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.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

CX. Dos Días Antes de Carnaval

Two Days Before Carnival


Noonish—I still hadn't showered, still in my sweat pants, faded nine-year-old Obama t-shirt, brown knit cardigan for the chill. On my feet, the furry mocs I wear from bed to bathroom—not street-ready—so didn’t feel like going outside when I heard the noise. 

Outside—the sound of a brass band, most likely for one of the pre-Carnaval parades. Carnaval—literally, “Farewell to meat”. The grotesquely masked and costumed Sayacas would be wildly throwing confetti (if you’re lucky) and flour (if you’re not). The municipal delegate tried to calm them down last year. They grew rowdier with a vengeance, but still in fun, especially for the kids shrieking with their love of harmless danger. A tradition, like bullfighting. The parade still ends in Lienzo Charro, the old bullring. 

Not an hour after the brassy procession came the solemn double-noted death knell tolling from the nearby parish church. Someone in the pueblo died this morning. That about says it all from here: Life and Death intertwined and out in public.

Monday, January 1, 2018

CIX. Felíz Año Nuevo

Happy New Year

From our mirador last night, just after midnight, I saw fireworks from all over our village and heard voices of celebrants in the streets around our house. Today, mid-afternoon, we watched a very good natured New Year’s Day desfile, or parade, that came out of the Seis Esquinas neighborhood and made a big loop through the village streets before returning for a traditional soccer match. On the three-block walk to the parade route we saw ashen remains of last night’s bonfires in the street. We imagined neighbors bringing in the new year together on their doorsteps, maybe some of the same ones I had heard in the night. 

While we waited at the corner of Constitución and Galeana for the parade, Saul, our neighbor and handyman, came by, shook hands, and introducing us to his sister wished us “Felíz Año Nuevo”—Happy New Year. It wasn’t long before the brass band and exploding cohetes signaled the parade’s arrival. Young girls carried a banner announcing the first “float”—it said something about a gift—regalo—for Sr. Trump. What followed was a papier mache figure in black suit and trademark yellow hair, accompanied by two dancing, grinning attendants, one of whom was our friend Mauricio. On the buffoon’s back was pinned a sign—“Hit me”. 

The theme for the rest of the goofy parade relied heavily on the recent Disney movie “Coco” which is set in a small Mexican village: I counted three different pickups with kids in skeleton face makeup striking tableaux with their little abuelas while crooning and pretending to play guitars. Then there was a gang of bicyclists in clown masks and rainbow afro-wigs. More bands.  A "slimer" from "Ghostbusters" rode in another pickup--evidently a holdover from parades past. Dancing girls threw candy and confetti. It seemed nearly every tall float got hung up on a large ficus tree draped over Galeana. The winner for high-concept was nearly a full deck of those Mexican lottery cards with each one come to life in costume and props. The desfile ended with a final brass band and two guys shooting exploding fireworks into the sunny afternoon sky. Happy New Year, everyone!

Friday, November 17, 2017

CVIII. Nuestro Viaje a Morelia

Our Trip to Morelia

The Sanctuary of Guadalupe was constructed in the early
1700s, and the elaborate decoration added nearly 200 years
later. Every December 12, the day the Virgin of Guadalupe
is celebrated. hundreds of pilgrims come here to pray.
A couple of times a year we rent a car and take a trip to a place we feel would be interesting to visit, three or four hours away from where we live in central Mexico. The cool mountain village of Mazamitla is a popular place to go, especially when it's hot here by Lake Chapala. Larger cities, tourist spots that are further away--such as Pátzcuaro about 200 miles southeast of us--are also destinations. Last week we had planned to go to Zacatecas, a picturesque colonial silver mining town with an international street theater festival that may or may not have been going on at the time, but a few days before our departure we saw that it was forecast to have highs near 100°F. That wasn't for us, so we decided on a trip to Morelia instead; the capital of Michoacán, it's a city we'd talked about visiting for its large, attractive and mostly intact three to four hundred year-old centro historico.

The drive last week, along with the one to Patzcuaro and others I've taken with the Cazadores de Haciendas group, have acquainted me with the cuota (fee) road system--mostly well-maintained, divided and controlled access highways--that is expensive but much faster than the often potholed, speed-bumped and narrow, twisty roads that go to and through every village. It cost us the equivalent of about $30US each way on the 200 mile cuota between Guadalajara and Morelia, but it took us less than three hours and was a beautiful drive with long vistas in the high dry scrub of central Mexico.

We took a crash course on TripAdvisor, Lonely Planet, etc. websites and planned a rough itinerary. It worked out pretty well. Over the four full days there we took one ten minute, $2US taxi ride to a half dozen sites--a rococo sanctuary to the Virgin of Guadalupe, several museums, a park, plazas, and 250-year-old aqueduct, plus an excellent Latin American fusion restaurant. The rest of the time we walked from our centrally located hotel to a cathedral, more plazas, museums, colonial-era architectural wonders, cafes and restaurants, fireworks and free music--lots of music, it's home to a several centuries' old music school and its students both present and past busk all over town. That's not to mention the artisans from all over the state of Michoacán who display and sell their fantastic folk art from a central mercado y museo. As usual though, our primary recreation was soaking in the vibe and people watching.

