The Virgin of the Valley
Nothing special happened yesterday. The Dow rose to recover some of its recent losses. Gold fell to give back some of its recent gains.
Stock market advisors are unusually bullish. Investors are unusually bullish. Barron’s is unusually bullish.
All of which makes us think this is a good time to be unusually bearish.
Sell stocks. Buy gold. Be happy.
That’s all we’ve got for today… except for this write-up of our recent visit to Molinos by Elizabeth.
The Fiesta of the Virgin of the Valley
By Elizabeth Bonner
Yesterday morning, we set off to Molinos for the fiesta of La Virgen del Valle. We piled into the truck – our visiting friends Claire and Bruno; Marta, our young cook from Gualfin; Bill and me.
The fiesta, with its devotion to the patron saint of the Calchaquís valleys and her attendant local missas chicas, brings together people from throughout the mountains, riverside farms and valleys of the intendencia of Molinos, the way a river collects water from streams scattered all over higher lands.
We arrived as the outdoor mass began in the public square. The statue of La Virgen del Valle, a grave, dark-skinned Indian maiden in blue and white satin, presided next to the altar, raised up above the crowd on a dais covered in pink and white paper roses. She wore a tall silver crown on long dark hair, and silver earrings dangled against her neck.
The Virgen shared her glory: Police chiefs in full uniform stood solemnly at attention, flanking our priest, the Padre Francisco. Various local dignitaries – among them our intendente, Walter – also had pride of place. And in a wide-swinging circle around the altar, various groups stood at the forefront of the congregation. A band with a drummer and a guitarist accompanied the choir. There was a troop of little girls in white with white ribbons bedecking their dark hair. Little boys in the white and blue uniforms of the policia infantíl held the flags of Salta, Argentina and the Vatican under the watchful eye of their teacher.
And next to La Virgen del Valle were the missas chicas. These are the patron images – statues, portraits, relics – dear to the little villages, nearby fincas and households. They were carried on litters adorned with bright paper flowers and ribbons. Among them were smaller versions of La Virgen del Valle and of the Señor y Virgen del Milagro of Salta. These are images of Jesus and Mary with special meaning for the Calchaquís valleys.
Another missa chica was the Byzantine icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. And then there were the santos and santissimos: San Cayetano, patron of work; San Cipriano, patron of cattle; San José, patron of families. A small statue of a beatified priest held a fresh sheaf of wheat. There was a Technicolor portrait of Saint Augustine, patron of the capilla at Gualfin and of the church in Molinos. He looked surprisingly good-natured.
Our padre, who is a member of the Augustinian order, gave a sermon that probably was inspired by passages in The City of God, Augustine’s vehement attack on paganism. But it was a thoughtful and gentle sermon, midway between remonstrance and encouragement, on the theme of superstition and the true practice of religion. No prayer to a saint replaces lack of virtue in oneself. Kissing an image of Our Lady of Good Counsel isn’t a substitute for taking good counsel and giving it to others. A plastic statue of Saint Joseph is just plastic if parents ignore their children. No power is greater than God’s, so don’t expect to make magical bargains with a saint. But, he rounded up with a smile, we are all very fond of our missas chicas, and he was delighted to see so many of them and the faithful gathered in honor of La Virgen del Valle.
As the Communion was prepared, the flags and the saints were lifted aloft for all to see. A bell rang three times. And in the tree above where we stood, a white pigeon peeped out of its nest and down at the crowd with round, piercing eyes.
The fiesta continued after the mass with a solemn procession through the square and around the dusty streets to the parvis of the church. The drummer led the way, playing the traditional double beat. Men and women alternated at the handles of the litters, the padre led the marching crowd in the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary, and the guitar and the choir began traditional Ave Marias and more popular religious songs.
At the church, the procession swelled out to fill the street. A giggling child darted out onto the balcony and was firmly snatched back; the bells were rung; the Virgen was slowly turned to face the faithful and the mountains to the east. Silence fell.
After a few moments, a final prayer was said. The image, carried by her bearers, retreated through the wide doors of the church, past the pews, into the nave. The bearers of the missas chicas followed – and then it was time for private devotions. A long line silently wound through the church, each person stopping to gently touch a sacred image, to stroke the glass over a holy portrait, and to cross himself at each tactile encounter. We saw Doña Silvia, the brickmaker’s wife, holding her statue of La Virgen del Valle for others to touch and be blessed by – and presumably so that it would absorb some of the holy magic of faith.
We came out into the sun from the fervent atmosphere of the handsome church – built in the 18th century on 17th-century foundations – and found it was time for lunch. We ate in the Hacienda de Molinos, the former governor’s mansion, now a restaurant and hotel facing the church – the conjunction of the temporal and the spiritual in the valley of the Molinos River.
After lunch, it was time for more of the temporal realm: errands. Bill needed a replacement piece for our hot-water system. I needed eggs and potatoes. And Bruno needed Oreo cookies. The city streets were given over to a fair, where Marta was to be seen poring over barrettes for her hair, and you could buy gaudy bath towels, pots as big as cauldrons, screwdrivers and ratchet sets, plastic toys, underwear, T-shirts, jeans and jackets, hats and caps, and enough candy to keep the one dentist in Molinos busy pulling teeth for years.
No one said much on the way home. We had a simple bowl of soup for dinner, saw the sliver of the new moon rise high above the courtyard and sank into satisfied sleep.