After Heather left, I decided to investigate the options for sending some of my mountains of excess baggage back to the US, since David was there for exactly the same reason. In the cargo office, we found out that the minimum charge to send a package was 6000 pesos! Nearly 200 bucks, even if the package was only the size of an eyeglass case. Man, things went up since two years ago, when I send a big old marimba over for only $100. Luckily, as we again entered the airport, I heard someone call my name: the voice of reason? No, it was a member of Los Tuaregs, one of Santiago’s big carnival groups, who I’d met back in March during our parade through Ensanche Bolivar. Turns out he works for American airlines. He offered advice on bringing my carnival mask back: hand-carry it in a plastic bag. I protested I’d already have 2 carry-ons, what with my accordion and my bag of computer and camera equipment, but he said it didn’t matter if I asked for it to be stowed at the gate. Well, that was a load off my back, so to speak.
That done, I just had time to run home for my accordion before my lesson time. And after that, I only just had time to get home again before a torrential downpour began. If you’ve been following my chronicles, you’ll know how rain in Santiago is and you’ll already have guessed that I was about to be trapped in my home for some time. That was indeed the case – I couldn’t even make any phone calls since I discovered I was out of phone card minutes too late to do anything about it. So much for Monday.
Forced to arise early Tuesday by my friend Juan Miguel, I fueled up on coffee and headed to PUCMM, the private Catholic university where he teaches (its initials stand for Pontificia Universidad Catolica Madre y Maestra, but it’s better known as “Pucamaima”). He was all set to help me obtain the socioeconomic map of Santiago I needed for my dissertation. In exchange I had to help him edit an abstract of a paper he was proposing to give at an all-Bourdieu conference. We were successful on both counts, and also it was nice to see the verdant campus I’d never before visited. I felt strangely at home in the geography lab, surrounded by all the map paraphernalia that reminded me of my dad’s office when I was a kid. All in all, I grudgingly had to admit it had been worth arising early. After we finished our work, Juan Miguel called El Prodigio to set up a meeting he’d been talking about for a while. He hoped to write an article on the two of us, Rafaelito, and my merengue activities before I left.
In the afternoon, I set up an impromptu interview with old-time accordionist Julian Ramirez at his home, where I’d never been before. It was a nice place in a newly-built middle-class area, and he lived there with his daughter, the accordionist Raquel Arias. I’d never met her before – in fact, I think she’s the only of the female accordionists I hadn’t met or interviews. This was because, after having a few hits in the 1990s, she gave up her musical career in favor of evangelical Christian pursuits. This hasn’t deterred her father’s wild ways in the least, and he recently recorded a new album of double-entendre merengues. We discussed his years with the Trio Reynoso in the 1960s, his recollections of Tatico, and his views on modern merengue típico until I noticed just how close the thunder was getting and figured I’d better hurry to my next appointment at Rafaelito’s before disaster struck. My timing was right, as the downpour started just after I walked through the door. But I started getting worried as it went on and on, walking to the porch and peering suspiciously through the gate at the roundabout every so often. My worst fears were soon confirmed as the “lake” filled up, and I snapped a couple of pictures of people wading and drivers pushing their conchos, a souvenir of my time in El Ingenio.
The kitten Mauricio kept me company, falling asleep in my lap as I worked on my computer until Rafaelito got back from picking up his son Yorly from school. I felt my car was probably safe, as I’d parked it away from the highest water line I’d yet seen, but the rain was major and soon water was lapping around the tires. It was also lapping at Rafaelito’s door, and every time a big rig went by the waves it created splashed dirty water into the living room. Manaury took cinder blocks from the backyard and began to build a barricade. Mauricio got worried and climbed from my hands all the way up onto my shoulder, finally perching on the back of my neck. Some debris got caught on my car’s bumper and Manaury waded out to pull it away as Yorly and I balanced ourselves on a low brick wall to get a better, if precarious, look at the action.
