Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Celebrating a New Year, Mexican Style

And, with all Mexican celebrations, let there be fireworks!
Are you ready to ring in 2014?

Quick - there is still time to bring in Mexican Good Luck for 2014.  Here are some tips.

First, go outside and build a fire in the street, then sit outside with your family and neighbors and celebrate together.

Before heading out, check what you are wearing and select your underwear carefully! Red will bring you luck, white, good health and yellow will insure wealth and abundance. (The stores here have big displays of red undies and as the young were getting ready for their big evenings, that area of the stores were crowded!)

For overall good fortune, wear an item of old clothing and another brand new item.

As the clock hits midnight, eat a grape with each chime and make a wish as you eat each one. (Ours are counted out and sitting in a bowl, awaiting the midnight hour. Arayo has a bowl of a dozen treats too, just in case it might be good luck for our 4-legged pals.)

Pull a ladder out from the garage and as the clock strikes mid-night - jump off - thus leaving behind all things negative with this final leap into the New Year.

And, above all, have a safe New Years Eve as you head into Twenty Fourteen!

Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Star of Bethlehem Shines on Mexico

Children and their parents reenact the story of Mary and Joseph's search for an inn
She rode into town on a donkey. Mary, with Joseph by her side. Following her were 50 or so children and parents, reenacting the Biblical story of Mary and Joseph's search for a place to stay.

It is a Mexican tradition.  From December 16 through Christmas Eve, the village children meet at the church, then they go door to door along a pre-determined route, knocking and being turned away. When finally they reach the right location, there is singing, they are invited in and they find a party, or the simple handing out of holiday bags of candies and fruits.
The Star of Bethlehem shines over the Pasada

As I watched the Posada one evening, I noticed in the back of the group, a small boy. Sitting atop his father's shoulders, he looked across the sea of children, and onto the activity taking place at the door. He was dressed in a funny outfit, all puffy of a gold fabric that glittered and shined. His face showed from the center of what looked like a gold banana with appendages.

Then, it hit me. He wasn't in a banana suit. His face looked out from a big, stuffed gold star costume that was shining down on the activity below.

He was the Star of Bethlehem.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

The Fires of Christmas Eve

"Feliz Navidad"
So slowly and silently did it creep into my room that I didn't notice the smoke that was settling around me. Suddenly, the night erupted with hundreds of explosions which shook the building and sent me flying from my bed.

11:59, read the clock.  Christmas Eve.

Quickly tossing on a sweatshirt and flip-flops, I grabbed Arayo's leash, ran across the courtyard, through the long lobby, up a flight of stairs and out into the cool Mexican night.

The scene that met me was surreal.  All up and down the cobblestone street flames danced to the music being pumped out of simple homes.  Children spun round in the middle of the road as they twirled giant sparklers. Parents and grandparents warmed themselves by the fires they had built near their front doors (and their cars) and visited as they roasted huge pink and white marshmallows.

I leaned against a wall and watched the scene playing out around me, then strolled closer to better see what the next family over was doing.

"Feliz Navid", the mothers said when they spotted me watching.

Speaking only a few words of Spanish, I had no way to explain how magical I thought this tradition was.

Occasionally, throughout the night, I awoke to hear more explosions, but when I took Arayo out to potty at 6 am - the fires near me were out.  The families in bed.  Towards town I could hear a Christmas party still in progress.

Perhaps next year I will have the words to better connect and with luck I'll be invited to be part of this Mexican Christmas tradition.  I can still twirl a mean sparkler!

A Mexican Christmas Eve

Perhaps the bottle of Tequila helped this Mary and Joseph stay happy
The angel yawned, the king crossed his eyes and stuck out his tongue.  Mary's frustration showed on her face as she held the squirming baby and popped a bottle into his mouth.  Joseph wore a Mariachi uniform topped by big sombrero. At his feet, a bottle of tequila.

The Church was alive this Christmas Eve.  Mexicans and gringos alike entered the walled courtyard and made their way around the parameter to see the living nativities.  Conceived and constructed by the various neighborhoods of Ajijic, children performed the central rolls of Mary, Joseph and an assorted cast which included angels, babies, wise men (or not), toy animals, and a couple reindeer for good measure.  

