Memories of Morelia: Tall buildings, Janitzio and a hamburger
I was nine years old the first time I visited Morelia, in 1973. I was living with my family in Xicotepec, a small town in the north of the State of Puebla. We spent our summer vacation that year with my grandparents in Zitácuaro. The day before the trip my father said he wanted to take my sister and me to Morelia and Pátzcuaro. He also invited an aunt and one of my cousins. He had studied in Morelia, and now wanted to share his memories with us.
We woke up early in the morning and began our journey. First, we had breakfast in Morelia, in front of the church of San Agustín, then we walked in the downtown area, around the Cathedral. As a kid, the architecture or the beauty surrounding me in that area didn't particularly impress me. I only noticed that the houses were too high to be only two-story constructions — not as low as the contemporary ones I was used to in Xicotepec.
We went on to Pátzcuaro, which had been the capital of Michoacán after the Spanish Conquest, before it was eventually moved to Morelia. Pátzcuaro is located next to a beautiful lake named after the city, an area full of history and Indian traditions preserved once the Purepechas became Christians, developing a form of sincretism, especially evident during the celebrations for the night of the dead in November.
We took a boat to visit one of the islands, Janitzio, located on the lake. On our way to the island we saw the fishermen in their small boats, using traditional nets that appear to be the wings of butterflies. Once on the island I admired a wonderful little town, with streets of cobblestone, houses with tiled roofs, and quiet, gracious people. On our way to the top, we ate the food that was sold to visitors. I ordered charales, a small kind of fish from the lake, fried whole and quite tasty.
We continued to the top of the island to the statue of Morelos, one of our heroes, who fought for the Independence. He was born in Morelia — which was called "Valladolid" back then. We climbed the stairs inside the statue, learning more about history through the scenes on the walls describing Morelos and his life. We went back to Pátzcuaro and then to El Estribo, a place at the top of the hill featuring a magnificent view of the lake, the islands and the city. I felt really proud to be from Michoacán and thought about all the things I was going to tell my classmates back in Xicotepec about my adventures.
Night greeted our return to Morelia. We were hungry, and my father decided to buy something from a street vendor. There were hot dogs, and we discovered there were hamburgers too. My sister and I had heard about hamburgers, and here was our opportunity to taste them for the first time. I'll never forget the taste of my first hamburger in Morelia.
In 1979 we returned to Morelia, this time to live here. My parents wanted to move to a city where we could all continue our studies together. My first choice would have been Toluca, close to Mexico City, because that's where most of my friends were. My parents decided Morelia was a better place, and now I'm glad they thought so. Once we settled into our daily lives in Morelia, I realized I had not noticed the beauty of this incredible city on our first trip six years earlier.
I fell in love with the Cathedral, discovering the uniqueness of each church, admiring the gardens and squares, finding old fountains and monuments, and each time that I walk along the aqueduct and visit the old convents and monasteries to admire their elegant and monumental architecture, sometimes just to read and enjoy the silence. But something more catches my attention.
The old houses in the downtown area complete a certain harmony that Morelia has been able to preserve within different architectural styles. After all this time I still find some places I've never noticed before. That's part of the magic soul of Morelia, revealing something more of itself to its visitors and long-time residents little by little.
Most of my friends live here, and I feel as if I had always lived here, in this wonderful city, full of history, magnificent colonial architecture, and friendly people.
I have been in Pátzcuaro many times since that first trip eighteen years ago. I really like the city. It has been able to preserve a unique atmosphere unspoiled by visitors.
I have not gone back to Janitzio. I wanted to visit the island, but a friend mentioned it was not the same as it used to be. I keep postponing my return to the island, just so I can keep those memories of that visit as my own very special treasure. On the other hand, I would like go again to observe how it has changed and I know that I'll do it one day. And then I'll see a nine-year old kid on the island who is visiting it for the first time, and I'll savor that moment just as much as I did back in 1973.
[Enrique Garduño is a civil engineer living in Morelia.]