Tuesday, December 22, 2015

LI. Esta Mañana

This Morning

We must be now halfway to the Equator from our old home back in the States that snugs against the Canadian border. When today’s alarm goes off a little after 6:30—up early to go hiking—it might as well be in the middle of the night for only the darkness shows. Twenty minutes later, though, coffee in hand on our balcony, looking past the guava and palm trees we see a fire-colored sun beginning to rise into the lightening sky. For some minutes, the only noise we hear is from the roosters scattered throughout our pueblo: their many rousing greetings of old sol.  There’s one guy who’s closest, somewhere in the middle of the block across the street, another behind us must be located near the parish church by the plaza, and many more are indistinguishable—their hoarse, piercing, five-syllable calls come from out west away from the Centro. It isn’t long before the colibris—hummingbirds—join this cacophonous chorus from a tropical tree with a riot of purple blooms that rises out of the galeria’s garden across the street, sounding like a bunch of tiny typewriters according to my spouse…Then the parroquia's bells begin to ring for morning mass.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

L. Viva Las Vegas

"Viva Las Vegas"

Last night my fun-loving esposa and I attended a dinner evento among our sweet amigos in the centro cultural just across the street from where we live. The theme was “Viva las Vegas” with the music of Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley sung by a 17-year-old kid from Guadalajara, and he didn’t do a bad job. We received many hugs from Alex and Alejandra, Imelda and Maria, even CC. Unfortunately, the meat was a little tough (Edgar was vastly apologetic and I’m sure they’ll get it right) but the magician with his card tricks, the many clever and well-done decorations, basket lights under the palms and stars, the two prizes we won—one of Alex’s necklaces para mi amor and free dinners from Imelda for us both—and most of all our fine new friends with their warm and sincere greetings, made it a memorable night in this little Mexican village.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

XLIX. Papá Noel y su Máquina de Niebla

Santa Claus and his Fog Machine

We're sitting in front of our laptops tonight in almost shutdown mode when we hear loud (but not LOUD) music, which isn't at all unusual here except it's more easy listening with a frisky beat, and somehow has a Christmas-y feel. We rush to the balcony and look up Constitución and what to our wondering eyes should appear--rolling smoothly down the cobblestones--but some radical conveyance like a stretch limo-cum-luxury flatbed, carrying Santa waving from his sleigh behind eight fiberglass reindeer, and more red/green/yellow/blue blinking LEDs than you can imagine. Slowing down at the corner with Castellanos someone trips the fog machine and Santa looks all gauzy as he throws candies at a few surprised people who are there just hanging out. The sparkly letters on the back of his sled read, "Feliz Navidad".

Saturday, December 5, 2015

XLVIII. Fiesta Patronal

Fiesta in Honor of the Patron Saint

A castillo, or "castle", so named for the towers on which the firework displays
are mounted. A different configuration is set up and ignited every night of the
nine-day celebration to honor the patron saint of the village. In the background
is our parish church.
Each town in Mexico has had a patron saint since the time it was conquered by armies of Spain and missionaries of the Catholic Church began proselytizing. The Fiesta Patronal is a nine-day celebration to honor, give thanks, and pray for continued blessing and protection from that saint. The fiesta culminates on the saint’s feast day, which for each of the many saints is always held on a particular date during the year. For example, for the nearby village of San Juan Cosalá, the patron saint is Saint John the Baptist (San Juan Bautista), and the feast day is June 24th. In our little town of Ajijic, the patron is San Andrés, known in English speaking circles as Saint Andrew, protector of fishermen, and his feast day is November 30, meaning the nine-day novenario begins on November 22. This is the day-by-day record of Ajijic’s favorite celebration. We’ve heard a lot about it, now we’d see if it lives up to its gung-ho reputation.

A rare partly cloudy morning makes for a glorious sunrise. During the nine-
day fiesta we were always awakened early--usually in the dark--by the
explosion of up to several hundred cohetes, summoning the faithful to mass.
On this day this colorful sight was our reward and soon we would hear one of
the happy-sounding brass bands which always greeted the dawn.
21 Noviembre, Sábado
Saturday. We had read that the Fiestas de San Andrés would be preceded this afternoon by a procession to the parroquia, or parish church, featuring bands and religious-themed floats alternating with pre-hispanic style danzantes and hundreds of faithful parishioners. The day before, though— Friday—had been the Anniversary of the Revolution, a popular secular holiday whose parade hallmark is scads of school kids—the older ones stopping occasionally to display various feats of physical skill, and the younger children dressed as famous historical characters of the 1910 revolution, such as Emiliano Zapata, complete with fake mustache, or Adelita with her crossed bandoliers. Evidently yesterday’s celebration has sapped enthusiasm for another parade today because we see only one float—San Andrés with a net full of fish—no pagan dancers, and only a small gaggle of faithful. As an interesting sidebar we’ve noticed that on secular holidays the police make sure the streets of the parade route are clear of all parked vehicles; no such consideration is given to religious celebrations which have to crowd around stationary cars and trucks.

