The first thing I noticed about Mexico’s celebrations – it’s the bicentennial of independence and the centennial of the revolution – was “Sultans of Swing.” Around noon, I walked up to Reforma, the big avenue where the parade would take place, and a few streets away, I could hear Dire Straits*. As I got closer, police and security people were using metal-detecting wands, and patting people down. Contents of pockets removed: camera, cigs, lighter, some pesos. And I was in, and, well, it was still really early. The big speakers that were now playing “Romeo and Juliet” as walkie-talkie people walked hurriedly around, policemen stood looking bored and ready to kick ass with their riot shields, or alternatively completely relaxed and laughing with people.
* Dire Straits really are due their, err, due, I think. I mean, they’ve never been fashionable; red headbands can do that for ya. But some of their stuff is utterly fantastic and still sounds fresh.
Some people had arrived early to snag a a good spot. I had no idea what time the events were kicking off, but the sparseness of the crowd hinted that it wasn’t for a while. I had a mooch around, enjoying walking down the middle of a street that is normally heaving with traffic. And it was lovely to see people looking so happy, ready for a good celebration. Even with the sparseness of the crowd so early in the day, one could see a pattern forming: lots of people wearing green, white, and red, and lots of people in traditional clothes (the women look so beautiful in the white dress with multi-coloured* hand-embroidered patterns, and the men look great is nice fancy bow-ties.) I also noticed how dominant Adidas is here. I’ve hardly seen any Nike clothing at all, even aside from the Adidas-made Mexican soccer jerseys. I was wearing an old 90s-style blue and teal Seattle Mariners cap, and felt a bit weird wearing something so American, so decided to go back to the hotel to change into my Diablos Rojos del México cap. (A Mexican League baseball team.) It was, at least, red, and has an M on the front. While I didn’t want to go as far as some other European tourists I saw later in the day (sombreros, face paint…), I did want to fit in a little bit. Plus, y’know, a green, white, and red, strap-on mohican really wouldn’t suit me.
* Ever since I started the Flip Flop Fly Ball website, and particularly since working on the book – a book specifically for a mostly American audience – I’ve had to remember that things are spelled differently in the States. It has got to the point now, though, where I forget to spell worlds like colour “properly.”
Cap changed, time for lunch at a local restaurant. Fish tacos and a couple of Tacates, watching Real Madrid vs. Ajax on the telly. It was one of those nice, relaxed moments where for half an hour or so, it feels like life is good.
Back down to Reforma. The metal detectors were gone. The sniffer dogs gone, too. Still more policemen than I’ve ever seen in my life on duty. Ranks of them on every corner. Many more people this time. Lots of stick-on Zapata-style moustaches. Families jostling to get their kids to the front. A guy in a Tampa Bay Buccaneers jersey, plenty of Yankees caps, and even, somewhat ironically considering the recent political anti-illegal immigration stuff down there, a guy in an Arizona Diamondbacks cap. I was reminded that Mexico City has recently legalised gay marriage by seeing a fair amount of gay and lesbian couples around. Lots of people hawking face paint, banners, flags, bandanas, Mexican coloured stick on eyelashes, and all kinds of noise-making devices. (No vuvuzelas, thankfully.)
It was still early, though, so I wandered off the avenue to a pedestrianised side street where a man dressed up in costume Jim Carrey wore in “The Mask” having his photo taken with people. Time for a few more cervezas. Corona is a third of the price that it was in Toronto. So it would’ve been rude to drink less than three, right? Very loud folk music on a flat screen TV, young lovers spending minutes at a time kissing over a pitcher of sangria, and a guy who looked so ridiculously uncomfortable sat on a bar stool, like all he wanted was to be back in bed where he wouldn’t be nervous about all the people around. Barcelona, Manchester United, Real Madrid jerseyed men walk by. (I did later see a guy in a Liverpool shirt, but he looked English, so that doesn’t count, sadly.) All around, though, you could really feel the joy in the air.
