Friday, December 13, 2013

The white-washed silver city of Taxco

I decided I needed to get out of D.F. the other day, so I headed south to Taxco.  I hopped the metro down to southerly bus station, and get there just in time to catch the 10am bus out of town to Taxco- some 3 hours away.  I arrived to the bus station and the white-washed silver city of Taxco.  Between the white-washed colonial walls, white VW beetles plied the cobbled road.

Taxco is part of the open veins story of Latin America.  The Spaniards first came to the area in 1522, after they learned from Aztecs of mineral deposits in the nearby mountains.  Over the next century, the mines bled a steady stream of silver for the Conquistadors and Spanish colonials.  Unlike the silver ghosts of many other mining cities, Taxco had more lodes to lead to silver booms in the 18th century, and as late as 1932.

I grabbed a torta in a little cafe with a view of the Plaza Borda- named for the Jose de la Borda who discovered the second big silver lode in 1717, and the grand Iglesia Santa Prisca. After lunch, I meandered through the lovely little central plaza as mariachi song filled the afternoon air.  I ventured into Casa Borda, the cultural center that once housed the Borda family, and later became a home for parish priests.  The cultural center had some phenomenal exhibitions of silver jewelry, with Aztec in-laid symbols carved in amber and other intricate crafts on display.

To be honest, I was wandering around the city a bit bored and lackadaisical.  I was searching for Casa Humboldt- a Moorish-baroque building of colonial art.  I passed it a few times, not realizing that the sign outside was part of its name Museo del Arte de Virrenial- art of Viceroy.  I entered the museum and into a dark exhibit. A nice old lady who worked at the museum turned on the lights, and I laughed about a museum in darkness I had visited in Samarkand.  She explained to me that the Casa Humboldt was named for the famous Prussian traveler Alexander Von Humboldt, who had stayed in the residence for a night or two.

The museum had an interesting collection of colonial arts and artifacts, and models explained the guilding process and various other accouterments of colonial arts.  Then I stumbled upon the exhibit on the trade routes, and I got chills.  there was an exhibit explaining the trade route between Acapulco and Manila, and the tornaviaje so famously discovered by Urdaneta.  It described Urdaneta's coup, and the gold and silver that flowed from New Spain to the Philippines on the Manila galleons.  The open veins meet the tradewinds. Trading gold and silver from Taxco, San Luis Potosi, Guanajuato and Zacatecas to the Philippines for pepper, cardamom and other spices.  I swam through memories of Manila, and wondered if any Mexicans or Filiponos realize how closely linked their respective histories are.

I finished in the museum, and sat in the sun-light plaza, scribbling down notes and thoughts.  I started chatting with a couple next to me, an Iraqi Christian (Chaldean) couple who live in America.  Of such an ancient faith, we mourned the decay of that community in the insecurity that came post invasion.  They were on a pilgrimage to churches in Mexico, holding masses in syriac in these giant iglesias.

I moved up to a balcony cafe, and sipped a michelada as I dreamed of connecting Mexico and the Philippines through cultural diplomacy.  I would have a field day bridging that exchange.  I would love to send mariachis to the music-crazy Philippines, and bring Filipino bands to Mexico.  And of course, gastrodiplomacy through trading tacos and tlacoyos for adobo.  I feel both counties would love each other's cuisine, and find some real similarities given their respective Spanish heritage and history.  Trade stories of the independence fighters, the poet Rizal for the priest Hidalgo.  Maybe I should sail a Manila galeon from Mexico to the Philippines bearing cultural and gastrodiplomacy treasures, and return from the Philippines back to Mexico via the tornaviaje with Filipino cultural delights for Mexico.

The thoughts that the museum percolated reminded me of why I set out, and why I continue to explore for history and ideas to play with.

I wandered my way back through the hillside markets, stopping to munch tacos at tiny stands. The fiery salsa on the tiny tacos warmed my blood as it burned my lips.  I grabbed the evening bus out and back to Mexico City after a nice break from the fair city.


John Brown said...

Paul -- My U.S. diplomat father was posted in Mexico 62-66, and one person there he became quite well acquainted with was Bill Spratling of silver design fame. As you know, Spratling made Taxco his "home," and I understand there is a museum in the city about him. Is that correct? As a teenager I saw Spratling on several occasions, including in Taxco: He was quite a character. Best -- and thank you for another great travelogue. John

Paul Rockower said...

Si! I saw the Spratling Museum in Taxco, it was right around the corner from the Casa Humboldt. I did not stop in because it was a museum of pre-Colombian artifacts, and it was not really what I was looking for that day. Now I'm sorry I did not.