Nature is what we know
Yet have no art to say
So impotent Our Wisdom is
To her Simplicity.
On a recent trip to Mineral de Pozos, Mexico (an hour’s drive from San Miguel de Allende), I bought a flute at a museum of musical instruments. Luis Cruz, who owns the museum, El Venado Azul, makes and sells instruments like those once played by the indigenous people. The flute, called a tlapitzalli, sounded so beautiful when the museum guide played it, I had to take it home.
The other instruments at the museum were gorgeous, too: the long, wooden rainsticks filled with sand, called chicahuaztlis; the eucarinas that imitate the sounds of the birds; the ear-pleasing rattles, called ayacaxtli; and the small, hand-carved wooden drums, called huehuetl and teponaztli.
At the end of the tour, the guide played the large thunder drum for us. It sounded exactly like the loud, booming thunder of Mexico.The sound of the drum, and the rhythms he played on it, made us all want to dance. It was a powerful, spiritual moment — a reminder of the music that’s in all of us, and of the joy and the power music has to move us and connect us to each other in the dance.
Before we went to the musical instrument museum, our tour guide, Dali, took us to a museum where we learned about the once thriving silver mine in Pozos. We saw the old, water-cooled jack hammers the silver miners used to break the rock, and the carbide lamps that allowed the miners to see in the deep, dangerous shafts.
The lamps were lit by the gas produced by mixing calcium carbide and water.
We gazed across a landscape of cactus, agave, and pepper trees. In the distance, we saw the ruins of the old stone buildings where the women and children separated the minerals — silver, gold, copper, zinc, and mercury — from the rocks. We walked among the ruins of the old Catholic church, which is now open to the sky and wind.
As I looked inside the old sanctuary, I remembered the stories about how difficult it was to get the indigenous people inside of the buildings for worship. It made no sense to them. They always worshipped in nature, their feet connected to the earth, their eyes aware of sun, sky and the position of the bright stars. And they danced. That’s why the churches all have courtyards — they helped the missionaries to woo the indigenous people inside.
It struck me as both ironic, and a form of poetic justice, that now, the sweet, yellow xotol flowers that grow everywhere in Pozos, and the long, bending grasses, have replaced the yellow gold of the altars and the priests.
There were several reasons for the town’s demise: the Mexican Revolution in 1910; the anti-Catholic government that met with fierce resistance in the militantly Catholic town; and the water pollution caused by the flooding of the mines. One day the miners dug too deep. The mines flooded and it was impossible to correct the damage. The mines, born in 1576 by the Jesuits (the first Europeans to visit), closed in 1928. The population of Pozos dwindled from 70,000 to a few thousand.
Dali said there’s someone in Pozos who still mines his own silver and gold. Although the law prohibits people from digging under their property, he’s doing it anyway. Apparently, he’s doing fairly well. For every ton of rock, he gets a gram of gold. (Isn't that like life?)
Pozos was declared a “magical town” by the Mexican government in 1982 because of its rich history. Developers want it to be another San Miguel de Allende. It’s slow going, but there's a promising arts school now, with classes in painting, music, and ceramics that is attracting visitors.
There are a few art galleries in Pozos, and a few restaurants, like the Posada de las Minas (Inn of the Mines), where we had lunch (and amazing salsa). Mostly, though, Pozos is what the Mexicans call a pueblo fantasma — a ghost town.
I liked being there — hearing the instruments, looking into the deep shafts, walking through the ruins, and learning more about the history of Mexico.
As we were leaving, a 9-year-old boy who was riding his bike down the same deserted cobblestone street I was walking on, stopped to ask me, "¿Viniste a ver las minas?" (Did you come to see the mines?)
His friendliness, and the pride he had in his town, reminded me of why I love Mexico — the kindness of the people, the spaciousness of both land and heart.
Carolyn Studer is a Presbyterian minister, activist, and writer. She has lived in San Miguel de Allende for 7 months, loves traveling in Mexico and is working on a memoir about her family's involvement in the Civil Rights movement. For fun she plays jazz piano.
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