I’d spend my first couple of days in Mexico City wondering if this would be the sort of place I could end up living. I swung between polar opposites: it’s exciting to be in a great city that is new and full of potential adventures, and oh, Craig, what are you doing? why not just give up on this silly dream of living somewhere like this and move back to England, let that bungee that you’ve resisted for so long drag you back. Thankfully, the former was the over-riding feeling I had all day. Why give up? I only need to do that when all other possibilities are exhausted. Stop being a pussy, Craig.
So, the parade. After a while more wander around, soaking up the atmosphere, I settled on a place where a few shorter people had congregated and waited. I was there for about an hour before the big screens showed that farther back, the parade was coming along. Slowly the sound got louder, and then I could see them: a marching band in white shoes, black trousers, orange capes and sombreros playing “Jarabe Tapatío” (the Mexican Hat Dance). It was so exciting! And it made me smile that a song that I normally associate with being a cartoon-y shorthand for Mexican-ness must be incredible popular and important to Mexico if it’s the very first thing in the parade.
The parade was organised so very well. Each section of the non-stop entertainment (literally no gaps where you were looking at only tarmac) was introduced by people holding banners announcing the next section. The first section was Indepencia, tens of people in black jumpsuits with cacti on their heads, holding hands and dancing down the street. A float in the shape of a folded up newspaper dated 16 septiembro de 1810. Fantastic revolutionary dummies operated by people strapped behind them walking along; the dummies had big eyebrows, moustaches, sack clothes and bullets. Behind them, similarly structured horses. Then some huge stone feet. And huge stone legs. then a huge stone torso, and finally a huge stone head. All of which would later be assembled in Zocalo Square as “The Colossus,” a 20 metre high sculpture of a revolutionary fighter by Juan Carlos Canfield Zapata.
The parade went on, my mouth locked open in amazement at everything, my eyes welling up at the beauty of it all. It was so utterly fantastic to be there to see how overjoyed people were at seeing all these elements of Mexican history and culture presented in such a wonderful fashion. I had a melancholy moment wishing that British people could celebrate like this, but, I guess when you have been colonial masters, you forfeit the right to celebrate anything resembling independence.
On and on it went. Women in terracotta-coloured ponchos with long sausage-shaped balloons on their heads; huge feather head-dresses; lots of fantastical masks; parades from all over the country in traditional local dress with local variations of music; a whole section dedicated to workers, which was the favourite part of many people around me. It was beautiful to see the biggest cheers saved for people dressed as street cleaners, cooks, maids, nurses all dancing down the street.
Plenty of drummers. A float that looked like a printing press with kids skateboarding on the “paper” between two rollers. Hats, dresses, colours, music: my head felt like it had been injected with sherbet. People dressed as chickens. Huge wooden coyotes and leopards. Pre-Mexican themes, pre-historic themes, an enormous Day of the Dead-style skeleton flat on a float with dancer atop it in lucha libre costumes. Flowers, horses, twirly skirts. It was very literally two of the best hours of my life. The parade came to an end with real street cleaners sweeping up the parade route, but still in a vaguely organised way that looked like part of the show.
I was tired, my feet ached, but my head was fizzing with joy. The party went on longer, with a couple of stages of music (mariachi type stuff on one stage that I saw, and a symphony on another). Many people headed towards further celebration at Zocalo Square, but my head was already full, I couldn’t really take in any more and fully appreciate it. And I was hungry. I wandered back towards the hotel through a street market selling all kinds of wonderful smelling food. I had two unspecified-meat-but-I-think-it-might’ve-been-pork tacos. The guy was shouting “Tacos! Tacos!” so I went up to him and said “No hablo espanol pero tengo hambre!” He said “taco?” and pointed at the meat. I asked if it was chicken, he said, “no” and then the name of something or other. It looked good, though, so I shrugged and said okay. I was served my tacos on a small red plastic plate wrapped in thing transparent polythene. Guacamole, lime, a good dollop of very hot chili sauce. Utterly fantastic. By the time I got back to the hotel, the fireworks had begun, I watched them through the window. Mexico continued to celebrate, and as late as I can remember before falling asleep, people still walked on the street below shouting “¡Viva Mexico!”
More photos on my Flickr.