Some gigs are logistical nightmares. Sometimes there are personality problems. Sometimes you can’t figure out what went wrong and other times you don’t know why it went right. Last night was a logistical nightmare that went south and then back north and nobody turned into a dick. Maybe that’s why it worked out great in the end. Okay, maybe I was a bit dickish in the middle but I recovered.
About 6 weeks ago we were asked to play backup for a singer at an event associated with the Todos Santos Film Festival. The invitee promised money and at my insistence a professional sound system with a sound technician. We agreed to meet the singer Gloria and see if we could find some common ground. I’ll cut out the details on boring successful side of the equation. Gloria and her side man, Dave, were fun and had interesting material and we decided to play with them. Meanwhile our local liaison to the film festival quit. This person was competent and reliable and would have followed through on the promises made. I gave up trying to get paid immediately but continued to press for a pro to help on sound. The venue was a large open space. Amplification would require skill and a decent system.
As the date drew near we received vague assurances from the festival staff that all was under control. A visit to the venue last week by us and the other band members heightened my concerns that the place was too big and too dark. We needed sound and lights. I am not blind and cannot play without visual clues. I must see my fretboard and my partner’s hands. More emails were exchanged. Gloria was very specific regarding our needs and did a great job following up with the venue and the event organizers.
Last night at 8:15 (Our show was scheduled to start at 8:30) we had no lights, no monitor and no sound check. A monitor is the speaker the band hears. In big rooms you can’t hear yourself without a monitor. How did I wind up here? Up until this moment I stayed quiet and waited at a removed locale. At 8:16 I yelled quit working on the monitor we need to start playing. We did our first 3 songs au natural. Then we got the call to come plug on and play with sound. Just like that we started playing. No sound check for balance out front. It was dark. I fouled out right away with some blue notes. Lights showed in a strange back light sort of contraption while we were playing our first song. Sound adjustments to teh balance were made on the fly by me. It sounded like crap from our side and and none of us playing instruments could hear what we were playing. I was miserable. About halfway through I hung up my mandolin and went out front. The singer was on a tune I did not know. I bitched. I carped. I had a little tantrum with kind friends. These kind friends said, “Hey, It sounds great.” Isabel reminded me improv is a good skill to work on. She meant the improv of dealing on the fly with the bad situation. I listened. It did sound great out front. I went back on stage and regrouped. I continued to try and play by memory and not by listening. I sang a couple of tunes. I bucked up. Time passed. Something happened around 10:00. The crowd (20 people) was up and engaged and our main singer ran out of material. The crowd wanted more. Burt stepped in to a leading role and we hit the ground running with our material under our control. He was great. The crowd was with us. By the end of the night the listeners were dancing and singing with us. It was a magical moment. From crap came gold. Like Isabel said, “Welcome to improvisation.”
Then it all went to crap again. As we approached the bar for our post gig night cap the bar shut us down. They said the film festival was out of credit on the bar tab and we couldn’t have a drink. Burt, the early bird, got two drinks in the first 4 hours but the other three of us in the band had NOTHING. We were waiting for our post show toasts and came up empty handed. We also learned that the kitchen was shut down and there was no food for Dave and Gloria. Burt and I ate early at Burt’s insistence so we got our meals but come on. That’s tacky stuff not making sure the unpaid band is properly wined and dined. Lastly, Burt and I were not personally thanked Sylvia Perel, director of the film festival. Eye contact was made and she failed to approach and offer her appreciation. Maybe she thought we sucked. What do I know? But in the face of all the maltreatment I can officially proclaim I won’t work for her again sans upfront remuneration.
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.
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.