Friday, November 28, 2008

Una Fiesta, Un Congreso y La Biblioteca


A few weekends ago, Naomi and I attended the XI Congreso Nacional de Terapia Familiar (National Conference of Family Therapy) in Querétaro. Flocks of family therapists from Mexico City and other cities in Mexico, came to listen to over 150 speakers and attend dozens of workshops ranging from "Pseudoencopresis" to "Art Therapy."

Ana Laura Treviño and Beth Rosenblatt presented at the conference and it was amazing to watch two colleagues as well as friends passionately deliver an amazing perspective on Art Therapy. Naomi and I attended this workshop and a Dance Therapy demonstration.

Ana Laura and Beth

Art Therapy Workshop

That first evening, El Congreso treated us to some yummy canapés (finger foods) and champagne at El Museo de Arte about 5 blocks from where we live. The building was amazing. It demonstrated the fine colonial architecture that is commonly found through out Querétaro. We met Yamel a psychotherapist from Mexico city who is also involved with the LMU art therapy program in San Miguel De Allende coordinated by Beth.
El Museo de Arte

Yamel and Me at the Museum Reception

The Congreso was held en el Centro Cultural y Educativo "Manuel Gómez Morín," a huge complex with coliseum like structures and domed buildings attached by small bridges
This cultural center hosts an array of expositions and openings which included a small exhibit of Dali's 100 years of existence. There was also an exhibit of amazing photographs by Pedro Meyer, who we heard about from a good friend Josh Meltzer who is also an incredible photog. They also have a wonderful science museum for children filled with all types if interactive displays.
Isn't it Ironic

That evening we threw our first impromptu party, which started at 10:30pm. We put together something quickly, which I think was one of the better spreads Naomi and I have put together. Mind you it wasn't my famous rice and beans with roasted chicken and sweet plantains, but the guac, salsa and the variety of Mexican cheeses held together quite nicely. It was very, very chilly, so we ended up on the rooftop huddled close together under warm blankets.
Rooftop Party


To our good fortune, this year’s conference for the Association of Mexican Family Therapists happened to be in Querétaro recently. We could walk from our place to the really interesting complex where it took place. We had visited the complex a few times before because in addition to being a convention center it houses a Children’s Science Museum,

the public library, a National Geological Information Center, playgrounds, community activities, and art galleries. The current exhibitions are Pedro Meyer, a very impressive photographer and a collection of reproductions of Salvador Dalí paintings that is being sent to Catalan communities around the world by the Catalan government.
Looking at Pedro Meyers Work

The main building has a huge open-air plaza in the middle with a fountain and there are exhibits about art for children. They get to climb inside structures and learn about various art forms.

At the conference we attended workshops and lectures on topics ranging from Pre-Hispanic families and indigenous cultures to Pseudoencopresis treated with Narrative Therapy. We also saw impressive presentations by art therapists and participated in a fantastic art therapy experiential workshop.

We met Family Therapists from the U.S. and Canada and numerous states in Mexico, and we extended our network of therapists working here in Querétaro. The first night there was a reception in the courtyard of the art museum, which is a beautiful Baroque building.

We had our first party with 8 people, which was an adventure because we only have 5 chairs! Our guests braved the unusually chilly and windy weather and huddled under blankets on the roof before retreating downstairs. As we were making food for the party at 10 pm I told José that we have really adjusted to the Mexican schedule… our guests didn’t arrive til 10:30pm!

After the conference we went into the centro historico, which was in a festive mood, as it is most weekends! We went to the Regional Museum and saw black and white photos taken by children in Pozos, which is a ghost town and former mining town. Some were incredibly striking. And of course the building itself, a former Franciscan monastary, was very beautiful.

In the courtyard there was a small festival for “economic solidarity” with “games, art, culture, regional products for sale, and exchange and social action.” The regional products included: wooden bowls and utensils, beaded items, embroidered shirts and towels, potted cacti, baskets, and jars of honey, shampoo and soaps. There was also a model of a sustainable farm designed by the University of Querétaro.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Dias de los Muertos

On Halloween we headed to the state of Michoacan to meet our friends Josh and Missy in Pátzcuaro. We were invited by their friend Octavio to camp on a private piece of land that he owns shares in.

Missy, Josh and Naomi at campsite

It was an incredible experience and a really fun place to be for the Día de los Muertos. When we arrived we met two filmmakers from Austin who are working on their second film about ceramics made by the Purhépecha (indigenous people) in the pueblos surrounding Pátzcuaro. They were incredibly knowledgeable and it was a pleasure to explore the huge holiday market with them.


We purchased some incredible art pieces and met some wonderful artisans.

On the first of November we built an altar at our campground to honor those who have passed on.
Building Alter

We included relatives, friends and friends’ relatives and friends. After sunset we took boats across the lake to the island of Janitzio.
Janitzio Island at Night

The journey in the dark across the water felt like a mythical journey into the underworld, across the River Styx. We explored the cemetery that was beautifully decorated with marigolds, cockscomb, white flowers and candles. From up on the hill we could see the small white boats, which were being paddled by men dressed in white. There was lots of delicious food being sold, but most of the souvenirs being sold looked like they were made in China instead of being local crafts. We left by 10 pm, just when the masses were arriving… when we got back across the lake there were huge lines of people loaded down with blankets. Many people stay on the island overnight.
Boat Ride

The next day we went to Tzintzuntzan (seen-soon-san) and saw the incredible cemetery there. Many people had camped next to their relatives’ graves. There was a mass being performed, there was a band playing , and incredible decorations on the graves. It looked like some families added dirt on top of the graves while others had brick graves or large stone monuments.

