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Friday, June 02, 2006

A Mexican Feast...with an Unexpected Guest

One of my most memorable experiences in Mexico was none other than the Reyes dinner, a sort of Mexican BBQ, at Guizman. Guizman is this decent-sized town a few hours outside Guadalajara. Within the plaza of the town you can still see the desert mountains interlocking the sky in a truly Mexican mystic fashion. Haciendas abound in this dusty area. Old men strut through the town's streets in cowboy hats and with a certain ancient weather-beating in their leathery skin. The way of the "charro", the Mexican cowboy, can be found in the landscape, in the golden tint of the sun cascading on the cathedral walls, and in the squinting eyes of the inhabitants. To breath in the air of Guizman is to breath in the smell of old lasso rope and desert mountain air; it was good to be outside the huge city of Guadalajara.

Erik Reyes was going to his hometown to visit his family accompanied by Jenny (his wife), and myself...eager to see small town Mexico. Erik's father was an opportunistic man; had opened up a nice comfy littly shop on the market streets of Guizman; business was doing well and the Reyes family was having a dinner, a full-fledged grill out at Grandfather Reyes' house that afternoon. In Mexico, lunch is not lunch. It is dinner. A large feast takes place with much food, much drink, and much chit-chat. Dinner is always eaten at 3 or 4 in the afternoon. It took my stomach awhile to get accustomed to that; I still haven't managed to switch back.

Family is an utmost important aspect in the lives of Mexicans. And this afternoon was to be a truly Mexican ordeal. The Reyes family was coming together and all was to be normal and authentically Mexican except for one slight alteration. -Their crazy uncle, Apollino. You see crazy uncles come in many shapes and sizes; probably over half of us have them. In some ways crazy uncles are a blessing. They make family reunions worth going to. They make good childhood stories. They make weddings a hit, and they make opening up belated birthday presents an all out adventure. But some times the crazy uncle can actually step over that line of laughable idiosyncracies and stumble into the darkness of utter mayhem and complete chaos. This was somewhat the case of Apollino.

My first exposure to anything abnormal at the Mexican dinner was the family cat. Erik, Jenny, and I had arrived early and out under the tent where the table and chairs sat, walking around was this purple cat. It's white fur was spray painted purple for some sort of twisted fashion statement. Then my eyes scanned the surroundings and caught the artwork on the wall. There was this round shield with the name "Apollino" painted on it. Inside the house was a picture with what seemed to be a princess with a cut out of George W. Bush's face on it. He was talking to the harlequins pictured below. Then the whole family arrived. This house was the grandfather's who was a nice old man, a devout Catholic, who ages ago almost joined the clergy. Erik's father arrived and another uncle; the benevolent uncle with his energetic wife. They both were into the charismatic movement. Then there was a cousin of Erik's and last but certainly not least was the crazy uncle, Apollino.

Before the crowd arrived, Jenny had caught a glimpse of the crazy uncle attempting to tidy up the house, sweeping the hallway in a shirt and nothing else. No pants. No underwear. Just the crazy uncle's proud anatomy. As the table was set, I still hadn't seen the crazy uncle myself. I awaited in eager expectation. I couldn't wait for this moment of awkwardness. Then he walked out into the courtyard and where everything was set for dinner. He was a skeleton of a man for they say that he never eats anything. He bore this red beannie on his head like a cardinal and sat down right beside me. He had this bizarre, dark, even sinister look in his eyes. I can still recall the way they implied of something darker than what could be seen with the physical eye. Right before the prayer, Apollino had skirted off and didn't return until we were all eating.

As a second helping of the meat, carne asada, was simmering on the grill, Apollino talked on and on. All conversation was in Spanish, so it left me in the dark. But he proceeded to give Jenny and I, the non-Mexicans, gifts. I received this old Mexican coin from 1984 and a little shop bag from some gift shop. He gave Jenny a necklace. Then he went on talking and later his speech was translated to me. He basically said to Jenny, "You're a follower of that Jesus." And he proceeded to pour contempt on Christ. (Jenny wouldn't tell me exactly what he said) At which Jenny aptly responded (who was bilingual) "I'm not gonna sit here and listen to your trash." Before the dinner when there wasn't much to do but talk....and not knowing any Spanish left me very bored, I was reading a book by Jim McGuiggan about Jesus. Apollino asked me if I was a Christian. I told him yes. He proceeded to talk more rambling on all kinds of incoherent nonsense. But I could barely make a word. Jenny just said that it wasn't making any sense what he was saying.

Somewhere in the midst of this, Erik and his grandfather began to have a hot theological debate, while the charismatic aunt told them both to just love one another. Apollino had his own viewpoints and expressed them talking about the pope, Satan, and other random historical characters. Again these specifics were lost in translation. At one point, after dinner, when Erik and his grandfather were still at it, Apollino danced around shouting, "AAIieeeeoouuuiiieeee!!!" or something like that. He was now dressed in this sort of Muslim outfit.

Later, on the ride back to Guadalajara, Erik and Jenny let me know more about this crazy uncle, Apollino. They said that his real name is not Apollino, but that he changed it when his grandfather died, who was the original Apollino. The crazy uncle claims that he took in the spirit of his grandfather at the funeral and so had to change his name to Apollino. The charismatic aunt who is sharp at detecting such things, believes that he has an evil spirit in him. (I don't think anyone would dispute this). One day she attempted to cast out the spirit and the crazy uncle grabbed her hair and kicked her out of the house. The next time she came with a friend to cast out the demon and this time when they started rebuking, the crazy uncle threw ice cream at them. So the whole thing is a mystery and the last I heard Erik was thinking of going to cast out the spirit. He had never done anything like this before but I guess it would definitely be a learning experience. I sort of wanted to go with him and sort of didn't want to go with him. I threw away the coin and the bag that the crazy uncle had given me as soon as I got back to Guadalajara.


Blogger папа said...

Would not it have been grand if only you had previlously conquered the Spanish language, I wonder what sort of conversation you would have had with the crazy uncle. Let us all hope that we dont end up "the crazy uncle" in later life or that we are not now "the crazy uncle"

7:28 PM  

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