Friday, September 10, 2004
Santa Fe is entering the time of the fiestas – the tourists have all but left, the monsoons are over, and it’s getting a little more chilly overnight, but still lovely and warm during the day.
The fiestas celebrate the 1692 recapturing of Santa Fe from the indians (local native Americans describe themselves as indians, so I’m going with that), who had driven the Spaniards out of the town 12 years before.
Before the battle, the leader of the Spanish, Don Diego de Vargas (full title: Don Diego de Vargas Zapata y Lujan Ponce de Leon y Contreras), prayed to an effigy of the Virgin Mary (’La Conquistadora’) that had been rescued from the burning church when the indians took the town.
He vowed that if there was a bloodless battle (well, bloodless on the Spanish side, anyway), there would always be a celebration to remember the event. And since 1712 there always has been.
A lot of the partying is in true Spanish style – Catholic relics are paraded through the streets, there’s a children and pets parade too (which is too cute to describe). But 80 years ago an artist named Will Shuster added a twist to his own celebration, creating a tall white figure with big ears and bowtie, and setting fire to him.
This was the start of Zozobra – the burning of old man gloom, and this year’s version took place last night. More than 30,0000 people head into town to see bands playing as a prelude to the incendiary finale. As it gets dark, the 50’ tall effigy (stuffed with glooms written on bits of paper that people have submitted) starts to move and grown.
A weirdly pagan ritual ensues, involving fire dancers, little kids dressed as ghostly glooms and other weird stuff. Meanwhile the crowd on the field, and on the surrounding hills (as we were) start bellowing: ‘Burn him, burn him!’, ‘It doesn’t matter what he says, he’s going to burn!’. This from pensioners, little kids, and groups of architects, real esate agents, soil testing engineers and ex-pat writers.
Eventually with fireworks and much fanfare, Old Man Gloom goes up in flames to great delight. Just an average thursday night in the city of the holy faith.