Monday, October 27, 2014

San Luis Potosi Part 6: Masks of the Post-Conquest Era

Figure dressed for the Dance of the Moors and the Christians. Although the North African Moors were a brown-skinned people, indigenous mask makers in Mexico usually portray them with white faces. Behind the Moorish mannequin is a large photo of a mask-maker at work. Las Danzas de los Moros y Cristianos commemorate the 700-year struggle of Christians to expel the Muslim Moors from Spain. In my previous posting on the National Mask Museum, we looked at indigenous masks with pre-hispanic themes. This week I'll show how the masks changed after the 16th Century Spanish Conquest. In the last section of the posting, you'll see some of the gorgeous masquerade costumes of Venice, Italy. These were part of a short-term, traveling display.

Portrayals of the Spanish Conquerors

Masks with white faces from Guerrero State. The people who wore these wood masks portrayed various characters in the Dance of the Moors and the Christians. All the faces are male with white or pink skin and long noses. Most of the faces show beards and/or mustaches. Many have rouged cheeks that give them an almost clown-like appearance. This was probably due to the sunburns that the light-skinned Spanish would have acquired from Guerrero's intense sun.

Mask expressing the duality of the cosmos. Duality was a fundamental concept in the pre-hispanic world. Everything has its opposite, and together they form a whole. Each part is inextricably connected with its other side: male-female, day-night, life-death, etc. Each can only be understood, or even exist, in relation to its opposite. Above, this Janus-like mask expresses duality using two blonde figures, male and female. The native people often portrayed the Spanish satirically, so this double mask might express the two-faced nature of white overlords. One the one hand, the Conquistadors brought Christianity, on the other, enslavement and cultural genocide.

A sun-burnt Spanish Conquistador, wearing a golden helmet. This carved, wooden mask from Guerrero gives us an idea of how the conquerors appeared to the native people. When the Spanish arrived in Guerrero, most of the indigenous people fled the fertile Pacific Coast plains to the safety of the mountainous interior. Consequently, the Spaniards had to work their own fields, at least at first. Eventually, they imported African slaves to do the work. The mix of Spanish, African, and indigenous cultures gives this part of Mexico an interesting cultural twist.

This dancer portrays a doddering old man, leaning on a cane and wearing a white mask. La Danza de los Viejos (Dance of the Old Men) originated in Michoacan State and is famous throughout Mexico. The dancers are actually very athletic young men who start their performances with slow creaky movements.  Gradually, they increase the tempo to a very energetic and acrobatic level. The dance was created by the Purépecha people to covertly mock their Spanish rulers. The indigenous people did all the actual physical work in colonial Nueva España. The Spaniards sat comfortably on their horses and watched, never getting any real exercise. Consequently, they aged rapidly and became old and hunched, as portrayed by the dancers. We have seen this entertaining dance performed in the plazas of the Michoacan cities of Patzcuaro and Morelia.

Wooden mask from la Danza de los Locos (Dance of the Crazies). According to Yolanda Lastra, in her book Adoring the Saints: Fiestas in Central Mexico, "A type of crazies, men dressed as women, existed in pre-Columbian times and were adapted immediately after the Conquest as characters to mock the, groups of crazies who take part in patron saint fiestas continue this tradition... the crazies and the giant puppets are two of the bawdiest, most grotesque, and satirical components of the patron saint fiesta."

La Danza de los Moros y Cristianos

An elaborate, brightly ribboned mask of a goateed Moor. In 711 AD, a Moorish army crossed from North Africa to Gibraltar and began the invasion of Spain. The army consisted of North African Berbers but was officered by Arabs accountable to the vast Umayyad Caliphate that would eventually stretch from southern France to modern Iraq. The conquest of Spain took only seven years, but holding it was another matter. For a time, the Moors controlled nearly all of Spain and even extended their reach across the Pyrenees Mountains into southern France. Eventually they were forced back into Spain. Internal dynastic squabbles weakened them, as did a series of religious coups by groups that were increasingly more radical in their interpretation of Islam. Christian rulers in the remaining non-Muslim pockets of Spain used these Moorish divisions to begin La Reconquista (the Re-Conquest).

The mask of the Moorish King Pilates is topped with an elaborate head dress. The wooden mask is from Apaxtla, Guerrero. The Dance of the Moors and the Christians commemorates the Battle of Clavijo which occurred in either 841 or 844 AD, depending on your source. According to the legend, this early Christian victory was the start of la Reconquista. As the story goes, Santiago Matamoros (St. James the Moor Slayer) appeared at a critical moment in the battle and led the Christian forces to victory over Pilates and his Moors. This was how the Apostle James gained the nickname Matamoros. Most historians don't believe the battle actually happened. Apparently it was invented hundreds of years later by people who wanted to rally Spanish support for la Reconquista by making Santiago Matamoros the patron saint of Spain.

Mask of a bearded Christian warrior with a fanatical stare. This fierce-looking wooden mask was made in Ostotitlán, Guerrero for the Danza de los Santiagos. The dance is one of the innumerable versions of the Danzas de los Moros y Cristianos. From the time of the Moorish invasion through the mid-10th Century, there were continual wars and skirmishes between the Moors and Christians. However, these appear to have been more territorial than religious. At times Moorish princes would enlist Christians as allies or mercenaries to fight their Moorish rivals. Sometimes the Christian feudal lords, while squabbling among themselves, would use Moorish troops for the same purpose. It was all very messy but, over time, the Christian-controlled regions gradually expanded. The Muslims were steadily forced back toward the south and east coasts of Spain.

Mask of the Christian King, made in Apaxtla, Guerrero. Toward the end of the 11th Century, la Reconquista mutated from simple territorial skirmishes into a full-scale religious war. This process accelerated when, in 1095 AD, Pope Urban II called for a Crusade to free the Holy Land. This First Crusade was one of several waged over the following centuries. The Crusades drew Christian warriors from all over Europe into conflicts with various parts of the Muslim world, including Spain. Some of the early Crusades were successful for a time because the Muslims were relatively unprepared. However, the Muslims ultimately recovered nearly all the territory the Crusaders captured. The only unqualified Crusader success was la Reconquista. In 1492, the south-coast principality of Granada was the last remaining Moorish stronghold in Spain. When it fell to the husband-and-wife team of King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castille, the 700-year Reconquista was complete. During the last stages of their siege of Granada, a young Italian named Christopher Columbus waited impatiently in Ferdinand and Isabella's camp. He was eager to present a proposal to sail westward over the Atlantic in hopes of landing in Asia. As it turned out, he discovered a New World, transforming Spain from a poor, barely-unified medieval state into the seat of one of the largest and richest empires the world had ever seen.

Santiago Matamoros, in typical dress and mounted on a white charger. When the figure portraying Santiago is not mounted on a real horse, the dancer will wear a small, wooden horse's head protruding from the front of his costume. Ferdinand and Isabella and their successors used lessons learned fighting the Moors to conquer their new overseas empire. La Reconquista had produced a Spanish army that was filled with highly trained, battle-hardened, and ambitious soldiers. Arguably they were the best in the world at that time, but they were a dangerous group to keep standing around idle. The New World was a good place to send them and they proved spectacularly successful. In addition, the Spanish had developed the encomienda system to handle newly-conquered Moorish lands. Transferred to the New World, this system allowed a Spaniard who subdued a local population to be granted an encomienda, or the right to demand free labor. On his part, the new overlord had the responsibility to ensure that the locals were properly Christianized. New World encomiendas were very beneficial to the Spanish conquistadors but disastrous to the native populations. Lastly, the bloody-handed but victorious Santiago Matamoros became the patron saint of those fighting to conquer the New World's non-Christians. Newly-arrived Spanish priests pushed the indigenous people to celebrate the Spanish defeat of the Moors. The resulting fiestas became imbued with all sorts of pre-hispanic meanings not intended and probably not understood by the priests. To see an example of this, check out the Danza de los Tastoanes, held annually in Tonalá, near Guadalajara.

