“Music Can Change the World Because It Can Change People”

FullSizeRenderI am still adjusting to a December without gray skies, cold winds, and snow.  For almost all of my life Christmastime meant white, fluffy stuff and freezing temperatures.  Now my head sweats under a Santa hat because it is 73 degrees and sunny, not because I am shoveling snow and scraping ice.  Bright, twinkly lights look amazing on palm trees, but blow up snowmen perched between two cacti seem strange.  Steve and I needed a little help getting into the spirit.  A Christmas concert by the Esperanza Azteca Youth Symphony seemed like the perfect choice.

I do not have very good luck attending symphonies.  In fact, I am pretty sure that when I attended annually with my fifth grade class, I was caught dozing off once or twice by my students.  The Sonora Youth Symphony, however, is the pride of Guaymas.  It was a risk I was willing to take.  Steve does not have a track record of falling asleep at classical concerts- -mostly because he avoids them altogether.  I could practically hear his eyes rolling into the back of his head and his teeth grinding when I walked up to the ticket seller at the Christmas Bazaar and purchased two tickets to the December 17 Christmas performance.  I am also pretty sure I heard a pencil scratching as he made another tally in the “she owes me” column in his Take One for the Team tracker.

The Esperanza Azteca Project is sponsored by a foundation operated by the Salinas Group in Mexico.  Its goal is to improve the quality of life for at-risk youth in low income and underserved communities through music.  The foundation provided all start up costs for the program in Guaymas beginning in 2012.  This included funding for:  brand new instruments, music stands, chairs, rehearsal space and utilities, and teachers.  The expectation for all orchestras receiving the grant is to be self-supporting after one year through performances and local, private, and government financial support.

There are one hundred children performing with the orchestra today.  Seventy of those IMG_5232one hundred had never played an instrument before in their lives.  In addition, there are one hundred children who sing in the choir.  In September, a steel pan drum group was formed and began practicing as well.  Their very first public performance kicked off Sunday’s show.  All members practice five days a week for four hours a day.

The importance of this program is seen and felt in 29 states across Mexico.  There are 54 orchestras and at least 800 music teachers thriving from the opportunities provided by participating in the arts.  These young boys and girls are confident, driven, and excelling in school as a result of their participation.

The reputation of this group of children was well known to most of the audience, who was on its feet from the moment the young musicians walked onto the stage.  They received multiple standing ovations, brought at least one of us to tears with their rendition of “Silent Night”, and treated the audience to three encores.  Parents beamed with pride as the audience around them chanted, “Otra!  Otra!  Otra!”  We hooted, hollered, and whistled our appreciation and admiration.  Admittedly, this is not  typical orchestra viewing behavior.  The audience was passionate about this incredible group of performers and not shy about letting them know.  And no one fell asleep.

thumbnailTwo hours after it began, the concert finally came to an end.  It was announced the group would be back in February for a Valentine’s Day show.  And guess who suggested we buy tickets for that one?!  This gives me a free future tally somewhere!  Now, overflowing with Christmas spirit, Steve and I are headed off to spend some much needed time with our son.

Enjoy the sights and sounds of A Christmas Festival performed at last year’s Christmas concert by Esperanza Azteca Orquestra Sinfónica Sonora!  Happiest of Holidays to all!

 

El Maratón Guadalupe Reyes: Leave Your Running Shoes at Home

IMG_5219Living in San Carlos, Mexico is in many ways like peeling an onion.  I do not mean that I cry a lot.  Quite the opposite, actually.  With each new layer, something I did not know before is revealed.  I was always a big fan of those “aha moments” in my classroom.  How genuinely lucky I am to have them now myself, almost daily.  And while not everything I learn is mind blowing, life changing, or save the world important, this life long learner appreciates each and every opportunity to experience something new about Mexico, its people, and their culture.

For example, last week marked the beginning of El Maratón Guadalupe Reyes.  What?!  Is this a race?  A shopping event?  Another celebration of Our Lady of Guadalupe?  It just so happens that it is even better than all of those things.  Guadalupe Reyes marks the time period between the Feast Day de La Virgin de Guadalupe on December 12 and El Día de los Tres Reyes on January 6.  Basically, a month long party of never ending special days!  How did I miss this last year?!  I am so excited to know about it now!

