Cultures Grow on the Vine of Tradition

Carnaval de Mazatlán 2019 is the fifth anniversary of the death of our local legend, Maestro Rigo Lewis. Born on Valentine’s Day 1935, it was rather the fact that he was born as the Carnaval queen processed to her coronation that would define the reality of his life. He counted his age in queens rather than years.

Greg and I were privileged to count Maestro Rigo as a friend and visited him in his workshop every year. Rigo designed his very first float as a sophomore in high school (1960) when his art teacher, Nana Ramirez, had him build one for the Revolution Day parade. He was afraid of flying so never traveled the world, but instead he spent 54 years bringing the world to Mazatlán—who doesn’t remember his Doge’s Palace or Amazon jungle—via the design and production of our world-famous Carnaval floats in his signature baroque style with loads of flourishes and curly-cues finished in trademarked glitter blends and metallic foils. Beginning the following year he began designing many of the royal costumes as well. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The loss of Maestro Rigo in 2014 at age 78 sent Mazatlán into community mourning. Fortunately, his sister and nieces stepped up to ensure his floats for that year were finished and ready for the parade. This year the family is back, invited to create 13 floats from the over 2500 sketches that Rigo left behind. “My uncle left designs for 100 more Carnavals,” said his niece, Mariana Lewis.

That is how a group of housewives, out of love for their brother and uncle, have come to be Carnaval float designers. Each of them has memories of folding paper and working on floats from the time they were children, so the vocation is far from new to them. They are using Maestro Rigo’s designs and techniques in order to honor his legacy. Many of the same artists and laborers from his workshop have come back to help with this year’s floats. Rigo taught them, they know what they’re doing, and they work hard out of tribute to him. “I traveled to San Antonio in September with a very long list of things to buy. I kept checking back in with my mother, to make sure I was getting the right things, that I had everything,” one of the nieces told me.

The Lewis family is in charge of creating 13 floats, including the royal floats for both adult queens and most of the Floral Games section of the parade. The main royal float is called “The Light,” and symbolizes the pinnacle of the equinox. It is a Renaissance-style design, 15 meters tall (two meters less than Rigo’s tallest) and has four mythical lions along the sides. “Every queen always told Rigo that her float was the most beautiful ever,” her family recalls. Lori Lizárraga, last year’s queen, brought a photo of Rigo to the taller the morning I was there, as a thank you to the family. They promptly mounted it on top of the main float, at least while it’s there in the workshop. The float for the Queen of the Floral Games looks absolutely incredible to me. It is the castle of Chapultepec, right down to its black and white tiled floors and Maximiliano and Carlotta. The queen’s section will open with her jewels—diamonds, rubies, emeralds… Please note that CULTURA has asked that the press not show any photos of the floats prior to the big day; thus, you will see photos of details and elements only.

Everything in this workshop is handmade, mostly of papier maché. We noticed a few molds into which papier maché is placed to create baroque, filigree-style adornments. As with any Carnaval workshop, there was loads of glitter; though here, the mixes of colors are trademarked, and I’m told it’s not standard “glitter” but squares much larger than normal. “I was in Guadalajara with my daughter when the Químico called, asking me to come back to Mazatlán for a very important matter,” Rigo’s sister Ana told me. They have worked on the floats for four months, this past month here in their cramped, open-air workshop downtown. They were given a large covered workshop out in Urías, but were happy to find this one closer to home. Though, as it’s open air, they struggle with dust and wind; several of them had coughs and colds.

The floats are so tall, as was Rigo’s tradition, that they either fold down or telescope up so that they can make it out of the workshop and onto the street. “We are on schedule. We have many figures finished and stored in a safe, covered space, ready for final installation. We have lots of decorative pieces that still need to be mounted. We are doing well,” Mariana said.

This year people will not be allowed to dance in the streets, we were told. Due to the width of the royal floats, people will need to stand or sit in the bicycle lane and beyond, behind the barrier that will be set up.

The float for last year’s queen includes a giant crown that goes up top, and chinacos or Mexican Independence fighters who will be mounted above canons on the float. There will also be a volcano that erupts—confetti! It should be a lot of fun.

Parade 2019 looks to delight, as we have these blasts from the past, Jorge Osuna’s illuminated floats, and Ocean Rodriguez’ innovative, high-tech renditions. There is something for everyone. In closing, the Lewis family reminded me that Rigo always wanted a Carnaval museum. He bought land on which to build one before he died. They tell me they will announce plans for it next Valentine’s Day, his birthday, 2020.

