Noche de Luz

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The premier of Noche de Luz was THE event of the season last year, showcasing to many in Mazatlán for the first time ever the inside of the old Observatory, as well as sharing with us a joyful amalgam of international music and talent. This year’s second edition of the outstanding event—put together by Raul Rico’s crew at Vivace Productions—made Christmas for many of us attending.

The view from the Observatory atop Lookout Hill is the whole of Mazatlán: south beyond Stone Island to north beyond Cerritos, including the entire city and port to the east and the best view of the lighthouse and the Pacific to the west. This is precisely why the conquistadores used this location as a lookout for English pirate ships approaching and intending to sack the city, and why the hill is called Cerro del Vigía. To me it’s the premier location in Mazatlán, and an incredibly gorgeously restored and decorated venue. Thus, I am over the moon to  know that it will soon open to the public as a museum! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Cocktails started on the back patio at 5:00 pm. The wine was free flowing; there were a good variety of canapés. The concert started promptly at 6:00 pm on the front terrace, facing the lighthouse. The weather was perfect—fresh, not cold or warm—and the performers were more relaxed and joy-filled than last year. They seemed to feed off the energy of the sold-out audience. Those of us in attendance thoroughly enjoyed their animated emotions, vamping, and changes of accessories to suit the song. While we were not treated to one of Mazatlán’s signature jaw-dropping sunsets, it was THE best Christmas event one could ask for! My girlfriend and I came home singing and dancing, filled with the spirit of the season (and a bit of the wine).

Principal performers included internationally acclaimed baritone José Adán Pérez, Mazatlecan currently residing in New York City; soprano Marysol Calles, the very talented Tapatía, mazatleca by adoption, who currently resides in Madrid; mezzo soprano Sarah Holcombe, our Mazatlán-born, blue-eyed beauty; and pianist Michiyo Morikawa, Japanese by birth and Mexican by adoption.

The performance was in four parts: Opera, perfect for these three incredible voices; Broadway and Hollywood, a terrific sing-along; Boleros, with much swinging and swaying in the audience; and Christmas songs, which served as the cherry on top of a perfect evening.

The boleros section of the evening was a magnificent tribute to three internationally famous Mexican composers with connections to Mazatlán on the 100th anniversary of their births. The singers delivered outstandingly animated and emotive performances of:

  1. Sabor a Mí (my personal favorite), La Mentira, Luz de Luna by Álvaro Carrillo—composer and singer born 1921 in Oaxaca and died 1969, a good friend of local singer Antonio Pérez Meza.
  2. La Ley del Monte and Échame a Mí la Culpa by Ferrusquilla—José Ángel Espinoza Aragón, composer, singer and actor from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema, born 1919 in  Choix and who lived and died here in Mazatlán in 2015. He has a statue on the malecón—the man with the guitar holding his hat in the air.
  3. El Diccionario, a lovely song by jazz composer, pianist and singer Fernando Teodoro Valadés Lejarza—born in Mazatlán in 1920 and died in Mexico City in 1978. Valadés also has a statue on the malecón—sitting at a piano.

History of the Observatory
Mazatlán was named the first high port of the Pacific by the Court of Cadiz in 1821, and functioned as the largest and busiest Pacific coast port for decades, connecting the Americas with Europe and Asia. 52 years later, in 1873, the observatory was built primarily as a weather station and, until 1892, also operated as a lighthouse. The weather station’s first director was the engineer P. Acosta León. The building was designed by Friaco Quijano and originally had two cupolas—one on each side. In the latest restoration of the observatory, the cupolas have not been rebuilt.

Much of the history of the observatory has, sadly, been lost. I have read that ours was an astronomical observatory as well, the second such facility in Mexico—built just one year after the National Astronomic Observatory in Chapultepec castle. In 1882 astronomic observation around the world gained huge popularity, as Venus passed in front of the sun. Having spoken with Joaquín Hernández, local historian, our guess is that the astronomy aspect may have come in to teach the cadets at the merchant marine academy—also the oldest academy of its kind in Latin America.

