Day 4: Tortillas y Paco Rentería

You haven’t lived until you’ve heard a seven-piece Latin fusion band play “Hava Nagila.” More on that in a moment.

Today was moving day, transferring from the first apartment to the one I’ll be at for the rest of my time in Guanajuato. The first apartment, up in the Presa district, was about a brisk 20 minute walk into town. The new place is about five minutes.

Around 11:30, the guy who owns the first apartment came to say goodbye. He’s a 62-year-old American expat who has a 32-year-old Thai wife and two-month-old twin girls. The phrase “Be careful what you wish for” comes to mind. They’re eventually going to sell their house and apartments in Guanajuato and move permanently back to Thailand, where they already spend some of their winters. He was a nice, cheerful host and he wished me well for the rest of my time in Guanajuato.

I packed all my clothes into my backpack, grabbed my laptop, and headed on the walk to the next place. Since I had some time to kill until I was meeting at the next apartment, I stopped in a little park and soaked in the sun while people watching. There were teenagers playing around the fountain, and if there’s anything universal on this planet it’s the way teenagers horse around. Someone was gonna get wet.

There was also a young couple making out on a park bench, various people passing through for their daily shopping, and of course the ubiquitous helado vendor, selling all manner of ice creams. It occurs to me that Portland would be much cooler if all the downtown food carts were spread out instead of being confined to food cart ghettos.

After some time in the park I made my way to the new apartment. This being Guanajuato, you don’t get an address. You get a description of how to get there. I had to find a certain cafe, take an alleyway straight up the side of a mountain, then jog left up a set of stairs, bear left on a smaller alley, and find the blue house on the right. It’s like playing Zork, only without the trolls. (If you’re reading this, Jason, shut up.)

Did I mention this place is on the side of a mountain. It’s a brutal, punishing climb to get up here, and carrying all my baggage with me I had to stop several times to catch my breath (we’re above 7,000 feet elevation here). I took a wrong turn at one point and continued up another set of 75 stairs and popped up on a road above where I was supposed to be, so I had to backtrack. Eventually I found the house, though I was sweaty and my legs were wobbly.

I was met by James, an ex-Oregonian, who has lived here for six years and manages properties for Americans. He showed me the house, which is spectacular. The view is out of this world, with a sunswept balcony overlooking the city, and two levels — a bedroom downstairs and a full kitchen and living room upstairs, plus two bathrooms and even a rooftop terrace with a washer and dryer. The house is tastefully decorated with Mexican art and furnishings. All this for the price of a Motel 6 in the USA.

But the cleaning lady still had to come and clean, so I had a few more hours to kill before moving in. I headed down into town (a MUCH easier walk going downhill) and did some more wandering around the city. I found the University and the movie theater and more hidden parks and plazas. Plus more grocery stores and other niceties that I’ll be availing myself of.

I also found myself to be very hungry. Luckily, I wandered past a tortilleria and got a stack of five hot tortillas, fresh out of the tortilla machine (yes, there’s a tortilla machine — and yes, you could totally film an episode of I Love Lucy with it). I ate the five tortillas in approximately three seconds. 

After that it was back up the hill to the house (pant pant) for a little rest before heading out for a concert at historic Teatro Juárez.

Built from 1872 to 1897, and finally inaugurated in 1903, Teatro Juárez is just spectacular. Outside, it’s a mishmash of Greek and Roman. Inside, it’s all reds and golds, ornate woodwork and texturing, with four balconies, hardwood floors and an intimate feel despite having a large capacity.

The concert was guitarist Paco Rentería and his seven piece band. It’s one of the best concerts I’ve ever been to. Paco is an amazing guitarist and showman, a mix of Carlos Santana, Eddie Van Halen and Jack Black. He showed off innumerable techniques, from simple to flashy, and equal ability to go big or go intimate. He’s also quite the talker, sharing his thoughts on love for humanity, fellow man and (especially) fellow woman. At one point, before playing a love song, he encouraged everyone in the audience to kiss their spouse, boyfriend/girlfriend, or anyone they could find in the room. (I got this from the Spanish … I rock.)

Rentería has dubbed his style of music “Free Play,” which means it’s a melange of Latin, Pop, Jazz, Salsa and good old American standards. After opening with a number of high energy Latin songs (he wrote music for the Antonio Banderas/Salma Hayek movie Desperado), the band went into an overlapping medley of Latin-flavored popular music, seamlessly morphing from Beat It into Dust in the Wind to Johnny Cash to Save Tonight and on and on. At one point, Paco and the violinist engaged in a duel to see who could player higher, faster or throw out a riff that the other couldn’t match. When the violinist played a particularly impressive piece, Paco answered on guitar with the theme from Close Encounters, and the violinist responded with the melody from X-Files.

After an hour and three quarters they were called back for an encore, which started with a beautiful, spare love song played solo by Rentería, and then a few more bouncy Latin numbers with the whole band. It was two-plus hours of sheer joy, technical mastery and foot-stomping goodness.

After the concert it was time for a late dinner in a restaurant off the Plaza Jardín, then a stroll back up to the house and welcome bed to rest my weary legs.

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