And the cheeks too

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Sunset at the island Ometepe Island, Rivas, Nicaragua
Sunset at the island
Ometepe Island, Rivas, Nicaragua

“Yes and no chile. In my case, and not feeling at all like a hero, I had to pay with a peck on the cheek! And right on top of that silly makeup, they plastered their ugly faces with.”
“Wow! That sounds more like a scary tale than a fairy tale, Gramps!”
“That’s so scary, Grandfather, did you close your eyes so you wouldn’t see the trolls?”
“Yep, I didn’t see them, but I smelled them, chille. Those ugly trolls reeked like mummies in a closet during a hot day!”
“The funny thing is that they must have believed in miracles and with their eyes closed…”
“If not, why would they bother with all that makeup? Now, if they were looking for miracles, they could have gone to church! Anyhow, when times are tough, we tough guys get our cheeks pinched. That’s life hon, so, may as well start getting used to it!”
“They pulled your cheeks, Grandpa? With those mean old women sitting at the street, I’d stop eating candies, but there’s no way I’d go out and walk to the store just to get some!


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The quest for candies

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Sunset at Poneloya Beach Poneloya, Leon, Nicaragua
Sunset at Poneloya Beach
Poneloya, Leon, Nicaragua

“This will give you an idea, of what life was like back then, when I was growing up! I would walk from my house to a store, called ‘Hope Store’ (La Esperanza). The owner, doña Lencha sold all the available candies in the world. Well this store was maybe, eighty yards away from the house. To get there, first of all, I had to pass the carpenter´s shop, which was right next door. I would say hello to Master Alfredo, the carpenter and owner, and also his three assistants, for starters. But if he had customers in the shop, then I would have to say hello to everyone, shoot the breeze for a few minutes, spread some gossip around and surely swap a round of the latest jokes, at least. That would have been considered proper manners.

“Now, this was the critical part. If it was after lunch-time, by then, as God is my witness, the magpies would be out, sitting in the shade!”

“The magpies, I didn´t know there were magpies in Chinandega, Grandfather.”

“Yep, the magpies: doña Clarissa, who had more hairs on her legs than any of us; doña Refugio, who had the largest mustache I´ve seen in my life! All the guys envied her. And last, but certainly not the least, for I never understood how she could pack it all in such a small chair, was doña Sagrario. She was always dressed in black since the mythological day that her chimerical husband died, supposedly after their assumed wedding!

“They spent the days in their white plaited wicker rocking chairs (the white thrones for the three Dark Queens of the Sidewalk). To get by them, you had to pay.”

“They made you pay just to walk by, that was very mean of them. They were like witches, Gramps!”

“Trolls hon. The word you’re looking for is trolls. It was just like in the fairy tales. Remember how to pass the bridge, the hero has to pay the trolls?”

“Wow, sounds like it was scary when you were a kid.”

 


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The town’s bicycles

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Downtown streets Granada, Nicaragua
Downtown                 Granada, Nicaragua

“My honey chile when I was, more or less, your age, I grew up in Chinandega. You could say, I knew everybody that lived in that flea-smitten town (if not, at least, everybody knew about me!). I knew the newly born babies, whose faces were all wrinkled up, and I also knew those, way past their prime babies, with faces covered in wrinkles again. That was the way it was in those times. We all knew each other and sometimes, maybe even a little too well.

“Once the day cooled down a bit (from those sometimes unbearable, hot Chinandegan, tropical days), the sidewalks would fill up with all sorts of chairs: rocking chairs, folding chairs, kitchen chairs, and even boxes or crates. As long as you could sit on it, by definition, it was a chair. Naturally, people would sit outside in the cooling air. They would play cards, dominoes, perhaps read a book, or a magazine or maybe, the gossip in the newspapers. Then, of course you had old timers drinking guaro (rum or moonshine) or a few cold beers to get rid of the heat. Then there were always a few people, why not, spreading some nice, juicy tidbit of a hot gossip.

“As kids, we would spend our time playing our games in the street. At times, we would chase the bicycles down the street. There were all kinds of bicycles: the personal bike for one passenger; then you had the classic lovers’ bikes, the couples would ride by. She´d sit daintily on the handlebars, meanwhile the guy was working up a sweat, as he was peddling away, and in the middle of it all, they´re both making these dumb I´m so in love with you faces, at each other. The family bicycles were also in demand. In these, the father would normally carry mom and a few kids on his bike. Some were quite an act.

