----------------------------------------------- Google Site Map ----------------------------------------------- Cindy in ...: October 2009

Friday, October 30, 2009

Mexico: Chamula and the Church

Photography is not allowed in the church in Chamula, one of the towns near San Cristobal.  While I could wander around, and watch people worship, I couldn't take any pictures.  So it's descriptions only for the interior experience.

The Catholic Church and the traditional religions of the area have merged in ways that often seem more traditonal than Catholic.  As Christianity spread throughout the world, missionaries would try hard to tie local beliefs and rituals to Catholic beliefs in rituals. Christmas is in December because it coincided with the birthdate of a Persian god.  Christmas trees come from German traditions.  In the New World, priests li ked local gods to Catholic saints, and churches developed their own, distinct, Catholic rituals.

In Chamula, the walls and altar of the church look like any other, with the stations of the cross and statues of Mary.  The center is different.  The space usually occupied by pews is empty, and the floor is covered by straw.  Small altars, votive lights, and offerings are spotted around the area, tended by the worshipers who set up temporary places of worship.

Walking around among them is a bit eerie, and feels intrusive.  I could feel the intensity of their worship.  Unlike going into a normal service, I was very aware of not actually belonging, not being part of anything taking place.  While I'm not Catholic, I usually don't feel rejected by the church.  Here I did.  My visit was short.

In fact it was so short I had to wait quite a while for my guide to come back.  I tried to talk to some of the men who were sitting outside the church. My minimal Spanish was a real handicap.  The men did manage to tell me it was OK to take pictures of the outside.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Mexico: Burning Judas Effigies in San Cristobal

I found a place to stand in the crowd, behind a bush that I could see over but locals found a little challenging. I'm not that tall, but the city was crowded with indigenous Maya, and they are quite short.

I could see the straw figures that had been dragged into place, waiting to be ignited. But first there were speeched and introductions, all in Spanish, of course. I couldn't follow much of it, but these things are really all the same, everywhere in the world. Part of the program was the introduction of all the women who had ridden by on floats the day before, each the queen of something. One of the things I like about the parades had been that the queen of the whole festival was not a young beauty, but an older woman.

Earlier I had been a little worried about the fires and how close we were allowed, but when the fire and rescue truck pulled up, I relaxed. Then I unrelaxed. The firefighters who brought the truck regarded it as an opportunity to give their friends and families a good seat for the burning. People were perched all over the truck, and it was effectively out of commission.

When the burning began, with one effigy at a time lit following a short speech labeling the type of devil that would be purged when the straw figure, called a Judas, burned. I have since read that this traditional ritual is frequently, and mistakenly, regarded as anti-Semitic. There was no mistaking it here. An American woman standing next to me translated the cursing of Jews and Israel. I was pretty horrified that this is considered OK, and normal, to say the least. I know that for most of its history the Catholic Church has blamed the Jews for the crucifixion of Christ, but this wasn't any old leftover teaching, but a verbal attack on modern Juadaism.

I din't last much after that. Not only was the whole thing tainted, but large flakes of burning paper and straw were raining down on everyone. I got a stinging, very mild burn on my arm. I left.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mexico: '67 Lime Gold Mustang

At first I just got a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, a flash of an unusual color near the cathedral plaza in San Cristobal, one known to me as lime gold.  It was the color of my first car, a 1967 Mustang.  I turned and there it was.  I walked over, and stared.  Wow.  It wasn't mine, of course.  This one was an automatic.and had special speakers on the rear window deck.  But it was the same year, and the same color.OK, it had been repainted, of course, and the color was a bit off, but still...my first car.

Driving with my roommates down to the Cape for the weekend.  Trotting across the beach at Falmouth to feed the parking meter, digging it out of snow.  The morning my fance and I woke up and realized the parking space that we had shoveled out the week before was empty, the car had been stolen. Picking it up ten days later down near Providence, with no appreciable damage done.

I loved that car. I called her Matilda.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Mexico: Semana Santa, or Easter Week, in San Cristobal

After spending Carnival in Merida (Ooops, forgot to write about that, maybe later...), I was looking forward to Easter in San Cristobal.  I expected lots of processions, and a crowded town.  I was disappointed on both counts.  I think there were more out in the villages, but I didn't know about them.  Besides, I spent Semana Santa  in Antigua, Guatemala a few years ago, and I doubt anything will ever top that.

Because this was at the height of the flu epidemic, the Mexican tourists that shop owners were expecting didn't really materialize.  Although the numbers were not too far off from the normal season, the tourists didn't fly in from Mexico City or Monterrey, but drove up from nearby places like Villa Hermosa. The flu risk in San Cristobal was minimal.  It doesn't have an airport of its own, and is way off the normal long-distnace bus routes.

The most peculiar thing to me was how little publicity there was.  The cathedral put out a schedule of services, but there were no posters or other advertising that I could see.  I sort of found thigs by happenstance or rumor.  The search for the procession, the mock crucifiction, the burning of the effigies - all these things involved running around, asking questions, and trying to ascertaing times.  The police who were stationed everywhere didn't seem to know much about what they were going to protect when.

Even the chuch services weren't taken very seriously.  I wanted to go into the cathedral to see how it was decorated and what was happening duing Easter mass.  Since I'm not Catholic, and not local, I was hesitant to intrude.  Then I noticed that a lot of Mexicans were going in clutching their cameras, then coming out fairly quickly.  When I saw a nun enter in the middle of the mass and emerge five minutes later, I decided that maybe it wouldn't be too offensive if I went in for a look.  I joined the crowd, stayed for a few minutes, and left, along with many others.

We all headed straight for the vendors.  Tent stalls had been erected on the plaza in front of the church, and blankets were spread on the ground to display handicrafts, toys, and other goods. One corner was set up for bands to perform. It was, above all, a festival.