Summer Solstice Celebration for Litha

As the wheel of time turns again we found ourselves at Summer Solstice. Nearly every agricultural society has marked the high point of summer in some way. On this date, Jun 21 this year, the sun reaches its zenith in the sky.

It is the longest day of the year, and the point at which the sun seems just to hang there without moving (“solstice” is from the Latin word solstitium, which means “sun stands still”). The travels of the sun were marked and recorded by almost every civilisation.

Lots of folks joined us for an evening of celebration in Barb’s fabulous back yard. We made a communal altar celebrating Litha, the Solar goddess, created painted and collaged solar symbols to toss in the fire pit, enjoyed video projections and music celebrating fire and water, sipped beverages and nibbled tasty goodies.

Thanks to Ty who set up the sound and projection system in Barb’s back yard, I was able to screen my videos Fire Ceremony II: Metamorphosis and Fragile.

Litha celebrates abundance, fertility, virility, the beauty and bounty of Nature. Early societies celebrated Litha with Fire rituals. In the Aegean islands on the night before the Summer Solstice, hoops were set ablaze, and the villagers would guide the Sun’s return by jumping though rings of fire. Early European traditions celebrated this time of year by setting large wheels on fire and then rolling them down a hill into a body of water. Early Saxons in Britain marked Midsummer with huge bonfires that celebrated the power of the sun over darkness.

Our three-tiered altar was installed in Barb’s garden and dressed in red, topped with a ceramic head of Athena, the goddess of wisdom and craft. Each participant brought offerings to adorn the altar, including incense, candles, sheaves of grain, and other symbolic elements. Ty, Barb, and I planted red flags in the garden and swathed the altar in a Balinese sarong. Around the yard Barb added floating and stationary candles to bird baths and garden ornaments. A large orange sun pinata graced her gigantic magnolia tree. After a feast of tasty food, Randal entertained the assembled crowd with folk songs from his repertoire of guitar favourites.

As the sun grew low in the sky we painted and decorated solar offerings and later, when the sky was dark, and Venus, Jupiter, and Moon hung bright in the night time sky, we formed a procession, made wishes for the coming year, and offered them up to the Litha fire pit.

Midsummer Symbolism:

Symbols: Circles and discs are the most basic sun symbols; fire to celebrate the power of the sun, sun wheels, god eyes, mother goddess, ripening fruits, sun dials, feathers, and swords, blades. Goddesses Aphrodite, Astarte, Freya, Hathor, Ishtar, Venus and other Goddesses who preside over love, passion and beauty. Other Litha deities include Athena, Artemis, Dana, Kali, Isis, Juno, Apollo, Dagda, Gwydion, Helios, Llew, Oak Holly King, Lugh, Ra, Sol, Zeus, Prometheus, Ares, Mother Earth, Father Sun, the fey, fairy folk and Thor.

Tools: drums, rattles, bonfire, mirrors for reflecting the sun or bonfire, Earth circles of stone energy.

Colors: white, red, maize yellow or golden yellow, oranges, fiery reds and golds, green, blue and tan.

Stones: all green gemstones, especially emerald and jade. Tiger’s eye, lapis lazuli, ruby, diamonds, amethyst, malachite, golden topaz, opal, quartz crystal, azurite-malachite, lapis lazuli.

Animals: Robins, wrens, all Summer birds, horses and cattle. Mythical creatures include satyrs, faeries, firebirds, dragons, thunderbirds and manticores.

Herbs: chamomile, cinquefoil, elder, fennel, hemp, larkspur, lavender, male fern, mugwort, pine, roses, Saint John’s Wort, honesty, wild thyme, wisteria, oak, mistletoe, frankincense, lemon, sandalwood, heliotrope, copal, saffron, galangal, laurel, ylangylang, Basil, Betony, Dogwood, Oak, Rue, vervain, trefoil and verbena.

Incense: frankincense, myrrh, sandalwood, lemon, pine, jasmine, rose, lotus, or wysteria.

