Saltillo´s Revolution Museum

Know what holiday we´re celebrating on Monday?  (OK, actually Sunday . . . always on the 20th.)

It´s the commemoration of the beginning of the Mexican Revolution!

Now, if you´re from the US like me, we tend to use the words for Independence and Revolution interchangeably.  We talk about the American Revolution when we talk about the US´s independence movement.  However, strictly speaking, the US´s independence movement wasn´t really a revolution.  Revolutions are more commonly classified when the peasants rise up and revolt against the powers that be.  In the US´s example, wealthy landowners rose up against the king.  Which was a big, fat, hairy deal.

But not a revolution, per se.

However, Mexico´s revolution was a revolution.  At the same time, part of it was wealthy landowners were throwing off the yoke of a dictator.  Also, a big, fat, hairy deal.  But not precisely a revolution.  But as those wealthy landowners threw out the dictator, the peasants also rose up, demanding basic human rights, land, and dignified treatment as citizens.  It was messy.  It was complicated.  That was a revolution.  As it all happened at the same time, with certain sides working together, then working against each other, then together again, and–what the heck–it was really each man for his own, we just call the whole mess the Mexican Revolution.

And I guarantee, I will oversimply the story here.   img_4423

Since this blog centers on Saltillo, the capital of the state of Coahuila, it makes sense to attempt to explain the Mexican Revolution by using by using Coahuila´s two most famous people as bookends.  To oversimplify:  Francisco I. Madero started the revolution and Venustiano Carranza ended it.

Throughout the end of the 19th century, Mexico´s president was Porfirio Díaz.  He was president for 30 years.  Suffice it to say, lots of people were sick of him being president.  Lots of journalists started agitating for a change in leadership.  However, under a dictatorship, that kind of talk doesn´t go real far.

 

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One of the Revolution Museum´s more impressive artifacts–a Madero´s wife´s´s copy of Madero´s book, On Presidential Succession, complete with a personal inscription.

Leading up to the 1910 presidential election, Francisco I. Madero threw in his bid for the presidency.  He was jailed for it (and his popularity), escaped and fled to Texas.  Finally, all the unrest surrounding this election caused Porfirio Díaz to resign, and Madero won the first free elections in decades.

Unfortunately, a little over a year later, Madero and his vice-president were assassinated in a coup.  Therefore, to this day, Madero is one of Mexico´s few non-controversial historical figures.  He´s one of Mexico´s best-known martyrs.  Everyone loves him.

This is where Venustiano Carranza comes in.  General Huerta was the guy who staged the coup and killed Madero.  In contrast to Madero, Huertaimg_4417 is Mexico´s undisputed villan–everyone still hates him.  So Carranza formed an opposition government to Huerta´s “official” government.

We could just say that Carranza´s forces fought Huerta´s forces for nearly 10 years, and that´s the end of the story.  But that´s too much of an oversimplification for even this short summary.

During this time period, much of Mexico´s land was owned by a few very wealthy families.  Their large tracts of land were organized into haciendas.  They were rather like the Mexican equivalent of the plantations of the US antebellum south.  While slavery in Mexico was abolished when the country won independence from Spain, the majority of people who worked on these haciendas were essentially slaves.  While they technically had legal rights, they had no way of excersizing those rights.  There wasn´t much of a middle class.  The majority of the country´s wealth was concentrated in the hands of a few very rich families.  There were very, very many people who had next to nothing.  They were desperate.  They were angry.

That makes for a very dangerous combination.

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Carranza and his buddies, signing the Plan de Guadalupe, stating that they did not recognize Huerta´s government.

So while Madero and Carranza were busy turning Mexico´s political situation on its head, leaders like Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata led armies seeking significant social and economic changes (like breaking up those large haciendas and redistributing the land).

To be honest, there are so many ins and outs, intrigues, alliances and alliance-breaking among the many armies that took part in the Mexican Revolution, that I get a bit lost following the story.  Ánd, since I live in Coahuila, and Saltillo´s Revolution Museum focuses mainly on Coahuila´s heroes (Madero and Carranza), so I don´t know much about Villa, as both he and Zapata were staunchly against him.

To make a long story short, after 10 years of fighting, everybody was sick of it and eventually the revolution came to and end.  But, let´s be honest and admit that Carranza had a pretty heavy hand in squashing Zapata´s and Villa´s armies.

What lasting effects did the Revolution have?

