Deep golden light glides up tall buildings of cantera stone that line the streets of Morelia, the capital city of the state of Michoacan, 135 miles west of Mexico City. Groups of troubadours dressed in puffed sleeves and black capes perform for diners in the wide arched breezeways surrounding the busy historical center. Children in gray school uniforms walk briskly past Indian women with textured faces strolling through a plaza next to the Cathedral of Morelia beneath tall trees with lavender blossoms, while on the other side of the centuries-old structure a crowd gathers around two clowns.
The city of Morelia was founded in 1541 as Valladolid, and its name was changed much later in honor of Jose Maria Morelos y Pavon, a hero of the War of Independence who was born here in 1765. Independence leader Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla served as rector of the Colegio de San Nicolas seminary here in the late 18th century at the same time Morelos attended there. Morelos, a priest, took up the cause of independence after Hidalgo was executed in 1811. In a little while, we will visit the home where Morelos was born.
This is a city of culture, of friendship, of perpetually good weather -- a place of wide-ranging experiences to tantalize the imagination. However, the allure doesn't stop in the city; the entire state of Michoacan beckons adventurous spirits to explore.
Morelia has retained much of its Spanish colonial charm, thanks to the industrious nature of city and state leaders who have also endeavoured to bring more cultural events.
Their efforts have paid off. Every time I visit this fine city I find impromptu musical performances, theatrical presentations, dancing exhibitions of all kinds. Corral de la Comedia always has some new program to generate laughs from its audience, Teatro Ocampo has some great symphony performances, and local nightclubs offer live music late into the night. Local transit buses have the words Paradas Continuas - Continuous stops. They have a lot to stop for.
Numerous tourism booths make this a visitor-friendly city; you can choose from one of the numerous guided tours available, or you can explore the city on your own. Signs throughout the historical center explain in English and Spanish the story of the old buildings such as the Cathedral of Morelia, the Colegio de San Nicolas, the Casa Natal de Morelos and other structures.
Museo Regional Michoacana, or Michoacan Regional Museum, explains well the diversity of this state. Models of ring-tailed cats, armadillos and shore birds stand beneath a huge mural of Michoacan's numerous ecological zones.
The state's broad environmental range has given birth to a varied culture where people have developed long traditions of craftsmanship, making fine copper ware, leather goods and ceramics unique to the area.
Examples of Michoacan's fine craftsmanship can be seen at Casa de las Artesanias, where visitors can browse through room after room of fascinating works of art and purchase them at reasonable prices.
This area's cultural flavor finds great balance in its rich culinary tradition; visitors can explore the region's candy-making legacy at Museo De Las Dulces de Morelia; the museum doubles as a sweet shop, and I enjoy roaming through the rooms learning about the nuns who started the city's practice of making ate, a process in which sweets are made of fruit pectin cooked with sugar.
However, this isn't the only place to sample the delicacies of the region. Morelia's fine restaurants offer an endless variety of regional foods found nowhere else in Mexico, or the world even, housed in old picturesque stone buildings in the shadow of history.
Upscale restaurants as well as out-of-the-way places offer a rich collage of foods passed down by the Purepecha Indians, as well as both contemporary and traditional foods from the rest of the state.
While the city sports an eclectic cultural and culinary life, the centerpiece of any visit here is the Cathedral of Morelia, which maintains an authoritative presence in the city's historical center.
Museo Regional Michoacana Hours of Operation:Tues - Sat.9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sundays 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Location: Calle Allende, west of Plaza Benito Juarez Entrance fee: $30 pesos. Entrance is free to students, teachers, children 13 and under, a senior citizens over age 60.
Casa Natal de Morelos Hours of operation:Mon. - Fri.9 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sat. - Sun.9 a.m. - 7 p.m. Location: Calle La Corregidora Admission: Free.
