Saturday, September 18, 2010

Visit to José Cuervo distillery in Tequila

Today was our 40th anniversary, and we hadn´t planned anything special. We took a drive up to Tequila, a town where they´ve been making the José Cuervo beverage of that name for more than 250 years. The brand is older than the country. Older than the U.S. too, for that matter.

We´ve driven past the town of Tequila half a dozen times on our way elsewhere. It´s a Unesco World Heritage site and one of Mexico´s officially designated Magical Towns (Pueblos Mágicos).

It´s only about 35 miles from our apartment in Guadalajara so we thought it was time we stopped and visited. It lies in the heart of the blue agave region, which is used to produce tequila.

Blue agave fields are visible all around the state of Jalisco.

So we ended up going to the tequila museum and touring the José Cuervo distillery, where we had a couple of shots and some margaritas as part of the tour ($8 per person), and then had a nice dinner.

The piñas remain after the spiky leaves are removed from the blue agave plant.

They make tequila from the heart of the blue agave plant, which is a mass of starch that weighs about 75 pounds. This starchy bulb, called a piña, is cooked for a day and a half, which converts the starch to sugar. It is then crushed and pressed. The liquid is the base used for fermenting and then distilling into the liquor.

Mostly these kinds of tours don´t grab me, but I was struck by the figure tossed out by the guide: that particular distillery turns out 72,000 liters of tequila a day.

Two happy couples in the Museum of Tequila.

Of course, the tour bus for the town of Tequila has a distinctive styling. The shirt is for the Black Lions fútbol team of the University of Guadalajara.

All the towns in the state of Jalisco can use the name "tequila" on their distilled products of blue agave, as long as they meet certain standards. The designation of tequila is a "denominación de origen controlada" restricted to certain parts of Mexico, much like champagne and burgundy can only be used on products from those regions.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mexico´s crisis looms over bicentennial

I´ve just finished reading Mariano Azuela´s gritty novel about the 1910 Mexican revolution, "Los de Abajo".

He uses a stark realism to depict one of the bands of anti-government forces who fought the federales.

The peasants who rise up against the landed gentry and hacienda owners lose their ideals along the way. Hardened by the war, they see the lofty goals of land reform and democracy as dreams of fools. The people´s army degenerates at times into a pitiless gang of thieves and murderers.

It´s a dark tale about the pointlessness of war. The author, who is a native of the state of Jalisco, where we live, served as a physician in the forces of Pancho Villa, one of the revolutionaries. He knew what he was talking about.

A revolution every 100 years

That´s the saying in Mexico, where revolutions were launched in 1810 and 1910.

Mexicans are now celebrating their bicentennial, but there doesn´t appear to be another revolution on the horizon.

Enrique Krauze, a Mexican historian and newspaper columnist, wrote recently in the New York Times:

Despite a bloody mythology that venerates the great protagonists of 1810 and 1910, most of whom met brutal deaths, the common denominators of our national history have been social, ethnic and religious coexistence; the peaceful construction of cities, villages and communities; and the creation of a rich cultural mosaic. Many of us want to believe that we are living through a nightmare from which, one morning, we will simply wake up, once again at ease.

Krauze tends to be an optimist. More than a year ago, he argued passionately that Mexico was not a "failed state" about to fall apart because of the growing power of the drug lords. Obviously, he has maintained this confidence.

At the very least, Mexico´s state is being seriously challenged. Every day there are examples of increasingly audacious defiance of authority by drug lords, who execute mayors, police officials and anyone else who gets in their way.

The cry of freedom in 1810

Mural depicting Miguel Hidalgo, father of the 1810 Revolution, here in Guadalajara. The artist was Clemente Orozco.

So reflections on where Mexico is going are part of the 200th anniversary celebration of the uprising that threw off Spanish control.

The priest Miguel Hidalgo is regarded as the George Washington of Mexico. The revolution he started began in the deliberations of a book club (tertulia) in the town of Dolores, where he was assigned.

(Skip down to the heading "Involvement in Queretaro" to see how the Insurgentes, sort of the Franklin-Adams-Jefferson-Hamilton-Washington of Mexico, got started in a book club.)

Trained by the Jesuits, Hidalgo was an unconventional priest. He had relationships with several women and fathered at least five children.

Here is Krauze´s assessment of the revolution Hidalgo started:

From 1810 to 1821, the war for independence cost about 300,000 lives in a population of around 6 million. Afterward, state income, agricultural, industrial and mining production, and, above all, the availability of capital for investment did not reach their pre-1810 levels until the 1880s. And the material desolation was followed by almost five decades of insecurity on the roads, political instability and grievous civil and international wars.

It was in this church in Dolores that Hidalgo made his call for independence from Spain 200 years ago. This speech sermon is now referred to as El Grito (the shout).

Hidaldo was executed the next year, but not before the revolution was well under way.

We visited Dolores Hidalgo in March with my sister, Nancy, and her husband, Tom Lukens. In the photo below, Nancy and I are at the statue of Hidalgo.