So on my first day back in Oaxcaca yesterday, I’m in a Volkswagen bug covered with Playboy bunny decals with no front seatbelt, tooling out of town with a Mexican dude who doesn’t exactly have an official driver’s license. He’s told me that we’re invited to the wedding anniversary party of a childhood friend in a little village about 30 miles out of town, so I’ve dressed up a little and am wearing a blue jean skirt, dangly earrings and new sandals.
The town is Xochisulchilquantimico (or something like that), and José is getting a kick out of trying to make me ask directions along the way. Even when we get there, we can’t find anyone who knows where the house or party are: it’s a dusty little Mexican town with pigs, chickens, donkeys and mangy dogs in the dirt streets. Nope, not many gringas in these parts, and I’m stared down at every point we ask directions, quite warmly actually by a number of elderly toothless men in cowboy hats hanging out on benches along the street.
When we do finally find the place, it’s — shall we say — an extremely modest cinderblock house in the campo and turns out it’s not a party at all or even the wedding anniversary of the friend, but the 86th birthday of his mother-in-law. And here’s where it starts to get really strange: Casildo is a huge aficionado of early American rock and roll, boogie-woogie and blues, and has three wooden milk crate shelves full of music DVDs. “I don’t usually ask women their age,” he apologizes as he proceeds to do so in order to get his bearings on my musical frame of reference.
Believe it or not, José and I have already had a discussion earlier that morning about the lyrics to Proud Mary, so when Casildo wants a translation I’m ready. “Maria Orgullosa isn’t a woman? It’s a steam boat in Rodando en el Rio?” he exclaims incredulously. “Well, THAT explains some things, doesn’t it?” Pumped a lot of ‘pane down in New Orleans? Try that in Spanish.
Then we progress to his favorite performer, Jerry Lee Lewis, who — even more strangely — was videotaped in an open-air performance in my home state of Texas. “But he was born in Ferriday, Louisiana,” says Casildo, quite correctly. And I translate Chantilly Lace, Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shaking Goin’ On, well at least as best I can. “Is the chica shaking in the bed too?” asks Casildo. “Where is she shaking exactly?”
This is a house where the bathroom is a plywood add-on, there are no faucets on the sink but a bucket underneath, and I accidently kick over a litter of nursing kittens just opening the door. There is no flush mechanism in sight on the toilet (much later, I realized that the bucket of standing water is for flushing), so I’m forced to just go straight to lunch at the outdoor table with the whole family, including the 86-year-old birthday girl.
The family table conversation centers on 12-step groups for a while, then agnosticism, and schizophrenia and I realize, WELL, none of my Spanish classes have prepared me for this kind of impromptu conversation.
We have an all-gelatin cake with different-colored layers and suspended fruits with the complicated Mexican birthday song, Las Mañanitas (which I need to learn, obviously), and somewhere post-lunch I start feeling the effects of my 5:30 a.m. arrival on the overnight bus from Mexico City. Casildo is SO disappointed that we have to go so soon; we’ve only been there about three hours. “But I wanted to play the Monkees tape for you!” he says desolately. “And they tell me one of them has died — was it Michael, Peter or Davy?” (only a year or so late, but rest in peace, Davy Jones).
I’ve already explained that pretty much nothing by The Doors is going to make sense translated into Spanish. Riders on the Storm, indeed. Better to hang with Jerry Lee.