The Gate Crasher: Diplomatic Danzóns

The Gate Crasher takes machismo to a whole new level

¡Ay, Caramba!  This will be some fiesta! Mexican Independence Day on Sept. 16 at the Military History Museum in Vienna. With my somewhat out-of-practice Mexican-twanged Spanish and my imitation cowhide vest, I’ll get in for sure.

Swaggering like a real Chilango, of course I have an elegant lady by my side, machismo oblige. And with my gringa colleague from The Vienna Review, I approach the brick fortress-like Arsenal and the museum’s entry hall, full of statues of heroic aristocracy spanning the last 1,000 years of Austrian history. It’s like a gothic horror movie glorifying (masculine) power and might.

Up the wide staircase to a grandiose hall, with murals of sword-wielding hussars mercilessly slaughtering their Ottoman foes, and Napoleonic troops marching in phalanx against the ill-fated Imperial army at Austerlitz. Thrashing horses and lots of blood, ghastly parades of annihilation overlook the party just about to begin.

I muse: How fitting to have the revolutionary struggle of the Mexican nation commemorated here. Mexico has witnessed its share of patriotic bloodletting, brutal conquests and waves of revolution and repression. I have visions of the great murals by Rivera or Siqueiros.

But this is no dour diplomatic function, diplomáticos sin chistes. Huge banners shouting ¡M-É-XI-CO! bedeck the arches above us, the marble columns are garishly wrapped in green, white and red, the colours of the national flag. A double mariachi band is playing, vibrant and loud. The Corona beer and Jose Cuervo tequila are already flowing as Flautas are served, crispy tortilla “flutes”, Pollo con mole (chicken in chocolate sauce), and carne de cerdo con salsa verde y nopales (pork with green chilli sauce and cactus leaves).

As the diplomats shuffle out of the hall in the first hour, a family-like festivity fills the air, ever more convivial as the evening progresses.

It is giddy, dazzling and surely an antidote to the current pessimistic mood in Mexico. This nation of 100 million is in the throes of ongoing and increasingly destabilising drug wars, which are currently threatening the very existence of Mexico’s central government. Nevertheless, here in Vienna, the festivities couldn’t have been more upbeat and merry.

Ah, Mexican women! (Yes, I make sure my gringa is having a great time.) From the fresas, those pretty strawberries with their manicures, to the bombas in their 10-inch heels and 10-inch mini-skirts. Even una chicita diabolica, not more than three years old in a long sequined skirt, knows how to furrow her eyebrows and eye a man with disdain.

And there are plenty of youngsters here – uncommon at the usually staid embassy functions. Young Mexican girls walk seriously in long white lace dresses, red roses at their waist and green, white and red ribbons in their dark tresses. Little boys run around in black embroidered vests.

Ambassador Alejandro Díaz y Pérez Duarte is not wearing a suit: Tall, with his western-cut jacket, wavy white hair and elegant moustache, he looks like a 19th century railroad tycoon. As he comes to the centre of the stage, a shout of ¡Viva México! rises from the crowd: This is El Grito, “The Cry”, that Miguel Hidalgo shouted out in 1810, the beginning of a long revolutionary struggle for independence from Spain.

 “¡Oye, amigos, Viva México!” I cry too, as a vivacious Mexican reporter interviews me. For a brief instant, I am no longer a European but a Mexican on home turf. My incognito mission has been successful! For a fleeting yet intense moment, I manage to transcend nationality, race, culture and history, and, fully and unequivocally, embrace an entire nation’s history and its people, as if it and they were my own.

The mariachis play on, their lead singer crooning tunes still familiar to me from my Mexican years. As we walk out into the cool evening, the beat of a danzón taps on incessantly in my pleasantly dizzy head. A splendid affair. ¡Viva la revolución!

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