A burst of explosions woke us up yesterday morning at 4:30 AM. Hundreds of heavy bangs came from the field across the street from our house They couldn't have been closer without scorching us. Immediately following, a parade marched by (In the dark!) led by a shrill banda. It was so outrageous, all I could do was laugh.
We were treated to hundreds more explosions lasting until 7:30. Somehow we managed to doze on and off through it all, having become acclimated over the years to the noises that accompany fiestas.
The occasion was the celebration of Santa Cruz, a time of thanksgiving and prayers for a bountiful future. Our neighborhood, Barrio de la Palmita and the adjacent Valle de Maiz, are noted for noisy celebrations during May.
People celebrated all weekend long, but last Sunday was the big day. At noon our friends assembled into a parade, shutting down the Salida a Querétaro as they marched through the city.
Mostly working-class people live in La Palmita, most of them descended from Otomí or Chichimeca forebears. A consequence of their heritage is that the Santa Cruz celebration is a mixture of Catholic and indigenous rituals. Everyone here seems comfortable with the messy confluence of the two traditions. I imagine though that if the Vatican were fully aware of what was going on, it would drive them nuts.
The red-shirted banda that awakened us provided marching music. It has a wonderful sound. Paired clarinets, harmonizing in sour thirds and delightfully out of tune, play a sprightly melody. When they complete a cadenza, the whole band lurches into a repeat: blaring trumpets, booming tuba, and loud, loud drums. Somehow, the effect is thrilling. You gotta hear it to get it.
In counterpoint to the banda music, huge public address systems mounted on trucks play recorded music mixed with the voice of an announcer whipping up enthusiasm among participants and spectators. Stock batteries and alternators in these trucks are unable to supply more than a fraction of the power demanded by these sound systems. Gensets clatter away, generating the needed kilowatts.
Note the household fan mounted on the bumper of the red truck. Powered by the PA system genset, it provides needed additional cooling. It's 94º today, and that old engine probably can't idle for long without boiling over.
Later tonight a play will be enacted in the forecourt of La Palmita's modest church. The actors parade in their costumes. There seem to be more than three wise men...
...and there are at least two devils. Satan's regulation costume appears to be black-painted skin, a cow skull, and greenery from a pepper tree.
Next it's the locos; people dancing down the street in an incredible variety of goofy costumes. The woman to the left of the photo, the one in pinafore and baseball hat, appears to have been out shopping when she got caught in all the madness.
Among the locos, a popeyed mojiganga (outsize papier-mache creature) marches down the hill. Aunt Jemima appears as well, as she often does at these festivals. Mexican people are not as sensitive as Norteamericanos to caricatures and stereotyping. I, for example, am sometimes referred to as pelón—baldy.
The loco dressed as Death is handing out candy to little children.
Danzantes whirl to the beat of an enormous drum. They wear vague approximations of pre-Hispanic dress.
We followed the parade downtown and ate lunch in a restaurant just behind the Parroquoia while La Palmita rocked the Jardín, showing the town their chops.
Our barrio is modest. It puts on an enthusiastic if somewhat small-scale show. Next weekend Valle de Maiz will wheel out the big guns. The noises they are going to make will send dogs shaking under beds and set Gringo teeth on edge. No one within the city limits will escape the din. From Thursday on, sleep will be impossible.
Inured to Mexican celebrations we may well be, but we're sensible, too. Later this week Laura and I are going to head out for the peace and tranquility of Mexico City.