Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Posada at New House

We had a posada in our street last night. Normally, a posada is when a group of people, representing Mary and Joseph, go from house to house asking for lodging. This tradition started in Mexico in the 1500s as part of the church’s attempts to convert the local population and teach them about Christianity. The posada season runs for the 10 nights before Christmas.

In preparation, people decorate the street in front of their houses by stretching punched paper flags, paper lanterns, and balloons etc. across the street. At 5 PM, we found out that the posada would be in our street, two hours before it was supposed to start; and no one had put up any decorations. A little past 6:00, our neighbors across the street, who do this every year and had previously asked permission to attach the decorations to our house, started to put things up. No one else on the street had even started. By 6:20, others had started; and by 7:00 when the posada folks had left La Cruz church, the street was decorated, but it was too dark to take a picture. The posada got to our house around 7:15, 15 minutes ahead of time. In the states, the decorations would have been up a day ahead, and I was getting a little nervous, being a gringo, an old grumpy gringo.

The people in the group coming up the street sing traditional songs asking the people in selected houses for posada (lodgings) because Mary is pregnant, and there is no room in the inn. The people inside sing the traditional responses asking who these beggars are, and saying that there is no room and that Mary should just keep moving on (not a direct translation). Reluctantly, the group outside laments that they have been turned down and have to keep going until they can find a house with a kindhearted owner, etc. etc. The songs are pretty complex, so there are printed versions passed out by the church if the posada is organized by a church or that you can buy in the market if you are doing it on your own.

In our barrio (neighborhood), the posada starts at La Cruz church (where Santiago and a cross miraculously appeared in the sky and the Spanish conquered Querétaro in 1531). Our barrio is thus called La Cruz. La Cruz church is also known for being where Franciscan missionary friars were trained and from where they left for indigenous towns now in the United States in the 18th century, and where Emperor Maximilian made his last stand and was then held prisoner before his execution in the 19th century.

The group in the street, often numbering from a dozen to two or three dozen get turned down at all the houses but the last. The group in the street grows as people from inside each house join the folks in the street, and the expanded group sets off for the next house previously selected to be a stopping place.

Our neighbors across the street were one of three selected in our block of Damían Carmona to “host”.

While I was trying to take pictures of the friars leading the posada songs across the street, a vendor poked at my elbow. I ignored her (I thought it was a her) and took my pictures. When I was done I turned around to the vendor and found out that he was one of my students, Christian from Niños y Niñas, selling sparklers. So I took his picture with Christiane and bought some sparklers which we gave to two little girls whose sparklers had burned out.

At the last house of a posada, the people inside sing that they have lodging and Mary can rest and eat. The people outside sing their thanks and everyone goes inside to pray and eat, meet the neighbors and break a piñata. In Mexico City and Puebla years ago, there was no praying and we went straight to the drinking and eating. I think praying is more of a Querétaro tradition.

In barrio La Cruz, they go from house to house asking for a place to stay, but at the end, instead of a party at the last house, they give all the kids a bag of goodies, called an aguinaldo, paid for by the people in that street. Last night, there were several hundred people, mostly kids, which is a lot more than at the gallos celebration or that we ever saw in Mexico City or Puebla. The people in the last house made up pretty sizable bags with stuff that people in the barrio had donated, like tangerines, peanuts, sugar cane, candy and other stuff. This reminded me of Halloween in the states, but here they have it 10 nights running. Some people donated money to buy the bags and helped to fill them. There is a whole organization to do this that is run along the lines of a mayordomia where a mayordomo is selected by the barrio or church group to run that year’s posada for each street.

In front of the last house, Christiane was greeted by a number of her students and another one of mine from Niños y Niñas who were patiently waiting in line for their aguinaldo while the friars were praying. It was a long wait, and they were very patient.

Barrio La Cruz is a little unlike many other barrios in Querétaro in another way too. After the aguinaldos are handed out people drift back home, but stop on the way to visit neighbors who have opened their houses and prepared fruit punch and food for anyone who comes by, kind of an open-house block party. It seemed that most people were handing out food and that there was a dearth of people to accept it. So we stopped at our next-door neighbors’ house and at our neighbors’ house across the street for something to eat and drink and a chat.

We learned all about our neighbors, promised to help out for next year’s posada, and found out that our house and those on either side had been lived in or used by General Carranza, an early 20th century president and his men. This must have been during the 1910 revolution known in the states more for Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. You just never know what you will find out around here.