Foods: fresh vegetables of all kinds and fresh fruits such as lemons and oranges, pumpernickel bread as well as Summer squash and any yellow or orange colored foods. Flaming foods are also appropriate, barbecued anything, (barbecues represent the bonfires….) but especially chicken or pork. Midsummer is also the time for making mead, since honey is now plentiful. Traditional drinks are ale, mead, sweet wines, fresh fruit juice of any kind and herb teas.

Element: fire

See more photos here.

Tasting Roll

Saturday Night Tasting Roll – who knew that this was a thing in Vancouver? Not moi. But when the five of us decided to ride our bikes around town to check out the micro-breweries popping up all over the place, we were part of a growing trend. Each place we stopped at had cyclists galore chugging down tasters, flights, pints, glasses of brew. However, we were the only group with awesome tunes blasting out as we were riding, courtesy of Ty and his jambone jambox speaker (the red box in Ty’s bike basket below).

First stop on the route along the Adanac Bikeway was Off the Rail, a tiny second floor place with a few tables and a separate lounge (not yet licenced).

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The barkeep lined up a flight of ten shot glasses, samples of each of their products on tap that day, arranged in order of strength, from the lightest pilsner to darker, hoppier blends.

Ty approved!

As you can see, our group had no difficulty polishing off the small glasses.

At Parallel 49 the Caribbean food track was parked out from, great news for some of our group who sampled the goodies on hand.

Unfortunately, there was no room at this particular inn; the place was at capacity so we decided to roll onwards, down towards the docks.

Next up, not on our original list because I did not know about it, was the Odd Society, Makers of Fine Spirits, on Powell Street, which we spotted as we were about to ride by. We rolled in to their tasting room and sampled a jug of one of their specialty gin drinks, as well as a vodka martini.

After consuming lavender flavoured gin, we headed along Powell, past the BC Sugar Refinery, and down along the lower road to the Vancouver Urban Winery in the Settlement Building just off Main Street.

This place was also full, but had stand-up room at the bar, where we proceeded to install ourselves, sampling some very tasty appetisers, and a few pints of their brewed-on-site beer.

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Nearby a group of women were checking out the wine flights.

Just outside the front door, collapsed on the Winery’s sign, was an inebriated young man, one of the people riding bikes that we’d seen at an earlier stop, suffering from a combination of heat, exhaustion, and too many flights, no doubt.

Next up was going to be Salt in Blood Alley, but they had no bike parking so we hit Bitter on Hastings instead.

This place is right next door to a fenced-in parking lot and had plenty of parking for the steeds, which we were allowed to bring in through the room. We sampled a few goodies under the watchful idea of Rodney Graham on the wall behind.

Good times! See a few more photos here.

Passenger Pigeons at the Beaty Biodiversity Museum, UBC

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Currently, I am working on a new project involving species loss. For part of it, I wanted to photograph a Passenger Pigeon, the one hundredth anniversary of whose extinction was mourned in 2014. I discovered that the Beaty Biodiversity Museum had two of the beasts in their collection and the curator of birds, Ildiko Szabo, kindly allowed me to come and photograph them, as well as some of the other related species and creatures in the “bone room” and lab. Interestingly, I learned that scientists in the US are right now working on bringing the passenger pigeon back to life by “de-extinctioning” it. I’m not sure if I have that terminology right, but apparently they will be taking the DNA of the pigeon and by some magical process creating pigeon sperm and eggs and implanting these into chickens. The eggs thereby produced will not be chicken eggs, but Passenger Pigeon eggs. Fascinating but not without ethical issues … I am not sure how far along in this reclamation process those individuals are.

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The Passenger Pigeon is the brown-breasted bird in the bottom left corner of the image above.

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The second Passenger Pigeon is contained in a glass case within the Victorian Curiosity Cabinet display in the Museum itself, along with many other tetrapod specimens. “Wunderkammern, or cabinets of curiosities, arose in mid-sixteenth-century Europe as repositories for all manner of wondrous and exotic objects. In essence these collections—combining specimens, diagrams, and illustrations from many disciplines; marking the intersection of science and superstition; and drawing on natural, manmade, and artificial worlds—can be seen as the precursors to museums” (MOMA).

