|Ofrendas al UNAM|
Thursday, October 30, 2008
It wasn't so strange, of course - Asian and African cultures have long honored, formally and informally, ancestors who have passed on. And the clever conquistadors saw their own connection - the Christian observance of All Saints Day on November 1. So they quickly moved the indigenous Mexica celebrations from August to November and tried, as they had with so many other rituals, to meld the two into one, to "Christianize" the indigenous culture.
It almost worked. The Spaniards succeeded in changing the time of the celebrations, but much of the indigenous rituals remained the same. Today, the Day of the Dead, el Dia de los Muertos, begins in late October when calaveras (skeletons, but with lots of personality), start appearing in shop windows and markets and when pan de muerto (literally, the Bread of the Dead) starts appearing in both mom-and-pop (mama y papa?) panaderias (bakeries) and in fancy boxes in department stores like Sanborns. Then, just a week ago or so, we started seeing papel picado (paper cutouts) in the local mercado (market) - scroll down the page to see the ones we picked out for ourselves, including one of two people praying in front of a guitar-laden ofrenda and then a bright purple one for our bedroom door with calaveras casadas (married skeletons!).
All of these ingredients are not just for random decorations, though that´s what we used them for. Normally they´re used to make ofrendas, elaborate displays set up for a person or a group of people who have died, either recently or long ago. These can be intimately personal or highly political. Our cocinera (cook) at the Lutheran Center, who Chris has bonded with over pie-making, is planning to go back to the town she grew up in this weekend, where her family is from, to make ofrendas and visit the graves of her aunts and uncles. On the other end of the spectrum, this afternoon we walked over to Ciudad Universitaria, to the UNAM campus, to see the ofrendas - and other creations, like gigantic paper-mache skeletons - students had created. Nearly all of them honored Octavio Paz, a Nobel prize-winning Mexican author who died 10 years ago (notice the pictures saying ¨diez anos sin Paz,¨ ten years without Paz, or peace, nice double meaning there), or honored the students who died in the Olympic massacre at Tlatelolco in October 1968. (You can find some pictures from our exploring at the UNAM by scrolling down a bit.)
As for our celebrations, well, up until today they´ve been largely gastronomical. We've been eating the bread of the dead for weeks now - I can´t get enough of it. Pan de muerto is a sweet bread made with anise seed, shaped to look like it has a little skull on top with bones coming down the sides, and covered in sugar. Dead, your bread is de-licious!
Then last week I found some pan de muerto shaped like a person. Chris says it's called an anima, a spirit (anima, like animated, right?). So, I bought some bread shaped like a ghost. Homer Simpson comes to mind: mmmm...sacrelicious....
There are also the calaveras de azucar, sugar skulls. I've already posted some pictures of these (scroll down a bit), but you can find them as simple as we did or much larger and much more elaborately decorated. Apparently you're supposed to put the name of your friend on a sugar skull and then give that named sugar skull to your friend so that she can "eat her own death." That´s just too cool for words...
The only thing marring our Days of the Dead is the visible encroachment of Halloween, lamented not only by us but by Mexicans we´ve met. The conquest continues: Today the Day of the Dead is not being "Christianized" so much as "Americanized."
Back in August one of our language teachers told us that his young son and the other neighborhood kids are more and more excited about Halloween than they are about the Mexican celebrations. They want to dress up in costume and trick-or-treat around Tepoztlan rather than make ofrendas with papel picado and calaveras. He worries that the vibrant and unique traditions he grew up with will die out.
We've certainly seen that worry manifested in Mexico City and Cuernavaca. Orange-and-black Halloween decorations with witches and goblins are in more and more places here, especially the WalMart-owned Superama grocery store. It sometimes seems to crowd out el Dia de los Muertos, so that what you find instead of calaveras (Mexican-style skeletons) are vampires and werewolves. Now, don´t get me wrong: I love vampires and werewolves as much as the next Buffy the Vampire Slayer addict, and Halloween is one of my favorite holidays back in the States. But can´t we just enjoy our holidays without shipping them around the world?
Sigh. You know who this is a job for? Esteban Colberto! Every year, Stephen Colbert parodies the ¨War on Christmas¨canard with segments denouncing the "war on Halloween." So, I say his Cuban alter ego gets down here and bellows (imagine his voice here) "Hay una guerra encontra el Dia de los Muertos! (There's a war on the Day of the Dead!)" It would, of course, have to be complete with appropriate news-show graphics.
But, invasion of Halloween or not, we carry on with our Dia de los Muertos celebrations. This Saturday night we're going to Ocotepec, a little village just outside Cuernavaca, to experience their traditions. Full report to follow, but in the meantime...
Feliz dia de los Muertos!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Tomorrow I'll write up some background on Day of the Dead and hopefully take a few more pictures around the neighborhood (all of the above is in our house!). This weekend is the big fiesta, so the good stuff will come then...
Monday, October 27, 2008
For the last few weeks now I’ve been bantering with my host family dad about Mexican soccer. He’s a taxista (taxi driver), and I’m pretty sure he’s a Cruz Azul fan, from the little decorations hanging from his taxi’s rearview mirror. He was surprised we had been to a couple of Pumas games already. I commented on how the América-Pumas game was sold out a few weeks back. “Oh, of course,” he said (or I think he said – I’m doing my best with the Spanish here), “and that game is muy peligroso – very dangerous.” But the most dangerous game of all, he said, is the Chivas-América game. “Muy, muy peligroso...”
So you can guess how much fun it was to reveal to him that I was going to the Chivas-América game yesterday. My host mom put her head in her hands and lamented our plans. “Mateo, Mateo…” she said pitifully, shaking her head, as if I had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. But my host dad seemed impressed. On my way out Saturday afternoon, he called out to “enjoy the Chivas-América game!” “Si, si,” I said. “Y vamanos Chivas…o América?” I put my hands in the air, as if to weigh which team I ought to root for, seeing if he would give away his loyalties. “Oh, Chivas,” he said, grinning. “América es muy fresa.”
