Keep it simple, silly

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

The rising moon in Zacatecas is huge, like a misshapen football I could reach up and pluck from the sky to kick across to the other side. Golden, a tasty chunk of cheese, half eaten by the gods, awaiting the next heavenly bite.

Mexican eyes are deep, dark caverns to lose yourself in on the journey to eternity. Big, open, mysterious and inviting, a welcome-sign to their souls.

And Mexico is a fiesta. It is a celebration of life, with the food, music, dancing and smiles one would expect of such an occasion. Colour is the _expression, and the colours are bright. The streets are rainbows: vibrant, effervescent rainbows, dancing in time to a glorious rhythm.

This is not the country I was warned about. Could these be the people I was told to fear?

Falling in love is easy here. All you have to do is open your eyes and breathe. Before long you will find an ancient building, a magnificent church, a tasty treat, a beautiful child or a helping hand to reinstate whatever faith may have been lost in a busy mind. Faith is devotion is love, and Mexico is full of faith. They believe here, and for their devotion they receive a daily feast. And daily they thank the Virgin of Guadalupe for this.

The story of the Virgin of Guadalupe is a beautiful one. When the Spaniards first came here they did so with the missionary fervour common among colonialists. Naturally, the local Aztecs were none too keen on changing faiths, so a battle of religious wills reigned supreme until the Virgin of Guadalupe appeared to a peasant named Juan Diego, who was trekking across the countryside to obtain help for his ailing uncle. She told him to tell the local priests to build a church on the spot she appeared. He said he would but well, I've got this sick uncle and all. She told him that she'd look after that if he'd just go and do what he was told. He did, and of course they laughed at him for being a crazy peasant. So he returned home to find his uncle had miraculously recovered. He returned to the spot to thank the Virgin and she said no worries, now go and tell the priests again to build a church here. So he did, and between guffaws the priests told him okay big fella, whatever you say, just bring us some proof. So he went back to her and said look, I'm feeling pretty stupid about this whole thing already and now they want some proof. No problem, she told him, just go to the top of that hill and pick all the flowers. I must be going crazy, he thought, first I'm seeing visions and now she's telling me to pick flowers in the middle of winter - everybody knows that flowers don't grow on that hill in the middle of winter. But he trudged up the hill working out how he was going to explain all this to his family and surprise, surprise, when he got to the top it was covered in beautiful flowers. So he picked them all and put them in his white cloth poncho blankety thingamy they call a tilma that was all the rage with Indian peasants in the 16th century and took them back to the priests wondering how a bunch of flowers was proof of anything much at all. When he got there he opened his tilma and as all the flowers fell on the floor everyone gasped and kneeled before him and did that sign of the cross thing Catholics are wont to do. Neat trick, he thought, until he looked down and saw the image of the Virgin - the very samy Virgin he thought he must have been imagining - imprinted clearly on his open tilma. And then the whole nation fell in line and lived happily ever after in pure Catholic bliss. Maybe not quite, but the Virgin of Guadalupe is very much the symbol of this country today.

Nice story, isn't it?


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