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Today, of course, is her feastday.

(But it’s Sunday – which takes precedence.)

In Aleteia today, I have a column that is basically an excerpt from the book Praying with the Pivotal Players and the sections on Catherine:

Blood. Some of us are wary of the sight of it or even repulsed, but in Catherine’s landscape, there is no turning away. The biological truth that blood is life and the transcendent truth that the blood of Christ is eternal life are deeply embedded in her spirituality. We see these truths in the Dialogue, in passages like the one above, and even in her correspondence.

For in her letters, Catherine usually begins by immediately setting the context of the message that is about to come:  Catherine, servant and slave of the servants of Jesus Christ, write to you in his precious blood….

The salutation is followed by a brief statement of her purpose, which, by virtue of Catherine’s initial positioning  of her words in the context of the life-giving blood of Jesus, bear special weight and authority: in his precious blood… desiring to see you a true servant….desiring to see you obedient daughters…desiring to see you burning and consumed in his blazing love…desiring to see you clothed in true and perfect humility….

In both the Dialogue and her letters, Catherine takes this fundamental truth about salvation – that it comes to us through the death, that is, the blood of Christ – and works with  it in vivid, startling ways. She meets the challenges of describing the agonies and ecstasies of the spiritual life with rich, even wild metaphors, and the redemptive blood of Christ plays its part here. For as she describes this life of a disciple, we meet Christ’s friends, followers, sheep, lovers as those drunk on his blood, inebriated. They are washed in the blood and they even drown in it:

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In 2016, Siena was a part of our three weeks in Italy. It did not end up being the thoughtful pilgrimage day I had for years envisioned. We did not stay overnight there, but stopped for an afternoon on the way from our days in Sorano to Florence. And then it rained. Because of that, and because of restrictions on photography in many of the Catherine-related sites, my photos are limited…but here are some of them.

 

 

Oh, and of course, Catherine is also in the Loyola Kids Book of Saints.

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Also available here. 

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— 1 —

We’re back! Life has slipped and tumbled back into the normal paradigm: school, sort-of-homeschooling (Hey, there was a lot  of learning that happened in Mexico, wasn’t there?), work, music….etc.

— 2 —

Here’s a post I pulled together with links to all the entries on the trip to Mexico, with some thoughts on safety and links to our accommodations. It’s called I went to Mexico and didn’t die

—3–

This coming Sunday is, of course, Divine Mercy Sunday. St. Faustina is in the Loyola Kids Book of Heroes. Here’s a page:

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–4–

In case you didn’t know it (er…I didn’t) – the Feast of the Annunciation is being celebrated on Monday – (because the actual date fell on Palm Sunday)  You can download a free pdf of my Mary and the Christian Life at this page (scroll down a bit). If you want to spring .99 for a Kindle e-reader copy, go here. 

And hey – with First Communion/Confirmation/Mother’s Day/Graduation season coming up – check out my books for gifts! 

–5 —

From Atlas Obscura – I’d never heard of this – it sounds similar to our local Ave Maria Grotto. The grace in the found object. 

Brother Bronislaus Luszcz, a native of Poland, spent 23 years building this collection of large grottos. He used local Missouri tiff rock to create beautiful statues and mosaics freckled with found and donated objects like seashells and costume jewelry. He began the work in 1937, though the seeds of his endeavor were planted long before.

While Brother Bronislaus was growing up in Poland, he would watch as pilgrims trekked through his home village on their way to a shrine for the Virgin Mary. The memory of the pilgrims lingered in his mind even after he moved to the United States and inspired him to begin constructing his own shrine. 

–6–

In an era in which the only movies that seem to make it to the screen are remakes and comic book-based…you read a tale like this and you wonder…why not this story? Wouldn’t this be a fantastic movie – or even television series? Let’s do lunch and make it happen!

She zoomed over forlorn dusty roads, responding to the beckoning call of new adventures. The airborne sensation and the freedom of the road ensured that she climbed on her trusty Harley-Davidson time and time again. Long before the hashtag #CarefreeBlackGirl was coined, Bessie Stringfield was living her life freely on her own terms—riding her motorcycle across the United States solo.

Born in 1911, Stringfield got her first motorcycle, a 1928 Indian Scout, while she was still in her teens and taught herself how to ride it. As chronicled in the 1993 book Hear Me Roar: Women, Motorcycles and the Rapture of the Road by Stringfield’s protégé and eventual biographer Ann Ferrar, at the age of 19, young Stringfield flipped a penny onto a map of the US then ventured out on her bike alone. Interstate highways didn’t yet exist at the time, but the rough, unpaved roads didn’t deter her. In 1930, she became the first Black woman to ride a motorcycle in every one of the connected 48 states—a solo cross-country ride she undertook eight times during her lifetime. But not even that satisfied her wanderlust. Eventually, she went abroad to Haiti, Brazil, and parts of Europe.

