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My first visit to Pátzcuaro, in the fall of 2005, was sparked by a conversation with an old friend who was visiting me in my just  completed "winter retreat", overlooking the Bay of Tenecatita on the Costa Alegre coast....

Several days after arriving, and enjoying  the beach "scene", my well travelled friend said that if I really wanted to see and understand Mexico's past glories, present predicaments and future potential, that I must visit the old colonial cities and pre-columbian sites in central Mexico in order to begin to understand the many layers upon which this multi-faceted country is built.  Well, the temptation to explore didn't need any further encouragement. So, that evening, we got out an old trusted travel book, The Lonely Planet, and by a difficult two evening process of elimination, assisted by a few cervezas, we settled on Pátzcuaro as the first of the "colonial" cities to explore.  I think the key for me was my fascination with the fact that there had been a flourishing parallel indigenous empire centered around Lake Pátzcuaro, the Purepecha, that rivaled the Aztecs, and who were only finally conquered by the Spaniards in the 1530's.

After half a days drive up from the coast we were on the Guadalajara - Mexico City cuota, altitude 6,000 feet, cruising along at 120 k's an hour.  Studying the map, we decided to leave the cuota at the Zamora exit, and head over the mountains, on the libre, which would allow us a more leisurely, and scenic pace for the last few hours before arriving at Pátzcuaro.  Within a few miles of leaving the cuota we were passing through rich agricultural valleys and small pueblas.  The valleys were divided by miles of neat stone walls sectioning off fields and pastures. The rainy season just over, the main corn harvest had just ended, so there were many fields of neatly stacked stooks of corn stalks, looking much like a scene out of a 19th c old world painting.  Other fields lay fallow, but were filled with wildflowers; masses of pink "mira sols" ( cosmos ), but also orange, blue, yellow and red wildflowers which, other than marigolds, I had never seen before.  It was like being in a room where the walls were filled  with over enthusiastic impressionist paintings! 

What  a delightful country road we had fortuitously chosen, winding through valley after valley, each separated by  volcanic hills and spiked mountains that were covered with pine and oak forests, and occasionally seeing flaming 2 foot pink bromeliads hanging down from the overhanging oak branches.  A couple of hours after leaving the cuota we arrived at the south end of Lake Pátzcuaro and drove up the old tree lined road that led to the centro historico, passing through streets of uniformly red based, white houses, all with red  tiled roofs. Soon we were in the magnificent main square, Plaza Quiroga, one of the largest and most beautiful in all Mexico. Other than all the cars, it was like being in an eighteenth century time warp, and certainly not difficult to see why Pátzcuaro has been designated a "peublo magico" by the Mexican government and a UNESCO site.

Dusk was approaching as we parked beside the square, and by this time, we were definitely in need of refreshment after our day long journey. Walking around the square our noses soon zeroed in on a good coffee shop, Surtidora, that serves organic Chiapas coffee. We thankfully settled into comfortable equipale chairs  under the portales and soaked up the atmosphere; couples promenading, children playing in the square while parents and grandparents sat on sculpted concrete benches under the enormous old trees and chatted.  By the main central fountain, featuring a statue of Bishop Vasco de  Quiroga, an indigenous dance group performed the dance of the old men - veijitos - with the clack, clacking rythme of their wooden shoes echoing through the square.  And, you began to notice the drifting scent of burning pine wood and charcoal, as the mobile food stalls started to prepare food for their evening customers, the drifting smells evoking childhood memories of campfires and weiner roasts.  The whole scene was ... enchanting! 

Saludos,
Michael

Semana Santa ...Holy Week .... Easter

Semana Santa is one of the most important and celebrated of Pátzcuaro's calendar of annual events.

In the days preceding Palm Sunday, you will see street vendors selling freshly woven, often intricate, palm leaf crosses. These palm crosses are carried by participants in Palm Sunday processions that take place in every community around Lake Pátzcuaro, and indeed, throughout Mexico.   In the following days, each local parish will be making preparations for their participation in the silent candlelit processions that begins at dusk on Good Friday. It is a spectacle not to be missed if you happen to be in the area.

The first time I experienced the Good Friday procession in Patzcuaro, friends and I were lucky enough to be standing across the street from the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Salud, with a "front row" view of it all.  Each of the local churches, more than a dozen by my recollection, had their own special figure of Christ; some illustrating the carrying of the cross, others depicting the crucifixion, and some with the dead Christ waiting for ressurection.  The illuminated figures of Christ, some very large, others merely lifesize,  were all preceded or followed by the figures of Mary, or the Virgin of Guadalupe - religious icons that are particularly revered in Latin American Catholicism.

As the nearly hour long procession paraded by, stopping briefly in front of the Basilica, and us, all you could hear was the softly shuffling feet, some barefoot, of the hundreds of participants, and look out at a veritable sea of solemn  faces,  illuminated by hand held candles, as they slowly passed us by on their journey throughout Patzcuaro.  It was a very moving experience, almost medieval in feeling, and clearly expressed the cohesiveness and depth of spiritual sentiment that is such an integral part of local customs and rituals.

Accompanying Easter week is the more worldly feria (fair) of artisans that fills the four sides of the Plaza Grande with hundreds of puestos (stalls), exhibiting and offering for sale handicrafts made in the area; pottery, sculpture, carvings, weaving and embroidery, furniture, jewelery, basketry, masks and ironwork ... the richness and diversity of handicrafts of the week long feria draws enormous crowds, and rightly so!

If you happen to arrive in the area on the Palm Sunday weekend, you can take in the Michoacan State Concorso, held in Uruapan, and easy 45 minute drive west from Pátzcuaro.  The Concorso is open to all the artisans of Michoacan, and who compete for the coveted annual prizes available for  each category of craft.  I have been able to take in this amazing feria 3 times now, most recently in March 2013, and I am always impressed with the high quality of the Concourso.  As usual, I returned to Patzcuaro with multiple purchases, including an amazing prize wining mask from Tocuaro, and now part of  the growing collection on Mexican art at Villa Victoria. 

Easter week is an amazing celebration and festival on many levels. To me, it is the equal of Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), the 3 day celebration,  October 31 - November 2, for which Pátzcuaro is most famous.

Saludos,
Michael