Fresa, which literally means “strawberry,” is a bit of Mexican slang used to describe sort of young rich Mexican kids, yuppies, that sort of thing. (It's kind of like how White Sox fans might describe Cubs fans.) Anyway, I’m already a fledgling Chivas fan (we’re moving to Guadalajara in 2 months!), so I’ve been repeating this América es muy fresa thing ad nauseum. See, I am learning Spanish, one slang word at a time...
On Sunday we met the other game attendees not far from our neighborhood and caught a charter bus south to lunch, then to the stadium. There were at least 30 of us gringos, nearly all of us Fulbright awardees, accompanied by a couple of kids and a few freeloading spouses like me. Most weren’t talking about the game – these are graduate students, after all – but there was one dude decked out in a bright yellow América jersey. (Coolest thing about América jerseys – one of the sleeves has the outlines of a wing on it, showing that they’re the Aguilas, Eagles.) Transport felt a lot like a grade school field trip, actually – pile onto a charter bus that drops you off in front of wherever you’re going.
And of course, where we were going was Estadio Azteca. Now, I love the Pumas stadium because it’s close and has a cool Diego Rivera mural and looks kind of like a volcano. But Estadio Azteca dwarfs it by far, towering into the air in concave steel, looking like smoke coming out of the volcano. (Plus, Estadio Azteca features an Alexander Calder scultpure outside it!) We walk over the bridge to the stadium – like walking the bridge to Miller Park in Milwaukee – and are, of course, patted down by riot police. Oddly, the security pat-down is not nearly as intense as at the last Pumas game…maybe it’s the section we’re sitting in. We file into the stadium, and it’s true, we’re not in the crazy fan section. Instead they file us into the 10th row from the field, just to the left of the goalie box. INCREDIBLE.
We’re an hour early for the game, but the stadium is already filling up. From the inside Estadio Azteca is even bigger. It’s at least three times the size of Estadio Olimpico Universitario, where the Pumas play. Look, I’m used to Wrigley Field, alright? I haven’t been to many American football games outside of East Lansing, Michigan. So I am impressed. I’m really impressed. It’s like we’re at the bottom of this huge towering steel bowl; it is nothing short of overwhelming. The noise level is already incredible, and it’s increasing as more fans continue filling the stadium. I love it.
The players come out to begin warming up, and the crowd erupts for the first time. The goalie for América is doing drills, lying down on the ground and rolling from side to side, blocking practice shots his teammates kick at him. I clap my free applaudadores – thundersticks – together, to burn off some excitement.
After awhile there are some pregame presentations. They bring out Guillermo Perez, one of the Mexican Olympic gold medalists in jujitsu this year – two of Mexico’s three 2008 gold medals were in martial arts. They give him a weird framed poster featuring pictures of him and Club América logos in a checkerboard design, and a Club América jersey. Everyone claps politely, even the Chivas fans. Then they bring out Pelé. Yes, that Pelé. I told you this was the Superclasico, right? Pelé says something about how some of his favorite soccer moments were here in Mexico (the Estadio Azteca has hosted two World Cups, in 1970 and 1986) and wishes both teams luck. No Club América jersey this time – way to remain neutral, Pelé! (Also, I would like to take this moment to remind myself that I have now seen Pelé in person. Nope, still can’t believe it.)
Finally it is time for the game to start. By now the stadium is full its brim, and the sun is beginning to go down. First the Club América players run out through giant inflatable loaves of bread. Sigh. Both teams are sponsored by Bimbo, the biggest bread company in Mexico, and feature big Bimbo logos on the front of their jerseys. I hate Bimbo because of its insufferable mascot, an overly cutesy teddy bear with eyelashes, and because its bread is uber-processed and really not very good. But I digress.
As I was saying, the Club América players run out through the inflatable loaves of bread, and there are huge, HUGE cheers. The stadium is awash in the bright yellow of Club América.
But then the Chivas run out of their giant loaf of bread. The roar from the crowd is deafening. Are these cheers actually louder? This is Club América’s home turf! We look around at the crowd. The stadium is awash in bright yellow, to be sure, but there is a hearty sprinkling of red and white stripes – the classic Chivas jersey – everywhere. And the Chivas fan section, at one end of the stadium, is nothing but red and white, not a spot of yellow anywhere. Chivas fans, I am impressed. (I think this is what it must be like to go to a Cubs game at Miller Park…)
But, lest you think the Chivas fans will drown out the América fans, Estadio Azteca has a secret weapon – their sound system. Anytime Chivas fans begin to get loud, the stadium begins blaring the Club América theme song. This theme song is hilariously bad. It begins like the White Stripes’ “The Hardest Button to Button,” with an awesome beat so you think it’s going to be good, and then suddenly someone who sounds uncannily like Neal Diamond begins singing a song that sounds a lot like that Neil Diamond song “they’re coming to America…” The loudspeaker plays the chorus: “AaaaameRIca” and the fans respond with a shout: “Aguilas!” You can listen to an excerpt from the song here.
Play begins. It is dazzling. I remember watching a Chicago Fire game earlier this year in which Cuauhtemoc Blanco (who actually played his whole career with Club América – there are still a lot of #10 Blanco jerseys in the stadium today) did this sick move with his feet, spinning around a defender like no one else on the field did, or could. It was easily the best play of that game. But this game was like two teams made up of Cuauhtemoc Blancos. There were sweet moves everywhere, the speed was incredible, players flying by each other, stealing the ball back and forth. Now, I should be clear: both Guadalajara and Club América are not exactly at the top of the Mexican leagues this year. And in the global soccer world, the Mexican leagues are not considered as good as European ones. So maybe it was our closeness to the action, maybe it was the intensity of El Superclasico, with a deafening crowd cheering both sides on, maybe I’m just not used to really good soccer. But I was dazzled. This is when soccer is fun to watch.
