Friday, November 24, 2023

Daily life in safe, idyllic Comitán is a reminder of the ‘old normal’

Chances are you’ve heard of one- and two-syllable saints in Mexico like San José or San Pedro, Juan, Lucas or Martín.

Chances are equally good that you’ve never heard of the saint whose name would figure as the winning Jeopardy! question: “The saint with the most syllables in his name” — San Caralampio.

Boy, do we need him now.

San Caralampio was adopted in the mid-19th century as the patron saint of a ranch on the outskirts of Comitán, Chiapas. It is said that there was not a single case on the ranch of smallpox or cholera, then ravaging far-larger Comitán.

Promoted to the big leagues as the patron saint of Comitán itself, San Caralampio soon worked his magic on the future Pueblo Mágico and is revered today as a miracle worker.

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I live in Guatemala, and when I want to “get off the Rock,” as Gibraltarians say, I head for Comitán for safety, orderliness, mariachis and Mexican food.

You should too.

Neighbors think I’m crazy to head to Mexico for safety, just as Mexicans in Comitán think I’m crazy to ask about gangs, kidnapping or even where I can leave my car overnight: “On the street, of course.”

Long overshadowed by relatively nearby San Cristóbal de las Casas for tourism, Comitán is a well-kept secret.

Dining outside by the immaculate central park, listening to mariachis, approving of the teenagers with their tablets accessing the city-paid, park-wide Wi-Fi (at least in the old normal), Comitán feels like how Mexico “used to be” — the old-old normal.

If you are lucky, or plan well enough, you’ll be handed a candle, leave your table and be invited to join the happy throng headed for Caralampio’s church on his saint’s day.

By day in Comitán, you can traverse the “Boulevard” and count the emblematic statues, one for each state in Mexico. During the “old normal,” the city would set up an ice rink in December, and the laughing Tzotzil and Tzeltal indigenous folk — unlike the Canadians who are born wearing ice skates — take their first tentatively wobbly steps on skates and fall like you did (unless, again, you’re Canadian).

Chiapas, at least at present, ranks as one of Mexico’s most pandemic-free states.

San Caralampio?

Carlisle Johnson writes from his home in Guatemala.

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