1957—Ixtlán (Rev. 2/19/15)
It is huge and ugly, it has black-feathers, a long curved beak, a naked red head, a neck full of wrinkles and lumps, and it circles the sky. Five thousand feet below is a green landscape of mountains, hills, rocks, boulders, creeks, leafy fruit trees, cacti, and cornfields. The ugly one flaps its 6-foot wingspan and veers east. A white and colossal statue on top of a hill stands high reaching toward the sky. The big bird glides over it and continues east to bloated carrion.
The statue is El Cristo Rey. The hill is El Cerro de Cristo. Cristo Rey has long arms stretched out and is looking down at the valley below. His face is full of grace and compassion for the 5,000 people in town.
Now it is summer and the sky darkens with clouds, the green hills turn opaque, and the sky explodes. It is the awakening of the Aztecs gods Tezcatlipoca, Tonatiuh, Tlaloc, Huehueteotl, Huitzilopochtli, and Quetzalcoatl. Strong winds, clouds, friction, electricity, thunder, rain, thousands of bolts light up the sky and split trees down below. Night is day, day is night.
Thunder and wind make mayhem on the roofs. Clay tiles fly and shatter on the ground. Peasants come down from hills with raincoats made of bamboo sticks and palm-leaf sombreros that make them look like huge birds riding donkeys.
The creek dividing the town from the rural homes carries powerful torrential currents swelled to the rim. Although the ferocious waters look like chocolate milk, they create powerful whirlpools and drag trees, trash, human waste, and even swollen carcasses.
Finally, Tonantzin smiles, the rain subsides, and the Aztec gods rest. Virgin creeks run with streams of crystalline, sparkling, shallow waters. Frogs in the ponds croak. The land is rich and fertile. A cornucopia of fruits flourishes. Banana palms and guayava trees thrive by the edges. The tropical air is cool and pleasant.
People descend to the markets where they find stands replete with fruits, vegetables and condiments of all sorts. Amidst the omnipresent aroma of moist earth, vegetation, and roses there are bananas, churros, corn, coconut, guamuchiles, guayavas, mangos, manzanillas, papayas, pineapple, pinole, prickly pear, pumkin, quelites, rabanos, sugarcane, sweet potatoes, tamarindos, tomatoes. And with the abundance, the prices are right too.
They come on foot, on horses, on donkeys, or on mules; and instead of Fords or Chevrolets, they ride British Raleigh bicycles.
Interstate Highway 15 cuts through the center of town. It passes through the central market district where businesses thrive. This highway is pivotal to the town’s economy; it keeps it alive and genial; it takes tourists to the center of town, the plaza, the theater, the market, the bookstore, and the pharmacy. Last, it gives many a traveler peace, comfort, and harmony with a breathtaking view of the church, El Cerro de Cristo, and a long lasting view of the ancient ruins where the Aztec gods came to rest. Then it takes them out to Guadalajara.
On Saturday afternoons, right after mass the church bells fill the air, and people congregate at the park. Men wear their gray pleated cotton pants, bright color shirts, and straw hats. Footwear is a choice: huaraches, shoes, and boots. Women wear bright color blouses and dresses, and shoes or sandals in red, white, or green.
Women—brunette or blond—have their lustrous hair hanging to their shoulders or neatly braided. They make themselves beautiful with jewelry, rings, earrings, amulets, and bright stones. Their cheeks radiate like peaches. The men, to impress the women, wear their hats tipped back until almost perpendicular to the ground. The rugged cattlemen prefer to impress them with their shirts unbuttoned to show a carpet of thick black hair on their chests.
The sun sets in the horizon, and a band begins to climb the kiosk. First, a short chubby man appears with a huge tuba, takes a seat by the rails, and positions the instrument between his legs. Then, a tall, skinny man with a big drum hanging from his shoulders and resting on his belly takes his favorite spot. Next, another man climbs up with two shiny brass disks. And so the procession of band members continues with guitars, trumpets, and accordions.
With buttocks flat on the chair, the chubby man positions a finger on each key of his tuba. He takes a deep breath, presses the mouthpiece against his lips, his cheeks swell up like a toad, and he blows out a long low-pitch bass note. Then the skinny man crashes his disks, and all the instruments in the band begin to play. Up to midnight, the band plays an assortment of ballads passed on from generation to generation—many are waltzes and tunes from the Revolution.
Below the kiosk, people walk around the perimeter of the park—also a ritual that has lasted through generations—with plenty of vendors here and there selling corn on the cob, tamales, popcorn and candy. Women walk clockwise and close to the center, the men in opposite direction.
The children—mischievous creatures—run amok among the crowd caring less about rules, customs, etiquettes and rituals. Some are obnoxious: They spot a fellow in the crowd, and they take off; they reach the friend from behind and leap high in the air; they force the boy’s head towards their buttocks and in midair let out a loud explosion on the kid’s face. People scorn them, but they are too fast to hear. They go running and laughing in and out of circles with their victims in pursuit. They are the spoilers to the young couples who try to start a serious courtship.
This is Ixtlán in 1957.