Sunday, December 27, 2009

On Vacation

Traveling in Ecuador. It is very hard on all of us not to have our computers. But it is fabulous here. Lovely cool weather, mountains, perpendicular cows, lots of sheep. I will fill you in when we return.

Thursday, December 17, 2009


We first visited Nicaragua 3 years ago. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to the other worldly sounds of conch shells and cow bells in the street. I climbed up on a chair to see a shuffling procession of children in the dark. I was watching an ancient pagan rite that had seeped into the Christmas celebrations and it seemed to symbolize the charmingly bizarre in Nicaragua.

Now I know it is part of the novena for the Niño de Dios, the nine days leading up to Christmas. At 4 am kids hit the street and walk around town making a lot of noise. There are firecrackers. It has only been part of Granada's traditions for 5 years because the priest at Guadelupe thought it would be a good thing to do. The procession was going by as my kids were going to school. It was just a bunch of kids walking around kicking plastic bottles through the street and occasionally blowing a conch shell.

I'm getting really tired. Since Nov. 28 there have been fire crackers every morning at 4:30. Of course 4:30 here is more like 7:30 in the states; a perfectly reasonable time to get up.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Hannukah O Hannukah

The first night we had a late dinner because Noah had to play his clarinet at the talent show and the second night we celebrated Laurence’s and Jonathan’s birthdays together with profiteroles. We lit the candles and the kids all got squirt guns as presents.

The third night was the night of the big Nicaragua Hannukah party. Another venture into the strange world that is the Nicaraguan Jewish Community. The party was at Kurt and Veronica’s house. I don’t really know them, but I did attend Veronica’s conversion ceremony. They invited every Jew in the whole country and most of them came. There were about 50 guests. First we pulled up to a block on the edge of town in Granada’s swankiest, half-built suburban development. Grassy lots alternate with modestly fancy houses; the roads aren’t paved. The property was surrounded by an unpainted ten foot high wall of cement blocks topped by coils of razor wire. There were no less than three National Police officers with guns and one private security guard sitting at the gate. I don’t know if it is a status thing or because there were some high ranking diplomatic types attending.

We said our hellos, and then found some seats. These guys may be rich, but it was still like every Nicaraguan party I have been to; there was still no mixing and mingling. Just this time the rented plastic chairs had elegant slip covers and were clustered around tables instead of being lined up around the wall of a dirt floored room. Thelma’s table was FULL and I was forced to sit with people I hardly knew. I really liked Paul and Grace though. Paul is from New Jersey and has lived in Managua for 12 years. Grace works for the company that runs my favorite cook ware store in Managua. Might be the only cook ware store in Managua.

The boys found Hobbes and a patio table far away from the grown-ups. Hors d’oevres had ham in them. The menorah was an enormous forged candelabra that held pillar candles and I hoped we wouldn’t have to wait for them to burn away before we could leave. Veronica was wearing a floor length purple halter dress with a pony tail and braces. She thanked everyone for coming and for all of the prayers and doctor’s help with Kurt’s successful hip replacements. This must be about the one year anniversary of their marriage.

Carlos explained a little bit about Hannukah and then the EU embassador to Central America’s Argentinian wife tried to light the first candle. She had to stand on tip toe and the fan kept blowing out the light. Now at my house, I solve this problem with a dessert plate to block the wind, but this is a six foot tall menorah. It was moved and was a little easier to light. The EU ambassador lit the next candle, and then the second in command at the US embassy. Mrs. Goldstein, the one from Argentina, led the singing with Maor Zur and other hannukkah songs. A few people joined in. The lights blew out, but it didn’t matter because people were getting food.

There was a long line and I decided to wait it out at Thelma’s table. Someone had given me a truly enormous glass of white wine and I was having trouble keeping languages straight which became an even bigger problem when Mr. Goldstein, the EU Ambassador himself came over and started talking to us in German. He did this because Jonathan had noticed he was German but didn’t quite realize how important he really was and had introduced himself to him in German earlier. We had a lovely chat about his hometown, Berlin, although I don’t feel I was at my best.

The cultural attaché from Ghana also does parties with his synthesizer for some reason and provided some very nice jazzy pieces and an assortment of Christmas songs. Someone put in a tape of Hava Nagila at some point but nobody danced. We left after the cake so the kids could get ready for school. On our way out, I asked Carlos if he wanted to join us in Granada for the last night of Hannukah. I knew it might be a problem because it is Shabbat, but Avi thought we should invite him anyway. He gave me a long and incomprehensible answer in English that included his boundaries for who is Jewish. I was sorry I asked.

Liberal Judaism has no voice here, perhaps because the liberal Jews don’t care to get involved in community standards. I don’t know. I am just a visitor. It is an interesting glimpse into the international Jewish community. People at this party were from all over the world and had very different backgrounds; they came together simply because they had some connection to being Jewish. I like being part of the international crowd. It makes me feel so . . . cosmopolitan.