The building was destroyed by a hurricane in 1887. In the 1940s state-of-the-art meteorological observation equipment was installed. For most of its functioning history it was staffed by the military. In 1967 the weather station tools were moved to Juan Carrasco, in order to consolidate equipment from various locations. The observatory was abandoned. I remember visiting it as a tourist when it was accessible to the public, but very much in ruin—probably in the 1980s. It was a highly scenic abandoned structure perfect for photo ops! I absolutely loved going in there.

Nearly one hundred years after the observatory was built, Neto Coppel (owner of the Pueblo Bonito chain) bought four or so of the properties atop the hill and combined them, building a huge mansion and sealing off the observatory from public access. You could still get in on a private tour or if you knew someone, but the site was not generally accessible to the public for over a decade.

The old observatory remained private, and Amado and Karla Guzmán (owners of Red Petroil) purchased the entire property from Coppel, spending years fully restoring the antique observatory and planting beautiful gardens from which to enjoy those incredible views. The facility’s original bell, used to announce inclement weather to the surrounding city, still functions at the base of the stairs. The couple have added antique nautical furnishings, historical photos, comfortable dining and seating areas and a full bar; it is absolutely beautifully done and by far the premier location in Mazatlán, if you ask me!

For the past few years, if you knew the family you could arrange to hold an event in this amazing location. This past year the Guzman’s have built a tram or funicular from sea level to the top of the hill, to carry passengers and things more easily than does the winding road. It was used for the first time on Thursday evening and functioned perfectly. It will not quite yet open to the public, however, as there is a bit more construction of the building below to do.

The great news is that the Guzmán’s are planning to open the now-named Observatory 1873 as a museum! Access will be via the new tram. It will include information and items detailing the nautical history of Mazatlán as well as information on the history of the facility itself, as the first observatory and lighthouse in Mazatlán. There is no firm date yet, but we have another exciting new attraction to look forward to!

National Ballet Director Invites You

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I’ve told you about this season’s “not-to-be-missed” ballet gala with lead dancers from Mexico’s best dance companies: the National Bellas Artes as well as the Ballet de Monterrey. They will be joined on stage by top students from two of Mexico’s leading ballet schools—in Veracruz and Monterrey—as well as from a local mazatlecan ballet academy.

The International Ballet Gala will take place on Sunday November 17th at 6:00 pm in the Angela Peralta Theater. It is a fundraiser for DIF Mazatlán, which helps families in need. Tickets are available at the Angela Peralta box office or by sending a WhatsApp to Carolina at +52-1-669-941-2550 and paying via PayPal. There is only one performance, so be sure to secure your good seats now.

On Monday I had the distinct pleasure and privilege to host the Director of the National Dance Company, Maestro Cuahutémoc Nájera, in our home. He and his wife make their home here in Mazatlán, and have high hopes for our local cultural and dance scene. He tells me how much he loves the Angela Peralta Theater, and how he performed there as a young dancer, before it was completely remodeled.

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting the maestro. He is very easy to talk to, charming, and down to earth, counter to the stereotype of so many talented artists. Below is the promo video for the event. Get your tickets now, as I’m confident this event will sell out.

Humble Beginnings Don’t Hold Him Back!

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+ The Masculine Form (project in development)
Photos: @santiago_barreiro @insidenatgeo #insidenatgeo

Most every society worldwide seems to be suffering a breakdown in the social fabric these days, a rise in corruption and violence, a loss of the values that make individuals and our communities healthy.

Maestro Cuahutémoc Nájera—the director of Mexico’s National Ballet Company—and his wife, Maestra Carolina Rios, strongly believe in the power of dance to strengthen communities and build strong, healthy, disciplined and principled individuals. Luckily for us, they live here and see dance as a tool to secure a better future for Mazatlán and México. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

The maestros shared with me a post by es+Cultura that I found to be extremely powerful, and I have translated it for you below:

“Seven years ago the priest told Aaron’s grandma, Magda, ‘get him out of that ballet; the kids there become gay.” To avoid conflict she agreed, though she never followed through, because her grandson’s dream was to be a dancer and she was going to support him.