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Ildiko removed a tray of pigeons from their enclosure in one of the Museum’s cabinets, which she carried out to the hall underneath the gigantic whale so I could photograph them in better light. These were the Passenger Pigeon’s closest living relatives, brownish banded pigeons from the Transval in Africa and the larger wild pigeons we see everywhere around us today; I also photographed their bones and eggs. In addition, I photographed two specimens which looked plucked and semi-skeletal, preserved such that they demonstrate the way the birds’ feathers grow.

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While in the bone room I took many photographs of the Passenger Pigeon from many angles, as well as closeups of its head. I was also able to access the drawers of similar bird species, including a very large white Rock Pigeon. I find it fascinating to compare the sizes and colours of these related birds, some of which are very small and others quite large, the latter used by poultry aficionados for pigeon pie.

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In the bone room was also several other specimens of tetrapods (four legged species), including a Canadian Bison with a tiny squirrel beneath its stomach,

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some large-horned goat-like creatures (they were not labelled), and a fantastic group of colourful birds, including several beautiful pheasants from the collection of Plato Mamo.

I was invited to take a look at the lab, a “wet room” where specimens are prepared in various ways. I saw a number of aquaria containing recently-obtained bones and skulls, upon which beetles are crawling and feasting. These bugs do the work of cleaning the bones very efficiently (although Ildiko did mention that they initially turned their collective noses up at a crocodile head).

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Many thanks to Ildiko Szabo and the Museum for allowing me access!

See more information about the Beaty Biodiversity Museum.

Read about my earlier visit to the Museum here.

 

 

Painters at Painter’s, Campbell River

Every year art aficionados gather at Painters Lodge in Campbell River on Vancouver Island to rub shoulders with local artists. This year, the 21st year of the Painters at Painter’s art extravaganza, saw yours truly and seven of the Turkish Ten converge on Campbell River for this event.

The Lodge is very nice, situated on several waterfront acres facing Quadra Island, with gorgeous gardens (and flowers blooming several weeks ahead of schedule – global climate change, anyone?) and several buildings worth of rooms. Another nice feature is the pool, a real sun trap on what turned out to be a fabulous hot summery weekend.

Lidia was kind enough to invite us over for drinks and nibblies to her waterfront room on Friday night and we convened at Kathy’s home on the hill overlooking the ocean on Saturday night. While the art work on display at Painter’s was mostly not of interest to me, I did appreciate the skill evidenced and some of the technical info dispensed at the various workshops.

The weekend consisted of presentations, demonstrations, and panel discussions by painters, mostly local and mostly associated with the Federation of Canadian Artists, held in several different venues around the grounds. First up, in the big tent on the tennis courts, was “Face to Face”.

Four artists demonstrated their varying approaches to portrait painting, with fellow artist Rick McDiarmid the willing model and Andy Wooldridge the MC. Kiff Holland opted for pastel, while David Goatley & Catherine Moffat used oil paints and Alan Wylie acrylic. The tent was very well set up, with two large screens on either side of the stage displaying close-ups of the paintings as they progressed.

It was very interesting to see how each artist began the project. It was obvious watching David that here was a man who does this for a living. He very quickly drew out and blocked in the bust of his subject, using swift and sure brush strokes.

Catherine was more tentative and worked from the outside of the face in with light, grey strokes.

Kiff’s pastel portrait began with what looked to be a not very promising sketch of the model’s features but soon resolved into something finely realised. From my vantage point it was not possible to see much of what Alan was doing.

Master of ceremonies Andy Wooldridge was both amusing and informative as he commented on the proceedings and answered questions from the audience. In fact, the commentary seemed to me like that heard while watching a snooker championship or a poker game.

That this event continues to get such a large audience every year is testament to the abilities of these folks to engage onlookers in their process.

Up next was Country Mouse, City Mouse, an account of the careers and studios of Nanaimo artists Grant Leier and Nixie Barton, whose work I do enjoy.

Nixie works in encaustic, executing semi-abstract images of flowers and patterns. Grant’s work is unabashedly decorative, highly detailed and colourful; his intent is to give pleasure and that obviously works for the many people who buy his paintings.

Ten of us convened for the famous brunch in the main building and consumed quantities of seafood, roast lamb, salad, roasted veggies, and a vast array of sweets – fabulous.

The afternoon saw several of us poolside, baking in the heat and dipping in the water, after checking out a few minutes of Keith Hiscock’s still life demo and before a panel discussion with six of the artists moderated by Nicholas Pearce.

Since I have heard, and participated in, these sorts of discussions about art more times than I can count, their conclusions didn’t particularly grip me. However, the rest of the audience seemed to appreciate what these artists had to say and gave them a warm round of applause. It must be very satisfying for these folks to have such an enthusiastic following of art lovers.

On Sunday morning three of us took the water taxi across to the April Point resort and had a stroll around the grounds, with a nice view of the islands and mountains of the coast, before another fabulous feast, after which we rolled back down the highway and onto the ferry.

In the waters around April Point orange sea urchins are very plentiful, but very few starfish, only a couple of ten-armed orange seastars clinging to the rocks.

See more photos here  Painters at Painter’s.

Walking, rolling and owling in Stanley Park

“APRIL is the cruelest month, breeding
Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing

Memory and desire, stirring
Dull roots with spring rain …”

Invoking the memory of TS Eliot, our April was a mix of torrential rain and glorious sunny blue-skyed cotton-cloudy days, all the better to stroll with Brubin along the seawall,

or skate with Barb and Christine.

Ty and I spent a sunny Saturday riding our bikes through the Flats Arts District, so-called, on the former Finning Tractors industrial lands between Great Northern Way and Terminal. The Capture Photography Festival is still on for the next weeks and we caught the last day of Colin Smith’s show at the Winsor,

I loved these camera obscura works in which the artist made the interior of his Boler trailer into a gigantic pinhole camera, recording  the external landscape projected upside down onto the walls of the trailer and rightside up through the windows. I also enjoyed the infrared images in the west gallery of Los Angeles’ canals (example below) by Jason Gowans.

and the photo shows at Monte Clark and the Equinox.

Our first Friday night roll of the season was a windy evening around the seawall, enjoying the bright yellow sulfur piles against the deep blue of the North Shore mountains.

This week is Bird Week in Vancouver and we took in the Night Owl Prowl sponsored by the Stanley Park Ecological Society.

After waiting for a bit at the Lost Lagoon Nature house, and intuiting that the event would not be taking place there, given the dearth of people, we hoofed it up past the Rose Garden to Pipeline Road, lost in space with a number of others who were looking for the owl venue.

We finally found it twenty minutes late upstairs at the Stanley Park Pavilion, where we joined about 70 others for an illustrated talk on the owls of the Park and a night walk down to Beaver Lake to try and locate some of the birds.

The bird specialist described the technique for the scientific study of owls currently being conducted: first one transcribes the weather, using a scale of 1 to 5, then the noise level, using the same scale. Then, one fires up the owl recordings and blasts the sound of virtual owls out into the forest, hoping to get an answering call and/or a visit from said bird.

On alternate evenings one calls in only the big birds, then only the small ones, since the small owls are prey for the big ones and one would not want to see a pygmy owl devoured by a barred owl.

This evening all 70 of us stood quietly in the dark and listened as the recorded call of a barred owl was wafted over the forest three times – no reply and no sign of any barred owls. Then we walked to a different part of the forest for one last kick at the owl-calling can. We waited while a birder held the recorder aloft and projected the call of a screech owl into the trees – amazingly, we received a call back.

A screech owl is alive and presumably well in Stanley Park! The bird experts were ecstatic because this was the first time since 2011 that a screech owl had been heard in these parts and only the third time in 20 years. Yippee!

See more photos here.

April in Vancouver

If it’s April in Vancouver, there must be blossoms, lots and lots of them. Our trees are blooming and the cherries are especially lovely.

Barb and I joined hundreds of other cyclists for the Vancouver Cherry Blossom/Velopalooza Bike the Blossoms ride through the flower-decked streets of East Vancouver.

Brubin the dog is enjoying spring, too; after getting over being plagued with a horrible skin rash, he has new life and energy.