The Chivas score first. The red-and-white fans erupt, and their players jump all over each other in celebration. The yellow-clad América fans sit down, arms folded, in disgust. Momentum gained, the Chivas turn up the aggressiveness. They seem to be everywhere. By contrast, América looks sluggish.
Soon, though, América revives, and puts the Chivas on the ropes. They score, sending both teams to halftime at a 1-1 tie.
Halftime is a lot like the Pumas game halftimes, except multiplied a few times. There are the giant inflatable advertisements and giant inflatable costumed mascots (including one of that stupid Bimbo bear!). There are no team marching bands or team cheerleaders; instead there is a Bimbo bread company marching band, and then there are parades of women in either skin-tight wetsuit-like things (think Mystique from the X-Men movies) or in little bikinis, each carrying signs advertising for Corona, or Coca-Cola, or Bimbo, etc, etc, etc. The giant video screens in the stadium continue to show close-ups of them. Chris is horrified.
Finally halftime ends (worst…halftime show…ever) and play begins again. The stadium erupts, of course, with cheers as both teams run out onto the field, through their respective inflatable bread loaves. By this point the sun has gone down completely, and blinding stadium lights illuminate the field.
But now both teams are sluggish. América somehow gets 7 or 8 corner kicks on the Chivas, but can’t score. For about twenty minutes the game gets rather boring. We take turns finding the restroom. I begin to resign myself to the increasingly likely fact that this game is going to end in a 1-1 tie. In futbol, this is possible. (I know it is possible because the Pumas have now tied two weeks in a row, all but killing their chances for the postseason.) I hate ties. When a game ends in a tie, everyone goes home unhappy.
Suddenly bright red flares light up in the Chivas’ fan section, first one, then another, then there are six or seven of them scattered throughout. Then the Chivas fans start shooting off their own fireworks into the air – what?! You brought your own fireworks?? Man, you guys are diehards!! Incredibly, they then start dropping the flares onto the América fans below them. In the distance you see the burning flare make an arc, then drop into a crowd of people who all jump up like a splash of water and then have to stamp out the fire. (Have I mentioned that soccer fans are nuts?)
I don’t know what kind of black magic this is but it works. Within five minutes of the flares lighting up in their fan section, the Chivas score! The ball flies through the goal frame nearest our seats, stretching out the back of the net in triumph. We leap out of our seats involuntarily along with a sea of red-and-white Chivas fans, whose cheers finally drown out the América fans once and for all. The Chivas have their own cheer, which is impossibly simple. You just sing the “Ole, ole, ole, ole” song, but the fifth and sixth ole’s are “Chivas, Chivas!” I sing this over and over and over and over…
The game is nearly over, but now we are suddenly in “extra time.” This is one of the things I have yet to understand about soccer. There is always extra time, I think to make up for any delays in the game due to players lying down injured, etc. There’s a one minute delay at some point, so they add on one minute at the end. But here’s the thing: they don’t actually tell you how much time they are adding on. There’s no game clock during extra time. It’s like overtime, except you don’t know when overtime is going to end. So everyone just plays frantically, I bite my nails hoping the Chivas can hold on, and the extra time just keeps going on and on interminably, with no end in sight…it’s almost too much to take! Finally the horn blares, the Chivas leap into the air, the América players walk to the sidelines, dejected, the Chivas players take a victory lap and a curtain call, the lights come on, it is over. The Chivas have done it: they have won el Superclasico for the first time in five years. You can watch highlights here:
It takes us forever to get out of the stadium – wall-to-wall people funneled over an increasingly narrow bridge – but nobody seems to care. We find our way to the charter bus and collapse in happy exhaustion. We have just seen the quintessential Mexican futbol game, El Superclasico, Chivas versus América, Jalisco versus D.F. And it’s symbolic, too: In two months we move from Mexico City, home of Club América, to Guadalajara, home of the Chivas. What a way to start the move.
Friday, October 24, 2008
We´re going to see the Chivas (Goats) of Guadalajara take on the Aguilas (Eagles) of Club America, but everyone just calls it the Chivas-America game. It is the biggest futbol game in Mexico, called "El Superclasico."
We have somehow acquired tickets through Chris´s Fulbright scholarship. Apparently the administrators of the scholarship see it as a kind of social networking event, in which other scholarship recipients can meet each other and hang out. Whatever. All I know is, we´re going to see Chivas-America!!! And that they´ve warned us not to wear the colors of either team ("we recommend neutral colors, like blue or white"), not to wear belts (we´ve been through that charade before) and, worst of all, not to bring cameras, because they won´t allow them in the stadium. Normally I might risk it, but I´m not taking any chances around soccer fans. Thus the full report, coming next week, will have to rely totally on my descriptive skills (with help, of course, from my friends at Wikipedia and ESPNdeportes.com). Wish us luck...or better, wish the Chivas luck...
Thursday, October 23, 2008
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Then Yahweh formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And Yahweh planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he formed. - Genesis 2:7-8
I think it was my mood that made me answer the way I did. It must have been, because really, I love to travel, from an early age I was an "airline brat" (kid of airline employee parents) and traveled all over the place, and these days Chris and I take crazy-packed road trips for vacations every year, I mean, I love to travel, I really love to travel.
