At five this evening, a man possessing a large shell, incense, and a tremendous headdress began to perform a ritual in which he cleansed the sidewalk area in front of the cathedral. Barefoot and in a loincloth, he tirelessly danced for the mesmerized crowd.
At the end, when he requested money from the onlookers, he offered to use the smoke to cleanse the viewers. Two small girls took him up on this offer before he decided to sweep across the whole crowd and purify us all. In the US, most would call him Native American and wonder what specific band of people this ritual represents. In Mexico, I call him the same and have the same question.
Look at how he catches air in one of the shots; look at the crowd. You can almost see the quiet that took over the evening sky until he blew the shell to call the four directions.
The places that haven’t already been bedecked seemed to be in process today (and it isn’t even December yet). At the Oaxaca Lending Library, the shelves that were the altar now display materials, and all of the tree ornaments line a table, waiting to hang on the artificial tree that now has lights. As I arrived at the library, at about six this evening, the tree lights had blown out a circuit. The lights went back on, but the tree will have to be finished tomorrow.
Restaurants, hotels, and even fancy bars are festooned and garlanded or are in the process of being adorned. The Zocalo features poinsettias (noche buenas), but will there be an enormous tree? What will the churches do with flowers and light to ring in the season? When will the calendas start? What do the villages look like? What will I do to celebrate this holiday? I will let you know as I find out more.
While in Santa Monica, CA, and other places in the US, people are debating whether a nativity should be displayed in a public park and while some people insist on cheerily singing out: Happy Holidays and others maintain that it is Merry Christmas, Christmas has already started to take over Oaxaca, particularly in the grocery store.
There are Christmas trees in the produce section of the market (because where else would they be?); there is a sleigh with some chunky reindeer in the bakery aisle; there are several decorated artificial trees and trees assembled from arrays of cans and other products, and there is a nativity beneath a tower of chips. No one seems to mind this mix of commerce and Christmas. In fact, feeling in the spirit of things, I purchased my own Christmas bonsai, a gaudy little bush that has been weighed down with a whole lot of cheer.
I have returned to Oaxaca. The trip, while long (I was at the Sacramento airport by 5 and landed in Oaxaca at 10:30), was relaxing. From 8 in the morning until after 1 in the afternoon, I was in LAX.
For the leg of the journey from LAX to Mexico City, I sat next to a woman and her daughter (under age 5). The girl’s grandparents were in the seats on the other side of the aisle. The little girl would break into song throughout the flight. It was delightful singing, but at one point her song was a bit boisterous, and I caught a man looking back to see who was making all of the racket in the plane.
The final flight was 40 minutes. I was seated next to a young woman who, for her fiesta de quince años, was given a one-year trip to Normandy to study French. She had been there three months, but there were problems with her visa, so she as returning home to Oaxaca and would be back in France by Christmas. With every minute closer to home, she grew more excited.
Landing, I embraced all of my mixed feelings about the 40 days I have remaining on sabbatical in Oaxaca.
The flight to Guadalajara was delayed more than an hour. The good news was that we would be on the same plan to Sacramento (though we still had to get off the plane and then get back on). I was in the same seat and my luggage was on the plane. Though we were originally scheduled to land at 11:30, we would be arriving at 12:30 and then would still have to go through the impossibly lethargic customs process. Because Mexico is two hours ahead, by the time we got through the nearly hour-long line (I was at the back of the plane), it was 3:30 in our brains.
The patience of the tired and bored children was especially impressive. This small cowboy threw himself and his truck on the floor trying to get some peace, but the line kept pressing forward, and so he instead occupied his tired mind with several trips back and forth to the drinking fountain.
I went from Oaxaca to Mexico City (where the airport had been shut down earlier in the day for a reason I have not been able to find), from Mexico City to Guadalajara, and from Guadalajara to Mexico. The photos depicting a city are of Mexico City (DF/Districto Federal). The photos of just landscape are outside of Oaxaca.
The two first flights are fifty-five minutes each. The third flight was just under four hours. I finally fell asleep on the third flight after a hot ham, cheese and jalapeno sandwich. When I woke, I thought, seeing the lights of a city below, I am almost to Oaxaca. Then, elation filled my head when I remembered that I was headed home, that these lights were over a city near Sacramento.
What do you do when there are no slick spaces to show off your dance moves? Throw down a tarp and fashion a cap that can help you to spin on your head. Most nights, these young men break dance by the cathedral. And, here they are in Llano Park at the Friday tianguis performing for anyone willing to watch the show and listen to music from the 80s.
There is something compelling about how they make themselves fall onto the concrete and, from there, control our attention in increments of fewer than twenty seconds, the time for each flash of demonstration.