Tuesday, January 31, 2006



After a typical week of reading, writing, and just generally hanging out in archives, I tried to actually to some field-type work on Saturday by attending the taping of the weekly TV show “Arriba el merengue.” I’d spoken with the host, who’s been doing this thing for something like 25 years, on the phone and he’d invited me to come by. Actually, he wanted me to play the accordion on his show, but I was hoping to just talk with him a bit first. Anyway, it didn’t matter, because he was sick that day and his substitute was in instead. I watched the performance of one of the live groups booked for that day (Diomedes Acosta) and then went home to get some other work done.

That night, I finally managed to get my butt out the door after 11 PM in order to catch my old friends, the group Aguakate – “el grupo mas internacional” - on tour. I was just in time, really, since they left on Tuesday to go back to New York. Two friends from the Centro Leon, Zoraya and Marta, as well as Marta’s sister, accompanied me to the gig at Tipico Monte Bar. I would describe this place as half bar, half rancho típico (the big thatch-roof structures in which most típico events occur). The owners seem to be trying to accommodate típico music & atmosphere to a slightly more upwardly-mobile crowd, and in fact Marta commented that the place looked much nicer than it had the last time she’d been, three years ago. It still has the thatch roof, but it also has nice tables and chairs, a raised, tiled dance floor, and a stage decorated to look self-consciously “típico:” it is paneled and painted bright blue to look like a rural dwelling (even a little, fake window with shutters is built in). Yet both she and Zoraya (both of them only very occasional típico consumers) thought people there danced “funny” – the crowd danced closer and funkier than would, say, an orquesta merengue crowd. Anyway, Aguakate sounded better than last year – tighter, more interesting arrangements. The lead singer, Chino, looked as wacky as ever. He’s enormous and always wears equally enormous sports jerseys and fluffy Afros. It’s his thing – makes him stand out from the típico crowd. Anyway, we danced it up while waiting for them to start, which didn’t happen until 12:30 – figures. Unfortunately, my camera ran out of batteries in the first two seconds of the show, so I didn’t get any pictures. (At least my minidisc recorder was charged.) We stayed until we got worn out at about 3 AM, at which point Zoraya and I decided to cross the street for a sandwich at the official Monte Bar 24-hour food van. While there, we saw the official “Rafaelito Roman – El Mas Completo” van drive up. Yes, my accordion teacher was also out to grab at 3 AM bite, on his way back from a gig in Puerto Plata.

Because of all this, I couldn’t manage to get up before noon on Sunday. And in the afternoon, I was supposed to meet with my carnival group, but that didn’t happen either. Living in this country certainly involves a lot of waiting! Monday went better, with a fruitful accordion lesson preceded by an interesting discussion about music between Rafaelito, a neighbor, and a student in which they debated the merits of playing a tune on one row or two. Then the neighbor's maybe 7-year-old son rocked out on his accordion. He only new about 3 notes, but boy could he play them! After that, I went to visit friends Chiqui and Laura, but only briefly because I had to get home and get ready for a Major Event.

The calendar year here could almost be marked by a series of sounds. From the constant fireworks of the Christmas-New Year’s season we’ve gone to the honking of the ubiquitous plastic horns of baseball season. Yep- I finally managed to make it to a Dominican baseball game, my first. Good thing, too, as we’re already in the finals here so my opportunities were growing increasingly more limited. I was accompanied by Fausto, the cook at the Centro Leon, who himself used to play on a AA team here until he messed up his shoulder. We got there well ahead of time, giving us plenty of opportunity to check out the military band, drink some beer, and chat with our neighbors in the row ahead. They and Fausto were all Aguiluchos, or supporters of the Santiago team- Las Aguilas Cibaenas. But soon the rest of our row filled up with Liceyistas, supporters of Los Tigres de Licey. For the first four innings they kept quiet, since we were ahead. After that, things got a little out of hand as Licey kept scoring on us. All the blue flags and horns came out, and our neighbor had also brought a megaphone which he used to shout “Fo, fo, fo, fo!” (something like “you stink!”) and greatly annoy the Aguilas, whose bench was right in front of us. The most annoyed was a large, bearded American who, in perfect Dominican Spanish, told him to “get over there!” (to the Licey side). Did you know that, besides Dominican ball players going to the US, US players also come to the DR to play during this winter season? Well, it’s true, I saw at least 3 North American ball players on the home team alone, a surprise to me. Anyway, we lost, but the blow was softened by the fact that finally, at the end of the seventh inning (read: 11:30 PM), the pizza guy at last made it over to our section and I got a long-awaited bite to eat.

My plans for the rest of the week were foiled again, as my evil cold came back in full force on Thursday morning. So I couldn’t make it to a gig I’d planned on that night, and I couldn’t play dominoes with Chiqui and Laura, and I couldn’t make it to the next Arriba el Merengue taping on the next Saturday. I did, however, read about a million articles and re-edit most of my book manuscript. (Yet another momentous occasion had occurred on Monday, when I received a Fed-Ex delivery containing the first – very good – reviews of my work.) Also I caught up on my American Idol watching. Thank God.

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