Sunday, March 11, 2012

standing pat

I almost skipped the kick-off of our local Saint Patrick's celebration this year.  After all, I am the guy who says he never does anything twice.

Unlike a lot of towns in the Mexican highlands, San Patricio never had an Indian name for the Spanish to tack on a Catholic moniker.  Our little village is far too young to reflect a dual past.

We are just plain San Patricio.  Whose patron saint is the peripatetic Briton the Irish adopted as their own.  (That is him over there on the left in our little church foolishly telling our Lady of Guadalupe what-for.)

My neighbors' ancestors followed the Irish example and named Patrick their patron saint.  After three years I have yet to find any factual basis for that odd choice.  Or to answer the question why I live next door to San Patricio, rather than, say, Santa Claus.

What drew me out on Saturday night was not the odd mix of young women in tight jeans and short skirts.  And the array of cardiac-inducing vendors.  And the carnival rides.  And even the town band whose music sounds as if it came to Mexico through a Brecht-influenced Munich beer hall.

Of course, they all draw in their own way.  But I came to witness an annual rite of a passage as important as any Kenyan tribal initiation.

Each evening during the week-long St. Patty fiesta, the celebration is topped off by a tower of fireworks -- a castillo.  I have written of them before.  Spinning wheels of fire that shoot flaming small rockets into the crowd.
But those rockets are nothing compared to what the local boys face.  To show their bravery and honor, the boys -- armed only with a card board shield -- run under the shower of sparks that cascade from the it castillo.  Trial by fire.

I asked my friend Juan, who grew up here, if he was afraid when he first ran the gauntlet.

"Afraid?  I cried each night for a week before I had to do it,  My Dad told me if I did not do it, I would shame not only myself, but my entire family."

What happened?

"I did it.  The other boys were as scared as I was.  But each time we ran through, we proved we were men.  We felt alive.  It was one of the greatest experiences of my life."

And that is why I went last night.  To please that little bit of Hemingway ambient hubris that skulks in my soul.

To celebrate brave boys defeating their perceived fears in a burst of glory.  And knowing that family pride is being served.


Babsofsanmiguel said...

I thought your town's name is San Patricio Melaque.  Melaque is the Indigenous name with St. Patrick tacked on the front.........I WAS amazed in the Yucatan that the Spanish never conquered that area and all the towns with the exception of Valladolid and a few others all have their original names with beautiful meanings.
Do you know the meaning of Melaque?  I don't, just wondered.

Steve Cotton said...

There are three separate administrative villages: Villa Obregon, San Patricio, and Melaque. All with post-Conquest names because each of he villages are post-Conquest settlements. San Patricio, of course, was named for a saint. Villa Obregon for a president. But I have no idea where Melaque comes from. A nice little research project for me.

Not only did the Spanish not conquer a portion of Yucatan, Mexico never conquered it. The place was effectively independent until the early twentieth century when the central government and Yucatan came to a political agreement.

Andean said...

I have never been to the kick off but have seen the castillo and the toritos (interesting who would know what those are) on the last day of the celebration, I was one of the crowd. I don't even have a word to describe the scene... as nothing like that would take place NE these days! 
Brave is right. Pictures can only tell some of the happenings, you have be present for the whole experience and that it is!

Steve Cotton said...

 I have yet to tire of the youthful bravery.

Fiddeus Snypestringer said...

 Have you made your tinfoil covered shield for next year's event?  I imagine you in a gladiator's leather pleated outfit and leather sandals, screaming and running underneath the volcanic eruption of fireworks.  The oldest male to have ever undertaken the rite of passage.

Steve Cotton said...

Do I detect a bit of bris?