And you just wonder….how many other stories are there?

And the answer…one for every person. 

At least. 

–7–

It’s Easter Season! Below are related excerpts from our favorite vintage 7th grade Catholic textbook, part of the Christ-Life Series in Religion . The first is about the season in general, the second about next Sunday (before it became Divine Mercy Sunday, of course).

What I like about these – and why I share them with you – is that they challenge the assumption that before Vatican II, Catholicism offered nothing but legalistic rules-based externals to its adherents, particularly the young. Obviously not so

I also appreciate the assumption of maturity and spiritual responsibility. Remember, this is a 7th grade textbook, which means it was for twelve and thirteen-year olds at most. A child reading this was encouraged to think of him or herself, not as a customer to be placated or attracted, but as a member of the Body of Christ – a full member who can experience deep joy, peace and has a mission.

For more Quick Takes, visit This Ain’t the Lyceum!

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Well, we are back, and as is always the case with travel, we wonder if we ever left at all.

That first dinner in the Argentinian restaurant? It was barely a week and a half ago, and seems as if it were months. Months.

So no, we didn’t die, and while this will be mostly a summary post with links to all of the trip entries, I want to address the general issue of safety.

For you know, even though we did see a lot of Americans in both Mexico City and Puebla, outside of the all-inclusive resorts on both coasts, Mexico doesn’t seem to factor very strongly as a potential travel destination these days. People are not really sure why they might want to go, and they’re concerned about safety.

I can’t speak to the first question, for my answer is not going to be the same as yours. I travel – and take my kids traveling – because my interest in history and culture takes me places, and also because I’m deeply interested in how people live – in my own community, across the state, the country and in other parts of the world. And – although this should be the subject of a separate blog post – I want to educate my kids on that score as well: the world is much, much bigger than the 8th or 11th grade corner of one particular school in Birmingham, Alabama, and so let’s not let that one tiny corner define or limit us.

But safety? Here you go.

People hear “Mexico” and they immediately fling up State Department warnings in your face. And I will confess that the first time I went to Mexico – to a small town west of Saltillo back in the summer of 2010 for a parish mission– I almost backed out because of safety concerns. I think I was skittish anyway – although that might have been mostly a factor of it being barely a year since Mike died – but then not long before one of the final commitment deadlines there was a major incident in Monterrey – I have no recollection what it was, but it was random and although Monterrey is huge and wasn’t close to General Cepada (the town where the mission was going), it struck me as vaguely threatening especially since the University of Texas pulled its study abroad students out of Monterrey in response.

But I didn’t back out, and we went, and as I walked around the town with my kids as they ate ice cream and played on the town playground, I wondered what in the world I had been so worried about.

 

So by the time 2014 rolled around and my kid had for some reason become obsessed with the Maya, I didn’t think twice about renting a car and driving us around the Yucatan (wary, though, of rip-offs and scams, both at gas stations and, unfortunately, by the police at traffic stops.)

"amy welborn"

That is not to downplay safety concerns. There are certain areas of Mexico I wouldn’t go – border towns, some other towns known for crime, most related to the drug trade. You do hear of tourists being victimized in resorts on both coasts, but most often there is some kind of explanation – it is, not, to say, totally unpredictable and random. So for example, just a week or so before we left, a US family of four was found dead in a condo in Akumal near Tulum, which in turn is near Cancun. As it turns out, the family’s tragedy wasn’t due to violent crime, but has been traced to carbon monoxide from a gas leak. Absolutely a reason for caution – that’s a real danger in substandard and unregulated construction – but it doesn’t go in the “violent Mexico” file, either.

I’m not making any comprehensive claims for safety in Mexico. There’s serious crime in Mexico City, and, I’d guess, in Puebla. But I can say that as we walked around most cities, both day and night, I felt absolutely safe.  Both cities were bustling with people, mostly in family groups. Shops and restaurants were open, street vendors were all over the place, and the feeling was just as it is in any similar community. Sure, you’re going to see a few more soldiers and police standing around with big guns than you are in the United States, but guess what? You see that in Europe, too now. As I said in my post going through my trip-planning process, when I initially honed in on Antigua, Guatemala as a Holy Week destination, I thought, “How odd that I feel safer planning to be at a big public event in Guatemala than I would in almost any European country.”  Consider that last spring break at the end of March, we went to London. The week before we went, a terrorist rammed a van into a crowd on the Westminster Bridge – where we would walk –  and a couple of months later, another attack occurred in the Borough Market – where we spent time. We’ve been to Barcelona and walked on La Rambla.  In August, 2017, a terrorist rammed a van into a crowd on that street killing thirteen. We’ve been to Christmas Markets in Germany – in 2016, a tractor-trailer barreled into a Berlin Christmas market, killing twelve. This carjacking, which made the national news just a little over a year ago, occurred three streets from my house.

