The Clock Whisperer

dsc_0984Gabriel Alfonso Gamez Zuñiga is Mazatlán’s resident clock whisperer, an incredibly talented, personable guy who is the last of a dying breed—the keeper of knowledge and skill that is nearing extinction.

People from throughout the municipio and surrounding communities ask Gabriel to work his magic on their timepieces. He does so with everything from the most expensive, bejeweled wristwatches— Chopard, Piaget, Rolex—to the brass mechanisms of antique wooden clocks and high-tech GPS-enabled dive watches. He also sells clocks and watches on commission. Click on any photo to enlarge or view a slideshow.

The son of clockmaker Alfonso Gamez, who learned his craft via a correspondence course with Swiss-based Vaucher, went on to train five different apprentices over a 60-plus year career, and was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as Mexico’s best clockmaker, Gabriel grew up sweeping floors amidst the hairspring levers, count wheel trains, chiming movements and recoil escapements on his father’s workbench. He tells me he loves challenges in his work, “the more difficult the better.” He approaches his craft as problem solving: “it’s like putting together a jigsaw puzzle.” What he hates is boredom.

Gabriel is the last of his father’s apprentices still in business; he has been repairing clocks and watches for over fifty years—the longest in Mazatlán. Most of those decades he worked just up the street from his current location on the corner of Canizales and Rosales downtown. During that time he has seen clocks trend from the mechanical to electrical, quartz, chronographic, digital and back again. “Life is circular; everything old becomes new again. Now is the perfect time for my skills, because the old is in fashion again,” he tells me.

Gabriel is so humble that he refuses to call himself a relojero or clockmaker, but says he “only repairs” watches and clocks. Everyone else raves about how gifted he is. On any given day he also repairs lights, computerized car keys; you name it, Gabriel fixes pretty much whatever his beloved customers bring in. His shop is constantly bustling: several people at the counter, cars pulling up to drop off or pick up merchandise. When Gabriel needs time to focus on a project, he has to roll down the doors of his shop and refuse to answer the knocks or the phone. When he tries to take a day off people come to his home for assistance!

The demand for his skills is obvious. We live in an age that is hyper-vigilant of time—it blinks on our cell phones, dashboards, microwaves, computers and televisions. Over a billion watches are sold each year—we have more need than ever for clock makers and repairers. Despite that fact, Gabriel tells me young people just aren’t interested in learning his trade, and only a handful of clock repairers remain in Mazatlán; their “heyday” was in the 60s and 70s when there were dozens of shops in town. Gabriel is very social, so in addition to the steady flow of customers through his shop, there are usually at least one or two people just visiting.

Sprawled across Gabriel’s workbench are hundreds of movements, wheels, rods, and springs, yet our clock whisperer knows exactly what parts he has where. He buys his parts from the Central de Funitura, the clock market in Guadalajara. He has a magnet attached to the end of a pole to help him find and pick up any small, dropped parts, and another magnet in his pocket to capture pieces he might put there.

Relojes Gámez is open Monday through Friday Clock 9:30am to 1:30pm and 4:00-7:00pm, and on Saturdays 9:30am to 1:00pm, on the corner of Canizales and Rosales, telephone 985-5620.

Talented and dedicated tradespeople are one of the joys of living in Mazatlán. Here we are fortunate to be able to have shoes, pots and pans, electronics or clocks repaired expertly and at a reasonable price. Every year, however, it becomes more difficult to find these quality-driven artisans; the world has changed, and people no longer want to spend years apprenticing to learn a trade. It makes me all the more grateful to know Gabriel and endorse his work, as he has helped us with more than a few watches. If you know anyone seeking a much-needed and rewarding trade, I’d urge them to contact Gabriel!

Do You Love Maestro López Saenz, Too?

P1100159 - Version 2 Do you love internationally renowned Maestro Antonio López Saenz’ work? We are so blessed to have such a talented artist who is a native Mazatleco. You’ll remember that back in September the Maestro told us he would be issuing canvas prints very soon. Today was the official launch of an exhibit of those prints in the Museo de Arte, although Victor Manuel, his nephew and agent, and the Maestro have had the prints on sale for some weeks now. The giclee prints are incredibly high quality, printed on canvas with original signatures. The color really pops, and at first glance you don’t even realize that they are prints. I am so excited to finally be able to afford a López Saenz for our home (an approximately 15″ x 25″ print costs 2800 pesos)!

