Guacalotes on the Table: New Year’s Eve in Teotitlan Part One

The two dogs dozed in the late morning sun at Annie’s front door.  The guacalotes (a local type of turkey) are gurgling in the yard next door.  I am on the mat again for my birthday morning shiatsu massage.  Annie gives me the gift of an extra half hour and it is wonderful, soothing, a stretch for my muscles and balm for my soul.  Suddenly she gets up as we hear something scratching in the kitchen.  The dogs are not doing their job.  You’re supposed to be a guard dog, she says to Gavilan, the bigger of the two.  Anie, the French poodle, is a fluffy white wonderland of pet-able pleasure. Gavilan is muscular with short blonde hairs and if angered, can bark up a storm.  But today, they are both lazy and there is a guacalote on the kitchen table.  The creature is shooed out of the kitchen, the screen door is latched, the floral oilcloth table cover is peeled away, and Annie returns to my side to massage my fingers with her magic potion of salve mixed with powedered ginger and cayenne pepper to make my joints warm and more limber.

The ancient blue Nissan camionetta (pick-up truck) is parked out front.  I had a hell of a time getting it out of the narrow alley driveway no more than six feet wide to get to Annie’s.  There is no power steering.  After rocking back and forth, stuck between sand and two adobe walls, I finally backed it up into the parking area off this narrow alley, and got it going front first out and down to the street.  Now, I drive it back home and park it in front of the house and leave it for Federico to deal with later.  He is the master at maneurvering the alleyway.

This is my birth day, and my plan is to walk to the Ruu Dain.  I turn down the alleyway on foot, turn right onto the cobblestones and pass the old textile mill.  The road turns to dirt and two donkeys are tied to the chain link and bamboo fence, grazing.  The footpath narrows as it approaches the Rio Grande, a trickle of river that I cross hopping over boulders, and continue for about a quarter of a mile into the campo, where the countryside becomes farmland.

The Chavez rooftop is a flatbed of concrete and I sit with my feet in the well of the stairway and look onto the horizon.  The brass band is playing somewhere beyond the center of town, marking another celebration.  Sounds of trumpets and drums are wafting in the breeze.  I am surrounded my golden maize fields and neat rows of maturing agave cactus — a great cash crop for making mezcal.  The breeze is rustling the dried corn stalks in the adjacent field, subtle music like the sweet shake of a baby rattle filled with seeds.  A sheep baaahs.  A donkey brays.  The horse in the field behind me tugs at the rope connecting him to the mesquite tree.  Dogs bark in unison.  A half-mile down the lane a boy in a red shirt is helping his father in the alfalfa field.  Outdoor cooking fires curl as preparations are being made for the traditional midnight dinner before going to las cuevas (the caves).  Sun shadows spread across the rounded mountain tops.

Tonight, villagers will form a procession and walk guided by candlight to the caves beyond the village, camp, light copal incense, and offer prayers for a prosperous new year.  Prospero Ano Nuevo is the traditional greeting.  They will build their dreams using the stones from the earth, a new house, a car, something tangible or not.  It is peaceful here in the Ruu Dain.  A flush of quail fly from the undergrass.  Half a mile away the village is illuminated in the 4 p.m. sunlight with the 16th century church the focal point.  Adobe, brick and concrete block houses climb up the hillside.  Some are stuccoed in yellow, mango, peach, terra cotta, pecan.  A cock crows. My wristwatch says it’s time to go, time for the birthday party to begin.

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