Friday, August 03, 2007

House Finally Done!!

We moved into our new house at Damián Carmona Norte #11 on July 31, 2007, a date that will live in . . . , well for a long, long time in our memories at least.

What a relief. If you have not looked at the Before and After shots recently, I added a few since I first put up the photos in Flickr. There are a few more flowers in these. The red of our bougainvilla and canas are really set off by the ochre of the patio walls. We really lucked out on colors.

We have been cleaning and organizing ever since, and are pooped. Miguel and Alberto did a great job and despite the extra couple of months and the extra couple hundred thousand pesos, we are very pleased with what they were able to accomplish. The old owner, Alberto G., has apparently been coming by to check things on "his" house, and I think he is a little surprised at what we were able to do with it and still maintain its historic nature. Every door (all are glassed) has a different and interesting view.

I also added some pix to Flickr that Celine (C's niece, daughter of Claude and Marie José) took when she visited us a few months ago. I just happened on them again and thought they provided an interesting look at Querétaro, especially since she was here for less than 24 hours. The couple at Hacienda Juriquilla are Niels and Grace.

Niel's father was the archaeologist who discovered Tepexpan Man in 1947, the earliest human remains in the New World until that time. We are having a 60 year retrospective at the Tepexpan Museum (near Teotihuacan) on August 23. I did the website with a lot of help from Niels. Check it out here.

Now if we can find some money to finish paying the Social Security of the workers, attending our daughters' weddings and another niece's wedding in France, we will be able to survive 2007. I would hate to have to sell this house to make ends meet!

And life goes on despite the threat of world economic breakdown, rumors of unrest in Mexico, and especially despite the fact that George W. is trying his level best to destroy what used to make the US great.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

House Update #6

On July 30 or 31, we will move into our new house. It has been a long 7 months since we started the renovations and an even longer 9 and a half months since we bought it, and it has been over a year since we made our first offer on it. Whew! I am tired just thinking about it.

Every thing is about finished so I went to the house today and took pictures based on what we saw before renovations began and posted BEFORE and AFTER shots to Flickr. I will post a few more next week after things get cleaned up a little more.

On August 18, we are planning on having a house warming with everyone we have ever met (well almost) in Querétaro, along with our architects, masons, electrician, some neighbors, etc. If they all come it will be well over 60 people.

This house is the nicest one we have ever owned, and more charming than most we lived in growing up. Only the one we lived in in Newport R.I. (near Cliff Walk) and the one my parents owned on Main St. Glastonbury, Connecticut (1745 Colonial), were nearly as neat as this one. It has a great mixture of traditional construction and basic layout with modern convenience and light. Our architect did a tremendous job of adding the nice little touches like the back patio floor and stairs, the rooftop terrace, and the skylights in the bathrooms and front bedroom; and he was very creative in adapting an old house to modern needs.

I just like to go there, with or without the workmen, and stare.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

House Update #5

Since the last update (#4), about a month and a half ago, things have picked up speed as we have consistently had 10 people working. Click here for some recent photos.

All the tile in the baths and the kitchen; and the interior floors have been installed and grouted. They really look nice. The floors are of terra cotta tile and will need to be sealed, but that will wait until all the painting and other heavy work is done. The brick in the back patio is finished and a new drain has been installed. They are putting the quarried patio stones back in the main patio, now that the electrical and plumbing work is mostly done. We still need to install the light and plumbing fixtures. The light fixtures in the bedrooms, baths, study and kitchen will be modern; and in the living room, dining room and patios they will be traditional handicraft style which we bought in San Miguel de Allende, where there is really a wider selection even if the prices are a little higher.

We bought a new stove and a dishwasher which will be installed in the next week or so. The main question will be whether the gas company will accept our pipes or require that they install the pipes (on the outside of the walls) and hook up the stove and hot water heater on the roof.

The interior doors are all of wood, but since the doorways are all different widths and heights and because we want an “authentic” look, they have either been made by hand (hand hewn tongue in grove, all pegged together and no nails, and mortice and tenon) or are being adapted from the original exterior doors, which were also hand-made and pegged together. The carpenter has also repaired the original front window using the same methods as the original builder. It is really fascinating watching him work.

The doors leading to the patios will all be metal door frames with glass. And these are being installed even though we have not gotten the quarried threshold stones yet. It seems that the little village where the thresholds are being made has been cutoff from the outside world by the recent rains, making it impossible for trucks to get in and out.