Aaron de Jesús Márques is one of the talents discovered by a program (PROVER) that seeks to promote dance in the city of Córdoba, in the state of Veracruz, giving scholarships to boys from complex social contexts. If the boy has needs and the desire, they pay for his studies, transportation, equipment and food for eight years, eight hours a day. The low enrollment of men in the private academy of Martha Sahagún was the impulse for this project, which now has various generations promoting the talent and diversity of Veracruz.

When he was barely seven years old Aaron didn’t even know what ballet was, in fact, the term didn’t sound familiar, but when the opportunity presented itself he didn’t hesitate even a minute to run up to the teacher who conducted the auditions to show her his physical conditioning. Months later when he’d begun his training, he understood that what his body was really asking him for was to dance ballet, and now no one would get in his way.

Aaron lives with his grandmother, or better said, his mother, as that’s what he likes to call her. She raised him once his Dad died and his biological mother emigrated for a better life economically. Magda supported the family. She was responsible for feeding, taking care of and giving life to the dreams of her grandson. The career of a classical ballet dancer involves a lot of dedication and discipline; it is a family project and in most cases requires the moral support of a feminine head of the household.

Classical dance gave the boy a stylizing manner to move his body, it proposed a language in which it wasn’t necessary to use impact and force like so many other disciplines. Aaron dances to express himself without words, to liberate himself from the structure that questions, violates and judges masculine feelings.

The exercise of classical western dance has implicated from its beginnings situations of violation and exclusion, it has generated negative stereotypes against men who pursue this discipline as a way of life. The hegemonic precepts around what it means to “be a man” in Latin American culture tend to determine how ballet is seen as art. In this 21st century, respect for the male dancer still hasn’t penetrated deeply into society, where machismo and its prejudices only put pride in “manly” sports . With this line of reasoning, dance is habitually associated with femininity. In this sense, there are unequal conditions for dancers, with men playing subordinate roles. This conception brings with it endless social conflicts. Today’s man tries to feel, express and free himself from established obligations (to procreate, provide, protect). However, society insists on assigning gender roles when and where they should not be. Dance in and of itself should not divide, distinguish or bias.

Aaron and some of his colleagues, plus his teacher, will be here in Mazatlán on Sunday, 17th November, performing in the Angela Peralta Theater at 6:00 pm, along with principal dancers from Mexico’s two best ballet companies: Ballet de Monterrey and the National Bellas Artes. Get your tickets at the box office now or WhatsApp Carolina at 52-1-669-941-2550; the performance benefits DIF Mazatlán (local families in need).

In the video below, Maestro Nájera tells us a bit about Aaron’s terrific program in Cordoba, Veracruz, where for the past ten years street kids have been given a new lease on life and a future in professional dance through educational and dance scholarships with amazing results.

Carolina dedicates herself to teaching young students; she owns and runs a dance school up in the marina. In the video below, she talks to me about the ways she has witnessed dance helping her students to be stronger, healthier, with higher self esteem, more cooperative and disciplined, and her plans for programming in the public spaces of Mazatlán.

International Ballet Gala!

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You do NOT want to miss this incredible benefit performance by the principal dancers of the best ballet companies in Mexico! Dancers will join us from the Ballet de Monterrey, the Compañía Nacional de Danza de Bellas Artes in Mexico City, the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza in Monterrey as well as from the renowned Fomento Artístico Cordobés. The gala will benefit DIF Mazatlán — families in need in our municipality and take place on Sunday, November 17 at 6:00 pm in the Angela Peralta Theater; the promotional video is below.

