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Mosaico Méxicano (hasta 5, Marzo)

February 20, 2011

Notes on art/love and fire/passion: There is a pepper vine in the neighbor’s yard. We can reach it from the roof, and a couple of the peppers have grown on our side of the fence. One evening we picked one and sliced it up. With my teeth, I bit off a centimeter of the vibrant orange fruit. For ten minutes a fire raged in my throat and mouth, tears streaming down my cheeks and chin, laughing; I am reminded with a sharp pinch that I am alive, and this is not a dream. The vine winds its way to our second story rooftop sundeck by way of a stonefruit tree, in whose branches it luxuriates and winds gracefully. The tree is in bloom with ten thousand delicate pink flowers like rice paper. Together, the pair—the flaming habaneros and delicate flowers, later to be delicate sweet fruit—take no heed of the barbed wire fence that separates the neighbor’s property from ours; drifting like smoke, gracefully trespassing.

Notes on celebration: Every day is a holiday. Across San Cristóbal, and across the mountains around Oventic, the rockets explode, two on the hour, to invite neighboring pueblos and barrios to the festivities; the roar ricochets off mountains and cathedrals and gorges. At the Universidad de la Tierra, we attended the festival de la Virgin de la Candelaria: the smoke of incense, the air opaque, and the echoing prayers of a hundred indigenous voices; the procession later through the starry night with candles and sparklers.

Notes on dignity: At the feast, I sat across from an indigenous couple from San Joaquín de la Libertad, an autonomous Zapatista pueblo. The woman spoke only some Castellano, but her husband spoke fluently. I have forgotten her name, but his was Augustín. He told us about living in the pueblo. Both, like most of the other people in the comedór, wore traditional colorful floral textiles of incredible complexity. I asked the woman about them. She told me that she made hers and her husband’s. He chimed in that by the patterns and colors, one could distinguish from whence all the wearers came; that every pueblo has its own textile recipe. I later found out that interwoven in this incredible artisanship is a history of imperialism: the colors were once part of a system of identification imposed by the Spanish, over time becoming immersed in indigenous aesthetic and art. Augustín told us that he had once lived in Arizona for six months, working in laying tile and gardening. He had left when the state became more dangerous for him. After we finished our tamales and a dessert of cake and a thick corn beverage, the band began to play. We moved all the furniture against the walls and the dance began. The other children of the US and I danced a-synchronously and made jokes to disguise that we could not dance together because we did not know how. Augustín and his wife danced gracefully through the sea of colors that also danced—dignified and proud.

Notes on empire: One day when it was hot out we worked in the milpa, breaking up the land with hoes to plant the season’s maíz. I worked barefoot and the cool earth, damp from the week’s rains, swirled between my toes. We worked sweating for hours until blisters bid us stop and then we lay down our hoes and went to find the river. The path wound down into the forest past the milpa, and through its thick musk of cool sun-freckled soil and decomposing leaves. Orchids grow from the armpits of the trees, green and red, and the river at the end is dark green. It flowing between rocks rounded and smoothed into impossible shapes like water themselves, frozen; trees hang over them, and far above, the great mountains become shear as cliffs, made of solid stone that sprouts horizon upon horizon of life. The trees also are wearing shrouds. The shrouds are mostly white, but also blue and sometimes black and other colors. They waive in the breeze slightly, tattered, in many pieces. Some of them have logos of food like corn and tortillas and rice and beans. Others, of big stores and construction companies. Some of them say nothing at all. Efraín told us that the shrouds mark the high water in the season of the rains—they are nearly ten feet tall. He said that the shrouds only appeared a few years ago, but that while the trees may shed them and dawn new ones next rainy season, the shrouds go somewhere, and they will not be truly gone for a thousand years or more. We walked down river just a little bit to where the water leaps off of a small cliff and plunges into a deep green pool in a narrow gorge sheltered by trees. The mist fills the air, sweet and cool. The empire strangles the land here, as well as the people.

Notes on the sun speaking to the rain: I sat on the orange and white painted stairs that lead up the hill at the end of Reál Guadalupe to the cathedral at its summit that is also painted orange and white. It rained so hard today that I thought the glass roof on the courtyard would shatter, but now it has stopped, and leviathan cumulus clouds cruise the sky. It is the late afternoon, and the sun finds paths though the clouds at times, and glazes their fat bodies deep orange. I was played banjo for hours there, watching the sky, and the people passing up and down the stairs. At one time, a young woman in a wedding dress with her father and a procession of bridesmaids slowly passed. Many times the bells sang in the belfry. Two young girls, maybe ten years old, skipped up and down the stairs, waiting at times and giggling near me. Finally they approached me and asked me if I was from California. I told them yes, and they asked for my autograph. I scrawled my signature and some silly comment about it being good to meet them and greetings from California and they giggled and ran away. Ten minutes later, they brought me flowers. The sky slowly grew dark and gray, and as I left the little girls followed nearby but after a block vanished. I bought sweetbread and ate it as I walked, with flowers stuck in my banjo and hair.

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