It was a cold October evening, but sitting in my folding chair in front of one of Mexico’s most historic buildings, I was warmed by the excitement in the air. It had taken more than just the two flights and a nap in the Houston airport to get there that day. I had ditched my house, sold my possessions and quit my job. This was the first night of my new life and I was starting it by seeing and hearing the story of chic who was even more rebellious than I am – Bizet’s Carmen.
My move to Mexico coincided exactly with attending my first Cervantino Festival, one of Latin America’s largest performing arts festivals. Carmen, the only opera I’m really familiar with, was a great start. As the festival continued, I would be awed by dance and circus acts, sit in a celebrated church and hear a group called Los Tiempos Pasados perform Sephardic music on period instruments, and fall in love with the East Village Opera Company (opera rocks! – literally).
Cervantino – The Festival
The festival starts in early October and runs for two weeks (this year October 3-21st). On any given day there are 9-15 performances offered at venues throughout the city.
Prices vary from free to to around 25 US$). There are free shows every evening.
Acts come from all over the world, but every year there is a featured guest country (or countries, or region) and a featured state (or states) from Mexico. For 2012, guest countries are Austria, Poland and Switzerland. Sinaloa is the invited state.
Nestled in a canyon in the heart of Mexico, Guanajuato is one of the legendary silver cities. Narrow allies wind up and down between colorful houses. Bring good shoes.
Guanajuato was the site of the first major victory in the battle for Mexican independence in 1810. Mexicans visit Guanajuato to see a piece of their history in the same way that Americans visit Philadelphia. Some of the festival venues are at historical buildings including the Alhondiga and and the spectacular, turn of the century, Teatro Juarez.
Most of the motor traffic is underground in subterranean streets and tunnels. This is great if you’re a pedestrian, but it can lead to really bad traffic during busy times (especially Cervantino weekends).
The Festival is named for the great Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes (1547- 1616) and homage to his epic work Don Quixote is seen throughout the city. (There is even an art museum dedicated solely to him.) Apparently, a drama professor from the University of Guanajuato and his students started performing scenes from Don Quixote in one of the public plazas back in the early 70’s. The Cervantino Festival evolved from that humble tradition.
Don Quixote is considered by some to be the first novel, and librarians have frequently voted it the best book ever written, citing it’s idealism and humor. Before reading it, I felt intimidated. It’s a big-ass book and I questioned whether I would understand 400-year-old humor. However, my fears were for not. Librarians know what they’re talking about. Noble, idealistic and completely off his rocker, the adventures of Don Quixote and his lovable side-kick Sancho Panza will likely appeal to most travelers. This is the story of a man who wants a little more adventure than normal life has to offer, a man who wants to live in a better world, who suffers for his idealism and gets carried away by his reading. And the 400-year-old humor works just fine.
Some day I’ll try to read it in Spanish – my own version of reaching for the unreachable stars.