Wednesday, April 6, 2016

LXIV. Cazadores de las Haciendas: La Calera

Hacienda Hunters: La Calera
Rubén lets us into the grounds of Hacienda La Calera. Behind
him, past the bronze statue of Archangel Michael triumphing
over Satan, and then the fountain, is the main entrance to the
casa grande.

[See the update at the end of this post for pictures and comments taken at a second visit to the hacienda] 

Last Thursday the Cazadores de las Haciendas—Hacienda Hunters—explored La Calera, near the vast public housing projects south of Guadalajara, only about 40 km from where we live. The main building itself is not too old as haciendas go—a little over 200 years—but the property has been occupied as a hacienda for at least another hundred. For several decades around the end of the 19th century it was the home of Álvaro Obregón, a two-term president of the Republic. It currently belongs to the estate of Joan (pronounced “ho-ahn”—a man’s name) Sebastian, a popular Mexican singer who died last year. No one has lived at La Calera, though, since the 1950’s.
The card room, I understood Rubén to say, was Sr. Sebastian's
favorite place at La Calera. Although he visited the hacienda a
number of times, he never spent the night here.

The friendly caretaker, Rubén, let us in and accompanied us for the beginning of our visit, which had been arranged by Jim Cook, our knowledgeable leader. Rubén's father and grandfather had also worked here, he told us, back to before the time of the Cristero troubles in the early part of the last century. Rubén explained the history of the place, and uses of the different rooms—until, in ones and twos, we dropped off to explore on our own. 

Except for Rubén, his wife and daughter, the twelve of us were the only ones on the entire—perhaps twenty-five acre—property. It was a treat to mosey around, upstairs and down, even to the roof, inside and out, from chapel to dining room, card room to carriage stable, even poke into an interestingly opulent bathroom, and see the trap doors leading to a network of tunnels.

Wandering through this large, mostly furnished, and remarkably comfortable old house was somewhat like visiting one of those restored colonial homes on the east coast, the Biltmore Mansion in Asheville, or the Hearst Castle, although La Calera is not nearly as big as the last two. The exceptional difference here is that there are no signs saying, "Please Do Not Touch", nor velvet ropes signifying no entry.

Off the central courtyard, from here you look into the barroom
in the distance, past the wood carved panel depicting John the
Baptist doing his thing with Jesus
We could go when and where we wanted, and entering some of the rooms with their chairs slightly pushed away from a table or seeing a vase of flowers arranged and left by Rubén's family, gave us the feeling that someone from half a century back had just left the premises, the echo of their departing footsteps almost audible, their absence bringing the dust that had only recently settled on a glass or marble counter. 

The variety and quality of the artwork—stone and wood carvings, sculptures in many media, ceramic urns and tiles, paintings, ironwork fixtures and elaborate moulding—was all the more incredible for their general state of benign neglect or even disrepair. This was no museum, although many of the pieces were of that quality, but a place where generations of people had lived, and then left.

A few of the Cazadores relaxing after several hours exploring El Calera. We're seated in front of an empty pond and turned-off fountain. One end of the main arcade to the casa grande is just visible, top left. Chuck, far right, was kind enough to lend me his spare camera for these pictures. My Sony is still stuck in a repair shop in Guadalajara where it's been for going on four months.
Marble tops the barroom counter and frames the now-damaged painting of a horse race. Sr. Sebastian loved his horses, sometimes singing at a concert while on horseback.
This ceramic sculpture is in the main sala.
The guest dining room. Through the doors is the hall to the connecting kitchen and out the door is a smaller courtyard and
entry to the main bedroom
A corner of the kitchen food prep area. The warm colors, comfortable proportions, worn stone and wood gave the entire place a liveable feel.
Kitchen courtyard and entry to main bedroom where, beyond the glass doors is a good-sized swimming pool surrounded by
a high wall to make it completely private.
Part of the main bedroom suite is this marble bathroom of which you can see less than half. That looks like a crumpled hundred peso note near the sink. Perhaps one of us left a tip for its use.
An astonishing wood carving, about nine feet high, perhaps depicting Joseph with baby Jesus.  
A small portion of the front arcade of the casa grande with the main portal giving entry to the central courtyard The stone
carving above the entrance depicts the coat of arms of the 1811 owners and builders.

Update: Last week, half a year after I made the above trip, I was fortunate to join the local photography club as they were about to head to photogenic Hacienda La Calera for picture taking. This time I was able to see what I saw last spring with new eyes and my own this-time-functioning camera. In general, the latest pictures are much more impressionistic than the previous ones.

Antonieta comes from Oaxaca, a state far to the south. Her native village was settled by the Zapotec people--a group that
once rivaled the Aztec in size and strength. The village is famous for its rug weavers, a skill 'Tonieta's family shares. She
came alone to Ajijic three years ago to sell her family's wares in our little plaza. My Spanish classmate Doug invited her to accompany the photography club on a field trip to Hacienda La Calera, and to pose for pictures. She is a real sweetheart. 
A ten-foot tall bronze statue of Archangel Michael besting the demon stands not far from the entrance gates to the 300-year old hacienda, visited numerous times by the infamous strongman Mexican president Porfirio Diaz, and longtime home of a latter reform president, Álvaro Obregón. Most recently the hacienda was owned by popular Mexican songwriter-singer Joan Sebastian who died a little over a year ago. His heirs have put the place up for sale for 200 million pesos, over 10 million Yankee dollars.
Outside the front of the hacienda I found this photogenic view with the sun just peeking over the battlement capturing a tangle of vines in its rays. Notice the bas-relief figure to the left standing on the heads of his enemies. 
The side portico leads to a large covered outdoor eating area complete with several large grills. The hacienda is in just the right state of picturesque disrepair--as evidenced by the broken and sagging beams upper left--to make it a playground for
the photographer.
I'm unsure what the medium is for this work of art, perhaps some sort of plaster over wood, at least in the background. The entire piece is about 9 feet high and is over a banquette in the dining room. This is typical of the quality of dozens of other pieces throughout the casa.
In every hacienda there was a chapel attached to the casa grande for the dueño, his family and favored retainers. This scene is captured in a small room adjacent to the chapel. Notice the outrageous appearance of the sculpted figure, and the heads he is stepping on!
Inside the chapel now, looking up at the altar.
It's amazing what you can do with a picture using editing software. I wanted a look here like an old postcard, with faded saturation. The original shot was very dark as there was no light in the chapel except that coming in from the door behind me. I used my trusty old Sony RX100 with a 20 second exposure on the back of one of those chairs in the foreground. f/10 and ISO 200. Using Lightroom, I heightened contrast, clarity and vibrance, and suppressed highlights and saturation.
The Imperial Eagle of the Hapsburgs was the insignia of the ruling dynasty of Spain in the 16th century, and was painted or carved on many buildings in Colonial Mexico. A large stone version hangs over the entry gate to Hacienda La Calera and another is painted here in the salon--a moody room all in this blood red.
I have to credit Rubén, the friendly and knowledgeable caretaker of the hacienda, or a member of his family, for many of the arrangements of furniture and art here in the casa grande. I'd also credit nature for bringing in shafts of sunlight, birds, leaves and mounds of termite munchings in some of the rooms.
Looking out the window of the chapel's anteroom. I just noticed how the window frame supports fittingly form a cross.
This intricate silk tablecloth, with handblown glass vase, is also located in the chapel's small anteroom. 
Barnyard animals add interest to the racks from which kitchen implements hang over a work table. 
'Tonieta looking up at the light coming through the dining room doors.


  1. You've taken some great shots that have given me inspiration to do a few watercolours. Very nice presentation.