Tag Archives: Veracruz

Dancing on the Zocalo, Veracruz, Mexico

The Zocalo, or town square, is the center of community life in Mexico. Here in Veracruz, on Friday and Saturday nights, the band starts playing at seven in the evening and dancers take to the pavement to strut their stuff. We hear tell that they go long into the night.

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Our hotel is right across the street from the Zocalo, so it’s convenient to stroll over to watch couples twirl, spin and do a fancy two-step.

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You can tell some of them have been dancing together all their adult lives. They are in rhythm with each other and the music.

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I asked a sweet elderly man who looked like he could have been the grand master of the Huapango if I could take his photo. He was wearing a huge gold medal chain around his neck, perhaps a sign of winning some contest or another. Of course, he said, Yes. And, then he asked me to dance! Something I wasn’t quite expecting.

Norma SoneandoDon’t tell my surgeon! I’m scheduled for a knee replacement operation in November, and I have to confess that after a few spins on the dance floor I needed to find some ibuprofeno at the Oxxo convenience store on the other side of the square. But, how could I resist that music?

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Sheri, Mary Anne and I took a break to have dinner at El Gran Cafe el Portal, written up as a good place for seafood. It was just next to our hotel by the Zocalo. Thank goodness I didn’t need to walk very far! The grilled sea bass Veracruz style, flavored with red sauce, fresh veggies, onions, capers and green olives, was the best!

VeracruzDancing-16 VeracruzDancing-23  Then, it was off to Guero Guera for Mexican style frozen ice cream-like dessert called nieves. I love the fruity flavor of nanche topped with a not-too-sweet scoop of chocolate. Get the very smallest cup size. It’s plenty!

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The Zocalo is a magical place at night. Filled with lights, color, food vendors and families out for an evening to find a breeze in the tropical warmth of a Veracruz October evening.

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And,  be careful where you step. You might come across this mosaic sea turtle as you stroll the neighborhood where Hernan Cortes once set foot, too!

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Street Life, Veracruz, Mexico

We are walking down a Veracruz street with guide Martin and I had this sudden feeling that I could be in Havana, Cuba. I’ve never been to Havana. But it’s a port town like this one, facing an unrelenting ocean and assaulted with the same kind of weather that beats up beautiful buildings so that overtime they become like dowagers who have lost their glamour and their inheritances, become shabby and unkempt if attention passes them by.

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When I asked him, Martin said Yes, this area near the Zocalo is very much like Havana, and I had a sense of being in an exotic place filled with the wonder of a five hundred year old history, a blend of Afro-Caribbean music and steamy heat.

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Restoration is underway. Buildings are undergoing renovation in preparation for the city’s five-hundred year anniversary in 2019. As we looked closer, we could see that many of the ancient walls were constructed with coral.

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The morning started with mega-doses of lecheros at El Gran Cafe de La Perroquia on the Malecon. Now, there are two of these restaurants with the same name located next door to each other because years ago there was a split in the family. The real authentic, original with the silver coffee service imported from Italy is the first one you will come to.

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We didn’t know that until we found ourselves at the other one, which was truly enjoyable nevertheless. While we ate huevos Mexicanos and huevos Moltuleños, and slurped rich, hot and milky coffee, we were entertained by dancers and musicians. This was easily an almost two-hour breakfast, filled with reverence for coffee preparation.

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Then, we took one of those city tours in a double-decker vehicle, followed by a walk out to the pier to see the transport ship that carries two thousand Volkswagens made in Puebla, Mexico, to other parts of the world.

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By three in the afternoon, Sheri and I are ready for a rest. Mary Anne is the energizer bunny and keeps on going. Looking forward to eating more seafood before we leave here on Sunday.

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But, before we got back to the hotel, we made a stop at Galerias PopulArte Tlacihualli, Calle Mario Moline No. 23, Planta Alta, Centro, Tel (229) 931 9640.  They are not always open, so we considered ourselves fortunate that we found it, and there was extraoardinary Veracruziana folk art to be found there. artepopular@secturveracruz.gob.mx

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In addition to ceramics and jewelry, there is a good selection of finely embroidered textiles, including table cloths, runners and clothing.

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Along the wharf there is a bas relief cement sculpture representing scenes of agricultural life in Veracruz and the importance of Africans as part of the region’s development. There, too, are classical Baroque-style Spanish buildings that served as the customs house, post office and telegraph office.

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Veracruz, Gateway to La Chinantla, Oaxaca

Just as Veracruz was the gateway into Mexico for Hernan Cortes in 1519, I begin my journey here to explore remote textile villages that are part of the Chinanteco and Mazateco regions of Oaxaca state called La Chinantla.

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We start at Veracruz because it is a short two hours by car to cross over the border to Tuxtepec. From Oaxaca city, this trip can take as much as eight hours over winding, two-lane mountain roads of Oaxaca’s Sierra Norte.

Cortes landed in Veracruz on Good Friday and name the place The True Cross.

I am traveling with Stephanie Schneiderman of Tia Stephanie Tours. She made this trip on her own three times to research the villages and put the tour in place before opening it up in 2013 to textile lovers and collectors.

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This is the land of fresh fish, seafood stew, a paella-like dish called arroz a la tumbada and ceviche. It is where women have been weaving on back-strap looms and creating glorious embroidered designs for centuries. They are preserved because the region is remote. The conquistadors were more interested in gold, silver and cochineal.

