I know that this is going to sound weird, but whenever I go for walks, if I don't carry my iPod with me--and trust me, in the streets of Guatemala I don't carry my iPod with me--I always have a "playlist" going on in my head. This has been a fact way before such things as iPods were but a gleam in Apple's eye. And driving by myself without music feels like a fate worse than death.
Moreover, whenever I am bored, I think music and imagine my own version of music videos that would go with each song. In other words, I was colonized by MTV in my teens and never broke free.
Lately, whenever I walk to art school I have that Green Day song going on in an endless loop I walk this empty street, on the boulevard of broken dreams ... I walk alone, I walk alone ... That mental playlist includes a lot of Alice in Chains songs, by the way. Remember them?
So it has been a catastrophe that my hard disk crashed and my fabulous iTunes playlist, amassed over several years, was lost. One of my favorite playlists was titled New Orleans. Not to mention my Pink Floyd playlist. The only thing that kept me from desperation was that all that Haiti earthquake tragedy had just occurred, and it seemed somewhat shallow, with all that going on, to bewail my lost iTunes.
Trying to re-create it from the iPod involves so many Byzantine loops I am thinking of just starting from scratch and re-creating the whole damn thing. There are programs online that help one do that, so I am looking into that. But damn, if this hasn't been aggravating.
Oh well, I'll survive. I survived raising 3 kids and undertaking a doctoral dissertation, I'll survive this. That's the backdrop of my life right now.
The photos from today are from a store which is very old, named Julio Dubois, Escultor (Jules Dbois, Sculptor). Some Belgian guy, I believe, settled in Guatemala in the 1940s and thrived as a sculptor of saints. Who wouldn't? This country is Catholic sort of in the same way Saudi Arabia is Muslim. I may exaggerate slightly, but only slightly.
The Dubois family is now established in the local collective consciousness as THE makers of saints' statues. Since they also repair antique saints, people take their family statues to them.
I went with somebody who was taking an antique Spanish saint for repair, and that is how I got to see this cavernous, dark and gloomy 2-story shop crammed--I mean, crammed--with all things saints for church and household.
There was plenty of interest, some of it pleasant and/or pretty, some of it so kitschy and downright ugly it was actually cool. There was an almost life-sized saint wearing, I don't really know why, what looks like the kind of shoes old men wear in South Florida. Kind of orthopedic-looking walking shoes. But some Cristos yacentes--dead Christs--were beautiful.
A great many of the saints are adult-sized or almost adult-sized. Okay, I know this is going to sound brutally mean, but I am just saying it like it is. The almost-adult sized statues I am referring to are actually adult-size for Guatemala, because most people here seem to be under 4 feet tall. I am serious. I am 5'4" and whenever I am in large crowds in Guatemala, the mens' heads reach my shoulder. With the sombrero on, they may reach my cheekbone.
I am talking of campesino and blue collar crowds, the upper middle classes are much taller. I believe it is part of the Mayan phenotype to be short and possibly--surely--it is also due to the generalized undernourishment of the population at large for many generations.
Now a lot of the saints look exactly the same--versions of what the statues of Jesus would look like if Jesus had lived to be middle-aged--but if it has a rosary it is one saint, if a book it is another saint, if it has staff it is another, if it has deers, birds and squirrels around it is another, and so on.
The deer-birds-and-squirrels saint reminds me of those Disney films where Snow White or Cinderella dance around singing while birds, rabbits, squirrels and deer twirl all around them.
I kind of like the nature-friendly and animal-friendly theme, though. I read somewhere that some monasteries--Franciscans?--were even vegetarian. Actually I should look that up, that sounds really interesting. The eco-friendly monasteries of the Middle Ages.
Now I have yet another excuse to go peruse dusty bookstores. Or... I can google it. But that would be just half the fun. Think I'll do both.