The birthday boys Colin and Ty enjoying their moment in the sun at the Sandbar restaurant.

Turkey Art Adventure Sept 27 to Oct 10, 2015

I am really excited to have been asked to lead a small group tour to Turkey this Fall with Finisterra Travel. See the itinerary here.

See my blog posts here for my 2014 painting trip to Turkey here.

Read about my month as artist in residence at the Babayan Art House, Ibrahimpasa, Turkey in March 2009 on the blog here.

Read about my month as artist in residence at the Gumusluk Academy on the Bodrum peninsula in Turkey for May 2009 here.

Some of my favourite things …

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A few of my favourite Puerto Vallarta sights: colourful balloons on street food stands, this one on Insurgentes at Basillio Badillo,

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the bougainvillea bushes on Olas Altas and Basillio Badillo, day and night,

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the gorgeous, gigantic trees in Lazaro Cardenas Park,

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skulls and skeletons,

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street art,

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Art VallArta, the fantastic art studio run by the fabulous Nathalie Herling in which I created these two masks, with the great help of Mexican maestro Froylan Hernandez, worn below by Patricia Gawle and Nathalie. In the foreground you can see some of the works made by Patricia, a ceramic artist who has a studio and gallery in the old town on Basillio Badillo.

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I hope to add more colour to El Diablo at home, perhaps a brilliant red and some shiny green for the teeth.

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Amazingly, these pieces made it home intact. Ty did a wonderful job of packing them in styrofoam and several layers of bubble wrap. Below are pictures of the vessels that Froylan created.

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The red tagine is not completed yet; Froylan is going to add highlights in darker colours with probably a couple more layers of glaze.

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Puerto Vallarta finito

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I am seated on the balcony of suite #13 at the Estancia San Carlos, a small 24 room apartment hotel 2 blocks from Los Muertos beach on Constitucion. We decided to move to a place with a pool for our last five days, just to see whether we really needed it. It’s nice to have the pool, and the courtyard is very pleasant, with two gigantic palm trees, lots of other vegetation, and the two levels of rooms arranged around it. Our place is huge, on the SW top corner, with two balconies, one facing the courtyard and the other the street, a busy one on which the buses run day and night. It has two bedrooms, a bathroom and a large kitchen and seating area. It would be fabulous except that the furniture is so uncomfortable that after sitting on it for half an hour, we can’t feel our butts any longer. But I love its light and airy space.

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My two masks have been completed and are cooling down in the kiln as I write. As you can see from these pictures, I was very excited to see them emerge from the bisque firing under the watchful eyes of Nathalie and Froylan. I spent several hours yesterday glazing both of them and am very curious to see how they will turn out. This morning Ty and I spent a bit of time wandering the streets of old town looking for bubble wrap to pack them in for the trip home tomorrow.

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This town is really beautiful and the weather has mostly been fantastic; we have had a tiny bit of rain and a couple of cloudy days but other than that, El Sol shone.

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We spent a bit of time on Playa Camarones at Mango Beach Bar, a restful change from Playa Los Muertos in our neck of the woods. The beach here is wide and long and not nearly as heavily populated as in the old town. I like to watch all the characters on the beach and in the water; these folks, all seven of them, had piled onto a banana boat and, about a minute into the ride, were dumped off into the water and had to wait to be retrieved since apparently none of them could swim well enough, even with life jackets, to make it to the beach.

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Ah, los colores de Mexico! I’m not ready to leave yet but manyana the plane will whisk us away. Adios!

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San Sebastian del Oeste, Jalisco, Mexico

Originally settled in 1605, San Sebastian del Oeste is a secluded 17th century mining town which reached its peak of prosperity in the 1700s, when over 30,000 people inhabited the area. Over the years, the town’s population fluctuated wildly as gold and silver were mined intermittently between the 1600’s and the 1930’s; it now has around 600 permanent residents. Located at the foot of the Western Sierra Madre in West Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste, designated one of Mexico’s Magical Towns, is an hour and a half drive into the hills along winding country roads from Puerto Vallarta. The town is located in a pine forest and the air is crisp and clear.

