebration.

The Theater began construction in 1872 and finished in 1903. It opened with a performance of the opera Aida, and I am told that President Porfirio Diaz was in attendance. The architecture is Neoclassical in design and above the entryway nine sculptures of the Muses of Greek mythology crown the building.


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I took the photo above across the street from the university. There are photo ops everywhere you turn in Guanajuato and although photography is not really my strong suit, I can appreciate how this city is a photographer’s dream.

This spot is not far from the Museo Casa Diego Rivera, The Diego Rivera Museum which, being a major fan, I just had to see. I crawled (literally) up all four and a half flights of stairs, dragging my walker and it was worth every step. Founded in 1975 the museum is in the house where Diego Rivera was born. The main floor is preserved as it was when Rivera was a child and the floors above contain an amazingly comprehensive collection of his work. Most of the paintings are from the collection of Marte R. Gomez and there are close to 100 of his original works.

What I found most interesting were some seldom seen pieces from his formative years, even pencil sketches. There was a complete cross section though, of nudes, landscapes, portraits (including self-portraits), still life and allegories. One room holds a full length mural with a numbered outline below so you can see exactly what, and who is in the painting.







Old or young, rich or poor, Guanajuato has something to offer everyone. In addition to the main campus the University of Guanajuato has nine others around the State. Today they are serving some 30,000 students and the influx of young people in the city gives it a wonderful atmosphere of fun and exuberance. As we strolled through the streets we got an upbeat and positive feeling that was incongruent with the shroud of history that also lays over the city.

Guanajuato City was the site of one of the first, and most famous battles of the War of Independence. The Alhóndiga de Granaditas, the grainery, is a very large building covering an entire city block. Now a museum, it was once the site of a fierce battle between the insurgents and the loyalist troops on September 28th 1810, a date observed to this day with celebrations and re-enactments.

Guanajuato played a huge role in the rich history of Mexico and today it is educating young people who will shape it’s future.

Monday, April 8, 2013

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

  1. A feeling of great pleasure and happiness.
  2. A thing that causes joy.
delight - gladness - pleasure - mirth – rejoicing
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We have just returned from another week of camp with the girls of La Esperanza Orphanage. Every year, on the Monday following Easter Sunday 30 or so girls from Mexico City descend on the tiny pueblo of Umecuaro, Michoacán, México to enjoy 6 days in the countryside. For the last 5 years my husband Todd and I, and some of our friends, have joined them there. I know that I am often a little long-winded, ( a little? ) but today I am going to let my pictures do most of the talking. I am, as usual, somewhat overwhelmed by the end of camp week.

Our friend Connie generously hosts the camps at her property on the lake in Umecuaro. There are 2 large trojes, a cabin in the design of the P'urhépecha Indians of Michoacán, Connie’s lovely troje style home, a gazebo and plenty of space for tents, dogs, kids and horses. With the lake right across the street, the girls can go kayaking, swimming or fishing. There are areas for bike riding, and trails for hiking, horseback riding and nature walks abound.

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The girls lead a very structured life at La Esperanza. Necessarily so. The 2 madres, nuns, who run the orphanage recently celebrated their 50th anniversary there. They are now in their 80’s and although they have huge hearts filled with love, they have to administrate an orphanage with with close to 40 girls, so structure is a must.

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Madre Roble, Supplier of Joy

For this reason at Camp Connie we try to give the girls a holiday, as unstructured as possible. We have plenty of volunteers so that the girls can pretty much do what they want when they want to do it. Sometimes that just means hanging in a hammock, playing a game of cards or chatting on the lawn overlooking the lake.

The Ice Cream Man, Bringer of Joy


My Joy

Although we offer the kids hiking, biking, fishing, kayaking, swimming, horseback riding and craft making, we decided to do something more this year. I set up a makeshift makeup studio on the patio of the largest troje, Todd set up a mobile photo studio in a field behind the house and the Camp Connie Portrait Studio was born.

The Joy of Makeup


Photo: Just popping on the computer to download pictures from the camera so I thought I would share one with you.<br /><br />Some of the girls decided that this year they wanted a "serious" portrait done.<br /><br />I immediately agree to do them for them, but little did I realize how hard it is to get a teenage girl to be serious, the second you ask them to "put their serious face on" you trigger a 10 minute giggling fit, followed by another, then another.<br /><br />The more girls that are there, the more rounds of giggling there was.<br />Who knew that serious was such a giggly topic??<br /><br />But the extra time it took was so worth it.<br /><br />Here is the lovely Karen's "serious foto"<br />I also think this will help with some serious self esteem!

Photo: So many pictures to go through, but here is another of the wonderful young ladies we are lucky to be with this week.<br />I also loved how she explained to me that she was a  "medio hippy" <br />That is just like a regular hippy she say, "but I dont smoke pot and I bathe"
Photo: Okay, so my young friend Patty saw that her friend was on my facebook so decided she needed to be there also.<br />She insisted on 10 locations for her shoot, Shannon did the makeup wonderfully as always, helping these girls to look as wonderful as they are on the inside.<br /><br />This young lady is bright, articulate and charming, but I feel sorry for anyone who gets between her and whatever goal she may have, be cause she is also strong and determined. I feel lucky to have her as a friend.

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Camp Connie

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I experienced such joy this week that it would be impossible to put it into words. I think that the pictures probably express it more aptly than I am able.
If anyone would like to know more about Connie’s organization, One Pueblo, please look at the following link.