All of the walls, inside and out, have now been stuccoed white, and only need to be painted. They look pretty good without paint. The 12-foot ceilings have all been painted.

The pergola on the roof was finished today, and they will start putting in the terra cotta floor tile tomorrow. We still need to tile the steps to the roof, put guard rails on the stairs and the puente (bridge), connect to the water tanks on the roof, put in the hot water heater, build and install the kitchen and master bathroom cabinets (by hand, of course), install the rest of the doors, put in the light and plumbing fixtures, paint, and few other things. We have told our architect and our landlord that we plan on moving in at the end of the month.

I hope they get it ready on time.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

House Update #4

The upstairs bedroom with a new little room for our tinacos (water tanks) on top. Note our neighbor's tinaco, not too pretty; and presumably against the law in new construction and renovations. But hey, rules are meant to be broken, right?

After a month lost to INAH, we had a reduced crew of 2-4 for nearly a month, slowing down the process considerably. We are now 2-3 months behind the original estimate for one reason or another. BUT- things are looking up. The main patio is still a mess, but the bathrooms are being tiled, the walls are being stuccoed and painted, and the floor tiles are being installed. Here are some pictures.

Birds seem to be a theme. For the front guest bathroom we selected a simple blue, bird design, and for the upstairs guest room we selected a green/blue, bird design. These talavera bird designs are pretty much straight from the 13th century when they seem to have found their way from north Africa to Italy to Spain. You can still find them in Morocco, or you could 40 years ago.

We have to wait for the tiles for the kitchen, half-bath and master bath since the tiles had to be ordered from Dolores Hidalgo (la cuna de la revolución). They are really nothing special, but they make tiles down here as they are needed, all hand-made of course. The kitchen counter and wall designs will include yellow birds on a red background for highlighting and yellow tiles for the counter top. Most new "traditional" kitchens here seem to be bright red, blue or green, but we liked the yellow tiles which have a nice glow and warmth to them that you often don't get in recent Mexican kitchens. And besides we just did not want to be like everyone else.

The tiles in the half-bath in the study will have an abstract cobalt blue design on natural terra cotta, with an off-white tile for the counter top. We will not tile the walls, which we can do later if we want to.

Our master bath will be white and blue with two types of blue crosses, following a design that Christiane liked at the house (i.e. mansion where the sitting president of Mexcio who signed the Guadalupe Hidalgo treaty once lived) where she takes her culture classes. It will be somewhat sedate and formal (I hesitate to say distinguished) and easy to live with.

The patio will be brick set on edge in a series of concentric circles, a little modern, but it will really be spectacular when it is finished with large terra cotta flower pots and some bougainvilla.

The outside walls look so nice in plain white that I am tempted to leave them alone. But we will probably paint them off-white in the patios, except for one wall in San Francisco orange/red or something. With bougainvilla climbing up the walls, they too will be spectacular; and since bougainvilla blooms every other month down here and geraniums are always blooming, we will always have a wide variety of flowers to sit and enjoy. I can barely wait. But at least we are finally making progress again.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Catorce and Charco

Not a happy camper, but at least a safe one.

The last couple of weekends we have made two great trips, Real de Catorce, an overnight trip to a nearly abandoned mining town in San Luis Potosi, and a quick trip to Charco del Ingenio near San Miguel de Allende about 45 minutes from our house.

The last weekend in April, we made the Real de Catorce trip with Pierre and Sophie and their son, Antoine, along with Byron, the Mexico country director for the Peace Corps. It took four and a half hours to get there, the last 1.5 miles of which were through a one-way tunnel, the only car access to the town. It was inhabited late as mining towns in Mexico go, having been discovered in the 18th century, and its mines were exhausted by the early 20th century after producing tons of silver. Since prehistoric times it has been a pilgrimage site for Huichol Indians who live in another state, Jalisco.

Until the 1990s it was pretty much abandoned and had a population of around 80 in the 1980s. It now has around 1,200 mostly because of tourism. There are probably more restaurants and hotels (and horse rental guys) per square meter than anywhere in Mexico.

