Subtitle: Cultural Exchanges
Last weekend my husband and I decided to go to the local Alliance Francaise here in Juarez for their movie night. This is something we did in Bogota, too, and as he still likes to keep up with his French, plus we thought it would be a nice habit to get into here. We found the small private house that had been turned into a school/French center in a nice middle-class type neighborhood not too very far away from where we live. The "theater" probably used to be their living room, now with a screen, projector and about two dozen folding chairs. Two by two, others arrived until the room was at max capacity and the movie began. It was a French comedy (yes, with Gerard Depardieu - I think it's the law) with Spanish subtitles that was actually pretty good. Better, as we were able to follow along with about 92% with the subtitles. I was surprised that Juarez, who has experienced such hard times, would have an Alliance Francaise, but voila, there it was and we had a nice evening and will certainly go again.
After the show, we headed out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant down the road. The entire staff was Mexican, but the waiter told us that the owners and cooks were Chinese and the restaurant had been around for about 30 years, and it certainly looked as if it'd been quite the place when it was new. The walls and ceilings were paneled with no-expense-spared scenes from the old country and tiled Chinese motifs. Gilded dragons and Buddhas were showcased in the corners and a large plasma screen displayed a view of some modern Chinese city at night. Even having lived in places with big Chinatowns (San Francisco, NY), this place was still probably the largest and most ornately decorated restaurant I'd been to. I ordered a combination lo mein, and was only slightly disappointed when it arrived as spaghetti stir-fried with meat and veg. Ah, it was close, and the ambiance made up for what the authenticity of ingredients lacked.
Then last night, we headed north for a night out of dinner and a concert. After eating at a Mongolian grill, we went into the heart of old-town El Paso to find the super-funky old theater that now is the Tricky Falls club, with Bowie Feathers lounge/restaurant upstairs. The venue's logo is a cat face with whiskers, and it seems the owner named both places after his/her two cats. What's not to love, right? The opening act, which we hadn't been expecting, was a surprisingly good Brazilian carnival/samba percussion group complete with about eight capoeira performers (what would you call them?) You know, that Brazilian martial arts stuff that involves all sorts of gymnastic dance moves where they mock fighting moves without hitting or kicking each other? Their headstands, cart-wheels, jumps and kicks were well-choreographed and super impressive, as was the samba lady in full-feathered carnival headpiece and beaded hip-kerchief that she worked very hard to shimmy and shake to the relentless drums and whistles. I was amazed at the performers' strength, stamina, grace and willingness to go barefoot and full-body contact on the drink-spilled, undoubtedly sticky, and certainly-not-recently-mopped floor for so long. But hey, they were all about their craft.
The headliner was a Malian singer named Fatoumata Diawara. She came onstage in a black leather Gaultier-like bustier, fringy colored miniskirt, bright blue lipstick and slinging a red electric guitar. Starting off tamely, she grew more and more enthusiastic when little by little people got to their feet to dance in front of the small stage (mostly the capoeira group, still barefoot), which was good because the over-50 NPR-listening crowd was pretty thick in the theater, and few of us were up and movin' it it like she wanted us to. By the middle of the show, Fatoumata was also dancing, sometimes as if in a frenzied trance, wildly swinging the shells that tied off her braided hair and reminding everyone that "love is the answer to peace for her brothers in Africa." She was a very impressive singer, and backed by an equally talented band from France, the Congo and Cote d'Ivoire who wailed out their original-blues rhythms. We're still wondering how this performer got booked into such a funky old venue in sleepy downtown El Paso, TX, but we're glad she did.
So, in one week, we were able to visit five distant and distinct cultures, each of which where at least one of my A-100 classmates is now living: France, China, Mongolia, Brazil and Mali. Not bad for not even leaving our familiar, dusty borderland.