After an hour or two of posing, some actors continued to appear reverent as their photos were taken, though boredom showed on a few faces.  One living baby apparently got cranky and was removed, only to be replaced by a hat.

One scene portrayed Mary and Joseph dressed as peasant Mexicans.  Another rendition of the sacred scene was played out by Mary in bright colorful Mexican party wear with yards of skirts, ribbons and a bright orange headdress.  She seemed to be the happiest Mary - perhaps because her Jesus was made of wood and wasn't putting up a fuss in the cool Mexican night air.  Or maybe she snuck in a sip of Joseph's tequila!

In the center of the church courtyard, a huge piece of art had been constructed of colorful saw dust, depicting a bright red and green poinsettia on a beige backdrop.  Words at the bottom proclaimed "Feliz Navidad 2014".

Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus, Mexican Style!
As a series of bells rang, the faithful made their way through the giant doors of the old stone church for Midnight Mass. The priest, once young and energetic, has seen a few Christmas Eves, and with age comes wisdom - or perhaps a desire to hit the hay early.  Through the years, Midnight Mass was moved to 11, then 10, and now is held at a more practical hour of 8.

Curious, I followed the crowd and stood at the back of the sanctuary.  The building was filled to capacity, yet people continued to push through the doors.  I realized I was depriving someone of space within these walls for whom this service carried great meaning, so I made my way back outside and left the faithful to worship on this Christmas Eve.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Celebrating A Virgin with Charlie Manson

The Virgin is honored with alters outside Mexican homes
11 pm.  The streets were deserted as I took Arayo for her final nightly constitution.  As we headed back inside, I was drawn through the night to view the alters which had been erected outside the homes in the neighborhood.

Encircled with colorful strands of lights, the alters shared a common theme - brown paper or fabric supported a variety of plants and climbed in height until they reached a print or figurine of a brown woman, dressed in robes, head bowed.

It was December 12, the final day of the celebration of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron Saint of Mexico. She is the Virgin Mary who appeared to Juan Diego and instructed him to build a church in her honor atop a mountain.  It is said she is the reason many Mexican's became Catholic.

As Arayo and I walked, we began to hear strains of music and followed the street until we arrived at a festival a few blocks away.  At the entrance to the area, a mariachi band played, and beyond them were several blocks of vendors selling food, drinks and gaily lit trinkets that flashed in the night.

Arayo and I wandered to the far end, under a fireworks display which was being erected in a much too cramped area, and to a stage where more progressive and louder music was performed.

As we don't often hear a true mariachi band, we walked back to the entrance and stood with grandmothers and families to listen a while.  Accompanied by violins, guitars and trumpets a short stocky guitar player held center stage, belting out words I could not understand but with a strong tenor voice.  I was enchanted.

There were 8 musicians in all, though a carefully dressed lad of about 2 wondered amongst them, strumming a toy guitar. He had the makings of a rock star with big brown eyes and the ability to work the crowd.

As the musicians began a new number, a man staggered into their midst.  Dressed in a filthy button down shirt with GUCCI written across the breast pocket, his pants were several sizes too large and tightly supported by a frayed belt. (Thank God!) The hair sticking out from the NYC ball cap fell in clumps to his shoulders and matched his unshaved unbathed face.  He supported himself with a cane and gripped a plastic cup of beer in his other paw.

The intro completed to the band's song, this man, who could have been a twin for Charlie Manson, opened his filthy mouth wide, lifted his chin towards the night sky and in nearly perfect pitch stole the position of lead singer.  Where had this man learned to sing? Had he professionally trained, then fell into a bottle to be lost to the world of music?

Between verses, Charlie leaned on his cane, took deep swigs of beer, then wiggled his hips at the audience. It was a stunning, macabre sight and though no one bothered to toss him into the street, the band was obviously not amused.

Song after song, Charlie refused to relinquish his place center stage, and with disgust on their faces, the band packed up their instruments and left.  His back-up musicians gone, the beer drained, Charlie wobbled off into the night.

