Saturday, November 26, 2011

Puebla Part 12: Puebla's open-air markets

Puebla abounds with open-air markets. Carole and I differ as shoppers. She has a very utilitarian approach and seldom shops unless she is looking for something specific, and never buys unless it is at just the right price. I, on the other hand, enjoy browsing, particularly in places displaying unusual goods.  I don't necessarily intend to buy anything, I just enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of these places. I particularly fancy them as subjects for my photography, with all their color, movement and variety. In Puebla there are multiple opportunities to experience these open air mercados (markets). Some are temporary affairs, only held on particular days of the week. Others are semi-permanent, like the one above where vendors set up canopies and booths every day along the same stretch of sidewalk. Still others are permanent markets with concrete stalls consistently occupied by the same vendors. The sites of some of the permanent mercados have been used for that purpose for hundreds of years. In this posting, we'll look at mercados within all these categories.

Barrio del Artista

Statue at the north end of the Artists' Neighborhood. The center of the Barrio del Artista (Artists' Neighborhood) is one of Puebla's pedestrian-only streets. The north end begins with this lovely statue of nudes peering into the distance. Mexico possesses an astonishing amount and variety of public art, freely accessible to all.

Artists' cubbyholes are combination studios and sales rooms. The area was once the site of textile mills, but in 1941 it was renovated. Fortunately, the architects appreciated the colonial aspects of the area and retained them. One of the most interesting features of this street is the long row of tiny artists' studios. Each of the doors seen above leads into a space not much bigger than a large walk-in closet. In them, the artists paint or sculpt, and meet with customers. Open-air concerts and performances are sometimes hosted in the area in front of the studios.

Opposite the artists cubbyholes are shady sidewalk cafés and restaurants. On this side of the street are galleries and sidewalk cafés, shaded by huge old ficus trees. Barrio del Artista is a great place to while away a warm afternoon, browsing the art studios and people-watching.

Students enjoy lunch at a Barrio Artista café. We stopped at this small café to sample the local fare. Soon, the two students above grabbed a table across from us where they could munch on the inexpensive food and ogle the pretty poblanas (girls of Puebla) walking by. The sign in back of the student on the left advertises Exquisitos Chiles en Nogada. This dish is one for which Puebla has become famous and consists of chiles stuffed with pork, onion, and garlic, covered in nogada (walnut sauce), and sprinkled with pomegranate seeds. Chiles en Nogada was invented by the people of Puebla to honor the saint's day (August 28, 1821) of Agustin de Iturbide. He was a Royalist army officer who defected to the insurgent cause near the end of the War of Independence. He was considered a hero at this point, and the Poblanos held a feast for him. All the dishes were in the colors of the new Mexican flag: green (chiles), white (walnut sauce), and red (pomegranate seeds). All this apparently went to Iturbide's head. He proclaimed himself Emperor of Mexico, but he was soon deposed and a republic established. The popularity of Chiles en Nogada has outlasted that of Iturbide by almost 200 years.

Angel of Death beckons. While lunching at the café, we noticed this ominous, black-clad figure standing across the street. On his back were large, black-feathered wings. Most of the time he remained motionless, but occasionally people would approach him and he would engage in a rather obscure ritual. We were intrigued and I decided that some photos were in order.

Carole takes her chances. I enticed Carole into engaging the Angel to see what would happen. The routine involved dropping a few coins at his feet, at which point he came to life. With a sweeping gesture,  he silently offered a tiny strip of paper from an old cigar box. The paper contained a sort of fortune, but not the bland kind one finds in a Chinese restaurant. It was an eloquent quote from a famous Mexican poet. Unfortunately, we misplaced the paper and I don't remember what it said. However, the encounter itself was certainly memorable.

Mercado Jardin Analco

Flower stall at Mercado Jardin Analco. Above is a scene from the fresh flower section. Mexicans love flowers of all sorts, and there were many varieties available. This mercado is held every Sunday in Jardin Analco, a park on the eastern fringes of the Centro Historico. It is similar to the open-air tianguis familiar to those who live in Mexico, but is quite a bit larger than most I have visited, and easily 5 times as large as the one held on Wednesdays in Ajijic, where I live. The word tianguis (tee-an-geese) comes from tianquiztli in the Nahuatl language of the Aztecs. It means "market day" or "harvest." The roots of the tianguis go far back into prehispanic history and their ruins have been found in Chichen Itza and other ancient sites. To locate Jardin Analco on a map of Puebla, click here.

Masks, warriors, and talavera plates. You can usually find almost anything you want in a tianguis. However, what is offered is generally oriented to the sort of customers the vendors expect. The ones at this market know that Puebla's Centro Historico is a tourist magnet, so they offer various handicrafts as well as more prosaic fare. This stall offered carved wooden masks, small statues of conquistadors and Aztec warriors in combat, and brightly painted talavera plates.

Home decorations in riotous color. An indigenous vender pokes around in the back of her stall, searching for the item a customer has requested. The barrio, or neighborhood, in which Jardin Analco is located has an interesting history. Puebla was a city constructed from the ground up by the Spanish, and had no prehispanic history. Nearby Cholula, however, was one of Mesoamerica's greatest and most ancient cities. In 1531, the conquistadors recruited workers from Cholula to build their new city, and gave them the Barrio Analco to live in while the work progressed. The Cholulans divided the neighborhood into sub-units called calpullis according to their clan affiliations. Later, the Spanish brought in workers from Tlaxcala to help, and these took over some of the former Cholulan clan areas. The barrio still retains a geographic layout that reflects these early arrangements.

