Many years ago, when I was living in Mexico City, I went to buy myself a medal of the Virgin of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico. Truth be told, I do not know why I felt such a need except to say that my oldest child, Thing 1, had just been diagnosed with a life-threatening genetic syndrome, and I was in search of a bit of comfort.
I went by myself to the Mercado Insurgentes, my chofer Polo parking the car in Mr. Understanding’s office building’s lot on Calle Florencia. Situated between Calles Londres and Liverpool, the Mercado Insurgentes is a typical Mexican tourist market, filled to the gills with serapes, painted ceramics, toys, and other handicrafts, most notably silver. Anything handmade from anywhere in Mexico finds its way into an Insurgentes stall. Colorful papercut outs – papel picado – drip from the ceiling. Vendors call out to shoppers, urging them to stop by. Two aisles are dedicated to silver vendors, with every conceivable item in silver you can imagine: jewelry, candlesticks, knife rests, salt spoons, baptismal shells. Outside of the small colonial city of Taxco, this market has one of the largest selections of silver articles in Mexico. There is stuff everywhere, stacked to and dangling from the rafters.
Normally, I did not go to the silver market myself. This was usually an activity done with girlfriends or touring visitors, after a 2 margarita/greasy totopo/guacamole/chiles en nogada lunch at Fonda del Refugio on Calle Liverpool. On this particular day, however, I went by myself and did not stop for lunch, bee lining it straight for my favorite booth, always my starting point. Run by a husband and wife team, they were always low key and did not grab at me like some of the other vendors did, trying to pull me into their booth.
On this particular morning, I prayed the husband was working the booth as I was not in the mood to negotiate. (The wife and I could have some protracted transactions). As I stared up into the glass case, I pointed to the medal I wanted, a largish oblong silver image, encased in a simple fretwork of gold. A Virgin was on the front, holding out her hands in supplication. A robe flowed behind her and beams of sunlight streamed from her fingertips. On the back was a large M, with a cross above it, a bar connecting the two, threading in between the M. Two hearts were below this, one of them pierced with a sword and one wrapped in thorns, the entirety of the oval circled in stars. “Looks good to me”, I thought to myself, and pulled out cash from my bra strap, a.k.a. my Mexican wallet. Sr. Nosequien slipped the medal into a sky blue flannel drawstring bag after minimal haggling and I was out the door, headed back to the office in record time.
When I got back to the car, I showed Polo my purchase.
“Ay, Senora, lo siento pero este no es La Virgen of Guadalupe!” (I am sorry, Senora, but that is not the Virgen of Guadalupe).
“Then who is it?” I asked.
“No tengo ni un idea,” he replied. (I have no idea).
I could tell that he was both disappointed and disturbed that I did not know what the Virgen of Guadalupe looked like. Typical gringa … And after living in Mexico for over a year! Frequently mistaken for a Catholic because of my name, I am nevertheless an Episcopalian. I did not grow up with saints so this is how I missed the Virgin of Guadalupe. Although most Virgin Marys, also named, “Our Ladys of [fill in the blank]” sport flowing royal, blue robes, there are distinct differences in the way their hands are positioned, for example, or the color of the inner vestments. Guadalupe is standing on a crescent moon and held up by a cherub and rays of light flow all around her. Roses encircle the ensemble. There are many other details but suffice it to say, I was ignorant at the time.
Ni modo. Whatever. It’s not like I could return it. I went home and stuck the medal on a chain around my neck and wore it for years and years and years, not knowing the identity of the Mystery Lady. I rarely took her off. Thing 3 cut her teeth on the fretwork, bending it just a bit.
In the meantime, I became intimately familiar with La Virgen de Guadalupe.
Herewith concludes Day 10.