That said, she has the best eyebrow waxers in the world. In the US I pay $12 for a mediocre waxer. At Letty’s I pay $2.50. And I love Letty’s – I love Letty herself, a woman with a shock of blonde Shakira curls and an hourglass figure who wears the tightest jeans in the universe and four inch heels and always talks with her hands, gesturing with a brush or a blow dryer to make a point about someone’s husband or what the neighbor did. Salon Letty is what American beauty parlors probably were like in the ‘50’s: stuffed with women, everyone talking with their hands and bitching about their husbands. It’s crowded and a little dark and the shelves are full of odd, dusty items and old mannequin heads but it’s perfect.
When I wake up on my first morning in Nicaragua I run some errands, walk around and then go to Salon Letty. I let my eyebrows get fuzzy just so they should re-shape them. As always it’s packed. Tonight is the Hipica, I’ll find out later, so there are more people in there than usual. When I walk in Letty recognizes me which makes me absurdly happy.
During the two hour wait I people watch. There’s a woman everyone is fussing over. She has three people working on her – one on her nails, one on her hair and one brushing eyeshadow on her and filling her brows with pencil. She’s obviously Nicaraguan but she speaks flawless, unaccented English with her teenage daughter and effortless Spanish with the women working on her. Both she and her daughter have the fair skinned, delicate Spanish features of the upper class and they’re both beautiful. It's the Nicaraguan version of the Beckhams. She holds court while they fuss over her, talking to her daughter, to Letty, to the other women in the shop. They've made her a little throne - moved a comfortable chair to the middle of the room. Though she looks haughty with her chiseled features and the ease with which she receives their ministrations, her ability to read a magazine while they brush gloss on her narrow lips, she’s not. She chats and gossips like everyone else. I’m fascinated by her and enormously curious as to who she might be to receive this treatment.
When they finish with her she is flawless, her bob cut swinging sleek and thick to her chin, her make up understated and perfect. There’s no evidence of the Central American penchant for kohl rimmed eyes and bright pink lips. She looks like she just walked off Fifth Avenue.
As she walks out she stops, examines my leg. San Judas, she says. Bella. Beautiful. Over the next two days I notice that somehow St Jude has changed my image. Whereas before I would just get stares and maybe some comments from men and the occasional undercurrent of hostility and suspicion from women – tattooed women in Nica are either prostitutes or gangsters. But good old San Judas Tadeo has made me approachable. Women come up and ask about it. Buen suerte – good luck. Old women come up to me in the market and pat my hands. Even the salon women, her retinue of drivers waiting outside stops, to put her hand on mine and beam. Bella. Muy bien.
St. Jude is the patron of lost causes, si. Do with that what you will.
Saturday morning I get up early. I don’t realize it’s early – my cell phone can’t get in touch with the universal clock so when I look it’s says 12. I think I slept until noon. It’s only when I power up my laptop at Euro café that I realize it’s 8 AM. And I had just eaten Asian noodle salad for breakfast. Go me.
It feels odd and good to be back, almost like I never left. At Euro Cafe the owner recognizes me and we chat for a bit. Walking down to the market the hisses and whistles start. If you’re easily offended don’t go to Central America. It’s just white noise, I don’t even really hear it. Halfway back to the house I register something going on behind me a “hey..” but I don’t even turn around until someone grabs my arm. I turn around to raise holy hell and it’s Oscar, my old neighbor. I didn’t know if it was you, he tells me, then I saw your arm. We hug, catch up on the neighbors. Everyone who’s lived in the house since “our” group has been lame. The secret bakery is still there. No one hears from Alan. I promise to stop by when we get back from Corn Islands. He thinks my Spanish is better. It’s not, I just can’t ask Jon or Linda to translate for me. In the square I run into Julio, who lives with Thalia and we chat for a bit.
Sunday Donna saves me from Hospedaje Ruiz, which is nice but loud and the cobweb population is starting to freak me out. Either there’s spiders in there somewhere – lots of them, from the amount of webs, or the whole place has been sprayed with industrial strength bug poison. I move into her upstairs. *
The New, Improved Casa Lupita/Bring On The Falling Horses
This is the Corn Islands line up: Dr Tom, who I’ve worked with since my first stint at Casa Lupita and who is the ‘home’ vet – he has a house in Granada and comes often, I think he helped found the clinic. Dr Terry, who has a house in San Juan Del Sur. I’ve worked with her before, there are pictures of her on older entries. Dr Dave, who looks familiar and is from Rural Area Vet Service in the US. Dr's Kathy and Andrea from World Vets. The other Dr. Cathy. Meg, a vet student from Georgia. Claudio, who runs the clinic in Granada and lives above it. He doesn’t do surgeries but he and Heidi see animals every Thursday there. Andrea, who volunteers with another program, a school I think, and got pressed into service when Heidi found out she couldn’t go. Norman, the other Dr. Kathy’s eighteen year old nephew who seems determined to kill poor Claudio by dragging him out to the bars every night. Me.
Sunday the vet group returns from a clinic in San Juan Del Sur and we meet to pack for Corn Islands. I am blown away by the clinic. Despite having been in regular contact with Donna she’s neglected to tell me that they’ve moved the school that was there to the old Café Chavalos building and the clinic has expanded to fill the whole space. What was the school room is now an exam room. The old clinic is now just for surgeries. And it’s beautiful, shockingly amazingly awesomely fantastic. The wall of kennels, formerly just cement, are lined with ceramic tiles, not only better looking but able to be sterilized. The back porch where the kids gathered for outdoor classes is lined with kennels. It looks like an actual, genuine animal hospital. I could cry. Claudio is living upstairs and he keeps the yard spotless.
So very far away from the first days.
***Photo notes: Salon Letty as seen from across the street. St Jude as seen from an incredibly awkward angle (that photo made possible by yoga- I'm bendy!). Oscar & Xiomara dancing at the club - photo by our long lost Alan. If anyone sees a preternaturally calm, 40-something, chain smoking Briton please notify me or Jon Tonti. Flier from wall of renovated clinic. Piles of clean crates and built in tiled kennels in renovated kennels. On the carraterra, horses in town for the Hipica get ready to make the march to the square and down Calzada. ***