Jolyn is continuing to teach these kids how to paint. It is not just a kid’s art class with random crafts and silly drawings. Jolyn is working on the elements of design, light, color, and technique. Translating is a challenge for me but the results show the older kids are getting it. This week they did an exercise where they had to draw a still life with only straight lines (no curves for that banana, chamaco!) and then paint it with only one color. Jolyn demonstrated and I explained as best I could that it was an exercise with artificial limits that helped the brain to see the world in a different way. That we were stretching the way our eyes and brains and fingers work. The youngest kids were stymied but didn’t lose patience. A lot of curved lines and flat drawings from the youngest ones but the older kids were impressive. I saw depth of field and proportion and balanced drawings. One frustrated kid asked if we could do origami again but she kept painting. I remember feeling the same way when I was a kid in art class. I never got the abstract stuff. Now I do. I wonder when my brain caught up?
I wonder if we are helping or enriching their lives and I realize that sitting quietly and trying something new is a great exercise. They are exposing themselves to a new experience. They may never paint but they are learning that it’s not magic. That painting is a skill with techniques requiring work and practice. After class we have hula hooping and cookies and song. Sometimes I think they take the class so they can eat cookies and play with the hula hoop.
Boys prefer red. I guess. I hate to generalize but there they are wearing red. Maybe it’s their parents? This week I gave away note pads as prizes for each kid that sang the Hello song solo. Everyone of them did it and did it well. Wheels on the Bus was revealed as a massive group effort of lipsyncing. All kids got the open and shut and round and round and back and forth but that was it. The connecting phrases evaporated into thin air if I didn’t lead the song. Five Little Monkeys had some gaps at this phrase: One fell off and hit his head. I’ve been demonstrating the hit head so many times I have a stiff neck so I was surprised to hear a lot of mumbling when the group sang it without me. More repetition. Less action on the head.
On the up side these phrases are solid:
1. Hello, how are you?
2. I am fine, thank you.
3. I like…insert a favorite color or food.
4. I am…insert age.
This is because Alejandra is working them hard and we review it in singing class. I can take credit for up, down, in and out, round and round, and do the Hokey Pokey.
Look to the left of the man standing in this photo. There’s Burt sitting in on the intercambio Spanish/English mixer at the Palapa Society of Todos Santos. My Spanish teacher invited me to come to the Intercambio and chat/platicar with people learning English. I was anxious but agreed. Chatting in English is hard enough. How would I ever chat with a stranger in Spanish and English? I bribed Burt with an offer of a dinner out if he would come with me. Burt can talk to anyone and he can talk a lot. Maybe I could hide behind him.
As usual, all fears were unfounded. We sat in a circle and each chair was alternately occupied by native Spanish and English speakers. Nobody sat with people they already knew. We were given 15 minutes to talk in Spanish and then 15 minutes to talk in English. My partner, Rocío, was a 24 year old woman born in Guanaguato on the mainland of Mexico. I was lucky to have a mainlander as my partner. Mainlanders, generally, speak more clearly than Bajeños. Rocío was even shyer than me so I took the lead and interrogated her on all the usual personal questions. How old are you? How many siblings in your family? Where were you born? Where do you work? What do you do? Then she grilled me. I received similar questions but she didn’t ask my age. I guess I looked too old to answer. It was nearly impossible for her to believe I was childless by choice. That’s a radical idea in Mexico.
When we switched to English it was obvious my partner was terrified and new to the language. To ease her suffering I told her I’d ask her the same questions in English as I just had in Spanish. Rocío did very well and revealed to me immediately the difficulties of learning English from Spanish. It is painfully obvious to me what my difficulties are in learning Spanish but now I can see the other side and it can help me speak Spanish, too. Shortly afterwards I worked with a friend and he made the exact same mistakes. Here they are:
How old are you? I have 24 years.
Where do your parents live? My fathers live in Guanaguato.
How many children are in your family? I have seven brothers. This answer was astonishing until further questioning revealed that 4 of the brothers were girls and 3 were boys.
And the terrible THE. Th-uh is very difficult for some to pronounce. There is no Uh sound in Spanish. It’s like me trying to roll my Rs. I need some Viagra for my tongue to get a rolled R.
