Thursday, January 1, 2009

Año Nuevo en Guadalajara

(Above: Mariachis performing the classic song "Guadalajara.")

Last night we went to the city center to celebrate New Year’s with the tapatíos.

Chris did some research online and discovered that there would be a regional orchestra playing at 6:00, mariachi music starting at 7:30, and then a party at 9:00. Chris thought it would be best if we could catch the early music, see a bit of the party, and leave early enough to make it home on public transportation. So, running late as usual, we hopped on the city bus that picks us up a block from our house and headed downtown around 7, made the half-hour trip from our apartment to the city center, and started walking toward the central plaza around 7:30.

But when we arrived at 7:30, there was no sign of mariachis anywhere. There was no sign that any orchestra had just played. There did seem to be a big outdoor party coming, indicated by the giant rock-and-roll style temporary stage set up on the plaza behind the cathedral. We found a sign on a telephone poll in the plaza: New Year’s Eve party to start at… 10:00.

We wandered around the downtown for awhile, faintly hoping that we just had the place wrong and that we’d stumble upon some awesome mariachi concert a few blocks away, but no dice. So, our plans bewilderingly thrown out the window, we decided to get some ice cream and just wait for the late party.

First we sat in front of the cathedral, which was beautifully lit up for the evening. Guadalajara’s cathedral is not that tall compared to some of the other cathedrals in Mexico, but it is hulking in its own way, taking up a full city block and offering imposing architecture. Tonight we noticed for the first time some statues to individual martyrs built into the sides of the cathedral, peering down at us, martyrs who died in a bitter rebellion in the 1920s. These were the famous Cristeros, who I’ve been trying to learn about ever since arriving in Mexico (see earlier post back in August, when I stumped a history lecturer with some obscure question about the Cristeros). More on them later.

After awhile we wandered around to the other side of the cathedral, crossing another big plaza as we went. Guadalajara’s zocalo is a little different from the typical Mexican design: Its cathedral is surrounded by four city-block-sized plazas, one on each side. Behind the cathedral, where the New Year’s Eve party would be held, the plaza extends to the Teatro Degollado, where the Guadalajara orchestra and folkloric dance company perform. Tonight it is lit up with blue spotlights, and dapperly dressed folks are crowding around outside. They are so well-dressed in preparation for whatever event they’re going to that I half-expect one of them to pull out a monocle. But no one does. Sigh.

More and more people are gradually gathering around the rock-and-roll stage and in its massive plaza. Kids are everywhere. And because kids are everywhere, street vendors are everywhere, selling glow sticks and sparkly tiaras and especially little glowing bouncy balls with streamers attached to them. Before long every kid has a little glowing bouncy ball with streamers attached to it, and they are whipping them around on a string before letting them fly into the air, fall to the ground, bounce a few times, stop, and then the whole process begins again. Of course, very few of the kids have much precision with their bouncy-ball-throwing, so the balls fly everywhere – at people’s heads, into baby strollers, into the street. One little girl gets her toy stuck in a tree – tragedy! – but then her brother give her his, and she rejoins the fun.

Finally it is 10:00, and the party is supposed to start. Except that instead of a band playing, a DJ starts playing canned music. “Hey DJ, you know what would be a great song to kick off a party? How about Phil Collins’ ‘Easy Lover’?” Now, I love Phil Collins as much as the next 80s nostalgist (as my college roommate knows, I proudly own his greatest hits album), but this just seemed like an odd choice for a 2009 Mexican fiesta. It only got worse from there. Every song was in English, mostly American, but lots of techno, too, and even some really raunchy punk songs that just didn’t seem to fit the multigenerational, family-friendly, muy mexicana crowd of this New Year’s Eve party. And after a half-hour or so, people started getting really annoyed that the live band – advertised online for 9:00, advertised in the square for 10:00, and now not actually playing until 11:00 – was still not onstage. Mexicans express this heckling sentiment by whistling. Angry whistles went up everywhere.

Finally, at 11:15, a representative of the city government – Guadalajara’s version of Chicago’s “Mayor’s Office of Special Events” person – came onstage to welcome everyone. “Muy buenas noches,” he says. Not just buenas noches, but muy buenas noches? Well, yeah, Chris says, he’s got to be really polite now to all these annoyed people. He finally introduces the band.

Jane’s Addiction kicks into their first song. Ok, it’s not really Jane’s Addiction, but the lead singer really wanted to be Perry Farrell, or maybe some cross between Perry Farrell and the guys from Jet. All of their songs were completely in English, which I thought was really weird since, again, we’re in Guadalajara, supposedly the most Mexican of cities, and 99% of the people in the square were clearly Mexican. (And, on a side note, I've been immersing myself in the rock en español section of the iTunes music store all week, and then we go to a Mexican New Year's Eve celebration to hear rock en ingles? What's up with that?) Even weirder, every time the lead singer spoke to the crowd, he spoke in rapid Spanish, and then he kicked back into another English song, which just totally messed with my head. I’m all for bilingualism, but this is ridiculous.

In truth, the band wasn’t all that bad – they were tight, their songs were driving and taut with some electronica underneath that you could almost dance to – but this was a family crowd, and for the first song most people stood perfectly still staring at the people on stage blaring their too-loud-for-this-venue music. A dude stood with a cowboy hat on his head and his hands in his pockets giving the stage a blank stare for awhile. After a few songs, a lot of people left. I watched a family get into a taxi. It was too bad, really. I remember the best multigenerational, multicultural concert I’ve ever been to: Stevie Wonder in Grant Park. I don’t know who the Mexican Stevie Wonder is, but they should’ve booked him instead of the Perry Farrell wannabe. (Later, watching the TV news, we discovered that the norteño band Los Tigres del Norte played for free in downtown Mexico City. Los Tigres del Norte! So that’s who the Mexican Stevie Wonder is…)

Anyway, midnight finally came, and we all counted down from 10:


Fireworks shot up into the air. We watched them for a few minutes, bursting into color over the cathedral, and then we walk over to the street to hail a taxi and head home.

Feliz año nuevo a todos!


Zach Parris said...

Happy New Year to you, too! Thanks for celebrating ALL the days of Christmas....we love that - blessings to you!

Mike and Beth said...

The Zach Parris comment was actually from Mike and Beth - Beth didn't log off and log back in...silly me! Anyway.....Happy 2009!