My recent post relayed the story of La Ahorcadita and the short film made by the Jóvenes en Video program. While the facts of La Ahorcadita cannot be proven neither can they be refuted. What is irrefutable is people’s faith that La Ahorcadita (the hanged girl) can grant miracles related to conception and pregnancy. Today Burt and I had some time on our hands. Our goal was La Ahorcadita and a hamburger and fries at La Esquina.
First we took a walk at La Poza and found two stunning shrines of Our Lady of Guadalupe. I lack faith so I am perplexed by my crush on Our Lady of Guadalupe. She moves me. I love finding her. I love knowing she’s out there lurking waiting to be found and gazed upon. The giant portrait is painted on a rock close to a controversial planned upscale development. She is vibrantly new. I hope someone thought a little (or lot) of Guadalupe could help make things right and protect the community from over development and a loss of resources. Maybe she will guide the developer’s hand as they build their “sustainable” community? Faith, hope and charity…
Lunch was an awesome round of cheeseburgers and fries. La Esquina has a loiterer. El Jefe, a local, mildy disturbed mute man that is usually a mere nuisance, was in teeth gnashing form today at the restaurant. He was agitated and the staff were at wit’s end trying to shoosh him along. They tried every trick they knew to get him to move on. Usually this man causes no harm and I personally find him easy to ignore. Until today. Today he crossed the line and grabbed my arm from behind while I was standing at the counter. I startled a lot of people when I gave him a loud and terse, “No me toca!” with absolutely no thought. Not quite grammatically perfect but sound enough to do the job. Burt was seated a few feet away and loved seeing el Jefe jump back. I was pleased at my verbal self defense but sad it had come to that. With the mood changed staff had el Jefe quickly back on the street and off their patio but not before he directed some unintelligible but obviously peeved noises my way. Maybe our Lady was looking over me and put the Spanish in my mouth.
With our bellies full we headed out to el otro lado (the other side) to find La Ahorcadita. I was given verbal directions two weeks ago and recalled everything but the last landmark. So we headed towards what I thought I had heard and when we didn’t find the shrine we asked a family building a fence. The man was eager to help us get a miracle. He knew exactly what we were looking for. I think he thought Burt and I were looking to cure my peri-menopause with a baby. With the helpful man’s almost correct directions we found it. A Palo San Juan tree in the desert is an unusual thing and once we were in the right gully we picked it out. There in the desert, next to a home under construction, is the shrine of the hanged girl. The tree is looking fragile. A large limb had recently fallen and decades of etched names combined with the terrible drought are taking a toll. The shrine brought to mind a song I sing called Becky Johnson by Gillian Welch. It’s a peppy bluegrassy thing with notably downbeat words. The chorus sings “That’s the way that it goes, everybody’s buying little baby clothes, that’s the way that it goes, there was a time when she and I were friends.” The verses are all bad news, overdoses, jail, betrayal. The implication of the chorus is that the clothes are being bought to desperately find hope when life of the song is all tragedy. This shrine was stocked with toys and baby booties and baby clothes. Desperate people hoping for new life in this gritty world.
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.
Yesterday we were subsumed into the 11th Annual Festival de Cine preparations. Burt and I showed up mid-afternoon planning to install the Jóvenes en Video Escuela de Cine sign. A few things went wrong. First nobody was at the theater to meet us and everything was locked. Then my phone decided I had used up all the minutes and I couldn’t call anybody to meet us. We drove to our contact’s house. They didn’t answer and we weren’t prepared to climb the wall and chase them out. We drove to the OXXO (mini-mart) to recharge the phone. On the way to OXXO the trim Burt had built to hold the sign in place shimmied out of the truck bed window and was dragged on the road. We heard a funny noise. Burt was deep in denial when he decided to keep driving and pretend he’d picked up a palm leaf. I had to roll down my window and say, “What are you dragging?” before he decided to stop. The trim was slightly broken in two. Slightly because it was still attached but not quite intact. I charged the phone. I called our contact. We drove back to the theater. I had to pee. Nobody was around. Burt and the truck gave me shelter and I peed on the street. I got away with this. Deep breath.
Our contact arrived. We were short a ladder. We needed two guys to do the lifting. Jorge was willing to help but was afraid of heights. I climbed the ladder in my green girly skirt and Burt and Jorge lifted the sign into place while I applied pressure to keep it from falling forward. The custom fit sign had swelled. It was slightly bigger than the slot it was supposed to fit into. I stayed on the ladder and Burt donned a chair. From his chair Burt persuaded the sign into the slot. There were abrasions and hand marks all over the new sign from our hearty efforts to make it fit. Breathe.
