March 19, 2005 — A couple of weeks ago we bought a can of varnish in Ezequial Montes, the county seat for Bernal, where we’re living. Out of several paint stores on the highway, the one we happened to walk into was owned by a very friendly couple, Luis and Andrea Estrella. Luis speaks excellent English and has worked as a geological engineer in Europe and the United States. Andrea doesn’t speak much English but understands quite a lot. Not long ago, they lived for over a year in Sacramento, California, with their three sons, while Luis was working there.
We ended up chatting for quite a while, and it came out that Luis is a musician who sings and plays guitar. Kelly mentioned that he plays a digital sax that he had brought along on this trip, and Luis invited Kelly to sit in for a couple of tunes the next time he had a gig in Tequisquiapan, a very attractive town of about 25,000 where they live.
That happened last night. We drove through a soft evening just after sunset, most of the way to Tequis, as it’s called. It’s about 40 minutes from Bernal. I had understood that we would meet Luis at K’puchinos, where he was to play right in downtown Tequis, but as we were passing the development where they live, we decided to stop by and see if we could leave Cando there and catch a ride in. It was already arranged that we would spend the night in Cando in front of their house.
Neither Luis nor Andrea was home, but we chatted with their oldest son. He is 18, speaks very fluent English, and is applying to universities for next year. He reminded me of my nephew back in the U.S., who is also thinking about where to apply and who also has an easy manner with adults.
As we talked, Andrea arrived, coming home from the paint store. Luis had already gone down with their other two sons, who were to hang out in the central plaza with their friends. So a little while later, we went downtown with Andrea. We were glad that things worked out this way, things were popping downtown and parking spots were at a premium. Searching through narrow one-way streets in Cando in an unfamiliar town after dark isn’t exactly my idea of a good time.
K’puchinos is a cafe with tables out front on a walking street near the main plaza, plus a couple of large rooms full of tables. The whole place was full of lively people having a meal, a dessert, or drinks. Andrea guided us to the area in back, where Luis and another musician were setting up. She chose a table where we could see and hear the music well but were far enough away that conversation was possible. She had several friends in the cafe, and another musician, Juan Jose, joined us at our table.
Luis sings many Latin tunes and also quite a few in English. It was a delightful few hours. I chatted with Andrea and Juan Jose about many things. I can still hardly utter a truly grammatical sentence of any complexity in Spanish, but my ability to understand does seem to be improving a lot lately.
When Kelly and Luis improvised together, our conversation stopped, and I was pleased that Andrea, Juan Jose, and a number of other people in the cafe really liked Kelly’s playing!
Luis on the right, with Argentinian Jorge Revenko.
It was after one in the morning when we curled up in Cando on the quiet street in front of Luis and Andrea’s house. At 6:20 AM loud firecrackers went off, followed by circus music. Andrea later explained it was actually from some distance away. We dozed off again to the hum of a couple of neighbors mowing their lawns.
We had coffee and pastry with them around eight, before Andrea left to take one son someplace. Luis took the other two boys, plus a friend who had spent the night, someplace else, before going off to open the paint store, and we left for Bernal in Cando. As Luis and Andrea did a bit of quick planning, I thought how very easily any U.S. family with three active children would relate to the scene.
As for us, we feel more at home in Mexico, thanks to the warm hospitality of one family.
Andrea and Luis with two of their sons