Wednesday, December 12, 2012
Sharps and Flatulence
I'm already on the record as a heartfelt admirer of Las Peregrinaciones, Puerto Vallarta's 12 days of homage to the Virgin Mary as she appeared in a 16th Century vision to an Aztec convert to Christianity near what is now Mexico City. In this manifestation she's known here as Our Lady of Guadalupe, or La Guadalupana.
But notwithstanding my deep pleasure in watching them, I have to say I'm puzzled and bemused by the musical accompaniment. My Spanish will have to get much better before I've got the chops to interrogate someone who might be able to explain it to me.
"Peregrinaciones" translates roughly as pilgrimages. During the first 12 days of every December, Vallartans assemble in groups, usually consisting of colleagues from their workplaces, to march at all hours along Juarez Street two blocks below our place to the Church of Our Lady of Guadalupe, which greets them with extravagant pealing from its many bells. They are ringing as I write this.
Each group has its own personality, but a typical one includes the following elements:
1. At the front, a banner identifying the pilgrims by the government agency, grocery store, hotel or restaurant where they work, thanking the Virgin for the blessings of the preceding year and asking that she look with favor on their lives and their work in 2013.
2. Pilgrims carrying boxes or baskets of flowers, food or other goods to be left in Mary's honor at the church.
3. A drum and bugle corps.
4. One or more groups of dancers, sometimes wearing traditional Mexican folk costumes but more often dressed as Aztecs, most of whom cheerfully perform and march on the rounded cobblestones in their bare feet.
5. An oom-pah band, which is the main part I don't get.
6. The main body of pilgrims singing "La Guadalupana," a ballad that recounts the legend of the vision and celebrates its place at the heart of Mexican culture. Their massed voices are lovely and even after nearly two repetitive weeks the carol has not lost its appeal.
It's a very rich mixture and emotionally powerful, even for lookers-on like us who only dimly grasp what the processions mean to the actual participants. Even Elizabeth is riveted and has asked several times to be taken down the hill for a closer look.
What's so odd about it all is the horns. The buglers sound like halftime at a high school football game. Oom-pah music is absurd even when it's played well. When the band members are the rankest sort of amateurs who probably haven't played together since last December, the result is a musical pratfall. I can't make sense of it as theme music for such a sacramental occasion.
Yet the processions go by, one after another, and virtually all of them have somehow come to the conclusion that off-key Souza and rusty tubas are just the right touch. The Virgin keeps coming back year after year, so she must like it too.