Category Archives: Mexico 2019

Barrancas Del Cobre, Chihuahua, Mexico

Photo by Iory Allison

 The bright orange and piquant smile of Hotel Mirador lures tourists into her embrace where we are all struck with awe at the naked beauty of Barrancas del Cobre, Chihuahua State, Mexico.

Photo by Iory Allison

A river of old silver wood flows over the bumpy road of time. Locked in the history of her trunk the angular tango of life’s struggle is a triumph. Olé! Olé! Olé!

Photo by Iory Allison

An old knurled tree branch on the rim of Barrancas del Cobre speaks of long decades of blazing sun and strong winds dashing over the empty expanse.

Photo by Iory Allison

The profound silence of vast spaces at Barrancas del Cobre is interrupted by the faint chatter of swallows dancing on the wing in the effervescent sparkle of afternoon sunshine

Photo by Iory Allison

My Hubby, Señor Leo looking as cute as a button, posing on the rim of Barrancas del Cobre. Time adds a twinkle to the eye of a wise man.

Photo by Iory Allison, painting by Oscar Soto H. 1998 in the collection of Hotel Mirador, Barrancas Del Cobre

The weary gaze of this Rarámuri or Tarahumara young man (indigenous people of the area) is a result of centuries of harassment by European invaders and their censorious priests. His people have been chased into the hinterlands of Rarámuri country where the last scraps of arable soil are loosely held by families enslaved and abused for over 400 years. The imperial capitalist wrenched gold, silver and other minerals from the Sierra Tarahumara mountain district with relentless greed. Now the Rarámuri are even further exploited by drug cartels and logging companies that in concert strip the last vestiges of natural resource from the land and continue a reign of terror that is intrinsic to “civilized cultures.”    

Photo by Iory Allison

The tenacity of life clinging to the edge of geological time is resilient without measure. Sitting on a cliff beside a bone-dry rivulet I listen to the vast and open spaces whisper the truth of what is enough. I am my breath – the empty canyon is full of wonder.

Photo by Iory Allison

The scrappy twig salutes his sister clouds, each knows the other’s place – they are becoming.

 

Click here to join Iory at Barrancas Del Cobre

Absorbing the Spirit of Mexico in Chihuahua

Photo by Iory Allison, Ángel de la Libertad, Plaza Mayor, Chihuahua, Mexico 2003

Chihuahua is a Nahuatl word that rolls off the tongue with delightful music. It means, “the place where the water of the rivers meet.” Nahuatl is one of the indigenous languages of central Mexico and as of 2010 an estimated ‎1,740,000 people were keeping this linguistic heritage alive and kicking. Nahuatl was the language spoken by the majority of inhabitants in central Mexico including the Aztecs at the time of the Spanish invasion in 1519. Because Nahuatl was translated into Spanish beginning in the 1500s, it is possible to trace some Nahuatl words that have been absorbed into English over the ensuing centuries, words that describe the plants, animals, and foods of the New World.
Chocolate = cacahuatl.
Coyote = coyōtl
Avocado = āhuacatl.
Tomato = tomatl.
Chihuahua is the capital of the largest of the 31states that compose Estados Unidos Mexicanos or “United Mexican States” which as you may know is in North America. It covers an area of 95,543 sq. miles and is therefore slightly larger than the United Kingdom and slightly smaller than Wyoming. The earliest human artifacts date to 12,000 BC giving evidence to the profound and continuous human experience in that region that has developed into the incomparably diverse fecundity of modern Mexican culture.
The Spanish Conquistadores first entered the territory of what is now Chihuahua in 1528 and encountered fierce resistance that lasted for over a century from the Conchos tribe and subsequent rebellions of other indigenous peoples (Yaqui, Mayo, Opata, and Tarahumara) who eventually withdrew to the inaccessible regions of the Chihuahuan Desert, the Sierra Madre mountain ranges and Las Barrancas del Cobre (The Copper Canyon.)
In 1709, Antonio de Deza y Ulloa founded the state capital of Chihuahua City; shortly after, the city became the headquarters for the regional mining offices of the Spanish Crown known as ‘Real de Minas de San Francisco de Cuéllar’. Chihuahua was, and still is, one of Mexico’s leading producers of iron, lead, zinc, gold, silver, copper, and other minerals. Forestry and livestock raising are economically important in the mountainous districts of the west. Today the city of Chihuahua is a transportation hub with air, highway, and railway links to central Mexico and the United States.
During the first phase of the independence from Spain (1810) Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, a catholic priest, leading the revolutionary forces, fled to Chihuahua where he was ultimately defeated, imprisoned and executed. Don Miguel Hidalgo is the founding father of Modern Mexico and much beloved and revered hero of The Independence. He had passionate support among intellectuals, liberal priests and many poor and indigenous peoples. Father Hidalgo fought to protect the rights and freedoms of all of Mexico’s emerging citizens. He debated and struggled with the evolving political philosophies of the emerging democratic government of modern Mexico. Mexico became free and independent of Spain in 1821.
Chihuahua officially became a Mexican state in 1824. But throughout the nineteenth and first quarter of the twentieth centuries Chihuahua has suffered a tumultuous political history, including the invasion by USA (1846.) The subsequent occupation and annexation of the entire southwest,  which is now claimed by the USA, was an aggressive transfer of questionable legitimacy. It is interesting to note that this vast region was Spanish speaking for 300 plus years  but English has partially usurped that linguistic dominance for the last 150 years.
Chihuahua was also an important battleground during the invasion, occupation and annexation of Mexico by France, installing Archduke Maximilian of Austria as Emperor of Mexico (1864-67.) This European campaign was eventually repulsed but not without leaving a legacy of exploitation and inequity that was taken up by the subsequent Diaz regime. Diaz, under the auspices of capitalist “investment,” drained the wealth of the country into the pockets of a few elite cronies who became a conduit to export massive resources out of the country altogether. These tragic corruptions of the long struggle to create a free and representative government in Mexico has inspired many of the political philosophers, especially of the twentieth century, to entertain alternative ideals seeking solutions intending to evolve beyond the gluttony of material greed.

