The drive from Mexico City to Puebla takes about an hour and a half, in decent traffic. I was on my way to visit the International Museum of the Baroque and the opening of Clay Between Two Seas from Baghdad to Puebla, the third stop on a tour that included the Franz Mayer Museum (Mexico City) and the Crow Collection of Asian Art (Dallas, Texas).
I’d noticed the dust a breakfast: a thin layer of dust covered the table where I ate. I’m sure it settled just a few moments before I sat down. On the drive, up and over the mountains between Mexico City and Puebla we met this dust again. The country side looks unseasonable dry, I think, it should be glossy and green. Spring. The grasses and trees stood thirsty and parched.
We motor along, and I puzzle at the curiosities along the way: the “well stations” every few miles: at one I see a woman washing her hair; the immensity of village after village, little black water tanks on the top of each home: can that possibly be enough water for a family? I ponder; the absence of mountain retreats or trail heads.
Just inside of the toll booth as we near Puebla amid the thousands of homes, dry and dusty, a tall skyscraper stands mid-construction: an anomaly and a contrast to the tired landscape around it. This tower is in the middle of nowhere. The contrasts of Puebla begin to give themselves away.
Before we reach the brand-new Hilton Garden Hotel just across from the International Museum of the Baroque I see at least six new towers in Puebla City (the new section of a very old town dating to 1520) that have popped up like beanstalks since my visit one year ago. The architecture, perhaps inspired by the verve of Pritzker Prize winner Toyo Ito’s masterpiece at the Museum of the Baroque is whimsical and nervy: the lines of the building bulging out on unexpected floors.
The familiar is nearby, though: off in the distance through a curtain of dust I can barely see El Popo the guardian volcano of these sacred lands. I see the silhouette of the church at the top of the pyramid in Cholula. I see the markings of the old downtown, and debate the conveniences of a new American hotel versus the charm of the colonial city.
Just before the opening Emilia and I meet our driver in the porte cochere of the hotel to cross the ten-lane highway to the undulating museum just on the other side. As I situated dress and coat and closed the door, I look up and see an old Mexican farmer walking across the valet lane, pulling a Shetland pony. They hustled against a backdrop of traffic and the hike/bike lanes (Puebla innovation) weaving in and around the highway. I watched the shimmer of the horse’s yellow mane and tale and wondered out loud “where could they possibly be going?”. The city changes but some old horses still have to get home.
A few minutes later we arrived to a reception of dozens of media: reporters and photographers, TV and cameramen. Unexpectedly I was ushered to stand with the giants of this project: the Mayor, the Governor’s wife, the Ministers of Education, Culture and Tourism, a few other luminaries and my dear friends the Museum Director and the Exhibition Curator. While I feigned attention through several speeches in Spanish (must learn Spanish immediately) I nervously wrote a speech in my head just in case I should be called to the podium to speak. Curiosity, Compassion and Companions…Curiosity, Compassion…Companions. My mnemonic device only made trying to remember the order and intention harder. I took some deep, mindful breaths, re-positioned my hands and listened fervently for my name in Spanish. It did not come.
Next, I found myself standing at a white ribbon, with scissors in my hand cutting open the entrance to the exhibition. I love Mexican ceremony. We then followed the curator and at the case with the loan objects from the Crow Collection I had my day in the sun: the curator and the Minister of Culture asked me to share our role in the project. Flash bulbs popping, cameras going, the buzz of reporters wanting one more photograph of these leaders –fortunately my spontaneous speech writing paid off, and the Crow Collection objects lit a little light for these museum goers in Puebla.
Hours later after the festivities came to a close and I encountered a meaningful lesson from my friend and the Ambassador (also the new Director of the Baroque: Ambassador Jorge Alberto Lozoya), I looked out at the night lights of Puebla from the fourteenth floor of the hotel. I looked at my dress and heels, vintage clutch and necklace sitting on the desk in the crisp room—fragrant with the scent of recent and fast construction.
I thought about the Shetland pony and wondered which light in this long dark landscape of glowing lights must mark his little stable—his home at least for a little while.