Postcard from Mexico City: Mega traffic jam of Catrinas

The leering clown masks at a vendor’s stand yesterday remained largely unsold, snubbed, left hanging above the crowd. As though attending a ball demanding black tie, the denizens of D.F. stuck largely to the dress code yesterday. Masks were not part of it.

In the afternoon, La Reforma was one giant makeshift makeup studio. Cosmeticians for the day set up anywhere they could perch with formality equal to itinerant shoeshine vendors. There appeared no dearth of eager clients waiting to have their faces blanketed in the eerie thick white base transforming them into Las Catrinas or their bone-men counterparts.

We strolled over to a museum in Chapultepec Park to while away a little time before the 7 o’clock start time of the Mega Procesion de Catrinas at the landmark Angel of Independence. Then we returned and perched there. Waiting. And people-watching. And waiting.

We were definitely not alone in our anticipation of the people’s parade marching by. But the desfile never actually appeared there, at what was billed as its starting point.

The closed center lane to traffic in the block ahead leading toward the Zocolo was jammed with costumed people. Crammed like sardines in a can. If they were making any forward progress at all it was at a snail’s pace.

A friend reported las Catrinas did parade by several blocks away, but hundreds, probably more than a thousand, of those stuck in the bottleneck at the beginning failed to make it out of the first block. At 8 o’clock, truckloads of police started pulling in behind them, slowly nudging the crowds of would-be marchers out of the way to reopen La Reforma to traffic.

Instead of being all dressed up with no place to go, perhaps many of las Catrinas eventually made their way to the Zocolo where the costume party could continue.

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 Valencia, Spain: Maybe add a pair of chanclas or cowboy boots peeking out from under those hooped skirts?

Resuming our walk across the bridge in the direction from which an increasing number of hoop-skirted, mantilla-wearing women with dona hairdos were appearing, we encountered a huge swarm of costumed men, women and children. They were at the end of what must have been a hot walk – chatting amongst themselves, checking their cellphones, cooling off with beer and settling into open-air restaurants for lunch.

But more and more elegantly attired walkers kept arriving in the already crowded square, so we continued onward. Several blocks later we reached the end of the parade with the appearance of the woman who appeared to be the “queen” of the festivities. Striking in comparison to rowdy San Antonio audiences at parades taking place during roughly the same time period, only subdued polite applause greeted her, pictured above, as she passed.

Still have not figured out the occasion for this – whether it was in honor of Saint George, Saint Vincent Ferrer, the Virgin Mary or none of the above. But the predominance of crosses among the jewels does make it seem as though somehow connected with the church, which may be why the event is so reserved.

Watching this in Valencia as Fiesta San Antonio was in full swing, it seemed needing some level of excitement. It’s not as though Valencia does not know how to throw a party. The reputed wildness of Las Fallas, the Festival of Fire, in March makes Fiesta San Antonio – even Cornyation – appear extremely tame. Many natives flea Valencia to escape the days of continual explosive bombardment by eardrum-splitting fireworks and firecrackers.

And Las Fallas is held in honor of a saint, San Jose, the patron saint of carpenters. At least that was its origin. Probably as lost among most contemporary revelers today as Fiesta San Antonio’s original role commemorating the Texian victory at San Jacinto.

So, there must be a conscious desire to keep this particular pedestrian parade removed from such revelry. Open the door a crack, and any saint’s holiday can be hijacked. Santa Claus being a prime example.

But, with so much other competition, this brocade parade is almost a private patrician parade even though it takes place in the heart of downtown. Friends, family members and surprised tourists were the only ones lining the sidewalk one-deep. Most Valencians were otherwise occupied, packing the book fair and the wine festival.

The parade already has the gown-thing nailed, but don’t participants want a few more people around to admire their expensive efforts?

They are attired with splendid sashes just waiting for more medals, perhaps not as many pounds of them as now sported by Fiesta royalty. Couldn’t some of the children in the parade hand out souvenir medals to bystanders to generate a little more enthusiasm?

And, walking may symbolize a pilgrimage, but the queen definitely needs a major float to create excitement upon her arrival. A few claps must seem a paltry reward.

If nothing else; those boring shoes could go. Longed to hear enthusiastic shouts of “show us your shoes” and the resulting exuberant cheers.

And San Antonians with hair all frizzied up from seasonal high humidity during Fiesta (myself being a prime example) certainly could benefit from the importation of some of Valencia’s dona buns. A salt-and-pepper trio, please.