  • The current constitution was adopted in 1917.  (This coming 5th of February will be its 100th anniversary.
  • The haciendas were, by and large, broken up.
  • Mexico has not had a dictator since Porfirio Díaz.  (The 70 years that the PRI was in undisputed power is a different story.  But, despite all that, no president has been in power for more than one term since the revolution.)
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You–what have you done to defend the conquests for which we gave our lives?

Want to learn more about the Mexican Revolution?

Visit the Mexican Revolution Museum on Hidalgo, in downtown Saltillo.  (Go up Hidalgo, past the cathedral, past the Casino, past a gorgeous house, and the museum will be the next building.)

If anyone is interested, but would need translation, throw me an email at saltilloexpats@gmail.com or jilldouglas01@hotmail.com

 

 

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The Revolution Museum also has two Bleriot airplanes on display from that era.

 

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Disclaimer:  yes, I left out about a billion crucial points.  Feel free to add in those important pieces of history that I omitted in the comments section.

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Need a Coahuila Driver´s License?

I had to renew my driver´s license the other day.  When I got to the Department of Motor Vehicles, it turned out that they had changed addresses, and only listed “Torre Saltillo” as their new address.

I had no idea where Torre Saltillo was.

Fortunately, I had a few ideas, and they turned out to be pretty good ones.  So, to save others hours of aimless wandering, the new address for the License Office is on the north side of the Periferico Luis Echevarría Alvarez, between Torre Saltillo (a very tall building occupied by saltillo-dmvBanorte) and Starbucks–the Starbucks right next to Pour le France.  It´s a much better location than the previous one by the jail.

But, back to the original question–do you need a Coahuila driver´s license?  Permanent residents officially have one year after being issued permanent residency to apply for a Mexican driver´s license.

If one is not a permanent resident, one can´t get a Coahuila driver´s license.  No worries– any valid foreign driver´s license is valid here, too.

A driver´s license costs $599 pesos and is valid for 2 years.

What do you need for a first-time Coahuila license?

  • valid passport
  • document that says is residing legally in Mexico (also known as a visa)
  • proof of address (electric bill, phone bill, water bill, etc.)
  • driving certificate (valid foreign license will do.  Otherwise, the applicant will have to take a driving test.)
  • $599
  • as with all government documentation, it is wise to bring copies of everything

License Renewal Requirements?

  • expired license (my husband warned me that they might not renew the license before it was expired.  So I was uninsured for a week before I remembered to get myself to the License Office.)
  • visa (and copy)

When I went, there was someone standing by the door, eager to direct all applicants to the right window.  I brought my visa, but forgot to bring a copy of it.  Fortunately, there was a house across the street that happily made a copy for a peso.  DSCN0170

After I turned in the copy of my visa and expired license, they gave me the bill for the new license.  I headed across the street to the Banorte, stood in line to pay those $599, and brought the bill with the reciept attached back to the License Office.  (Be sure to pay at Banorte, and don´t waste your time standing in line at the place that looks like they accept payments for the city or state government next door.  They can´t accept payment for driver´s licenses.)

After turning in the proof of payment, I sat in front of the camera, and recorded my digital thumbprint and digital signature.  Five minutes later, the new license was hot off the press, and I was good to go!

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There is a parking lot in front of the License Office, but it looked like it was a paid lot, and the neighborhood doesn´t seem the least bit shady and doesn´t have heavy traffic, so the lot was empty while everyone parked on the street.

And that´s the skinny on getting a Coahuila driver´s license!

 

Back to School: in Mexico!

All around the world, it´s that time of year.  All of us who have school-aged children are battling the crowds, shopping for notebooks, pencils, and uniforms.  School is school the world over, right?

Yes it is.  However, when I first came to Mexico, there were a few customs that threw me through a loop, and life would gone more smoothly with prior warning.

 

So, without further ado, here´s my Mexican Back to School To Do List:

Forrar librosIMG_4155

Once kids are in elementary school, they have at least 5 notebooks and 5 textbooks (likely more) that all need to be covered.  The notebooks need to be color-coded, according to subject, and then sealed with contact paper.  The textbooks also need to be preserved for all time with the help of contact paper.

Has anyone else noticed how contact paper gets static electricity and takes on a mind of its own?  Yes it does.  It makes this never-ending job all the
more tedious.

On the bright side, I have heard that some papelerías offer book-covering services for $50 or less.  That´s $50 well spent.  They just need to advertise better on my side of town!

 

Stock up on newspapers

Homework  for kids in preschool and early elementary school often consists of bringing in magazine or newspaper cutouts.

  • Bring in cutouts of musical instruments.
  • Bring in 10 cutouts of people waving hello or goodbye.
  • Bring in 10 words that start with the letter C.
  • Bring in 5 cutout triangles.
  • Bring in 10 proper names.

