And finally, after two months of Indios, colonial, baroque churches, we could not imagine that the religious México could still shock us, but the sanctuary of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe is something else: a huge square under the beating sun, an undefined number of churches, amongst which a super modern one that hosts the famous cloak of Juan Pedro, the poor Indio who received the visit of the Virgin Mary and the order to build a sanctuary, for which he had to go to convince the Spanish Bishop, bringing him, out of season, a bunch of roses picked by the Madonna herself. When Juan Pedro opened the cloak in front of the skeptical ecclesiastic, the roses had turned into the famous image of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, which to this day adorns the cloak. The fact that the legend dates back to 1531, i.e. the same period when the Catholic Church was trying hard to realize the mass conversion of the indigenous people, does not diminish, in the eyes of the faithful the veracity of the event. To admire the precious relic and to prey undisturbed by the pressing crowd, you can go on a sort of travelator that carries you, like in an airport corridor, underneath the sacred image. Should this be not sufficiently surreal for you, the main square of the complex is covered by stalls where they sell a bit of everything: real size paintings and statues representing Marian or generally religious subjects, luminous rosaries, car stickers, holograms with Jesus first on the cross and at the next step ascending to Heaven, or the image of the Virgin turning into John Paul II's big smile, T-shirts with the Lord riding an Harley-Davidson, or at the wheel of a fluorescent Cadillac, and even tracksuits with the Guadalupe's logo!
Before concluding our Mexican adventure, we also visited two silver cities, San Miguel Allende and Guanajuato. The first is infested by Norteamericanos, who bought and renewed the colonial palaces transforming them into luxury hotels and restaurants. Result: the town is gorgeous but the prices are crazily expensive! Guanajuato is on the other hand my personal favourite: built in a canyon, its little coloured houses climb up the mountain slopes, without the usual regular lay-out typical of the colonial cities, but with tunnels and ups and downs. One of the gems of this town is the Museo de las Momias (the mummy museum). Apparently, the ground is very rich in mineral salts which preserve the buried corpses, transforming them, in a 5/6 year period, into mummies, which, if the descendants cannot afford to renew the contract to rent the space at the local cemetery, are cremated or donated to the museum. A word of warning though: the curators accept only mummies who satisfy a number of 'presentability' criteria. Nevertheless, there are at least a hundred mummies here, perfectly preserved, lying in glass coffins, or standing up, hung with strings. There is the woman who died of childbirth, with her dead baby, other kids with lace dresses, a fat woman with huge (and floppy) breasts, mummies with trousers, and others wearing just socks, with long hair, tied in a plait, or sporting a bald head.Some, actually many, have their mouth wide open, as in a scream of terror. I feel a bit queasy in the first room, then you kind of get used to it, perhaps without fully realising the place's sense of the macabre. But after all, this belongs to the people who spend their Day of the Dead at the cemetery, picnicking on the graves of their beloved departed… Connected to it, there is a sort of Museum de la Muerte, with attractions which remind me of the haunted house in amusement parks: I'd like to highlight the mummified finger belonging to a man who was assassinated, found on the grave of his killer (they did not catch him alive, at least everybody knows now that he's dead!!), or again the mummy of a curandera who still performs miracles, and the ghost of a friar that up to this date comes down the stairs to give blessings.
My theory is that these factors, the religious, the esoteric, and the kitsch, are manifestations of the desperation always in the background in this Country. Even when they are not poo
r, Mexicans cultivate this sense of inferiority with regard to Europe and especially the United States; it should be sufficient to have a look at one of the many telenovelas (televised soap operas) broadcasted at any time of day or night. This is only one of the myriads of faces of this complex and fascinating culture; I'd like to have more time to spend here to further explore, but now for me, reluctantly, I have to leave this magical and surreal land.