Today I’ll post the rest of my photos from my March trip to Guanajuato in Mexico with Sylvia. I did the initial post on March 29, 2019.
But first a word from our sponsor, that is, me. I made a fairly cool book trailer for my novel Million Mile Road Trip, which went into print last week.
So dig that, and now…back to Guanajuato! Be warned that my commentary isn’t going to be fully in synch with the images.
I took Sylvia to the Museo los Momias, that is, the museum of the mummies. I’d visited it with my artist/writer friend Bef a few years ago.
[In an art gallery.]
Guanajuato is very dry, at an altitude of six thousand feet, and of course hot in the summers. Bodies were buried either in the hardpan, white, alkaline soil, or sealed in crypts. If the descendents didn’t keep paying the annual plot-rental fee for someone, the cemetery owners would dig up the body and put it on display in their Mummy Museum, which remains to this day.
The bodies still have their skin, flesh, teeth, and even wisps of hair. Leathery, dried-out, twisted from the contraction of the tendons, the distorted mouths open as if in the hideous screams of the damned—in every respect like undead, eyeless, zombies. Truly horrible—although from time to time a viewer’s terror flips over into anxious mirth.
There was one guy in particular, with a big jaw and his mouth wide open and quite a few teeth missing, but with a kind of Hell’s Angel biker energy to him, an undead hick out for a good time, and the curators had, for whatever reason, left a grayed-out pair of pants on him, the waistline very low, Pachuco style, or like he might even be on the point of dropping-trou exposing himself to you.
And near him was a woman with her mouth an open O, turned a bit to one side, as if wailing in woe, some teeth in there, her nose dried down to little more than skully nostrils, and somehow I saw her as the date of the Hell’s Angel.
Sylvia was groping for the mot juste to describe how she felt about the displays. Discomfited, dismayed, discombobulated. “I could have lived without seeing this,” she said. But, having heard about it from me, she did want to see it, at least to some extent and, charming though Guanajuato is, there are not a surfeit of cultural venues to explore.
Man did I feel relaxed there. And I know I posted this photo before, but I want to see it again. We liked hanging out in our hotel room with the comfortable chairs and the balcony looking out on the fabulously colorful town. The light and air streaming in.
The evening after the mummy museum, after regrouping in our room, we had dinner downtown at a fancy Italian restaurant on the triangular square, and on the walk home we passed the big yellow basilica or cathedral of Guanajuato. We’d wanted to check it out before, but that day there’d been a funeral with an adult-sized white coffin, and a hundred mourners on the steps, and some mariachis playing away, and he mourners heading off down the cobblestone street behind the hearse.
[Photo of the lounge in the old opera Teatro.]
The day of the mummies, as if in counterposition to the theme of death and decay, the cathedral doors was wide open, with the place lit up like no church I’ve ever seen. Intensely bright white-light bulbs festooned in over twenty elaborate chandeliers, and bright pale-blue LED bulbs arrayed in vertical strings along the edges of the columns.
Sylvia and I went in, some kind of service taking place, we slipped into a rear pew. The space was filled with resonant chanting, wonderful music, and the increasingly fevered ringing of bells. The priest’s voice up there, very soothing, a couple of hundred worshippers closer to the altar. Was it okay for us to be here?
Well, too late for that, here comes the priest, in his white cassock, and four or five assistants, also robed, some of them are women, a couple of thurifers are swinging these billowing incense burners, the priest is moving in a cloud, he’s holding something up, shaped like a hand-mirror, a disk with a handle, the flat disk has glass on front and back, with a wide silver band around the disk’s edge, like a frame, the disk might be a couple of feet across. The music and chanting continue, and the bells, the ringing, the sound is rising to a crescendo, rattling, frenetic, unsystematic, getting into my head. The smell of the incense is mild and pleasant.
[Sylvia gave me this glass heart for my birthday.]
