Monday, February 8, 2016

Wait up, Mr. Guerra!

Juan Luis Guerra - La Guagua (Video Oficial)

Hola, fellow Gringos. Here's something so cool... But first, I better contextualize a bit.

It started when I was in 7th grade. As I recall, a new kid was admitted to the school midyear. Everyone stared at this kid; cute with ears that stuck out and dressed kind of funny. I remember that the other kids were taken aback, but that little voice in my head kept saying "I gotta make friends with that kid!!!" And soon,  Oscar and I did become good friends. He was from Peru, living with his family nearby. His father was a coffee importer. I remember burlap sacks of it filling the basement. He lived with his mother and sister and an adorable twenty-something maid 'que no hablaba Ingles' who, I immediately fell in love with. I couldn't help it!

For some reason I've always been interested in "The Other" And, actually, I think, it's a good thing to be interested in, in multicultural, polyglot New York City where I grew up and spent my working life. As a young man I married a Chinese woman and wife number 2 (the keeper) is a native of Quito, Ecuador. It all seems right to me. Later, as a public school teacher, I got to know all sorts of delicious people of different flavors, both colleagues and students and their parents: people who had come to New York or had been born to parents who had immigrated there.

I made many friends within these immigrant communities and sometimes they would say stuff that would just floor me. One day, my Dominican friend, Hector, told me "Mark, you are one of the few Gringos I've ever met who has any interest in my culture, at all!" And I realized it was true. Most of the other Americans I knew had no interest, or patience, whatsoever to even consider the origins of the foreigners you find everywhere in NYC, let alone the contributions their group may have made to the human experience. But it's clear to me that having traveled through a good number of Latin American countries and knowing a little bit of conversational Spanish (I had to have at least a few things to say while visiting 'La Familia de mi Esposa' in the Andes) has enriched my life.

Hector may have been right, but it's not too late to get with the program, my fellow Gringos (how do you say THAT in Spanish?) And let's face it "la Re-Conquista" is already in a very advanced state throughout the US. So, if you are living in those parts of the US where you can: hear Spanish spoken; can get a decent plate of lechon asado, morro, or sancocho; hear a bit of salsa, reggaeton, or bachata; or buy yourself an Inca Kola, a Cerveza Presidente, or a cup of Cafe con Leche, then what are you waiting for? The people from whose countries those tasty bits originate may be different, but they know how to enjoy life.

Here we have a commercial music video of a song from the Dominican singer, Juan Luis Guerra. This guy is a very successful song writer and singer and performer and although (sadly) few  Americans know who this long legged bundle of talent is, he is GREAT in many ways! Although I struggle to understand the lyrics of his music, it is so infectiously beautiful that I am motivated to press through and learn more Spanish just to appreciate it. I don't often use the descriptor "poet", in fact ordinarily I'm not a great fan of poetry, but this guy's lyrics are so out of the box, so beautiful, and so thought provoking that I find myself simply wishing that I could write something, anything like them.

In 1990 I spent a few weeks participating in an archaeological project in Monte Christi, Dominican Republic. Traveling by bus from the Capitol to this small city in the Northwest of this island nation I heard a sound that permeated everything. In the hotel the night before we left for our destination on the other side of the county - at the bus station before we boarded - at every rest stop and through the windows whenever we passed through a town or village or farm community... we heard, absolutely EVERYWHERE, the addictive sounds and rhythms of Guerra's album, Bachata Rosa. By coincidence he had released it on my birthday, December 11th, 1990 and half a year later when I was visiting his country, the island was still sweating, swaying, and making passionate love to Bachata Rosa - one of the best albums I've ever heard. I could go on and on about the blend of sweet voices, clarinet, congas, guitars, and more... With apologies to those to whom Spanish comes easy, I'll try to communicate here some of what it is about this album that still enchants me a quarter century later. The following is just one of the songs from that CD and just some of the lyrics of that song. Still, I feel this should convey a bit of the (I simply HAVE to use that word) POETRY that carries the melodies:

(title) Burbujas de Amor
Love Bubbles

Tengo un corazon mutilado de esperanza y razon
I have a heart mutilated by hope and reason

Tengo un Corazon que madruga donde quiera
I have a heart that awakens everywhere

Y ese corazon se desnuda de impaciencia de tu voz
And that heart strips itself bare impatiently to hear your voice

Pobre corazon que no atrapas su cordura
Poor heart that loses its grip on its good sense.

Quisera ser un pez para tocar mi nariz en tu pecera
Oh how I wish I were a fish so that I might press my nose
up against the fishbowl of your life

Hacer burbujas de amor  donde quiera
Blowing bubbles of love everywhere
Oh... pasar la noche en vela
Staying up all night

Mojado en ti!
Drenched in thou

Yes, this guy's music brings out the romantic in me. It makes my sappy alter ego want to surrender to the softer side of life in which love is undeniable and has a spiritual dimension. His music describes a place I wasn't brought up to even suspect existed. But in its presence and moving to its rhythm I can find that place with both eyes closed.

In this video, La Guagagua (the bus), Guerra is in love, not with women or with being in love with women, but with the phenomenon of life itself. Simply being alive and celebrating being in this world with companions who share the joy. The bus is a metaphor for life moving on down the road, as much as it is a representation of the reality of life in the Dominican Republic where so many poor people can't afford cars, but who are wise enough to simply accept some of *life's indignities so that they can concentrate on the ride, itself. Nice metaphor, huh? Hey, I told you... this guy's a poet! Poetry put to a beat that makes you want to get up in the aisle and dance with whomever and whatever life puts there for you to dance with.

Can we love riding alongside our fellow humans who, in their plainness and ordinariness are still magnificent? Simple surroundings, simple food, simple rhythm and movement; all of it experienced while riding on the simple conveyance... seen through the cardboard 3D glasses... of life. Wait up, Mr. Guerra!

* A more literal translation (of La Guagua), I think, would be that this song refers symbolically to the many indignities Domincans learn to tolerate in a country where much is promised by 'the system' and less is actually delivered.



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