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The living room of the La Casa de Espiritus Alegres Bed & Breakfast, in Marfil, Guanajuato, hosts a colorful jumble of Mexican folk art.

Bed and breakfast or folk art museum?

by Barbara Mauldin

The "good spirits" housed in La Casa de Espiritus Alegres (The House of Good
Spirits) seem to burst through the doorway to greet visitors to this joyous
bed and breakfast in Marfil, just outside the city of Guanajuato. A jumble
of Judas figures, skeletons, and ceremonial odds and ends dance from the
ceiling. Pharisee staffs (used in Easter processions) guard the fireplace.

The B B is the work of a California couple, Carol and Joan Summers. Back in
1979, the Summers were on a folk art buying trip throughout Mexico when they
purchased an ex-hacienda as well. At least they didn't have to lug their
treasures all the way back home to California. They soon remodeled the
ex-hacienda into space that would accommodate guests and their ever-growing
collection of folk art. Dating from the 1700's, the hacienda had originally
served as a processing area for silver ore being mined in nearby Valenciana.
Devastated by floods at the beginning of the twentieth century, the hacienda
slept without much attention until kissed to life by Georgio Bello in the
1950's. The Italian sculptor worked among many of the areas ruins, not only
restoring them to former glory, but adding a few Italian renaissance touches
as well. The Summerses added terraces, balconies, and those gleeful spirits.

Most of the bedrooms surround a patio that is lush with greenery and
acrobatic paper maché. The main living area is an extension of this jumble,
but also offers current reading material and a cozy fireplace. The bed and
breakfast has been featured in Architectural Digest and has made the pages
of other lifestyle and travel publications. Rooms are decidedly Mexican in
motif, but some reflect Carol's more recent travels in India.

I came away from a recent weekend in a much better mood as a result of being
surrounded by the medley of exuberant art. My room not only had a small
fireplace and private patio, but also a guardian angel who watched over my
bed. With fluffy white clouds painted beneath the bed canopy and a pale
cherub floating overhead, I had to rest well.

With such slumber, I could have managed quite well with a cup of coffee, but
the breakfast part is just as significant as the fanciful beds in this
facility. Guests gather around a long table that extends the length of a
glass domed dining room. They are seated in an assortment of chairs designed
and painted by local artists. The guests may be slightly formal as
introductions are made, but by the time the last crumbs disappear, they are
trading business cards, telling bawdy stories, and promising to keep in

Breakfast during one stay included starters of fruit cups and olive-tapenade
rolls; then moved on to tamale pancakes that could have been replicas of the
green, red, and white of the Mexican flag.

The City of Guanajuato and surrounding communities, offer fine examples of
Colonial architecture, folk art, and performance art. Because of the
richness of the silver mines, residents have long had an economy that
contributed to their enjoyment of a broad range of culture. The Cervantino
festival in October attracts musicians and dancers from far and wide. The
university is among the oldest in Mexico and is a haven for serious study
and creative work. The mines continue to produce silver ore. And, of course,
there are those mummies at the old cemetery that continue to attract macabre

Guests gather around a long table that extends the lenght of the of glass domed dining room to enjoy a casual breakfast. The chairs are designed and painted by local artists.

The colonial city of Guanajuato is just a short drive from the town of Marfil, its narrow and winding streets are best explored walking, so as not to miss the fine examples of architecture and the hidden shops, restaurants, hotels and nightspots.