Monday, January 26, 2009

Public safety? Uh, not so much. (A town covered in people Day 2)

Sunday was the second day of the festivities and it was based primarily at night. Though there dind´t seem to be anything happening everyone was packed into the town square, to the side of which there was a stage. And almost as if to answer the crowd´s desires there came a huge burst of flame, followed by Oooo´s and Aaaa´s and some applause. At first i thought it was some sort of pyrotechnics, because just before it happened someone began riling the crowd over the loudspeakers. Curious to see what they had cooked up I stood on higher ground to get a glimpse. About then the words of the announcer shifted, though his tenor remained strangely the same, he said "Be afraid, be afraid, get back, don´t come closer." Which then turned to "Firefighters, has anyone seen the firefighters? Please call the firefighters. Someone call them" The audience began to laugh, and there were some mocking calls for the firefighters from a couple of wise guys.

Turns out, a popcorn machine exploded, right in the middle of the crowd. No one appeared to be hurt, and everyone was totally enthralled (myself included).

Some poor guy ran up to spray it with an extinguisher, which was really quite brave, but when it sputtered the crowd laughed uncontrollably. To them this whole event was fantasticly entertaining, an unexpected addition to the night´s roster.

Then someone came up and poured a big bucket of water on the fire. Not a good idea if its grease. Not only did it not put out the flames, it channeled the flaming grease in a burning river right towards the crowd. At this point, people starting moving away, though most still remained relatively unfazed.

It was at this point that i decided i had had enough of the excitement. In part becuase of the flaming river, but more because it clued me in that the grease had caught, meaning that the gas generator was next and probablly soon. Basically a bomb.

Despite a twisted ankle i got out of there pretty fast (i´ll come back to the ankle in a later post).

From there i made my way to the alfombra, or carpet, carefully laid hours earlier by Carlos, his family, and the Maya Pedal crew. The alfombra is laid out for the carrying of the virgin- a true processional chock full of interactive theater and dramatic- and intentional- pyrotechnics.

The Virgin float, if its even appropriate to call it one, was not pulled, but carried on the shoulders of dozens of people. By far the nicest of the displays, it showed a scene of the virgin, surrounded by angels and cherubs, backed by her holy son. The whole thing was covered in lights, above and below, which required a generator to be carted behind it. The journey of the Virgin took many hours, purportedly going until midnight (i skipped out at ten). Its first stop was the carpet we made, essentially a path of woodchips and pine needles carefully laid out and adorn with colored wood pulp and flowers. The bearers of the Virgin gently destroyed the carpet we laid out (buddhist sand mandalas came to mind). And paused for a while simply to sway.

Some of the boys i´d met earlier during the making of the carpet were excited to have big kids around and wanted us to go with them during the processional. Past the carpet they led us through a back way to get an elevated view. I was suddenly part of the human mass covering the hills, porches and roof tops. What happened next was by far the highlight of the evening (other than the kamikaze popcorn machine).

The Virgin stopped around a bend and satan approached. (Actually, this part was pretty dull, its the next part that was awesome) A blue colored knight descended to fight satan. Jesus perhaps? Not sure. They had a token fight of touching swords and said a bunch of stuff that no one could really hear. Once satan, the man, was defeated satan, the bull, emerged- a much more interesting character than the dead pan sword tapping human version. Satan the bull did a wild dance up and down the street and suddenly burst into illuminated sprays, showering the onlookers with colorful sparks. His costume was covered in a series of tiers that would go off into sucession, growing all the more intense until a final climax. Everyone was in awe, it was an impressive spectacle and undoubtedly very difficult to pull off from a technical perspective.

The bull fought the Virgin several times, losing each time to the revered Guadelupe, and at one point he lost his costume. *To clarify, his costume was really a big structure he had to hold over his upper half, it consisted of a sheild roughly in the shape of a bull, with a bunch of protuding stems holding fireworks.* But losing the suit did not deter the dark knight, no, he picked it up sparks and all and put it right back on to keep going.

Every so often the marching band trailing the Virgin would start up and the bearers of the float would, in perfect time, take a few steps backwards, then forwards, then stop. Whether this rhythm was symbolic or practical wasn´t clear. The float must have weighed a ton, as it took about 40 people to carry it with great effort. The Virgin also made stops for several fireworks displays, some more grand than others. As well as a couple of roof top slap stick skits.

The first skit, which was very difficult to follow, but very funny to anyone who got it, had a few technical mishaps in the fashion of the evening. Several times during the skit fireworks were set off, presumably in time with a climatic moment. But twice the fireworks faltered, once falling off the roof and into the crowded street, where thankfully it did not exploded. And then again it flew sideways over heads, nearly missing an ecstatic audience. I was continually impressed by the fearlessness of this crowd- a fearlessness which made me very aware of the fearfulness of my own culture, and how this kind of event would have spelled lawsuits galore.

There were further low flying, low exploding fireworks throughout the night. A couple times the tail end of some brilliant explosion would rain down upon our heads. In fact, later in the night a firework bounced off of Anna Lisa´s head (which she thought was great!).

Misfirings included, it was a terrific festival and a wonderful introduction to Guatemalan culture. I´ve heard that Easter is twice as lively- too bad i won´t be here.

Beth and Chris, holding it down for the gringos

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