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San Miguel: Christ, churches, churros and children...

... the many contradictions of Semana Santa in Mexico

sunny 28 °C

Semana Santa (Easter) is considered the holiest time of the year in predominantly Catholic Mexico. Which is why most Mexicans pack up their coolers and every inflatable device known to mankind and head to the beach. Mexico City is a ghost town. San MIguel, on the other hand, is packed but very civilized. These ladies have seen more than a few Easter parades in their lifetimes. The benches in the shadow of the Parroquia de San Miguel are a perfect place to catch up on ( un-Christian) gossip.

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Semana Santa is an endurance test of religious processions, re-enactments and church services that began on Holy Wednesday (April 1) with the Way of the Cross - representing the 14 stages of Christ's martyrdom. Thursday featured Visits of the Altars at 7 churches , and a re-enactment of the Last Supper. Good Friday is the most important day, with two processions - one with Jesus on his way to the Calvary, and the other - the Holy Burial. Sunday is the "Burial of the Judases", a fiery event not limited to biblical figures. Apparently effigys of despised (past and current) political leaders are among those going up in flames. Perhaps there will be a Harper-esque figure brought to the party by one of the Canadian ex-pats.

The fact that I am not a religious person is: a) not my mother's fault - her quiet Anglican faith never "took" with me, and b) does not preclude me from loving churches, cathedrals and ceremony. It is hard not to feel quite affected in any country where religion is such a powerful force. Please forgive my ignorance if I make mistakes as I present these photos. Shrines and stations are set up all over the city, but these are part of the 14 stages. Offerings of camomile flowers, grasses and oranges are present at most of the shrines.

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I love Mexican families, and I especially love their children. Children are many things - adored, paid attention to, surrounded by family, and included in almost every part of life. However, children are not in charge - their parents are - and that simple difference in child-rearing philosophy is huge. You seldom see tantrums (except for the very young), and you seldom see angry parents - no hissing, or swatting, or negotiating. We see this over and over again in public, and marvel at it. This little boy listened quietly to his grandmother as she explained why he couldn't play with his ball during the procession.

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Yesterday, and today, we stood in the hot sun and watched the children who were part of the processions. Five-year-olds had more patience and poise than I did, as I complained about being hot, foot-sore, thirsty, etc. We loved this little crew - some more pious than others.

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The angels were another source of amusement. Processions moved along for several metres, then stopped for interminable amounts of time, and then moved forward again. We caught these little girls just as they were starting to lose focus.

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Then came the rough stuff - Jesus bloodied and bowed, and the two thieves who died on the cross beside him - the blood is fake, but they were being flogged as they walked along, and it was very realistic.

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Since we are on the subject of religion... to the churches. San Miguel has beautiful churches, with the Parroquia de San Miguel being the crown jewel - the pink "Disney" cathedral that dominates the downtown and is the subject of millions of photos and selfie shots. Day or night, it is the iconic landmark.

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The plaza in front (with the central jardin behind) is the gathering place for locals and tourists - plenty of food stalls, shady benches, mariachi bands and balloon sellers. The mariachi band members look a bit disconsolate these days, as they have serious competition from buskers, balloons and Jesus.

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More churches...

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This shot was taken from a rooftop restaurant, where we ate superb pizza, and contemplated life in San Miguel for chunks of time each year. Looking for our city fix without giving up our country life - this ticks off quite a few boxes.

Food - we're not having much luck finding bad food here. We haven't hit any fancy restaurants, but our little hole-in-the-wall places do just fine. This is a stall in the mercado we discovered. Today was our third visit, and the owner greeted us with a big smile, " Camerons chica and torta de pollo. (We're habituals). This is the stand - about 8 stools, but turn-over is fast.

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Our standing order - chicken sandwich (explained below), and shrimp cocktail served with saltines - insanely fresh and delicious. Lunch for two - about $4.00

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Typical torta stand - greasy grill, open jar of mayo with cross-contaminated spatula, bin of lettuce sitting right beside the dishpit, and a non-stop preparation of food, handling of money and wiping of counters that does not appear to involve hand-washing. So far, we have survived it all, but for the odd tummy rumble. The chicken torta - big soft white bun, smeared with mayo, grilled both sides. Fried fillet of chicken, thinly sliced, heaped on bottom bun, topped with lettuce, tomatoes, jalapeno peppers, avocado - build until height reaches about 6 inches, then slap on top bun. If you are Mexican, wash down with litre of Coke.

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Another place we stumbled upon - Hecho en Mexico - a popular restaurant that is a bit of a misnomer, as most of their clientele are gringos, and the food, while delicious, has a lot of North American offerings. We were there for a while before we realized that all the art work in our room was done by Toller Cranston.
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Our server told us about this painting, and he appeared to be quite moved by it. It was the last painting Toller did before his death. He brought it into the restaurant on a Friday, and as he left, he called out that he would see them all the following week. He died two days later.

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As I don't want to end this posting with the deaths of Jesus and Toller (no disrespect intended), let me tell you how Stephen and I and about 200 Mexicans began our Good Friday morning. We arrived at La Gruta, a hot springs just outside of San Miguel, about 7:30 am. This hot spring park has about 4 or 5 pools that increase in temperature, and a grotto that is reached through a claustrophobic tunnel. There is also a regular swimming pool, a restaurant, and several sitting areas with tables and lounges. It is quite lovely if you are not visiting during Semana Santa. We figured we would beat the crowds, and for about 1/2 hour, we did. Then, they arrived - first a trickle, then a stream, then a flood of vacationing Mexicans - families with grandmothers, children with noodles, couples carrying drinks (in flagrant disregard of the no beverages allowed sign), and our peaceful reverie in clean steamy hot springs was over. Fun while it lasted.

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Like our travels through Mexico, hanging out with the Mexicans has been so much fun while it lasted, and we're so surprised to find it is almost over. We have another day in SMA, then we make our way out of the country, and on to New Orleans.

Heather, you commented a while ago that travel changes people, and that is so true. We have lots to sort out in our heads - new perspectives to fit into our lives once we're home again.

But...we still have New Orleans to report on - you're not done with us yet.

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Posted by millerburr 20:46 Archived in Mexico

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I'm starting to feel a little said that your travels in Mexico are almost over. It has been a wonderful experience as we "travelled" along with you. Enjoy your last day in SMA! Happy Easter.

by Heather

I may have inadvertently unsubscribed so if I did please add me back in. I love reading about your adventures.
We were in San Miguel when Toller Cranston died. At that time I didn't know he lived in SM but when I announced his death our host said "but I just saw him!" Small and interesting world.

by Elaine Hunter

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