Monday, January 25, 2016

Zamora Part 8: Patamban, a window into the past

A local couple sits across from Patamban's plaza. Portales (covered walkways) line all four sides of this small pueblo's plaza. Patamban is a very picturesque community located in the mountains to the south of Zamora. The couple above were among the few people we saw on the streets when we arrived. The empty cobbled streets and rustic structures gave the place an other-worldly feeling, like stepping into the past. For a Google map of Patamban and the surrounding area, click here.

Plaza Patamban

A pretty plaza occupies the center of the pueblo. One of the few residents to be seen was the little girl in front of the kiosco (bandstand). Unlike most Mexican plazas, the kiosco in this one is rectangular rather than octagonal. The town descends in stages down the side of a hill, with about half the town above the plaza and the other half below. In this shot, you are looking uphill.

Across the cobblestone street from the plaza is another set of portales. This one contains a block of local government offices. In most pueblos I have visited in Mexico, the portales' pillars are stone or sometimes brick covered with plaster. In Michoacan, because of the state's vast forests, wood is used for pillars, as well as window frames and balconies.

A local vendor set up shop on the steps of yet another set of portales. She was selling large wooden paddles for stirring food in a vat, as well as smaller wooden cooking tools. We had arrived at the tail-end of the tianguis (street market). Usually once a week, residents of the pueblo and the surrounding villages gather at the plaza to sell each other the produce they grow or handicrafts they make. Patamban's artisans specialize in pottery. In the upper left, you can see a small store with the name Abarrotes Orozco. Abarrotes are groceries and Orozco is the name of the proprietor. A stand along the walkway advertises "Hot Cakes". Like many other pueblos in Michoacan, Patamban's local tongue is Purépecha and Spanish is only the second language. Given this, I was surprised at how often English signs appear.

A pair of local women chat in the street while another couple walk in the distance. Not only were the streets empty of people, but also of cars, trucks, or other motor vehicles. All this gave the place a 19th century feeling. Notice, also, how the streets are free of trash or debris in all these photos. People here may be poor, but they take pride in their community.

A sign for Sol beer adorns the worn wooden walls of this walkway. Nearly all the roofs in town were covered with red clay tiles. This method of roofing can be traced back 10,000 years to Neolithic China and the Middle East. During the millennia since, the practice of roofing with clay tiles spread all over the world. One of the primary benefits is the fire resistance of clay tiles.

A single pedestrian strolls down another quiet street. Most of the buildings in town appeared to be constructed of adobe or concrete, or a combination of both. The streets are paved with cobblestone, the cheapest and easiest paving method in poor communities.

Iglesia San Francisco de Asisi

The forecourt of San Francisco Church is approached through this old gateway. Through the gate, you can see a colonial-era cross set on a pedestal in the middle of the forecourt. Behind it is the main entrance of the church.

View of the church from within the forecourt. The man in the cowboy hat, seen in the lower right, kindly informed us that most of the village was attending a funeral inside the church. He assured us that the service would end shortly and that we could then enter for photographs. Such courtesy and friendliness to outsiders are often encountered in Mexico's remote pueblos. The yellow structure was constructed in the 17th and 18th centuries, while the steeple is more recent.

The main entrance to the church is framed by carved stone. A century ago or so, this part of the church was damaged by an earthquake and then rebuilt. The very first church on this site was constructed in the 1550s by a Franciscan friar named Juan de San Miguel. However, that primitive adobe and thatch structure was later replaced by a sturdier stone building.

The left side of the church shows some of the 17th century construction. The old staircase leads to an arched doorway framed by simple, unadorned pilasters. Notice how the wall on either side is constructed using stones of various sizes and shapes. This is an indication of the early date of its construction, when evenly cut stones weren't available. Set in the wall above the doorway is a fascinating little relief sculpture.

The sculpture above the entrance portrays three figures standing in the doorways of a church. The figures are quite worn and obviously very old. Richard Perry publishes the website Arts of Colonial Mexico. He is my best source on colonial arts and architecture. According to Richard, the reliefs above "appear to portray Saints Peter (left) and Paul (right) with God the Father at center."

This keystone is located at the top of an arched doorway to the right of the main entrance. The date "1700" marks the inauguration of this part of the church. The arched doorway leads into the patio of the old Franciscan cloister.

The stone patio of the 300 year old cloister was covered by green moss. I could almost hear the shuffling sandals of the friars who onced lived and worked here. The balcony of the cloister's upper story carries the decorations from a recent fiesta. I was hesitant to intrude on this space, but one of the women working there cheerily waved me in.

Main sanctuary of the church. The church has a single nave, very simply decorated, as befits a Franciscan edifice. The Franciscans were generally quite serious about their vows of poverty and simplicity.

The main altar area. Again, simplicity reigns. Lit by candles, a few pieces of furniture and statues adorn the space. In some churches I have visited, actual candles have been replaced by banks of electric lightbulbs. Instead of lighting them with a match, you put in a coin. Call me a traditionalist, but I prefer the real thing.

In a side chapel, a worshiper contemplates a statue of Christ on the Cross. She is wrapped in a traditional rebozo (shawl) of brilliant blue. Several of the women in my photos wear similar rebozos. People in little pueblos like Patamban are deeply religious.

