Yesterday we were guests at Francisca's annual family gathering at their ranch near Rodriguez Mexico - about half hr from SMA by bus. 37 relatives, mass at the local country church, followed by dancing of attendees mixed with people wearing masks and costumes, men cross-dressed as women, general wildness and eccentricity.
Most of the mass attendees stand outside the little church as only a fraction fit inside. Stand, or kneel on the dusty soil. Kids run amok shooting cap guns or climbing on dirt piles during the service as dogs wander among the crowd and a crippled drunk meanders through shaking everyone's hand wishing la Paz. (later he was amazing on the dance floor).
Fireworks punctuate the service at what I opine is a planned presentation but Jennifer thought was independent. A small cactus was growing out of the limb of a 100+ year old Mesquite over our heads. Behind the church cows were enjoying some nice alfalfa, and, as we were in the country, the smells of cows, pigs, grass, and dust mix with the perfume and soap of dressed-up churchgoers.
We took a break from the dance festival and a small band which was competing for noise with the PA system used by the dancers, to look into the little church - which has been built recently and which abuts the 100+ year old original. The new church has been expanded to two columns of about 10 pews, holding perhaps 50 people if it were packed. I guess there were another 100 or more outside, though counting kids is tricky as they don't exactly line up for inventory.
The new church has nice brick vaulted ceilings and a tile floor, and was decorated by a lot of flowers and paper or plastic cutout decorations which were also strung overhead across the road in celebration of the holiday. We first stood politely in the entry, then joined Francisca to sit in a rear pew where we were enjoying a less raucous respite than the outside excitement. One of the dancers, dressed in a clown's harlequin suit and mask, entered the church carrying a balloon, crossed himself, and kneeled in a nearby pew to take a moment in prayer before returning to the dance. A rubber full head mask is not a deterrent to prayer.
The family walked or rode in pickup trucks back to el rancho, which is a family spread occupied normally by two brothers and their families but annually by 34 of the 35 family members. The 35th, a brother, is an illegal in the U.S. and so cannot travel easily back and forth. He has not been home to Mexico for the past five years or so.
We sat outside in the shade of another old mesquite, at a long table made of packing crates and 2x4's, in such a precarious state of collapse that I, usually clumsy, spent a good part of the meal with one hand on my plate, trying not to tip the plate off of the single board remaining in my area. This arrangement is not used often enough to prompt tabular reconstruction.
People's focus is on food and family. We ate chicken in a nice brown not-sweet mole sauce, occasionally sharing use of a spoon. Adults sat along the two sides of the long table chatting, eating, drinking while the 20 odd cousins, ranging from 8 months to 20 years old, circled around on bicycles or on foot, on various projects and adventures. One little boy dressed in a red t-shirt and shorts, whose family live in San Antonio TX, discovered with help of his cousins, how to ride a two-wheeler. In excitement he circled us continuously until he was drenched in sweat and had to come and sit in the shade.
The family return to an evening missa at la iglesia, but we had to leave lest we miss the last bus back to SMA, so we walked out to the highway. Returning to SMA by flagging down a bus on the highway we happened to end in the same bus with same driver as we'd met in the morning. A 1950's Mercedes bus with many cracks in the windshield, and the bus assistant, a kid of about 12, sleeping on the bus dashboard.
A 14" wooden cross was attached to the bus front windshield, surrounded by six red plastic roses, pressed against the cracked glass. These busses bounce over some pretty rough spots and have no springs or suspension to speak of.
Jesus, cast in bronze, had taken so many of these jolts that he had broken free of the cross and fallen into the bus on some earlier trip.
Free at last, free at last?
The bus driver, not ready to release the Christ from being affixed to his cross nor from his job of protecting the bus and its occupants, had re-fastened Jesus by his right wrist back on to his cross, leaving the savior hanging loosely and askew, left arm jiggling as the bus bounced along, feet wedged into the opening at the bottom of the dusty bus windshield. The white plastic tie holding JC somewhat tied if no longer quite impaled to the crucifix at his right wrist, did double duty, also supporting a length of speaker wire that serves as an antenna for the bus's radio.
The ride from San Miguel de Allende in Guanajuato to Rodriguez begins not at the main bus station on Salida a Celaya, but on that street at a bus stop at la puente [The Bridge], just a block from our house.
The trip to Rodriguez, about half an hour out of town, has a bus fee of 9 or 10 pesos, depending, in the case of the return trip, on whether you get on the bus from along the highway outside of Rodriguez (near Francisca's rancho) or right in the town. I can't promise you'll find the same green and blue and white bus, as there are several of them, but it's an easy trip. Not one on which we wanted to use a camera. Which is why I've written this note.
7 August 2006 San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico - Daniel Friedman
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