The rococo ornamentation was added to the santuario a hundred years ago by a local artisan. It is a combination of indigenous clay sculpture techniques along with European-style plaster work. The effect is mind blowing!  The large paintings along each side of the nave appear to show Franciscan friars overseeing converted indígenas. And then you think about the way they were converted-- 

After being awed at the Sanctuary we strolled across the street to Plaza Morelos, named for José Maria Morelos, one of the main heroes of the Mexican War of Independence in the early 1800s. He is the one usually pictured wearing a bandanna on his head. This city, originally called Valladolid, was renamed Morelia in his honor. Here he is on a horse leading his troops against Spain and its forces. In the left background of the picture is a small section of a 250-year-old aqueduct that our taxi driver insisted still carries water. Hmmmm.

The small Jardín de las Rosas was a relaxing daily stop during our trip. We snacked and bantered with a musician at one of the cafes under the green umbrellas. Parks like this, both small and large, abound in this civilized city. The Conservatorio de las Rosas, across the street to the left is the most prestigious music school in Latin America. We were graced with music from their students during our stay.

The trees over the Jardín de las Rosas are background left. This sculpture is on the pedestrian street
running two blocks to the town square with its covered archway promenade. The sculpture seems to
display two acrobats, limbs interestingly arranged, one half-hidden and supporting the other on the
 soles of his feet. The one on top arrests the viewer with her gaze and flyaway hair braid.

These two young guys played some good music while we ate breakfast inside the covered promenade across from the main plaza in background.

Looking toward site of the previous picture--notice the same green awnings--several days later. The fellow checking his cell phone is one of the musicians that accompany the traditional "Dance of the Old Men" in the main plaza. He is likely from the village of  Jarácuaro where the dance has been performed for hundreds of years. It features dancers wearing masks that depict old men who hobble feebly until the music strikes a more lively tune, and then they perform a very energetic tap dance...Behind us now, and pictured just below, is the main plaza with Andador Juarez park in the following photo.

Walking toward the center of Morelia's main plaza with its fountains, benches, trees, and lawns. Paths radiate to all sides and corners from a central gazebo, always the site of children playing. The board at left of the picture advertises the concerts during a two-week long international music festival. We heard some excellent and free jazz by a group from Spain. 

Adjacent to the main plaza is Andador Juarez which comprises three tree-lined lanes for walkers that connect streets north and south of the 200 meter long walkway. The steeple in the center of the picture is part of the city's main place to worship, the Catedral de Morelia, seat of the archdiocese.

Every time we passed through the andador some clown was putting on a show to lots of laughter and usually rapt attention from the children and their parents alike. This picture shows lots of empty bench space because of the strong afternoon sun; most of the audience is on the shaded side of the walkway.

Vendors selling all kinds of cheap plastic toys are a common site around the cathedral, andador and plaza. Another way of making a peso or five is shown by the silver fellow in the center of the photograph, somewhat mimicking the statue's pose upper left. The miner guy stands immobile until people begin to ignore him and then makes a sudden, startling move. He seemed too intimidating, though, to attract much dinero.

On the other side of the cathedral, another toy vendor. Under a large awning behind me, about a hundred chairs were set out inviting passersby to stop and watch a movie--something artsy and in Spanish. The wooden doorway of the cathedral gives entrance to the transept. As people exit the church and pass through the gate they meet the outstretched hat of a beggar displaying his leprosy. 

Several years ago we visited the workshops in Santa Clara del Cobre, a village not far from
Morelia. As its name suggests--cobre means copper--the artisans there specialize in hammered
copper objects such as the plates, bowls and vases displayed here in the Instituto del Artesano
Michuacano.
 Both a museum and market, the Institute is housed in a large, nearly five hundred
year-old ex-convent.

This clay-sculpted statue, also in the Institute of Michoacán Artisans, displays a Shiva-like figure, a destroyer consuming and allowing for new creation. Notice the accompanying snakes. The same technique that creates such figures as this also was employed in adorning the Santuario de Guadalupe, pictured at the beginning of this post. Along one hallway of the ex-convent, fifteen former cells have been converted to salesrooms for a like number of villages, each specializing in a particular craft. I think past three and four centuries to those nuns and novitiates padding over these same stone floors.

Every Saturday night the lights come on at the cathedral following a fireworks display. The streets around centro historico are packed with people for an hour before.

Our final afternoon in Morelia we attended a free jazz concert by a Spanish group, Tempus Fugit Cuarteto. What a treat! It was one of the first concerts of a two-week long festival, mostly held here in a repurposed sixteenth century monastery. On two sides of the vast courtyard (out of the picture) were several dozen booths serving excellent quality and inexpensive food and drinks.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

CVII. Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead


Someone must have died in the village today. We heard the death knell from the church this afternoon—slowly repeating the same low and then ascending notes for a minute or so. We immediately thought of Vicente and hurried to the front door to look down the block to his casa, relieved that there wasn’t the activity you’d expect if he’d just passed away. It’s been several weeks since we’ve last seen him sitting in his daughter’s store looking out at the street. We used to always greet each other when I walked by, but the last couple of times he’s been there his eyes were closed and jaws slack.

What a coincidence to die on Día de los Muertos.

Later in the evening, after a trip to the plaza visiting the ofrendas—offerings—to the beloved departed, we passed the person’s wake for whom the bells were earlier tolling, mourners sitting in folding chairs under an awning taking up most of the cobblestone street facing the house where the body lay.