As the World Turns

Back a while ago, I was posting pictures of spectacular sunrises over the mountains. Flaming reds, oranges, and golds dashed across a molten sky. They were awesome and took my breath away. Waking up in the morning was a feast for the eyes and a boost for the whole day.

Sunrise, Taxco, Mexico

At the time there were discussions about what made the sunrises here so spectacular. Was it ash from the volcano or other debris in the air? Was it the location of Taxco? The location of my house on the side of the mountain? The angle of the sun? What? What? What?

In late February, the sky became mostly cloudless. Without clouds to add their puffy, rolling, or roiling influence, most sunrises were a calm, pastel rainbow of shades from pale yellow to coral to pink to violet.

Sunrise, cloudless sky, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

I was away much of March and when I returned to Taxco I noticed another shift in my sunrise watching. No longer could I see the sunrise from my door; I had to go outside. And even then, the view of the sun rising in the valley below was obscured by one of the mountains of Taxco.

Sunrise, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

And so it remains.  Each day, the world turns a little more and with that so has the location of the sunrise. Oh I can see the sunrise from here, but only the afterglow IF there are clouds high enough above to reflect the rays. The colors are more muted and last just a moment; it is not the slow awakening of the day it once was.

And if no high clouds? The light just gets brighter and brighter until the sun itself rises above the buildings.

But there are enough of those special moments to keep me watching. Here’s a glimpse of a few of those “high clouds” days over the last few weeks.

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With the change to daylight savings time and the continued movement of the sun around and behind the mountain, I fear there may be few sunrises to share with you before I leave. But, rest assured — if a spectacular sunrise comes along, I will certainly do so.

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Bricks and stones…

When I first arrived in Taxco, I watched in amazement as a one story building on the street side, which revealed a three story caved-in structure on the back began to be transformed into a beautiful multi-story edifice with covered balconies and beautiful views.

Quite the transformation right?

What is even more amazing is how the work is done — by hand! There are no cranes to lift bricks to the second, third, or higher floors, they are carried there a few bricks at a time. And if you need supplies delivered to an inaccessible location. Where there is a will there is a way.

Cement is mixed by hand, put into buckets, poured into the forms (which were also created by hand), and so it goes, day by day by day, little by little, one brick at a time until eventually walls, and doors, and balconies appear where there was only air.

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It took three years, but now there are some mighty fine looking rooms (habitacions) at the Hotel de Mineral de la Taxco  ready for occupation.

Silence

Early morn, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

It felt like I was walking in a ghost town. Streets, that had been jam packed with food carts, street venders, and hordes of people, were suddenly empty. The whole city was silent except for the pealing of a single church bell.

After a week of processions, horns honking, drums beating, and hordes of people — penitents and their entourages and the thousands of onlookers that came for ” the show,” milling about, talking, shouting, and eating, the chaos of Seman Santa was suddenly all over.

It was very strange to hear no noise and to see no people, not even a taxi. It might have seemed that everyone was whisked off into some giant alien abduction until I realized that in addition to probably sleeping in or staying home for a quiet day with family, there was a time change.

It was the first Sunday in April and “Spring ahead” had come to Mexico.

The Silver Capitol of the World

Taxco is known as the “Silver Capitol of the World.” And for good reason, the area was rich in silver. The indigenous people mined it and created beautiful jewelry, decorations, and items for the home from this precious metal. Then the Spanish came and exploited the natives and the land to fill their own coffers. When the bulk of the silver was gone, the town went back to being a sleepy village (well sort of).

Then, in the 1930’s, an American named William Spratling came and reintroduced the lost art of silver jewelry making. Basing his designs on the original designs of the native peoples, he sold them to places like Tiffany and Cartier, and the silver industry in Taxco was reborn.

Now approximately 4 out of 5 adults are involved directly or indirectly with the silver trade. On weekends the streets teem with vendors offering their wares from nearly every nook and cranny and visitors looking for a bargain. It is chaos with a capitol C.