The Disney-ish theme is pervasive throughout the saint paraphernalia in this store. If I were Catholic, I think I would find it disrespectful that they concoct a Madonna as Little Bo Peep, but there were several in that kind of get-up.
Okay, somebody just told me right now that it is in the sense of Christians as sheep, and Jesus as the shepherd, and she being the mother of Jesus... you get the idea. If I did, you do too.
There are several altar boys, yet no altar girls in this world, y'all. I am going to adopt this one. He has the EXACT EXPRESSION that my kids always had when they were saying "Me? No, I didn't!" or "I don't know. Really, I don't" or "Why must you always think I did it?" and so on.
If you don't have children yet and plan to (reconsider! reconsider now!) memorize that facial expression. And when you see it again, you know it: He or she is lying.
So I shall adopt this altar boy. He will remind me of what I don't have to deal with anymore. The same expression, yes, but he is quiet and stays wherever he's placed.
The one above, I like. Perhaps a bit overcharged on the fabric stuff, but it's okay. Still like it. That one is a "household" Madonna and the one below is a "church" Madonna. The difference is self-explanatory. I mean, you can certainly purchase a church Madonna for your home, I guess, but it is the kind of piece you'd have to plan the whole décor around it.
Notice how the "household" Madonna is warm and smiling and the "church" Madonna is distant, serious and cold. The familiar versus the institutional? With the second one, it wouldn't occur to you to think "Hey, I wanna play with her hair!" as it would with the first one, right?
What, you didn't think of that? That's the first thing that occurred to me, to do her hair. All kidding aside, though, they do sell all sorts of different outfits for the Madonna statues so you do actually get to change her clothes if you want to.
Okay, seriously. It is an interesting store to visit. It has a rooted place in the local culture and tradition and it is interesting to go with somebody who knows about Catholic lore and symbolism as I did, who can explain stuff. Some (some!) of the things are really beautiful, most are interesting, and even the ugly stuff is interesting. Even more so, I would say.
Interesting, as well, is to overhear the shoppers' comments, because they show that people here have an intensely intimate and familiar relationship with these icons. They "baby talk" the baby Jesus and coo over the Madonnas. Things like that.
Many believers here--mostly women--do things like set some saints upside down on their heads to pressure them into granting some request. Yeah, I know, talk about pressure. I was going to make a joke about waterboarding a saint as a coercive measure to get a wish granted, but that may appear a bit disrespectful of these practices. And even though some seem amusing or quirky to me, I am not disrespectful. We all seek spiritual comfort through different means. It's a crappy enough world as it is, y'all.
One of the shop attendants told me that the Pietá (above) is one of their most popular items with older women. Younger women prefer cherubs and the younger-looking Madonna statues. I wonder if they start liking the Little Bo Peep type Madonnas as children, then graduate to the young-mom Madonna and then move on to the Pietá madonnas... see, now that could be a paper!
Men are more into crucifixes and everybody buys rosaries. A great many houses have altars and some even have altars in each bedroom, so the shop is doing well.
The Jesus in the photo above, he's got MY hair. Yep, that's what my hair looks like if I allow it to do what it will.
This is it for today, just a slice of local culture via a saints shop. Talking of which, my dinner tonight shall be pache. I really like paches by a factor of, a lot.
A pache is a tamal made of boiled potato dough instead of the traditional ground corn dough. I prefer mine vegetarian, but most have a piece of stewed chicken inside. The difference between pache and other tamales, is that pache is made--traditionally--only on Thursdays and they are smaller and hotter/spicier than regular tamales. They tend to have a strip of jalapeño pepper inside.
You're supposed to eat it with lots of freshly squeezed lime juice and pan francés. We often offer paches on our breakfast menu here at the inn and they invariably completely sell out. So I will leave you for today with a picture of what such a dinner--or breakfast--looks like.
Hotel - Lofts - Parking
In the Historic District of Guatemala City
Hotel - Lofts - Parking
In the Historic District of Guatemala City