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Archive for January, 2009

When language goes wrong

This particular gem, recently discovered on a review of the various different photo albums, was snapped by Laura during the day of the Parachicos. It’s probably worth mentioning that the license plate belongs to a bus owned by the church.

Chiapa de Corzo
29th January 2009

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Ordered Chaos; A Mexican Carnival

Last week saw the festival signed off with a grand carnival, bringing together all the elements of the chaos and debauchary over the last month. The teaching staff and vaious different families with which we were affiliated took up station on the second storey of my familys´ shop, cameras poised to snap anything that moved. The procession was led by the “Annuncio” crowd, an exciteable gaggle of children dressed as ranch hands mercilessly harassing a man with the effurgy of a bull on his back, who took great delight is stampeding said children into the front rows of spectators to roars of approval from the crowd. For those who are unsure, an Annuncio is an event designed by some of the greatest minds in known event management history; a party whose entire existence serves to bring attention to an upcoming larger party. I am not entirely sure if this concept has been further extended to encompass Annuncios for Annuncios (infinite regression is entirely possible here), but judging by the attitude of the townsfolk this month, it is entirely possible.

Next came the Chuntas, led by the same racially questionable gentleman present at my night of cross dressing. The Chuntas were a force to be reckoned with, spraying the surrounding crowd with confetti and, bizzarely, root vegetables.

A series of carnival floats followed, each intricate in its own design and showcasing a range of “carnival queens”, who waved regally to the crowds (an adorable sight in the case of the chubby 7 year old versions) and dispensed a range of candies, money and corporate merchandise. Every community group seemed to have their own float, from the cheeky “forest pixie” primary school childrens float to the beautifully presented and noticably aloof chinese society.

The Chinese Societies` float was supplimented with a Chinese dragon procession and entusiastic percussion, which came to blows somewhat with the following masses of Parachicos, eager to blow off steam before their dormancy for the rest of the year. Squabbles and bickering spread among the two different factions due to the commonly held perception that the Chinese lot were moving too slowly, and finally with a display of restrained democracy the dragon moved to one side as the Parachicos thundered past them, spreading everyone thin in their overcooked desire for progress and concluding with a rather sweet and confused regrouping a short distance down the street. Meanwhile the the dragon and the rest of the Chinese Wannabe Mexicans re-established their cohort with a lot of unecessary reversing of vehicles, shouting and pointing and, to the cheers of the crowd, proceeded to enthusiastically charge up and down the street once more, scattering pedestrians and spectators in all directions.

The carnival queen followed this debacle, smiling and waving to the onlookers laden with chocolate, money and vegetables and, finally, it was over. In retrospect, I wonder what I would have made of the bizzare cow baiting, cross dressing and masked antics if I did not have the benefit of a couple of weeks orientation with the various different components of the wonderful events of the last month. I can only think that, as opposed to being consumed by the randomness of it all, I was able to appreciate the synergy of the various different elements of the traditions and truly appreciate the pride and passion of the participants, as well as the perceptable sorrow that they would, for the next 11 months, sink into a state of expectant longing for next January.

Chiapa de Corzo
26th January 2009January 2009

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Jon Clarke, National Mexican TV Star Transvestite

As you may have gathered from one of my previous posts, I was (mis)fortunate enough to be featured on Mexican national television in my first week dressed as a lady. Well, thanks to the wonders of modern technology and the openness of the TV networks here, you can now view my TV appearance.

I´m so embarrassed. Many thanks to Padre Javier, who took great delight in being present for my first viewing of the footage.

Chiapa de Corzo
24th January 2009

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Latin American Brands I Love: Sol

The staple diet for Fiesta de Enero (aside from tacos and churros) is the mighty Michelada. The principal purveyor of these skull splitting Mexican versions of the bloody mary is Sol; I knew about Sol before I departed the UK, but it is here in their native setting that the company truly comes into their own.

