Friday, March 20, 2009

Pretty pretty Patz...

I'm lying on the bed in the Grand Sala Suite at Casa Encantada in Patzcuaro, Mexico. It is late afternoon and somewhere off in the direction of the dining room someone is playing a difficult piece by Chopin. The low sun creates a dusty halo of light around the edge of the giant shutters and casts a muted yellow glow across the old Terra Cotta floor tiles. I sigh, close my eyes again and pretend I am Dona Cynthia in Colonial Mexico. Gerry pads through the room, smiles as I dig deeper into the feather bed and motions toward a bottle of red wine. I nod - time to light the fire and dress for dinner.

My reverie is the result of our decision to explore the
Patzcuaro area for a few days during our annual trip to Zihuatanejo. Although we spend just a short time, the visit left us aching for more. After our initial week in Zih, we took off on the Autopista Siglo XXI, the highway to Morelia-Patzcuaro. Immediately we have a lesson in driving two lane toll roads in Mexico. The Siglo XXI winds through the mountains and although it boasts HUGE shoulders, it is never wider than two lanes. Of course this doesn't stop the ever resourceful Mexicans from passing. In fact not only do they pass on this winding scenic track but the traffic engineers apparently encourage it. Signs are everywhere admonishing slower drivers to use the parking strips so that others can pass. In fact, on one stretch of road another stripe has been painted down the middle of the lane indicating, if you don't have the cojones to pass on a curve, you should keep to the right . So here we are, driving on the parking strip, me frantically imploring, "Don't PASS.. for God's sake don't pass, Gerry!". Cars, trucks and buses zoom around us ignoring the no passing signs and double lines. My rattled husband finally has enough, giving me a 'RELAX or ELSE' look and starts taking a few chances. As yet another bus crawls up our bumper I steel myself to the ordeal and keep my mouth shut as Gerry gingerly joins the dart and go game. About half way there we come upon what I had already envisioned in my mind for the last 100 miles - a horrible head-on accident. We wait while the ambulances pick up the injured and cover the dead. Some impatient drivers ahead of us honk persistently and we shake our heads at this bizarre reaction to the carnage. Surprisingly, we discover later that accidents of this nature aren't all that common on this Autopista but by the time we move through the debris I am ready to walk the rest of the way to Patzcuaro.
At last, Patzcuaro! I consult the very specific directions we were given by Casa Encantada. It seems easy enough.. go here.. turn left.. go straight.. look for a Sherwin Williams sign on the corner. Let's go! So we drive.. and drive..while all while the buildings start looking very much the same. White walls - halfway down a swath of red - above are red roofs - and finally miles of red or wood doors. In fact, all the lettering is the same elaborate script and in RED. The town looks old, charming.. historic even.. but EVERY frickin business looks the same!! I see no friendly blue Sherwin Williams little earth logo with paint dripping all over it...Ask Sherwin Williams? I can't even FIND the little twit. Gerry starts grinding his teeth and the car crawls down the increasingly narrow lanes. At the end of the street is a flimsy plastic tarp barricade where beyond lie the dark alleys of the Mercado. No where to go! Horns honk behind us. Desperately, Gerry takes off at the first right and we come out onto a large plaza. I make several attempts to ask directions from friendly passersby with no success. One very dapper, elderly Caballero finally admits, after a lengthy, rambling discussion, that he is from Morelia but would have LIKED to help us. Finally I jump out of the car and with false bravado instruct an incredulous Gerry and Daniel, "STAY HERE - I will find it!". Within seconds I persuade a man to leave his post at his ice cream cart. He wanders down the cobble stoned streets, chuckling about tourists, with me in tow. Each door looks identical but he takes me directly to the one red door that I need. A small ceramic sign announces it is indeed Casa Encantada. As I wander into the foyer and ring the bell I see predictably that the courtyard belies the plainness of the outside - flowers, fountains, elaborate ancient wood doors and shuttered windows. I run back to the boys to tell them excitedly about our new home for the next few days. All is forgiven! Eventually we settle in, drink a glass of the complimentary red wine and get ready to explore the town.
The next few days we take in the European and Colonial flavor of Patzcuaro and read about it's interesting history. The Spanish settled Patzcuaro, literally 'City of Stones' in the mid 1500s while the local indigenous peoples, the Purepecha, settled in a couple of hundred years earlier. It is the descendants of these (nyah nyah - got here first!) people who have made the wonderful items available in the town's shops and surrounding country side. I spend hours browsing for copper goodies...rebozos (shawls).. fine pottery and textiles. I get away with a few rebozos, a pot or two and.. well.. a wonderful copper sink (???) emblazoned with frogs. I blame the altitude, 7000 feet above sea level, for my newfound interest in copper plumbing fixtures. Gerry just frets about how to get the damned thing back home. Although I spend hours finding new ways to spend pesos, we also become adept at sitting idly near one of the many plazas - sipping coffees and wine for um.. hours. People watching is mandatory and we marvel at the the town's daily goings on. There are the nattily dressed elderly gentlemen who, after a few days, we begin to recognize as they arrive for their morning ritual of coffee and conversation. An afternoon funeral procession prompts a moment of silence amongst the cacaphony of the cafe as an infant's tiny coffin is carried by a grieving father. A group of giggling school girls allow me to snap their photo one evening. To my surprise, I see them sneak curious peeks at me during our frequent and subsequent visits to Cafe Surtidora. The days pass. I decide my pescado rebozo makes me look decidedly Spanish (exotic even!) and it becomes part of my permanent wardrobe. I take up ordering elaborate coffee drinks and consider, for the first time in years, sampling some of the luscious display of local pastries. Wow. I love this town.. I adore the place.. Im intoxicated by the smell of the pines in the daytime and each night can't wait to sip wine by our ancient looking old fireplace. I like the lack of tourists. I love the church bells of the Basilica. I love the sexy looking plump strawberries bursting out of their baskets in the Mercado. I like everything about Patzcuaro!! And just as we begin to linger a little too long over the real estate ads and start becoming a little TOO possessive about our sidewalk table at Cafe Surtidora it is....sigh... time to return to Zihuatanejo. We grit our collective teeth and load up the car for our return down the highway from hell and eventually to the Guerrero coastline.