I had a fun accordion class on Monday, getting a couple of more songs ready for next week’s performance. Afterwards, I got to feeling guilty that I still hadn’t visited a couple of friends in the old neighborhood, so I decided to drop in on El Buty, the güira maker. To get there, you have to go down a little narrow alley next to Rafaelito’s house, up a rubbly hill, down a narrow gravel path lined with small houses, and duck between two of them, carefully avoiding the underwear hanging out to dry. You can usually recognize El Buty’s house by the parrot sitting on the barbed-wire fence (careful- he’s cute, but he bites) and the stump used for hammering out güiras next to the front door. But this time, everything looked different. The stump was there, but the parrot was gone, and the house was kind of … bigger.
I thought for a moment that El Buty had moved, or I’d come to the wrong house, but the neighbors assured me I was in the right place. El Buty wasn’t in, but a bunch of women and children standing around the kitchen area, old men in rocking chairs, and a small cat with a large voice were all in. I thought maybe they’d decided to rebuild the house. This one was larger than the old two-room deal, and was made of cinder block and cement instead of wood. A tile floor had been started in one corner of the living room. Some of the windows had persianas, or the slatted coverings typically used here, but some had only boards. When I asked about El Buty’s wife about the parrot, though, I found out that this wasn’t a planned remodel – the old house had in fact burned down some months ago, taking the parrot and most of the family’s belongings with it. The partially melted yet still functional stereo in the corner stood as proof. Luckily, no people had been hurt, though, and friends came together with donations of bricks and other materials. But it will be a long while before they have a fully functional house again. It is sad to see someone who had little to begin with lose it all and have to start over. I asked if there was anything small in size (so it could fit in my bag) that I could bring him from the US, but the only thing he’s thought of so far is a remote control for the semi-melted stereo.
On Wednesday, I headed down to my friendly local Argentine empanada shop and had an entertaining chat with the owner. Apparently, she came to this country in the 80s with her husband and dance partner. They both had been hired to perform a tango show. However, paralleling tales I’d heard from some típico musicians, the empresario left them high and dry – they were stuck here with no money. But they made friends, got some work, and ended up staying. While I was talking to her, Alberto Jose, one of the first friends she made here came in for a salad and a glass of wine. I couldn’t stay much longer because I had to get down to the Casa de Arte for a fiesta de palos; Alberto Jose decided to go, too.
Palos is a kind of Afro-Dominican drum music that is played for all kinds of religious events. The occasion this time was San Rafael’s day. I don’t know what’s so big about San Rafael, but I’m glad he gave us all an excuse to party. The drumming was great, the setting was beautiful by candlelight, and I got some palos dancing instruction from a new friend, Denise. I’ll be sure to go to the next fiesta on Nov 30. And there will be a full two days of palos in December!
The next day, I got my long-awaited first Dominican cooking class from Carmen, my accordion teacher’s wife and an expert on cocina criolla. She started me off with Dominican-style red beans and fish in escabeche. I got stuffed, needless to say. They tell me later there will be a test in which I will cook what I have learned unaided and they will eat it, because everyone wants to see what Dominican beans from the hand of an American will taste like. The next class is slated to be on pastelon, or a kind of cheesy casserole that can be made of either plantains or eggplant. From there, I went on to the Centro de la Cultura to catch a lecture by Silvio Torres Saillant. Less exciting from a blogging perspective, but I was happy to finally meet a guy whose works I have frequently cited.