By 1785 there were 10 gold and silver reduction haciendas and almost 30 mines in the area; the town became a city in 1812 and reached its peak in 1830. The mines stopped working during the 1910 revolution and the foreign companies moved elsewhere. The last mine stopped working in 1921. (http://www.puertovallarta.net/what_to_do/san-sebastian-del-oeste-mexico.php)

“The mines were, in part, responsible for the start of Puerto Vallarta. Then know as Las Peñas and consisting of just a few huts at the mouth of the Rio Cuale, it was used to supply the mines with salt which was taken by mules up to San Sebastian and other mines in the High Sierras and used in the smelting process. The silver and gold from the mines was sent, again by mule train, through Guadalajara and Mexico City to Veracruz, where it was sent, once a year, to Spain” (from PV Insider website).

Our driver picked us up from our casa at 10 am for our trip up to San Sebastian, and, after passing many mountain bikers panting slowly up the hills,

we stopped for breakfast at a local family restaurant in tiny Estancia to sample home-made quesadillas cooked on a fire in front of us.

Our next stop, just outside the town, was the Hacienda Jalisco, “built 225 years ago by the Spanish to hold and guard the returns of the myriads of mines of San Sebastian, in preparation for shipments to Spain”, as their website explains.

Now a guesthouse, the hacienda has a small museum of artifacts from its mining days on the first floor, as well as old photos of Elizabeth Taylor and John Huston, the luminaries whose presence here in the 1960s really kicked off Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area as a tourist haven.

We strolled around the premises, snuck a look at one of the guest bedrooms, a high-ceilinged room with wooden ceilings and a big stone fireplace, and saw the aquaduct system and the remains of smelting chimneys still standing on the edge of the property.

Avocado trees, bougainvillea, and coffee are all grown here. There is no electricity, evenings are lit by oil lamps and candles, and there’s no telephone, life as it was in the Colonial era.

From the hacienda we made our way into the small town, currently in the process of being modernised, much to the chagrin of the older inhabitants, who are not interested in change.

Innovations such as a new entrance gate, newly paved sidewalks, new brick walls, and an entirely renovated town square, are evidence of the money the Mexican government is putting into its Pueblos Magicos program, designed to encourage and capitalise on tourism.

We had a look at the Hotel del Puente, purchased some churros pastry at a local bakery, then drove up to a local raicilla distillery.

Raicilla, home-grown moonshine, sort of a cross between scotch and tequila, is made from the agave plant, which distillers harvest from the surrounding hills and then process in what is essentially a small home alcohol still, consisting of clay ovens, big blue plastic barrels, copper pipes, and hoses.

Nothing was being cooked this day but I could smell the remnants of previous batches in the air. Home distilleries such as these have to be careful to pour off the first litre of distilled alcohol, since it is pure ethanol and will blind the drinker. Provided that the distiller only makes a certain small amount, this home production is legal.

Back in town, we sampled a draught of raicilla at the only cantina in town, located at one corner of the town square and full of local guys quaffing shrimp micheladas who had ridden in on bicycles and motorcycles.

From there we checked out the town church, the Town Hall with its still-functioning jail and graffiti-scratched walls, a jewelry shop with work by local artisans, and then had some delicious fajitas at a Mexican restaurant around the corner.

Full of fajitas, we then drove to the Quinta Mary coffee plantation, another former hacienda restored to a shadow of its former glory,

with two beautiful African blue parrots in a gigantic metal cage snacking on sunflower seeds,

and finally to the local cemetery, where colourful graves and a gigantic bougainvillea bush rest quietly on a hillside to the accompaniment of cattle lowing in the shade.

The experience of being in this town was a strange one. In a way it felt more like Switzerland than Mexico, with the cool temperatures, the mountains and the white of the buildings against the green hills.

For a town of 600 permanent residents, it has an quite a few restaurants and hotels, testaments to the increasing number of tourists who make their way here on day trips and overnighters. Like that strange Greek island I went to off the coast of Turkey, Castellorizo, this place, too, feels like a stage set, on which people are wandering about waiting for something to happen, something that is just around the corner but that actually never seems to arrive.

See more photos here.