viernes, 20 de diciembre de 2013
The anniversary of the sighting of the Virgin of Guadalupe, almost five hundred years ago. Perhaps the most incongruous and colourful event in Mexico, Lupe's birthday is a huge deal for many Mexican's, particularly those who undertake pilgrimages to sites such as this basilica in Mexico City. I have talked about the Virgin Guadalupe before, here and there, but before this recent birthday of hers I had never seen her worship to such a scale.
Many people came to the Basilica dressed in a shirt or dress bearing the image of the Virgin while others have her portrait strapped to their back, or carry her image as a statue all day; any tangible way to prove the strength of their devotion to la reina de México. My favourite were the kids with the Virgin capes and the Virgin stamps on their faces.
Prior to this, I had been unfamiliar with the idea of Christianity wrapped so thoroughly in feathers and shrouded in incense. A paved expanse surrounding the main, circular church which is somewhat reminiscent of a circus tent, was filled with scenes like this one: feathered, colourful people dancing their praise to the Virgin in a haze of incense.
The contrast between the sombreness of the church and the brightly coloured, feathered people dancing is striking. It reminds me of how the Lupe was used to legitimise the Catholic church in Mexico, to strengthen Spain's hold over the newly found land, but seems to show rebellion as well. It shows Mexicans accepting her, and thus the Spanish religion, on their own terms. With all the colour, flourish and jazz that they can squeeze into their devotion, Mexico has truly made Lupe, and this pedacito of Catholicism their own.
miércoles, 4 de diciembre de 2013
Los toros... An event at once horrifying, grotesque and an intricate game between man and beast. A violent dance that is not even close to being fair, with the odds stacked against the bull. Trotting in, the bull appears somewhat confused by the open arena and the eager crowd. He's slowly weakened, poked and prodded, tired from charging around the arena. Only after this does the real dance begin. It is a shame: the best bit only happens after the bull has been worn down and injured. Having said that, with a skilled toreador, the dance can be truly breath-taking. A furious bull, charging, turning in tight circles, following the cloth, or turning firstly in one direction and then doubling back on himself, going where the cloth leads him: it is genuinely astonishing. And even more so, when after this tight dance between enemies the toreador turns his back on the bull and walks away, arms upraised to the praise of the crowd. How can he trust his opponent that he has been tormenting not to run him down? I don't know, but for some reason the bull doesn't. Maybe the bull doesn't understand it is a fight to the death.
It is really an emotionally confusing event. The setting itself buzzes with excitement, the stabbing and the deaths of the bulls seems tragic - and even more so when the crowd celebrates it. I often found myself on the side of the bull, cheering against the crowd, cheering on the underdog who didn't even necessarily know what he was fighting for nor the rules of the game. But the archaic attire, the bold colours, the food vendors - all build an enthusiasm which sometimes left me sickened - enthusiasm for violence and death? Like the gladiators of ancient Rome: in the end it is a spectacle. Shocking, unsettling, exciting and above all else: dramatic. I am glad we saw the two startling and conflicting faces of the event, but I have no need to go again. And although once was enough for me, it wasn't enough to understand the event, something I'm not sure I could ever achieve. Despite all the associations with los toros - masculinity, sexuality, risk... I can't get past the violence at its core.