San Miguel Fort, Campeche.
If I was asked to sum up Mexico in one word I’d say – colourful! It’s not just the absolute opulence of colour in the built environment, crafts, fabrics and food. The people themselves exude warmth and colour. The 50-km drive to the pyramids at Teotihuacan offers proof, if any is needed, of the Mexicans’ love for colour. Tumbling down every slope along the valley sides is a kaleidoscopic avalanche of dwellings: apple greens, hot pinks, purples, aquas, yellows the rich pallet defying the poverty of the actual structures, a coat-of-many-colours richness that would delight Dolly Parton.
A love of colour is another of the gifts bequeathed to modern-day Mexicans by their Mesoamerican forebears. Recent archaeological work is uncovering this poly-chromatic patrimony and its significance. Religion and ceremony were central and rituals including a shamanistic penchant for hallucinogens added a psychedelic dimension. In another happy coincidence natural sources offered rich opportunities for a heroic attitude to body art, architectural decoration, ceramics and arts and crafts. Colour was extracted from minerals including clay, a variety of plants and insects such as the cochineal bug.
Mexico City historic centre.
Old suburbs Mexico City.
Traditional decorative flags.
Oaxaca carpet shop.
Restaurant and courtyard, San Cristobal de las Casas.
Handicrafts and popular tourist items.
Renowned Mexican weaver Bulmaro Perez Mendoza let us in to some of his colour secrets when we visited his Teotitlan studio, near Oaxaca. All his dyeing is done with natural substances, from the washing of wool in nearby streams, to sealing the colours with lemon juice. The sources of colours includes, of course, the cochineal bug whose qualities everyone knows of from childhood cake icing days, and plants such as indigo, huisache daisies for black alfalfa for green, nutshells for brown, marigolds for orange, and pomegranate shell for gold. Variations in colours are achieved through some unusual mixtures including the ash of burnt cactus. No wonder Senor Mendoza is known as the “Picasso of Carpets”.
The wonderful cochineal bug and its many colours.
A “Picasso” rug.
Colourful senorita, Merida.