Danzas de la Santa Semana (Holy Week Dances)

One of the Semana Santa dances in Nayarit State features this "borrado" or Jew. Semana Santa is the week-long Christian tradition also known as Easter Week. Catholic priests taught the Cora people of the Sierra del Nayar that the Jews were the persecutors of Christ. The figure above represents the Cora vision of what a borrado, or Jew, would look like. Shortly after la Reconquista, Queen Isabella banished the Jews from Spain. After a couple of generations, the Spanish priests themselves probably had no idea of what a real Jew looked like. In addition to the strange beak and horns, the dancers paint their bodies from the neck down with horizontal black and white stripes.  At the end of the dance, the borrados proceed to a local river where they symbolically immerse themselves. Their stripes are washed away, their masks float off with the current, and the dancers emerge again as good Christians. Interestingly, according to a pre-hispanic Cora tradition, their sun god Tayau was buried and reborn. This similarity to the Christian resurrection story was probably used by Catholic priests to help evangelize them.

This Semana Santa dancer is dressed as a Jewish fariseo (Pharisee). The goat skin masks of these Mayo dancers of Sonora State typically have grotesque features. Part of the function of the the fariseos is to walk around the pueblo asking for limosna (alms) to help cover the cost of the fiesta. During the dances, the fariseos circulate, playing tricks and practical jokes. At the end of the dance, they doff their masks and costumes and throw them in a great bonfire to demonstrate the triumph of good over evil. Queen Isabella was a religious fanatic who favored forced conversions of Jews (and Muslims) and expelled any who refused. In her view, the Jews, led by the Pharisees, were Christ-killers. This prejudice survived well into the 20th Century among many Christians. The masks and dances of some of Mexico's indigenous groups reflect the beliefs they have been taught by the Church from the earliest days of the Conquest.

Mask from Guerrero showing a grinning Roman Centurion with huge fangs. The Romans are the other evil-doers in Semana Santa pageants. The Romans, after all, are the ones who carried out the actual crucifixion. This huge wooden mask must have sat very heavily on the shoulders of the dancer wearing it.

Masks of the Venetian Masquerade

An elegant figure with a gold mask displays a lacy fan. The gold mask is called a volto (Italian for "face"). It was not clear to me whether this is a male or female figure. Given the fan, I'd probably vote female. While most of the National Mask Museum is devoted to its permanent displays, there are also temporary displays from other parts of the world. When we visited, the Museo was showing the masks and costumes of the Venice Masquerade. The mannequins of the display fit in perfectly with the elegant salons and drawing rooms of the 19th Century mansion formerly belonging to the Marti family.

The cap with the bells indicates that this figure is some sort of court jester. The mask appears to be of the style called bauta. The Masquerade is a part of the activities occurring during the Carnival of Venice. This great festival begins in January and ends on the first Tuesday in March (Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras). According to legend, the Venice Carnival began as a celebration of the victory of the Republic of Venice over the Patriarch of Aquileia in 1162 AD. During the Renaissance, the Carnival became an officially sponsored event. At the end of the 18th Century, when Venice was ruled by the King Austria, the event was outlawed and the use of masks forbidden. The Carnival was revived in the 19th Century, but mostly for private parties. In 1979, the Italian Government once again sponsored the Carnival as a way of bringing back the history and culture of Venice.

An elegant couple wear two distinctly different types of masks. The woman (left) wears a Columbina covering the upper half of her face. Her lower face is covered by a sort of fringed veil hanging from the bottom of the mask. The male figure (right) wears a volto, along with a tricorn hat and a cape. In Medieval and Renaissance Venice, there were many occasions throughout the year when people wore masks, in addition to the Carnival. In fact, the wearing of masks and cloaks by men in public meetings was required as a way of keeping their identity secret when they voted. This seems to have been an early expression of the secret ballot. While dressed for this public purpose, men were forbidden to carry weapons.  In 1339 AD Venetians were also forbidden to wear masks and vulgar disguises while visiting convents. This may have been to inhibit carnal activity with the nuns.

