8 months ago

CEN AUS Q1 2018


T H E P L E A S U R E S O F P U E B L A Mexico’s beating heart of traditional culture and cuisine has been a well-kept secret. Now, with several important openings, the city is ready to meet the world. BY JEFF CHU PHOTOGRAPHY BY LINDSAY LAUCKNER GUNDLOCK

Right: an entryway adorned in the city’s celebrated tilework. Opposite: one of Puebla’s latest cultural additions, the International Museum of the Baroque W alking down Avenida 4 Poniente on the western edge of central Puebla, you could easily miss the Uriarte Talavera pottery workshop. At eye level, the old building seems uninviting and dull, with heavy wroughtiron bars on the windows and worn stone that’s as grey as the sidewalk. But look up and you’ll see a façade that shouts about the beauty being created within: ornate tilework in cobalt, yellow and white. Through the arched doorway sits a bustling workshop, now nearly 200 years old, that continues a pottery tradition called Talavera, rooted in colonial-era Spain but adapted to Mexico’s soils. Inside, artisans roll out clay and press it, tortilla-like, before throwing it on pottery wheels or moulding it into tiles. Others stencil patterns using vegetable carbon. Still others hunch over tiles, bowls and plates, painting intricate designs with mule-hair brushes. One of only a handful of products protected by the Mexican government with an official appellation of origin, Talavera is made exclusively from the volcanic clays of the states of Puebla and neighbouring Tlaxcala. That such painstaking artistry remains largely overlooked by outsiders is good news for those wanting to experience a part of Mexico cherished by Mexicans yet untrampled by mass tourism. It also tells a bigger story: the country might be one of the world’s most popular destinations right now, but Puebla is a jewel hidden in plain sight, not least because of its extraordinary cultural wealth. Located just a two-hour drive from Mexico City, Puebla de los Angeles – literally, “habitation of the angels” – has long been favoured by the country’s elite, partly due to its reputation in other parts of Mexico as a haven from violence. Its 1.4 million inhabitants, known as Poblanos, have preserved significant swaths of what is now a nearly 500-year-old city centre and a unesco World Heritage site. Stories abound here; many might not realise that Puebla is where Mexican soldiers defeated French invaders on 5 May 1862, an event you probably know as Cinco de Mayo. For me, the Puebla experience crystallised on a Sunday afternoon under a blue sky at the Iglesia de Santo Domingo, where Mass had just ended. Outside, the church is stolid but unspectacular. Inside, when I turned left at the front of the main sanctuary and entered a small Baroque chapel known as the Capilla del Rosario, suddenly everything shined. The chapel’s ornate walls and ceiling, blanketed in 23kt gold leaf, seemed to make the numerous statues of the Virgin and the heads of chubby angels glow. No one could be anything but dazzled, even stunned, especially with sunlight pouring through windows in the chapel’s majestic dome. Puebla is a city of domes – big, small, brick, tile-covered. Most belong to churches, some of which have doubled as innovation labs. According to a folktale retold by Diana Kennedy (often referred to as the Julia Child of Mexico), CENTURION-MAGAZINE.COM 59