This is the second in our series on the 2019 Carnaval de Mazatlán floats. The first is here.

I’ve Seen Carnaval Future…

Ironically, change can sometimes be the best way to honor tradition. And holding inspiration and love for tradition in your soul can bring about the most remarkable innovations and creativity. This year, CULTURA Mazatlán’s desire to bring in younger, fresher, more modern and innovative blood has been a surprising and welcome way to honor our community tradition—what the protagonist of this story calls our “religion.”

You will have heard of Ocean Rodriguez, the young mazatleco who left town 14 years ago to make it big in set design in Mexico City and who has come home to be one of three Carnaval float designers this year. The new city administration has been singing his praises so highly since coming into office that my response to meeting him was, honestly, skeptical. Were we about to meet another over-confident ego? Thankfully that was not at all the case. And, after our community disappointment with the monigotes, I know many of you are worried about the quality of the parade this year.

Touring Ocean’s workshop with him took our breath away, and I don’t say that lightly. We saw intricately detailed, lifelike sculptures, painted in vivid colors and finished in the glitter that is a requirement of a mazatlecan Carnaval parade. We saw a bit of Las Vegas, in the way lightbulbs were used to add flare to large letters. We were awed by moving parts and mechanisms, including machines and a whale spouting. A successful set designer, as Ocean told us, is part “architect, sculptor, mechanic, painter and carpenter,” a jack of all trades or a renaissance artist. I am posting photos of details, only, as CULTURA has requested the press not post photos of Carnaval floats before the parade, so that the public can be surprised and delighted. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

 

Talking with Ocean was a delight. He treasures the uniqueness of Carnaval de Mazatlán deep in his soul, in a manner remarkably similar to that of Maestro Rigo—the designer of our parade floats for 54 years. Ocean, in fact, credits Rigo as his earliest professional inspiration—standing on the street in awe, along with the rest of Mazatlán—of those Barroque-style carros alegóricos was one of the huge joys of his childhood. His grandmother, Emilia Zatarraín, would take him and his cousins to the parade. She was “muy carnavalera,” and from December till Mardi Gras would save egg shells to make cascarones filled with confetti and serpentine, giving each of her grandchildren a “Carnaval kit” every day during the maximum fiesta of our port. Ocean is dedicating the eight floats he is building this year to her memory. And, while the city points to the Lewis family’s creations as honoring Maestro Rigo’s legacy, I believe you can add Ocean’s eight floats to that list. In Ocean’s creations we saw the details, complexities and whimsical surprises that we had been fortunate to witness every year in Maestro Rigo’s workshop, but updated, made with modern techniques, feeling familiar and yet very fresh and new. Kudos and thanks to you, Ocean!

Perhaps most surprisingly is that his workshop was relaxed, joyful. There was none of the last-minute panic, the long days and nights of endless work, that we were so used to experiencing in a Carnaval float workshop. It may have been show, but I believe it’s thanks to the wonders of 3-D printing and modern rendering, as opposed to the gorgeous yet time-consuming artistry of papier maché. Most of the pieces of all eight floats appeared to be nearly ready to assemble, calmly and ahead of schedule!

This year is a dream come true for this young mazatleco, whose most fervent desire is to make his birthplace his home. Having raised a son here who shares that most heartfelt of desires, I know how limited the options for making a living in Mazatlán can be, and sincerely hope that Ocean, who is building a house here, will make Mazatlán his base and continue his internationally renowned career from here. Ocean graduated from ICO, is divorced, and has all his family here in town. He’s designed sets for movies, television (Shark Tank Mexico and many others) and musical tours (Yuri, Enrique Iglesias, David Bisbal…), as well as commercials for some of the world’s most major brands (Pepsi, Burger King…) with the company he founded, Artefacto Sets. Below is one of their promotional videos.

 

Touring a Carnaval float workshop evokes emotions similar to what I imagine touring Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory must feel like. We visited Maestro Rigo’s workshop every year and have visited Maestro González Neri’s several times as well. During the tour you feel excitement, delight, surprise, amazement, wonder… There are lathes and saws to cut wood; there are drills and torches to form metal; turbines, elevators and mechanical pieces; there is tons of Styrofoam, paint, and glitter, glitter, everywhere glitter. People talk of men coming home with lipstick on their collars. From what I can tell, in this industry, you come home with glitter in your hair and styrofoam in places you don’t even want to think about.

