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Michael Bolton comes to Zacatecas

sunny 20 °C

Yes, we're as surprised as you are. As we drove into Zacatecas, we passed billboards advertising the 30th Annual Cultural Festival, featuring two weeks worth of headliners such as Jose Feliciano, Ana Torroja, and a number of other Hispanic musical talents, including the incredible Mexican/American Lila Downs. For some unfathomable reason, Air Supply and Michael Bolton are included in this line-up. Well - we ended our splendid and all-too-short time in Zacatecas with a Michael Bolton concert tonight (a first for both of us). Actually, we left after four songs. We couldn't get a seat, the sound was terrible - heavy on the bass and drums and quite distorted, and after Bolton droned through a listless rendition of Sitting on the Dock of the Bay we took off.

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We had no idea the Cultural Festival was on - the icing on the very big cake that is Zacatecas. We were here for less than three days - a bit of a disappointment as this city is beautiful, and the Festival has added so much to see and do that we wish we had more time. The Festival brings art, theatre, lectures,movies and music to the city, and incredibly, it is all absolutely free. Activities and events are spread out over the centre, and there is music offered each night on three stages.

Two nights ago (about an hour after we arrived), we watched a multi-media show, with the Lumiere Brothers A Trip to the Moon playing on the screen behind the electronic keyboard player. Beside him, a dancer moved rhythmically and interpretively to the music and the light show.

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Simultaneously, just in front of the stage, a nimble young man juggled machetes while riding a unicycle and balancing a glass ball on his head. The on-stage dancer did a quick costume change and joined him on the ground to thrill the crowd with fire-throwing acrobatics. The music became more intense, and the movie switched over to some dark German post-war production with children wearing wigs.

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Last night, we headed to the main stage to watch Lila Downs. Her name rang a bell, but we had never heard her sing. She is much beloved here - we figured there were about 8,000 - 10,000 people in the audience. Lila is half indigenous Mexican and half American and while she has had success in both counties, she lives in Mexico with her husband, saxophonist Paul Cohen. She devotes a lot of time to furthering the causes of indigenous people and her concerts are always notable for her fabulous native dress and her powerhouse voice. We're brand new fans - check her out on YouTube singing "cu cu rru cu ru paloma" It is a classic Mexican song of heartbreak and love lost - to hear her sing it is to feel wrenching sadness.

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Zacatecas is a UNESCO World Heritage site, designated for its magnificent cathedral, many notable museums and art galleries, lush parks and plazas and streets filled with well-maintained colonial buildings. Zacatecas is the most northern of the silver cities, and carries the same horrid history of indigenous enslavement and death. Today, the only clue to its past is a visit to the Eden mine ( we decided against it), and many stores selling silver jewellery.

We spent the past two days wandering the streets and visiting museums and galleries. We have several images to share, starting with the architecture.

Templo de Santo Domingo -the exterior is plainer but this interior has far more gilt and decoration than the larger Cathedral.

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Right next door, the Museo Pedro Coronel - an ex-convent that houses 20th century artists.

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Typical street scene - pink sandstone, portals, balconies, neo-classical design

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Night street - Zacatecas has moody, atmospheric lighting - creating a very inviting mood for evening strolls.

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The main cathedral is a pink stone confection of elaborate carvings, angels, figures, curlicues... and the 12 apostles.

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Inside, it is a picture of restraint - quite restful and beautiful.

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We walked out to visit the Museo Fransisco Goitia, set on the sumptuous grounds of the former governor's mansion. Goitia was a prolific painter and sculptor, and this museum shows much of his work, as well as many other Mexican artists. We couldn't take photos, sadly, but Goitia's work is very interesting, and he looks suitably mad.

The Museo, set off by a sculpture, entitled, "Futura"

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The large park right in front of the Museo provides an oasis for Zacatecans. This fountain was set to classical music, and the water jets leaped and jumped accordingly. It was wonderful to sit there and relax for a while.

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View of the aqueduct from the park.

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We headed over to another park, Alameda - this one a long, skinny stretch of green, punctuated by fountains and stone benches.

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We found a couple of funny diversions while walking around the neighbourhood - this sign was a gentle reminder of "La Courtesia." Most encounters with Mexicans follow a predictable pattern - first bid one a good day, then state your business, and always follow with please and thank-you.To greet someone otherwise is considered rude.

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Is this the Mexican version of a gum tree? Plastered with wads of gum - some stretched to create letters, others just stuck on - we wondered why this particular tree, and who started it, etc. etc. Another of Mexico's unanswerable questions.

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I couldn't resist this little girl. For some reason, there seems to be a large number of little girls in Zacatecas who are dressed in this old-fashioned way - she was just adorable.

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This not-so-little girl with a less demure dress was the subject of a model shoot. I know this because there were three or four guys with jeans, scuffed boots and big cameras yelling out directions - the international "look" of photographers from Montreal to Madrid.

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I was the subject of a shoot (albeit not fashion) myself. These two men were on the sidewalk, doing "streeters" for the Festival, and I got hauled in for my two cents worth. Foolishly, I was wishing for lipstick, but it won't matter anyway - although I could understand and answer his questions about how I was enjoying the Festival and the city, goodness knows what I actually said to him. I can make myself understood the way a two-year-old can make themselves understood - it does the trick, but it's not good TV.

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One of the things we cannot get over is the fact that art, music and theatre is so accessible in Mexico - usually for very little money; often free. The Ex-Templo de San Agustin went through a few religious incarnations before becoming a government-owned venue where rotating art exhibitions and musical events parade through. This exhibition was very large canvases - most of them about 10' x 15' - and most of them thought-provoking.

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We stumbled upon a huge artwork going on in one of the plazas, as part of the Festival. Ostensibly, parents and children were supposed to be working on pinatas, wooden rush chairs, and papier-mache figures. By the time we got there, the kids had jumped ship and the parents were valiantly finishing off their family projects.

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It had to happen. The bandidos came to town this afternoon. Stephen and I were having our gorditas for lunch when the roar of dozens and dozens of motorcycles blew by us. I ran out to the street to see what was happening, and took a few photos.

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These were not middle-aged men with expensive transport on a road trip - various patches and insignias and head rags and major tattoos were in town to pay their respects to one of their own - a fallen biker named Chino Guzman ( no idea if he was any relation to El Chapo), but his passing did not go unnoticed by this crew. After we finished lunch and walked toward the cathedral, we passed by somber groups of older, well-dressed men in dark suits and dark glasses. I think it's safe to say these were some seriously bad guys. They were not here to terrorize the town, but it was fascinating to have witnessed - like watching sharks from a safe distance.

We're off to Mazatlan tomorrow - just a pit stop to break up a very long drive up to the Copper Canyon. If we arrive in time, we may dip our toes in the Pacific. See you again in a few days after we've had our Copper Canyon adventures.

Posted by millerburr 20:18 Archived in Mexico

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You have the knack of turning a phrase - "like watching sharks from a safe distance" - it doesn't get better than that! Hope you get a chance to dip your toes in Mazatlan!

by Heather

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