Apparently, there is no end of things kids can be asked to cut out.  Now, if I were to let my 5-year-old use the scissors and look for all 10 of those letter Cs himself, we could easily spend hours and hours on kindergarten homework.  To facilitate things, I have him look for one (and sometimes help point it out) and he cuts out the first one (to work those fine-motor skills, of course).  Then I cut out a number of words, about a third of which start with C.  Out of the words I cut out, I ask him to identify which ones start with C, so then he can pick them out and glue them in his notebook.

And then he cuts words out here and there as he sees fit, as that boy loves scissors.

In the end, the homework gets done in a timely manner, and the kid works both his brain and his fingers a bit.  Win-win.

 

Cleaning supplies imagen1 1035.JPG

In the list of school supplies that the teachers give out every year, there is always that odd addition:  4 rolls of toilet paper.

The following week, we are then hit up to donate some bleach and mop soap.  Maybe this is just a public school thing (but I doubt it).  See, for public schools in Mexico, the government builds the building and pays the teachers.  The parents are responsible for the rest–primarily, maintaining the school building.  That donation that they ask for every year for the Parents´ Association?  That money is very necessary, paying for the school´s telephone bill, ink for the printer, repairs that need to be made throughout the year, etc.

So every couple of months, kids go to school, armed with a package of toilet paper.  Hands-down, it´s one of the more essential school supplies.

 

Fingernail Checks

This doesn´t happen at my kids´ public schools, but I´ve heard that some private schools will write notes home, chastizing the parent if a child has very long fingernails.  If they´re long enough to gather dirt, they´re at risk for the Fingernail Note!

Once upon a time, I worked at a children´s home, taking care of elementary aged kids. Those kids were sent back home if their fingernails were too long!  Watch out!

 

Other Quirks

Last Friday of the Month

A few years ago, it was mandated by the Secretary of Public Education that the last Friday of every month be set aside for teacher inservice days.  So, all public school students (and I believe most private school students) have the last Friday of every month free.

End of School?

The last day of school in Mexico has always been a bit of an enigma.  Even when I was a
teacher, I had no set date when the last day of school would be, because it´s possible for private schools to be finished a week or two before the official last day of school set by the government.  However, each school needs an official visit from the SEP by the end of the year, for them to determine if the students reached their academic goals (and could therefore be done for the year).

Things get even trickier this year, because it appears that the SEP is giving schools the option of having a longer school day, and having a 185-day school year.  Or schools can stick to their regular hours and use the 200-day calendar.  So the last day of school is either June 27th OR July 18th–depending on your school.

Since my son´s school day has been extended, but my daughter´s hasn´t, it seems one kid will start summer vacation in June and the other in mid-July.  Awesome.

 

But we´ve got 190 more days of school to get through first, so let´s enjoy them!

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Sidenote:  I haven´t had any experience with Mexican junior high and high schools yet–is there anything else at those levels I should prepare myself for?  (Besides the whole, “I have a teenager” thing, of course.)

Is there anything else with the Back-to-School season that throws you for a loop?  Let me know in the comments section!

 

Museum of Coahuilan Presidents

 

During Spring Break, I took my visitors through the Sarape Museum, and they were still game for more museums.  (My favorite kind of visitors!)  We were hanging out in the Plaza de Armas, so I suggested that we wander through the Museum of Coahuila’s Presidents, which is located in the back corner of the state government building.

Now, for years, I assumed that the state building was off-limits for the public.  Then one day, I was at the Plaza de Armas with a friend and her preschooler had to use the bathroom.  She just waltzed past the security guards at the entrance and that kid was able to use a beautiful, clean, free, public toilet!047

So don´t shy away from entering the state government building on the Plaza de Armas.  The metal detectors and guards are a little intimidating, but it´s well worth a visit.  One reason for visiting is the Museum of Coahuila’s Presidents, which occupies one corner.  Like most of Saltillo’s government-run museums, it´s tiny.  If one reads fast (or doesn’t have enough Spanish to read much), a visit can take 5-10 minutes.IMG_3819

However, if visitors do like to read, it´s a pleasant way to spend a small portion of an afternoon.

Despite the massive size of this state, Coahuila has never had a large population.  So there haven´t been many of presidents from this state.  I guessed that they´d have a lot of displays of Madero and Carranza, and I wasn’t wrong.  (Both were presidents during the Mexican revolution 100 years ago.  Essentially, Madero started the Mexican Revolution, and Carranza was instrumental in ending it.)  What Coahuila doesn’t have in population, it makes up for in larger-than-life leaders!

