Exploring Mexico

Images of Mexico Part IX

Photographs and Text by John Todd, Jr.

Note: Mexico is a big country. It can only be described as a sensual mosaic of different scenes of people and landscapes. Soft pastels and hard colors are seen and felt in the emotions of the people.

Beautiful as the soft music of a romantic trio in the evening or a hard ranchera. The laughter of a people who love their children and celebrate life in the streets and their homes.

If you look at a map of Mexico and the US, you might describe the US as the mind and logic, and Mexico is the heart.

La Michoacana
Yummy Ice Cream
Anywhere in Mexico
The Ice Cream of Michoacan
The states of Michoacan and Guanajuato are famous for their fresh strawberries.

There is such an over abundance they began to make strawberry ice cream.

It seems like on the plaza of just about every small town in Mexico there is a Michoacan style ice cream parlor like this one in Misantla, Veracruz.

The stuff is good, too.
Taxco Streets
The Old Streets of Taxco
As wide as a Two Carriages
A Trip to Taxco
By now you probably know it´s pronounced, "Tasco".

Taxco is a fascinating city built in the 16th Century and is the site of a huge silver mine.

Underneath the whole city is a honey comb of mine tunnels. In one silver shop, there is an elevator that will take you down into a tunnel for a quick tour of a silver mine. The mine is still producing silver to this day.

Aside from the heavy weekend traffic, Taxco probably hasn´t changed much since the days Bill Spratling walked the old colonial streets.

I enjoy walking the streets of Taxco taking in the sights, especially browsing the silver shops.
Mexican Restaurant
Breakfast in Taxco
William Spratling and Taxco Silver
(I got this information from a good article called "The Man from New Orleans" by John Shelton Reed of the University of North Carolina.)

After centuries of silver production, in the 1930´s an American artist, William Spratling, moved to Taxco and began experimenting with silver jewellery designs.

Eventually, he established a model for the artistic development and growth of the silver industry in Taxco and is known as the "Father of Contemporary Mexican Silver."

Although Warner Brothers made a movie in 1948 about the his life called "The Man from New Orleans," in reality, Spratling wasn't really from New Orleans; he had only lived there for a few years before moving to Mexico.

But, he was an Auburn alumni who picked up the accent and courtly style of a Southern gentleman.

He was also an architect, artist, adventurer, and a friend of the rich and famous of those days in Mexico.
Mex Rest
Mexican Restaurant
The Same Restaurant
Inventor of the "Margarita"
Some say he invented the "margarita", and but no one can deny that he was known as one of the world's finest designers of silver jewellry and silverware of his day.

He was born in 1900 in upstate New York, and as a boy, he demonstrated an early talent for drawing.

Later at Auburn Univiersity, he developed his talent as an undergraduate that he often gave lectures in courses in the architecture department.
Breakfast Balcony
Taxco, Gro.
Early Years
In 1921 he left Auburn without a degree and later became an associate professor of architecture at Tulane.

He rented an apartment in the French Quarter and had a roommate from Mississippi, a young writer named William Faulkner.

Spratling sketched his way around Europe twice, and spent three summers in the late 1920s drawing and writing about colonial architecture in Mexico.

A Start in Mexico
In 1929, he quit his job at Tulane and moved to Taxco hoping to make a living writing about Mexico for American audiences. But it wasn't as easy as he had expected.


Church of Santa Prisca
16th Century Taxco
In Taxco, he began to design furniture and tin ware, then later branched out into silver.

He would commission goldsmiths from a nearby village to produce jewellery and tableware from his designs.

Soon Spratling established the "Taller de las Delicias" later "Spratling y Artesanos", which produced objects first in tin, copper, leather, and fabrics, then later in silver.

Within a few years he became very successful and had a shop with dozens of workers, and an apprentice system for developing local talent in silversmithing.

Many of the young people who trained with Spratling started their own workshops.

Later American and European designers were attracted by the cheap living, cheap labor, and the easy going atmosphere of small town Mexico.
Balloon Vendors
Taxco, Gr.
Plenty of Business
At one point it was estimated that there were 2000 silversmiths working in the town.

When the paved highway from Mexico City to Acapulco was finished in the late 1930's, Taxco became one of the main stops along the way.

When World War II cut off the supply of silver from Europe, American department stores began to order silver objects made in Taxco.

A Tourist Trap
By the end of the war Taxco had become a combination artists' colony and tourist trap.
John Tourist
The Happy Tourist
Famous Friends
Spratling had now become a celebrity, hobnobbing with movie stars and politicians of the day who visited Mexico.

After the war, when the American demand for Mexican silver fell off, Spratling moved to a ranch south of Taxco and continued his silver business on a greatly reduced scale.

In 1967, he died in an automobile accident on a rural road near Taxco.

Now, when I go to Taxco, I remember Bill Spratling and how he put the small Mexican mining town on the map.
Hotel García Peral
Huajuapan de Leon, Oaxaca
A Colonial Restaurant
If you look close enough, you can find a Spanish colonial style restaurant just about anywhere.

To be invited to sit down by a waiter in uniform, and relax after a couple of hours on the road, at a table with a white clean tablecloth is beyond description.

There is even a restaurant like this in the out of the way town of Huajuapan de Leon, Oaxaca. But it isn´t on the main highway, but on the small town plaza that was bypassed years ago.

Even bacon and eggs taste great. Fresh hand made tortillas make a late breakfast even greater! When breakfast is over, you don´t want to leave.
Guadalajara, Jalisco
When I was visiting the main plaza in Guadalajara, I saw a photographer taking pictures of a young girl dressed in a formal. It was a "Quinceañera"

The custom of the "Quinceañera" is a special Mexican tradition celebrated throughout much of the hispanic world.

The word literally means, "a girl who is 15 years old" or the "15th birthday party." A "Quinceañera" is a celebration of a girls fifteenth birthday.

It is a special occasion when a girl becomes a woman. Hispanic girls all over the world celebrate this occasion.

The difference between a "Quinceañera" and any other birthday party is that it is fancier and you invite more people.

The first thing you do is go to church the day of your Quinceañera and the priest talks about becoming a woman.
Guadalajara, Jalisco
Once the spiritual ceremony is over you move on to the social part of the "Quinceañera".

At this time your many invited guests come to celebrate your becoming a woman. This is where you celebrate by having a band play live music and lots of dancing.

Times Change
Over the years the "Quinceañera"event has changed.In earlier years, a woman was nothing. Women were only suitable for having children and were taught to do household chores from a very early age.

Like watching younger brothers and sisters in second or third grade when you are old enough for the responsibility.

Nowadays a "Quinceañera" symbolizes that you are ready to date. You can now choose between a "Quinceañera" party or a car.

Later, I was invited to a Quinceañera Party in Veracruz and it was a lot of fun!
Hotel Lobby
Guadalajara, Jalisco

Ornate Hotels
As you walk the streets of Guadalajara, I am attracted by some of elegant hotels with their doors open to reveal and ornate lobby, and invite you to stay.

The older hotels reflect the tastes of the times when a hotel room was for sleeping only.

The only luxury added later was a telephone.

The sparkling life of the hotel was in the lobby or restaurant.

Today, these old swanky hotels usually aren´t all that expensive.

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