 


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A brand new day

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Fisherman's camp Las Peñitas, Leon. Nicaragua
Fisherman’s camp
Las Peñitas, Leon. Nicaragua

 Sometimes Grandfather and I would talk about his childhood in Chinandega. He always remembered those days as happy moments of his life. There, he had studied most of his grammar school. In between the week, besides going to school, those warm and sunny mornings, he’d help out at the farm during the long afternoon hours, where he worked, side by side, with his father and uncles. The weekends (when his mom was busiest at the restaurant), he’d go to Corinto and help at the restaurant. On Saturdays and Sundays, before the break of dawn, he was up and about and out on his bike, enjoying the ride to the port. He would arrive to buy the fresh fish and fresh seafood from the fishermen. After he had swapped a few jokes, enquired about the weather, satisfied himself with the conditions of their health, of their families, and had a good time, he was ready to rush to the restaurant and help his mother with the chores.

“When I was a child, I learned an important lesson, and I believe it’s helpful still. I discovered that we all need our own personal space, to be alone with our thoughts, our feelings, and with ourselves. The bicycle ride, to the port, in the mornings was my personal space. It was a moment for reflection, I could go through the things in my mind, look back at all that was happening and sort them out. When I arrived to the wharfs, I had found my balance and my inner peace. By then the fishermen were returning from the sea and the day’s catch. The waves gently tossing the boats to and fro, those crazy seagulls flying around, excited and filling the air with their calls and shouting, and we would catch sight of each other. They would be out in their boats, tired and hungry; and I sitting on my bike and standing on the pier. Our lives were so different, yet there we were, all together, present and accounted for, ready to talk, to laugh, to joke, and to smile a big, warm smile, at the beginning of a brand new day…”

 


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The Diaz farms

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


Encounters Miraflores Reserve, Esteli, Nicaragua

Encounters           Miraflores Reserve, Esteli, Nicaragua


     Grandfather´s mother, doña Leonor, was the owner of an established and rather highly regarded restaurant in the nearby port-city of Corinto. She was a happy and carefree soul, maybe leaning a little towards the plump and a bit portly side; most probably caused by the long hours she spent in the kitchen, during the weekends, cultivating those heavenly culinary arts of hers.

     To the north of León and in the south of Honduras, she was particularly acclaimed for the huge and delicious servings of Gallo pinto. She heaped it onto the huge dishes she served, abundantly sprinkling them with delicately seasoned shrimp and fresh shredded fish (the preponderant Nicaraguan dish, prepared with white rice and red beans).

     The Díaz farms (belonging to don Leobardo and his four brothers) were located at the foot of a mountain range called Los Marabios. There stood Nicaragua’s four tallest volcanoes. The San Cristóbal volcano, for instance, is considered the tallest volcano in the country. Another of the volcanoes, the Cosigüina, is well known for the most violent and dramatic volcanic eruptions, in the history of the continent, during the mid-XIX century.

     Due to the acidity of the soil, so characteristic of these volcanic lands, the sugar-cane and delicious peanut crops tended to grow in a plentiful and most abundant way, with bountiful harvesting all year round. Needless to say, these plantations were excessively lucrative and decidedly successful; consequently, the Díaz family was considered one of wealthiest families of northern Nicaragua.


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New horizons

Chapter 3… The Chinandegan magpies


The beaches at Poneloya and Las Peñitas Leon, Nicaragua
The beaches at Poneloya and Las Peñitas
Leon, Nicaragua

My grandfather’s name was Jairo Alonso Díaz Alvarez García y Hernández, or at least, that is how it was officially registered in his birth certificate. He never introduced himself as such. To those who knew him personally, he was called Jairito or simply Jairo.

Grandfather was born in Chinandega City (1941), northwestern Nicaragua, near the border to Honduras. With his characteristic sense of humor (at times a bit dark and dry), he used to say that at the time he was born, only the churches were still standing, in that one-horse, two-bit, bicycle town. He was surely talking about the devastation, brought about by the artillery bombs that destroyed most of its colonial district, sadly including its graceful old houses and its elegant mansions. This happened thirteen years before he was born. Once more, the constant encounters between Conservatives and the Liberals (or in his words: another spot on the leopard’s skin). On that particular occasion, the bombs fell as part of General Sandino’s campaign to run the American forces, mainly the US Marines, off Nicaraguan territory… one more time…

 


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Colours, ingredients and herbs

Chapter 2… The García girls’ wedding


The bicycle The Merced Church, Leon, Nicaragua
The bicycle
The Merced Church, Leon, Nicaragua

Fully replenished, they danced until dawn, receiving the brand new day in the best of moods. Enabling them to recover their strength, the waiters began to serve the scrumptious fresh red snappers, stuffed with fried shrimp and the typical Gallo pinto (the most Nicaraguan of all the plates presented thus far, a typical combination of white rice and red beans, found every day in any home, in the country or in the cities).

The tables were decorated with the guacamole and the different salsas which were served in assorted flavors and various colors. All of them were most definitely spicy hot, as prepared by Petra. She was a Mexican woman, who came from Oaxaca, Mexico and now, lived at Moyogalpa, on the Nicaraguan island of Ometepe in the south. With her five beautiful daughters, they handmade the fresh tortilla cakes from blue and yellow corn. Freshly done, while hot and still giving off the warm vapors, they were presented in small weaved baskets, made of reed and carefully wrapped in colorful cloths, so they would remain nice and warm. As it turns out, that night three of her daughters met their future husbands, while they were handing out the tortillas, strengthening the bonds between both countries.