Casa de la Artesanias Hours of Operation: Mon. - Sat. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sun. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Location: Plaza Valladolid in the Church of St. Francis at the convergence of Calle Juan de San Manuel and Bartolome de las Casas. You can reach the Plaza Valladolid and Casa de las Artesanias by turning south off Avenida Madero onto either Calles de San Manuel or Calle Vasco de Quiroga.
Dulces Morelianos De La Calle Real Hours of Operation: Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Location: Avenida Madero 440, between Calle De Juan Jose de Le Jarza and Calle Fr. Manuel de Navarrete. It's two doors west of the Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Corral de la ComediaLocation: 239 Calle Melchor Ocampo, east of Teatro Ocampo, between Calles Guillermo Prieto and Ignacio Zaragoza. They have some really enjoyable live comedies.
Teatro Ocampo Location: On the northeast corner of Calles Melchor Ocampo and Guillermo Prieto. I have attended some wonderful symphonies here. This is also a good place to find out about other attractions in the area.
El Rincon de los Sentidos Hours of Operation: Sun.-Wed. 8:30 a.m. - midnight Thurs.-Sat. 8:30 a.m. - 2:30 a.m. Location: 485 Avenida Madero. The tall stone walls with colored floodlights create a wonderful atmosphere as live music entertains guests sitting in reed-backed chairs at glass tables with flickering candles. .People of all ages congregate here, from young couples enjoying the romantic ambience to parents cuddling babies and teenagers tagging along with their mothers. El Rincon serves breakfast, dinner, drinks and coffee.
A cluster of stores at the southwest corner of Calles Allende and Hidalgo offers some interesting shopping. They are all open Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m. - 8:30 p.m. Sun. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Amara Luna: 199 Allende A small shop with fashionable clothing. Luna Oro Soy: 209 Allende This shop has some really nice women's wear, plus scented candles, incense, aromatic oils, and some arts and crafts from around the state. You can also sit on benches around a flowing fountain surrounded by peaceful synthesized music. Luna Mandala: 213 Allende Has great books on a variety of subjects, including Feng Shui, Yoga and Tarot Cards.
La Casa de Portal Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Location: Calle Guillermo Prieto 30, right around the corner fromBurger King on Avenida Madero. Visit La Casa de Portal and shop for fruit liquor, jewelry, T-shirts in a nostalgic atmosphere filled with old nostalgic furniture: an old barber's chair, an upright piano, wooden rocking chairs with woven seats, an iron peacock, old coca cola signs, a wood stove, old dishes and plates. There's a cafe with elegant, turn-of-the-century dining tables and waitresses in long black dresses and white aprons.
VIPS This store is next to Woolworths on the south side of Avenida Madero between Calle Virrey de Mendoza and Avenida Morelos, east of the cathedral. Hours of operation: Sun.-Thurs. 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 7 a.m.- 11 p.m. There's an American-style restaurant, but it also has a small shop with books, magazines, perfume, notebooks, glazed figurines, women´s billfolds, eyeglasses and candy. There's also an ATM machine.
Sanborns This is an American-style restaurant and store on Avenida Madero between Calles Ignacio Zaragoza and Benito Juarez. The store also sells perfume, candy, stuffed animals, school supplies, books, cards and magazines. Hours of Operation: 7:30 a.m. - midnight everyday. &
Oxxo This store, Mexico's equivalent of 7-11, is located next door to Sanborns. Hours of operation: Sun. - Sat. 7 a.m. - midnight. Location: Avenida Madero between Calle Ignacio Zaragoza and Benito Juarez.
Super Tortas Homero Hours of operation: Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Location: Northwest corner of Calles Abasalo and Allende.
Cafe Europa Hours of Operation: 7:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Location: Avenida Madera, across from the cathedral. They have good coffee and desserts. They also serve breakfast.
Torta La Cruz Hours of Operation:8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mon. - Sat. Location: Corner of Calle Vasco de Quiroga and Avenida Madero. This quaint little cafe has a list of tortas with interesting names like the Morelia torta with salchicha (sausage), jamon (ham) ande queso blanco (white cheese), and the Acapulco torta with pineapple; mushroom and meat. You can also get some great molletes, which is toasted bread with refried beans. I get mine with mushrooms and it's always delicious.