Photo by Iory Allison, Plaza de Armas and the Cathedral of the Holy Cross

Chihuahua was a huge surprise for me. I am embarrassed to say I only had the image of little dogs of dubious charm in my mind. T2H2 The Two Happy Husbands, Iory and Leo arrived via air to hop our train and begin a tour of Las Barrancas del Cobre (The Copper Canyon.) Sr. Leo wisely booked us for a couple of days to rest and recuperate from United’s magic carpet, we actually sat in First Class, not too shabby. The next morning, we awakened to the booming bronze bells of the cathedral which was a festive call to explore this prosperous and bustling city. Our hotel had a roof-top dining room where a sumptuous Mexican breakfast was offered, including a scrumptious array of tropical fruits lottsa mango and papaya – Yummy! Aaaand, Agua Verde juice my fav. (blended green cactus, orange and who knows what else but the stuff is a rocket blast of health and happiness!) Once fortified, off we went to see the sights.

Photo by Iory Allison

The dome of the Cathedral has a handsome shape and is flanked by these carved stone finials. The whole impressive structure is proudly maintained and sparkling white walls are trimmed with several shades of local stone.

Photo by Iory Allison

Here is an uncharacteristic calm and quiet moment inside the Cathedral. Otherwise during our two-day stay the place was hopping with continuous services of various kinds attended by hundreds of folks jamming the pews and crowding the aisles.

Photo by Iory Allison,

Positioned in front of the Chihuahua City Hall, bordering Plaza de Armas, is one of a group of traveling sculptures by Rodrigo De la Sierra whose motto is, “Life is too serious to take so seriously” The beloved character of Timo playfully parodies various real-life issues while charming one and all with his pudgy dough boy innocence.

Photo by Iory Allison

Mexico is a country of murals and here is an absolute charmer painted on the blank side of an art deco office building on the Plaza de Armas. Here we see the Chihuahua mascot himself. I think you may agree he is looking unutterably charming belying all my snooty patootie attitudes towards the little darlings. I especially like his flower antenna.
“Chihuahuas are descended from the Techichi, a companion dog favored by the Toltec civilization in Mexico. Little dog sculptures from Colima, Mexico, date back to 300 BC and are thought to depict Techichis.” (Thank you Wikipedia)

Photo by Alex Garcia, Cleverzettabyte.com

I know, I know, stick to the point, Iory, and get back to Chihuahua, enough with the extra photos, already! But how can I resist. Here I am at home with the “Dancing Dogs” a reproduction ceramic sculpture of two Techichis / Chihuahua dogs that was copied from an authentic artifact in the Regional Museum of History in Colima, Mexico. The original dating to 200-600 AD

Photo by Iory Allison

Mexican Modernism is a powerful force in the contemporary urban environs. With judicious editing, we see here the best part of the office tower of the Chihuahua legislature building on Plaza de Armas.

Photo by Iory Allison

Casa Creel was built by Enrique C. Creel Cuilty between 1893-94. As such it is an impressive example of the Porfirian style of architecture of the last quarter of the 19th century which was modeled after historic Spanish and European examples. As a result of the Revolution of 1910 Porfirio Diaz was finally forced from the Presidency after 35 years in office and this style of grandeur faded with his regime.