However I noticed a big change this year. Due to the high price of silver, the Silver Capitol of the World is fast becoming the brass and copper capitol instead. I wonder how much longer the artisans that I frequent can afford to produce pieces made from semi-precious stones and silver.

Here is a sampling of some of my finds this year.

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In addition to the all silver jewelry, the mixed media pieces like in the slide show that I favor, there is the “costume” jewelry made mostly of beads but still strung together with handmade silver links, like these:

And the band played on

…and on and on and on until the wee hours of the morning.

With all hoopla going on in Taxco last night and today, it might be easy to miss a quieter but much more important celebration happening down the street and in communities around the world.

Conmemmoracion, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

The night before he died, Jesus celebrated his last Passover meal with his disciples. He shared bread and wine with them as symbols of his body and blood to be poured out (with his death) on behalf of all those who put faith in him and the value of his offering his perfect human body as a ransom for our sins.  This act provides all with the hope of attaining life as God originally purposed, living forever in a Paradise earth. As he passed the bread and wine to his disciples, he said to them, “Keep doing this in remembrance of me.” (Luke 22:19)

Tonight, after sundown, is the anniversary of that momentous event. If you value the ransom Christ paid for our sins, I invite you to attend the commemoration nearest you. To learn more and for a full list of locations in communities near you, around the world, click here.

Millions around the world will attend. Will you be one of them?

Mexican Traditions — Semana Santa — Taxco Style

Boom, Boom, Boom       Boom, Boom, BoomBoomBoom                                             

That is the sound of Semana Santa, “holy week,” in Taxco de Alarcon, Guerrero, Mexico — a spectacle like no other. Probably one of the most revered of all celebrations in Mexico, Semana Santa, like many Mexican celebrations incorporates elements of pre-Hispanic cultures with Catholic traditions.

Starting on Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter, with the traditional blessing of the palms, most houses, shops, taxis, and combis are adorned with woven palm frond crosses and other designs. For days ahead of time, indigenous people sit  in the shade of church domes and on the side of the calles, weaving simple and intricate patterns in the stiff grass.

The streets, especially the main cobblestone calle that winds through town and past my house, are filled with the devout, proudly parading their church icons to the zocolo downtown. With its 1500s colonial period whitewashed walls, red tile roofs, and cobblestone streets, Taxco has the  atmosphere of a medieval fair, minus the castle walls, with makeshift silver shops, souvenir and food stands popping up everywhere there is an empty room or a few feet of space.

Every night there is a procession or more than one. Don’t even think of heading downtown unless you are willing to walk the miles jostled by the crowd — no  vehicles of any kind are allowed, not even taxis or combis.

On Monday, it is the procession of the virgins. Every church for miles, and there are a lot of them, bring their statutes to town and hand carry them on a bier, the mile or so from the edge of town to the center. The icon bearers are surrounded by candle holders, incense bearers, little children dressed as angels, girls dressed in white (think communion outfits), and a host of other helpers.  And let’s not forget those drummers and the occasional fiddler playing a tune that sounds oddly Celtic. The groups seem to be spaced out about every 30-40 minutes, so with my bedroom facing the action, just about the time I think it is safe to go to sleep, down the street another group comes with its boom, boom, boom cadence.

Tuesday, the observances that have been happening throughout the Lenten period, take on special significance. The street is quiet, but the churches are alive with people and their traditions of the season.

Wednesday, there is a special mass representing the disciples abandonment of Jesus and a procession of “lesser saints” — Cecelia, Joseph, and others are paraded through town.

Then, Maunday Thursday arrives and it is chaos everywhere, in preparation for the biggest procession of all.  Starting about 1 pm the contingents from out of town arrive. Cars, open pickup trucks, and huge dump trucks, filled with parishioners hooting and hollering, roll into town honking that same solemn cadence.  There was even a group on motorcycles and sometimes groups come on horseback or bicycle.