I so wanted to take photos of the floats to show you. Sadly, I couldn’t. But they are truly incredible! You will be delighted! As Ocean guided us around he’d say things like, “these are the birds’ wings here and they will go onto the crow there, and the crows will then be mounted to fly over the trees here, and the trees go….” Your imagination soars. The other really impressive thing, to me, is how the floats have elevators and telescoping elements. You see, they are assembled in workshops, which are a certain height. They need to drive out, or, rather, be pulled out, through the door or gate. They assemble the floats in order on Aleman street, and that is a second height. Then, the main Avenida del Mar, cleared of all low-hanging wires and street lights, is a third height. So, all the tall elements telescope out in at least three sections, like the giant drum / cake on the Banda el Recodo float: one part fits into another and those fit into a third. The push of a button enables things to move.

 

The theme, “Equinox: Awakening the Senses” was evident in every aspect of Ocean’s floats, albeit in creative ways. We saw:

  • A shaman in the jungle, highlighting the importance of nature and the danger of climate change.
  • The seasons of spring (a marine scene), winter (an epic struggle with an octopus) and fall (leaves, the autumn moon, and a boat).
  • Huge numerals “80” for El Recodo’s 80thanniversary float.
  • Gigantic statue of Prometheus, the Greek god who gave humans fire.

Ocean is doing the section for the King of Carnaval—renamed this year from King of Joy. We saw a delightful boat with a working paddle wheel, made entirely out of wood. Ocean began designing his floats in early October, and began producing the parts later that same month. He hired trailers to transport them here to Mazatlán a month ago, when he arrived with his team to begin work here in town. He tells us, “No one knows Carnaval like a mazatleco. I have 25 years of my life living and breathing Carnaval. It’s been a lifelong dream to design these floats. But no one is a prophet in their hometown. I had to establish myself in Miami, Bogotá, La Havana, before I finally got to come home to do what I do. I don’t regret that it took so long; I’m ready.”

While Maestro Rigo did things artisanally, with handmade papier maché, in Ocean’s workshop we see auto-cat, plotters, 3D printers, unicel, fiberglass molds, resin—a much higher tech way of creating his intricate, realistic yet fantastical designs that are so unique and yet echo the soul of a Lewis Carnaval. The pieces are still finished up artisanally—hand painted, and adding the glitter is a laborious process. He has hopes that we will see real fire spouting from one of the floats, but that will depend on Protección Civil’s permission. “The finishing with this method is finer, like sculpture. We can get details like fingernails, gestures, how the fabric moves…” Ocean didn’t know Maestro Rigo, though he did meet him once, briefly, when he was younger.

 

So what about this religion stuff? Why does Ocean say that Carnaval is the mazatlecan religion? “I had doubts about using glitter on my floats. Didn’t really want to. So I asked a few people. Put the question up on my Facebook page. I couldn’t believe the ferocity of the response!!! People demanded their glitter, said it wouldn’t be Carnaval without it. They had a fit, like I was breaking a religious truth. Every mazatleco is an art curator of Carnaval floats. Everyone born here can distinguish a good float from a bad one, and critique its elements, tell you what’s missing. What do you call it, if not a religion, when people stand in line over 24 hours to get free tickets for the coronations? What do you call it when they put their chairs out three days ahead of the parade, and spend 24 hours per day guarding their space, if not a religion?”

Religion or not. Carnaval de Mazatlán rocks, and the 2019 parade looks to be no exception I trust you’ll join me, dancing in the streets!

This is the first in a series on the 2019 Carnaval de Mazatlán floats. The second is here.

 

Under the Big Top

I do love a good circus. And I especially love the aerialists: trapeze, tight rope, spinners, acrobats. Click on any image to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Circo Atayde Hermanos is here in Mazatlán for a couple of weeks. Their performance schedule is below. A girlfriend and I went recently and enjoyed it very much—we paid 200 pesos for very good seats. It’s a simple, classic circus, with clowns, jugglers, balancing acts, a guy who’s shot out of a cannon, motorcyclists riding inside a globe, and my beloved aerialists. The show is animal-free, as animals have been outlawed in circuses in Mexico since 2014.

