Friday, August 21, 2009

What's up with that thang?

It's something of a relief to find that we're not the only delegation in Morelia who fretted about the local violence. We've been updating our senior staff daily about the state of affairs, and we've quizzed various hotel employees, merchants, and Marcos, the most patient driver who has ever chauffeured American visitors about the city, only to hear that the problems, while acute, do not generally seem to involve the civvies. It's a give-and-take limited largely to encounters between the forces of law and those of chaos; those not buying/selling/trading/transporting drugs or attempting to interfere with same seem to have been left mostly (though, tragically, not always) alone. But even attendees from within Mexico were worried, and most of them have been quite relieved by the situation now that they're here. Things downtown are so resolutely mellow that it's hard to remember that there are concerns.

Morelia has a beautiful soaring 17th-century cathedral in the middle of town, flanked by twin plazas that serve as the center of social life for the residents. On Saturday nights, the town sets off fireworks before illuminating the cathedral's facade and towers, and there is general festivating. In honor of our conference, the town added another pre-illumination fireworks show, this one on Thursday night. The main drag was closed to road traffic, smoochy couples and young families thronged the street, teenagers in vaguely colonial costume handed out fliers for a living history production, and music about the rockingness of being from Michoacán pulsed over the speakers. At a prearranged moment, the lower windows of the cathedral began to strobe red and yellow, the music soared, and fountains of white fire rose from the front gates, then the central facade, and then the towers; mortar shells in the plazas rose into the sky, whistling sharply and exploding into flecks of gold and green. The display went on for about five minutes, everyone craning to see the showers of color directly overhead, and then it was over and we joined a line to get into the cathedral to hear a concert. Nota bene: The Orquestra Juvenil de Morelia does astonishing things; their "Marche Slav" was amazing and the organist's rendition of the "Toccata and Fugue" was masterful.

We were all very chuffed to have gone. But this morning, one of the hosts relayed a story to us that made us feel as though our preemptive worrying had been very small taters. "I talked to an attendee this morning, and he said, why there was nothing in the news this morning or warnings to the members? Because he was out last night near the plaza before the concert, and the police had closed the road, and then he heard shootings! He says this is a very dangerous place." Somehow the flocks of people heading cheerfully toward the explosions did not suggest that perhaps he was overreacting.

Of course, if you are a defenseless pineapple, mango, or jicama root, this is indeed a violent area. The gaspacheros show no mercy.

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