Saturday, October 3, 2009

La Alborada: Dawn with the Sanmiguelenses

Even more than the Dia de Independencia, San Miguel celebrates the birthday of their patron saint, Miguel. For reasons I'm not sure of (the hour of his birth?) the town begins the ritual parade at 3am (with street parties and roaming hordes of people moving though centro well before then). Thousands line the jardin, cheering on the other thousands who march down side streets and around and around the jardin, carrying twenty-foot tall, tissue-paper stars on long poles. As the bearers dance the stars spin in the sky, some of them illuminated from within by candles or electric lights. Sam headed up around midnight, to meet Bill Dettering (San Francisco Bill) and Christopher Holtby (Dallas Chris) at the Jardin Burger (their nickname for it), a stand that comes out every night selling the most perfect, wafer-thin, well-cooked, fried hamburger with ham, queso, tocino, onions, jalapenos, tomatoes, ketchup, mayo and mustard. Bill and Chris had gone in on a gallon of homemade tequila, which they had decanted into Tupperware squirt bottles. (At 3:30am when I found Sam, he had one raised to his mouth, draining it, while dancing in the parade without about two thousand Mexicans and his two gringo buddies. But more on that later....)

Though they missed each other at Jardin Burger, and Sam wandered through the fiesta on his own for about two hours, the boys had found each other and had spent a good long while at a cantina, the kind with the swinging saloon doors and no women. There were bands everywhere--mariachis, school bands, guys with guitars, boys with French horns, kids with kazoos.

Because fireworks (more like cannons without the pyrotechnics) were going off all night down by Parque Juarez, I was up and awake at 2am. I kept debating whether to get dressed and go out; I decided it was my first alborada, the kids were sound asleep, and I was going to head up to find the guys. The streets were pretty empty around the park; the first people I saw were five guys, heading towards me on Sollano, identically dressed in black from head to combat boot, all swigging from bottles. There was a moment of panic, but I kept walking towards them under the sole streetlight on that block, until I realized they were cops, and the bottles swinging in their hands were diet Coke. I wasn't going to be mugged after all.

The jardin was a scene. Thousands of people were out up there, even at 3am, with their babies, their little kids, their college friends and girlfriends, grandpops with grandmoms, street vendors and musicians. The only thing you didn't see were Americans. With the exception of the three I knew, I spotted about eight. Because this is their saint and their day, and this is a celebration specific to San Miguel, it's a very local event. I scanned the crowd for the guys for about a half an hour, making a lap around the crowds filling the plaza, and was about to head home, waiting at the southeast corner of the jardin to find an opening to get through and go back down the empty streets. And lo and behold, because Sam and I have always been lucky, there he is, right in front of me, marching with the parade, spinning and dancing and sipping tequila, with Bill and Christopher.

Like the Dia de Independencia, the fireworks started right on time--4am--and it's a show like nothing you've ever seen. There was one installation coming from behind the jardin, probably from Mesones or farther back behind the library. These were the high-in-the-sky, streamers of red, green and white that race up into the night and explode like huge flowers. No real danger there, even though they were exploding over our heads. The other, more staggering, sight, were the orange snakes coming from the plaza inside the gates of the Parroquoia. For close to an hour, huge sparklers arced from the church, through the black wrought-iron gates or over and above them, landing on a crowd of mostly young men dancing in the street in front of the Parroquoia. Sparks, flames, embers, ashes, and blown up bits of newspaper came cascading down. The men had shirts they waved around their heads to shoo away the debris. The smoke started to get thick around the church and some started landing our way. Castillos, the spinning fireworks that turn into images, started lighting up the front gates. When my face was dusted with grit and my eyes were beyond stinging I decided it was time to go home. I left Sam, Christopher and Bill in the jardin and worked my way through the crowds to head down Cuna de Allende. On the sidewalks were the women and their kids who sell the corn-husk dolls, the sponge maps of Mexico, the beaded necklaces, and trays of Chiclets. In long black skirts and shawls, they were huddled together on the curb in sleepy bundles, some with a couple of kids in their arms. In two doorways were little boys, flat out on their backs, sound asleep on the sidewalk, in spite of the noise and the smoke.

I start to walk downhill to the park. It is almost five in the morning. The thunder of fireworks rolls down the canyon of narrow streets, like a force behind me, a hand at my back, pushing me home. All my boys are sound asleep, the Alborada just a story they will hear about, and the real dawn waiting to wake them in an hour.

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