Tuesday, July 21, 2009

36 Hours in Aguascalientes

Our concert in Mexico was a great success. We signed autographs and posed for pictures for at least an hour after the performance.

The historic city center of Aguascalientes is a romanticized picture of Baroque, colonial decay mixed with 21st-century urban renewal. Low stucco buildings in pink, robin's egg blue, and pale yellow, impressive 19th-century French-style government buildings, and elaborate Baroque churches were interspersed with modern structures, cell-phone stores, and ATMs for world-wide banks. (North American chains were mercifully rare, the only exceptions were Starbucks and KFC.) Planted, manicured parks with fountains offered shade from the sun, and though the gardens were in the French style, the flora was decidedly Aztec.

On Sunday morning, handsome couples strolled to church, looking like Italian socialites from the 50s. Cowboys brought their families for a day in the city. Children ran and played everywhere. The churches overflowed with congregants, their interiors clangorous in pink, blue, gold, and silver, and their hefty Baroque spires supporting weightless neon crosses that advertised the resurrection next to gleaming Coca-cola signs.

In this part of the city, little poverty was in evidence, but when it came, it could be shattering. Walking back to the hotel after our concert we were approached by a man begging for money. He had no legs and was pushed in a low cart by a young boy. As they got closer, we realized that the man was made up as a woman, with a blouse, wig, and rouged cheeks. He spoke in an animated, hoarse falsetto. His elaborate appearance and gestures were in stark relief to the boy's affectless silence. What did they need from us? From the world? They were headed out into the city square at twilight; their stage set, though the stakes were higher than any performance I've been involved with. How many pesos should I give them? The contents of my pockets? My wallet? My bank accounts? Do I have empathetic capacity enough to imagine their life? Perhaps for a moment this morning in my Manhattan apartment high above West End Avenue, but hardly equal to the relentless, Baroque difficulties of their lives.

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