This figure wears a gold volto, topped with a bishop's mitre (hat). The figure seems to be a female but, since the purpose of masks and disguises is concealment, who knows? The makers of the Venetian masks were called mascherari. Their craft was officially recognised by law in 1436 AD. They were sometimes assisted by sign-painters who helped decorate the masks with detailed designs.

A Medico della peste rests in a chair while clutching his stick. A Medico della peste (Plague Doctor) was a physician who dressed like this to treat plague victims, not to celebrate. The outfit was developed by the French doctor Charles de Lorme in the 17th Century. The mask and spectacles were used to protect against catching the disease. Medicos della peste moved their patients using the stick to avoid touching them. This was the 17th Century's version of a modern Ebola "HazMat" suit. Use of this costume in the Carnival is entirely modern, but very popular.

This concludes Part 6 of my San Luis Potosí series. It is also the last of the National Mask Museum. I hope you enjoyed this amazing museum and that you take the time to visit it if you get to San Luis. I always appreciate comments and questions. If you'd like to make one, please leave it in the Comments section below or email me directly.

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

Hasta luego, Jim

Monday, October 13, 2014

San Luis Potosí Part 5: The Marti Mansion and its Mask Museum

Wooden devil mask from the state of Michoacan. Carole and I have always been fascinated by the indigenous masks of Mexico, as well as the dances associated with them. In fact, we have assembled our own small mask collection from Michoacan, Guerrero, Oaxaca and elsewhere. The use of masks for religious and spiritual purposes extends back at least to the Olmecs, thousands of years into pre-hispanic times. When the Spanish arrived, the indigenous people incorporated Catholicism into their ancient beliefs. Masks that seem to be about Catholic themes will often carry pre-hispanic meanings.  In addition, some of the masks were used in dances that covertly ridiculed the white oppressors. San Luis Potosí's Museo Nacional de las Máscaras is located in an opulent former 19th Century mansion. The mansion occupies the southwest corner of the Plaza del Carmen. To find the Mask Museum on a Google map,  click here:

The Marti Mansion

The beautiful Marti Mansion would be worth a visit, even without the Mask Museum. The large, two-story structure was built by a wealthy miner and hacienda owner named Ramon Marti. In 1894, at the height of the opulent era called the Porfirato, Marti purchased and demolished five adjoining homes. Using the engineer Enrique Campos, Marti erected this Neo-classic palace. Campos finished the work in 1897.

The central courtyard is occupied by a complex set of interlocking staircases. The effect is graceful and airy, rather than ponderous and imposing. The rooms surrounding the courtyard on both levels are now occupied by the display salons and museum offices.

The salons show the typical decorative elements of Porfirato architecture. The Porfirato was named for Porfirio Diaz, Mexico's dictator for the 35 years between 1876 and 1911. During this era, Mexico's wealth increased dramatically as foreign investment brought railroads, telegraph networks, new ports, and many new industries. However, the overwhelming majority of this new wealth was concentrated in the hands of a small number of Mexicans surrounding Diaz. Beautiful homes like this were only possible because the mines, industries and haciendas owned by men like Marti paid their workers just enough to survive and sometimes not even that. Labor unrest in the mines and factories was kept in check by the iron hand of Diaz' secret police and military. Farm workers who tried to escape the debt slavery system of the haciendas were caught and returned by Diaz' fearsome rural police force called the Rurales.

Ornate plaster cherubs and floral motifs adorn the ceiling. Ramon Marti didn't get to enjoy his pleasure palace for long. He died in 1898, only a year after construction was finished. His heirs apparently viewed it as a "white elephant" and sold the property in 1903 to a Diaz supporter, General Bernardo Reyes. He, in turn, sold the house to the federal government in 1907. For the next 75 years, the Marti Mansion served as the Palacio Federal, housing a variety of agencies such as the Federal Public Ministry, the League of Agrarian Communities, the Mining Council, and the National Telegraph of Mexico.

