Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Estaban Valdes Ramirez

Pantoja is a scubby little brick-making village not too far from San Miguel de Allende where most of the townspeople wade around knee-deep in mud, mixing the mortar used in firing bricks.

Seventy-something, or even eight-something (he's not quite sure about his age), Esteban Valdes Ramirez took a different course in life. Like his father before him, Esteban became a potter and a folk artist of much acclaim.

Today, his rare ceramics pieces are sought by collectors and, indeed, one graces the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.! Esteban adorns his bowls with sketches of whimsical beasts and other fanciful subjects and marks each ceramic with a large E.V..

Finding Esteban and his rustic home was an adventure, but we did find him. Since, I have been back many times. His wife is wrapping up the bowls that I had purchased for gifts and for me, of course. I went home and hung a series of them above the wet bar on my mirador (roof top patio).

Monday, March 29, 2010

Las Mercedes Restaurant in Guanajauto

Las Mercedes is a family run restaurant located in the outskirts of Guanajuato in a residential area where I take my group for comida when we tour Guanajuato. The cuisine is taken to a new level, traditional family recipes with a gourmet twist. This is the view from the front of the restaurant over looking the city.

Tony, Liz and Jan anxiously waiting for their special "house" cocktail!

Peggy & Rick, a couple that was on my October tour, enjoying the house cocktail. It is made with garambullo, juice from the berries of a cactus. After taking one sip after another, I came to the conclusion it was a cross between pomegranate juice and blueberries. A unique and distinctive flavor. But still not sure, so I think I will keep sipping.
One of three appetizers that we started with. "Mil Hojas de Nopal" - three layers of roasted nopales (small pads from the prickly pear cactus) with goat cheese, smoked salmon, sliced tomatoes & thin slices of red onion drizzled with essence of chile oil. So delicate and savory. The most delicate nopales are called "Lenguitas" or "little tongues."

"Envuelto de Chili Pasilla con Nata"

Home made flower tortilla filled with a marinated chili pasilla, black beans and a creamy nata sauce. The pasilla is a dried chili and when rehydrated, it has a sharp but rich flavor. The Nata is the thick skins that forms after scalding raw milk. A wonderful rich flavor.

"Chamorro Las Mercedes"

Talk about intense flavors! This tender pork shank was roasted for hours in a flavorful broth with herbs, tomatoes and black beans.

"Pollo con Mole Verde"

A tender and moist chicken breast served with a delicate pistachio mole and white rice. The desserts were to die for! Coconut ice cream with xoconostle (fruit from a variety of cacti), poached pear with home made cajeta sauce (above) and my favorite, a corn cake with nut flavored ice cream and garambullo coulis.

The force behind the cuisine!

Friday, March 26, 2010

Los Charros of San Miguel de Allende

Los Charros, Mexican Cowboys, are known for their expertise in horse riding and roping skills.

Like the rodeo culture in the west, "La Charreria" (the Mexican Equestrian Culture) extends beyond horses and riders. It is a national sport that includes tailored suits, elaborately adorned sombreros and handsome, hand tolled saddles. Many times there are beautifully woven serapes that have been handed down through generations in which El Charro has either attached to the saddle during his performance or worn as a cape.

The origin of La Charreria dates back to when Spain colonized Mexico and the struggle between the Spanish and the indigenous people. The Spanish had a competitive advantage during their conquest in that they had brought horses over with them. The Mexican was restricted in riding horses and any violations might have been death.

As change in the country evolved, it became necessary for the Mexican to ride; during wartime, to herd cattle and train horses. They rode bareback dressed in deer hides but eventually learned to weave serapes and make saddles. Over time, La Charreria was accepted. In 1889, the famous charro and torero (bullfighter), Ponciano Diaz, captivated audiences in Spain where he combined exhibitions of La Charreria and bullfights. Five years later, he held an exhibition in New York City and then Paris. It has since become a tradition of La Charreria to travel to foreign lands for exhibitions.

After the Mexican revolution in 1920, many horseman moved to major cities in Mexico and theses societies were formed. La Charreria became a national sport.

Charros of the future!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Gorky Gonzales's Studio in Guanajuato

Gorky Gonzales was born in 1939 in Morelia in the state of Michoacan. He studied and worked under his father who was a sculpture who worked in bronze and lost wax.

At the age of 23, Gorky moved to San Miguel de Allende where he worked and built an artistic foundry at the Instituto Allende. Later he went on to live in Guanajuato where he founded a small workshop of terra cotta manufacturing.

His main interest was recreating traditional majolica designs of the Spanish colonial period in Mexico (1521-1810).

