Tuesday, January 17, 2006

mayoral merengues


Mom thought and hoped the day would never come, but unfortunately it did – on Thursday she had to leave and head back to Tucson and work. We did the big sendoff with two nights in a row of eating out, and then got up early enough to see the sunrise – something very new for me – and headed to the airport with a car full of luggage, unsure if she’d actually be able to get it all on the plane. Due to a very nice ticket agent, she did, and at one low price! After an airport breakfast featuring cheese-filled rolls, we said our fond farewells, and I went home to spend most of the rest of the day working on preparing an old article for publication. The apartment felt a bit lonely and empty though, a bit depressing, so to cheer myself up I took me out to a movie. “The Wedding Crashers” wasn’t really all it was cracked up to be, but that and an overpriced scoop of mint chip ice cream did help my mood a little. Even in spite of the annoying guy sitting in the row in front of me who felt compelled to comment loudly – in English, no less (for my benefit, apparently) – on all the dumb jokes. Maybe he thought since we were the only two unpartnered moviegoers in the theater we had some kind of mysterious, special bond? Eww.

Friday was uneventful, other than an unsuccessful trip to the baseball stadium to buy tickets for Sunday’s game (sold out, except for overpriced scalpers). Saturday, too, as I spent most of the day sitting around at my mechanic’s, El Negro’s, workshop trying to get my newly re-holed gasoline tank repaired. The most amusing moment during those oh, fourish hours, was when a truck advertising a political candidate went by blasting bachata music out of its enormous sound system, setting off the alarm of a red sports car in front of El Negro’s each time. While waiting there, though, I received a phone call from an Italian filmmaker I’d met at the Centro Leon a month ago, inviting me to his house in the middle of nowhere where he was going to record a CD for a trio of rural típico musicians. I accepted. Then, that night I went to Tonito’s house, the head of my carnival group, to work out the design for my costume on his computer. We are high tech lechones. While we were doing that and burning a couple of CDs of merengue típico and carnival songs, it started pouring rain – thundering and the whole bit. This was bad, because apparently the whole street, one of the traditionally crappy unpaved barrio streets of Santiago, fills up with water like a river at times like this. The rain only lasted for an hour, or maybe less, but by the time we could go outside all the neighbors were out there with shovels trying to unbury their front porches and so-called gutters. And my car was in the middle of it. I started having an attack of déjà vu as we bailed water from my car and tried to wipe out the mud. One thing was better about this time, though, which was that Tonito has a dryer, so his wife got my car’s rugs mostly dry as we worked. Still, it smelled rather unpleasant the next day and sported a light coating of loam over many of the plastic parts.

At any rate, after doing a bit of work at home on Sunday, I headed out to the Styx. I followed Giovanni’s directions fine up to the crappy turnoff the La Torre, a little town just across the state line in the province of La Vega. I successfully passed my first obstacle by donating 20 pesos to a group of people holding a rope across the road in order to collect money to build a new enrramada (a thatch-roof shelter, good for holding dances) for the town. But from there, I didn’t know where to go next, so I went to a roadside stop to have a Pepsi and rest in the shade. I called several times, since Giovanni was supposed to send his son to find me and show me the way to their house. However, his cell phone was off and his land line didn’t seem to be working – I could hear them, but they couldn’t hear me. Eventually we made contact, though, and Rudy came along on his motorbike to show me the way.

Man, what a bad road. I don’t think I went more than 8 mph the whole way – not that I would know, since my speedometer is broken. Anyway, after innumerable potholes, ruts, rocks, ups and downs, we made it … to a place to park. Apparently, that had been the good part of the road. Zoiks! At this point, we had to leave the car and the bike and go on foot: past a field where a herd of noisy goats grazed; down a steep, muddy hill; across a stream, up another steep, muddy hill and past a friendly horse; guided always towards their house by the sounds of accordion, güira, and tambora. The musicians had arrived.

They were already set up and doing a sound check when I walked in: the accordionist standing next to a microphone, the very old tamborero in his very old fedora on a chair about 4 feet away, and the güirero hidden away in the furthest corner. They were almost ready, but not quite: no fuel. Giovanni sent Rudy to buy some Brugal rum at the colmado. Once they were lubricated, they were ready to rock. Meanwhile Giovanni was smoking a big old cigar, bent over a mixing board in the next room as if he were the Wizard of Oz behind his curtain. All the musicians were from Las Canas, a small town down the road. They recorded 10 songs with one accordionist and then switched to a different one for the next 10. The second accordionist turned out to be the mayor of Las Canas. After this all was finished, they took the instruments outside and had a little after-party in the front yard. A number of neighbors came by to enjoy the music (and rum), some of us dancing on the small porch as the sun set. I hadn’t really wanted to tackle the road out in the dark, but it was too much fun to leave any earlier. They had me play a couple of tunes to close the party, and then the musicians on their motorcycles accompanied me down the very dark road to get my car. The mayor then got in my car to direct me as far as the main (paved) road. Slowly but surely, we got there, and I made it back to Santiago with the strains of “El Puente Seco” still echoing in my head.


Anonymous said...


I hope you save your adventures and pictures for a forthcoming book (I realize you have at least 2 or 3 in the works!) Dark, unpaved roads are scary, yet you find such hospitality and creativity at your destinations.

It's wonderful to "see." I never realized a musician would need such courage and adventurous spirit!

No wonder your mom misses you and the D.R. so much!


Sydney said...

Thanks, Carla! Scary roads do often turn out to be worth the trouble. Still, I'd rather someone else drive. :-)