So in Spanish when asked your age you tell them how many years you have not how old you are. When asked about brothers and sisters, everyone is included under hermanos. Male gender always wins in a group of mixed gender. And, parents as a two some are not mom and dad but fathers. Same reason as the brothers. We worked some on the THE but I had no good advice.
After the chatting we sang a song in English and a song in Spanish. We are not ready for our choral debut. There was a lack of enthusiasm and ability all around. We could blame the faulty lyric sheets but I think we were just tired.
Time flew and it was really fun being helped and helping somebody new. It was also fun planting the subversive idea that not every woman has to have a baby.
Slander is illegal in Mexico. You cannot tell lies and call it free speech. Their rules are much tougher than in the US. The anonymous posting of the leaflet to the left made me laugh and cringe. It’s so easy to ruin a person’s work reputation and also so very difficult to find out if somebody is a good worker. I have no idea who made this poster and took the time to staple it (6 staples and a piece of tape) in a prominent location. As a partner in a contracting team that makes its living through word of mouth I can’t quite decide what to think. Certainly there are very bad workers here and every where. There are also dishonest workers. There are also forces of nature and society and geography that make getting things done in Baja seem like the impossible dream. Then there are the bad clients and the unhinged clients and the just-can’t-see-eye-to-eye-clients. There might even be a disgruntled former girlfriend. A failure of language or understanding can morph into a tragic misunderstanding about what is and isn’t possible. Reflecting upon bad or incompetent bosses and workers I have known (I am sure I have been both) it frequently seems to be a failure to reach an understanding on expectations. And that’s with everybody supposedly speaking the same language. This picture makes me want to know more but, sadly, my own mind has been poisoned. If I see this guy I am going to give him a wide berth.
Meanwhile we are two weeks away from our return to the U.S. Hopefully our work season will go better for us than this guy’s season went for him. We have two large projects on the agenda. A guest house remodel in Portal, Arizona and finishing the basement of the house we built for clients two years ago.
The Bridge to English 2014 Inaugural Concert has come and gone. After two months of weekly singing classes a performance for the ages was presented to friends and family of our music students. The Gypsy Carpenters learned a lot when they participated in the 3 hour holiday extravaganza of kindergarteners back in December. What they learned is 25 minutes is all you need to blow your audience away. If it’s a flop, it’s over quick and if it’s a success, there is nothing wrong with leaving the crowd hungry. We had snacks for the past show party.
Last week’s post-traumatic stress brought on by tough guy teens that failed to sing a single syllable of any songs brought divine inspiration. As directress of this revue I was wondering how best to present the material. I wanted to do a group vocal exercise with all our students and staff and family and friends but then what. Being a ploddingly predictable engineer at times, I was stuck on the idea of putting the kidlets up first and building in age until we had the oldest and most jaded amongst us taking the stage last. If the teens failed to produce we’d just fizzle out and have to skulk home. My other idea was to end it all with a grand Hokey Pokey. Hundreds in concentric circles wagging and shaking and twisting and turning on my command, but how to inspire a grand Hokey Pokey after the silent lip syncing of surly teens? There was my answer! I’d put the teens on first and get them out of their misery and not allow them to stew or conspire while the tweens and niños slayed their parents.
I told Serena my idea and she agreed it was brilliant and she added, merciful. The teens could get up and out and like a terrific vaccination it would be over before they knew what had happened. And that is exactly what happened. Serena introduced us and the Bridge to English program and then we called up the teenagers to do their bit. They never saw it coming. While Serena finished with the business of things I gave them a pep talk. You can see by the crossed arms and grim demeanors that most of them didn’t believe a word I said. Too bad for them. I was right. They were all stars. By going first the audience was warm and kind and gave them big cheers for their whispered renditions of Three Little Birds, There’s a Bad Moon Arising, and Stand By Me. They were wonderful. Wigged out by the twin goloms of peer pressure and an audience they stood up and did their best. It’s hard to breath and make much noise if you don’t want to be seen in public making a mistake. Kudos for the kids that stepped up and tried. A special shout out to Burt that gave them not a beat to rest between songs. He made it move so fast they never had to take their eyes of the lyric sheets and see who was watching.
