Something a little lighter for Cinco de Mayo (Full Version)

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Richard Jernigan -> Something a little lighter for Cinco de Mayo (May 6 2021 8:51:21)

I was about ten years old when this came out, but a little more than seven years later I made it for the first time to the Teatro Blanquita just up the Avenida San Juan de Letran from the Plaza Garibaldi on a Saturday night.

The vatos in their zoot suits and the chulitas in pleated skirts, saddle shoes and bobby sox put me in deep shade with their dance moves, but Perez Prado's was one of the two or three tightest bands ever to play on this planet.

When the band was done playing for the night you could walk south on San Juan de Letran to the Cafe El Moro for churros and chocolate--if you could get in.

When I got back from Mexico that fall and started at the University of Texas, "Cherry Pink" was on all the juke boxes--along with Elvis on Mystery Train, Chuck Berry on Johnny B. Goode.....

At tiny Pop's restaurant next to the intramural sports field, Ramona S. worked the counter while Pop ran the grill. She was the reason Pop's was always packed for breakfast and lunch. Get there early or you wouldn't get a seat at the counter. Nobody could get a date with Ramona. I couldn't get a date, but if I was cool about it I could get a smile while nobody else was looking.

Research revealed a couple of key points:

1.) She was almost exactly my age, 17, birthday the week before Christmas.

2.) Her uncle Carlos kept a close eye on her. He hung out at Tony's bar next door to Pop's, drank coffee and played chess in the afternoon. Nobody knew what, if anything, he did for a living.

I was no better than average at chess, but one of the math grad students I met was nationally ranked. He knew Carlos and respected him. My edited Maryland driver's license was put to good use. Covertly backing my chess playing friend's bets I made uncle Carlos's acquaintance. We were careful to lose a little money to him, but just a little. I made it slightly profitable for my friend. He said Carlos played a good game. "Interesting style," he said.

I managed to give the false impression that I was an upstanding and trustworthy young man. After mild interrogation on our third or fourth visit, I sheepishly admitted I was "only barely 19." Tony didn't care. After being suavely threatened by uncle Carlos, I was granted a night out with Ramona.

We took our own copy of Cherry Pink to the Texas Student Union dance, just to be sure.
The University kids were mainly into the dirty bop, a little swing, and slow dreamy two-step. The DJ was way ahead of us, trying to slip in a little cool with the cha-cha.

If only enough people could have watched Ramona dance cha-cha, it would have brought about world peace.

Despite my goings and comings to and from Austin over the years, we remained good friends until she was a plump abuelita with lots of kids and grandkids, and one of the best cooks in the Barrio. All "platonic" except for the comida, which was hotly carnal.

She wanted a boy from the Barrio, and I didn't qualify. She said I sounded like a north side San Antonian con aires. Teased me about my gringo family, and my Mom being friends with Señora Rodriquez de Magnon, with a "q."

Mona's been gone for almost seven years now. The Barrio is being gentrified at warp speed. People in a fancy new apartment block are complaining about the low rider club that has met in the park across the street every Saturday for the last 40 years.

But your can buy a real taco in a restaurant, which you couldn't do when I got here.

Think I'll fix bistec ranchero for supper.


Filip -> RE: Something a little lighter for Cinco de Mayo (May 6 2021 10:43:43)

I love Perez Prado, thanks Richard.
Gustavo Dudamel with Simon Bolivar orchestra have a few mambo performances, these are also great.

edguerin -> RE: Something a little lighter for Cinco de Mayo (May 6 2021 17:52:59)

Just for the record:
May 5th 2021 is also the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's death.

BarkellWH -> RE: Something a little lighter for Cinco de Mayo (May 6 2021 18:27:59)


Just for the record: May 5th 2021 is also the 200th anniversary of Napoleon's death.

There is an interesting connection between Napoleon's death On May 5th and Cinco de Mayo. Cinco de Mayo is a minor holiday in Mexico, officially celebrated only in the city of Puebla. It commemorates the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862, in which a ragtag band of some 3,000 Mexican troops and militia (the exact number is uncertain), commanded by General Ignacio Zaragoza, was sent by President Benito Juarez to defend the city of Puebla against a much larger French force of some 6,000 to 7,000 troops under General Charles de Latrille de Lorencez. The Mexicans fortified the town and defeated the French force. At the time, Napoleon III, who was a nephew of Napoleon I, was emperor of France.

