Friday, June 29, 2018

CXVII. ¡Felíz Cumpleaños!

Happy Birthday!

They’ve been going at it for more than thirty minutes now—since 6:45AM when we were awakened—so I guess half an hour's not the length of time for which they’ve been hired. Some kind of celebration, that’s for sure. From our cozy bed we kept waiting for them to move on—the usual route down to the plaza and church, if it’s religious, or to the charro ring, if secular—but no, they stayed put, and damned close to our casa. And LOUD.

I finally rousted myself, put on shorts and tee and shuffled through sala and comedor, out the pasillo to the front gate and source of sound. The music had become deafening as I approached the group arrayed on the cobbles in the street in front of our house. And likewise in front of our neighbors. Francisco, the dad—he of boastful gestures—was swaggering among the musicians. Relatives were passing trays of sweetbreads and a sugary coffee drink—muchas gracias—and mamá was on the sidewalk smiling with all the hugs and kisses she was getting. It was her birthday.

And now, an hour after its first brassy and percussive notes, the band has begun dispersing. From the left we’ve had two trombones, two trumpets, two clarinets, a flugelhorn, two congas, a two-person trap set advertising La Misma Banda—The Same Band—and una tuba. I reckon there will be another party tonight.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

CXVI. Una Entrega de Cerveza

Beer Delivery

The motorcycle I’m talking about was one of the small, wiry types—and funky from hard use—maybe about 95cc’s. You see them everywhere around our pueblo but I noticed this particular one because of the way it was being used. I heard the driver revving to blow out his plugs as he stopped on the cobbles, in the street right in front of our gate. I went to check out the noise since I’d been hearing a group of guys talking from—I thought—the sidewalk, but the driver was the only one I saw. Buenas noches exchanged, he swung his leg over the tank and reached behind him for a big plastic bucket. He handled it like it was heavy. It had been held in place by a circle of steel molded to fit both it and another bucket on a jerry-rigged bumper. Both buckets were filled with bottles of Corona beer. There must have been about a dozen in each, arranged neatly upside down on ice. The driver went to my neighbors’ door, passed the bucket inside and got paid, then climbed back on the bike and drove away for his next delivery. 

Monday, June 4, 2018

CXV. Las Elecciones Mexicanas

The Mexican Elections
Supporters of Moy Anaya, the Citizens Movement candidate for president of
our municipality, march past our door making noise. A minute earlier the
candidate himself stopped to chat and give us a pamphlet outlining his plans.

They gather and make a lot of noise up at the corner of our street with Guadalupe Victoria, maybe because the latter’s on the bus line, so greater visibility. Then they march down our block to go up Constitución—which is also on the bus line—chanting, banging drums, and hollering out their candidate’s name. Last time it was someone for the MORENA party. Late yesterday afternoon the desfile was for the Movimiento Ciudadano (MC) choice for Presidente of our municipality. I’m guessing the race will be tight between him and the incumbent PRI toady who has held that post the past three years.

As with most countries worldwide the election here is always held on a Sunday, and this year that’s four weeks away on the first of July. This is a strange time weather wise. Most of the election’s run-up takes place during May’s perennial heatwave, but the last half of June will have seen the beginning of the rainy season, now two weeks away. So election day comes around, perhaps, against a backdrop of budding optimism, fed by hope for greening and growth. 

The PAN party candidate for municipality president is Alejandro
Aguirre, pictured here saying, "For you, for your prosperity, for
Ajijic." The lower hashtag says, "Get happy, change has come".
Or not. Traditionally, the final months of the countrywide campaigns are also marked by vandalism, hot-headed fights and even a few cold-blooded assassinations funded by murky deep pockets. Cries of Corruption and Malfeasance abound! Piling on, the narco-cartels take advantage of this unsettled time to attack each other without their customary regard for incidental casualties. One longtime resident ex-pat suspends her country-wide travels during this period.

