Thursday, September 27, 2012

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 13: The Orozco Murals

José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949) was a Mexican social realist painter.  Along with fellow artists Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, Orozco helped to establish the Mexican Mural Renaissance, a 1920s movement that saw artwork filled with social and political messages in an attempt to reunify the country under the post Mexican Revolution government.  Orozco was fascinated by the idea of human suffering, a theme that flows through his various works.  His art is on display in Mexico City's Carrillo Gil Museum and Escuela Nacional Preparatoria, as well as the Orozco Museum in Guadalajara, itself the subject of an upcoming Top 20 post.  Today we will be discussing three other locations in the city that boast Orozco murals of their own.  I had the pleasure of viewing my first Orozco mural during my initial visit to Instituto Cultural Cabañas in February 2011.  A series of 57 frescoes adorn the walls and ceiling in the chapel of this one-time hospital, the most famous being El Hombre de Fuego (The Man of Fire), which adorns the interior of the dome.  The piece, considered to be Orozco's greatest achievement, features a central figure engulfed in flames rising above monochromatic figures that represent the natural elements (earth, wind, and water).  It is said to be a metaphor for social struggle.    

The surrounding walls feature chronological depictions of pre-Columbian Mexico, the Conversion, the Conquest, the Revolution, and the Resolution.

My second opportunity to view an Orozco mural was during the first or several visits to Guadalajara's Palacio de Gobierno, also in 2011.  The first mural, titled Lucha Social (Social Struggle) is located on the walls and ceiling just above the main staircase, and depicts Father Hidalgo brandishing a torch and waving off dark, shadowy figures that represent slavery and oppression.  Another mural, The People and its Leaders, is located in the State Congress chamber on the second floor and features Hidalgo signing the decree to abolish slavery in Mexico.  Benito Juarez can be seen below, signing the reform laws.

I did not have the pleasure of visiting the scene of the third Orozco mural until this afternoon, when I visited the Paraninfo (auditorium) of the University of Guadalajara.  Well, that's not exactly true; I spent three evening in this building over the summer, supporting a film festival TJ hosted for LGBT Pride Month, without even realizing the murals were a couple of doors down the hall.  Goes to show that there's no telling what wonders lie just around the corner.  Be ever vigilant, world travelers!  

The first picture is of El hombre creador y rebelde (The Man Creator and Rebel), which is painted inside the auditorium's dome.  El pueblo y sus falsos líderes (The People and Their False Leaders) fills the top half of the wall behind the lecture stage.  

I can only hope that these photos do the art enough justice that you can appreciate them and I can personally look back on them in the years to come and remember the emotions they invoke now.  Whether or not you understand the history and artist intent behind them is irrelevant; they are haunting.  You feel a sense that something is not right with the world, and that something must be done about it.  And they fill such large spaces that you are forced to look upon them with awe.   

An Orozco painting will steal the show in any environment, and I hope my journeys take me to more of them in the years to come. 

I will discuss Orozco in more detail once I have visited his museum.  For now, I leave you with an excerpt from a 1997 PBS article:

"The life of Mexican muralist José Clemente Orozco (1883-1949), a life filled with drama, adversity, and triumph, is one of the great stories of the modern era. Despite poverty, childhood rheumatic fever that damaged his heart and an explosion in his youth that cost him his left hand, Orozco persisted in his wish to become an artist. He experienced the carnage and duplicity of the Mexican Revolution, the hardship following the New York stock market crash in 1929, and rising fascism in Europe during his only trip there in 1932, and emerged with an aesthetic and moral vision unparalleled in twentieth century painting."

Wow.  If art immitates life, that was quite a well to draw inspiration from.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 12: Plaza de los Mariachis

On more than one occasion, a consulate employee has asked how I came up with my Top 20 List for Guadalajara, and I have had to first clarify that these aren't my personal choices and then direct them to a link on our office intranet page, where our Community Liaison Office has done a wonderful job of providing various information about the city in which we live.