In 1861, Mexico was in financial ruin and had defaulted on debts to Britain, Spain, and France. All three sent forces to Vera Cruz. Britain and Spain negotiated with Mexico and withdrew, but France, under Napoleon III, decided to press its advantage and carve out an Empire on Mexican territory, sending a fleet and troops to invade Mexico in late 1861. The timing was opportune, as the United States was engaged in the Civil War and was not in a position to simultaneously take on both the Confederacy and the French in Mexico in support of the Monroe Doctrine.

The defeat of the French at the Battle of Puebla was a minor tactical victory but a major symbolic triumph. Nevertheless, Napoleon III sent more troops and in 1864 installed Austrian Archduke Ferdinand Maximilian (accompanied by his wife Carlota) as Emperor of Mexico. After the U.S. Civil War ended with a defeated Confederacy, the U.S. assisted Mexico against the French, with the French withdrawing in 1866. The hapless Maximilian was caught and executed by firing squad in 1867. The lovely Carlota was in Europe at the time trying to drum up support for Maximilian and thus escaped a similar fate.


Richard Jernigan -> RE: Something a little lighter for Cinco de Mayo (May 7 2021 5:13:38)

Maximillan was executed on a hill outside of the city of Santiago de Queretaro. During the time from his capture until his execution he was held in a convent in the city.

We used to go to Queretaro with the kids after Christmas. The tradition originated on a car trip to Mexico City to pick up a couple of guitars ordered from Juan Pimentel. The instruments were available a few of days after they were promised, as usual. Pimentel had a large professional clientele in the city, and their needs had highest priority.

I went by the shop one morning. The final rubdown of the polish was in progress, done by a couple of Pimentel's assistants/relatives. In the afternoon, with the car packed, and with my wife and kids in it, we parked in front of the shop on the Calle Dr. Martinez del Rio. After another hour or so we were on our way home.

When it got dark we stopped at Queretaro. Having never stayed there before we drove around until we spotted a hotel in a promising location, on a square in front of the Cathedral. They had a big room with three beds and balconies overlooking the square, for a cheap price. The hotel was old, a little worn around the edges, but clean and neat. They recommended La Flor de Queretaro on the corner for supper. It was good, but the only dish I remember was my three-year old son's standard order in Mexico, steak and potatoes.

The next morning we arose after the sun was well up, had a leisurely breakfast, and sat around the room drinking coffee from the Thermos we had them fill at the cafe, snacking on pan dulce. Monterrey was the planned destination, with a night at the Ancira. Glancing out the French doors to the balcony I noticed something going on in the square outside. I went out to see about it.

Back inside I said to my wife, "There are people making fireworks in the square. It's New Years Eve, want to stay another night?"

"Oh yes, of course!" she answered.

In those days there were itinerant fireworks clans. Each one drove around the country from one fiesta to the next in a convoy of trucks laden with gunpowder, chemicals for colors and special effects, used cardboard boxes, sticks and timbers of different sizes, and bales of old newspapers. Arriving in advance, they made the fireworks on the spot, and put up various structures. The operation in the square looked to be a big one.

Also in the square there were food stalls under tents, and vending carts. At 1:30 the crowd for comida was thick, but down a side street there were open air stalls with seats available. The cook and her husband made a fuss over the kids in standard Mexican fashion, and recited a short menu. I didn't hear them mention the robust sandwiches that were on display. I asked for tortas.

"Los llamamos guajalotes [turkeys]," I was informed.

"Bien, cuatro guajalotes, por favor."

"Quisiera plumas? [Do you want feathers?]"

"Sí, plumas de todo tipo."

While the cooking went on, we were treated to the history of Maximiliano, his capture and confinement in the convent across the street, and his eventual execution.

