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By: Carlos Dragonné y Elsie Méndez
Puebla has always had something that attracts me to it. Its architecture, the layout of its streets and, above all, the history that is breathed throughout the small and large spaces of the city. All of it immediately moves me to wake up in a city that is watched over by volcanoes. They watch from a distance and can be visited with a simple weekend drive. This is why we traveled to Puebla a few days ago, and what I found back in the city was more surprising than I expected.
The traditions seemed to be waiting for us as we arrived. As a part of Tesoros de México, the doors of a seventeenth century mansion were opened to become the hotel Mesón de la Sacristía de la Compañía. Behind the large, heavy wooden doors with gold leaf details lies a work of recovery and remodeling that is worthy of being admired in all its dimension. Also home to one of the most established antique stores in the city, it is not surprising to see that absolutely every piece of furniture has a hanging tag with a sales code and a price. It is a boutique hotel that offers travelers the opportunity to bring home that little detail or piece of furniture that they fell in love with. Walking among old carved wooden furniture, pianos of all kinds and with so many stories buried among the keys, paintings, and photographs that have been unharmed over the years. The owner and administrator of the Mesón de la Sacristía. Leobardo Espinosa, welcomes us with a spectacular meal of traditional dishes in the hotel restaurant. He tells us how Puebla has changed in recent years and how the city has been transformed to unite the strength of colonial history with the modernity of the 21st century. It is a mixture that seems to be made for the occasional traveler, the kind of specialized traveler that is drawn to the wide variety of options that the developing Puebla has to offer.
We continued the dream of being in a house built over 200 years ago as we accommodated our things in the room. Afterwards, we decided to walk through the center of the city to soak up what would be our rediscovery of the town. Of course, the first stop of our tour was the famous and traditional Bazar de Antigüedades del Callejón de los Sapos (“Callejón de los Sapos Antique Bazaar”), located just 50 meters from the hotel. The market feels like the classic Puebla. We cling to the delight of discovering something special among thousands of articles. There are pieces that have existed for generations, and articles that hardened collectors obsess over. We observe the irony of customers asking “What’s new today?” in regard to watches from 1880, century-old copper pieces for traditional cooking, paintings and photographs, and even small handcrafted pieces that came from the families that made this city great. Everything coexists in a hubbub of classic articles scattered down the street. Anyone can listen in on the endless conversations, negotiations and requests for merchandise that, day after day, the poblanos explore as if they were archetypal bounty hunters in search of the best-selling literature.
Earlier when we were at the hotel having dessert and the coffee, Leobardo Espinosa recommended that we visit the Museo Amparo, since we were here during the exhibition of Annette Messager, a French artist. Thanks to the agreement established between the museum and the Centro Nacional de Arte y Cultura Georges Pompidou (“Georges Pompidou National Art Center and Culture”), it was possible to bring the exhibit to Mexico. After the rotation in Puebla it will be presented in Mexico City where a retrospective of the artist is made, that was credited to the Golden Lion of the Venice Biennial. This exhibition, that will be in Puebla until January 10, was the first sign of the change in Puebla. It represents an open city that has an eye on contemporary art and new trends in what is happing in Mexico..
That is what our trip became. What began as a walk through a traditional Puebla that spoke to us with its classic and iconic places, took us to the new corners of the modernity that is emerging. Day after day Puebla now hosts films, artistic expression from allover the world, and plans for modernity and urbanization. Behind all this, the buildings with centuries of history monitor growth, knowing that they are the base of what will happen. This is how we come to the restaurant, La Noria, a conglomerate that unites gastronomy, art, expression and a workshop for artists. It has an international cuisine created to satisfy the palates of the town residents and receives tourists, taking them by the hand to an art gallery where anyone can enjoy exhibits that are in constant rotation. We will tell you about the flavors of the restaurant in another article, but is suffice to say that it was a satisfying experience that filled our expectations in several ways.
As nighttime came we were wanting something more traditional so we took a visit to El Mural de los Poblanos, a classic restaurant located in the center of the city. It is in rescue of the gastronomic traditions of Puebla. The chef, Alejandra de la Riva, received us with one of those dishes that makes Mexican cuisine unique and unreplicable: cuetlas salteadas (“sauteed butterfly larvae”). The dish has a history of ancient and native traditions. The cuetla is a butterfly larva that comes from amountain range in Mixteca and indigenous women have collected them during the rainy season for generations to be boiled them in salted water. That is how they arrive in the hands of chefs like chef Liz Galicia who, serves them with a special sauce and handmade tortillas after sautéing them with onion, epazote and natural jerky. It is one of the many dishes that the Mural de los Poblanos upholds from the gastronomy of Puebla in a successful attempt to show the flavors that have made Puebla the converging point of national gastronomy for hundreds of years. This space also has kitchens for traditional cooking workshops and a couple of private rooms that allow diners an intimacy in the middle of a building that is lost in time. The gaze of the figures who were a big part of the construction of Puebla are depicted in the mural painted by Antonio Álvarez Morán. They watch over the restaurant diners as they enjoy an experience in Mural de los Poblanos. Late at night we take a visit to the Hotel El Sueño to learn about its new facilities from the remodeling that was completed a few months before our arrival. Of course, while there, we enjoy one of its famous pear martinis. And finally we return to the Mesón de la Sacristía after a walk through the historic center, accompanied by expectant silence.