Sunday, August 17, 2008


Friday was the celebration of the Asuncion de Maria. In Cuernavaca the name of the main catedral is Asuncion, so you know they are not going to let this one pass without a fiesta.

I wandered down to the cathedral in the early evening. The cathedral is walled in like a fortress, a testament to dangerous days long gone; the garrison-ready walls don’t keep people out anymore. I walk in under the main arched entrance. There is a full-blown market inside, and people are milling about everywhere. Music emanates from the cathedral – not from inside the cathedral but from outside it, from a sort of outdoor worship space the conquering Spaniards built for pagan worshippers who shied away from the dark high-ceilinged halls in which the Spaniards gathered, preferring to worship their ancient gods under the great blue sky of creation.

A fully-costumed mariachi band is playing religious songs in a folk-Mexican style with all manner of stringed instruments. There are a few rows of plastic chairs set out in front them, but most people are sitting on steps or leaning against walls or milling about or dancing or carrying their children around or buying tortas or selling tortas or simply passing the time until the indoor service starts. I watch the band for awhile, then sit down on some stone steps to read a few pages out of my book. Is it weird to read in the middle of a party in a church courtyard? Maybe, but I like being here, and there is so much going on that I doubt anyone would notice me. In Mexico it’s easy for me to be anonymous, even to pretend I’m an invisible observer. So I read: first, a travelogue about how coffee is harvested in Chiapas, then an excerpt of D.H. Lawrence describing the market in Oaxaca.

But I grow distracted: two boys are watching me. One looks to be about fifteen, the other maybe nine years old. They walk toward me, smiling nervously, stop, retreat a few feet, stop again, confer amongst themselves, laugh, then start toward me again. They repeat this pattern a few times; they want to say something to me but haven’t quite decided if they’re up to it. They see that I have noticed them, and now I feel awkward, so I put my head in my book to see if ignoring them will convince them to do what they intend to do.

Finally they resolve to do it: They walk up together, and the older boy hands me a sheet of paper. “Will you sign this please?” he says in broken English. The other boy is grinning widely. They have handed me a sheet of white printer paper on which someone has scrawled in black marker, in English: “Hello, my name is Roberto. What is your name? Do you like Mexico?” Underneath this someone else (presumably) has written: “Indeed, I like Mexico. Phillip.” I give the boys a half-confused smile and write “Yes, I like Mexico very much. Matt.” As I write two other boys, probably ten or eleven years old, huddle around me to see what I write.

When I am done the older boy thanks me and all of them run away quickly. I shake my head, trying to hide my smile, and watch the band for a few more minutes, and then I get up and leave, a little less invisible, it seems, than before.

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