Monday, January 2, 2012

After the morning after

New Year's was a fairly subdued affair in my immediate circle of friends. I was invited to a ceremony (more of that later) and then had several invitations at friends' homes, so I ate some tamales and watched people explode firecrackers. From my friend Caterino's home just outside of the town, we could see into Chinique and watch some of the more elaborate explosions. A day and a half later, festivities continue after a fashion... and also the effects of several weeks of festivities. After posting about how downright dull town was on New Year's Day, I drove down to Antigua on January 1 (i.e. yesterday). Santa Cruz del Quiché was shut up pretty tight; the café where I sometimes buy lattes was not open, and the streets were fairly empty. Chichicastenango had a bit more life, but not much. The highway was pretty empty, which was a blessing, as there were fewer suicidal/homicidal idiots to deal with, and especially fewer buses, so the air was nearly breathable.
In the towns people seemed to be moving at a slower pace, and not just those who were showing the unpleasant aftermath of too much consumption of alcohol. The latter were evident, sadly, in all of the towns.  Overconsumption of alcohol is an unfortunate fact of life. Bleary-eyed people sat on the curbs. As I drove out of town at around 11:30 in the morning, a young couple, the woman with a baby strapped to her back, staggered and swayed on the nearly-empty street. The woman lurched and almost fell into my path, but luckily the man grabbed her arm and pulled her out of harm's way, at least momentarily.
I was heading down to Antigua, as a friend from the U.S. was arriving yesterday, and while I didn't go to the airport to pick her up (I arranged a shuttle driver for her), I wanted to "receive" her, although I no longer keep a room or apartment in Antigua, but I have found a wonderful guest house run by an expatriate American who has lived in Guatemala for 22 years and uses the income from the guest house to support a scholarship fund for Maya students pursuing higher education.

So, I arrived in Antigua, making very good time as there were almost no vehicles on the highway. I breezed through Chimaltenango; there is one intersection where there is always a back up as buses are stopping to discharge and pick up passengers and vehicles are entering the highway from the town... but I hardly even noticed that intersection until I was past it as there were no buses and no turning vehicles.

After Babette had arrived and stowed her things and we had shared a glass of wine with some other friendly folks who were at the guest house, we headed out into the town. I rarely go to Antigua anymore, and there are numerous "attractions" that I have never seen. The last time I was there, a few days after Christmas, on the way out of town, I passed a ruina  (ruin) that I had never noticed before -- Antigua was largely destroyed in an earthquake in the 18th century, and there are many churches and other buildings that predate the earthquake that were not ever rebuilt. I have never systematically looked at a guidebook or gone on a tour of Antigua, but appreciate the architectural details as I walk past these buildings as I go about my fairly limited and now quite intermittent routines in Antigua.

These particular ruins were on the westernmost street, behind the bus terminal north of the cemetery... sort of in the northwest corner of town. And there is another ruina, San Jerónimo, on the Alameda that I had also never entered. I thought it might be an opportune moment to finally look at these ruins so we set off. The streets around the guesthouse were nearly completely empty of parked cars and there was very little foot or human traffic. To my disappointment, both ruins were closed, along with most of the businesses along the Alameda.

We peered as best as we could around the fences, and did our best to avoid some kids who were exploding firecrackers on the street in front of their home.

But we had an unexpected surprise. Walking westward toward this unnamed ruin, I saw a woman looking out of a window in a single story house, and since she had a pleasant face I asked her if she knew if the ruin were open. Instead of answering, she asked, "Would you like to see a nacimiento (literally, a birth). I wasn't quite sure what she was asking so I asked her what kind of nacimiento. She didn't seem to hear but repeated the invitation and gestured to beckon us inside. She came to the door and we walked into a lovely, beautifully arranged patio and then followed her around to a formal dining room at the back of the house where there was an elaborate Nativity scene taking up nearly all of one wall. 

We oohed and ah-ed and looked at some of the details. She explained that her brother and nephew were the ones who had built it and that the ceramic figures were all of local manufacture.  She told us she was partially deaf (which made conversation somewhat hard) and had gone to the window to wait for them to arrive since she wasn't sure she would hear anyone knocking at the door and that was when she had seen us walking down the street and had invited us in.

Later we went to the Parque Central where just around 6, there was a procession starting from the church, going around the square and then back to the church. Complete with marching band and all. Fireworks too. We had been sitting quietly trying to have a cup of coffee at the corner Café Barista when we heard the music outside. At first I just stood and looked from the table where we were sitting and then I felt as though I wanted to see it up close, so we went outside and joined the throngs in the street and then on the steps of the church.

We briefly entered the church but it was very crowded and I didn't want to stay standing so we looked for a few moments and then left to try and find some place to eat. Every one of the places I had wanted to go was closed, so we ended up at the Ocelot/Pangea/Lava -- a place that has three or four different establishments under one roof.  It was noisy but it was one of the few places open. As we entered we were nearly assaulted --in a friendly way -- by a couple of very drunk foreigners. A boozy woozy man came up to us and started to try and talk with us but we waved him away. Then a young blond woman very much under the influence also approached us and we tried to politely move away.  We decided to eat outside in the patio, as when I peeped into the bar, everyone there seemed to be in a high state of inebriation. Every so often someone came into the patio to use one of the rest rooms; some could barely walk straight and others at least gave off the appearance of being able to get from point A to point B without damage to themselves or us..

The streets were fairly quite when we returned, although faint noises of firecrackers percolated through the night intermittently.

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