The second part of the museum seemed to go off on a tangent, singing the praises of
IMG_3821Coahuila’s governors.  Since the museum is called Museo de Presidentes Coahuilenses, does that mean that it focuses on Mexican presidents who were originally from Coahuila, or those who were “president” of the state of Coahuila?  (Otherwise called governors–and I´m not just getting lost in translation.  The word is the same in English and Spanish!)

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Whatever the case, for those who have ever wondered who Perez Treviño and Nazario Ortiz Garza were–major streets are now named after these men–look no further.  This museum will clue us in.

The museum has a third gallery, housing rotating exhibits.  At the moment, there are a collection of photographs and some costumes celebrating matachines.  No festival in Coahuila is complete without a group of matachines, so it was an appropriate exhibit in the state government building.

 

 

However, that which makes a visit inside the state government building most worthwhile isn’t even in the museum.  On entering the government palace, look up, or go up a flight of stairs.  On the second story is a fantastic mural highlighting key events in history and a few of Coahuila’s most famous citizens.

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That mural will bring me back inside the government building.  That, and the free restrooms.  But I’ll swing through the museum before or after, so they’ll continue to keep the restrooms open to the public.

Parras de la Fuente

Parras.jpg When I´m itching to get out of town, Parras de la Fuente is my easy getaway of choice.  Only two hours from Saltillo, it makes for a great daytrip.  Sometimes it´s nice to stay for a whole weekend, too.

Parras is officially recognized as a Pueblo Magico by the federal government.  This means that the town is charming, has some attractions, is graffiti-free, and often gets crowded on weekends and during Holy Week.  Crowds do abound over Holy Week, particularly Easter weekend, but on average weekends it´s a quiet, charming place to visit.  However, if one plans to stay overnight, make reservations ahead of time, especially during the warmer months.   There are only 4 hotels in town, and they can fill up quickly.

What is there to do in Parras?376

  • Casa Madero–the oldest winery in the Americas.  Casa Madero is the main reason my family frequents Parras as often as we do.  Often we go all the way to Parras with the sole purpose of bringing home a case of wine.  While Casa Madero´s bodega doesn´t offer tastings, they do offer tours with very knowledgeable guides.  They explain the wine-making process, from growing the grapes, juicing them, and the fermentation process.  They also distill brandy on the property, and include the distillery on the tour.

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    Touring Casa Madero

As wine tastings are not provided at Casa Madero, which wines should one buy there?  (Given the expectation that everyone would want to take a bottle, or five, home with them, of course.)  Honestly, I haven´t had a bad wine from Casa Madero.  My favorite is their merlot.  The chardonnay and cabernet suavingnon are also very good.

 

  •   Estanquillo de la Luz–Parras boasts a number of reservoirs for 384public swimming.  This is the only one I´ve tried.  But I love it so much, I may never try another!  The 9-foot deep, crystal-clear, chemical-free pool would make a beautiful setting for the Olympic games, with the church on the hill, Santo Madero, towering majestically over the reservoir.

Entrance to the reservoir is 203insanely affordable, a mere $15 for adults.  We like to live it up and rent a palapa for the day, so we have some shade, benches to sit on, a table to use, and a grill.  That sets us back a whole $50 for the day.  They do charge for parking, but the lot is locked, and again, the price is negligable.  They also charge for bathrooms, but that´s also about $3.  Despite all the nickle-and-diming, it´s a very affordable day away!

They rent innertubes and life jackets, and, for those who don´t bring food to grill, there is a little store stocked with chips, candy, and gorditas.  Beer is permitted as long as it´s not in glass bottles.  For little kids who don´t swim well, there is a playground area and a kiddie pool with slides.  The kiddie pool can get very slippery, but even after some spectacular falls on the painted concrete, my kids still love it.

When I want to pretend that I´m at a resort, but not pay a resort price tag, this is the place to go!

  • La Casona–my favorite restaurant in Parras.  But, much like Estanquillo de la Luz, this is just about the only restaurant we´ve ever tried in Parras.  It´s such a winner, we feel no need to try anywhere else.

We go for their carne asadas.  They do have tables inside, but it´s much more enjoyable to sit outside in the patio, to listen to the sizzle of the grill and smell the smoke when the wind blows in the wrong direction.  Just order a package that includes various cuts of beef, frijoles charros, and guacamole.  They´ll happily provide as many tortillas as necessary.  My family has spent many delicious afternoons there.

