Old Mazatlán

Music blasting from all quarters is a common treat in many of the Mexican towns we’ve visited on sailing vessel Pamela.  It’s sometimes used as a way to attract shoppers into a store, with huge black speakers placed on the walkway in front of the store thumping loud enough to crumple the concrete sidewalk.  I pass by these storefronts walking fast as I can with fingers stuffed into both ears, wondering if this is karma payback for the times when I played seared-ahi electric guitar solos so loud that the band’s bass player had to hide behind his amp stack.

Mazatlán is no different, particularly the large mercado area where the local bus drops you off on your way into town.  Here the hundreds of vendors compete to attract shoppers for sunglasses, T-shirts, chicken feet, pig heads, you name it.  In the din of a swelling cacophonous rancor they tempt you with “HOLA AMIGO!” and wide smiles as they gesture grandly toward their rack of T-shirts.

But walking two blocks out of the mercado area you enter Old Mazatlán.  You notice the colonial buildings and the small tree-lined streets.  You see fewer people walking these streets, especially compared to the busy mercado a couple of blocks away.  But most of all you realize that you can hear again.

And what an aural feast as you make your way further into the old town!  There is classical piano coming from around the corner.  Then a jazz trumpeter, very good, playing mixolydian and phrygian scales.  Down another street you hear an operatic soprano.  Where do they get these records from, you wonder aloud.

And then you begin to realize what is actually happening:  classically trained music students, cloistered in their studios, are practicing their art in the heat of the day.  These are real people playing real instruments, and playing them very well.

The blaring speakers in the shops of the mercado seem like another dimension in time and space.  Another universe altogether.  An assault on the senses that must be endured like a kind of gauntlet before the traveller is allowed to experience the Eden of the classical old town.

On another level, the art studios of Old Mazatlán beckon.  There are two dozen or more that participate each month in a Friday Art Walk.  Some of them are galleries showing beautiful renderings from the area’s many painters and sculptors.  Some are the studios of the artists themselves, where you can admire the work as you meet the actual hands that produced it.  These artists seem like real, everyday people, you whisper to yourself.  Common people like you and me, yet with the indomitable determination to practice their passion day after day.

Some of the galleries are restaurants and bars.  We wandered into one called Delirium on Calle Sixto Osuna, with a half dozen rooms to stroll through to view paintings or sit to have dinner.  In a room that opened out to the street sat a young man working on a laptop while an iPad wired to the house speaker system played a documentary about Mexican artists.

The music from the documentary was tasteful and interesting.  The images from the video drew my attention further and soon I was absorbed.  There were young men with acoustic guitars, groups of singers in a cappela choruses, an elder rocker singing passionately into a microphone as he stabbed at his electric guitar.  I was transfixed.  Any kind of documentary about real musicians telling their true story always draws my full attention.  The feeling from my gut is visceral.  It inspires me.  It tells me to go pick up my guitar and express something true.

Muy interessante,” I said to the young man in the corner.

“Yes, it is,” he replied.

Pam arrived from the adjacent room with two glasses of red wine.  “You should see this painting over here,” she beckoned.  “Look at these colors!”

A young woman with Italianate features chatted with us as we strolled through the adjoining room.  The young man in the corner, smiling and speaking educated English very rich in vocabulary, told us more about the studio.  He introduced himself as Juan Pablo, and told us he had recently built Delirium with the young woman, who introduced herself as Ana Paola Osuna Corona.  Juan Pablo Sanchez King y Ana Paola Osuna Corona y Delirium a Sixto Osuna.  The poetic syllables and the red wine made my head swim.

We sat in the room that opened out to the street and sipped our wine as we told our respective stories.  Juan Pablo and Ana Paola were taking a break from an online media career and starting an artistic venture in Old Mazatlán, while we were taking a break from Silicon Valley and sailing our boat across the South Pacific.  We ordered more wine and continued the conversation, captivated by their enthusiasm and love of life.

“Will you have dinner?” asked Juan Pablo.

“Certainly,” we replied.  We had planned to visit a well-regarded restaurant called Topolo a few blocks away, but that could wait until tomorrow.  “What do you have?”

“Tacos,” announced Juan Pablo.

I waited for Pam to blanche, which she did a half a moment later.

I’m okay with tacos.  They’re simple and soulful.  I could eat them everyday  and then have my tomb stuffed with them to lead me triumphantly into the afterlife.  Not so with Pam.  Having lived in the French quarter of Switzerland, she’s been spoiled by sauce bearnaise and Gruyère cheese.  You will never find either of these on a taco.  You can live longer than Methusula’s 969 years, and tack on 31 more to complete the epoch, and still you will not find Gruyère cheese on a taco in Mexico.