The tweens and younger set killed us with their smiles and spot on rhythm. On Top of Spaghetti elicited some delirious moans of recognition from gringo parents. Nick Nack Paddy Whack left me gasping for breath. I’ll need to up my aerobic training for next year. Our teapots all poured hot water onto each other since I had never bothered to try and get everyone pouring in the same direction. Choreographer I am not. I could hardly keep my own handle and spout organized. And then it was time. Time for the show stopping Hokey Pokey. I called for body parts. I got eyes, shoulders, feet, legs, hair, fingers….and…cadera. Um…Cadera? We’re practicing English. English, please, and there it was, in a surreptitious, almost naughty tone from the depths of the legion of children surrounding me, Our Holy Grail of the Hokey Pokey…bottom. BOTTOM did you say? Bottom.
And so it was. I did all the parts and repeated (I know not why. Perhaps, menopause?) thee times feet. I kept searching for the missing part (leg) and said feet over and over. Ah well. Repetition is how you learn. The whole show took 25 minutes. Perfect. Snacks awaited.
How lucky are we two to have been part of this? Another facet of our musical life building community wherever we are. Thanks to Burt, Bequia, Tom, Magi and Cathie and all the Bridge to English teachers for helping me out. We couldn’t have done it without you.
Sometimes I feel like the lame old elk facing a pack of wolves when I teach kids. They can sniff your weakness. They have the killer instinct. Yesterday was our last class of music with the Bridge to English program at the Palapa Society. News that next week would be a joint show for family and friends was met with a range of enthusiastic jumping and disgusted eye rolling. The younger kids were predictably excited and ready to sing loud and show off their new skills picking out body parts for the Hokey Pokey, lamenting lost meatballs and playing the claves and tambourine. Teenagers wanted us to go away and sealed their mouths up tight as if they had never sung a line of Three Little Birds in their lives. Stupid Little Birds was the theme. I cajoled, I threatened the Hokey Pokey, I ignored them. Then I remembered I was bigger, older, smarter and a trained martial artist. So I laughed back and plowed on ahead with the program. Damn the eye rolls! Even if 2/3 of the group weren’t singing, 1/3 was and that’s who we were there for.
After 6 weeks Burt and I have learned this: each class is unpredictable from week to week and song to song. The kids you thought adored Bad Moon Arising’ won’t open their mouths if that other kid shows up and makes a face at them. One week nobody will make eye contact and the next week they are asking for hugs and the next week they scowl. I think the kids might be in the ‘change of life’, too. The only constant is the younger kids all want to shake their booty (or watch me shake mine) in the Hokey Pokey and the older kids do not want to do the Hokey Pokey, ever.
If you are in the neighborhood, come on down to the Palapa Society Thursday, 4/3/14, 4:30 for the show. Participation encouraged.
We’re hiding out up on the hill watching movies while Burt’s finger heals.
Our last night working the film festival was spent as door guards/bouncers for a ticketed event in an exclusive boutique hotel. It was a night of flamenco with a live show and a movie about the world’s greatest flamenco dancer. The event sold out two weeks prior and more tickets were added as standing room only entrance. The standing room only tickets sold out. Not being part of the IN crowd I’ve never attended such a hot event and here Burt and I were, with another friend Jamie, keeping out the unlucky and unticketed. These types of jobs are great from instantly revealing people’s true nature. I saw some interesting manipulative behaviors from all walks of life as people wheedled, lied, argued and flattered trying get is to let them in. When their bids to gain entry failed most people shrugged and smiled and let us know they knew we were just doing our jobs. A few people looked like they were making mental notes on when and where they would get even with us.
Demand was so high and unrelenting that once ticketed people were seated or in place and the show started management decided to let even more people in. If people wanted to pay money to get into a too small venue with no seats and no access to the movie or dancers but rather to stand around, who were we to refuse? About half an hour into the show we started giving a little speech. You can go in, but there are no seats, you cannot see anything and we still charge you 150 pesos ($12). People paid. I could not believe it. It took me two days of thought and reading an article about Vanity Fair’s Oscar night party to realize some people couldn’t care less about the movie or the flamenco dancing. They wanted to be seen. It was weird to me. Then it got weirder. One woman went nuts on Jamie and me when we tried to explain: It’s hot, crowded, no seats and you can’t see the show. She responded with a condescending rant about us gringas and our rules and rigidness: this is México, we are free, we like crowds, you will never understand, you are an uptight gringa and are bound to your stupid rules and so on for quite a while…. Whoa, chiquituta, we were just letting you know what you were trying to buy. Clearly she wanted a free pass. Jamie and I (feeling rather unfriendly) remained in the door and when her lengthy bigoted psychoanalysis was over I said: That’ll be $300 pesos for you and your friend. I happily pocket her money for the kid’s film school and let her pass. That was one nasty person. She left twenty minutes later. I guess she was seen and she saw. Two hours after the opening we were invited to leave our post and join our friends and bosses up on the roof for a low key drink at the uncrowded bar with an amazing jazz trio. That was lovely.
