I have never heard anyone who lives in Mexico City complain of boredom. The city has a relentless energy and there is always far more going on than you could ever keep track of. In my case, despite having roamed far and wide around the city, I am still making new discoveries, finding intrigue and being surprised and bewildered in equal measure. However, the city can and will take its toll on your patience and sanity; endless traffic jams, tightly packed public transport in sweaty climes, the noise, the pollution – they all add up and sooner or later you’ll seek an escape, albeit temporary.
In that vein, residents in their hundreds of thousands, if not millions, decided to get the hell out of the city in what is known here as “Semana Santa” (holy week), the week that precedes Easter. I stayed put in the city. The streets were noticeably calmer, traffic flowed, I could frequently board the metrobus on my first attempt. Every day was Sunday. Strange times.
The one definite plan I had for the Easter break here in the city was to check out the Passion Play of Itzapalapa. Iztapalapa, situated in the east of the city is the most populous of the Federal District’s 16 delegaciónes (borough or municipality) and is also notorious for crime, poverty and myriad social problems. As usual, people who have lived their whole lives in the city, expressed surprise at my intention to attend this event in what is considered by many to be a dangerous place. As usual, I couldn’t be dissuaded.
Good Friday morning got underway fairly normally, but at around 9:30 am local time a spanner was thrown into the works in the form of a 7.2 – on the richter scale- earthquake, which is one of the stronger earthquakes to hit the city in recent times, although shy of the 8.1 quake that wreaked havoc on the capital in 1985. As the quake increased in intensity I realised that I would need to evacuate my building. I rushed down the stairs and joined the other remnant folk of DF, several in pyjamas, on the street for some minutes before people made an unofficial decision that it was safe to reenter the building.
About an hour and a half later I emerged from Line 8 of the metro system at the Cerro de la Estrella Station into the streets blocked off to traffic. It was immediately evident that the semana santa tranquility didn’t extend to the streets of Itzapalapa. Obviously a greatly religious day, Good Friday in Iztapalapa is also a day of great commerce. Mexico City street vendors never miss an opportunity to turn a profit and the throngs of spectators provided ample opportunity for reciprocal feasting. Amongst the fixed and roaming vendors, hundreds of men – mainly young, loitered in the streets, many bare-chested, dwarfed by their accompanying wooden crosses. Later they would follow the ascent of the acting Jesus to his mock crucifixion.
I watched the interpretation of the Last Judgement from quite a distance. It was all very elaborate and finally Jesus made his long awaited appearance, swarmed by clamouring media as if the actor were actually Christ himself. In fact the role was played by 31 year old engineering student, Eduardo Guzmán Flores, necessarily a born and bred Iztapalapa local, stipulated by the selection criteria. To prepare for the role, vows of celibacy and sobriety are required along with the undertaking of a strict and intensive physical training regime to prepare for the arduous role which includes hauling a 90kg cross up a steep hill in stifling weather.
The only shot you’ll see of him in the gallery below is on the big screen. I didn’t have the appropriate credentials to compete with the vulturous professional press to get a close shot. Some climbed trees to seek a better vantage point to see Christ hammered, others bought ‘telescopios’, extendable cardboard tubes with interior mirrors – more like periscopes – to get their visual fix of Christ. I relied on the ground and my own line of sight to varying degrees of success.
There was plenty of other visual stimulation and what I enjoyed most of the day was observing and interacting with my fellow spectators. As I expected the atmosphere was jovial, friendly, family-oriented in the large part and not in the least threatening as some Mexico City folk would lead you to believe. The day is different for everyone, everyone had their own idea and purpose; red cross volunteers providing medical aid when required, the aforesaid young men hauling crosses in a double act of piousness and masculinity, the baker selling traditional easter bread inscribe with “para mi pinche suegra” (for my f***in’ mother-in-law), men getting drunk on beer or micheladas in large white styrofoam cups, police keeping the peace in large numbers. The list goes on. I’ll long remember the day.