Hospital de la Concepción Inmaculada

An old adobe building stands adjacent to the atrium of Iglesia San Francisco. This is probably the oldest structure on the church property, possibly dating back to the 16th century. It is quite similar to another structure I showed in my previous posting on San José de Gracia. Both structures were built for the same purpose: hospitality. The original meaning of "hospital" was different in those days. These places were originally intended to offer food, shelter, and religious services to pilgrims. Over time, the friars began to provide medical treatment for the sick and injured. Ultimately that became the primary function of these hospitals.

Entrance to the hospital. Decorative carving adorns the stone doorway. The lower walls are of rough stone, while the upper section is of adobe. The wooden door may be hundreds of years old. I find structures like this deeply evocative, as well as highly photogenic. The very air I breathed seemed ancient.

A pair of school girls pauses for a photo. With a little persuasion, these two stopped and produced shy smiles for me. Mexico's beautiful children are often my best photographic subjects.

This concludes Part 8 of my series on Zamora, and ends the series itself. I hope you have enjoyed visiting Patamban and can stop in there some time in the future. If you would like to leave a question or a comment about this posting, please do so either in the Comments section below 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

Friday, January 8, 2016

Zamora Part 7: Random rambles in the Centro Historico

Tidy, well-kept streets with lovely old architecture characterize Zamora's Centro Historico. One of the activities we like best, when visiting a new place, is to simply wander the streets. This yields many small but interesting details for my photography, as well good people-watching, a favorite activity of Carole's. Above, we are looking down Calle Cázares toward its intersection with Calle Hidalgo. The steeple of Templo San Francisco peeps over the rooftop in the background. You will find iron benches wherever you go in Mexico, often set under shady trees, ready for the weary stroller.

View down Calle Allende, one of the town's pedestrian-only streets that lead to Plaza Zamora. More benches line this interesting walkway. In this case, they have formed handy places to park a bicycle and a motorcycle. It is always a relief to encounter one of these refuges from the rush of traffic and smell of exhaust fumes.

Little details like this door knocker tend to catch my eye. The old iron knocker is set off nicely by the cracked paint on the wooden door. It looks to be of 18th or possibly 19th century design.

A jolly workman cavorts in front of Templo San Francisco. By his clothing and bucket, I would guess that he makes his living washing the cars of people who park along the street. You will find these guys everywhere (and they are nearly always men). It's often very convenient to have them clean your car when you have a spare 30 minutes or so. They do a good job and generally charge only about $30 pesos (about $2.00 USD). This fellow seemed surprised when I asked to take his photo but then decided to have fun with it.

Café Expendio is located across Calle Hidalgo from Templo San Francisco. Café means "coffee" and expendio means "small shop", so this is a place where you can buy a cup of coffee and maybe a pastry. Notice the decorative door frames. This building used to be someone's mansion, probably built in the 19th century. The wealthy of earlier eras generally built their town houses in the most prestigious areas--on or near a plaza. In modern times, these structures have been transformed into the many small shops you typically find around a plaza.

Iconic photo from the Mexican Revolution. This famous photo by German photographer Hugh Brehme was taken in Aguascalientes during a meeting of Revolutionary leaders in late 1914. The Convention of Aguascalientes sought, unsuccessfully, to end the fighting and form a new government. The soldiers on the cowcatcher are followers of Emiliano Zapata, called Zapatistas. The mechanista (railroad mechanicin the dark suit, standing to the left of the soldiers, is Wesley Daniel Brockway, an American railroad employee. In my blog post on the Aguascalientes Railway Museum, I had published a cropped version of this same photo that excluded the man in the grey suit with his hands on his hips. Some months before our Zamora trip, the mechanista's grandson, Wes Brockway, contacted me through my blog's comments section. He asked if I had the full photo, which included his great-grandfather, William Brockway--the grey suited man. After extensively searching my photo files and the internet, I failed to come up with anything but the cropped version. Much later, while strolling through Zamora, Carole and I stopped to eat at a rather nondescript restaurant. As we waited for our order, I wandered around the place, looking at the old photos on the walls. I almost passed this one by, but then noticed that it is the full version, including William Brockway! I quickly took a shot of this rare version and emailed it to Wes Brockway upon our return to Ajijic.

Decorative lintel above a doorway. This one has a crack in the middle and has obviously seen better days. The door way is part of a structure that was built at least in the 19th century and possibly earlier.

Carole passes another doorway, this one leading to a lawyer's office. Notice the sign on the right advertising abogados, spanish for "attorneys". The width of the door indicates it was once the main entrance of a mansion, possibly even the carriage entrance.

19th century apartment building, located on Calle Melchor Ocampo. As with many of these old buildings, the ground floor has been transformed into a multitude of small stores, including Yasmine's Boutique, and one of the ubiquitous "Telcel" cell phone stores. Telcel is owned by Carlos Slim, a billionaire who long ago immigrated from Lebanon. He is Mexico's richest man and one of the richest in the world. Slim also owns Telmex, the land-line system. He recently cut a deal with the Mexican government which now allows Telmex customers to call anywhere in Mexico or North America for free.

Keystone over a doorway arch. This magnificent architectural detail is typical of the 18th and 19th centuries. Notice the graceful lines and floral decorations. The arch, as an architectural feature, first appeared in Mesopotamia in the second millennium. However, it was not until the time of the Roman Empire that they were used extensively. The true arch was unknown in pre-hispanic Mexico and only appeared after the Spanish arrival.

This completes Part 7 of my Zamora series. I hope you enjoyed it and, if so, you will leave any thoughts, comments, or questions in the Comments section below or email me directly. If you leave a question in the Comments section PLEASE leave your email address so that I can respond.

Hasta luego, Jim