Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Move Over Oaxaca, Arty Michoacán Is Calling

New York Times article ..

Published: July 20, 2008

IT all started with an enormous green ceramic pineapple. Seconds after it caught my eye in the Museo de Arte Popular in Mexico City, I began to covet it. The label revealed that the piece had been made in Michoacán, a Mexican state along the southwest coast. Oddly enough, over the next hour, almost every time an especially fantastic object caught my attention, the provenance on the label was always the same: Michoacán.

By the time I left the museum’s overpriced gift shop, I had it all mapped out: a crafts safari though the region, foraging for the fanciful animal masks and brightly painted mermaid figurines that caught my eye.

There was one little snag: Michoacán is not only one of Mexico’s premier crafts centers; until recently, it was also home to some of Mexico’s most notorious drug kingpins. Less than a decade ago, its coastal highway was nicknamed Bandito Alley, and the region was overrun with marijuana fields and methamphetamine labs.

But in December 2006, just days after President Felipe Calderón was sworn into office, the government launched Operation Michoacán, sending convoys of troops to bulldoze marijuana fields and chase out gangsters and drug dealers. Drug-related violence has fallen in the last year and despite occasional flare-ups — which have been confined to gang-on-gang violence and government crackdowns — Michoacán is beginning to attract visitors besides backpackers and serious collectors.

A new highway, 37, through Michoacán has also helped, enabling travelers from beach towns like Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo to zip up to the charming colonial center of Michoacán in less than three hours. It used to take as much as eight.

A few months after Operation Michoacán was put into action, my husband, Carsten, and I drove west from Mexico City into Michoacán without incident. The only ambush was the orange-and-black clouds of monarch butterflies, fluttering above our windshield. (In March, the butterflies migrate north across Michoacán’s rolling green hills to lay eggs on the milkweed plants of the United States.) And the only indication of a lingering drug problem was a few soldiers patrolling the highway.

But what is a safari without a little adventure? The region has a reputation for a rebellious citizenry, as well as its wildly natural beauty.

The original inhabitants, the Purépecha Indians, were thought to have developed one of the most advanced pre-Columbian societies in western Mexico. Their achievements included unique T-shaped pyramids and tapestries made from hummingbird feathers. While they succeeded in fending off numerous invaders, including the mighty Aztecs, they were eventually conquered (and almost wiped out) by Spanish rifles and the famously brutal Nuño de Guzmán in the 16th century.

An ideal place to be based is Pátzcuaro, a colonial town set above a large blue lake in central Michoacán. Unlike the endless sprawl that surrounds most Mexican cities, the streets leading to Pátzcuaro are hedged by pine trees and old adobes.

The full New York Times article - 2 pages

Michoacan, Patzcuaro


Tracy Novinger said...

Your blog is beautifully laid out and has interesting content. You may be interested in this knol on Patzcuaro's O'Gorman mural:

sparks_mex said...

Thanks Tracy

I don't think I knew that mural was by O'Gorman. My Spanish teacher from CELEP took me there (the library) on our walk around town when lessons were just too much. She explained it from the top down.

I`d like to use part of your article and give a link if that`s OK. Will try to email thru the site your sent.


Related Posts with Thumbnails
Patzcuaro is the ex-capital of Michoacan and before that was Tzintzuntzan, a small town nearby dating to the Purhépecha empire in the 1300's. The museum in Patzcuaro is finding ruins in it's back yard that predates history and they are believed to be earlier than the history of Tzintzuntzan. The Purhépecha were one of the indigenous tribes that were not conquered by the Aztecs

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