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Noisy Saint

July 24, 2021

Every year around this time, I do a blog post about my least favourite point in the calendar: the feast of St. Mary Magdalene. Maria Magdalena is the matron saint of this village, either because of a legend that Quetzalcoatl’s mother was the goddess in charge of Toltec ladies of the evening (not well supported by evidence), or because Prince Ce Acatl Topiltzin, the most prominent human prototype for the Plumed Serepent, was born here eleven centuries ago. And therefore, the community must be forever in atonement.

Anyway, her feast day is July 22, which means that starting on July 21, the village gets going on making money, and my dogs have to endure a daily onslaught of hundreds of loud, explosive rockets. Victoria, my eldest hound, is terrified of theseĀ cohetes, and spent the night before last cowering in my bathroom, since they kept being let off until around 11.00 p.m. I think the bathroom is as far into the house as she can go, so it seems safer to her, even if the acoustics can’t be favourable when there are loud bangs sounding, and echoing off the cliffs around us.

Maria Magdalena’s image awaits her annual circumambulation aroud the village, in honour of her feast day.

For me, the insult is being awakened by these explosions at 6.00 in the morning, followed by a band playing down by the church a couple of hundred yards away. Vicki can’t sleep by day, and I can’t sleep past the hour determined by fun-loving Catholic devotees. 

Today, two days on from the main event, the fuss is over, and we’re sweeping up the broken beer bottles from the streets and clearing away the garbage. The brass bands have gone home, the rocket-fans are out of ammunition, and the impromptu taco stands in people’s front yards are closed. This year’s fiesta was four times as big as the pandemic-afflicted one last year, but not close to the scale of previous years. There was, for example, no children’s midway, nor a bull-riding jaripeo.

But even as the village reverts to its usual, slightly ratty appearance, concerns remain. Covid cases in Mexico last week were up 44 percent over the previous week. As the “Do” versus “No, don’t” wars over masks and distancing play out once more, there must have been some virus-spreading happening, even with light crowds.

And separate from that issue, there is the rain. After local wells ran dry this spring, we welcomed the heavy rains that started early, in May. Suddenly, the threat of fires in the hills was gone, and the water tanker drivers were not running half loads.

But in most previous years that I recall, the Magdalene’s feast day is overcast, if not sopping wet. This year, we’ve had gorgeous dry, sunny weather for the past six days, and there’s no rain predicted for a few days more. In our rainy season, this sort of interval rarely occurs. It’s too early to call a bad season, but there is cause to be concerned.

Despatch from the Ypres Salient

July 22, 2019

Once a year, in the fourth week of July, this village of Amatlan de Quetzalcoatl erupts in a celebration of its matron saint, Maria Magdalena. It’s the time of year when I have more homicidal thoughts than any other. In fact, all the murderous fantasies I have come out during these few days.

Toltecas.jpg

People in traditional Toltec dress, bringing banners and smoking copal incense, parade around the village to the accompaniment of post-Toltec rockets.

It’s the rockets. Since I typed the above paragraph, with hardly a pause, four of them have gone off. They’re explosive, so their detonation several hundred feet up echoes off the cliffs and jars the ears of the most sanguine of people. Some, like the bombs dropped by Stuka dive-bombers in WW2, are equipped with whistles that shriek as they ascend to explode.

Last night, after well over a hundred, and maybe twice that, were let off during the day, I thought we’d reached nocturnal calm at 11:00, when I went to bed. Two salvoes just after midnight scotched that idea, and I needed another hour to settle back into sleep. Then, the first salvo of the day came this morning at 5:45. Victoria, one of the dogs I care for, spent most of the night cowering under my bed, while the others just seem stunned by it all.

My headline refers to a segment of the Western in Front in WWI that hardly shifted for three years, and which often underwent attacks and counter-attacks. Many men serving there came out haunted for life by the incessant bombardments. Yes, I know this is a series of explosions without physical injury, and it will be all over by Wednesday. But it grates on the nerves of many of us as well as frightening our pets.

I always try to switch off my murder fantasies by shifting them to a more practical dream. I know the rockets are stored in a building adjacent to the village church, and I’d love to take a 50-gallon drum of water there at 2.00 am, and soak all of them in it. It would upset the rocket launcher-in-chief no end, for I’m sure he loves the sense of power involved in sending the things up into the air over the village, knowing their boom will be heard far away. But if I was caught, the community would never forgive me, even if some other people must hate the noise. I therefore abstain for fear of discovery, but not because I feel it would be wrong.

The theory, I understand, is that firing rockets upward during religious ceremonies underlines the idea of pointing to Heaven above us. Why prayer, music and bells can’t do the job here as they do elsewhere in the world, I’ve no idea, but I do grasp that rockets are fun. When there’s a parade around the village, they’re let off every time the procession passes a shrine to the Virgin Mary that’s in someone’s front wall. There are a lot of such shrines, so there are a lot of rockets.

Fireworks are part of life in Mexico, as they are in many countries, but the affection is very pronounced here. I’ve always enjoyed them in a display, but not when they only produce loud bangs. Right now, sleep-deprived, and having spent time trying to reassure traumatised dogs, I’m simply hoping that by tomorrow, or at least the day after, the village runs out of ammunition. Last time I was here for the fiesta, somebody was firing off two a minute for a solid hour. That becomes unbearable.

I suppose I don’t really want to kill the launcher, or at least I do only when he’s just awakened me from sleep. But at times, I do hope he goes deaf. And that one day, the loud explosions are banned.

From the Ypres Salient, where all is not quiet on the Western Front, over and out.