The afternoon that we arrived we walked up the mountain to the first abandoned mine. The road was so bad, even for walking, that I was afraid that C would fall and split her head open. She had fallen the week before in Querétaro and bruised her chin. The next morning we rented horses to take us back the same way we had gone the day before, but we went beyond the first mine to the second, which is locally known as el Pueblo de Fantasma. For some pictures of town, the hotel, the ruins, the abandoned buildings, and yes, Christiane on a horse, go to our Flickr site. We had a really great time, good food, good company, good scenery, and some mediocre horses.

Cañon de Chan at Charco del Ingenio, Guanajuato.

A couple of weeks ago we attended the Querétaro international guitar festival like we did last year. The only difference is that this year we knew a lot of the people. The last night we attended the Guitarras de America concert, and our friend, “el famoso” Ramon, was recognized by the group. Among other things, Ramon plays the guitar, besides being an electrical engineer who specializes in solar energy and ecology, and being a pretty funny guy. After the concert we went with Ramon and Elvira to a lecture on ecology, or more precisely on an ecological preserve near San Miguel de Allende called Charco del Ingenio. The speaker, Cesár, introduced Ramon in the audience because Ramon had done all the solar energy at Charco. With the guitar guys and the ecological guy, I have dubbed Ramon “el famoso”. Elvira says it was a fluke that he seemed to know everyone that evening, but wives always try to keep you from having a swelled head, so “el famoso” it will remain, at least for me.

Anyway, after the lecture Ramon wangled an invitation for us to visit Charco with Cesár today. Not only do they have a unique program, there is only one municipal ecological preserve in Guanajuato state, and none in Querétaro state, but the plants and water are beautiful, the trails are safe (much safer than Catorce) and walkable; AND they have some real archaeology, a couple of old mills (remembrances of my days at New South), including one that is from the late 1600s. Since they don’t have much money, and virtually none from INAH or the feds, they need volunteers. It may be that I can find some archaeology to do after all. We shall see. Check here for some photos.

I invited Angel along. Angel lives in our apartment building or patio and works for the Peace Corps. He is in charge of the new environmental program they are starting, and I hoped he would be able to make some useful contacts for himself and the Peace Corps. He had already been to Charco three times recently, but had never met Cesár. He filled out our “team” and made it a truly memorable trip. It was fun talking with people like this after being away from it for over a year, and the preserve is beautiful.

We will have to take people by here on our way to visit San Miguel in the future. But we will still visit the cactus nursery in Cadareyta near Bernal which is always interesting for visitors even though both places are heavy on cactus. They are really very different and complement each other.

Friday, April 13, 2007


Monday, March 19-

I am upset, to say the least. After nearly four months of trying to get the National Institute of Anthropology and History to address our application for our proposed changes to the house, we have had our project suspended.

About three weeks ago, our architect told us that the institute had problems with the door between the front room and the next room. They claimed we wanted to change an original doorway. However, in the process of looking beneath the plaster, we had discovered that what they thought was the original doorway was not the original doorway. And in fact, I found an earlier doorway almost exactly where we wanted to put our new door. We were, in effect, restoring the doorway to an earlier, if not the original, position.

I documented the older doorway with photos and was able to show on them where the current door was, where the earlier door was, how it was built, etc. My architect took these to the institute, and one of the institute people told him informally that the current door was obviously not the original door, so we figured it was pro forma. We have been waiting ever since for a formal acknowledgement or at least an invitation to discuss the matter.

On Friday, March 16, Christiane and I went to Mexico City to pick up her sisters from France, and we left Querétaro thinking that everything was OK. When we came back to town on Sunday, there were suspension seals all over the house and work had stopped pending a meeting with the institute on Wednesday. Today is Monday.

Everyone (i.e. gringos) that I talk to say this is not a problem and that our architect will straighten it out. That may be because none of them have gone through the proper preservation process from the beginning like we did. Since the beginning our architect has been saying that this is not a problem; but now he does not know what will happen next. We could get closed down permanently or have to redo a major portion of the work already accomplished ($$$), and/or put the “original” doorway back the way it was.

So far, I have not dealt with the institute people, and from something the architect said, it sounds like they think I am the typical American who has no understanding of Mexican history or of historic preservation and could care less about the patrimony of Mexico. Nothing could be further from the truth, of course.

I was founder and executive director of a national preservation group in the US for 10 years; was on my county’s historic preservation commission for five years doing the exact same thing the institute is now doing (albeit with a little more common sense); have researched the house in the city archives and know more about it than they do; completed my MA in anthropology and archaeology in Mexico; am a member of the International Council on Monuments and Sites; was active internationally on ICAHM, ICOMOS' archaeological resources committee; and have spent the last 30 years working with historic preservation professionally.