What I really loved about this is that those kids selling popcorn, candy apples and toys are the performers themselves! So engage them in conversation and learn a bit about what they love about their lives and their job. Itzel, the girl with the loop on her head, told me she loves the traveling. She’s been all over Mexico and the US, and has hopes to get to Europe. She told me quite a few performers get trips to Europe for special performances. She studies with a teacher that the circus provides for the kids in the troupe.

Circo Atayde Hermanos is 130 years old this year. I have been told that it was actually founded in Mazatlán back in 1888, after the two Atayde brothers, who hailed from Zacatecas, fell in love with two sisters from El Rosario, and that Francisco Madera delivered his campaign speech under their tent here.

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Photo from the Atayde HMOs Facebook event page

The internet tells me (third-hand, as their own site doesn’t have a history) that the circus was founded in Zacatecas. Desiring to figure out the real story and get some behind-the-scenes photos and interviews, I arranged an appointment with them. Their local promotions director, however, is quite a piece of work and that interview very distastefully never happened. In its absence, enjoy the pics I did get!

 

Gratitude for Life in Mazatlán

Research has shown that gratitude—taking the time to reflect on what we are thankful for in our lives—has physical, psychological and social benefits. Feeling grateful provides us stronger immune systems, fewer aches and pains, lower blood pressure and better sleep; more positive emotions, feelings of alertness, joy, pleasure, optimism and happiness. Thankful people are more helpful, generous, compassionate, forgiving and outgoing; they feel less isolated and lonely.

Gratitude is a major aspect of most every world religion. The three Abrahamic faiths all value thankfulness. From the words of King David in the Book of Psalms—“Oh Lord, my God, I will give thanks to you forever” (30:12), to the words of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew—“You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (22:37-40) and the words of Muhammad in the suras, “Gratitude for the abundance you have received is the best insurance that the abundance will continue,” it is clear we should appreciate what we have. Buddhists give thanks for all that life has to offer, the good and the bad, as suffering helps us appreciate our gifts and become more compassionate. Hindus show gratitude through service and hospitality. Confucianism and Taoism look at gratitude as a key pillar of daily life. Here in Mexico we have the small pewter milagros, expressions of thanks for healing delivered or promises kept. Etruscan culture had similar gratitude offerings, but they were commonly made of terracotta.

Many people in the world take classes, participate in therapy, or write in gratitude journals in order to cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Here in Mazatlán, however, it comes naturally to most of us. It’s actually difficult to live among such kind, happy people, in such gorgeous surroundings, and not feel grateful.

It is said that gratitude has two components. First is an affirmation of goodness: life is not perfect, but we are able to identify some amount of goodness in our lives. Living here in Mazatlán, we know that things are not always rosy or “paradise”—as the tourist brochures may say. We live in reality, but most of us are also incredibly grateful for the opportunity to enjoy this incredible place, be it our natal or adopted home.

Second, gratitude involves a humble dependence on others or a higher power—a recognition beyond personal pride, that something beyond oneself helps us achieve the goodness in our lives. In this case, Mazatlán itself, the beauty of our natural setting, the friendliness of her people, causes a sense of thankfulness in nearly everyone who lives here.

Today I was reflecting on our lives here. We’ve been coming here since 1979. We were married here. We raised our son in Mazatlán. We’ve lived here full-time since 2008. I am consistently and eternally grateful, for so very many things. Below is today’s “top 15” list. I’d very much welcome hearing what you are most grateful for in the comments below.

  1. Incredible VIEWS—of the port, the ocean, the city, the mountains—including those overlooking the rise of the Super Wolf Moon or the eclipse of the blood moon. Click on the arrow, or just pause and watch, to view each slideshow.

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  2. 20 miles of gorgeous BEACH on which you can relax, eat and drink, play volleyball or soccer, swim, do yoga or tai chi, fish…

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  3. The world’s most amazing SUNSETS, not to mention SUNRISES!

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  4. CULINARY experiences for every palate, from street carts to beach palapas and fine dining, traditional to fusion. Food offerings are anchored in our fresh-caught SEAFOOD: lobster, oysters, scallops, and fish and supplemented by the harvest of fresh VEGGIES grown right here in the tortilla basket of Mexico. The ORGANIC FARMERS’ MARKET on Saturday mornings brings together local and international community members who value health and sustainability.

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  5. World-class VISUAL AND PERFORMANCE ART—opera, ballet, modern dance, symphony, mariachi, norteño and indigenous arts. Our local art community is both talented and welcoming, more than willing to teach as well as collaborate. Mazatlán is also blessed with an international caliber municipal art school with classes for anyone in the community, and we are, of course, home base to the international music sensation that is banda.

