May is the hottest month of the year, and with no air-conditioning in most of the homes, many ex-pats skip town and head back to wherever they came from or another vacation spot for some relief. Most of the people we have met over the year left mid-April. We have had to make new friends and learn how to deal with the temperature by adjusting our schedules. Mornings are still comfortably cool at 52 degrees, and with windows open to our downstairs patio, the house is delightful. By noon the temperatures rise, heading up to 85 degrees on some days. We simply close the windows and turn on the fans, and since the stucco walls are so thick, the house retains a fairly constant temperature winter through May. But being outside in mid-afternoon is a different story, and one I try to avoid. A woman I met recently says she plays tennis 4 days a week from 11-1. I think she’s nuts. Jack plays pickle ball at 8:30, which is much more sane. We get our errands done before noon since we walk everywhere and carry. Then at some point Jack takes his afternoon nap, while I try to study some Spanish or catch up with friends.
But two Sundays ago our schedule got ahead of us and we found ourselves going to the ATM machine in Centro around noon. The streets were filled with Mexicans looking for places to stand, the empty spots becoming fewer and fewer. The people were waiting for something to happen. People here know how to wait. They are patient. They don’t constantly check their watches. They don’t complain or make noise. Waiting is an art that can be paianful to learn. “Que pasa?” I asked a young woman who was holding her 6 month-old baby boy in her arms. They stood in a sliver of shade made by one of the buildings that line the cobblestone street. “What is everyone waiting for? “Dia de los locos,” she said. The day of the crazy people. “Aha,” I said, remembering having read something about the festival, but having forgotten that it would be that day.
When will it start, I asked? Oh, in five minutes she said. I don’t know why I asked. By now we know that no one has the answer to such a question. Things begin when they begin and not a moment sooner. The sidewalks filled with more and more brown-faced people and it was getting hotter and hotter, but I was deternined to witness the festival for myself, and so we squeezed into a doorway made of ancient thick stones that provided some relief from the sweltering sun, and waited along with the crowd. We were the only pale faces we saw. But in spite of the heat, it was nice seeing a thoroughly Mexican holiday, the most anticipated day of the year for San Miguelians.
Maybe 45 minutes later we could hear faint drum beats and the sound of brass. At the top of the street, many blocks away, we could see a large number of people inching their way towards us. As they got closer, we could make out masked and costumed dancers forming a parade made up of different groups, each lead dancer holding a sign or dancing behind a truck with a sign on it telling the name of their barrio. The participants, little children and adults alike, twisted and turned, in a free-form individual dance style all the way from their neighborhood to el Centro. I couldn’t imagine how they kept dancing in the heat, wearing those costumes. Because of the way they look and move, the dancers are called the Crazies. Historically there was a religious intent to the the tradition of Dia de los Locos when it started 40 years ago. Gardeners dressed in costumes in order not to be identified as they danced crazily in order to honor San Juan Bailon, the Saint of the Orchards. during the days leading up to the harvest. San Miguel is in the state of Guanajuato, the agricultural center of the country, and the produce that comes from the area is the major financial resource for the state and the a source of food for much of the country. People seeing the gardeners dance called them the Crazies, but they were fascinated by their antics.
More and more people lined up to watch and to participate in the motley parade. Eventually Jack and I had had enough watching and gave up our spots in the doorway to others to go off to use our ATM machine. I was glad to have seen what the festival was like, in spite of the heat. I hope this year’s Locos pleased San Juan Bailon and he provides a good and healthy harvest for San Miguel and all of Mexico.