But I do so hate this weekly trip to Cuernavaca. I have to pack my backpack the night before, the same bag every time but I always pack too much stuff, too many books usually because I´m deathly afraid of getting bored. I say goodbye to Chris, and it´s only for two days but it always feels like two weeks. We rush around after class on Thursday morning, make sandwiches to go and then hail a taxi - I hate taxis - to get to the bus station. The bus ride sits in traffic for awhile before it heads out of the city, up and around these winding mountain roads that always, always, always make me carsick. When we get there we have class almost immediately, Bible class, that I can barely make sense out of because I like structure and our professor, though no Dr. Klein, is quite brilliant in his own right but uses anything but a clear structure and I´m always afraid that he´s going to look at my confused face and call on me to say something that may or may not be what he´s looking for. Then we head to homestays with host families which is always so incredibly painfully awkward. My espanol stinks and we´ve exhausted the conversations I can actually have at my current level, so we watch TV together, usually "Malcolm in the Middle" (surprisingly hilarious) and "Drake y Josh" (a middle-school-aimed Disney show). Then it´s meal time, more awkwardness. During any free time - usually Saturday morning - we explore Cuernavaca, which is a fine place all in all, but I always end up wishing I could be exploring it with Chris instead of biding my time until we can go back to D.F. Plus, why are we in Cuernavaca, anyway? It´s like you´re going to school in Chicago but you keep going to Valparaiso to do anything interesting. It´s insane. Twenty million people in Mexico City and we can´t find any of them worth visiting? To add insult to injury, half the people we meet make disparaging remarks about Mexico City, it´s so crowded, there´s so much pollution, blah blah blah. Mexico City can be a miserable place (some Mexican writers call it “post-apocalyptic”) but I already hate it when people speak ill of the city because hello there are people, human beings, living there, that’s what a city is, a big ol’ concentration of human beings…
So anyway by Thursday afternoon I´m usually doing my best to suppress my resentment toward Cuernavaca and the foul mood it generates within me. Maybe that´s why I answered the way I did when Padre Jose Luis asked me if I ever felt the urge to flee my society.
I said No. I´m an introvert and I love the mountains of Appalachia and the wide open plains of Nebraska and I said No! It can´t really be true, but it´s what I said: No, I´ve never felt the urge to flee society. I want to flee into it. As for at least fleeing my own society, well, I told Padre Jose Luis that when Chris told me we were going to Mexico for a year my immediate reaction was that I didn´t want to go. I wanted to stay on the little piece of land that I had come to call home and go deeper there, in that place. The United States is my home, my land, my people. My temptation was not to leave, I said, my temptation was to stay.
And do you know what he said? "You have roots. That´s good." Yes, I said, and now I feel uprooted. And he nodded, and moved on. I have roots. And now I am uprooted. For all the wondrous joys here that uprootedeness has been my dominant feeling in Mexico.
What am I to make of such a thing?
But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to Yahweh on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare. -Jeremiah 29:7
Air plants, also known as epiphytes, do not root themselves in soil, but live off the moisture in the air around them. They just kind of spread out their long green leaf-roots, and soak up whatever the air, the wind, the ruah sends their way.
This one was attached to a tree, but according to Wikipedia, epiphytes are not parasitic. Rather, the tree is what the air plant uses to maintain a steadiness in its world. In other words, the great tree, with its own roots deeply in the ground and its own leaves high in the air, is what sustains the air plant´s ability to soak up as much wind-blown nutrition as it can.
As the hours pass I think about whether I could be an air plant, my roots in the air, searching out the ruah that circles the globe.
And then, suddenly, I think of my dad, who left his West Virginia home at the age of 18 to find work in the closest city. He never moved back. I think of my grandpa, who one day many years ago sold his Iowa farm, packed up everything he owned, piled his family into a car and headed west to California in the hope of finding a better life. And then I think that if either one of them had failed to uproot themselves, my mom and dad would never have met in San Francisco, and I would not be writing this right now because I would not exist. I, the uprooted one, am the product of uprootedness. Being an air plant, then, is not so novel: My family is made up of them. And I begin to see myself, and my life, clearly, as if for the first time.
I suppose I have taken that metaphor as far as I can. My dad still speaks of West Virginia as "home" – it is still his native soil. And my grandpa and grandma moved back to Iowa some twenty years ago, after they retired. We are land-based creatures, made out of of land and placed in it; the first creation story still rings true. The world spins, and I spin with it, and maybe someday I will spin right back to the place I once came from.
For now, though, I, like Jeremiah, live in the city where Yahweh has sent me. I seek its welfare, and I pray on its behalf, for in its welfare I will find my welfare.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
The next morning we took the Metro (a Metro line whose first stop is called Barranca del Muerto (Canyon of Death) and whose last stop is called El Rosario (the Rosary)) to the bus station and headed two hours southeast to the city of Puebla.
Puebla is one of Mexico’s oldest cities, founded in 1531 as La Puebla de los Angeles (the Village of the Angels). Over the years Puebla has played an important role in Mexico’s history: The battle of Cinco de Mayo, in which the invading French were temporarily defeated, was fought in Puebla in 1862. Fifty years later the revolution began in Puebla when a house of plotting revolutionaries was shot up by the Mexican army. You can still see the bullet holes (scroll down for a Puebla photo gallery).
Puebla also has a rich culinary history. Molé (pronounced mole-lay), was invented by nuns when they wanted to welcome a visiting European bishop with a food made of particularly Mexican ingredients. They came up with a spicy, nutty, chocolatey sauce poured over poultry. (Mole poblano also happens to be my favorite Mexican food, with apologies to tacos al pastor.)
Today Puebla is probably best known for its talavera pottery, an Arab-influenced style of pottery that often finds its way into tiles (you can see a few examples of talavera in the Puebla photo gallery, too). Latent multiculturalism never fails to surprise me: Spain was Arab-ruled for hundreds of years, so of course Arab influence bleeds into Spanish influence bleeds into indigenous (Aztec, Mayan, etc) influence bleeds into the multiculturality of today’s Mexican culture.
Besides this general history of Puebla, Chris and I have our own particular history here, too. In the Spring Semester of 2001, Chris studied abroad at the Universidad de Las Americas (UDLA) in Cholula, a town about twenty minutes northwest of Puebla. I visited her over spring break, my first trip to Mexico, and, actually, my first trip out of the United States (not counting Canada). Thus, Puebla: The Return.