Photo by Iory Allison

All over the historic center of Chihuahua these comfortable and decorative cast iron benches depicting the four seasons are generously dispersed. The gold medallions frame jolly farmers toiling cheerfully at their agricultural husbandry. These benches are comfortable to boot and a welcome respite from the rigors of touring in the intense sun and for me unaccustomed altitude (4635 feet.)

Photo by Iory Allison

Now here is the icing on the cake, quite literally, going way beyond the term gingerbread as applied to architectural decoration. This humdinger is pure refined sugar frosting and although referencing European precedent in the most exuberant Porfirian manner, it is in essence and spirit, pure Mexican. This can be discerned most particularly in the elaborate decorative details and its unabashed revelry in abundant excess, an irrepressible component of the Mexican psyche.
Casa Quinta Gameros was designed by Julio Corredor Latorre and under construction from 1907-10. The mansion was built for Manuel Gameros Ronquillo, a member of the Porfirian elite based in Chihuahua. Unfortunately for the Gameros family the revolution coincided with the completion of their home which they had to flee for protection in the USA in 1913.
The building bounced around various departments of the new Mexican government eventually (1991) becoming the Centro Cultural Universitario Quinta Gameros or cultural museum of the University of Chihuahua concentrating on decorative arts.
In 1971 through a convoluted drama of happenstance and design Pedro Fossas Requena donated his collection of important Art Nouveau furniture and interior architecture from his family’s home in Mexico City. This permanent exhibition has been installed in the Quinta Gameros mansion, and a more appropriate place you could not imagine.

Photo by Iory Allison

You can see more closely the rich detail of carved limestone and  wrought iron balconies with a hint of the carved elaborations of the wooden, cedar I think, window casements. The gray-green, vere de gris, painted finish applied to the wrought iron balconies enhance those elements of the façade with tasteful color harmony referencing the patina of ancient Greek bronze metal work. Their design and shape are a masterpiece of fluidity that goes beyond rococo or art nouveau precedent and create a poem of extreme grace. Viewed from below in the garden, as here, or above from inside the mansion, the complexity of flowing line and the undulation of the grill-work exhibits a true genius of decorative imagination.
I think the Mexican identity of these designs can be clearly seen in the unique treatment of the rose garlands crowning the window arches. There is something about these crisp, deeply chiseled, and densely arranged roses with many petaled blossoms that I recognize as being distinctly Mexican as are the fanciful shell and leaf brackets holding up the swelling balconies. In these elements I see a combination of naive and academic polish in the accomplishment of the designs that are reminiscent of the baroque façades of Mexican ecclesiastic architecture of the Viceregal period (1521-1821.) During those earlier times the indigenous artists, who had been working in stone to great accomplishment for centuries before the imposition of Spanish culture, met the demands of their European overlords with skill and charm. Mexican sculptors and stone masons have a similar animation of style to the medieval European craftsmen whose work was imbued with a quirky inner life precisely because of predating an over self-conscious academic mandate.

Photo by Iory Allison

I must confess to an absolute love of towers and lofty belvederes which may derive from my being a double Aries, the ram, climbing cliffs and mountains to gaze at the splendor below. The domed aerie seen here on the left is my kind of perch. The accompanying tower with its generous window, so dramatically back lit by the bright Chihuahua sun, is made to shelter a writer pondering his narrative.

Photo by Iory Allison

Mexico has a wealth of stained-glass ceilings in residential and commercial buildings, especially from the Porfirian period (1877-1911.) The colorful windows of Casa Quinta Gameros are breathtaking and attributed to Tiffany. This large skylight is positioned over the main staircase and it is gorgeous!

Photo by Iory Allison

At the mid-stair landing of the Casa Quinta Gameros this blow-out ensemble practically fills the whole back wall of the mansion. The ached central window features two chubby putti who are snuggling up to each other embodying extreme sentimentality as they loll about in an avalanche of flowers. An air-born attendant hovers on wing above in cotton candy clouds. If the whole composition was not so astoundingly well executed in lush vibrant colors it might suffer the dismissal of kitsch. As it is, I would assume it irks the ire of all “modernists.” I simply adore the whole soppy sauciness of the picture.
The technique employed to create these works of art is painting the pigments on sheets of glass sometimes colored or ‘stained” and then fired in a kiln at considerable heat, fusing the enamel pigments to the glass.