Now, let me tell you the story behind this terrific event; Mazatlán is so incredibly lucky. Carolina Rios, originally from Culiacán, has a ballet school here in the marina (Carolina Rios Ballet). A talented and experienced dancer in her own right, it turns out she is married to Cuahutémoc Nájera Ruiz, the National Dance Coordinator and former principal dancer of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes! The couple frequently travels to Sinaloa, of course; they fell in love with Mazatlán and decided to raise their daughter here. Sounds a lot like our family!

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Caro Rios

So, Carolina moved here three years ago to prepare the way for the family, but Cuahutémoc keeps getting promoted, and, well, hasn’t been able to fully make the move yet (he will be here on Monday for a press conference about the gala).

Despite her busy schedule with their five-year-old and her dance academy, Caro is very passionate about promoting cultural events in Sinaloa. So, she’s called on her friends, including Marta Sahagún Morales from Fomento Artístico Cordobés, and Diana Farias Ortegón, Director of the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza de Monterrey, both of whom said they’d love to bring their dancers to Mazatlán and support any cultural effort here that Carolina has planned. God bless good friends! She invites you to the event in the video below.

Dancers from other companies were also happy to join in. The gala will include four dancers from Bellas Artes (Ana Elisa Mena, Roberto Rodríguez, Valeria Mariaud and Argenis Montalvo) and two Cuban dancers from Ballet de Monterrey (Daniela Favelo and Jonhal Fernández). The performance will include international classics as well as some contemporary choreography.

The gala will include a musical interlude with an aria sung by Mazatlecan mezzosoprano Daniela Rico Coppel, and piano played by Lorenzo Sendra Galván Duque, an autistic child prodigy from Guadalajara. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow. The complete and incredibly impressive program for the event is:

Introduction
Choreography by Carolina Rios • Music by Ludwig van Beethoven • Interpreted by Ana Elisa Mena and students of Carolina Rios Ballet

Bohemian Rhapsody
Choreography by Josué Rebollo • Music by Queen • Interpreted by Jorge Emilio Peña, Engel Pérez , Aron de Jesús, Jesús Martín Rivera, Braulio Fernández, Alec Reyes, Roberto Cobos, Armando Villa and David Pérez, students of Fomento Artístico Cordobés • Directed by Martha Sahagún

Don Quijote “Pas de deux from Act IV with Kitri and Basilio”
Choreography by Marius Petipa • Music by Ludwig Minkus • Interpreted by Valeria Mariaud and Argenis Montalvo

Planimetría del Movimiento
Choreography by Irina Marcano • Interpreted by Ana Elisa Mena and Roberto Rodríguez

La Esmeralda “Pas de deux of Diane and Actéon”
Choreography by Agripina Vaganova • Music by Riccardo Drigo and Cesare Pugni • Interpreted by Daniela Favelo and Jonhal Fernández

Musical Interlude
Daniela Rico Coppel / Mezzosprano • Lorenzo Sendra Galván Duque / Piano

Intermission (10 Minutos)

Swan Lake “Pas de deux of the White Swan”
Choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov • Music by Piotr Ilich Tchaikovsky • Interpreted by Valeria Mariaud and Argenis Montalvo

Giselle “Adagio from Act II”
Choreography by Jean Coralli y Jules Perrot • Music by Adolphe Adam • Interpreted by Ana Elisa Mena and Roberto Rodríguez

La Bayadére “The Kingdom of the Shades”
Daniela Favelo and Jonhal Fernández • Music by Ludwig Minkus • Students of the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza de Monterrey

Get your tickets now at the Angela Peralta box office or by sending Caro a WhatsApp (+52-1-669-941-2550) and paying via PayPal. This looks to be the most exciting event to take place in Mazatlán in quite some time. Help me get the word out and let’s fill the Angela Peralta to capacity!

Women Artists of Fishing

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The fish scales remind me of flower petals. These bracelets look like leis.

Today I bought some gorgeous handmade jewelry at unbelievably good prices, and my purchase directly benefitted families in need in Mazatlán. This is not a story of charity but rather self-help—a terrific model of women-owned micro-business of the kind that development experts tell us builds strong and healthy communities.