We met an incredible 94 year-old woman at her husband’s grave. She told us that he died 13 years ago, and that she has four kids. She asked us to take her photo and started dancing.

She gave us kisses, some of her fruit and offered us a toast with her bottle of Coke.
We walked up the hill to the pyramid ruins and saw that entrance was free on Sundays… for Mexicans only.

It wasn’t exactly clear where to pay as we wandered into the museum, and the attendant called me back to the counter. I said, “Soy Mexicana.” She asked for my identification and I pointed out that she wasn’t asking anyone else for their identification, just letting them in. She wasn’t having it. We went outside and then Jose went back in and was able to waltz in without paying. I know Mexicans who have my coloring, and why should they have to show their ID when no one else is? In the end, it is a minor incident and nothing compared to how Mexicans are treated in the US, but still I don’t like to see profiling.
On our last night we ate corundas (tamale-like triangles with yummy sauce) around the campfire and then made s’mores.

A lot of people recommended that we head out to Pátzcuaro for Dia de los Muertos which starts on November first through the second. November 1st is mainly known as "Día de los Inocentes" (Day of the Innocents) but also as "Día de los Angelitos" (Day of the Little Angels) and November 2nd as "Día de los Muertos" or "Día de los Difuntos" (Day of the Dead).

Most of the hotels were full so we went camping with our good amigos Josh and Missy (fellow Fulbrighters) along with Annie, her husband Jose “Super”, their ten year old son Panzon and their 3 month old daughter Elena.

The campground, Quercus, was cozy and well manicured by 3 hungry horses who grazed on the grass all day long. There were also these 3 friendly collies who kept us ‘safe’ at night but were howling their heads off by 3am in the morning (I guess they were excited to have us there).

We also met David and Consuelo who have a house near the campsite. They where extremely hospitable and friendly and took the whole gang in their minivan to the cheapest and most delicious breakfast you could have.

Like Naomi had mentioned, there was a central plaza that housed hundreds of artisans and their beautiful art. There were different styles that were being put on display such as the Catrinas, the Diablos, Piñas de Barro and so on.

Naomi and I bought a couple masks made of wood that are amazing. We could have bought a lot more art but we had to eat. And as far as eats go in Pátzcuaro, Mmmmmmmmm! I tend not to eat too much street food, but I had some of the best Molé, not too chocolaty or thick, just right. I was introduced to the tamales cousin ‘corunda.’ It’s basically made with the same ingredients as a tamale but the only difference is it’s wrapped in plant leaves (banana probably) rather than corn husks and it’s in the shape of a triangle. Also they smother it in crema and salsa roja caliente. Corunda’s are a typical food of Michoácan.

Serving up some Corundas

As Naomi pointed out earlier, we built an altar for our loved ones who had passed away. We got all of our flowers in town for practically nothing; marigold, elephant’s feet, etc.

Flower Market

Naomi, Missy and Josh put a lot of time and effort and made offerings to our loved ones.

After making the altar, we headed out to Janitzio island, where tons of tourists go to visit the gravesites of long lost souls. We had to take a ‘lancha’ (boat) across the lake. After nightfall, it seemed as if we were being whisked away to Hades by the grim reaper.

The island itself was packed with tourists but somehow you felt alone as you walked up and down the tight corridors. The streets were steep and cobble stoned and hundreds of vendors wanted you to buy a little something to eat along the way.

I can’t quite put my finger on it but Janitzio island had a haunted feel to it. The air was thick and felt like there was a fog rolling through. But the visibility was pretty clear. I think the air was permeated with the souls who hadn’t transitioned yet (spooky).

TZINTZUNTZAN (seen-soon-san)
The next day we headed out to Tzintzuntzan to visit some gravesites or as they’re called here in Mexico, panteons.

The amount of marigold flowers was impressive as they covered practically everything in the panteon. I was impressed by the creative ways family emulated their dead by creating elaborate headpieces they attached to the headstones. Others, without headstones, decorated the mound of dirt their loved one was buried in by planting flowers and plants. And to see families camping out to be with their deceased overnight was very touching. It felt as if the deceased were playfully orchestrating their families to reanimate them from the dead. And they practically did.

Walking around with our mouths wide open we encountered a 94 year old woman on her knees, adorning her husband’s grave with flowers and food offerings. She saw us hovering and got up and offered us some fruit. She began telling us that she wanted her picture taken. She was really taken by Naomi and started peppering her with kisses. Her name was Miriana Sanchez de Ramirez and she was tending to her husbands grave of 13 years. She said that day of the dead made her happier than anytime of the year because it brought her closer to her husband.

After that we headed up the hill looking for something sweet and ended up with warm hotcakes. From where we were standing we could see the ruins and began the trek up the hill. The entrance fee was 39 pesos but what got us a bit riled was the free entrance to ‘solo mexicanos.’ Naomi, Missy, Josh and myself walked in ignoring the woman who was collecting the fees. She called to Naomi telling her that she had to pay as countless people walked past. Naomi confidently remarked that she was ‘Mexicana’ but the woman asked to see i.d. We all regrouped outside, trying to make sense of what just occurred. I decided to test this ‘solo mexicanos’ rule and was let in without so much as a peep form the woman. Josh was also let in without a word. We left soon after feeling that some things in the world need to change and in my heart I wanted November the 4th to come sooner than tomorrow.

To see some really incredible photos of our journey go to Josh’s site at:
Josh Meltzer