November 19, 2013
Things have changed. Jacky’s school year at Colegio Pestalozzi has ended (he learned some slang, made some friends, played some soccer). Carlos has moved in with us (after only a few days he feels like part of the family). Both Karen and I have signed contracts for our next books (Karen is coediting Telling the Story in the Middle Ages for Boydell and Brewer; I am writing Zora and Langston for Norton).
Carlos quit his job at Condor Café, went with Zannah to La Paz to see her off (she flew back to the States), and returned; he’s planning to help his family attract and host more tourists in Candelaria. He’s living on the third floor, cooking Bolivian dishes with the kids, and teaching Jacky new games. We’re all now speaking as much Spanish as English, which is a tremendous accomplishment for Jacky, and no small one for the rest of us. Monday night Carlos and the kids make pique a lo macho, a rich combination of french fries, steak, a flavorful sauce, onions, tomatoes, and (except for my portion) hot dogs, and his mother and brother Daniel join us for dinner, Santusa cooing over Jacky and Daniel talking about his plans to buy his family a Chevy pick-up.
Working forty hours a week, homeschooling the kids (ten hours plus about three hours’ prep), Spanish lessons (four hours plus an hour of homework), writing (five or six hours), trips to the mercado almost daily, and cooking half the dinners leaves me no time for almost anything else. Still, I find time for a few special things.
On Saturday Karen and I spend an hour or two in a big, tranquil 18th-century cloister, San Felipe de Neri, only a block from our house; the unmarked entrance is via Maria Auxiliadora, a Catholic school that uses the rooms in the cloisters for their classes. The roof, contoured to let the water run down, is tiled in red and green; we walk around, peering over the edges and through the cupola into the church. I climb both belltowers, from which the view of Sucre is glorious.
Philly and Che host a gathering Sunday night—their goal is to establish a literary magazine in Sucre for Chuqisaqueños (the people of this department). Two brothers in their eighties come, Gonzalo and Ramiro, the latter quite deaf, the former only slightly so. They declaim their poetry loudly and dramatically, Gonzalo with a strong Spanish accent, his poems rhymed and metered, Ramiro with a more Bolivian accent, his poems free and romantic. Their father, they tell us, was the first curator of the Casa de la Libertad, the building on the Plaza where Bolivian independence was declared. Together with their other two siblings, now dead, they once collaborated on a book of poetry. I talk with Omar, a poet who runs a center for mentally disabled children, and Matt, the American who used to run Biblioworks. My Spanish is still, I think, terrible, but I can nonetheless express most of what I’d like to say, even if I make dozens of mistakes.
There are fairs all the time here. Monday and Tuesday about a hundred indigenous artisans from all over the country gather around the plaza to sell their weavings and other crafts. What strikes me most are the colors. The Tarabuqueños use bright hues, some day-glo; the Jalq’a use primarily red and black; some weavers from other areas use much more muted shades, mostly browns and whites. I buy a bow and two arrows for Jacky and a couple of large brown weavings for the house, one of which includes two-headed condors, some three-legged beasts, a lamb, fish, and eagles. One of the performers of indigenous music on the makeshift stage plays a huge ram’s horn fitted with a tube or reed; he holds it in one hand and blows three-note melodies while his other hand holds over his head a small drum and drumstick, which he somehow plays with his fingers and wrist, tapping out a regular but uneven rhythm to which a half-dozen lavishly costumed women dance.