VIPS Hours of operation: Sun.-Thurs. 7 a.m. - 11 p.m. Fri. &Sat.7 a.m. - 11 p.m. Location: Avenida Madero between Calles Virrey de Mendoza and Morelos, just east of the cathedral. VIPS is an American-style restaurant with booths and tables and a menu that includes the familiar hotcakes and waffles, and then the more Mexican Desayuno Mexico (juice or fruit, carne asada con chilaquiles, refried beans and coffee or tea) at reasonable prices.They also have omelets, banana splits and hot fudge sundaes. Swiss enchiladas and chicken tacos both sell for just over $6.VIPS also has low calorie selections; I often order cold yogurt with fruit and honey, plus a cup of decaf coffee. The service is great. The waitresses were very helpful to me one morning when they learned I planned to visit Patzcuaro for the arts and crafts fair. They made suggestions about hotels and even brought me a phone book.
Trico Alejandria Hours of Operation: Sun. - Sat. 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. Location: Southeast corner of Allende and Morelos. They have good baked goods, liquor, chips and cereal, hot dogs, rotisserie chicken, cheese and yogurt. There's a restaurant upstairs.
LAUNDRY American Klean Lavanderia Location: Calle Nicolas Bravo, just south of the intersection with Calle La Corregidora. When you are walking west on Calle La Corregidora, you will see a sign at the intersection with Nicolas Bravo directing you to American Klean. This laundromat has four double loader washers, three triple loaders washers and two washers for even bigger loads. Hours of operation: Mon. - Fri.9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sat. 8 a.m. - 6 p.m. Sun. 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
INTERNET CAFES Internet y Mas Location: Calle Allende, just west of the Michoacan Regional Museum. Admission: 8 pesos per hour, about 80 cents, pennies compared to Kinko's. Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.
Chat Room Cybercafe Location: El Nigromante 132 A. Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. This chat room on Calle Nigromante has individual booths for about $1.80 an hour. You can also buy soft drinks and gaspachos and have them while you are on the computer. Not a bad deal.
Centro Interactivo de Comunicacion Location: 215 Melchor Ocampo, on the same block as Teatro Ocampo and Corral de la Comedia listed below. Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 8:30 a.m. -10 p.m.
BANKS Banorte Location: This bank is on Avenida Madero across from the cathedral. Hours of Operation: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Sat. 10 a.m. - 2 p.m. Sundays closed. While I usually insist on cashing traveler's checks first thing in the morning (many banks stop cashing them in the early afternoon), I've been able to cash them at this bank as late as 2:30 p.m. with much greater ease than most banks I have worked with.
PHONE CALLS Caseta Telefonica next to the Banorte on Avenida Madero charges six pesos per minute to call the U.S. That's about 60 cents a minute. Hours of operation: Sun.-Sat. 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
TOURISM OFFICE Location: Corner of El Nigromante and Avenida Madero in the same building as the Biblioteca Publica Universidad.This is the main tourism office. Hours of Operation: Sun.-Sat. 9 a.m. - 7 p.m.
CASA DE CAMBIO Location: Next to the Secretary of Tourism on Calle Guillermo Prieto. Hours of Operation: Mon.-Fri. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sat. 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sun. Closed.
Sources give different dates for the beginning of construction on the Cathedral of Morelia. The sign in front says it began in 1600; others report the date around the mid-1600s. None of them have disputed that the baroque-style structure was designed by Vicente Barroso de la Escayola and that construction was completed in 1744.
The facade is a pleasant, not over-zealous, array of columns with scrolled capitals (tops of columns) and acanthus leaves. The sculpting of the Transfiguration of Christ shows an older, more solemn Christ than those I have seen in other Mexican cathedrals. He opens his arms to the world as he ascends into the Heavens. The stone around him comes alive with tiny angels in flight. Sculptures of the Magi and the Shepherds stand in silent respect of the image.
