Sunday, September 19, 2010

El Grito and the crush....

Wednesday, Sept.15th

We had purchased copies of Atencion to see the schedule of the festivities for the Bicentennial Celebration of the Mexican Revolution. El Grito, the very eloquent speech saying essentially "Lets throw the bastards out" is traditionally given in Mexico at 11:00 pm on the 15th, followed by fireworks, bands, and dancing. The next day, the 16th, is a national holiday when everyone can sleep in and sleep it off. Pretty smart way to do it, unlike we in the US who party all night of the 4th and then still have to return to work on the 5th if it doesn't fall on a weekend. 

The first El Grito was spoken (shouted) at 6:30 am in front of the big church in Delores Hidalgo on the 16th. They planned to re-enact that one at 6:30 am, but since we stayed up till way past 2:00 on the 15th, I wasn't about to jump on a bus and head to Delores in time for the 'real' El Grito the next morning, 

Wednesday was a beautiful day, as most are in San Miguel. We headed to the Jardin, John wanted to take care of Trini's paperwork problem but discovered the Consulate was closed. I went shopping for food for the next few days, breakfast items mostly. It was nice to be in familiar territory. San Miguel was all decked out for the holiday with huge banners streaming from the buildings, the streets washed and scrubbed, dog and horse poop cleaned up, and some of the teenagers wore goofy fuzzy red, white and green hats with fake mustaches. What revolutionary dressed like that?

Nigromonte market looked the same, smelled the same, and the best fruit and vegetable guy was still in his stall across from the meat section. When he saw that I was buying ingredients for Guacamole, he tossed in a couple of hot serano peppers with the avocados. Since I was on a mission, I skipped looking for ceramics to go with my new Mexican tiled bathrooms. Another trip….

I got half a roasted chicken from Pollo Brenda, and a stack of fresh corn tortillas from the tortilleria next door. Loaded with food in my giant shopping bolsa I headed back through the Jardin area. It happened to be 11:00 in the morning and the lady mayor of SMA (San Miguel de Allende) was giving a rousing speech that ended with El Grito. Finally I got to hear it! The Jardin was full and teenagers in identical running outfits were lined up like soldiers with their right hands in a salute over their hearts, elbows stiffly held upright, answering El Grito with Viva Mexico, Viva Viva.!! It was so patriotic (and quasi military!).

Back at the apartment, I whipped up the guacamole and put it in the fridge to develop the flavors. There's just nothing like guac made with perfectly ripe avocados, fresh fluffy cilantro, and a squeezed lime.  Then I went to find an internet cafe.

After a frustrating afternoon trying to stay online and upload photos, I returned to the apartment to find Bill, the downstairs neighbor, sitting out on the wide walkway in front of the apartments having a glass of wine with John and a woman who could be Charo's cousin. This lady was a trip. She was tiny and slim, perched like a bird on the arm of one of the outdoor couches, waving a glass of wine around as she talked a mile a minute in Spanish and English. She owns a B&B right off the Jardin that is quite beautiful Bill says. He was clearly enamored with her. We were shortly joined by other neighbors and pretty soon a party ensued. I brought down the Guacamole and some chips, Bill brought out another bottle of wine and some beer, and we sat around chatting the afternoon away. A lady from Florida with a heavy southern accent (she's also a DAR) refused to drink her wine from a tumbler and went home to fetch a suitable wine glass. I couldn't help but be reminded of our 'cousin Francis' an elderly southern belle. The major difference was this lady was fluent in Spanish and a fast talker. 

About 9:00, John, Alexa (the southern belle) and I hailed a cab and got as close to the Jardin as we could. It was filling fast. A parade passed in the street on the west side, Hidalgo, Morelos and other heros of the Revolution came through on horseback with a contingent of mounted riders and campesinos with swords and rakes. We ended up under the portal on the east side, but there were vendors all along the opening to the street so there was no passage except at the ends. People were already packed in with only a little elbow room. It wasn't to remain that loose. John chose to be up against the thick stone post holding up the portal and later in the evening I could see some wisdom in that, even if it blocked our view of the ground fireworks in front of the church. 

