Friday, September 24, 2010

First Week for John and Kim

Suchitoto Journal Tuesday, Sept. 21/10

5:50 am first official day in El Salvador.

Up with the roosters since about 4:30, thought I'd try to get down some thoughts and first impressions from yesterday's arrival.

The direct flight from Toronto was on time and uneventful (always a good thing) - no problems with luggage, even though mine was slightly over the CUSO-VSO recommended weight limit. Although my work/travel kit is relatively small, scissors and sewing supplies are heavy (!), plus the extra boxes of pins, needles and basic notions I brought along to add to the EsArtes wardrobe supply. Searched the signs in the crowd of arrivals-meeters without seeing our appointed contact (John had been given a name of a driver who was supposed to meet us - Roberto Hernandez), so after standing around awhile to stretch our legs, and checking the thinning crowd inside and out a few more times, we made up a sign of our own "? ES ARTES SUCHITOTO?", but still got no response. A bit more waiting outside with a friend of one of our SKWID colleagues, who we'd met in Ottawa, until her ride arrived, and, just when we'd decided to give it 15 more minutes and call one of our 'in case this happens' contacts, a van with three smiling young men and a sign for Es Artes pulled up and very quickly got us loaded in and off on the road to Suchitoto.

The driver turned out to be Roberto's son, Alberto ('Berto, for short); the one with the sign was "Coky", real name Jorge, our appointed translator - a very fluent and personable young man from Suchi who has just returned from a year at the University of Minnesota (!), where he is on scholarship training to teach English as a second language; and the third was a young boy (another Roberto) who came along for the ride and reported our position and progress back to Es Artes by cell phone. The drive was about 1.5 hrs over very good roads for the most part, until after Soyapango (the next large urban centre with heavy traffic), when it began to deteriorate a bit with fairly large potholes and at least one major subsidence where several metres of earth next to the road fell away in a recent landslide. Coky told us that many of the landslides are due to a combination of unusually heavy rains and the local practice of collecting the clay from the hillsides to make bricks and tiles - one of the long-standing family industries in the area. Over time entire hills disappear into the brick kilns!

After Soyapango came San Martin - an incredibly busy little place of narrow streets lined with vendors on all sides selling just about anything, and little red 3-wheeled 'taxis' dashing about, canopied but open on the sides, about the size of golf carts, just big enough for a driver and two passengers. Around several more curves and further into the hills, suddenly we could see the beautiful white church of Suchitoto in the distance, the road changed to paving blocks, then cobblestones with high curbs and raised sidewalks along the buidings, and very quickly we were there!

A quick stop at Es Artes to meet Tito, the technical director; Evelyn, the office manager and her assistant, Erika, one of the Es Artes students; Mario, one of the teachers, a choreographer and props builder; Ariosto, the music and sound director for the production; and Mabel (pronounced Mah-bel'), a local dyer and fabric artist who will work most closely with John and me creating and managing the wardrobe. Then to our new home about fifty yards down the street, El Tejado - (paradise with a pool and a view!) with instructions to settle in, have dinner and an early night (not too difficult after a long day of travelling and a 6 pm sunset) and meet tomorrow morning at nine.

First impressions:

The heat, of course - not unexpected and not all that bad, considering, but coming off the plane, walking a fair distance through the terminal to baggage and customs in jeans and a jacket, carrying heavy bags - as soon as I stopped and stood still for any length of time, the sweat began to pour off me like Niagara Falls! However, in appropriate clothes and after a bit of acclimatization, not unbearable in the least. I think 'winter' in El Salvador is likely the perfect time for a pale northerner like me, with the daily intermittent rain and general overcast and highs in the 26-29 C range - much less danger of sun-related grief.

The wonderfully distinctive 'green-and-damp' smell of the tropics.

The 'free range' livestock along the highway, always with their tenders close by, but often on the opposite side of the road - goats, cattle, an occasional horse (and the ever-present dogs).

The most common family transport for women and children of all ages: standing in the back of open pick-up trucks with high railings.

Women walking along the roadside with huge baskets, plastic tubs or wide wicker trays balanced on their heads - no hands!