Called Mujeres Artesanas de la Pesca, these twelve local women have officially registered as a cooperative of artisans dedicated to building better families, to personal development, social responsibility and environmental sustainability. They are a strong team of women who have experienced some of the worst that life has to offer yet remain hardworking and committed to helping their families and one another, as well as to growing their outreach and membership in support of our local economy. The day I visited, the women were bustling about, everyone working hard and shoulder to shoulder, so many projects at once that it was difficult to keep track. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

We all know that Mazatlán is home to Mexico’s largest shrimping fleet, an industry that employs thousands. The shrimping season, however, can be as short as four months a year. How is a fisherman to sustain a family on four months of wages? Of course, they try to find another job during the off-season, but that is challenging.

A year and a half ago this group of fishermen’s wives joined one of ANSPAC Mazatlán’s classes on personal growth to learn skills and cultivate the confidence and connections to help provide for their families, including education and healthcare for their children. During the program the group developed the idea of making jewelry out of fish scales, and after completing graduation they ran with it.  They have beautiful earrings, bracelets, necklaces and keychains available for 50 to 200 pesos, though they are contemplating increasing their prices.

Their husbands’ employer, Operadora Maritima del Pacífico, set aside a storefront and workshop space for them. The women manage the enterprise themselves; Maribel is the manager and Chabelita is in charge of sales. Jessie is disabled and works from home. They’ve furnished their workspace and sales area themselves and purchased a coffee pot and water dispenser for the kitchen. The group has sold their jewelry at the cruise ship docks, the Aquarium, and the El Cid Bazaar. They are very excited that the State Secretary of Tourism has recently begun purchasing their items—local, socially responsible and eco-friendly handicrafts—for their incoming guests.

The women hope that their project will help discourage illegal fishing and over-fishing as well as encourage others to be more responsible in putting garbage in its place and limiting the use of plastics to protect the ocean and our environment. “The ocean is the heart of our planet,” is one of their sayings.

The company has also helped by bringing in experts to teach the women what they need to know. On the day I visited the shop, Gabriel Aguilar Tiznado, an engineer, was visiting for the second time. He is from Tepic, Nayarit. He first came to teach the women how to cure and dye the fish scales for use in jewelry. This time his task is three-fold:

  1. The women want to dye the fish scales silver and gold, in addition to the bright colors they are already producing.
  2. They want to learn to tan the fish skins into leather, and have already made wallets, keychains and earrings with a gorgeous texture and color.
  3. Perhaps most interesting of all, they are learning to extract collagen from the fish scales. Collagen is the most expensive substance made from fish, costing more than the meat itself, and has been found beneficial for skin, hair, joints, internal organs and, at certain stages of cancer, can be used to inhibit tumor growth.

Soon a Mazatlecan artist who resides in Guadalajara, Tusi Partida, who recently won an award for her artisanal leather shoes, will work with the women to teach them more skills. They are currently looking for a sewing machine and leather working tools, including manual stamps, to help them with this next phase of their project. Below are a few photos that I received of her work.

Working with the wives of their employees is something that Operadora Maritima del Pacífico sees as a social responsibility. They view their enterprise as a family and want to educate everyone from the captain of the boat to the fishermen to take care of our oceans and value them. According to the women, one of the biggest joys of their venture, in addition to the income and learning, is the friendship, the fact that they’ve learned to collaborate and support each other. “Too many women spend time pulling each other down. Here we pull each other up. We are in this together,” one of the ladies told me.

The women use fish skin that is cast off at the embarcadero and even some of the markets around town—tilapia, sole, mahi… Going forward they envision that a husband could get a panga and his wife and kids could make these handicrafts with what they catch, thus producing a family-owned business. In the meantime, they’re dedicated to finding more outlets for their products and to diversifying their product line.

You can visit the Mujeres Artesanas de la Pesca shop between 9am and 1pm Monday through Saturday. It is located near the embarcadero to Stone Island—the one with the fish market, on the port side of the street right across from the Pemex station. The group’s name is on the sign out front.