Friday, July 17, 2015

XXIX. Llevando Santiago a La Cañada, Parte 2

Taking St. James to La Cañada, Part 2

Not long after we got to La Cañada, the horses began arriving. 
I think they were following a different agenda than 
Santiago’s faithful.
La Cañada was swamped with visitors, but the locals seemed well up to the task of greeting and taking care of our alimentary and sanitary needs. Both sides of the narrow, cobblestone, tree-shaded lane into town were lined with tables of food (especially fresh fruit) and drink as we arrived. The niño-sized toilets and urinals of the local primary school were requisitioned for our use, so long as we paid the customary four pesos for any paper products we might require. 

By now, the equestrian theme had asserted itself and everyone found themselves jostling along the crowded path with remarkably compliant horses who were arriving with their riders in an almost unbroken string. By this time I had unburdened myself, and then reunited with my fellow Hike-queros, who, incidentally, were the only obviously gringo faces in all that gathering throng. 

The three young boys in the belfry had been chosen to ring the bells as the 
Little Saint approached La Cañada’s church.
We had fallen behind the Little Saint, but knew he would be turning up sooner or later at the nearby church, so we headed there to await him and his attendants. We could see them in the near distance winding through the main street of this little hilly village. We stationed ourselves next to the stone arch and open gate leading to the chapel. Looking up to its tower we spied three boys grinning down at the gathering crowd from up high in the niches that each held a bell.

As the main body of the procession approached the church I saw a previously unseen figure marching before a drum and brass band that had recently joined the parade ahead of the tiring banner bearers. It was a young boy, maybe five years old, holding hands with each of his parents. He was
The young boy looks an awfully lot like the Little Saint, without 
the Kris Kristofferson beard.
outfitted all in white, a gold-fringed cape over his shoulders, gold trim at the cuffs of his perfectly tailored long sleeves, silver and gold sash at the waist, cowboy boots and hat. He seemed to be the living representation of the Little Saint who, in turn, symbolized long-departed Santiago. The boy’s mother had on a “Love Pink” jersey.

As the Little Saint approached the church, the young adolescents in the belfry commenced a raucous tintinnabulation. There was a general air of excitement and movement as spectators jostled for position in the small plaza surrounding a nearby gazebo. There, a red satin-gowned and ordained official of Catholicism intoned solemnly as Little Saint was lifted through the crowd to be placed in honor in the pavilion.

This is one of the few times we saw a horse spooked. This 
one was probably disturbed by the moto revving its engine.
Meanwhile a line of horses and spectators more interested in secular sights continued down one or another of the cobblestone paths to where the main action was starting to happen near the river. We followed them, and as the pavers gave way to dirt, the dirt gave way to mud—mud that would be stomped and kneaded and churned as the day wore on. It was now only just a little after noon.

In previous years, reaching the river and going past the wide variety of food (chiles, tortillas, quesadillas, burritos, frijoles, tacos al pastor or bistec or chorizo, etc., baked chayotes, nopales, barbecued pollo or puerco, etc., mariscos, all manner of local fruit, ice cream, cotton candy and hot dogs, hamburguesas, etc.) sold from under tents and awnings by many scores of small vendors—that was only part of the fun, not to mention the vast array of cervezas, both
The young man throwing his leg over the horse’s rump is headed 
for the other side of the swollen river. The fellow helping him
 up had just retrieved his hat from the water.
undiluted and with salsa added (called micheladas), y licores, the toy, balloon, and flower vendors and other booths hawking cowboy and baseball hats, handbags (!?), stuffed animals, and geegaws galore.

The sights! The sounds—drums, brass, toots and hollers! The smells—wood smoke, all that food, accumulating dung! The humanity!…The horses!

The latter would normally now be the main attraction of this shindig. After crossing the slow-flowing river on conveniently spaced rocks you would, under the usual circumstances, come to a large stone corral where riders would race and put their show mounts through tricky and impressive paces. I can’t even begin to describe it because I haven’t seen it. I didn't see it because I didn’t cross the river, and neither did almost everyone else there in La Cañada that day, unless they were on horseback. Blame it on the past two weeks of exceptionally rainy weather that had swollen the river to twice it’s normal depth and breadth.

As soon as the trio began playing their rhythm-heavy tune, the 
horses start dancing. This seemed to be an attempt to mollify the 
crowd that couldn't make it to the stone corral across the flooding 
river where such tricks normally are played out on a much bigger stage.
This time, the stream of horses took the normal route past the vendors, paused at the water’s edge to observe the flood, and then high-stepped it across muddy, waist-deep and swift running water some 50 meters or more, and thence to the corral—we could see them congregating on the far side—and then, because they had no audience there except themselves, many of them would cross back over to where a gathering throng was eating, drinking, trying successfully to figure out how to have more fun, and spending money. 

So, there would be horses moving in two directions through a group of people flowing downhill to the riverbank. Pickup trucks, going god-knows-where, would also be trying to navigate through this slow-moving mass in the narrow muddy space between booths.

The braided mane and fancy tack seen here was not unusual. 
All the horses were well groomed, if not this dolled-up.
One of the attractions of past years, I had heard, was the dancing horses. All those gathered there last weekend were not denied this amusing and impressive sight. A snare, bass drum, cymbals and trumpet trio began holding forth on the gooey verge of the already crowded path, and bystanders gathered to gawk and applaud a stallion and his cerveza-swigging rider as the horse pranced to the music. Several other horses trying to sidle by were seized by the rhythm and surprised the audience with their own fancy impromptu steps. Shouts of alarm at this potentially dangerous choreography attracted other rubberneckers. Many in the crowd angled for pictures past a pickup truck stalled in the “road”. 

But it was all in good fun, and everyone kept their senses of humor. Any disappointment at being denied the usual rodeo jamboree was transmuted into—for one thing—appreciation of the spectacle of lines of horses crossing the river, while friends tried to cadge a precarious lift clinging to the back of a rider, clutching an impossibly large cooler of drinks or squeezing a child in front of them. When one such hitchhiker missed his swing onto a mount’s ample rear, barely—with help—kept from plunging into the muddy water himself but momentarily lost his hat in the flood, there were whoops, hoots and cheers from the many observers. Every such attempt was an occasion for suspense, and then applause.

These fine musicians were the only mariachi band we saw. Doubtless, others 
would arrive later and the place would really start jumping after we left, as 
evening fell.
We six gringos gathered together, took all this in, though mostly with photographs, joined in the more universal humor, and sat at a table drinking crevazas and soft drinks while chowing down on some tasty tacos. A little more time there, another visit to the river bank, and baños, and we would head back home. Two of us would catch an expensive ride to Ixtluhuacan in a tuk-tuk. The rest of us would be fortunate to get a free ride back on the bumpy and nearly gridlocked road in the bed of a pickup from a family we had recently befriended.

Not being a Catholic or a horse fancier myself, my enduring image from this day was from not long before we left La Cañada to go back home. I had stopped to watch a mariachi band perform for some folks in their backyard. As each player took a turn on their instrument, those few of us in the audience— including the rest of the players themselves—would nod and smile from the thrill we felt at the musician’s skill. Behind us, on the cobbled path, more horses made their way slowly down to the quickening throng by the river.

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