Unlike our life on Camano Island, Rick here is very much the social animal. He wakes up earlier than I do, so I usually go downstairs to find a note from him — in Spanish — about where he's gone. And of course the five days I was in the US last week he was out and about when I couldn't be. As a result of all this, he has met many more people than I have. He's loving it, and I love that!
Tuesday was such a day for him. I stayed home and did some work but he was out much of the day. He went to a writer's workshop, among other places, and that evening wrote a really good story for the next meeting of the group. He didn't write when he was back home: here he seems uncorked!
Yesterday was a much more eventful day for me than Tuesday. I went to my chorus rehearsal, where the conductor brought sheet music for three Bartok folk songs for women's voices. The group is sincere and enthusiastic but not very proficient: it took an hour and a half for the three voice parts (four altos, two second sopranos, one first soprano), to learn five pages of music, all of 23 measures (I just counted). But eventually it sounded pretty good, and it was fun. The sessions are held in a room at the Biblioteca that has the most extraordinary mural painted on all four walls in 2003 by David Leonardo, a local artist. The next time I'm there I'll take a picture of it for you. I stare and stare at it as the group does its warm-up exercises.
After the rehearsal I got into a conversation with Frank, who used to teach law at the University of Maryland, has written plays he couldn't get published, and now spends much of his time translating plays by obscure French playwrights from the 17th and 18th centuries into English. He sits in the café at the Biblioteca several times a week with a few pages of the play, a spiral notebook, and several pens — but no dictionary — translating for hours in longhand. On the other hand he has a book of these translated plays coming out, so who knows? Perhaps he's found unknown classics. He has decided to get out of his solitary rut and now gives a dinner party every Thursday, with food prepared by his cook, and invites six or seven people. He invited us for next week. He is not an attractive man — he has an obviously habitual sour expression on his face and it didn't take long before he told me that his wife had divorced him years ago and about two affairs in recent years with women in Mexico who also dumped him — but I am intrigued by the idea of a dinner party in San Miguel and accepted. Sometimes it was hard to pay attention to him because a trio was playing flamenco jazz in the café: flute, guitar and something else I forget (I was distracted), and I wanted to listen. Superb music.
Then I wandered slowly toward the Jardin, ducking into shops to escape the short but fierce summer rain. There are no storm drains in this 16th-and-later-century town, so people jumped as best they could over the rivers of water from the downpour that rushed through the streets now in full sunshine.
At the Jardin, I sat on a bench facing the Parroquia. According to a website, "it was originally built in the late 17th century in a plain Franciscan style, but two centuries later an Indian architect, Zeferino Gutierres, gave the church an imposing facelift. With no formal training, he added the tower and Gothic-style facade of pink-hued sandstone, supposedly using postcard pictures of French Gothic cathedrals as his inspiration." Locals love to tell the story of the postcards.
If you look carefully at the bottom of the picture, you'll see the trees that are sculpted in this manner — round, flat, and low — all over the center of town. And of course the palm trees, amazing at this altitude.
I was glad I didn't have a book to read with me, because all I could do was watch what was going on around me. I watched a little boy, maybe 3, pulling a pull-toy over and over and over that his parents had bought for him from a vendor like this one.
Then my attention was captured by a little girl next to me who was eating something with a plastic spoon from a white styrofoam cup, bought from one of the half-dozen food vendors lined up between the Jardin and the Parroquia plaza. For all the world it looked like a mixture of corn kernels and cottage cheese, and that's what you see on her beautiful face. The extraordinary eyes! The fantastic skin!
Her grandmother and I got to talking — my first extended conversation in Spanish here. The family was visiting from Toluca, a town near Mexico City, for three days. I got properly quizzed on my marital status (a woman sitting on a bench alone!), my parental status, what I was doing in San Miguel, and more. Here is a photo of the grandmother, Irene (I didn't catch the Spanish version of the name), along with the child.
After an hour or so of "conversation," or the best I could do with conversation in Spanish, a woman sitting on the other side of me became involved in it. It was now a threesome. Fabiola found the usual subjects as interesting as Irene did, but with the plus that Fabiola has traveled in the United States. Irene and her family left and I sat talking with Fabiola for another hour, during which Rick joined us from his peregrinations. Fabiola is from Tampico, a town near border with McAllen, Texas. She said the violence is so bad that her family spends a lot of time hiding out in their home, and they are thinking of moving away from the border. She is visiting San Miguel for three weeks on a vacation with her husband, teenage children, and a few of their friends. We invited all seven of them over for wine and lemonade on Sunday, when our Spanish will get a real workout! Here is a picture of Fabiola, who is 38 but looks 30 to me.
It has been so many years since I learned French that I have forgotten how tiring it is to try to speak for any length of time in another language. On the other hand, I have also forgotten how triumphant I feel when I manage to say something difficult! I figure another 10,000 conversations like these and I'll have the language down cold.
After a quick dinner at home we went out again for another art lecture. Stephan Eaker, Béa Aaronson's partner and fellow artist and art historian, gave a talk on the friendship, rivalry, and art of Matisse and Picasso. And damned if he wasn't as good a lecturer as Béa! We have invited them for dinner on Monday night, and will attend his lecture next week on Modigliani. The lectures, by the way, cost 100 pesos -- about $8.50 give or take. Including wine and refreshments.
The adventures continue! I realized today that Rick and I never discussed whether we want to come back here next year. The decision is so obvious there is nothing to discuss.