"I believe that if there was ever a time when we needed our Fiesta back it is now..."
#1 Zozobra on a Friday Night
In his collections of essays, The Labyrinth of Solitude, Mexican author and poet Octavio Paz (1990 Nobel Prize for Literature winner) wrote: “The fiesta is not only an excess, a ritual squandering of the goods painfully accumulated during the rest of the year; it is also a revolt, a sudden immersion in the formless, in pure being. By means of the fiesta society frees itself from the norms it has established. It ridicules its gods, its principles, and its laws: it denies its own self.” He also points out that the fiesta provides the individual with an opportunity to be “dissolved and redeemed.”
Once, in my early teens, after Zozobra had been scorched to the ground I was swept away to the Plaza with my friends and throngs of people and I believe, that, at least for a few moments, I was “dissolved and redeemed” in a sea of human movement that rolled around the Plaza like some giant rocking wave. This, of course, was before the burning of Zozobra was moved to Thursday nights, where the crowds are now supposed to disperse and go home.
What severed the Zozobra ash pile from smoldering on Friday nights was a shooting that took place on the Plaza in 1997, taking the life of 20-year-old Carlos Santiago Romero. The very next year it was moved to Thursday night, where it remains. In talking about the art and meaning of the fiesta, Octavio Paz pointed out: “Now and then, it is true, the happiness ends badly, in quarrels, insults, pistol shots, stabbings. But these too are part of the fiesta, for the Mexican does not seek amusement: he seeks to escape from himself, to leap over the wall of solitude that confines him during the rest of the year.”
I’m not sure if our Fiesta de Santa Fe has ever been the “revolt” that Octavio Paz speaks of, or if it has ever been able to provide freedom from the ever-increasing “solitude that confines” us in a world that is more and more shackled by its amusing gadgets and fear of the unknown. Too many of our lives are dictated by the mere hint of bad possibilities. As a fairly new father of two, I am guilty all the time of smoothing out every little wrinkle that may hinder or hurt my children. Yet, a recent quote (by Marcelene Cox) I came across truthfully reminded me that “a child does not thrive on what he is prevented from doing, but on what he actually does.”
In the same vein, it’s precisely this prevention from the possibility of the bad that thwarts our fiesta from being what it once was, and surely what it is capable of being. Octavio Paz also said that, “In certain Fiestas...the customary hierarchies vanish, along with all social, sex, caste, and trade distinctions...Respectable people put away the dignified expressions and conservative clothes that isolate them, dress up in gaudy colors, hide behind a mask, and escape from themselves.”
I believe that if there was ever a time when we needed our Fiesta back it is now. If there was ever a time for us to escape from ourselves it is now, putting at least a momentary pause on our Facebook personas and cyber-zombie lives. The Fiesta is our escape from this rat race. I yearn to be dissolved again. To be redeemed like I once was, in a sea of spinning lights and music and smells and colors. The Plaza. The people. The electricity of it all. The possibilities? Que Viva!