Tuesday, September 15, 2009

time immemorial

Time. I used to think it moved slower in Mexico -- especially, in the little fishing village where I live.

I was wrong. Time is simply irrelevant.

I am slowly learning that my northern European chronometer -- the one that has controlled every second of my sixty-some years -- is as useless in Melaque as a book to an American teenager.

I have felt it when we talk about wages being 100 years behind the United States. Of social structures being stuck in the Fifties. Of craftsmanship that is simultaneously ancient in its style and modern in its tendency to fall apart tomorrow.

Two examples from yesterday will suffice.

The first is a tradition almost two hundred years old: Independence Day.

If you are a poster child for post-modern anti-symbolism, you are going to hate Mexican Independence Day. Every Mexican turns into a thorough nationalist -- making the commander of the Des Moines VFW look like a goth hedonist.

This was my first chance in five months to take my time looking around the jardin in San Patricio. It was all decked out for the evening's fiesta.

On the north end, the tourist police had rigged up the balcony of their office to look like a set from an Evita road show. And for one purpose --for the local dignitaries to honor the heroes of Independence Day and to extol each Mexican's passion for his country.

And let me stop right here. I talked with a friend yesterday on the telephone. He was surprised to hear that I was going to an Independence Day celebration. I suspect anyone who has lived in or visited Mexico will get his response half right: "I thought that was Cinco de Mayo -- when Mexico got its freedom from the United States."

OK, class. Altogether now. Cinco de Mayo celebrates the Mexican victory at the Battle of Puebla over the French and their Mexican royalist allies. (I suspect that a Mexican royalist is now about as rare as a selfless politician.) But where he came up with the notion of independence from the United States, I have no idea.

As we discussed yesterday, Independence Day commemorates Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla's call to arms against the colonial overlords of Spain. Last night, all over Mexico, the president or governor or municipality president or local poobah of some sort stood on a balcony above a mass of flag-waving citizens -- all ages, men, women, children -- and, with Latin fervor, shouted out El Grito de Dolores -- the modern reconstruction of Hidalgo's call to arms. After each patriot's name, the crowd would yell: ¡Viva, Mexico! And yell, they did. Even the moody teenagers.

We do not know exactly what Hidalgo said 199 years ago, but we do know he ended his call to arms with: "Death to bad government and death to the Spaniards!"

Bad government and the Spaniards were given a pass last night. The former for the obvious reason that politicians (and not moralists) shout el Grito. The latter because Mexico cannot afford turning Spanish tourists into the centerpiece of an Mayan sacrifice.

I do not like political rallies. Something about people getting all worked up about national issues strikes me as just a bit too reminiscent of hammers and sickles and swastikas. But I will confess that I was shouting out ¡Viva Mexico! as loud as my neighbors.

But nationalism was just one stop on this time trip.

On the south side of the jardin, a large stage was waiting for the next act: a beauty pageant -- a natural mix for a political rally. (Do not discount the connection. This summer the party that purports to represent the values of the Catholic church sponsored a political rally in the same jardin. The main attraction was a troupe of belly dancers, clad in little more than gossamer and a promise of a better tomorrow -- simply by voting correctly.)

I know very little about beauty pageants. I worked with two women who had been contestants and organizers of pageants in The States. That experience taught me that a Byzantium courtier would be caught short of talent on one of those runways. The claws are sharp, and the tongues cut deep.

Last night's production was a bit dodgy. Cues were missed. The emcee was a little over the top. But, hey: it was a local production, and everybody was there to have a good time -- including the middle-aged woman in her red see-through evening gown, with a cigarette dangling from her lower lip and a can of beer in her right hand. I suspect she was reliving some long-lost glory.

Mexican beauty pageants are not a post-feminist phenomenon. There is no pretense that the girls are there to earn a scholarship. Like most events in Mexico, this one was raw. The girls were selling sensuality.

And they laid it on with a trowel. Most young Mexican women are quite attractive. The ten contestants were stunning, if a bit homogeneous. But most women can strike a pose with an expensive coif and gown. Not to mention that most of them were model thin.

The nationalist passion on display earlier in the evening gave way to a more ancient passion. There were no pastels. These young women came decked out in primary colors -- and most had the poise of a Mexico City socialite. There were exceptions. Two had a tendency to walk as if they were truck drivers. But that simply made the rest appear that much more exotic.

It was a long process -- with plenty of pauses. Not unlike the local rodeo. But the ten were winnowed to five, and from the five, came a winner. Dressed in a canary gown that made her look like an escapee from a Cirque de Soleil production, she accepted a crown tall enough to make any drag queen's heart flutter.

I must admit that I felt a bit sorry for the contestants. I could almost hear Mama Rose calling from back stage: "Take off a glove." But I had a great time. As did the audience.

Today the Independence Day celebrations continue. There will be horse races in Villa Obregon this afternoon (complete with drunken cowboys) and a huge fireworks display in San Patricio tonight. It is not a good time to be without a camera.

Even when I have become unstuck in time.


Constantino said...

