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Mexico Shines in Belgium During Three-Month Cultural Extravaganza

September 25, 1993

BRUSSELS, Belgium (AP) _ Mayan treasures, mariachis, and margaritas are not what you’d normally expect to find during a rainy autumn in Belgium. But for the next three months the country is going Mexican.

With exhibitions, concerts, theater productions, rodeos and folk dancing, Brussels will open up to a culture that is little known in most of Europe.

″Mexico is welcoming you with open arms,″ said President Carlos Salinas de Gortari, who on Wednesday opened Europalia, a cultural fiesta that features a different nation every two years.

Apart from a hugely successful Europalia devoted to Japan in 1989, Mexico is the first non-European nation to be celebrated in the fairs since they began in 1969.

The fair is now bursting out of Belgium’s borders, with exhibitions in Holland and concerts in Luxembourg.

Anne Mommens, one of Europalia’s organizers, said, ″We have a touristic image of Mexico. We know its folklore, but not its ancient treasures or its contemporary culture.″

Organizers of the $35 million extravaganza, funded by both nations, hope to attract 1.5 million people with 120 cultural events and 3,000 objects in more than a dozen museum shows.

This weekend, Belgians will have their first taste of a ″charreada,″ a rousing Mexican rodeo.

The festival began with a gala opening for Belgium’s King Albert and Queen Paola and Salinas, in which Guadalajaran dancers twirled to the accompaniment of a Belgian orchestra.

The music program from now until December ranges from tenor Placido Domingo singing Mexican songs to pop singer Astrid’s Carmen Miranda-style parodies of popular music and performances on guitars and traditional instruments like teponaztlis, huehuetl and sonajos.

The concerts may revive sounds that have been muffled since Spanish rule in Belgium ended in 1713.

When Emperor Charles V, known in Spain as Carlos I, held court here in the 16th century, his explorers brought back Mexican treasures, and even Indians.

In the city of Binche, 30 miles from Brussels, a Mardi Gras tradition of men dancing in the streets is a current reminder of the influence those Indians had on surprised Belgians.

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