This ceiling shows a winged cherub frolicking among colorful flowers. After decades of wear-and-tear, in 1982 architect Fernando Valdez Lozno remodeled the building. That same year, the current museum was created. The 2,500 piece collection of Victor José Moya Rubio and his wife Mildred Dingleberry Himm became the core display. Then, in 1998, the building had to be rehabilitated because of cracks that threatened to split the structure in two. The Instituto Nacional de Antropologia y Historia (INAH) has designated the Marti Mansion as a historic monument.

Masks and mask-making in Mexico

Masks have been and still are used in dances and rituals in virtually every corner of Mexico. A few examples typical of their region can be found on the map of Mexico seen above. At the time of the Conquest there were between 100 and 200 distinct tribal groups within the borders of what is now Mexico. Even today, there are still at least 60 distinct indigenous languages spoken here. The themes of the masks and the materials from which they are made vary from region to region according to local resources and traditions.

Skull mask of Tezcatlipoca, one of the most powerful gods of the Aztec pantheon. The surface of the mask is inlaid with bone and turquoise. The turquoise was brought down from what is now New Mexico to the Aztec Empire. For more information on Tezcatlipoca, see my posting on the Aztec Cosmos. However, the Aztecs were relative latecomers to the world of mask-making. 2,500 years before them, the Olmecs were carving extraordinarily fine stone masks of various sizes. Some of these have been recovered from sites along the Gulf Coast of Veracruz and Tabasco. Others have been found in Colima on Mexico's West Coast and in Costa Rica to the south.

Masks are made from a variety of materials, including finely woven natural fibres. The kinds of materials used include sisal agave, dehydrated cactus leaves, dried corn husks, gourds, and coconut fruit rind. The use of these fibres goes back to the very dawn of Mesoamerican civilization. Some modern mask makers still use such materials.

This Huichol mask uses both human hair and wood. The painted designs include a deer, which is one of the most sacred symbols of this culture. The Huichol have tenaciously maintained their traditions, rituals, and mode of dress. As a mask material, wood is highly preferred by many indigenous craftspeople, including the Huichol. It is easy to acquire, durable, malleable, and possesses healing and magical qualities. To obtain the wood, trees are cut ceremonially, at precise times and under particular conditions relating to climate and astronomy. Among the favored woods are pine, copal, mesquite, cedar, and avocado.

Another natural fibre mask of a more primitive design. This mask was unidentified, but may have come from northern deserts of Mexico once inhabited by nomadic hunter-gatherers called Chichimecs. These nomads tended to favour such light materials because, lacking fixed abodes or draft animals, they had to carry all their possessions from place to place.

Settled groups could afford to use more delicate materials like clay. Masks such as these are favored in places like Oaxaca, where the local black clay is used to produce especially fine work. The Zapotecs of Oaxaca were contemporaries of both the Olmecs and the Aztecs, giving them one of the longest continuous histories in Mexico. Other places specializing in clay masks include Metepec in Mexico State, and Tonalá and Tlaquepaque in Jalisco State. As with the wooden Huichol masks, the ones above are adorned with human hair. Notice the eye slits just above the painted eyeballs.

Güe Gües and Devil Dancers

A Güe Güe sporting a huge blonde "Afro"holds a characteristic whip. Güe Gües appear at many indigenous fiestas and dances. They wear terrifying masks and crack their whips as they move around the fringes of the mass of dancers. I have seen them in action at dance fiestas as widely separated as Tuxpan in southern Jalisco and the northern Puebla State mountain town of Zacatlán.

Another Güe Güe wears a horned mask and clutches a small doll. Dolls are often carried by these characters and may symbolize fertility. Güe Gües are associated with both devils and the aged. They represent the on-going struggle between good and evil, a post-Conquest concept which has been incorporated by indigenous peoples into their fiesta rituals.