Burt sometimes says: You gotta get a picture of this. Come here, look at this, take a picture. You’re Dad want to see a picture of this. Two days ago it was this beetle. I got out of bed and took a picture of this bug. I’ll admit it is cool. I also admit I took liberties photo editing to make it stand out more from the concrete. It is very well adapted to concrete colored walls. The body of this common to Baja beetle is about 1″ long. Its fuzzy ended legs and antenna add another inch or so. I tried to learn more about this bug so I could share it with you so I emailed my buddy Howard Topoff, entomologist, for an ID. He gave me the family and told me they were common but hard to identify with exactness. My research revealed that the long horned beetle has an enormous family of similar and dissimilar beetles and getting anyone to agree on a beetle’s classification can be difficult and perhaps controversial. Without an exact ID I can’t tell you what this thing is known to do in the natural world. My observations lead me to conclude it is not easily disturbed and it prefers habitats where it is well concealed. But I could be jumping to conclusions, maybe it was unconscious from a night of partying on out view deck and it had passed out in a place where it blended in.
Along the lines of things Burt asks me to photograph was a winner today. This morning I woke up and he wanted me to photo document the 8’6″ (yes, he measured) sand plow track of Olive butt skidding through the yard. It was funny because she either dragged around a large rock under her butt or she crashed on a large rock at the end of her route. We’ll have to interview the witness again to see if he tells a consistent story of how the rock came to be at the end of the track. Maybe it was evidence tampering? Olive popping a wheelie and motoring around the yard on her butt is hilarious but I think it’s better live. It’s a kind of you had to be there story. You’ll notice I have, so far, refrained from taking a picture.
The Festival de Cine is one day away from the last show. Yesterday was a retrospective of 11 years worth of Jóvenes en Video movies for the local secondary school kids. The theater was staffed by kids from the program with a few of us adults to keep an eye on things. Every film shown was made locally by area youth. The movies vary from funny claymation bits about sad bananas on their way to a fruit salad and tuxedo wearing dinosaurs waving as Noah’s Ark passes by to investigative reports on local educational opportunities and art films rich in the area’s history. The enthusiasm and energy of over 300 kids rocked the 70 year old theater. Out on the street at the ticket table I could here massive ovations after every piece. This was the first time kids had been brought over on an official field trip and it was a massive success. Huge lines formed after the show to sign up for next summer’s programs at the Leonardo Perel Film School (Escuela de Cine – Leonardo Perel). All of the classes and workshops are free to the kids. Funding comes from the proceeds of the film festival and, of course, some very generous individual donors.
Another notable event was seeing my first 1000 peso bill yesterday. I’ve been handling a lot of money this week. I heard there was a 1000 peso note but didn’t quite believe it. All of my thousands of dollars of transactions over the last four years and the largest bill I had seen was the equivalent of $40 US. Five hundred peso notes can make for some pretty fat billfolds when you have to pay your builders. Yesterday there it was: pretty in pink and I had to break it early in the day. Keeping change on hand has been consistently difficult all week. Our Gypsy Carpenter tip jars fill up with twenty peso notes week after week and here I was working a gig and I couldn’t find enough twenty peso notes. For all this time and hard work I have improved my ability to add in Spanish, count Mexican money (I know with certainty what color every note is) and I’ve made some great new friends.
Last year’s Jóvenes en Video film was a short treatment of local lore called La Ahorcadita. Many years ago a fifteen year old girl was found hanged in a Palo San Juan tree. The locals believe she was murdered by her mother-in-law and the hanging was a cover-up for the crime. At the time of her death the girl was pregnant. This big, stately tree still lives and has become a shrine for women hoping to conceive or asking for protection during their pregnancy. The movie is a nuanced and gorgeous depiction of the unknowable truths behind the current day beliefs. Local teenagers wrote the script and devised how to film the movie through the Jóvenes en Video program. You can see the trailer HERE.
