Thursday, September 16, 2010

September 16: Happy Mexican Independence!

Well, we're in the count-down now:  we leave San Miguel for Camano Island exactly a week from today, on September 23.  Not a good feeling!  And of course as usual, the car is in the shop.  Since we've been in San Miguel Rick has taken it to the Dodge dealer here in town four times (in addition to three Dodge dealers in towns on the way down), plus a car electrico place, plus now the most highly recommended mechanic in town.  I think the car has lived in repair shops more days than we've had it to use!  We are keeping our fingers crossed that this mechanic can fix the electrical problems that cause the dashboard lights to go out, the air conditioner to flip on and off, and most seriously the car to stall.  One time Rick drove it back from the Dodge dealer and the car stalled when he was driving down a steep hill.  Very scary stuff.

Next I'll let Rick tell you the bad part:  he went to a bullfight today.  I had gone to one in my 20s, so you can be sure I didn't go with him:  one is a lifetime is plenty for me.  But he had never been to one.

Hi from the gallery.  Today I went to the bullfight.  I was invited, otherwise I might have missed it.

First five junior matadors, called banderilleros, go to the five areas where they can hide behind a wooden shield.  Then the bull comes out, already with one pick in his shoulder.  He is grand and fierce and huge, at least 2,500 pounds of excitement and menace.

Then all five banderilleros challenge the bull with their capes, either running behind the barriers or distracting him from a potential victim.  This goes on for maybe ten minutes, tiring the bull and letting the crowd see his greatness.

Then the picadores come out, two of them, on large heavily padded horses.  They are carrying long pikes and when the bull attacks they stick him, drawing blood.  The other banderilleros draw the bull off with their capes if the picadores get in a jam.

After sticking the bull and drawing blood numerous times, two of the banderilleros with double picks show their great courage by further puncturing the bull with two picks that remain in his shoulders.  The bull is now bleeding, confused and tired.  Before the principal matador appeared, it was seven to one against the bull — a betting man's odds for sure.

I would like to be able to tell you how the "featured matador" then demonstrated his cape work and courage before issuing the coup de grâce on this bewildered beast, to the cheers of all the aficionados present, but this lily-livered gringo was long gone by that time.

I understand this event once tested man's courage against the ferocity of the powerful beast, but this had all the drama of the bull being shot by a high-powered rifle from the cheap seats — with none of the mercy that that shot would have given.

I know it's a culture thing, but where is the "sport" in confusing, tiring, and then causing this noble beast to bleed out BEFORE the fight begins?  I guess if I end up doing more writing, I will not be emulating Hemingway, at least in this respect.

Here's Jo back again.

A couple of days ago I went to a lecture at the Biblioteca (60 pesos, about $5!) on the history of Mexican independence, September 15, 1810.  It was a fascinating story.  After the conquest of the Aztecs in 1521, New Spain was inhabited by four classes.  The Spaniards, born in Spain, had the best positions, meaning lucrative and powerful.  Next were the Creoles, people born here to Spanish parents and not permitted to occupy the best positions.  Next were the various "mixed-blood" combinations among Spaniards, Creoles, Indians, and Africans.  Like slavery America, there were specific names for the various combinations and the lecturer showed us pictures of paintings of parents and children that were carefully labeled.  Last of course were the Indians, the indigenous peoples, who were 60% of the population in 1810.

Because Spain used New Spain exclusively to enrich its coffers for the monarchy and to fight futile wars, people here were bled dry financially and negative feelings rose high.  The insurrection in 1810 was led by the Creole class, supposedly because they were miffed at being excluded from the perks the native-born Spaniards enjoyed.  I haven't done any reading about it, but I suspect it was also the pattern we've seen in other revolutions where someone with education, i.e. a higher class, identifies with those lower down and is in a position to lead a movement.  That was true in America, true in Russia, true in France, and probably other places I don't know as much about.  But it was wonderful to know all this just before the celebration yesterday.

And what a celebration that was!  The insurrection of 1810, when New Spain forced Spain to agree to its independence, plus the revolution of 1910 (which gets short shrift in comparison) is celebrated in every town square in Mexico.  I had read in the local paper that we could expect 10,000 people in the Jardin and the four streets surrounding it.  That's not a big area but there had to be at least that number of people.  I'll try to describe what I saw.