This Güe Güe looks like a "flasher" from a horror movie. His mask is both terrifying and hilarious. The whip he carries in his right hand will be used to exact "penance" from dance participants. Some authorities think the whips carried by Güe Gües are related to the experience of African slaves imported into Vera Cruz and Guerrero States. Over time, the slaves inter-married with indigenous people and the result was a amalgam of African and the New World cultural traditions.

Diablo de la Pastorela mixes indigenous with biblical imagery.  Pastorelas are plays that recreate biblical passages related to the Nativity. In that story shepherds were alerted to the birth of Jesus by an angel who directs them to look for him. These plays were introduced by evangelizing friars as a way of teaching Christianity to the newly conquered-and-converted indigenous populations. In the Pastorela plays, devil figures wearing masks like this try to distract and mislead the shepherds from their quest. This mask comes from the Purépecha crafts workers of Michoacan. They are an indigenous people who are famously skilled at woodworking.

Three wood and polychrome masks from Chilacapa, Guerrero. These masks were used in the Danza de los Siete Vicios (Dance of the Seven Vices). Although the masks above seem rather nightmarish, the diablos or devils of Mexican dances are typically irreverent or satirical characters. Their goal is to subvert morality and they will often provoke laughter in the spectators through their vulgar comments. Notice that the tongue of the mask on the left is the head of a serpent.

The sly smirk on this fellow's face indicates he is up to no good. This wooden mask from Guerrero includes a human-hair beard. Underdlying the good vs evil dichotomy imposed by the Church are indigenous meanings that are much more complex. The figures represent beings of the spirit world that carry a wide range human attributes, as well as attributes of the ancient gods.

Masks and the Animal World

Both in life and in the indigenous spiritual world, the jaguar is extremely powerful. It is the largest and most powerful non-human land predator in the Western Hemisphere. In the world, only the Indian tiger and the African lion are larger. This animal has been the symbol of warriors, nobility, and the underworld from the earliest times. The Olmecs left many stone monuments showing half-human, half-jaguar figures. Some of these were carved so that they appear to be emerging from underworld caves. The physical manifestation of the Aztec god Tezcatlipoca was a jaguar. The great Toltec and Aztec military empires and the Maya city-state of Chichen Itza all fielded armies led by jaguar warrior-societies. Since it hunts at night, the big cat was believed to possess the power to cross over to the dark world of the spirits. The brightly-painted wooden mask above uses stiff animal hair to represent the jaguar's whiskers and eyebrows.

Masks used in la Danza de los Murciélegos (the Dance of the Bats). These animals have been considered sacred for thousands of years because of their association with darkness and caves--seen as entrances to the underworld. The Aztecs revered a Bat god called Camazotz.  However, worship of bats may have originated with the Zapotecs, almost 1,400 years before the Aztecs made an appearance. A beautifully caved bat mask made of jade with shell eyes and teeth has been unearthed at the ancient Zapotec capital of Monte Alban and archeologists date it to 150 BC. The masks above are from Guerrero State and were carved from wood.

Crocodiles are another important symbolic animal. Sometimes masks, like the wooden one above, depict only the head of the croc. Others are constructed to show the whole animal and are worn around the waist of the dancer. The head and mouth extend in front of the dancer and the tail stretches out behind his back. Crocodiles were called Cipactli by the Aztecs and were associated with the cardinal direction of east. The 260-day Aztec religious calendar was divided into twenty segments of 13 days, with each segment related to a particular god. The crocodile was the symbol of one of these segments and the associated god was Ometeotl, god of duality and creator of all the other gods. The god Tezcatlipoca was one of Ometeotl's sons. According to the mythology, he lost his foot to a great crocodile monster. Perhaps the message was: don't mess with Dad's pet.

This extraordinary mask and head dress may come from the Colima area. There was no informational sign about its origin, but I encountered a very similar mask when we visited a crafts workshop in the City of Colima. The head dress worn by this kneeling figure is huge and must be quite heavy. However, its size and weight are not the most unusual aspects of this work.

