Notes from Mexico Trip- Johnny Monsarrat Mexico Trip

SATURDAY, DECEMBER 11TH, 1999 -- CHICHEN-ITZA (CONT.)

I saw a buzzard in the sky, a huge black winged bird, circling.

The more modern area of Merida, the northern section, is less religious and has modern-looking malls and shopping areas. Most foreigners think that religion in third world countries is trying to manipulate & pacify people -- to control them. People identify with the Virgin of Guadalupe. Miguel Hidalgo y Costika used the church to control the native people & overthrow the government, so the Virgin of Guadalupe was a patriotic symbol as well -- but in the modern era, just a religious symbol.

Teenagers are running and carrying the torch for the Virgin. Some stay over, some go back the same day.

Foreigners in Chiapas wouldn't get hostility unless they're mistreating the Mexicans. It's not respectful to ask "Are you an Indian?"... some people are proud to have Spanish heritage, even if they are really mixed-race people. About 10% of people will say "I'm from Argentina but my mother comes from Germany or Italy", or "I'm Spanish descendant." The other 90% just say "I'm Mexican." Only the upper class really cares.

There's a tradition that kids will have two last names (one each from parents), and two first names also. If you have a Mayan name, some people will make fun of it and use it as an insult.

A good-sized house in East Merida would cost $10,000. But in northern Merida, the rich section where they have what we'd think of in the USA as middle-class malls and homes, houses are worth $50,000 or more.

Driving home, there are balloons and palm leaves, and pictures of the Virgin, and sometimes a flag of Mexico. People stand at a stoplight and sell toasted bread to waiting cars. The car ahead of us has an aromatizer hanging from the rearview mirror. We pass "Super Bodega", a supermarket.

In Merida, 10% of the people have a Christian Lebanese background (not other parts of Mexico). The Lebanese came to Mexico 120 years ago, selling garments. They're known as good merchants. They open a local chain of supermarkets, "San Francisco De Asis". Names include 'Mafud', 'Dajer', 'Hadad', 'Abraham', 'Shakar', 'Assiz'.

When we get back to Merida, Amy rests at the hotel, and I go off in search of "Festival de Senora Nuestra de Guadalupe". The main square, which is kind of run down, has only a small crowd (both Mexicans and tourists) around a mime performing. His face is painted white and his long hair is in a bow.

Finally, I find it. It's taking place at the edge of town, in a small grassy square right outside a church, San Cristobal Cathedral (?). A few vendors sell balloons and cotton candy. It's night. No stars are out. The smell of dough boys and fire. Boys and girls -- the pilgrims -- run up with torches shouting "Maria! Maria!" and dump their torches on the pavement in front of the church. They're all wearing t-shirts with Virgin on them.

Directly in front of the church, there's a roped off area, where boy scouts are giving access to the inside, where mass after mass is being held. They have a red fleur-de-lis on the shoulder. A rope cuts off the entrance to the church.

Inside the church, from what I can see, is a panel of flowers and a blue 2.5 foot statue of the Virgin. The Virgin seems always to be dressed in light blue. There's a small Ferris wheel. The festival is all enclosed in about one small block, which would normally be an empty park. Mexicans swarm the streets. I don't see any other tourists here at all -- but it's early season for tourism, which doesn't really pick up until December 19th.

There are lots of kids. A vendor is balancing a beam of toys over his shoulder. More kids show up shouting "M! A! R, I, A!" (in Spanish, of course). They cheer and clap for themselves. Or they chant "Maria! Maria!" or Give the army song, "Soldiers have to march all day (Soldiers have to march all day). To guard the good old U.S.A. (To guard the good old U.S.A.)" That's the tune, only of course they are chanting something in Spanish, probably praising Maria or something.

The church has a surrounding fence, defining a courtyard outside the church. The party is happening in that area, also, and in the streets around. The courtyard is packed with white plastic chairs and wood folding tables saying "Coca Cola". People are eating food and talking here. At one side is a huge painting on a huge cloth (maybe it's a bedsheet?), and it's been set up for people to have their photos taken in front of it. There are guitar players and singers dressed in ties and blazers, on a small stage. There's no lighting for them.

The cathedral itself is all stone. Christmas lights adorn it, and strings run from the church down to the street on an angle that supports bright flags. The stonework is beautiful. There are lots of small booths packed together, selling religious items, pictures, and books. (I wonder what Jesus would have thought of that -- wasn't he supposed to be knocking over merchant's tables in a church?) A bevy of schoolgirls mingle, mid-teens, all with a "uniform", that same Virgin t-shirt.

There's upbeat music, Mexican style. Mariachi music. There's some cigarette smoke, not too bad, and noise from the crowd. There are a few carnival games, like a rifle shoot, with toys & dolls to win. Kids play around outside on a huge field of sand: seesaws and slides. When the people aren't here this must be a small playground. There are extremely low-end commercial toys here of all sorts.

The Ferris wheel machinery clanks and whirrs. It's 30 feet tall (3 stories), with fluorescent lights on the spokes. It looks old but the bucket seats have been recently painted. I trip over an electric cable laid across the path.

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