MEXICO a subtle sophisticated layered view of its beautiful, rich and unique culture.
by Marilyn Graham
“Nobody sees a flower – really – it is so small it takes time – we haven’t time – and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.” Georgia O’Keeffe
MEXICO, 20 years have passed. Year after year, the layers of its sophistication are revealed. Subtle and always full of beautiful surprises, the country unfolds revealing its rich and unique culture.
In summer, for example, a visit to Querétaro, in the midst of Colonial Mexico, can end in the zócalo in a Sunday afternoon after a friend’s rock n roll concert, since the “zocalo”, or main plaza, is always the heart and soul of a Mexican city and a good place to begin. Packed with local people dressed to the 9’s, an Orchestra performs from the gazebo, beautiful Mexican danzones (a favorite No. 2 by Marquez), lovely boleros and fun popular music. The zócalo is filled with elegant dancers and tons of local onlookers. It is simply the most charming way imaginable to spend a Sunday afternoon, out with friendly people listening to beautiful traditional music, dancing and eating yummy street food. After many years of living in Mexico, how symbolic that whole moment can be, Mexico in a nutshell…..how sincerely one can come to appreciate the beautiful people, traditions, culture and lifestyle that Mexico affords.
What can you experience as a tourist on your first visit to Mexico? Spring break: crossing the border, an adventurous train ride to Mazatlan as it stops at every cactus along the route, finally crashing on the beach, hooking up with college friends, drinking virgin margaritas and eating buckets of shrimp every night at The Shrimp Bucket, and partying. We come looking for a party, a “fiesta”, and discover a new land. By friends recommendation, it could be a place like The old modern Twin Dolphins….what was an elegant boutique hotel on the beach with gourmet food and lovely service. (Thanks to Cándido.), or the lovely traditional Palmilla. It can be a beautiful beach vacation without in-depth discovery about Mexico. It can be a place for you to unwind – beaches without telephones and TVs. And it can be only the beginning.
There are no beaches more beautiful than those of Baja California Sur, that is the allure. However, some want the culture! Some of us in Los Cabos have waited a few years for culture to begin to be imported from mainland Mexico, having to travel to the mainland to begin our explorations. So because of both reasons, since Baja is still a frontier and because you are new to Mexico, discoveries can move along slowly at first. The country is beautiful though, so beautiful you keep returning.
The typical tourist’s first impressions of Mexico are perhaps sunshine, tacos, tequila, Tecate, Pacifico, beaches, surfing, beach vendors, discos, Latino based music blaring out of shops, and maybe some mariachi music, looking for the heralded and ultimate fiesta. Having been programmed from home about a stereotypical Mexico found on the border, you might not at first see the sophistication of Mexico.
When in Mexico, explore. You can drive the Peninsula annually, to experience and witness the natural beauty of Baja. You can visit Guadalajara, the capital and largest city in the state of Jalisco, “the 20th largest city in Latin America”, a first visit to mainland Mexico, to get some real Mexican culture! You immediately will love this city, especially if you are an urban person, and not so much a beach lover. You can travel inexpensively and can purchase many exquisite and beautiful Mexican arts and crafts. Fall in love with Mexico’s art and folk art, when you discover Tlaquepaque, Tonala, and their offerings – paintings, wall hangings, textiles, sculptures, furniture, hand blown glass items, tiles, and pottery, it is heaven. Each Huichol art and beadwork, which expresses such deep spiritual beliefs; the amazing Mata Ortiz pottery; weavings, carpets, alebrijes and black pottery from Oaxaca; Pineda Covalin textiles; street art; each area of Mexico adds to that appreciation; just to mention a few.
Guadalajara is certainly a cultural center, you can also enjoy fine Mexican dining as well as Mariachis. It is considered to be the home of the Mariachis! So even those who are jazz nuts, you can warm up to and appreciate this musical form first hand at the Plaza de Los Mariachis. Elegant costumes and talented musicians perform with their hearts and souls and sing “I love you Mexico!” You can also go to the Ballet Folklorico and witness the lovely dance tradition with all its colorful traditions. It can also be a discovery about the subtleties of Mexican cuisine….such a mix of pre-Hispanic and Spanish influences, like the rest of Mexico, with each region specializing in their own flavors and techniques. You will return to Guadalajara many times while visiting other West Coast cities, such as Puerto Vallarta, Ixtapa Zihuatanejo, Acapulco and Huatulco. They are all beautiful resort cities in their own rights, each one with something unique and special to offer.
If you want to know the heart and soul, visit Mexico City to view and experience a subtle sophisticated layering of Mexican culture. Learn much more about Indigenous, Pre-Hispanic Mexico with new adventures and travels, when you visit the ruins outside of Mexico City, Teotihuacán and the ruins behind Mexico City’s Cathedral; driving south to Oaxaca, Monte Alban and Mitla, and finally visit the incredibly beautiful and advanced Mayan culture and pyramids in southeastern Mexico….Palenque, Chichen Itza, Uxmal and Tulum (as well as Tikal in Guatemala), in the States of Palenque, Yucatan and Quintana Roo (all so fun to pronounce!) and the cities of Playa del Carmen, Cancun, Merida, Villahermosa, and Veracruz.