These pictures show some Jóvenes en Video students maintaining an art installation representing La Ahorcadita next to the film festival theater. The photo of a girl hanging from the noose is not the actual girl. It is a photo of the character from the film representing the girl. The exhibit was created by Colectivo Cinéteca as a sign of respect for the community of Todos Santos.
Is it any wonder we want to volunteer to help support the mind boggling work these kids are creating? Despite some tired feet and a few rude people it has been totally worth it to help local kids create and learn and see the world through different eyes.
Volunteering to do something requires a degree of comfort with uncertainty. Yesterday my first job was to oversee ticket and merchandise sales for the first ticketed events of the festival. It sounds pretty simple. First there’s all the will-calls and courtesy tickets. Then there’s a whole week of tickets available should the well prepared seek to buy there tickets in advance. There are staff and volunteers and local politicians and media that may or may not be on the courtesy ticket list. There might be left overs that can be given away to staff and volunteers if they are not on the courtesy list. And then there can be the wild card. The did-I forget-to-mention? people with letters saying they could use their letter as a ticket. I was flummoxed by this forgotten letter when another volunteer wisely said, “get in line for the entrance and we’ll come find you when we figure it out.” A long line was building. Ticket sales are taxed per ticket but comps are exempt from taxation and so I was careful to try and get people the correct ticket so neither Mexico or the Festival would be shortchanged. Then, when I thought all was well, the biggest faux pas of the night occurred. Manning a door in Mexico takes a dexterity of language and formidable character. Lucky I wasn’t minder of the door, I was more like the pre-minder of the door. Minder of the door was Isabel a fiery red head from Mexico City. She could handle the hoards of kids saying they were special guests and the fake media guys and the outraged, uninvited masses. Door storming is an art in some places. Isabel was a master, delicate bumper/usher. While the first show was exiting side doors the front entrance to the theater was closed. A trio of large men approached. Isabel was inside directing outgoing traffic. These men were ticketless. They moved like they owned the place. I stepped in and said (only the shadow knows what broken semblance of a language I used at this point) you can’t go in, no tickets, it’s not time….These were very confident and large men. Massive. They looked at me and an assistant very gently said, “He is the mayor.” I moved away with alacrity and said, “Step right in.” Ooops. I’d stepped in front of the guy that did own the place. I was mortified and wished I had gotten a better look at him. I hope he doesn’t remember that ignorant gringa with the pink hair that was so rude if I ever need a favor. Despite some of my blundering two people remarked what a fine salesman I was. I gave credit to the usually hidden sales genes of my father.
Sorting out the masses and taking money for tickets was one degree of chaos. The merchandise table was sharing the same cigar box cash register and had its own excitement. The kid chased by the cops two days before was lurking. I confronted him with, “What happened with the police the other day?” He shrugged and said, “Who knows?” It turns out the boy was a well known thief and instigator. A big time trouble maker with a reputation for genius. I had a few thousand dollars on hand in my satchel and cigar box and he was giving me a headache. I presume I’ll be tangoing with him all week. Meanwhile people wanted to buy shirts and hats and posters and volunteers wanted their free shirts and we had to keep track of it all. We almost did keep track. A few harried moments got by without appropriate hashmarks. In the end we had fun and the time passed quickly.
Next up was the gala fundraising dinner in the plaza. Burt and I were assigned the cush job of selling drink tickets. Twenty pesos gets you a ticket, three tickets get you a margarita. Lots of complicated math. How many friends do I have, what do they want to drink, how many tickets do I need, how many pesos is that, do you take American? Burt was the master at the 2 times multiplication table. I say it’s from working in feet and inches for 40 years. I was losing my mathematical grip after 3 hours at the door but we got it figured out and cajoled, goaded and bullied (not really) people into giving us as many pesos as we could get. Selling drink tickets at a fundraising event is a great way to feel very popular. Everyone wanted to see us and we got to see everyone. The guests were chatty and amusing and amused. Other people’s wallets are interesting things to peer into. Tidy, messy, old, new, full, empty, really full, pictures, receipts, cash, Cash, CASH. One guy had enough US and Mexican in his hip pocket he could have bankrolled our entire winter here. I tried not to stare. It’s my inner investigator making note of the human details. I’d never paid much attention to wallets until I saw a few hundred in a few hours.The night flew by and Burt and I had fun watching humanity and the spectacle.