We arrived about in the afternoon and hopped on a bus that said “ZOCALO” on it, with the logic that you can always find your bearings in the zocalo. We sat down on a bench, flipped through our trusty Lonely Planet guidebook and picked out a hotel that sounded good. We walked the few blocks over to it, and discovered that the hotel was a former monastery. This was a good sign: Our hotel in Taxco was a former monastery, too. We ended up in a high-ceilinged room upstairs with a balcony that looked out over the street leading to the cathedral (awesome pics of this below), all for, again, the price of a budget hotel in the States.
Settled in, we followed the suggested walk through town in our DK guidebook (Lonely Planet=great for information and maps; DK=great for photos, cross-section illustrations, and suggested walks). The walk was fantabulous because it took us around to many of the great sites near the center of town. We wandered through the street market in the Plazuela de los Sapos (Little Plaza? of the Toads), chatting with some of the sellers about their retablos. Retablos are small, simple paintings done on tin to thank a religious figure like Jesus or la Virgen – including the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos, Chris’s dissertation topic (Chris calls her “my girl”) – and they can be quite incredible to see. One of those we saw at the market featured a shootout in a cantina, another a car wreck on a highway. We refrained from buying any today – we’ll be heading to San Juan de los Lagos later in the year, where we’ll see many, many more.
We continued through the talavera markets, scoping out the brightly colored pottery of everything from small dishware to massive water jugs. Talavera looks cool in individual pieces and tiles (some of which are captured below), but to see a whole collection of it piled up against a market stand is overwhelming. You can easily get lost in the variety here; we picked up a few small things, and then moved on.
On our walk we passed at least three different hundreds-of-years-old massive cathedral-shaped churches, all with their own distinctive elements (man, the Spaniards built a lot of churches) before finishing our walk at Puebla’s main cathedral, which borders the zocalo. Puebla’s cathedral is the second largest in all of Mexico (the biggest is in Mexico City’s zocalo) and features the tallest cathedral towers of any of the massive cathedrals in Mexico, which is saying something. It was consecrated in 1649. Have I already mentioned how the age of these cathedrals just blows me away? I think so.
For me, however, the most distinctive thing about Puebla’s cathedral – which is, I think, my favorite cathedral in Mexico so far – is the green iron fence that surrounds its massive cement courtyard. On each of the fence posts is an identical angel with an arm raised and one foot off the ground, as if it is getting ready to move. Is the arm raised in greeting? Or in warning? It’s hard to tell, but the effect of these hundred angels surrounding the cathedral is mesmerizing. And I’m not the only one who likes Puebla’s cathedral – it’s also featured on the back of the Mexican 500 peso bill.
After our whirlwind tour of Puebla, we found an Italian restaurant – what, you thought there was only Mexican food in Mexico? – with outdoor seating on one edge of the zocalo. From there we wandered down to a coffee shop, and then a churro place, and wandered around the zocalo for hours, watching the couples and teenagers and families and little kids running around. Every zocalo in Mexico has balloon sellers (see picture below!); Diego Rivera, some 60 years ago, even painted a balloon seller into his massive park mural, “Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central” (for more on this mural, see our blog post from August 3). But Puebla’s zocalo seemed to have more balloon sellers than most, and even had a special kind of balloon we’ve yet to see anywhere else, one shaped like a pencil but giant-size, bigger than most of the little kids who were carrying them around. After awhile we wandered back to our hotel and sat out on the balcony until it got too cold, and we finally had to turn in for the night.
In the morning we hailed a bus for Cholula, about twenty minutes northwest of Puebla. We took the “indirect” bus so that we could get the scenic route and hopefully pass by the university where Chris studied for four months. We passed by the back of it, and then Chris kept her eyes glued on the neighboring streets, to see which hangouts were still around: not many. The zocalo looked more familiar, but it was bigger than she remembered it. And, of course, there was the church on top of the hill, visible from anywhere in town.
The “hill” is actually a pyramid, the largest ever built in the Americas and as big as those in Egypt, that has since been covered over in vegetation; if we had more time we could have taken tours of the inside of it. On top of the former pyramid is an orange-painted church (Chris swears it has been repainted since she was last here),
As we ate breakfast, on a patio on the edge of Cholula’s zocalo, Chris reminisced about her time here in Cholula. “Did you ever think you’d be back here for a whole year as a Fulbright scholar?” I asked. “No,” she replied. “When I left that time, I didn’t think I’d ever be back to Mexico.” Life moves in mysterious ways.
By now Chris really did want to spend some more time here, walking the streets she walked during that fateful semester years ago. It was all starting to come back to her. But by the end of breakfast it was time to be heading back to Puebla – we needed to check out of our hotel room by one o’clock, no room for flexibility. We took the direct route back, our faces turned toward the windows, Chris pointing out familiar streets and intersections every few moments.
We made it back to Mexico City late that night, tired but satisfied, full of memories old and new, one adventure completed, another just beginning.
Monday, October 20, 2008
Sadly, I had taken more photos of Puebla - particularly of the cathedral - some of which were quite awesome, but the computer ate them somehow (argh!). Still, these are pretty good, I guess (sigh).
|Puebla: The Return|
Thursday, October 16, 2008
The UNAM is the National Autonomous University of Mexico, and I should really devote a whole blog post to it in the future because it has a really cool campus with true athletic and political spirit. Actually, Chris should post on it, because she has spent a good amount of time there, researching in several of its libraries and eating lunch in its vast green space. There are over 100,000 students at the UNAM, so the Pumas have plenty of fans.
On this day the Pumas were playing Cruz Azul. There are three professional futbol clubs in Mexico City, and the Pumas and Cruz Azul are two of them. Crosstown rivalry, anyone? (The other team in Mexico City is América, who are the New York Yankees of the Mexican futbol league. Needless to say, we are not rooting for the Yankees.) Cruz Azul (yep, it means "blue cross") is named after a cement company here. Just like NASCAR and Major League Soccer in the U.S., Mexican futbol teams have no problem plastering their jerseys with advertisements. The Pumas escape some of this because they have a giant Puma face on the front of their jerseys that crowds out the Banamex and Cablevision ads on the edges. The worst, though, are the Chivas of Guadalajara (our future team!), whose jerseys feature the name of a bread company in giant letters across the chest. The bread company`s name? "Bimbo."
