The neighborhood had been quieter since last Thursday, since school was out to bridge the long weekend between Mother's Day on the 10th and Teacher's Day, yesterday, on the 15th. Today sounded more like a Monday than a Wednesday, with snare drums rattling in accompaniment to discordant bugle blasts, not too long after eight in the morning from the Margarita Maza de Juárez elementary school across the street.
The first day of the school week always begins with a woman's voice over a loudspeaker directing a patio full of uniformed children. To those of us on the other side of the high walls--that line of cinder block around the complex of two-story green and white buildings, emblazoned with the unintentionally-rendered but nevertheless menacing face of President Benito Juárez's wife--the muffled, monotonous, and yet undeniably commanding voice drapes itself over our homes. I sometimes liken it to the sound of a muezzin's call to morning prayer, only that this voice is calling the kids to begin their rendition of the Mexican national anthem.
It's always an earnest, endearing and slightly comic performance, with the loudspeakered voice all but drowning out those of the children, and the haphazard sounds of drums and bugles played by the few remaining students doing their best to approximate the anthem's official rhythm and notes. A tune that couldn't possibly be more classic in its embodiment of the march tradition, it sounds both weary and hopeful coming from the school's little ritual of ceremony and practice.
We hear it at midnight, too, on those nights driving home after a late movie, the radio tuned to Horizonte or Reactor. Every television or radio station must play it at the beginning and end of their broadcasts, turning the minutes and the airwaves after twelve into a choral interlude. Click here to hear it, and go ahead: imagine being in the car with us on those windy roads home. And if you like, you can read along to the lyrics here, too.
I think you'll agree that it's not the type of anthem (or as it's actually called here, a hymn) that would easily prompt soccer stadiums to invite musical superstars in for a Beyoncé-style, roof-raising, lax-tempoed, improvised-vocal-flourished rendition. And so, the pregame performance usually goes like this. It might be more rigid, but it's certainly still regal. The salute even seems more formal, the right hand placed not with the palm flat over the heart, but rather with the palm facing the floor and the thumb-side to the chest.
Almost any song collectively known and sung, especially about one's country and its autonomy in particular, tends to rally up emotions in just about any citizen. Mexico's anthem is not exception. And yet still it gives pause to think about the nature of the lyrics: imagery of war, cannon-fire, soldiers and blood that become a necessary means to certain ends: the ideas of victory, glory, honor, union--and liberty. It's all nothing if not sobering. Violence and peace are virtually, paradoxically inseparable.
But not many of us think about that in too much depth when it comes right down to the singing. In fact, it's no secret that many children and even adults--those who have likely never seen the lyrics in writing, who haven't worked out the full meaning of the sometimes archaic wording--can misunderstand what they've learned to sing. Perhaps it's an urban legend, but plenty of people have heard of birth certificates boasting the name 'Masiosare.' It sounds pleasant enough, doesn't it? But it comes from the middle of the anthem's first verse: "Mas si osare..." is the phrase, meaning "But if [someone] should dare...". I can understand hearing that and then thinking it might name a certain 'Masiosare,' but I'm doubtful of the claim that anyone would name their child after the [someone] in that line, who in the second half is revealed to be an "enemy outlander."
And yet, who knows? All things are possible. A popular sushi chain here even serves up a delicious Masiosare Roll...If anything, it's proof that the national anthem holds a firm place in the national consciousness--something also confirmed almost every week of the academic year, right across the street from our house.