Thursday, 11-22-01

First THANKSGIVING Proclamation
by President George Washington
issued in 1789
(lest we forget
from whence we came)

A Thanksgiving "Hello" from Guatemala this 22nd of November!  I have so many things to be thankful for, not the least is my wife who is making this whole adventure possible.  Hope that wherever you are, you too take time to give thanks for all that you enjoy.  If you are going through hard times, remember that there are people with even harder times, including right here in Guatemala, where drought and low coffee prices have left many people with nothing to be thankful for.  Enjoy your dinner!  Thanksgiving is not a Guatemalan holiday, so I have Spanish classes both today and Friday, but Colegio Maya, being an American school, has a four-day weekend like many of you.  We had one turkey dinner on Sunday, at the apartment of another teacher:  turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and pumpkin pie just like "back home", and I ate too much, of course.  Then we turn around and do it again today at the apartment of another teacher.  This time the leftovers will be packaged and taken to street kids.

Santa Catarina
Panajachel Dock & Boats
Santa Catarina Vendor
From Another Village
Well, in Episode #5 I left you wondering if we would make it to Copan.  We didn't.  Decided we needed to gather more information, as package tour prices I got were quite expensive.  Instead we took a Saturday shuttle to Panajachel on Lake Atitlán again, and spent one night in a hospedaje or hospice, of which there are several providing cheap rooms.  Ours with a tiny bathroom was $15.  A couple of noisy parrots downstairs, but they shut up at night.  Fortunately the place we first tried was full, because this one was both closer to the lake and farther from the band that played Saturday night until about 4:00 in the morning.  I know because I didn't sleep well in that bed, and I could hear them.  Saturday afternoon we hiked about 4 kilometers around the lake to the next village, Santa Catarina Palopó, and Deb bought a huipil, a hand-woven blouse typical of the village (each village has its own typical design), as well as a wrap for her hair and a lesson on how to use it, but her hair is too fine (theirs is coarse) to work properly.  Took a launch back to Pana.  These boats shuttle people all across the lake from village to village, and Pana is a major tourist (and marketing) hub for the lake. 
Young Giant Papayas
Trumpet Vine
Tried to get more cash from an ATM, except that it wouldn't recognize our card, so we barely had enough to buy meals for the rest of the time.  We were to meet another teacher at a restaurant for breakfast Sunday morning, but when we got there we were informed that she had called and said that she wouldn't be there until the afternoon.  She was at another village around the lake, and decided to stay longer.  We spent the time "window shopping", since we couldn't actually buy anything, getting ideas for later, like Christmas.  Once she arrived (also by boat) she gave us a ride in her car back to Guatemala City, saving the cost of the shuttle.

That evening I had an upset stomach (Deb was fine), which turned out to be the beginning of a bout of stomach flu, complete with chills and fever.  Deb got it a couple days later, and it was going around, because "my" paper lady also had it.
Our Speaker
A Hard-fought Game!
"Flame Tree"
About 30 men from Union Church got together at a conference center in Antigua the end of October for a retreat, Friday evening through Saturday afternoon.  A good speaker, and a good time of meeting and getting better acquainted with other men.  A wild game of touch football before lunch pitted the "skins" against the "shirts", and even the speaker participated, scoring a touchdown.

The following is from an e-mail my wife wrote.  "Halloween is a little weird here. You don't see tons of stuff around, just in a few stores.  There will be trick-or-treating at the American Embassy this afternoon but in the neighborhoods it just isn't done.  There are all these gates and walls.  You can't tell what's behind them.  BTW 'trick or treat' in Spanish is 'dulces o dinero' ('sweets or money').  And Halloween candy is not a well-known concept.  There are certain stores that specialize in imported stuff that will carry things like candy corn, but the grocery stores don't have half an aisle devoted to your sweet tooth.

Giant Kites
Prensa Libre photo

Cemetery, San Juan Sacatapequez

"The big holiday is tomorrow, Nov. 1 and 2, the Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) and the Día de Todos Santos (All Saints Day).  In several villages around the country they fly HUGE kites.  We're talking up to 20 ft. in diameter.  They spend months (and lots of money) making these things.  Several generations of the family will work together on them.  They believe the kites communicate with dead loved ones.  Everyone goes to the cemeteries to fly these kites, it's a big family day.  The special meal is called Fiambre.  It's a plate full of cold cuts, vegetables, olives, boiled eggs, etc. all arranged nicely.  Each family has their own special recipe or you can place an order for someone to prepare it ahead of time, and again you eat it at the cemetery.  They've been spiffying up the cemeteries for a couple of weeks now.  They fumigated the main cemetery in the city [for dengue fever] and people are cleaning up all the tombs.

"Burying is done in concrete crypts. No one [in the city] buries in the ground. The rich families have a family sepulcher. 
"Dancing with the Dead"
The richest family in town's looks like an Egyptian pyramid.  It's really big.  The poorest families rent space in a kind of high rise of crypts with just enough room inside one for a coffin.  There will be a plaque on the front of who's inside and any other important info.  When there's no one left in the family to pay for the space then the coffin is removed (I don't know what they do with it) and the space is rented to someone else."

