We tooled around Zapopan for the rest of the day stopping to check out whatever looked promising. The art exhibition around the glorietta, the 3-story shop that was an improbable mix of Pier 1, Cost Plus, any $.99 store, Sears and William-Sonoma all rolled into one jam-packed space, and the stately old neighborhoods where I so wanted to see what was concealed behind those endless walls.
Over the course of our meanderings through Zapopan, Cristina began to tell me the story of La Virgen de Zapopan. Back around 1690 construction was started on a basilica for Zapopan. Somewhere along the line before it was quite finished, the basilica was completely destroyed by earthquake or fire, or maybe both. As salvage efforts progressed it became apparent there really wasn't much to salvage except one little 10" statue of La Virgen de Zapopan. Que milagro, what a miracle she survived, so she was given a place of honor in the new construction.
In 1734 Guadalajara was besieged by the plague. People were dying, new cases cropping up daily, the outlook for the city's survival was bleak. Someone, remembering the little statue in Zapopan that had survived destruction against all odds, suggested bringing La Virgen down to Guadalajara to let her have a look at the suffering and ask for her intervention. And so she made her first road trip. Rituals were done and offerings made, lo and behold, the plague stopped, and quickly. Another miracle. Word quickly spread and soon pilgrims were flocking to Zapopan to venerate the little lady and to request their own miracle.......and it would seem that many of those requests were granted as, over the years, the miracles began to pile up. La Virgen de Zapopan became the patroness of the State of Jalisco and number 3 on the all-time list of important religious players, ranking behind only Jesus and La Virgen de Guadalupe (Mary).
But perhaps La Virgen saved her biggest miracle for the 20th century when in 1956 she was sent on another road trip. This time she went about 50 miles (plus or minus) south of Guadalajara to Lake Chapala. The lake was in the throes of it's worst drought in known history, having nearly dried up completely. Understand one thing, before it began drying up, Lake Chapala was the largest lake in Mexico. So to go from biggest to almost non-existent is a big deal, not to mention an economic and ecological catastrophe. La Virgen de Zapopan came, she saw, she made it rain. The lake reclaimed it's original size and more. And the love, reverence and devotion to her grew deeper and stronger.
Now, every year beginning in June, La Virgen de Zapopan goes on a road trip around Jalisco to visit and reassure her faithful. And she travels in style. The little 10" iconic image is dressed in her best rebozo, dons her best straw hat and pack an overnight bag that she carries herself. And she travels in her own special Virgen-mobile, with no miles on it (because it's new every year) and with an entourage of multiple priests and attendants. Towards the middle of September she arrives at the Cathedral in Guadalajara where she resides for the next few weeks leading up to her return to Zapopan on her birthday. While most of the world is celebrating Columbus Day (or, as they call in San Francisco, CA - Indigenous People's Day) on October 11th and/or 12th, the folks of Guadalajara and Jalisco are celebrating the birthday of La Virgen de Zapopan with a massive procession from the Cathedral to the Basilica. Many participate and well over 1 million people line the route to get a glimpse of, and pay respects to La Virgen.
Every 2 years she takes a long distance road trip to Los Angeles, CA where, instead of riding in her Virgen-mobile, she is transported by the Chivas truck. Not Chivas as in Chivas Regal scotch, but Chivas as in Chivas the soccer team from Guadalajara and Jalisco. She spends 2 weeks in L.A. visiting a succession of parrishes and ends her stay with a gigantic Mass, held last time at the Home Depot Center. I don't know, to me there's some poetic symmetry (or perhaps it's really irony); that The Virgen of the people who travels to them in rebozo, straw hat, travel bag in hand, is venerated and celebrated in an arena dedicated to making the home a better place even if it is corporate America.
I think this is a pretty cool story because it so clearly demonstrates the personal relationship Mexicans have with their saints, their church and their religion. Mexico is an overwhelmingly Catholic country, and to have some understanding of the role and place of the Catholic Church is to begin to have some understanding of Mexico. And I'll admit it took me long time to understand. I had an incredibly difficult time reconciling the vastness of the church, the immense wealth in stark contrast to some of the dire poverty, the seeming blind adherence to faith. But poco a poco (little by little) the more I visited, the more time I spent in churches and learned about them, the more it gradually - very gradually - began to make sense.
The early friars, intent on conversion, had been quite frustrated with what they perceived as a lack of work ethic among their conquered flock. They preached, they tried to get their new churches constructed but grew frustrated as the indigenous workers seemed to need to stop every few weeks for utterly incomprehensible reasons. Only gradually as the two cultural groups got to know each other did it dawn on the friars that their indigenous work force was actually still marching to the beat and tempo of their innate religious calendar and pantheon of gods. The pre-Columbian year had been marked by a series of events, celebrations and rituals and "work" was what was done in between times in order to get ready for the next event. The friars finally "got it". The cycle of religious holidays was brought into sync over time, Catholic saints overlaid on pre-Columbian gods, and indigenous builders asked to construct a certain section of an alter, or length of wall, or portion of a baptismal font as "work" for a certain saint and that after so many days there would be a celebration or ritual for that saint. A blend of old, a blend of new, a door to conversion.