I am not afraid of walking around in Mexico City.

Mexico was great, and I fully intend to return – hopefully at some point to the Oaxaca area (for me)  and (not on the same trip) to Palenque for my son. At least. As a beginning. I’m fascinated by the layers of culture in Mexico and the complexities of the Mexican identity. I’m not a romantic about Mexico – it has a fraught past and present, but what country doesn’t? And although I believe that US immigration is broken (who doesn’t?), Mexico’s approach to both immigration (from its south) and emigration (to its north) is characterized by cynicism, hypocrisy and opportunism. But you know what? Justin Trudeau is a tool and supports wretched public policy, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to go back to Canada some day.

So. Here are the posts from the trip, in order. Oh, let me offer a few more practicalities for those interested.

We stayed in:

This apartment in Mexico City. Very well located, right next to the Four Seasons Hotel, one block of La Reforma, two blocks from the Chapultapec Park.

This hotel in Puebla. It was good for us because the room was very large – it was a family room, which meant there were four beds in two sections. The hotel was an old building with lovely tile floors and enormously high ceilings and a balcony. It might not be for everyone though – if you want a newer, shinier type of hotel experience, or at the very least, you want a good shower – stay somewhere else. Not having ever been to Puebla, I just wasn’t sure if I went for a higher priced hotel, what I would be paying for – I didn’t know what the centro was like – if it was clean, super-noisy or what. Now having been there I can say that any hotel you pick in the centro will be just fine.

Last night: Marriott Courtyard Mexico City. It’s more expensive than many hotels you would find, but you absolutely cannot beat the convenience – it is attached to Terminal 1 , from which all international flights (except for Delta) leave.  As we were trudging to check our bags Monday morning at 5:30 AM, I was so glad we hadn’t stayed anywhere else..

We didn’t take public transportation in Mexico City – we either walked or did Uber, which worked great for us. Same in Puebla. I was open to riding the subway in Mexico City – even though it’s kind of notorious to the point that they’ve instituted “Women and Children Only” cars – but we never needed it.

Mexico is a very inexpensive destination. Your dollars will go a long way…

 

Background – why we went to Mexico during Holy Week.

Sunday 3/25 – the trip down and the first evening in Mexico City.

Monday 3/26 – Teotihuacan and going to the movies in Mexico City.

Tuesday 3/27 – The National Museum of Anthropology, other parts of Chapultepec Park, and Lucha Libre

Wednesday 3/28 – The Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe

Thursday 3/29 – Bus from Mexico City to Puebla;  Holy Thursday in Puebla

Friday 3/30 –  Good Friday in Puebla 

Saturday 3/31 – Holy Saturday I – Cholula Pyramids and astonishing churches

Saturday 3/31 – Holy Saturday 2 – Vigil-hopping and street food

Sunday 4/1 -2 – Easter Sunday – Mass in the Cathedral, museums and dance – and the bus back to Mexico City, and then the trip back on Monday. 

And this post!

For more photos and videos, see Instagram. 

 

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And finally…it’s Easter. Sunday morning, rise and shine.

My body was worn out, but functional. I roused every one about nine and had them clean themselves, dress and pack. We’d be heading to ten o’clock Mass at the Cathedral, then returning to the hotel for any last necessities, checking out, and leaving our bags at the desk for the afternoon.

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Easter morning view from the hotel room. 

Our flight back home was early Monday morning. I had a room reserved at the Mexico City Airport Marriott Courtyard for the night. Good buses run from Puebla directly to the airport all day, so I knew that there was no need to reserve any tickets. Shooting for a general time frame would work just fine, so that’s what we did, the time frame being 4-ish – which would get us to the hotel by seven at the latest, we hoped. And ten hours later, up and out and on the plane home.

The zocalo (town piazza or square) was not as busy as on former days (yet), but there were magazine vendors setting up who hadn’t been there before. As I mentioned, the Cathedral was celebrating Mass every hour most of the day – wander in and you’d hit something guaranteed.