A few parishioners move out of the carved wooden doors; smooth pink stone rushes up through the three levels of the facade past the weathered white images of Sts. Mark, Luke, Matthew and John that stare across Madero toward the Portales - arches that line the streets and broad walkways.
I cross busy Avenida Madero; just outside the cathedral's doors sits a woman holding a sweater over her face as she holds out a cup for change. I enter the cathedral where there are polished wooden benches filled with parishioners beneath a high ribbed ceiling with gold floral designs. They've come from throughout the city; men in plaid shirts, women in shawls with purses draped over shoulders.
There is a soft echo through the cavernous structure as the priest celebrates Mass. Vaults high above show panels of geometric designs and floral patterns in subtle colors of red and sky blue. Chandeliers help balance the overpowering height of the ceiling.
The central vault has a stained glass window with a picture of Christ ascending into the clouds, strong swirling lines creating a sense of movement.
There is movement down below, too. A young man with a daypack kneels and crosses himself, a cough breaks the stillness, a door booms as it closes. Mass is suddenly finished, and everyone pours into the streets.
I move forward, past chapels with gilded altars and deep red gladioluses and candles, painting of the Virgin, brass crucifixes. At the end of the aisle, there's an image of a dark-skinned Christ, arms stretched across a crucifix, wrapped in a purple loin cloth, and gold and brass stylized trees at the foot of the cross.Drawn in by the feeling of antiquity here, I think I'd like to know more about the history of Morelia; I leave the cathedral and head across Plaza Benito Juarez on the west side of the cathedral.
Plaza Presidente Juarez is a pleasant park with manicured ficus trees, towering feathery-leafed jacaranda trees and poinciana trees with bright orange blossoms. Couples stroll along broad walkways past sparkling fountains, a gazebo, a man in a wheelchair operating a newsstand. Others sit on stone benches. Trolley buses wait for their next load of tourists while teenagers in gray school uniforms and backpacks cross the plaza.
Two old Indian women with heavy square faces walk by, both carrying heavy loads wrapped in large dark blue rebozo shawls with yellow stripes. One stops while the other adjusts her load, then they both walk on. I continue toward the Museo Regional Michoacana.
I cross Plaza Presidente Juarez and turn right on Allende, past a small but popular cafe, Super Tortas Homero,which sells great tortas and quesadillas. I walk across the street to the Museo Regional Michoacana, which was originally a one-story home built in the 1600s; a second floor was added in the 1700s.
I check my backpack at the door where a man puts it on a shelf and hands me a number. I go up a winding staircase where various rooms take me through different periods in Michoacan history: the war for Independence, the French Intervention, the Porfiriato, the Mexican Revolution, the Lazaro Cardenas presidency (Cardenas was from Michoacan).
One room tells the story of Michoacan after the Spanish Conquest with old books, signs and huge paintings in earth colors. There's a glass case of Spanish armor, a sword, illustrations of Indian tribes trying to form alliances against the Spanish.
Other displays include a painting of Morelos in a blue uniform with red lapels and gold trim and a portrait of Hidalgo sitting in a chair. His studious eyes gaze out of the painting. He holds a piece of paper, and a white feathered pen rests in an inkwell. Maps show the routes taken by Hidalgo as he excited the masses hungry for independence.
After Hidalgo died in July of 1811, the cause was taken up by Morelos, the most notable leader of the insurgency who had great charisma. He continued to lead the movement until December 1815 when he, too, was executed in San Cristobal Ecatepec.
Other rooms have old wooden chests, a flintlock rifle, and tack for mules used to transport corn and wheat. The room devoted to the Porfiriato has nice Victorian furniture with curved-back chairs, a carved wooden China cabinet, and a piano, paintings of Porfirio and other figures, old photos, ornate metal lamps with swirling lines, flowers and fish.
Light pours into one room through wooden shuttered windows, along with the rumbling of traffic and the splashing of water from the courtyard below. A model of a village in the Tierra Caliente - the hot country of Michoacan where Morelos preached after he was ordained as priest - reveals a community filled with activity.