Unconstrained by the scruples of the diverse range of regulatory bodies in England, Sol gleefully uses the simple but incredibly effective method of association with scantily clad women with large breasts to flog its wares. Another of their specialities is paying lip service to drinking responsibility with superb irony. A couple of nights ago I noticed the warning message below; for reference I´ve also included a picture of one of these mighty cups in use. For the uninitiated, “Evita El Exceso” translates to “Avoid Excess”.



Chiapas De Corzo
20th January 2009

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Men in Masks

Saturday morning dawned and I begrudgingly dragged myself from my bed, beset by an unpleasant mixture of head cold and hangover from the night before; a riotous affair involving prolific table dancing and the death of my camera, returned to me in the middle of a nightclub with the lens bent at un unseemly angle. Today was the day that I and my fellow teachers were to engage in the procession of the Parachicos, another piece in the convoluted jigsaw that constituted the Fiesta de Enero. My unsuitable awakening was driven by the advice of my Madre that we would not be able to get a costume unless we rose unsociably early. I was preempted at the door by a surprisingly chipper Martin, given that it was his 8th party day on the trot, and we shambolled down the road to my familys´store.

The rest of the gang arrived in dribs and drabs and within minutes we were standing in an Aladdins Cave of costumers; the same place room which I´d previously been rejected in my application for a Chunta costume. After trying on a range of elements of the Parachico outfit that we were required to wear to participate in the procession and reflecting with hilarity on the excessive diameter of my head, unsuitable for all but the largest hats, we dispersed with the intention of reconvening to dress at around 11.30; I went straight back to sleep.

Donning our costumes somewhat later than expected due to the tardiness of our group that was to become characteristic of the day, it became immediately apparent that the outfit, thick and heavy, would be uncomfortable worn as intended in the heat of the mid-day sun; a thick blanket, trousers and long sleeves, a gigantic hat that resembled a blonde afro and a heavy wood carved mask were all conducive to immediate and extensive perspiration. The mask, in particular, induced instantaneous pain as it was tightened into place, mashing my nose into an unnatural shape and pressed tight into my forehead by my giant hat. The other logistical issue was my field of vision, abysmal through the tiny apertures in the eyebrows.

Armed with “chin-chins”, a metallic rattle, we blundered out into the street and attempted to locate the procession. Incubating my illness behind my mask and within my heavy, hot clothes I began to feel grumpy.

We eventually located the procession, a huge convoy of similarly dressed people dancing to the familiar sound of drums and whistle flutes. Still flailing around with a non-existent field of vision we plunged into the procession and lost each other almost instantaneously in a field of ornate masks, everyone indistinguishable from everyone else. I doggedly laboured forwards within the press of bodies, shaking my chin-chin, attempting to dance and pick out the words within the muffled cries that emanated from callers within the crowd as the relentless sun beat down upon our insulated shoulders, cursing my hangover, illness and willingness for participation. It was a strange, unsettling affair, the movement and dancing constricted by the costumes and the sounds repressed by the masks. I began to experience a strange feeling as I moved with the costumed and faceless multitudes, one that I heard echoed by the others after talking later with them. They described it as a spiritual feeling, a moment of acute awareness of the self. Within my costume, anonymous to the outside world, I felt safe and introverted in the knowledge that no-one knew who I was (the antithesis of the night of the chuntas) but I was surrounded by a great crowd of similar people, all isolated in the same way as me with no hope of connection with their external similarities and suppressed field of vision. I was alone, but felt overwhelmingly to be an intrinsic part of something much greater.

I continued on for a while, caught up in the feeling until the intolerable heat of the costume forced me to the roadside to lift my mask for a short while and see if I could identify any of my friends. While I was standing watching the tide of Parachicos passing by I noticed one particular participant shuffling forward, head moving side to side and noted, with a degree of perverse satisfaction and delayed inevitability, as they walked smartly into the back of a parked truck.

Incredibly, I managed to pick Abi out of the crowd from her shirt and we shuffled and shook our way to an undercover contraction in the street where a marimba band was serenading the passing Parachicos. The noise, heat and crush of bodies were too much, and it was with a degree of relief that we eventually emerged to a crossroad where the procession seemed to dissipate. We removed our masks and hats and, red faced, sat in the shade to take lunch and watch the world pass.