Sunday, December 13, 2009


What I didn’t realize is that after the city has celebrated La Conchita for 9 days, the festivities just shift to Guadalupe, the Mexican Virgen whose day is Dec. 12. It is a much more muted holiday in general in Nicaragua, but my house is quite close to the Guadalupe church which is the rocket launching site for all of the munitions dedicated to Juan Diego’s vision. It sounds like there is a firing squad operating 24 hours accompanied by a brass band. Guadalupe also has her followers, but she only makes two trips through town in the afternoon. Girls dress up in traditional Nicaraguan dresses and boys dress up like Juan Diego; they wear white Mexican peasant shirts and pants and draw charcoal beards on their faces. People carry baskets with offerings for the Virgen. They bring fruit, flowers, rice and beans, cleaning supplies and brooms. The offerings are piled around the Virgen and then distributed to old folks.

Jorge takes his offering every year because his mother made a promise to Guadelupe 11 years ago when Jorge was ill as an infant. This year he refused to wear his San Diego suit because, as he says, he isn’t a kid anymore. Indeed it is true. He has to work with his uncles in the carpentry shop wh
en he isn’t in school and I just saw him roaming around Calzada late the other night with his 16 year old cousin.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Purisima, Schmurisima

This is the eighth morning in a row we have been awakened by the firecrackers, band and car driving around playing the Purisima songs over the loudspeaker at 4:30 in the morning. I’m losing my infatuation with the whole festival. I love Mary in the moments of silence in the cool and empty cathedral. Tomorrow is Purisima. Finally.

I was cranky until I just headed out of the house and let the film of the place I am in unfold. I went out on my bike in the late afternoon as the sun was angling down. The speed of the bike made it feel like there was a fresh breeze. The visuals are so striking; I never tire of the houses in their sun drenched water based paint. Or the women with baskets on their heads filled with fruit or flowers that they are selling. The ringing church bells. People carrying large objects on bikes. Livestock in the road. Poison green painted bakery cases. Old people snoozing in rocking chairs. Funeral carriages. Baseball games in the street.

I was looking for La Virgen again. I am compelled. Moni said it was her last night out; tomorrow is just a mass. She is fittingly finishing her tour on the Calle Concepcion. I found her at the end of street on a little stage. She looked so serene holding the baby with his little crown. She has stars on her cape. There were about seven old women, a few of them saying the rosary, gazing into her eyes. Two younger folks were putting the flowers around her on the stage and she was flanked by cut-outs of the Seraphim and Cherubim. I liked this altar the best because it was simple. The street was festooned with yellow and white balloons and yellow and white flags. People were still decorating their door fronts and settling into their chairs on the street. Pillars covered in gold foil were lined up at intervals along the street. The vendors of cotton candy, sweet limes and Purisima candy were setting up. As I glanced in the doorways, I saw many altars to the Virgen decorated with flowers in peoples’ living rooms. Often there was a Christmas tree, too. There was a band playing outside the Sandinista headquarters where they were handing out food baskets. Big crowd outside.

Friday, December 4, 2009

More Mary

I’ve spent the last couple of days looking for her, tracking her by the sound of firecrackers going off. I heard her leave again this morning at 5 am actually, I think it was just the start of the mass and she left a few hours later. When I went running, I looked for her at the little stage at the end of Calzada, the street she will be traveling through tonight. She wasn’t there yet. Later, I heard firecrackers in the street and she was passing down Libertad. I went out to watch, she was being wheeled on a cart with a small band and a couple guys pushing the cart. It stopped at a few houses. A homemade mortar full of gunpowder is shot into the air. The band played and old women crossed themselves and wept. She continued down the street.

On my way back from the market, I stopped by the cathedral and there was a duplicate Mary on a new little temporary altar. They were having a sort of pre-recorded ecstatic guitar service, people were swaying with their arms wrapped in rosaries reaching up to the sky. I walked down to the stage in front of Guadalupe and she was there on her float surrounded by flowers. A woman and a child were taking turns saying continual Ave Maries while a third person help the microphone for them.

Not everyone is so excited about the Virgen. There is some trouble brewing in town. Sunday night, she was mooned by some hooligans in a taxi. The crowd attacked them and fortunately the police were called and escorted the couple away. Probably saved their lives. Silvia says a protestant pastor told them to do it. She has a deep distrust of protestant pastors. She thinks they just try to expand their congregations to increase their own wealth. They are ultimately selfish. Also there is a lot of graffiti written in big letters on the parade routes that says – no to idolatry, God doesn’t want us to worship other gods etc. The church has printed t shirts they are wearing around that say no to idolatry.

Silvia pointed out that there is a difference between venerate and worship. The images are like photos she says, no one thinks they are the Virgen herself. She says people worship all kinds of other idols- money, sex, their jobs, their children, their spouses. She has very little patience with protestants.

Just now, there were fireworks over Guadalupe. I watched them from my balcony under a full moon with the scent of jasmine wafting by. That means she has left the stage and her float is proceeding down Calzada. I, unlike the rest of the people in Granada, don’t like to just sit around on the square for hours and wait for her to get there. I will try to catch a glimpse as she passes by our cross street. Shouldn’t hard to miss, just listen for the firecrackers. When it sounds like they are shelling the house, she should be close.