Thanks to him, he helped bring back this lost art which represents one of the main crafts of this region.

On my day trip to Guanajuato with my group, one stop we make is a visit to Gorky's ceramic showroom.

Gorky met a Japanese woman who was studying in Guanajuato who encouraged him to study ceramics in her country. He was granted a two year scholarship to study in Japan. Here, he learned various ceramic techniques and also met his wife, Toshiko. Today his son, also named Gorky, has a contemporary line of ceramics that is also on display in the showroom.
Benita is contemplating on what else she will buy. Believe me, no one left empty handed.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Creative People on my Tour

The creativity of the people that have been on my San Miguel de Allende tours, truly amazes and delights me!
Many of the people have been docents from the Denver Art Museum and like everyone else, they immediately fell in love with San Miguel's history and architecture. Part of their training includes the Spanish Colonial period in which we had the pleasure of learning interesting tid bits about many of the Saints that occupy the numerous churches around town.

It is also a photographers dream come true. San Miguel is at an altitude around 6,500 feet. With that altitude and its clean air, the morning and afternoon colors on the facades of the buildings just come to life.
Even after 35 years, I still do not leave the casa with out a camera in tow.
In my photo below, you can see how the colors of this home's facade just pop with the contrast of the blue, blue sky.
Sharon, an artist from Denver who was on my last tour, travels with her small journal, paint brushes and water colors. Her water colors below, beautifully capture the colors, textures and lightning of San Miguel.

An entrance to one of many tunnels in Guanajuato and a doorway in San Miguel. Typical pots that frame many of San Miguel's roofs. Sometimes filled with Agave, Bougainvillea, Geraniums ..........
A street in San Miguel.

The interior of Casa Luna, the B & B where my guests stay.

A final note, Sharon commented on the farewell dinner at my house, Casa Robin.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Clever & Funny Signage

This little store, La Yucca, in San Miguel de Allende sells dried flowers and arrangements. With my "out there" sense of humor, I get a giggle every time I walk by, for I imagine that this store sells things that are truly "Yucky." And in my case, that would be everything associated with pineapple, coconut, pickles and olives! Even thou I can not stand olives, I do like olive oil. I do love the way the sign casts its shadow on the door.

Talk about perfect timing! I had just left my wrought iron man's taller (workshop), where I was checking on one of my designs that he was fabricating. Walking down Avenida Guadalupe, I looked up at the taxi sign just when the cloud was coming out of the exhaust pipe. How hysterical is that. The only thing it was missing, was Mr. Magoo. (The late Jim Backuss did a great voice over for that near-sighted cartoon character back in 1949.)

"Art & Plastic Surgery" has been on this door jam for as long as I can recall. I don't know the story behind it, but I would imagine someone has a very good sense of humor (I would only hope so). Can you imagine seeing this in the states!
This is one of many pretty signs around town. This frame is made of tin roses and painted gold. My good amiga Dianne, who has Rancho Casa Luna just outside of San Miguel, has one of these painted silver in her powder room with a mirror in the center. Really nice looking. This tin work is just one of the many outstanding crafts that can be found around town.

And here is Dianne. After a cold cerveza and some ribs, it did not take too much coaching to get her to pose for me. I think she looks moooooooooonificent!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

The Oven at Belmar in Lakewood, Colorado

On Friday, Denver had one of its typical spring snowstorms.

The next day was spectacular. Saturday we woke to a sunny, blue sky and the snow was already melting. My husband and I headed out for lunch with the sun roof open!
The Oven at Belmar in Lakewood serves the best pizza in town. It's not a fancy place, but nicely decorated with a friendly staff who always greets you with enthusiasm. We have been driving across town to The Oven since it opened to have their pizza. Mark Tarbell of restaurant fame in Phoenix, opened The Oven a few years ago. In 2007, Mark's "cuisine reigned supreme" in a battle against Cat Cora on the Food Network's "Iron Chef America".
One of our favorite items to start with is the made to order mozzarella sprinkled with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt and served with flat bread right out of one of the giant, wood burning ovens.

The salads are really flavorful. Our favorite is the crisp and perfectly chilled "Cucumber, Tomato and Bacon Salad" that has iceberg lettuce, thinly sliced red onions with a Gorgonzola herb dressing. My dad is partial to the "Oven Roasted Vegetable Salad," seasonal vegetables on a bed of organic greens with a Parmesan crisp.

