Well holy hell let’s talk about updates. I’m on the terrace today. I’m actually not sure what you’d call this in English, but in Spanish it’s terrace, so we’ll go with that. I’d be on the roof but it’s not sunny and the two wooden ladders we drunkenly nailed together have a hard enough time when I’m not carrying forty pounds of seat and West German engineering.
A lot’s been happening in the past week (it’d only been a week when I wrote this) or I guess since whenever I posted last. It’s Christmas Day as I’m writing this, by the way, and we’re right in the middle of our first extended cold spell. Also probably the longest-running low-grade hangover I’ve ever had. The folks in Jalpan don’t go insane on any one night over break, but they always go late and they’ve got some kind of endurance.
Let’s start with the wedding. I think I mentioned that my host family here in town is great but not all that into me, and I know it can’t just be my fault because between my folks in Querétaro and the Beyer family, I’m pretty sure I’ve edged at least one natural born child out of the favorite-kid slot. So as a consequence I spend time hanging out with the host family of the married volunteers in site.
They also live literally directly below me. The Peace Corps tells us to try to avoid the impression that we’re a unit and to establish our own separate identities, but that boat’s long sailed, looks like. The town knows there’s three of us and that someone’s married to the other or we’re participating in some kind of godforsaken gringo bigamy but it’ll work itself out.
Anyway, so some friends of their mom, Lupe, were getting married last Saturday, and I’d had a standing invitation from before Lupe’d actually met me. Nowhere in the world is as welcoming as small town Mexico. So I got suited up in the usual campo going-out gear, tight jeans and a plaid shirt, which is a style that worked out pretty well for me on the whole, given that on average everything I’ve worn for the last three years was a plaid flannel. It was only as I was walking up to the church that I thought I might have wanted to, you know, not look like an asshole. But I turned out to be only slightly underdressed and once the reception got started all that mattered was how danceable your clothes were.
Let me be clear. I’d never met the bride or the groom before, and neither had Trey or Janessa, the other volunteers (Fun fact, “Janessa” is almost impossible for someone who hasn’t learned English. Here she’s Yanay, Jeena, and, best of all, Jimmy). But given that Lupe’s a spirited and pushy introducer of friends, she ushered us up at the end of the service to take a picture with our awkwardly wrapped around the happy couple. Or in my case awkwardly retracted and defiantly crossed over my chest for no reason.
Then we head down the road for the reception, pretty standard stuff, looks like prom, bunch of round tables, open bar as long as you only want small bottles of either Corona or Victoria, live band to one side, dance floor pretty much in the middle. They start playing Huapango and my stomach’s already formed an ABC committee because Lupe is a big fan of huapango and I’ve been promising for weeks that I’ll dance with her.
Huapango is the big regional dance here and it’s got folk origins—it seemed weird to us at first in that all the schools have traditional dance groups that dress up and dance this dance but that it’s also a mainstay of regular dances. It would be like in Michigan if went to a clogging exhibition in their school auditorium and when it was over they all headed to the gym to clog their way through Sadie Hawkins. Which is an apt little analogy because there’s a bit of similarity between the two dances.
Huapango has two basic parts, fast and slow, and they trade off. Real choreographed or excellent dancers turn it into this beautiful courtship dance with the woman always striding gracefully away and the man escorting and pursuing her in turns. Entrancing. Most people aren’t doing that. During the slow bits, while the trio’s singing, you’re doing kind of an aw-shucks shuffle-kick and pacing slowly around, back and forth past your partner, and during the fast parts while the trio’s frantically whaling away at their fiddle and guitars, it’s a crazy heel pounding kicking stamping whirligig that’s impossible to learn by watching but not too hard to fake. I dig the whole thing, kicking and stamping and fiddling and redneck yodelling all. That is, I dig it when I’ve had a beer or two and there are other folks dancing.
This. It’s this. Why would I try to type a dance.
So when “Maria Chuchena,” my avowedly favorite Huapango came on and Lupe told me she’d requested it, I nearly horked up the mole I’d eaten and let my palms fear-sweat their way through my jeans. I could see my death coming for me in Lupe’s manic smile as she started tugging me, irresistibly, from my chair. This is ten minutes into the reception. Maybe a quarter of the tables have been served food. The guy working the bar hasn’t even showed up yet. Nobody has imagined that it might be time to dance yet. I mean this place was fucking lleno de kids and toddlers and not even one of them had started tapping a foot yet.
But I’m far from an immovable object, and suddenly I was alone in the middle of the floor with laughing, yelling, wonderfully insane Lupe, standing still and trying to remember how to start a dance I’d only pretended to know drunk in the dark that I’m literally too self-conscious to practice alone when I’m sober. But, well, I’m a Volunteer and they make you legally sign over your dignity to keep you from fear of losing it, so I did a couple of Linus and Lucy shuffles to make sure my feet worked and started spinning and jigging and stepping and stamping right along with her, cussing her out in English and loving her in Spanish, and from that moment to this, a sincerely groaned “Fuck me” has been the best-traveled phrase in my vocabulary.
That got us a round of applause that I never looked away from Lupe’s face long enough to tell was ironic or not, and my dance card was just about full up for the rest of the evening. A not one some cool customs: everybody signs up in couples to dance with the newly married, and when it’s your turn, you go and pin some money on either the bride or the groom to help out with the honeymoon. Then first all the girls and later all the guys link hands and form a “sea snake” and sprint flat our around the tables and between the couple, who are standing up on chairs and making an arch with their hands. The objective being to one: not eat shit or puke, given that you’ve been drinking for hours at this point, and two: to body check one or the other partner so hard that they fly off their chair. I think the dude-snake always wins. I definitely know I shouldered a married woman harder than I’ve ever hit anyone in anger.
We followed up by dimming the lights and getting down to some Bar Mitzvah style line dancing, which is a good thing because all the eligible guys were between teenage and my age and all the reported-to-me-to-be-eligible-by-their-mothers-before-I-knew-their-age-girls were either 15 or 17 and that’s not a cultural barrier I’m ever crossing. I found the one twenty-year-old there and we hung out with her cousin, went to another dance in the town auditorium, came back, managed to be the last table to leave, danced again, and then made it home at four for not anywhere near the last time in the past few days. This isn’t a sex story, my dear twelve readers; I couldn’t have been less interested but re: my last post, I was pretty desperate for company. Marisol, if you’re reading this, sorry I didn’t come Mexican-hug you goodby the next morning at the breakfast—I’d already thrown mole all over myself and I was trying not to show off.
Custom number three was the tornaboda. The day after the wedding, family and the closest friends, along with their three unknown American hangers-on, gather at the couple’s house to eat and drink their way through their hangovers using whatever’s left from the reception. I was loving it until, as I mentioned, I threw the world’s stainiest sauce all over my shirt because, hey, why not cut meat with a plastic spoon til it squirts off your plate onto your lap. And really, after your shirt’s already covered in mole, why not have seconds?
And that was just day one.