The open mouth of the bull mask contains another mask with a stylised human face. I have seen a lot of masks in Mexico, but have encountered few that contain a mask-within-a-mask. In addition to that oddity, the wearer can manipulate the head dress with the tasseled cord in this left hand, as well as the one hanging down on the right. What exactly happens when he pulls the cords is still a mystery to me, but the effect is no doubt spectacular.

This completes Part 5 of my series on San Luis Potosí. Next time, we will continue with the Mask Museum to see masks that reflect the Spanish Conquest and the imposition of Catholicism on the native population. If you enjoyed this posting, don't hesitate to leave a comment or a question. You can do so either by leaving your message in the Comments section or by emailing me directly.

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

Hasta luego, Jim

Thursday, October 2, 2014

San Luis Potosí Part 4: The lovely & lively Plaza del Carmen

A large bronze fountain forms the centrepiece of the Plaza del Carmen. This lovely plaza lies two blocks east of Plaza de Armas on Calle Manuel José Othón. The first of those two blocks is another of San Luis Potosí's delightful walking streets. Behind the fountain, lit by the fading sunset, stands a former colonial mansion and federal building which is now the Museo Nacional de la Máscara (National Mask Museum). In this posting, I will show you the main features of the plaza, including some of the best of San Luis' colonial and 19th Century architecture. However, the plaza is not only about beautiful buildings. It is also one of the liveliest and most entertaining places in the city, as you will soon see. To view a Google map of the plaza area, click here.

The pink cantera of the Templo del Carmen and the Teatro de la Paz glow in the late sunlight. Between them, obscured by the trees, stands the Museo del Virreinato (the Viceroyalty Museum). It was once the Carmelite convent attached to the Templo. Now, it contains a large collection of fascinating artefacts from the city's colonial past. Together, the three structures form the east side of Plaza del Carmen. Two future posts will focus on the Templo and the contents of the Museo.

The clear notes of a flute wafted through the plaza as we strolled around. Like most street musicians, this one plays for tips which can be deposited in the cloth cap on the ground between his feet. He is probably a music student attending one of San Luis' several universities.

Commerical buildings form the north and west side of the broad plaza. In the center of the background you can see the multi-story Villa Carmela restaurant. Although we never ate there, it looked like a good spot to enjoy lunch while viewing the activities occurring below.

The central fountain (seen previously) is supported by four gaping-mouthed bronze fish. Despite much Googling, I could initially find little information on this fountain. Finally, I thought of Lori Jones owner of the Operatour Potosina, a tour agency we used during our visit. Lori is an excellent, English-speaking tour guide and I emailed her for information. She asked around and reported back that the sculpture was done by Joaquin Arias Méndez (1913-2013), a famous Mexican sculptor. He is also responsible for a sculpture in the plaza's Teatro de la Paz as well as many others around Mexico, including the famous Minerva statue in Guadalajara. The fountain was inaugurated in August 25, 1973, when the plaza was remodeled.

Near the fountain, we encountered this rather spooky-looking figure. The statue is called "El Cofrade" (the Friar). It commemorates the Procession of Silence, the most important annual civic event in San Luis Potosí. Every Semana Santa (Easter Week), the procession gathers in this plaza and then winds through the streets of the city. Participants include many of the Catholic brotherhoods dressed in special costumes, some of which include the pointed hoods seen above. The multitude moves in complete silence in order to respect the solemnity of the occasion. Among the many other groups participating are the bullfighters. They come to honor their special patron, Nuestra Señora de la Soledad (Our Lady of Solitude). The tradition of a silent Easter procession was introduced very early in the colonial period by the Carmelite Order of Mexico City. However, San Luis' procession was not organised until 1954. At that time, a bullfighter named Fermin Rivera and a Carmelite priest named Nicolás de San José put together the first event here. The Procession of Silence is considered part of the cultural heritage of San Luis Potosí and draws 160,000 visitors to the city from all over the world.