 

More

While in Parras, stop at one of the many candy stores.  Parras is known for their pecan-based and milk based candies.  I stock up on canelones, a milk candy that´s covered in powdered cinnamon.  My sister-in-law is always in search of ate de membrillo.  Most candy stores also stock dessert licqueurs that are made in town or elsewhere in the region.

Most people also climb to the top of Santo Madero, the church that is on the top of the hill, which overlooks the whole town (it´s hard to miss!).  However, I tend to spend too much time letting the fish nibble on my toes at the reservoir, so I´ve never been to the top of Santo Madero.  One of these days . . .

Some weekends, people set up stalls in the Plaza del Reloj and sell handicrafts, candy, and hippie jewelry.  The tourism secretary also runs a sight-seeing trolley, which I believe leaves from that plaza, too.  The trolley is another one of those things that I´d like to do, but still haven´t done there.

Thank goodness Parras is so close!  Because I will certainly get back there and have the chance to check out all I´ve failed to do yet.

 

Casa Madero, Parras, Coahuila
Wine maturing at Casa Madero.

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Where is Parras?

Smack between Saltillo and Torreón.  Take the highway going to Torreón, and get off at the Parras exit.  Easy peasy.

Where is Casa Madero?

Once you´ve turned off the highway, you´ve got about 15 minutes to go to reach the town of Parras.  Casa Madero is about halfway between the highway and Parras.  As the road passes through some vineyards, you´ll see white walls with a white gate just before the road curves left.  That´s Casa Madero.

Where is Estanquillo de la Luz?

Upon entering Parras, the road all but dead ends.  The center of Parras is to the right.  Keep on that road until just about the end of town.  There should be some signs, but when it looks like you´re just about out of town, turn left.  The road should go pretty sharply uphill, and the Estanquillo de la Luz is at the top.  (I´ll get better directions the next time I go.)

Where is La Casona?

The main plaza is Plaza del Reloj.  Walk to the backside of the church on this plaza, and you should see another plaza, one with a kiosk.  Facing the kiosk with the church behind you (there will be another church on the left side of the plaza from this direction), turn right, walk down the street, and La Casona will be on the left.  A hotel is across the street from La Casona.  Sta. Isabel, I believe?

The Tools to Make It Through

Kids whose families are struggling face tremendous pressure to find a job, forcing far too many students to consider dropping out of school to work full-time, even before they´ve finished junior high.

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Many rally to that article in the Constitution that declares every Mexican child is entitled to a free education.  But the reality of public education is that the government pays the teachers´ salaries and the construction of the school building.  The parents are responsible for the maintenance of that building.  So when the school asks for supplies, they often ask for toilet paper and bleach more often than they ask for paper and pencils.

Every school has a registration fee, in the name of parents´ association dues, to maintain the building.  Then teachers ask for bleach, toilet paper, and sanitary napkins, and $10 to $20 pesos every few weeks to keep the school functioning.  Add in the cost of school supplies, uniforms, and backpacks, and this quickly becomes overwhelming!

How do parents who struggle to put food on the table manage?

Seeing the need of these struggling students, the Christian Relief Fund (CRF), founded the community center last year, with the help of a group of full-time volunters from Ft. Worth.  The Christian Relief Fund provides funds for sponsored students to pay their school fees and school supplies, taking some pressure off of parents and providing a safe and supportive place for students to spend their afternoons.

CRF Saltillo birthdays
Celebrating a birthday.

So the community center got the word out, sent around questionnaires for interested families, and those families in the most need now receive uniforms, school supplies, and school fees from the Christian Relief Fund, as well as enrollment at the community center on a regular basis for homework help and enrichment classes.  In Saltillo, the Christian Relief Fund currently sponsors 104 children.

The center is open every afternoon, Monday through Friday, and on Saturday mornings.  Kids can drop in to do their homework and use the computers.  They begin organized activities every afternoon with a short IMG_7628devotion and songs.  Then they offer English classes, grammar classes, reading workshops, a career exploration class, and–everyone´s favorite–a “trip around the world” class, exploring different countries.  A number of the moms like to join in for that one!  On Friday afternoons, they take it easier, playing games and watching movies.  Saturday mornings, they serve breakfast and make crafts, in addition to holding a solid class or two.

The children who attend the community center need to be sponsored by the Christian Relief Fund.  Sponsored students are required to keep up their grades, write letters to their sponsors, and must visit the center at least once a month.  However, many of the kids come just about every day.  A number of the kids´ moms help organize snacks, maintain the building, and participate in classes of their own.

In just over a year, they´ve already met with some sucess stories.  Brian was a bit of a troublemaker in the spring.  The community center offered a day camp program during the summer, and Brian–despite his tendency to cause trouble–came every day.  However, by the end of the summer he was volunteering to serve snacks to the other kids, possibly noticing that he got more attention by being helpful than by causing problems.

