Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Rose Calderone & Casona Rosa: The Heart of Morelia

by Alma Maria Rinasz
It is Thursday, June 27th, at 4pm in the old Purepechan capital of Patzcuaro, Michoacan. People from all over the central Mexican state have come together to the unveiling of Jesus Alejandre’s The Possessors of the Fish (Los Posesedores del Pesacado). The afternoon monsoon-like rains have uncharacteristically stayed away. People mingle among images mounted on six foot square metal frames. These are the images of The Spirit of Michoacan, a series of photographs taken over a six year period by Alejandre. Among the mix of artisans, musicians, museum patrons, writers, guests, government officials, expats and curious onlookers, stands a woman nearly six feet tall. Wearing a traditional Michoacan dress and purple horn rimmed glasses, her smiling face and puckish blue eyes are framed by a shock of short, spikey white hair.  This is Rose Calderone.  Calderone and Alejandre met several months earlier, when Calderone asked to buy a photograph from Alejandre’s Patzcuaro series at one of his shows in Morelia.  “He didn’t have one” Calderone says in her interview in the video  showcasing the project, to which Calderone responded “let’s make one!”

Jesus Alejandre, Rose Calderone & Susan Tucceri with
Lake Patzcuaro fishermen. Photo: Andrea Gudiño Sosa
Divine Accidents
Calderone’s first visit to Mexico came about after two houseguests in her Chicago home invited her to visit Morelia. “I came for ten days for Christmas in 2002. I returned in February 2003 and started to come more and more frequently.” Calderone describes her return trips and eventually setting up a B&B as a divine accident.  “I had rented a place on Aldama Street, a private home with several apartments that shared a common patio.” After some time, Calderone began renting the other apartments. Close friends and family would stay when visiting Morelia. After Noche de Muertos in 2007, Calderone recalls a friend and a Lonely Planet writer visiting her. “Morelia was like a Filini movie, you couldn’t sort out the noise, the people, the drinking. Many of my friends were there are the house and a friend and her family wouldn’t let anyone leave unless they had a beer or a bottle of tequila.” It was then that the Lonely Planet writer asked Calderone if she was interested in having her B&B published in the guidebook. She said no. Up until then, Calderone’s business was that of nannies and sleep training babies, she was not the owner of a B&B;  up until then, she just took in friends and friends of friends.  However, during her stays in Morelia, she had created an authentic space where travelers, both foreign and national, were eager to visit and tell their friends about. When Calderone was finally ready, her B&B was mentioned in Lonely Planet but no address was given.  “People would search me out, one woman slept in her car until she could find us” Calderone laughs. Whatever she was doing, it was working. 
Around the same time that Calderone started frequent visits to Mexico, her father encouraged her to start her own business in Chicago.  Calderone’s says that her father has been one of the most influential people in her life. As a young woman, Calderone Sr. fostered his oldest child’s entrepreneurial spirit. “I was curious about business, [so] he gave me a bookkeeping job in high school. Dad was Sicilian, very old country, quiet, an entrepreneur, a man of integrity and honesty. He was doing what he wanted to do and the freedom and joy that comes with it…”. Calderone smiles as she recalls her father, who according to her, rarely spoke.  When he did speak, she would pay attention.  “He was an early riser. One morning, I was typing a newsletter and he said to me, ‘you sure work hard but you need to work smart’.”  Those words of advice have stuck with Calderone and perhaps are a part of her secret to success.  In 1999, after years of working as a nanny,  Calderone had developed a special talent for sleep training babies.  “I was getting so many requests to do the work and the truth of it is that I was just able to sleep train babies, and again, it was, it was just an accident.”
Thankfully, Calderone Sr.'s quiet nature was not inherited by his daughter: Rose Calderone is powerhouse of energy and charisma.  It seems almost ironic that such a vivacious, gregarious person could help babies learn on to sleep on their own.  And fittingly enough, getting Rose Calderone to sit down is like much like convincing a baby that she is indeed ready to go and stay asleep.  Constantly on the move, Calderone runs La Casona Rosa and her nanny business in Chicago simultaneously.  After almost fifteen years of specializing in sleep-training babies, Rose Calderone has established her successful nanny business. And now she is making a name for herself in the B&B business in Mexico. It is clear that Rose Caledrone is a woman of her own making.  When not in Chicago, or touring the colonial highlands making friends with artisans, she can be found at La Casona premises.  And Calderone is hardly ever still.  Balancing her phone on one shoulder, picking up random bits of rubbish, straightening furniture in the historic17th century building that houses the Casona,  Calderone is an endless supply of smiles, hugs and positive words.  Her joie de vivre is by far her most contagious trait.  And this joy has spilled over into her interactions with local artists and artisans.
A Life With Art
Rose Calderone listens as Jesus Alejandre, background,
introduces his work. Photo: Tonatiuh Torres Bravo

