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“The Hilly Place of Frogs”

Former State Prison Now a Center for the Arts in San Luis Potosi.  Franciso Madero, once a prisoner here, stands in front of the Arts Center

Former State Prison Now a Center for the Arts in San Luis Potosi. Franciso Madero, once a prisoner here, stands in front of the Arts Center

A nearly week long visit of older brother Fred and wife Mary enabled Doug to visit some of San Luis Potosi’s many museums while Kate continued her Spanish classes. One of the museums fascinated Mary in particular.  Having spent a year researching life in a prison in their home state of Minnesota, Mary was moved and quite impressed by the State of San Luis Potosi turning their largest prison into a museum and center for the arts.  But let them speak for themselves.  Here’s Fred’s description of the highlights of our San Luis Potosi touring:

Inside the Art Center/Former Prison Walls the Grounds Now Feature Sculpture and Landscaping

Inside the Art Center/Former Prison Walls the Grounds Now Feature Sculpture and Landscaping

The colonial part of San Luis is wonderfully preserved with large cobblestoned but narrow streets, many of which are reserved for pedestrians. One particularly impressive and moving visit was to a nineteenth century prison built around a central courtyard like the spokes of a wheel. The government has recently turned the prison into a community center for the arts with different areas devoted to painting, sculpture, dance, music…. In the center was a huge American flag with dollar signs and death heads instead of stars.

Following their too brief visit with us in San Luis, we traveled together to Guanajuato.  Kate and I had heard rave reviews of this city’s attractions so we were delighted to discover “the hilly place of frogs” with Fred and Mary.  On the way, we admired the central plaza and ate in Dolores Hidalgo, where Mexico’s struggle for independence from Spain began on September 16, 1810. On that date Father Miguel Hidalgo issued the cry (“grito) for freedom to residents of Dolores before marching on Guanajuato.

Why they marched on Guanajuato is suggested by Fred’s notes on our visit there.  He wrote the following to friends and family: ”According to our guide book, for 250 years from 1558 on, one mine on the outskirts of the present Guanajuato produced 20 percent of the world’s silver. One of the old haciendas, with eighteen formal gardens (Roman, Japanese, Mexican, etc.), we saw Sunday, put even the grand, agriculturally-based haciendas of the Yucatan to shame. We didn’t get to see Guanajuato’s “museum of the sacred inquisition” nor its museum of the mummies (the latter possible because the water is so minerally ladened that cadavers of life-long inhabitants of the area are naturally preserved). Those who have led most interesting lives evidently end up as displays in the mummy museum. After having visited on our way to Guanajuato an artisania (in Dolores Hidalgo, notes Doug) that made 5 feet high ceramic statues of female skeletons in all kinds of garb and dramatic poses, all with identically compelling grins, it was hard to pass up the mummy museum but we did and visited the Diego Rivera house and museum instead. Amazing.

After centuries of mining and building of flood control tunnels in Guanajuato’s canyon, few traces of its pre- Hispanic past remain. Frogs are now scarce.  But the city’s name, “the hilly place of frogs”, which comes from the “P’urhepecha” Amerindian language, is preserved.

Looking up the derivation of Guanajuato’s name led to some other discoveries.  According to Wikipedia, “The government of Mexico recognizes 68 distinct indigenous Amerindian languages as national languages in addition to Spanish.”  Furthermore, while Spanish is the language spoken by the vast majority of Mexicans, it is not recognized as the “official” language of the country.  The 1917 Constitution commits the nation to preserving the status of the country’s “indigenous” languages.  While fewer than ten per cent of the Mexican population now speak an “indigenous” language, the Constitution advocates support of “bilingual” and “bicultural” education.

For photos of Dolores Hidalgo and Guanajuato, go to the album at:

https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/105354530047201453343/albums/5836354290753690385

Click on the Slide Show tab on the right above the photos to enlarge the photos and see accompanying comments.

 

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