Thursday, September 17, 2009

a horse, a bull, and a corona go into a bar

In the first act of The Gondoliers, the Duke of Plaza Toro, having been accorded the honor of a mere drum roll, sighs and says: "It is at such moments as these that one feels how necessary it is to travel with a full band."

I thought the same thing several times today. Not that I need a full band.

I needed a camera.

The Independence Day celebrations continued throughout the day, and I have not a byte to show what I saw.

Event number one was the vaunted horse races -- rumored to be fueled by tequila. I know this will shock some of you. But rumors are sometimes filled with non-factual information.

You would think I had learned my "time is irrelevant" lesson. But I am a creature of habit.

The official word was that the races would begin at 4. I was talking with a friend and glanced at my watch. It was almost 4:30. I excused myself, took about 15 minutes to shut up this miniature version of Fort Knox, and headed off to the jardin in Villa Obregon.

When I arrived, it as close to 5:00. There was not a horse to be seen. And very few people. I thought I had been given a bum steed. But there were tables selling agua fresca and enchiladas. So, I knew I was in the right place.

I staked out a seat in the shade. And right behind the crowd control device -- a piece of thin twine. That was what stood between human flesh and human-trampling hooves.

And then I waited. Around 5:30 two horses showed up. And there was some preparation. Then two more horses. The preparation at this point was more like animated milling.

Finally around 6:00 two horses were ridden to the end of the street. The crowd started cheering. And someone jumped out waving a hat to stop the race because a pickup with the sound system had just shown up.

The audience helped unload the system. And everyone waited for it to be put together. For no discernible reason because no one used it to announce anything.

And then the first two horses were off. Young men riding bareback with horses racing at full speed. Because it was so fascinating, young boys pushed the twine further and further into the street until they were inches away from the horses as they thundered by.

There was a great cheer for the winner.

And then we all waited. For about another half hour.

I had taken my Economist with me. I am glad I did.

But what I should have done was a bit of random socializing. The problem was I was surrounded by young children. If I had given it some thought, though, that was probably the target audience for my Spanish.

I headed over to the house to get some dinner before the next big event of the evening: fireworks in the San Patricio jardin.

I had no idea when the fireworks were to begin. I waited about a half hour after sunset and walked the mile or so downtown.

There were people everywhere. A band was playing in the gazebo. The castillo was in place filled with fireworks.

I thought I was going to have a long wait on my own. And then the evening came together. I ran into some readers of this blog. They were just sitting down to dinner at a cafe, and invited me to join them.

I am glad I did. We talked and laughed about our experiences in Mexico. This was exactly one of the reasons I came to this country -- to share these moments.

Just as they were finishing up their dinner, the fireworks display started.

If you have never seen a Mexican castillo, it is a work of pyrotechnic art. There are rockets and wheels and flags and photographs. All put together on a tall platform.

But the crowning glory is when the very top portion -- a flaming corona --starts spinning faster and faster until it flies some 100 meters or so into the air, as if seeking a starring role in a Erich von Däniken production.

But Isaac Newton would remind us -- and the corona is happy to comply -- that what goes up is going to come down -- in the middle of a fire-addled group of spectators.

On Wednesday, those who had not yet been singed by Prometheus's little theft project, had another opportunity to get one of those nifty (and nasty) scars that will amaze their grandchildren.

One of the pyrotechnicians did what every 8-year old boy thinks is the coolest thing on earth. He grabbed a firework-covered papier-mâché bull, and rand and spun into the crowd -- shooting rockets in every direction. Young men did their best to get near the bull without getting set on fire. Or to at least get a nice burn without losing an arm.

It is not Pamploma, but I suspect there may be more scars produced in San Patricio than in the gentrified streets of the colonial power.

Eventually, there was enough gunpowder smoke in the air to cause us to retreat to a bar with windows overlooking the jardin. A perfect spot for photographs. For those with cameras.

But the camera was not the issue. It was the company. Had I run into my friends at the horse races, I would have stayed.

As it was, we all got to enjoy a great evening -- including a sighting of the new Miss San Patricio -- without her circus costume, and already looking a bit forlorn. So young to learn: "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown." Probably wondering what that first runner up is plotting.

It was my first Independence Day celebration. In a certain sense, celebrating my independence to now travel Mexico.

¡Viva, Mexico! Indeed!


Tulum Living said...

What a fun account of a very crazy few days. The celebration here in Tulum was amazing but I do not think I could even begin to tell it the way you do. I loved reading about your few days.

Anonymous said...

hi steve,

i saw my first castillo in sayulita 3 years ago. and the guys running around were called toros. saw them again during my 2 winters in chacala when they had the big festival in las varas. i love going to those festivities-what great fun!

have a good day steve.


Islagringo said...

Pictures are nice, but the way you tell a story, they really are not needed.

Chrissy y Keith said...

The first Castillo I ever saw was in San Patricio during St. Patricks Day. Sounds like the celebration for Independence Day is very similar. St. Patty's day included a Rodeo and Carnival.

Felipe said...

Not a byte to show. A bum steed. You´re in fine form today, señor.

1st Mate said...

I missed the bull last year. The Capt was tired of the crowds by the time the corona spun. Sounds like the kind of fun you want to enjoy from a distance. Mexicans are so in touch with their inner ninos.

We're all eager to hear where you'll be traveling, I'm sure so that whoever lives there can pave your way with tour advice, instructions on what not to miss and enticing photos to lure you on. You have many friends, amigo. I'm glad to be one of them.

loulou b. said...

This was a fun read Steve.

Steve Cotton said...

Tulum Living -- The past three days have been some of my best in Mexico. Of course, those days also top the local social calendar.

Teresa -- But I also discovered that I enjoy the festivities a lot more when I am with other people. And that surprises me.

Islagringo -- From the guy who keeps repeating the "carry your camera" mantra, that is quite a compliment. Thank you very much, sir.

Chrissy -- From what I hear, the celebrations are similar. I am looking forward to St. Patrick's Day in San Patricio. More blog material.

Felipe -- Well, thank you, sir. I put the piece together at 2 AM. I was wondering who would think I had made another typo with "bum steed." But I knew one former editor who would see the deliberate (and forced) pun for what it was.

1st Mate -- I loved the surge of the crowd when the bull would "run." Great fun.

As for travels, the next one will be north to get some things resolved. When I return to Melaque, I can then start mapping out what I want to see beyond the fences of this house.

Loulou -- It was a fun write.

DanaJ said...

I caught the steed/steer pun.
But what I really enjoyed was the "Pamploma/streets of the colonial power" reference. That and having to google Erich von Daniken.

You can write at 2am?

Steve Cotton said...

DanaJ -- Thanks. I love writing any time between 11 PM and 3 AM.