Here's what our CLO says about Plaza de los Mariachis:

If the Cathedral is Guadalajara's soul and the market its stomach, the Plaza de Mariachis has to be its heart. Drink up the ambience from morning until night, but go at night if you have a choice. Not for children or dining, the Plaza is located between and near the junction of Calzada Independencia and Obregon.

Now, I'm not going to blame our current CLO staffers for this, since the Top 20 list was published before either one of them held the position, but if Plaza de los Mariachis is the heart of the city, we're on the cusp of cardiac arrest.

There are a couple of restaurants in the plaza, so the age of the above recommendation is certainly called into question. I wouldn't suggest going at night, though. Whether it is actually dangerous or not, I can't say. The place is, however, located on the outskirts of the bustling city center, and as such the mantra of "safety in numbers" begins to diminish right around here. We went this afternoon and as dusk approached TJ commented that we needed to leave because the prostitutes were starting to come out. The above review is apparently correct on one count: It's not for children.

Visitors of Plaza de los Mariachis that enter at the corner of Javier Mina and Independencia will be greeted by a small but elegant church named El Templo San Juan de Dios, which is the namesake of the market a scant 130 yards to the east. That's about where the pretty ends, though I did appreciate the metal Mariachi that adorned the adjacent jewelry store.

The plaza covers what amounts to an average-sized city block that, at least in the wake of this past weekend's Mexican Independence Day, is canvassed with tents, stages, and foldout tables and chairs. There's not much of a plaza feel; there are no fountains, scarce foliage, and no park benches. It's very much a pedestrian street.

On the far side of the plaza, at the corner of Independencia and Obregón, you may find the odd group of Mariachis congregating and hoping to be hired for a party, dinner engagement, or wedding. At the far edge of the plaza, looking out on the city at large (or perhaps turning his back on the remnants of this historic space, is a bust Silvestre Vargas, who took over leadership Mariachi Vargas de Tecalitlán from his father in 1928. The group made dozens of recordings and stared in several film throughout the 1960s. There is a museum dedicated to Vargas located in Tecalitlán, Jalisco.

The official name of the plaza is Plaza de Pepe Guizar, in honor of the composer of the song "Guadalajara," arguably the most famous Mariachi ballad in the state of Jalisco. I really have nothing else to say about the space, except that the Top 20 list should be revisited and revised immediately, so I'll end by treating you to a video performance of the aforementioned song. I hear it every time a Mariachi band is nearby, and I will forever remember it as the theme song for this two year tour in beautiful Guadalajara.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Guadalajara's Top 20, Number 11: Palacio de Gobierno (and the Grito!)

El Grito de Dolores (The Cry of Dolores), also known as El Grito de la Independencia (The Cry of Independence) was called out from the town of Dolores, Guanajuato on September 16, 1810. The grito, shouted by Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla, in the company of Ignacio Allende and Juan Aldama, sparked the beginning of the Mexican War of Independence. The anniversary of this call to arms is celebrated as Mexican Independence Day and a grito is shouted from the balcony of most government houses in Mexico. The exact wording of the original grito is unknown, so variation exists. This is the version most often said by Mexico's President, though local leaders can adapt it to suit their individual needs:

¡Vivan los héroes que nos dieron patria!
¡Víva Hidalgo!
¡Viva Morelos!
¡Viva Josefa Ortiz de Domínguez!
¡Viva Allende!
¡Vivan Aldama y Matamoros!
¡Viva la independencia nacional!
¡Viva México! ¡Viva México! ¡Viva México!

Guadalajara's Baroque-style Palacio de Gobierno is but one place that will host a grito at midnight tomorrow evening, and it's a grand event. TJ received two invitations to the governor's dinner last year. Had we attended, we would have dined with Jalisco's policy makers and had front row seats to the grito. Alas, it was not to be; our friend Patrick had come to visit from Houston, and our friend Antonio from Tepatitlán. 2+2=4, and we were two tickets short. Suddenly, I understood how my dad had felt that time that the Beach Boys asked to use his 1957 Chevy Sedan Delivery in one of their concerts, but he had to decline on account of one of my sleepovers. Oops.

