Color

Nearing the end of my stay, I decided to get a much-needed pedicure.  An acquaintance directed me to a salon she liked located in town but well off the tourist trail.  I arrived, was warmly greeted and directed to a simple straight back chair.  A dish-washing-sized plastic tub was placed on the floor in front of me full of warm water and a sudsy cleaner of some sort.  I observed my very white feet soaking in the plastic container thinking what a far cry this was from the motorized chairs at home that can massage our backs if we wish. What was even more striking to me was the contrast of my white feet and the manicurist’s brown hands and arms.  The contrast was so marked it set me to thinking of color.  Color is something worthy of serious thought.  Anglo Americans don’t think long or hard enough about it.

I rarely describe myself as white unless asked that question on some form.  I have light brown hair mixed with gray, small almond shaped blue eyes and high cheekbones. I’m 5’5″ tall and fairly fit.  I don’t usually think “I’m white.”  However, that’s how Mexicans describe me.  “You’re white,” they say,  “not Anglo, white.”  There are loads of whites living in this small town–they are almost entirely North American.

Mexicans’ skin tones vary from quite dark to very fair.  I know that besides Cortes and his men, Spaniards have been coming to Mexico for hundreds of years.  Some families left Spain in pretty large numbers during the Franco period.  Like Pol Pot, the Falangists rounded up and executed professionals, artists, and gays.  Federico Garcia Lorca (Bodas de Sangre) was executed by Franco’s men because he was gay, a poet and writer.  Others left Spain fleeing the Guardia Civil, prison and execution.  Some walked into France through the Pyrenees.  Then they took a boat from Marseilles and began their lives over in Mexico City.  For a long time these European immigrants held prominent positions in universities, medicine and the law.  Over time native Mexicans have moved into the professional class too.

Sunday I went to one of my favorite cafes–Cafe Rama–a popular stop for brunch.  Within a 180 degree radius of my table there were three tables of mid-thirties and younger well dressed and attractive men and women.  I’d say the woman shop at the equivalent of Nordstrom or even Barney’s.  The men were equally well turned out and groomed.  Take a look.

The next day I visited Atotonilco considered the best example of Mexican Boroque architecture in the country.  It is a World Heritage Site located a short drive outside of San Miguel de Allende on a site that for centuries was sacred to the native people.  It was an alluring site due to the natural hot springs with their curative powers.  The indigenous people named this place Atotonilco, “in hot water.” They made annual pilgrimages to Atotonilco to repent of their sins and to sit in the hot waters and to enjoy some free wheeling sex after repenting.  Sounds like Big Sur in the 60’s to me.

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Today five thousand penitents come weekly to Atotonilco for the same reasons–probably the sex is not a big part of the process–as they are now guided by Catholic theology which is just what happened to the indigenous people hundreds of years ago.  In the 18th C. Father Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro supervised the building of the complex using the local artisans to do the work.  No more sex after repenting.  Father Alfaro lived at the site until his death in 1776.  Additional buildings were added over the next 100 years.

The most remarkable aspect of this complex and why it is often called the “Sistine Chapel of Mexico” are the painted walls and ceilings which cover the sanctuary and adjacent chapels.  This work was done by Antonio Martinez de Pocasangre and another painter Jose Maria Barajas over thirty years.  The friars showed him plates of interiors of Belgian cathedrals as examples of what they wanted him to paint.  There is scarcely any blank space.  It is breathtaking.  Pocasangre was an indigenous man.  He was a very talented artist.

So here my convoluted essay on color concludes with the observation that brown people built Mexico–not white Europeans.  Brown men and woman raised the food, made the bricks, painted the walls, decorated the churches, built the palaces, adopted a new religion, fought a revolution, elected an Indian to head their government and are devoted to a brown saint–the Virgen de Guadalupe.

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Museo de Juguetes

I’ve given lots of gifts and toys over the years to children, grand children and the children of friends.  I don’t think I ever thought too much about what toys tell us about our culture, our aspirations, and our history.

There’s Barbie, G. I. Joe, a coon skin hat like Davy Crockett’s, and Roy Roger’s chaps and holster stuffed with a cap gun.  What did we learn from the toys we received–the ones we whined for and pleaded for–what did our children understand about life in the United States, its past and present and future.  As Buzz Lightyear said “To infinity and beyond.”

I went to the Toy Museum in the Centro of San Miguel last week.  It’s housed in a gorgeous 3-story Colonial period home–still occupied by the owner.  Various municipal and private foundations help to fund the operation of the Museum.  The modest admission is 50 pesos.  There is a small gift shop as well.

As I climbed the stairs to the final floor with its roof top patio I was amazed at what I learned peering into all the myriad cases crowded with all manner of games, dolls, and toys.

The items I loved the most were the exquisitely made miniatures–a ceramic dinner service painted in traditional patterns no piece taller than my thumb.  A tiny basket shop its walls covered in realistic baskets of all shapes woven from straw and perfectly made.

I thought about the men and women who made these things probably after having worked all day.  Probably receiving very little in wages and very little for the toys they made using materials readily at hand.  I thought about the children who received these toys and how carefully they must have taken care of them.  The fact that so many of these toys survived is amazing.  Children are hard on their toys.  They often are completely destroyed.  But we’ve all know a child who guards and cares for their toys leaving them in perfect condition long after the child grows up.  So here are some of the highlights.

Two items caught my eye; one in a painting, the other in a case of dolls.  I asked Luis when I got home who was the Ninja like character with the rifle?

“That’s Comandante Marcos.  The leader of the indigenous people of Chiapas.  You often see a woman wearing a red bandana and carrying a rifle.  The women participated in the revolution–Ejercito Zapatista de Liberacion Nacional– too.”  Subcomandante Marcos led the fight to get fair wages and equitable treatment from the government for the indigenous people.  Now the people have secured a municipality of their own.

The images of anglo women and girls.

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The miniatures.

There is a wealth of meaning within each of these figures.  I wish I knew more, but for now, I’ll just enjoy what I saw and felt.