Anyway, Chris and I had been to two other Pumas games this year (you gotta a stadium within walking distance). Usually we just walk up and buy tickets in the cheap section on the North end, which is usually not very crowded and rather peaceful compared to the fanatic sections on the East and West sides (visiting team crowds sit on the South end). But this time the match was sold out when we got there. Stupid crosstown rivalry.
So we snapped up two tickets from the first scalper we ran into, who gave us a good deal because the game had already started. But we were in such a hurry to get seats that we didn`t ask where they were. We looked at our tickets. Uh-oh...we had just bought ourselves two tickets to the crazy section! (How do you say "soccer hooligan" in Spanish?)
We got in line. It was an extremely long line, with people covered in Pumas gear - thank goodness I bought a Pumas jersey the week before! (Chris: "Uh, Matt, I hate to break this to you, but even with the jersey you still don`t exactly blend in.") Another interesting fact about this line of fans waiting to get into the game: The line was surrounded by riot police in full riot gear, with the plastic shields and everything. This was going to be interesting.
First they separated the men and women into separate groups, to be fully patted down. I was scolded for wearing a belt, and pointed to where I could check my belt and pick it up after the game. The same thing happened to Chris, and then she had to check her rally scarf too. I shuddered to think what kinds of things must have happened to prompt rules that make you check belts and scarves.
After the first outer gate we approach the stadium itself, where there are more riot police in full riot gear, and we are again separated into separate groups, male and female, to enter the stadium. Apparently we can meet up again once we are in the stadium. We hope. (I should pause here to mention that the stadium itself is really cool. It was built for the 1968 Olympic Games, still has the basin for the Olympic torch, and features a Diego Rivera mosaic on the outside depicting the annual Aztec ritual of lighting the "new fire" for the new year - cool connection to the Olympic flame there. The stadium is also built to loosely resemble a volcano - maybe the still-active volcano of Popocatepetl, which is not far from here.)
I enter the stadium through a long tunnel, at the end of which there is bright light that gradually turns into a waving sea of gold (gold and navy blue - azul y oro - being the Pumas` colors). The noise, too, is incredible - fans are already into their collection of chants, of which there are at least two dozen different ones, and there are brass and massive drums pounding, pounding, pounding away. If you have been to a Chicago Fire game, particularly near Section 8, you know what I am talking about - the constant and elaborate chants, the sustained intensity level rivaled in few other sports - except multiply the people and noise level by, oh, a couple hundred percent. Soccer fans are ridiculous. And I love it.
I manage to find Chris, and we find a spot on the edge of the crowd. The impromptu chants/songs continue, and change, and we learn a few of them. Some are really catchy, and stay stuck in your head all day, and some are, Chris tells me, quite vulgar. (I`m telling you, soccer fans are ridiculous! Case in point: Look up the song "Vale Vergara el Guadalajara" by the Mexican rap group Molotov, written at the height of the rivalry between the Pumas and the Chivas.)
As for the game, well... It starts really well, with the Pumas buzzing the Cruz Azul net again and again. Cruz Azul could hardly get off a decent shot, and the Pumas goalie is really good (and wears the coolest goalie jersey ever - black jersey with silver Pumas head on it). Unfortunately, the Cruz Azul defense is like a wall, and the Pumas were constantly repelled. This was not a good sign.
After the bizarre halftime show - a bunch of crazy games, but with oversized inflatable things featuring ads on them, like a crazy ad fiesta, complete with a tiny remote control blimp flying around over the crowd - things went downhill. Cruz Azul scored 2 goals, both flukes really, but even flukes count, so the Pumas found themselves in a hole and never got out of it. The Cruz Azul fan section went nuts, and started their own chants. You know how sometimes the home crowd goes silent when their team starts to lose? Not here. The Pumas fans just got louder and louder, and directed their chants in the direction of the Cruz Azul fans. And regardless of the score, the Pumas cheering section always sings this song at the 85th minute of the game:
¿Cómo no te voy a querer?
¿Cómo no te voy a querer?
Si mi corazón azul es,
Y mi piel dorada,
Siempre te querré.
How could I not love you?
How could I not love you?
If my heart is blue,
And my skin is gold,
I will always love you.
Have I mentioned that soccer fans are ridiculous? And that I love it?
After the game we wandered outside through the maze of Pumas gear, official and otherwise. (My personal favorite items: Jesus opening his robe to reveal not a sacred heart but a Pumas jersey, Bob Marley smoking pot in a Pumas jersey, and Che Guevara proudly sporting a Pumas beret.) Chris bought a sweet white Pumas jersey so that we can do the boy-girl matching jerseys thing that we see everywhere in Mexico City. As we were getting ready to leave, the superfans finally left the stadium by parading out of it into the center of the gear stands, playing ginormous drums and brass and chanting and throwing confetti. They kept this up, chanting in place, for at least twenty minutes. Have I mentioned that soccer fans are...yeah, you get the picture.
We went home for a quick rest, and then headed back out to enjoy the sunny Sunday afternoon by walking the hourlong route over to Coyoacan, a funky colonial neighborhood whose name means "place of coyotes." We took the scenic walking route, which included a couple of 200-year-old churches and lots of cobblestone streets. At one park we discovered that - lo and behold! - the leaves on the trees were actually changing colors! Chris`s favorite season of the year is autumn, and she`s been missing all of the traditional autumn things like leaves, apples, apple cider, apple pie...yeah, she`s from the apple capitol of Michigan, alright. So being in an autumn-leaved park...it was nice.