People line the streets and throw buckets of water on the people in the trucks. The opposite of an American parade where the people in the vehicles throw candy to the spectators.

The night culminates with the most solemn procession of all — that of the penitents. Dressed in black robes, a horse hair belt, and their faces covered by a hood to conceal their identity, they gather along with their own entourage of young children dressed as angels, older girls barefoot and dressed in white dresses and veils, and an assortment of assistants. Of course, their patron saint is carried along for blessing.

Taxco appears to be one of the last remaining places where the three brotherhoods, the Animas (or Bent Ones), the Encruzados (the crossed), and the Flagelantes (Flagellants) reenact events from Jesus’ last day on earth in such a strict fashion.

Animas (the Bent Ones), Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

The Bent Ones, walk bent over with chains around their ankles and candles or small crosses in their hands. This being the only group that accepts women, you will often see a nunnery of penitents walking as a group.

Flagelante, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

The Flagelantes carry a rosary and  a 6-7 foot wooden cross, representative of Jesus’ final walk to Gogotha. When the procession stops, they hand off their cross, kneel, and whip their bare backs causing blood to flow. Most gruesome.

Encruzado, Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

Then, there are the Encruzados who carry rolls of blackberry thorns, weighing up to 100 pounds, across their back and shoulders on outstretched arms (some sort of variation of the crown of thorns?) they might also carry a cross, rosary or candles in their hands.

On Good Friday,in the gold adorned Santa Prisca church, the praying statue of Jesus is mock captured, jailed, and crucified before the penitents. This is followed by another procession.

Saturday night they hold a candlelight vigil until midnight when it is announced that Christ has risen and then all is quiet.

A native told me, the first year I was here, that I had to “see the show” at least once. I have to say this much, it is an interesting show even if it keeps me awake all night most of the week.

Since I have a little computer issue I am going to link you to slide show from last year.

And the answer is….

The person who guessed it was a tree with the bark shaved off wins the prize. Though she is the only one who made a guess. So she wins by default – not that there is anything to win really. Other than recognition here.

The odd object pictured in Tuesday’s blog is a “mula” (a mule.) Or that is what it is supposed to be. I think it looks more like an anteater with horns.

Mula handle, on a cane, Taxco de Alarcon, MexicoMula is short for muleta. Muleta, means cane or crutch, and due to the word association, they often carve the handles into mule shapes. Thus a mula. This one is definitely a crude, folk art rendition.

So why do I have a picture of the head of a cane on my blog? Welllllllll….

Spring has come to Taxco. Mid-day it is hot (for me), in the mid-80s, and much more humid than it has been. I fell victim to the fate of most foreigners at one time or another, I got overheated. But let me tell you the rest of the story.

I was just getting over a severe chemical sensitivity reaction, caused by the bus company now adding fragrance to their air handling vents. I had been dizzy for 4 days but by Saturday night felt OK. So Sunday morning I travelled to a small town about 10 miles west of town for a meeting. Afterwards, my friend, Lili, and I were going to a welcome back party for our friend, Vanessa, about 10 miles outside Taxco in the opposite direction. Another friend asked if she could some with us and since she did not know where the gathering was would we wait for her? I said, sure, no problem but that was before I thought about the fact that she is Mexican.

Now nothing against the Mexican people. I LOVE the Mexican people. They are warm, loving, family oriented and many other good things. One thing they are not, usually, is timely. For example, if you make an appointment, it is perfectly acceptable to be 20 minutes late, or not show up at all. It is just the way it is with most people. (It is that way in Hawaii and other parts of the States too, so it is not solely a Mexican attitude.

Back to my story.

So we waited while she cleaned the bathroom. Now I am not sure how she cleaned the bathroom but since it took “forever” I suspect it might have been with a toothbrush. Finally she appeared and I thought we were ready to go. Noooooooo. She had to take a blind woman home, on a combi going in the opposite direction we were headed, so we waited some more. While we were waiting, everyone else left the meeting hall and we were left standing on the side of the road , with only the skimpiest of shade in the hottest part of a very humid day. Sweating, I finally sat down on a rock about 6 inches high, and wished for water, which I always have in my bag, but not today.