Photo by Iory Allison

Another abiding fondness of mine is for the high style sensuality of Art Nouveau and here we have a sterling example of that movement.
As I mentioned above Sr. Pedro Fossas Requena donated his collection of important Art Nouveau furniture and interior architecture from his family’s home in Mexico City to Casa Quinta Gameros. These unique artifacts were conceived and commissioned by Sr. Requena’s great-grandfather a successful lawyer from Campeche who was a principal in La Esperanza silver mine. This bonanza afforded him the resources to move to the capital, Mexico City, where he bought, renovated and embellish his home in the fashionable Colonia Roma, neighborhood.
Sr. Requena’s tastes were inspired by the ultra-sophisticated international style of Art Nouveau. He collaborated with the famous Catalan designer, Ramón P. Cantó on the designs and everything was carved by two Mexican artisans- the results are stunning. Each room in the original home had floral motifs selected by Sr. Requena, following the conceptual dictates of the movement that proposed following nature in all her forms. The living room had an Acanthus theme, and thistles were chosen for the master bedroom. All of this symbolism expressed the “language of flowers.”
The dining room, pictured above, is a tour de force of sinuous vegetal forms inspired by the urgent fecundity of nature. Graceful dancing vines of figured mahogany emerge from the garden bed of wainscoted lower walls and then climb the upper walls, intertwining pink and gray painted leaves with delicately reaching tendrils, weaving a magical garden bower.

Photo by Iory Allison

The main salon of Casa Quinta Gameros is an elegant Zarzuela-like crescendo of digressive elaboration that reaches a high register of ecstatic visual music which would overwhelm any ordinary accompaniment. But combined with the brilliant genius of the Requena suite of furniture the entire ensemble is a complete symphony of opulent refinement evoking the fantastic climax to the nineteenth century, La Belle Epoque!
Please, do yourself a favor and examine this room in detail on my flicker page by following the link at the bottom of this Chihuahua article. When you find this photo on the “picture board” click on it so that it will enlarge, then click the “double arrow” icon in the upper right of the screen to allow the image to completely fill your computer screen. If you hover your cursor over the picture it will zero in even closer. My photos have a large pixel count so they will disclose arresting detail and this is in fact my entire intention, to share with you the wonders of the universe!

Photo by Iory Allison

In my photo above we see a patch of tags that evolve beyond mere conceit or territorial grab and approaches narrative and calligraphic vigor with the fascinating complexity of a mural. This is perhaps no wonder in Mexico where political mural painting is a powerful tradition. I think this image and its style is enhanced by the shape and texture of the wall itself with its “goth” black fringe of dripping soot. The barrier of razor wire spirals adds a further element of threat that cannot, however, contain or obliterate the painting which erupts from a tangle of knotted alphabetic bravado into a phallic-like octopus monster with an angry expression.

I am not an indiscriminate proponent of graffiti and I do not generally term it “art.” I do recognize the timeless urge to carve one’s name into “sign-posts” as they present themselves to us on our rambles throughout time. And time is of the essence in this snatch for recognition, an elusive gesture that may frustrate more than fulfill. To me most “tags” are like a dog pissing on a fence, a mark of assumed ownership and aggression, with a whiff of defilement.

But even I must admit to the universal appeal of carving initials or “tagging” a place and one elegant example that comes to mind is Fragonard’s painting, “Souvenir” at the Wallace Collection, London where-in a pretty miss is engraving a name into the bark of a tree with a sharp knife while her little lap dog pays close attention. I wonder who is following who’s example in this picture.

“Souvenir” by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1775)

Photo by Iory Allison

Palacio de Gobierno de Chihuahua or Government Palace was begun in 1881 and completed in 1891 as a two-story building of neoclassical design. In 1941 a fire gutted the structure and during the subsequent restoration a third floor was added. The building reopened in 1947 as the impressive structure we see today. In 1959 Aarón Piña Mora an internationally trained artist and Principal Professor of the Fine Arts Institute at the University of Chihuahua was commissioned to paint murals depicting the history of Chihuahua which eventually covered the entire first floor and part of the second floor.
“The Palace houses the executive offices of the governor of the state of Chihuahua and, until 2004, the state legislature met here. The building is a landmark in the city as it contains a shrine commemorating the execution of Miguel Hidalgo, considered the Father of the Country, who died at the hands of a Spanish firing squad on July 30, 1811. The Altar de la Patria, or Altar of the Fatherland is located at the exact spot where Fr Hidalgo died.” (Wikipedia)

Photo by Iory Allison

Here you can only see the first two stories of the impressive central courtyard with glimpses of Professor Aarón Piña Mora’s murals. The enormous scale of the building adds grandeur to the important functioning of state government. The latest, (2014) restoration has left the stone-work immaculately clean, reflecting the pride of the citizenry of Chihuahua. Although the building’s entrances are attended by guards, one and all can easily enter and tour all three floors of the building to study the murals, enjoy the handsome building and pay homage to the martyred heroes of Mexican Independence, especially Don Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla father of modern independent Mexico.