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It’s the end of the rainy season. From the airplane window as we descend into Veracruz, I see the rivers below are full. The earth is forest, spring, olive and lime green. It is the middle of October. I see the blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico in the distance. It is low, flat and warm here. The port city is Mexico’s most important shipping and naval center.

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Our Gran Hotel Diligencias is on the Zocalo across from a stark white cathedral. The square is filled with outdoor restaurants,  son jarocho music and dancers, and late night lechero coffee drinkers. It’s colonial architecture reflects the sequence of conquests: Spain, France and the United States of America.

I will be here for two days before our textile journey begins.

Chipil Grows Wild in North Carolina

Jose is with us today helping Stephen in the yard, clearing out the woodshed in preparation for winter, sorting through the detritis of a cluttered garden shed, and making a haul or two or three to the dump.  He and his wife just had a new baby boy, his third, three weeks old.  They named him for the king of birds.  “It’s a Native American name,” he tells me. “Those are my roots.  I am indigenous.”  His high cheekbones and sculpted Mayan-like profile speak to that.  Jose is from Veracruz, Mexico.  It is a place I’ve never been, but he speaks of it fondly.  His parents and some siblings are still there.  He hasn’t seen them since he came to the U.S. some years ago.  I suspect he is not documented, but it’s another version of “don’t ask, don’t tell.”  This is his third boy, age three weeks.  All the children were born here in North Carolina and that makes them citizens.  When we talk about this, I can see Jose is proud.  The two older ones, age seven and eight are getting an education and there is hope that there will be work for them that pays a good wage when they come of age.  Not like home.

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Image by www.nicksaumphotography.com

We are talking about food.  “Did you know chipil is growing in my garden,” he says to me, more of a statement than a question.  Chipil is a green leafy herb that grows wild in the Oaxaca countryside.  It is plentiful in our village of Teotitlan del Valle, is gathered and sold in the daily market, and used for flavoring much like cilantro.  “I don’t know how it got there” Jose says.  “Maybe a bird brought it in.”    I think, perhaps, or another immigrant in his neighborhood missed this herb so much that he brought it back with him when he returned and the seeds scattered.  I think of how indigenous people use what is given to them from the land — a centuries, millenia old practice.

Ah, chipil, I say.  The aroma of a mint-like parsley comes to mind.  That’s what is used to flavor tamales and squash blossom corn soup, yes?  “Yes,” says Jose, and I see the faraway look in his eyes.  Are you homesick, I ask.  “Sometimes,” he says.  “But, the work here is good and I am happy to be living here.”  We are grateful for his work, too, and for his company.  He is a bright, handsome young man who gives us a hand when we need it most.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/chipilin

Expats in Mexico: Ann Mikkelsen

Ann Mikkelsen is a teacher in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She “Friended” me on on Facebook, connecting through   Sheri Brautigam, another friend.  “I just “met” Sheri on Facebook! A mutual friend, Anaceli Coyoc, is teaching in the same program. Anaceli and I worked together at Emerson Spanish Immersion in Minneapolis. She’s from Belize and that’s where my husband Roberto was born. This is really fun to get to know kindred spirits from so far away,” Ann says. Sheri taught ESL in Mexico, and I met her in Teotitlan last Christmas, introduced her to Roberta Christie at Las Granadas B&B, and Sheri is now house sitting at Las Granadas while Roberta is in Florida doing home repairs. The world keeps getting smaller.

Ann and I are both interested in the expat experience in Mexico, so when I asked her why she chose Xalapa (pronounced HA-Lah-pah) in the state of Veracruz to plan retirement, she shared her story and this is what she told me.

Ann’s husband, Roberto, grew up in Xalapa and they bought a house for his mother there 10 years ago, just two doors down from a sister in an Infonavit (government financed housing for workers).  Roberto’s mom  had been living in a condo they got for her some years ago that was about a 20 min walk away. It was a three-story walk up, which was becoming too difficult for her to negotiate.  Ann and her husband spent two years remodeling the house, long distance (I’ve talked about how difficult that can be!), to make it big enough for her, Ann, Roberto and their friends.

Ann loves Xalapa, the capital city of Veracruz situated in the mountains about 1-1/2 hours from the more humid coast.  She’s gone there for 23 years and feels she knows it.  She and her husband had been looking for land outside town for a couple of years, thinking they’d like something quieter.  Infonavit houses are very close together and this didn’t suit them. Every summer that they’d visit, they’d get phone numbers and drive around the countryside with a brother-in-law scoping out what was available.

In summer 2008 they took the huge step and got a $30,000 home equity loan for 3,600 sq meters of land which is a tad less than an acre.  There are cows on it now, which is dandy, Ann says.  There are sheep next door and a beautiful view.  We’ll see what happens, she continues.  She is thinking about starting a B&B in Xalapa when they retire.  Ann has just one more year teaching in the public schools and says there are Americans who would like to “experience” the real Mexico apart from the beaches. We have a great place, Ann says, and encourages people to look up Xalapa to get  lots of info.

I’ve not yet been to Veracruz, and I want to go.  It is the largest Mexican port and was vital to the export of cochineal during the Spanish colonial period.  Much of the pineapple that we buy in Teotitlan comes from Veracruz.  Xalapa is also home to the Jalapeno pepper — that spicy morsel that fires up the palate in Mexican cuisine.  As Ann and I continue our conversation, I will be sharing it with you.  Meanwhile, you can find us on Facebook 🙂