A group of young students expresses a less solemn attitude. Gather some students, hold up a camera, and they never fail to adopt the most outrageous poses they can think up, given a moment's notice. Boisterous friendliness seems to be an attribute of youngsters like this all over Mexico, and perhaps worldwide.

Templo del Carmen is one of the finest examples of Churrigueresque Baroque in San Luis. The construction of church and convent was begun in 1747. The church was officially blessed in 1764, although the tower was not completed until 1768. Unfortunately, many of the great art works it once contained have been lost or destroyed. During more than a century of conflict between the beginning of the War of Independence in 1810 and the end of the Revolution in 1921, much of value was lost to Mexico. However, in 1936, the Templo del Carmen was declared a national monument.

Clowns entertain a group of students in front of the Museo del Virreinato. I have rarely visited a city in Mexico without encountering at least one clown. Usually there are whole troupes of them. These two had the "happy" and "sad" routine down pat. When I took this shot, the clown on the right had just spotted me. The sly grin on this face did not bode well.

The "sad" clown tests his blade as he looks me over like a butcher considers a piglet. As a foreigner with a camera, I often become a target for clown humour, so I try to remain discreetly in the background lest I be drawn into the act. Discretion being the better part of valour, I moved off across the plaza.

The Teatro de la Paz stands next door to the Museo del Virreinato. The Teatro is clearly a product of the late 19th Century Porfirato. The Neo-classical facade, with its stately Corinthian-capped pillars, is typical of the great theatres constructed all over the nation during that period. The Porfirato is named for President Porfirio Diaz, Mexico's dictator from 1876 to 1911. The first stones were laid in 1889, under the direction of architect José Noriega, and the building was completed in 1894. The Teatro can seat 1450 people and is decorated throughout with sculptures. The dome is covered with Belgian bronze.

Again, a group of students cavorts while I take their picture. This was a different group on a different day, but the attitude was almost identical. I began to suspect there might be an instruction booklet for students: "This is how you act when a strange-looking foreigner points his camera at you." Both the kids and I had a lot of fun with it.

Directly across from the Teatro stands the Museo Nacional de la Máscara. The Mask Museum occupies the southwest corner of the plaza. The building was constructed in 1897 as a mansion for a wealthy miner and landowner named Marti. Even without the museum, the building would be worth visiting because it is an architectural jewel. In later years, the Marti mansion was taken over by the federal government to house various agencies. Finally, in 1982, it became the Museo Nacional de la Máscara. The museum houses approximately 25,000 masks, largely from the Victor José Moya collection. Most of the masks were  created by Mexico's various indigenous groups, but some are from other parts of the world. Wandering through the many rooms of this museum takes you through a world that ranges from nightmarish to hilarious.

Monumento al Padre sits on a bench at the side of the Mask Museum. The Monument to the Father has a simple theme, showing a man playing with his young son and daughter. A pair of brothers, Joel and Mario Cuevas, sculpted this affecting work. It was inaugurated in 2008 and a plaque beside it reads:

"Only a parent possesses the necessary art of being able to inspire in their children respect, love, and friendship, all at the same time."

Restaurante Nicolle is another that sits above the plaza. The west side of the plaza is filled with commercial establishments like this second floor restaurant, as well as the internet cafe and artisan shop below it. There is something to be said for an open-air restaurant high above a street. If this were a sidewalk cafe, the heavy traffic, noise, and fumes would create an unpleasant ambiance.

A tall, colourful catrina decorates the roof of still another restaurant. The Plaza del Carmen is a lot of fun to visit, as you have seen. The architecture is gorgeous and varied, the museums are full of fascinating exhibits, and people-watching opportunities are plentiful. Just watch out that you don't get roped into a clown's act.

This completes Part 4 of my San Luis Potosí series. In my next two postings, we'll take a look at the Virreinato and Máscara museums. I hope you have enjoyed this post and, if so, please feel free to comment or ask questions. You can do so either by using the Comments section below or by emailing me directly.

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Hasta luego, Jim