Monday, September 21, 2009

Burn, baby, burn OR 50 foot trolls are people too!

I found out this weekend that there is a little pyromaniac in everyone that wants to get out, even in full-grown adults. People really like to see stuff burn.

Here's how I figured it out: This past weekend my friends and I went to Fiestas de Santa Fe, which is an annual celebration that takes place in the New Mexico capital city of Santa Fe.

In and of itself Fiestas is not that interesting. It began in 1712 to celebrate an expedition by Capitan General y Gobernador Don Diego de Vargas Zapata y Luján Ponce de León y Contreras el Marquez de la Nava de Barcinas. Don Diego's big feat was “reconquering” the territory of New Mexico in 1692. This was a big deal because during the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 the Spaniards had been beaten like a drum, booted out of New Mexico and otherwise embarrassed by the native Pueblo indians/Native Americans/First Nations/politically correct term of your choice.

The Pueblo people revolted because the Spanish “conquistadors” were trying to eradicate their culture and religion. De Vargas also enforced his “peace treaty” by killing hundreds of people, so was the return of the Spaniards really a good thing? Should it be celebrated? Like a lot of other historical events, let's just gloss over the bad stuff and make an excuse to drink ridiculous amounts of alcohol.

The event that kicks off Fiestas is the burning of a 50-foot tall puppet named "Zozobra." A lot of people think it's some cool religious or cultural ceremony, or some pagan ritual but no. It was really just the idea of some old white guy. The good people of Santa Fe had been celebrating Fiestas for a good 212 years when Philadelphia artist Will Shuster came to New Mexico because he had tuberculosis and the climate was good for his recovery. Shuster started the Zozobra idea and people loved it. Go figure.

As you can see, Fiestas is a delightfully twisted celebration.

We were among the 23,000 people who turned out to see Zozobra burn for the 85th time. Zozobra is supposed to represent all of your problems. There is a “gloom” box at the front that you can go put your “troubles” into, and they load all the contents into Zozobra right before they burn him, so when Zozobra goes up smoke so do all your troubles. You could write something that is bothering you on a piece of paper, or throw in divorces decrees, pictures of exes, etc. I threw in the bills for my student loans, my credit cards and some speeding tickets.

The actual burning of Zozobra takes about 30 seconds, so they have to stretch it out a little bit. This means the celebration is about 1% awesome and about 99% filler. First there are about a hundred local bands of varying (and I mean VARYING) skill levels. Then somebody comes out dressed in a hooded robe and reads Zozobra’s death sentence, which is kind of morbid if you think about it. It includes all the charges against Zozobra. One of the charges is “Being a 50 foot bogeyman,” which kind of sounds like discrimination to me.

After the death sentence they have “fire dancers,” which are kids dressed up in ghost outfits who dance around with fiery sticks, a ridiculously dangerous activity. I should also mention that Zozobra growls the whole time. That is to say, some dude backstage growls into a microphone, and 45 minutes is a long time to go “Rawr! Rawr!” His growls sort of tapered off after a while, and once I think I heard Zozobra growl, “Rawr! Somebody get me a glass of water! Rawr!” Then the guy got his second wind and resumed growling with gusto.

Let me just say: puppet growling + fire dancers + 45 minutes = TEDIOUS! The people around us were clearly getting bored and were saying things like:

“Just burn him already!”

“Man, this would be so much cooler if we had some ‘shrooms!”

“Leave Zozobra alone! He’s just a giant troll! Can’t we all just get along?”

Then the moment we’d all been waiting for: they shot a bottlerocket into Zozobra’s head and he caught fire and in 30 seconds the crowd of 23,000 immediately began trampling one another to death to get out of the park. And did I mention there is ONE BRIDGE into the park? This means that all 23,000 people were bottle-necked in one spot, and there was pushing and shoving like you wouldn't believe! It was kind of like being caught in the current of a cursing, yelling river of B.O.

¡Viva la Fiesta!

The whole evening is condensed here: