Mazatlán’s Largest Employer and World Leader

mostazaLovers of fresh seafood enjoy living in Mazatlán. We can go down to the boats or visit the pescaderías and be blessed to eat fresh fish nearly every day of the year. The only downside can be that what is available depends, of course, on what was caught that day.

There is a new market in town, however, that ensures that we can always have fresh tuna on hand to use as sashimi, in a tasty ceviche, or to sear as steaks for unexpected company. A month or so ago Greg and I happened into Dolores Market at Rafael Buelna #20 (between Valentino’s and Soriana on the south side of the road) to check it out. There we found flash-frozen-on-the-boat, sashimi-grade tuna at very good prices, tuna pre-cut for ceviche, minced tuna to use for meatballs or paté (or pre-made paté that is delicious), tuna pre-made with veggies on kabobs, pre-formed tuna burgers, canned tuna premixed with seasoning and veggies for an on-the-go lunch, as well as tuna chorizo and ham. I am glad to have Dolores Market so close to our house, as it provides me an easy way to make a healthy and beautiful meal in just a few minutes! Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Then, out of the blue, a book club friend called to say he’d taken on a new job in charge of Dolores Markets and would love to have us tour the production facility to see what it was all about. It turns out that Dolores Market is part of our local and world-class Pinsa group, owned by Leovi Carranza (PezAzteca, Tamara Trucking, ProNova, Estrella del Mar). Pinsa, founded in 1990, is Mazatlán’s biggest employer with over 4000 team members, and one of the world’s most important tuna plants. Their brands include Mexico’s best-selling tuna brand, Dolores, MazAtún, El Dorado, Portola and Brunswick. They produce over two million cans of tuna per day! The market on Rafael Buelna opened in 2016, though the original store in Parque Bonfil (the commercial fishing port) has served Pinsa employees and the public for five years. There are also Dolores Markets in Monterrey, Guadalajara and Culiacán, with plans for major expansion.

Our beloved Mazatlán is not only home to México’s largest tuna fleet—Pinsa has 26 tuna fishing boats and is certified “Dolphin Safe”—it’s also home to our adopted country’s largest and most state-of-the-art tuna processing and packaging facility—Pinsa Congelados. Greg and I were fortunate to tour this factory and felt very proud to learn that Mazatlecos have built, run and work in such a world-class facility resplendent with certifications: Global STD/SQF System, Socially Responsible Company, ESR, HACCP, GMP, Clean Industry, FDA… They have Ministry of Health certification to export to the European Community, the USA and Canada, and elsewhere worldwide. They wouldn’t let me take photos inside the factory, so the pics below are from the offices, and an official video below shows the production line.

Our economic diversity is part of what makes Mazatlán such a terrific place to live. We all see the fish packing, canning and processing facilities in Parque Bonfil as we drive to and from the airport. Touring, however, was quite an eye-opening experience. I worked for years in the semiconductor and food industries, so am very familiar with cleanliness and sanitation standards. Pinsa takes these to a new level. Greg and I were both instructed to empty our pockets, remove any makeup or hair products, as well as any jewelry—like airport security on steroids. We then put on freshly-washed (at the on-site laundry) white sweatshirts and sweatpants, white rubber boots (also freshly sanitized), a hair net, fabric face mask and a full burka-like hood—with only openings for the eyes. We looked like snowmen or players in some futuristic, sci-fi version of Arabian Nights. Sadly, photo taking was prohibited, so you are spared from seeing the evidence, but the video below will show you the garb, the factory and the process. The warm clothes help workers because the warmest area of the plant is 10 degrees C/50 degrees F.

Upon entering the 17,000 square meter plant we had to clean our already clean boots—lifting our legs up into motorized boot brushes moistened with sanitizer-filled water. A guard checked our entry badges, ensured our pockets were empty, and sent us through a metal detector.

We entered onto a long hallway, with numerous swinging doors leading to rooms on the left and the right. The left side of the hallway is the “natural” side, where tuna fish flash-frozen on the boat are cut up and packaged for sale. The right side is the “mejorado” or “improved” side, where tuna is injected with salt to cure and give it color before being processed and packaged. We stepped into a pool of sanitizer each time we entered or left a new room, and we wore rubber gloves.