Gilbert, giving us the thumbs up on our pizza, the "da bold Italian sausage" with fresh pesto on one side for my husband. The crust is thin and crispy, just how we love it.
When the weather is a bit warmer, we enjoy sitting out on the little patio that faces south with their huge umbrellas that shade you from the sun. Being Colorado, I have sat out there many times in the winter!
Check it out at http://theovenpizzaevino.com
Located in Belmar (s.e. corner of Alameda and Wadsworth)
7167 W. Alaska Dr.
Lakewood, CO

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Doors of San Miguel de Allende

Well, these are just some of the doors of San Miguel. There are simple to elaborate doors found on every street. And that morning and afternoon sun really enhances their beauty.
This is the side entrance to the Oratorio de Santo Neri Church. Commonly referred to as the "Oratorio", this is probable the most popular and busiest church among the locals. The structure was originally a chapel owned by the Confraternity of Mulattos. These slaves were brought from the West Indies and employed in the silver mines. The Chichimecas Indians of the area were too hostile to be lured to work underground so the mines owners used slaves from the West Indies and Africa.
A parish priest from Patzcuaro was encouarged to take up residence in San Miguel and he needed a church. The Mulattos did not want to give up their church and their grievences were outlined on a scroll. When unrolled in church, it was blank. Believing this was a miracle, they gave up the church.
This side entrance was built my the Mulattos in which everything is very simple. This "Tequiqui" style is the way the Indians handled European themes and created their style of indienous art.
The textures and colors are so magnificient.
It is common to find stone carvings and niches above the doors.
One of the Cantinas around town.
A view from inside the post office.

My favorite church in town, Las Monjas (the nuns).
It's formal name is La Iglesia y Convento de La Concepcion.

Friday, March 19, 2010

James Pinto

Yesterday I wrote about Sterling Dickinson and Leonard & Riva Brooks how they were major forces in shaping San Miguel de Allende into the artist colony it is today. James Pinto was another artist that had a tremendous influence on San Miguel.
Pinto was born in Yugoslavia and came to live and work in the United States. While in the US, he worked for Walt Disney Studios. He and his wife, Rushka, moved to San Miguel in 1948.
He taught painting at the Bellas Artes and later at the Instituto Allende where he became Head of the Art Department from 1961 - 1969 and Dean from 1969 - 1979 .

This one of my favorite paintings of Pinto, "Golden Bridge." Pinto's paintings were described as "Abstract Expressionism." He had such a talent on how he interpreted shapes, colors and light. Pinto's wall sculpture is at the Instituto Allende. It's fairly large, about 15 feet in width.

These impressive murals painted by Pinto are also at the Instituto Allende.

One night, many years ago, I saw Pinto and his wife at dinner at Sierra Nevada in San Miguel. He had a tremedous sense of humor and I always loved asking him if he was still "finger painting."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Sterling Dickinson and Leonard & Riva Brooks

San Miguel de Allende has been fortunate to have had some great people who are responsible for the town it is today. I was fortunate to have known Dickinson, the Brooks and many others of the art colony! John Virtue has written two books in which I just finished reading on Sterling Dickinson and Leonard & Riva Brooks.
"Model American Abroad" is a biography of Sterling Dickinson. Sterling first traveled into the interior of Mexico with his friend and co-author, Heath Bowman, in 1934. Back in Chicago, they published a book on their escapades, "Mexican Odyssey" which also illustrates many of Sterling's woodcuts. Sterling returned to Mexico and settled in San Miguel three years later.
The biography tells of his passion for the Mexican people and how he was one of the driving forces of putting San Miguel on the map as a world class art center.
"Leonard and Reva Brooks" by John Virtue tells of two artists also responsible for creating the culturally famous art colony it is today. They arrived in San Miguel in 1947 thinking that Leonard would be there only one year to teach painting at the Bellas Artes. Leonard is widely recognized in Mexico and Canada for his water colors and later on for his collages. Also a musician, he became director of the music department for 25 years in which he loved to teach the Mexican children, many who went on to become famous musicians. Riva was regarded as one of the top woman photographers of all time. Not only was Leonard a world class artist, he authored several art instruction books on painting. My father, a writer and photographer, helped Leonard with one of his books and above is a note to my father that Leonard wrote along with a little sketch of San Miguel in the inside cover of
"The Many Ways of Water & Color."

San Miguel de Allende is the magical and creative town it is today thanks to so many that settled in the storybook, colonial town in the 1930's and 1940's that only had a population of 7,000 in 1930, later growing to 10,000 in 1945.

Note: You may find these two books on Amazon.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Sunset in San Miguel de Allende

I am with Bonnie and Yvonne who were part of my tour group in January.
We are up on the mirador of Restaurant Campanarios (bell tower) having a margarita after a day of sight seeing.

The timing was perfect. The sunsets in San Miguel de Allende are spectacular.