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  6. A long history as a mixed COMMUNITY OF NATIONALS AND INTERNATIONALS, from back in our heyday as a major hub on the trans-Pacific sailing trade route. This gives me the benefit of LOCAL FRIENDS who teach me so much, are patient with my lack of understanding, and who make me very grateful to call this place home; and INTERNATIONAL FRIENDS who bring me love and understanding in ways that are familiar and comfortable, allowing me to go out and explore and experiment with the new and unfamiliar and also find respite and reflection. Expats here are amazingly talented, adventurous people, give back in hugely beneficial ways to the local community, and make life in Mexico so much sweeter!

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  7. Any kind of SPORT you could want to participate in: runners have loads of organized marathons, triathlons and 5 and 10k races; swimmers have an Olympic pool, open-water swim club and ocean-fed public pool; we all enjoy the world’s largest open-air gymnasium, the malecón, where you can bike, roller blade, run or walk; hikers can enjoy the lighthouse, Deer Island, or any of a myriad of rustic trails around the municipality; we have baseball, golf, tennis, surfing….

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  8. Amazing WILDLIFE! We have BIRD WATCHING: in the mangrove jungle, Estero del Camarón, Estero del Yugo, Playa Norte, the botanic garden… pretty much anywhere in town. Look to the ocean and you can see whales, dolphins and rays jumping. Just outside of town you can enjoy watching and photographing macaws, jaguars, deer or coati, among many other animals.

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  9. HOLIDAY CELEBRATIONS that people travel across the world to attend, including our family-oriented and inclusive CARNAVAL, supposedly third-biggest in the world, and our DAY OF THE DEAD celebration combining the best of Mexican tradition and innovative artistry. Many mazatlecos are globally minded and talented, so we also are able to enjoy HOLIFEST, ANIME festivals and other innovative events.

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  10. Excellent diversity of EDUCATION at affordable prices, which attracts national as well as international families to life in our port, and an ECONOMICALLY DIVERSE city, with tourism, the port, fishing, farming, a brewery, coffee…
  11. Loving and inclusive SPIRITUAL COMMUNITIES with services in multiple languages, where we can grow, reach out to help others and feel loved.
  12. ARCHITECTURE lovers will find a mix of unique historic buildings downtown in tropical neoclassical style and award-winning modern structures such as the Carpa Olivera remodel or the Montessori school.

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  13. FIREWORKS nearly every night of the week somewhere in town, and loads of free public entertainment in the various plazas.

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  14. Nearby SMALL TOWNS to escape city life. These include BEACH TOWNS like Barras de Piaxtla, Stone Island, Caimanero, Escuinapa or Teacapán, where we enjoy dozens of miles of pristine beach. Also wonderful are MOUNTAIN TOWNS such as La Noria, El Quelite, Copala, Concordia, where we can take a day trip to learn about mining, see completely different flora and fauna, or eat fresh cheese and meat. These small towns offer a completely different way of life from Mazatlán as well as local arts and craftsmanship, and the opportunity to take killer night photos of the Milky Way.

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  15. The FRIENDLIEST PEOPLE you’ll meet anywhere on the planet. I’ve traveled and lived in most of it; I have a bit of experience on which to place my judgment. Here you’ll find the riches of the rich and the poorest of the poor, and most everyone you meet will be eager to offer a smile, a salutation and an offer of assistance.

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    Please remember to let me know in the comments below what makes YOU grateful to live in or visit Mazatlán! All photos are my own, ThruDisEyes.com.

2019 Camerata Campbell Series

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The 2019 Temporada Campbell started off with a bang—a Big Bang. Entitled “The Big Bang Without the Theory,” the outstanding percussion concert did include a bit of theory after all. Click any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Quick! Do you know how many types of percussive instruments there are? Two main categories: membranophones and idiophones. And what differentiates the two?

The Camerata’s Percussion Ensemble has played for us before, and they always astound—especially because they are so young to be so incredibly talented!

Mazatlán, we are in luck, as this was the first concert of this Sunday at Noon series, which continues through the end of February. Do NOT miss getting your tickets and enjoying a Sunday afternoon of pleasurable music followed by a lunch al fresco in historic downtown. February 27th should be of particular interest to our readers. See you in the theater!