It was a wonderful spectacle. Strings of flags flutter ed overhead in the breeze framed by clear blue skies. Groups of parachicos strode past, shaking chin-chins and uttering muffled cries, caught up in some purpose beyond my comprehension. Groups of women and children in beautiful traditional dresses and stunning with their hair held back with headpieces showing their clear, dark skin flocked about the scene. Music drifted from bars and stages and mariachi groups resplendent in their matching suits wandered amongst the chaos. Everybody was clearly taking such pride in their involvement, looming fathers and their diminutive sons comically standing beside each other in identical costumes. The energy, commitment and natural dancing movement of the children was a sight to behold; an inspiration to apathetic English youth.

We eventually came upon the others, engaged in heavy drinking having abandoned their masks some time before and we proceeded to fritter the rest of the afternoon away in a haze of tequila, dancing and people watching. As Laura and I walked to a taco stand in the growing dusk still in costume, the rest of the group having fragmented to get changed, we received warm smiles and requests for photos; with our masks removed we were once again in the spotlight, but there was an overwhelming sense of respect from the Mexicans for our commitment to participating in their traditions.

Chiapa de Corzo

19th January 2009

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Night of The Man-ladies

On Thursday after school I headed over to my Mexican family’s shop to recieve a costume for the Fiesta de Chuntas. This fabled event that I`d heard about is the jewels in the crown of the fiesta month in Chiapa de Corzo. All I knew was that the men of the town dress as women (which was, in all fairness, an event in itself), but tonight I was to find out a great deal more. My family had asked me, grinning over the dinner table some days ago, if I would be interested in cross dressing with everyone else and, pursing my dream of cultural immersion, I enthusiastically (and rather naively) accepted.

On my arrival at the shop, Madre Tone rushed me around the corner to a seamstresses house where we were duly rejected; no more clothes for a man of my size.  Thus I was left standing in the house of Tone`s sister some ten minutes later, clad in the traditional women’s garb of a long flowing purple skirt with floral print and a low cut cream blouse with frilly sleeves and lace lining . The occupants of the house watched with glee as extensive makeup was applied to my face, my hair was gelled back and a floral headpiece duly clipped in place. Tone and her sister spared no expense; beauty spots, eyeliner, mascara, lipstick – my first experience of being made up was thorough to say the least.

My transformation complete and the trappings of my previous male persona dispatched to my house via Tone, there was no escape. Her sister Icha, my incredibly kindly self nominated guardian and guide for the evening bundled me into the back of the family car with her clearly amused husband and deposited me around at the house of one of her relatives to meet with other participants of the impending party. Sat on their sofa, dressed in full regalia and sandwiched between two archetypal Mexican men, large and trying very hard to assert their machismo, I began to wonder if I had made a terrible mistake.

Thankfully I wasn`t subjected to this for long and amongst a selection of women wearing the same outfit as me, we progressed from the house into the night. Apparently heading for the heart of the party, I saw groups of men swaggering around in dresses and the crowds of spectators begin to swell as we approached the centre of town. I was quite a spectacle, with cars honking their horns and winding down their windows to shout at me; I dutifully shook the maraca at them with which I had been issued.

We rounded the corner by the base of the steps below the waterfront Church and suddenly encountered the procession of the Chuntas. It was a vast, pulsing mass of colour, noise, movement and pure, powerful energy, preceded by a single figure covered from head to toe in black body paint and cut off jeans, sporting a broom with which he swept the streets in a shuffling, hopping dance before the mob. Icha and I were swallowed up by the procession, and I found myself surrounded on all sides by jubilant dancing Mexican men wearing frilly dresses.