SMA has the most unusual Parroquia. It is a large parish church, made of pink sandstone and carved in a way that makes it look like a wedding cake. In front is a large stone fenced patio area, a paved street permanently cleared of cars and then the Jardin. The Jardin is a park the size of a city block with thick umbrella-like trees that cast a dense shade and are trimmed up to look like an English hedge. Usually it is filled with benches, walkways, flowerbeds and a few vendors. Tonight it was packed with vendors all facing the streets. Most were selling red,white and green 'stuff'. I purchased a stretch band for my hat and it came with a wrist band for my 'raised fist'. Little kids riding on their father's shoulders waved flags and blew horns. A band played, people shouted to be heard by each other, the noise was soon unbearable. Miss Scarlet, as John dubbed her, gave me some kleenex (clean she assured me) to put in my ears. She then informed us that she much preferred to be in the middle of it all and would find her own way home. I found out later she had gone over to the west side of the plaza, plunged into the crowd and was right under the balcony where the politicians and 'la Reina' gave their patriotic speeches at 11:00. The crowd there was body-to-body and at one point a bunch of gang members pushed their way through creating a terrible crush. She got behind one giant kid, told him he was to be her protector, and so got out of the crowd at the end without being trampled. I guess that southern accent is as charming in Spanish as it is in English!

On the east side, the crowd continued to grow. I was pleased to see that none of the vendors were selling beer or alcohol. The bars were open, but no one was allowed to go out with their glasses, though that's pretty typical most evenings. By the time of El Grito, I was pressed solidly up against the stone pillar. We also had a few minutes of crush that was quite scary. I thought I might actually be crushed to death and was glad I'd told Garret I loved him when we last spoke. I could feel the crowd swaying and pushing and I pushed back. John was in front of me, and a very tall man was behind. I put a foot out in front and one in the back for stability and used the pillar so I couldn't be swayed that way. Bodies pushed up against me and I was squashed into the wall. I thought we couldn't possibly go through the entire night like this! Then the wave passed. We must have had a gang pass through too, but I was too short to see the 'pressing reason'.  After that, we were still body to body but there was a little flex room. If I suffered from claustrophobia I would never have gotten into that mess in the first place. 

11:00 rolled around and the politicians appeared both on the balcony and on the huge TV screen which I could see from my vantage point. Miss Scarlet was right below them. She said she kept trying to back up for a better view, all she could see was up La Reina's nose. 

The crowd was on fire. They shouted Viva! Viva! on cue when some politician gave El Grito from the balcony of the Presidencia. All I heard was a roaring sound in a Spanish accent, punctuated with Ah's and O's. Then the fireworks started, shot off from the top of the Police Station on the north side of the Jardin. The sparks showered the crowd and many of them were still glowing. Some in the crowd had brought pieces of cardboard which they held over their heads. I was glad to be under the portal though it blocked the full view of the sparkling sky. The ground displays went off in between big bursts. I could barely see those with the post in the way. Not important, because I could see the most amazing display of all. From on top the building next to me, images were projected onto the wedding cake church. Images from famous murals of people in the struggle for independence, vines and leaves emerged from the bottom and grew, as Mexico grew as a nation. Buildings, cars, roads, animals and all kinds of human endeavors were projected in faint colors against the pink glowing carved walls. It was amorphous and indistinct but gorgeous. I'd never seen anything like it. Miss Scarlet told me later it was new this year and done by a French company. At various times the church seemed covered with runny frosting, at other times like it was decorated with ropes and flowers like a real wedding cake. Aside from the music and patriotic fervor, that was my favorite part of the festivities. 

After all the pyrotechnic festivities the families left, little kids slumped over dads' heads….. and a rock band blasted away up on the big stage. The party was just getting started. We threaded out of the crowd and down the narrow streets looking for a taxi but none were to be found. We ended up walking all the way back to the apartment. The streets were thronged with cars and people. Up the street from the apartment is a little night vendor that serves up the best tacos. I think we ordered the last plate of four because there was no more meat in the warmer and none cooking on the grill.  A perfect end to the perfect night of El Grito.