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it’s the little things

I am always beguiled by the unexpected in Mexico. It’s still one of the great joys of living here, the serendipity possible in any mundane task.

I had these clocks that stopped working, one from Akumal and one from the kitchen here in Merida. They weren’t expensive, pretty cheap actually, but I liked them. Things can be fixed here, it’s another of the cool things about Mexico, you don’t just throw something away when it quits.

I took them to the watch and clock repair man in Santiago. His shop is very small and so is he. He studies what you bring in very carefully, using a loupe, and he has all sorts of clever tools many of which I think he made himself.

I sometimes revert to an impatient gringa and I wanted to just drop them off and come back later. No, he first had to inspect them and decide what to do. He’s very precise which, now that I think about it, is a good trait for someone who works on tiny things that move. Anyway, he slowly took one of the clocks apart and began studying it carefully. I was restless, pacing the small area in his shop.

Suddenly rockets began to go off very close and I peeked out the door. There was a group of the faithful with satin banners on poles preceded by men setting off rockets going down the middle of the street.

I had been hearing rockets in the neighborhood for a few days, it is August and this is the month that the parishes on two sides of us, Santiago and San Sebastian, have their feast days. I believe what I was seeing was the gremio from San Sebastian taking their Virgin for a walk-about to visit the church at Santiago. I couldn’t see the Virgin from where I was but I could tell they were carrying something besides the banners.

A gremio as near as I can describe it is a group from a church that organizes the feast days and takes care of the sanctuary. Other than the fact that there are also men involved I would describe it in English as the ‘church ladies’ who put on the suppers and raise money to fix things in the church. A powerful group in any small community no matter the language or culture.

It was the lunch time rush hour and they were calmly walking down the middle of these busy streets, setting off an enormous number of very loud rockets. No one honked!!

They stopped briefly in front of the Santiago church and then proceeded back into the middle of the street and returned towards San Sebastian. It was loud and serious and solemn but also happy and fun. It reminded me where I was and I relaxed and enjoyed watching my clock being carefully repaired and cleaned.

9 comments to it’s the little things

  • Lee

    If I had rockets and fireworks around now, I’d have assumed it was someone happy over Mexico’s gold in the Olympics, and went on with the clock repair. I’m glad you were curious enough to check. (BTW, where in Santiago is this watch repair shop, just in case I ever feel the need to know the time in Merida?)

    • The clock and watch repair guy is on Calle 59 between 72 and 74. It is called a relojería and says that on the front. It is directly across from the evil place which shall not be mentioned but begins with Casa C and next to a jujitzu studio I believe, on the left as you go east on 59.

      Yucatecos were happy about the TRI winning gold, but the rockets were for the Virgin, I’m sure she got some credit for the win as well.

  • “Things can be fixed here, it’s another of the cool things about Mexico,”

    So true and an often overlooked benefit of being SOB.

  • There was a day in The States when someone in the household would fix things that broke. My grandfather was a marvel at it. I have never bothered to learn. Buying something new has become a habit. My grandfather would be appalled. But I now live in a country where repairmen help keep our lives running — for pesos.

  • Hey Ms. Jonna…’gremio’ translates to ‘guild’. There are gremios de panaderos (bakers), gremios de jardineros (gardeners), gremios de…well, every sort of thing. Even, I betcha, watch and clock repair people.

    I had a similar experience last week. My watch gave up the ghost and I thought it was the battery. The battery guy (probably a gremio of those, too) on a corner not far from us said nope, it needed cleaning, and sent me to the watch repair guy, on the opposite corner. The watch repair man spent over an hour and a half taking my watch apart, fixing it, and cleaning every flea-size part inside it. He then told me it was ‘on probation’–that maybe he hadn’t gotten it quite right and if it stopped again, bring it back. Cost? 120 pesos. Does it work? Yep, keeps perfect time. Viva México!


  • Hello mi amiga, I was hoping one of my experts would come in on this. I did look up ‘gremio’ but the translation was not exactly how I hear it used. I decided it was one of those yucateco things. I do see now that it is like the guild of a particular saint or church, that makes more sense. There are political implications in these organizations as well, I remember seeing an article in the Diario de Yucatan about a prominent PRI guy whose family (ie mother) was in charge of the gremio de San Sebsastián. They were not complimentary abou the connection since the Diario is the local PAN newspaper.

    My clocks are both keeping perfect time too! It’s a wonderful thing.

  • Here’s my take on “gremio”. It is a formally organized group, but one that is not recognized by a governing body such as the federal/state government or church. Although, can be used in the sense of a group of teachers for example who are supported by the union.
    gremio s. m.
    1 Asociación o agrupación de personas que tienen el mismo oficio o profesión y defienden sus intereses según unos estatutos: los gremios eran muy importantes en la Edad Media.
    2 Conjunto de personas que tienen el mismo oficio o profesión o pertenecen al mismo estado social: el gremio de los médicos.
    3 Conjunto de personas que se encuentran en la misma situación o tienen los mismos gustos: el gremio de los parados.
    NOTA Frecuentemente usado de forma humorística.

  • On a recent trip to Texas, we went to several garage sales where we found things for 25 cents, a lamp that only needed a new cord, a radio that required batteries, a clock with a set of loose hands.

    We came back here and had a garage sale, no nickel or dimes here. We sold 800 dollars worth of odds and ends.

    Big difference about how people view items, their value, and the ability to recycle and reuse.

  • When I lived in Spain there were such groups of men in the churches. Those groups were referred to as cofradias. The rough translation is fraternity; but these are not frat boys. Rather, it’s more like a circle of intense believers — a brotherhood. Outside of church circles the term can mean guild, which is how the Oxford online dictionary translates gemio, at least as meant in Spain. But it apparently shifted when it jumped the pond. An alternative phrase might be hermandad religiosa. ~eric.