Postcard from San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca: Carnaval customs as creative as their carvings

Brightly painted, intricately carved copal figures of real and fantasy animals, alebrijes, from the small town of San Martin Tilcajete, Oaxaca, are known around the world. Whole families of carvers pass down their traditional techniques to provide their livelihoods, with every home seeming to double as a retail outlet.

Every year they unleash that creativity to stage a mezcal-infused celebration of Carnaval, the final day of wild indulgence before Lent. Despite the loss of young men who have left to find work in el norte, there seemed to be no shortage of volunteers willing to smear their bodies in motor oil in hopes of planting kisses on young women unafraid of ruining their clothes. We witnessed no such embraces, but the afternoon was still young.

Other young men engaged in crossdressing, some quite convincing, as though there were not more women than men remaining in the community. The formally attired bridesmaids created a colorful entourage parading through the streets prior to the sham wedding of the bride and groom performed by a jovial padre of sorts.

Outsiders were embraced, so much to the point that our friend, Clyde, padre-looking himself, was drafted into the ceremony to provide the blessing of the bride and groom by exuberantly splashing water on them and anyone standing in close proximity.

American politicians should take note. We didn’t meet the town’s mayor, but he or she knows how to encourage enthusiastic support. The mayor’s ambassadors were freely distributing shots of mezcal and dipping into buckets of tepache and horchata to quench the thirst of all, whether residents or tourists.

Maybe San Antonio should forget spending money on expensive advertising for visitors. Mayor Ivy Taylor simply needs to enlist volunteers to offer complimentary shots of tequila and margaritas along the River Walk. Word of mouth about San Antonio’s hospitality would spread like wildfire.