We slipped in a side pew just as Mass was beginning, the final strains of Pescadores de Hombres fading as we did so. The celebrant was, I’m presuming, of the archdioceses’ auxiliary bishops. It was an Easter Sunday Mass, with organ and small choir and the same stellar cantor who had sung on Thursday and, even though I couldn’t see him, I’m sure, at the Vigil. The only disappointing and honestly puzzling point was that the cantor led the Responsorial Psalm and continued to stand at the side, which led me to believe he was prepping to sing the Easter Sequence…but no. It was simply recited by some old guy. Why???? It’s so haunting, beautiful and expressive – and this fellow with the wonderful voice was standing right there! Why??

After checking out and stashing our luggage, we…as we do…wandered. Food was consumed – churros (excellent and fresh – there was always a line at the place around the corner), street tacos, the famous local cemita sandwich and street quesadillas and probably some ice cream. We shopped, not only for souvenirs – including candy at Puebla’s famed Street of Sweets –  but for clothes and shoes (as I was told, everything was open) as well. As I’ve said, the cost of living here is so low, it’s crazy how inexpensive even good shoes are.

 

Behind the Cathedral is the “House of Culture” which houses, among other spaces and institutions, the oldest public library in North America, the Palafaxiona Library.

When, in 1646 the bishop of Puebla, Juan de Palafox y Mendoza, donated a rich and select personal library of 5,000 volumes to the Tridentine College, he thought of the formation of the clergy, but also of the society of the city of Puebla. He therefore established, also, that anyone who could read was to be allowed inside this magnificent library. As a seminary library, it was also a library with a broad range for reading, one not limited to knowledge about God and his church, but to the study of all that might occur to the pen of man, and in order that man might have strong arguments to defend the faith.

By 1773, then Bishop of Puebla, Francisco Fabián y Fuero, established the principal nave of the Palafoxiana Library at 43 meters in length such that the population would have access to the collection of Bishop Palafox. The bishop also had two floors of fine shelves built in fine ayacahuite, coloyote and cedar.

The collection increased with donations from the bishops Manuel Fernández de Santa Cruz and Francisco Pablo Vázquez, and by the inclusion of the library of the Jesuit College. Today, some 45,059 volumes dating from the 15th, 16th, 17th, 18th, 19th centuries coexist with a few from the 20th century.

Those darn obscurantist Catholics, up to their repressive tricks once more!

 I had determined it was open, so it seemed like a visit would be a quick, painless dip into culture – but wait – there’s more!

As we climbed the steps on our way to what we thought was the museum, we encountered an exhibit – an exhibit of devotional statues that had, at one time or another, been on display in the Cathedral. (Don’t worry – it hasn’t been wreckovated – there is plenty of art still there in every nook and cranny. It’s just that over five centuries, you collect a lot.) It was free admission, so we walked through and took some time with the emotionally expressive, finely wrought work. I was especially intrigued with the back of this Christ the King – that hair……

We were on our way to the library when we heard music, and discovered, down in the courtyard a floor below us, a dance performance happening in front of a large, appreciative crowd. Video is on this Instagram post.

On to the library, which involved a slow walk through – probably quite boring for some, but absorbing for me. Libraries are that way in general, but to be surrounded by centuries of exploring, meditation, research, creativity and pondering, hand-written, laboriously printed, carefully preserved – is humbling.

And so….quick version of the rest of the day:

Retrieved luggage. Got an Uber to the bus station. Arrived at bus station (different from our arrival station – this is the one for the airport buses) – tickets available on a bus in 45 minutes, purchased tickets, sat and waited.

Even though the station was busy, the experience was less confusing – there were fewer IMG_20180401_163516.jpgbuses leaving, so it was clearer which was ours. As we did before, we checked our luggage, went through security and then boarded – getting our promised first class snack – A WATER AND A MUFFIN – this time. Although this time, the movie screen wasn’t working – the bus driver even stopped the bus about fifteen minutes out, came back, took out a panel from the ceiling, fiddled around, squinted at the screen, shrugged, returned to the front and kept on driving – screen dark, but we did have wi-fi.

The bus dropped us off at Terminal 1, the originating terminal for most international flights (Inter-Mexico flights as well as Delta fly from Terminal 2) and the location of our hotel. I am so glad we stayed at the airport. Our flight was at 7 am, and I can’t imagine how more miserable we’d have been if we’d stayed any distance away. We ate dinner at the hotel restaurant, which was unnecessary, as we discovered afterwards when we walked to see how far we’d have to go in the morning – we could have just turned a couple of corners and eaten our choice of fast food at a third of the price (this was most expensive meal we had in Mexico…)…ah, well!

