February 201

Candelaria was the caboose on the train of fiestas that began with Muertos (November 1) and rattled on through Thanksgiving, the Virgins of Juquila, Guadalupe, and Soledad, the Night of the Radishes (December 23), Christmas, New Years, Reyes (January 6) and, just as if we could march in another calenda or eat another tamal, Candelaria. On Reyes (Epiphany, Three Kings Day) the tradition is to gather your friends and serve then rosca de reyes —a large, round, egg and sugar sweetened circular fruit-cake sort of bread. Whoever gets the slice with the Niño, the small plastic figure of the baby Jesus, is obligated to host the Candelaria party for the same group of friends and serve them tamales washed down with café de olla (coffee heated with sugar and cinnamon in a clay pot), chocolate (made with either water or milk), or atole (think thin, flavored cream-of-wheat). Oh, also champurrado, which is the café and the chocolate mixed and foamed by whisking it with a wooden chocolatera. This year we celebrated Reyes at Jim and Cathy’s house with a large group of Mexican and ex-pat neighbors,

and then again at the Mercadito with our adopted family of Lupe, Ángel, their kids Uriel,  Alex, and little, Oliver, Lupe’s mom doña Irene, who makes the enchiladas and guisos (stews) at the Mercadito, and the handful of doña Lupe’s other blood relatives, don Mauro (who helps at the Mercadito by shelling peas, cacao beans, chopping wood, and other piecework tasks, and waiting tables when there is a crowd) and a few other adoptees: Marianela (la doctora Ruiz), Rebeca Romero, Don Jorge and his daughter Alís, and one or two others. Abby and Matt were with us too, and Matt got the baby Jesus.


Dilemma: Matt and Abby obviously could not return to Oaxaca to host Candaleria here. Solution: Matt and Abby hosted a Candelaria in Bloomington, Indiana, inviting their friends on February first to make tamales, and on the second to eat them.  And Lupe hosted a Candelaria here at the Mercadito, with the same Reyes array of family, blood relatives and adoptees. Five kinds of tamales, put together by another of her relatives whom we hadn't met

before. The traditional beverages. The family Mercadito staff taking turns sitting at the long, high wooden table with its wooden chairs that is by tradition informally reserved for “certain people” as contrasted with the square plastic tables, each with its four cast resin chairs. For the very first time since we have known these folks, doña Irene actually came to the table and sat down for thirty seconds to ceremonially eat her tamal before going back behind the counter to her cook pots. 


So after Candelaria there are no more festivals, no more calenda parades, no more 4:00 AM tuba-rich bands in the streets until Mexican Constitution Day. That’s February 5.


The weather is changing, too. In winter (i.e., mid-December through January) I wear long sleeves at first light and then shed to short sleeves by 10:00. Now it’s spring, and I wear my long sleeve shirt buttoned until 8:30 and then take it off. I’m in shorts by early afternoon. Most of our neighbors who have not spent years in New England think it is cold, and wear jackets, hat, scarfs, and gloves.


There are some other signs of spring, too. In the valley some of the jacarandas are beginning to blush blue-ish purple. Our plumarias are beginning to make leaves and the bouganvillas up and down Calle Independencia are in full rainbow. Some of the birds that migrated in for the winter are beginning to migrate out, and a couple of barn swallows, high over the Presa Gutiérrez last week, announced the beginning of their ten-day pass-through on their way from their winter homes in Central America to their summer homes in El Norte. Here at Casa DaviLinda, for some unknown reason two uncommon warblers, a MacGillivray’s and a Virginia’s, have taken up residence. And the dayglow buntings, the indigo and the painted, are showing themselves up in grasses among the thorn scrub. Qalba doesn’t seem impressed, but I am.


The Trumpiad up north is a constant topic of conversation. Every day the newspapers report on the latest screed of the man whom one columnist has taken to calling don Don. Today Efrén, who caretakes a big house at the end of a narrow privada, a dirt alley just up the road from us, and takes his eight-year-old son to school every day on the back of his bicycle, stopped for a moment to inform me that one of Trump’s cabinet ministers had just resigned.  I’d already heard on NPR: I get the RI 6:00 edition at 5:00 here with my coffee. Our expat friends bombard us with forwarded opinion pieces. Ditto our friends in the States. I am speaking next week at the English Language Library downtown as part of the Cervantes series I’m offering as fundraisers for the Library. The topic: “Don Quijote, Trump, and the (imagined?) Muslim Threat.” The last one, “Don Quijote and Human Rights,” drew a pretty good crowd, and I’m curious to see if this one sustains the interest.


All this, and the fact that we are looking forward to visits next week by brother John and his wife Pat and two colleagues from our Nebraska years, and that’s all the news from Santa Cruz Etla.


Until next time . . .


David & Linda

and the painted bunting