Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Beckoning of Brass

One of the things I like most about Mexicans is their love for celebrating life. Fiestas, fireworks, and "la banda municipal" are engrained in the very fabric of the society. It is rare that a day passes without the blaring bellows of brass beckoning you to come join in the celebration.
It is amazing how the bommp, bommmp, bomp of a tuba catches your attention. If the tuba doesn't get you, then the cohetes will. Cohetes are a type of fireworks that have no cascade of brilliant colors, but rather a deafening and near heart stopping explosion that explains why you don't see a lot of crystal ware in restaurants here. The brass band and the cohetes are an aural guide and open invitation to a community gathering that is meant to be shared.
Souvenir stand
Most of the time, the fiesta goes hand in hand with a religious holiday. But the ritual and reverence is accompanied by a convivencia, a social event that brings people together as family and friends. And it always includes children; they are at the center of most everything. It does not take a lot of money to enjoy community. There are things that people will, however, spend their hard earned money on, like a picture of their child with "La Virgen de Guadalupe", or a ice cold "nieve" from the local ice cream vendor. 

Another hallmark of a true community celebration is monos de calenda, giant paper maché structures with a frame made of carrizo, a bamboo like material. The woman monos are always very well endowed and the men mustached and handsome. I was very fortunate to have met José, a local folk artist who makes monos. He was very involved in la Fiesta de Nuestro Señor de Esquipullas at la Iglesia de Carmen Alto, the church 50 meters from my apartment. He makes the monos and teaches the neighborhood kids to dance in them. The neighborhood kids are more than happy to climb inside the monos and whirl around the plaza with reckless abandon. José is a true example of a folk artist. He does his art out of a love for his community and the rich traditions of his homeland.
José bailando con una vecina

The celebration of Nuestro Señor de Esquipullas was an all day event, not just once, but two consecutive Sundays. The banda municipal and monos were going full throttle from ten in the morning until ten at night. But there were breaks to allow for a rest in the shade in between dances. There was time for vendors to walk through the crowd trying to earn the few pesos a day that allows them to survive, selling chewing gum and cigarettes to members of the gathering. It wouldn't be a fiesta without them.
Every good Mexican fiesta ends with an unforgettable display of fireworks. It can't be any other other way. Hours are spent in the preparation for the culminating event of the evening. Castillos (castles) are built with pyrotechnic precision, works of art that are meant to be destroyed in minutes to fulfill the hopes and expectations of the crowd. As my friend, Bob remarked, "looks like a Mexican version of "Burning Man".
So the next time someone tells you it is too dangerous to travel to Mexico, that the drug cartels with kidnap and decapitate you, just tell them that a brass band is beckoning you and you have a gang of strong armed monos to protect you.

Castillos awaiting ignition