Day 2 proper Tuesday, Sept. 21 (continued)

After making a start on this journal, but still having dificulties connecting to the net at El Tejado (I'll ask Coky to help me later), met John for breakfast at 7:30 at the dining area by the pool - I'm doing reasonably well reading menus in Spanish, but had to count on John's better ear and faster pick-up when the waitress asked us what time she could clean the rooms. Slight haze in the distance, but brighter and sunnier this morning - beautiful!

Up the block to Es Artes for our 9 am meeting which was a mutual introduction of us to the rest of the Es Artes staff and other community liaisons including representatives from the local police responsible for tourist security; Marta, the head nurse of the hospital; 'Roberto' (the hearty American host/owner of El Gringo, who seems to be connected to a lot of international and community educational initiatives); Hector, the director of Escuela Taller; and the indefatigable Tatiana who is the driving force behind all this. All these presentations and sharing of histories took up most of the morning, then most of the group accompanied us to Villa Balanza for lunch (where we met Sean's gold-toothed waitress - see earlier posts).

After lunch, we headed over to Escuela Taller to meet all the students and teachers in the five disciplines there: carpentry, metalwork, masonry, electrical, and sewing, many of whom will be working with us on the production. Hector asked us if there was anything we might need that they don't have in their set-up, and we discuss the possibility of having a cutting table and mannequins built at some point. The most common themes here seem to be endless potential vs. limited physical and monetary resources, but everything is approached with good will and optimism so far.

Then back to Es Artes to touch base with Tito and Tatiana to discuss time frames and schedules, check to see if we were on the same page with desires and expectations, and see how soon we could meet the actresses currently rehearsing in San Salvador, how soon we'd have access to the student members of the cast and when and where we'd start shopping for supplies. All this gone into at length and with the need to start ASAP because of the many demands on Tatiana's time as both director of the play and general ambassador of the project to other political, educational and arts groups, we then headed back to El Tejado so I could finally read the script (I had only had a general synopsis till now) and John could actually design the costumes!

Coky came back with us to sort out my connection problem, and I kept John company while he turned out eight gorgeous preliminary (!) renderings and a couple of working drawings of all the principal characters and a generic servant over dinner, while I shared the pattern references I brought, compared notes on the script, and worked a bit more on these notes - (all outside in the breeze by the pool, under a midnight-black sky at seven in the evening, accompanied by a chorus of cicadas and the odd chirp from the geckos on the ceiling of the 'dining room' - idyllic or what?!). Tomorrow morning we meet to discuss further logistics of the Escuela Taller liaison, and check out some local fabric possibilities with Mabel and Coky, then at 4 pm we'll be driven to San Salvador to attend the evening rehearsal at the National Arts School. We'll be staying overnight at a hotel there and shopping for (hopefully) all our fabrics on Thursday.

Day 3 Wednesday, Sept.22

Went into the Escuela's curriculum in greater detail to see how we can best support the needs of both programs - unclear at this point exactly how much time we will be able to have with them, so I asked about the possibility of approaching any of the ladies at the Women's Collective (La Casa del Mujeres) or any other suggestions of sewers we could use as a back-up, as period costumes in several layers for eighteen women are going to take a bit of time (!) and considerable 'person-power'. More practicalities of space and supplies gone into, off to one of the local art galleries to check fabric and crafts available. Found a wonderful book with images of historical Suchitoto, which confirmed John's vision with very few changes.

Continuing the rounds, we visited the market stalls and bought a local apron to use as a model for the ones we'll need - a large number of the women here wear a very distinctive short, wide apron with frills and ruffles and multiple pockets that serves as an all-purpose purse (there's an extra zippered pocket within the central pouch pocket for keeping your money), tool belt and carry-all. With one of these and a bushel basket of all your wares and provisions on your head, you can literally set up shop anywhere! We're trying to track down a more historically correct version for the servants to wear (pre- zippers and polyester).

Then, after stopping in at Casa del Mujeres to check out the beautiful indigo pieces, see (and smell) the dyeing process firsthand, and note the number of treadle sewing machines being put to very effective use turning out clothing and craft items for sale (Singers are still very popular here - at the Escuela, as well), as we'd exhausted the local offerings for raw materials, we went for lunch at Lupita's in the square (one of our many recommendations for eateries).
I'd hoped to try the pupusas the area is famous for, but we were informed that they were only on the breakfast menu, so we settled for some very nice grilled sandwiches and Fresca, which still comes in glass bottles here. Another interesting note, which Roberto from El Gringo pointed out to us yesterday: although you are always given a paper-wrapped straw with any drink you order anywhere in town, they are all too short for the pop bottles (except at El Gringo, apparently, but we haven't checked that out yet).

