The Franciscans created Puebla as the first true (ha, ha) Spanish city in Mexico, building it from the ground up, not on top of destroyed indigenous religious sites as they had a habit of doing. The Paseo Viejo de San Francisco is a cobblestone walking promenade that connects the church named in honor of St. Francis of Assisi where Hernan Cortes worshipped with upscale shopping, restaurants and hotels. This is a renovated historic area — the oldest part of the city where Puebla was founded. It’s the neighborhood I’m staying in on this visit.
I’m back in Puebla for an overnight before heading to Mexico City and then on to San Francisco for Thanksgiving with my family. I’ve been here so many times in recent years that I can negotiate the avenues by foot and not get lost, returning to some of my favorite spots. It was an all-day walkabout — eight hours total.
Today as I meander, I decide to take a different approach. I look into courtyards where tall, heavy wood gates open slightly give me a glimpse of an interior life. I peer into obscurely lit stores. I see shadows and light, profiles and outlines of figures. I look inside instead of at the stunning Talavera tile and wedding cake plaster facades that captivate visitors.
Still life hides behind high plaster walls through the cracks of gated doors, between the bars of gated churches at altars where no one worships, down alleyways where laundry dries, through windows into storage rooms.
A shop clerk hangs against a door jam, take a drag on a cigarette. Women establish themselves in business with a pile of masa dough and a garbage container filled with charcoal topped with a comal. They will stuff tacos with cheese, chilis, bits of chicken for passersby to grab and eat as they walk on.
Before I leave Puebla, I treat myself to a lunch at what I undoubtedly believe is the best restaurant in the city, El Mural de los Poblanos. Don’t miss it. Spectacular service and perfectly prepared food.
It was a mezcal kind of day for me: first a tamarind mezcal margarita, then a shot glass of Puebla origin mezcal (with worm salt and orange slices) compliments of the manager (that I managed to nurse throughout the 2-1/2 hour meal), a sunflower sprout salad, and shrimps sauteed in mezcal. I finished with a small scoop of house made pumpkin ice cream and a raisin liqueur. Who’s hungry? Did anyone say bed time?
We are getting down to the micro level when discussing chips. Not the taxi driver variety, but potato chips. These are not the store bought commercially made chips that we are familiar with in the USA. No. Potato chips are a fresh made delicacy here, prepared as you like them, while you wait, plain, seasoned with chili sauce and fresh squeezed lime, or doused with dried hot red pepper resulting in a bright red chip. A food fantasy extravaganza for all potato lovers.
To find my favorite potato chip maker, from the Zocalo get to 4 Poniente and head toward 11 Norte. After you cross 7 Norte look on the left side of the street for the little stall where you will see the young man with the mandoline slicer and a pile of fresh peeled potatoes. Then, you will be close to heaven. Go another block or two on the left (between 9 Poniente and 11 Poniente) and you will find Talavera Uriarte — another bit of Puebla heaven.
After landing in Mexico City, taking the Estrella Roja bus (complete with WiFi, TV, and reclining seats) from the airport to Puebla, and a good night’s sleep, I set out to find my favorite folk art shop Siuamej, only to discover that they moved. First and foremost, here is the address: The corner of 4 Oriente and 4 Norte. 4 Oriente is the street of the camote shops. Puebla streets are confusing** and I got turned around and lost trying to find the new location. But, when I got there — WOW!
Siuamej is an indigenous arts cooperative that represents the work of artisans from throughout the remote Nahuatl-speaking mountain region which is a good three to four hours by bus from the city of Puebla.
Within moments of entering the shop, Kit Rank showed up. She is a New York City artist represented by McKee Gallery who has been living with her husband in Sicily for the last ten years. They have been living in Puebla now for a couple of months and love it. She had her eye on an exquisite hand-embroidered top that we convinced her to model. She bought it on the two-month layaway plan!
While Uriel, son of shopkeepers Mari Jimenez Barbara and Tomas Amaya Aquino amused himself with Sponge Bob, I looked through the all naturally dyed wool quechquemitls and rebozos, settling on a Chal de Hueyapan handwoven by Teresa Lino Bello, dyed with baseide sauco (elderberry plant dye) that yields a stunning olive green (see photo above of the three shawls). The hand spun yarn that is used for the embroidery is dyed with nogal (tree bark) and the brown embroidery on the green provides a subtle contrast. The fringes or punto are hand tied in a style called doble vista.
In addition to the handwoven wool textiles, there is a selection of jewelry, baskets, embroidered cotton blouses, ceramics and lots more. Tomas speaks English very well (he is originally from Oaxaca), and it is easy to be in discovery of Puebla’s indigenous artisan riches for well over an hour. This is the only artist cooperative I’ve been able to find in Puebla. Here you know you are buying the best quality available and the funds go directly to the makers at fair trade value.
**Puebla streets are arranged in a quadrant — north, south, east and west. Odd numbers go in one direction, even numbers go in the other direction. Get a map from your hotel or the tourist office on the Zocalo before you set out. It is really confusing. Especially since oriente translates to east and poniente translates to west.
Puebla, Mexico, is my regular stopover between Oaxaca and Mexico City, D.F. Benito Juarez International Airport and my return to the United States, where I am now for the next ten days. I love the magic of this Spanish-Moorish inspired city, its Talavera ceramics, mole poblano, the season of Chiles en Nogada (available fresh only mid-July through September), huaxmole (October) and reunion with friends Antonio and Alfonso.
Summer is rainy season in Puebla and you can depend upon the clouds to burst open during the late afternoon and continue with a steady downpour through the evening. If you aren’t careful, you’ll get soaking wet!
Sometimes the rain continues through the night, providing me with a lulling backdrop for sleep at my favorite little resting spot, Hotel Real Santander, which is right across the street from La Quinta de San Antonio Antiguedades y Arte Popular.
I’m in Santa Cruz, California now with my sister for the next ten days to help care for my 96 year old mother who gave us a scare last month. We were afraid we were going to lose her! Even though the crisis has passed, she is frail and needing our love and attending to. Plus, my sister primary caregiver needs a break! So, here I am before returning to Mexico on July 27, when I will go next to Guanajuato for a week and then return to Santa Cruz and then Los Angeles to continue to help and visit with my family.
Meanwhile, Puebla in the rain is beautiful, isn’t it?