Eventually, our friend returned with the combi going in the right direction and we got on. Inside was like an oven, hotter than outside but at least when it moved there was air, hot air, rushing past. Eventually the heat and the constant back and forth, back and forth as we wove up the mountain to Taxco had me feeling queasy. I told myself we will be there soon and I can get some water at a tienda (a shop) and the queasiness will go away.

When the combi pulled up to the last stop, we were not by the bus station as I had expected and there were no tiendas in sight. Not only that but there was a taxi driver protest going on so no taxis and no combis were running in town either. We had to walk a few blocks. Dutifully I put one step in front of the other looking for water and a shady place to sit down. Another friend, on the corner said, “Hello.” I said “Hello” back and muttered, “I’m going to go sit in the shade over there.” which I am pretty sure she did not understand since she does not speak English. And without stopping, I headed for an iron gate behind which were some cool looking marble steps.

I remember reaching out for the gate but the next thing I was aware of was lying on the ground with my friends calling my name, waving my hat over my face, and slapping alcohol on my neck and chest while a police officer looked on, shouting something in Spanish. I had passed out in the street, from the sun, the heat, and a lack of water.

Someone brought a chair and answered my request for water, then more water. I was starting to feel better when the ambulance arrived. Oh no…..I have been in foreign countries before when an ambulance showed up and  it is not often a good thing.

Visions of some B-movie dark comedy — with a slow motion, spin through a hospital emergency room,  where not only do you not understand a word, but you cannot speak, and  every thing seems to be going wrong — flashed through my head. In the brief moment it took them to get out of their vehicle and be at my side, all kinds of horrors caused by communication issues and cultural differences rushed through my mind. I might as well be abducted onto an alien spaceship!

But all those thoughts were just a figment of an over active imagination. In reality, EMTs in Mexico are the same professional medical technicians as they are almost anywhere.  All they did was check my vital signs and finding everything normal, sent someone for a sports (electrolytes) drink, made me drink half of it, told me to go home take a cool shower and rest (all very reasonable.Unlike the US they are not required to transport when they are called. “Whew!”

As they packed up their gear and left  I asked if I owed them anything (hoping I had enough Mexican money in my bag.) The response, “gratis,”   no charge. Wow!!! For a foreigner (even someone from outside the city) just showing up would have cost a couple thousand dollars in the States!

I was free to go, but then we faced the question of “Now what do I do.”. The taxis and combis in town were not running; the only way I can get home and rest is to walk several miles in the hot, humid, sunshine. Not reasonable. So I decided the only sensible option was to continue on to the party! At least there would be food, water, and lots of people to watch over me. So we walked on  to the out of town combi station, a couple blocks away, no problem.

At the party, I was very aware of not exerting myself, so I sat on a chair, ate a little, drank a lot of water, along with some fruit punch, talked with a few people, and watched the festivities. A few hours later, I got up to head to the bathroom and I could barely walk. I figured that when I passed out, my legs folded underneath me and no matter how slowly I set myself down the weight of my entire body landed on my leg. Now my knee was complaining. By the time I had taken a half dozen steps, it loosened up and I got there just fine. So I went back and enjoyed the party.

As time went by, my knee got worse – it throbbed and started to swell, and I could not walk without assistance. I wanted to go home but how? I couldn’t walk up the hill to the combi stop and even if I made it that far, how would I get off and home when I arrived in Taxco. I certainly didn’t want to ruin the party for Vanessa, but of course that is exactly what happened.

The ever vigilant “mom” that she is (to everybody) found someone to take “us” home; she would not hear of not going; she wanted to make sure I was comfortably settled. But wait, someone came up and insisted I let their mother, “who does manipulations” take a look at my knee. Preferring a natural approach, I agreed. Anything to make this better sooner.