Departure was painless. I was glad we flew Southwest – the departure lines in the morning were non-existent there while the other airline counters were crowded, even at 6 am. Hobby Airport in Houston has an almost completely automated immigration system – US citizens didn’t even have to fill out customs forms – and the re-entry experience was a breeze. Back on the ground in Alabama by 12:30, in the Chick-Fil-A drive through by 1.

Success!

Come back in the next couple of days for a summary post and Deep Thoughts. 

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Tuesday morning here – the high schooler stumbled off to school at the usual time, but I’m letting the homeschooler sleep in. He has boxing this afternoon, and our main priority this week is reinvigorating the piano fingers that didn’t get exercised all last week – so he can rest. Plenty of learning happened last week, after all.

Let’s finish up Holy Saturday.

The taxi driver got us back to Puebla around 5, I think. I walked around a bit by myself while the boys chilled in the room, with the plan being to regroup around 7, then walk the city, peeking into  churches in which the Easter Vigil was ongoing, and eating here and there. We’d go to Mass from beginning to end in the morning – they would be happening every hour on the hour almost all day at the Cathedral.

First, a general comment. I really was not expecting commerce as usual to be the case – but it was, and that continued to Sunday. In Cholula, I’d asked a souvenir shop owner if shops would be open on Easter, and she nodded vigorously. “Oh yes,” she said, “It’s a very good day for us.”

So on Holy Saturday night, Puebla was bustling from end to end – just like a typical Saturday night, I’d imagine, and perhaps even more so, considering it was vacation.

The churches I looked in on this round of walking were still being set up and cleaned – in many of them the statues were still veiled, which was even the case when we looked in during Vigil Masses – is there a moment during the Vigil in which they are unveiled? I don’t know.

So below are some photos of that walk – notice that in one church, white balloons are a design feature. All I could imagine when I saw that were the inevitable sounds of popping during the coming Vigil….

Also go to this Instagram post for a video of a lovely light aria performance in a courtyard. (Click on the arrows superimposed on the first photo to see the rest in the post, if you are viewing it on a computer.)

 

Return to the room, pick up the boys walk some more. The younger one satisfied his curiosity about Mexican street corn – he liked about five bites of it and then that was enough. Logically speaking, I know that since mayonnaise is mostly oil, therefore it is fat and not radically distinct rom butter – still, I don’t care. The notion of corn slathered in mayonnaise is just gross. He’d had the cup version at a festival here and liked it, and really wanted to try the cob version – as I said, It was good for a few bites, then enough.

Every church we looked in during a Vigil Mass was full. (In case you are wondering about the propriety and awkwardness of just “looking in” during Mass – remember that these are all traditionally constructed churches fronting on busy streets. During Mass, the doors are flung wide open, and people do wander in and out constantly. A metaphor for faith in the midst of the world.)

Below are some photos. Go back to that Instagram post for video, which includes a  bit of recording of music.

Oh, and there was a weird light show on the Cathedral facade that we couldn’t make head or tail of.

Remember that I wrote that on Palm Sunday, the churches don’t just hand out palms – you bring your own, and most have been purchased at the church door from families selling, not just plain palms, but woven standards and even crucifixes they’ve constructed from palms. It’s the same with Easter Vigil candles – you bring your own, and there are people selling them at every church door. They’re not little taper candles with paper disc protectors – they’re pillar candles, some in glass, some not, and they’re all decorated in imitation of the Paschal candle. People who use candles that aren’t in glass supply their own holders, and most off what I saw were simple good sized plastic or Styrofoam bowls.

Also – there are no “worship aides” in Mexico, it seems. At least in none of the dozen or so churches I saw Masses and Good Friday happening in. Some people had their own published missals with them, but there was nothing in the pews or handed out. All music was sung without written copies. In the Cathedral there was a bit of solo and choir-only stuff that happened, but for most of it, the whole congregation sang from memory.

We returned to the room, and later, I set out by myself back to the Cathedral where the vigil would not be starting until 11. I had no intention of staying for the entire liturgy, but I wanted to see what they did with the fire and hear the Exsultet.

They didn’t do the fire outdoors (which they did in all the other churches we’d seen) – there is a huge courtyard and I don’t know why they couldn’t have built some awesome fire out there – it would be better than the silly light show – but they didn’t. Because of the awkwardness of the interior (remember it’s got this big organ/choir area in the middle of the Cathedral, with a few seats in between it and the altar and more to the side and behind) – I couldn’t really see what the fire was like, but I’m guessing it was just in the aisle in between choir and sanctuary. The Exsultet was magnificently sung, and guess what – even though it wasn’t in Latin, singing it in Spanish is just as smooth.