Since the Mexican equivalent of a civil war that occurred in the early 1900’s, and for next seventy years, members of only one political party had been popularly elected as Presidente; its name alone a contradiction in terms, the Institutional Revolutionary Party, is known to all as simply PRI—pronounced ‘pree'. Since about the last half of that period in the past century there has been a loyal opposition group, the National Action Party—PAN—that still retains a semblance of its historical alliance with the Catholic Church. In the year 2000 PRI’s lock on the national presidency was finally broken by PAN candidate Vicente Fox, whose victory was made possible by a split within PRI that gave the country the breakaway Party of the Democratic Revolution, or PRD. 

The old guard PRI party candidate for municipality president
is the incumbent, Javier Degollado.
A new, one-term only national president is democratically elected every six years. Since the turn of the millennium the number of viable parties has proliferated, and mutable coalitions arise every electoral cycle. After Sr. Fox, PAN elected another president in 2006, its candidate barely beating Andrés Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), a popular Mexico City mayor at the time and the candidate of a PRD-led coalition of leftist splinter parties. AMLO ran again, and again was barely defeated, in 2012. After this loss he founded a new, nationalistic and populist party he called Movement for National Regeneration, MORENA. Morena is also the Mexican-Spanish word describing a dark-skinned woman. 

Mexico has a federal bicameral legislature. Sergio here is the
local PRI candidate put up for election to the Chamber of
Deputies. He says that he is "Moving Forward With You".
Meanwhile, PRI, in the person of Ken-doll impersonating Enrique Peña Nieto, has controlled the presidency for the past six years. This will end next month, when by all accounts AMLO should finally win the national election, running for the coalition "Juntos Haremos Historia” (“Together We’ll Make History”) representing MORENA, the leftist Labor Party, and conservative, religious Social Encounter Party. Latest polls give AMLO a 22-point lead over PAN candidate and boy wonder, Ricardo Anaya. The latter’s “Forward for Mexico” coalition includes two groups that had supported AMLO in his previous tries for the presidency. 

"MORENA The Hope of Mexico" reads this wall painting just
around the corner from where we live.
A few of AMLO’s positions: place price controls on basic necessities, increase minimum wage and pensions, but no expropriations or nationalizations; charge Mexican consulates in the US to defend immigrants’ human rights there and bring a lawsuit in the UN against US violation of these rights; grant universal access to public colleges; end oil exports to encourage energy self-sufficiency; give amnesty to some drug war criminals and promote worthwhile alternatives to a life in the trade; allow international rights organizations to investigate corruption and human rights abuses in Mexico. 

Another Morena poster hangs from the balcony of the casa belonging to our
handyman, Saul. Many of the signs in the blocks around where we live are on
the bus routes.
In reference to the US President’s insistence that Mexico pay for a border wall and turn back Central American immigrants, AMLO has recently said that Mexico will not “be the piñata of any foreign government.” His critics worry that if elected he will become another Hugo Chavez, Venezuela’s deceased leftist strongman. AMLO’s supporters, though, say that he has softened previous nationalistic stands and that claims to the contrary are to be expected from those fearful of losing their places of corrupt privilege. It is unsettling the extent to which the Morena Party is identified with the person of AMLO, but in his defense I’d also like to point out that he is a baseball fan and his favorite team is the St. Louis Cardinals, also beloved by my dear Granddad.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

CXIV. Cuando Ellos Traen Los Rifles...

When They Bring the Guns

Rico, last month, at the door to his self-built shack. Inside was
a toaster oven, radio, lights, bed, chair, etc.
“Cuando ellos traen los rifles, no hay nada qué ustedes pueden hacer.” When they bring the rifles, there’s nothing you can do. Trying to be comradely, this is what I said to Rico as he walked dazed around the mess of broken wood and palm branches, pieces of blanket and tarp, and a lot of unrecognizable (at least to me) debris that just this morning had served as his self-built shanty. 

“Está bien, está bien,” he muttered. It’s OK, it’s OK. Trying to keep his cool.

About 15 black-suited municipal police, a few with automatic rifles slung over their shoulder, all with holstered hand guns, sat about 20 meters away on benches they’d scavenged from their recent wreckage.  Half a dozen others were in plain clothes—jeans, and blue or plaid long sleeve shirts stretched tight across their shoulders.

