Coming from the winter drab of a frigid and nearly colorless Maine, the Mexican tsunami of bright and dizzying colors, the daily Christmas posadas and parades, nearly necessitate a Dramamine. My equilibrium needs adjusting. Mexicans celebrate just about everything. And with a little good natured arm twisting, even the most absurd might warrant a firecracker, colored streamers, or a tequila shooter with a Squirt chaser. They are unapologetic in their belief that celebration and gratitude can be found in what others might find mundane, insignificant. They find the extraordinary in the every day. Life does not skip a beat. It can't. Between the singing and fireworks, the explosion of celebratory "bombs" at dawn, the radios and rumbas and lilting mariachis, barking dogs and incessant church bells, you can't help but feel more alive than you might like, especially at five in the morning. It is exhausting. And it is life affirming.
A Funeral Procession
On my second day in my small apartment in Colonial Mexico I heard singing. From my rooftop terrace that affords sweeping views of the 17th century Parroquia church, Los Monjas, Bellas Artes, city lights, countryside and mountain peaks, I watched as a small procession of mourners trailed behind a hearse draped with white lilies. Thirty or so people walked up the ancient cobbled street, softly singing. It was not a sorrowful melody. There was no weeping. It was a sound of acceptance. Young and old dressed in casual clothes, jeans and t-shirts, parents holding toddlers and infants, sang a tune as familiar and comforting as time immemorial. It was the celebration of life; the acceptance of death. There was no fanfare; just the simple reminder that even in death, life goes on.
I am laden with the days' bounty. My straw basket is filled with part of tonight's meal; avocados, tortillas, a wedge of Manchego, olives and wine. It is hot and I am still adjusting to the mile high altitude, the relentless sun, and the antiquated cobbled streets that are treacherous at the best of times even in the most unattractive of sensible shoes.
He is walking backwards now, unfettered. I am making him work for it or maybe this is how he gets his exercise each day. I'm in no mood, in fact when hungry, I can get testy. "Don't worry," he insists, "I am not following you," as he follows me the length of Sollano. "I was going this way anyway." I must admit, I am impressed with his agility, his near tightrope finesse in negotiating these malevolent cobbles, and backwards no less while carrying on feeble pick-up lines that are equally as unremarkable when delivered in a foreign accent. He is not concerned about traffic behind him, dangerous gutters, horse, dog and burro droppings that are large enough to act as violent speed bumps. If nothing else, he is a brave man. Finally, he realizes I am not interested when I bid him an avocado firm "adios," and he heads back from where he started.
Maybe someday the man who walks backwards up cobbled streets will run into a woman walking backwards down cobbled streets and they will catch each other from falling into the antiquated gutter. It will be love at first sight, only backwards. Life is sweeter when surprised.
A Pink Pinata
It is 9:30 at night and from the terrace, the lights of the church spirals are magnificent. The air is soft and warm. I have been admiring, too, the thin bands of Christmas lights that adorn the facades along my street – they are not garish but quiet and simple red, green and white strands. Children are laughing. I hear singing. I lean over my terrace wall and look up the length of Terraplen to see a children's birthday party at the end of the block. A few dozen children are clustered in tight knots in the center of the street, the intersection blocked off by small bodies. Strung up from one side of the street to the other is a rope that drapes from one window to the next. Hanging from the middle of the rope is a pink burro piñata. The children are singing louder now and wielding a broom. They are taking turns at pummeling the piñata.
Cars drive up the street and then slowly back down, turn corners, finding different routes toward their destinations. There are no honking horns, shouting voices, only the unspoken understanding that a child's birthday party and a pink burro piñata take precedence over traffic and for tonight, hold court at this intersection.
The children sing and howl with laughter. The broom is slicing wild shards through still air as they miss the prancing piñata. Finally, after numerous attempts, the burro is broken; its pink head still strung on the clothes line, the paper body breaking away and open, spilling candy and small toys into the center of the street. The children scream and scramble. Pockets and mouths are filled with sweets.
A gray street dog stands against a brown and yellow house on the corner. He too was watching the children swat at the piñata. The dog is smiling. He is happy he is not a pink burro.
Pastel de Chocolate