The Heart of Mexico; Love in a Cantina

17-5_An old style Mexican CantinaBilly and I spend a lot of time together.

After being retired almost three decades, we have worked out a nice rhythm of time apart and time working on joint projects and having fun.

Here in Chapala, Mexico, Billy will sometimes go to a favorite cantina in the afternoons just a couple of blocks from our apartment. This cantina has a long history, and we used to visit it years ago in 1993 when we first started coming to this lakeside town.

We know the family who owns El Gavilan, and we know their children, have watched them grow up and start families of their own.

Back in the olden days, women were not allowed in this cantina. It was a man’s bar. The only women who dared walk in were ladies of the night. With its swinging wooden doors, it looks straight out of a Clint Eastwood western. Children would peek through the slats to see if their fathers were inside and then go home and tell Mama so she would know.

Times have changed. Patti and her barmaids now run the business, there is a ladies room, women are welcome and it’s a respectable place to have a brew or a tequila. You can visit with friends who know your name. Think a Mexican style of Cheers bar.

It’s a date!

So this particular afternoon, Billy invites me to go with him to El Gavilan. Since I know this is one of “his” places, I’m thrilled to be invited. It’s like a date and I can’t wait to go.

As we arrive, Billy opens one side of the swinging slatted doors, I walk in, find a table and sit down. We say hello to friends at the bar, and one of them joins our table.

Not long afterwards, another friend we know who owns a restaurant-bar in town, comes in with one of his patrons. He tells Billy that this man has been sitting at his bar all afternoon and Pablo has taken his keys so he can’t drive home. “Everything is ok, I’ll call a cab later to be sure he gets home.”

My beauty is startling

It’s not long before this customer tells Pablo that he thinks I’m beautiful and begins to blow me kisses from across the room. He waves and shrugs his shoulders as if he can’t help himself in the midst of startling beauty and continues to blow me a kiss or two every few minutes. Pablo is there so I’m not worried.

Not only that, but the friend who joined our table is ex-military and he boxes at the gym down the street on a regular basis. And Billy is there armed with… well…his camera. Whatever happens, he’ll photograph it, video it and then show the man’s wife, sisters, daughters and female neighbors and all the appropriate finger-wagging will put him in his place. He definitely won’t chance that. So I feel pretty safe.

Music adds another dimension

Wandering troubadours come in to sing for donations. We know the leader of the band and the music is of the dancing kind, so another gentleman twenty years my senior asks a young lady to dance with him and they do. The music is grand. The young woman is smiling, knowing that the gentleman is a good friend, and they are having fun twirling to classic Mexican songs. This man has a hearty laugh and a large smile.

I am nursing my glass of wine, when my kiss-blowing friend buys a round of drinks for our table. I look up. He shrugs again, blows me another kiss and smiles, rendered completely helpless by my elegance. Pablo has him firmly in check, I wave back and say “Gracias!”

My military friend leans in and asks me “What’s it feel like to be hot?”

I laugh good-naturedly wondering how I walked into this time warp. It’s not even my birthday.

And the band plays on

Soon, the well-dressed elderly gentleman begins to point at me, and desperately, I think he wants to dance. Oh gosh. So much attention and instinctively I begin to shrink. Antonio, the leader of the band intervenes and he explains that this man wants to buy me a song. His band will serenade me at his expense.

Oh!

My eyes widen. This has never happened to me before and I’m not going to let the chance slip me by.

I press my hand to my heart and say “Gracias!” I choose one of my favorite songs of all time… Besame Mucho.

Then these three handsome troubadours surround me and in my direction begin to sing boldly and in harmony.

I am completely overwhelmed with the emotion and the attention.

I am sixty-four.

And a half.

I’ll be on Medicare later on this year.

How is this happening?

I realize that those are limiting thoughts and I can’t believe I have placed myself in that mental prison.

Frozen and frightened places in my heart begin to melt and tears are streaming down my face. I can’t stop them.

“Kiss me. Kiss me a lot.

Like tonight is the last time.

I’m afraid to lose you.

Kiss me. Kiss me a lot.

Oh. My. God.

The gentleman behind the troubadours is smiling and saying to me “It’s a memory forever.

Yes. Yes, it is.

And I am so grateful.

Afterwards, when the song is finished, I feel as though it’s been a cathartic experience. I tip the musicians generously, and shake their hands. I approach the elderly gentleman and personally tell him thank you again, for this treasured memory I’ll have for the rest of my life.

In the heart of Mexico, this is love in a cantina.

 

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