One of the whimsical planters the community constructed. "La
Borrachita", or the Little Drunkard, is the name of the boat.
Rico’s wasn’t the only shelter that had been destroyed. A handful of others had barnacled together over the past couple of years on the shady lakeshore several blocks from where we live. They had all been leveled during probably less than an hour on a thankfully clear and warm morning in our central Mexican village.

When I stopped to ineffectually commiserate with Rico I saw the few other former residents poking through the rubble of what had served as their homes. I had admired the industry with which they constructed rock planters around the trees in this area, painted signage, regularly raked windfall from the sandy trail, began raising a small nursery of plants, fished in the lake and barbecued their catch, and kept what I thought was a friendly profile along this stretch of the shoreline. 

The "found" sign from Hacienda del Lago is a good tongue-in-cheek name
for this ramshackle hut.
Their jerry-built structures sure looked funky, but I never smelled their poop or pee, and there was an endearing whimsy to their lifestyle which admittedly included lazing in the shade with one or more of those big brown bottles of Corona. Over the past months we were happy to contribute an air mattress bed we could no longer use, an old sleeping bag, a few tarps, and a number of plastic pots and the seeds to plant in them. 

I doubt if it’s a coincidence that this relatively long-term community has been destroyed at this particular time. It’s only a little more than a month before nationwide elections that include a complete slate of municipal seats up for grabs. I’m sure there is a large constituency that will applaud the current officeholders’ actions to rid the beautiful lakeshore of rabble.

Squatters, yes. But we admired their unapologetic, scrounge-based individualism in a world that’s way too often lockstep to a numbing digital beat.

Sunday, April 1, 2018

CXIII. Semana Santa

Holy Week

Peter leading Jesus down Calle Hidalgo on the way to San Andrés church,
Domingo de Ramos--Palm Sunday.
Palm Sunday marked the beginning of Semana Santa, Holy Week, here in central Mexico. In our village, Hidalgo street was covered with green verbena stalks for half a mile from Six Corners neighborhood to San Andrés parish church. A crowd of about fifty parishioners walked along this route in the late afternoon, each carrying a bouquet of chamomile tied to a woven palm frond. At the front, just ahead of the priest, was a small group of costumed young men acting as the apostles. At their center was Christ, represented by another young man from the parish. The procession ended with a mass in the church courtyard. Over the next seven days we would see Jesus and his apostles at several more events depicting the last week of His life.

The Last Supper re-enacted in front of the bicycle repair shop at Seis Esquinas.
Their next appearance was on Jueves Santo, Maundy Thursday. Both the faithful and interested bystanders began gathering in the early evening to witness an enactment of the Last Supper, again at Seís Equinas barrio—the most traditionally Mexican area of the village. Some of the scenes brought back memories from long ago bible study—Jesus washing the apostles’ feet, calling out Judas and Peter, everyone performing the first Eucharist by eating the bread and drinking the wine representing the body and blood of Christ.

Torchlit procession uphill to Tempisque. Handlers moved ropes
to create space around the actors.
Jesus and several of the more involved apostles were miked just like Broadway actors. After supper the less involved were given torches and they all set off at a blistering pace through the dark cobblestone streets, across the carretera, and up Tempisque to the Jardín de Getsemaní set, near the base of a large, fairly recently constructed microwave tower. Many of us trying to take photographs stumbled to get ahead of the actors, grumbling about their pace and the lack of enough light to get decent pictures.

The way back downhill was lit by torches as well. Vecinos 
stood outside their casas waiting for Jesus to be escorted by.
It took quite a while for the sound system to get set up (so what was the rush?), and the fifty meter or so distance between audience and actors made for a less than ideal theatrical experience. But who’s to argue when such momentous events are being depicted?: Simon Peter disowning Christ, and Judas betraying Him, His arrest by the Roman troops, and then everyone’s march back down the hill into town for his arraignment at the plaza.

The next day was Viernes Santo, or Good Friday. This featured the only event which I had previously seen—Jesus’s trial before Pontius Pilate. It seems churlish in light of the suffering of our actors, not to mention the original cast, but I chose not to endure the noonday heat in the crowded church courtyard, and missed Jesus’s flagellation and struggle to carry the cross back up to the base of Tempisque’s tower, now representing the path of the Stations of the Cross on the way to Golgotha.
Jesus dragged his cross over this and many more cobbled
streets, the mile-long route distinguished by colored banners.