Trees in the Jardin impeccably trimmed for the occasion.
People with little Mexican flags painted on their faces:  old and young, Mexican and American.
People waving Mexican flags of all sizes, from tiny to HUGE.
People wearing clothes in red, white and green, and wigs ditto.  I especially loved the little girls dressed in flouncy white dresses trimmed in red and green.
Everyone making noise!  Horns, groggers (like we have at Hanukkah), whistles, plus lots of yelling and whistling.  Mexicans love noise.
People with glue-on Sancho Panza black handlebar mustaches.
A teenage couple passionately and obliviously making out in the middle of the crowd.
Men with exaggeratedly big sombreros.
Babies gurgling, staring, crying, or sleeping.

And of course, entertainment up on the stage from 8 PM on.  There was Mexican rock music with deafening bass from the speakers set up everywhere.  There were folk dancers.  There was a drum corps that circled the square, accompanied by people holding flaming torches.  Of course at 9 PM there was a showing of the sound and light show on the Parroquia, the second time we've seen/heard that.

Rick had managed to snag a seat on a bench in front of the Parroquia, facing the stage, and he and I took turns sitting there.  That was prime real estate!  There were so many people in front of me that after a while the lines of people wanting to go left or go right were barely able to move, and I sat down in order to have some breathing space in front of my face, created by the distance from my knees to my body.  Eventually the bench got too uncomfortable and with much difficulty we pushed our way to another part of the square.

At around 10:30 the drum corps, torch-bearers, and people dressed up as the poor, badly dressed insurgents of 1810 accompanied the mayor, a woman named Lucy Nunez, to the Casa de Allende (Miguel Allende, one of the leaders of the movement) at one of the corners of the square for the "ceremonio del grito," the ceremony of the shout, at 11 PM.  The grito commemorates the beginning of the insurrection, when Father Hidaldo in the nearby town of Dolores issued a call to arms and people responded in droves.  The reading of the grito happens all over Mexico at 11 PM on the 15th and this is what it is.  After each phrase, imagine thousands upon thousands of people yelling "Viva!"  Yours truly included.

Long live the heroes that gave us our Fatherland!
Long live Hidalgo!
Long live Moreles!
Long live Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez!
Long live Allende! (that got an especially big response)
Long live Aldama and Matamoros!
Long live national independence!
Long live the independence bicentennial! (for this year only)
Long live the centennial of the revolution (ditto)
Long live Mexico!
Long live Mexico!
Long live Mexico!

With all the Vivas! after each phrase, it felt just like Dayenu at a Passover seder, when the leader says each thing God did for us when he led us out of Egypt and everyone enthusiastically responds "Dayenu!" — it would have been enough.

And the crowd was simply astonishing.  Here are only a few of them.  The stick in front had a big flag; you can see another in the center farther back.

Screaming, yelling, singing, blowing horns, waving flags, all in utter joy.  People with means had rented hotel rooms on the square and from their balconies had a great view of the pandemonium.

By now the crowd was at its thickest.  Everyone was jammed up against everyone else.  If you wanted to go somewhere else there was absolutely no way to do it:  picture a totally gridlocked traffic jam.  In fact, if you lost your balance you could not fall.  You grinned at people pushing into you because they were being pushed themselves.  Only once in my life have I been in a crowd like that:  when I was 17 at Times Square on New Year's Eve.  Unlike that evening, here in San Miguel I felt (and was) utterly safe and surrounded by happy people of good will.

Immediately after the grito was called out and all the Vivas! were yelled, there was an enormous fireworks display, accompanied by the frenzied clanging of church bells.  Mexicans must be the world leader in fireworks.

Not only were there fireworks right above our heads — it was really hard to turn in the crush to see them! — but two fireworks towers had been built in front of the Parroquia.  They were lit in sections, so that the impetus created by the momentum of burning powder caused lit-up wheels to turn and circles and spirals to spin.  The grand finale was "1810 - 2010" and "Viva Mexico!" in fireworks at the top of the two towers.

It was a spectacle I will remember for the rest of my life.

1 comment:

  1. Dear Jo and Rick,

    I attended the "Grito!" years ago and experienced much of what you describe extraordinarily well. However, I was glad not to be there, even in your company, at this singular moment in the continuum because the crush would have undone me. However, I am impressed by the coincidence of SMA's first lady mayor being the one to give the bicenntenial "Grito!" Louis