It’s Friday in San Miguel de Allende. I have two different writing decisions and deadlines that are making me nuts—a mixture of self-doubt and excitement and pressure to produce. I choose this particular cocktail so I choose the side effects too. (This is what I am trying to tell myself which is so sappy and Puritan that I stop.)
It’s Friday in San Miguel—Viernes Dolorasa. This is Sad Friday. We are heading into Holy Week. Sad Friday recognizes Mary’s sorrow as she realizes what will happen to her son Jesus as prophesized. Here is how it is celebrated. First there is a Mass. Our church/temple is small and old, parts of it are from Colonial times. I like to touch the tiles and think of a Spanish priest touching it. (By the way, the first wave of Priests were like social workers or Peace Corps volunteers and did good works galore—next waves, not so much.)
The church is decorated with oranges, chamomile bunches and wheat grass. And a figure of Christ in purple velvet robe on the cross that is laying slanted against a rock brought in for the occasion. David enters and looks huge among the smaller Mexican congregation. Huge and white. Doesn’t matter. People know us. As weird Gringos they are used to.I sit outside on a bench with our neighbor who is nursing her baby. The music is haunting and strange. There is a tuba and a clarinet that dominate. It sounds out of tune—beyond discordant.A slow sad oomp-pa-pa. I am sure that it has Indian origins. (It reminds me of the armadillo shell stringed instruments played at Indian funerals that are purposely out of tune)
Mass ends and kids run to the nearby streets to knock on doors. To honor Sad Friday, each house builds a small alter with pictures of Mary, Purple and white flowers and—-oranges, chamomile bunchs and pots of wheat grass. AND they pass out pop-sicles or cups of ice cream. It is exactly like Halloween trick or treating. I ask about it. I think it started with sips or salt water representing Mary’s tears and turned to sugar water. I may look it up. I respect how early priests taught a non-literate culture with fun and ritual. Lots of ritual.
Saturday we go next door for Birthday party. It is for a two year old Matias. Decorations with a theme I don’t know—a cartoon little boy who wears a funny big checked green hat. Candy spread out on a table for kids to take home. Food is served to guests at tables with white table cloths. Lots of balloons. All kids dressed up with new clothes. No activities. Grown-ups sit and watch kids run amuck. Every child shakes hands hello and good bye. Every child. We leave early which is not liked. Now that we are “family” we are expected to stay. We leave.
Saturday night, a local couple and their daughter come to dinner. We thought we were to go to their house. They come to our house bearing lasagna (with peas in it) as a gift to our Gringo taste for Italian food. We came close to passing by one another each to the wrong house. We sit on the portico of the guest house and talk, which means I do endless translating and we all laugh late. Juan is a carpenter and Irma manages a property ownded by an Italian. Their beautiful fifteen year old daughter comes with them always. There is a tragic story behind that. She is like a show animal, groomed and protected. I have know her since she was a toddler. I was relieved to see her absolutely fall apart with uncontrolled giggles when David said something kind of –well—pompous. She knows just enough English to pick up on it. I guffawed too. It was a lovely rude moment together. I have hopes she will become her own person.
I am tired from speaking Spanish and fussing about my work projects lurking in the background of fun.But Sunday is Palm Sunday. We used to watch all the happenings but we are now embedded in our community. We are expected to participate. The street is decorated with tall palms and big red and white crepe paper flowers attached to trees and houses. I don’t know the significance of the colors, but people have on red and white clothes as well. We walk to the end of the street and join a forming procession. A few people are dressed in costumes. There is a Virgen (our neighbor MariCruz) and John the Baptist riding on a Burro, two angels with big feather wings and a Mary Magdalene traipsing along. John (The Baptist) has a hard time getting on the burro.
He tries to sit in the wooden cradle saddle and yowls as his private parts hit the hard wood. He gets down with no dignity but great good humor, pulls up his white gown showing his Adidas sports shorts and sits again but behind the wooden saddle. Christ is there too carrying a huge cross. Both Jesus and John the Baptist are about 18 years old and carry the tone of the procession on their backs. They do it weill.. Most of us carry decorated braided palms and small wheat sheaves in our hands. We approach the church and the bells go wild and everyone wiggles their palm bouquets high in the air.
We arrive at the church and a Mass is set up outside the church with chairs and an altar covered with red cloth and a kids choir dressed in red shirts. The day is warm with a constant breeze. I bask in the sound of the Spanish words blasting from a sound system and murmured by the people surrounding me. I am touched as people kneel to pray on the hard ground. Humble, simple, unquestioned belief is in the air and is comforting to bath in it. I am grateful.
Mass is over. Chaos resumes. People line up for food prepared by the church ladies. Chairs are formed into family groupings. We walk down our street glad to be alone for awhile. We have been baptized into what tribal feels like—comforting and safe and sane and a magnet that holds tight and forbids too much asserting of the individual. I carry an echo with me for the rest of the day—the dilemma of that balance of family and individual. My own family struggles with these pulls as we prepare for our bi-annual whole family get together this coming Summer!!