The historical center of Queretaro, Queretaro Mexico is stunning, in a quietly epic sense. Officially a Unesco world heritage site since like 1996, the city itself has just over one million people.It is also considered the Safest city in Mexico, and as i found out this past weekend, it turns out to be a place where Mexicans flock to when on vacation.
The historic district is one of the few in Mexico where you can find the Spanish city grid alongside paths that used to be Indian quarters. And it also has a rich creole heritage,which i only found out recently and that explains the New Orleans vibe felt as you wander through the streets and alleyways.
But make no mistake.
THIS is not an New Orleans.To take it to a camp level, there is a sheepish desire to climb atop the roof, spin around as the cityscape literally ambles out and rises to meet you in all directions in shades of yellow ochre, terracotta, and eruptions of lilac and violent aquatic blue and yell, as though it were Sparta” THIS-is-QUERETARO!!!!!!” lol-happily destroying the pronouciation of the word umpteen times until my tongue gets it right again (it usually takes a cup of mindblowingly good Mexican coffee before i even bother trying to say it like they do lol).
Imagine if Granada and Paris had a violently-hued lovechild that they shipped off to be raised by baroque nuns in the mountains of Mexico. You have the heavy doors of the French Quarter homes in New Orleans, but behind them courtyards coated with original Allahmbra-like tilework, vibrant ancient frescoes of Aztec gods, and the sounds of birds that may or may not be caged. Under pristine cerulean blue skies that start out two steps shy of frigid in the morning and then warm to such a dry heat in the afternoon that,even with pleasant winds from every direction, you still must strip off layers.
But once again, this is not a throwback. This is a city of 1 million people. you walk down the alleyways, invited behind heavy bolted doors due to them never having seen one that looks like you, ambling into casas being revitalized by local old-school artisans one minute, and stumble onto cellular repair shops housed in similar grand spaces two doors down, flooded with flourescent light and flickering screens. There is this seamlessness between old and new, big and small that makes it, especially for a born-and bred city-gypsychola who couldn’t write in South Beach, the perfect balance. A balance that is elucidated in the lives of the artists i have run into at every turn here, doing new and now things inside walls constructed a time long ago.
Perfect example: the shop HEY DUDE, located in the heart of Queretaro’s historic district.
But HEY DUDE is more than a store. It is an independent Artist Collective whose philosphy is simple:
Arte Indepediente, una tienda de los amigos por jovenes de jovenes.
Which i THINK roughly translated to : a store filled with stuff produced by art friends, for their own generation by their own generation when we fleshed it out a bit lol. Yep.That’s right…i stumbled through interviewing them completely in Spanish lol. Was a happy hot mess lol. It’s a bit mindblowing what gets communicated when guards are down. I understood and was understood because the things we were talking about are universal when it comes to artists anywhere still deciding to go their own way.
Owned by Fernanda (Queretaro) and Christian,(here ten years and codenamed Sweet in connection with his side gig as head of Sweet Illustration), the two have been together as a couple for 7 years, and came up with the concept of a store to sell t-shirts and caps designed and silkscreened by them and their friends to others like them in the city, as well as handpainted sneakers and actually a really cool line of original dark and twisted jewelry.
These guys are making cameo pendant-style necklaces, rife with pearls and ribbons strung up in the chains…but the cameos are etched skulls,lithograph-style! They’re making actual earrings out of M&Ms, and the equivalent of nameplate-style necklaces and chains, but instead of screaming out “Carrie”, you get painstakingly shaped woodcut Fender guitar handles, as if the only thing you need to know about the person sporting it is “the music, man~lol!”.
All the murals in the store are done by different artists in the collective, and when i first stumbled across the spot, some were putting finishing touches on a few of them. But it was when i haphazardly veered into trying to find out what it was like for them here as young artists in this old city that an already cool conversation got really deep. Here is this handsome, happy guy and his girlfriend basically going:
“The older people here look at us and act…like i’m ugly because of what i have on and these[beautiful tatoos scattered respectably across his arms and chest], but this is me, and they may not like it, but my friends, they see what i have on, they get that it’s cool, beautiful. Those are who we are here for. That’s what this place is about. We do this for us. These t-shirts are all by different friends-it’s by us, for us. Here.”
It was just cool to see that anywhere the Art of figuring out how You are going to approach life as an artist is alive and well, and no matter the borders and boundary lines between countries, truly creative spirit is still spirit. They are not erasing the old, they are living out their dreams atop it, filling a need amongst their own kindred spirits right now in this beautiful, almost ancient feeling place.
And it works. There’s a sense of maybe it is not “liked” by the establishment, but there is respect for the entrepeneurial aspect of it. Queretaro is like what Williamsburg was before the hipsters happily devoured it and asked for more without knowing what they’d first eaten lol. Hidden in its alleys and old indian pathways i’m bumping into energies that once made Avenue A or B feel like the only places that could make sense of me on a bad day a long time ago, a spirit I thought had died out as the big city shifted.
But after almost a week here, i’m coming to realize…
Maybe she just migrated lol.
Anyway…When you DO come to Mexico, check out Queretaro. It is Not going to be on any of those Hot 100 lists because what it is transcends all that for the ancient, the new and simply, the true. And when you finally do head here, make sure you stop by HEY DUDE. You will be glad you did.
They don’t have a webpage, but are on facebook : http://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/HEY-DUDE/301926426529342