There’s video at this Instagram post. 

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We are home now – first stop Chick-fil-A, second stop washing machine, third stop Zaxby’s.

Home.

It’s still a miracle, really. Will I ever stop feeling the wonder at being in Mexico City at breakfast time, then home in time for lunch? I doubt it, and I don’t want to. It is a wonder, I’m grateful for it even as I feel a sense of unease at the sense of obligation it brings. Previous generations had it so hard and produced such beautiful, truthful things. I have it so easy, I have so much more time…what am I doing with it?

A question that weighs especially heavily after experiencing the highs – and in a more limited way – the lows – of a country like Mexico.

So, back to Saturday morning.

It did not begin well. Montezuma got me, and I can’t figure out where we met. Nothing but bottled water touched my lips. I didn’t have any fruits or vegetables that might have been washed in the preceding days. The only thing I can figure out is that Friday morning, we had breakfast and I had juevos awash in mole – I didn’t eat it all (they just drown things in mole sauce (why???), and to my palate it’s definitely overkill) – but I think that the little bit I did consume might have been it. Perhaps the mole had been reconstituted with local water and not heated at a high enough temperature to Kill Things. I don’t know. I do know it was miserable for a few hours there.

It took the morning for me to (mostly) recover. I sent the boys out a couple of times to wander, buy churros – whatever – just go. And they kept coming back like fifteen minutes later. Why are you here?

I took solace in the fact that if I, indeed, couldn’t get going at all that the Puebla centro is safe and interesting enough that they could, if seriously threatened, spend the whole day out there themselves, without me. (they’re almost 17 and 13, remember). There was a movie theater, too, if things got desperate.

But by about 11:30, I was confident enough of my system that I decided that our original Saturday plan could happen, albeit later than planned: Cholula.

Cholula is a neighboring town, but really, driving there, it seems more like a suburb. It’s six or seven miles away, but there’s no empty space between the two. The reason for going is this: what they think is probably the biggest pyramid, by volume, in the world.

Except you can’t see it!

For it’s under a hill and on top of the hill sits a church.

You can read about the pyramid here – in case you don’t know the reasons the MesoAmericans, particularly in central Mexico, could build their pyramids to such a great size is that they periodically enlarged them by building over them every few decades.

So, we Ubered it over there, startled by the immensity of the church-topped hill right there, with the town spread out around it. The driver let us out at a plaza lined with food and gift stalls, filled with visitors (it was Saturday, remember!) and in the middle of which were voladores, ready to take flight.

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What are voladores?

 The ritual ceremony of the Voladores (‘flying men’) is a fertility dance performed by several ethnic groups in Mexico and Central America, especially the Totonac people in the eastern state of Veracruz, to express respect for and harmony with the natural and spiritual worlds. During the ceremony, four young men climb a wooden pole eighteen to forty metres high, freshly cut from the forest with the forgiveness of the mountain god. A fifth man, the Caporal, stands on a platform atop the pole, takes up his flute and small drum and plays songs dedicated to the sun, the four winds and each of the cardinal directions. After this invocation, the others fling themselves off the platform ‘into the void’. Tied to the platform with long ropes, they hang from it as it spins, twirling to mimic the motions of flight and gradually lowering themselves to the ground.

It was interesting to see, although I don’t think “fling” describes the actions I saw. More like, “sit suspended and slowly start spinning while your hat-holding companions work the crowd below.”

I’m not going to recreate the next hour or so of activity step by step. Just know it involved: Seeing a huge line to enter the tunnel that’s been excavated through the pyramid. Getting the very clever idea that since we knew there was a museum associated with the pyramid, we’d avoid the line, get tickets for the experience at the museum and do that first. Getting ice cream. Going to the wrong museum. Going to the right museum, but being told we had to buy tickets at the tunnel entrance. Senora. Gracias. Waiting in line for thirty minutes (me sitting on a bench next to a rotating series of old Mexican men and women) to buy said tickets. Going through the tunnel.  Coming out the other side. Climbing up the hill to Our Lady of Remedies. Praying for just that. Very convenient. Climbing down and, knowing that we were on the complete opposite of the museum, saying, “forget it,” and heading into town instead.

With Mom fighting cramps every time her body changed position, it seemed. Which, you know, when you’re walking around, happens a lot.  Which explains why “forget it” is not exactly what she said in her head when understanding where the museum was in relation to where she ended up.

In all seriousness, it is an amazing sight, even though it’s a hill – for you know that under the hill lies an enormous pyramid and there you are on top of it with Our Lady of Remedies. The church is a lovely bright yellow, and it really does dominate the landscape of the town. In fact, as we left Puebla on Sunday, our bus drove on the highway several kilometers north – and I could see it from there.