Ana Paola brought the tacos to our table.  There were wonderful.  They had exotic names.  The one called Zen had shrimp, local chiles, and Gruyère cheese.

“Gruyère cheese!” I exclaimed.  Juan Pablo grinned.

The Angelópolis featured portobello mushroom and mole poblano artesanal, foreshadowing the delights we would experience later in Oaxaca.  The Vegano included pesto.  The Sorpresa was mysteriously presented with no explanation at all (“no te diremos que tiene sólo que está delicioso”).

We walked out into the warm evening feeling satisfied and satiated, then caught a pulmonia, a three-wheeled motor-cart, back to Marina Mazatlán at the far edge of town.

A few days later we were back in Old Mazatlán.  There were still a few galleries that Pam needed to track down.  Besides, we had discovered a cafe with wonderful cappuccino, which justified the rollicking pulmonia ride into town.  I turned a corner to hear a piano recital hidden within monastic walls, then gazed into the window of a gallery restaurant to see Juan Pablo beaming at me.

“Hello!” he grinned.  “Come meet my friend from Germany!  We’re working on a project.”

Juan Pablo’s friend from Germany was a professional photographer.  He showed us a photo of a brown paper bag placed flat on a table with something scrawled on it.  I squinted at the image.

“What do you think it is?” asked Juan Pablo.  His friend from Germany began videotaping our reaction.

“Well … it looks like a Tree of Life,” I ventured.  “There is a canopy here, with ants climbing up the trunk.”

The videocamera flashed a red dot every half-second.  This was real-life being captured real-time.  I couldn’t respond with a silly obscure quip.  I had to think about it.

“There is another Tree here,” I motioned to the other side of the drawing.  “This one seems to be the mirror image of the other, or maybe the roots.  One is moving up to the heavens while the other is grounding itself with the Earth.”  I was on a roll.  “The ants here are moving up the tree in groups of two, while the ants in the Tree above are moving in triplets.”  I waited for a knowing nod from Juan Pablo.  He stared at me while his friend from Germany recorded everything.

“What do you see, Pamela?”

Pam’s view was more anthroposophical.  “There is a balance here represented by the separate sides of the tree.  And yet there is also the symbol of an onion, suggesting the idea of multiple layers.  Layers often represent the many levels of consciousness.”  Juan Pablo was spellbound.

“So … what is it?” I asked him.

“My friend and I are starting a new project,” he explained.  “We sat down at a table with this piece of paper and began drawing, each on our own half without looking at what the other was doing.  After a few minutes we turned the sheet of paper around and started marking on the drawing of the other.”

“You didn’t know what each was drawing?” I asked.

“Not until we turned the sheet.”

“And the ants moving into self-actualization?” I queried.

“Ants?” responded Juan Pablo.  There went my theory of triplets.

“So what does it mean?” I persisted.

“Not sure.  But we thought that before we start this project we should collect our ideas in abstract form and then superimpose one upon the other into a formulaic blend.”  Meanwhile the friend from Germany, a true professional, faithfully captured the entire encounter without blinking.

I felt encapsulated in art in motion.  At the vortex of fact and fancy, enterprise and indulgence, forward thinking and quiet mind.

We waved goodbye to Juan Pablo and his friend from Germany, then ventured further down the colonial street to find the elusive cappuccino.

A couple of weeks later an email arrived from Juan Pablo and Ana Paola.  When our voyage is done will we come back to Old Mazatlán to present our experience in the Delirium gallery?  “You can show your photos, and parts from your boat,” Juan Pablo encouraged us.  I imagined a multimedia presentation with acoustic guitar followed by a reading of my prose, illustrated by Pam’s watercolors, and with a worn impeller and corroded sacrificial zincs nailed to a board on the wall.

I rubbed my chin and thought hard about this idea and began to warm to it.  Our worldwide debut, our sailing adventure expressed as a multimedia art exhibit in Old Mazatlán, with the colonial streets alive with strains of chamber music and modern jazz echoing from hidden courtyards.

Such inventiveness!  Juan Pablo’s creative mind innovating new experiences with the freshness and tang of poblano.

But who would come all the way to Mazatlán to see the exhibit?

Everyone!  And Juan Pablo Sanchez King and Ana Paola Osuna Corona.

It will be the art event of the decade that you will surely not want to miss.