CRF Saltillo
A rock climbing field trip during summer camp in August at “La Maquinita”.

While the classes offered by the center are largely secular, the Christian Relief Fund does want this to be a place where participants can learn about God, so they begin the afternoon reading a Bible story and singing praise songs together.  Now, for those who have spent any time in “church-y” circles in Mexico, it´s abundantly clear that Catholics and Protestants mix like oil and water.   So, given the evangelical nature of this project, is the community center more welcoming to Protestant kids?  Not at all!  Of the current, full-time directors, one is Catholic, one is Protestant, and the third is at home in both camps.  It´s encouraging to know that the leadership within this organization is taking a step to stop this inter-religious polarization.  Thanks to the example of the directors, the kids who attend have the chance to learn about God together–regardless of their denomination.

Knowing that expats–particularly accompanying spouses–have a need to get out and get involved in the community, I asked if there were any volunteer opportunities at CRF Saltillo.  They have a real need for a psychologist on a regular basis.  Also, given the number of classes they offer every afternoon, they´d be happy to have volunteers to teach on a regular basis.  They already offer English, and anyone with any kind of passion might be welcome to share that passion with the kids.  For example, they used to have a dance teacher.  But she is no longer able to come.  Is anyone willing to fill that void?

CRF Saltillo
A visitor, talking about her job as a journalist (the kids are looking at samples of her articles that she passed around).

If one´s time is more limited, come and share for their career class.  This involves coming in once, for one afternoon, and talking about one´s chosen field of work.  It´s hard to convince kids to study engineering if they have no idea what an engineer does!

And, of course, the CRF community center would love to have more kids sponsored!  There are currently 14 kids on the community center´s waiting list, and they could easily find more.  To sponsor a child, check out the Christian Relief Fund´s webpage here.

For kids who are thinking about dropping out of school in junior high, and the fact that high school does become an even bigger financial burden, the CRF community center in Saltillo makes it possible for kids to stay in school, when they might otherwise drop out to look for a job.  A high school graduate is now able to continue her studies at the university level–an opportunity she would not likely have been able to take advantage of, without the help she received from the Christian Relief Fund.

The more education kids get, the more likely they are to break the cycle of poverty.  The Christian Relief Fund´s community center is Saltillo is making some serious strides to give these kids the means to a better life.

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photo credits:  Emily Garcia

 

 

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Day of the Dead at the Santiago Cemetery

The Day of the Dead–what is it all about?DayofDead

In many places throughout Saltillo, altars dedicated to deceased family
members or famous people are on display.  If interested in finding some, try the Secretary
of Culture building, on the corner of Juarez and Hidalgo, right across the street from the Casino de Saltillo.  Or Casa Purcell.  Or the art museum that´s on Juarez and General Cepeda, about 2 blocks behind the cathedral.  Museums in general are just a great place to find Day of the Dead altars.  In years past, many of the city high schools sent students to make altars at the Alameda during the last week of October.  I haven´t seen that in a few years, though.

The Katrina Museum draws in a 027huge crowd this time of year, and for good reason.  A visit there is a great way to get an understanding on the holiday.

However, a few years ago, to see how the holiday is really celebrated, I finally took a trip to a cemetery.  Now, I felt a little odd, not having any family members buried in this particular cemetery.  I didn´t want to be an obtrusive cultural observer, crashing a serious party.  But, at the same time, I was dying of curiosity about how families did celebrate the holiday.  My Mexican husband has more “gringo” attitudes than I do regarding the Day of the Dead (as in, it weirds him out), and my in-laws live018 to far away to join them.  (Then again, I don´t think they celebrate the day much, anyway.)

So, off I went to the cemetery, to be a fly on the wall.

First of all, getting to any cemetary on the 1st or 2ed of November is easier said th
an done.  Many bus routes forgo their normal routes and instead, list the cemeteries on their windshields where they´ll leave passengers.  Fortunately, the Santiago Cem014etery (just past the Universitary Hospital on Calz. Francisco I. Madero) is within walking distance for me.  If one wants to drive–good luck.  From what I have seen, parking is nearly impossible.  And the traffic is horrible on these days past any cemetary, so when at all possible, rearrange  normal routes to avoid driving past cemeteries on the way to work, the store, etc.  Outside of every cemetery are numerous flower vendors, further blocking traffic.

Unless, one is looking to buy flowers.  Then they´re a boon.

