Wednesday, December 21, 2016


The Posada

Our block, nuestra cuadra--Calle Encarnación Rosas between Guadalupe Victoria and Constitución. We live about mid-block, left side, just past that blue car.
Yesterday evening my sociable wife and I met some of our new neighbors at a block party that featured my first ever posada. Literally meaning “inn”, the word also refers to a fiesta that includes reenactment of Mary and Joseph’s quest for shelter that evening long ago in Bethlehem. This is how that went down last night: a group of about fifteen vecinos trooped inside a casa just up the street from where we live, the one outside of which there’s always a Wednesday table with used clothing for sale. These were the “innkeepers”. An equal-sized party gathered in front of the "inn", on the cobbles in the street. They represented Joseph and Mary, or the “pilgrims”. A rhythmic six-part call-and-response ensued—the “Canción de Navidad”. 

This carol, in español, began with the pilgrims beseeching, “In the name of the heavens/I request lodging from you/ Because she cannot walk/My beloved wife.” The innkeepers responded, “This is not an inn/Go on ahead/I can’t open up for you/In case you’re a crook.” After several entreaties and rejections, all ended happily with everyone sing/chanting, “Happy is the house/That shelters today/The pure virgin/The beautiful Mary/Enter holy pilgrims…” Other posadas held around the village this week, to add an authentic touch, sometimes featured a burro which I’ve heard can be rented for the occasion.

For the rest of the event, along one side of the street tables were set up in a row for fifty feet or so, interspersed with several food stations. During the course of the evening we ate some incredibly tender strips of barbecued meat with handmade tacos, frijoles and salsa, drank tequila and guayaba fruit ponche.

When we had first arrived we were warmly greeted by Jose and Monica, who both work in social welfare, and Jesus, Jose’s brother and former delegado from the village. They introduced us to other neighbors including Carlos, a medical doctor, philosopher and raconteur, who regaled us with stories of Mexico City where we’re headed tomorrow for a short vacation. Catalina shared our table. She is Vicente’s granddaughter and an architect who presented her sisters and had a long bilingual conversation with mi esposa. Among the other acquaintances I made was Roderigo, a stone carver who invited me to visit his workshop next to Vicente’s zapateria. One tiny older woman, smiling widely, clasped our hands and told us how good it was that we were here.

It was a very friendly evening, during which we met a few gringos living on the block in addition to many Mexicano neighbors. A household here is usually represented by at least three generations, with that family’s history on the block typically going back as far as anyone can remember, and many families, of course, are related by marriage. Carlos is a relative newcomer to our cuadra, having “only” lived here for forty years. 

It was nearing midnight with no sign of the party winding down when we said our final mucho gustos and hasta luegos and buenas noches, and strolled home, which was nearly next door to where we'd spent the evening. Youngsters were still cavorting in the street as we left, burning off eager energy as they waited for time to break the traditional piñata.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

LXXXVII. Una Propina Para la Basura

A Tip For the Trash

I’ve felt an affinity for garbagemen ever since I was a three-year-old and my heart was lifted every time I saw a happy gang of sociable guys hoisting big cans into a loud truck as they drove through Veterans’ Village at Oklahoma A&M where my dad was in grad school after WWII. The garbagemen here, in our small Mexican town, are similarly friendly and energetic hombres. I like them too. Every day except Sunday they pick up whatever trash we leave outside our door, sorting through the mess to make money from some of the recyclables. When we lived on Calle Constitución, Lupita would shout down to them from our balcony as they passed by, "Hola chicos, la basura!" And then with laughter all around she'd toss that day's trash into the bed of their camion. Yesterday, at our new home on Calle Encarnación Rosas, I slipped a 200 peso note in an envelope Truck 6 had left on our doorstep. When a jangling bell announced they were on our street, I passed it on to a hearty “Gracias, Señor”. 

Monday, December 12, 2016

LXXXVI. Reyna de Mexico

Queen of Mexico

Señor Jimenez came over this morning to check the reason for our exorbitant electricity bills. He figured our place for about 700 pesos every two months, instead we’ve been paying over $1200. No one was tapping into our meter (good news) and we didn’t have any fugas to speak of. But the lights alone are using half our amperage. It's going to be a hassle and expense, but I should replace them all with LEDs. I went walking along the carretera looking for an LED store. Couldn’t find one. Coming back through Seis Esquina barrio I ran into sidewalk altars for the Virgin of Guadalupe, and then the band at the back of a religious parade. There were savage dancers, men in colorful satin pantalones turning circles. Several variations of "Maria - Reina de Mexico” were leading the procession in pickup floats. After dark now, cohetes are raining down on us.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

LXXXV. Fiestas Patronal - Una Crónica

Festival for Our Patron Saint - A Chronicle

This boy in the opening day parade is atop a float sponsored
by his barrio.
21 Noviembre—Today, the day after Mexico’s nationwide Revolution Day, is the kickoff for the nine-day annual salute to our village's patron saint, San Andrés. We’re a fun-loving place and to live here happily you have to be prepared for a lot of noise during these fun-loving days and nights…or else do as many gringos do—leave town. This afternoon's opening parade goes from the church out to Seis Esquinas neighborhood, and back again. Tonight is alive with brass and drum bands playing around town and the explosion of random cohetes, or fireworks.

All the rides are set up and ready for nighttime fun.