Slowly, you can discover a Mexico of layers, the very old Indigenous Mexico, the Spanish Colonial Mexico and the Modern Mexico. Of course the Spanish Mexico is ever present in the Spanish language and in the always present Catholic religion of the cathedrals of mainland Mexico. More adventures to Colonial Mexico display the elegant cathedrals built by the Spanish in Mexico City, Guanajuato, San Miguel de Allende, Querétero, and other colonial regions. When visiting this region you will, sometimes, feel you are in Europe but always with a distinctly charming and Mexican feel. Poco a poco, you’ll see Mexico in a new light.
Take a long vacation in Mexico City to explore all there is to see….to study the city if you will. Each day, venture out to one of the metropolis’s new places that you have always wanted to visit. Go to the Museum of Anthropology, one of the favorite museums of all world travels, a perfect history, summary of Mexico and a perfect place to begin. As an artist, a must see, the Palacio de Bellas Artes and its famous murals; Museo Rufino Tamayo; Museo Nacional de Arte; and Museo de Arte Moderno, the new Museo Soumaya. One is able to see Mexico’s finest modern artists from Diego Rivera and the muralists Jose Clemente Orozco, Roberto Montenegro, David Alfaro Siqueiros; to surrealist Frida Kahlo; Rufino Tamayo; Jose Maria Velasco; Jose Luis Cuevas, and many more. Visit the famous Basilica Guadalupe on your way to the ruins, Teotihuacan. Visit San Angel for the Saturday art market around Plaza San Jacinto, then visit Diego Rivera’s studio after a delicious lunch at San Angel Inn, then to the neighborhood of Coyoacan to see the zocalo, market, church and to visit Casa Frida Kahlo, a lot to see in a day. Another day, visit the lovely Xochimilco in the southern part of the city, known for its beautiful canals and decorated trajinera boats. Make a day trip to Cuernavaca, “City of Eternal Spring” and to the quaint “silver” city Taxco; for a last day you can visit Centro Historico district and Bellas Artes, with another fabulous Mexican meal at Café Tacuba; evenings always jazz at the famous Zinco’s Jazz Club, or neighboring hotels such as El Presidente. There is so much to discover in Mexico City! You will love every moment.
The longer you stay in Mexico, the more you will learn about Mexico, its many distinguished poets, writers (Octavio Paz, winner of the 1990 Nobel Prize for literature), painters, actors, film directors and representatives of the arts, the amazing architectural genius of Luis Barragán; and so many more artists. Purchase a book about Luis Barragán and simply fall in love with his statement style of architecture and interior design…..so modern, colorful and representative of the Modern Era of Mexico. UNAM, Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico, is the home of 3 of Mexico’s Nobel Laureates: Alfonso Garcia Robles, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1982; Mario Molino, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1995; and the aforementioned author and poet, Octavio Paz. Also the world’s wealthiest businessman, Carlos Slim, is an alumnus. Not to even begin to mention the many fabulous festivals celebrated throughout Mexico, such as the Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato every October celebrating the arts.
One cannot overlook the music of Mexico……..it is far too beautiful and important!! From classical music to boleros, jazz, mariachis, pop, Latin fusion and other forms, Mexico has a distinct musical voice in the world: Silvestre Revueltas, violinist and composer of the famous “Sensemaya” and “La Noche de los Maya”; the aforementioned Arturo Marquez, composer of orchestral music (the danzón mentioned in Querétero); other classical composers Carlos Chávez, Jose Pablo Moncayo, Mario Lavista; Consuela Velazquez (songwriter and pianist), Alvaro Carrillo (composer and pianist); Agustín Lara (there has being no other singer and composer whose boleros have captured better the soul of the Mexican people); or don’t forget Armando Manzanero (a Mexican musician and composer of Maya descent, widely considered the premier Mexican romantic composer of the postwar era and one of the most successful composers in Latin America); and a whole new generation of talented musicians, such as Luis Miguel “El Sol de Mexico”, grammy winner Julieta Venegas, Eugenio Toussaint (composer and pianist), and the musical family Ramirez, Diego, Arturo and Musme. And if you believe there is not world class jazz or avante garde classical or modern music originating in Mexico, because you associate Mexico with mariachi music, that is fine and beautiful as far as it goes, but listen again! it can take several years to learn the incredibly beautiful musical traditions of Mexico, thank you in a large part to the delightful education you can receive from our fabulous musicians in Los Cabos. So also in its music, maybe especially so, we celebrate the variety of deep, rich cultural layers expressed in Mexico.
Mexico provides us all with a lovely lifestyle and you will be extremely grateful for your experience living and traveling throughout the country, but most of all you will be grateful for your friendships! They are the real teachers, Mexican family and friends. They open windows, doors and worlds of understanding. They will show you the life of the children of Mexico, the life of their families, the local traditions, the hopes and dreams of the people, and the real heart and soul of Mexico! On September 15th the nation will celebrate their country with “El Grito” on the Eve of Independence Day, celebrate! Viva Mexico !