Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Domingo no Parque

For those attempting to keep a tab on my whereabouts--debt collectors, government agencies and the like--I am currently basking in the warm embrace of Xela, Guatemala, a gorgeous and bustling city in the country´s western highlands. I have been here a bit over a week, and am coming to, uh, love it, insofar as a visitor can really love any place; surrounded by shapely hills and volcanoes, with shifting layers of sun and cloud warping and wafting through the valley and minibuses by the thousands carrying mostly-Mayan cargoes to and from the outlying towns of San Felipe, San Andres, San Miguel, it´s a place that seems to change every time I look at it. 

From the window of my cozy room just south of city-center, I can see pretty much just one thing: nestled in the hills which loom to the south, are the massive letters prolaiming CRISTO VIENE (CHRIST IS COMING), and perched just above that, the even larger, oblong billboard advertising TIGO, the Guatemalan cellphone company. I try to resist easy symbolism, but there´s something undeniable about the juxtaposition--the telling clash of old + new, the inevitable conflation which follows--is it that Cristo Viene Con Tigo, or is one superceding the other? Either way, it´s the first thing that greets me upon waking.

I´m studying Spanish 25 hours a week, and pretty well-pleased with my progress, if I may say so; unfortunately my cerebral cortex is drowing in so much spanish that I´m afraid my english is suffering mightily. But, I soldier on, and I´ll attempt some little adventure-postcards from the road, for my faithful few followers. Yesterday, for instance in El Parque Central, what one might imagine to be a sleepy Sunday in the park unfolds in always-surprising ways--first, on one side of the park, a freestyle BMX competition (I´m hit by a flying bike!), then, on the other side of the park, pouring down 12e Avenida, a massive procession of Catholic faithful, observing Cuaresma (Lent)  dressed to the sacred nines in black ´n purple finery, belching up thick clouds of incense, carrying a huge flourescent-lit float upon which Cristo is preparing to die, and followed by a brass band playing dolorous marching-music--it takes the procession upwards of an hour to circle the park, moving at such a somber speed, and by the time they´re back at 12e Avenida dusk has passed and they´re candlelit--

--And just as the procession is receding, frankencense still heavy on the breeze, with a round of explosives the student-revolutionaries known as Huelga de Dolores come tearing down the other side of the park, dressed in their ¨traditional¨revolutionary-garb of black robes-black masks-black hoods, and climbing aboard a makeshift wooden stage, complete with booming sound system, commence to clear the air with their thundering Anti-Church/Anti-State rhetoric. I manage to comprehend a good part of the lengthy program, heavy though it is on wordplay and seeting poesy, but at some point I become confused as to what´s going on and end up getting pushed onto the stage with a handful of other dazed and less-than-willing audience members. There is, maybe, something in the Guatemalan character that balks at getting up in front of a crowd; but imagine my terror when the guerilla-MCs start firing questions at us--what are our names, ages, provenances, etc.--I´m expected to orate in frickin´Spanish in front of all these hundreds of people? ¡Dios mio! I try to make an escape but am shoved back into place by one of the black-hoods--these kids don´t fuck around. When they get to me, my fright and confusion cause me to answer unconventionally: I tell them my name is El Diablo, I´m from the United States, and... I´m a afraid of speaking in public!, a rather inspired series of answers that seems to win me the favor of the crowd, who hoot in what I hope is approval. 

It turns out we´ve been brought onstage for a dance contest of sorts, set to various types of Guatemalan popular-music--a diversion, to give the audience a break from revolutionary proselytizing. I´m matched up with a very short and rather plain woman who makes up for her lack of looks with sexy and enthusiastic dance-moves, and, odd-couple that we are, we quickly become the crowd favorites. In addition to some seriously-competitive ass-shaking, there´s a segment where each man has to win the favor of his partner by means of amourous discourse. Knowing full well that I´m no Shakespeare of the spanish language, I decide on the following, hoping that the sarcasm shines through: Mi amor, I croon into the microphone, getting down on one knee, if you will come with me, we can live in the United States and make a lot of money.  

The audience, gladly, eats it up, and my partner and I are subsequently crowned king and queen of the dance--I walk away with a complimentary condom, by way of a first-place prize. I feel kind of bad, besting Guatamaltecos on the own turf--but it´s hard to agrue, you´d have to agree, with American Money. 

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