22 Noviembre—Seven o’clock and night has settled. I was just up on our rooftop mirador watching the sparkling trails of cohetes arcing above the parroquia’s steeple. They explode like a sharp rifle pop that echoes against the montañas with a ripping sound. The kiddie rides are probably running by now, taking up all of Calle Colón just north of the plaza with lots of youthful squeals, plus food and drink vendors. Amplified noise, soon. This afternoon, pick-up trucks brought piles of goods, large vans blocked narrow streets, and trabajadores set up awnings and portable kitchens. 

Wide-eyed merriment in front of a wistful outsider...hope he gets his turn.

23 Noviembre—In the early morning, to honor Sta. Cecilia—patron of musicians—brass and drum bands wandered through the village, playing rousing tunes, amply punctuated by those cohetes.

25 Noviembre—Today is the fourth day of our village's nine-day fiesta patronal for San Andrés. Each day's activities are sponsored by a different community group. The carpenters and construction workers are especially well-organized and funded, so the fireworks and music they provide are known to be louder and longer than those underwritten by others. Most of that noisy action takes place between 7PM and midnight. During the day virtually all the rides and food stands are closed.

Dozens of stands selling everything from lottery cards to
machetes tempt revelers.
27 Noviembre—The sixth day of our village's fiesta patronal began with a hundred or more pre-dawn cohetes, their noise meant to awaken parishioners for 6AM mass. That was followed by a rollicking brass and drum band that passed by our casa about an hour later--"Get your lazy butts out of bed!" Except for more or less hourly rounds of cohetes, Sunday was pretty quiet until night settled and villagers began strolling to the plaza to play those timeless carnival games, ride bumper cars, etc., shop, eat, drink, platicar and listen to music until the 10PM castillos--hand-made firework constructions in front of the parish church, or parroquia

The lowest level of the castillo in the church courtyard has just been lit. The
propulsion of the fireworks sends the display spinning, sometimes in both
directions. Each display lasts only a minute or so, and then a daredevil
handler climbs the infrastructure to light the next, more complicated level.
1 Diciembre—Last night was the final and most festive (if that's possible) of the novenario for San Andrés, our village's patron saint. We have a lot of happy goings-on here, but this is the one we really put our hearts into—a big personal Thank You to our patron for keeping and protecting us.  Until the wee wee hours of the AM, our plaza was packed with joyful and increasingly bleary-eyed celebrants, various kinds of music but always loud, jam-packed dancers, an incredible array of food and unimaginable variety of household goods, plentiful and happily shared drinks, rockets bursting in the clear and cool night air, and the memory of the wild, spinning fireworks display, as always sponsored this last night by the ausentes—those absent ones who have left home and family to better provide for them with money sent back from work in the Estados Unidos. Our older daughter arrived on the Red Eye to Guadalajara this morning, in time to enjoy the evening festividades with her papa.

The castillo finally spent, it's nearly 11PM and time to see what's going on in the plaza, buy a slice of pizza or something more exotic, and a cerveza

Friday, December 9, 2016

LXXXIV. Día de los Muertos

Day of the Dead

The town cemetery, or panteón, the morning after families had
visited and left offerings at the graves of loved ones.
"Day of the Dead"there are several close variations of this name, but all refer to a Mexican religious holiday celebrated on the first and second of every November. This is the time to feel close to loved ones who have died. The memorial usually takes place on the second evening, often at the loved one's gravesite which is newly tended and decorated with flowers and objects of remembrance. Ofrendas, memorial altars similarly arrayed with offerings, are at many houses, both inside and out, as well as in public places, such as plazas and along andadores, public walkways.              

Posada's original "Catrina"
One of the icons of this yearly celebration is calavera, a representation of the human skull, originally of a character named "Catrina", the 100-year old creation of Mexican illustrator, José Guadalupe Posada.

Ofrendas to memorialize some beloved local citizens who had
died during the year.
The event, with its memorial candles, marigolds, papeles picadoras--cut out paper banners with calavera imagessugar skulls and bread de los muertos, captured my imagination over thirty years ago. I liked its irreverent take on death, the acknowledgement that we are all but very similar bones wrapped in a wide variety of skin, muscle and hair. The clothes and mannerisms with which we differentiate ourselves are mocked by the way death levels us. In addition, this uniquely Mexican take on death, which goes back to way before pre-conquest days, makes a comfortable place for it alongside the living--something I don't see up north.

A "Catrina"--one among many made by
local schoolchildren--next to the gazebo
in the center of our village's plaza.
Nowadays, every year at this time Catrinas, whether real people dressed up in make-up and costume, or simply models constructed of papier mâché and paint, are everywhere displaying their useless and amusing vanity. 

In our canon of celebrations
—after the novena for our little Virgin of the RosaryDía de los Muertos comes next in a season of fiestas and events that continues in mid-November with Mexican Revolution Day honoring heroes of the early twentieth century struggle to unseat a dictator and provide greater rights to common people. That butts right up into the Fiesta Patronal—a nine-day (and night) celebration at the end of the month in honor of our village's patron saint. Close on its heels is another nine-day event to honor the patron saint of the nation, our Virgen de Guadalupe. Pentultimately, La Navidad seems like an afterthought or palate cleanser before the festive debauchery of New Years Eve.

Then there's a fairly fallow season until Easter...Oops, but that's forgetting Mardi Gras. We celebrate it, but I haven't yet seen the day referred to as Martes Gordo.

¡Viva México!