January 17, 2010

I Embrace Cohetes!

Ask any American transplant to Mexico about cohetes, the handmade rockets used endlessly to announce or to mark every conceivable church or civic event : “O..M..G! the cohetes! The dog is a wreck! I can’t sleep! 5:30 in the morning!! Ajijic’s Festival San Andres? Just LEAVE TOWN…it's all DAY and NIGHT!”

And they’re right. Even at our safe distance from Jocotepec in Roca Azul, a brisk 50 minute walk, during our first three years we were SO aware of them…5:30 am or 10 to 11 at night were the worst. Earplugs.

So what happened to change my mind this year? First of all, I noticed that their booms did not keep me awake. I woke to wonder, no church this morning? Impossible!

Then, yesterday (Saturday), we went to a parade, part of Jocotepec’s three week Festival for El Senor del Monte. Each town has a festival honoring their church’s most central icon, and this is one of the best, with parades and processions daily, special events, and blocks of traveling vendor stands filling the streets.
We went to town, wandered the plaza, and browsed the street booths…then heard cohetes popping in the distance, moving east. The parade!! Following the sound, we found a crowd three blocks away. We peered over the heads of people lining the streets, and saw the parade in progress. GREAT! But we'd missed most of it. Knowing the route, we walked a few blocks across town to see it again. We waited at the curb. Bought a peanut snack from a wheelbarrow.

It wasn’t long before we heard cohetes approacing….and around the corner came an old, nondescript guy in dark, maybe gunpowder-dusty clothes. Cigarette dangling in one slightly blackened hand, and in the other a cohete – a slender three foot long cane stick with a cigar-sized twist of paper on the end. A young boy shadowed him, a bundle of the rockets in his arms. Cohete-guy walked fairly briskly along, paused, touched cigarette to fuse, flicked his arm up and launched the rocket. Whish, BOOM, and a puff of white smoke appeared overhead. Walk, BOOM, puff at roughly seven second intervals. I was fascinated. The first band came around the corner. Cohete-guy was way up the street.
The parade passed.
After the parade, we walked back to the Cathedral, where the parade would end. Soon, cohete-guy worked his way down the street and popped the last one outside the Cathedral gate.
He came briskly in and walked to three waiting ranks of cohetes in iron frames, sweeping his arm to tell a few small boys to keep back. As he adjusted a few fuses, I asked from a distance if I could take his picture, and he smiled. Suddenly, he didn’t seem so small, or so old!

I stepped back farther as he picked up his cigarette. With a sustained whoosh, whoosh, whoosh the rockets blasted off consecutively, up and up and up, as parade participants flowed into the courtyard. Musicians, Indigenous Indians, folkloric dancers, penitentes, townsfolk in suits and fine dresses – all gradually entered the lighted cathedral for a long service.

Then another rank was ablaze! Whoosh! High above, a few of the thin sticks floated down, twisting in the breeze. A handsome caballero coming through the gate dodged one. I looked for cohete-guy to ask how long he’d been at his trade. He was gone.

So that’s the story! I embrace cohetes! AndChuck? Well, perhaps not so much!

Meanwhile, in the Cathedral courtyard men were constructing a huge, multiple-towered castillo - a framework that supports fireworks in whirling shapes, spirals, religious messages and bursting skyworks. About 10:45 in the evening we heard those fireworks explode. It is a spectacle not to be missed, but we'd seen it a number of times, and it was a very cold evening.

Here are a few more parade pictures.


Kris y Ken said...

Living in Joco in January you either embrace cohetes of lose your mind! We observed a religious ceremony in Chamula, Chiapas yesterday...quite different from Senñor El Monte. No photos allowed of the participants but we took a few of approved subjects. Chiapas is a whole other world.

- Mexican Trailrunner said...

I missed that parade, good one. Good pics too.