Thursday, March 19, 2015
wearin' of the orange
With all this chatter about rain, water, and sewer, I almost missed one of my favorite times of the year -- Saint Patrick's Day. Or, as we know him in these parts, San Patricio.
It was eight years ago when I first stuck my head into the church and met the Romano-British missionary who would go on to become Ireland's patron saint. And the patron saint of San Patricio -- one of the three villages that makes up what we know as Melaque.
There was no mistaking him. The green and gold cloak and mitre. The Celtic crosier. And the tell-tale shamrocks.
I was surprised to see him there on that first visit. What connection could there be between an Irish saint and a little fishing village on Mexico's Pacific coast?
If I had known a bit more about Catholicism and had given the matter more thought, I would have realized the question is rather silly. After all, numerous Mexican towns and villages are named for non-Mexican saints. Just think of the villages whose patron saint is Italian.
This year, his effigy in the church has been spiffed up. A nice new paint job has spruced up his duds. What struck me first was the Grecian formula treatment of his once-gray beard and hair -- making his older benevolent face look as if he is now picking a fight with Our Lady.
But new paint was not the only new addition to this year's festival.
I was surprised to see a series of flags flying in the jardin: the Irish national flag and the green and gold Erin go Bragh flag of the San Patricio Battalion. Apparently, someone involved with decorating tried to create an historical association that the evidence does not support.
I have told the story of the San Patricio Battalion most recently in mexi-irish rose -- part ii. During the Mexican-American War, a group of mainly Irish immigrants, who had volunteered to fight for the American Army, deserted and joined the Mexican side.
The reasons for the desertions were many. But the primary reason was religion. The deserters saw little difference between how the American Army treated Mexican Catholics and the way the British treated the Irish.
Most of them deserted for idealistic reasons. But the Mexicans also offered enticements -- officer commissions and land.
There has long been a local myth that the area around San Patricio was settled by survivors of the battalion. A plaque placed in the village gazebo in the 1990s, by students from a Washington state college, makes reference to the connection.
But there are no land deeds or other documents to support the story. That did not stop the jardin decorators from stoking the fires of the myth.
Even though the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe draws crowds around here, my experience is that the San Patricio Festival trumps Our Lady when it comes to numbers and fun. The village is filled with carnival rides that would rival most northern county fairs.
Amazingly enough, no one's feelings seemed to be hurt by this amusement ride that would have elicited protestors up north. That is one of Mexico's glories.
Along with foodstuffs that are well-suited for fair days.
But, the best is always late in the evening: the castillos -- the towering structures made of spinning fireworks that shoot large bottle rockets into the crowd. Along with the freelance explosions provided by teenage boys tossing firecrackers.
Mexico can be a sexist place. We are all aware of what comes hurtling off of the fireworks, but we still get as close as possible as we can. Guys that is.
I was surrounded by young men in their teens and twenties, who would jump and whoop when the spinning rockets would fire through the crowd.
My attitude toward the fireworks is somewhat Churchillian. "There is nothing more exhilarating than to be shot at with no result."
I have a strategy. Because I am usually shooting with my camera, I do not have the option to hop around. I am also 66. That puts a bit of a crimp in both whooping and hopping.
So, I stood my ground in my Irish orange -- and took three direct hits. No. That is not accurate. I took two direct hits. One in the left leg; one in the chest. The third was merely a glancing blow that went down my left arm -- doing little more than singeing off the hair and leaving a black streak where a skin layer once resided.
Each year I wonder why I attend the fireworks. But once they start firing off, it all comes back. The adrenalin rush is worth it all.
Winston was correct, It is exhilarating.
And I can hardly wait to break Lent next year with my neighbors.