I discovered these wildly colorful carnival rides occupying most of Calle
Colón for several blocks above and adjacent to the plaza. Every night of the
celebrations--school nights, most of them!--they would be occupied by happy
22 Noviembre, Domingo 
Sunday. This morning there were—I started counting them but lost track!—more than 150—ONE HUNDRED FIFTY cohetes—those sky rockets that explode with a loud BANG!—beginning at o’dark hundred and lasting until after six—that’s IN THE MORNING. They wake us up, naturally, since we live less than a block from where they are ignited, at the plaza en frente de la parish church. Any doubts we had about whether this day might lack enthusiastic (or at least, noisy) support is immediately dispelled. The cohetes allegedly serve an additional purpose of awakening church-goers for the morning masses at 6 and 8 AM, as well as—perhaps—recalling the ancient Aztec belief that loud noises drive away evil spirits. The hullabaloo is followed half an hour later by una banda that parades through the streets brassily playing, of all things, “Deep in the Heart of Texas”. As if there were any further chance of racking up some Zs! The novenario for our patron saint, San Andrés has begun!

Every day of the novenario for our patron saint is sponsored by a different
group of townspeople; on Tuesday that was the Catholic missionaries. Every
night, representatives of the sponsors lead the parade to the parish church for
7PM mass. 
24 Noviembre, Martes
Tuesday. The first day and night of the nine day celebration for San Andrés is in the books. It happened to coincide with the feast day of Santa Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, so there was a lot of late night boogying in the plaza, followed by the obligatory castillos—twirling, multicolored fireworks at the parish church. Yesterday, the early Monday morning cohetes—exploding fireworks—were as nothing compared to Sunday's; it felt so good to get a full night’s sleep. Much of the village trooped to the plaza again last night for more music, carnival rides, cervezas and Mexican street food at one of the many plaza-side pop-up bars and cafes, called terrazas. This morning—Tuesday—all was still and waiting for another night’s festivities. We’ll be there.

25 Noviembre, Miercoles
Early in the evening--it's dark by 6:30--fast food stands that
surround the plaza are preparing for the deluge of celebrants.
Wednesday. Every day of the Fiestas de San Andrés is organized and funded by a different group of townspeople. Yesterday’s doings were sponsored by Catholic missionaries; that's them in the candlelit parade, above. We were evidently too early, though, to see much action other than the missionaries leading the way into the 7PM mass, and the terrazas beginning to fire up their grills. The castillo display didn’t go off until 10:30; we heard it when we were in bed…I awoke early this morning—about 6—to go hunting for haciendas south of Tequila's volcano, and in time to hear una de las bandas coming down our street with some loud drums and a lot of brass. Followed by those exploding sky rockets—cohetes—of course. The group underwriting today’s activities includes the teachers, hairdressers, domestic workers and barbers, so they were responsible for all that early morning sort of melodic, but definitely upbeat noise.

It's still early and vendors are arranging their stock while families take a look
at the rides, trying to decide which ones they will pony up for.
27 Noviembre, Viernes
Friday. The group of citizens sponsoring yesterday’s doings—which included MANY cohetes randomly dispersed morning, noon and night—was comprised of tienda owners, carpenters and barbers…Today, the sixth day of the fiesta to honor our village's patron saint dawns with an unusually colorful sunrise visible from our balcony. In the near distance we hear a fine brass band marching towards us down Calle Constitución announcing the beginning of another day's festivities. They will circulate through the village, stopping in the middle of each block to play a heavily brass-accented song that has to bring a smile to your face. Many thanks to the farmers and ranchers for arranging this entertainment two-thirds of the way through Ajijic's novenario for San Andrés. I think I’ll go wander among the many market stalls on the blocked-off streets around the plaza—that's a favorite daytime activity during this week-plus celebration—to see if I can find something appropriate to replace our moldy straw coasters.

28 Noviembre, Sábado
By 10PM during the nine-day fiesta for San Andrés, the plaza
is jumping. The brightly lit awnings behind the crowd above
are the roofs of temporary food booths, selling everything from
birria--a goat stew--to pizza.
Saturday. Nothing doing yesterday, with the coasters...Today's Fiesta Patronal is being brought to us by local construction workers and affiliated businesses, working hard to nail Ajijic's reputation as a party town. The day began with several hundred exploding rockets—to wake us up in time to attend morning mass—closely followed by a brass band that stopped to play a couple of songs opposite the house next door. Now at 2AM the next morning we have some heartfelt and very loudly amplified music still coming from the plaza a block away. The pictures above were taken much earlier in the evening when things were just beginning to warm up. That's Bob Marley on the carnival ride placard blessing the festivities...I'll go back to bed now, turn the white noise generator up a couple of notches and wonder what the gardeners and union workers have in store for us in a few hours.

A different band played until the wee hours of the morning on a stage set up
in front of the cultural center at the northeastern edge of our small plaza. On
the last evening both the band and the crowd were bigger than previous nights.
30 Noviembre, Lunes
Monday. After a bit of a lull yesterday—Sunday—tonight marks the end of Ajijic's celebration to honor its patron saint. This final massive blowout is sponsored by the 'ausentes', Ajijic natives who are absent from home sending paychecks back to family from their work in the US. We had read that it all peaks now, and we are not disappointed. The plaza is packed with a slowly milling throng, las terrezas are all doing a brisk business, as are the carnival rides and games of chance, the big brass boy band is playing at top decibel range, and the space in front of the parroquia is completely jammed with those of us who came to ogle the final castillo displays. As per usual, the raucous jamboree goes on—in this party town, on its favorite night to celebrate—until the wee hours…Muchisimas gracias, San Andrés!!

There were about a dozen circular, bamboo-framed firework displays on the twin towers of the castillo at the last night of our Fiestas Patronal. Each display is lit from a fuse that hangs to the ground. Sometimes that fuse does not work and an engineer has to climb the tower up to the display to set it alight directly by hand. The worker pictured here has just finished that dangerous task.