It would be interesting to fast forward the stage lineup to let's say 10 , then 20 and finally 40 years....
It would probably show up like the caricatures you see of caveman to modern man through the ages, only stronger gravitational forces would show...

Anonymous said...

When the cowboys performed in Sayulita they not only drank all day long and into the evening but they also trained their horses to drink beer out of the can as well . The drunker the cowboys got the more I felt sorry for the poor tired horses that were forced to dance and dance and dance and dance.......

Chrissy y Keith said...

ya, I already had to explain the difference between September 16th and Cinco de Mayo.

Islagringo said...

Great report of what sounds like a very good time. Wish I had been there instead of here with our tired "celebration". I L-U-V Mexican beauty pageants. Such campy affairs that are taken oh so very seriously!

Steve Cotton said...

Constantino -- If these young women do not get out of town before long, I know what they will look like. Their mothers and aunts were sitting right up front in the audience. From what I hear, very few young people leave the village. But there will always be new contestants for next year's contest.

Anonymous -- Well, we will see how the horse events goes soon enough. That will probably be tomorrow's post.

Chrissy -- Another good example of how a lie told through the bottom of a Corona bottle has a longer life than the truth.

Islagringo -- It was a great time. Getting away from the house was exactly what I needed. And "camp" is just the right word. A drag show could not have presented a more uncomfortable portrayal of what it is to be a woman.

Felipe said...

You talked on the phone with a fiend? Jeez, man. I´m glad nothing bad came of it.

Steve Cotton said...

That, among other resaons, is why I need a good editor. My eyes simply do not see these typos as well as they once did.

Irene said...

Sounds like a good day. It reminds me of a day spent in a small town just outside of Mexico City watching a lucha libre match that was being put on for free. Before the fun started, the big stars were walking around with their masks on, wearing street clothes and being mobbed for autographs.

radical royalist said...

"(I suspect that a Mexican royalist is now about as rare as a selfless politician.)"

A selfless politician might be a rarity, but there are certainly Mexican Royalists:

Here's a Mexican Royalist blogger:

And a different view on Hidalgo has thise Texan Royalist:

Anonymous said...

Nothing about the celebration makes me think it much different from the Pendleton Round-up -- drunken cowboys chasing drunken cowgirls about the Let 'er Buck Lounge and Bar; teenagers, trying to pass as 21 year old cowboys and cowgirls; 61 year olds trying to pass as 40-something drunken cowboys and cowgirls; a royal court of farmers' daughters, all gussied up as if they were about to step on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry; and noise, plenty of noise from the strident, not-very-good local high school marching bands and the required fireworks.

The ritual is as old as the species itself, an attempt to tell oneself a good story about the meaning of it all.

Of course, no sober person believes any of it. But, then, polite people, following Dr. Johnson's quip that it is bad manners to be sober when everyone else is drunk, suspend disbelief, and jump in -- metaphysically naked as a Kantian category looking for sense data -- shouting "Yay, hooray, for whatever it is we're all so pleased about!"

A. Nony Moose

Leslie Limon said...

Thank you, Steve! I'm still laughing. I have had so many friends and family members that live NOB, actually question my sanity, because they believe Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo to be the same holiday. It's nice to know that I'm not the only one this happens to.

Anonymous said...

LOL...definitely one of your wittier posts. Love the metaphors....

Viva Steve's Blog!


Kim G
Boston, MA
Where they read the Declaration of Independence every July 4th from the balcony of the Old Statehouse, from whence the Brits once ruled the colonies.

Anonymous said...

Hi Steve,
Actually my post has nothing to do with Cinco de Mayo..
It has all to do with the loss you had so recently.
I can not tell you how sorry I am about loosing your beautiful friend. It is difficult breaking the human/companionship bond as well as it is thinking you are hearing him when in fact.. there is no one but yourself.
I went through it too many times.
There is a website called..
perhaps you have heard of it?
Just so you know who I am, I am a friend of Gloria, viva la Gloria.. I saw her posting of you and your dog.
I am so sorry I haven't had any time to go through too much of your blog, but promise you I will!
Please have a pleasant evening if you are reading this now..
Hugs, Darlene ox

Steve Cotton said...

Irene -- One of the joys of Mexico (or life, in general, I guess) is to store up these moments in our memory. I am packing mine away for those lonely days in the seniors' home.

Radical Royalist -- Ah, but I think you may have just proven my point. Even members of the Constantian Society move on. Your links, though, do play on an interesting theme of how royalist thought was an underpinning of the early days of the revolution. And that is why it is not too surprising that Mexico's first leader was styled as an "emporer." There may be another post in the offing.

ANM -- I assure you, the currents and eddies of Mexican culture are far different than the surface similarities to Pendleton. But, I cannot deny that some things are universal. The need of cowboys to show up their competitors and show off to young ladies. And the need of young ladies to attract the strongest male to start a new generation of cowboys and young ladies.

Leslie -- And it is often the same people who say the same thing every year.

Kim-- Mexico simply writes itself in some of these essays. In my former life (two times remoived), what we called "a target-rich environment."

A Dancing Mango -- Thank you for your comment on Jiggs. He was a great dog, and I have some incredible memories of him.