Wednesday, April 29, 2015

More México

The religious and cultural diversity of Mexico is a source of continual delight and wonder for us. While Spanish is the national language, there are 68 officially recognized regional languages. There were hundreds of different indigenous peoples in the geographic area that became the Estados Unidos Mexicanos (the United Mexican States – the official name), each with its own cultural traditions, clothing, food, dances, rituals and masks.

Though Catholicism was adopted by the overwhelming majority of these peoples, there remains to this day a fascinating syncretism of indigenous practices and Christianity.

Santa Cruz Church
This past Shabbat, as we were strolling home from the morning service, we heard drumming and chanting coming from Santa Cruz, the church down the street from Shalom San Miguel. Dancers in brightly colored clothing and feathered headdresses poured out of the church square, in processional behind a Christian banner.
Funeral Procession

And as we returned from market on Monday, we encountered a funeral procession coming down Zacateros, a street near our home. The hearse was preceded by a man in black holding a crucifix banner in front of about a dozen dancers and musicians maintaining a rhythmic beat.

La Virgencita
Everywhere we go we see the image of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a Mexican Catholic icon which incorporates layers of religious significance for indigenous Mexican peoples. Here are just a few places where she appears around San Miguel de Allende:
in a restaurant bathroom

Our apartment patio

Good Friday in San Miguel de Allende
This year the weekends of Pesach and Easter coincided. On Friday April 3, which was both Good Friday and Erev Pesach, people lined the streets for a parade through the historic center of San Miguel.

Seder at La Fortuna

We attended the Shalom San Miguel community seder, held inside and on the outdoor patio of La Fortuna, a local restaurant.

Quema de Judas
Quema de Judas
And on Easter Sunday, in the Jardín Principal (the central town square), hundreds turned out for La Quema de Judas (the Burning of Judas). We first experienced this Latin American Easter custom seven years ago during our sabbatical in Valparaiso, Chile, and it had left us feeling somewhat squeamish to witness the public burning of dark-clad Judas (Jew-like?) figures as the representation of evil. But here there were dozens of brightly colored papier mache figures of both men and women, representing evil in the form of everything from political caricatures to fictional characters, each containing fireworks that were exploded one by one in a festive celebratory atmosphere.

We have had the opportunity to do a bit of travel this month, first to Guanajuato, the capital city of the state of Guanajuato in which San Miguel de Allende is located.

 Like San Miguel, Guanajuato has a lovely, Spanish Colonial historic center, built on the site of former indigenous communities.
And then five days in Mexico City, including a side trip to the pyramids of Teotihuacán, an ancient city pre-dating not only Spanish but also Aztec rule, and once home to over 100,000 people.
At the Templo Mayor
We also stumbled across an incredible scene of dozens of dancers and drummers outside the Templo Mayor, the ruins of the temple of the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan, which lies beneath the center of present-day Mexico City.

Our spiritual home in Mexico has been the Jewish Cultural and Community Center of San Miguel
(and its Shalom San Miguel Shabbat minyan), housed next door to a tortilleria where people line up to get fresh tortillas.
This past Friday, Jonathan led another challah-baking workshop in a private home
 and on Sunday, Linda taught a small group how to make simple repairs to one of the community Torah scrolls. We have loved being part of one very tiny piece of Mexico’s religious and cultural diversity.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Leaving the countryside for town

Jonathan with Brewster, Rosie, and Lily
We moved from the country into the city on April 1, from Simple Choice Farm located about 12 miles outside of San Miguel de Allende, into a rental property close to the city center.

We are looking forward to the opportunity to explore and get to know San Miguel better, (and to celebrating Pesach with members of Shalom San Miguel, the Jewish community here), but there are also some things that we will miss when we move.

We will miss the quiet of the countryside, where the loudest noises (except for the occasional bus or car on the road) are not human-made: the wind in the trees, the braying of donkeys and barking of dogs, the crow of the roosters, the twittering of birds. 

We will miss the way that animal life is inextricably blended with human life – the goats and sheep that scamper across the road, the cows that gaze at us placidly from their pastures, the pig that lifts its head and grunts a greeting when we walk by, the donkeys and horses that live alongside the campesinos

Brand-new church in El Membrillo
We will miss the friendliness of the people who live in the many ranchos accessible by footpaths or cobblestone streets from the main road, who smile and exchange greetings even with us foreigners. One of our favorite walks was into the comunidad of El Membrillo, where the residents were building a new stone church. We saw both the end of its construction, and the decorations celebrating the first Mass in the new building for the fiesta of their patron saint San Jose.

Decorated for the mass and fiesta of dedication
Almost finished interior
Our new street - our house is the bright yellow on the right
And while we may not miss the forty minute bus commute between the farm and the town center, we will miss the local color of the ride itself, and the way the people on the bus look out for one another. On the rural road, there aren’t any official bus stops; folks just flag the bus down, and the bus driver waits when he sees people hurrying down the footpaths. We are the only gringos on the bus, and the first time we road it was a market day. The bus was packed with people, like ourselves, carting bags of fresh fruits and vegetables, and students just out of school. We weren’t sure we would get on the bus, but the driver urged everyone to squeeze, and then proceeded to the next stop, where another dozen schoolkids miraculously squeezed in after us. A grandma with a baby on her lap urged us to put our bags of vegetables on the floor by her feet, even though it cramped her leg room, rather than standing with them in the aisle.

Interior courtyard of our apartment
This past weekend, we did a Bread and Torah program at Shalom San Miguel (click here for pictures) and we look forward to attending their community Seder. 

There is much to do and experience in town, and though we will miss the countryside, we are excited about beginning the next phase of this journey.