Mosaico Méxicano, by Laurel

Notes on art/love and fire/passion: There is a pepper vine in the
neighbor’s yard. We can reach it from the roof, and a couple of the
peppers have grown on our side of the fence. One evening we picked one
and sliced it up. With my teeth, I bit off a centimeter of the vibrant
orange fruit. For ten minutes a fire raged in my throat and mouth,
tears streaming down my cheeks and chin, laughing; I am reminded with
a sharp pinch that I am alive, and this is not a dream. The vine winds
its way to our second story rooftop sundeck by way of a stonefruit
tree, in whose branches it luxuriates and winds gracefully. The tree
is in bloom with ten thousand delicate pink flowers like rice paper.
Together, the pair—the flaming habaneros and delicate flowers, later
to be delicate sweet fruit—take no heed of the barbed wire fence that
separates the neighbor’s property from ours; drifting like smoke,
gracefully trespassing.

Notes on celebration: Every day is a holiday. Across San Cristóbal,
and across the mountains around Oventic, the rockets explode, two on
the hour, to invite neighboring pueblos and barrios to the
festivities; the roar ricochets off mountains and cathedrals and
gorges. At the Universidad de la Tierra, we attended the festival de
la Virgin de la Candelaria: the smoke of incense, the air opaque, and
the echoing prayers of a hundred indigenous voices; the procession
later through the starry night with candles and sparklers.

Notes on dignity: At the feast, I sat across from an indigenous couple
from San Joaquín de la Libertad, an autonomous Zapatista pueblo. The
woman spoke only some Castellano, but her husband spoke fluently. I
have forgotten her name, but his was Augustín. He told us about living
in the pueblo. Both, like most of the other people in the comedór,
wore traditional colorful floral textiles of incredible complexity. I
asked the woman about them. She told me that she made hers and her
husband’s. He chimed in that by the patterns and colors, one could
distinguish from whence all the wearers came; that every pueblo has
its own textile recipe. I later found out that interwoven in this
incredible artisanship is a history of imperialism: the colors were
once part of a system of identification imposed by the Spanish, over
time becoming immersed in indigenous aesthetic and art. Augustín told
us that he had once lived in Arizona for six months, working in laying
tile and gardening. He had left when the state became more dangerous
for him. After we finished our tamales and a dessert of cake and a
thick corn beverage, the band began to play. We moved all the
furniture against the walls and the dance began. The other children of
the US and I danced a-synchronously and made jokes to disguise that we
could not dance together because we did not know how. Augustín and his
wife danced gracefully through the sea of colors that also
danced—dignified and proud.

Notes on empire: One day when it was hot out we worked in the milpa,
breaking up the land with hoes to plant the season’s maíz. I worked
barefoot and the cool earth, damp from the week’s rains, swirled
between my toes. We worked sweating for hours until blisters bid us
stop and then we lay down our hoes and went to find the river. The
path wound down into the forest past the milpa, and through its thick
musk of cool sun-freckled soil and decomposing leaves. Orchids grow
from the armpits of the trees, green and red, and the river at the end
is dark green. It flowing between rocks rounded and smoothed into
impossible shapes like water themselves, frozen; trees hang over them,
and far above, the great mountains become shear as cliffs, made of
solid stone that sprouts horizon upon horizon of life. The trees also
are wearing shrouds. The shrouds are mostly white, but also blue and
sometimes black and other colors. They waive in the breeze slightly,
tattered, in many pieces. Some of them have logos of food like corn
and tortillas and rice and beans. Others, of big stores and
construction companies. Some of them say nothing at all. Efraín told
us that the shrouds mark the high water in the season of the
rains—they are nearly ten feet tall. He said that the shrouds only
appeared a few years ago, but that while the trees may shed them and
dawn new ones next rainy season, the shrouds go somewhere, and they
will not be truly gone for a thousand years or more. We walked down
river just a little bit to where the water leaps off of a small cliff
and plunges into a deep green pool in a narrow gorge sheltered by
trees. The mist fills the air, sweet and cool. The empire strangles
the land here, as well as the people.

Notes on the sun speaking to the rain: I sat on the orange and white
painted stairs that lead up the hill at the end of Reál Guadalupe to
the cathedral at its summit that is also painted orange and white. It
rained so hard today that I thought the glass roof on the courtyard
would shatter, but now it has stopped, and leviathan cumulus clouds
cruise the sky. It is the late afternoon, and the sun finds paths
though the clouds at times, and glazes their fat bodies deep orange. I
was played banjo for hours there, watching the sky, and the people
passing up and down the stairs. At one time, a young woman in a
wedding dress with her father and a procession of bridesmaids slowly
passed. Many times the bells sang in the belfry. Two young girls,
maybe ten years old, skipped up and down the stairs, waiting at times
and giggling near me. Finally they approached me and asked me if I was
from California. I told them yes, and they asked for my autograph. I
scrawled my signature and some silly comment about it being good to
meet them and greetings from California and they giggled and ran away.
Ten minutes later, they brought me flowers. The sky slowly grew dark
and gray, and as I left the little girls followed nearby but after a
block vanished. I bought sweetbread and ate it as I walked, with
flowers stuck in my banjo and hair.


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