On the left side, tuna fish are first sorted by size—60 kg and up, 40-50 kg, 20-30 kg—into large bins in a room kept at -9 degrees C/-4 degrees F. In the second room the heads and tails are cut off the frozen whole fish. Next, they are cut into quarters, removing the spine and entrails and leaving two stomach quarters and two back quarters. Finally, the skin is removed. Workers stand with knives along conveyer belts to remove any remaining blemishes. Quarters go through x-rays to be sure no foreign material is inside the fish; the machine ejects any piece of fish in which metal is detected. Vacuum sealing is automated: stomach quarters are shorter and packed right on the conveyer belts; back quarters are longer and are packed into vacuum-sealed bags on a separate line.

From here the tuna flesh takes different routes. Some is destined to be cut into medallions/steaks. The leftover pieces will be shaped with a knife, packaged as “pieces” and sold at a cheaper price, but still perfect for sashimi or searing. Smaller or irregular pieces are cubed for kabobs, cut up ceviche-size, or minced for burgers and sausage. At each stage the fish pieces are meticulously weighed and inspected. The skin, entrails and odd pieces go to the flour mill, also run by Pinsa, to make pet food.

On the right side, the “improved” tuna rooms, the frozen quarters are injected with the salt solution to cure them and give them a nice rich color. As the quarters travel around conveyer belts the excess saltwater runs off and into a tank for recycling. Next is a room with huge thawing space, where the tuna quarters are left for a couple of days to cure.  The plant processes over 66 tons of fish—including 27,000 tuna medallions—on every shift; up to 240 tons per month! The cold storage facilities are huge.

The plant is amazingly clean. Nothing is on the floor, anywhere. We saw many lines in full production, and several on pause while workers ate lunch. All were spotlessly clean. I cannot believe that fish processing can be clean and not smelly!

Locally,  Dolores Markets has plans to branch out before Semana Santa to offer fresh food cooked to order in addition to their retail products. So, while listening to banda and side-stepping the crowds, there might not be carne asada on the grill, but fresh tuna steaks courtesy of Dolores Tuna. Qué rico!!!! Their website is full of recipes (in Spanish), so for those of you who love to cook—or just eat good, healthy food—be sure to check it out!

 

El Recodo’s 80th Anniversary!

DSC_3357©Last night, Wednesday February 27th, Estadio Teodoro Mariscal filled with over 22,000 incredibly eager fans ready to celebrate six-time Grammy-winning music legends Banda El Recodo de Cruz Lizárraga, on their 80th anniversary. OMG was it ever a party!

What a huge gift El Recodo gave their home city! Free tickets for everyone, general admission or VIP. There were smiles on everyone’s faces, joy in their souls, dance steps in their feet and bodies. The crowd included young and old, rich and poor, united in their love of this Madre de las Bandas. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I had expected lines at the stadium from early morning, in the vein of the coronation ticket lines, but no. We went over there about 1:00 and there were no more than 20 people in line. By 2:30 when we went, there were several hundred people in line. The doors, however, were scheduled to open at 4:00 pm and by then the crowd was more than ready to run through the door! Everyone entered, found a seat, and then started phoning one another, texting, and waving their hands to find the rest of their group. The crowd was festive and happy.

new cd

Music started at 5:00 pm and continued until about 12:30. El Recodo has always been innovative: Don Cruz’s vision to have a big band/orchestral sound for banda started that. They have long played banda music as well as jazz swing, classical and Latin dance tunes. Wednesday night’s lineup was incredible, as in addition to best-in-class banda music we had some super reggaetón, pop and ranchera. Performers included some of those on the band’s new CD: 80 Years of Music Between Friends (80 Años de Música entre Amigos). The spectacle was telecast live and internationally. The night’s lineup included:

  1. DJ Clássico
  2. Virlan García
  3. Chyno Miranda
  4. Ulices Chaidez
  5. Mau y Ricky
  6. Remmy Valenzuela
  7. Edith Marquez
  8. Reik, who showed up late supposedly due to the crowd not letting them through, and played a surprising acoustic set.
  9. Ramón Ayala
  10. Gerardo Ortíz
  11. Mario Quintero

Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow:

I was standing in the press zone down by the Carnaval royalty when Chyno Miranda, one of my favorite Venezuelans, took the stage. You should have seen the queens, even the infant queen, go completely went nuts for him! He was happy to oblige their adoration by kneeling down to pay them full attention.

The capacity audience sang along happily to all the acts, dancing in the aisles of the stadium and ingesting huge amounts of beer and junk food. The lines for the porte-potties on the lawn were unreal—so glad I used the indoor bathrooms!

