Sunday, May 8, 2016 | San Miguel de Allende
It’s half past 6 and, except for a trace of light behind the hills in the eastern sky, darkness still covers the valley where San Miguel sits. A nearby church’s bell is tolling and another nearby church’s bell is clanging. Church bells here do not ring on the hour or even half hour. They ring, I suppose, whenever the guy who tugs on those heavy ropes connected to the bells feel like pulling. A church bell rang at 6:14 and no doubt there will be one or two more ringing between now and 7.
(I saw one of those ropes hanging from a church’s steeples yesterday and I was reminded of my grandfather, Alejandro Palomo, who was our church’s custodian, groundskeeper and bell-ringer. Every day, religiously, he would be at the church in time to pull the rope under the bell tower a half hour before Mass time, 15 minutes before, and at Mass time.)
Already fireworks have been waking up the roosters, the dogs and light sleepers like me for about 40 minutes. This time some of them are much closer to us, about a quarter of a mile, and so their orgasmic explosions are a lot louder. If the streets of this town weren’t such a labyrinthine challenge, I would make my way down there to join in the celebration, to get a closer listen to the brass brand that is trying to compete for attention with the boom boom boom of the fireworks.
Last night Blanca asked one of the señoras who work in the household what yesterday morning’s fireworks were all about. La señora responded that it was in honor of Santa Cruz, who apparently is a huge patron saint in San Miguel.
“But El Día de Santa Cruz was two days ago,” Blanca protested.
“No importa,” replied la señora, explaining that parishes don’t want to compete with each other on the actual holiday so they spread out their celebrations across several days.
(6:47. Another church bell is ringing.)
There are other fireworks this morning, spread across the city, but the others, being further away, have less of an impact.
I love this city. I love that it doesn’t let early-morning darkness or people’s desire to sleep late keep them from celebrating what it has deemed worth celebrating. I’m sure San Miguel is not alone in this. A number of years ago when I spent several nights at a B&B outside Oaxaca I was awakened on my first morning there by the loud braying of a nearby donkey, followed by fireworks, followed by music blasting from somebody’s radio.
Noise, it appears, is one of the fundamental rights of the Mexicans, and I love them for it. I find it interesting that the thousands of Americans and Canadians who live in this city put up with this noise. These are the same people who would no doubt call the cops back home to demand they put a stop to such disruptions of their treasured peace.
A couple of years ago I wrote about the noises of my largely Mexican South Texas hometown when I was growing up. The mañanitas on Mothers Day, the bands rehearsing in somebody’s backyard, the loud radios blaring, Tino Luna riding around the neighborhoods with loudspeakers attached to the top of his car, announcing what Spanish-language movie would be showing that evening at El Teatro Luna. (“No olvide usted que la empessa El Teatro Luna presenta hoy …”).
And I wrote about how even though such sounds of life define a community, they are, for the most part, not tolerated in America today, except in towns such as Crystal City, my hometown.
“That’s because in a small community, we knew the difference between good noise and bad noise,” I wrote. “Bad noise was what other people make, and in a small town, there were no other people; we were all us.
“In a small town, we knew that life comes with sound, full stereophonic sound. We knew that a rooster has to crow and that a donkey has to bray and that a celebration, by definition, involves loud, boisterous sounds.
“And we knew that life, no matter how harsh, no matter how cruel, is a celebration. So we simply sat back and took in the blaring loudspeakers, the drunken neighbors, the crowing roosters and barking dogs, and the bands playing down the street or next door.
“In a small town. Back then. We would do that.”
Happy Mothers Day. May it be a noisy one.