Sunday, May 2, 2010

Plaza Sweet!

Last November I wrote about the opening of the new Dorado Properties office located on the Plaza in the town of Loreto (see A Big Week in Loreto, Nov. ‘09). At that time I referred to the fact that the Plaza was undergoing a major reconstruction that had just started at the beginning of that month.

The Plaza is located in the town square in front of the Municipal Palace (Town Hall) and originally had an old gazebo type band shell at the opposite end of the plaza from the Town Hall, and more landscaping with paths than open space. While it was maintained, it had seen better days and was looking a bit shabby, although it still functioned as the center of the town and official events took place there from time to time.

Around the square, the Posada de las Flores Hotel ,takes up half of one side with a wine and tapas bar on the ground floor and our Dorado Properties downtown office next door. The casa next to the office has just been converted into a senior citizens club which just opened. There is a beautifully restored old adobe casa on the adjacent side which has recently changed hands and will soon be the location of a new courtyard restaurant. Next door to that are two established restaurants; Mita Gourmet and 1697 (after the date of the Mission church a couple of blocks away). Mita has been there almost as long as I’ve been in Loreto, and Juan Carlos and family runs one of the best seafood restaurants in town. Kirin and Norma run 1697 with Kirin manning the kitchen from which emerges a variety of Italian and Mexican specialties along with an International selection of other dishes, particularly on their occasional Theme Nights.

The remaining side of the square is not as well developed. There is a large unfinished building on one corner taking up half the block (which I understand is owned by the Posada across the square, and may be developed into more accommodation some day) next to two old buildings that are not used much and are in poor repair. But I expect that as the economy improves and the town grows there will be more new developments around this square and things will continue to improve in the future.

This week was the occasion of a major celebration to commemorate the opening of the newly refurbished Plaza, six months after the project had begun. To put this in perspective, last November the word was that the project would be finished by Christmas. (Now if I was cynical (Blog forbid!) I might point out that they didn’t say WHICH Christmas – but I digress.) My theory is that there was a major push to finish the project by the end of April, in part, so the Plaza would be available for Cinco de Mayo. This traditional Mexican holiday has not been as “enthusiastically” celebrated here in past years as I here it is in places like Tijuana, (where many “Gringos” come across the border for the party) but perhaps that will change here this year and a new tradition may begin?

To give you an idea of the scale of the project the entire square block was scraped bare, new utilities were installed, old specimen trees were kept and more palms and other plantings were added along with a new band shell on site of the old one, complete with a water feature around 3/4 of the circumference of the structure. New patterned and coloured cement paving covers the rest of the square and creates a much more open space that can now accommodate a considerable crowd,

However, the crowd was not in evidence when I arrived, half an hour before I expected the official opening ceremony to begin. I wanted to get there early so I could look around and take a few pictures of the finished Plaza before people started to arrive. Some of the new plants were looking a little shell shocked from their recent transplanting, and there were more shrubs stored away that hadn’t quite make it into the ground in time for the party. A large sound board was set up in the band shell with video cameras trained on the raised stage in front of the Town Hall, where a long wooden desk stretched across the stage with chairs for about a dozen dignitaries.

I can’t verify this, but I wouldn’t be surprised if most of Baja Sur was left standing that evening, because almost every square foot of the rest of the Plaza was filled with neat rows of white plastic Tecate chairs – hundreds of them – so I’m guessing that they must have collected every available chair from all over the state to bring that many together in one place. OK, so maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but the sight did remind me of all the white crosses in military cemeteries lined up in neat rows, on second thought, perhaps that’s a bit morbid – I’d better just get on with the story.

The first 6 or 8 rows of seating in front of the stage was roped off for VIP guests, with chair covers held in place with bright yellow sashes for the really important folks. Busily working among these chairs were a number of people that looked like secretarial and administrative staff, mainly women, all dressed in black with white tops (they obviously all got the memo) and they were attaching name cards to various chairs, after much consultation of lists and other sheaves of papers.

To one side of the stage there was an enormous video screen feeding live pictures from the several video cameras shooting the event. Scattered around the perimeter of the square, tied to just about anything that didn’t move, were large banners, inscribed with the names of many of the outlying hamlets and districts, that described some benefit that local area had received under the current administration, which is coming to the end of its three year term.

