Sunday in Etla
It’s hard to know exactly who built the Elvin Castle of Etla, or why. The most accepted version is that some years ago a witch told a young boy that he would live in a castle, but first he needed to earn a great fortune. In order to fulfill this prophecy he set off for the United States, amassed a significant sum of money and dedicated himself to constructing one of the strangest buildings in Mexico. Still awaiting completion this odd structure of many spires, fanciful colors, and images of elves (of the Keebler variety, not LOTR) is certainly attention grabbing.
One this particular day, Alysa and I were visiting the town of Etla, thirteen miles north of Oaxaca City. Our guide today, was Socorro Pinelo, born and raised in Etla, and now our gracious host who we have been living with for the last few weeks back in the city.
We were tagging along as she ran a few Sunday errands in her hometown. Driving up the road north of the city we passed open-air car markets, boys selling peanuts and limes to stopped cars, and hungry people eating fresh quesadillas under roadside tarps. Pulling up to a small grocery we put in order for quesillo, a semihard cheese that looks like a ball of white yarn. This particular cheese, we were told, was worth the trip alone.
Approaching the town of Etla, I spotted the unfinished towers of the castle. Pulling up to take a closer look, we got caught up in the celebration of nearby mural painting in progress. In preparation for the upcoming Day of the Dead festivities, two local artists were putting the finishing touches on a large mural as a band played energetic music and firecrackers were set off at irregular intervals. Their ability to focus on their art amid the din of the celebration is almost as impressive as the painting itself. Featuring bright red and orange, a large decorated face of a woman gazes directly at the viewer as skeletons feast nearby. The holiday is a couple of weeks away, but that has not stopped the celebrations from beginning. Already, the people of Etla have something to celebrate in the form of this mural.
Being Sunday, we stopped by the main church of Etla. Consecrated in 1636 the church and former monastery of San Pedro y San Pablo is showing its age. Humidity from the recent rainy season has weakened the walls which are buckling considerably. Furthermore, the September 8 earthquake greatly damaged the ancient structure even more. As a result, mass will be held outside the old building for the foreseeable future.
It seems that just about every Oaxacan has a story from the earthquake. The scars are still fresh from that terrible event that killed scores of people and left hundreds homeless around the state. While the city and the immediate area were spared the greatest damage, the scars are still readily apparent. Old buildings are left unusable and the trauma of that night is still fresh. We met with two of Socorro’s brothers who both had stories to tell. One described how everything in his hardware store was in disarray after the quake. Everyone seems to be on edge, anticipating the next disaster.
As we left the town and got on the road back to the city, we heard the firecrackers by the mural crack and pop. Soon the Day of the Dead celebrations that Oaxaca is famous for will be underway. The hope among many is that these festivities will serve as a much needed experience to bring everyone together in a positive way.
Alysa and I are certainly looking forward to it. We can’t wait to share our experiences of Day of the Dead with you soon!