I thought I might as well wait a couple of hours for the water to come down before attempting an escape from the neighborhood. In the meantime, Manaury copied a couple of CDs for me and I showed Rafaelito the basics of the Finale music notation program that had aroused his interest when I showed him the transcriptions I’d done a couple of months ago. But at 9 PM, the water in the roundabout was still at an impassible level. Rafaelito had to go out too, however, so he led me through a very roundabout back route through hidden and narrow, pockmarked dirt roads that eventually let us out back on the Circunvalacion, below the problem area. From there it was smooth sailing. I reached home safe but exhausted, though I still had to help Juan Miguel finish his Bourdieu abstract. After an hour and a half of my grueling questioning, he and I decided to call it done.
The next day, Wednesday, I was startled to find I had most of the day free, as I’d been unable to schedule any of the mountains of interviews I was planning for my last week in the DR for that day. Instead, I went to the gym for one last time, and then to the Lizardo archives for one last time. I was scheduled to be interviewed myself by Victor Reyes, a DJ on La Super Regional (the biggest típico radio station in town), at 6 PM so threw in the towel early to be sure to arrive on time. I thought I was early when I got there at 5:45 but I was wrong: I thought he’d said “at 6,” but he’d actually said “from 5 to 6.” Oops. There was only time for 5 minutes of interview before the Rancho Merengue hour ended, but we agreed to do it again just before I left next week. Still, the visit wasn’t a total loss, as I was able to interview Ricoche, Tatico’s soundman in the 1970s and today a technician at the radio station. Then, I rounded out the day with a visit to El Tiriguillo, my old haunt. I hadn’t visited in ages and felt a little guilty for having deserted my friends there. As it so happened, while some of the “regulars” like Papito were there, the owners weren’t, so I was unable to make my farewells.
On Thursday I had three appointments: one at the spa and two interviews. In between these I figured I’d better get my nails done in time for my weekend performances, but due to my haste and my car’s non-power steering, I of course made a mess of my right hand in short order. I hoped my audiences would feel it was the thought that counted. More successful were the interviews: first I visited El Ciego in his lovely house in Llanos del Gurabo, where I also met his several amusing dogs and birds. Afterwards as we chatted I told him about my car and how I’d been searching for a name for the thing. As nicknames for humans are popular and even necessary here, so are vehicle names. Rafaelito had even written a merengue about one fan’s car, “El Campirolo,” and I had dreams that one day my 1984 Honda Civic could have its own merengue as well. El Ciego asked me to tell him about it, so I did: “it’s old and a little ugly, but not too ugly. It runs OK. But when it rains a lot of water comes in from underneath. Your feet get wet and you wonder if you’re at the beach,” I told him, giving the best description I could for the blind man’s benefit. He laughed. “Let’s call it El Cacharrito,” he suggested. I liked this. It means something like “the little piece of junk,” or “the jalopy.” Chitty chitty bang bang, perhaps. “You can use the name, but you must tell everyone it was Bartolo who picked it out!” El Ciego insisted. I agreed to his terms. Later I filled Rafaelito in on the news and he agreed to compose a merengue titled “El Cacharrito” for next year when I return. “Make sure it talks about everything I’ve gone through with it in the roundabout of El Ingenio. Like when we were bailing water out of it until midnight,” I suggested.
The second interview of the day was with Geovanny Polanco, a young star in the merengue típico world. Actually, I though he was much younger than he is due to his baby face, but he’s one year older than me. It took me a while to find his house, in a newly-built gated community on top of a hill next to Cerro Alto. But find it I did, and we had a most interesting conversation. “You know what’s funny?” I asked him. “They call you el mambologo (the “mambo-logist”), while I’m a musicologa (musicologist).” “That is funny,” he agreed. He invited me to his show the next day at típico monte bar so he could play a merengue from mambologist to musicologist.. As I left I heard someone practicing güira in the gatehouse. Tipico is everywhere.