El Grito: “The Shout !”

August 31, 2008

El Grito: “The Shout !”

The big event this month at Lake Chapala – Ajijic is of course September 16th which is Independence day in Mexico.

The Mexicans are very patriotic and there are various ceremonies, parades, and the night of September 15th the President of Mexico will give the trafitional “El Grito” (SHOUT ) at 11 p.m. in a reenactment of the event that is credited with the beginning of the Mexican War for Independence.

La Bandera

On this day, Father Hidalgo, a Catholic Priest, gave the call to arms or the ‘shout’ that rallied the Mexican people to revolt and throw off the yoke of the Spanish oppression.

In each city, town and pueblo the “Grita” is reennacted by a local official.

There are of course “muchos fuegos artificiales” (A lot of artifical fires or what North Americans call “Fireworks”.)

The Mexicans love fireworks and don’t mind taking risks that most North Americans would think twice about.

About 7 years ago I went to the “El Grito” celebration in the heart of downtown Guadalajara. A huge event with closed streets, a large platform constructed in the main plaza which was surrounded by bleecher seating from quite near the platform out to the buildings on all sides of the large plaza.

I noticed a number of large firework displays ready to be set off around the platform and other displays mounted on steel frames on the buildings on the far side of the plaza behind the bleechers.

My first thought was that the large pinwheel displays seemed too close to the first rows of bleechers. I was right, because at the end of the patriotic speech followed by “El Grito” at precisely 11 P.M. the pinwheels were ignited and began to twirl round and round spewing a long tale of fire which ignited the clothing of some of the people in the front rows

We watched almost in shock as several “Bomberos” (firemen) rushed out with fire extingusihers and quickly doused the unfortunate victims in foam.

No sooner than this excitement was over and the displays mounted on the buildings opposite to us began to ignite in the outline of “Father Hidalgo” himself. As these displays burned they began to dripand spew the sulphuric remains of the burning outline down on the bleechers closest to the building.

The crowd on these bleechers scurried out of the path of the falling embers so quickly that no one caught on fire.. and our initial surprise and shock quickly turned into laughter. Yes, it was a serious situation, but as viewed from our side of the plaza it had a slap stick keystone cops appeal to humor.

But the last laugh was on us. Just at the height of our laugher the firework frames that we had not noticed on the building behind our seats also lit up unexpectantly showering us with flying burning embers. Now, it was our turn to Jump and SHOUT.

I was, as usual, wearing a hat and had some protection, but the girl I was with just in front of me was not so adorned. As we jumped up to try and escape the cascade of fire raining down, a hot ember hit her head and her long hair ignited in front of my eyes.

Reacting instictively, I used my hat to beat the flame out as we jumped/fell and scrambled down the bleechers in front of us. “Gracias al Dios” (Thanks be to God) she was not injured as her hair was so thick I guess it protected her scalp… and I was able to snuff the fire out before more than just a small portion of her hair went up in smoke.

Beng a cool evening we all were wearing light jackets. This protected us enough that we were not injured, but our jackets had scattered small burn holes and my hat had to be thrown away.

So, don’t assume that proper safety precauctions have been taken. The strict liability laws that help to protect us in North America just don’t exist here. The lesson: Look where you walk, drive, sit, and stand and do your best to expect the unexpected.  Be proactive and be careful. Viva Mexico !

Enjoy “El Grito !”

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