Chris and I, we need weekends like this sometimes. We need them as often as possible, actually, as I continue to struggle through a contentious, fractured community and Chris continues to struggle through her first year of pure solitary research time. So we soak up these free days. This weekend we`re headed to Puebla, two hours southeast of Mexico City, where Chris spent four months in a study abroad program in college. We`ll see how much it`s changed. And we`ll see what other wonders Mexico, land of the Pumas, place of the coyotes, has in store for us...
Last night we went to watch the presidential debate at a debate-watching party hosted by Democrats Abroad (sorry Republicans).
It was a at a swanky Marriott downtown, which we both found a little odd. Quote of the night, from Chris: "Should I dress up? No! I'm not going to dress up! I'm a Democrat because I'm poor!"
Flyers were in abundance, especially this one above, which declares that Obama represents "Change Americans Abroad Can Believe In." Inside the brochure it explains that Obama "will seek to address the special concerns and issues of Americans living abroad," which apparently includes economic secrutiy for Americans abroad, voting procedures for Americans abroad, and streamlined citizenship transmision for American children born abroad. Uh, we're not planning on the last one there, but thanks anyway.
All in all, it was fantabulous for us political junkies (yes, we do own every season of The West Wing on DVD) and government-philes to be able to watch the debate together. During the first two, I was in Cuernavaca, and the last one, well, we tried to get it streaming online but it didn't work very well. Swanky hotel vs. buffering...buffering...buffering...
I'll refrain from addressing the content of the debate, mostly because it would mean a really long rant. BUT: It was kind of funny to hear John McCain imply that he knew more than Barack Obama about Colombia and other places south of the border. Um, I'm actually living south of the border, Johnny Mac, and again and again I hear people pleading for NAFTA to be renegotiated (Obama's proposal). So, Senator McCain, I would like to cordially invite you to come on a Transformational Immersion Trip here at the Lutheran Center so you can see what life is like for millions of Mexicans and Latin Americans, not your presidents and diplomats and high-level businessmen, but those struggling to make it every day. You won't represent them, but your policies will impact them tremendously. Barack, you can come too. Being from the South Side of Chicago, you have a much better idea about these things, but I've heard you've never seen Mexico, and you really should. They are our neighbors, after all. Candidates, I'll look forward to your RSVPs.
And so, debates completed, we're mailing our absentee ballots today. I get unreasonably excited about voting. It's so exciting!! So, I guess you're right, Bob Schieffer: Voting does make you feel big and strong...
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
|Coyoacan in Autumn|
Monday, October 13, 2008
|Pumas v. Cruz Azul|
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
Taxco is a small town 90 minutes south of Cuernavaca, most famous for its silver. In the anthologies of Mexican travelogues I have been reading Taxco is always written about as part of ¨the tourist route,¨ part of the highway that leads from Mexico City through Cuernavaca that goes straight on to Acapulco on the Pacific coast.
You would think this would make Taxco obnoxiously touristy, something like Niagra Falls, a natural wonder gone McDonaldized. But Taxco, somehow, is not like that at all. Sure, there are plenty of sops to tourists: There are clearly tourist-oriented markets selling all manner of traditional Mexican arts and crafts; there are lots of hotels and restaurants (including an extraordinary number of pizza places) in Taxco, most with English (i.e. tourist) signs and menus available. Yet Taxco retains an incredibly tranquil aura. How can I say this without hyperbole? I can´t. Taxco is an otherworldly place, one of the most beautiful and most peaceful places in all of God´s creation that I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. (Hey, I warned you about the hyperbole. With Taxco, you just can´t avoid it!)
We stayed in a hotel called Los Arcos (the Arches), a place that in centuries past was a monastery, but now just gets by as an amazingly gorgeous but impossibly simple place to spend the night. To picture Los Arcos you have to drop all images of chain hotels and picture a rustic brick structure with courtyards open to the sky, arches (of course), fountains (including my favorite, a fountain of a stone monkey peeing - hee hee) and staircases like something out of an M.C. Escher painting. Our room was up a little staircase in a private corner; when we looked out the window we looked out first over a foreground of the town´s red roofs and white buildings and then a backdrop of the deep green mountains of the state of Guerrero. On the roof of the hotel was a terrace that offered an even better, 360-degree view of the picturesque town and its mountains. The terrace was complete with - get this - hammocks. For all of this we paid about what we would pay at a Motel 6 in the States.
The town of Taxco is not just in the mountains, it is on a mountain, its white buildings and red roofs (by public ordinance, I believe) clinging to the side of a mountain like barnacles on a ship. Most of the streets in Taxco - cobblestone all (did I mention the place is picturesque?) - slope sharply; we got our relaxation at Los Arcos and our exercise climbing the streets. From a distance, as the bus winds arounds the preceding mountains on its way to Taxco, you can see the whole town on the mountain (of course at this point your jaw drops to the floor) and right smack dab in the middle of the town is a church the color of reddish dirt, rising above everything else, the tallest building in the town.
When you get up close to the church, you can see that despite its reddish dirt color it is impossibly detailed in a churrigueresque style. Its building was funded almost entirely by Jose de la Borda, the first to discover silver in Taxco and the first to become wealthy beyond his dreams through silver. But Borda poured his wealth into the building of this church, so that a famous saying developed in Taxco: ¨God gives to Borda, and Borda gives to God.¨ The church was built in the 1750s, filling me with amazement once again that these churches were built before the United States was born. Of course, we have colonial churches in the United States, too, but because nearly all -ok, all - of these old Mexican cathedrals and basilicas and parroquias are Roman Catholic, they have a completely different feel to them, much more European but with the decided indigenous and independent influence of the American continents. The town of Taxco is old, too. We have colonial towns in the United States, to be sure, but the town of Taxco is even older than these. It was founded by the Aztecs, though of course it looked much different then. The Spaniards incorporated it in 1539 - nearly 70 years before the founding of Jamestown. At times like this it always becomes clear to me that despite being so close to the United States, Mexico really is a very different reality. (Just to be clear, all of you multinational chain stores and restaurants coming to invade: That difference is a good thing. Viva la differencia!)
