Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Where fiestas erupt all the time

(We briefly interrupt the series of postcards from Budapest with breaking news from Oaxaca.)

Out for a stroll last evening with no room for dinner after a major lunch at La Biznaga, I requested a route that would pass by the front of the Basilica de Nuestra Senora de la Soledad. The Mister was not fooled. My real mission was the Plaza Socrates in front of the basilica, home to a dozen ice cream vendors.

But, before I could even begin to ponder the flavor options, music erupted on the street below. Brass bands and dancers with floral arrangements crowning their heads were gathering for one the city’s numerous exuberant processions, Las Calendas, to call out townspeople to celebrate, usually in advance of a saint’s day. This one appears to be a warm-up for the Feast Day of the Assumption of Mary, El Día de la Asunción de María, on August 15.

The festive dancers, fearless as castillos showered sparks around them, gigantes or mermotas, stilt-walkers, a truckload of little angels and the woman in blue bearing extra rockets and castillos to set off every couple of blocks completely distracted me from my original mission.

I shall return to both the delayed delivery of postcards from Budapest and to Plaza Socrates another day.

That leaves me time to ponder whether I want to order rose or chocolate-chile ice cream. Those wouldn’t pair well in one dish, would they?

Postcard from Oaxaca, Mexico: Strolling after lunch

Encountered a lively little parade on our way back to our casita after lunch Saturday. Don’t think it had much to do with building hype for the Super Bowl.

And then, last night in our barrio, the fireworks started and tubas tooted about 9 with a rowdy group of sombreroed locals parading into town to set off castillos. Wasn’t fast enough to grab the camera and unsure of the occasion of that parade either. Perhaps honoring a saint’s day, or perhaps simply because it was Saturday night.

Postcard from Madrid: Gigantes y Cabezudos parade to greet us

We arrived on a holiday, a three-day weekend for Madrilenos as they honor their patron saint, San Isidro Labrador (1070-1130). San Isidro was credited with hundreds of miracles, but the one most coveted by working stiffs? Angels would fill in for him, kindly taking over his plowing while Isidro lost himself in religious meditation and prayer.

Madrid has changed a lot since adopting the patron saint of farmers as its own. Arriving here after staying in small cities surrounded by farmland, we were shocked and a bit overwhelmed by the city’s size, both in the scale of the buildings and the number of people. Major sidewalks and pedestrian-only streets were packed.

But celebrations for San Isidro Labrador brought things back to a more human scale for us. The first thing we encountered was a hokey, hometown, colorful parade of Gigantes (Giants) and Cabezudos (Big-Heads) weaving through the streets. One of the shorter advance enforcers, a big-nosed Kiliki, hurled his foam weapon at Mister photographer; the event would be at home in any small town in Mexico.

San Isidro’s remains still reside here, or most of them, behind nine locks in the church bearing his name. Only the King of Spain has the key, and even he is not allowed access without the approval of the Archbishop of Madrid.

The high level of security might seem extreme, but even royalty can’t be trusted from temptation to take a bit of a saint home with them to provide a few miracles needed around the kingdom. Supposedly, Charles II had one of San Isidro’s teeth pulled to keep underneath his pillow. And what of San Isidro’s wife, Santa Maria de la Cabeza? Her head used to be trotted out and paraded around every time the farmers in the area needed rain.

Which brings us back to the parade of big-heads on May 14, followed by the saint’s official day on May 15 that began with many Madrilenos donning traditional fashions of yore and ended with an explosion of fireworks.