Contrast: The state of being strikingly different from something else.
I took part in two strikingly contrasting cultures over the weekend. Fire pit is a term for cooking food over wood fires. Fire Bird is a classical ballet performance.
Last weekend my friend Alondra invited me to Carnival in Teabo, her pueblo 2 hours from Merida. It was my second visit with the Ick family, Gaspar, Elsie, 7 siblings, dozens of cousins, nieces, nephews, grandchildren, and aunts and uncles, many of whom dropped by over the weekend. Coming from my pueblo, Berkeley California, I couldn’t help but notice that no one hugged or kissed when they met, both deeply entrenched Berkeley customs. In fact they barely acknowledged one another. I don’t know if this is true for all Maya families but it’s true for the Ick Clan. But I’m a hugger so I hugged the Icks and their guests and they hugged me back, albeit halfheartedly. I was just showing them my pueblo’s custom.
Elsie started the cooking fires at 6:30 Saturday morning. She got the logs about 8 feet long and 6 inches around burning under 3 grills and grates. They have a gas stove but don’t use it much because propane is expensive, but they were out of gas anyway. Fires hot, she cooked breakfast, eggs from their hens, scrambled with bacon, and the ubiquitous stack of tortillas. As soon as the breakfast dishes were washed Elsie stoked the fires to cook Comida.
Pozole was on the menu for Comida and Elsie simmered hers over a fire for 6 hours in an aluminum, industrial sized, lidded pot 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet tall. She roasted a heap of tomatoes, onions, and garlic on a grill, put them in a blender, and strained the mixture through a sieve. She diluted the thick tomato sauce with water and this became the base for pozole, which means hominy. Elsie’s was rojo pozole but there are also verde and blanco versions. Various dried chilis, seasonings, and hominy, huge kernels of white corn were added, and after simmering for several hours, generous amounts of pork were added and cooked until the meat fell off the bone.
She served up bowls of pozole with unsalted crispy tortilla chips, which were crunched and added to the pozole like we add saltines to soup at home. Delicious doesn’t adequately describe the flavors that flooded my taste buds. The hominy lent a tender, slightly chewy texture not unlike garbanzo beans, and the pork satisfied in a way that, well, only pork can. I passed on the pig’s feet.
Much of Ick family life seems centered around food and eating. While far from wealthy the Icks have sufficient money to eat well. Gaspar drives a produce truck round trip to Cancun twice a week and Elsie has a weekend restaurant that does a brisk business. So many relatives dropped by to eat I wondered if Elsie routinely feeds less fortunate relatives out of a sense of family duty. She also left a bowl of pozole on the stonewall for her neighbor.
Alondra and I wore pirate costumes for Carnival. Friday night small children as young as 5, dressed in homemade, primary colored costumes. The tiny boys and girls danced and shook their small bodies con gusto. Precious came to mind. Everyone in the standing crowd was related to someone performing.
Unlike my last sleepless weekend in Teabo I figured out how to navigate a hamaca and actually slept well considering the plethora of mosquitoes buzzing around this particular weekend. I spent most of Saturday sitting on the patio doing my best imitation of a fly on the wall.
I took a bus to Merida early Sunday morning because I had a ticket to the 1:00 matinee of Fire Bird, performed by the Bolshoi ballet. The bus trip took 3 hours instead of the usual 2, making dozens of stops along the way to Merida. It was already hot in the morning and the open bus windows didn’t provide much relief.
I got to my apartment with time to spare, shaved, showered, and put on my Bolshoi Ballet clothes, shoes, a clean shirt and a pair of pants that weren’t jeans. I’d been to the Peon Contreras Teatro for the symphony so I knew the layout when I purchased my ticket last month. I sat 7th row center right, perfect because I was close enough to watch the performers act as well as dance.
They performed selections from several ballets. A friend mentioned this was the Bolshoi’s 4th team so to speak and having seen the 1st team in San Francisco I did notice some difference. But I’m not discounting the marvelous performances.
2,000 years of Maya history is obvious in the faces of the Yucatan people. In contrast the Russian ballet dancers have pale, chiseled faces. The Russian’s lithe bodies contrasted with Maya bodies, which can most politely be described as leaning toward chubby.
The Carnival crowd was 100% Maya. When I looked around I wondered if non-white folks at home feel the contrast in the manner I did, one different color pebble on a beach of pebbles all the same color. No one seemed to notice me. Perhaps the Maya are simply polite but I appreciated not being reminded of the contrast.
I can’t imagine a more colorful, culturally rich, contrasting weekend.
Beginning to plan a trip to Chiapas, a mountain community at the tip of the Yucatan.