Guadalupe Reyes reminds me of the time period in the U.S.A. between Thanksgiving and Christmas.  More than time spent getting ready for one big celebration on Christmas morning, however, Guadalupe Reyes is about getting together with friends and family for food filled parties, one after another, every day!

Here in Guaymas, the word posada is used to describe any Christmas celebration. IMG_0373
Between December 13-15, my husband attended four Posadas!  Many of his friends made it to even more than that!  El Maratón had officially begun.  Steve enjoyed special Christmas tamales, beans, stews, and sweets at each Posada that he has attended.  A typical Christmas tamal made in Guaymas includes shredded beef, potatoes, onions, chilis, and one green olive.  I may not have attended a Posada, but I am certainly enjoying my share of tamales thanks to all of Steve’s leftovers.  There are many jokes made this time of year about the amount of weight gained during Guadalupe Reyes.  Maybe I am fortunate to have a smaller social circle!

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Further south in Mexico, Posadas will be held nightly from December 16-December 24.  These are more religious in nature.  These nine days of celebration are called the “novena” and signify the nine months that Mary was pregnant with Jesus.  The word posada means “lodging” or “inn”.  The celebrations begin with a procession, led by a couple dressed as Mary and Joseph, through neighborhoods and communities.  Participants carry lighted candles and sing as they weave their way through the streets.  The procession stops at prearranged homes or “posadas”.  A song is sung asking the owner for lodging.  Several times each evening the procession is told “No, there is no room”.   Finally, the group is accepted into a home.  After a prayer around the nativity, a celebration with music, food, sweets, Christmas punch and hot chocolate begins.  There is always a piñata for the children.  The traditional piñata is star-shaped.  The star has seven points, each one representing one of the seven deadly sins.

IMG_0400Piñatas are popular at Christmas time no matter where you live in Mexico.  And truthfully, it does not matter how old you are either.  Steve’s company hosts a Posada for all of its employees each year.  There is always a piñata.  And there are always at least 500+ adults diving onto the floor grabbing candy once it breaks!

Enjoy your special holiday time and traditions with friends and family.  Keep Calm and Guadalupe Reyes, amigos!

Get In My Belly!

thumbnail-5It seemed like no sooner than we returned home from Guaymas for the Christmas Parade, we turned around and went back.  This time we were there for El Festival del Camarón, the Shrimp Festival.  Guaymas is a shrimp fishing port and very well known for the abundance of and the size of shrimp caught in the waters of the Sea of Cortez along its coast.  The season typically begins in September, and its length is determined by the government, so as not to deplete the supply.  Throughout the fall, many men leave their “day jobs” for the opportunity to earn some fast cash.  Fishermen appear in the parking lots of area grocery stores and on street corners selling their shrimp.  The stalls along the main street in Empalme and fish markets in Guaymas are filled with fresh shrimp catches.  This is definitely a good time for a shrimp eater in Sonora!

So, of course, there is a festival to celebrate not only shrimp, but also the fisherman who bring it to us.  The Visitors Center in San Carlos arranged for a shuttle to take hungry, shrimp loving folks like us to the malecón in Guaymas for the hoopla.  Steve and I had never taken a shuttle with the Center before, and I have to admit it was very nice to not have to worry about traffic or parking downtown.  We were able to buy our shrimp tasting tickets on the bus.  This meant no standing in line for them once we arrived.  We jumped off the bus and started sampling immediately!

There were about six local restaurants participating and even a cooking school!  Anything that could be made with shrimp was available for tasting.  We sampled chile rellenos with shrimp, empanadas, machaca, shrimp lasagna, ceviche, and fresh, made right in front of us, corn tortillas overflowing with shrimp, cheese, and vegetables.  (I feel a little bit like Bubba from the Forest Gump movie.)  I discovered a new to me restaurant and found myself in line for their creation more than once.  One restaurant even included rice, salad, and a dinner roll with its offering.  Needless to say, our eyes were bigger then our stomachs, and we passed on some of our extra tickets to a vender, who had just happened to sell us a beautiful handmade basket earlier in the day.

Musicians entertained the crowd from a center stage.  The highlight, however, was the folkloric thumbnail-1dancers.  Wow!  Wearing traditional, brightly colored dresses women were spun across the dance “floor” by their partners.  It was impossible to hold still during the energetic displays.  The audience was caught up in the excitement, clapping, stomping, and trilling.  Even the festival characters dressed in salsa bottle costumes got into the act, dancing with the onlookers.  For a moment I forgot that I was in the middle of a bustling city, imaging myself at a boda del campo, or country wedding, instead.

