By Patricia Collins
Can it be that nine years have passed since I heard the reading of David and Bathsheba? Now, in rereading the dramatic story, I find myself in a small neighborhood church in Leon, Guanajuato during our filming of the pilgrimage to San Juan de los Lagos . It would be part of “Guadalupe, Mother of All Mexico”.
With the help of the Guanajuato Film Commission, our independent film party had been placed in a new hotel with an impressive two-story fountain in the lobby. The first night I couldn’t sleep; I read while groups of pilgrims from time to time passed along the main street beneath my window. They sang, and they presented an impressive sight as the men and women walked along in the dark, protected somewhat by red lanterns swung back and forth by celadors, officers from their own ranks. The hymns began softly at a distance and got louder and louder until the pilgrims passed our hotel. I was nervous and excited by this filming excursion. But I was also very cold. My room had two beds, and I piled the covers from the second bed over me. We learned later that the hotel, new and pretty, lacked any heating,. It had a sun side and a shade side. Most of us were where the sun never reached,
Like all our shoots, this was “bare bones.” No extras. At the very beginning, our spare budget was the occasion of a miserable disappointment for our director. He decided to go along with me and our driver to check the route on a day that was not budgeted for filming. He decided, as a point of professionalism, not to take cameras. Without pay, no filming.
We came upon the major group of our pilgrims from San Miguel as they were praying under some mesquite trees. The leaders were all together, resting after hours of walking in the early morning. They appeared to have found an oasis. Fortunately, our sound recordist had brought equipment and so we proceeded with interviews that served generously as voice-overs in the final edit. But the setting, the perfect visual setting, slipped away. Our director was furious, first with me for not having funds to budget that day for filming , then with himself for not bringing loaded cameras anyway. He should have.
I was always seeking funds. Even on this trip I had arranged a couple of appointments with people who might lead to sponsors for this , our second film about the culture of Mexico and its spiritual basis. “Guadalupe, Mother of All Mexico” was to be an hour-long documentary, primarily aimed for the American PBS audience. Our material was coming together well. The second or third day in Leon I had a funding appointment in the late afternoon Returning to the hotel, I asked the taxi driver if he would come back in an hour to take me to the center of town for Mass. He agreed, and disappeared into the heavy evening traffic.
An hour later I was outside the hotel searching for him. Finally I realized he wasn’t coming back and I hailed the first cab that would stop. The young driver advised that we wouldn’t get into the center of town in time for the 7 pm Mass. I had seen a small church off several blocks from the main road and asked what he would charge to take me there and wait for me. I wouldn’t feel safe walking around an unknown barrio after dark. I trusted this young man to wait , but still I suggested he could come in to Mass, too, if he wanted.
After a short delay, I saw him enter the church and, somewhat to my surprise, come up and kneel down next to me. The first reading was of David and Bathsheba. This evening Mass in a small church had drawn many people. I wondered if the numbers were usual or if the proximity to the feast of Our Lady of San Juan had something to do with it. Returning to my back seat in the cab after Mass I asked the driver if he planned to go to San Juan. In a sudden move, he unbuttoned his shirt and drew it back to show his right arm and chest—a patchwork of different shades of skin. “ an accident, sulfuric acid “ He indicated with a wave of his hand that the damage extended down his leg. How many operations, how much time they had taken I didn’t absorb. I was in a state of shock, responding to the visual proof of the event.
“Si., Senora, I will go tomorrow,” he said. “ It only takes two days to walk from here.”
“I would walk barefoot if I could.” he added, “but my feet bleed too much.”
A pause. “ Are you going?”
I told him yes, but in a van. We had heavy equipment to take because we were filming.