Ex-pat goes back to California after nearly two months in our house in Mexico:
We are professional musicians, and every year for the last 23 years we have done a special show in one of Los Angeles' oldest restaurants, La Golondrina, on Olvera Street.
The flight was the early one we usually take when we leave the airport called El Bajio in Leon, and we arrived in Tijuana about 8:30 a.m. We tried a new bus company to get to LA. There are several that specialize, it seems, in taking people across the border (nearly all Hispanic, although once there were ten or twelve Italians traveling on our bus). The bus stops at the border and discharges all the passengers, then we get picked up again after going through customs. This company, Coneccion Magica, had nice new buses, and the trip was unremarkable except for the fact that the bus stopped at their own loading spot only about ten minutes from the airport, then stopped again to fill up the gas tank before taking us to the border. After arriving in LA we walked about half a mile to an AVIS office and rented a gray Ford Focus.
We drove to our house in Lake Elizabeth, congratulating ourselves on the fact that the car rental would be much less than staying in a hotel. We couldn’t get the mattress down from above the garage, so we made a bed on the living room floor with blankets and and pillows that were still there. It hasn’t been very uncomfortable sleeping there, warmed with an electric radiator-type heater.
The first day was perfect fall-into-winter weather, but then a large tropical storm hit that has soaked the entire southland. At night the wind tears at the house and it’s a little scary when you are awake. A window was broken when we arrived, and we temporarily repaired it by cutting a sheet of foam insulation to fit the window so the cracked glass didn’t fall completely out. We also had an adventure getting the water heater lit: the propane tank was completely empty. We finally borrowed a large propane tank from a local mobile home manager - a long-haired guy who said “I don’t even know you guys, but I’m going to loan you my own tank. It has nine gallons of propane in it right now, and when you bring it back we’ll see how much it takes to fill it again, and you can pay me for what you used.” Pretty cool, man, but after Chon hooked it up outside we still couldn’t get the water heater lit. A cold bath later, I went and talked to the man again. He said we had to bleed the air out of the pipe before lighting it, and was very stern with me, telling me to really pay attention to his instructions. We followed them, and now we have hot water.
And there was the deja vu factor - we had left some things in the garage, and it turned out to be much, much more than I had realized. So we have ended up unloading Foxy, our big Ford box truck, and bringing things down from the attic space in the garage. It’s a lot of work, and rather depressing at the same time.
Since we have officially moved to Mexico I am more aware of how many unnecessary belongings we took with us. And there are more of them here, so we have the same decisions to make - toss it, deliver it to a thrift shop, or take it with us. We are both unofficial collectors of eclectic things, and most of the things we liked before, we still like. It’s difficult.
Chon is entirely focused on searching for two bags that he has been missing since we drove to Nogales - a bag with a large collection of guitar picks, hand-selected over the years, and a bag of jewelry - watches, rings, chains, and more importantly, a small digital recorder with probably 180 original songs on it. We have discussed this loss endlessly, with heavy-duty speculation as to what has happened to the two bags. it’s all speculation, and trying to remember what happened the last hour or so (news flash!! Chon just found two, TWO recorders!! that were not in the famous two bags, after all) of that final day of packing, when we were exhausted. We just don’t know what happened to the bags.
Our gig at La Golondrina is going well, even though attendance is low this year, matching the economy. The first night there were only twenty guests. The second night the entire restaurant was reserved for a family that has been attending for at least twenty years. There were over 50 children, and the place was packed. It was the Kilroy family and friends. This year Bob Baker is not performing, and I miss him, although he has sent a very talented young puppeteer, Eric. I love the marionettes. I have old, happy meomories of Bob Baker - when I was about twelve, I think, I saw the Bob Baker Marionnettes in a Community Concerts performance at MJC. It was the story of Hansel and Gretel, and I was thrilled. I remember the performance lighing was dark blue most of the time, and I remember the odd way the puppets moved, with that floating walking movement that they make. I seem to remember a grid where the puppeteers stood or lay down above the stage to work the puppets. Bob told me that it was his first big gig, and that he was very young when he got the contract. We have worked with him now at La Golondrina for about 23 years. He does pretty much the same show every year, which the return audience looks forward to. For the performance he uses recordings of familiar songs. There is a chicken who sings opera and lays an egg, a tap-dancing cat with a hat and cane, Santa Baby with Chon’s favorite puppet, a tall pink cat with a Santa hat, high heels, and a feather boa; there is a tall couple in red that tangos to Leroy Anderson’s Jealousy; there is also Mamacita, Donde Esta Santo Claus?, and El Jarabe Tapatio, a Mexican folkloric dance.
I like to tell the audience that they know it was a good performance if your face hurts from smiling. Last night the audience was tiny (maybe 6 kids total), and the performance was very, very good. Three little girls dashed out onto the dance floor, after their original fear of the marionettes, and were twirling around, dancing with the puppets. For me it was magical! I never tire of the show.
