As I finish my evening repast, I hear lively music coming from the streets. It must be a callejoneada forming, a Zacatecan street party, complete with musicians and a mescal-laden burro to make the partiers even merrier.
I decide to investigate. It’s not hard to find the merrymakers. They are across the street from Plazuela Francisco Goitia. The little ragtag band of musicians consists of a bass drummer and a snare drummer, and two each of trombonists, clarinetists, and trumpet players. They are playing fast and loud.
The bass drummer, a slight woman, seems to be in charge of the band. The rest of the musicians are clearly following her lead: boom, boom, boom. She pounds her drum so fast and furiously that I wonder how long it will be until the musicians who are using their lungs collapse from exhaustion.
In front of the band, eight or nine women are dancing in a tight little circle. There are no teenagers among them. The oldest appears to be in her late sixties, maybe even her early seventies, the youngest, in her mid-thirties. All their faces, especially the wrinkled ones, are wreathed in smiles, smiles that have nothing to do with alcohol, because there is not a mescal-bearing burro in sight.
The merrymakers stay where they are for several minutes, before moving on to Plaza de Miguel Auza. Several older folks join us along the way, swaying in time to the non-stop music: boom, boom, boom.
The procession moves once more, ending at Alameda García de la Cadena, an elegant park and gardens built in the nineteenth century. Clearly, the musicians’ lungs are flagging (they paused their playing for 15 seconds along the way), but they finish with a resounding finale, eliciting a smattering of applause—but no pesos—from the crowd. There will be no more music this evening.
As the merrymakers begin to drift away, a short, middle-aged woman clad in a brilliant pink coat approaches me and asks, in broken English, where I am from.
“California,” I reply. “And you?”
Quickly reverting to Spanish, she tells me that she is from Chihuahua and that she and her husband are flying to Puebla later this evening. Clearly, they are on holiday and are trying to see as many cities and sights as possible before having to return to their quotidian routines. She clasps my hand and wishes me well during the rest of my stay in Zacatecas, and then she rejoins her husband.
As I begin the fifteen-minute walk back to my room, my eyes are brimming with tears of gratitude for the wondrous ways in which Mexico and its people continue to delight and welcome me.
Text and photo © 2011 by Mark M. Redfearn, all rights reserved