Except for celebrations surrounding Holy Week, it's the biggest event of the year among the faithful, and even among those who score only más o menos on the religious fervor scale. Probably one-third of the municipal and private fireworks budgets go up in smoke that day, everything from the kaboom of large bowling bowl-size pieces to the far more common rat-tat-tat of lighter and cheaper artillery.
Michael is no wuss of a saint. A ten-foot statue in the median of the street leading to San Miguel's bus station shows him wielding a huge sword, his face contorted with anger and his wings spread out in a warlike manner, while his left foot rests on the throat of the Devil. Indeed, Roman Catholic hagiography depicts Michael as a mucho macho figure who led the angels in their victorious charge against the devil, rather than the type of angel who'd sit on a cloud plucking a harp.
Part of the celebration of St. Michael's day are processions--walkathons--originating as far away as nine or ten miles in the countryside and converging on San Miguel's main square and church. One of these pilgrimages began a half mile from our ranch, in the village of La Biznaga, and I decided to walk along.
It began as a smattering of 15 or 20 people carrying a small glass case containing St. Michael's statue but in a matter of only one mile or so it grew into a major event, with hundreds of people, dozens more on horseback, banners, Mexican flags fluttering in the cold wind and a spirited brass band who couldn't carry a tune if it tripped over it.
As the procession stepped off at 8:30 a.m.--punctually, a surprising touch for any kind of Mexican event--the first thing I noticed was the pace. I figured that a group of devout old matrons, teenagers and assorted kids would likely amble, meander or cruise leisurely through the countryside. This was more like an aerobic trot that had me struggling to keep up while trying to shoot photos. Riders joined the pedestrians at the same pace or faster; I don't know who was trying to keep up with whom.
After a couple of miles the procession slowed somewhat. After three miles--with about four miles to go to the center of town--I called Stew to come pick me up.
Some of the women whispered prayers and sang songs, under the leadership of hefty, no-nonsense grandma. But there was nothing resembling the seriously solemn tone of the Good Friday procession in San Miguel that takes practically all day. This was more like Casimir Pulaski Day in Chicago, where thousands of Poles dress up, bring out high school bands and 4-H Clubs banners and just walk through downtown.
It seemed like a man's type of religious procession too, with hundreds of cowboy hats, riders with fancy boots and spurs, and boys balancing on their fathers' saddles. One scrawny yellow dog, presumably belonging to one of the lead riders, walked officiously alongside in perfect formation except for periodic dashes to the bushes to take a pee.
As a further challenge to my flat feet, that night Stew and I went to the annual San Miguel Fair that was in full swing. The place was packed. I wonder if the determined grandma who led the Biznaga procession all the way downtown--seven or eight miles--was there too.
|Standard bearers leading the horseback contingent|
|A grandmotherly type was the parade marshall.|
|A double musical threat.|
|The smallest and most determined band member.|
|Out for a ride with dad.|
|My dad worked long and hard in the U.S. and |
brought me this leather jacket.
|My favorite image from the event.|
|Another father-and-son team, though not so fancily attired.|
|Non-walkers cheered on those people in the procession.|
|One of the few women riding in the procession, and a very beautiful one at that.|
|This photo and the four following: Boots styled at the procession,|
some brand-new, others well worn.
|This gentleman went all out: new hat, jacket,|
chaps, saddle and boots. Even the horse looked new.
|An hour after it started, the procession had grown to almost a quarter-mile long.|