Here's Bob before a show:
And it’s always fun to see kids reacting to the puppets - their reactions range from fear and delight (little kids) to feigned boredom (big kids). The performance at La Golondrina takes place on the dance floor. We invite the kids to come and sit around the edges of the area, and the marionettes get close to them.
The tiniest non-shy children usually wriggle out of their parents’ or grandparents’s arms and run towards the puppets. The ones who follow the rules, usually the next -bigger ones, sit still and often hold out their arms in a beseeching manner. Sometimes a child will get distracted for a moment and then be startled by a marionette right in their face. The teenage kids try mightily to look bored, but almost always end up smiling and throwing sidelong glances at each other to see how their siblings, or friends are reacting.
It’s interesting to observe the families that attend year after year. The first couple of years we were there it would surprise me to snotice familiar faces gradually. now I remember some of them when they arrive. We call the names of the children as they take their turn at the pinata. I remember some of the names: white-blonde Mia, her cousin Harper, Antonio, Conor, and Freddy. I suppose it’s that the names aren’t common these days.
One evening I watched a large family. There was a grandmother and grandpa, both around my age - no, a little younger. They have three married daughters and eight grandchildren. The mothers were not as attractive as their parents, and one of them completely ignored me when I approached her and her sister, who were visiting rather intensely. I asked “Who are the mommies?” because the children were dressed exquisitely and I wanted to congratulate them. One woman said “We are,” and the other one just kept right on talking. I said how wonderful the children looked, but I doubt that either one heard me. And the children DID look great. There were six little girls, aged about 5 to 9. They all wore red velvet dresses. The dresses weren’t exactly the same; some had ruffles around the bottom edge, some were pinafores, but each dress and each little girl looked great. There were two little boys, too, wearing dress pants, white shirts and ties. The women weren’t as attractive as either their mother or father, But their husbands were rather doll-like and cute. The mothers did all the organization and took many pictures and talked intensely.
More posada guests:
One night there was a wonderfully nerdy boy (I use the term with full appreciation of the word). He must have been 10 or 11 years old. He had blondish hair. He was wearing glasses, and a t-shirt and sweatpants with tennis shoes. That separated him from most of the other kids right there, because they usually come Dressed Up to please their parents. This kid was very earnest, and began visiting with me right away, even trying to talk to me while I was playing and singing. Perhaps he thought I could add another skill to my musicianship. He wanted to tell me that I was “doing a great job”. Later on, when he was lined up for his turn to whack the pinata, he noticed that we asked each child his/her name and announced it on the microphone when they were taking their turn at the pinata; he caught my attention, and said, importantly and confidentially at the same time, “By the way, my name is Sean.” When it was his turn about four kids later, his glasses were nowhere to be seen - I assume he took them off so they wouldn’t be in danger of being broken.
Another boy, another night, named Charlie, was just so - confidently boyish. He loved the music, and would dance unabashedly to any type of rhythm. He must have been about 8. He hadn’t yet reached that time when he will be embarrassed to dance with his mother or other kids, pick up a small child, laugh at the marionettes.
While we are working there they give us a meal every night (an especially good thing this year since we are camping out here at our house with no stove or fridge!). Years ago the food wasn’t nearly as good there as it is now, and we sometimes tired of it. But now, Chon usually orders Enchiladas Suizas, chicken enchiladas with green sauce and sour cream, and I change around - Chicken Salad with a great vinaigrette (with a touch of chile!) or Tortilla Soup, or Beef Soup, or Tacos de Machaca (shredded beef). It’s all quite good. We have known most of the staff there for many years and it (almost ) seems like a family. Well, better, really, because everyone is on their best professional, friendly behavior. There is usually quite a bit of catching-up to do, hearing who had a baby, or who moved, or started taking new English classes, and the like.
Tonight is the sixth posada dinner show. There are ten nights altogether. And last night I came down with something nasty - I have a very sore throat. I was so happy not to be sick this year...
Well, the final night, Christmas Eve, my voice was pretty much gone. I sang the Christmas carols anyway, sort of. Chon set the sound so my mic was very hot, and the voice I heaqd sounded a little like me. Chon did much of the talking that I usually do, and we made it through the night together.
Here's a photo of part of our performance set-up.
A few comments about Chon’s skills: he is a very skilled musician. He doesn’t like to say he is gifted - he says that he has worked hard to be at the level he is now. Anyway, he is also very, very good at managing sound, something most people just take for granted. At La Golondrina, first of all, he must consider the space itself. The restauarant is all hard surfaces - wood and concrete floors, and brick walls. Chon is given cassettes and CD’s and CD player by the dance group and Bob Baker for the puppet show. They either have not been well-recorded, or are being played by a not-so-high-quality CD player. Chon changes the equalization for each act, and often in the middle of a song to make each performance sound better. He also does this for us, adjusting the sound and volume of my keyboard and our voices - all without missing a note, while we are performing!