We decided to go into the city both to shop for more retablo material for me and to see if the fiesta extended into the downtown areas of San Miguel. Determined not to drive the van through the tiny streets—especially on a weekend—we locked our compound gate and set off down our street to the main road, where we could catch a taxi or bus. One of the ever-present loiterers in the field across from our house called out to us in English—a first for anyone from our neighborhood, although we had taken care to greet each child, man or woman we passed in the street. “Hola,” we’d say, or “Buenos tardes.”
“Buenos nachos,” Bob had said several times, and no one had laughed except me. I could imagine the food imagery floating into their consciousness, wondering why this stranger would be commenting on his upcoming dinner to them, utter strangers. The thought tickled me so much, but I wasn’t about to share it with Bob, who needed every encouragement to speak Spanish. Later, when he had said it a third time, he asked me, “Is that right?” And I finally told him the truth.
But no one in this neighborhood had ever spoken to us first––let alone in English.
“The fiesta will be today,” said the tall thin man who leaned against the mesquite tree.
“Again?” I asked.
“We will go to the church. You should come.”
“Gracias,“ I said. That happened often. Someone speaking to me in English while I spoke to them in Spanish. It was easier to speak Spanish to someone who spoke English. Your confidence was bolstered by the fact that you knew you could switch to your mother tongue if you needed to.
But we moved off instead down the road to catch a taxi.
In town, the streets were full. For the first time, we went into a restaurant and could not find a table. We walked around doing our errands. The air was very hot––almost humid. Then we heard music very nearby. A police car approached us. Behind it, a hoard of twisting, writhing creatures. They were dressed in costumes with masks or large papier-mâché heads. Men were dressed as women, women as wolves or kittens or pigs. Masks took the shape of grotesques or beautiful women or animals. Some of the dancing paraders were tiny—merely babies held in the arms of their mothers or fathers. Others were massive men dressed up as sexy women. There were hundreds of them gyrating, calling out, dancing. Into the crowd they flung hands full of candies. Some threw oranges. Children and adults scrambled for the prizes. I caught sight of a female gorilla with made-up face, blond wig, curled eyelashes, huge breasts. In front, where her stomach should have been, was an exposed womb with an unborn child curled up inside—as though skin and fur had been removed to show the inner reality. When I ran after the parade to get a picture, the gorilla whirled and posed. Then, after I’d snapped a picture, it pulled its skirts up over its head, stuck its butt up in the air, and instead of a female gorilla, it was a male gorilla, snarling and crouched to spring. I was so surprised that I may have snapped the picture too late, for the crowd quickly filled in around it. I was later to learn that it was the “Dia de los Locos,” the day of the crazies.
By the time we returned home, most of the activity on our street was over. The next day there were no firecrackers, no bells. The day seemed plain and lackluster without them. That night we went to sleep early with no disturbances. Although the banners and streamers still hung in the street, the revelers had gone home.
That morning, as went out to open the compound gate to move the van out, the same English-speaking loiterer accosted us.
“It was a good fiesta,” he said.
“Yes, we went in to San Miguel. It was good there, too.”
“Tomorrow, in the house three houses down, there will be another fiesta,” he said.
“And they will go to the church again?” I asked, sorry that we hadn’t followed the last time.
“No, that is finished. This time it is a fiesta in the house only.”
When we returned from our shopping and hours of driving around San Miguel, becoming acquainted with the various neighborhoods, the fireworks had begun.