Another Day of the Dead tradition at the cemeteries I learned about from my tutoring student is "Dancing with the Dead".  If your departed liked music, dancing, or a special song, a band plays and you can dance in their honor.  Kind of like a wake, except that they do it each year at this time.

"In Spanish & English"

Capella Cantorum
A Great Pianist

Well, enough morbid stuff.  This last month has been full of cultural events, starting with a piano recital that one of Deb's students was performing in, followed the same night by the bilingual production of West Side Story.  As these were both at IGA (where I take Spanish) but in different buildings, we just went from one to the other.  Then there was the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional de Guatemala at the national theater, and they were enjoyable.  Last week, there was a ballet dance recital, and it was really interesting to watch these kids perform, having had ballet ourselves. Our teacher would have had a "fit" at some of the bad techniques we saw (she is a stickler for correct form, as it will prevent injuries at higher levels), but we saw some good stuff, too.  This was followed two nights later by Capella Cantorum, an a capella group of eleven people that gave two encores and the people were still cheering for more (they finally just left the stage).  The next night was a Canadian pianist, Alain Lefévre, who really "smoked the keys" on a Bosendorfer grand piano (it has extra keys at both ends of the keyboard, and all notes sound clearly). 

Us in Antigua
Then Saturday we took a shuttle to Antigua and spent the night, so we could take in two concerts there: 
Nanae Mimura and Marimba
first was Nanae Mimura, a Japanese marimba player who was awesome (and is playing again tonight here in Guatemala), followed by the National Symphony Orchestra and Choir of Costa Rica, performing on the steps of a cathedral facing the central park (yes, this is November, but this is Guatemala, and it was a lovely evening for an outdoor concert!) ending with Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture.  No cannon, but fireworks at and after the end.  Deb is really enjoying being able to attend so many concerts, as for so long she was either rehearsing for, or performing in, a lot of concerts herself, and wasn't able to sit back and enjoy just listening.

Agua from the Street

"Up on the Housetop!"

Sunday morning on the way to breakfast, Agua Volcano was especially photogenic in the morning sun with clouds, but there are a lot of overhead wires, and as I was trying to find a good place to shoot, a man came out of a hotel and invited us up onto his roof for a better shot.  It was a hotel we had tried to stay at but was full, and I figured he was just trying to drum up business.  We followed him past a beautiful courtyard (his wife maintains the flowers), and up to his roof.  Indeed the view was spectacular, with no wires or buildings in the way of photos.
Volcan Fuego on left, Acatenango on right
He was very friendly, and as we talked, he is a poet and songwriter (he sang one for us, and has a very nice voice), and is Salvadoran up here in Guatemala for a better life.  He was an alcoholic for 20 years until God turned his life around, and his joi de vivre is obvious.  Then he took us back down and showed us his workshop in back where he fashions jade jewelry which he displays and sells in his hotel.  He also has the beginning of a Salvadoran Cultural Center where he can feature his homeland.  Meeting Fernando was an altogether enjoyable experience, and we will be back.

Christmas Parade
Prensa Libre photo

Coming back home from Antigua Sunday afternoon was not so enjoyable. Our shuttle managed to make it to the airport to drop off three people, but he reported that there was no way he could take us to Zone 10, as there was a parade blocking traffic.  Turns out it was Guatemala's version of the Macy's Christmas parade in NYC.  Several hundred thousand people lining the parade route, all traffic in the area completely blocked.  We walked from the airport, figuring we could get across.  Nope!  Not gonna happen!  We tried.  Too many people packed solid, and no breaks to allow for cross-traffic.  We finally gave up and walked six blocks north of our street and found the end of the parade, where we could get across.  Altogether we walked about three miles (or more), with packs on our backs.  We were tired!

One final Cultural Event for this episode:  last night we were back at IGA for a woodwind quintet.  They have been playing together for 18 years, and unfortunately the clarinet player needs to retire, as he just doesn't "have it" like he used to.  Hard to break up a group like that, but it does distract from the enjoyment.  Hey, you can't win them all, right?

Until next time, from beautiful Guatemala City, where the flowers are everywhere and the corruption is rampant, this is Ron Lyttle, signing off.

Friday, 11-23 Addendum: 
In my eagerness to send Episode #6 on Thanksgiving day, I omitted a couple of items I wanted to mention, as I have pictures to go with them on the Web version.  1) Poinsettias have been blooming since the middle of October, and they aren't the wimpy things we buy in the stores back home in Oregon; here they grow tall and luxurious, as you will be able to see when the pictures are on the web site.  They are around our apartments as well as other places in the city. 
Geminis Int'l Mall
2) By the Christmas decorations, you would never know we were in a foreign country.  Reforma Avenue is lined with them, there is a big "tree" down at the Obelisco roundabout, and the stores have had Christmas stuff since about the time the poinsettias started blooming.  Wonder if there is any connection?

Oh, a correction:  our Thanksgiving "leftovers" (she cooked two turkeys) provided meals for 20 kids and 10 adults at the children's cancer hospital, and we are talking about doing it again for Christmas (before we leave).

Avenida Reforma

And if you read about all the concerts and were wondering how we can afford it, last night's concert at the National Theater (first balcony) with the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional and Nanae Mimura (again) on the marimba cost us (with bus fare there and taxi home) a total of $10.25.  Now you know.


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