Looking back towards the party still in progress down the street, I shook my head, wondered at the things that happen in Mexico, and mentally said my goodbyes to another Saint celebration as we headed home to bed.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Up REALLY Close with Things That Spit Flames

Sparks and flames shoot onto spectators below.
Sparks were flying, flames shooting about. The crowd of hundreds laughed and watched as pieces of fireworks fell back to earth.   A few brushed burning embers from their hair.  We sucked in smoke filled with sulfur and God knows what else - maybe blasting powder or TNT.

Pinwheels were mounted onto a 40 or 50 foot rickety looking wooden tower, supported by a few ropes anchored to walls and the church.  No one seemed concerned that the flames from the pinwheels might sever the support, sending the tower falling into the crowd.

At one point, a technical difficulty is detected so a man is sent to climb the tower with an enormous knife, unsheathed. Never-mind he could stab himself or drop the blade onto someone below.

Families were seated on the church steps, maybe 15 feet away from the fireworks display. Well, what can go wrong - we're on the CHURCH steps, after all.  Shouldn't that insure complete protection?

A pinwheel was lit and a small black dog rushed from the audience towards the burning, spinning, flashing and screaming ring.  To him this was a game - jump in the air and try to capture the flames and sparks as they shoot about. Though many wanted to, no one rushed to save him for fear of losing their own hair.  At least THAT was too close. (In the interest of full disclosure, he was captured before the next display was set ablaze.)

Various groups were in charge of these spectacles.  One group, perhaps, should have kept with their chosen field, which was not the construction of towering fiery displays. A few too many pieces of it flew, burning, towards the crowd.  We moved and watched from the safety of the street and behind a stone wall.

Our American friends were in awe of these demonstrations.  Rarely was an area marked off to maintain a safe boundary, and that safety field could be measured in a few feet. Those making a living as employees of OSHA would be looking for other work here in Mexico.

I find this 'living on the edge' to be freeing.  Here, if you are burned by a falling fireworks ember you don't call a lawyer and look for someone to sue, you say "gee, maybe I got too close!"  

Mexico is reminding me of the days of my youth, when people took responsibility for their actions and their outcome.  As the flames and sparks flew, I looked at the height of the tower, and while I didn't hide a block away, I stood at the back of the crowd.  The thrill seekers and those with a belief that the power of the church would protect them were welcome to feel more of the heat.

I'm glad they have the right to do so.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Dancing Half Naked Men on an Evening Stroll

Sunday evenings, the Mexican Malecon fills with people
I hadn't expected the semi-naked dancing men, but they greatly improved what would otherwise have been just a lovely evening stroll.

The plan had been to meet another Newfoundland and her owner at the malecon, the paved walk that runs along the the lake. It was Sunday evening and a stroll is always a great way to end the day - watching as the sun sinks and finally sets behind the mountains, painting the sky shades of orange, and tossing color across the lake to land on the lucky who wait there.

Sunday evenings are special at lakeside, with families coming to visit, picnic, play, and stroll. This evening, we were greeted by sounds - a little bluesy, a little gutsy, a little Janis Jopliny.  Now THIS is the kind of music I can get in to. I told myself we'd come back, enjoy the concert after a little more exercise.

We visited with people interested in the big dogs, reached the west end of the pavement, then turned to see girls in grass skirts parading across the lawn.  They were cute but I might have passed on were it not for the half naked men milling about.  (Hey, I'm not dead yet!)

Families come out to watch the evening entertainment
A woman began walking around those assembled near the scantily clothed group and slipped leis over our heads. (Arayo looked cute decorated in a necklace of white flowers.)  Then, the drums began beating, hollowed pieces of wood of various lengths were played and the dancing began with the swinging of hips.

Then the men took the stage. Covered only by fringe on their calves and rather long loin clothes, they squatted, pranced and dipped. The muscles of their legs were long and defined.  I was amazed how low they could go and still keep moving. I was amazed that they could dance like that and expose nothing!  We were mesmerized.

One should never second guess a Mexican evening stroll.  One never knows what one will find just waiting outside. (But, dang - I've GOT to start carrying my camera more often!)