Wednesday, 12 December 2007

Janky Town of Bethlehem

...And it came about in those days that a decree went out from Milagro´s house that all the townswomen should gather at the church at 5 to put up the parish manger scene in the entryway.
So at the appointed hour Julia (keeper of the church keys) opened the 12-foot plank doors to the zaguan. She pulled the bell rope softly, to tell Moratinos the time had arrived. And from round about they gathered in, each bearing gifts:
Milagro and her grown-up son José arrived, each with a plastic tub in hand, filled with layers of freshly-dug moss. ("Moss" in Spanish is "musgo." A beautiful word for a lovely lichen... MOOZ-go.) Milagro shooed away José, then headed into the church loft to root out more Christmas things. Milagro is always All Business.
Pilar brought brooms and dustpans and plastic bags. Nothing gets done without those. She let Stasi, her husband, stay around for a little while, but when the full complement of Belen-builders had arrived he, too, was dismissed. And his little dog, too.
The person with the most influence in this little project was Flor. Flor is a 40-something, petite woman who lives in the inside corner of the Plaza Mayor. Her brother Segundino is the town carpenter, and Javier, the oldest of the siblings, is a farmer. Their youngest brother, Angel, is an ever-smiling background figure, frozen forever at a mental age of about 12 by childhood meningitis.
The Segundinos keep more to themselves than the rest of the village, they don´t have big dinners in the house or attend a lot of community events. I´ve never heard why. There is no whisper of hard feelings or past hurts, and they happily have shown me through the inside of their big house -- a maze of animal stalls, hallways, echoing tiled kitchens and parlors. Far as I know they are the only people here who still raise pigs and cure their own hams and sausages. They make their own wine, from the vineyard to the bottle. And they put their big green parrot, Berta, in her cage out on the plaza in the summer, where she shouts and whistles at the passing pilgrims and terrifies the neighbors´ dogs with a hair-raising facsimile snarl.
Anyway, back to Peace on Earth. Evidently the village Belen is always kept over at the Segundino house. I helped Flor carry an old bedroom door across the square and into the church, where we laid it over three little sawhorses. She produced a much-folded and rather sticky sheet of plastic tablecloth to stretch atop the door. And then came the moss. Libby helped to lay it in a single varigated pelt, covering the surface.
A crew was sent out to dig more moss, this time to the bodegas. Lots of moss on the roofs. Bad moss this year. Last year the moss was great, everyone agreed. And the mushrooms. Lots more mosquitos, too.
Meantime Milagros unfolded the sky. This was a dark-blue tissue paper tablecloth with gold foil stars stapled on, higglety-pigglety, a very long time ago. The edges were torn, the folds and creases made the stars cross their arms closed. José reappeared, bearing a wickedly smoking, stinking electric glue gun. There´s no electricity in the church entryway, so he had to work fast... He glued the sky to the wall behind the Belen. It stuck, but it looked really, really sorry. Libby looked at me and cocked an eyebrow. "What´s the Spanish word for ´janky?´" she whispered.
But we weren´t done yet. There was still the aluminum foil "rio" to install, which meant some moss had to be moved, and the little plastic bridge. Once the riverine geography was established, the Camino had to be cleared and filled-in with dirt. And when Flor ran back to her house to get the bag of special Bethlehem sand, she brought her husband back with her.
I don´t know Flor´s husband´s name, but he looks like a Larry. Apparently Larry is the Manger Man, the guy who brought Moratinos´Belen back from extinction a few years ago when he found all the little figures hidden away in boxes in the house. So when Larry arrived to install the Rio Aluminumio and the Camino, everyone stepped aside.
He rerouted the river first, and then installed a corkwood castle on the lefthand corner. The holy stable went way over on the right. The camino, he said, should wind through the middle, like this.
José pointed out the backwardness of this approach. The Wise Men came from the East, no? So shouldn´t the stable be on the Santiago side of the table, and the castle full of Roman soldiers and Moors be over to the right? (If this had been a Presbyterian church we´d have formed a committee to study the issue before proceeding.)
Larry just gave José a look that said, "Oh ye of little faith." Then he swept from the scene, leaving it to the women to people the mossy sward with a multitude of tiny plastic shepherds, virgins, poultry, swine, and kine, done in a variety of scales and rainbow colors. José left soon, muttering about how last year the Magi came from Terradillos, not Sahagún. The light was failing. One of the magi´s camels was missing a foot, and no one could find Gloria. A search party was formed I asked what Gloria looked like, or what Gloria was.
"Gloria. You kno.," Juli said. "The angel that holds a bandera, a flag." Hmmm. More Spanish holiday lore?
Libby and Pilar found the battered, pre-decorated plastic Christmas tree up in the choir loft in the dark. Libby picked it up to bring it down the steep little stairs, and the bottom half dropped off and tumbled down, scattering glass balls and Santas. Libby said a bad word, right there in the Sanctuary.
I will not detail the complexity of the tree´s reassembly and ascent to its place of honor next to the Belen, but formation of the European Union may come close in scale and tiresomeness.
By then it was inky dark in the entryway, and everyone was ready to go home and get warm. I swept up the broken decorations and moss dirt from the tiles, and picked up a little plastic angel that had fallen in the corner. Eureka! It was Gloria! "Aha! You found her! Pilar cried. She placed her atop the creche, and a light shone in my private darkness. Inscribed on the flag stretched across the figure´s plastic chest was the angelic pronouncement: "Gloria!"
I have not seen our Belen yet in the bright light of day, but I know it is beautiful.


Beth said...

As a "belen" collector I adored this post. This is one of the reasons I so dearly love you sweet sister!

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