Lucy Popescu

freedom to write, review, travel…

Awakenings

Posted by lucypopescu on July 19, 2009

I’ve just returned from Taxco de Alarcón and feel as though I have undergone a series of spiritual awakenings. Just 3 hours southwest from Mexico City, Taxco is a picturesque colonial town with winding cobblestone streets and white-washed houses. Taxco is famous for two things; its church and its silver. Formerly it was one of Mexico’s principle silver mining towns. Many of the early Spanish conquistadors made their fortunes from exploiting the silver mines here. When it seemed as if the silver had all but dried up along came a French-born Catalan, Jose de la Borda, who discovered another rich vein of silver in 1743. The story goes that he was riding in the area when his horse stumbled over a stone and exposed the silver. Later Borda built the Church of Santa Prisca church as a gift to the town on the spot where the vein was discovered.

The descent idome of Santa Priscanto Taxco is phenomenal. A bend in the road and the town unfolds before you. It is as if the houses have been built one on top of the other; the town literally clings to a steep hillside. Towering above the white adobe houses and their red tile roofs, are the spires of Santa Prisca and its brightly coloured dome. This was to be my first awakening.

entrance to Santa PriscaThe church’s design is Churrigueresque, a Spanish Baroque style of elaborate architectural ornament which emerged as a form of stucco decoration in Spain in the late 1600s. It is built of ochre stone and the excessive decorative above the church entrance is quite extraordinary.

It made me think of the lengths the pious will go to attract others to their religion. Obviously the intention was to make the church as beautiful as possible in order to encourage the town’s inhabitants to embrace Catholicism. But by incorporating as many designs and motifs as possible, on a pink background, the idea is pushed to its limits.gold interior

The Church was completed in 1758 and amost bankrupted Borda. Inside the design is no less florid with gold, gold, everywhere.

gore and kitschThe Mexicans really know how to mix gore and kitsch to tremendous effect. Here Jesus is shown in great suffering, as the blood runs down his face and body; but the pastel blue apron in which he has been attired and the little angel placed on his right hand, with no sense of irony, lessens the pain and adds a lightness, almost a sense of festivity, to the proceedings.

Plaza Borda, where the church is situated, is packed with people every night. It really is the centre of town life here. Although Taxco is undeniably picturesque, the steep cobblestone streets are impossible to navigate if you are elderly or disabled in any way. I found it hard with my current limp. There are few cars; instead you walk or the numerous Volkswagen Beetle taxis and minibuses get you around town, but even they can’t get everywhere. The fact that they are all white adds to the overall ‘look’ – in fact, it would make a terrific setting for a James Bond film; just imagine the car chase!  The pollution, however, is terrible as the inclines are so steep the cars need optimum gas to make it to the top.  It made me ponder the lure of silver (today there are around 300 shops selling the stuff); and how greed breeds determination. Geographically this must be one of the worst places to build a town, but the presence of silver, then and today, has brought people here in their droves. For starters, the drainage and plumbing can’t be great; there is a faint reek of sewage in most corners of the town. It also seemed to be a breeding ground for mosquitoes – I got bitten alive, unsuspectingly, in the middle of the day.

baskets

We soon got silver sick – my next awakening. How quickly I now tire of consumerism when on every street corner there are the poor begging or selling their meagre wares.Having contemplated the lure of silver and the consolations of religion, we decided to leave earlier than planned.

It is always the smallest things that stay with you, and it was on the journey home that a nun caught me surreptitiously scratching my bites. She smiled, serenely. “Mosquitoes?” I nodded. “Limón” was her proclamation. I got home, and indeed she was right. Since rubbing copious amounts of lime over my legs the itching has eased and the swelling has subsided. As Jaime suggested (tongue firmly planted in cheek) God’s representative had spoken and offered a miracle cure!

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