While these last minute preparations were underway I headed away from the Plaza along a side street towards my favourite ice cream shop for a snack. On the way there I passed a double row of what looked like every dump truck and other mobile piece of heavy equipment in town (perhaps that’s how the chairs had arrived?). The truck drivers were either sitting in their trucks or milling around in between - presumably waiting to play some role in the immanent event.

I arrived at La Michocana, where they have the most amazing selection of ice cream flavours and fruits for smoothies in town, but the specialty of the house, in my opinion, is the ice cream and frozen concoctions on a stick – dozens of them – neatly stacked in freezers – beautiful, and mouth watering! I made my choice, chocolate covered ice cream, of some subtle flavour, rolled in chopped pecans – delicious! Now armed with my treat, I returned, past the trucks, back to the square, and took a chair near the video screen, to wait for everyone else to show up. While waiting, I watched increasingly anxious, if not frantic, preparations on the stage by several “Assistants” in dark suits and striped ties, checking the PA system and making many announcements, about what, my almost non-existent Spanish, could not decipher.

Meanwhile, the Plaza was slowly filling up with hundreds of people, many women, mothers and grandmothers, with lots of young kids, as well as family groups, and younger single men and women. The atmosphere was festive, with everyone dressed carefully, if not formally. Vendors passed through the crowd selling small bags of different types of candies and nuts. Large coolers were scattered through the crowd, which were packed with bottled water and ice – free for the taking – and at the back of the crowd, there were a couple of hot dog carts and other snacks and drinks available.

As the crowd grew, more assistants, mainly younger, high school aged guys, started handing out pom-pom sticks of yellow paper streamers and small flags loosely translated as “Second Information Session”. These went over big with all the kids and quite a few adults, but the best was yet to come, long yellow skinny balloons, which proved to be a real crowd pleaser and were waved enthusiastically, as well as being used for many exciting games by the kids in the crowd, who found them a welcome diversion from the rather boring proceedings leading up to the event.

Finally, the head table appeared to be assembling at the front near the stage, and the mayor Yuan Yee Cunningham (I kid you not, he was born and raised in Loreto into one of the most important local families - and that is his name) worked the front of the crowd in the VIP area, to much cheering from that section of seats, and a muted, but still enthusiastic response from many in the larger crowd. Eventually, the official party was announced and entered from the back of the Plaza, lead by State Governor Narciso Agundez Montano accompanied by Yuan Yee and a hoard of well dressed officials and photographers (professional and otherwise) that slowly made their way through the crowd to a plaque, which was unveiled in mid plaza, to commemorate the event.

The official party then proceeded to the stage and finally took their places in chairs at the long desk. Next began at least a half an hour of introductions of the assembled officials and greetings to each of the outlying areas around Loreto, each place name being greeted with cheers, presumably from their residents, who were scattered around the Plaza. These official introductions were all very formal and, I’m sure run strictly according to a pecking order that would have impressed Miss Manners. Formal recognition and due attention to titles is an integral part of any even semi-official ceremony I have observed here in Mexico, and apparently is deeply ingrained in the culture.

Following these introductions there was a report by the Mayor, which, from what I could gather, was a laundry list of the accomplishments during his and the Governor’s terms of office. One of the high points in this rather dry fare happened when all of a sudden, in response to something the mayor had said, all of the assembled trucks I had mentioned earlier, started blowing their air horns in unison. I presume this noisy demonstration was in recognition of, and thanks for, the many civic contracts that these drivers had benefited from.

After what appeared to be an abbreviated council meeting, where several show of hand votes were taken among the head table – everyone got up and left the stage. Of course, at that point, I had no idea what had been said, or what the rest of the program would be, but I knew it would be going on for a long time and, after 2 hours, I had had about enough listening to speeches I didn’t understand. So, I took advantage of the break in the proceedings, to walk back to where my car was parked and then head back home the 15 km. to Loreto Bay. It turns out that I made the right decision to leave when I did, someone I spoke to later said that the festivities had gone on another 5 or 6 hours, finally wrapping up about 3:00 am after many more speeches and lots of music and dancing by various folkloric groups.

Participating, if only by observation, in an historic event of this magnitude in “my town” is a memory I am happy to share with you and preserve in this way. But I am ashamed by my lack of understanding of the language, and I am resolved to do what I can to improve my deficiency in that area in the future – however, in spite of my poor language skills, participating in the opening of the new Benito Juarez Plaza was a unique moment that I will remember as part of “Living Loreto”.