Climbing the stairway to culture
December 26, 2013
The Teatro walls were crumbling, the courtyard given over to dust and dismay, and a historic part of Old Mazatlan doomed to fade into distant memory. With vision, perseverance and pesos, volunteers renovated the Grand Old Dame and today, tucked into a corner of the Plazuela Machado, the Angela Peralta Teatro thrives, a cultural landmark in Historic Old Town.
Kathy, Richard and I recently attended an orchestral performance at the Angela Peralta conducted by world-class Jan Latham-Koenig. We climbed to the cheap seats, up in the third balcony. The balcony might be two and a half meters deep. The chairs appear to be old-style kitchen chairs with cloth coverings. Comfort it is not. Squished it is. The marble-columned lobby is open to the stars, the balcony up three flights of marble stairs. We took our seats early to people-watch.
As tourists we wear our best beach-bum togs. No matter, we watch the beautiful women sweep in, and all are beautiful, regally dressed and coifed and jeweled. Each man looks dashing, no matter his age, proud of the woman on his arm, the children by his side.
I could have listened all night to Pablo Garibay on Spanish acoustic guitar, accompanied by the orchestra. But, for me, the most memorable performance at the Angela Peralta was a ballet. I don’t remember the name. It was skillfully choreographed with a huge cast, many of them students at the Teatro. The costumed cast doubled as greeters and seat-ers. After the ballet the cast rushed to the courtyard where they were congratulated, hugged, and showered with flowers by family and admirers. Just being part of the throng that night made me celebrate, made me feel like a distant relative come to visit.
While restoring the Teatro, a many years project, the company also built classrooms for teaching music, dance and art. Day and night the building is alive with activity, rehearsals, classes, exhibits and performances.
Everyone in Mazatlan seems to be a musician. Men stroll the streets, singly or in groups, to serenade for a few pesos. Heavy on the brass, entire “Oom-pah” bands gather, perform and pass the hat. (“Oom-pah” is my made-up term, based on the underlying beat.)
Friday night Kathy, Richard and I toured several galleries near and around Old Town as part of a monthly ArtWalk. The historic buildings, Spanish or southern European in style, have beautiful wooden and wrought iron doors. To enter one must high-step over a 10 to 12 inch threshold to the lobby or hallway. I was told the step keeps water out during seasonal torrential rains. In China, the same style riser is to deter evil spirits from entering the home. Same thing, I suppose. Or maybe the steps were designed to keep livestock out and babies in.
Most of the galleries presented a staircase or two or three to climb. Some were over living quarters, others included multiple stories. These buildings are ancient structures, two and three hundred years old and more. Personally, I prefer stairs built to code with a good solid railing. One does not always get one’s way. Gamely I clambered up staircases with 8, 9 and 10 inch risers. Most treads were built for smaller people with smaller feet. Gamely, one must take one’s courage in hand and carry on. After all, I wanted to eye-feast on sculptures in rock, wood, copper and silver, oils and watercolors and prints and drawings, jewelry and photography, mosaics, papier-mache and leather, fiber and stained glass.
Whew! I was plumb tuckered before we’d seen all the places we’d marked on our map. Kathy and Richard wanted to see one more gallery, just a couple long blocks down that way or maybe to the left a bit, hard to tell with a map which leaves out some cross streets. I opted to walk back to the Plazuela Machado, find a bench where I could rest my weary feet and listen to musicians in the square.
Couples of all ages meandered around the square, hand in hand. Small coveys of young men and young women ambled around, eyeing one another warily or provocatively. Street vendors quietly offered their wares, all manner of foods and crafts, in tune with the crowd, not pushy. I made myself invisible to quietly view the walking artistry in front of me, no stairs to climb.
(Sondra Ashton graduated from Harlem High School in 1963 and left for good. She found, upon her return, that things are a little different. Now, she's headed on a new journey. She's moving to Mexico. Keep in touch with her at http://montanatumbleweed.blogspot.com.)