When Churpa and I walked into the bar at the Hotel Isabel, the only available seating was at a table in the corner. The bar itself was fully occupied by Mexican businessmen nursing Cuba Libres; their ties loosened with their tongues and their coats slung across the backs of their chairs. Hearty pats on the back and deep, raucous laughter made me regret not practicing more Spanish in the three years since my last visit to Mexico. Churpa’s grin at the sight deepened that regret.
The television in the corner played an old video of a Mariachi by the name of Javier Solis whose passionate ballads evoke the type of bittersweet joy that I typically associate with Willie Nelson and John Prine. His resonant tenor reaches across language, grabs your corazón and makes you happy to suffer the indignities of life and love.
As the waiter brought us our Victorias, the two men holding down the end of the bar started singing along with Señor Solis in tenors just as clear and evocative, as though the song was as embedded as their own souls and the act of singing was as natural as taking a drink. Again, I wished I understood more Spanish. As the song ended, Churpa and I cheered and applauded.
The younger of the two tenors turned and basked in our applause. As the next song started up, he turned and sang to us as though he was Javier Solis and we were his audience. Soon, a good half of the men at the bar were turned toward our table and singing as though they were El Mariachi and we were an adoring audience. Which I can’t say we weren’t.
“This is pretty awesome,” I said to Churpa, who laughed in agreement. “Does this always happen to you in Mexico?” She had been serenaded on our hotel balcony by a marching band of Mariachis and their parade of reveler in Zacatecas. I was beginning to think that Mexico was happy to have her back. We ordered a couple more Victorias as the singing businessmen gathered around our table and chatted with Churpa. Again, I wished I had more Spanish.
The singing had died down a bit when a another man in his fifties and a wearing business suit walked in carrying a guitar. Immediately, our new friends insisted on singing us more songs. The guitar player obliged. They took turns singing their favorite songs of love and heartbreak, leaning over our table and gesturing like Javier Solis in the video. After six or seven more songs, the group started to peel away, each saying their goodnights to us as they left. After a few more songs from the few remaining singers, Churpa and I decided to call it a night. We walked to the elevator smiling and happy as they continued to sing to each other.
Solo en Mexico!