With the sign in its spot we just needed to fit the keeper trim into place to hold it and cover the gaps between the sign and the arch. Burt made an arched trim piece a couple of weeks ago and pre-painted it. The trim piece did not fit. For reasons we will never know half of the trim lined up perfectly and the other side would not bend to fit. We broke the trim (some more) trying to get it in. More marks were applied to the freshly painted sign. We wrestled with some shorter pieces. It still would not fit. I joked that this is why Burt builds houses and not musical instruments. Failure was accepted. Now what to do? Burt decided to drive back to Pescadero and rip some more trim into very thin slices that we would then apply one layer at a time. He left and I helped the growing crowd of Youth in Video volunteer kids that were trickling in to volunteer. We moved some of the 7,000 printed programs up to the theater. I was recruited as translator. These kids talk fast. I sent them to find Señor Barraja, boss man of the theater. Señor Barraja was the unhappy gentleman of a few weeks ago that did not want the sign installed. We needed him to get us access to the upstairs theater and to condone some of our plans. I made myself ready to charm. Barraja and I got started slowly but by the end of the day he was smiling at my efforts. I think I turned the tide when I asked him about the activity at the church across the plaza. There was a large crowd. It was a funeral for a well known young man that had died of Down’s Syndrome. We were able to discuss that he was a childlike man that everyone liked and the town was very sad he had died. Breathe.
Burt returned. He did some more crazy stuff on a ladder and got the new strips in place. Caulk. Midway through painting the sister of the schools founder and namesake showed up. She was overcome with emotion and cried and prayed and wept and laughed while Burt was on the ladder painting. Pictures were taken. Her entourage asked us to get out of the way. We had to ask them to wait until we were finished with the work. They did. Tada. More pictures were taken. Breathe.
Now we needed to hang the festival banners from the front of the theater. We need concrete nails. Jaimie ran off to get some. The boys went and found a bigger ladder (where was this ladder when we were risking our limbs on the chairs and short ladder?). Barraja and I had another chat, this time about the banners. He got them for me and met me just where I asked him to meet me. What a pleasant surprise when things work. Burt and his gang of boys hung the signs. A young man ran by chased by a very angry older man. Taking our cues from the locals we stayed out of the way. Barraja called somebody. The police showed up instantly. Barraja said something about the kid and the man and the police disappeared in the direction the kid was last seen. We will never know. The banners were hung a wee bit cattywampus. Breathe.
The Festival de Cine Todos Santos is a little more than three weeks away. People all over town are scrambling to get ready. I volunteered Burt as a carpenter (wood skills are scarce in un-timbered Baja) and he was quickly put to work making a new sign for the Jóvenes en Video (Youth in Video) film school. About 7 years ago Leonardo Perel founded the film school for the area’s youth. Every year the program produces a film and the film is always one of the festival highlights. Just over a year ago Leonardo died in a car accident. His passion for teaching the art of film making lives on in this school renamed in his honor. Recently Jóvenes en Video was given space in the historic Gran Teatro Manuel Márquez de Leon that anchors side of the public plaza in Todos Santos. All film festival films are shown in this funky, one of a kind, old theater. Now down below the screen, stage and public spaces a physical school is being created. Manuel Márquez de Leon was a local guy that commandeered a ship in Mexico’s navy in the Mexican American War.
A new school home calls for a new sign. Todos Santos is a ‘Pueblo Mágico’ and as such there are rules, mysterious rules, but rules nonetheless on what can be done to her historic structures. Remember that meeting we went to a few weeks ago where some of the locals voiced concerns about who and what the ‘Pueblo Magico’ committee was doing? They wondered who was in charge and how to get things approved? I think Burt and I met the committee. Two shabbily dressed gringos hammering on the side of one of the town’s most significant historic sites will not go unnoticed. We, meaning Burt, were building a 10′ x 5′ semi-circular sign to fit into one of the architectural features over the back door to the theater. I was taking pictures for social media. The sign is designed to pop into a space over the door and it will be easily removable. About an hour into the project a man wearing a considerable mantle of authority appeared. He wagged his finger at me and sadly shook his head. This was a no no. Sometimes it pays to keep your Spanish speaking mouth shut and let the men handle things. My instincts told me this was one time a know it all female should make like a rock and just watch. I gave the ear-muffed Burt a heads up and stepped away to call our official contact. The boys discussed it. The Jefe said the sign was much bigger and solider than he was told it would be. He was told it was ‘provisional.’ He muttered and dramatically looked around and inspected things. Burt let him look and mutter. Soon they came face to face. Burt told him the sign was indeed provisional and he promised no damage was being done to the building. And that was true but as I look at the picture above it appears Burt somehow dominated this man with his charm and aura of authority and transcended the language barrier with his alpha male phermones. El Jefe left shaking his head and sort of implying more might become of all this. The carpentry for the sign was finished without further consternation. Word is the wheels have been greased and it’s all a go. Somebody somewhere knows who to talk to.