September 8, 2013
I’m editing a manuscript while the rest of the family watches a movie, but the sound of the fireworks indicates that something is going on. So I pull on a sweater and go out to the plaza at about 9:15 p.m. They’re setting fireworks from the cathedral courtyard, dozens of people going in and out, including some in costume with instruments. But the street is where the action is. Beginning about a mile away and ending at the plaza come thousands of dancers. Each troupe is composed of about fifty to a hundred along with funky marching bands. The uniforms vary from troupe to troupe: tight jeans and polo shirts; skirts made of multicolored cloth strips; helmets with tall plumes; miner’s outfits complete with lit helmets, hammers, and spikes; boots with bells; boots with loud heels for stomping. Most of the troupes are from Sucre, but some are from Potosí or smaller villages. The dances are of two types. In the main dance, always to the accompaniment of a marching band, with the drummers usually doing their own dance as they play, the dancers take lots of short steps backward and forward and then hunch over and swing their whole bodies wildly, lunging from side to side (the miners hitting their spikes). The energy they expend and generate is tremendous; the dance is complex and entrancing. The Chaqueños (the Gran Chaco is a huge plain that stretches through parts of Bolivia and Argentina and most of Paraguay) use amplifier trucks instead of marching bands; the music is triple-meter, a bit Mexican sounding; the dancers wear mostly white; and the dance features a lively quick-step interval of boot stomps and taps. Between troupes, people run into the street to set more fireworks that fill the sky with chrysanthemum explosions; I’ve never been only ten feet away from massive fireworks before. The Entrada de la Virgen de Guadalupe, which is to Sucre what Mardi Gras is to New Orleans, takes place next Saturday, September 14; this is the beginning of the fiesta. I stay out until 11:45, when the first band takes the stage at the plaza; the fireworks and dancing continue until past dawn, but I’m in bed, sleeping, listening, wondering.