By the time I made it up the hill a large crowd had gathered favoring the scant shade from walls or nearly leafless trees or gathered under numerous parasols (literally, in Spanish, “for the sun”). Drink and ice cream vendors were popular. On stage, which means up the hillside, Roman soldiers in faux leather armor looked awfully hot, but Christ and the bad hombres on either side of Him must have been miserable. They were tied to crosses facing the harsh midday sun. I was feeling the heat myself and made my cowardly way back home before the event was over.

Spectators at the crucification re-enactment angled for shade.
It was much more comfortable the next evening, Sábado de Gloria. A crowd was seated in the church courtyard waiting for a representation of the resurrection, but I opted to join the more secular folks listening to mariachi music around the plaza’s gazebo. When the music was over I wandered over to the courtyard and stood in back. The faithful were lighting their candles. It was a  peaceful and moving scene.

Today is Easter, Pascua here in Mexico. No dyed and hidden eggs, baskets to put them in, or Cadbury chocolates to be missed by the seekers and not found until the slugs had gotten to them. No Easter Bunny, even. It’s a quiet day mostly spent at home with family.

Saturday night the faithful gathered in the church courtyard to celebrate the resurrection of Christ.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

CXII. Un Otro Desfile

Another Parade

It had been a quiet, warm and clear Saturday morning. Our patio garden green and peaceful. We had just sat down to breakfast. Then we heard the cohetes—sky rockets—exploding, then the brass and drum band. My wife said, “Parade”, and we hurried to the door. In front of our casa the first thing we saw was a big, wildly colored papier mâché elephant being maneuvered to enable it to pass under low hanging wires. 

We saw a float with the Chili Cook-off queen and her costumed attendants. Another carried a mariachi group and dancers advertising a neighborhood restaurant. Fancy cars and pickups with well-dressed passengers from local businesses and charities. A final energetic band. Everybody friendly and happy, smiling and waving, the two of us leaning out our front door.

The parade was heading up a couple of blocks to the carretera—the main road through town—on its way to the cook-off being held at Tobolandia waterpark where there’d also be the chance to pick up something handmade by local artisans.

The desfile would sure slow down traffic for the next half hour for all the gringo snowbirds in their rental cars, and rich Tapatios from Guadalajara down for the weekend, but what the hell. Slowing down is good for the heart and the soul.

This is a parade-loving village. I'm not sure how typical that is of other Mexican pueblos, but I can see how parades and fiestas contribute to this being one of the top rated countries for happiness, even with the poverty, corruption and cartel violence. Being able to walk out our door or go to the end of the block and hear this gratuitous music and celebration, to see someone we know, a neighbor, to smile at and greet by name helps keep us feeling connected to the things that bring joy. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

CXI. Carnaval, 2018

Carnival, 2018

Written on Fat Tuesday, two days ago: 

I dodged warily among a half dozen horses at the cobblestoned corner of Aldama and Constitución as I waited late this morning for the Carnaval parade to began. The horses were itching for a chance to dance to a brass and drum band that was warming up. I also kept an eye out for the masked scrum eager to grab an audience member and toss him or her on a mattress on a truck bed full of flour. Congas and maracas practiced beating time for the Carnaval Queen.

An hour after the parade ended I stood in the middle of Constitución, beer in hand, and looked up five long blocks towards the mountains that edge our lake. A bus was bearing down on me, still at a distance, one of the white ones with red trim that announce it’s headed for Chapala. Nothing odd in that, but it was followed by a billowing white cloud, remains of the many kilos of flour thrown at today’s parade bystanders by the slightly scary, grotesquely masked sayacas.

And two hours after that, workers arrived at our casa to carry three huge full and planted terra-cotta pots—each about the size and weight of a burro, and at least as unwieldy—many back-breaking paces across the comedor and sala, through the patio and up twenty-three narrow steps to the mirador. Three small wiry guys laughed and humped their loads without incident—a typical Mexican job. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. Tonight there will be music and fiestas all over town.