Salon Letty is always busy. It’s on the corner of Martirio, one block over from one of the Cathedrals and it’s very Nicaraguan in that everything you get done there takes forever. A manicure and pedicure can easily take an hour and a half, not including the wait. A trim takes thirty or forty minutes. Letty has three or four women working for her at any given time but if you go in on a Saturday you’re going to wait. A long time.
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.
To everyone who has sent donations from this blog: they were used and used well. We are so far from my first days in the clinic, with the one table and a few supplies and me trying not to barf in the garbage can under the table.
We pack and chat a bit. I fold and tape drapes in the old surgery room with the techs. In the next room the vets and Claudio put duffel bags on scales and pack them as full as they can. The Costena planes to the island are small: everything will be weighed as it goes on. Things are put in bags, pulled out, rearranged. Everyone buzzes, working well together. The San Juan trip was a good dry run, the group stayed in a house together, worked the kinks out of the system. I was sorry I couldn't arrive in time for it. Tom has built portable surgery tables, ingenious creations of PVC pipe and canvas. They are set up, cleaned, knocked down and bagged.
So very far away from the first days.
So very far away from the first days.
After we pack for a while we decide to take a break, walk out to Calzada and watch the hipica. Hipicas are a huge deal in Nicaragua and Granada has one of the biggest. The horses haven't started marching yet and already the streets are jammed with everyone. Granada and Managua folk in their finery, like the woman from Salon Letty and a million trendy young adults sweltering in polo shirts in the heat. The campesinos in to see the show, wearing denim, slighter statured and darkened from the sun. Everyone is wearing cowboy hats, shiny glitzy ones on the city people, leather ones with sweat stains on the people who actually wear them to work. Vendors are walking up and down the street selling them, straw ones.
The horses start down the street. To give the hipica it's full due I'll give it's own photo entry but it seems every horse in Nicaragua has been brought to Granada to skitter over the uneven cobblestones of the Calzada. The rich folk have enormous, well fed horses, strong and handsome with impeccably groomed tails and manes. They wear fancy costumes and stop in front of the crowds, make the horses dance, trotting back and forth. They're the crowd pleasers. Families march in groups astride their horses, matching hats and outfits. The campesinos march too - their horses are like them - almost pony sized, stringy with muscle and tough. These horses don't dance. They look intelligent and competent and next to them the beautiful prancing show horses look silly, excessive, like overweight women in tight dresses with garish makeup.
Somehow between here and there I decide I want to buy a cowboy hat. I don't, I just want to wander. I push through the crowds up Calzada, past the judging stand, bleachers full of VIPS. Past the dance stage blaring reggaeton that the horses all have to pass by, into the square. I stand on the stairs of the church with fifteen million of my closest friends and try to ignore the drunk men taking pictures of my legs. The road in the square is slicker and the horses skitter on the pavement, barely keeping their balance. Hundreds of horses, possibly thousands. As I watch a big, beautiful black horse, goaded to dance by it's rider, slides, slips, goes down, knocking into another horse which goes into the crowd. I'm pushed back into the church. The guy standing next to me snaps another picture. I turn the flash on and take one of him. Fuck off. Instead he finds this amazing. He and his buddies start posing, giving me the thumbs up, wrapping their arms around each others shoulders and smiling. They are drunk and silly and they make me laugh despite myself. With the parade stopped while they try to sort out fallen horses and injured pedestrians, I dart out into the street and make my way back down to the end of Calzada, back to the clinic and the group. The plane leaves early the next morning and we still have work to do.
* There is a two page entry about Hospedaje Ruiz that is trapped in the wreckage of my computer and probably likely to get me charged with libel anyways. Highlights: In which Donna comes to get 'the tattooed girl' and the owner, who had always been so nice to me, looked incredibly relieved that the neighbors will no longer think she is running a gang den/whorehouse: screw you, bitch**. A detailed inventory of the eerily empty spider webs in my room. A foaming-at-the-mouth-with-glee description of Donna's shower/water pressure that could only have been written after enduring two pseudo-showers in the impotent trickle of Ruiz's sad excuse for a shower.
Honestly, we're probably all better off for the loss of that one.
** The footnote within a footnote: I am not actually a whore or a gangster. See earlier in the entry re: the Nicaraguan assumption that all tattooed women are either whores or gangsters.
***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. ***