Tuesday, April 19, 2011

How I Went Looking for Jesus on a Donkey and Ended Up a Mexican Movie Star

It started with a weekend road trip to Uruapan in the state of Michoacán, about 160 miles from San Miguel de Allende. I went with my friend, Eleanor, and we were planning to rendezvous with other friends who were going to the same destination by bus. We were all headed for the wonderful annual crafts fair there.

Ceramics at the crafts fair

Michoacán is the headquarters of La Familia drug cartel that has a penchant for beheading people. But it was the beginning of Holy Week, which is a big deal in Mexico. People spend a lot of time in church and in religious processions so we figured the narco traffickers would be too busy with all that to be committing mass homicide.
I’ve said it before and I’m saying it again: I love driving in Mexico. We sped south on the magnificent toll roads, mainly through immaculate farm land and occasional marshes that are home to otherworldly white herons.  We only had one uncomfortable moment when we thought we’d missed the by-pass around Morelia, the state capital. So we stopped at a gas station and asked two handsome and kind young men for directions. They led us in their pick-up truck to the on-ramp and waved us off with dazzling smiles.
The road climbed even higher into the Sierras then as we approached Uruapen dropped sharply down into a sub-tropical climate zone. Wending our way through the outskirts of the city I almost ran a couple of red lights as I’ve been living in a town with no traffic lights for the last nine months.  We checked into the fancy-pants Plaza Hotel (a whopping $52 a night each for bed and full buffet breakfast) and it was a good choice as it was on the square where the crafts fair was happening.
Lunch was first on our agenda and we certainly earned it. To get to the restaurant we had in mind, we hiked the length of the stunning national park that starts on the edge of the city and scales a large hill. It was lush with tropical foliage and waterfalls around every bend.

A waterfall in the park

Sweaty and low on blood sugar we finally reached the Urani Restaurant and plopped down at an outdoor table overlooking the park. Uruapen claims to be the avocado capital of the world and the macadamia nut capital of Mexico so we leaned into that: guacamole, macadamia encrusted fresh local trout with jicama and mango salad and cappuccino ice cream.  

Macademia nut encrusted trout.

The rest of the afternoon we made a start on the overwhelming display of beautiful craftwork and gaped at the gorgeous women in their ethnic costumes and waist-length hair. We topped off the day downing margaritas in the hotel bar with our friends from San Miguel.

Stunning fine embroidery work by these women

The next morning the big adventure began. This being Palm Sunday and knowing how Mexicans love a parade – especially a religious one - I was convinced there was going to be a procession with a man dressed as Jesus “riding into Jerusalem” on a donkey. I can’t get enough of that kind of thing so we left the hotel early and headed to the cathedral on the plaza. The entire sidewalk was lined with women making and selling intricate palm weavings to be taken into the church and blessed. I grew up Catholic and we always had a simple cross made from palm fronds but I’d never seen anything like this.

Women weaving palm fronds outside the cathedral

There was also a professional looking film crew setting up outside the church so I was more convinced than ever that Jesus was imminent. As we were hanging around a young woman with a clipboard approached us and explained that the crew was making a promotional film for the Mexican tourist board and would we be in it? “Hot damn, yes,” we said without hesitation. Next thing, my hair was being primped and we were being given our instructions by the handsome director, Sergio.

Our director, Sergio

Eleanor was at the bottom of a short flight of steps and I was at the top. We were both supposed to be buying the palm thingies and interacting with the women making them.  There was a camera dolly set up and when Sergio yelled “action” the camera rolled along the sidewalk as Eleanor and I crouched down and “bought” palms. It was all fairly simple but in true movie fashion we did take after take for over an hour.
My vendor, though a beautiful looking woman, was quite surly. I tried desperately to talk to her but she simply scowled at me. I learned later that this commotion was preventing her from selling her wares so I felt bad for her.

My "co-star" wouldn't crack a smile or even tell me her name

I was quite jealous because Eleanor, on the other hand, was having a wonderful interaction with her co-star. And the woman turned out to be a psychic who was telling Eleanor all about her life as they acted out the charade!
After it was finally a wrap and the releases were signed, we realized we didn’t have that long to take in the enormous craft fair so I sadly gave up any idea of seeing Jesus that day and we headed into the mass of tented booths in the middle of plaza. (And where, incidentally, Eleanor took the photo of me that I’ve made my new profile picture.)  As we were trolling the aisles full of ceramics and lacquer work and embroidered clothing, I heard singing.  It was the parade!  I knew it. Abandoning Eleanor, I took off bobbing and weaving through the packed crowd to the perimeter of the plaza where I thought the parade was headed. Nooooo! I missed Jesus! All I caught were the apostles as they headed into the church.

I missed Jesus!

Oh, well. This is only the beginning of holy week. We have a packed few days to come of a bloody and beaten Jesus dragging the cross from church to church – in some cases, town to town – as he’s flogged and then strung up on the cross (seriously, I’m not kidding about this). I’m truly sorry I didn’t catch him on his last good day, but in compensation, I finally became the movie star I knew I was destined to be when I was eight years old.

1 comment:

  1. Hey there, movie star! Loved reading this!

    For the most part, and as you've likely traditions and activities during holy week.
    - Palm Sunday (loved your pics!)
    - The Passion of Christ - The procession with Jesus carrying the cross. (Not sure what role a donkey would have!), the Crucifixtion and the Resurrection. It can get way too gory for me.
    - Mexico has a unique way of celebrating "Sabado de Gloria," though I'm not sure that custom has endured. People have HUGE water fights. Water balloons, pointing water hose on each other, etc. Something to do with purification, I'm told, but mostly the kids love it.

    Mexicans also burn Judas in effigy (huge paper mache puppets) and a zillion firecrackers but I can't remember what day they do that. Saturday?