We actually ran into Roberto at Lupita's, where he joined us for lunch and a chat just as we were finishing. One of our topics of discussion was the balancing-large-heavy-loads-on-the-head skill that I'd noticed, and he added the observation that the generation raised on this mode of transport all have perfect posture and no back problems - the men, as Ted noted in his Speaking of Suchitoto blog, routinely carry incredibly heavy weights on their upper backs and shoulders with the same ease and nonchalance!

John and I, not being made of such stern and sterling stuff, and definitely feeling the heat of the midday sun (no rain till late afternoon today), repaired to our rooms for siestas until 4 when we headed back to Es Artes to meet our driver for the trip to San Salvador.

Arrived at the National Arts School rehearsal rooms just before 6 to attend the evening rehearsal, meet the professional actresses that are the main characters in this production, take pictures, check measurements and present the designs - very well received! The woman playing the title role told us that this was her third production of Bernarda Alba - in the first production, she had played the youngest daughter; later, the middle daughter and now, the mother - all she needs now is the role of the grandmother to complete the cycle! Interestingly, the grandmother in this production is being played by a very young girl. And our Bernarda is very petite in relation to the tall, willowy eldest daughter (all the daughters, in fact), which has no bearing on her powerful personal presence, but she expressed a desire for high heels, which we will do our best to work in.

After the rehearsal, Tatiana (who is a co-director of the play, in addition to all her other functions) took us out for dinner and off to a small, friendly hotel connected to the Suchi 'family', with a plan to meet there in the morning for a conference call with Doug and Robbin in Stratford.

Day 4 Thursday, Sept.23

Conference call accomplished with a few technical glitches and lost connections, but successful in the end in our first look at the proposed set design, model and blueprints - also well received. John also discussed details of some possible donations/loans of period shoes and wigs from Stratford's stock (a huge help if it happens), and made arrangements to send three of his costume renderings, signed by both him and the actresses, back to Stratford along with some Salvadoran artworks, for auction at the October 1 fundraiser for the Suchitoto project (Anyone in the Stratford area following this blog, please be sure to attend!)

From there, joined by Coky, Mabel and driver Roberto, we headed off to the first of our shopping venues, arriving just as the skies opened for the first major downpour of the day. We did very well there with both prices and selection, picking up about 60% of what we needed in about three hours, in addition to a few new useful (to me) Spanish terms: intra tela (interfacing) and buena caida (nice drape - the fabric hangs/moves well). Yesterday's new words were ropa interior (underwear), falda (skirt), blusa (blouse), and fustane (petticoat or underskirt), along with the phrase estamos sentado en la sombre (we are sitting in the shade) - good to establish when the sun does come out.

Lunch at the food court of the Galleria Mall (which could be almost anywhere in North America for its familiar chain store offerings) and three more stops netted us a further 35% of our list, along with some fabric-related props and the possible start of the hoped-for mannequins - all-in-all a very successful albeit exhausting day. Oddly enough, although selection and service go fairly quickly, and all the sales staff are attentive and friendly and readily offer discounts for bulk buying, the actual payment process seems to take an extraordinary amount of time as each piece is itemized and recorded in meticulous detail - it wasn't clear if this was just for Es Artes accounting, or whether this is common practise, but a lot of tiring standing around happens in the transaction.

Anyway, shortly before 5 we were on the road and back in Suchi by 6:30. Coky and Roberto very kindly dropped us at 'home' before unloading our purchases, and as I put my key in the lock, a gecko dropped onto my chest! It looked as startled by this as I was and promptly disappeared, I wasn't sure where - I thought I might have a friend for the night - but it was nowhere 'about my person' once I got in the door. I choose to look on it as a good omen ("no flies on me" to paraphrase my great-grandmother), and hope it bodes well for tomorrow.

Since I've finally brought these entries up to date, if the net is with me, I hope to post them tonight - sorry for the wait - I'll try to be quicker and more concise with the next ones. And I'll be adding pictures on Sunday. Hasta luego!

1 comment:

  1. What an adventure Kim. I feel like I am right beside you as you write. Keep it up despite the heat. Thank you.