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A Veracruz fandango

My Travel Writing Scholarship 2011 entry - Journey in an Unknown Culture

WORLDWIDE | Monday, 28 March 2011 | Views [564] | Scholarship Entry

Leathery, work-worn hands unceremoniously plonked down on our table three glass mugs of a viscous, white liquid. My travel companions, Juan, a punk from Veracruz, and Rafa, a brilliant guitarist from Merida, looked at me expectantly. Juan had lured us to a pulqueria on the fringes of Xalapa with bizarre and splendid tales of an Aztec goddess. Mayahuel, the goddess of the maguey cactus had once nursed her 400 rabbit children with the pulque that flowed from her breasts. The Mexican punks, who love no gods or masters, adore these rabbit deities, the Centzon Totochtin, who lived for intoxicated revelling. I grimaced as I tasted the bitter pulque, but kept in mind it was the preferred drink of 400 drunken rabbit gods, so it was and easy to swallow.

Leaving behind raucous yelps coming from the pulqueria, we headed to downtown Xalapa. I was about to get my next dose of low end Mexican boozing, and this time there was no reminders of Aztec gods to take the edge off. Mexico makes some of the finest alcohol in the world, but a student fandango is not where to find it. One bar in Oaxaca offers 80 different types of mescal and tequila, served up with little dishes of worm salt. Someone had thought grinding up dried worms with hot chilli and salt would make a fine accompaniment to that delicious burning elixir. And they were right, provided you could banish thoughts of eating worms.
The imbibing tone of a student fandango is not about thoughtfully handicrafted libations but downing large quantities for rapid effect. Into a 20 litre plastic jug went a few litres of aguardiente de caña, a lethal bootleg distillation made from sugar cane and not too different to window cleaner. Pineapple juice, coca cola and lemonade was poured in to disguise the horrid taste.

But the music alone, the Son Jarocho, was intoxicating. Xalapa has an overwhelming concentration of musicians and every evening guitarists strum outside their houses, their tunes drifting into the night air.
At this night's gathering of musicians and revellers, the fandango, a melody from a four string jarocho guitar were overlaying the bass notes of a harp. Rafa picked up a 12 string jarana guitar, and began improvising with the other musicians. Over the top of these splendid sounds, a percussionist scraped a stick along a cow's jawbone, making me think there could be no finer afterlife for a humble cow.
Rocia, a gorgeous Spanish women with wild curly hair belted out improvised lines about love, heartbreak, poverty and greed.
A dancer in an ankle length ruffled skirt stepped onto the platform at the gathering's centre, facing her partner in a suit worthy of Emiliano Zapata. With wooden blocks nailed to the soles of their shoes, they tapped out a wild dance of incredible footwork. If the caña failed to summon any gods that summer night, the incredible dancing, improvised rhythms and the never to be repeated poetry of the singers surely did.

Tags: #2011Writing, Travel Writing Scholarship 2011

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