I got my car back from the mechanic on Saturday just in time to attend another taping of Arriba el Merengue. I arrived a few minutes early and so took advantage of the station’s lunch counter to order a quick, cheap snack. While I was enjoying this, some folks came and told me they were replaying my performance of the previous week to start off this week’s show! But afterwards, the afternoon’s real entertainment arrived: Pedrito Reynoso y la Nueva Union Tipica. Yes, the same we’d seen in Rancho Merengue the week before. They were excellent as always and I had a good time. Especially when the guy standing next to me in the back of the room told me, “hey, you look a lot like the girl who played on the show last week.”
I had only just exited the studio and driven away in my car when my phone rang: it was Tonito of Los Confraternos, telling me I needed to get over to Betania’s right away in order to participate in one more carnival parade, this time in the neighboring town of Villa Gonzalez. I rushed over and found a bus – with a presidential seal, no less (thanks, Leonel!) – already filled and waiting. We threw my mask and costume in and hit the road.
We arrived in Villa Gonzalez at just the time the parade was scheduled to start (3:00) but, this being the DR, there was no hurry. Since I hadn’t had time to eat I got a coconut cookie, chips, and a bunch of water baggies to enjoy as we checked out some of the other groups, including some devils from Navarrete and a float decorated with a tobacco-drying house and live tobacco plants, provided of course by the Dominican Tobacco Institute (they also provided cigars to observers). Eventually we got dressed and found a spot in the parade lineup, where we stood around and waited a lot longer. Next to us was a burro dressed in jacket, pants, hat, and glasses pulling a cart with a coffin in it, which would be inhabited by a “muerto” in a suit, sunglasses, and bad wig and followed by a priest and mourners. This comparsa taught us the important lesson of why animals do not wear pants. I also saw the world’s smallest lechon: this kid of about 3 had a full costume complete with mask and wig, and boy could he dance! He could hardly stop moving, in fact, switching to a side to side bounce whenever he stopped with his lechon and hip-hop moves. When his mom wanted him to move to another spot, picking up the end of his whip to lead him, he strongly resisted the idea by leaning back with all his weight. It was about the cutest thing I was likely to see that day. Anyway, eventually the parade got moving, and it was pretty much about what I expected, if a little longer. By the end my bad knee was hurting, and only then did I realize that I, as lechon, was doing all the things the doctor had told me not to do: running, jumping, etc. Oops.
I then had a typical Monday, accordion lesson and all, though I stayed at Rafaelito’s until after dark trying to get the lyrics for all the merengues I’ve learned notated and paid a visit to my friend Domingo Arias as well. David David stopped by, telling me about a performance he’d be giving on a daytime talk show the next day, on Canal 25 (my favorite), and that’s where Sydney’s Very Bad Week began. Did you ever have one of those dreams where you find yourself on a stage with all these people looking at you, but you don’t know what you’re supposed to do and also you’re dressed completely inappropriately? Well, that dream came true for me on Tuesday, a day that will live in infamy. Always more than willing to see any group who happens to be performing before midnight, I headed over to the studio to see David’s band in my usual state: makeup-free, untidy hair, glasses, and a manicure somewhat the worse for the wear. So naturally, when David started telling the host that he should have me play too, I told them I didn’t want to, since I hadn’t come prepared for a performance. So imagine my surprise when, after the band had played a couple of songs, David and host Nelson asked me to come up; when I shook my head, they only insisted more, and with all the cameras on me, they left me little choice. I was completely furious, so not only did I look horrible I also played horribly. I found the whole experience completely disastrous and mortifying, and I was so angry I left the studio without talking to either of those responsible and headed to the Centro Leon, where I recounted the horror to my friends over a vodka cocktail. That made me feel slightly better, but not as much as one would think.
After that, I was hardly in the mood to go anywhere. But on Wednesday I pulled myself out of bed to go over to Chiqui’s, interview him at last, and continue to work on my list of groups and típico sites in Santiago, along with my comprehensive merengue tune list. That cheered me up a bit, and Chiqui’s “surprise” he’d told me about on the phone cheered me up even more: guavas he’d brought back from Dajabon that very day to make my favorite guava juice! Thursday started going downhill again, though, as on the way to work at the Centro Leon my car suddenly shut down in the middle of a very busy street. I got a couple of street vendors to push it out of the way for me, and then my mechanic came. He found a burnt fuse and replaced it, and the car started again with no problems, so I continued on my way. That afternoon, Chiqui and Domingo were going to accompany me to Maisal, a town about an hour away, to hunt down a drug trafficker who also happens to be the biggest patron of merengue típico around, with at least a dozen songs written in his honor. But when I went by Chiqui’s to pick him up, the car shut down once again. Instead of our planned trip, instead we had to stand around for ages waiting for El Negro, my mechanic, to come rescue me once again. This also put a crimp in my plans for Friday, a day uneventful except for my medical evaluation at the gym, which showed I’d lost 5 ½ pounds!
Saturday, at least, was another day. I met a visiting folklorist for lunch: Robert Baron of the New York State Council on the Arts. It was fun to catch up and talk shop (in English, no less), and I also got a delivery of New York Times Sunday crosswords, which should keep me busy for a while.