Again I’ve broken this blog entry into two parts because of the number of pictures.

Marching behind the guitar guys were a choir of women in traditional costumes and carrying candles, singing something else entirely, also in harmony.

It was especially hard to get a photo of Santiago himself showing his face.  Here’s the best I could do.


He is on a horse, and you can make out the horse’s face right above that guy’s head.  Here he is in daylight.


The best music I heard last night was inside the cofradias.  In one of them, a band played traditional Guatemalan songs with marimba, percussion, and brass horns.  They had something of that out-of-tune sound of the San Lucas band, and as I listened closely I realized they were not out of tune.  Their sound was very consistent from one song to another, so it had to be intentional.  They use what we would call major scales, and simple chord changes, and ¾ time,  so everything about it is conventional and familiar to our ears, except that the tuning is weird. To Northern ears, it sounds wildly out of tune, not just a little out of tune.  I don’t have the ear training to be able to describe how it differs from the tuning we’re used to, but some musicologist must have done that.

In another cofradia, the guitar guys played and sang in harmony, and it was such a pleasure to be able to barely hear them instead of being blasted with overwhelmingly loud sound.  My guess is they were probably using that same weird tuning, but it takes trumpets and saxophones to make it stand out so you notice it.

The night before that (Wednesday) I played the accordion in Quila’s Bar in Santiago Atitlan.  Quila’s is owned by a Belgian expatriate named Martin, and he says it’s the only bar in Santiago Atitlan.  I’ve never been in a city of 40,000 people with one bar and no grocery stores, only the mercado and a whole lot of tiny tiendas.  If you want to buy meat in Santiago Atitlan, the only place to get it is in the mercado, off a hook, without refrigeration, butchered that same morning.  Martin has the only place in town where foreigners and young locals who have some money can buy a drink and some food, and socialize.  Other than that, apparently, there are whore houses, and there are places where you can buy a bottle of bootleg rum and get drunk, and there are churches.  Martin’s cheeseburger was so good that I went back last night for another one (he has his beef sent in from Guate. City), and  Martin told me people really enjoyed Uncle Yascha.  


I’m writing this in the Spring Hotel in Guatemala city, where I came to hear a weekend conference on the ancient Mayans.  This hotel is in the old city center, and given the reputation of this city, I didn’t know if I would dare to walk out on the street, except directly into a taxi.  But it turns out that two blocks from my hotel there is a pedestrian mall, maybe almost a mile long, and it’s really hopping.  It’s crowded with locals and lined with stores and restaurants along its whole length, and it has a really lively feel to it.  It has totally changed my image of Guate.  Up to now, what I’ve seen of Guate. is ugly sprawl and heavy traffic, and what I’ve heard about is people getting robbed and shot.


And here’s something weird.  I googled for jazz in Guatemala City, and got this place:

A guy singing with a hand puppet?  I can’t believe it!  I brought my sock puppet on the trip with me, but it’s back in Panajachel, along with the accordion.