Monday, December 21, 2015

Muddling Memoir: La Flor de Noche Buena

Memories assault us when we're least expecting. It's the memoirist's job to capture them as they flitter through the brain's clutter. Some writers carry notepads, others keep journals, still others sink deep into morning pages. The task of catching fleeting memories is a slow, but essential process.

As I venture into a new project, I rely on the journals and letters I've already mentioned in this blog series as well as the glorious flashes of sight, sound, smell that arise more frequently the deeper I dig into memories. The triggers? A total mystery. An example:

Thanksgiving day my daughter's future sister-in-law arrived to the festivities with a brilliant poinsettia she pressed into my arms. In a wash of memory, I was thirty-six years younger, alone in Mexico City. It was November 1979, my first winter in the city. I was still ignorant about most things Mexican. I didn't know poinsettias were an indigenous plant brought north in 1828 by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first United States Ambassador to Mexico (1825-1829), and arrogantly renamed in his honor. I didn't know the glorious Flor de Noche Buena grew as trees throughout Central Mexico. I didn't know that the floating gardens of Xochimilco, then on the southern edge of the city, were renown for the cultivation of these plants. I didn't know that in early December each year the largest city in the world was transformed by glorious color.

It happened overnight, or so it seemed in early December 1979. I have no memory of the day, the time or even where I was. It must have been somewhere along the glorious Paseo de la Reforma, a wide avenue as elegant as the Champs Elysees but not as commercialized. Not then. I was on foot, probably emerging from the subway on my way to a teaching assignment when I saw them. I froze as people jostled around me. I still feel the press of their bodies, smell the mingled scent of perfume and sweat. I stopped in place overwhelmed by what I saw. The concrete world of Mexico City I'd grown accustomed to over the past year was alive with color. The median running between the opposing lanes of traffic for as far as the eye could see were mounded beds of fiery red Noche Buenas.

I do not have a photo of what I saw that day, but here is a glorious shot of magic in the making from Google images:
Happy Holidays!

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