Sadly, just after 10:00 pm the crowd outside the stadium decided to break down the gates. The video I’ve seen make it look very dangerous. I do feel for people, because there were so many who had tickets, but apparently too many tickets had been given out or copied that there weren’t enough seats for everyone, so they closed entry. Thousands stormed through the gates and into the stadium, broke down the fence to the VIP area and filled the hundreds of unused seats down there. I was glad they were able to get in to enjoy things, but what an uncivilized way to go about it.

One of the remarkable realities of the night was the apparent lack of security. There were some guards and military cadets, and volunteers. But there was no metal detector to go through, no frisking, people brought in bags of refreshments—yet the night passed without any apparent incident. What a terrific testament to Mazatlecan affability and love for El Recodo.

Monitor Latino was on hand to recognize Banda El Recodo for 80 years of transcending regional music and taking it throughout Mexico and the world (five continents,  if you count the Americas as one). I wish that someone from Videorola or Bandamax would have been present to salute them as well.

One of the high spots of the evening was giving an award of recognition to German Lizárraga, Poncho and Joel’s half-brother, who was a member of El Recodo for 44 years. It was great to see the two brothers playing clarinet together on stage and putting past bad blood behind them, even if for a bit. Another favorite awardee was Julio Preciado. El Recodo was the first banda to put a singer out front and center, and it was young Julio. During his stint with the band it grew enormously in popularity. Julio went on to have his own stellar career, of course.

Thank you for such an incredible evening, El Recodo and Familia Lizárraga!!!! Mazatlán so very much appreciates your hospitality and generosity!

7 Tips So You Don’t Miss the Best of Carnaval de Mazatlán!

There are a couple of things to know about Carnaval de Mazatlán. First, Mazatlecos are born with Carnaval in their veins; it is part of their DNA. They can critique a Carnaval float like no one else, knowing exactly what makes it work or what it’s lacking. That is part of the reason why it is said to be the third largest in the world. Work and school pretty much come to a halt during the days of Carnaval; it is time to party before the reflective season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.

Second, Carnaval here is a festival of the pueblo, the people. It is an intergenerational family affair. Despite what some outsiders might perceive, it is most definitely NOT a beauty contest, or at least not primarily. And it is not the festival of drunkenness and debauchery that you see elsewhere, though of course it there are people who make it that. The biggest pride for the people of Mazatlán this year is that the King of Carnaval is an ordinary guy from the barrio, a single father to two daughters, who  labors for a living and performs lots of community service work. They will go wild to see him dancing on top of his Carnaval float during the two parades this year. Carnaval includes more upscale activities like classical music concerts, awards for poetry, art and literature, but the beating heart of the week-long event is the mass revelry, where you’ll celebrate with grandparents and children, as well as teenagers and adults of all ages.

Carnaval Calendar
The official calendar of Carnaval events is above, though it is missing a couple of key events such as the Gastronomic Fair (below) and the Lunes de Mascaritas or “Masquerade Monday,” new this year in an attempt to revive an storied city Carnaval tradition. Below are my tips for making the most of your Carnaval experience, in chronological order for the week.

