San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, is one of my favorite places on earth. The city’s historic center is gorgeous and walk-able and friendly. On any day, you are likely to find parades and processions and music. But, partly because of its status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the city’s historic center follows an elaborate set of rules…. how you can decorate your building, the colors you can paint your building, the kinds of signs you can hang, and the kind of noise you can make, among other things. It’s ordered and traditional.
But a few blocks from the historic center in barrio Guadalupe, the rules don’t apply….
A week is not enough to understand anything in depth but, in travel, it’s usually enough to form some impressions. Taipei? The language and the style is Chinese but most Taiwanese don’t think of themselves as Chinese. They are Taiwanese. But what is Taiwanese?
Yayoi Kusama’s iconic “Yellow Pumpkin” on the island of Naoshima. Photo by Diane Lopez.
In the late 20th century, a handful of people initiated an effort to revitalize the communities on the islands of Japan’s Seto Inland Sea, whose populations were shrinking as young people left for jobs and cities. The project — to make the islands centers of modern art — took off and paid off. Today, several of the islands have innovative art museums and year-round art installations that annually draw a million tourists. Every three years, a dozen of them host the Setouchi Triennale, a festival exhibiting the work of artists from all over the world. It’s happening now and continues for most of 2019….
We are spending a few days in the industrial city of Kurashiki to enjoy its non-industrial, historic, perfectly preserved village of Bikan. Bikan has been called “the Venice of Japan” (as if Japan needs Italy as a reference!) and “Japan’s most beautiful village.” It was once a merchant’s quarter in the Edo period, generally the 17th century. Its location on the road between western Japan and Tokyo (then called Edo) made it an essential asset in Japan’s national economy — so the Shogun himself managed it.
My stomach churned and my head throbbed as the collectivo wound around the hairpin turns on the jungle road. I didn’t get any relief during the straight stretches, which usually included a series of jarring speed bumps. I tried to focus my thoughts on our destination — Oventik, a Caracol for the Zapatista autonomous region. Say what? Continue reading
My visit to Oaxaca, Mexico, has been fun and interesting in all of the ways I expected. But it has also involved a mystery that has connected me to a lot of people in ways I could never have expected. The mystery involves a water color painting called “El Jaguar.”
The state of Oaxaca has many folk art traditions, many centered in the small pueblos (villages) outside the city. Learning about local folk art is a great way to learn a little bit about local communities so this week I visited a few of them. Each village I visited seemed passionate about its art and happy to have visitors. Continue reading
Templo de Santo Domingo
The first time I visited Oaxaca almost 30 years ago, a friend asked me why I would choose Oaxaca for a vacation because “it’s the Fresno of Mexico.” I’m Armenian so it wasn’t a good choice of insult but the cities are similar in a few ways. Both have a lot of poor people and strong connections to the ethnically diverse rural communities outside their city centers. But only one has world-class colonial architecture, a prominent arts community, and a spirit of political activism. Also a lot of mole and mezcal. Continue reading