 


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Un unsurpassable wedding

Chapter 2… The García girls’ wedding


Sunset in the Nica Coast Playa Las Peñitas, León, Nicaragua


It was during that light that filled the skies, that indescribable blend of colors, the precise moment when the Sun decides to set itself down to rest and bathe the world in its splendor, with a marvelously still warm light, that the piglets were served. Specially brought in from the mountainous lands of the eternal spring, near the northern city of Matagalpa they brought on the oohs and aahs. Impossible to think of such a great circumstance without their presence! And perhaps a little tired from so much dancing and dining, the guests then took to their tables, to sit and feast the palate with the sweets and the buns made from goat milk, while they recovered their energies and refreshed themselves for a spell.


Meanwhile, the evening was enlivened with a local group from the neighboring city of Chinandega and the picaresque mood set by their songs. The banquet proceeded until the arrival of the witching hour; at which point, the musicians from the Atlantic coast entered the halls to the beat of their highly explosive and contagious rhythms, interweaving them to a background of fireworks, the colorful explosions and that distinctive smell of the gunpowder, as it hung in the air.


After so many years people still rave about it. Some swear upon their mother’s grave, while others, prefer to vow by the Virgin Lady of El Trono; but as all completely agree, the fireworks displayed during that unforgettable night, such a long time ago, have never and will never be surpassed.

To the tune of the industrial quantities of Centennial and Solera rum imported from Guatemala, and by the way, the musicians, exclusively brought in from the capital city of Managua, and afterwards followed by an incredible folkloric group from León, the gathering was to say the least, enthusiastic and at its utmost, so much so, that absolutely everyone danced nonstop until the sunset.

 


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Two weddings for the price of one

Chapter 2… The García girls’ wedding


Historical Centre Granada City, Nicaragua
Imagine          Historical Centre Granada City, Nicaragua

The two bishops said, but mostly sung, the double wedding ceremony. Previously, they carefully tuned their voices at a small and intimate toast, while the eighteen altar boys, took turns to dress them in their solemn clothes before the service. When they officiated, they were accompanied by the chamber quartet brought in from Managua, and by the angelic voices, of the sisters from the choir, of the Convent de la Merced, who came from nearby León. They still say, that there were so many personalities attending the wedding, that there was almost no space left over, not even for the Holy Spirit.

When the religious ceremony was over, they then relocated by horse-drawn carriages, parading down the streets to the banquet. To begin with, they served the delicious plates of the famous Honduran mondongo, a spicy stew, very rich, made with the cow’s stomach, which was brought from Choluteca City, in the neighboring country of Honduras. They served the mondongo, along with salty donuts, called rosquillas, that are a bit crispy and at the same time quite crunchy, typical of the Municipality of El Viejo, where the banquet was being held. Their freshly baked aroma had invaded the banquet hall, filling the air everywhere you turned.

To the tune of the industrial quantities of Centennial and Solera rum imported from Guatemala, and by the way, the musicians, exclusively brought in from the capital city of Managua, and afterwards followed by an incredible folkloric group from León, the gathering was to say the least, enthusiastic and at its utmost, so much so, that absolutely everyone danced nonstop until the sunset.


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Talking about wines and weddings

Chapter 2… The García girls’ wedding


Commemorative mural Historical Centre Lon City. Leon, Nicaragua
Commemorative mural
Historical Centre Lon City. Leon, Nicaragua

The beautiful colonial church, which dated back to the 17th century, was decked with hundreds upon hundreds of orchid flowers. These had been brought in from Montenegro, in the neighboring mountains in Costa Rica. There were so many flowers! I’ve heard it said that as their fragrance reached out, all the way, to the nearby city of Chinandega, everyone rejoiced and felt young once more. The people flocked outside of the buildings, filling the empty streets, as they relished the delicate aroma in the air. There, they basked in the warm sun, delighted as they felt young for one last time, and they relived, if only for a fleeting moment, that lost spring-time of their life.

The Godparents: don Jairo Díaz, the eldest of the Díaz Alvarez brothers, known and renowned by all in the community; as well as his wife, the graceful and sweet doña Joanna García y Hernández. They had been married a few years before, in the church of Chinandega, when it was still in good conditions.

His Excellency, the Bishop of Managua celebrated the ceremony. He was perhaps a distant relative, nevertheless a very close friend of the Díaz Alvarez family. The priest of Chinandega and the parish priest from the Basilica El Viejo assisted him. He officiated together with His Grace, the Bishop of the Diocese of León (who never missed the famous lunch gatherings at the García y Hernández family’s house, and always collaborated in good spirits, when it was time to taste the wines and approve the choice of the day).


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