The Tale of Las Canas


Beach Dreamers  30x40 Oil on Canvas

     The rising of the full moon at Rancho Las Cañas marks a month on the lunar calendar of my sojourn in the high plains of Mexico, a ghost lantern in ancient skies. The harsh bleakness of the day laid to rest, dream worlds giving "substance" to stone and clay.  In the far away horizon the Sierra Madre rises in a wave of violet on the fading blood stained apron of the sun. We are standing on an old dirt road awaiting the taxi to liberate us from this time forgotten village which had been churning up dust now for two days in celebration of San Pascal. Bullfights, rodeos, concerts, fireworks, tequila, all a part of a liturgy of worship that makes the body sweat and the eyes narrow into windows venting fire from some burning forge. It's fiesta in Las Cañas the volume is turned way up. The narrow dirt streets lined with vendors offering all the "trinkets of love" that can dangle from a string. Ovens heap fragrant sweet bread into the air mingling with the huge bubbling cauldron of carnitas and chicharronies in a monstrous copper kettle. Men toil erecting a 16 foot tower covered with colored rockets and assorted pyrotechnical details. It's pointed at the sun. The small church is a revolving door of worship and celebration. Little girls in polished white dresses with flowers in hand, parade in for their first confirmation into the mystery of religion. Outside the dance between the sexes is in full swing with most men atop beautiful horses while señoritas cling to one another, paving the rugged paths with an autonomous kind of beauty that this moon and centuries have played their part. The modern world is borrowed from, notwithstanding. High heels provide a kind of ungainly motion along the rock strewn paths that would disguise the wobble that too might follow but must be overcome. In softer terrain the figures lean back, heels dug in, as though pinned to the earth, planted there and then. Into the church suddenly charges a large chested short man in dark polyester coat and jacket with leather lapels and wide red mustache. He is followed by several dark haired señoras who seem to lengthen his stature, but if in doubt, twelve highly plumed white suited mariachis sweep in behind and reinforce the apparition. His entrance cleared the chapel of it's worshipers like pigeons taking flight from a coop. The house is rocking now and crowds jam back in. Who is this "Don" who rides in on clouds of music? Does he own the rancho? No, he is the star attraction of the stage, imported from Michoacan and well known in these lands, who that afternoon and night would lend himself to the sounds of the valley in an endless stream of music, laughter, and revelry. Across a narrow dry stream bed and upon the side of a nearby hill is carved out the stone bull ring. Dust and dirt held captive for the entertainment of men and women who put upon it their beasts of burden in a kind of display of what they are and what they know. The bullfight poster advertising this event in the seemingly faraway San Miguel de Allende, displayed a dramatic painting of a matador arched over a charging black monster rearing his mighty horns around the contoured body. But the fine print spelled "Tickets Gratis" which gave pause for doubt as to what one might really expect to see. Bull fights are a cruel and explicit demonstration of man's power over nature and therefore it's only virtue "might" lay upon the artful manner with which it is carried out. The last fight I witnessed was in the Feria of Sevilla in 1971 in which the King and Queen of Spain were present, seated in their royally draped box, in one of the oldest and most beautiful bull rings in the world. On that day the great Paco Camino brought down the house with something bordering the supernatural. To have been there is to have experienced a deep and profound pain of emotion, a constituent at the core of man's darkest source. The Spaniard to my side wept openly and in common with the thousands who were there that day. Las Cañas Plaza de Toros. The sun drives it's pistons into the very center of this gravely little dust bowl. An ungainly water truck attempts to soothe the parched ground to no avail. A stone wall rises seven feet, the only seats are upon it’s rim. Backed up on the hill, amongst the cactus and rocks and one shade tree, men and women, some on horseback, straggle in, then the sounds of ill tuned horns and drums. The arrival of the matadors, dressed in country "Hemmingwayesque" trousers and white shirts with suspenders and woolen sport caps. If by this time you had thought the day to have collapsed from time all together, think again. It's 1945! Suddenly hope rises from the underlying sense of doubt brought on earlier by that "Gratis" warning on the poster. But to shorten the tale; four bulls were brought in, two were killed, two spared. All were weak kneed and refused to fight. To add insult to injury the horns had been shaved lest one should by some hidden virtue of breeding turn an odd angle and catch one of the swaggering toreadors off guard. The only strange and vaguely interesting light of this trampled show was to watch the one Mexican female matador take her stance with what can only be described as a tiny cow. Four times the thing snagged the cape from her hands and four times she ran. As the day melted on, many had already begun the walk back to the village square where for the next ten hours there was the man in black polyester coat, the great candlestick to be lit and for the caballeros, the bottles needed turning once again, this the Mexican hourglass of the "campo" With a hard fought painting in the box, we stood on the old dirt road at the edge of town looking to the fading light. The moon swayed above a cacophony of firecrackers and bellowing songs and shattering bottles. There was much more left behind and much the same. "

                                                    Roderick Smith