Instead, we opted for a party at our friend Pablo's apartment, followed by a grito at a town square of his choosing. As is often the case with parties, we ended up staying there and missing the grito. This year, things are still up in the air. Patrick and Antonio are at home. Pablo moved to Chile. Somebody else claimed the governor's invites. I hear that the palace grito can be a bit crazy if you're on the outside looking in. Whatever happens, I'll keep you posted.

Back on topic, construction of Guadalajara's Government Palace began in the 1600s on a plot of land once owned by the children of architect Martín Casilla, builder of the Guadalajara Cathedral. The original structure was destroyed by an earthquake in 1750, with reconstruction being finished in 1790. It was here that Father Hidalgo decreed the abolition of slavery in November of 1810 and ordered that lands be given over to indigenous tribes on December 5th of that same year. Busy couple of months there, right?

During the Reform War, President Benito Juarez used Guadalajara as the official seat of Mexican Government. He escaped assassination at the hands of rebelling guardsmen on March 14, 1858 when Minister of Finance Guillermo Prieto prevented the murder by shouting "The brave do not assassinate." The palace is home to some of José Clemente Orozco's most famous works, but, as I stated here, the Orozco murals have their own slot on the Top 20 list, so that will have to wait until another day. Here is a glimpse of one of his murals, located in the State Congress Chamber.

The building is a fully functioning state government office, so visitors should not expect much of a museum vibe. Beyond the Orozco murals and the odd decorative plaque, there are little office spaces tucked away that look just like any office you've ever worked in.

Except for one tiny, hidden room on the first floor all the way in the back. Real blink-and-you-miss-it stuff. For some reason (though probably not all that hard to guess), there is a tequila shrine hidden amongst the administrative workspaces.

On second thought, this is exactly like my office.

Puerto Vallarta and the Sayulita Redemption

Labor Day 2012 provided us with one last opportunity to visit the beach town that made us love beaches, Puerto Vallarta. Joining us on this trip were our friends Alex, who had not been to Vallarta since his childhood years, and Tom, a co-worker that loves PV as much as we do. We often cross paths with Tom in PV (like when he officiated this wedding), but this was the first trip we had purposefully coordinated together. Our ability to make this journey was appreciated even more so than previous trips, as security concerns over the previous weekend had initially made it look like this long-planned trip would have to be cancelled.

We arrived just before sunset on Friday evening and left midmorning on Monday. The weekend wasn't filled with anything extraordinary. Which is what made it completely special

We walked along the Malecón (Boardwalk), as always. We had a late night snack at The Dog House, as is the norm. We had breakfast at my favorite beachfront restaurant, Mi Querencia. We ate here for the first time in February 2010, then somehow "lost" it, and rediscovered it during a July trip to PV with our friends Carlos and Sergio. I'm not sure how we lost it, because it never moved, but I digress...We browsed the art galleries. We drank. We got too much sun. We swam a lot. The weekend was absolutely, perfectly, typically Vallarta. We did all of the things that we always love doing and will miss dearly when we leave.

We deviated from our normal course only once and booked a day cruise through our hotel which allowed us to go snorkeling alongside beautiful rock formations and spend some time on this gorgeous but tiny beach.

Monday arrived all too soon, and with it the sad understanding that this was or final beach day in Mexico. Tom and Alex still have plenty of chances to taste the salty sea air of any number of Mexican beaches, but it's over for poor Aaron and TJ. While the four of us bobbed lazily in the early morning waves of the Playa de los Muertos shoreline, TJ made an executive decision: we would load up the car and leave immediately.

