Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Veracruz - Wed., 10/28 '09

It's late. I've just gotten back from a very pleasant night with a few of my compadres, so I'll try to make today's post a quick one. (We'll see...)

As my classes— and especially my informal conversations with my teachers, charlantes and fellow students— continue, I'm getting flashes of the realization that I'm well on my way to my goal of becoming fluent (whatever that means) in Spanish.

For this morning's outing after class teacher/charlante Margot (I have to remember that here it's pronounced Mar-goat') took a couple of us once again to the central historic district. We climbed up into the Baluarte Santiago, which we've driven by nearly every day. There are historical exhibits inside, but we decided it wasn't worth the admission price and opted to just walk around the perimiter and see the dozen or so cannon poking through the parapet. As we passed a non-descript doorway we noticed a couple of young men inside working on a Day of the Dead altar. Margot struck up a conversation and the next thing we knew, we were inside the little room getting a very generous description from one of the young men of some of the traditions of this intriguing holiday.

Our next stop was the IBEC, a college-level school of the arts. The place was alive with students dancing here, singing there, strumming guitars in the hallways and, in the distance someone was playing the piano, the music seeming to create its own space . We were invited into one room full of music students learning the basics of rhythm, clapping and stomping their feet to the direction of their maestra. There was a small art gallery with some very nice work. We also ran into a man whom Margot introduced as the teacher of the classes in Afro-Carribean dance she takes there three evenings a week.

We ventured out into the school's inviting central courtyard, filled with lush vegitation, a fountain and echos of all the sounds I've described. In one corner was a table with three indigenous women preparing the traditional ceremonial tamales for the school's Day of the Dead altar. They explained what they were doing and its significance. The tamales were huge, with the corn masa (dough) spread over several broad leaves (not the usual platano leaf, but one from a plant they could only describe in their main language, Náhuatl). When it came time to add the chicken— usually sprinkled rather sparcely in a tamale— , they reached in, with bare hands, to a large metal pot and placed whole- chicken- sized piles of the pieces onto each bed of masa, along with the thick dark red sauce in which it had been cooked. I was especially enamored of the lovely face of one of the middle-aged women, whose generous smile and gentle manners made us feel like family.

Afternoon class and after-class time were pretty uneventful, but tonight six of us, including staffer Rebeca, took the bus south for a few miles to Giro's, a restaurant well known for its tacos. They did not disappoint. Of the ten or twelve varieties, I tried the local specialty, tacos al pastor (shepherd's tacos), another style and a little tequila to wash them down. The food was wonderful, the company was great and the staff was very attentive and nice. (It was interesting and timely that the cooks and some of the waiters were wearing surgical masks and each waiter offered his customers a squirt of hand sanitizer before they received their food.)

After dinner, we headed for a hall where there was to be a performance of works by famous Veracruzano composer and pianist Augustín Lara. When we got there, the door was locked and the only people to be seen were a local TV cameraman with big camera and another man. As we tried the door and waited for a while, we struck up a conversation with both men and discovered the latter is a poet. He and I discussed a bit of philosophy (his view of the world and life is a cosmic one in which everything is related and everything exists within everything else—much like my Querétaro painter friend Fernando Garrido's outlook). Finally, the cameraman knocked on the door and the person who answered told us the performance had been postponed until tomorrow night.
Before we left, I asked the poet if he had any of his work on paper that he could share with us. He said no, but, with a little pressure, he recited a poem in which the wisdom of the ages comes down to the poet from the cosmos, enters his head, flows down his arm like golden honey and spills onto the paper as his poetry. It was one of those moments that seldom happen when everything goes the way you'd planned.

A few of us were able to ease the disappointment of missing the concert by buying a sixpack of Modelo and drinking it on the school's outdoor patio, where we had a great conversation (much of it in Spanish, but not all) and learned a bit more about each other. For example, I found out the Mike is a retired therapist and that Laurie once was an Alaskan bush pilot!

I have not done as I said I would; this is too long. But if you've born with me this far, thanks for your interest and patience!

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