Back at the hotel, after sundown a crowd began to fill the plaza. A reception line of sorts formed below our balconies. Turned out it was the Mayor, the Governor, their spouses and entourages standing with their backs to the hotel wall. A steady stream of people filed by. Handshakes and abrazos of various degrees of intimacy and duration were exchanged according to the rank and gender of the participants.

About 10 PM the fireworks started. In those days fireworks in Mexico were meant to be dangerous to the spectators. Castillos were lit off. They are like windmills, only the blades are propelled by rockets affixed to their tips. They spew great deluges of sparks in a vertical plane. Teenage boys in white T-shirts ran under them, then returned to their ciiques so the holes burnt into their shirts could be admired.

As time went on the incendiary intensity mounted. Bursting rockets filled the rectangle of night sky above the plaza, lighting the upturned faces of the crowd. A nearly continuous volley of explosions filled the air with a steady floor shaking roar.

Our four-year old daughter was out on the balcony with us, jumping up and down with joy and excitement. Our three-year old son asked his mother to hold him, but seemed confident after she picked him up.

There are three closely spaced plazas at Queretaro. A mysterious surge of the crowd headed out of our plaza into an adjacent one. Eventually people started coming back. I called down from the balcony to ask what was going on. A man explained that the giant Christmas tree in the next plaza had caught fire from sparks falling from the rockets, blazing spectacularly and letting the firemen join the fun.

Nearing a climax toward midnight, a contraption that had puzzled me was put into action. It looked like an oversized wagon wheel, set up vertically on its axle like a wheel would be. The axle was fixed to a stout timber frame. The rockets on the big wheel were lit off and it began to rotate, faster and faster. Two men hauled on a lever. The wheel turned on its side, then took off, flying up into the air. Everybody cheered. At an altitude of 40 or 50 feet the wheel began to fire rockets down into the crowd. Everybody cheered louder. The crowd surged, some trying to escape the descending fire, others trying to make sure that their clothes were scorched.

In what we mistook for the climax, a 40-foot high castillo with horizontal blades was set off. It produced a spectacular circle of flame and smoke, and a satisfying cascade of sparks for the crowd below.

After the castillo finally sputtered out, everything quieted for a moment. Then the real climax was revealed. The entire front of the cathedral lit up with white phosphorous so bright it was almost painful to look at. There were streams of brilliant light streaming from the highest points, covering the walls in white flames.

As our eyes adjusted to the glare, we could see that the bell tower was crowded with people. Under the anti-clerical Constitution of 1917 it was still illegal to appear on the street dressed as a priest. We learned later that the church and the city alternated paying for the fireworks. This year it was the church's turn, and they dressed in full regalia to take credit for it.

People were silenced at first then broke into the loudest cheer of the night. The brilliance continued for minutes, then began to dim a little. Nobody in the crowd moved. They seemed to expect something more. As the light dimmed further, a figure showered with sparks began to be seen lounging against the front of the church, calmly smoking a cigarette. It was the jefe of the fireworks makers. People began to clap and cheer. As the applause peaked he took off his hat and made a sweeping bow. His straw hat was in flames.

People began to crowd into the church for midnight mass. Our daughter watched in silence. As the last person left the plaza she turned to me. "They're just going home for supper," she said. "They'll be back in a little while."

We had to search the room for our son. We found him asleep where he had taken shelter under one of the beds.

The next year my parents asked to come to Mexico with us. They had been across the border many times, but never into the interior. We went to Guanajuato for some colonial achitectural splendor, then to Queretaro for the fireworks. Neither disappointed.

As we sat in the hotel room on New Year's Day, there was a stout knock on the door. It turned out to be my motorcycling buddy Willie McK and his wife Jean. They had been camping on the beach at Manzanillo, but knowing we would be in Queretaro, they decided to show up and find us for a New Year's ritual practiced in the South of the USA. They recognized our car parked on the street behind the hotel.

For good luck, you need to eat black-eyed peas on the first day of the year. They had the peas, a camp stove and a pot, but no dishes to serve the food on. Our daughter solved the problem by producing the doll's tea set she had received for Christmas and insisted on bringing to Mexico. Six adults and two kids scarfed down cow-peas from miniature dishes and spiced them up with leftover salsa saved from breakfast.

We returned every year for several years.


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