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!

Ferrusquilla: "That statue of a composer…"

Mazatlán is privileged to have a strong and vibrant expatriate community, many of whom volunteer long hours to help make our city a better place in which to live. Many in the foreign resident community have of course grown up and lived most of our lives elsewhere. We love our adopted home, but we often lack basic “cultural literacy” about our adopted homeland. I put myself in that category, of course. Every day, many times a day, I learn something new. It’s part of why I love living here.

Last week, I noticed the below comment on one of the local expat discussion groups:

“It is located across the Malecon between two statues: the Deer, Mazatlan’s symbol; and a Sinaloa composer holding his guitar and sombrero.”

The note surprised me, because I figured everyone who lives here knows our beloved Ferrusquilla! But, of course, we don’t “all” know anything; we all have different pieces of information. I see Don Ferrusquilla once in a while, dining around town or taking a walk, and I loved his INCREDIBLE acceptance speech at the Premios Oye! last month (drag the play bar to 6:46 to skip the homage and hear the original poem he wrote just for the occasion, full of love for our fair city).

But, of course, we all hold differing pieces of knowledge, so I thought I’d share a bit of what I know about this “Sinaloa composer holding his guitar and sombrero” in the statue. Maestro José Angel Espinoza Aragón, “Ferrusquilla,” is a national cultural icon, famous throughout all of Latin America and Spain, and one of the greatest orgullos of Mazatlán. The United Nations awarded him the the Medal of Peace in 1976, the University of Sinaloa presented him with an honorary doctorate just a few years ago, in 2008, and he’s received many other distinguished awards during his career.

His “master work” is the composition “Echame a mí la culpa,” sung by most every well-known Spanish-language singer (here it’s sung by Amalia Mendoza, “La Tariacuri;” or this one sung by Javier Solís). The song inspired a Spanish movie of the same name, and decades later (in 1980) was still so popular that it won “song of the year” in Spain, as sung by Englishman Albert Hammond. Ferrusquilla has acted in 80 motion pictures alongside actors that expats will recognize such as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, Dean Martin, Boris Karloff, Richard Burton, Anthony Quinn, Brigitte Bardot, and Robert Mitchum, and has composed, to the best of my research, 97 songs.

José Angel Espinoza Aragón was born in Choix, Sinaloa on October 2, 1919. After his mother died his father moved the family to El Guayabo and then Los Mochis, where his father remarried. In 1935, after finishing junior high, his family sent José to study in Mazatlán. In 1937 he got on a train headed to Mexico City, to study medicine, but life didn’t quite work out according to plan.

According to one interview, in 1938 the young José was working a side-job at a radio station, one that broadcasted the popular late-afternoon children’s show “Fifirafas el Valoroso.” The role of “Captain Ferrusquilla” on the show was originally played by the head technician, Carlos Contel, brother of the station manager. After Carlos’ brother told him to choose whether to be a voice actor or a technician, the show was left without a Ferrusquilla. José had the good fortune to be present in the studio when the director, panicked, asked around for a male who could read the part. Thus, by fate, the “man of a thousand voices” with the nickname “Ferrusquilla” was born.

Ferrusquilla fell in love with the female lead of the radio show, Blanca Estela (María Blanca Estela Pavón Vasconcelos). According to this same interview, the two lived in New York for a year, dubbing the voices of actors such as Ingrid Bergman, Elizabeth Taylor, and Mickey Rooney. Blanca died tragically in a plane accident in 1949. After her death Ferrusquilla decided to commit himself to music, and composed his first song in 1951.

Ferrusquilla married and had two daughters with Sonya Stransky Echeverría in the 1950s (the marriage lasted five years). He tragically lost another loved one, his daughter Vindia, in a car accident in Mexico City in 2008. His daughter Angélica is a successful actress. He has said that his daughters have been the joy of his life.

By the way, the statue of Ferrusquilla, on the malecón in Olas Altas, made by artist Carlos Espino, was unveiled in time for Ferrusquilla’s birthday, in October of 2007.

Fellow foreign residents of Mazatlán: let’s all, proudly, be sure to call this landmark the “statue of Ferrusquilla”!!!! And, Mazatlecos and fans of Ferrusquilla: please teach all of us more about this incredible gentleman, sharing your life memories of the legacy he’s given us!

Note/Update: Jackie Peterson wrote an article on Ferrusquilla in the Pacific Pearl last year. Somehow I missed seeing it, but you can check it out here. And one of my friends has given me the Maestro’s number and asked me to give Ferrusquilla a call, to let him know about this post, so I will do that as well.

Update #2, March 5th: I met Maestro Ferrusquilla tonight. What a great man! He told me that in his younger years, he played for a year with Banda El Recodo, in the Cruz Lizarraga days, before he went to Mexico City and did the radio show. Cool trivia! He is a really nice and VERY interesting man and his English is GREAT! It felt very good to finally get up the courage to talk to him, and to have the honor of finally meeting him.