Off of a non-descript part of Fourth Street in the North Valley, is a tree lined street where a hidden paradise exists. My cousin Soledad lives on this street and the most spectacular sight awaits you when you walk through her house and into her backyard. What you see is an explosion of color all around. It is a garden paradise.
Almost every year around this time my cousin, her husband Joseph, and son Joachim, host a party in celebration of spring, family and friends. It is something my daughter and I look forward to all year long. What is so special about this party is that it is a gathering of people who embody the spirit of ‘Burque, of the North Valley, of community. Who is invited to this party? Vecinos
, old friends and new friends, tios
, y primos
. Lots and lots of cousins!
The party started out as a celebration of Soledad’s and Joseph’s wedding in Oaxaca sixteen years ago. Since family was not at the wedding, they had a spring celebration for family and friends. It has since become the annual Fiesta de las Flores. Soledad feels it is sort of an equivalent of a pueblo feast day, a way of getting through another year, and a way to share such a special garden with friends and family.
The garden itself is so spectacular that it almost feels like walking into a dream. Peonies, Japanese irises, roses, artichokes and yerba buena
assault your senses in the most wonderful way. When Soledad first moved into her house, it was in the winter. She knew that there were a few rose bushes in the garden and was stunned at springtime when all the bulbs bloomed. I think she said her words were, “Holy Shit!” when she saw the flowers that first spring. Master gardener Pat Turner used to live in that house. Ms. Turner lovingly took care of the garden and roses and also had a greenhouse, which still exists today.
There are hidden pathways and secret nooks and crannies. In one hidden grove is a cross, in remembrance of those who have passed away. Often rocks with names of family members and the names of women murdered in Juarez
surround the base of the cross. In another hidden corner, a man by the name of Fred was making chicharrones
in a giant copper pot for the party. Under the giant copper pot is a matanza pit that is used for roasting pork and lamb. In yet another area is my cousin’s studio. She’s doesn’t just work in her pretty garden, but is a photographer
, caterer, and “Queen of the Jumping Bean!”
At his year’s party we were treated to Ehekaztl Danzantes, Aztec dancers, who blessed the earth, family and friends. The blessings were done in Nahuatl
, Spanish, and English. Chuy Martinez and Otilio Ruiz
also performed with their wonderful mix of new and old Mexican songs. And just as in my childhood, my mother requested the song Adelita
and made me sit while being serenaded. It doesn’t get any less embarrassing the older I get!
As Soledad told me, it is a monumental task having this party. She also cooks all the food! Pork, lamb, beef, chicken, corn and flour tortillas, guacamole, pickled jalapenos, enchiladas, rice beans…you get the picture! And the fresh fruit, desserts and chocolate fountain were a feast of spectacular proportions. The evening also includes a piñata for the kids. I love to watch the long line of anxious little kids taking turns trying to smack the burro piñata. This year it took a while for that tough little burro to give away its surprises. Finally someone struck the fatal blow at what had become a headless, legless burro. It was all squeals and reaching arms for a giant pile of candy.
Every year the party is different – different people, different weather, different stages of flowers blooming. But one thing that always remains consistent is that Fiesta de Las Flores is a gathering of young spirits and old souls. My cousin’s garden grows more than just beautiful flowers. Her garden also grows cherished memories. Happy spring everyone!
Soledad in her garden.
Otilio Ruiz and Chuy Martinez
A blessing for Mother Earth
Remembering our loved ones
Burro about to meet his fate!
Burro met his match!