The cemetery was crowded.  Through some aisles we inched along, rather processional-like.  However, the mood was not terribly solemn.  Families were simply there to clean up their family members´ graves, put some flowers on them, and to say a prayer for their dearly departed.019

Despite my hesitation to intrude on strangers´ solemnities, it turned out to be an afternoon well spent.  Even though I didn´t know anyone buried in the Santiago Cemetery, that afternoon provided me some precious time to reflect on people I´ve lost–healthy reflections that we tend to run away from in US culture.

In fact, this annual national remembrance for those who´ve passed away is no doubt hugely beneficial for most families, providing a regular time to remember those we´ve lost, reflect on our grief, and to heal.  015When I joined total strangers in the Santiago Cemetery, the experience turned out to be more than a cultural observation.  The experience gave me a chance to participate in a healthy time of reflection.  Having learned the value of such a holiday, it´s now a day that I´ll continue to set aside in my calendar from here on out.

Thanks, Mexico!

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Looking for Day of the Dead activities?  The Katrina Museum is sponsoring a few ghost story tours throughout the city, and the museum will be open for most of the Halloween/Day of the Dead weekend.  Check out the calendar for dates, times, and locations.

And if you´re out by the Katrina Museum, get hungry, and want to keep to the Halloween/Day of the Dead theme, stop in at Monster Café, on the corner of Allende and Mariano Escobedo.  The owners are some of our most enthusiastic followers!

An InLinkz Link Up

Desert Museum

High on the list of things to see and do in Saltillo is the Desert Museum.  While Saltillo has an impressive number of tiny, free museums downtown, the Desert Museum is pretty comprehensive and well worth its reputation.  In less than 4 hours,IMG_1998 it gives the average visitor a reasonable understanding of this region.

Furthermore, there´s a little something for everyone.  Which is good to keep in mind, as the first room, where they explain in painstaking detail what exactly constitutes a desert, is about as dry as a Mexican sugar cookie.  (That means it´s pretty dry.)

But hang in there, because it gets much better.  Saltillo is the capital of the state of Coahuila.  Coahuila´s current license plates boast a ferocious T-Rex, because there have been some pretty serious paleontological digs just about an hour away from Saltillo, and throughout the rest of the state.  Again, one of the beauties of the desert is that it preserves dinosaur remains.  IMG_1977

The Dinosaur Hall at the Desert Museum is a sight.  Visitors first view the life-size dinosaur skeletons from above, and then, after learning a bit more about the Jurassic age and whatnot, visitors amble among the dinosaur bones.  Yes, some are replicas, but some are the real deal, and from this very state.

After the dinosaurs, there is a nod to Coahuila´s mining industry.  The state´s current slogan, “Coahuila tiene energia”  has little to do with Coahuila´s limitless potential for wind and solar power.  No, it´s a boast about our coal mines.  Which tend to entomb a number of miners every year.

The next feIMG_2145w rooms are dedicated to the human presence in Coahuila, from a 10,000-year-old well-preserved footprint to the twenty-first century.  As in any Mexican museum´s race through history, the focal points are the native Indians who lived in the area and how they used the land, the culture clash when the Spanish moved in, and the blending of both cultures in the current, mestizo Mexico.

Passing a small art gallery, the Desert Museum shows off Coahuila´s native animals, all preserved in taxidermied glory.  I enjoy noting how they´ve captured animals in the middle of a hunt, posed forever mid-leap.  However, my children are terrified of this room, so the last few years we´ve been running through here as quickly as possible.  Also, it appears that a hunter who frequented African safaris donated much of his collection to the museum.  There is a nice spot for photo ops with a stuffed lion, giraIMG_1980ffe, and crocodile–despite the fact that such animals have never set foot in Coahuila.

Moving on from the dead animals, the Desert Museum mercifully has a small collection of live animals.  Because, really–could one have a credible Desert Museum without a collection of 20 snakes?  No, I don´t think so.  Since this is an excellent museum, visitors familiarize themselves with a variety of snakes, learning which are poisonous, and which are not; which might live nearby, and which are safely tucked away in Asia.

But if snakes give you the willies, close your eyes, run through the hall, and take a few deep breaths by the turtle lagoon.  That room is really a chance to showcase Coahuila´s native plants.  The turtles make the display more interesting.