Mercado Jardin Analco offers necessities as well as knick-knacks. As I mentioned, you can get almost anything you want at a mercado. Right next to fine craftwork, I found a huge pile of individually wrapped toilet paper rolls. This rather casual display was pretty much the entirety of this vendor's merchandise.

Dressed in her Sunday best. A pretty poblana proudly displays her Chihuahua. The little dog is dressed, as my south-Texas-cowboy father used to say, in "Sunday-go-to-meetin' clothes." It was a bright day, so perhaps the dog was grateful for the shade her bonnet provided. Or not. Chihuahuas are enormously popular in Mexico, and there is evidence that the breed may have originated here. The Toltecs of the 9th Century AD kept dogs called techichis who may have been the progenitors of today's Chichuahuas. Dogs resembling Chihuahuas also appear on artifacts found in the ruins of ancient Cholula and at Chichen Itza, both of which have connections to the earlier Toltecs.

El Parian

El Parian specializes in clothing, crockery, and crafts. In contrast to the Analco market, el Parian is permanent, open daily, and almost exclusively sells tourist-oriented crafts. The vendors keep the same stalls on a long-term basis. The term "parian" comes from the Philippines. The word means "market", and was used throughout colonial Nueva España to describe a meeting place for commerce and trade.  Spain first visited the Philippines in 1521, claiming it for the Spanish King but not building any settlements until 1565.

Talavera pottery is everywhere. The vivid, intricate painting that is typical of talavera pottery can be seen above. You can purchase pottery like this in scores--perhaps hundreds--of locations in Puebla. The first parian was located at Plazuela San Roque, a plaza which has since disappeared. Then in 1796, Mayor Don Antonio Flon established a site for el Parian in the area which later became Barrio del Artista. In 1941, el Parian was moved just south of Barrio del Artista where it has remained ever since.

Plaza de los Sapos

Charming little toad fountain is the emblem of this plaza. Sapo is Spanish for toad, thus the name of this little mercado is Plaza de los Sapos. The San Francisco river used to run close by here, and the river banks were full of toads. Later the river was re-channeled, but the memory of the toads remains enshrined in the name. At Plaza de los Sapos permanent antique stores and galleries around the perimeter share space with temporary stalls set up by crafts vendors in the plaza itself.

Galeria Tierra Verde is covered with very old talavera tiles. The talavera tiles seen above are of a very old style, indicating that the structure containing this gallery is early colonial, as are most of the other buildings along both sides of the plaza.

Antique shop is packed with fascinating old objects. I love old things, as you may have guessed by now if you are a follower of my blog. Antique shops can be even better than museums, assuming they contain real antiques and not just overpriced junk. At such a shop you can actually pick up and handle the objects, and come physically in contact with history. This shop was closed, but I was able to take the photo through the barred gate. Most of the objects seem to be colonial-era and many are religious in nature, such as the angel and the monk seen at the lower right. The antique shop was one of several at Plaza de los Sapos.

Baptismal font was one of the many antiques for sale. This large, carved-stone baptismal font was on sale for the US equivalent of several hundred dollars. I couldn't help but wonder about the babies baptized in it, who they became, and what role they played in Nueva España.

Mercado La Victoria

Mercado la Victoria lies at the end of Calle 6 Oriente. The far end of 6 Oriente is crossed like a "T" by Calle 5 de Mayo. Seen at the head of the T is the entrance of Mercado la Victoria, which stretches back a whole block. At the other end, Calle 6 Poniente begins. Calle 6 Oriente is known locally at the Street of the Revolution, because the Casa Achilles Serdán is located on the right-hand side, about 1/2 way down to the mercado. The house is now a museum dedicated to the Mexican Revolution. The shooting part of the Revolution began with an assault by police and soldiers on the home of Achilles Serdán. He and his brothers were part of the underground movement organized to support Francisco Madero in his effort to oust the dictator Porfirio Diaz. The Serdán brothers were killed to a man and are today heros of the Revolution.

The central atrium of Mercado La Victoria is covered by a stained glass ceiling. Above, a young woman walks by a candy stand with a cell phone glued to her ear. Cell phones, for better or worse, are ubiquitous in Mexico, as they are in many other countries. The mercado was built in 1914 on property that used to be the garden of the Convento Santo Domingo, located next door (see Puebla Part 11). Designed in the French style with glass and steel, la Victoria soon became the most important mercado in Puebla. Eventually security and sanitation became a problem. Finally, in 1986, the mercado was closed for renovation. In 1994, it reopened and seems to have become very popular with poblanos of all ages.

This completes Part 12 of my Puebla series. The next two postings will feature two ancient sites named Cacaxtla and Xochitepetl, which lie about one hour north of Puebla. Creating this posting was a lot of fun for me and hope you have enjoyed it. If you would like to comment, please do so in the Comments section below, or email me directly.

If you leave a question in the Comments section, PLEASE leave your email address so I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful posts on Puebla - so much to see! I have chiles en nogada whenever I see it on a menu, and it's always a tad different, a favorite of mine.


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