I am not sure what the credentials of this woman were, all I know is she knew her anatomy. It seemed that the muscles in my leg had gone into shock as a reaction to the fall, hours earlier, and had tensed up tightly and in the process, dislocated both my ankle and my knee. She pulled and pushed, smoothed and squeezed and eventually declared me fit to go home IF I would stay off it, and if possible, use a cane for the next couple days.

That is where the mula  comes in.

The next night, after 24 hours of hobbling back and forth to the bathroom using a collection of chairs as support, Vanessa showed up with this strange looking thing that I at first though was a sweet potato on a stick. By then, thanks to the treatment, hot saltwater compresses, and arnica, both topically and orally, the pain and swelling was mostly gone, and I could bear weight with only mild discomfort. Yet, she went out of her way to find it, and bring it to me, and reminded me that the therapist said to stay off it for 48 hours. OK, I will give it a try. But, I have no intention of taking it on the street with me. Sorry Vane. (If I really needed one, I would have.)

The following day, I declared myself able to walk. The swelling was gone, I managed the stairs to the ground floor without pain, and there is very little evidence of the original injury. My how we are marvelously made!

No one ever plans to have a medical emergency in a foreign land, however if I had to have one, I could not have been surrounded by better friends who treated me like family.

You know who you are. Muchas gracias!

 

And for those of you who might worry that I am all alone in this strange speaking land, never fear, I have papers on my person with local contacts and a durable power of attorney for health care in the local language to speak for my wishes if I cannot speak for myself. Things all foreign travelers should carry along with prescription medicines, eyeglass prescriptions, and  anything else necessary for your health and well being in a foreign country. I am well taken care of here; may you be also. For some ideas on what to pack for a stress free trip, see this article by my old friend Shelley Peterman Schwarz.

Mexican Traditions – Dancing Kings

The civil “Flag Day” ceremonies over, the afternoon was quiet, then as the sun just started to drop behind the mountain, some merry music made its way closer to my door. I looked out just in time to see the dancing kings entourage go by.

Apparently, as they do during Navidad and Las Posadas, each church in town takes a turn hosting a special Lenten event. Tonight, the Ex-Convento took their statues of Mary and Jesus out of the church and paraded them through town, to the accompaniment of merry music and dancing kings.

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I wonder how the dancers in their heavy costumes and full face masks, and the musicians too, manage to keep this merry pace up for over a mile all the way through town. They wear me out just watching them skip and dance down the street.

As the sun began to drop behind the mountain,  the music paused at the local church where airworks and church bells filled the air. Then the music and festivities began anew culminating in some beautiful fireworks, the real thing this time, with fire.

Oooh, ahhhh!

It appears that in addition to the marching bands and celebrations on all the Fridays of Lent, I have a first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth Tuesday to look forward to as well.

 

Mexican Traditions – Flag Day

The house where I live is just off of Calle de Benito Juarez, the main street of Taxco. Every, and I mean EVERY, parade, procession, or protest marches right past my balcony.

Last Friday was the first Friday of Lent, celebrated with airworks boomers and bandas roving the city to remind people of this sacred time.

Street band observing Lent, Taxco de Alaracon, MexicoBut there were more bands on Saturday, then Sunday marked a taxi protest clogging the streets with taxis with nobody inside them, and yesterday, more bands, one with children in 3 kings outfits (like those below) skipping down the street.

Three kings parade participants, , Taxco de Alarcon, Mexico

Parade, Taxco, Mexico

What is going on? I thought all this was reserved for Fridays?

After a weekend of boomers and parades marching by day and night, I thought things were finally settling down when a somber drum cadence could be heard marching closer and closer.

It is February 24, Mexican Flag Day and every school drum and bugle corps with their honor guard is marching toward La Garita to observe a flag honoring celebration. It was a solid hour and a half of snare drums bang, bang, banging a slow march cadence past my door.

Talk about a headache!!!!