Paracho: Guitar Capital of Mexico for over 100 hundred years. The home to most of the world’s guitar factories – though this is changing as mass manufacturing has moved to other countries where it can be done cheaper. (Have we heard this story before???) The city is now remaking itself and rather than being the maker of many guitars it is the home of some of the world’s best hand crafted guitars. And so we journey out to find a guitar for Bob. He had purchased a guitar in Paracho just over 30 years ago and loved it. Unfortunately, he loaned it to a friend and it was never seen again. Ever since then he has been hankering to get back and buy another.
Statue of Vasco de Quirga, priest, and a luthier (maker of guitars). The story goes that de Quirga came to Michoacán to disperse Catolicism and teach economically viable craft skills. He encouraged the citizens to take advantage of the vast forests that surrounded Paracho and produce items made of wood. Some individuals went into furniture and kitchen implement making but many more took up the making of instruments. Currently there are more luthiers in Paracho than in all of the United States.
Walking up and down the streets, Bob checked out the various options. Our very last stop of the day was at David Caro’s shop.
David, on the left, had Bob try out a few different instruments to get the feel for their sound and how they played. In the photo Bob is holding the guitar he eventually purchased – a beautiful instrument made of rosewood, red cedar, Canadian pine, and madera de Granadillo (an exotic hardwood).
Interesting backstory: David Caro is quite a famous and highly-regarded guitar maker. He is no longer making guitars but at one time he made 40 per year and they sold for $600 if purchased in Mexico and $900 if they were sent to the states. The guitar Bob purchased was made by his son, Salomón, who has assumed the family trade.
While Bob was finalizing his purchase I walked up the street to the Zocalo (town square) to take in some local color. My first stop was the cathedral. They have two very large mobiles hanging in the sanctuary – with guitars on them, of course.
Across the street from the cathedral I had a telephone siting! Another one for my collection.
I went over to look inside and noted the poster. My immediate reaction was to begin humming Manhattan Transfer’s “Operator”. For those of you who are not familiar I encourage you to go to this YouTube link – Operator by Manhattan Transfer
Each village in Michoacán has its own style of traditional dress. The garments are quite distinctive and colorful. Skirts are long and there are frequently layers of blouses, tunics (hupil) and ponchos (quechquémitl). This kind and handsome young lady agreed to be photographed. Though it is a bit difficult to see, her blouse is heavily hand embellished and embroidered. She is wearing a rebozo (shawl) as a belt. The color and pattern indicate that she is from Paracho. Her embroidered aprons is also typical for this region.
Other sites that caught our eye while we were in Paracho:
The view out the back window of our hotel. There is an interesting contrast of building styles and quality of construction.
The edge of the brick house in the right corner of the above photo is getting a patio. I was taken with the method used to put on the roof. Also interesting to me: most buildings that have columns begin with four, not necessarily equal, lengths of rebar. The rebar are set in and then bricks or other surround materials are added until the column is the height desired. Building on the column then stops and various portions of rebar are left sticking up out of the structure. This is common throughout Mexico. The lovely home we are staying in has rebar lengths atop all of the columns in the brick walls.
We stayed in a corner room and directly next to our little outdoor deck area was this electric pole. The wires were strung right next to the building making standing on the other deck impossible. I am familiar with overhead wire (Reno Midtown residents, don’t you know) but this was a bit close for even me.
I love the fact that Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo are on opposite sides of the 500 peso bill. BTW: at the current exchange rate 500 pesos is approximately equal to $25. You should see the bundle of money the ATM spits out when we go to get cash!
Before leaving town we walked over to Los Arcos for a bite to eat. As we stepped up and down along the sidewalk I couldn’t help but think of my father, Roy, who was a mail carrier. He would have immediately commented on the curbs to be navigated. Turns out each storefront or building owner puts in their own frontage, thus the variation.
Bob ordered a rum and Coke and was amused by the way it was served. No ice, of course – by request. There are still water precautions to heed.
I ordered a coffee meil (coffee with cream). Our gracious server made a real point of bringing me cream – a packet of powdered Coffee Mate on its own saucer. So adorable.
And we are finally on our way back to Guanajuato. It is about a 4 hour drive, and we took different routes down and back so we had lots of time to take in the various cities and expanses of countryside. We drove through Morelia, the capital of Michoacán, on the way down. Morelia is a large city and currently experiencing rapid growth which puts it at odds with its historical roots and there has been controversy about how native forests are being overtaken. We were especially interested in seeing the beautiful Spanish buildings, most made of pink granite, which the area is known for. I believe my favorite building was the Palace of Justice; isn’t that a nice name for courthouse?
Wondering where your strawberries come from in January? I am guessing it might be from one of these huge agri-business areas. In addition to the miles and miles of green houses, we passed roadsides stands that tempted us with “Fresas and Crema” (strawberries and cream). In many areas it felt like we were in a major California produce zone. One of our biggest surprises along the drive was the expansion of corn farming. It has been about 20 years since we spent a significant amount of time traveling through Mexico and the changes are notable. So much more mechanization and commercial farming. Dekalb and Pioneer corn signs are ubiquitous; huge corn shelling operations and storage silos frequently dotted the landscape.
And finally, another agricultural product – blue agave. We drove through one of the main areas for tequila production. Though not a drinker of tequila myself, it was interesting to learn about. The majority of agave is grown in the state of Jalisco, where the town of Tequila is located. The drink, tequila, has a “domination of origin status” (think Champagne or Manchengo cheese) so any liquor that says tequila on the bottle must be distilled (though not necessarily bottled) in government-designated areas of Mexico. In addition, tequila that is sold in the states must be 41%. Tequila sold in Mexico is 37.5%. Most distilleries bottle many different brands of tequila and the quality and price can very greatly – and a higher price does not guarantee a better drink. More than you wanted to know? But, if you are interested in further information, here is a site that I found helpful: Taste of Tequila