Cette page est aussi disponible en :
I don’t really know when it all began.
I would say, what started it all was when I heard music in the street and saw a street band with dancers by the window. Some would say it began when I decided to go take pictures of the whole thing, dancers, musicians and gawkers. Some others would prefer to say that it all began when, after the show halted and I took a drink with some of the musicians, one girl – a Cholita dancer – started talking with me. But how it all started is not as frightening as how it could have ended… I could not have guessed the danger I was in when I opened my window to listen to the music noises down in the street.
Of course, when I left my hotel, I thought I’d be back half an hour later. See the dancers dance and the musicians blow their instruments, take three good pictures (and a hundred bad ones) and go back to classify my travel things. A calm day in La Paz. I heard the music outside, took my film camera and got down the street. The hotel’s doorman (4 yo) tells me “mucha baila“, it’s ok with me. I snap a few pictures, go buy two other films (agfachrome 100iso, but no wait it’s a Mitsubishi with an Agfa sticker), I snap two or three more pictures and a bolivian dancer with his costume starts to speak with me. Where I’m from, do I like Bolivia, and do I drink beer? So I join the group of traditionnal dancers, they’re joking telling everyone around that I’m a morenada dancer too and we drink a little bit more, thank god they also have an empanada because it’s 3pm, I don’t have anything in the belly and it’s way to early to be drunk. Then I have shots with an argentino and a colombian who look like south american gangsters, and the fact that they ask me if I want cocaine conforts me in thinking that, but they are nice enough and didn’t have any south american gangster friends but in the end I don’t accept their generous offer. They like my explanation for refusing “nada para mi, mas para los otros“.
I don’t have to say that I was feeling quite fresh, at 3600m above sea level after some beers, unnamed shots followed by a lemon, one empanada and a pepsi as the only solid food of the afternoon and a few pictures more or less well taken. And then, with the authority of Moses over the red seas, she parted the crowds and came to talk to me. She = one of the traditionnal dancers, with a bowler hat and a shiny pink dress. Me = buying tissues. She tells me she’s a cholita de La Paz, belonging to a famous banda de baila de morenada, and she participated to the festival of the gran poder, where you’ve got to dance eighteen hours in the crooked streets of La Paz. And her brother too is in a dancing band. And people pass beer around and we’re talking about all that and when they tell me the fiesta continues elsewhere, of course, I’ve got to follow them. We arrive in a communal room for social gatherings, and we begin the evening. It’s 4:30pm.
I am seated at the table of the family by the dancer, whose name, I learn, is Monica. And because she’s a cholita you call her Cholita Monica. Waiters bring us food, and we have to pay for the beer, and everytime they go down to buy a 12-bottles pack they ask me to buy one too. I do that twice, at 12 euros the 12 bottles it was a pleasure for me, but I insisted not to have that pleasure a third time. By the way, I thank my micro-sponsor for the 6/26. And so she introduces me to her mami and papi, then to her brothers and sisters, and then to her neighbours, and then we went dancing, and then the father tells me that la Monica is single. Well, that’s nice I say to him, lots of possibilities in this room for good husbands, but I’ve got a girlfriend-novia-fiancée waiting for me in my country on the other side of the world to get married, I say (it’s a lie, by the way), because I feel that something’s fishy.
And we drink and we drink and we drink, and one of the brothers tells me it’s a bolivian custom to drink that much. I have had a quite interesting year, and seen a laotian border guard drunk on Lao-Lao, chinese maoist/MTVist youth sick on beer, citizens of the US of A wasted on expensive cocktails, philippinos with not much blood left in their alcohol system and many other people in many other countries, drinking a lot an telling me it’s part of the culture. So I can say that drinking too much alcohol is a constant of civilisation. Your culture discovers alcohol, your culture gets wasted, and then you call that civilization. It’s my own theory and I’m not a sociologist. But I’m french so I’ve got the right answer about everything.
Now, with so much alcohol and music, we danse, it’s fun, it’s a wild dance with a girl I don’t know, on a music for which I don’t know the steps, with all the flat-haired moustachioed south-americans amused and perhaps a little bit jealous staring at us. One of the brothers asks me if I’m a tanguero, I answer him I tried, but I’m waiting to go back to Buenos Aires to have another go. My friend Monica then takes my camera, it’s big and not easy to carry around dancing on bolivian music, and gives it to her mother, so she keeps it and it wont get stolen. Lovely idea, don’t you see how she thinks of my security? It’s such a lovely attention… And now if I want to leave abruptly, I’ll have to ask the mother first for my camera… So charming and lovely, I tell you! I’m seeing the trap closing in. The father then tells me again that his daughter is single, and what an incredible luck to find a stranger who dances so well with her (note : I don’t dance that well, but with lots of energy), and the night continues thusly : we dance, we sit down and have some beers, we eat a bit (a nice sopa with some meat and some potatoes in the juice), the father tells me about his daughter, the mother looks at me with lots of insistance and we go back dancing because the orchestra starts again.
It came a time when, the father told me, you should come to sleep in my home it’s secure no robbers we have a confortable home, and I saw exactly in which bed he wanted me to sleep. The mother was grinning with yet more insistance and new brothers and sisters were appearing at an alarming rate, and la Monica, with more sighs and soulful looks, wanted to take me by the hand everywhere she went.
There is a confidence I’m willing to make now. I’m not the kind of guy who refuses invitations from people who want me to come over, and when it’s a girl I’ve been known to accept. But when it’s a girls entire family who gives the invitation, when the brothers wink at me like bad conjunctivitis, I may take five to think about it. In that precise case, I could see they weren’t inviting me for one night, but for longer. They would have invited me to a wedding also. Like, the wedding they’d have celebrated between la Monica and me.
At around past midnight I was starting to get tired. I was drinking steadily since three pee em, add to that the hours spent dancing and keeping an eye on the fourth finger on my left hand, I was starting to think an escape was in order to finish my night in a calmer state. One problem was in my mind though, my camera. My nearly-mother-in-law still had it under I don’t know how many layers of clothings, hidden from the robbers since my friend her daughter had given it to her. Finally I just had to tell her I needed it to take pictures (with some 100iso stock? with that light? hahaha) and calling her mami. I had to repeat the question multiple times, because my mouth didn’t speak good spanish, or her ears were drunk, but finally, after miming (hey I’m french we invented miming), she gave me my camera back.
The rest of the night wasn’t so exciting. I left the girl at her doorstep without a kiss (yes, without a kiss, as it could have been interpreted as formal engagement by the family, who I believe was watching us from the inside), I came back to the hotel despite her pleas not to risk my neck and my camera and her chances of marrying a gringo (no she didn’t say that), and the hotel was one street away and there was cops in the street at that moment so I felt safe and I told my story to the doorman (17 yo), but just in a few words because I don’t yet master the spanish language adter so much beer. Then I slept, then I woke up and was sick, then I slep again and felt so much better.
The next morning, a sunday, I heard the music, once again, down in the street, taunting and glistening under the winter sun, and the cholita dancers. But I prefered to let another tourist take the chance of spending a good night dancing, buying beers for a whole bolivian family and having a nice near-wife experience. So I closed my window.
Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.