Sunday, January 29, 2012
Kenny and I stepped out onto the Zócalo for the first time over two years ago. Our swine-flu discount flight came in earlier that day, and our hearts were filled with a sense of possibility. The plaza was mostly empty except for a small crowd forming around the base of the flag-pole. We heard raucous laughter from over there, so we decided to investigate. But before we could even make sense of what everyone was looking at, we were thrust into center-stage. A neon clown marched toward us and called us out from the back,
"Gueros, where are you from?" He held a mic attached to a crackly speaker.
"United States!" We hollered --all eyes on our grinning faces.
"Do you speak Spanish?" He asked in an exaggerated gringo accent.
We shook our heads no, our grins now showing more fear as we sunk into his trap.
He rattled off something hilarious en español at our expense, and the crowd lost it.
What did he just say? How did we get publicly humiliated within hours of setting foot in Mexico? We peeled away feeling deflated and guilty. What a wake-up call. Time to learn the language...
>> Today in 2012, I decided to go to Bosque Chapultepec and stroll. All the museums are free on Sundays, and the park is crowded with families. I grab a tlayuda at the entrance.
Balloons, face-paint, monkeys stuck to people's heads, and clowns. I saw a couple clown shows on my walk, most of which featured dance competitions for kids judged by applause. The clown asks the boys "Michael Jackson or reggaeton?". He asks the girls "Reggaeton or sexy?" (sexy = Shania Twain). It's pretty hard not to watch.
I made my way back to the park's entrance feeling satisfied. Oh Mexico, why are you so crazy? There was one more clown show on the bridge with the lion sculptures. I peek in on a particularly energetic 5-year-old who chose reggaeton. I chuckle. The head clown stops the music abruptly and points to me.
"My friend! Where are you from?" Not again... He shoves the mic in my face.
"San Francisco." I say cautiously.
"Mi paisano! Do you speak Spanish?"
"Como te llamas?"
"Felipe." I give my local name.
So instead of his prepared fountain of vulgar jokes for the clueless foreigner, he invites me into the center of the circle. I accept. Now, what to do with Felipe... All the kids in the dance-off are standing in a row behind me. First, he hands me an un-inflated tube-balloon for a blowing contest. 1-2-3! The clown blows the longer balloon (what a shock) and then makes a penis-size joke. Haha. He asks me if I like Mexican women. I say 'yes' wanting to keep it simple. So I'm told to choose a lovely lady from the crowd to be my dance partner. But the clown disapproves of my choices and selects someone for me --the clown's girlfriend. (She's in civilian clothes but definitely working with the troop.) We join the row of kids with our arms around each other, and the dance competition continues. Lucky I had nothing else to do, because this thing lasted for about an hour. My partner and I make it to the final round where we must continue dancing as the clown cycles through different genres of music and we adapt accordingly. I hammed it up as much as possible and got a real roar from the crowd when I dropped and shook my ass.
Another blonde onlooker joins the fray. The clown confronts him and discovers that he's Russian and doesn't speak Spanish or English and that his face looks like an ass-hole. (laughs). Poor guy.
Even though my salsa dancing was sloppy, I still win a bunch of balloon sculptures and a pair of water-squirting glasses. The hip-hop and slow-dance must have made up for it. Here's some video I took of our main competition. (That's my jacket on the ground.)
I'm always terrified of performers who try and interact with the audience. But today, I had something to prove: No clown can bring me down! At the very end of the show, when all the kids get prizes, the head clown whispers in my ear, "Come back next week."
Every Saturday and Sunday down the street from our house, a 4-generation family restaurant takes over the block serving quesadillas al comal, pambazos, flautas, and more. I usually go for the enchiladas de mole, but lately, the tostadas de tinga have been calling my name. It's pure satisfaction --and their rustic salsa roja truly unique.