The problem is that they do not know this and could probably not care less. They also probably think that I have doctored the photographs or something, and that I am as rich as Croesus. None of which is true either, of course.

They are concentrating on a door that was probably put in when the house was last renovated in the late 1940s, but they have completely missed the frescoes in the entranceway that are truly coeval with the construction of the house, frescoes that I am trying desperately to preserve and conserve with help from the University of Querétaro.

We are making relatively minor changes to the house, and are trying to preserve its general layout while making it livable (bathrooms, running water, electricity, etc.). We have friends who have basically gutted their houses and rebuilt their entire floor plans. They had the same architect, but they never heard a peep from the institute.

There are dozens of houses that are literally collapsing or have already collapsed since no one wants to go through the hassle with the institute to fix them up. Demolition by neglect seems to be OK , but making a house livable without destroying the original fabric is not. Go figure.

I am really, really upset. Really.

Thursday, March 22-

On Wednesday, Christiane and I met with Alberto and Miguel (our architects) and with the INAH director who also invited the INAH lawyer and architect in charge of our project.

The director seemed to be the most practical and rational one of the lot. He said he wanted to see people living, not just working, in the historic district; but of course he wanted the historic nature of the district to be respected. After his introduction I introduced myself (I had spent all morning coming up with a statement in Spanish) by pointing out my background, the Dekalb Preservation Commission, my ICOMOS membership, my degree from UDLA, etc. Things went pretty smoothly with him after that. The architect was another story.

She was upset that we had desecrated an original doorway. The photo did not convince her that there had been another door there before. I had given Alberto three photos, and on the advice of another INAH member, he had only submitted one. I therefore showed them the other photos, and the director had to agree that there was indeed a door there previously, as did the architect, reluctantly. We left them the photos.

Of course, the director pointed out that our way of finding the door was a little heavy handed, and he is right. The architect then focused on the channels that were dug in the walls for electricity and plumbing, and how these destroyed the original fabric of the building. I had been a little uncomfortable with that myself, but I figured there was no way around it if you wanted to modernize the house. The director pointed out another way (baseboard channels), and of course he was right. At the end, the director wanted us to meet with the architect at the house and hammer out the details of an agreement, although he admitted that it would cause more damage to get it back the way it was than to just leave it alone. Miguel was quiet and stoic.

The architect only looked at me as she made disparaging remarks about my architects. Alberto suggested we just go directly to the house then; but the architect said she was busy. The director did not let her get away with that, so he set up a meeting the next day at noon, which she reluctantly agreed to.

The next day, Thursday, Miguel, Alberto and I waited for the architect, who showed up a little late with her boss, another architect who had visited the house once back in January. She had not been at the meeting the day before so that the first hour or so consisted of her preaching to us about preservation, and how I had been badly served by my architects, etc. etc. She also barely looked at them, but instead kept eye contact with me. It was very embarrassing for Miguel and Alberto, but to their credit they did not respond in kind. She pointed out that the picture I had taken was just a repair in the wall and not an old door. I found this hard to believe after the previous day’s discussion and asked the first architect for the photos to show where the old finished doorway and doorway arch etc. were.

It turned out the boss had never seen them! Visibly embarrassed, she eventually had to admit that there had indeed been a door there. While it ultimately helped our cause, she made us pay by how she treated Miguel and Alberto.

I stopped the conversation after she started to repeat herself, and pointed out that recriminations would not get us anywhere, and we needed to talk about where to go from here (I refuse to use the term, “the way forward”!!). Miguel then spoke up and asked them what they wanted us to do, and we would do it; but they had trouble giving a straight answer. He also pointed out that he loved the historic district and its buildings, his family had lived here for generations, and that he wanted to save it and not destroy it, as she had been implying. We finally got her off her high horse, and Miguel admitted that what they suggested would not only preserve the house but actually be cheaper for him to do. They liked hearing that.

I asked what would happen next, and the boss said that they could make us tear everything out or we could pay a fine. Just before Miguel and I were going to point out that the director had admitted the day before that redoing everything would cause even more damage, she admitted that tearing things out would be more of a problem than a solution. So I asked what the fine was. She hesitated, and then said 50 centavos (about 4 cents). So I asked, 50 centavos per square meter, and she said no, just 50 centavos, since the law was written so long ago and had not been updated. By the end we were talking on a more professional level, but relations were and are still strained, mostly because of the INAH folks' attitude.

