Sunday, October 11, 2009

Love a Parade?

San Miguel de Allende (SMA) is a place that loves to party. Seemingly spontaneous cultural performances in public places, skyrockets going off at all hours, police patrolling cobblestone streets in uniforms evoking the days of General Santana and the Alamo; such are everyday occurrences in this anachronistic Spanish colonial town, which in 2008 earned designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. So it shouldn’t come as any surprise that, when the date of the town’s patron saint, the Arcangel San Miguel, rolls around on the calendar, SMA pulls out all the stops. What follows is a small sampling…

Walking across town to play tennis early Saturday morning, I had to thread my way through vendors setting up their stalls—pecans piled high on wobbly tables, alongside sweets, baked goods, and cheap plastic trinkets. By the time I made my way back a couple hours later, the fireworks workers (fireworkers?) were busy constructing steel frame castillos (towers), tying on rockets, and threading fuses. According to the local events calendar, activities and processions had been underway since 3AM (sorry, no firsthand reports on that), though skyrocketeers and the local league of amateur ballistics enthusiasts had been heralding the upcoming events for days..
We walked toward the centro late afternoon alongside a steady stream of other partygoers, streets crowded with creeping cars hoping to get lucky with a parking spot. As we neared the Jardin (central plaza) people plotzed onto sidewalks, waiting for the parade. We pressed on, drawn by drumming, until we intersected the action. Leading the charge were Mojigangas, giant paper mache dolls that played on themes ranging from bawdy to comical to diabolical; swinging, swaying, dancing. Following was an endless procession of dance troupes comprising folks of all ages, representing local neighborhoods and area communities, decked out in impressively finished costumes, colorfully reflecting an astonishing diversity of themes; accompanied by incessant drumming amplified by the narrow confines of the stone architecture. Each group had a theme: diverse indigenous tribes; conquistadors; remembrance of political injustice; cowboys and Indians; friars; viceroys; Aztec warriors decked with ankle rattles and amazing feather headdresses; beauty queens perched atop Chevy convertibles; demons patrolling from side to side scaring the bejezus out of little kids; and other acts which could only be described as full-on flights of fancy by small-town creatives with a flair for the ridiculous. (“What do you think of this fluorescent lime-green fabric? I got it cheap!” “It’ll go great with this bucket of pink paint I found behind the hardware store.” “Cool!” “I need more feathers!” “Are the beards on these masks too pointy?” “No, make them pointier!”)

Hours later, the parade thinned to a few face-painted stragglers, and the crowd shifted toward the open courtyard in front of the Parroquia (SMA’s iconic, baroquely intricate, sandstone cathedral landmark) to witness the voladores (human flyers)... 
(For more pics and a couple video clips of the dancers, go to

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