October 8, 2007 – Linda’s Gone to Patzcuara, Michoacan

Linda is on her 10-day trip to Mexico (see August 7 entry for more details).  I’m sure she’ll have several days to share her impressions sometime after her return, but in the meantime, here’s some info about the town they will spend most of their time in and around – Patzcuaro, Michoacan.  The following entry comes from the Wikipedia entry about Patzcuaro.

Patzcuaro, which means “place of stones” in the Purepecha language, is a city and its surrounding municipality in the central part of the Mexican state of Michoacan. Patzcuaro was founded in 1540. The city was developed as a religious center, and its early inhabitants believed Patzcuaro to be the doorway to heaven where the gods ascended and descended. The Purepecha people first settled in Patzcuaro in 1324, led by Rey Curateme. It has always been of interest to Mexican history buffs because it was central to the careers of two diametrically opposed characters in Mexico’s colonial past. The first was Nuao Guzman de Beltran, the vicious conquistador who plundered the area for gold. He burned alive the local Purepecha Indian chief when that man couldn’t or wouldn’t tell him where Indian gold was hidden. Eventually his crimes against the Indians became so extreme that the Spanish were forced to arrest him. In his place they sent Vasco de Quiroga, a former judge from Mexico City who had become a priest. Vasco de Quiroga helped the Purepecha Indians in the Patzcuaro area by introducing new crops and establishing schools and hospitals.

Patzcuaro is hidden high in the mountains of Michoacan at 2200 m (7130 feet) of elevation. It is veiled from the outside world by a curtain of high pine trees. To the north is Lake Patzcuaro, one of Mexico’s highest lakes. The butterfly fishermen, who dip their nets into the lake in search of whitefish, have become a trademark of Patzcuaro. The town retains its ancient atmosphere. It consists of largely one-story adobe or plaster-over-brick buildings with red tile roofs. The streets are dusty cobblestones traveled by horse and car. Plaza Vasco de Quiroga, known by locals as simply the Plaza Grande, is Patzcuaro’s central square. Grass covers much of the plaza, and a statue of Vasco de Quiroga stands in its center.

On the east side of downtown is the beautiful Basilica of Our Lady of Health, the city’s patron, built between 1546 and 1554. The College of Saint Nicolas, south from the basilica, was founded by Don Vasco in 1540 and now houses the Museum of Popular Arts and Archaeology, which has exhibits of carvings, pottery, weaving, and archaeological artifacts. The Cathedral of Michoacan was built by Don Vasco and was opened in 1546. Today it is the temple of the Jesuits. The House of Eleven Patios is the former monastery of Saint Catherine, founded by Dominican nuns in 1747. It is now a center for local artisans, and you can watch them work.

The Dance of the Viejitos (Old Men), one of the best and most widely known native dances of Mexico, is presented twice weekly. The dancers wear wooden masks that depict smiling old men to show that, at least in Mexico, old age is not a time of listless despair, but rather a season to enjoy the fruits of life.

Patzcuaro’s eateries tout the traditional whitefish in a variety of preparations, though not all of it comes from the nearby lake. Another unique, delicious dish is sopa tarasca, a local variation of Mexico’s ubiquitous tortilla soup with large pieces of roasted dried chiles and crumbly fresh cheese.

Many shops line the main plaza, selling all kinds of textiles, tablecloths, clothing, and more. Shops around town carry henequen rugs, lacquered trays, serapes, Indian masks, and wooden boxes. Patzcuaro’s lacquered trays are quite famous; the lacquer is supposedly made from the crushed bodies of purple insects, which provide the deep, rich finish and durability.

After yesterday’s entry about aches and pains, I’m ready to join in the Dance of the Old Men!

one year ago…

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