Photo by Iory Allison

A corner of Professor Aarón Piña Mora’s murals depicts the 1910 – 1920 revolution fighting against the Porfirian Dictatorship, this passionately violent conflict devastated the country ending a 35-year old regime of cruel exploitation but fueling an all-out civil war that continued for ten years. On the left I believe is depicted Pascual Orozco Vázquez the revolutionary leader and on the right is Francisco “Pancho” Villa famous revolutionary general and commander of the “División del Norte,” in the Constitutionalist Army. Villa was one of the most prominent figures of the Mexican Revolution. These portraits dominating the chaos of war, have such emotional power that the tumultuous armies seem to come dashing off the wall in a violent charge that grabs at your heart and horrifies your soul.

 

Photo by Iory Allison

The Apache wars began in the 1600s with the arrival of Spanish colonists in present-day New Mexico. War between the Mexicans and the Apache was especially intense from 1831 into the 1850s. Thereafter, Mexican operations against the Apache colluded with the Apache Wars of the United States. Mexico continued relentless hostilities against Apache bands as late as 1915.
The European invasion of North and South America has always been a “Holy War” against the indigenous people who were villainized, dismissed as “savages” and suffered a genocide that still continues today, albeit with a more disguised socio-economic agenda. The Spanish were notorious in this regard but the emerging modern Mexican nation was no less guilty of this greed couched in arrogant superiority, especially concerning the Apache people.
Professor Mora’s mural of these conflicts is horrifying as the searing battle burns into the opposing combatants, branding each with the corrosive bile of hate and violence. A telling detail of the artist’s distilled exposition of these centuries old wars is the mining pick axes impaling the indigenous people, for this is the crux of the matter, the invaders lust for the mineral wealth of the region.

Photo by Iory Allison

Professor Mora’s portrait of Father Miguel Hidalgo, freedom fighter for independence and champion of the poor and needy is of breath-taking poignancy, pathos and tragedy. The balding and silver haired militant cleric is shown stripped of all dignities either of his cassock or military uniform and a phalanx of executioner’s disembodied steel rifle barrels impale his body, piercing his flesh. Although Father Hidalgo is at his mortal end, his expression of resigned calm gazing directly into the viewer’s eye is a transference of his power, a passing of the torch, a gift of compassion, the ideal of selfless service to the political evolution of all people.
The broken chain stands as a testament and promise of freedom for the naked laborer, armed only with his tool of trade, a miner’s pick axe. He who is about to be consumed in the furnace of war will be vindicated. We know this by the narrative of the Spanish conquistador who is cruelly torturing the contorted peasant as the warrior’s priestly cohort brandishes the crucifix of the Christian church as a threatening weapon demanding submission or nihilation. But these forces of death ultimately do not prevail. Emerging from the crucible of revolution, the spirit of the people, a naked muscular man empowered with righteous ideals, rockets out of the blaze, handing the rolled constitution to the eagle of justice, the original symbol of the Mexican people ending their quest for a safe and prosperous country.

Photo by Iory Allison

We see here in a bubble set against the Chihuahuan landscape, miners intruding into the womb of mother earth extracting mineral ore. But do they understand the value of these bones of our mother and will they use this resource wisely? Above the contemporary miners, painted as a diminutive foot note, are the indigenous people quarrying stone. I assume the actual intended tone of this mural is simply reporting on prosperous history of the mining industry of Chihuahua. I must take ownership for the cautionary reproach of my tone.

                                                                      Photo by Iory Allison
Here we find a composite herd of Mexican cattle spreading out across the vast grass-lands of Chihuahua with portraits of mounted Vaqueros tending to their herds. The overriding message is of virile but placid abundance.

                                                                      Photo by Iory Allison
This dramatic and arresting bronze statue of José Mariano Jiménez stands at the base of the Hildalgo monument in Plaza Hildalgo, Chihuahua. Jiménez was an officer of Hidalgo’s Independence Army along with Mariano Abasolo, Ignacio Allende and Juan Aldama who are all represented on the monument. Don Miguel Hidalgo stands at the top of the marble column. All five men were executed and decapitated and their heads were grotesquely displayed in cages as a warning to other insurgents. They were hung outside on the four corners of Alhóndiga de Granaditas or (corn exchange building) in Guanajuato, a city near the place where the Independence movement started. In 1910 all five men’s remains were gathered and interred in El Ángel de la Independencia monument in Mexico City.

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