A woman with a clay pot on her head stands outside stucco houses with terracotta roofs while a man with a serape slung over his shoulder walks by. Another man rides up the street on his horse, a church stands in the distance.
A mural on the north wall depicts men riding across a lake. One man with a long, flowing beard rides nude on his mount, a gray skeleton carries a lance, two others are clad in Spanish armor, one of them glaring at the naked man who reaches up to the sky.
The artist has managed to capture the frenetic energy of the moment, and I can hear the clattering of horses splashing through the lake, hooves and men flying in all directions with no discernible purpose.
To the right of this colorful mural is a black and white painting of Spanish soldiers firing cannons and blunderbusses. They appear to be firing at feathered Indians, all gray, in a painting on the left side of the mural, and the Indians are returning fire with arrows.
The first floor has rooms with explanations about local geology and displays of fossils, and then I find a huge mural with all the different ecological zones in Michoacan. Coastal regions, the Sierra Madres, La Tierra Caliente, mangrove swamps, pine woods, tropical forests and deserts, they're all here.
Below the mural, a glass case with stuffed animals shows the inhabitants of these different zones: shorebirds, a ring-tailed cat climbing up a branch, an armadillo rustling through leaves, a fawn looking for signs of danger, an anteater sneaking up on an anthill, a bat in flight, a crocodile, Gila monsters, chameleons, jaguars, ocelots, an iguana, grey foxes and salamanders, and so many more. The signs are a bit scattered about, but the meaning is clear: Michoacan is about diversity.
Michoacan's broad range of ecological systems, from coastal regions and mangrove swamps to tropical rainforests, pine woods and deserts is home to more than 100 species of fish, 200 species of reptiles and amphibians, about 500 species of birds, 130 species of mammals and several thousand species of insects and other invertebrates.
Michoacan's environmental diversity has also given birth to a varied human culture: the native people of this state have developed a rich artistic heritage, specializing in copperware, burnished clay, leatherwork, musical instruments; some of the state's native crafts originated here, but their reputation has reached throughout the world, thanks to the efforts of Casa de las Artesanias, - House of the Artisans. (See below).
Museo Regional Michoacan Hours of Operation:Tues-Sat.9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sun.9 a.m.-4 p.m. Location: Calle Allende, west of Plaza Benito Juarez Entrance fee: $30 pesos. Entrance is free to students, teachers, children up to age 13, and people more than 60 years old.
If you want to get a feel for Michoacan's diversity, take a stroll through the Casa De Las Artesanias - House of the Artisans.
Walking in, you feel like you're shopping in a museum. Located in the Church of St. Francis on the Plaza Valladolid, its rooms are filled with copper ware from Santa Clara de Cobre, pottery from Ocumicho, guitars from Paracho, carved tables and chairs, dresses and wooden chests carved with flowers, all in bright shades of sea-green, ruby red and sky blue, a perfect reflection of Mexico's rich color. Obviously, some villages have defined themselves by developing their own particular technique.
When I first visited the Casa De Las Artesanias in October 2001, I was dazzled by rooms filled with silver bird jewelry from Lake Patzcuaro, red masks with snakes and horns from Uruapan, Tocuaro and other regions of Michoacan, and shiny black plates with leaves, flowers and birds in bold colors of red, green and blue.
Skeletons were dressed in vivid color, bringing life to the specter of death in recognition of Dia De Los Muertos, one of Mexico's most important holidays. Later visits to this marvelous place evealed numerous changes, indicating that it is a progressive enterprise, not stationary by any means.
To get to the Casa De Las Artesanias, I cross Plaza Valladolid, a spacious plaza of large rectangular blocks with rough steps and smooth stone benches. A large, three-tiered fountain with a cross at the top spews water into a large pool while children feed pigeons or snack on cotton candy from a vendor.