Faced with the option of staying on familiar turf or taking one last opportunity to explore a not-as-familiar beach, we decided to use the last couple of hours before heading home to revisit the small beach town known as Sayulita. Our last trip had been un poco loco and we both wanted to take away an alternative memory, for comparison's sake. Tom and Alex, on the other hand, just wanted to try something new and unknown. There's not a whole lot to say, really. We traded one beach for another, this time bobbing lazily in the late morning waves of Sayulita's main beach (which, for the life of me, I can not find the name of). We considered surfing lessons but immediately decided that such exertion really would detract from the lazy bobbing. I haggled halfheartedly with a beach vendor (Well, he haggled wholeheartedly, and I haggled no-heatedly, so it averages out to half). We all agreed that Sayulita is a beautiful beach oasis worth visiting...but maybe only on your way to or from Vallarta. It's such a small town that the nightlife and energy of Vallarta eclipse it.

...But then we had lunch. We dragged our not-wanting-to-leave feet down Marin Street, Sayulita's main drag, looking for suitable dining options and ultimately settling on a street taco vendor. Mostly because she, unlike other restaurants, was open at noon. She only had two items on the menu: grilled mahi mahi and grilled shrimp. Oh. My. God. If the fish tacos TJ and I had last time were lackluster, these were blockbuster. Best. Tacos. EVER. We started out with two. Then had two more. *nomnomnom*. For these tacos, I could return to Sayulita every weekend. PV ain't got nuthin' on them. Nowhere else, either, for that matter.

While we ate, a woman peddling homemade jewelry approached us. We aren't normally keen on street fare, but I guess the good vibes from taco had heaven rubbed off. Tom and I both bought necklaces featuring handmade owl tokens, dubbing ourselves forevermore Owl Buddies.

Alas, sunburned and filled to bursting with seafood and memories, it was time to say goodbye to the beaches of Jalisco and Nayarit.

I hope life provides an opportunity to return one day. For someone that never cared for the beach or the ocean, I'm going to miss them both terribly. I look forward to Israel and the beaches of Tel Aviv.

But for now, I must focus on wrapping things up in Guadalajara. A meager five weeks remain in what has been an amazing two year experience. There's still so much to see and do. Let's see what we can manage, shall we?

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Game Changer

Folks, I always try my best to post my thoughts and experiences as they occur. Sometimes, due to one circumstance (busy schedule) or another (chronic laziness), I am not able to. That happened recently when I began writing Part Three of my Guanajuato adventure. I began this blog, which recounts events from August 26th and 27th, on the afternoon of August 30th before getting horribly sidetracked. Trouble is, the world around us can change in an instant sometimes, making what came before seem trivial, immature, and small minded. That has happened to me. For the sake of bringing some semblance of closure to that particular tale, I will share what I had written up until the moment where my thoughts were derailed.


León...and Comforting News From Guadalajara

Driving from the bus station to our hotel, we had the opportunity to catch a glimpse of León's bustling metropolitan area. There was a HUGE outlet mall (one of only two I have seen here in Mexico) and a fancy looking art & history museum. Wide streets, clean sidewalks and sharply dressed pedestrians indicated that this was a town with a bit of money behind it. The GM factory we passed on the way into town only confirms this.

The skies were turning gray, so with the smell of rain in the air we quickly checked into our room and bolted for León's historic center, hoping to snap enough pics to prove we were there before the sky let loose a torrential downpour. We succeeding in seeing just about everything and even found shelter at a gross little Chinese restaurant before the bottom fell out of the sky. We made it back to our room with a minimum of dampness and rested for a bit before heading back out. Two of the town plazas display a laser-light "History of León" show on a nightly basis and we were hoping to see it. Sadly, and despite the rain having ended, the show was cancelled for the evening. Sigh...

Being a Sunday night, the nightlife wasn't very, well, lifelike. We wandered around for a while, had a few drinks at a local bar, then called it a night.

We awoke the next morning and grazed lazily on the hotel's continental breakfast, then sat back and waited. There had been no further narco blockades overnight. Still, we weren't sure if we'd be allowed to return home or simply continue living the refugee lifestyle.