  1. Banda El Recodo’s 80th Anniversary Concert: This year we get an extra day of Carnaval, thanks to it being the 80th anniversary of our beloved, nine-time-Grammy-winning Banda El Recodo. People around the world are so very jealous of those of us who live here in Mazatlán, home to the first Mexican band to perform in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North and South America. They even have two stars on the walk of fame in Las Vegas. Greg went by their offices today to pick up our credentials for the concert (Wed. Feb. 27th in the stadium, doors open at 5 pm), and he was AMAZED how many people came by and waited at the door, explaining over the intercom that they had taught Poncho or known Joel when they were kids, asking for concert tickets or to talk with a star. Talk about super fans! It is wonderful to have home town heroes with international fame! The band gave out thousands and thousands of free tickets to this huge concert, which will include loads of other stars paying tribute to the Madre de las Bandas. If you have not joined in the excitement of this major event, you are missing out! You’ll see people dressed to the nines and others in jeans, boots, cowboy hats and rhinestones. Heck, just people watching will be a treat!80-Aniversario-de-la-Banda-El-Recodo-2
  2. The Coronation of the King (Thu. Feb. 28th in Sister Cities Park, starting at 8 pm) is always an exceptional concert and it’s always free! This year it will be headlined by another famous local son, Chuy Lizárraga! The coronation of the king has traditionally included much less pomp and circumstance than that of the queens, but it’s still a whole lot of fun—and much rowdier. You’ll most probably see some cool dancing, video effects and staging, as well as a killer fireworks show during the coronation, followed by a stellar concert. I highly recommend attending. Take a portable seat if you need one, and perhaps a cooler of beer, though no doubt there will be vendors galore. This concert attracts a huge crowd. The coronation tends to start on time or perhaps up to an hour late (which here can still be considered “on time,” with the new city administration it’s hard to know what will be different), but the headliner probably won’t play until 10 or 11 pm. Be sure to take a hat and jacket, as the park is right along the malecon, which can get cool and breezy at night. Dress will be casual. Wear closed-toe shoes as there will be a crowd.48391285_2419783844760448_4227020501060419584_o.jpg
  3. See a coronation—of one of the queens! You absolutely must. It will include a world-class concert, but also colorful, spirited dancing by local costumed children and professionals, impressive staging and media effects, and fireworks. My recommendation is that you attend the Coronation of the Queen of the Floral Games (Fri. Mar. 1st in the stadium at 8:30 pm) or Child Queen Coronation (Mon. Mar. 4th) are best, because it will leave your Saturday night free to catch the fireworks and burning of bad humor downtown. It is nearly impossible to see the Saturday coronation and get to Olas Altas in time to see the fireworks, due to the huge traffic jams during Carnaval (and the security line to get into the Carnaval zone). We have tried. The queen and the governor can do it, but they’ve got police escorts. The coronations require tickets, which are still available online at the Cultura Mazatlán site. Lots of people dress NICE for the coronations, and it’s fun to get into the spirit of the event. High heels tend to mean tough walking on the turf of the stadium, however. Be sure to take a jacket and hat, or even a blanket, as the stadium can get damp and cold depending on the day’s weather. You can take binoculars for a better view and, of course, your camera.P1250966©
  4. Saturday of Carnaval is my second-most-favorite night. I spent well over a decade in Japan, and consider myself a connoisseur of good fireworks. The traditional Combate Naval fireworks show (Sat. Mar. 2nd at 10:30 pm in the Olas Altas party zone) is super; I trust it will be this year. The event, however, is attended by 500,000 or more people in a cramped area of town, so be ready to be swept up in a human wave. Honestly, you can quite literally be swept off your feet and taken with the crowd, so be prepared. Besides the fireworks, I encourage you to show up early and walk along to watch the Burning of Bad Humor (Sat. Mar. 2nd at 8 pm at the Deer Statue in Olas Altas). This little-talked about event is a WHOLE lot of fun. It’s a traditional Mexican custom to burn a piñata loaded with a whole lot of firecrackers, an effigy, of some well-hated person from the previous year. If you’ve never seen it, you owe it to yourself to go. Just follow the fireworks (single-shot fireworks that denote a parade route) or wait at the Deer Statue. Rumor has it that this year they’ll burn EPN—Enrique Peña Nieto, Mexico’s last president. There won’t be an official announcement till the day before, and the burning is preceded with a poem that roasts the “effigy of honor.”Combate Naval Rosa
    Best bets to see the fireworks are:
    • At this point in time, if you don’t have a reservation (see below), I’d plan to arrive plenty early in Olas Altas on Saturday (maybe 5 or 6 pm) and find a seat on the malecón wall. Plan to hold on to it for dear life. You’ll have to take turns going to the bathroom or picking up refreshments in order to maintain your prime seating. We have done this several years and absolutely loved it. It is an “of the people” experience. There’s great conversation and revelry, and the views are the best ever. Remember there are often fireworks launched from the beach in front of you, and from at least two different barge locations in the bay.
    • My second recommendation to you, if you don’t have a reservation, is to reserve seats on a boat. There are loads of party boats that will head out into the bay to watch the fireworks. The best ones include live music, most will have bars, some have food as well.
    • It’s late, but you may get lucky enough even at this late date to get a reservation at an Olas Altas restaurant or bar. You will have to pay in advance to secure your reservation. Puerto Viejo often opens their roof, as does the Freeman, and all the places along the malecón will be full of people.
    • Get invited to a private party. We have had the pleasure of witnessing Combate Naval from some absolutely breathtaking locations thanks to the generosity of friends. I always say, I’m happy to share my photos of the fireworks in exchange for a great viewing location 😉
    • Make a reservation at one of the hotels in the area—the Belmar, La Siesta, Casa Lucila or Casa de Leyendas. For this year you are probably waaaay too late, but hey, it doesn’t hurt to get ready for Carnaval 2020! Wouldn’t it be wonderful to party on the balcony of your own hotel room?
  5. The Parade!!! The ABSOLUTE FAVORITE event of Carnaval for most mazatlecos, including us. The main parade is the first one (Sun. Mar. 3rd leaving the Fishermen’s Monument and heading north at 5:30 pm). The parade continues to Valentino’s, where it will turn on Rafael Buelna so that the royalty and others can get off the floats. The parade is comprised of quite a few different sections (current royalty, past year’s royalty, and 25 and 50 year commemorations), each of which includes dance troupes and live music, plus incredible floats. People will put chairs out on the malecón 2-4 days ahead of time, staying 24 hours a day to guard their space. Others rent a seat from one of the hotels along the route, or join friends on the pool deck or a balcony of one of the condo buildings along the route. The entire parade route becomes one huge party for several days ahead of the big day. Expect the parade to last until about 10:00 pm. You will need to plan to secure a good viewing spot, though you can crowd in and see it from the back of the pack, too. Bring a chair if you want to sit and don’t have one reserved. The parade is not as horribly crowded as the Combate Naval fireworks. There is a pre-parade that departs about 4:30, when commercial floats toss out lots of freebies to the crowd._DSC1596©
    If you want to see the floats in a more relaxed setting, go to the malecón north of the Sea Lion Statue on Tue. Mar. 5th anytime after about 1:00 pm and before 4:30 pm when the second parade starts. This is prime photo-op time as the dancers are getting ready, putting on their makeup, loosening their muscles, and the royalty will be boarding the floats. The second parade heads south from there to Olas Altas, so you have much more space along which to set your chair and enjoy the parade. This parade is not nearly as crowded as Sunday’s._DSC3428©
  6. The Muestra Gastronómica or Gastronomic Festival (Sun-Tue. Mar. 3rd through 5th from 1-7 pm in Sister Cities Park) is historically a free event, but this year will be a benefit for DIF (municipal family services), Sister Cities Park and The Lighthouse Nature Park. What I love about it is they’re converting it from an upscale affair in the Machado into a family-friendly event in the park! Over 20 local restaurants will participate, there will also be live music, games, face painting and bouncy houses for the kids. You may want to bring your costumes and Carnaval masks and attend the gastronomic fair on Monday, because afterwards the city is rescuing the beloved mazatlecan tradition of Lunes de Mascaritas or “Masquerade Monday,” where young people asked one another, Mascarita, me conoces? or “Masked one, do you know me?” Prizes include a motorcycle and other major goodies, so be sure to give it a shot!52151453_10214065139442926_5662494469413404672_n.jpg, free.
  7. Finally and most obviously, do not miss a night in the Party Zone in Olas Altas! Entrance to the  zone this year is supposed to be free. Normally it was a small fee, to make it accessible to everyone and yet not an even crazier free-for-all. There you will find loads of food and drink, stages with many different kinds of live music, from dusk till the wee hours of the morning. You can’t say you attended Carnaval de Mazatlán if you don’t dance in the street in the party zone at least once! It will be open Feb. 28th to Mar. 5th. I recommend you dress casual, avoid jewelry and don’t take a lot of cash; it’s safe and a great time, but there are pickpockets who come special from out of town, and it’s quite the crowd so easier pickings.P1100271©