A young man squinting in the dim light carries an enormous stick with balloons shaped like Winnie-the-Pooh and other figures. A woman with the look of a young child in her eyes buys a green balloon; the vendor gets change from a nearby stand selling lottery tickets. "Gracias," says the woman with the green balloon as she takes her change and rushes to a waiting car.
The Church of St. Francis provides a soothing backdrop to the scene, providing a pastel of cast shadow that moves like the ripples of a quiet lake across the plaza.
The church was founded as a monastery in 1531 in the Valley of Guayangareo before Valladolid was founded 10 years later; the monastery covered several city blocks. The area of the plaza at the time was the churchyard and served as a cemetery until the late 1800s. The cemetery has since been moved.
On this particular trip in March 2005, I pass a woman selling Oaxacan tamales outside the door to the Casa; inside the store, surrounded by the distinctive craftsmanship from throughout the state, I become rather intrigued by their stories. Some of the glazed pottery has a peculiar beaded quality I can't recall seeing before, and the shop has plates with floral and animal designs made in the maque technique, a pre-Columbian craft which uses a mixture of oil from the axe insect and dolomia just spread over a wooden surface such as a bowl. Colored patterns are then placed on the surface in successive layers; each applied color takes a week to dry.
I'd like to know more about these crafts. Who made them? Where were they made? And how? After inquiring at the front desk of the visitors center, where they sell cassette tapes, videos and other items, I am directed upstairs where I meet Trinidad Martinez Garcia. Trinidad lived for several years in Sacramento, and I am thankful to meet someone who could explain, in English, the arts and crafts of Michoacan.
The pineapples, she says, referring to the strange beaded pots, are made in San Jose de Gracia. The artisans have a mold and they sort of pinch the pots to create the beaded pattern. It's a pre-Hispanic tradition.
Each of the towns have their own artisans. The Casa, she says, was founded about 36 years ago to support Michoacan's native craftsmanship; many of the villages around Lake Patzcuaro and other areas of this state were giving up their crafts because there was no money in it, and they were moving to the cities where many were forgetting their culture.
Casa de las Artesanias now promotes the survival of these ancient traditions by purchasing native crafts and selling them either here or in other shops in the United States, South America, and other parts of Mexico.
These are ancient Indian traditions, just a few of the many practices that define Michoacan's diversity, and that diversity is celebrated at Casa de las Artesanias. Numerous festivals are held throughout the year in numerous villages; the two main events are held in Patzcuaro for Day of the Dead in late October and early November, and on Palm Sunday in Uruapan.
Casa de la Artesanias Hours of Operation:Mon.-Sat.10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Sun. 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Location: Plaza Valladolid in the Church of St. Francis at the convergence of Calle Juan de San Manuel and Bartolome de las Casas. You can reach the Plaza Valladolid and Casa de las Artesanias by turning south off Avenida Madero onto either Calles de San Manuel or Calle Vasco de Quiroga
As I walk into the Museo de las Dulces de Morelia on Avenida Morelia, the hot perfume of fresh candy hits me like a wave, mingled with the acrid smell of cooked fruit pulp.
This is another place where you can go shopping in a museum. Shelves of packaged or bottled sweets; obleas (wafers of goat milk candy); rompope, which is made of milk, cinnamon, egg and sugarcane liquor; candy-covered almonds, cookies, candy with strawberries, nuts, chocolate and coconut; fruit liquor made from figs, peaches, plums and apples.
And then there's the ate (ah-tay) made of a variety of fruits which is a trademark (one of several) that define this city. Myriad variations of this delicacy fill the shelves: laminillas, which are long strips of ate, and jalea, a type of ate made without fruit pectin, exude an intoxicating aroma that mixes with the smells of other candies and pastries, teasing the imagination, awakening the child in me.
Beyond the carnival of sweets, I step back in time, where museum employees dressed in 18th and 19th Century clothing demonstrate how people used to make ate. I enter an old kitchen with a round table and gourds, iron pots and ears of corn hanging from a wooden timber; clay pots sit atop a round stone kitchen island.
