Blog # 20: Chubby Tuesday

March 9, 2011

Trinidad. Rio de Janeiro. New Orleans. Rome. Pátzcuaro. And most of the rest of the mostly Christian world. In the old days, when the majority seem to have taken the 40 days of deprivation and penance seriously, either from personal conviction or external compulsion, Shrove Tuesday was a big deal. The day before all the good stuff got put away was devoted to excess, outrageous, compulsive excess. Carnival. Daring costumes. Gender reversal. Chemically induced stupor. 24-hour revelry.

Well, maybe not in Pátzcuaro, where excess is mostly confined to the enthusiasm of pre-schoolers and first graders and the pride of their parents and teachers. It all comes together T

uesday at mid-morning when several hundred four- to six-year-olds converge on the Plaza Grande in Pátzcuaro. They come from Erongarícuaro, Opongio, Aricutín, Ihuatzio, Cucuchuchu, Tzurumútaro and Santa Fe (Santa Fe!?), all the little towns around Lake Pátzcuaro.
The kids are all costumed, with each school more or less in consonance. Most of the girls are in stylized peasant dress: embroidered blouses and skirts, aprons, blue Michoacán-syle rebozos, their hair worked into twin braids that often incorporate colored ribbons. Most of the boys wear the white pants and blouses and sandals of the traditional Purhépecha peasants; some do the cowboy thing, complete with boots, hats, and little lassos to twirl. In every school one kid gets to wear the bull, a papier-maché and crepe-paper construction that looks like a pigmy-toro wrapped in flowers. Or maybe some over-the-top birthday cake decorated by a demented frosting artist.


Bands made up of middle and high-schoolers, with wind instruments in a variety of colors and a drum or two, play lively marches, as the kids, set in motion by their teachers at two-minute intervals, parade in school groups around the Plaza Grande, down the street that connects it to the Plaza Chica, turn left in front of the library with the O’Gorman mural, and disband at the entrance to the market.

Nobody seems to mind that the musicians are seldom on beat and sometimes play in competing keys, because the kids, shepherded on both sides by their teachers, stroll at their own pace toward the phalanx of parents scuttling backwards a few meters in front of them, digital cameras or cell phones in hand.


After an hour or so of this, the kids—now lugging the pull toys or slurping on the popsicles their parents have bought them—reconverge in the Plaza Grande in front of the Presidencia, Pátzcuaro’s city hall where they re-form by school for the competition: the Bull Dance. After being introduced by an over-amped MC (no Mexican public event is legitimate without one), the music is tur

ned on and the kids perform the dance that they have obviously rehearsed for weeks. At its heart is the pageant of the bull fight. The bull prances and bobs its horns; the banderilleros wave their crepe-paper wrapped sticks at the bull; the matadors, sometimes one, sometimes all of the rest of the students, wave their flags. The more coordinated groups perform actual steps, many of them the little hops or the old-men shuffles of the most popular Michoacán folk dances. The super-coordinated groups, or the ones with the most ambitious teachers, attempt figures, lines and squares and reels. But these are kids barely out of toddlerhood, so the precision quickly turns to anarchy. And, of course, nobody really cares. Presumably —we only stayed an hour or so after the dancing began— at the end some sorts of prizes are handed out. Our best guess, and hope, is that every group gets one.


I wrote a moment ago that in Pátzcuaro excess is MOSTLY confined to kids and teachers and parents. Patzcuareños’ other nod to revelry is cracking confetti-filled colored eggs on the heads of their friends and family members and unwary passers by. Vendors—they must have been blowing out those eggs and dying them and funneling in confetti for months; think of the omelettes!—roam the streets with baskets and pull carts filled with confetti eggs. Kids, armed with plastic bags loaded with eggs, patrol for victims while constantly looking over their shoulders to see who might be stalking them. Cariocas, eat your hearts out.


Meanwhile, back in Zirahuén . . . well, word is that Fat Tuesday here is only a little on the chubby side. And late: we’ll be celebrating carnival this Saturday or perhaps Sunday, the people we’ve asked aren’t entirely sure.


David & Linda