Thursday, November 20, 2008

Puebla's 10th Annual International Festival

Yesterday, a band playing Cuban "Son" music in the Casa de Cultura. To a packed house. Tonight, two excellent guitarists playing gypsy guitar, accompanied by a male and female flamenco dancer and a female singer. I can't get enough of gypsy flamenco, stomping shoes, whirling dresses, and a driving beat. After they finished, the events moved out to the big public stage set up in front of the cathedral. They had an Argentine band who record on the Putamayo World Music label. I grabbed a table at a sidewalk cafe across from the park and enjoyed dinner and music and watched on the big screen. I thought, "how many cities in the world but on this kind of show.....for free." The evening was balmy, the colonial buildings dramatically lit, and it was just a neat evening.

One striking point, however. I noticed in the Casa de Cultura, where most of these festival events are held, that at the entrance, you have to pass through a metal detector. And there is a strong police presence at the event. Likewise, at the big concert in the central park, the entire park was fenced off, with only limited entry points. At each entry point was a metal detector, manned by a military-looking guy with a rifle. Maybe that all seems like a bit of overkill, but it's not. This last September, on the Mexican national independence day, over in Morelia there were 6 grenades exploded in the central town plaza, killing and injuring a number of unlucky folks in the crowd who'd come out for a pleasant holiday celebration in the park. The culprits, the Mexican drug mafias. Evidently what's happening is that the Mexican federal government is cracking down HARD on the gangsters. And they don't like it. They are fighting back with terrorist actions like that. Also, in the little tiny spa town I was in--Ixtapan de la Sal--they killed the mayor. Earlier this year, he spoke out against all this mess, and they sent hit men and assassinated him! Sort of like Al Capone and Chicago of the 1930's. Actually, quite a lot like that. But, in general it's safe in most parts of Mexico, with the exception of the northern border towns. And tourists aren't being targeted.

That said, I'm moving on tomorrow to Xalapa, in the state of Veracruz. It's up in the mountains about 2 hours above the port city of Veracruz, for those of you trying to locate it on a map. It rains a LOT in Xalapa (also spelled Jalapa). That's why the city is so very green. I've read a bunch about it, and have high expectations. It's a real university town of about 350,000 with an internationally acclaimed symphony, and a busy arts scene. Not too many tourists yet. We'll find out maƱana.