Incidentally, Our Lady of Remedies, along with many other churches in the Puebla state, especially in and around Cholula, were heavily damaged in last fall’s earthquake. We saw a great deal of evidence of that – turrets and other features piled beside walls and so on.

 

What absorbed me most, though, was  the families. It’s not as if it were the first time  – in Mexico, that’s what you see most of – families, and most of the time, it’s multi-generational. Grandparents, parents, and children climbing the hill up to the church, waiting in line to enter the church, sharing a picnic, gathered at the top of the pyramid, under the shadow of Our Lady of Remedies. Little ones slung their buzzing, clacking toys around and wept at their dropped paletas, parents bounced babies in slings and grandparents, their stature usually about halfway between their children’s and grandchildren’s,  pointed out the features in the town spread out below and the volcanoes in the distance.

Deciding that our time in the two Archeology museums in Mexico City had probably been enough, we wandered into Cholula – as is the case with all Mexican towns, blocks of brightly painted buildings lined the streets and this being Holy Saturday, it was hopping. We did a bit of souvenir shopping, then found the Zocalo where we settled in for some lunch at a stand, then shopped a bit more – there was an extensive book section under the tent, and I bought several easy versions of classics in Spanish – probably 3rd-5th grade – the Iliad, The Invisible Man and a collection of Poe stories. We’ll see how serious our burgeoning MesoAmerican naturalist/scholar really is about learning Spanish, won’t we?

I then followed the lead of this blogger, found a taxi, and asked him if he would take us to two churches on the outskirts off Cholula and then back to Puebla – he agreed ($300 pesos was his price – about $15).

The churches?

First, St. María Tonantzintla. I got up at 4:30 am, and I’m tired, so I’ll let the other blogger fill you in:

Santa María Tonantzintla was constructed in the 17th century as a church for the local indigenous people. As was typical in Mexico, the local people incorporated many of their own beliefs into their religious symbols. This fusion produces a style which some refer to as “indigenous baroque”.

The church has a yellow body, but is nicely set off with red tile. The front ornamentation is rather simple, with figures of St. Peter, St. Paul, and the Virgin Mary enclosed in niches along the front. The overall look is very pleasant.

It’s the inside where things get more interesting. A riot of figures cover every surface. The impact is stunning, your eyes are drawn over and over the surfaces, examining the many details. You can see children, birds, angels, flowers, and many other symbols. All are painstakingly crafted from plaster, then carefully painted or gilded.

I’ll go further than he does about the exterior – it’s not just “pleasant” – it’s distinctive and singular. The interior is as he describes it, and, as he continues – you aren’t allowed to take photographs inside. The people sell photographs and postcards and even a small book, and really, why not support them in their dedication to their own parish?

 

Our Cathedral rector traveled to this church a few years ago and snapped some interior photos after celebrating Mass – enjoy! 

Just a mile away is San Francisco Apatapec, fascinating and even startling because it’s so different than the first church – yes, the commonalities in structure indicate a proximity in construction, but instead of red tile, the second church is adorned with Talavera tile. I was a little restricted in photography because they had set up a tent that reached from the front door to the courtyard opening – I couldn’t get a good long view but I think you get the sense of it. Click on photos to get a larger version.

 

 

Aren’t they amazing?

And note – these are not located in the midst of grand cities or wealthy neighborhoods. What surrounds them may not be squalor, but it’s not a gated community either. It’s hardscrabble small town Mexico.

And of course, we were popping in on Holy Saturday afternoon, remember. Both churches were busy with preparation – people were dusting, scouring, trimming and arranging flowers. So here you have it: Beautiful – no, stunning – churches that are not imposed on or extracted from the sufferings of the poor by authoritarian hierarchs, but stand tall, rather, as expressions of the people’s love and worship of God, exploding with hope and trust in the Beauty that waits for them.

As I said…flight was at 7 am, which meant a 4:30 am wake-up. Thank goodness we were in an airport hotel. I might still be in Mexico City if it were otherwise. I’ll post on the rest of Saturday tomorrow. On Tuesday. Got it?

I’ll violate my general aversion to putting video on the blog (because you can’t resize them)  by sticking this one of the voladeros here:

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Good Friday – not exactly what I expected – again – and some disappointment that I probably could have avoided. But all in all, a good day – a good Friday.

This will be briefer than Thursday’s novella. I want to use my early morning time on Saturday to walk around a bit, not write, and then I’ll get the boys up earlier than normal for we are heading out of town just for the morning I hope – and if it is to be just for the morning, it will need to get going early.

