Friday, September 10, 2004


Last night was the annual burning of Zozobra, one of the world's most ultra-bitchen community celebrations of all time. I went with my son, which is what I've been doing nearly every year since 1995 when he was three.

For those who don't know, Zozobra is a massive 40-50-foot monster puppet who is ritually burned to symbolically burn our gloom of the past year. Last night was the 80th burning. (CLICK HERE FOR MORE ZOZOBRA INFO)

I'd seen Zozobra a few times before we moved here in 1968. Since then, I've only missed twice.

In 1973 my friends and I got to drunk and didn't make it in time. We arrived at Ft. Marcy Ball right when the lights came on.

Then last year I missed it because of the Democratic Presidential debates in Albuquerque where seven or eight candidates did their best to burn Howard Dean.

What amazes me is how the Zozobra ritual has grown and evolved. When I first saw it I was probably about three. Back then Santa Fe was so small, people drove their cars into the ballpark and watched from right outside the cars.

All I remember is that I was terrified.

But in a good way.

For years the ritual was just one guy (Harold Gans) moaning with a crude drum beat in the background. The Fire Dancer danced, torched Old man Gloom and then the fireworks went off.

Now it's grown into an impressive and elaborate pseudo-Pagan spectacle with several dancers -- The Queen of Gloom and her court -- fancy syncopated drums and eerie music. Still a lot of moaning and fireworks and they still have a Fire Dancer.

This was Katy Lilienthal's first year and she was beautiful. Her dad Chip did it
for 30-plus years. (His mentor Jacques Cartier did it for 30 years or so before that.) Katy got the job only after some controversy. (Check my August archives, Aug. 11 post)

My only disappointment this year was that there was no "Gauntlet of Jesus" afterwards. Usually there's a line of folks the Potter's House with bullhorns berating the crowd and passing out those cool Jack Chick comics where people go to Hell for cussing etc.

A few years ago when that kid got killed on the Plaza in a gang shooting, the shooter's family was up with the Potter's House screaming bloody Christ at the crowd. (It was after that when they moved the burning from Friday to Thursday, which I still feel is a shame. I know many disagree -- especially my police friends -- but I liked it when the crowd was crazier and there was someplace to go after the burning.)

A few years later the Potter's House folk got too pushy with the cops and lots of them ended up getting pepper-sprayed in the face. It was sad how many free-speech liberals applauded what many of them would call "police abuse" if the victims had been different. (I can't believe it: My original story on that incident is still on the web! CLICK HERE)

Sure, the Jesus screamers are annoying but they've become part of the tradition and I missed them. This year they had a band on a traffic island -- I'm pretty sure it was a Jesus rock band -- but no bullhorns and no Chick comics. Now if we all go to Hell for seeing Zozobra without repenting NOBODY WARNED US!

Otherwise, Viva la Fiesta!

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