“That was a delightful evening,” I quipped. “It isn’t every night that you can go to a local bar and come away with a saint and an invitation to dance salsa on Friday.”
Alvaro stopped, tapped his cane on the sidewalk and erupted into a belly laugh. “That right. And, Jody, I can’t believe how well you danced the tango.”
“I didn’t dance, I just followed Francisco’s lead and he did all the work. That was fun, but now I don’t know what I’m going to do with the saint.”
We had been at La Polanesa and started talking with the people at the next table. Fernando came over and sat with us and I gave him a Saskatchewan flag pin from Canada. He was so pleased that he came back and presented me with a paper-mache figure with a plastic head, flowing satin robes and a purple plastic heart.
“Keep it.” Alvaro advised, “Fernando said it was Saint Prosperous. I don’t know who that is, but he will bring you good luck.”
So I now have my first-ever saint in my apartment. Atheist that I am, we can never have too much protection, Insha’Allah, praise Buddha and blow a little ju-ju dust in the air.
On Friday a friend of Alvaro’s died so he went to spend time at the wake. At 20:00 I headed for La Polanesa on my own.
Francisco was there with a group of people he works with. He introduced everyone and then told me that the three young women – Adriana, Heidi and Tatiana — were crazy. Maybe, as they were drinking aguardiente, the national tipple that returns to whack you on the back of the head.
Then it was time to dance salsa. Okay, I took a deep breath and followed Francisco’s lead. Once he started dancing people from other tables joined in and the bar turned into a dance studio.
It takes grace to move around the tables in a small bar, but the paisas – as the people in Medellin call themselves – know how to do it well. And they don’t miss a beat.
Once again Francisco took over and I tried to concentrate on following. The problem is that so many Canadians are welded at the hip and we just don’t get the moves.
Our spin around the dance floor over, Francisco teamed up with Heidi. It was poetry to watch them glide and dip. A brave guy from the next table asked me to salsa. Since I managed to get through it without stepping on his toes I figured it was a success.
Returning to the table, I asked Mauricio if he danced and he shook his head. No, he didn’t like it. So we drank Scotch and watched the dancers swirl gracefully around the floor.
The Bar Culture
In many ways, the culture of Medellin is the most hospitable you can find anywhere. People truly are open and friendly, which is why it is so easy to strike up conversations with strangers.
Arcesio, the bartender at La Polenasia, is kind to the people on the street in an unpretentious way. He spotted a man collecting cardboard on the street outside, so he weaved his way through the dancers and slipped him some coins.
On Christmas Eve a street woman and her two granddaughters wanted to use the toilet. He put a 500 peso coin – about 25 cents – into the slot so they could gain access. The girls went first and then washed up at the sink while their grandmother used the loo. All very unassuming.
Life on the street in Park Bolivar across from the bar isn’t easy and people appreciate any kindness shown to them.
Salsa Lesson Over
It was about midnight when Francisco asked Arcesio to call a taxi for me. When it arrived Francisco took a photo of the car and driver with his cell phone, a good practice to follow in a questionable neighborhood.
It was an entertaining, enlightening and engaging evening. My salsa skills remain questionable, but if all I have to do is follow it is a great dance.
A friend of mine told me that the secret is to shuffle and not pick up your feet.
Mental note to self: try that next time so you don’t look like a klutz.