Growing up the oldest of five children, Calderone earliest exposure to arts was from her younger sister Kathy. Kathy played the piano, painted, spoke five languages, in Calderone’s words “a renaissance soul growing up in rural Michigan.” At twenty four and honor student at University of Michigan, Kathy committed suicide.  Calderone was thirty at the time of her sister’s death. “At a certain point I had to make the decision that I was committed to life or I was committed to the alternative… depression or worse.  I had my son and that was really a declaration of life.” In Chicago, Calderone once again came into close contact with the arts.  She was involved in the Around the Coyote Arts Festival and after moving in California, she became intimate friends with musician Taj Mahal and his sister, singer CaroleFredricks.  

In 1970 Calderone met Taj Mahal for the first time. At the time she was dating Mahal’s photographer, friend and road manager. They had met after Taj had left LA for the Berkley Hills. “He couldn’t be put in a box; he was reaching out to what we now call world music. He was pigeon holed by the music industry and I saw his struggle to become an artist, my first real close up view of an artist who was trying to fit in and make a living from his art.” Calderone also became very close to Taj Mahal’s sister, Carole Fredricks. “I met Carole through Taj. Two of my friends had opened the first French restaurant in the Napa Valley. In 1979 I introduced Carole to Gregory Lyons and his partner Phillipe.”

Calderone’s relationship with Taj Mahal has evidently impacted the way she relates to artists. “For the most part you don’t get to see, have an intimate look at how an artist creates. Even if the artist is one of your most intimate friends, you don’t do that…”  Calderone has cultivated her sensitivity to a point where now, she helps promote art in Michoacan. Her recent involvment commissioning photographer Jesus Alejandre is testament to her love for the arts. Her commitment to the project is just the next logical step in her own evolution.  After seeing Jesus Alejandre’s Espiritu de Michoacan show and meeting the artist in person,  the over six foot tall photographs (1.40 by 2.50 meters) impressed Calderone to the point where she commissioned one. The result is by far one of the most representative images of the lake and its personality.
Los Poseedores/Jesus Alejandre

Calderone’s contagious energy has infected other expats as well.  Susan Tucceri, a retired restuarent manager from San Francisco, became a part of the team now surrounding Alejandre’s project after seeing Calderone’s enthusiasm for the photographer’s work.  The mother of painter, Tucceri does not create art herself but “recognizes that [talent] in Jesus.”  “After my son died I came to Morelia and fell in love. Everyone was so gracious, the people where wonderful. I had been living in San Francisco for twenty years and it was a dream to live in Mexico.  [I knew] I’d never find anything better than Morelia. There were too many Americans in San Miguel; Morelia felt authentic.”  After Calderone commissioned Alejandre to do the “ultimate Patzcuaro fishermen photo”, Tucceri accompanied Calderone on the photoshoot. “I adore Jesus, he is just a geniuine young man, how he realtes to people and how people relate to him.”  When asked which of Alejandre’s photograph impressed her the most, Tucceri answers “the pineapple fields image. It knocked my socks off.”
Tierra de las Piñas/Jesus Alejandre 

Good Things to Say About Michoacan
Michoacan has been getting a lot of  coverage in the press in and outside of Mexico over the past few years. In 2008 when a blast ripped through a street full of people celebrating Independence Day, Morelia was shown in the media as a troubled area in Mexico. Since then, Michoacan in the the international media has been called lawless, heavily criticized for the corruption in the government and in a recent LA Times article put it Mexico has a "drug war at our doorstep." The State Department no longer visits the state to provide citizen services and the Defense Department has restricted travel by Marines to the state. With all this violence, bad press and a notorious reputation, it is easy for Mexico and the world at large to write Michoacan off. But like those who stay in war torn cities and towns,  those who carry on their lives and make the best with what they have, Michoacan's history and traditions are as vibrant and alive as ever. The Soul of Mexico still draws in foreign tourists and expats alike.  Those who stay out of choice and necesity do so and in the case of Rose Calderone, showcase the positive qualities that this state has to offer the world.

Here is a virtual tour of Casona Rosa
Posada La Casona Rosa~Enjoy the Magic of Morelia! from Rose Calderone on Vimeo.