The friars made it personal, they found a way to instill deep within the personal and national pysche and consciousness the connection between the self and the church until it became as second nature as breathing. Churches in Mexico tend to be cavernous, powerful and often time reflect enormous wealth, yet at the same time they provide a sense of safety, security and personal identity in a way I've never observed North of the border. It's just an innate part of who they are. Stop into a church during Mass and watch what goes on. Yes, there is devotion and rote recitation of liturgy and ritual, but after a while you'll begin to notice the ebb, flow and pulsating life of the crowd that overrides the somberness of the church and imbues it with a sense of humanity. The Basilica de Zapopan was packed on Sunday night for Mass. We stayed for a little bit and then made our way out into the plaza. It was too dark to take a photo of the commemorative statue of John Paul II's visit, but I did get this shot from the plaza looking back at the church
As well as this really cool statue. And yes, I do like statues. Guadalajara is full of great ones!
The Aztecs were a nomadic tribe and had been wandering down for many, many years. Part of their lore had it that when they saw an eagle with a serpent (snake) in it's beak perched on a cactus, that would be the place they were to settle. Though debated in academic circles, Tenochtitlan in Lake Texcoco in what is now Mexico City is where they saw the omen and ultimately settled; and the rest, as they say, is history.
Most plazas in Mexico are the center of social activity, especially at night. That's one of the things I've always loved about Mexico. When it gets dark, the Mexicans don't hole up watching repeats of Law & Order, they get out and circulate. And they eat. Along one side of the plaza we found this cart selling the ubiquitous corn on the cob.
Served two ways - on a stick slathered with your choice of mayo, crema, chile, cheese and lime or in a plastic cup.
The other side of the plaza led us to even more enticements. This propane fueled wash tub was boiling away with caramelized sugar
candied camotes and calabacitas
up close and personal with a camote. Remarkably, these really are less sweet than the standard Thanksgiving sweet potato & marshmallow casserole!
Fruit is bountiful and ripe in Mexico making it, by the cup or by the bag, one of Mexico's favorite snacks.
Strawberries and cream in front, parfaits in back, add-on toppings in the glass jars in front.
Other popular street snacks
Gorditas, sopes y huaraches
But all is not traditional. We saw many kids of all ages, and quite a few adults enjoying this snack
Uh...yeah.........hot dogs and fries. Deep fried hot dogs at that. Heart attack on a plate. Don't let CSPI (Center for Science in the Public Interest) get hold of this.
So what tasty treat did Cristina and I finally choose. Actually, none of these. Prior to heading up to the Basilica, we had made a detour back into Guadalajara and had stopped to eat at Karne Garibaldi . There is a Zapopan branch, but we chose to eat at the original location. Karne Garibaldi is famous for one thing, no make that 2 things. The are famous for karne en su jugo, literally translated as meat in it's own juice. And they are famous for being the restaurant with the fastest service in the world, as verified and certified by the Guinness World Book of Records. Almost as soon as your backside hits the seat refried beans, tortillas and grilled onions are on the table
Those beans are sublimely good, and yes, they have corn kernels in them. This is the only place I've ever seen beans served with corn in them and it is a delicious addition. If you run out of beans, tortillas or onions during the course of the meal, they are immediately replenished, almost always without needing to ask.
Karne en su Jugo is one of those dishes that you will either like and take to upon first bite, or not. It's about the only thing on the menu and it comes in 4 sizes - small, medium, large and very large. Given the other things already the table - beans, onions and tortillas - medium is usually sufficient for a normal appetite. It is beef that has been stewed in it's own juices, possibly with a couple of vegetables and a tomatillo or two thrown in for good measure. But this dish is, primarily, about the beef. Just before serving thick cut smoky bacon that has been crisply fried is added to each order. The karne en su jugo arrives at the table looking like this
Soupy and unadorned, the usual plate of chopped cilantro, white onion and lime slices is served with it. Add as much or as little as you wish, give it a squirt or two of lime juice and a few grains of sal grano (salt granules) and stir
The grilled onions are fantastic, the beans heavenly and the karne en su jugo a smoky, sassy meal. There is no reason to ever leave Karne Garibaldi hungry! Now you know why Cristina and I passed on the food outside the Basilica de Zapopan. Tempting as it was , we'd already satisfied our tummies.
12 hours after we left, we arrived back at Cristina's house, tired, happy and full. From North to South and East to West, I had seen Zapopan. But there was still one last thing to see and do.........