Note: there are video clips of the procession, the concert and the Good Friday service at Instagram. 

My understanding was the that big Good Friday procession would begin at 11:30. I wasn’t worried about catching it “on time” – it’s a big procession through town and I knew that we’d be able to see it during a few-hour window. So after everyone woke up and gained some alertness and energy, we decided to try to get breakfast. The crowds were already gathering for the procession – and in case you were wondering, there was absolutely no change in the social tone from Thursday. It could have been any market/celebration day. We picked a random restaurant around the zocalo and ate – detail on that later. We then began our efforts to try to see the procession. The first clear shot we had was very good, but it was preparatory – it was of a (large) group making its way to the Cathedral for the beginning of the event. After that point once things got formally underway, it got more challenging. The crowds were very large and even though (honestly) most of us skew taller than the rest of the population, we had a difficult time finding a good viewpoint. We’d find something that seemed okay, but then it turned out not to be, or the sun came out and everyone pulled out their umbrellas and well, there goes that view. We finally walked towards what I thought might be the last third of the route, and scored.

The procession was certainly something to see – various groups in their uniforms, some beating drums, others winding noisemakers in the shape of crosses, others singing. The floats were, as you probably know, carried by men who, every once in a while would be relieved by others. There was singing and chanting Viva Jesus! One group of children walked carrying representations of the instruments of the Passion. At one point we came upon a large stretch of road that was evidently going to provide the end of the procession, and at several points along the way, classical musicians were playing sacred music, either from balconies or from ground-floor building alcoves.

But…it wasn’t as long as I thought it would be, and for some reason, I had expected a via crucis to be a part of it – I have no idea why. But what I discovered over the course of the day as I studied the listings of Semana Santa on church doors, was that everyone had their via crucis in the morning. Dang it!

Ah well. We’ll just have to see what else comes our way today…

But first, a glitch. One of our party started experiencing some stomach upset – well he’d woken up not feeling right, and it just wasn’t getting better. He needed to go back to the hotel, so I went with him, and it was good I did because once we arrived, we discovered a leak in the bathroom sink – so that needed to be reported and taken care of. Once I saw that it was underway, the other party and I set out to do some exploring to see what we could discern about activities for the rest of the afternoon. (it was about 2:30).

We first went into the Cathedral where I discovered that what I’d seen yesterday was Screenshot_2018-03-30-23-42-16.pngindeed a rehearsal  –  for a 3pm performance of Bach’s St. John’s Passion by the Orquesta Sinfónica Esperanza Azteca. There were no seats available, and it was quite crowded, so we didn’t stay for all of it, but what we heard was excellent, the power and beauty of the Cathedral matched by the sound filling it.

(It was also being either recorded or broadcast live – there was a small setup in the rear, which was interesting to watch, as one person followed the score and several others coordinated editing – for the broadcast was not just of the performance, but overlaid with it were translations of the text as well as dramatizations of the events.)

When we returned to the hotel with some medicine recommended by a pharmacist in IMG_20180330_171849.jpghand, Party #1 reported he was recovering pretty well and could probably eat. Given that it was still Friday, and Good Friday at that, we were committed to going meatless, and cheese pizza seemed  – as it does all Lent – the easiest route, and the one most amenable to an unstable constitution. There’s a pizza place a couple of doors down – we went and got a simple 4-cheese pizza, which, I’m telling you, was superior to anything you could buy in Birmingham.

It was then late enough to wander with the full expectation of hitting a Good Friday service, which we did – at 6:30 at the church of St. Dominic, site of the famed Rosary Chapel – the service was not there, but in the main church, which is ornate enough. The service was simple. It was rendered a little shorter by the fact that the Solemn General Intercessions were all spoken, not chanted, and there was no kneeling or moments of silent prayer. Also, no congregation “participation” in the reading of the Passion. The Dominican preached enthusiastically. I wish I’d known what he said…..

(Weird  side note – possible. I am almost positive that the conductor of the orchestra playing St. John’s Passion was in attendance at this service. He’s pretty distinctive looking – a long mane of dark hair – and after the service I saw him greeting people who were approaching him in a congratulatory way – and he was carting a cello.)

There was to be more happening afterwards, including a procession with statues of the Blessed Virgin and a corpus of Jesus in a glass case, but there was a long prayer service preceding it, and the Party with the unstable constitution was…unstable, so we headed back to the hotel.

Tomorrow: everyone is looking forward to the end of Lenten and Good Friday disciplines, because there’s a lot of meat and candy around here waiting to be eaten….

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