IMG_2146Outside, more animals await.  First, the prairie dogs scurry about their colony.  However, they tend to avoid the heat of the day, so you´re only likely to see them early in the morning or later in the evening–unless your midday visit is in January, of course.   The museum also has two black bears, who were cubs rescued from forest fires in Arteaga four years ago.  The cactus nursery is the place to get souvenirs, provided the cactus won´t be leaving the country.  Finally, mountain goats bid visitors adios.   IMG_1984

For smaller visitors to the museum, there´s an interactive fountain with water near the bear enclosure.  Kids can climb on it, open and close gates on the fountain, channeling the water down various paths.  On hot days, another patio pours water on visitors in the style of a desert storm.  (So beware, unsuspecting adults!  If you hear thunder, run for cover.)  Furthermore, a museum tour can take the better part of the day, so there is a restaurant with a limited menu, for those who need it.  Or want it.   IMG_1991

For those with limited time in this area, I recommend the Desert Museum.  It´s more or less a three-hour  whirlwind tour of the region.  And for those who have years here at their disposal, for pity´s sake–visit the Desert Museum at least once!

If you´re like me, you´ll come back for more.

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What´s With Cinco de Mayo?

490It amuses me that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated throughout the US, yet the day is barely mentioned in Mexico (with the glaring exception of the city of Puebla, of course).  Why is this?

In the US, Cinco de Mayo (the 5th of May) is celebrated as a day to show Mexican pride
for  all the Mexican-Americans in the US.     I´m beginning to liken it to St. Patrick´s Day for all the Irish-Americans.  After all, the holiday is beginning to catch on among the anglo crowd, making it a great excuse to drink Coronas and margaritas.  Just like on St. Patrick´s Day, when everyone claims Irish ancestry, everyone can pretend to be Mexican on Cinco de Mayo.

Aftercincodemayo investigating the holiday a bit, it turns out that there really is a reason why Cinco de Mayo should be celebrated more in the US than in Mexico.  Of course, that´s not the reason that it is celebrated there, but it´s good to know that there SHOULD be a reason more solid than a serious margarita craving.

Cinco de Mayo commemorates a battle between the Mexican army and the French on the 5th of May, 1862.  At the time, Mexico owed quite a bit of money to the French government, and France was tired of waiting to be paid back.  They decided that if Mexico wasn´t going to pay them back, they´d just take over the country.

Normally, this would have been a trickier plan to pull off, as the US would have stepped in with the Monroe Doctrine and told France to shove off.  However, this was 1862, and the US was knee-deep fighting amongst itself.  France knew that they would have no problems with the US, beyond a memo expressing the US´s displeasure.  France didn´t lose any sleep over that.  Furthermore, keep in mind that this France was a few decades removed from Napoleon (Napoleon III was the actual emperor) and France´s army had long been established as the world´s superior military force.  They were just about assured to breeze into Mexico City and be in control of the government within a few months.

But they were stopped at Puebla–for reasons still not quite understood.  France´s army boasted 6000 troops against Mexico´s 2000.  The Mexicans did not have the superior training of the French army or up-to-date weapons.  But they held their ground and drove France back to Veracruz.  This overcoming all odds in defense of their country is why the 091Battle of Puebla is still celebrated every year in Puebla.

However, a year later, France regrouped, marched again to Mexico City, and succeeded in overthrowing the government.  (Or, at least sending Juarez´s government on the run for the following five years.)  So, in the end, did the events of Cinco de Mayo have any lasting significance?

Not necessarily for Mexico, but it sure made a world of difference for the US.  In early 1862, the Confederacy still had the upper hand in the Civil War.  The Battle of Gettsyburg had not yet happened.  Had France been able to seize Mexico City in May or June of 1862, they would have been just in time to send much-needed soldier reinforcements and supplies to the Confederacy through Texas.  France had solid reasons for supporting the Confederacy in their fight for independence, and there is little doubt they would have, had they had the chance.

However, they had to wait until 1863 until they were in a position to help.  By that time, the tide of the war between the US and the Confederacy had turned.  The help France could have sent in 1863 or 1864 would have been futile.  Thanks in part to the events of the 5th of May, in the city of Puebla, the US is the country it is today.

Keep that in mind, while washing down the chips and salsa with a few margaritas!

48 Hours in Saltillo

My apologies for not posting more frequently here, but I have been writing about Saltillo! If you´re interested in a virtual downtown Saltillo walking tour, read 48 Hours in Saltillo, published by Pink Pangea.

OK, Day One is the downtown walking tour.  For Day Two, I suggested the Desert Museum.  After all, if one would like to understand this area, but has limited time, the Desert Museum sums up this region well.

Below are more photos that Pink Pangea didn´t have the space to add:

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Plaza of Three Cultures (behind the state government building)
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Frog Fountain at the Alameda
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Lake (in the shape of Mexico) at the Alameda

And a collection from the Desert Museum:

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