In the San Francisco Convent Museo are a series of paintings that chronicle Nicaraguan history.
The paintings start with aboriginal peoples who first inhabit lands before they are claimed by anyone but God. Then paintings move, in book style, through discovery and founding, colonization, building and commerce, fights for independence, reconstruction and modernization.
These paintings wait for the arrival of a brand new brother or sister.
Maybe the next painting born will be of a new Panama Canal, through Nicaragua? Maybe the next will show the country moving from Socialist/Marxist ideology to true free market capitalism, the way the United States used to be?
My guesses for Nicaragua center on Revolution.
People all over the world seem weary of their leaders.
People following their own drummer seems a better recipe than falling in step with someone else’s twenty year plan.
Ann’s art studio is also a gallery, a meeting place, a classroom, a resource of information, a great place to pick up a brush if you have an itch.
Studios, as opposed to galleries, are works in process.
There are finished and unfinished compositions on the walls, stacked in corners, left on easels. There are cans of brushes and rags, solvents and photographs of scenes that interest pinned to boards.The discussions here are about color, line, proportion, texture, what you want to say, how to put paint on a flat canvas to get a three dimensional shape and how to create art people want to buy.
Some of the works here have Nicaraguan scenes while others channel European or American traditions.
A studio is a place of discovery.
All these projects are around me, whispering, laughing, demanding attention.
The pursuit of art is noble even if it gets messy.
Calzada Street begins at the Granada Cathedral and ends at Lake Nicaragua. This street has become a main tourist draw and has everything a tourist might want, and plenty they don’t need.
In the stretch down both sides of Calzada Street you have bars, restaurants, street vendors, an open seating area in the middle of the street, waiters standing on sidewalks promoting mojitos and two for one Happy Hour. There are hostals, hotels, mini-markets and tour companies. There are kids selling knickknacks made from corn husks, women selling whistles and themselves, sleeping dogs, art galleries, chocolate shops, pharmacies, liquor stores and Eskimo ice cream. This place is a mixed drink of locals, foreigners, tourists, ex-pats, hustlers, transients, businessmen, artists and artisans, homeowners.
In the old days this was a sleepy street and residents lived normal lives. With an influx of interest, real estate became more valuable than most could have ever imagined. A quiet street on the way to the Lake became the Las Vegas Strip without slot machines.
This house on Calzada Street has brought local issues out into public.
It’s owner calls out swindlers, by name.
The bottom line is that this house is not for sale, unless, of course, the price is right.
Swindlers buy dirt cheap and sell sky high.
Swindlers, and those swindled, dance a fine line on Calzada Street.
You meet massive walls and sturdy doors, wrought iron, steel gates.
When you peek through cracked doors, or open windows, you see glimpses of cozy interiors, plants, fountains, bicycles on tile floors, rocking chairs, big screen televisions. Drafts of cool air funneled through the house hit you in the face.
These old original homes are built with thick adobe walls which cuts noise, keeps temperatures constant, and keeps occupants safe. By opening windows and doors you get ventilation. There are multiple porches and open spaces for dining and entertaining.
These old colonial homes have been reconditioned, modernized, and transformed into new homes for contemporary souls.
If I lived in one of these old homes, I would spend some of my time on the upstairs porch, rocking in a chair, sipping coffee, practicing jazz licks,putting words on paper, surfing the net, calling friends and family, wondering about wandering.
The rest of the day my shoes would be in the streets following the pied piper.
I try to remind myself that these Historical districts always glamorize history and put a countries best foot forward for tourists. When I travel, I’m not interested in seeing what I don’t even want to see in my own country. We can rewrite history, clean it up, re-interpret it.. The present, we are living, is more messy.
Several blocks away from me, are neighborhoods I wouldn’t enter without backup, for any reason.
I have never been to Jamaica, but sometimes you have to go to Nicaragua to experience Jamaica.