The exhibit officially opened a little after 5:00 this afternoon. The Maestro arrived on time, and spent a few minutes hugging and greeting his fans. Then the Mayor arrived, and after a big more mingling, a few very short speeches were given and the red tape was cut. The event was extremely well attended. It was difficult even to get to see some of the artwork, and definitely not easy to move in the galleries! There was also a reception in the patio area of the museum, with wine and snacks. Below are some event photos, and a video of the opening ceremony as well.

The exhibit, “Todo López Saenz,” is well worth seeing. It will continue at the Museum of Art all through February and March, 2014, and from there will travel to Culiacán, Los Mochis, El Fuerte, Guadalajara and San Francisco (California). If you are interested in purchasing some of the works, contact Victor Manuel López de la Paz (in Spanish) at 6691-47-0582. And please tell him Dianne and Greg sent you.

Adventures in “La Comer”

Expats here call it “Mega.” Most of the locals I know call it “La Comer” or “Comercial Mexicana.” Either way, to me it’s a pretty boring place. I’m not a big shopper, I prefer the mercados to the supermarkets, and when there’s not a lot of variety in the offerings (fresh, local-grown or caught, unique), well, suffice it to say, Mega is not my favorite place in town.

So, we went grocery shopping there today, and we actually had a bit of excitement!


First of all, we met one of my favorite painters, Maestro Antonio López Saenz. I’ve heard him speak several times, but until today I’d never met him. What a friendly, kind and gentle soul he seemed to be! Soft-spoken, warm, and hospitable. We spoke right there between the epazote and cilantro. I was finally able to make my request, which I’ve hoped for for several years now.

“Please, maestro, might you paint a painting of our malecón as the biggest gymnasium in the world? You know how every Mazatleco uses it: running, roller blading, walking, yoga, pushups, sit-ups, bicycling? It’s perhaps the world’s longest oceanside promenade, and it’s a popular free gym for so many. It would be a gorgeous painting! It would really capture the Mazatlán of today.”

He told me how the original malecón is really just the Olas Altas portion, and that this longer part down towards “La Comer” is all new. Then he and his colleague Victor shared some really exciting news!

From December of this year the Maestro will be issuing canvas prints of his paintings! He wants them to be affordable and accessible! Woo hoo! Can’t wait to possibly have a replica of a López Saenz on our walls! Bravo!

And, the excitement in La Comer didn’t stop there. Maybe I just haven’t been looking closely enough, but I saw several interesting looking products. Rather unbelievable that they were there, actually. These included sushi rice, sushi roll wrappers (soy paper), and sesame seeds in bright “rainbow” colors (yuk—artificial dyes, but fun). Slideshow below:

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Back in the dairy case, they are carrying wine sorbets, and even one that is flan-flavored!

Just when you thought supermarket shopping couldn’t get any more boring! 😉

You Drive Us Wild We’ll Drive You Crazy


We had a whole lot of fun this past Wednesday, March 6. Our gorgeous Angela Peralta Theater, venue for so many classical music performances, became host to… sit down and take a breath — a rock band!

It was a KISS tribute band called “Dynassty,” composed of four young Mexicans including two Mazatlecos (García and Barrón):

  1. Carlos García as Gene “The Demon” Simmons, vocals and bass
  2. Angel Barrón  as Ace “Space Man” Frehley, lead guitar and backing vocals
  3. Mijael Chaín as Paul “Starchild” Stanley, vocals and rhythm guitar
  4. Miguel Ángel Chain as Peter “Catman” Criss, drums and backing vocals

The boys in the band seemed a bit nervous at the start, or perhaps just low energy due to the large venue and the less-than-overwhelming turnout. I imagine they’re also used to performing in a bar, to a much rowdier crowd. So, the four of us (Greg and me, our son and niece—who took all these photos, Arely Hernández), along with many others in the crowd, turned up our own energy and the night ended up being awesome. What a treat to dance, sing and shout en familia, especially with our seventeen year old!

The guys’ costumes were incredible; whoever made them should really be commended. They all had those really tall platform boots, too, and it sure seemed tough walking around and rocking out in them. One of the guys told me he spends two to three hours getting his makeup put on prior to an event. The boys rocked hard, spit up fake blood, got on the floor to play, and even pretended to break a guitar. It was a whole lot of campy and a whole lot of fun.