We then went through the house, and she pointed out all the problems she saw with little digs at Miguel, who remained stoic. Finally, we agreed that Miguel would turn in a set of plans the next day, Friday, with things more spelled out (they do not have a preservation manual for the district so it is impossible for anyone to know what to submit, how to cause the least damage while renovating, etc; and they are not at all helpful in their reviews); and that he would pay a fine. I was ready to pay $500 MN right then and there, but we agreed on $50 MN.

They finally left, and Miguel, Alberto and I talked. They were very embarrassed and knew that this had not helped them in my eyes, and could hurt their reputation. I tried to assure them otherwise. This was really the first time they had followed the rules from the beginning (more or less at my behest) and the first time they had dealt with these particular architects. And we all agreed INAH needed to improve their "system". The only damage done to us is a two week delay, barring problems from the INAH lawyer, who was not at the house, naturally. We hope to get a permit next week. We shall see.

Saturday, March 24-

Given everything that has happened and the way the INAH architects acted, it is no wonder that most people ignore INAH until a neighbor calls them in and the owner gets slapped with a fine (which is not much). Why get harangued by irate INAH personnel when you can just wait and pay a small fine or perhaps get away with nothing at all, like most of the folks we know.

If they really want this system to work, they need a manual and/or a better way to get preservationist ideals across to architects and owners, perhaps a yearly class or something. I feel like volunteering to help write a manual for them.

As for our relations with our architects, I am not upset with Miguel. There are always going to be problems. It is how they are approached and/or resolved that matters. Miguel handled himself very well, held his temper in the face of provocation, and just wanted to get the process rolling in a positive direction. I think we accomplished that; and I think Miguel and Alberto learned a thing or two about preservation in the process that will help them in the future. Another architect could easily have been worse in this situation. Miguel is young but he is mature and is learning well.

I feel that I am at fault for most of this. I should have spoken up earlier and been involved with INAH earlier, but never having worked with masonry architecture or INAH in this capacity I really did not feel comfortable telling anyone what to do, and so I let Miguel take the lead. I was well aware of the basic preservationist tenet that all changes should be easily reversible back to the original conditions. But this is a private home not a public building or a major historic landmark, and I figured Mexicans would know better how things are done here and would be better at getting an agreement. Obviously, this is sometimes not the case.

Thursday, April 12-

We took our little holiday to the Sierra Gorda and got back last night. I asked our architect how we were doing, and this morning I got the answer that we have our permit and can begin working next Monday! The permit was supposed to have been signed Monday before last, but someone was on holiday. So we lost an entire month, instead of a week or two. I have now republished by old blog entries dealing with the house; and will post this one. I hope they cannot take a permit away after they have given it. I hope.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Sierra Gorda

We just got back from a three day, two night vacation with our friend Grace to the Sierra Gorda. We had been planning on visiting it with the girls for nearly a year, but when the girls got here, they were too busy doing other things, and we just could not work it in.

The Sierra Gorda was better than I thought it would be. It is really a jewel and a place that all tourists to Mexico should visit if they are interested in nature and history.

The Sierra Gorda is a UNESCO recognized biosphere in the northern end of the state of Querétaro and a couple of surrounding states containing some of the last remaining pre-Columbian forests. This is due in large part to its isolation and difficulty of access. It contains tropical rain forests to deserts and most everything in between. The altitude ranges from 300m above sea level to around 4,000m resulting in a wide variety of micro-climates. It attracts people from all over the world for spelunking, bird watching, camping, hiking and adventure tourism, and for its five Franciscan missions built by Brother Junipero Serra in the 18th century. This was the the same fellow who later built all the California missions. The Sierra Gorda missions were a Franciscan experiment to develop building, missionary, and organizational techniques to spread the gospel in Mexico (which then included half the US). The missions have had their ups and downs over the centuries, but they are all now a UNESCO World Heritage Site, like Querétaro, Pompeii, the Parthenon, etc.

We took our time and visited all five missions. My favorite was the one at Tilaco which is located in a valley way back off the main road (which is itself in a valley way back of the beaten track, which is over 4 hours through a curvy, two-lane, mountain road from Querétaro). The village is spotless with lots of cedar trees and bougainvillea. In 1958, the town got a priest for the first time in 28 or so years who became a real preservationist and did a great job getting the church back into something resembling its original condition. It is really a little gem.

