Saturday, February 21, 2009

Los perros ladran y los gallos cacarean

There's lots more on Mexican cuisine and tourism to relate from this week, but today I thought I'd write a little bit about what it's been like living in Guanajuato. Our slice of Mexico here is truly a sensual experience - last weekend, when I happened to wake up early and snuck down to the second-floor patio to knit and listen to music while waiting for the day to start, I had the odd sensation - one I've never had in the US - that I was cutting myself off from the world the second I placed my headphones in my ears. We've been learning this city by walking its streets, conversing with its inhabitants, enjoying its food, taking in its views, but I hadn't quite realized the depth of sound in Guanajuato until I closed myself off from it. I ended up just sitting at the table in our hostel's indoor courtyard and listening to the sounds of the city instead: the trucks driving by, recorded advertisements blaring, the hum of the water heater, the hammering of construction next door, the roosters crowing.

(An aside about the roosters: one of the first things we noticed about Guanajuato - and really, how could we miss it? - was that around 2 or 3 am, the roosters start crowing all over the city and don't finish until well after 9 am. I hadn't seen any chickens anywhere in our travels, but I assumed they were kept in the courtyards or on the roofs of private homes, away from the public eye. One day in coversation class, I mentioned that I was tired because the neighborhood animals had been particularly vocal the evening before, and my teacher, who has been studying at the university and living in Gunanajuato for years, chimed in that the roosters were always their cue to start really cramming for the next day's exam, because they started up like clockwork around 2 am. But furthermore, he added, he had never been able to tell where the roosters lived - he's visited homes of friends who grew up here, has eaten at nearly all of the city's restaurants, and knows the town well, and in his years here, he's never seen a rooster, either. So their exact location is still a mystery, but their presence is daily noticed.)

This richness of sound was particularly apparent today - without a trip planned by the school, we had decided to be a bit lazy and to just wake up without setting any alarm, but the city served as an alarm for us; around 9 this morning, PRI (the formerly ruling political party) began loudly demostrating in the plaza next door, and a few minutes later, the workers who have been fixing the hostel's plumbing all week (we've had a few hours without hot water, but it's so far been a painless experience for us) began the day's work of cutting pipe, smashing walls and hammering brackets. We had fallen asleep the night before only when the positive-feedback loops of the neighborhood dogs barking from their respective rooftops and music of the cover band playing in the bar next door had begun to fade; it's been gradually made clear to us that the city sets the schedule of its inhabitants, and not the other way around.

We've actually been enjoying this lapse into the local habits and conceptions of time. We've been eating our main meal at two or three in the afternoon; we've been becoming accustomed to working our errands around the shops' unpredictable hours. It's been pleasant to step away from constantly referring to a clock or a watch and let myself be timed by the bells for classes, by sunset for going out in the evenings, by the brightness of the sun through the windows to wake in the mornings. It's been restful.


This week, we had been kept fairly busy by classes, but today, we've been enjoying a slower pace: we breakfasted at the student hang-out across from the university, and slowly wended our way through the opposite side of town - as yet unexplored by us - to visit the Museo de las Momias. The museums here are small, able to be fully appreciated in an hour or two, which we've been enjoying. We visited Diego Rivera's family home nearby the university earlier this week; today we took in the bizarre and morbid entirety of the town's mummy collection inside of two hours. We weren't able to take photos in the Diego Rivera museum, whose collection consisted mostly of his youthful attempts and sketches of famous finished works that hang elsewhere, but there were a few pieces that really stood out, an oil painted entitled The Forge among them, an image of which I can't seem to find online. (In typical fashion, the souvenir shop at the museum was closed - "Tomorrow," the woman who sold our tickets promised, but when we walked by, it was closed the next day, too.)

The Museo de las Momias was fascinating, if a bit gruesome; though visitors are allowed and encourged to take photos, I'm not really sure I want to post them on the blog. (I've uploaded them to my Flickr pool here, but I just didn't want to have anyone stumble upon them unexpectedly.) Instead, I'll share a photo of the decor of a local bar, which is an excellent example of the Day of the Dead artwork and sculpture that is present everywhere here, even four months after the holiday has occurred. (They even sell bride-and-groom skeleton cake toppers for wedding cakes. You'll all be happy to hear that I passed on that souvenir.) In the setting of this almost celebratory attitude towards death, the museum seemed a little less morbid than it would in the United States.

Museo de las Momias was created when bodies began getting exhumed from the local cemetery to make room for new inhabitants; by Mexican law, all corpses must be buried or interred. (In recent years, as cemetery crowding has become more acute, Guanajuato residents are permitted to remain buried for five years, and if the family cannot afford the subsequent upkeep fees, their bodies are exhumed and cremated.) But in the heat and low humidity of the region, many corpses had simply desiccated, and particularly fine examples of this escape cremation and instead are added to the museum's collection. Many mummies had plaques mounted near them stating their name and age, the date and reason of their death, and pointing out - in an often tongue-in-cheek way - their unique characteristics (blood stains from the fatal stabbing, cyanosis from death by drowning, particularly traditional burial clothing). To close, a direct transcription of one of these plaques (the translations into English, while appreciated, were haphazard at best):

"I was almost 70 years old when I came to rest at the Santa Paula Cemetery, but on January 20, 1973, I was found as a statue of eternity. I became part of the second group of mummified men, women and children, since before me there were others. I rest in a white and smooth nightgown that accompanies me in this eternal dream."

No comments: