I just got back from Zamora and it’s been so long I’d forgotten what an absolutely beautiful town it was. But I think it is also only fair to say that when I was there last I had viewed the city with a somewhat dismissive eye. There is a blindness that comes with the arrogance that one can associate with having seen too many Mexican towns and too many Mexican churches and too many Mexican plazas.
My vision has been clearing these past many months. Why, I can’t exactly say but I’ve recently come to see some of the subtle cultural differences that serve to make so many of these same Mexican towns so uniquely different. And the values are small but all add up to give most of these pueblos both great and small unique cultural identities.
Certain aspects of cultural identity are shaped by the people and families that inhabit an area, especially by those few who are the true leaders. I found that to be the case for San José de Gracia – the title and topic of my last post – and how the legacy of late author and historian, Luis González, had come to not just influence, but perhaps better said, to have possibly defined the present tense of his native city.
Zamora has a certain university – El Colegio de Michoacán – with (it turns out) a most outstanding university press – for it is they who publish some of the great and necessary (ergo and albeit profitless) works in the fields of cultural anthropology and social history.
Luis González was published by this same institution. For many different reasons, not apropos here, I have an interest in Luis and San José de Gracia. Even so for lack of a better reason, I packed a small bag and went to Zamora.
The university sits behind a wall which in turn is shielded by tall trees that collectively operate to shelter and separate this wonderful institution of publishing and high learning from the city center itself.
After a very nice walk about, I located the Libreria to see what their current stock of Luis González’s work might be. To find a book (or an author), easier said than done. It turned out to be humorously frustrating to someone like myself used to the Dewey Decimal System library classification system and/or the modern American Bookstore (now mostly dead, fuck you very much Amazon) which grouped books by subject/category. Both systems made book retrieval fast and painless.
Here, the books are stacked flat file style with only a number to identify each stack.
In order to find a particular book in this system one needs one of these:
The librarian there was kind enough to give me one of their shiny new catalogs from which I could then peruse their publications to my heart’s content. One final note before I leave the subject of the university. This catalog – humorously and frustratingly enough is not organized by author (or even title) but rather by year published. And I will say this. If the university wasn’t so freakingly beautiful and everything from the buildings to the grounds (and the students and faculty:) so moist and wonderfully fecund; and further: to say the content of their publications to be so undeniably rich and important to the very wellspring of human knowledge – does so to blot out those sins.
In my wanderings I saw this little building that cried out to me with its sad, mysterious essence of wabi-sabi. That decay caused by the passing of time, added to by the benign neglect of extreme poverty; also imbued by that other something, deeply playful and delightfully sweet something. And like the fool, Ryokan – I stopped, stared and smiled.
And just 4 blocks away, a giant cathedral to unite them all:
It is almost impossible – save from outer space anyway – to photograph something that covers such a vast area. I chose to post this particular image because it juxtaposes the weight and immensity of its structure against those smaller and less permanent.
Last note. Zamora is a city of maybe 150,000 people (today) but that cathedral was supersized a hundred years ago for a city 20X as big. I wonder does maybe some parochial vanity come at all into play here?
PS – Do you see pilgrim, the wonderful discordance? Do you sense the magic that still exists in places that have not surrendered to (or have not been overwritten by) the normalization tsunami that flattens cultural identity?