16 September 2009
This is my first true fiesta in a Latin country south of the Tropic of Cancer. People who are accustomed to them would laugh at me, I am sure. I suspect that Independence Day here also has a special flavor of its own. I have experienced no other fiesta with which to compare.
The closest one could get tonight to El Jardin, the main plaza, in a vehicle was four blocks away. The area was cordoned off by the Mexican Army, heavily armed, and all wearing ski masks. It is never fun for me to walk through those guys for some reason.
As it turns out the official start of the festivities was at 11:00 p.m. Some marathoners ran into the plaza with a torch to a tumultuous welcome because everybody was ready for the party to begin. It was packed with people including lots of babies and lots of old folks. A speaker then led the crowd in a viva call and response involving demands of viva to a lot of things I could not understand but ending of course with Viva México! VIVA! Viva México! VIVA! Viva México! VIVA! Every Mexican man, woman, and child joins in that communal shout of VIVA! I was surprised at how stirred I was. It makes your blood quicken a bit.
A half hour of communal singing of traditional songs followed. Again, everybody sang along with these songs. After that all hell broke loose. Bands of all stripes started playing at the same time all over the place, everything from mariachi, to salsa, to more traditional Mexican music. A mess of noise. And then the fireworks.
I have not mentioned before that the Mexican peoples' idea of safety differs a bit from ours. They commonly drive their pickups around with a child standing on the back bumper holding onto the tailgate for example. Things like that. This let-it-roll attitude manifested itself tonight with the fireworks. If you would like to enjoy big time fireworks at very close quarters, México is the place for you. No sitting on a hill a half mile away with a picnic basket to watch fireworks here. Here you look straight up.
There was a lot of superstructure that had been erected holding whirlygigs, swizzlers, and the like up above the crowd. When they were touched off, the embers just rained down on the crowd. Then there were these guys with portable launchers that they were carrying around. They would launch the aerial bombs and other aerial fireworks from these—the big stuff—right next to the people in the crowd.
I have never been that close to those kinds of fireworks as they were launched. After I shot the little video above those guys walked over to my area with their launchers and lit the stuff up right next to me. I felt like I was back on an Army firing range with a bunch of lunatics. You can see the embers falling through the trees and into the crowd and all around in that 30-second video. I would not lie to you.
The topper was the flying saucer. They launched this ring that I would estimate to be five feet in diameter. It sizzled and spun as it slowly rose high into the air. Then it fell to the earth completely in flames right in the middle of the crowd near the center bandstand. I said to myself, “God, this is a tragedy!” And nobody gave a damn. I was amazed. Everybody kept dancing. There had to be two or three people writhing around on the ground over there with their clothes on fire, but nobody else missed a step.
Being a veteran of many a run to New Orleans and the French Quarter in the bad old days, I was struck by the fact that, even though many people carried drinks in the street, nobody seemed to be drunk. They were just let-it-all-hang-out happy, and do they ever party down in that street! It is still going full bore up there as I write.