PonchoOne of the best parts about any event here in Mazatlán, of course, is the chance to meet and greet some of the many famous people who call our city home. I was beside myself when I first met Ferrusquilla, and I am afraid I acted starstruck on Wednesday to finally be able to meet Poncho Lizárraga of Banda El Recodo. I have loved their music for so long, and shouted and danced at their concerts as well. He was very kind, and I just sort of stood there smiling. I guess it’s a good thing once in a while. I wanted to ask him and failed: “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO PLAY IN YOUR HOMETOWN AGAIN?” We haven’t seen them since they played in the bull ring during Carnavál three years ago!

Thank you, CULTURA. This was a far from typical Angela Peralta Theater event, and it was really enjoyable. And thank you and good luck, Dynassty!

I wanna rock and roll all night and party every day! Who’s with me?

Behind the Scenes of Carnavál: The Making of a Giant Statue


This year’s Carnavál de Mazatlán statue of Marcel Marceau

Every pata salada loves the monigotes, those super-sized statues that go up along the malecón and in the Plazuela Machado each year in the weeks prior to Carnavál. The tradition began in 2005, with Maestro Jorge González Neri’s replicas of the work of Antonio López Sáenz, Mazatlán’s illustrious painter and sculptor. Last year, for Festival de los Imperios, we had gigantic warriors from major world civilizations protecting our fair city. And we all loved it! Excited to see them go up, rather heartbroken to see them taken down, it is a terrific tradition.

Every year we wonder and guess, what will the monigotes be this year? On Saturday we were driving down Avenida del Mar and happened to see them putting up the first statue: the mime Marcel Marceau. Ah, the excitement! This year, with the theme of La Linterna Mágica, we are privileged to enjoy eight-meter tall likenesses of international film stars — Las Luminarias de Neri.


Maestro Jorge González Neri in his taller

Marlon Brando, my beloved comic actor Cantinflas, the pachuco Tin Tan, actor and luchador El SantoPedro Infante, and Al Jolson were erected over the last few days. Marlene Dietrich went up this morning at Playa Norte. Just this afternoon we watched them put Charlie Chaplin up in front of our home. Oh, the thrill! The rumbera from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, La Tongolele (Yolanda Montez), went up late this afternoon. We watched it leave the taller after final painting and varnishing. Towards the end of the week the final monigote, of Marilyn Monroe, should make her appearance. We watched her head being carved today (see video and slideshows below), and her body being welded. Maestro Jorge González Neri himself told me that, yes, her skirt will be flying up in that iconic pose of hers.

So, how do you make one of those giant statues for Carnavál de Mazatlán? Well, the Maestro is a set designer who creates pieces for the stage as well as for public events. He is based in Monterrey, so there is a lot of sending of drawings and designs back and forth, between Monterrey and CULTURA here in Mazatlán, as they agree on what the monigotes will look like each year. It sounded to me like Neri himself is a bit astounded at how large they’ve become — the bar higher every year.

Once designs are agreed on, the staff of his taller begin working. Finished parts and parts in process are shipped to Mazatlán. A month or so prior to Carnavál, the Maestro travels here with a crew of 15 of his people from Monterrey. They hire papier maché people here locally, people who have now been doing this for years.

And, in an incredible open-air artistic assembly line, they create magic!


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Below is a very short video clip of one of the artists carving Marilyn’s face:


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Below is a very short  clip of the artists lowering La Tongolele (from vertical to horizontal) so they can paint her shoulders:


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Below is footage of the workers loading the huge statue onto the truck for transport.

Below is a clip of the crane workers installing Charlie Chaplin in front of our building. They stake the monigote to the beach, and counterbalance the stand with sandbags.

As you can see, it’s a bit like making a piñata, or one of the papier maché projects we all did as children. But, not really. It’s nothing like that! What an incredible dream to make magic in this way, don’t you think?

Click here for a slideshow of all the 2013 Carnavál de Mazatlán statues. Thank you, Maestro and crew, as well as CULTURA and all involved! This year’s “Luminarias” rock!

Are you curious to learn more? A couple of years ago we visited Maestro Rigo Lewis in his taller, as he and his crews worked on the parade floats or carrozas for Carnavál royalty. He was born during Carnavál and the event and its magic run in his veins. Need a schedule of events? It’s posted on CULTURA’s Carnavál site. The inside scoop of what to attend and how it all works? Check that out here.