May No Longer Mary’s Month
As a child I learned May was Mary’s month, not here though. Despite her omnipresence May firmly belongs to the cross with weekend fiestas before, during and after the month for the oldest, and most venerated, crosses around.
The cross was one of easier concepts of divinity for the conquering Spanish to teach the indigenous since they already believed the cross was an intersection of two lines. That intersection represents the meeting of the male and female, or the divine.
For the days leading to May I led tours to the countryside to enjoy the festivals beyond the ones we have here in town at the Chorro (where town started) and the four oldest indigenous neighborhoods (La Palmita, Valle de Maiz, Guadiana, and Ojo de Agua). My favorite foray was to the picturesque ranch area of Alcocer, home to about 1200 locals.
Alcocer is behind the mall, on the yellow bus line that terminates in the Picachos mountains, a hikers’ paradise. The rancho is centered around the church to St. Nicholas, patron of children’s health and inspiration of Santa Claus. Oddly enough, his image in the church is the first I’ve seen of St. Nick not in red with white fur trim (once you find a style that works for you, why change?). Instead his image wears a star studded black cloak making him ready to be a substitute teacher at Hogwarts.
Outside the church lies an old grist wheel once used to squeeze the oil from olives besie the old hacienda where lcocer got his name. The hacienda was owned by a minor government official during the Inquisition named Juan de Alcocer. Juan was born here, so his opportunities were less than
the Spanish born in Spain. On the hacienda, from 1618 to 1647 Juan raised mules for use in the Silver Route that transported silver from the mines back to Spain. He also owned cattle haciendas outside of Mexico City and left all his haciendas to his wife in the mid 1600s. Today the hacienda lies in ruins and is owned by a gal from Louisiana who inherited it from her Mexican matador father following a lengthy court battle with her uncle.
The hacienda was a working one and not the home of the owners so there are no ruins of a majestic hacienda home. You can still see the storage areas and corrals that local pigs, cows, horses and goats now gambol about the stone walls held together by mortar and memory.
My pal, Tony, doesn’t understand my desire to photograph cows moving from field to field. Growing up in Hershey, PA cows only moved their jaws chewing cud to produce the milk for Hershey Kisses. I had no idea they could move about, much less so fast!
Next to the ruins is the most intricately engineered water system I’ve seen in the area. A damn holds the water to the upper lake than when full, overflows via a waterfall to the lower lake. Only in the dry season can see the cross hidden behind the waterfall.
Next to the lake is the largest tree I’ve seen in the area, on par with the one in La Huerta known to be one of the oldest in Mexico. This tree is constantly hacked at to allow room for overhead wires but still is alive. Folks, including these Filipino supermodel twins, love to pose by the tree.
Up in the mountains you’ll see two blue crosses on white stands. One is the Cross of the Crops, and the other, is the Cross of Rain, both in their decorated splendor for the May third celebrations. I’ve often wondered why the crosses seen along the Silver Route have a white base and blue cross. I assumed like the cloistered nuns in town wearing the same colors, it was homage to the Virgin Mary’s Immaculate Conception. It is not. As a local woman pointed out the obvious to me, the bases had to be white to be seen among the green and brown crops and cacti. D’oh!
Following a mass (what every good party starts with) the local teen boy mariachi band starts to play and dance in unison the Gladys Knight’s Pips would admire. Then the cowboys lead the procession into the mountains. Now the dozens of local crosses that have now been blessed can leave the church and the party begins!
Food and games (including stripping to your skivvies to climb up a greased pole to collect prizes including fashion and tequila) are followed by music and, of course, cross shaped fireworks. It’s a spectacular way to start the month of May!