Current location: Gato Negro Cafe, San Juan Del Sur, Pacific Coast of Nicaragua
Price of beer in a bar: I was in an ‘expat’ bar the other night with the gaul to charge US$1.57/bottle. Them’s beach prices and I was not on the beach.
Song currently stuck in my head: Water Fountain (Tune-yards)
San Juan Del Sur has been observing an on-again/off-again festival for the last 3 weeks to celebrate St. John’s Day, the local patron saint. The Girlfriend was educated in Catholic environs but I don’t pretend to know if this is a local thing or a wider Catholic thing. I could probably look it up, but to me researching religion is like majoring in astrology so it’s not atop my admittedly meager to-do list. The Nicas seem convinced that Old Johnny Boy is catching a celestial nap and it’s their duty to wake him, because above all else they honor him with noise. I’ve seen this style of observance before, it’s really the norm in the region and perhaps in Catholic conquered lands beyond. Here’s what you can expect:
Parades: Some are grand, some could be mistaken for a small pub crawl. There will be a vehicle in front with either 1) a gas generator powering a stereo system of some kind or 2) some type of religious graven image. Sometimes it’s #2, but there’s no truck and the icons are carried on foot. An uncoordinated crowd of people will shuffle behind. They’ll either be jubilant or reverent. There may also be…
Marching Bands: Not always marching, often just riding in the back of a pickup truck, they canvas the town at pre-dawn hours (here that means 4am or so) blaring horns and beating bass drums. It really is like an outtake from a slapstick cartoon where someone has a headache or is making a souffle and a marching band takes the scene for no apparent reason. This usually happens in the absence of ancillary activity. It’s just a marching band driving around with the goal of… uh… early morning Catholicizing? They only know one tune, but it’s absolutely soothing compared to…
The bombs: They light off explosives, because apparently God’s into that kind of thing. They boom loud, shaking everything for blocks and setting off car alarms, which add to the festive spirit. In The US this would have to be done on an expansive property, far away from private homes and businesses, because no one allows this kind of noise. I’m pretty sure my hearing is damaged from being in my home within 2 blocks of ground zero, where the loudest bombs concuss the structure and shock my spine. I lived in earplugs off and on for three weeks. Earbuds with music playing did nothing. Again, while there is no discernible pattern, this often happens early in the morning. I can’t imagine who *wants* this. And the thing is, they have actual, functioning church bells, which seem like they would be so much more appropriate for creating a reverent yet celebratory sound.
The street parties: Bands (sometimes quite good) and DJs (seldom any good) provide a musical backdrop for greased pole contests, beauty pageants and other events familiar to anyone who’s ever been to a 4H fair, though I don’t think they’re selling livestock. Vendors roam the crowd selling a wide array of things that light up and otherwise amuse children, grills are fired up and plates of tipica are on offer. It’s not a bad time, but without good company you habituate to it quickly.
This all built to a climax on Tuesday (Jun 24th, these post on a delay) with a great band (I mistook them for Mexican, mostly based on their sponsor and their shoes), but Rumor says they’re a big deal Nica band. They gave the crowd several great sets over the course of the afternoon and evening, but when they weren’t on stage the quality of music cratered. Popular music in this region is *awful* and has been as long as I’ve been traveling. Now understand, in 1980’s Nicaragua, the Contras (who The US Government backed) used to take over a town, herd everyone into the square and publicly execute the few people with local influence and power (priests, mayors, etc) and I’ve seen a room full of guys who were there pass around a backpacker’s acoustic guitar and sing softly in unison about it. It will crush you. Some of the most moving and entrancing musical experiences of my life have Latin music to thank. Cuban music transubstantiates into it’s own dance partner. The Argentine’s might be the only culture still turning out dependably good rock (last I knew). But the stuff that reaches a critical mass down here makes Pitbull seem listenable.
As the browning of America takes hold in earnest, expect our food to get better and our music to get way, way worse.