This tea, served cold or hot, is made from flower pedals of the hibiscus. It is a deep magenta color and tastes a bit like grapes or wine without the alcohol. It is also called sorrel, and is served often on holidays to guests in Africa as well as Jamaica.
Drinking flower pedals is an epicurean exercise that wealthy Roman Senators would have had down pat.
When a commoner can sit down and enjoy Jamaica Tea, at a Cafe in Granada, Nicaragua, you know the world has gotten a whole lot more even.
Panaderia’s are common here and this is one that has American style doughnuts and fresh ground Nicaraguan coffee.
This morning they are doing a brisk business making and selling cakes for birthdays and weddings.. At the counter, you can buy fresh bread, cookies, pastries, slices of carrot cake, and chocolate concoctions for your sweet tooth. They have ham and cheese and sub sandwiches for a modest price and I make a mental note, feeling like I am back in Uruguay looking inside Eduardo’s back seat.
Seating myself at a small table in a corner I watch eyes light up as kids see their birthday cakes for the first time and ex pats come in for their breakfast on the way to the market for fresh vegetables and fish.
Once you find your best places in a new town, it starts to feel like home.
I listen to the bakers in the back room, kneading dough, squeezing icing out of tubes to decorate elaborate wedding cakes, chattering about their boyfriends and girlfriends, Grandma, and Presidente Ortega.
This little bakery feels like being on an inner tube on a river that lets you lie back and let the river carry you along on a perfect summer day where all you need is a swim suit, or less.
Finding my relaxed places in new places is what I do in foreign lands
When you ask locals where the best places to dine are, in Granada, El Garaje restaurant is one of the first to be mentioned.
The first time I walked past the place, it didn’t register as important.
It was closed then because of an electrical outage but the proprietor came to the door and apologized and shook my hand.
When I returned. he remembered my name.
The restaurant is called ” El Garaje ” because it occupies a spot that someone’s car used to occupy. Many homes in Granada have a garage directly in front of their house, You open the iron gates to your property, drive right into a garage, park, and then walk up garage steps and walk right into your living room. The owners of this restaurant have turned their garage into a restaurant. In their case there are no gates and they are right on a major street where you can park your car on the street or walk to the establishment easily.
This restaurant has limited seating, and, when full, stays full until someone leaves. Paul serves and his wife cooks.
The vegetable barley soup is so good that I go back to the menu for a pulled pork sandwich with caramelized onions and homemade coleslaw without mayo,
I leave without trying the sour orange cheesecake for my pocketbook’s sake.
There was a time in the 1960’s when urban renewal in the United States was the craze.
Urban renewal meant that structures that had been built hundreds of years ago were razed, and, in their place, modern buildings went up with lots of glass, steel,wood, and concrete.
In Granada, in the Historical District, there are strict rules against changing old. Any modifications have to be approved, and the outsides of buildings must remain intact and true to the century they were built.
Walking the Historical District, old homes, warehouses and businesses are gutted, repaired, and made right. Piles of sand and bags of cement are close at hand as day laborers mix and fill wheelbarrows with plaster for men with trowels and hawks.
In the Historical District of Granada, Nicaragua, things look as they always have, because it is the code.
Old, with our help, doesn’t have to go gently into the good night.
Old buildings, old people, old songs, old civilizations, old traditions, are worth keeping.
Over the blue wall, next door, someone is practicing trombone. I was up late listening to Masterclass You Tube Videos by Hal Galper on jazz improvisation, hearing, thinking, the tribal attitude, musical tradition.
Learning to play jazz is like learning to walk, learning numbers and letters, reading, all over again.
You start at one note and then find the next one that sounds good. You put them in an order that is pleasing and play till you have it where it sounds good to you, and to an audience.
According to Hal, we don’t have slow hands, we have slow brains.
While I listen, and hum along, a lizard scales the blue wall, rests on the top ledge, looks over the other side. He catches the morning breeze.
Making sounds is one thing; making music is another.