I recently expressed trepidation to an acquaintance over the subject of mariachis, and was met with disbelief, as this particular acquaintance finds mariachis to be one of the most entertaining elements of a meal in San Antonio. A few weeks later, an invitation to meet for a sammich or a drink somewhere, perhaps with light jazz, was met with the following response:
Light jazz. Not a fan. I like mariachis, y’know. Conflicting taste.
I am not one to seek out music as the key element in sharing a meal or beverage, but I do enjoy it now and then, generally when it is distant as opposed to immersive. A key reason is that I like to focus on the dining and the company, and my hearing is problematic. Additional sound, such as the televisions in a sports bar, or a great deal of other folks speaking, and the words of the person next to or across from me become incomprehensible.
It’s not that I dislike mariachis, I have heard some excellent ones. But mariachis have a tendency to stand quite close, and for me this presents an additional problem – the result is loud and cacophonous, unmelodious and unnerving. I much prefer to appreciate them from a distance. So of course, I explained:
Mi vida sin frijoles
I was hoping this wouldn’t come up, but since it has, there’s something you should know. It’s not something I often share.
When I was a boy, I was kidnapped by a band of marauding mariachis who dressed me in a silver-studded charro outfit and forced me to play the maracas. They would introduce me as Guerito Guapito and everyone would laugh – it was a long drawn out laugh – the kind I thought only belonged to actors in the dusty cantinas of Western films. They were merciless, and though the callouses from the maracas healed long ago, I can still feel them in my palms, hard reminders of my time in captivity.
And then there was the food. Nothing but beans and an occasional corn tortilla.
Frijoles para el desayuno,
para el almuerzo,
para la cena.
¡Frijoles, frijoles, siempre frijoles!
I have vowed never to eat beans again, and since my escape from the clutches of los mariachis salvajes I have had to be careful, as virtually all of the older generation mariachis recognize me or can see the defiance in my eyes. They know they can torture me with the strings of the vihuela, and they will gather around and play louder for me than any other patron in a restaurant, so that all the patrons will turn to look and wonder if I am being honored or being mocked. And they will not go away. They remain and play.
Do you really think you can handle that? They may come at you as well, plucking madly at a guitarrón, or blaring a horn. It’s nothing to take lightly. You would be wise not to dine with me around mariachis, unless you truly love them – for if you dine with me without that love in your heart, the mariachis will know, and they will play accordionly.
–originally published September 2010