Give Me a Light?

Carnaval de Mazatlán 2019 is showing us some incredible artistry, and it’s allowed Greg and me to meet some outstanding artists! This week it was Jorge Osuna, creator of our magically illuminated floats these past nine years. Like me, you may be amazed how they seem to get better and better. Well, this very affable gentleman is an electrical engineer who also happens to have enjoyed drawing and music since he was a kid. He is constantly experimenting and playing around, trying things that haven’t been done before, so that he and his team can bring the most “wow” to Carnaval.

This year you’ll see the first monochromatic illuminated float (orange fabric) as well as the first black float (“people complain that black is not a happy Carnaval color, but at night, with the red lights, the black blends into the environment and it is just incredible!” Jorge tells us. Please remember that Cultura Mazatlán has asked the press not to publish photos of the floats prior to the parades. Thus, what you are seeing below are elements only. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Jorge did not study set-making, architecture or construction. He runs a lighting business, here and in Culiacán. He specializes in customizing lighting to the venue—the theme of the restaurant, business or event. Raúl Rico used to ask him to do lighting for special projects, staging, etc., and then in late 2009 he asked Jorge to make five floats for a night parade down the malecón. The parade was to accompany the second fireworks show that we did for a few years on Carnaval Monday and was designed to provide a family-friendly Carnaval option outside of drinking and revelry.