I'm glad we held off on any early morning excursions; shortly after 10:00 we received a phone call that basically said "You can come home, but do it RIGHT NOW." Our Regional Security Office had determined there was no immediate danger and that it was best for all consulate employees to be at home and accounted for within the Guadalajara metropolitan area.

We quickly loaded up the car and headed home, bummed about missing out on lovely
León, but admittedly happy about an extra day off of work.


That's as far as I got. I wanted to revisit the post, attaching photos and additional commentary about churches, the hotel, etc. But I never did. And I never will. Here's why:

On August 31st, our Regional Secuity Office (RSO) notified us that we should be aware of potential sites for demonstrations/protests in light of the recent decision by the Electoral Tribunal that the Mexican presidential elections (always a point of great controversy) had been fair and valid. So far, no incidences have been reported that threaten our safety.

On the afternoon of September 6th, RSO issued a "Shelter in Place" advisory due to an arrest operation being carried out by the Mexican military and fear of possible narco activity as a result. Thankfully, no blockades occurred...but TJ was out sick that day. It was the first time such a concern had arisen when we weren't together. I felt safe in the consulate, and I knew he was safe at home...but when you aren't together, imaginations run wild.

So far, so good in lovely Guadalajara. But the rest of the world hasn't fared so well.

On September 11th, an attack on the US Consulate in Benghazi, Libya resulted in the deaths of Ambassador Chris Stevens, Information Management Officer Sean Smith, and Security Officers Tyrone S. Woods and Glen A. Doherty. The building itself is in charred ruins.

Riots in Cairo, Egypt that same day saw the Embassy walls scaled and the American flag torn down. Three former colleagues from US Consulate General Guadalajara are currently posted there. I am happy to report they are safe and awaiting further instruction.

Demonstrations have continued throughout the Middle East since September 11th, all in protest of the film "Innocence of Muslims," and its place of origin, the United States of America. The film depicts the prophet Mohammed in a very inflammatory and disrespectful way, something not to be tolerated by followers of the Islamic faith.

Israeli and American flags have been burned by Iraqi protestors. In Iran, demonstrators gathered outside the Swiss Embassy to chant "Death to America!" and death to the film's director, an Israeli-American. Photos can be found of protestors walking on the U.S. Flag outside of the U.S. Embassy in Tunis. Protests in Yemen have resulted in a dozen or so deaths. In Cairo, riot police continue trying to hold protesters at bay.

I walked around the office yesterday with a pain in my stomach that was utterly relentless. TJ is a first tour officer. We did not know any of those that lost their lives yesterday, but the reality is that the longer he serves, the greater the chance that we will know someone who falls in service to his or her country. Just ask this blogger.

It's easy to forget how dangerous the world can be from the comfort of our home here in Guadalajara. Even when moments of high alert occur, the alert doesn't seem very...high. Precautionary at best, but never a your-life-depends-on-it scenario. Many of our friends, in and outside the service, have joked about our cushy lifestyle.

But what we all need to remember is that a safe tour this year could segue into a relatively dangerous tour next year. We will be posted in Jerusalem, Israel beginning in August 2013. As the world has seen over the last few days, the Middle East is still a volatile place. I feel extremely grateful that this Israeli-American film has not resulted in action being taken against the Jewish people of Israel this week.

Two friends have already reached out and asked that we exercise caution during this next tour in Jerusalem.

Of course we will. But we are not afraid to serve there. We look forward to our time in Israel with great anticipation and expectations of a wonderful life experience. We understand the importance of maintaining diplomatic ties with the Middle East. I expect to face many challenges but to reap many rewards. If I do not leave Jerusalem with that sad longing for more time but extreme happiness for having had the experience, I will consider myself a failure.

But I will never again make light of, or joke about the perks of, a Shelter-in-Place, regardless of where we are serving at the time.

And I will never forget that the next time a Foreign Service Officer falls in the line of could very well be someone I know and love.