The procession was driven by the relentless pounding of marching drums and whistle flutes played by groups of three or four musicians interspersed throughout the spectacle.  The sound was elevated to incredible proportions by the rhythm that came from every single member of the party, stamped out with their feet as they danced and from the thousands of maracas shaken simultaneously. It was a jubilant racket, punctuated by wild cries from indiscriminate callers within the crowd, most indecipherable to my ear but some like “Viva Chiapa de Corzo!” , answered with a roar from the rest of the crowd within earshot.

The procession crawled its way up the hill to a church where the revellers spilled into it, filling the building to capacity and beyond within minutes. The noise and passion from the participants was truly something to behold, amplified by the the high, arched ceilings. As quickly as the had arrived, the Chuntas surged for the small exit doors on the side of the church.  The vast mass of people squeezed through the tiny apertures, firing out into the street like a champagne cork from a bottle.

My initial feelings, aside from complete overawe and detached amusement were of inhibition. I didn`t understand the words of the people around me, I felt intimidated by the passion and intensity and was very self conscious about all the attention I was attracting from my fellow party goers and the army of spectators; I really was the only white guy in a dress.

A glass and a bottle of Jose Cuervo tequila were thrust in my face by a dancer and his group, grinning encouragement at me. I obliged, polishing off a few shots, and my inhibitions slowly melted away, allowing me to become infused with the spirit and energy of the night.  Icha was dancing and shaking with gusto dutifully beside me as I picked up my skirts like everyone around me and began to issue calls and drunken exclamation to the Mexican skies. Fireworks exploded above and ahead of us.  They were being sporadically set off, I was later to learn, by an elderly gentleman with a full arsenal inside a huge backpack who trudged ahead of the revelry to direct the masses.

The crowd squeezed through the constricted streets, at times so tightly packed that it was almost impossible to walk. The beat of the drummers would waver and die at these times, crushed and drowned by the press of bodies, but the crowd would rumble at the silence and shift and within seconds the pounding rhythm would begin again, accompanied by a roar from the surrounding dancers.

Icha suddenly took me by the arm and pulled me inside an empty house whose doorway faced the street. Before I knew what was happening the single, empty room with a huge alter at one end was packed to the rafters with Chuntas and wild dancing ensued. At some point the beat slowed and Icha bade me lower the maraca that I`d been shaking relentlessly for the last hour and a half.  Only the dancing persisted until, without warning, the beat quickened and the assembled revellers cheered and the maracas were sounded again in earnest.  As quickly as it had filled, the small room emptied leaving only a tiny wrinkled elderly woman with nut brown skin sat on a chair before the alter, head bowed.

We had, as far as I could ascertain in my awful Spanish, just paid homage to a saint by dancing in their house. The purpose of the procession was to visit each saint house and church in the town over the course of the next seven or eight hours, ending at about four in the morning.  I still have no idea as to the purpose of the cross dressing.

I ended up dancing in the procession for four hours, finally conceding at midnight. The locals, who had waited a year for the opportunity to cut loose, eventually finished up at about 8am in the morning with  the stench of alchohol filling the street.

I wasn’t expecting to say it, but I’ve never had so much fun wearing lipstick.

Chiapa de Corzo
10th January 2009

Footnote: It was brought to my attention that at some point during the evening I was interviewed on national television.  And yes, I have the footage.

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Reasons I Love Chiapa de Corzo 1

Tucked away in the corner of the central plaza is the “Heladaria y Paletaria“, or Ice Cream and Lolly Shop; the lynch pin of my daily routine. For a paltry ten pesos (roughly 50p) you can procure a nice chunky ice lolly crafted entirely from 100% pulped fruit. Mmmmmmm.

There´s all kinds of fresh fruit and veg sold around here; a bag of peeled and sliced mango from a street vendor can be yours for 10 pesos, and there’s a fantastic fruit and veg market right around the corner from my house where I can purchase my weight in vitamin laden produce for considerably less than I experienced in the UK. It´s easy and cheap to eat healthily here, you´ve just got to try and avoid pounding yourself with the extensive and rigorously marketed range of sweets and soft drinks that seem to be a mainstay in the Mexican diet…


Chiapa de Corzo
24th January 2009

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