Experienced by: Elsie Méndez
Written by: Carlos Dragonné
They say that one gets to know Morelia by walking. So I listen to this saying and, after a delicious breakfast on a terrace overlooking Madero Avenue, I take course through streets that seem to have something to tell me. I wonder about the message that, between the buildings, awaits me today.
Madero Avenue takes brings me my first encounter with nostalgia of the day. The entrance of the Museo del Dulce (“Candy Museum”) stands out as I approach. It is an enormous construction that reveals the history and tradition behind the delicacies. The museum is a flagship of the state and nation. Gerardo Torres, the current director of the museum and its factory, welcomes me at the entrance. In addition to being the shelter of such unusual flavors, it is also the oldest candy factory in the country. It has been open since 1840– it has gone from family to family, arriving in the hands of Luis Villicaña in 1939, who conveyed to his children and grandchildren the need to overcome time and modernity to help these flavors survive. The rooms and walls overflow with more than 300 varieties of candies and flavors. The staff dress in attire from the Porfiriato time period, giving ground to our trip through time. Gerardo explains the origin of the candies that were originally made by monks and monasteries. When the recipes arrived in the hands of Morelian families, they perfected the art of the ates, the lamellae, the rielcitos, the arrayán, and the balls of burnt milk.
These last ones, the owner says, are the most recent addition to the vault. They are a continuation of a long kept tradition. He speaks with a voice and feeling that surrenders him to the knot in his throat. Gerardo talks about a candy that he enjoyed as a child just as much for its taste as for how long it lasted in his mouth. He remembers how this candy began to disappear from establishments in the city. Already convinced that this taste would remain only in memories, a friend told him about an old man who was still preparing the nostalgic candy in the alleys of another community far from the city. The man’s children and his grandchildren still hadn’t learned to prepare the special recipe. Torres remembers what it was like to talk to him, to taste the burnt milk candy again and, above all, to listen to the old man share the recipe with him. He didn’t share it for business, but rather to keep the tradition alive. Even today, the sweet is prepared between these walls and remains Gerardo’s favorite.
And that’s how everything is in Morelia: committed to remembering the origin of Mexico as a country full of stories and anecdotes that are becoming legends. I go out into the street with a bag of sweets and a traditional eggnog and start walking back to the center of the city. Again, I am overwhelmed by the feeling that the houses and the streets are calling me as I slowly walk the five blocks that separate me from my destiny. When I reach the main square of the Cathedral, the first message of the city became completely clear to me. I leave the bag with the candies and the bottle of eggnog on the floor and approach a saleswoman who, for a few pesos, gives me something from my childhood and an indescribable smile. What did I buy? Soap bubbles. Yes… that little bottle with soap and water that comes in various colors and that, when blowing through a wire wrapped in yarn creates bubbles that float in the air until they burst. There I was, in the middle of the square, an adult woman, blowing bubbles all over as I tried to make the biggest bubble. Children ran by my side to enter the radius full of bubbles in a kind of rite that is repeated every day, between the intermittent jets of water from the fountain that bathe the center plaza and garners applause and celebration day after day. Amidst the laughter of the people, I was able to decipher the first message from Morelia that makes this city one of the magical places in my travels through Mexico. Morelia brought back my memories of childhood, full of timeless smiles.
Smiling back at the hotel, there was still more to come. I am convinced that the roads cross at the right time and that the choices we make in this walk always have a surprising and expectant result that awaits us. Once again, I put this theory to the test. I went to the terrace of Los Juaninos Hotel to meet Erick Legaria, a man who has fought to rescue, support, and defend Purépecha communities from the state.
Behind his green eyes, Erick keeps stories that have led him to enter communities and create programs that help to create sustainable communities. I was inevitably captured when he described what he does and how he believes in the importance of ancient practices. His mission is to empower the inhabitants of indigenous areas of Michoacán to reclaim a place which, in its own right, belongs to them. While we talk, the view of Avenida Madero extends far from our privileged position and, aware of my attention to that hypnotizing image, Erick points out the town of Santa Fe de la Laguna that we will get to know a little bit about tomorrow. It is place in which deep work called Athesithu is being done, which means in Purépecha, “Place of Chirimoyas”. It is where I will meet Berenice, a cook who according to Erick, will touch my heart. As the afternoon subsides and the night takes its place, the lights of Morelia highlight the pink in the quarry. Erick and I take the road to San Miguelito, a benchmark of Morelian cuisine and, without a doubt, one of the places that should not be missed.
San Miguelito, managed by Cynthia Canelo, is a real delight from the moment you step through the door. It shows the true spirit of a city that, even today, battles between its Mexican roots and Spanish influences. In her own words, “It’s the details of what we love that we have to take care of.” The decorations range from viceregal Mexico to catrinas and rebozos, carefully created by a local artisan. Our table was at the bottom of the so-called Rincon de las Solteronas (“Corner of the Spinsters”), which I will discuss in detail another time. And the dinner went better than we could have imagined. Despite having just met, the night was like an evening spent with longtime friends. We connected over stories of Morelia, the restaurant, the people and traditions and, above all, everything Michoacán has to offer. I learned about places and stories that I had never heard of, told by the voices of those who helped Morelia flourish. I cherished the minutes between dishes, the charandas and mezcal of the region. When it was time to leave, the farewells lasted forever in a desperate attempt to squeeze as much as possible out of the night. Full from a memorable evening, I made my way back to the hotel.
Saying goodbye to the day, Morelia’s message revealed itself in total clarity as I closed my eyes and reflected on every detail. I was completely taken by the magnificence of the big houses, the aroma of authentic gastronomy, the laughter of the people, the neverending childhood, the slow and free walking by the sidewalks and, above all, the warmth of the people, stories, and traditions. From an early age I was called to remember my roots and my childhood spent in a city very similar to this one where the streets watched me grow up, only to come down a path through which, years later, I would return. All thanks to the magic of a city that has the ability to remind us that in order to be happy, we just have to look for those moments in our past and, no matter where we are or how many years have passed, we will always be able to repeat them with something as simple as bubbles floating between pink quarry walls.
You will find the end of this love story here Morelia, a goodbye that fulfills a dream
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