This church, the Parroquia of Santa Prisca, sits on one side of the zocalo (city center). Like the zocalo in Cuernavaca, in the center there is a garden with a gazebo in the middle of it. Most of the rest of the buildings surrounding the zocalo are either small restaurants and cafes or silver shops. Nearly every restaurant features second-floor balconies that look out over the town and the mountains. At one of these places we were waited on by a dude who within seconds recognized my Cubs hat - apparently he was originally from Chicago, but moved to Taxco when the rents got too high. Good call.
Being famous for silver, there is, of course, lots and lots and lots of silver jewelry for sale in fancy shops and - thank goodness - in hundreds more bargain stands in hidden and not-so-hidden markets. But there are other markets, too, with small stands selling painted wooden jaguar masks complete with gleaming white teeth (yikes!) and brightly painted ceramic jars and colorful hanging mobiles with shapes of pajaritos (birds), pesces (fish), and sandias (watermelons, the fruit that features all three national colors of Mexico). Sometimes they paint these right next to the stand, so you can see the work in progress. All of the crafts sell for a fraction of the price they go for at the craft market in our ritzy neighborhood of San Angel in Mexico City. You could probably bargain them down even lower - sometimes, if you deliberate over something long enough, the seller with start the bargaining for you - but the handcrafts already cost so little and so many of the people selling them are so obviously poor that in most places we haven´t used our fledgling bargaining skills much. (Shopping report: Chris bought a wall decoration of a sun made out of a coconut after the woman selling it brought down the price by 20 pesos before Chris could say a word, I bought a wooden mask of a midnight blue wolf that haunted me from the minute I saw it.)
At night we wandered out to the zocalo, within easy walking distance from our hotel. I was intent on having a margarita at Berta´s, the Taxco bar where the margarita was (supposedly) invented. But we arrived to find Berta´s closed - apparently there were to be elections on Sunday, which meant alcohol sales stopped after 8pm Saturday night. Sigh. So we got ice cream instead, and people-watched in the always people-full zocalo. Little kids ran and played tag with each other, teenage couples sat awkwardly on first dates, old men sat and talked politics. After awhile we wandered back to our room and laid out on the rooftop hammocks for awhile.
Ah, Taxco. Did I mention we had a wonderful time?
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
This is why I need to write every day. Not just to share with all of you – though I do hope you’ve enjoyed the sharing – but just to get it out of myself, to process it, to write it down so that in the years to come I will not forget it.
Over the last few weeks there has been a sharp hardening of the fault lines – and, if we’re going to use that metaphor, some shifting of the tectonic plates of personal relationships – between different factions within our small five-person (six including Chris, but she misses out on the classroom fireworks) community.
Or, if you prefer a different metaphor: If this community was a band, I’d have left weeks ago and the press release would have said something about “creative differences.”
Last Friday things came to a head when our class imploded into an emotional debate over – read this carefully – whether hope was better than despair. I took the side of hope, and then was shocked to find how hard I had to fight for it.
In fairness, I think this was really a debate over strategy and semantics than anything else. But both “hope” and “despair” are words bursting with meanings historical and personal, so whatever we were really arguing about the air was thick of tension. It ended with one of our number walking out of the room and the rest of us silent with exhaustion, bitterness, and resignation.
The things we are studying – Why is so much of the world brutally poor? Why do some people have so much power while others have so little? What is the church’s role in all of this? – are difficult topics, to be sure. It would be hard enough if we looked at one isolated problem in our local community. But we are looking at all of the problems of the world at once, under the assumption that they are all interconnected.
Liberation theologians call this approach looking at “systemic sin” as opposed to “personal sin,” and for all my quibbles over nuances there is much about which these liberationists are right. Sin does infect everything; Luther knew this much. Sin is an ancient foe, but in the third millennium it moves at broadband speed and with nuclear power. As our global systems get bigger, the number of people we can affect with our mistakes gets bigger too.
Facing this overwhelming reality day after day after day is not a task for those with the faith of a mustard seed, for those who already struggle to find hope in a world with so much pain. It is incredibly draining work.
But God has an ironic sense of humor. So here I am, mustard seed faith and all, trying to hold back the despair around and within me. Thank God for grace. Thank God for hope. Thank God for music, and books, and good food; thank God for Chris, and for friends and family near and far. I don’t know what I would do without them these days. It is the Way that I, that all of us here in this community and others, press on.
Friday, October 3, 2008
"All the Way" by Eddie Vedder
Yeah, don’t let them say that it’s just a game
Well, I’ve seen other teams and it is never the same
When you go to Chicago, you’re blessed and you’re healed
The first time you walk into Wrigley Field
Heroes with pinstripes and heroes in blue
Give us the chance to feel like heroes do
Whether we’ll win and if we should lose, we know
Someday we’ll go all the way
Yeah, someday we’ll go all the way
We are one with the Cubs, with the Cubs we’re in love
Hold our heads tall as the underdogs
We are not fairweather, but farweather fans
Like brothers in arms, in the suites and the stands
There’s magic in the Ivy and the old score board
The same one I stared at as a kid keeping score
In a world full of greed, we could never want more
Someday we’ll go all the way
Yeah, someday we’ll go all the way
Here’s to the men and the legends we’ve known
Giving us faith and giving us hope
United we stand and united we’ll fall
Down to our knees the day we win it all
Yeah Ernie Banks said, “oh, let’s play two”
I think he meant two hundred years
Playing at Wrigley, our diamond, our jewel
The home of our joy and our fears
Keeping traditions, and wishes anew
The place where our grandfathers’ fathers they grew
The spiritual feeling if I ever knew
And when the day comes for that last winning run
And I’m crying and covered with beer
I look to the sky and know I was right today
Someday we’ll go all the way
Yeah, someday we’ll go all the way...