I thought they were gunshots. Or, perhaps, a stuttering thunderstorm.
Sound carries in odd patterns across the flood-plain on which we live and the water surrounding it. A sound a mile away can sound as if it came from my neighbors.
But it was not gunshots. And, even though their pop-pop-pop came during a thunderstorm, it was not the sound of thunder that caught my attention.
I should have known better. During the thirteen years I have lived in this area of Mexico, I must have heard close to a thousand of these explosions.
Someone was firing off cohetes -- those intrinsically Mexican sky rockets that accompany every religious procession here. Their sound is unique. The hiss as the rocket is propelled skyward terminating in an M-80 explosion that echoes across the bay. The sound of cohetes means a religious procession is nearby.
And I was correct. There was a procession wending its way through the barrio near my house. Despite doctor orders, I got out of bed, slipped on my shoes, and chased after the incessant pop-pop-pop.
Usually, the religious processions here have several traditional elements. Formations of dancers dressed in a Mardi Gras-version of tribal costumes rhythmically dancing to the sound of drums. The depiction of a saint carried on a litter. A pickup with a religious tableaux that would not feel out of place at the Christmas pageant at the First Baptist Church in Dubuque. And a group of congregants following along in the wake of whichever fiesta was being celebrated.
This procession was different. Because the times are different. Delta has managed to turn the faithful foot soldiers into car drivers and passengers.
The tableaux was still there -- attended by the parish priest. But the entire procession was on wheels.
What I did not know, from looking at the float itself, was what fiesta was being celebrated. Had I paid closer attention, I would have immediately recognized the guest of honor. We will meet him a bit later in his house.
I knew something was up because red and yellow banners had been strung across Nueva España in front of the little department store. That always means something religious is afoot. The shop owner, Adriana Ibarra Torres, and her husband are active in each of the local church processions. It had to be a procession -- or the grand opening of another Oxxo.
I had seen those red and yellow colors before. But that memory packet kept playing hide-and-seek with me until I caught it.
The last time I saw the colors was when the much-whittled cross that once stood in the 1500s ship-building yard in Barra was returned seven years ago (kafka comes to barra). They were the church colors. They also are the colors of Spain. So, it had something to do with the church in Barra Centro, which sported the same banners this week.
I had stopped my car earlier in the street to ask her what was happening. She was in the middle of decorating the float and told me something that I did not quite catch, but I learned the fiesta date was 5 September. A quick review of my saint days list revealed nothing.
Today I stopped to talk with husband about what was going to happen on 5 September. It turns out that it is a very big day for Barra de Navidad, and its celebration has its own sense of irony considering the fact that we are still cleaning up from the mess that Hurricane Nora left over the weekend when she headed north.
The year was 1971. The night of 31 August-1 September to be exact. Exactly fifty years ago.
A hurricane by the name of Lily was headed straight for Barra de Navidad. It was obvious the storm would demolish a good portion of the town if it maintained its path.
And Lily did maintain her path. She came ashore near Barra de Navidad with winds of up to 85 miles an hour.
So, the residents of Barra did what came natural to people of faith, and people who have suddenly discovered a faith they did not know they possessed. As the winds battered the walls, they prayed for deliverance from the storm. The sailors on Jonah's ship could not have prayed more fervently.
And then it happened. A miracle. A standard crucifix of Jesus on the cross stood above the altar. For no apparent reason, each of his arms fell to his sides. And the storm abated.
It was like something out of the gospels. Mark 4:39 to be exact. "He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, 'Quiet! Be still!' Then the wind died down and it was completely calm."
Ever since then, the congregants celebrate Jesus of the Cyclone (el Cristo del Ciclón) this time of year -- as a day of deliverance and remembrance.
As Ben Franklin once said in recounting a story about a fly reviving in a fifty-year old cask of Madeira, "Now, I do not know how scientific that tale is ... ." But it is an article of faith in these parts.
The story goes that the parishioners wanted to repair Jesus' miraculous shrug, but the priest informed them that God had caused the arms to drop and only God could restore them. The crucifix still stands in the church in its hands-down splendor. And that was the guest of honor on the procession float.
Just as a side note, after sparing Barra de Navidad, Hurricane Lily rumbled north like Attila the Hun to lay waste to Puerto Vallarta in the worst hurricane it had suffered in 20 years. Favors apparently have a limited jurisdiction.
So, that is why the delta-modified procession has been out in the streets for the past few days. Adriana invited me to attend the festivities on this Sunday -- the 5th of September. Unfortunately, I fly north tomorrow for a week.
For those of you who are in town, I have been promised that this year's celebration will be something special.
Disfruta la fiesta.