Venders mingled amongst the crowd selling cotton candy, chamoy apples, churros, elote, and other festival favorites- -just in case you were there for something other than shrimp.  (And yes, I was seriously tempted by the churros but passed this time.)  Children begged parents for balloons and other popular festival toys available.  There were blankets, baskets, embroidered blouses, and other typical handicrafts for sale.  Steve and I visited the Christmas tree and other holiday decorations displayed on the malecón without the overwhelming crowds from the night before.  This also gave us ample opportunity to walk off our lunch!

thumbnailAll too soon it was time to board the bus for our return home.  It is no secret that San Carlos is an expat retirement community.  Therefore, many of its residents are just a wee bit older than the two of us.  We had barely left the parking lot when Steve and I noticed that many of our fellow passengers had nodded off, revealing just one more benefit of taking the shuttle!

Christmas Spirit on Parade

thumbnailI had been bouncing off of the walls all week!  A friend shared with me that there was a Desfile Navideño, a Christmas Parade, happening in Guaymas Friday night.  Unfortunately, she shared this on Tuesday, so I had almost the entire week to wait.  In the meantime, I also learned there would be a Christmas tree lighting on the malecón after the parade.  Suffice to say, come Friday night I was a bundle of energetic glee!  I was ready to burst.  Steve was being a very good sport.

The parade was scheduled to start at 4:30 pm, so Santa hats in tow, I picked Steve up from work about 3:45.  Navigating Guaymas on ordinary days can still be a struggle for us, so we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get lost and found if needed.  As the main avenue into El Centro was already closed to traffic coming into Guaymas from our direction, the challenge was definitely on!  The way Steve and I navigated the detour (without the benefit of detour signs) was nothing short of a miracle.  As far as I was concerned, the night was already a success based on this accomplishment alone.

thumbnail-4We found a parking spot and were seated on the curb with time to spare.  It was then I discovered that Steve “forgot” his Santa hat.  Unbeknown to us at the time, we could have easily made it to the truck and back (and eaten dinner and finished our Christmas shopping) before the parade actually began.  Because that 4:30 parade did not start until 7:00!

It seemed there was a leak somewhere in the traffic blockade because the cars kept coming.  And most of the cars were full of costumed children, um parade participants, heading to the starting point long after the scheduled starting time.  The Spanish phrase “ni modo” (oh well) was definitely applicable here.  The wait did not dampen the excitement, as children played with light up toys, chased down balloon venders, and enjoyed churros y Cheetos con chamoy, jamoncillo, banderillas, papas, manzanas, gomas, paletas, and dulce de algodón. It was a pre-Christmas Parade Food Parade!

Finally, it was time!  We were entertained by a marching band, baton twirlers, floats, elves on stilts, and lots of twinkling lights.   Santa appeared for the first time in our section around 7:30.  Literally every single child and his parents ran into the street to get a picture with Santa.  We thought the parade had ended several times because there were these huge lulls in the action.  Only after witnessing the Santa picture frenzy, did we realize that this was the reason for the hold up.  Because it happened every time there was a Santa, and there were a lot of Santas!

Pickup trucks hauling generators for light and music shows preceded the performing school groups. Students wore adorable Christmas themed outfits and danced to hip hop Christmas songs, like “Yes, everybody knows (ra-pa-pum-pum)  We will take off our clothes (ra-pa-pum-pum)  Light you up, put you on top  Let’s fa la la la la, la la la la (let’s go)!”  I am still processing the sweet angels, reindeers, and elves performing to this.  And to be honest, I am still laughing about it too.

Once the parade officially ended, Steve and I headed to the malecón for the tree lighting.  thumbnailOur first stop was a hot dog vender.  The snack we bought to enjoy during the wait, er, parade had long worn off, and we were starving.  We just had time to scarf those down before the countdown began.  I am guessing that even the event organizers were exhausted by this point and wanted to move things along.

After the tree was lit, fireworks exploded over the Sea of Cortez.  It was incredible!  I may have had a little tear in my eye- -either from excitement or the fact that my butt was still numb from sitting so long at the parade.  The last ash had not even touched the ground, and Steve was turning away to head for the truck.  His “ni modo” had got up and gone!

And I heard him exclaim as we drove out of sight, “Please, dear God, I hope she invites a friend to go with her next year.”