The priest has come all the way down to the end of the aisle, people are reaching out toward him, at first, I don’t get what the people are doing, but now the priest is right by us, and I see they’re touching the priest’s raised disk with their two open hands. I can see through the glass, a big white circle is inside, maybe four inches across, it’s a communion wafer, what they call the Host, it’s sealed between the two layers of glass with the silver frame around the rim. The glass and silver holder is what I think they call a pyx, I recall, and, yes, that big round white flat shape inside the pyx—it’s God! Of course God is a white disk. Like the Sun. The priest is bringing God down to us, and even a poor mean wretch like I can touch God, or at least touch the pyx that God’s riding in. [By the way, when I got back home, a priest friend of mine said that thing is called a “monstrance” and not a “pyx,” but I’ll just keep calling it a pyx here, as that’s such a cool word.]
[The fabulous coffee roasting machine at El Conquistador coffee shop beside our hotel.]
Sylvia reaches out first, and touches the silver band of the pyx with the fingers of her two open hands, and now I do it too, with the smoke all around, and the frenetic rattle of the bells inside my head. I glimpse the priest’s face—humble, good, calm, he’s not looking at me, he’s absorbed in his work. I feel vast, unknown forces moving within my body and my soul—I’m filled with joy in the bright white church. A religious experience, wow. Sylvia and I are quite overwhelmed, nearly in tears.
[On my birthday I spend an hour or two walking the back streets of the hill above our hotel, totally digging the insane colors in the alleyways, and the sudden views across the valley the chocked pastel houses on the other side.]
The beautiful music is playing on, the heavenly glow of the lights continues, the congregation is chanting. People are drifting up the aisle, following the priest, massing in the church’s apse. Will they be taking communion? Not wanting the exulted moment to end, Sylvia and I go along.
The white-robed priest fits God and his pyx into a cabinet on the wall above the altar. God’s house. Rather than offering communion, the priest extends a simpler blessing. He has a ewer of holy water. Over and over he dips in a religious instrument, a little like a ladle or a pestle, then makes a flinging gesture which sends drops flying down onto us. Sylvia and I feel a few on our faces and hands. All right!
“Those Catholics,” Sylvia says to me when we’re back out in the square.. “You’ve got to hand it to them. They really know how to do religion. The theatre of it.”
I like how they’ll just throw a Virgin of Guadalupe up on the wall like a graffiti.
The dogs, their brains tiny spots of lights, little pals, trotting around, and every day is new, and every day is the same.
This pink, or magenta, I’m crazy about it. And the tonal/hue difference between the lit and shaded parts. And don’t forget the wire with the knot in it.
Walking around alone with my good Fujifilm 100XT camera on my birthday, alone in the back streets, the few people that I meet being reasonably friendly, intoxicated by the textures and shades. And, oh, the lovely little meter. “It’s all blue.”
These bread-carrying dudes are cool.
Tricolor, right? And the deep, subtle quality of the texture superseding or underlying the coats of paint.
Insane wrought iron. This dude truckin’ along. He’s about to glance over at me with a bit of a glare…why am I taking his picture? Waning to capture the stride, man, wanting to animate the geometry.
We went down to the big indoor market, the Mercado, huge hall with booths for fabrics, toys, gizmos, and lots of food, like butchers and bakers. Balcony outside with an eatery. On the “segundo piso.” Wish I knew more Spanish. And, ah, the patches of peeling paint, so perfecto.
View off our balcony near the end of the day. God’s acres of cloud cabbages, airy, eternal, perpetually renewed.
Poster in the entrance hall of a student coop near the University of Guanajuato, a big place. In the evenings, groups of student singers in black robes roam the streets, leading (mostly Mexican) tourists, and chorusing classic songs like “Cielito Lindo,” which is an affectionate term literally meaning “Little Sky.” Has the classic first line, “Ay, ay, ay, ay / Canta y no llores,” meaning “Sing and don’t cry.”
A piece of the church where we saw God in a pyx. Or no, wait, this is the church where we saw Jesus inside a glass box, crawling with his cross.
The 3D mosaic of the buildings on the hills.
Those crazy gas meters and the jury-rigged electric lines!
Advanced seminar in projective geometry and the planar sections of space curves.
In a speeding, lurching taxi, early in the morn, driving through the crazy dripping tunnels that lead through the Guanajuato hills toward the airport. I love you, Guanajuato!
And, as I mentioned above, I did an initial post of Guanajuato (and San Miguel Allende) photos on March 29, 2019.