We also visited Las Pozas de James in Xilitla at the other end of the sierra. Edward James was a rich, eccentric Brit who hung out with Dali and Picasso. Dali thought he was really crazy, which is saying something coming from Dali. James bought a large mountainside tract of tropical jungle and mountain streams, and "enhanced" it with surreal sculptures and buildings. He started it in 1949 and died in the 1980s. Over those nearly 40 years he brought in workers (as many as 150 at a time) and building materials to produce his idea of some kind of surrealistic, futuristic landscape. The place is mostly in ruins now, and it is dangerous as there are stairs leading up to towers with no hand rails, balconies and terraces jutting out over the jungle that have big round holes in them for stairs that no longer exist, waterfalls that have been subtly changed with slippery concrete that looks like stone, and with flowers and exotic plants running wild. It was literally a delight to behold. We laughed constantly, as we turned corners to view something totally unexpected.

Here are some pix of the Sierra Gorda and the missions of the Sierra Gorda

If you ever get a chance to come to Mexico, this is a must do.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Les Cing Filles, Tepexpan and Easter

(You may have noticed that I have removed the more recent posts about the house. We are in the middle of negotiations about the changes to our house, and I don't want to mess things up with any off-the-cuff statements on the blog. I will have a complete recap when things are settled.)

The week before last Christiane's sisters spent 10 days with us, two in Mexico City and the rest in Querétaro. We managed to get a sunburn in Mexico City with the double decker tour buses, visited the Templo Major, Alameda, and the historic district. They were pretty tired out so we did not see Chapultepec, Coyoacan, San Angel, etc. Maybe next time. However we were serenaded in our hotel restaurant by a Swiss men's yoddling choir in town for a music festival, a rare and unusual experience.

We also managed to visit la peña de Bernal, the cactus nursery at Cadereyta (one of our most interesting and appreciated spots to bring tourists, believe it or not), San Miguel de Allende, and Guanajuato. We also had a going away party in our apartment before they left.

I have posted a few pictures on Flicker. (Please excuse the lack of accents and any sense of French spelling on my part.)

Last week, Niels invited me to accompany him to Tepexpan where there is a museum on Tepexpan Man (the first speciman of early man found in Mexico in 1917). He had been invited to the reopening of the museum after its renovation for the 50th anniversary of the discovery. Why was he invited? Two reasons: one is that his father was the archaeologist who found it; and the second is that he was there the day it was found. His father died in the 1960s, and Niels has all his papers. It appears that the museum does not even have the original final report from 1949. So Niels is loaning them a bunch of stuff for the museum and to make copies of, including a picture of his father and of the site at the time of the excavation (flat, no trees, no town, nothing). We had a great time. Niels was treated like a rock star (everyone wanted a picture with him and to get his autograph) and I was treated as his main groupie. Pretty cool. Here are some pix. No pix on the party afterwards, sorry.

This weekend is Easter, and I have included some photos of this year's doings, or at least some of them, in Queretaro. Check here for the photos. Tonight we will be burning and exploding judas figures in the streets. I will try to remember to bring my camera.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

House Update #3

Sorry for no posts for so long.

At the two-month point into the renovation, I think we have accomplished a lot. All the wall openings have been finished with the exception of the bathroom area between the master bedroom and the guest bedroom, but that should be finished in another few days. The puente (bridge) in the back bedroom that will provide access to the upstairs bedroom is now built, as is the stair leading to it. The roof has been finished and graded for drainage. The rest of the roofs need the same, and then they will all be sealed with membrane. The half bath walls in the study are finished, and the upstairs bath walls are nearly finished. Unfortunately, the master bedroom and living room floors were too thin and could not be refinished, so we will need to put in new floors there. I will be meeting with the architect tomorrow to discuss progress, but I am assuming at least two more months.

Tomorrow I am also meeting with an art restorer from the Universidad de Querétaro who may take on the restoration of our fresco as a class project. It seems that all students need to have a project every semester. Right now they are restoring religious paintings from churches, and next they do frescos. My timing may have been right, I hope.

To see some photos of our progress click here:

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

House Update #2, etc.

