Monday, January 11, 2010

La Boda en Janitzio

Guidebooks tell you no visit is complete to Patzcuaro without a day trip to Janitzio, a small island accessed by collectivos or public launches, a few minutes from town.  Its claim to fame is a gigantic statue of Jose Morelos, one of the heroes of the Mexican War of Independence, for whom Morelia, the state capital, is named.  Day of the Dead ceremonies are also legendary in Janitzio, when the faithful climb the winding streets by candlelight to the lone pantheon (graveyard) and spend the night graveside with their departed relatives.  Mexican tourists come from around the country to witness the vigil, which begins October 30 and ends on November 1.  So we braved the elements and took a ride to Janitzio.  We ended up on a boat by ourselves since, after 30 to 40 minutes, no one else showed up and the driver had to take off on a trip that had to be costing him money.  We motored through the lake choked with lily pads and bulbous green plants, their rhysomes branching out to nearly blanket the lake.  Blue herons and white garzas stood stiffly in the shallows.  The rain was actually letting up and ever so slightly, from under the sheet of dirty gray clouds, a sliver of blue sky tried to make a break.

When we docked, a bunch of little kids hopped on and immediately started trying to rummage through my bag for money, asking me for monedo.  It had a been a long weekend already (I actually kicked Mason on the ride over because he wouldn't stop running along the wooden boat seats) and I had no interest in my children, or anyone else's.  I angrily told them to beat it and then told Sam, "They picked the wrong mom today."

Janitzio is odd.  It's full of trash, over run by matted mutts scrounging dockside for food, completely impoverished, and chock a block with souvenirs not yet seen in our Mexican travels: most notably the boob and butt mugs.  Bo, not real accustomed to the tacky souvenirs (he's never been to Ocean City) asked, "Aren't these illegal?"   I'm not sure who the target market is for the tan ceramic coffee cup with the nipple protruding from the side or the butt cheeks as a handle, but I'm pretty sure it's not the American touring  Mexico's colonial towns.  Maybe that's why we were the only gringos there.

Still, the kids were starving and the boat wasn't coming to pick us up for another couple of hours so we sat for a meal of happily amazing caldo de pollo, a hot chicken soup with whole carrots and zucchinis, and the most thoughtfully prepared limonada we've ever had.  The kids scampered off to scale the island and find the Morelos statue, and Sam and I stumbled upon a ceremony taking place that made the whole weekend worthwhile: the local boda.  This wedding was one of those things that you'd long to witness, but could never plan, something that provides such an insight into local culture and traditions, and something that makes you feel like you've really left home.

From our lunch table we could hear music up the walkway so we followed the sound of the mariachis.  Outside of a stone church were a couple dozen men in leather jackets and fancy shoes, some sitting on cases of Indio beer. A line of women, all in local dress--long, colorful embroidered skirts, white peasant shirts, flat, black shoes, and blue rebozos around their shoulders--were sitting side by side on a low wall just outside of the church.  When you looked carefully you saw each had a bottle of beer between her legs and a tiny ceramic mug in her hand.  A group of younger girls appeared in a circle, carrying in the middle above their heads a huge plastic jug of tequila.  Each girl  held a ribbon coming from the jug so that it looked like a Mayfair pole. A few elders held more tequila with individual cigarettes tied around the bottle, a gift to pass out to the guests.  Children stood at the church door with large bags of confetti.  The musicians, all playing brass horns--French, tuba, saxophone--had outfits I coveted: black and gold striped pants and a matching jacket with their band name, La Costenita, embroidered on the back.

When the bride and groom stepped out of  the church, a second mariachi band started up, the confetti flew, and the drinks guys started passing around the tequila, pouring it into everyone's little mug. The cases of beer were opened and handed out (I was even given one and when I tried to pay for it my money was rejected decidedly.  I was, however, to return the empty as they needed the deposit back).  The couple stood on the threshold for all to view, and like everyone around them, was completely without emotion.  There was not a smile in the crowd.  Everyone drank for a while, had a smoke, then marched down the hill, around the corner, and out of sight.

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