Sunday, November 02, 2014

Salem's Blot

For years, we've been saying that Querétaro is essentially the Boston of Mexico. (So much so that we even undertook an ill-fated attempt to make them sister cities - at one point even having ourselves appointed as QRO's official representative to Sister Cities International.) But we've watched with dismay over the past several years as the town gradually morphed into the Salem of Mexico.

Salem, 25 miles north of Boston, and adjacent to our hometown of Swampscott, is a lovely little city, but basically a year-round Halloween theme park, its entire economy built on the murder of 19 women in 1692 for the crime of being witches. (Spoiler alert: they weren't witches.) Normally, we would find a celebration of femicide repugnant, but in Salem's case we let it slide because the tourist dollars means there are a bunch of good bars within a short drive from our parents' house - critically important around the holidays - and because, really, it's kind of all Salem's got.

Querétaro, on the other hand, is a city rich in genuine Mexican history.  But over the years, seemingly dozens of tour companies have popped up, all with names that are some variation of "The Legends of Querétaro!!!" (This is not strictly a QRO phenomenon, by the way - they're found all over Mexico.) "Legends" basically means "ghost stories from the 18th Century," and the problem in Querétaro is that, while there are dozens of Legends tours, there are really only about half a dozen legends, so all the companies tread on the same ground.  Which we mean literally - these are walking tours, and on any given night you'll see groups of dozens (sometimes hundreds!) of tourists with color-coordinated bandanas marching behind a miked-up, torch-bearing actress, minstrels in tow, moving from spot to spot around town, where they're treated to several minutes of overwrought theatrics (Querétaro produces two things in volume: airplane parts and terrible thespians) before moving to the next location.  The logistics involved in keeping the various groups from colliding is actually kind of impressive, given the town's complete inability to manage automobile traffic.  But this has also required that some of the Legend performances have to be staged away from the actual Legendary locations - including, as of a few months ago, outside the master bedroom suite at Burro Hall Headquarters, which has the misfortune of overlooking an andador lit by gaslights, which totally seemed like a plus when we broke ground there.

So one of Mexico's richest historical cities - seriously on par with Boston on Philadelphia - is slowly turning itself into a cheesy haunted house populated by bad actors in worse costumes.

Anyway - what occasioned this rant is that this year the city's official Day of the Dead Altar is dedicated to the town's already-most-over-celebrated departed: The Legends of Querétaro. The worst part of this altar (which, we must concede, is actually really beautifully constructed), is that it encourages the bad actors who pay the actual personages honored here to hang out in costume and interact with the tourists.  It's as if the actors from Colonial Williamsburg were working the Times Square Elmo beat.

But if you're looking to get your Dead on today, go about 100 feet from the altar, into the Casa de la Corregidora (a genuine figure of Mexican history), where there's another, more modest altar honoring notable Querétanos - all of them completely obscure.  A couple are academics or newspaper writers, but our favorite is "El Patines," a colorful local oddball who had a good upbringing, married a beautiful woman, fathered a couple of kids, and then apparently went nuts and started living in the street and rollerskating around all day with a little dog called Frying Pan.

El Patines - the man, the legend - died in 2003 at the age of 55.  QDEP.


DonAlbertoDoyle said...

Pancho, did I ever tell you I actually contacted the late lamented Mumbles' offices of Latino Affairs AND Cultural Snobbery (or whatever the Sister Cities is run out of), and for one I had a referral from Drew Freakin' Gilpin Faust, you can Google her, she's a somebody, and I got nuthin'....bupkis...nada....zilch.

Think of the junkets that might have been. Exotic places we'd never dreamt of, like here....and Boston....

Burro Hall said...

Killin' me....

DonAlbertoDoyle said...

Apropos of which, she seems very attuned to Mexican affairs, and not above e-exchanges with the hoi polloi. I wrote her a nasty-gram about the Calderon appointment, and she responded within 24 hours, with an extremely thoughtful letter, discussing the pros and cons, promising to forward my note to the dean of the Kennedy School, and essentially saying, "yeah, he's a mass murderer, but the K-School has to kiss the asses of folks like Netanyahu and Kissinger, so, well, ummm, yeah".