Things have been happening pretty quickly, and I have been too busy to want to take the time to write it down. Christmas came and went, and Mamita came from Christmas Eve to the 31th. Caroline showed up on Christmas day and left on the 4th. Danny came on the 30th and left with Caroline. They spent a day in the D.F. sightseeing before their flight. Finally, Jan. 6 (Three Kings Day, and the end of the Christmas season) came and went and things calmed down for the first time in two months. We were exhausted. There was something going on every day and every evening. At first, it was fun; but towards the end we slowed down a bit.

We did get to visit a few places for Caroline to consider for her wedding, which she hated, but which I found interesting since it gave us a chance to see some places we normally would not see.

We met my old prof, Peter, who is at UNAM now, along with his wife in San Miguel. We were late since it took us 45 minutes from the time we arrived on the edge of town to get to the main square (about a mile) and another 25 minutes to find a parking place. The problem is all the folks visiting for Christmas. San Miguelenses tend to avoid coming to town during holidays. It was good seeing Paul again, remembering old friends and swapping archaeological stories (like the time I got shot at, and then to top my story, the time he and his entire crew were kidnapped for a month or so.)

After Christmas, things began to pick up at the house. I have uploaded some pix to flicker showing the progress. At first, things went slowly since we were waiting for INAH to come and check our plans. I was expecting to be notified ahead of time to have a chance to meet their architects and maybe even find an art historian to help me with the fresco. Alas, they came when neither I nor Alberto (our architect) were there, so we still do not have a real indication of what they think of our plans. But there are eight guys waiting for things to do at the house, so we have been moving ahead with things we don’t think INAH will have a problem with, but it may be a little dicey if they object later.

We have now had the old vigas (beams) and roof removed from the old living room (new guest room), and new vigas and roofing bricks are in place, as are the two sky lights that will light up the new bathrooms (see plans in previous posts) and the guest bedroom. The door from the master bedroom to the new dining/living area has been moved from the middle of the wall (making it useless for placing furniture, etc.) to the end of the wall near the patio. The foundation for the stairway in the garden that will lead to a puente (bridge) to the upstairs guest room, has been dug and the footing laid. The arched doorway between the old dining room and the back zaguan (open breezeway) has been built to make them into a large family room. The arched doorway from the new dining/living room to the patio has been roughed out, and it will really make it into a beautiful room with a nice view of the patio, plants and lots of light.

And the patio has been filled with escombro (debris) and emptied more times than I can count. This is quite a process, as they need to fill bags, stack them up in the patio until it is full, and then carry the bags in wheelbarrows out the door and down the street to their truck in the next block, and then load them up onto the truck. Our street is too narrow for them to park, even if they park on the sidewalk. This is cheaper than getting a smaller truck and making more loads, which something about the low cost of labor in Mexico, and the high cost of imported goods like trucks and cars. Mexico has extremely high tariffs to protect their fledgling businesses, and to bring in foreign exchange; but because they make it so hard to set up and run a business, the tariffs just make everything more expensive for everyone, especially the poor. Something has to change, and I just hope it will change without having to resort to another revolution.

Yesterday, as I was walking to do some more historic research, I ran into our electricians who were working on another house. It was Miguel’s (our head architect) grandmother’s house, and the invited me in for a quick look. It is one of those gracious old houses with an incredible garden and architectural detailing. The house next door is even bigger and belongs to Miguel’s uncle. Now I know where Miguel got his love of old houses from.

I spent the next four hours at the archives trying to figure out where the father of Abundio Resendiz, who inherited it from his father intestate in 1919, bought the property. There is, unfortunately, no reference in the 1919 transaction as to when or with which notary the father bought the property. Therefore, I went through the 1885 – 1905 records of the notary who did a similar transaction in 1899 for the father, and found nothing. I will keep looking in that notary’s records when I can get the time and if necessary, the notary who did the inheritance transaction. There are a couple hundred notaries over the past five centuries, and I hope I don’t have to check each one out.

This week we are going to try to get our Social Security health insurance coverage ($250 a piece annually, not monthly), I have to meet Patricia and discuss African-Mexican heritage studies, and I have to make a trip to Pachuca on Friday to visit Belem who is a friend of Paul’s and is one of the premier industrial archaeologists in Mexico who knows about mining history and technology and is also familiar with the mining operations in Los Pozos. Next week, I will be meeting with the archaeologists working at El Cerrito, the late Classic site in Querétaro that is still being worked on. Since that is the time period of my thesis, it should be interesting.