It is said that for knowing Morelia, you have to walk it and, listening to those who live here, after a delicious breakfast at the hotel’s terrace with a view of Madero Avenue that points to everything in our way, I took the streets. It looks like, from the first moment, a message is waiting for me to remember something. I wonder what the message is between the buildings in this day that starts now.
Madero Avenue takes me to what will be the first encounter with nostalgic today. In front of me, imposing, is the entrance to the Candy Museum, a huge building inside which the recovering of history and tradition behind these delights, emblematic part of the state and Mexico all around the world, becomes evident to my eyes. I’m welcomed by Gerardo Torres, present director and owner of both, the museum and factory, for besides being the guarding place of such unique flavors, it is also the oldest factory in the country, for it has been opened continuously since 1840, and it has passed from family to family and from generation to generation until in 1939 it came to Luis Villicaña, who taught his children and grandchildren the urgency of not allowing modern times to prevail over the necessity of these flavors. Here, amongst the cabinets, the halls and walls overflowing with more than 300 varieties, watched by the staff that, as a bonus credibility for our travel in time, wears the typical clothes from the Porfirian era of late 19th and early 20th century. Gerardo walks me to discover the main points of candies, from the moment they were conceived by the colonial monks and, then, when recipes and processes arrived at the old pink quarry stone mansions, where the morelian families perfected the art of making ates, laminillas (a very thin candy strip that comes in many flavors), rielcitos, arrayan, and the Burnt Milk Marbles. This last ones is the most recent adquisition to this vault of memories and ongoing traditions, as Gerardo, with emotion and broken voice from it – which, of course, I shared –, tells that this was a candy he enjoyed when he was a kid both because the unique flavor and the long tie it took to finish it and that, one day out of the blue, it disappeared from the stores in the city. Convinced that it was something destined to be only in that corner of the mind devoted to long lasting memories, a friend of his told him about an old man that, far away from the growing city, between alleyways of a distant community, still was making this particular candy and that, neither his sons or grandsons, ever learned how to make. Torres gets very emotional remembering what it was talking to him, tasting this marbles again and, above all, listening as the old man shared the recipe, not because the business implications, but a true conviction of keeping this candy alive, the same that today is made between these walls and, of course Gerardo’s favorite.
And this is what everything looks like in Morelia: made for remembering the origin of what we are and what makes us a country plethoric with history and anecdotes that, as time passes, turn into legends. With a bag of candies and a bottle of Rompope, I took the street again and start walking back to downtown. Again, this feeling that the old mansions and streets want to tell me something, overwhelms me as I walk slowly the five blocks I’m from my destination. Arriving at main plaza in front of the Cathedral, something got my attention and the first message was clear. I left the bag with the candies and the bottle of Rompope down in the floor and walk to a street vendor that, in exchange of a few pesos, gave me back a piece of childhood and a giant smile. What did I bought? Soap bubbles. Yes… that little jar with a mix of water and soap that comes in a variety of colors which, after blowing through a little bent wired – always wrapped in thread matching the color of the soap mix – creates soap bubbles that float through the air until popping. There I was, a grown up woman, playing and attempting to create either as many bubbles as possible or the biggest ones, as kids from all ages run by my side to get into the streams of the fountain in front of the Cathedral, in what looks like a sort of everyday gaming ritual and something that everyone around applaud, enjoy and share at any time. Amongst the laughter, I was able to understand the first message that Morelia was holding for me and what makes this city one of the most magical places I’ve been in my travels through Mexico. Morelia was asking me for childhood memories and timeless smiles.
Back in my hotel, there was more to expect today. I’m convinced that every path in our life cross in the right moment with others, and the roads we choose to travel always have an upcoming and surprising result waiting for us. Once again, I was about to prove it. The terrace at Los Juaninos Hotel was the meeting place for a chat with Erick Legaria, a man that has fought to rescue, support and defend the rightful place of the Purepechan communities in the day by day life of the state. Behind his gray greened eyes, Erick hides his look full of stories that took him to get inside the communities for creating cultural programs and rescue projects for traditions that, also, can make this communities self sustainable. It is unavoidable being caught in the way he communicates his thoughts, what he does and how he believes in the importance of respecting the long lasting processes as he is trying to close the gap between the indigenous communities of Michoacán to reclaim a rightfully owned place. As we talk, Madero avenue stretches beyond our sight and, aware that I’m hypnotized by this image, Erick points just in that direction to tell me that it is there where the town of Santa Fe de la Laguna is located, a place we will be traveling to the next day and in which he is performing an amazing task with a project called Athesiru, a word that, in Purepechan language means “Place of Chirimoyas”; and where we will meet Berenice, a regional cook that, according to Erick, will touch my heart. As afternoon disappears and night takes its place, with the lights of Morelia highlighting the pink of its quarry stone, Erick and I hit the road for San Miguelito, a referent in the scenery of morel cuisine and, surely, a must in this or any other visit to this town.
Managed by Cynthia Canelo, San Miguelito is a real delight from the moment we walk through the door. In its walls, Cynthia has captured the true spirit of a city that, even today, struggles between its Mexican roots and the Hispanic influence. In her own words, “It is the details of what we loved the ones that we must take most care of”. Between a decoration that takes us from the traditional Catrinas (a representation of death created by José Guadalupe Posadas) and the carefully crafted shawls – crafted, of course, by a regional artist – to the viceregal Mexico, our table at the far end of what is called the “Old Maid Corner”, of which I’ll tell you all about in other time, the dinner time passed better than I have imagined. It was an evening between long time friends – even when, most of us, have just met – talking about stories of Morelia, the restaurant, the people and traditions and, most of all, what Michoacan has to offer for the arriving traveler. Places and intermittent moments of which I’ve never heard before, told by those who have made Morelia his beating heart, enlighten the minutes between dishes, charanda and regional mescal until the parting moment arrived. After everlasting goodbyes, lengthen in a last attempt to squeeze the most of the moment, I took the road back to my hotel.
Closing this day, the message from Morelia was totally revealed at last as I closed my eyes to recall every detail. The magnificent mansions, the scent of authentic gastronomy, the laughter of people, the never lost childhood, but expectant and watchful for those moments in which can be free again, the slow and free walking on the sidewalks and, mostly, the warmth of the people and the stories and traditions told in every corner, was calling for me to remember my origins and my days as a child in a city very much like this one, in which its streets saw me grow older between memories and family as I trace my path that through which, years later, I returned thanks to the magic of a city capable of remind us that, to reach happiness, all we have to do is look back in our past, grab those moments and, no matter where we are or how many years have passed, we will always be able to repeat them with something as simple as some soap bubbles thrown to the air between walls of pink quarry stone.