A woman in a gingham dress demonstrates how membrilla (quince fruit) pulp was once mixed with sugar and heated in a copper pot. She stirs the mixture with a wooden spoon, the propane fire (they do make some concessions to modernity) releasing the sweet, yet pungent, aroma into the air. The woman holds up the wooden spoon to show it doesn't drip.
The city's sweet tradition was started by a group of nuns of the Dominican Order of Santa Caterina de Sienna in 1595. The ate process originated in the Middle East, and Spain developed the technique further. Here in Michoacan, the Indians already had a long tradition in pre-Columbian times of sweetening their foods with honey made of nectar from maguey, mesquite and prickly pear. As the nuns settled here, they began applying the ate process to local fruits, such as peaches, apples and guavas.
I walk farther back to a room where I watch a 10-minute film about the history of ate, and then a young man in puffed sleeves, tights and floppy cap explains a model of an 1840 factory with processing equipment and storage facilities where ate was made.
Raw paste is dried in tiny ovens, and figures of workers frozen for a moment of time roll out laminillas, and the finished product waits for pick up in storage facilities.
I leave the museum, passing through the old kitchen where the woman demonstrates for another group of visitors. The aroma of cooked pulp conjures images of old kitchens, strong hands rolling out strips of ate, unfettered heat peppering foreheads with eager perspiration, calloused wooden spoons stirring generations of fruit pulp over laboring ovens, loads of fruit being carried over strong shoulders to warehouses before their sweetness is liberated from their cloisters and reborn into a culinary magic; the cooks provide a doorway to that rebirth, like a caterpillar stepping through its chrysalis to become a butterfly.
I return to the present in the front part of the store; foot tall bottles of fruit Iiquor sell for about $17, smaller bottles sell for just under $3. Rolls of apple candy filled with cajeta and nuts go for about $2. Bars of ate in subdued colors of sea green or cinnamon run from less than $2 to just over $4.
I buy a package of ate and step outside to sample a thick, jelly-like dessert, sticky and joyously sweet, whose taste leaves a memory of its infectious delight.
Dulces Morelianos De La Calle Real Hours of Operation: Sun.-Thurs. 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Fri.-Sat. 10 a.m. - 9 p.m. Location: Avenida Madero 440, between Calle De Juan Jose de Le Jarza and Calle Fr. Manuel de Navarrete. It's two doors west of the Kentucky Fried Chicken.
Morelos's birthplace - Casa Natal de Morelos - on Calle La Corregidora wraps around two small interior patios with potted plants. There's a stillness here, broken only by some popular music playing from a nearby room.
The house has several rooms, filled with old lithographs and drawings of the city, the cathedral, murals of Morelos and other independence fighters, maps of his military campaigns and his movements as a prisoner, coins minted by revolutionaries and insurgents, plus historical documents beneath glass cases.
There's a summary of his trial; most tragic is a lithograph of the 1815 execution of Morelos by firing squad. However, an inspiring letter written by the great leader says he will liberate America of slavery, and outside his memory remains free.
I step into the sunny courtyard with russet brick, rose bushes, purple Hawaiian ti, pink geraniums, Mexican heather and spreading orchid trees with violet blossoms. I pass a stone wall buttressed against the forces of nature and enter an enclosed area with a cantera floor and white stucco walls.
An image of Morelos with his hand over his heart faces a torch with a bright flickering fire. He's surrounded by flags from the Independence movement and the modern Mexican flag.
My email: WhiteheadTravis@hotmail.com
Updated March 22, 2011.
I moved to Morelia in 2008 and spent eight months working on a book about the artisans of Michoacan. The book, ''Slices of Life - The Artisans of Michoacan" will contain profiles of the artisans in this state west of Mexico City. I've now moved to Brownsville, Texas and have recently found a publisher, Otras Voces Publishing. My purpose is to capture the pulse of some of the artisan communities and introduce them to American readers by profiling the common thread that binds the artisans to the rest of the world through the universal themes of hardship and triumph and by describing the daily lives of the families who live and work here.
Travis M. Whitehead