Let's just say its the two days of the year where you get to dress up like old people and dance for fruit and candy in the street. There I said it. Every year around this time comes the greatly anticipated celebration of "Corpus Cristi" or "Dia de Los Viejos" (Day of the Old Folks). It's actually something of importance within the Catholic Church, who really knows what Christ's Body day entails: all I know that it was last Wednesday and Thursday.
The tradition is a midday Wednesday mass, everyone in their respected colonia, then assorted dancing and merriment in and around the colonia. Then on Thursday an 8am procession from each of the colonias diverges on the plaza of downtown Temascalcingo. Let me just say that the vibe is crazy. Supposedly the old men and old women are dancing for rain (as it mysteriously rains like clockwork two days after the dancing).
Now these old folks aren't just velcro shoes and prune juice, were talking elaborate disguises! Traditionally the men of the village dress in over-sized pillow-stuffed garments and wear wrinkled old-people masks and have over-sized accessories. The masks alone are completely ridiculous. The traditional mask is made from the dried ultra-light root system of the maguey and carved into elaborated wrinkled faces. Once the design is carved, cow dung is spread over the surface to give a leather skin-like completion. Once the features are smeared on, ixtle, or the dried ultra-white maguey root is carefully assembled as hair, moustaches, beards and eyebrows. Finally upholstery sponges are used and bicycle tire inner-tubes are used to secure the mask to the dancers head.
Almost everyone wears lucha libre masks underneath their old person facade, as it hides their identity and traps the sweat from getting in their eyes. I unfortunately didn't have the pleasure of a wrestling mask (as I'm still broke) and when the sweat started staining my corneas I suddenly regretted not having one. So here I am, Wednesday morning. It's hot as sin and I'm dressed up like an old lady: wrinkled mask, linen dress, sandals, cane, stuffed derrière and two grapefruits as, well, chesticles.
I must admit that when buying a bra for my old lady costume caught the girl at the lingerie store by surprise. I went in asking for the largest bra they had. Let's just say that it wasn't even close to the mammoths I've seen passing through Sears in the states. I politely asked her for a larger one, as it was for my grandmother. She looked uncomfortable. I then slipped in that if I was this giant, she should imagine my grandmother. She went to the back of the store and produced an equally medium-sized brassiere. She still had not gotten the point. I then told her that my grandmother's had fallen and were now being tucked into her skirt elastic. The girl looked like she might get sick, and got me yet another equally mediocre example.
I grabbed the linen-ware and told her granny would have to squeeze 'em in, paid the $15 ($1.25USD) and was out the door. I looked back over my shoulder as I was leaving to catch her staring at me, all I could do was smile. With my new costume in place, my spiritual advisor, Karlos with a K, gave me a crash course in the old person dance and we were on the way. It was much like dancing reggae on molten lava in slow motion: a quarter jump, quarter hop, quarter groove and a quarter shuffle seemed to be the recipe. Along with the dancing came incoherent wailing from the supposed geezers and to finish - ragtag fiddle/tambor (bass drum) "music". The three-stringed fiddle was being manned by a toothless farmer while his ogre of a son untimely banged the tambor. Yes, this was going to be an experience.
Since we were late, the group of old folks had already left to assault the colonia. We followed the yells and tambor for about 15 minutes until we found them. There were about thirty dancers dancing in the yard of a house with about 70 onlookers cheering the group on. We quickly hobbled into the masses and started dancing away. In about three minutes time I was exhausted and salty sweat began to perforate my pupils. The dance must go on. We danced for about three hours in various yards, streets and fields until we were given a break. We had arrived at the house of an actual old person who had prepared charape for all. Charape is a most wonderful concoction: It starts as an ordinary batch of pulque (mmm...) and is spiced up with unrefined sugar and a slurry of fermented corn and extracts to make a most wonderful and intoxicating beverage.
I was warned not to drink more than a cup because I would "be on my ass drunk", so I drank about five cups. It was so hot and the charape so delicious that I couldn't stop. The interesting part was that I didn't get drunk, or even tipsy. In fact it only gave me more fuel to dance. Refueled, we assaulted the streets again, asking for candy and fruit in every storefront and house that we danced for. I only lasted about five hours, as I had to cook a fifty person banquet in another city. My mask and stuffed linen garb were soaked from hours of dancing. It also turns out that I had three quarter-sized blisters on my right hand that had been ripped open by my cane. Bleeding, I changed into my cooking uniform. A neighbor came by with a cool bag of tapache. Tapache is a curious pineapple drink, that, when cold can only be described as 'godly'. Somewhere in between nectar and heaven, the yeasty-alcoholic goodness disappeared within seconds, I slapped on a few band-aids and was of to work. Corpus Cristi 2009 had officially been a success!