I remember that night well. None of us knew what to expect. All the lights on the malecón went dark. After the Child Queen’s coronation behind our house, we could see the five illuminated floats from a great distance, coming our way along the Avenida del Mar. Excitement built and people were thrilled. By the second year the event drew such a huge crowd that they were sadly forced to cancel it. Poof, just like that. Just like AeroFest, another fantastic event that is no longer. The purveyors in the “party zone” in Olas Altas had complained that the light-up parade and fireworks were robbing their crowd. The effort was killed by its own success.

This year the 20 or so workers in the Osuna Workshop will make their first-ever royal float, for the Child Queen, plus nine more—most of the children’s and Floral Games’ sections. In addition to their ten floats, the Osuna team will illuminate the Lewis Family floats. “Carnaval is the pride of Mazatlán. It’s for the pueblo, it’s of the pueblo. All of us who participate in putting it on are a team. We help and support each other. We each have unique contributions,” Jorge tells me.

This taller began working the second week of November. Most everything now is finished, electrified, and they are now “closing it all up,” which means wrapping it in fabric so that it glows and shines during the parades. I joked with Jorge that, as an electrical engineer, working on the Carnaval floats must have taught him a lot about fabric. He belly laughed and told me this story.

Jorge buys fabrics here in Mazatlán, but he also has to travel to Mexico City and Guadalajara to find the best fit for his purposes. People in the fabric shops don’t “get it;” they are used to selling fabric for dresses, curtains, blouses, not Carnaval floats. He remembers the first year, when he’d show up in a fabric shop. He had a light box with him, so he could stretch the fabric over it and see how it looked with the light behind it. It can’t be too translucent, or the bulbs show through; ideal is when it glows. The women in the fabric shop would chuckle and point, gossiping about the “crazy man over there.” Now, however, when he shows up at his favorite fabric shop in Guadalajara, they put Jorge at his own table, pull him up a chair and serve him refreshments. Now they understand the importance of his light box. They are proud to be a small part of Carnaval de Mazatlán, and they know he’ll leave their shop with loads and loads of fabric, helping them fulfill any sales quotas they might have. What a difference a few years makes!

“Mazatlecos have Carnaval in our genetic code. It is imprinted on us our entire lives. People from outside don’t get it,” Jorge told us. People from Guatemala, Veracruz, Mexico City, Chihuahua, Ensenada and Cozumel have asked IngenieroOsuna to make floats for their parades. “No,” he tells them, he is an electrical engineer, he has an empresato run. He does Carnaval de Mazatlán out of love for his city and the privilege to be part of his world-class hometown tradition.

Everything is artisanally done in this workshop. My book club buddy Henry Albuernes is a sculptor who forges the steel frames onto which the lights are fastened before their final draping in fabric. We witnessed a couple of talented women stretching fabric over these mountings and sewing them in place, and there were plenty of electricians working with fabric all over this workshop.

Yes, the electrical connections! You cannot believe how complicated this all is! A normal home, according to Jorge, uses about 4 kilowatts of electricity. Some of his floats use up to 30! He has actually had to install air conditioners inside floats to keep the lights from overheating!

We asked the Ingeniero what becomes of his floats after Carnaval. They are made of steel and will last a long time if stored safely. “I honestly don’t know,” he replies. “I would really like to see them be put to a good use. Given to a school or an orphanage or old folks’ home. The frames could be used to form cement for a permanent statue. I would love to see them come out again on Children’s Day, for a night time parade to delight the kids here in town.”

What are his hopes for Carnaval going forward? Like most of us in Mazatlán, he is also very much hoping that the rumored Carnaval museum becomes a reality. He also would very much like to see the parade route extended. He recommends starting at our new Sister Cities Park, which would add one kilometer to its distance, and also closing the beginning of Rafael Buelna, so that the floats can safely get to the Gran Plaza and the royalty and dancers can de-board securely and peacefully.

Interviewing the three Carnaval float talleres this year was a whole lot of fun. The first two articles can be found here, with Ocean Rodriguez, and here, with the Lewis Family. I hope we’ve helped you get excited about the parades. They are going to ROCK! We’ll see you there!

 

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, on Ocean Rodriguez, is here, and the third and final, on Jorge Osuna’s workshop, here.