By Kim Groves
I hardly notice the firecrackers anymore. This week, however, in my neighborhood of Xochimilco, they really stepped it up a few notches. If you know to listen out for it, the first warning you get is a faint whiz as the projectile is released from the churchyard, then BANG! You better not have been walking quietly from the kitchen with a cup of hot chocolate balanced on a plate of toast, because you might now be wearing the whole thing. The vibration of the explosion is so intense that all the car alarms in the street go off at once. This, in turn, sets every dog within a 3 kilometre radius barking.
This particular day, I decided to give up on my snack and go out into the noise to see what was happening. At the end of my street I literally stood stunned. I was seeing an apparition; the Virgin Mary was there above me. She looked just as I had expected her to look like; young, intangible, and slightly bored.
There was a woman of maybe 18 years standing on a platform on the back of a great big truck. I was absolutely fascinated by her. I made my way through the thickening crowd to stand beside the float. I stared at her without reserve. I just couldn’t help myself. Perhaps nervously, she pulled at the blue silk dress and rearranged baby Jesus in her arms. Her crown was literally twinkling. There were electric lit candles sprinkled all about her feet. A forest of lilies, Mary’s favourite, trembled in their vases as if they too were feeling the cool of the night air. She looked so perfect. I kept spinning around to check if my own amazement was reflected in the faces of those around me. I struggled to gather my thoughts. I resolved to follow her to learn more.
We were walking through the streets behind her. My neighbors were hanging from their doorways and windows as she passed. I waved to a few, some fell into step with the group. A little boy brushed past me. He was all dark brown eyes; his tiny face obscured by his father’s big woollen scarf that had been wrapped maybe six times around him. He and his family held cellophane lanterns on tall sticks.
They were the shape of stars. I had never seen anything more beautiful. That was until we came to the corner and the traffic was casually diverted so we could pause where we stood to quietly recite the Hail Marys and pray together.
I love the way the people of the neighbourhood have gathered to celebrate and be together this week; the week of the Virgin del Rosario, the Virgin of Xochimilco’s church. There are parties every night at the houses of the Mayordomos; those respected members of the community that have been entrusted with keeping the images of the Virgins in their houses during the festival. Arcade type stalls have popped up overnight in the cobbled streets, and the smell of cooking hot cakes keeps me hungry all night. At this very moment, there is actually a full brass band playing in the front room of the house next door.
It is times like this that I am simultaneously reminded of how much I love living here in Oaxaca, Mexico, and how much I still have to learn about the people that have so kindly welcomed me to live among them. You know I’d love to write more, but there is a party going on here, and I don’t want to keep my neighbors waiting!